Margaret Barker on the Jordan Codices

Sunday night Margaret Barker appeared on the radio show Coast to Coast AM to speak with Ian Punnett about the Jordan Codices. The interview can be found here, beginning around 21:45 and running to 38:45. Barker has been publicly associated with the codices since Elkington’s initial press release at the end of March in 2011, and during the interview she explains that she first saw photos of the codices about four years ago, meaning she was involved for a couple years prior to the original press release. The blurb on the interview states, “This is the first time any scholar from the academic establishment has spoken out on the Jordan Codices,” which is flatly false. Aside from well-respected university professors from the US and the UK who have commented directly and repeatedly on these codices, I and several other students participate regularly in the “academic establishment.” The mere act of blogging no more invalidates one’s academic credentials than does the act of appearing on a radio show, the fervent assertions of some non-academics notwithstanding.

Barker’s message, broadly speaking, is that metallurgical studies indicate the metal is ancient, and so at least a portion of the hoard is likely to be ancient. This is nothing new, of course. This has been Elkington’s rallying cry since criticisms were first leveled at the antiquity of his codices, and it has been repeatedly pointed out that ancient lead does not necessarily mean ancient codices. Unfortunately, neither Elkington nor anyone acting as his mouthpiece has bothered to acknowledge—much less address—that fact. Instead, attention is diverted away through a number of tactics to which Barker herself appeals in this interview. I’d like to address a couple of them.

First, Barker has trained her focus from the beginning on the iconography of the codices. For her, the “symbolism of them is all linked to the temple in Jerusalem.” This has been the centerpiece of her case for the antiquity of the codices. While some of the iconography on the codices may be interpreted as temple-related, this doesn’t really bear on their antiquity. Temple-related imagery is not iconographic esoterica to which the modern forger has no access. Nor is there any special imagery or arrangement of imagery that is particularly indicative of a first century CE provenance. In fact, the imagery is arbitrarily strewn around on the codices, and as I and others have shown, the vast majority of it is demonstrably modern and unquestionably links every scroll so far made public to the same workshop or craftsman (see here, here, here, or here, for instance).

Barker then goes on to comment on the juxtaposition of the imagery and the “paleo-Hebrew”—not deigning to comment on the single proposed translation offered—stating that “to see images next to a sacred script is really something . . . well, it’s mind-boggling.” Barker had just finished pointing out that this “sacred script” was found on coinage from around the turn of the era, but, ironically enough, she evidently forgot that that “sacred script” happens to appear on that coinage alongside images, and specifically images that coincide with much of the imagery of the codices (see here):


Some might argue that this suggests the codices date to around the same time period, and that they are consistent with the iconography of first and second century CE Syria-Palestine, but given the nonsensical and inconsistent use of the script alongside this imagery, not to mention the demonstrable contemporaneity of most of that imagery, the inescapable conclusion is just that these coins acted as inspiration or a model for the forger (see here and here, for instance).

Undergirding much of Barker’s discussion was a thinly veiled derision for those of us who have been perfectly happy to judge the entire hoard of codices as forgeries. The primary concern, if her words are to be taken seriously, is that we have reached our conclusion too quickly. She states, “scholars—real scholars—work much more slowly than the popular press and the bloggers.” She continues, “it is folly to dismiss all these as fakes simply because there are bits we don’t understand. There’s bits in the Old Testament that we don’t understand.” This is a misrepresentation and a red herring. The claim is not that we cannot understand it, the claim is that the codices are demonstrably modern in origin. Sure, we assert that the script itself is nonsensical, but to twist that into “bits we don’t understand” is ludicrous. Not a word of it can be understood, and that is because it is pure nonsense. The “I will walk in uprightness” has been shown to be nothing more than wishful thinking combined with heavy squinting (here). No response has been offered to that criticism. All we’ve heard is Elkington tell me I better go back and hit the books again, since his secret army of scholars insists I and the entire field of Hebrew epigraphy are mistaken.

This raises the more important concern with the asserted need for timidity and caution: what has been shown to be genuine? Absolutely nothing. Why do we need to suspend judgment when every single codex that has been made public has been shown to be linked in its provenance to the codices admitted to be base forgeries? Can they share a photo of a single codex they believe to be genuine? The little early Christian ID card that Elkington showed on BBC has been shown to be a meaningless repetition of a tiny number of arbitrarily arranged letters (here and here). Even the codices tested by Northover have that same modern and fake script on them. What can they show us that demands a second look? Up until now, they have only pointed to metallurgical tests that insist the lead is old. Let us not forget that these are the metallurgical tests that Elkington himself altered in order to obscure doubts expressed therein.

The cry over the last few months has been to get these codices into the public so they may be studied by anyone but the filthy bloggers. While this desire for transparency is certainly one I share, I must point out that Elkington himself has innumerable photos of these codices that could forward our research, but he is refusing to share them. No doubt they are reserved for his forthcoming publication. These blog posts have  done more to disseminate info on the codices than Elkington ever has. Isn’t that what he wants? I don’t think it is. He has refused to be forthcoming from the very beginning, citing an imaginary scholarly standard that demands projects be kept secret until a foreign government gives its blessing for the players to be identified. The reluctance of that government to acknowledge Elkington has apparently crippled his ability to bring information forward. For months and months Elkington has claimed his scholars have been making significant strides in interpreting the codices. What happened to their research? When can we expect it to be made public? Did the Jordanian government magically take it, or have our criticisms made it all burst into flames? I think the answer is clear: there is no team and there are no breakthroughs. There is only the claim that has been repeated since the beginning: the lead is old, so any other criticisms are irrelevant. I for one am disappointed that Barker has thrown her lot in with Elkington and his manipulative methods.


6 responses to “Margaret Barker on the Jordan Codices

  • Scripturefocus

    Umm, the fact that she was on “Coast to Coast” speaks volumes. Did she provide proof for the Nephites?

  • Zeke

    I don’t understand why Barker, who I have always understood to be a fairly straight forward and respected scholar, would involve herself in something which would seemingly end in embarassment and a loss of credibility. Does she really believe in their authenticity? Did she at first and is now too invested to back out? Is it money or a desperate grasp at more recognition? I think it may have something to do with her being wrapped up in her own temple theology thesis and seeing the codices as somehow supporting her thesis.

  • Margaret Barker and the Jordan Codices | PaleoBabble

    […] codices saga very closely and done a lot of work to chronicle it for the rest of us. I recommend reading Dan’s critique of her […]

  • Kari

    The video you linked above is “private” it says. Any way to view it another way?

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      It’s many years old, and at this point if they’re making them private, I can’t imagine they’ll have a way for the public to view it. I’ll keep an eye out for a public version, though.

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