Tag Archives: Peter Thonemann

Jordan Lead Codices on Facebook

As Joel Watts pointed out a couple days ago, an anonymous person who claims to be part of the “team” investigating the Jordan Lead Codices has begun a Facebook group dedicated to them. As you might expect, the page presupposes the antiquity of the texts on the codices and asserts that the only people on the planet who are capable of reading the script (totaling five in number) are producing translations as fast as they can. “Stay tuned!” they advise.

The most recent update is the claim today that the plate shown in this post is a forgery produced by Hassan Saida, the very Bedouin from whom the “authentic” codices came. Here is the post in full:

Approximately two months ago, Hassan Saida, the Israeli Bedouin who smuggled the Jordan Codices into Israel, telephoned to inform the team that he and his cohorts had made 500 forgeries of various of the codices and put them into the Jerusalem market.   We didn’t think too much of it as he tells lots of tales; however, one of team members was sent these two photographs by someone who purchased them in Israel. To those who have seen the real McCoy, these were obvious forgeries.   However, even comparing them to the posted photographs, the difference is all too apparent.   Below are some observations made by one of the metal experts assisting the team.  We expect more will materialise in due course.

1.  The holes are too clean.

2.  The beige ‘corrosion layer’ looks like it has been sprayed on and then cleaned off.

3.  The holes have raised edges and looks like they have been punched hard all together against a die with a slightly larger diameter.  Not like the originals.

4.  The drawing on the tree is too fine and crisp – the detailing seems wrong – it is almost like they have been cast onto a harder material than the originals.  It is also possible that these have been pressed and then distorted – the best indication would be a view of the reverse of each sheet and seeing if there is variation in the thickness of the metal from casting.

5.  The edges look like they have been cut round the pattern very closely – particularly the dots – not the same as the previous ones which were not cut cleanly around a pattern.

6.  The format looks wrong – too long and thin.

7.  The seals – look like they have been struck at the ends – like coins.  I didn’t see any of that before.

8.  The background colour looks like it has been blowtorched – it is less rusty looking than most of the originals

9.  They do not have the same build up of accretions of scale and calcium.

10.  There is little or no evidence of wear or pressure based slow distortion – although there are a few damaging marks.  Some of the wear may have been introduced on the mould.  Unlike the originals, which looked like they were cleanly cast and then deteriorated over a long time.

11.  The seals have been put on after the corrosion layer has been sprayed on and cleaned off.  There should be layers of corrosion sealing them in to the surface.

12.  The wires look hammer beaten – not a bad representation.

13.  There are a few areas where the ‘blue’ of the lead shows through.

I can’t see the backs but your sealed books were sealed a very long time ago and opened up to clean and shiny lead – I bet these don’t.

I wonder if there are any rotational tool marks or bypass shear ‘seams’ along the edges where they have been cut.

The handwriting is very different and looks a bit too random.  I haven’t attempted to look at the symbols – although they are more ragtag.  I would say that a different person did the drawings from the script – they just look different.

The 8 pointed stars have 12 or 16 points.  Some of the other symbols are slightly different and may have a completely different meaning or interpretation.

I would also reckon on the metal still being malleable.  Not hard, flakey and cracking.  I expect they also smell and taste different.  These may have been dipped in acid and coloured with mineral pigments.

OK, I might be taken in if I hadn’t seen all your photos.  But they don’t look right to me.  A good mishmash of some of the symbols and text on the photos you and others have published on the Internet.

Several things are problematic with this development, as other bloggers have already noted. In addition to these concerns, though, it seems off to me that the metals expert quoted in the post is ostensibly commenting authoritatively on the script as well, stating that the symbols “may have a completely different meaning or interpretation” (as if forged symbols mean something different), and that the “handwriting is very different and looks a bit too random.” There is no tree and there are no symbols on the plate in the photograph, though. The post states two photos were provided the “expert,” but only one appears on Facebook. Perhaps there is another we’re not being shown.

Is this an attempt to account for the exposure of other codices as modern forgeries? If so, it falls well, well short of explaining the numerous genetic relationships shared between the script and iconography of the Thonemann codices and the others being promoted as genuine (see my discussion here and here). It also produces a rather unique codex that has little relationship to the other demonstrable forgeries. I can’t say the “team” involved in the promulgation of this hoax is impressing me with their craftiness.

EDIT: The Facebook page now has the second photo, with the symbols on it. Note that much of the script on this codex is actually quite similar to the script on the majority of the other codices that are being promoted as genuine (so are the rectangular patterns). THe iconography is much different, but I would argue it is intentionally so:


More Jordan Lead Codices Photos and Info

Shortly after beginning my coverage of the Jordan Lead Codices topic on my blog, a comment appeared on this post from someone identifying themselves as Ilan Shibli and purporting to be one of the Bedouins involved with the original acquisition of the codices. He stated:

The Books were orginally “discovered ” by a Bedouin from Shibli who worked with Hassan Saida. He bought them from a Jordanian Taxi Driver he was friendly with. Later the two Bedouins Paid vast sums of money to Elkington and Feather and the like to get the works authenticated. During this time not one of them tried to hand the works to any authority. On the contrary they obtained an export license under false pretences. ( the books already being in Europe) When a dead end was reached and not willing to hand over more money to the publicity seeking Elkington the Bedouins stopped all contact and hence his own campaign ” to do the right thing started” He was NEVER THREATENED! just IGNORED
many serious far more discreet scholars have seen the works and the real finder and owner is more than happy to supply photos free of charge and to be interviewed.
There is NO secret or conspiracy
The books ( and there are not 70!) are made of ancient metal and what is of interest more than content is the fact they ARE ONE OF THE FIRST BOOKS TO BE PRINTED

I’ve been in sporadic contact with this person since then. He appears to claim to be located in Israel, although his IP information (which is not always perfectly accurate) locates him in Great Britain, and some of his emails have come from a Blackberry. I asked for evidence that he had access to codices that were not already accessible online. He sent along, over the course of several days, the following photos (all of which are to be credited to Ilan Shibli):

These photos give us a much better look at the script used on the codices. For the best analysis of that script see Steve Caruso’s blog, especially this post. I’ve already discussed the iconography of the lower register in the first photograph (here), but the iconography in the upper register is also found scattered among a bunch of other plates. See the following, for instance:

This is obviously another cast image that was reused on a number of plates. The writing below the menorah in the image is meaningless, as far as I can tell. That the images on these plates are modern productions is, in my opinion, pretty much beyond dispute. Dr. Northover’s analysis supports an ancient provenance for the lead, but as others have pointed out, and as he stated in a note to me, there is quite a bit of ancient lead lying around, and the composition of the lead does not necessarily indicate the antiquity of the codices.

(Elkington is offering a number of other photos for purchase on various websites around the world. Some of the sites offer bigger preview photos than others. Some of the higher quality previews are available here.)

Back to Mr. Shibli. I later sent a few questions to help clarify some of the background of the codices. Following are my questions:

– How did you originally come to possess the codices, and were you told where they came from?
– When and how did Mr. Elkington become involved?
– Did you give Elkington any or all of the codices, and if so, how long did he have them?
– Did Elkington arrange for the metallographic analysis with Dr. Northover at Oxford or did someone else?
– How much money did Elkington end up charging for his services?
– Who is currently in possession of the codices?
And this is the response I received:
1. As I said before we trade Hay and Horses on the Jordanian Border. We met and befriended a taxi driver and the story started from there. In fact as you have probably guessed it I was the one who first made the contact and first got the books. Hassan later got involved.
2.We had been knocking on doors in Europe some v eminent discreet researchers and we met through our friend in Jericho a Palestinian women working for the PLO, she made us all sorts of promises to buy the books and inlfated value etc. she introduced us  ( against the advise of the reputable European Contacts) to a Nick Fielding and in Turn  Robert Feather and David
This was in 2008/9. We hosted their visit to Israel and told them the truth about everything including the facts the books ( some of them were already – innocently in Europe) They came up with the idea to fabricate various stories and to invent export licences. We were a bit confused but naively went along with things. David made out he was the third wheel just there to take photos
3. We gave them one book for analysis and paid them well over £5000 – infact in total  close to £10,000 to send off for testing etc
4. Meanwhile other translators and researchers continued to work for free and still are discretely
5. Elkington until Hassan took the book back had  access the books as did the other for over a year but it was Robert Feather ( we discovered later- a ” devout Jew’ who was hiding ” treasure in his house!  Not once did Elkington inform the Jordanians and not once did feather alert the israelis
as they kept demanding money and we were getting no where, we just parted company hence the surprise to see how he ” popped up again” He has been out of the picture for around 2 years/. We heard some chinese whispers that if he was not ” let back in’  he would go ” denounce us” but we told him to go ahead/ So far nothing had been proved  just the age of the metal. We travelled previously quite legitimately not hiding anything. We truly had no idea what they were
Meanwhile other books appeared and Hassan ” bought them” Ellkington made his own trips to Jordan
6. We are currently in possession of the Lead Codices as we always have been in Israel
Ilan also sent me a copy of a report that analyzed the codices, reportedly produced by David Elkington. It can be found here. I cannot fully vouch for the story presented above, and I don’t know anything more about Mr. Shibli than what he has told me (and what my computer tells me about where his computer is), but the photos provided should show that this individual has unique access to the codices, or at least photographs of them. Take that for what it’s worth.
EDIT: Another thing Mr. Shibli stressed on several occasions that should be noted is that he has never tried to make any money off of the codices or their photos. He has provided them free of charge to those who ask, provided he is credited.

Elkington Fires Back at Thonemann

This short article at Express.co.uk was brought to my attention by David Meadows. We finally have a response from Elkington regarding Thonemann’s judgment of the codices:

He’s not a biblical scholar, he’s a Greek classicist. Dismissing the provenance of the books on the basis of two low resolution photographs by e-mail is out of order. We welcome healthy debate but it is not very helpful for anybody to dismiss it on such little evidence.

First, whether Thonemann is a biblical scholar or a Classicist is of absolutely no import whatsoever. Next, you’ll notice the article calls Elkington an archaeologist and a biblical scholar, but he has no training in either field. The text is Greek and Thonemann happened to identify the text’s undeniable source. Elkington does not even address the criticism. He simply takes a shot at Thonemann’s credentials (!) and then states that there is too little evidence for a firm conclusion.

Besides Elkington’s bad form, I am quite disappointed in the lack of journalistic integrity that is displayed in this article. First, the author simply took Elkington at his word regarding his credentials. Second, Elkington’s two criticisms of Thonemann’s analysis are, for lack of a better word, utterly asinine. It simply does not matter what the resolution of a photograph is if that photograph can conclusively show the dependence of the inscription on the plate in the photo to another inscription. I am disappointed that a journalist felt this kind of retort merited the forum it was given. Lastly, the article ignores several other actual scholars who have chimed in on this based on more than just two photographs.  It seems to me the article is meant more to keep a controversy alive than to report the news.

Sunday Times Article on the Codices by Peter Thonemann

Peter Thonemann has published an article in the Sunday Times discussing his relationship to the lead codices and the response of the media. Have a look!

Thoughts on the Jordan Lead Codices

There’s still a lot of confusion and misinformation circulating about the Jordan lead codices, and I thought I would summarize some of the main issues and some considerations that should be taken into account. I’m not going to describe the background of the plates’ putative discovery and early life, but you can find much of that background, and commentary, at the following links:

The Jewish Chronicle Online
Daily Mail2
PaleoJudaica, 2, 3
Jerusalem Post
Christian Science Monitor
Rogue Classicism, 2
The Telegraph
Elkington Press Release
The Forbidden Gospels
Zwinglius Redivivus
Christianity Today
Larry Hurtado
Exploring Our Matrix
The Washington Post
Thomas Verenna

Now, as many of the scholars above point out, several aspects of these codices beg skepticism. The  stories regarding their discovery differ in critical areas. The descriptions of the hoard differ. The codices are written in “secret code.” The codices’ main protagonist is shortly publishing a book about them and doesn’t seem to have any real credentials in the fields in which he claims specialization (and he calls the last book of the New Testament “the book of Revelations”). The most significant issue with the codices is described in an email exchange circulated recently by a young Oxford scholar named Peter Thonemann (available here). In that email, Thonemann explains that late last year Elkington sent photos of a copper codex with Greek writing on it to him for analysis. Thonemann quickly discovered a link between the codex’s inscription and a Greek/Aramaic tombstone inscription on display in a museum in Jordan (and published in two places). The copper codex, however, conflates the lambda and the alpha in the majuscule script, indicating the person writing it didn’t recognize the small difference between the two. The second and fourth letters on the third line of the following text (from left to right) are majuscule lambdas and alphas, respectively. While the difference is pretty clear, in some hands it’s barely perceptible, especially in inscriptions on stone:

Now on to the copper codex:

This reads ΛΛΥΠΕΧΛΙΡΕΛΒΓΛΡΟΚΛΙΕΙΣΙΩΝ and then ΛΛΥΠΕ written backwards. Another plate has the following at the bottom:

This contains the following portion of the other inscription: ΛΥΠΕΧΛΙΡΕΛΒΓ. The inscription Thonemann points to reads thus, with the words written in minuscule script and separated by spaces:

1 Σελαμαν χρηστὲ καὶ
2 ἄλυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγαρ ὁ καὶ Εἰσίων
3 Μονοαθου υἱὸς υἱῷ τειμίῳ τὸ μνῆμα
4 ἐποίησεν ἔτους τρίτου ἐπαρχείας

1 For Selaman, excellent and
2 harmless man, farewell! Abgar, also known as Eision,
3 son of Monoathos, for his excellent son, this tomb,
4 he constructed, in the third year of the province

Now here is the same inscription with portions from the first and then second inscriptions above bracketed:

1 Σελαμαν χρηστὲ καὶ
2 [ἄλυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγαρ ὁ καὶ Εἰσίων]
3 Μονοαθου υἱὸς υἱῷ τειμίῳ τὸ μνῆμα
4 ἐποίησεν ἔτους τρίτου ἐπαρχείας

1 Σελαμαν χρηστὲ καὶ
2 ἄ[λυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγ]αρ ὁ καὶ Εἰσίων
3 Μονοαθου υἱὸς υἱῷ τειμίῳ τὸ μνῆμα
4 ἐποίησεν ἔτους τρίτου ἐπαρχείας

The bracketed portions make no sense out of the context of the rest of the inscription. It seems the person responsible for the copper plate copied the entire second line off the inscription and then used portions of it on other plates. This indicates the copper codices are modern forgeries.

There are aspects of the copper plates which show they share the same provenance as the copper plate. Elkington seems to have overlooked this in sharing select photos of the lead codices. As I show in this post, the stylized palm tree near the bottom of the copper codex is exactly identical to a stylized tree that appears in at least one of the lead codices currently being publicized. This leads unquestionably to the conclusion that at least some of the lead codices come from the same forger who produced the copper codex. Other iconographic qualities are shared by other plates. Consider, for instance, this rectangular patterning from the copper codices:

Now take a look at some of the photos from the BBC set:

Now look at the star patterns under the palm tree in the copper codex:

Now look at the stars around the Menorah on some of the first photos released:

You can see both phenomena, as well as the stylized paleo-Hebrew on the forged copper plate and on the bigger plate:

The above also shows the codices were cast. The two-and-a-half registers on this plate are identical in every detail. The same set of images was pressed into clay three different times for a mold. The bottom half of the top register has been smoothed out to allow for the register below, showing it wasn’t stamped.

The dotted borders and their teardrop shaped adornments on this forged plate are also remarkably similar to the same phenomena on the “Jesus portrait” codex:

Notice also the same cryptic script, which looks like stylized, and sometimes reversed, paleo-Hebrew (see here for a brief judgment by an expert). The casting looks identical too. Bill Hamblin has also shown the Jesus portrait on this plate is strikingly similar to the image on ancient Helios coins. The copper plate also seems to have an impression of an old Alexander the Great coin with the lion headdress, which Hamblin discusses. These plates are all the work of the same hand, and the copper plate shows that that hand is the hand of a forger.

Some have posited that it’s still possible that some plates are authentic. Perhaps the copper plate was simply copied from authentic ones. While it’s certainly not totally outside the realm of possibility, a number of considerations mitigate the plausibility. First, it strains credulity to think that someone with authentic ancient codices would decide to go through the time and effort of producing fake ones to supplement the hoard, and then only publicize the fake codices. Second, we’ve seen no indication any plates have different origins. The notion that any are original is nothing more than wishful thinking. David Elkington’s credibility has been severely undermined by the fact that he hasn’t come froward on his own about Thonemann’s find, and is sharing photos of other codices that are clearly related to the copper ones. His story also changes with each new article.

Additionally, he is omitting from the publicity photos those qualities which pointed to forgery for Thonemann. No Greek writing is being shown. In fact, few of the photos show any kind of writing at all, unlike the earlier photos, and those that do show a much, much more cryptic script, perhaps intended to avoid the kind of embarrassing incident that happened with Thonemann? The changes in the collection also seem to indicate someone altered the plates after Thonemann’s analysis. Is Elkington in on the forgery? He doesn’t appear to be an innocent middleman who believes the codices to be authentic. He didn’t raise a stink when Thonemann told him his copper codex was bogus. Does Elkington stand to profit from the plates? Elkington doesn’t want to sell them, and is playing up that point. If he tried to sell them they could very easily be discovered as fake. However, he does have a book that may soon come out. He’s apparently been trying unsuccessfully to find a publisher. What better publicity could he produce by throwing the media a bone like this? if he’s just trying to sell books, the codices never have to see the light of day. In fact, the more intrigue and mystery he can produce, the more books he can sell. Is it a coincidence that we’re suddenly being told by the Telegraph that he’s been shot at by some Indiana Jones-like brotherhood trying to protect the codices from the world.

In light of these considerations, the burden of proof must lie exclusively with those who wish to assert any of these plates are authentic, and until some scientific analysis can show anything ancient is connected with these plates, I see no reason to give the question of their authenticity a second glance.

UPDATE: A gallery of all the photos released of the lead codices can be found here.

On the Lead vs. Copper Codices

I’ve seen come comments here and there wondering if we can draw conclusions about the new lead codices with their paleo-Hebrew script based on the judgments passed on the old copper plate analyzed by Thonemann (with its Greek script). I discussed this in the comment section of my previous post on the topic, but thought I would highlight the question in its own post. Besides the numerous reasons Elkington’s credibility has been eradicated, at least one portion of the copper plate analyzed by Thonemann was pressed or cast from the exact same die or mold as one of the lead plates currently making the rounds. Below you can see the tree from the old copper plate and the tree from one of the newer lead plates. They are absolutely identical. They came from the exact same die or mold. The lead plates are forgeries just like the copper plate.

Another photo of the current hoard of lead plates appears to have the same image on it, although I can’t find a large enough photo to tell for sure:

UPDATE: Here’s a photo provided by the Daily Mail of one of the guys involved with the codices. The codex standing up and in the middle appears to be the same as the lead one pictured above with the same tree on it as the old copper codex.

Peter Thonemann on the Lead Codices

(HT Daniel Peterson and Bill Hamblin) Peter Thonemann at Oxford has staked his career on the conclusion that the lead codices being discussed recently are forgeries executed within the last 50 years. The following is an exchange that took place between him and David Elkington late last year (Dr. Thonemann has confirmed to me that this exchange is authentic):

Lead Codices, or: One Born Every Minute

Over the past few days, you may have seen a spot of press attention about a cache of lead codices ‘from a remote cave in the north of Jordan’, which allegedly have some connection with early Christianity etc.:


…and so forth.

On 15 September 2010, I received the following email out of the blue from a certain David Elkington (whose name you will find in all these various news reports) – I’ve edited out only those bits which would reveal the mutual acquaintance:

“Dear Dr. Thonemann,

In relation to a discovery that I have been investigating in the Middle East I was given your email address by a friend […]. I am a biblical historian and specialist in the field of Christian and Hebrew origins. I’m working with Prof. Philip Davies of Sheffield University and Dr. Margaret Barker on a discovery that I made a few years back of a cache of ancient metal codices. They are comprised of lead and of copper – it is one of the copper codices that brings me to you. We think that it has a possible origin in Alexandria at the beginning of the 1st millennium AD – (the Bedouin who brought them to me said that his father found them in northern Egypt). It has an inscription in Greek along the top. A putative investigation has failed to find the meaning, dialect or type of Greek used and we are seeking to find an expert who might help in determining what it says.
Would you have the time and the knowledge to be able to help?

If you can I would be terribly grateful – I could email you a photograph of the codex as soon as you would like, however I would very much like to discuss it in person if at all possible […].

I look forward to your reply

Best Wishes

David Elkington”

I replied that I would be delighted to have a look. (Possibly worth noting in passing that in this email, the codices are said to come from “northern Egypt”; in the current press coverage, they are said to come from “a remote arid valley in northern Jordan”.) I received on the 13 October the following three photographs of this ‘copper codex’ from Mr Elkington:

As you will see, the ‘codex’ concerned is identical in fabric and design to the ones being touted on the BBC and elsewhere; the Greek lettering is very similar in style to the ‘Hebrew’ on the codices depicted on the BBC news website. There can be no reasonable doubt that it forms part of the same ‘cache’ from the Jordanian desert (or Egypt) – note especially the metal ‘ties’ at the left of the last photograph.

After having a close look at the photos, I replied later that same day:

“Dear David,

A surprisingly easy task, as it turns out!

The Greek text at the top of your photo no. 0556 reads: ΛΛΥΠΕΧΛΙΡΕΛΒΓΛΡΟΚΛΙΕΙΣΙΩΝ, followed by ΛΛΥΠΕ in mirror-writing.

This text corresponds to ΛΛΥΠΕ ΧΛΙΡΕ ΛΒΓΛΡ Ο ΚΛΙ ΕΙΣΙΩΝ, i.e. ἄλυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγαρ ὁ καὶ Εἰσίων, followed by the word ἄλυπε again, in mirror writing. The text at the bottom of your photo no. 0532 is the first part of the same text again: ΛΥΠΕΧΛΙΡΕΛΒΓ, i.e. [ἄ]λυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγ…

The text was incised by someone who did not know the Greek language, since he does not distinguish between the letters lambda and alpha: both are simply represented, in each of the texts, by the shape Λ.

The text literally means ‘without grief, farewell! Abgar also known as Eision’. This text, in isolation, is meaningless.

However, this text corresponds precisely to line 2 of the Greek text of a bilingual Aramaic/Greek inscription published by J.T. Milik, Syria 35 (1958) 243-6 no.6 (SEG 20, 494), and republished in P.-L. Gatier, Inscriptions grecques et latines de Syrie XXI: Inscriptions de la Jordanie, 2: Region centrale (Paris 1986), no.118. That inscription reads, in its entirety, as follows,

1 Σελαμαν χρηστὲ καὶ
2 ἄλυπε χαῖρε, Ἀβγαρ ὁ καὶ Εἰσίων
3 Μονοαθου υἱὸς υἱῷ τειμίῳ τὸ μνῆμα
4 ἐποίησεν ἔτους τρίτου ἐπαρχείας

’For Selaman, excellent and harmless man, farewell! Abgar, also known as Eision, son of Monoathos, constructed this tomb for his excellent son (i.e. Selaman), in the third year of the province’.

This is a stone tombstone from Madaba in Jordan, precisely dated to AD 108/9, on display in the Archaeological Museum in Amman.

The text on your bronze tablet, therefore, makes no sense in its own right, but has been extracted unintelligently from another longer text (as if it were inscribed with the words: ‘t to be that is the question wheth’). The longer text from which it derives is a perfectly ordinary tombstone from Madaba in Jordan which happens to have been on display in the Amman museum for the past fifty years or so. The text on your bronze tablet is repeated, in part, in three different places, meaningless in each case.

The only possible explanation is that the text on the bronze tablet was copied directly from the inscription in the museum at Amman by someone who did not understand the meaning of the text of the inscription, but was simply looking for a plausible-looking sequence of Greek letters to copy. He copied that sequence three times, in each case mixing up the letters alpha and lambda.

This particular bronze tablet is, therefore, a modern forgery, produced in Jordan within the last fifty years. I would stake my career on it.

All good wishes,

Peter Thonemann”

Well, he can’t say I didn’t warn him

UPDATE: Between April 2 and 5 I updated the introduction to the email exchange and added the entirety of it. The original post on March 31 quoted only Thonemann’s response to Elkington’s email and stated that I could not verify the authenticity of the exchange.