Did anyone see this on the news yesterday?
(There are more pictures here.)
They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.
A group of 70 or so “books”, each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007.
A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol.
A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, and what he found inside might constitute extremely rare relics of early Christianity.
The director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.
“They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Mr Saad.
“Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticity checks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”
One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a student of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.
He says they could be “the major discovery of Christian history”, adding: “It’s a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church.”
It remains to be seen whether these books are indeed what they appear to be, and what their pages might reveal. But as Elkington said above, the thought of these books being handled, passed around and treasured by people who had known Jesus- perhaps even his disciples- this brings a tingle to the spine.
Will there be material here that will challenge, and puzzle? I suspect so.
There will almost certainly be a scramble to ‘make it all fit together’. To preserve the illusion (or delusion) of those of us whose faith rests on a particular view of the Bible- as an organic, seamless whole ‘without error or contradiction’.
I do not mean to be critical- but it is just that the more I look, the more I see questions, uncertainties, paradox, cultural and contextual bias. And to deny these is for me deny faith, and replace it with religion.
Faith remains- and the journey of engagement- with the Spirit of God encountered in all sorts of ancient text, but also in the sunrise, and the shared cup of tea.