Sarhan (Jordanie) - Experts examining 'old Christian' discoveries to determine authenticity
Jordanian antiquities authorities have announced the recovery of several lead-sealed texts which they believe will prove whether a cache of metal books represent the oldest Christian writings ever discovered are authentic or well-crafted forgeries.
According to Department of Antiquities Director Ziad Saad, security services recovered this week several metal books from the local black market belonging to a horde of metal codices which some believe hold the secrets of early Christianity and could soon to be at the heart of an international dispute.
Upon examination, the recently recovered books were deemed to be identical to a set of 70 lead-sealed metal texts currently in the possession of an Israeli bedouin which authorities announced last month were illegally excavated from a cave in northern Jordan a few years ago, Saad said.
The location of the discovery, a series of caves near the east bank of the River Jordan near the village of Sarhan, and preliminary testing carried out by British experts dating the codices to the early first century AD, have set off speculation amongst the biblical academic community that the lead-sealed texts may be the earliest Christian writings ever discovered.
Saad stressed that despite the international media attention, the declarations of linguists, archaeologists and religious experts attempting to determine the texts’ authenticity from the limited number of photographs that have so far been released are “premature”.
“There has been a debate all over the net - some think they are fakes, some think they are very genuine - but we have yet to have a definitive conclusion based on a scientific approach,” Saad told The Jordan Times.
Authorities are set to send the recently recovered books to three separate labs for further analysis - in Britain, the US and at the Royal Scientific Society in Amman - in order to determine if the texts are indeed “the greatest discovery since the Dead Sea scrolls” or little more than sophisticated forgeries.
According to Saad, it will take experts three weeks to complete the tests on the recently recovered texts.
“Our position is quite clear; we need to make sure these pieces are authentic before moving forward with our case,” Saad added.
Hassan Saida, the Israeli bedouin farmer who is currently holding the cache at an undisclosed location near his home in the village of Um Al Ghanem, insists that the lead-sealed texts were passed down from his grandfather, who stumbled upon the cache while tending to his flock in northern Jordan in the early 1920s.
Saida has dismissed the department’s claims that the books were illegally excavated from Jordan some four years ago as a “publicity stunt”.
“They [the Jordanian Department of Antiquities] are going about making
all these claims about these codices and they don’t even know what they are,” Saida told The Jordan Times recently.
Rather than the records of the earliest Christians, Saida claims he has proof that the books date back even earlier - predating the time of Christ - and are strictly “ancient Hebrew texts” which he intends to place in an Israeli museum.
The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) has previously cast doubt over the books’ authenticity and denied any interest in the texts.
Saad said if the tests due confirm the texts’ authenticity, Jordan will resort to international law to “repatriate” the remaining books across the River Jordan and back to the land where they were uncovered.
In a statement to The Jordan Times, the Israeli embassy in Amman said it has notified the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the IAA’s willingness to discuss the fate of the texts with the Jordanian side.