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Artifacts and the Media: Lead Codices and the Public Portrayal of History





More scandalous is the complete lack of journalistic integrity, honest research, and thorough fact-checking. These codices might never have been heard of if the authors of the reports for BBC and Fox News (among others) had just checked with the academic community before publishing the “find”. At the very least, the journalists might have used less authoritative language, expressed more caution, and exposed the controversy rather than simply stating, as if doing so made it fact, that these codices were “the earliest Christian texts” and that they held “early images of Jesus.”



By Thomas S. Verenna
Independent Researcher and Student
http://tomverenna.Wordpress.com
May 2011


1. Introduction

Two months ago an article hit the media streams hard and fast, announcing that new artifacts had been discovered by a Bedouin containing the earliest known Christian writings, possibly even the words of the figure of Jesus himself.1 With a headline like that, anyone with even a modicum of academic interest in the historicity of the figure of Jesus would have looked over the article for any mention of a peer reviewed journal where they could read about the discovery, any translations of the script, or any dating methods used. To their dismay, they would have found nothing of the sort.

The article in question, published online on 21 March 2011 by the Daily Mail—a British tabloid—was the first many in the community had heard about this find, but it had not been the first release of this information. In fact The Sunday Times published a piece the day before, written by David Leppard, with the same sort of sensational title.2 (Unfortunately, one cannot access the article without first paying). Before that, the first mention of these codices stem from the Jewish Chronicle Online.3 But suffice it to say that the story did not pick up until after it became available on the Daily Mail’s website. Once that article was blogged, and once it hit social websites like Facebook and Twitter, it was picked up by many. By the following week, the article was run, in different ways with different sensationalist titles, by over two-dozen news sites. Even now, well into two months since the story first broke the reporting on and the discussion of this discovery shows no sign of stopping.4 And this is perhaps where the story really begins.

A few months ago the question was asked ‘What is in store for the historian of the future?’ and over the past four weeks everyone involved in the discussion of these codices has experienced just what that might look like.5 We are currently observing a cultural dynamics over what constitutes a reliable source for historical information in a world where convergence culture is defining how humanity obtains that information. By “convergence,” I mean the point wherein old media (in this instance, typical news sources like the BBC) and new media (blogs, social networks) meet social demand (information on the lead codices). The reader may be reminded of Henry Jenkin’s words, “Convergence is coming and you had better be ready.”6 And ready is something the Academy, for the most part, simply is not.

2. The Story of the Lead Codices as Told by Old Media

This story was originally nothing short of a mystery; and academic mysteries are one of those few tales that the media loves to consume and regurgitate as quickly as possible. Tabloids might have started the trend, but all they had to do was generate a little interest. Slight interest, it seems, was only the amount needed to whet the appetites of the readers. Shortly following the Daily Mail’s article, the story ran on news sites like the BBC, the Daily Telegraph, and Fox News. But for the moment the focus is not so much on the speed by which they traveled around the web; instead, for this section, the content is what is important.

First, to the people involved (the dramatis personae, if you will). The initial reports were vague and only mentioned by name two notable individuals: Margaret Barker and Philip R. Davies (more on this in a moment). However, they drew attention, albeit covertly, to a group of people behind the discovery in a way that made it appear, at least to the lay reader, that this find had already been established and published. And one might have indeed pulled that impression simply from the lines of the Daily Mail from 21 March:

The find of scrolls and 70 lead codices - tiny credit-card-sized volumes containing ancient Hebrew script talking of the Messiah and the Resurrection - has excited biblical scholars. Much of the writing is in code, but experts have deciphered images, symbols and a few words and the texts could be 2,000 years old.

And again from 30 March:7

Academics are divided as to their authenticity but say that if verified, they could prove as pivotal as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.

And:

Experts speculate that the tablets could be the lost collection of codices referred to in the Bible's Book of Revelation.

Also:

This estimate is based on the form of corrosion which has taken place, which experts believe would be impossible to achieve artificially.

This raised the question, “What experts?” The most alarming thing about these news stories is the portrayal of a sort of universal knowledge (or at least a larger knowledge base) of these tablets within the Academy when, in fact, very few scholars knew of them. Of course there are other examples, but this illustrates the broad claims made by these media sources about the level of academic involvement in these codices.

Soon the reader was introduced to the divergence in the debate over the codices’ authenticity. No, the reader was not shown differing peer reviewed treatments in academic journals (not even BAR). On the one side, it was discovered that the IAA had already examined the codices and had determined them to be fakes. On the other, the Jewish Chronicle reported that Robert Feather (of ‘Holy lance’ fame)8 was arguing for authenticity; and the reader was also told, from the Daily Mail, of one David Elkington. And of course other details emerged with the addition of two press releases.9

The people involved aside (for now), the first reports from Feather and the Jewish Chronicle were that there were around or over 20 codices:

His collection consists of more than 20 codices (early books), cast mostly in lead and containing cryptic messages in Hebrew and Greek along with symbols such as the menorah. In various places, the Hebrew letters appear to stand for Bar Kochba, leader of the second-century Judean revolt against the Romans; and the talmudic mystic Shimon bar Yochai, who hid from the Romans in a cave for 13 years.

But then the Daily Mail had this to say:

The find of scrolls and 70 lead codices - tiny credit-card-sized volumes containing ancient Hebrew script talking of the Messiah and the Resurrection - has excited biblical scholars.

Did that read 70 codices? Not 20? Well according to both press releases:10

(a) The hoard consists of up to 70 ring-bound books (codices) made of lead and copper. Many of them are sealed on all sides. Scrolls, tablets and other artefacts, including an incense bowl, were also found at the same site. Some of the lead pages are written in a form of archaic Hebrew script with ancient messianic symbols. Some of the writing appears to be in a form of code.

(b) The hoard consists of a collection of ring-bound books (codices) made of lead and of copper. Many of them are sealed on all sides. Scrolls, tablets and other artefacts, including an incense bowl, were also found at the same site. Some of the lead pages are written in a form of archaic Hebrew script with ancient messianic symbols. Some of the writing appears to be in a form of code.

And what of their provenance? The reports here are a little sketchy as well. Originally reported by the Jewish Chronicle:

The objects belong to Hassan Saeda, a Bedouin farmer in Galilee who says they have been in his family's possession since his great-grandfather found them in a cave in Jordan, a century ago.

The Daily Mail tells the reader:

The owner of the cache is a Bedouin named Hassan Saeda who lives in the village of Um-al-Ghanam in the north of Israel, according to the Sunday Times. He is believed to have obtained them after they were discovered in northern Jordan.

The BBC seems to have different information:

They were apparently found by a Jordanian Bedouin between 2005 and 2007, when a flash flood exposed two niches inside a cave, and have since been taken to Israel.

The two press releases report this:

(a) The collection appears to be of mixed provenance. But initial metallurgical tests indicate that some of the books made of lead could date from the first century CE/AD, based on the form of corrosion which has taken place, which experts believe would be impossible to achieve artificially.

(b) The discovery was made by chance some 5 years ago by wandering Bedouin shepherds in a cave within a militarized zone in remote Northern Jordan. The hoard was subsequently acquired by an Israeli Bedouin, who smuggled them across the border where they remain hidden under his protection.

And Philip Davies seemed to have been told they had been found only two years ago:

The provenance is known. I have consulted epigraphers, of course. The discovery is about 2 years old and the Easter timing is largely coincidental, forced by an unauthorized leak from a charlatan!11

This story was already questionable from the start, but now the problems were becoming clearer. The information in these articles and press releases was starting to overlap and in considerably more contradictory ways. In several instances, the media did not seem clear as to whether they were talking about tablets or scrolls (or both)! The mystery behind these codices was starting to unravel; a thread had been haphazardly left unattended and it would not be long before an observant group found it and tugged away.

3. The Investigation: Bibliobloggers to the Rescue

In the beginning, it appeared as though everyone was granting the find some merit. The academic community, it seems, has become so used to the media altering the finds of credible scholars and archaeologists that many dismissed the news reports as sensational, but there were scant few who immediately called the core of the story bunk. Notably Jim West was the first to say he was flat-out not buying what the Daily Mail was selling.12 Others, like Jim Davila, asked for a much greater level of caution while laying out the conditions that would convince him that the texts were genuine.13 Everyone else in the blogosphere seemed to follow Davila’s lead and expressed caution, but since nothing had yet been released to the public or the community, either in pictures or publications, there was nothing to examine.

This all changed very quickly and it was the Biblioblogging community—those academics who blog on subjects relating to the Bible—who were first on the scene to identify and isolate the problems. As soon as images were released (albeit slowly and often in poor quality), problems were discovered immediately. Jim Davila had his eyes on these codices the second he became aware of them.14 He found instances a few years ago of similar pieces which had been sent around to various online academic boards.15 He posted two images of what appeared to be cast metal tablets not like anything that is currently known to exist from the period, but resembling quite stunningly those found in the pictures disclosed by Elkington and the press. On the images, from what could be discerned, the script appeared to be a combination of different languages, and arranged in a manner that made no logical sense. Some noted the presence of paleohebrew script, some Greek, a form of Samaritan, and even Nabataean.16

Classicist and blogger David Meadows had gone to work on the stories themselves, picking apart contradiction after contradiction.17 Without any pictures to go on initially, and with talk of ‘coded script’ and lead, Meadows and I had come to the same conclusion about the tablets: that they very well might be lead curse tablets which were rather common in antiquity.18 But Meadows noted before I had that they were generally inscribed, not cast. And whether or not the tablets that Elkington had been promoting were cast or inscribed had not yet been determined since picture quality had been so poor.

Then there came the blog posts about Elkington himself. Based upon the media reports and press releases, this Elkington had been portrayed as someone well established, yet I and many others had never heard of him. Since the media had reported that Philip Davies had been working with him, I initially assumed he was connected to Sheffield in some manner.

I, like most, hadn’t a clue (and perhaps not a care) who this David Elkington was. It was quite easy to toss him into the same category as Simcha Jacobovici with his recent ‘crucifixion nails’ “discovery,”19 though Elkington was described as the “leader of the British team.”20 But Elkington was also portrayed to be of a status which would have placed him in the realm of having considerable expertise. He was listed as “a British scholar of ancient religious history and archeology,”21 “a scholar of ancient religious archaeology,”22 who is “primarily” an “Egyptologist, specializing in Egypt-Palestinian links that have inevitably drawn him into the field of Biblical studies” and also an author of a “highly acclaimed academic thesis on the resonance and acoustical origins of religion.”23

No one was out to assassinate his character, but it was not difficult at all to find ways to dismiss Elkington outright as someone who, if not of dubitable character, was a little bit naïve and ignorant, and not simply about the codices.24 His “highly acclaimed” thesis (read: book) on resonance and acoustical origins of religion was not at all academic (‘new-age’ would fit better as a descriptive).25 While there is nothing wrong, per se, with self-publishing (many well-known scholars publish via print-on-demand), calling something that is self-published a ‘thesis’ and ‘academic’ is not only misleading, but it raises questions about the integrity of the individual who would make such claims. And those who do publish through print-on-demand often have already published, or are about to publish, academically. Elkington, to the best of everyone’s knowledge, has not. His credibility also losses ground when one realizes his credentials are not even related to history, or Egyptology, or archaeology at all, but rest entirely in art (and in what way, no one really knows; though it does appear to be in graphic design).

And if this weren’t enough, he has also changed his name. As it turns out, Joel Watts started receiving messages on his blog about Elkington from those claiming to be family members and former friends.26 While many were slanderous and unverifiable (ergo not worth mentioning here), some turned out to be legitimate information, including the revelation that David Elkington was actually Paul Elkington.27

A search of this name not only turns up this fact, but reveals that Elkington had posted on his school’s website (where he received his degree in Art), within the last few years, that he was not only an author but now also an Egyptologist!28 What this means is that it was indeed more than likely that Elkington had told the media he held these titles (i.e. “scholar”, “Egyptologist”, etc.) rather than the media simply wrongly labeling him as such (which also happens a lot).

But, Elkington aside, one is inevitably confronted with the reliable name of Philip Davies, Professor emeritus of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield. Having had a good relationship with Davies for the past several years, I contacted him almost immediately when I read that he had purportedly called the codices ‘genuine’. So, it seems, did Jim West; and he had the foresight to ask him for permission to post the response. As it turns out, Philip noted that he had indeed been misquoted.29 The media had convoluted Davies‘ otherwise academic response (one of caution and humility) and turned it into overstatement.

Philip Davies also left several public comments, arguing that, while he doesn’t think they are forgeries (that is, they aren’t replicating anything known to exist from the time, and no script was forged to read something written by a known person—such as what had probably happened with the inscription on the James Ossuary) he also suggests they are not early Christian.30 He has even published a comment, along with the picture of a tablet with iconography which appears to be Gethsemane and a ‘T’ shaped cross comparing it to a medieval image of St. Stephen‘s Gate (though others, like Robert Deutsch, have noted the similarity to coin iconography dating to Constantine the Great).31 More recently he has stated that the tablets are “too modern in style” to be from the early first century.32

But perhaps the biggest blow to the early dating of these codices (if not their authenticity altogether) comes from an email, shared virally by Bibliobloggers, from Professor Peter Thonemann of Oxford. He noted, first and foremost, that Elkington had sent him pictures of some tablets from the same corpus the previous year asking his impression of them. Thonemann replied directly to Elkington, and his analysis has become known to those involved, but essentially he made two devastating critiques of the tablets he was shown.33

In Thonemann’s critique, he writes (to Elkington in the email he shared):

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.

Thonemann’s conclusion?

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.

That was the final nail in the coffin. But to say there weren’t other nails already hammered into it would not be true. An email group, formed from members of the Biblioblogging community, had been organized following Thonemann’s response that was built upon the instantaneous distribution to academics of new articles about the find, discussions about the value of these articles (or, rather, the lack thereof), and to distribute new blog posts about finds related to their authenticity.34 As a result of this group, a great deal of additional information started to appear all over the blogosphere.

4. The Response: Finally the Truth is Out!

Soon after Thonemann’s response went public, it seemed as though the media and Elkington immediately attempted to save face by posting even more images with even more grandiose headlines. Some claimed to hold the earliest image of the face of Jesus.35 Others continued to press that the find was greater than the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.36 And yet more and more would parrot the original articles claiming that the find held clues about the earliest Christian communities. Perhaps the most defining moment related to the absurdity of this “find” was the discussion, within the email group, of Elkington’s reply to Thonemann, wherein Elkington proclaimed, “He’s [Thonemann] not a biblical scholar, he’s a Greek classicist.”37 Of the pictures and articles that were released, none went unassailed.

Elkington’s comment, noted above, along with the one whereby he claimed that doubting the authenticity of the tablets based upon pictures was “out of order,” became the target of some much deserved ridicule.38 When no academic journal article or archaeological monograph can be cited, and only poor quality images are produced (by Elkington, et al!), what exactly does he expect the community to judge?

But perhaps the most published ridicule and best defense for using the images available to gauge authenticity came from Robert Deutsch who noted, quite astutely, that one of the images—a chariot with a rider pulled by four horses—in the tablet Thonemann examined was taken directly from a modern fake tourist trinket.39 While the image originally appeared to come directly from iconography related to ancient Greek coins,40 these parallels fell short when compared to the fake trinket produced by Deutsch. So identical was the image on the tablet with the trinket that there made little sense to say that it was anything but a direct copy, offering further evidence against its authenticity.

It does not stop there. More and more iconography began to be associated with coins which are easily found in museums and in books, on websites and on message boards. Early on it was clear that the palm trees and menorah depicted on some of the tablets resembled images from coins dating to the Bar Kokhba period. As for the seven pointed star, it is similar to those found on two different coins, bearing similar images, but for different reasons. One Roman coin dating to the reign of Caesar Augustus contains a comet portrayed with seven points around a single dot, and another dating to Alexander Jannaeus contains the star, a dot with seven points surrounding it.41

Perhaps some might argue that because one or two codices turned out to be fake, that wouldn’t automatically classify them all as fakes. Jim Davila correctly writes:42

So just because one of the codices is a fake, does it mean they all are? Let's see. Some guy makes a major epigraphic discovery. So what does he do? He goes out and finds a forger and has the forger make up some very similar fakes and salts the real cache of codices with them. You believe that?

Then there is the obvious question: why would that individual send an expert (Thonemann) a fake rather than one of the real tablets? This makes little sense, especially if you want to put your best foot forward. And then there is that other pressing question: Elkington knew that these were fakes months ago, when he had first emailed Thonemann. So why would he now, months later, contact the press and present this find as legitimate? This raises alarms, at least for those of us involved, about the competency of Elkington and about the integrity and legitimacy of the codices. Whatever credibility might have been attached to them, and him, seems now to be hopelessly lost.

5. Conclusion: Is it Enough?

What this treatment illustrates, more than the deception behind the lead codices, is the hijacking of history and the Bible by the media. This isn’t a new problem; it is one that has existed for decades. Some might say this problem dates back to the Roman period, wherein historians like Tacitus and Suetonius used the Acta Diurna which, as far as other sources are concerned, was not nearly as useful except perhaps for those who preferred gossip and rhetoric to factual information. But with the internet, the media has the ability to spread memes much more quickly than it had before and those memes are likely to last longer and remain available longer than inaccuracies presented in the past. While deceptive persons might try to pull the wool over the eyes of others, it is really the media that must be held accountable. It is accountable for giving these individuals a pedestal to stand on and an audience of eager readers who have no idea they are about to be conned into believing a false portrayal of the past.

More scandalous is the complete lack of journalistic integrity, honest research, and thorough fact-checking. These codices might never have been heard of if the authors of the reports for BBC and Fox News (among others) had just checked with the academic community before publishing the “find”. At the very least, the journalists might have used less authoritative language, expressed more caution, and exposed the controversy rather than simply stating, as if doing so made it fact, that these codices were “the earliest Christian texts” and that they held “early images of Jesus.”

That other news outlets are still taking this story seriously, to the point that they are still entertaining the possibility of early Christian origin, the authenticity of the codices, and the link to the figure of Jesus, should be a wake-up call to those who don’t think these sorts of stories deserve to be countered. They certainly need to be publicly countered. And the reason is quite simple: if the media continues to give credibility to these sorts of sensational stories, if it continues to ignore the scholars who argue against the reliability of these stories, then it may be that the lay reader will never come to find the refutations and accept those erroneous reports without a thought.

Since the beginning, Bibliobloggers have dedicated a lot of time to disseminating accurate information about the codices, not just to the public but also to media outlets in the hopes that one of them might post a correction, might expose the fraud (if that is indeed what this is), might enlighten their own readers. In the end, only a handful mentioned the possibility that the codices might not be what they were portrayed.43

One must ask if this is enough. James McGrath made an interesting comment about this whole situation which perhaps sums up the value of blogging, as a form of new media, and the academic world:44

The biblioblogging community should be proud. It seems that yet again the collective effort of scholars and other interested parties with blogs has shed more light on an issue than the media or any one individual managed to, and has done so quickly and effectively. The next time someone asks “Why blog?” I will mention this as an example of the sort of thing that makes blogging worthwhile for all.

After examining the almost immediate response to the codices by Biblioblogs, one is confronted with the value of a form of media, which is not peer reviewed or looked over by an editor, which can bring about correct historical information to a large audience quickly. Perhaps blogging isn’t enough; but it is something.



Notes

1Are artefacts discovered in a remote cave the secret writings about the last years of Jesus?The Daily Mail Online. Published online, 21 March 2011. Accessed online: 11 April 2011.

2 “New clues to birth of Christianity” The Sunday Times. Published online, 20 March 2011.

3 Simon Rocker, “Heavy Metal Secrets from a Mid-East Cave.” The Jewish Chronicle Online. Published online, 3 March 2011. Accessed online: 11 April 2011.

4 Anonymous. “Prof’s Mystery Texts.” Sheffield Telegraph. Published online, 20 April 2011. Accessed online: 20 April 2011. Also see: Anonymous, “An Easter Enigma: What Ever Happened to the Hebrew Christians?The Economist. Published online, 20 April 2011. Accessed online: 20 April 2011; Taylor Luck, “What Happened to the Metal Codices that Promised Christian Revelations?Christian Science Monitor. Published online, 5 May 2011. Accessed online: 11 May 2011; “Tiny Metal Books May be Earliest Christian Texts.” Published online, 6 May 2011. Accessed online: 11 May 2011. Sholeh Patrick, “Are Rusty Books Christ’s Chronicle?CDA Press. Published online, 12 May 2011. Accessed online: 13 May 2011.

5 Th. S. Verenna, “Convergence Culture and the Future of History.” Accessed online: 11 April 2011.

6 Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York, NYU Press, 2006), 10.

7 Fiona Macrae, “Could this be the biggest find since the Dead Sea Scrolls? Seventy metal books found in cave in Jordan could change our view of Biblical history.” The Daily Mail Online. Published online, 30 March 2011. Accessed online: 11 April 2011.

8 Robert Feather, “Uncovering the Spear of Destiny.” Published online, 2004. Accessed online: 10 May 2011.

9Secret Hoard of Ancient Sealed Books Found in Jordan,” and another of the same name but with slightly different content, “Secret Hoard of Ancient Sealed Books Found in Jordan.” Scribd. Published online. Accessed online: 11 April 2011.

10 ibid.

11 Philip Davies (via Jim West), “Philip Davies on the ‘Newly Discovered’ ‘Jesus Plates’ (Scrolls, Whatever).” Accessed online: 11 April 2011.

12 Jim West, “‘Secret Writings’ about the Last Years of Jesus?” Published online, 21 March 2011. Accessed online: 12 May 2011.

13 Jim Davila, “Update on the Inscribed Metal Plates.” Published online, 22 March 2011. Accessed online: 12 May 2011.

14 ibid. Davila writes, “Even if the antiquity of the materials is demonstrated, this proves nothing, since ancient materials are sometimes available on which to write fake inscriptions.” This turns out to be an apt observation.

15 ibid. He notes, “Justin Kerk has referred me to a 2007 discussion on the Unicode mailing list of ‘Menorah- and Hebrew-inscribed lead plates of dubious provenance.’ These may be the plates currently in the news. As it turns out, they appear to be part of the same corpus. See his notes for further information, as well as links to the tablets in question.

16 See Jim Davila’s notes for links to the Unicode board and the discussion that followed from the images.

17 David Meadows, “Lead Codices – Once More into the ‘Reach’.” Published online, 3 April 2011. Access online: 20 April 2011.

18 David Meadows, “Lead Codices Silliness.” Published online, 30 March 2011. Accessed online: 12 May 2011. Th. S. Verenna, “Conspiracy Theorists, Legitimate Scholarship, and Lead tablets.” Published online, 31 March 2011. Accessed online: 12 May 2011.

19 Who recently came out with the news that he had ‘found’ two nails which was used to crucify Jesus; dilettantes and the media everywhere rejoiced with the news. Coincidentally, the news comes only one week before Easter. See R.R. Cargill’s excellent refutation of the claims made by Simcha here on Bible and Interpretation, “A Critique of Simcha Jacobovici’s Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross.” Published online, May 2011. Accessed online, 10 May 2011.

20 Anonymous, “Ancient Books Uncovered in Jordan May Date to Start of Christianity.” Fox News. Published online 30 March 2011. Accessed online: 11 April 2011.

21 “Could this be the biggest find since the Dead Sea Scrolls?” ibid.

22 Robert Pigott, “Jordan Battles to Regain Priceless Christian Relics.” The BBC Online. Published online 29 March 2011. Accessed 11 April 2011.

23 From the press releases noted above.

24 Elkington’s page on Collin’s website, http://www.andrew
collins.com/page/conference/speakers/david.htm
. Accessed online: 20 April 2011.

25 Aside from associations with both Colin Andrews (http://
www.colinandrews.net/DavidElkington-ColinAndrews-Secret
Meeting.html
) and Andrew Collins (http://www.andrew
collins.com/page/conference/review023.htm
), his book involves acoustic experiments and building designs; something I’m sure all graphic artists know all about. Since he has never published academically on the subject, it is hard to say how his findings fare any better than something found in other works by pseudo-scholarship in the likes of Dorothy Murdock or general dilettantes in the media like Glenn Beck.

26 Joel Watts, “Some Light on David Elkington, or is it Paul?” Published online, 31 March 2011. Accessed online: 12 May 2011.

27 ibid.

28 Paul /David Elkington, http://www.baacorsham.co.uk
/guestbook2004.htm#elkington
. Accessed: 20 April 2011. He writes, “I’m now a writer/egyptologist[sic] and have a few books out at the moment, but studying at Corsham was a great foundation, even though I didn’t finish the course and left somewhat under a cloud which was later identified as ill-health, now cleared, thank goodness. After leaving I had various jobs in film and TV until I got the ‘egypt’[sic] bug and pursued a new career in the field of ancient history and linguistics.”

30 Philip Davies (via Jim West), “Philip Davies on the Thonemann Essay.” Published online, 7 April 2011. Accessed online: 20 April 2011. Davies writes: “But I do love a good story and there is one here – not about early Christians, though.”

31 Philip Davies (via Jim West), “One of the Lead Codices Images: Philip Davies.” Published online, 13 April 2011. Accessed online: 20 April 2011.

32 “Prof’s Mystery Texts.” ibid. The article does not clarify his meaning here, nor does it specify from when he believes they might authentically be from. According to other comments he has made, Davies believes the lead itself might be old but the iconography is more modern. See: Philip Davies (via Th. S. Verenna), “Lead Codices Watch: Philip Davies Clarifies his Comments.” Published online, 23 April 2011. Accessed online: 10 May 2011.

33 Peter Thonemann (via Daniel McClellan), “Peter Thonemann on the Lead Codices.” Published online, 31 March 2011. Accessed online: 20 April 2011. Thonemann writes: “This particular bronze tablet is, therefore, a modern forgery, produced in Jordan within the last fifty years. I would stake my career on it.” See also Peter Thonemann’s response, “The Messiah Codex Decoded.” The Times Literary Supplement. Published online, 6 April 2011. Accessed online: 20 April 2011.

34 Among those participating in the email group were Jim West, Joel Watts, James R. Davila, Daniel McClellan, David Meadows, James Tabor, James McGrath, and Mark Goodacre.

35 Nick Pryer, “Is This the First Ever Portrait of Jesus?The Daily Mail Online. Published online, 4 April 2011. Accessed online: 12 May 2011.

36 G. Jeffrey MacDonald, “Could New Discovery Trump Dead Sea Scrolls? Scholars Intrigued but Cautious.” The Christian Science Monitor. Published online, 31 March 2011. Accessed online: 12 May 2011.

37 Roddy Ashworth, “Unholy Row as New Expert Calls Ancient Scrolls Fakes.” The Daily Express. Published online, 10 April 2011. Accessed online: 20 April 2011.

38 “Dismissing the provenance of the books on the basis of two low resolution photographs by e-mail is out of order.” From the Daily Express article, “Unholy Row…, noted above.

39 Robert Deutsch (via Jim West), “What Happens When a Faker Fakes from a Fake?” Published online, 7 April 2011. Accessed online 20 April 2011.

40 Th. S. Verenna, “New Roundup on Lead Codices and Additional Information.” Published online, 3 April 2011. Accessed online: 12 May 2011.

41 Robert Deutsch (via Jim West), “A Follow Up by Robert Deutsch on the ‘Lead Codices’.” Published online, 5 April 2011. Accessed online: 11 May 2011.

42 Jim Davila, “Random Thoughts on the Fake Metal Codices.” Published online, 2 April 2011. Accessed online: 20 April 2011.

43 Natalie Wolchover, “Exclusive: Early Christian Lead Codices Now Called Fakes.” Live Science. Published online, 11 April 2011. Accessed online: 12 May 2011.

44 James McGrath, “March Biblioblog Rankings, Biblical Studies Carnival, and More.” Published online, 1 April 2011. Accessed online: 12 May 2011.





Comments (11)


Following Simcha's press conference on the Jesus Nails I notified the media which covered the story, inc. the Associated Press, CNN and a few others that the nails in question were in my lab 15 yrs or more before they were 'discovered' by Simcha and had no relation to his absurd story. None were interested in covering it, they had their Easter story and only Ha-aretz was interested and the IAA later put out a press release refuting his claim and supporting mine. To make things worse, I see that Tabor's name appears here in the footnotes along with Goodacre and others who were corresponding on the forged codices. Tabor knew within three days after Simcha's Jesus Nails press conference that I had cleaned out Professor Haas's lab where the nails were found in 1975, but as of this writing has remained quiet to protect Simcha as well as attacking Cargill in a very nasty way. More on this later...
#1 - Joe Zias - 05/16/2011 - 09:17



Dear Joe,

Thanks for this. Yes, you're right about the media in most respects; I wouldn't be so hasty as to assume that all media sources are just out for the story and that's why they refuse to post retractions. That might be oversimplified. I am sure most journalists don't go to school, spend all that money, and put in all that effort to lie to people. There is a serious social aspect here that I think you might be failing to address.

As for James Tabor being included in this group, I can say that his part was welcome and not once did he ask me to remove anything related to Simcha or the crucifixion nails from this article. I like James, I think he's a good scholar and knows what he's talking about. Of course I don't agree with him about a lot of things; but he does have interesting things to say that I feel contribute to the greater good of the Academy. Now as for Simcha, that is another story entirely.
#2 - T.S. Verenna - 05/16/2011 - 11:16



Speaking as a longtime journalist (print), I found your analysis very thorough and thought-provoking. Here are a couple of the thoughts it provoked:

1. For many reporters and editors, one of the first questions asked nowadays before publishing a story is, "Can we be sued for this?" Obviously, a story that refers only to first-century persons or groups is not legally actionable. But a story that hints at fraud being perpetrated by a living person could very easily result in a libel suit. Thus, it's much safer simply to print or broadcast someone's extraordinary claim than to do a story that realistically reflects the scholarly community's doubts about such a claim. It's a spineless attitude, of course, and negatively affects a lot of stories besides those about archeology.

2. It's not helpful to have respectable scholars themselves sensationalizing their research with claims about finding the real Atlantis or the true inspiration for Noah's flood or the parting of the Red Sea, and so on ad nauseam. These kinds of claims (and the press releases touting the TV shows about them) more or less force media to do stories about them, but because of point 1. above, those stories will tend to repeat the claims without any serious analysis of the evidence or personalities involved.

Given what I know about how this stuff works on the media end, I would suggest the creation of a sort of rapid-response debunking organization that could blast out press releases (through a widely distributed service such as PR Newswire) that could be quoted safely in reaction to new "discoveries" like the crufixion nails or the lead codices. (The "blogosphere" response is too decentralized to be useful on deadline and doesn't provide the kind of institutional authority needed to outweigh fears of legal action.) This would offer reporters a way to impart "balance" into these stories or to write second-day ledes if the original claim gets loose without any critique: "Archeology Group Says 'Ancient Books' Likely Modern Fakes," for example.
#3 - M.Buettner - 05/16/2011 - 12:08



An excellent article. But I fear that its pointless. The media exist as a business. Any journalistic ethics that might once have constrained the profit motive is rapidly disappearing. The media have created an entirely paradoxographical parallel universe in which human civilization was created by contact with space aliens, in which the pyramids are 10,000 years old, populated by ghosts and monsters, and in which we possess the nails from the true cross. The academic community exists to cover up these truths in a vast conspiracy, keeping down all the rebels fighting to expose the truth (that's Simcha and Elkington, if you don't recognize them). That is what people will pay to hear.
#4 - Helena Constantine - 05/16/2011 - 13:31



Thanks for your comments, M.

You wrote: "It's not helpful to have respectable scholars themselves sensationalizing their research with claims about finding the real Atlantis or the true inspiration for Noah's flood or the parting of the Red Sea, and so on ad nauseam. These kinds of claims (and the press releases touting the TV shows about them) more or less force media to do stories about them, but because of point 1. above, those stories will tend to repeat the claims without any serious analysis of the evidence or personalities involved."

This is absolutely a serious criticism that needs to be addressed in the Academy as well. I do not have any specific solutions to list here, but I will have a few in a book I am working on (in prep.) concerning this subject.

Your conclusion: "Given what I know about how this stuff works on the media end, I would suggest the creation of a sort of rapid-response debunking organization that could blast out press releases (through a widely distributed service such as PR Newswire) that could be quoted safely in reaction to new "discoveries" like the crufixion nails or the lead codices. (The "blogosphere" response is too decentralized to be useful on deadline and doesn't provide the kind of institutional authority needed to outweigh fears of legal action.) This would offer reporters a way to impart "balance" into these stories or to write second-day ledes if the original claim gets loose without any critique: "Archeology Group Says 'Ancient Books' Likely Modern Fakes," for example."

Sometimes there is no balance, however. Sometimes things *are* black and white. Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the nails Simcha possesses are not crucifixion nails (and were certainly not used on Jesus!), and the lead codices (the ones we've seen) are indeed not genuine (and by 'genuine' I mean not what they are portrayed as) and at least one is a definite fake (the others are also probably fakes for the listed reasons above). There isn't much room for 'balance' here, I'm afraid. And any attempt to create balance is only an attempt to fabricate controversy for the sake of it.
#5 - T.S. Verenna - 05/16/2011 - 14:42



Great roundup, and nice to see such a long referenced article on the story. I'm still surprised, however, that there is so little coverage or discussion of the metalworking. Where can the analysis of corrosion be found? Where are the XRF data and other scans of the codicies? The analysis of toolmarks and techniques...etc?

The comments about the corrosion being impossible to fake are quite funny - as corrosion is chemical process, given the right equipment, anything can be aged.

I requested some better images from Phillip Davies, and he sent me one. I've been meaning to write an eyeball analysis of it, and you've inspired me to get it done this afternoon.

Cheers
Jamie
http://www.primitivemethod.org
@primitivemethod
#6 - Jamie Hall - 05/17/2011 - 10:55



you suggest that scholars get some sort of \'rapid response\' team together.
ASOR has had exactly that in place for several years and ought to be the go to group for journalists. alas, as joe z. said, journalists just aren\'t interested.

many of us in ASOR and in SBL have been working for a good while now with media outlets who simply don\'t care whether what they present is accurate or not. they only care, it seems for all the world, about ratings, hits, and advertising dollars. the dumber the theory, the more press it receives.

so why don\'t reporters consult scholars? don\'t you guys know any?
believe me, a lot of us can give you an entire list of specialists in everything from archaeologists to biblical exegetes to historians covering the entire gamut from the bronze age through the byzantine period and up to modern society.

you guys just don\'t care enough about the subject to bother checking. at least that\'s what it looks like to me. and i\'ve been in contact with cnn, time, npr, the jerusalem post, the associated press, the los angeles times, and many others.

no, even if there were a \'rapid response team\' (and there is already) you guys hold all the cards and you don\'t want anyone else playing with them.
so our \'decentralized\' blogging methodology will just have to do until you lot do some fact checking.
#7 - JWest - 05/17/2011 - 21:07



Thomas,

You wrote, "There isn't much room for 'balance' here, I'm afraid. And any attempt to create balance is only an attempt to fabricate controversy for the sake of it."

I put "balance" in scare quotes for more or less this very reason. "Balance" is what a lot of journalism professors preach as a substitute for objectivity, which they say is unattainable. Rather than a deliberate attempt to create controversy (though that does sometimes happen), I think it's mainly a response to all the sniping about media bias: "We won't do any analysis of our own, we'll present 'both sides' and let our readers/viewers draw their own conclusions." Obviously, sometimes one "side" may not deserve to have its case given serious consideration.

Jim,

You wrote:
"many of us in ASOR and in SBL have been working for a good while now with media outlets who simply don\'t care whether what they present is accurate or not. they only care, it seems for all the world, about ratings, hits, and advertising dollars. the dumber the theory, the more press it receives."

I can well understand the exasperation you must feel, and I'm not going to make excuses. I'm regularly embarrassed by some of the stuff my colleagues print or broadcast, the more so when I saw the same press release and knew it was junk. Much of the problem is the fact that there's a big PR machine out there constantly throwing bogus stories at reporters who are under increasing pressure to boost their byline counts. Any attempt to respond to or refute those stories has to be just as aggressive.

I appreciate the information about the ASOR effort and will be checking it out for my own use.

The whole issue is one that has cropped up on The Bible and Interpretation before (Robert Cargill, for one, has brought it up previously). At Mark Elliott's request I'm working on an article that I hope will offer some insight into the problem and some concrete suggestions for dealing with it.
#8 - M.Buettner - 05/18/2011 - 10:28



Thanks, M.B. I certainly hope some way of moving pass the 'press impasse' can be found. And I appreciate your observation that we must be as aggressive as the pr machines. That's what some of us are urging. Perhaps your encouragement to that end will have some positive influence.

And I look forward to your article.
#9 - Jim - 05/18/2011 - 11:54



We poor human beings have a sense that there is a truth just beyond our grasp, which one great discovery might just reveal, and the press makes money by telling us what we want to hear.
#10 - Martin - 05/22/2011 - 09:25



There is no "old media" - so don't mistake CBS or the New York Times for "old media."

Whatever journalistic integrity there was left in the United States by 1970 was completely destroyed by rock-starring Woodward and Bernstein.

For twenty years now no American news organization can afford the extravagant labor once lavished by newspapers on editing and fact-checking, or even reporting.
#11 - Andrew Wolfe - 09/05/2011 - 12:13






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