The Most Important Discovery in the History of Archaeology

By Joe Fernander, Religion Nerd

Have you ever walked around a group of people and caught wind of their conversation?  If you’re like most people, you have.  Walking through a crowd of students at Georgia State University makes this activity all the more interesting.  In one walk around campus you might hear stories of sex, betrayal, money and interestingly enough – Jesus.  Today alone I was able to catch seven conversations that were clearly about Jesus and the Bible (not including the street evangelist or Gideon’s).  It seems that no matter what religious tradition or worldview you follow, Jesus proves to be of some importance to your life; after all you do live in the year 2010 A.D.

Many practitioners of Christianity long for archaeologist and historians to find extra-biblical artifacts that would prove the resurrection of Jesus.  Theories surrounding the resurrection are wide ranging—from the stolen body theory to the physical resurrection theory.

The 1940’s witnessed the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which many believed would illuminate the discussions surrounding the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus; but alas, they merely caused more confusion.  Although the Dead Sea Scrolls still are under critical debate, in recent history Jordanian archaeologists have discovered what has been called “the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”

Between 2005 and 2007 a group of 70 books, each containing five to fifteen bound lead leaves, were discovered in a remote valley in Northern Jordan.  Archaeologists are speculating that these books could provide evidence of the earliest Christian writing and may change our understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  This evidence may allow historians and theologians to better piece together how exactly Christianity was born.

The Director of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, told BBC that the books  (codices) were possibly made by followers of Jesus in the immediate years after the crucifixion. The books are still subject to authenticity checks (as many fraudulent materials have shown up over the past 50+ years), but the evidence gathered in the initial inspection is quite astonishing.

David Elkington, a British scholar of ancient religious archaeology let BBC in on some of the clues that may prove the documents authenticity.  These clues include:

  • The images decorating the cover provide the most telling evidence of an early Christian origin.  The upper square of one of the book covers shows the seven-branch menorah, which under Judaism representation would have been forbidden because it resided in the Temple, in the presence of God.  The imagery portrayed is that of the Messiah approaching the Holy of Holies gaining legitimacy to God and possibly showing signs of divinity; being one with God.
  • It is also interesting to point out that early Christians seemed to be more interested in keeping records in books, not scrolls.  Most of the early documents we find from the Christian church are in the form of a letter or book. Phillip Davies, Professor Emeritus of Sheffield University states “[Another] one of the things that is most likely pointing towards a Christian provenance, is that these are not scrolls but books. The Christians were particularly associated with writing in a book form rather than scroll form, and sealed books in particular as part of the secret tradition of early Christianity.”
  • On the front cover of one of the books is an inscription representing a capitol “T” which might represent the Roman cross, used in the crucifixion.  If these documents truly are about Jesus, they may provide historians with evidence needed to prove Jesus’ crucifixion.
  • Some theologians and scholars have gone so far as to speculate that these early codices might be the “Seventh Seal” described in Revelation 5:1-4, 5:12, and 8:1 or Daniel 12:1. Evidence surrounding this theory comes from a Hebrew inscription located at the top of one of the codices stating, “I shall walk uprightly” a phrase found in the books of Isaiah and Revelation.

Currently the Codices are in the hands of an Israeli Bedouin who has denied smuggling them out of Jordan, claiming that they are, in fact, family heirlooms having been in the possession of his family for more than one hundred years.  The Jordanian Department of Antiquities told BBC it will “exert all efforts and entry level” to get the relics repatriated.

Archaeologists, scholars, and theologians seem to be on the same page in regards to understanding the meaning behind these documents.  With many speculations circling the cyber world, experts in this field of study agree that any serious theories surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus should be taken with a grain of salt until these documents are safe in the hands of those who have the ability to decipher their art and language.  

Larry Hurtado, a leading scholar of early Christianity urges those in academia to offer “No comment until the items are placed into the hands of competent experts.”  It seems that when important artifacts are discovered it does not take long for speculation to drown out what scholars have to say about the issue, a tragedy Hurtado is trying to avoid.

Since it is clear that Jesus of Nazareth has some bearing on most people’s lives, an archaeological discovery of this nature proves to be very exciting, thought provoking and controversial.  Depending on the authenticity, dating, and history of these codices, they may very well be “the most important discovery in the history of archaeology”.

Further Reading:

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Bio

Joe Fernander will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from Georgia State University in the summer of 2011. In the fall, he will attend the Reformed Theological Seminary where he will begin a Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies, focusing on Old Testament and Biblical Archaeology.  Joe’s areas of interest include Biblical Studies, Biblical Archaeology, Ancient Near Eastern Religions and Literature, Cosmogonies, Zoroastrianism and Art History. Joe enjoys being outside (in the summer) and tries to spend his free time hiking, camping, geocaching and whitewater kayaking.

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