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Monday, April 04, 2011

Jordan claims historic metal plates stolen. Just one problem....

From Ma'an:
The director of Jordan's antiquities department said Sunday that "treasure of vital historic importance" has turned up in Israel after being smuggled out of his country.

"It's about 70 pounds (32 kilograms) of metal containing between five and 15 pages bound by lead rings, as well as copper manuscripts dating from the first century AD," Ziad al-Saad told reporters.

"These books and manuscripts would have been used by the first Christians to come to Jordan, fleeing persecution by the Romans," he said.

"These pieces are a treasure of vital historical importance as they offer new information about the origins of Christianity, and especially because manuscripts from this period are very rare."

Saad said the pieces had been discovered "in the north of Jordan several years ago during illegal excavations in caves, and were smuggled into Israel, where they found their way into the hands of an Israeli merchant who had them appraised in Britain."

"Experts at Cambridge University informed Jordan" of the items' reappearance, Saad said.

"They are of equal, if not greater importance than the Dead Sea Scrolls."
The director of Jordan's antiquities department said, just yesterday and without qualification, that these metal codices are as important as the Dead Sea Scrolls?

This is very interesting, because those same codices have almost certainly already been exposed as fakes.

Already a month ago experts had grave doubts about their authenticity:
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), however, has dismissed the idea that the books are of any value. Experts who examined some of them, it said, "absolutely doubted their authenticity". According to the IAA, the books are a "mixture of incompatible periods and styles…without any connection or logic. Such forged motifs can be found in their thousands in the antiquities markets of Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East."

Professor Andre Lemaire, an expert in ancient inscriptions from the Sorbonne, was also dubious, saying the writing on some of the codices he had seen made no sense and it was "a question apparently of sophisticated fakes".
 The Paleojudaica blog quotes one expert who looked at the text, replying to an inquiry about these tablets:

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.
Wikipedia has much more, as the story develops.

So while I cannot say whether Jordan's charges that the pages were stolen are true or not, it is astounding that the head of Jordan's antiquities department is ignoring all the evidence that casts serious doubt on the authenticity of these plates.