Religious Archaeology

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April 7, 2017 – MCAT CARS Passage

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

It is now four years since a respected scholar in Jordan said a mysterious collection of leaden book-like objects might be the biggest discovery in the field of religious archaeology since 1947, when the Dead Sea Scrolls gradually started coming to light in caves east of Jerusalem. It will soon be three years since a group of 38 distinguished academics wrote to The Times of London regretting the fact that the authorities in Jordan had, after the initial excitement, relapsed into silence and declined to issue any further information about the finds.

Elsewhere, and above all on the blogosphere, lots of intemperate things have been said about the codices, which appear to be ring-bound books on which some enigmatic (some would say tantalising) images and letters in various scripts can be made out. The objects were presented to the world by an Israeli Bedouin who said his family had possessed them for a long time; this was immediately contradicted by the authorities in Amman, who said they had been removed quite recently from a cave in Jordan.

If (and this is still a huge if) the objects can be shown to be really old, they might help answer one of the major puzzles of monotheistic history: what became of the Hebrew Christians, in other words the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament, after they fled Jerusalem?

Yesterday an initiative was launched in London which should improve the chances of the codices being seriously investigated: something that everybody, including the most hardened sceptics, must presumably want. Under the benign gaze of Richard Chartres, who as bishop of London is the third-ranking hierarch in the Church of England, it was announced that a Centre for the Study of the Jordanian Lead Books has been established (as a not-for-profit limited company) with some distinguished figures lending their weight to the project. The centre’s board includes two veteran British politicians, Sir Tony Baldry and Tom Spencer; an “evaluation panel” will be headed by Professor Robert Hayward of Durham University; and a Jordanian professor, Fayez Khasawneh of Yarmouk University, has agreed to chair an “advisory council”.

Perhaps the most urgent need now is for some independent, peer-reviewed metallurgical analysis. One test found that the lead could indeed be ancient, but a sceptic would immediately retort that ancient lead can be re-fashioned by modern forgers. On the other hand, the objects show an extraordinary variety of forms of corrosion; a forger would have needed to be extraordinarily diligent and energetic to tailor-make all these effects. It’s also worth stressing that even if some of the objects in this collection are proved to be forgeries, that doesn’t mean they all are. Another possibility is that they will prove to be relatively old copies of a prototype that is much older still; that would still be of great interest.

Perhaps the newly-established Centre should take heart from the fact that it took quite a few years for the importance of Dead Sea Scrolls to be widely realised. A Syrian Orthodox archbishop bought some of them from an antiquities dealer and tried unsuccessfully to hawk them round American universities; in desperation he advertised them for sale in the Wall Street Journal. Doubtless the colleges who turned them down were sniffy about the objects’ uncertain provenance; similar things are being said about the codices. But in the archaeological history of the Holy Land, many a sceptic and many a “believer” has been severely embarrassed; it’s a good idea to keep an open mind.

Adapted from Economist.

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This was an article on Archaeology.

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Jack Westin
MCAT CARS Instructor.
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29 Comments


  1. It has been 4 years since the discovery of leaden book-like objects, biggest discovery since the Dead Sea Scrolls / Source of codices cannot be verified / Discovery might shed light on the Hebrew Christians after their departure from Jerusalem / Non-profit organization set up to investigate this archaeological finding / Sceptics suggest that the ancient lead found could be re-fashioned by modern forgers but author counters and opines that the prototype can still be of great interest (encouraging) / Author attempts to be encouraging again; Took a long time for importance of Dead Sea Scrolls to be realized so the discoverer of the codices should not lose hope; Nonetheless he advises sceptics and believers alike to keep an open mind.

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  2. Archaeological findings, specifically religious, and all of the things/actions pertaining to their authentication: political; scientific; religious.

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  3. MI: people want the codices to be investigated
    MI2: some codices could be forged

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  4. Codex may be of value keep an openmind

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  5. codices = possibly the biggest discovery in religious archaeology = ignored for long time = now new initiative established to encourage the investigation + need of some indep. peer review
    tone: neutral + encourage openminded in archaeology

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  6. Scroll = discovered = answer some religious questions + skepticism on authenticity

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  7. One shouldn’t jump to conclusions about authenticity of ancient items until research has been done.

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  8. Condices may provide insight, Analysis is needed

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  9. Lead books = mystery, need analysis now + open mind

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  10. Religious archeology = ancient objects analysis needed = open mind +++

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  11. MI: To discuss whether the mysterious collection of leaden book-like objects are original or forgery

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  12. lead books= potential to answer questions+ being investigated+ good to keep open mind
    skeptics= forgery

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  13. leaden books = important no matter real/fake =need open-minded investigation

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  14. books important + mixed stories + answers questions about Christians

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  15. codices = exciting + unknown, need more research

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  16. MI: Jordan Codices found, more research needs to be done but my take a while

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  17. MI: codices finally found/ investigate whether forged or old copies.

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  18. MIP: Books could be real or forgeries, keep an open mind; tone = neutral

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  19. codice = contradictory + investigation + keep open mind

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  20. Dead Sea Scrolls = forgery or real?

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  21. MIP: Interpreting codices important
    MIP 2: Codices real or fake?

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  22. Discovery of codices from Dead Sea Scrolls in Jordan: forgery vs real + takes a long time to be widely realized

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  23. increased investigation of best discovery takes time to convince others; interpretation = important

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  24. Dead Sea Scrolls = biggest discovery, author is skeptical of authenticity – skeptic or not = open mind = good

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  25. The passage discusses a set of books said to be discovered now known as the codices. The codices may help explain what became of the Christians when they fled Jerusalem, which may make it one of the most prominent discoveries in religion.
    However, many forgeries and false discoveries have been produced in this field, and it remains unknown if the codices are in fact legitimate.
    A prominent Bishop in Europe has started a center for studying the codices, which will hopefully soon come to a conclusion about what exactly the codices are and if they are legit.

    Reply

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