Jordanian authorities are demanding that Israel return what they describe as
ancient artifacts that could rival the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls,
saying they were smuggled out of the country and are now in the possession of a
Beduin farmer in the Galilee.
The artifacts in question are a group of
around 70 metal books, or codices, each with between five and 15 leaves about
the size of a credit card and bound by rings made of lead. Authorities in Amman
believe a Jordanian Beduin found the codices in northern Jordan at some point
between 2005 and 2007, and later gave them to another Beduin to smuggle into
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Hassan Saeda, a resident of a Beduin village in northern Israel,
maintains that the codices are an heirloom that have been in his family for
generations. Phone messages to the Saeda home went unanswered
Israeli archeological sources have dismissed the importance of
the find, noting that Saeda had appeared “every few years” trying to sell the
codices, which they characterized as forgeries.
But Jordanian authorities
have attributed far greater significance to the artifacts.
really match, and perhaps be more significant, than the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Ziad
al-Saad, director of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, told the BBC. He added
that they could be “the most important discovery in the history of
The Israel Antiquities Authority declined
David Elkington, a British expert on religious archeology, told
the BBC the books could be “the major discovery of Christian history.” Elkington
and colleagues announced the find last week and said they hoped to have the
books moved to a Jordanian museum.
Authorities in Jordan said they would
“exert all efforts at every level” to have the artifacts returned to their
“It’s a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects
that might have been held by the early saints of the Church,” Elkington
Material evidence of early Christian communities in the Holy Land
is virtually nonexistent.
The codices contain messages in Hebrew and
ancient Greek, all written in as-yet undeciphered code.
Telegraph reported that carbon dating showed a piece of leather found with the
books to be just under 2,000 years old, placing it in the same time period in
which Jesus is believed to have lived. An examination of the metal slabs showed
them to be very old as well, the Telegraph reported.
Philip Davies, an
Old Testament expert at Sheffield University, told the BBC the books contained
images of Jerusalem that were distinctive of early Christian
“As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so
obviously a Christian image,” Davies said. “There is a cross in the foreground,
and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an
opening, and behind that the walls of the city. There are walls depicted on
other pages of these books, too, and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.”