Monday, April 4, 2011

Earliest Christian books found – may predate letters of St Paul

A story to watch if you're interested in early Christian history.  News is just emerging that a few years ago 70 or so lead "books", were apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan.  The find occurred between 2005 and 2007.  Each book has between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings.

The director of the Jordan's Department of Antiquities, Zia al-Sad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.

Here's the story on the BBC website.

The letters of St Paul written about 40 to 60 CE provide, hitherto, the earliest documentary evidence of the Christians. If these leads books turn out to provide evidence of Christian beliefs and practices even earlier, that would be a massive advance in Christian historiography.

There will be a lot of interpretation of this find in the next few years (provided a dispute over ownership doesn’t hold it up) but here is a selection of quotations by experts taken from the BBC article:
  • "The major discovery of Christian history"
  • "They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls"
  • “Maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology”


  1. Hello!
    I would like to comment on your blog post.

    I recommend you to read this article ‘Archeological Discovery Announced to Public: Biggest in history?’ [2011-03-30] about the books you referred to. [Link]

    When it comes to the letters of Paul:
    “The earliest extant complete source texts of what the Christians call their "New Testament" are the Greek—Hellenized—codices א and β of the 4th-century. All historians, including Christian scholars, agree that there was no "New Testament" during the lifetime of Rib′i Yәho•shu′a ha-Mashiakh – the Messiah - his original eyewitness followers, or even his Nәtzâr•im′.”

    The most authoritative Christian scholars, e.g., The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, acknowledges:

    “"It is equally true that many of them do have theological significance and were introduced into the text intentionally… Many thousands of the variants which are found in the MSS of the NT were put there deliberately. They are not merely the result of error or careless handling of the text. Many werecreated for theological or dogmatic reasons—even though they may not affect the substance of Christian dogma. [Thanks for reminding us that Christians made Christian redactions compatible with Christian dogma; ybd]). It is because the books of the NT are religious books, sacred books, canonical books, that they were changed to conform to what the copyist believed to be the true reading. His interest was not in the 'original reading' but in the 'true reading'"

    (ibid.)—as perceived by the Roman Christian redactors, of course. (Emphasis added and quoted from Who Are the Netzarim? (WAN))“ [Quote]

    There is plenty of evidence that Ribi Y’hoshua of Nazareth taught a message antithetical to the message of Paul and the “gospels”: Documentation: Link and and the logical implications of the facts in this link

    The above proves that neither Paul nor the other books of the NT can be used as evidence of what the first century Ribi Y’hoshua of Nazareth and his followers called the Netzarim taught. Yes, they were called Netzarim and not Christians [Documentation: [History Museum (left menu)]

    Kind regards,
    Anders Branderud

  2. Well I'm glad of one thing … I had a sleepless night wondering if I’d been had for an April fool!

    Lead books! Who ever heard of that? And the first Christians - or so I've always been led to believe - lived in daily expectation of the 2nd coming; so why would they write books at all, never mind lead ones? So this morning I went back to the BBC website and was relieved to find the story datestamped 29th March. And in double confirmation, I got the above comment from Anders Branderud who kindly supplied this link from which I see that doubts have been raised that these books may be a clever forgery.

    And the more I think of it, the more I'm putting my money either on that outcome, or that they are not Christian..

    Next task - find out about this Netzarim, Ra'anana business.

  3. Hi Pete. I read somewhere that some of these texts had been smuggled out of Jordan and may disappear into the private collectors' market - any ideas if that's true? Also that the "books" are the size of credit cards, so I'm not sure how much information there could be on them. Would be amazing if they are genuine though. The post from Anders Branderud is fascinating, and when I've got more time I'll have to follow all his links!