Some notes on David Elkington

The Jordan Lead Codices continue to attract my interest.  This evening I went looking for an email address for the gentleman, with a view to asking him some questions.  It is, after all, entirely possible that he is the victim of a fraud, rather than its perpetrator.  The latter, indeed, seems unlikely to me.

I didn’t find an email address, but I did find a biography at the literary agent, Curtis Brown, here.

David Elkington is the author of In the Name of the Gods, the highly acclaimed academic thesis on the resonance and acoustical origins of religion. David is primarily an Egyptologist, specializing in Egypt-Palestinian links that have inevitably drawn him into the field of Biblical studies.

Between 1987 and 1990 he trained under Julia Samson, curator of the Petrie Museum, University of London, specializing in the Amarnan period of Egypt (c. 1500 BC), and also under Prof. Christine el Mahdy at the British School of Egyptology. He has co-hosted academic tours of the major ancient sites of Egypt and has been a member of the Egypt Exploration Society, the Palestine Exploration Fund and well as a fundraising Vice-Chairman of the Oxford China Scholarship Fund Working Group. He has lectured at universities all over the world and written many papers on ancient history and linguistics.


Lead codices are fake

I mentioned a few days ago the find of a stash of lead books, supposedly from the time of Christ, in Jordan. 

One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.

Elkington, however, may not be a reputable scholar, at least according to blogger Clayboy here.

Today Jim Davila gives a damning email from Peter Thonemann, of Wadham College, Oxford, here.  It turns out that Elkington approached Thonemann last year, asking for information about one of the codices, on copper.  And he got it; clear evidence of forgery.  Unfortunately it seems that Mr. Elkington did not heed the warning.

Key excerpts:

On 15 September 2010, I received the following email out of the blue from a certain David Elkington …

“… one of the copper codices that brings me to you. … It has an inscription in Greek along the top. A putative investigation has failed to find the meaning, dialect or type of Greek used and we are seeking to find an expert who might help in determining what it says. Would you have the time and the knowledge to be able to help?”

I received on the 13 October the following three photographs of this ‘copper codex’ from Mr Elkington … I replied later that same day…

“The text was incised by someone who did not know the Greek language, since he does not distinguish between the letters lambda and alpha: both are simply represented, in each of the texts, by the shape Λ.  The text literally means ‘without grief, farewell! Abgar also known as Eision’. This text, in isolation, is meaningless.  However, this text corresponds precisely to line 2 of the Greek text of a bilingual Aramaic/Greek inscription published by J.T. Milik, …

‘For Selaman, excellent and harmless man, farewell!  Abgar, also known as Eision, son of Monoathos, constructed this tomb for his excellent son (i.e. Selaman), in the third year of the province’. 

This is a stone tombstone from Madaba in Jordan, precisely dated to AD 108/9, on display in the Archaeological Museum in Amman.  

The text on your bronze tablet, therefore, makes no sense in its own right, but has been extracted unintelligently from another longer text …  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. 

And Jim adds:

At least one of David Elkington’s metal codices (a copper one) is a forgery. It seems very unlikely indeed, therefore, that any of them are genuine.

Which sums up my feelings too.

Scrolls and lead codices?

According to the BBC website,

A group of 70 or so “books”, each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007. A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol. A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, … the Jordanian government … claims they were smuggled into Israel by another Bedouin. The Israeli Bedouin who currently holds the books … 

The books, or “codices”, were apparently cast in lead, before being bound by lead rings. Their leaves – which are mostly about the size of a credit card – contain text in Ancient Hebrew, most of which is in code. …

One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.

Elkington, however, may not be a reputable scholar, at least according to blogger Clayboy here.

Another blogger has more details here.

The owner of the cache is a Bedouin named Hassan Saeda who lives in the village of Um-al-Ghanam in the north of Israel,according to the Sunday Times. He is believed to have obtained them after they were discovered in northern Jordan.

Two samples were sent to a laboratory in England where they were examined by Peter Northover, head of the materials science-based archaeology group. The verdict was inconclusive without more tests, but he said the composition was ‘consistent with a range of ancient lead.’

Larry Hurtado comments here.

The writing is reported as some kind of Hebrew but coded.  Until the items are competently read, we don’t even know what their contents are.   The items are miniature codices, of a size that suggests private usage, and, so far as I know, suggests a date much later than the first century (there seems to have been an upswing in the production of miniature codices from ca. 3rd century CE onward). 

Finally, the incidence of the forgery of artefacts is so great that any responsible scholar must express profound hesitation about making any judgement on such items until they have been properly analysed.  Especially in light of the “Jesus bone-box” drama, we might all take a few deep breaths and simply call for the items to be put into the public domain for competent study before more rash and pointless claims are proffered.

What we need, clearly, is a team of reputable scholars to examine the things.  There is real money being demanded, apparently, as in all such cases.  We all know that Israel is the centre of a great deal of forgery, doubtless because of the combination of an excellent system of education, ready access to the best references, and a large population of groups like bedouin who are not especially noted for high moral standards towards non-members of the group.

Let us hope the find is genuine.  Let us hope, further, that it is significant.  Like Larry, I suspect it is not Christian but Jewish, and, if genuine, somewhat later in date than is suggested.