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“The Biggest Archaeological Find in History”?: A Word of Caution . . .

March 31, 2011

If you haven’t already seen it, you undoubtedly will very soon. A collection of lead codices coming out of Jordan or Israel (depending on who you ask), containing writing in a Hebrew code, and dated to the first century AD, is being touted by as the greatest archaeological find in history. Others are describing the supposed find in (slightly) more reserved terms as greater even than the Dead Sea Scrolls. The find actually isn’t all that new, but it became big news when the BBC picked it up earlier this week. The hype surrounding this will only increase in the coming weeks and months, much as happened with the James ossuary a few years ago which is now regarded as a forgery. So is this find really all that significant? If it is authentic it certainly is important. However, it is worth being somewhat skeptical, or at least cautious, about what you read in the news, since such outrageous claims are often misleading. Larry Hurtado of the University of Edinburgh has blogged about the find here, here, and here. Rogue Classicism also had a useful assessment on the development of the story here. These other sites have already pointed out several concerning things about the claims being made, so I won’t repeat them here. I will, however, make one observation. One of the most important things to consider when faced with a bit of historical evidence is the character or nature of that witness, not simply what it says. In other words, is it a reliable source or not? This principle applies both to ancient sources, as well as to modern secondary sources. Have a look at this page for information on David Elkington, the key player involved in this supposed find, and you’ll see what I mean. It might indeed be the case that Mr. Elkington has made a truly significant archaeological find. However, given the description of his career thus far, it is worth taking such claims with a grain of salt. If these lead codices are what they are reported to be, then they could be hugely significant. But at this point we simply don’t know until more scholars get a chance to examine them.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2011 3:54 pm

    Good to see you’re already on top of this story, Matt! Living in the tweet-happy age of communication history ought to teach us to temper our enthusiasm regarding supposedly remarkable finds.

  2. March 31, 2011 8:32 pm

    Good post, Matt. I saw it last night on the BBC.

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