The Discovery of the Century?

News alert! The BBC reports that about 70 lead tablets discovered in a north Jordanian cave between 2005 and 2007 may reveal clues about Jesus and his resurrection.[1] If authentic, they would be the oldest recorded documents yet discovered about Jesus Christ.

According to the BBC article, “the director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion. ‘They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,’ says Mr Saad.”[2]

Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, who saw the tablets, is cited in the article as saying:

“As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image. 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.”

If they are authentic, and date from the first century, these tablets would be the discovery of the century. But could they be clever forgeries?

Noted scholars Ben Witherington[3] and Larry Hurtado[4] take a more cautious, “wait and see” position regarding the authenticity of the tablets. In order to be proven reliable they must be subjected to rigorous tests and examinations by scholars.

So the jury is still out on the lead tablets, and those hoping they provide additional support for Jesus’ life and words would be wise to take similar caution.

Yet Witherington and Hurtado, as well as many other New Testament scholars, cite the existence of compelling historical, archaeological and textual evidence supporting the gospel accounts of Jesus. Hurtado has carefully documented early Christian belief in Jesus’ deity from the first century.[5]

What has been an embarrassment to many New Testament critics is the enormous textual evidence dating as early as the second century. Over 5,000 ancient manuscripts dating as early as the second century detail accounts of Jesus with essentially the same words as our New Testaments today.

Although the earliest N.T. fragment (p52) contains but a few verses from John 18, its early date of A.D. 117-125 silences skeptics who claim the gospels were written much later. This copy discovered in Egypt strongly suggests the original was composed in the first century. (Read more at http://www.y-jesus.com/jesusdoc_1.php.)

The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is also surprisingly strong. The reason Christianity mushroomed in growth, eventually overcoming the power of Rome, is because early Christians really believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Some hardened skeptics actually reversed their positions after examining the evidence, including the former head of Harvard Law School (see http://www.y-jesus.com/body_count1.php).

So whether these lead tablets prove to be authentic or fraudulent is still open to debate. Whatever the outcome, it will probably not change opinions about the most controversial person of history, Jesus Christ.

To examine more evidence regarding Jesus Christ see www.y-jesus.com.

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[1] Robert Pigott, “Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian Relics,” BBC Mobile News, March 29, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12888421

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ben Witherington, “Lead Codices about Jesus—the Latter Years?,” March 29, 2011, http://www.patheos.com/community/bibleandculture/2011/03/29/lead-codices-about-jesus-the-latter-years/

[4] Larry Hurtado, “More on the Lead Codices,” March 29, 2011, http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/more-on-the-lead-codices/.

[5] Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Cambridge, U. K., Eerdmans, 2003), 650.