The earliest picture of Jesus? Not so fast….

Several years ago, I stood in line for quite a long time, and indeed paid good Canadian money to the Royal Ontario Museum, to see the ossuary box that had allegedly held the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. I did not go to Toronto just for this purpose, thank goodness, but was at a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Many other scholars stood in line as well. The story was, after all, fascinating, and, if true, of real historical significance. Unfortunately it was not true. The so-called “James ossuary” was a forgery, though apparently a very clever one.

Lately the blogosphere has been abuzz with news of the “lead codices,” which are owned by a Bedouin named Hassan Saida. There are several interesting aspects of these codices, but what has obviously garnered the most attention is the fact that one of them is alleged to bear the earliest pictorial representation of Jesus. If this artifact is authentic, it would be a monumental find.

The fact of the matter is, at this stage many aspects of the codices seem fishy. I mean, really fishy. I mean, Moby Dick fishy. (Ok, Moby Dick was a whale, but you get my point). As the instance of the James ossuary shows clearly, without very detailed scrutiny of an artifact, even experts can be fooled. The fact that the codex covers are made from cast, rather than inscribed, lead, is highly suspicious. There is suspicion around a number of the characters involved. There is considerable translation work that needs to be done on the codices. And the talk around the blogosphere is highly skeptical: check out these links:

This seems to be no great discovery for archaeologists, but for bloggers it’s pure gold.