One of the biggest and best preserved hoards of ancient sealed books, which had been secretly hidden for centuries, has recently been discovered in Jordan. Early indications are that some of the books could date from the first century BCE/CE and may be among the earliest Christian documents, predating the writings of St Paul.
Leading academics consider that the find might be as pivotal as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. The hoard consists of up to 70 ring-bound books (codices) made of lead and copper. Many of them are sealed on all sides. Scrolls, tablets and other artifacts, including an incense bowl, were also found at the same site.
Some of the lead pages are written in a form of archaic Hebrew script with ancient messianic symbols. Some of the writing appears to be in a form of code. There is likely to be considerable academic and political debate about the collection’s authenticity, meaning and interpretation. But now there is also a race against time to safeguard the collection’s future.
Having been originally discovered some five years ago in a remote cave within a militarized zone by Jordanian Bedouin, the hoard was subsequently acquired by an Israeli Bedouin, who illegally smuggled them across the Border into Israel, where they remain hidden under his protection. However, legal advice has confirmed that the find qualifies as treasure trove under Jordanian law, and is rightly the property of the Kingdom of Jordan. The Jordanian Government is now working at the highest levels to repatriate and safeguard the collection.
The British team leading the work on the discovery fears that the present Israeli keeper may be looking to sell some of the books on to the black market, or worse – destroy them. The collection appears to be of mixed provenance. But initial metallurgical tests indicate that some of the books made of lead could date from the first century BCE/CE, based on the form of corrosion which has taken place, which experts believe would be impossible to achieve artificially.
Sealed books were used by early Christian writers as a code for secret teaching; they were heavily persecuted and needed to protect their knowledge. Until now, no such book has ever been found. The codices were discovered in an area to which Christian refugees are known to have fled after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 BCE/CE, and where important documents from the same period have previously been found. The existence of a significant, hidden collection of sealed codices is mentioned in the Christian Bible’s Book of Revelation and in other biblical books.
Source in part: Wikipedia