Making books using lead wasunusual even then. Yet if they cast thepages, then it could be done easily by first using clay and writing text firstin the clay. Then a number of copiescould be made. It is still unusual andplausibly more of a marketing stunt than practical. Besides there was no lack of papyrus in thispart of the world.
We also recall apparent talltales of non Christian scriptures make up in leafs of gold reported in variousodd venues. This is the first bit ofhard evidence that such could even be attempted and it is linked to the knownera of interest.
Whatever happens, we will retrieveperhaps one of the most ancient texts, though I suspect it is from well afterthe crucifuiction.
In the event, it is a remarkablearcheological discovery.
By Robert Pigott BBC News religious affairs correspondent
29 March 2011 Last updated at 01:30 ET
They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, survivingalmost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change ourunderstanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianitywas born.
A group of 70 or so "books", each with between five and 15lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote aridvalley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007.
A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of themmarked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol.
A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, and what he found inside mightconstitute extremely rare relics of early Christianity.
That is certainly the view of the Jordanian government, which claimsthey were smuggled into
by another Bedouin. Israel
As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck”
The Israeli Bedouin who currently holds the books has denied smugglingthem out of
,and claims they have been in his family for 100 years. Jordan
The director of the
'sDepartment of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made byfollowers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion. Jordan
"They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the
Dead Sea Scrolls," says Mr Saad.
"Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticitychecks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and itseems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybethe most important discovery in the history of archaeology."
The texts might have been written in the decades following thecrucifixion
They seem almost incredible claims - so what is the evidence?
The books, or "codices", were apparently cast in lead, beforebeing 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.
If the relics are of early Christian origin rather than Jewish, thenthey are of huge significance.
One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, ascholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team tryingto get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.
He says they could be "the major discovery of Christianhistory", adding: "It's a breathtaking thought that we have heldthese objects that might have been held by the early saints of theChurch."
He believes the most telling evidence for an early Christian originlies in the images decorating the covers of the books and some of the pages ofthose which have so far been opened.
Mr Elkington says the relics feature signs that early Christians wouldhave interpreted as indicating Jesus, shown side-by-side with others they wouldhave regarded as representing the presence of God.
"It's talking about the coming of the messiah," he says.
"In the upper square [of one of the book covers] we have theseven-branch menorah, which Jews were utterly forbidden to represent because itresided in the holiest place in the
in the presence of God. Temple
"So we have the coming of the messiah to approach the holy ofholies, in other words to get legitimacy from God."
Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at SheffieldUniversity, says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin lies inplates cast into a picture map of the holy city of
"As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as soobviously a Christian image," he says.
"There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has tobe the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that thewalls of the city. There are walls depicted on other pages of these books tooand they almost certainly refer to
The books were bound by lead rings
It is the cross that is the most telling feature, in the shape of acapital T, as the crosses used by Romans for crucifixion were.
"It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the citywalls," says Mr Davies.
Margaret Barker, an authority on New Testament history, points to thelocation of the reported discovery as evidence of Christian, rather than purelyJewish, origin.
"We do know that on two occasions groups of refugees from thetroubles in Jerusalem fled east, they crossed the Jordan near Jericho and thenthey fled east to very approximately where these books were said to have beenfound," she says.
"[Another] one of the things that is most likely pointing towardsa Christian provenance, is that these are not scrolls but books. The Christianswere particularly associated with writing in a book form rather than scrollform, and sealed books in particular as part of the secret tradition of earlyChristianity."
The Book of Revelation refers to such sealed texts.
Another potential link with the Bible is contained in one of the fewfragments of text from the collection to have been translated.
It appears with the image of the menorah and reads "I shall walkuprightly", a sentence that also appears in the Book of Revelation.
While it could be simply a sentiment common in Judaism, it could herebe designed to refer to the resurrection.
It is by no means certain that all of the artefacts in the collectionare from the same period.
But tests by metallurgists on the badly corroded lead suggest that thebooks were not made recently.
The archaeology of early Christianity is particularly sparse.
Little is known of the movement after Jesus' crucifixion until theletters of Paul several decades later, and they illuminate the westward spreadof Christianity outside the Jewish world.
Never has there been a discovery of relics on this scale from the earlyChristian movement, in its homeland and so early in its history.