Jennifer Elkington with a local guide in the Jordanian cave
where the codices were discovered.
Seven years ago, David and Jennifer Elkington were given a cache of lead codices by a Bedouin who had learned of their interest and writings in ancient Middle Eastern history. What followed was an Indiana Jones-style epic drama as they fought to protect the artefacts from the black market and return them to their rightful place in Jordan. Jennifer Elkington talks to IT about powerful factions keen to suppress these books, and their struggle to publish their own story.
What is your background and how did you get involved in the discovery of the lead codices?
My family originates from the Washington DC area, although I spent my formative years in Germany where my father worked for the US government. I come from a solid Christian background: my grandparents were very devout Methodists and my great grandfather was a theologian and Methodist circuit minister. This significantly impacted my upbringing, although I have developed a more circumspect view of ‘religion’ through my longtime interest in biblical scholarship – and of course latterly, the revelations discovered in the codices.
In the late eighties I moved to Paris following a degree in Art History from the American University in Paris, to work in the contemporary art market before becoming enticed into opera and classical music working as an agent. My last job prior to encountering the codices was as a literary publicist freelancing in London. I did a lot of bread and butter representation, but ancient history was always my especial area of interest. However, I could never have imagined that I could have ended up involved in such a discovery. When David and I first came across the codices, apart from David’s recognition of the Paleo Hebrew script and other symbolism, we just felt an overwhelming instinct that they were authentic – they were just so beautiful and unique.
It was obviously a bit of a risk embarking on such a quest, given the potentially dangerous reaction from political and religious factions who might seek to destroy your reputation.
My reputation wasn’t a consideration when we decided that they were worth pursuing. It was just the right thing to do – a moral responsibility. I can’t say there weren’t moments of regret at having made this choice: it has been an extremely tough past seven years with some very black periods, but it never has been about us. Having seen the codices and knowing what they were, we simply couldn’t allow them be destroyed or sold off on the black market.
What were your initial thoughts and feelings about the codices when you first encountered them?
At the risk of sounding silly, the moment we held the first codex we encountered, which was tiny yet, surprisingly heavy, the power emanating from it was palpable. It may have been attributed to the holiness of the relic, but equally, it was just a pretty heady experience to be holding something that may have been held by the first Christians two thousands years ago – very surreal. We were committed from early on to doing everything we could to protect them and get them to the right scholars for analysis.
Your involvement in the codices’ discovery has brought you into contact with some formidable institutions: Academe, religious factions, the media and publishing, some of which are well known for not being exactly female-friendly. As a woman, did you find this difficult?
Academe has never been a female-friendly environment. Dr Margaret Barker [world expert in Old Testament studies and member of the Codices team] has some pretty shocking stories to tell at the way she was treated at Cambridge University. The late Fr Jerome Murphy O’Connor, on the one occasion that he met Margaret Barker [Dublin, 2000], all but asked her ‘what right she had to exist.’ It doesn’t get any more archaic than that!
I have had just had a taste of it, having been referred to as an ‘ignorant cohort’ by Jim West, a clergyman and one of the more aggressive of the Bibliobloggers. Anyone who knows anything about Jesus and his teachings would concur that he would not support such bigoted attitudes, particularly by those who would follow in his ministry – exhibiting behaviour more akin to the Pharisees than anything I recognize as Christian.
The media has been surprisingly okay thus far with the exception of the BBC, which is, in my opinion, a very unhealthy institution with regards to the way its treats people. Ironically, out of respect, I have had wrongful titles attributed to me such as biblical archaeologist etc… I’ve appreciated the gesture, but have received some flack as a result! During my work as a literary publicist I rarely came across misogyny; by contrast, I have as an author.
Jesus was said to have had female disciples and spiritual teachers in his ministry, including Mary Magdalene, who’s influence has been sidelined or totally written out of conventional history. Any ministry, church, spiritual or political administration set up along these lines, as was Jesus’ intention, would arguably have produced a vastly different and more peaceful world. Do you think the codices are linked to exposing an underlying suppression of female influence, and wisdom generally?
Ironically, Jesus is revered for having embodied love, peace and gentleness – qualities typically associated with the feminine, yet at the same time, women are often derided for these very traits and made to feel inferior for them in the context of male perceived professions, as if somehow these attributes cannot co-exist. For example, being kind and courteous is often perceived as weakness – something to be exploited rather than appreciated. Religious institutions have very conveniently forgotten – or chosen to ignore – the fact that certain (not all) Essene communities were democratic ones in which women were not only treated as equals, but were respected and appreciated for their feminine characteristics, above all, wisdom, which is sadly underrated in today’s society. The codices most definitely make references to Wisdom’s role in the Temple. Dr. Barker has written much on this subject. Wisdom was present from the very earliest days in the Temple of Solomon. There was a Trinity consisting of God the Father; Wisdom, the Mother of God; and the Son. Wisdom today would be associated with the Holy Spirit, but little of this femininity is allowed to shine forth in this potent form. The closest we come to it is Mary the Mother of God in the Catholic Church and perhaps more powerfully within the Orthodox Church. However, perhaps it is ironic that Wisdom was expelled from the Temple to become known as the Lost Lady in the great reforms of circa 600 BC to 540 BC wherein the female was reduced in her role and in her status, only for this to occur again during the rise of the Christian Church after 300 AD when it became more Roman in flavour. The Greeks would often say that God without Goddess is spirit insufficiency. Wisdom can only come from a blending of both masculine and feminine principles. Hopefully as a result of the analysis of the codices, a renewal of the figure of Wisdom will be brought about wherein women will be allowed to be more equal and valued members of society, through embracing their own inherent qualities without having to adopt masculine traits to become heard and respected.
So the ‘explosive’ message of the codices could in fact be a rather prosaic one of love, kindness and peace, and people living in co-operation and harmony more at one with the earth. As we’ve discussed, a more feminine wisdom which goes against the current military industrial agenda and war on women around the globe. Is this what people are getting so worked up about, the threat of change?
It is indeed ironic to think a message of love, kindness and peace could be so threatening. Then again, we live in a patriarchal society where there is reluctance towards change – even for the better – that seems to illicit fear in people. Even more threatening would be the loss of control that people/religions/institutions have become used to wielding. It is an interesting question to ponder whether we as a society would be prepared to give up our old ways for the prospect of living in a harmonious society. However, it would require a level of self-awareness and independent thinking, which would take some time to develop, particularly in the UK where people have grown so used to the government and media doing their thinking for them.
I read that the historical significance of the lead codices is greater than the Dead Sea Scrolls. David and you have gone to great lengths to have numerous tests done by leading metallurgists and experts. Can you give an outline of the date and content of the codices and some indication of how they are proof of the direct involvement and existence of Jesus Christ?
The corrosion analysis on the codices, which is the most reliable testing when dealing with ancient lead – notoriously difficult to accurately date – indicates a crystalline growth that would have taken at least 1800-2000 years to form. The linguistic context and symbolism point to the codices being made during or around the time of Christ. The codices are unique in that they are the only artefacts discovered to date from the time of the first Christians. Up until now, our knowledge of that period in history has been extremely limited. The iconography and the translations that have been done thus far link the codices to the First and Second Temple period. As sacred relics they would have been secreted in the Holy Place with the Temple, to be seen only by the High Priests. The first ever portrayal of Christ is on the codex central to the hoard, which scholars believe was possibly rendered in his lifetime and links him directly to the codices, which they believe to contain his secret teachings. There are references in the Bible as well as other ancient sources that mention Jesus’ secret teachings and how they were restricted to his Apostles only. This would make sense of why a good many of the codices have been sealed on all sides.
Can you describe the enormity of how it feels to be at the centre of such an historic discovery?
Our initial feeling towards the discovery was one of quiet wonder; the enormity was just too surreal to contemplate. Ironically, it has only really started to hit us as a result of the sheer amount of animosity it has provoked and through the lengths certain individuals and institutions have gone to in an attempt to suppress it – it has taken us four years to finally publish our findings, such has been the campaign to stop us. We still don’t feel as if we can let go until there is a concerted effort to repatriate the codices back to Jordan. Hopefully one day we will view them in a museum there, and then it will all have been worthwhile.
Has the reaction of Academic and religious bloggers surprised you?
Yes and no. Since the prevalence of the Internet, unscrupulous blogging has become an increasing public concern; however I had always assumed it to be a juvenile activity. I only discovered blogging myself by chance when following our news announcement Dr. Barker received an email from a Reverend Ian Paul, a senior member of staff at the seminary in Nottingham – someone I had never heard of. The missive was full of falsehoods and was extremely personally defamatory, warning her against me. I was indeed shocked that a clergyman would conduct himself in such a manner. I immediately googled him to find out who he was and found further slander against David and myself on his website as well as a photograph of us taken from our literary agent’s website. It was from a link on his website that I discovered the ‘Bibliobloggers’. Scanning their sites was a most unpleasant experience, as the vehemence – mainly against David by people who don’t know us and whom we had never shown unkindness, was hard to comprehend. Did the discovery threaten their evangelist views? Were they worried their scholarship would be made redundant by the discovery? Or was it simply envy? Whatever it was, the hostility against the codices and us personally was unbridled. My overriding reaction, apart from naturally feeling sickened, was amazement that these bloggers, including not only wannabe scholars, but those with positions in reputable universities such as St. Andrews, Edinburgh, Kings College and Duke (in America) would choose to expose themselves in such an ill-reflecting manner.
We have touched briefly on the relentless persecution and abuse, but it also must have been the most fabulous, exciting adventure. Can you tell of some of the high points in all this for you personally, and what’s made it worthwhile carrying on with it all?
I think the ‘exciting’ bit is still yet to come, as we are still living an edgy existence waiting for things to really take off. However, working closely with such extraordinary scholars and people has been such an enormous privilege, even more so as our group has become very close as a result of having been through so much together. One of the greatest highlights by far was discovering the cave site in northern Jordan. It was one of the most spectacular landscapes I have ever visited, having lost none of the majestic yet simple beauty that has remained unaltered since biblical times. Walking the same footsteps as Jesus was a truly magical and spiritual experience. It was especially meaningful to me to be able to take my then teenage son with us on our last trip in 2011 so that he could share in the experience and see for himself what has driven his parents for all of these years. I am so proud of what a star he has been in coping so well with all of the sacrifices we have had to make to keep this project going.
So what stage is everything at with regard to the books and any other developments?
We are very excited to announce that our books Discovering the Lead Codices and the academic text The Case for the Jordan Lead Codices will be launched on the 20th of May in both the US and the UK (with foreign translations to follow) and will be available in bookstores and supermarkets throughout the country. It will be a relief to us to finally be able to get our story out, although much of it has been censored and suppressed against our wishes. I am currently working on a sequel to Discovering, which explores the intricate and mysterious web of intrigue regarding the characters and institutions who have sought to suppress this discovery…a book of revelations as it were. David is also working on a subsequent volume, as there wasn’t enough space allocated in our first book to allow the full extent of the team’s analysis and translation; they are discovering amazing new revelations almost daily as part of the research. Another exciting development is that Robert Watts, the producer of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, has approached us about buying the rights to make a feature film of our adventure, based upon our original manuscript, where we will be able to fill in the gaps of our story in greater detail. He is also interested in producing feature film documentaries on the codices themselves: their historical background and theological significance. There’ll be more news on this, along with other updates, on our forthcoming website: www.theleadcodices.com
Jennifer Elkington was interviewed by Claire Palmer on May 18th 2014.
Discovering the Lead Codices and the academic text The Case for the Jordan Lead Codices will be launched on the 20th May 2014 in both the US and the UK. Published in the UK by Watkins Publishing Ltd.