Derby expert examines 'ancient Christian books'

Margaret Barker
Image caption Margaret Barker is an authority on New Testament history

A Derbyshire scholar has been called upon to help investigate the origins of a collection of relics which could be the earliest example of Christian text.

New Testament history expert Margaret Barker, of Borrowash, is examining photographs of the "metal books" found in a cave in Jordan.

She was contacted by British archaeologist David Elkington, one of the few people to have seen them.

It is thought the artefacts might be almost 2,000 years old.

Mrs Barker believes that if the books are genuine, they could be unique evidence of Christian activity as early as 33AD - about the time Jesus is thought to have been crucified.

The fact that the thin lead tablets are bound into books, and their combination of symbols and script, for her "tips the balance" in favour of them being of Christian derivation.

She will now try to help decipher the meaning of the Ancient Hebrew text, most of which is in code.

"There have been some very interesting things on my dining table in Borrowash over the last few months," she said.

Image caption The lead booklets may help illuminate early Christian history

There are about 70 of the books, each made of between five and 15 "leaves" about the size of a credit card and bound by lead rings.

They were apparently found by a Jordanian Bedouin between 2005 and 2007, when a flash flood exposed two niches inside a cave, and have since been taken to Israel.

Jordan says it will "exert all efforts at every level" to get the relics repatriated, claiming they were smuggled out of the country.

Archaeologist Mr Elkington is heading a British team trying to unravel the mysteries of the books and to get them safely into a Jordanian museum.

He contacted Mrs Barker on the advice of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Mr Elkington admits the books have attracted intense interest. During the course of his research, he said he and his wife had been shot at and received death threats.

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