The Messiah codex decoded by Peter Thonemann, Wadham College, Oxford
Who could resist? Photographs of a mysterious-looking copper notebook duly arrived. Strange sequences of Greek letters curled around depictions of a palm tree, a walled city, a crocodile and, oddly, Alexander the Great. Curiouser and curiouser!
The three lines of Greek all turned out to be variants on the same two puzzling phrases: “. . . without grief, farewell! Abgar, also known as Eision . . .” The name Abgar is pretty unusual; might he be attested elsewhere? Half an hour’s work in the library turned up the two phrases in their original context: a perfectly ordinary Roman tombstone from Madaba in Jordan, datable to ad 108/9, and currently on display in the Archaeological Museum in Amman. “For Selaman, excellent man, without grief, farewell! Abgar, also known as Eision, son of Monoath, built this tomb for his excellent son, in the third year of the province.”
The mystical kabbalistic inscriptions on Elkington’s copper codex turned out to be mechanical copies of a line from an ancient tombstone. It is as though it carried the words: “or not to be that is the question whether”. Now, if you were looking to produce a plausible-looking sequence of letters in an ancient language, you could do worse than to pop into the British Museum, pick a stone and copy the letter-shapes. I replied to Elkington informing him that this particular “codex” was a modern forgery, produced by a resident of Amman within the last fifty years or so.
Nothing dismayed, Elkington and his colleagues seem to have decided to go ahead and publish their finds. To judge from the photos which have appeared in the press over the past week, all of these supposed early Christian codices are the product of the same Amman workshop as the book I saw last year. The forger’s repertoire is fairly predictable: pseudo-Christian symbols copied from ancient Greek and Judaean coins (palm trees, Hellenistic kings and so forth) interspersed with gibberish-inscriptions clumsily adapted from real ancient texts, Greek and Hebrew.
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