BYU Professor Announces Significant Textual Discovery from the Jordanian Plates

There was much ado this week about “a landmark discovery in the documentation of early Christianity: a trove of 70 lead codices that appear to date from the 1st century CE, which may include key clues to the last days of Jesus’ life.” Mormons around the blogosphere showed immediate interest over the plates, suggesting it pointed to the legitimacy of not only metal plates, but also the theme of sealed secrecy in early Christianity.

More fuel is now added to the fire, as BYU professor Donald Ucha (Hebrew Bible Studies in the College of Humanities, known for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls) has announced a significant textual discovery from the Jordanian plates. It is significant because it concerns a passage under dispute, John 7:53–8:11, the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. While discussed by early church fathers as a legitimate and beautiful Jesus-story, the passage is not found in any of the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of John. While the passage is still included in modern translations, it is usually accompanied by a footnote describing the significant lack of textual support.

One of the Jordanian plates reveals an early reading of the story, one which Mormons presumably will use as evidence that early Christian theology was akin to Mormon theology, and hence evidence of the “Great Apostasy.” Dr. Ucha translates the script on the relevant plate as follows:

“When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw no one but the woman, he said to her, Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you? Go, and sin no more, and don’t take the sacrament for a year, and read the Miracle of Forgiveness, and if you are still around in a year we will decide whether or not God has forgiven you.”


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15 Responses to BYU Professor Announces Significant Textual Discovery from the Jordanian Plates

  1. ariel says:

    a year? that's a seriously strict bishop.

  2. Keith Walker says:

    That reminds me of what someone once told me he calls the Mormon missionaries when they come to his door. The "Jesus AND boys."

  3. Let me say, April Fools yet again. And on a more serious note, let me say to all atheists and non-believers, Have a safe and happy holiday.

  4. Verne Brown says:

    First, lets make sure these are VALID artifacts and get a decent date on them. Since they have only been so recently reported – it is fair to say that Ucha is speaking too soon regarding their contents. Regarding the use of 'metal' plates – lets see just how much material is contained therein. The only photos I've seen so far show very few letters/images on the pages – making them very inefficient for large volumes of materials. Finally – regarding the 'plain and precious', if they date early AND do contain the passage in question – they still haven't been removed – else we wouldn't have anything to footnote now would we.

  5. Linda says:

    ha ha, you get me every year!!

  6. Joey Day says:

    You got me this year, Aaron. When I read the headline I was shocked for three seconds, then I immediately realized, no, wait, Mormon Coffe does this every year, this is definitely a joke. Then as I started reading and saw your links to real blogs and articles around the web, I started to think, no, wait, maybe this isn't a joke. But then, wham, you totally got me. Well played, sir.

  7. f_melo says:

    Good one! You also got me going for a few paragraphs… 😛

  8. Engkei says:

    Lol, the 'lead plates' Will this start a new rumor about JS and his lead plates? Maybe thomas monson and his lead plates? I tried doing a search, but the word lead often results in a verb not a noun. It is interesting however, because the metal lead is used for spiritual purposes in some non-christian traditions.

    I think of gold and silver for the Jewish/christian tradition. But usually not iron, steel, copper or lead….

  9. Engkei says:

    Is there a serious side at all to this april fools joke? There you have something 'christian' and metal plates. When i first saw this, of course i thought of the BOM and mormonism. Yet, when you look at the photo something seems incredibly fake, like looking at collection of tin plates hammered out from soup cans or soda cans. There is a faint image of what looks like a tree? or a menora or something? what exactly is it supposed to be?

    Thats curious, I never knew that John 7:53–8:11 was ever in dispute. Is it really amoung regular christian folks?

  10. Peter Boling says:

    I was excited about this until they turned out to be fake, and amateurish fakes at that. It would be nice if this information could be spread as quickly as the initial news of the plates did, so that people don't bolster their faith with falsehood only to later have them torn down.

  11. Joshua says:

    Ha! I'm a big fan of this blog and the work that MRM does.

    Be blessed!


  12. mantis mutu says:

    (part 1)

    All we have here are a few voices calling for the Jordanian Plates' obvious falsity–& even the one Oxford scholar mentioned (Peter Thonemann) admits that his preemptive denouncement is based off select photographs only. His conclusion: it's so obviously a fake that I need no more evidence to stake my credentials on that conclusion. Now I've seen the picture of the Greek-inscribed plate this scholar refers to, & don't have the technical knowledge or training to even begin to challenge his claims, but I do have enough sense & experience with scientific inquiry to know the academic book on this whole scenario is hardly closed. Dr. Thonemann may indeed have training & senses enough to make so bold a claim as he did despite the limited resources available to him, but I have enough training in textual criticism to know that one of his observations–at least at face value–cannot be ruled as a slamdunk for forgery. As reported by the press, one of Thonemann's criticisms was that the scribe copied a grammatically incomplete line of ancient Greek available from modern publications, and that he also confused the multiple alphas & the lambdas of the text, & therefore obviously didn't know written Greek. First of all, the existence of illiterate scribes in antiquity has not only been well established since the 19th century, it's a phenomenon that's not all too uncommon, particularly in Classical times when literature was being mass-produced at unprecedented levels, yet formal schooling still remained a thing of the elite (& the occasional genius). It's also been argued by some (Ehrman being one) that the documented textual sloppiness of the early Christian community strongly suggests that it didn't have an optimal amount of literate professionals to cover its literary needs (which should not surprise anyone given the New Testament's record that the leadership was often conducted by widely-circulated & copied epistles, but that the general membership was quite poor (& therefore likely illiterate)). It'd therefore be of no surprise for an illiterate scribe to pop up in the early Christian community.

  13. mantis mutu says:

    (cont. — part 2)

    Being selected as a scribe in antiquity generally had more to do with one's artistic ability (for penmanship's sake), rather than one's literary potential. But in the case of the Greek-inscribed Jordanian Plate in question, neither the confusion of the alphas & lambdas, nor the incomplete sentence of the text, is enough, I think, to solidly verify the illiteracy of the unknown scribe. At least when we consider the incompleteness & limitations of the media that Thonemann had to work with.

    On further review, the mixing up of the lambda & alpha is a curious “slight of hand,” IMO. As Greek majuscules, the two letters are obviously close, but not so close that I’d expect them to be confused by someone relying on a modern print-text. If someone were following an ancient, handwritten text there’d be more likelihood for this error. In addition, this is just the sort of error that would force me, if I were a textual scholar, to want something a bit more than mere photographs before I begin making strong censures, & staking my name & credentials on them. Given the limitations of his observable media, how is Thonemann so certain that there is, in fact, no distinction between the lambdas & alphas in the questioned text? Many writers in modern & ancient times have developed idiosyncratic systems for distinguishing between letters. In my mongrelized cursive system (don’t we all mongrelize it to a degree?), there is often little to no distinction between my “a”, “o” & “e”, nor between my “n” & “m” & often my “r”. Yet I can read my own writing just fine — & as far as male handwriting goes, I’m really not that bad a read for others either. The fact that Thonemann tracked down the unknown scribe’s source-text certainly suggests that he had no problem reading it. Furthermore, if all the letters in question appeared as alphas I’d say that Thonemann’s textual case is strong, but the fact they appear to all be the simpler, one-or-two-stroke lambda suggests to me that we may have nothing more than an efficient scribe on our hand; not necessarily an illiterate or a modern one.

    Granted, I’m going on just what’s reported in the article here, which itself may be a very incomplete view of Thonemann’s overall analytical argument. Like I said, he may indeed have very good reasons for believing the questioned text is indeed a modern forgery—some of which may be too technical for the press, & beyond my training to comprehend. As a Mormon, I’ll admit I have a bit more cause to be cautious than the average person given my natural reasons for excitement in such a discovery. But besides the literary/historical information it seemed poised to deliver of ancient Christianity, my initial excitement in this specific discovery was that it seemed to my eyes to be unlikely as a plate-forgery produced with Mormonism in mind (like the numerous “metal plate” finds that have been disproven over the years from the States). While it’s true that these Jordanian plates are in the form of a ringed codex like Joseph Smith’s reported golden plates, on the other hand, they are much smaller, & made of lead rather than gold. In contrast, the two other known ringed, metal codices from antiquity (the Etruscan plates & the Golden Achamaenid Book) are of more comparable size to Smith's claimed plate, & like them, are made of gold (the 1st pure, the 2nd an alloy), so I figured smaller lead plates were less likely to come from a forger with the partial objective of either substantiating or ridiculing the Mormon faith (or likely both). Such a forger would have antiquity's license in getting his craft to match Smith's golden plates more closely than these Jordanian plates do. While lead plates for scribal purposes are attested several times over from Classical times, none that we know of formed codices. But I think it’s worth mentioning that the two ancient metal codices that do exist have established a historical platform for these Jordanian plates to be taken seriously, quite independent of Mormonism. If there are forgers involved, it’s very likely that both they & the expert analysts involved had no thought at all to the significance this would hold for the Mormon faith. With the known ancient metal codices coming from different times & regions (6-7th century BC Bulgaria versus 4-5th century BC Iran) & from very different language/cultural groups (Etruscan versus Cuneiform-Persian), there’s solid proof that the use of metal, ringed codices was widely known among elite people in antiquity, & it certainly wouldn’t be an outrageous occurrence, therefore, to find such technology & such a scribal skill in the early Christian Levant.

    For a taste of these two, ancient metal codices: ;

  14. mantis mutu says:

    (cont. — part 3)

    While the 1st to 3rd centuries AD would at first probably strike many scholars as too late a date to find the paleo-Hebrew reported as the main script of the Jordanian plates, the DSSs prove the script lasted up till the dawn of the Roman period, & given Aramaic Hebrew’s specific use as a ink-based script, it’d be plausible that the paleo-script could’ve lasted even longer for the specialized purpose of engraved media, such as the plates (a task the paleo script is specifically designed for).

    On a final note, I must also give two reasons for viewing so-called metal plates from antiquity with suspicion: not only would a metal text be a convenient/practical way for believing an ancient text survived from antiquity all the way to the present, but it's also a natural medium of choice for an antiquities forger, as metal is a material that can’t be easily & conveniently overturned by chemical chronology tests. Then, there's of course the loaded issues brought to the table by the Joseph Smith story & the Book of Mormon.

    As it goes, I won’t be one bit surprised if these Jordanian plates prove fake, but I can also be patient enough for the academic world to produce its official publications before I join in with Thonemann or the BBC’s unequivocal censure. My hopes will hold out at least long enough to hear out an academic consensus on the matter. Anything less is simply unscientific. At this point in time, few if any scholars have unrestrained access to these artifacts.

    As for your modern play with forgery here, Aaron. Jolly Good show, man! Your Donald Ocha got me pretty good. And your final quote, while cruel, put a smile on my face.


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