Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Review article: Secrets of the Seven Seals (2014)

Review article

Secrets of the Seven Seals
The Philosopher's verdict: plenty of implied connections


Discovering The Lead Codices: The Book of Seven Seals and the Secret Teachings of Jesus
By David and Jennifer Elkington
£19.99, 288 pages, Watkins Publishing (May 2014) ISBN-10: 1780287666

Most of what we know as the Old Testament, upon which the New Testament was founded, is in fact propaganda, not history. The ancient Ten Commandments, as set out in Exodus, for example, have had many incarnations, with the laws being adjusted to fit the needs of political expediency. It's been at least a little like the tale of the commandments written on the side of the barn described by George Orwell in his Twentieth century parable of the animal revolutionaries of Home Farm - a tale designed to mock the communists in Russia for rewriting their orthodoxies.

And the Tanakh or Hebrew Canon – the Old Testament, as it usually called – is riddled with inconsistencies as a result of being rewritten and edited to exclude anything that might be perceived as Christian. For example, Genesis tells of the sacrifice of Isaac: this was omitted as a result of antipathy to the Christians, when Mark's Gospel was composed, the story of the Crucifixion ends at the site of the empty tomb. The Resurrection text was written into it subsequently, possibly as much as one hundred and fifty years later.

The Old Testament the modern reader will see, has come down to us via Saint Jerome, who used the adjusted Hebrew texts. These are not the texts that Jesus and the Christians would have been familiar with but ones that had been entirely rewritten and edited, to expunge the mention of Jesus, the early Christian movement and certain of the Temple mysteries. The central claim that the The Lead Codices makes is that these sealed books offer us more than a glimpse into this highly secretive, controversial world. They give us a deeper understanding of Christian origins – and in particular, the ancient royal cult of the semi-divine King.

Presenting the factual background, the Elkingtons explain that the view we have today of early Christianity is drawn mainly from the writings of Eusebius, an early Church Father and adviser to the Emperor Constantine. It was Eusebius who drew up the Nicaean creed, the article of faith that is still used in modern times. People who objected to his teachings were accused of heresy, and silenced. Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. It was at this council that Jesus was finally voted as having divine status, the creed was agreed upon and the dating of Easter was confirmed. Jesus was God, and now equal, if not superior, to all of the other gods – no longer was he a dangerous mortal. It was also at Nicaea that the orthodoxies of the faith were established: for the first time the word 'heresy' began its intimate association with the Church.

A key propagandist in this case was the philosopher and early Christian Father, Saint Justin Martyr, who was born around 100 C.E. in the former Roman city of Flavia Neapolis (modern-day Nablus), near the old territory of Samaria. Justin took issue with the Jews over their rewriting of texts. In a text supposedly recording a conversation with a representative of the offending group, called Trypho, he declares:

'I certainly do not trust your teachers who refuse to admit that the translation made by the seventy elders who were with King Ptolemy of Egypt is a correct one and attempt to make their own translation…. They have deleted entire passages… and I wish you to observe that they have altogether taken away many Scriptures composed by those elders.'

Following the conventional histories here, the Elkingtons explain that the decision to adopt the newly altered canon is thought to have taken place at Jamnia in the years after the fall of the Temple in 135 C.E. and that there is a disguised account of this process in which Ezra hears the Most High speaking to him from a bush. Ezra was the new Moses. He was instructed to write the new canon in the form of a series of books, only some of which were to be made public.

Ezra's 'new law' was no doubt based partially on older oral tradition, and perhaps even scraps of earlier written material, but its main core of animal sacrifice was most certainly not part of the original Law of Moses. Not that the Elkingtons make this point, rather they are interested in what Ezra 'left out'.

'The remainder, containing the source of understanding, wisdom and knowledge, were therefore of utmost importance. It is possible that they were the pre-Christian books that came to be preserved only by the Christians: The Ascension of Isaiah, 1 and 2 Enoch and so on.'

The discovery of the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, indisputably the Biblical find of the age, brought this issue into sharp relief, since texts long cited as major, yet written out of the Scriptures, were found in the hoard. The Scrolls contain the earliest versions of the Hebrew bible, maps to hidden temple treasure, and insights into the ideas of Jesus and the early Christians.

However, the Elkingtons' particular claim is that what has been hidden away or completely rewritten is nothing less than the secret history of Hebraism, the long-lost original theology… and the fact that it was based upon ritual performed at the Temple of Jerusalem. They explain that throughout antiquity the Temple played a crucial role as a mouthpiece of the divine through the person of the King-Messiah, but that by the time of Jesus the image of the Temple had become tarnished, and the Temple itself had become effectively Judea's central bank. 'Payment of Temple tax was compulsory for every devout pilgrim, and such a captive following – thousands went up to Jerusalem every year for the Passover – brought phenomenal power, as well as intrigue, strife and political assassination, as various parties struggled for prestige and influence.' They write:

'When we first looked upon the codices and their iconography, an image of the Temple, with its accoutrements, was precisely what stood out for us. One of these accoutrements strongly affirmed that this was indeed the holy place in which Jesus had preached and worked: the Seven-branched Menorah, or candlestick. This singular item was to be found in only one place: deep inside the Hall of the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in 1st-century Palestine.'

The Elkingtons' write that seeing the Menorah on the codices 'was the moment of confirmation – that the codices abounded in hidden knowledge, sealed in books and then hidden away for many, many centuries.' However, 'it was only when we first saw, on one codex, the face of Jesus, the Man of Woes, with all of its power and the sadness in its eyes that we began fully to appreciate the codices as repositories of early Christianity.'

The problem of reconciling all the views of the Old Testament scriptures was one that beset the early Church for many years. According to the Clementine Homilies, Jesus himself says:

'On this account do you go astray, not knowing the true things of the Scriptures and for this reason you are also ignorant of the Power of God. Therefore every man who wishes to be saved must become, as the Teacher said, a judge of the books written to try us. For he said:  "Become experienced bankers." Now the need for bankers arises when forgeries are mixed up with the genuine.'

The homilies are named after Clement of Alexandria, who lived in the 2nd century. In them, Clement makes an astonishing, though at the time secret, admission:

'For, even if they should say something true, one who loves the truth should not, even so, agree with them. For not all true things are the truth, nor should that truth which merely seems true according to human opinions be preferred to the true truth, that according to the faith.'

The issue that Clement, was corresponding about was the real nature of Jesus' raising of Lazarus from a state of apparent death … apparent because in his response Clement reveals the truth by giving a verbatim description of what is in the original text. But first of all, here is what you can read in today's Bibles:

'Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"  So they took away the stone.

Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

Compare this, to the 'secret text':

'And they came into Bethany, and a certain woman, whose brother had died, was there. And coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and said to him, "Son of David, have mercy on me." But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb.

And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him.

And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days, Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth came to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked [body]. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence arising he returned to the other side of the Jordan.'

The Elkingtons quote the second (but not the first) text, while stressing that many scholars question the antiquity and genuineness of this document. However, they say, supposing that the secret text is the more authentic, it makes clear that the raising of Lazarus, one of the most remarkable miracles in St John's testimony, 'was a ritualistic affair'.

As Colin Kirk explains in his recent book, Jesus Forever Reborn (Xlibris, 2014) at the time of Jesus, only one small sect, called the Pharisees, a wealthy minority of businessmen, traders and bankers, believed in resurrection of the body. Advocacy of the idea was thus highly political.

What this instance demonstrates is that this Gospel was changed, and it is likely that others too suffered the same fate. Gospels were expurgated, revised and edited into a form that suited the needs of the soon to be organised religion of Christianity. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, as does John (who omits the Last Supper). However, when we come to the events of Jesus' execution, each is seemingly at odds with the other, particularly regarding the actual day of the Crucifixion: in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke it occurs the day after the Passover, whereas in John it is the day before.

Jesus' actions in the Temple, (which the Elkingtons see specifically reflected in the codices) made him the Church, and it made Christianity what it was and still is today. Suddenly the Temple was in man. God was a concept no longer rooted to a particular, centralized spot: he was everywhere, but particularly within us.

The Elkingtons argue that the codices show Jesus:

'… making his point overwhelmingly. He is making reference to the most archaic form of Israelite belief. He is sending out a message that the original Temple worship should be restored and that the abuses carried out in the name of God at Jerusalem should be brought to an end. He is pointing out the illegitimacy of the priesthood at Jerusalem – and as King he has the right to effect the necessary reform.'

Both history and Christianity tell us that Jesus was the Messiah, that is, that he was a king, and that he was crucified. However, Christianity makes the even greater claim, that, by virtue of his status as the Messiah, he is in some way semi-, or even fully, divine: that he is in fact the Son of God.

The last of the canonical Gospels, written by Saint John, is deemed to be the most reliable in terms of historical detail and first-hand knowledge. It reveals a surprising level of topographical information about Jerusalem in the 1st century and contains incidents and names that do not occur in the other Gospels.  John's is the only Gospel most likely to have been written by an actual disciple of Jesus.

John's is also the only Gospel that mentions that the notice on Jesus' cross included the words 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews': the other three Gospels say only 'King of the Jews'. The Elkingtons explain that what John actually says is: 'Jesus the Nazoraios'. Nazoraios is most likely to be a Greek word taken from the Hebrew notzer, meaning 'the one who keeps/guards the old ways'. This became the general Hebrew term for Christians.

What the authors of Discovering The Lead Codices: The Book of Seven Seals and the Secret Teachings of Jesus play down however, is that St John is perhaps best known as the author of the Book of Revelation – the last book of the Bible. They don't even mention that John writes of a book sealed with seven seals.

But we might recall that, when broken, the first four seals unleash the infamous four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first seal releases a rider on a white horse with a bow who is given a crown. He probably represents war. The second seal releases a rider on a red horse with a giant sword. This horseman is supposed to represent bloodshed. The third seal releases a rider on a black horse carrying a scale, who symbolizes famine. The fourth seal releases a rider on a pale green horse who represents death.

Some scholars propose that the first horseman on a white horse is actually the victorious and triumphant Christ himself. Most, however, believe the first horseman is war since this fits better with the character of the other three riders. (Another candidate would be the Antichrist himself, who is supposed to usher in the horror of doomsday.)

After the famous four horsemen are released at the breaking of the first four seals, the last three are then opened. The fifth seal is supposed to release all the souls of the martyrs who were slain for the faith. They ask how long before their deaths are avenged and they are assured that justice is not far behind. The sixth seal unleashes the Day of Wrath. The sun goes dark, the moon turns blood red, the stars fall from the sky, and islands and mountains disappear. After the breaking of the sixth seal and before the seventh, four angels are dispatched to each of the four corners of the earth. One of these angels places a mark on the foreheads of 144,000 souls (12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel) to protect them 'as the lamb's blood on the doorpost protected the Israelites from the last plague of Egypt the night of Passover'.

What strange things can the seventh and final seal ushers in? Why, the spookiness of a half hour of silence. After which seven angels blow seven trumpets.

Now this is all fine stuff, but instead of linking the story into that of their own leaden seals, which evidently have been rather brusquely broken in the archaeological investigations, the Elkingtons simply note that the main codex of their hoard was closed with seven seals, and that seven is a significant number, associated symbolically with perfection. They are more interested in in the fact that the main codex has a portrait of 'a bearded man, with a halo framing his portrait' on the cover.

'Looking over his wife's shoulders, as she delicately prised the first pages apart with tweezers, David Elkington writes that he was rendered speechless by what he saw. 'The silvery pristine beauty of the image was deeply moving: but what on earth was it? Most remarkably, among all the aged and corroded pages in the rest of the codex, this one was uniquely pure. It was totally unmarred by time and the external elements: it was a miraculous vision.'

For them, 'The face reveals much. It has suffering written upon it, and yet it is strangely serene.' Who can it be?

'The codex is sealed on all sides with lead binding rings and contains some script. What stands out in the script is the row of Xs – the ancient Hebrew letter form of Tav, the letter T; otherwise known in the Palaeo-Hebrew alphabet as the cross. 'X' is the name of Yahweh – the Lord, the Second God of Israel, Son of God Most High. Quite simply, there is no one other than Christ whom this face could represent. What we are looking at is the first icon. No other theory of identification stands up to close scrutiny. The image is kingly, and it portrays a man who had obviously attained a reasonable level of esteem. The rendering of the image would have been expensive: no one would have gone to this trouble had it not been vitally important to do so. The process of making the face and then setting it in solid lead would have been difficult using the processes of the day.'

Their idea is that the image of Jesus, this eikon, this secret image, to be seen by very few, would upon contemplation reveal certain of the mysteries behind the veil – in this case, the veil of flesh. 'What we have here is an example of the old Temple theology meeting the rise of Christianity – in the form of our artefacts.'

The parallel story in the book, comprising around half of the text, is the 'ripping yarn' one of an international chase for the priceless relics, which brings in the Queen of Jordan and the Pope. The book opens with this unpromising appetizer:

'A wild Bedouin Arab with a hoard of priceless antiquities and his dubious accomplices. We were not comfortable with the way things looked, but someone had to do something to save the codices.'

At the outset it seems that the codices will be worth millions of dollars an and the Elkingtons are the only people determined to save them for the academics to study. At one point the London police confiscate the precious lead codices, and a police officer leading the enquiry took the tablets, without the Elkingtons' knowledge or permission, to the British Museum. There, Dr Irving Finkel, deemed them to be forgeries.

Experts! Who needs 'em… The Elkingtons certainly didn't, pointing out that although Dr Finkel is a well-respected historian in his field of Mesopotamian cuneiform: 'These books were written at least 2,000 years after the emergence of cuneiform.'

The police however did believe him and lost interest in the artifacts which was good news in a sense as David Elkington was able to get them back.

'When I arrived back home, I opened the envelope and inspected the tablets. One of them had been damaged. There was a distinct bend, forming a ridge on the upper left-hand corner. Deemed to be fakes, they had been treated with disdainful irreverence: as valueless pieces of scrap metal.'

The Elkingtons describe some of the frustration they felt as bit by bit an opposed view of the codices as crude forgeries built up, and as contact after contact declined to be named in support of their views.

'There have also been confident claims that all symbols on the codices are to be seen elsewhere, that they are crude copies made by forgers. This assertion is inaccurate. As one of our experts puts it, 'the most complex pattern, which appears several times and seems to have been the main symbol of whatever the codices represent, has not been found elsewhere.' One commentator has stated that the seven-branched menorah on all the codices is uniquely wide and semi-circular and that, as comparable examples have not been seen anywhere, it must be a forgery. Such tortuous reasoning seems to be de rigueur among those who are seeking to condemn the discovery.'

However, they do not give the reader convincing reasons to believe that the codices are not in fact fakes, a mélange of symbols from various sources, including certain text elements that have been repeatedly stamped into the lead in ways that belie any possible secret meanings. Had they done so, the book would have had a much greater value. As it is, I don't think the 'ripping yarn' adds anything to the serious matters, but surely it makes the book more palatable for a general audience, who might otherwise tire of a diet of obscure disputes about ancient languages.

There is a related sub-plot in the book concerning the trials of authors with publishers with which I can certainly sympathize. The Elkingtons relate how their book was on course for Easter publication until, at the publisher's request, Jennifer compiled a comprehensive report of everything they knew to date of the circumstantial evidence. Then:

'Instead, the knowledge we shared was used against us. Much to our dismay, we received a call from our agent saying that the publishers were pulling out following a report from the SDEMA, a private investigation agency in Israel that had been commissioned by them. The investigation was ordered despite our earlier protests that it would be a waste of money. A copy of the email from the CEO was forwarded to us. The email informed us that independent research had been commissioned into the background of the codices, causing the publishers to be very concerned by what they had discovered. The investigation, in their opinion, had cast doubts on the authenticity of the codices. They reassured us that they believed we had acted in good faith, but in their opinion we had been misled. The email went on to say that the report was devastating in its conclusion, destroying any credibility the artefacts might have; therefore, regretfully, they would have to withdraw.'

As the Elkingtons quickly point out, the same sort of thing was maintained for years about the Dead Sea Scrolls, aided by a forty year monopoly on the research by Professor John Strugnell, Head of the International Team of scholars selected to study the Dead Sea Scrolls. When the monopoly was broken, researchers soon decided that the Scrolls were not in fact medieval forgeries but vitally important historical texts. Clearly, if commercial publishers were to be the judges, the Dead Sea Scrolls would still be locked away and dismissed as of no scholarly importance. The Elkingtons of course want their Lead Codices and the Dead Sea Scrolls to be paired.

Image ©David Elkington 2014 and reproduced here courtesy of the publishers
However the links offered seem rather feeble. The scrolls contain, after all, extensive amounts of overtly Biblical text, approximately 900 texts written in Hebrew and Aramaic, whereas, on the lead codices, we are told here only that they offer  'common statements with reference to 'standing uprightly'' and implied connections from the symbols seen all over them. The Elkingtons insist that his amounts to 'more than a shared similarity'. And then, remember, 'there is the face of Christ on the front cover of the main codex – a clear link to the identity of the expected Messiah.'

Well, what is it about this image? The Elkingtons repeatedly remark on itspower and beauty of the  – making it sound like something that rivals say, the Turin Shroud (but is that a fake too?).  Detractors of the Lead Codices allege that the image has been crudely transplanted from an Italian source by a forger, or even that it is of a lion. But the Elkingtons see instead a great history:

'In the first few centuries ad, Jesus was symbolized by the image of a fish or by the labarum, an anchor-shaped cross. One of the first images of the bearded Christ in Western art is to be found in the catacombs of Commodilla, Italy, dating back to the 4th century. Perhaps the most striking early depiction of Christ is one that managed to survive the destruction of the icons throughout the Byzantine Empire in the years 730–87 C.E.: the Christ Pantocrator (the all-Encompassing) found in the monastery of St Catherine's in Sinai, dating to the 6th century. '

This Syrian icon of Christ Pantocrator, like many other holy icons, portrays Christ carrying a sealed metal book. Why is Jesus holding a book? The Elkingtons answer this, at least, this straightforwardly, by saying that in the Hebrew-Christian perspective: Jesus, the Logos, the 'Word', was holding the Book of the Law, God's laws, which were 'made flesh' in him – in the manner that Kings and Queens all over Europe were supposed to be there by divine descent. The Lead Codices continues:

'Placed alongside the frontal image on the main codex, these faces appear very like each other – so similar, in fact, as to be the same. Both are surrounded by a remarkable halo that serves, aesthetically, to separate the face from its background. The eyes, in each image, are very different from one another: one eye seems to be looking inward, the other outward (in fact, the inward eye is half-covered by shadow, which gives the strange illusion of a face in two halves). The face shows both holiness and introspection. But the significant thing about the icon from Sinai is that, although this is difficult to see in reproductions, it has two eight-pointed stars in the top left- and right-hand corners. This is one of the only instances of eight-pointed stars anywhere other than on the codices.'

The Elkingtons make much of the fact that eight-pointed stars are symbolic of kingship. The six-pointed star is familiar to us today as a symbol of black magic and of Israel: it is derived from the famous King, Solomon. The seven-pointed star denoted Solomon's father, King David. However, the eight-pointed star is indicative of the enigmatic figure of Melchizedek, the figure to whom Abraham showed obeisance. Melchizedek appears in the Book of Genesis as the King of Salem. His role is that of High Priest, and a cursory inspection of the codices showed definite High Priestly and regal references.

In the Gospels Jesus is actually called the 'cornerstone': he is the link – the physical link, in his role of King and High Priest – between humanity and God.

Earlier images seem to be influenced by Greek ideals of beauty, with Jesus as the 'new Apollo', and beardless. If the codices are genuine, then we now know, if nothing else, that Jesus really had a beard.

For the Elkingtons' many critics, it does seem that the actual lead codices are not so much a carefully hidden away collection of secret teachings as a richly decorated forgery. That said, the book is still well worth a read, as both a ripping yarn, and an unusual introduction to the deep and definitely mysterious world of Biblical archaeology. 

Reviewed by Martin Cohen. 

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