Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pictures of Jesus!

The image is eerily familiar: a bearded young man with flowing curly hair. After lying for nearly 2,000 years hidden in a cave in the Holy Land, the fine detail is difficult to determine. But in a certain light it is not difficult to interpret the marks around the figure’s brow as a crown of thorns.

The extraordinary picture of one of the recently discovered hoard of up to 70 lead codices – booklets – found in a cave in the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee is one reason Bible historians are clamouring to get their hands on the ancient artefacts.

If genuine, this could be the first-ever portrait of Jesus Christ, possibly even created in the lifetime of those who knew him.

The tiny booklet, a little smaller than a modern credit card, is sealed on all sides and has a three-dimensional representation of a human head on both the front and the back. One appears to have a beard and the other is without. Even the maker’s fingerprint can be seen in the lead impression. Beneath both figures is a line of as-yet undeciphered text in an ancient Hebrew script.

Astonishingly, one of the booklets appears to bear the words ‘Saviour of Israel’ – one of the few phrases so far translated...

If genuine, it seems clear that these books were, in fact, created by an early Messianic Jewish sect, perhaps closely allied to the early Christian church and that these images represent Christ himself. However another theory, put forward by Robert Feather – an authority on The Dead Sea Scrolls and author of The Mystery Of The Copper Scroll Of Qumran – is that these books are connected to the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132-136AD, the third major rebellion by the Jews of Judea Province and the last of the Jewish-Roman Wars.

The revolt established an independent state of Israel over parts of Judea for two years before the Roman army finally crushed it, with the result that all Jews, including the early Christians, were barred from Jerusalem.

The followers of Simon Bar Kokhba, the commander of the revolt, acclaimed him as a Messiah, a heroic figure who could restore Israel. Although Jewish Christians hailed Jesus as the Messiah and did not support Bar Kokhba, they were barred from Jerusalem along with the rest of the Jews. The war and its aftermath helped differentiate Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism.

The spiritual leader of the revolt was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who laid the foundations for a mystical form of Judaism known today as Kabbalah, which is followed by Madonna, Britney Spears and others. Yochai hid in a cave for 13 years and wrote a secret commentary on the Bible, the Zohar, which evolved into the teaching of Kabbalah. Feather is convinced that some of the text on the codices carry the name of Rabbi Bar Yochai.

Feather says that all known codices prior to around 400AD were made of parchment and that cast lead is unknown. They were clearly designed to exist for ever and never to be opened. The use of metal as a writing material at this time is well documented – however the text was always inscribed, not cast...

Is this the first ever portrait of Jesus? The incredible story of 70 ancient books hidden in a cave for nearly 2,000 years
Nick Pryer
3rd April 2011

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