What happened to the metal codices that promised Christian revelations
The tiny books have stirred debate over the Christian 'secrets' they could contain and who can sell them. Now, they may never be decoded.
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Since the controversy erupted, Saeda has returned to Israel and has refused scholars further access to the codices, while the Jordanians and Elkington have joined efforts to repatriate the texts to Jordan. Since Jordan announced that it will pursue diplomatic channels to "retrieve" the texts, Israeli antiquities officials have expressed willingness to meet with the Jordanian side, although they deny any involvement with the texts. Their previous lack of response was a source of anxiety in Amman rooted in an ongoing legal contest over the Dead Sea Scrolls.Skip to next paragraph
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Although Jordan officially severed ties with the West Bank in 1988, it has retained its claims to the scrolls – believed to be the oldest Hebrew Bible ever discovered – alleging that the texts were annexed from sovereign Jordanian territory during the 1967 war, a claim Israel refutes.
According to Moawiyam Ibrahim, archaeologist and Jordan's representative to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, this historical sense of "loss" of the scrolls triggered a sense of "urgency" in Amman when news of the codices emerged.
More than just a matter of national pride, tourism is also at stake. Tourism is a major pillar of Jordan's and Israel's economies, generating $2.1 billion and $4.3 billion, respectively, in 2010, and both countries compete for the lucrative pilgrimage market.
But the looming legal battle may prevent the books from ever reaching a museum. With mounting pressure from the Jordanian government and the media exposure generated by the claims, Elkington and Mr. Saad say Saeda is looking to make a quick and easy sale. "If these books are sold to private collectors, the world will never see them," says Elkington.
Saeda admits he has fielded offers, but claims a "higher calling" has prevented him from cashing in on what may be the greatest discovery in biblical archaeology. "I could sell these texts right now, but I believe these are the words of God."
He has a solution to the international feud over the codices: Place them in a permanent worldwide exhibition. "These manuscripts don't belong to just one country. They belong to all the countries in the world and all the faiths of the world."