March 29, 2011

Right of Return for Possibly-Fake Lead Codices

News this week is covering a set of lead codices with possibly some form of Hebrew, allegedly an early Christian text. You can follow good coverage from Jim Davila, as always. The truth of the matter is that little should be sensationalized until they have been openly studied.

But one aspect of the story intrigues me. Given that there is at least a good chance these are yet another fake (though perhaps not), we have a government throwing their full weight behind its authenticity, for the sake of the asset, but the Jordanian government doesn't even possess them. From the BBC:

A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol. A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, and what he found inside might constitute extremely rare relics of early Christianity.
That is certainly the view of the Jordanian government, which claims they were smuggled into Israel by another Bedouin. The Israeli Bedouin who currently holds the books has denied smuggling them out of Jordan, and claims they have been in his family for 100 years.
Jordan says it will "exert all efforts at every level" to get the relics repatriated.
I have posted previously on the question of 'right of return' of stolen artifacts (vis a vis Parthenon friezes and the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum). When potential monetization takes a front seat, things will get muddy. This now becomes a hodge-podge of self-interest, and I doubt any scholarly conclusion can be found for many years to come.