About 70 ancient lead codices caught the imagination of writers, scientists, and theologians worldwide last week. The provenance of the lead books are not intact, but the current owner claims they were found in a cave in Jordan about five years ago after a flood revealed the caves. Some think the caves may be the oldest Christian church. They date to about 33 AD, which is about the time that Christians fled for Jordan where they hid from persecution.
The caves had crosses, some shards of pottery, and allegedly the codices. The small lead books are about the size of credit cards and have lots of imagery, including a Christ like figure, crosses, and what appears to be a map of the crucifixion.
I first became aware of the books when Unicorn Booty, a Seattle based blog shared a blog with the headline, "Most Important Archaeological Find Ever Shows Jesus Was Openly Gay Man."
"If this is true it will change everything," I thought to myself.
The blog post contained a snippet from the BBC story:
One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.
He says they could be "the major discovery of Christian history", adding: "It's a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church."
For the record, you should know I was raised Catholic. I no longer practice any religion, and I lean towards atheism with a dash of "Who knows?" But this story, caught my imagination in ways I was not expecting. Unicorn Booty quoted the Guardian's Michael Ruse , who wrote:
The most astounding finding from the newly discovered lead codices is that Jesus Christ was unambiguously and openly gay. He and his disciples formed a same-sex coterie, bound by feelings of love and mutual support. There are recorded instances of same-sex activity - the "beloved disciple" plays a significant role - and there is affirmation of the joys of friendship and of living and loving together.
In my hasty excitement about how this could change the world for gay people, I Facebooked, "New archeological evidence proves Jesus was gay". I hit send, and then reason kicked in. "This is a little too good to be true, I should dig more, I thought."
Meanwhile, friends, and people I don't know who like to follow me on Facebook began to debate the new "discovery." One man wrote, "Dislike". Another person wrote, "What a shame." Other people were more excited, "I knew it! How could a man that hangs out with 12 other men all the time be straight?"
A fair question.
Those who were displeased by the "news" were the most upfront with their religion on Facebook. Both quoted scripture, and one identified as Mennonite. Those who were open to the idea were either gay, or had a very high education. One friend enjoyed my "grand experiment to see how people would react to a gay Jesus." She has a PhD.
Personally, as I imagined the possibility that concrete evidence about gay Jesus was true, I felt the deepest sense of calm I have felt in years. I imagined every person who has ever used religion as an excuse to hate me apologizing. "I'm so sorry, Joe," they would plead, "I was so wrong and I can see now how much hurt I have caused you and other gay people. My Christ, my savior, is gay!"
I imagined churches around the world associating being gay with holiness, and I felt peace that the war with hate was finally over. What an amazing thing to believe for a moment. Can you imagine, just for a moment that all the hate aimed at the gay community is over because Jesus was gay?
Let yourself. It feels damn good.
After letting myself believe Jesus was gay, I emailed several scholars who are experts in ancient Christianity. I wanted real answers. I needed to know, what was really in those books. Margaret Barker wrote back earlier today. According to Dr. Barker, "Nobody has 'read' them though some people have found a few recognizable words. Some seem to be in code. Some are in the ancient Hebrew script, called palaeo-hebrew, a script that was in use before 500 BCE but was kept in use after that for formal and special writings well into the 2nd century CE."
"Some of the letters have unusual forms, so the meaning of words is not clear; the unusual letters could be one of several things and so change the meaning of the word," she explained.
I asked her how old she thought they were. She explained that preliminary tests indicate they could be 2000 years old, but she stressed additional testing needed to be complete before the books could be conclusively dated. "Some seem to be quite recent", she wrote.
According to Dr. Baker, there were lots of writers but it is not immediately clear who they were. Did they know Jesus personally or were they the first Christians? We just don't know.
I also asked her about the Guardian's story and whether the texts could provide evidence Jesus was gay. She wrote the Guardian could find gays anywhere, "They are obsessed with the issue."
Eager to read them myself, I asked her if they were available online, but they are not. It could take a long time. She wrote, "Nobody wants great delay, but on the other hand, it would be unwise to rush to judgement, like some newspapers and bloggers have done."
I couldn't agree more.