An ancient set of lead tablets showing the earliest portrait of Jesus Christ have proved to be around 2,000 years old, according to experts.
The metal ‘pages’, held together like a ring binder, were found in Jordan in around 2008 by an Jordanian Bedouin and make reference to Christ and his disciples.
The lead has been analysed and the words and symbols translated and experts say the tablets date from within a few years of Jesus’ ministry.
And what they reveal could be enlightening not only for Christians, but also Jews and Muslims.
The tablets suggest that Christ was not starting his own religion, but restoring a thousand-year-old tradition from the time of King David.
And the God he worshipped was both male and female.
Central to the books is the idea that Christ promoted worship in Solomon’s Temple where the very face of God was believed to be seen – and this is where the episode with the moneylenders in the Bible came from.
One of the books bears resemblance to how the Book of Revelations is described as it has seven seals.
The books are known as codices – types of bound manuscripts distinct from scrolls – and among them is an image of Jesus himself.
Authors David and Jennifer Elkington have been campaigning since 2009 for the codices to be recognised and protected but say evangelical Christians are trying to brand them fakes.
They were apparently discovered by Hassan Saeda, an Israeli Bedouin, who according to some reports was given them by his grandfather, and by others that he discovered them in a flood.
The artefacts were found in a remote part of Jordan to which Christian refugees are known to have fled after the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD.
David Elkington, 54, of Gloucestershire, says he is now trying to prevent the codices from being sold on the black market.
In 2011 Elkington announced their discovery on BBC News and the world’s press followed it up.
But a number of scholars came forward to brand them fakes, most without ever seeing the codices.
Now tests conducted by Professor Roger Webb and Professor Chris Jeynes at the University of Surrey’s Nodus Laboratory at the Ion Beam Centre, confirm that the tablet is compatible with a comparative sample of ancient Roman lead unearthed from an excavation site in Dorset.