Mr. Elkington says the texts' supposed origin – a cave on the eastern bank of the Jordan River where early Christians are believed to have sought refuge from Roman persecution – added weight to the theory that the codices may shed light on the birth of Christianity.
While the nature of the texts has been debated by scholars, how and when the books were unearthed have proved to be an even greater point of contention. Mr. Saeda claims his grandfather stumbled upon them in 1920 while tending to his flock. But Elkington and the Jordanian government have a different theory.
"We have scientific evidence that the codices were illegally excavated from Jordan and sold to Mr. Saeda by a Jordanian Bedouin, and we [will] set out to prove just that," says Ziad al-Saad, director of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities. Jordanian authorities claim to have found additional texts on the black market and are taking them for further testing.
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.