Jordan seeks return of antiquities from Israel

'Greater importance than the Dead Sea Scrolls'

AMMAN - The director of Jordan's antiquities department said Sunday that "treasure of vital historic importance" has turned up in Israel after being smuggled out of his country.
"It's about 70 pounds (32 kilograms) of metal containing between five and 15 pages bound by lead rings, as well as copper manuscripts dating from the first century AD," Ziad al-Saad told reporters.
"These books and manuscripts would have been used by the first Christians to come to Jordan, fleeing persecution by the Romans," he said.
"These pieces are a treasure of vital historical importance as they offer new information about the origins of Christianity, and especially because manuscripts from this period are very rare."
Saad said the pieces had been discovered "in the north of Jordan several years ago during illegal excavations in caves, and were smuggled into Israel, where they found their way into the hands of an Israeli merchant who had them appraised in Britain."
"Experts at Cambridge University informed Jordan" of the items' reappearance, Saad said.
"We have started efforts the retrieve the treasure and prevent it from turning up on the black market," he said, adding Jordan "would legally pursue any attempt to trade these pieces."
"They are of equal, if not greater importance than the Dead Sea Scrolls," the return of which from Israel has been sought by Jordan since 1967.
Israel claimed the scrolls from a museum in East Jerusalem, then under Jordanian sovereignty, but which was occupied during the Six Day War.
The Hashemite kingdom has invoked the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to which both countries are signatories.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, also known as the Qumran Manuscripts, contain some of the earliest biblical texts. The oldest documents date back to the third century BC while the latest was written in 70 AD.