TRESURES  of  lost  RACES  #3

The Elusive Treasures of the Holy Land

The year was 1947—a good year for dreamers.

It was my first year in college, and the two professions I wanted most of all to pursue were archaeology and journalism, yet I didn't see how I could effectively prepare for both of them at the same time. But this dilemma certainly did not prevent me from dreaming. I was eager to try my wings, and when I received an invitation to spend part of my summer as part of a team who traversed the country raising money to outfit an expedition to locate the legendary Ark of Noah, plus the Golden Ark of the Covenant and the temple treasures of Solomon's Temple, I dreamed loud and clear. "When do we start?"

Two days later we were on our way in a long black twelve-cylinder Pierce-Arrow: David Greene, Milton St. John (a silver-maned gentle-faced retired minister) and I. Our efforts consisted of making a grand tour of five thousand miles, touching base with possible financiers and with other dreamers like us. But while we aroused much interest in the project, backers were few; and at the end of the summer we found ourselves back in Hollywood, California, an expensive experience wiser.

Yet somehow the dream remained very much alive throughout the numerous Noah's Ark expeditions in which I became involved over the years, although the Golden Ark of Solomon's Temple and the whereabouts of the vast temple treasures that were hidden from the Babylonians before they took Jerusalem in 586 B.C. remained as elusive as ever. Still concealed also were the temple treasures of the Second Temple and the gold and silver of Jerusalem's nobility that was hurriedly smuggled out of the holy city through secret passages and buried throughout Palestine during the frightening days of the Roman encirclement of the city in A.D. 70.

To those knowledgeable about the Middle East, it is no secret that the Holy Land in particular is a vast depository of treasure which has been hidden for thousands of years. The barren yellowish hills of the land are honeycombed with innumerable caves, their entrances coarsely blocked either by men or by natural causes, carefully hiding hoards of precious metals, jars of coins, and glittering stones placed there by trembling hands. Yet aside from an occasional assortment of gold ornaments found in a newly discovered tomb or a handful of coins found scattered among the potsherds, the rumored treasures of the ancients still he hidden, taking shape only as they are discussed over the smoldering campfires of the Bedouins or the young Israelis who yearn for their legendary pot of gold.

But nothing ever remains unchanged. For while we were roaming around the United States in search of funds for expeditions, a young Arab goatherd named Mohammed accidentally stumbled on a cache of ancient manuscripts near a dried-out riverbed known as the Wadi Qumran along the rocky shores of the Dead Sea not far from the old city of Jericho. And although he was totally unaware of the value of his extraordinary discovery at the time, it ultimately became one of the most significant finds in archaeological history. Biblical scholars from all parts of the world soon converged on Jerusalem, scaling the foot-worn steps of the Palestine Archaeological Museum to examine these remarkable scrolls with the hope of assisting in their translations.

Realizing that this fortuitous discovery could mark the beginning of a highly lucrative business, other Arabs in the Qumran area soon began to probe every known cave for possible artifacts; and within weeks cave after cave succumbed to the crowbars and pickaxes of the untrained but eager scavengers.

Considerable concern was felt in scientific circles, but it was not until 1952 that a group of worried archaeologists finally took it upon themselves to make one last concerted effort to search the area where the scrolls had been discovered in 1947; and on March 4 their diligence was finally rewarded. While stumbling along near the bottom of a steep cliff, they suddenly caught sight of a number of potsherds that had accumulated among the crumbling rocks. When they knelt down to examine them, they began to notice small irregularly torn fragments of parchment. Excitedly their hands reached out to claw at the rocky dirt that had piled up against the cliff, and within minutes the formerly forbidding rock face opened up, revealing the narrow entrance to a cave.

Nervous excitement spread among the members of the search party as they enlarged the cave opening and carefully moved in with their cameras, notebooks, measuring tapes, small shovels and brushes. It was obvious, however, that the ravages of time plus generations of vermin and insects had destroyed much of what had been left in the cave for safekeeping. Just when it began to appear that Cave #3—as it was already being called—would take its place in history as a total disappointment, one of the archaeologists noticed two dust-covered objects, one piled on top of the other, lying against the far wall. Closer examination revealed that although they bore no resemblance to ordinary scrolls—they were cylindrical in shape and were cast from metal—their oxidized surfaces revealed the chisel marks of ancient writing.

To avoid further damage to the scrolls, careful hands lifted them from their resting place and sprayed them with a celluloid solution before taking them to Dr. Joseph Saad at the Jerusalem Archaeological Museum. Once placed on the examining table and exposed to the bright lights and curious eyes of the experts, the scrolls began to release the first of their many secrets. It was soon apparent that the two scrolls had been cut from one single sheet of copper alloy, which in its original shape had been about one foot wide and eight feet in length. A line of fragmented rivets along one of the edges corresponded with a row of holes on the edge of the other scroll, indicating that they had indeed been part of the same sheet of metal.

Lying on a soft bed of cotton, protected from eager fingers by a layer of thick glass, they resumed their age-old rest, but this time in the Jerusalem Museum. What were they? What did they signify? Who had written them? What was the message on the scrolls? From the very moment they were; discovered they became the central object of endless guesswork and many hypotheses, but no one really knew the answers, nor did anyone dare take the responsibility for attempting to unroll the brittle scrolls.

It was while they were still locked up in this fashion that I first saw the copper scrolls. As I was escorted through the Museum by Dr. Saad, I remember staring at them in amazement, wondering what those little indentations might have to tell us.

Of course, I was not the only visitor who wondered about the scrolls' meaning; and I was only one of many who could not be of any help in their translation. Fortunately, there were others whose interest and abilities went much deeper than those of a visiting journalist. A German professor, K. G. Kuhn, was one of them. Carefully examining the scrolls under glass and bringing his knowledge of ancient Hebrew to bear in his attempt to translate the inscriptions, he concluded that the scrolls contained a detailed list of hidden treasure. He had been able to separate and identify the words "gold," "silver," "buried," and "cubit," and to him this was more than sufficient to justify his conclusion.

Scientists can be extremely critical and jealous of one another when it comes to an evaluation of material that has not been made available to everyone, or which the discoverers themselves have not as yet been able to identify or translate. Professor Kuhn's idea that the mysterious copper scrolls were actually a sort of treasure inventory raised learned eyebrows and quickly caused an avalanche of critical comment. But very little was done at the time to contradict his conclusion. In fact, very little could be done—and Professor Kuhn knew it—for to the despair of the scholars entrusted with the problem of translating the scrolls' inscriptions, oxidation had made the metal too dangerously brittle to handle, and any attempt to unroll the scrolls was out of the question. It had already been decided to take the problem of preservation out of the hands of the biblical scholars, for unless the chemists and physicists could find a way to unroll them and thus to expose the entire text to scrutiny, their message would be forever lost. And while the scrolls rested in their glass display case for another three and a half years, keen minds were busy deliberating on a way to unravel the mystery of Cave #3.

Johns Hopkins University was the first to come up with a possible solution. In a unique experiment they analyzed a fragment of the copper of the scroll in order to determine its exact alloy. Next they made up a copper alloy of the exact formula and rolled it to the same thickness, after which they subjected it to artificial oxidation, transforming it to nearly the same state as the original copper scrolls. After countless experiments, a process was developed that would return the oxidized copper back to its pristine condition. It had been a painstaking procedure but a successful one.

However, the transatlantic phone call announcing the achievement came too late. Not knowing how long it might take Johns Hopkins to run through all its available options, American scholars had finally worked out an agreement with the Jordanian authorities to have one of the scrolls turned over to Manchester University in England, where an attempt would be made to cut the scroll into strips. The job was assigned to Professor H. Wright Baker of the University's College, who decided to use a homemade contraption of rather primitive construction: a saw disk fine enough to cut incisions of six one-thousandths of an inch in thickness.

When the first strip was cut and the dust had been brushed off, the unmistakable Hebrew words stood out, literally begging for translation; and before the first full day was over, Professor Kuhn's early judgment of the scrolls' being treasure lists was more than vindicated. The copper scrolls were indeed lists of hidden treasure, with detailed guidelines pointing the way to caches of gold and silver in bullion, ornaments, temple vessels, coins, trays and cups in such huge quantities that the translators stood aghast.

As soon as they were informed that the first scroll had been cut successfully, the Jordanian authorities indicated their willingness to ship the second one to Manchester for similar treatment. When both of the scrolls had finally been cut with Professor Baker's saw, the corroded material revealed no fewer than twelve well-separated columns of ancient Hebrew text, each line filled with intricate details of and directions for finding hidden treasures in and around the city of Old Jerusalem and in the mountainous area along the shores of the Dead Sea and near the city of Jericho. The scrolls were totally devoid of any historical references or any reasons why the treasures were being hidden; but the very locations and the often hurried descriptions of the various hiding places betrayed the terror of those who had hidden their fortune and bore witness to their desperate efforts to find secure places to hide the personal and temple treasures from the ruthless invaders who were closing in on them.

The translation that began the first day after the cutting has led to a total decipherment of both scrolls; but even though two translations have already been published, there is still serious doubt among scholars concerning their accuracy. The two versions - differ so drastically in almost every line that a simple comparison often increases rather than decreases the problem of understanding the real meaning of the text. For our purpose we have not only taken a look at the two translations but have also merged their essence with the views of other Hebrew scholars in order to produce something that will portray at least the basic meaning of the secrets of the scrolls.

Yet even if all the scholars had agreed on one translation, it would not bring us closer to solving the mystery of the scrolls, for their origin and the time at which the various treasures were hidden is still shrouded in a veil of uncertainty.

Some archaeologists have proposed that they are nothing more than the records of the Qumran community's possessions and were concealed just prior to the Romans' advance on their "monastery" around A.D. 68. However, the Essenes who lived in Qumran were an ascetic people, and a treasure of this magnitude would have been totally disproportionate to their way of life. It has also been suggested that the treasures belonged to the Second Temple, that they were committed to the Qumran community in a last desperate attempt to keep them safe from the assaulting Romans when they sacked the temple. Flavius Josephus, the famed historian of antiquity, however, maintains that the treasure was not removed but was still in the temple when it fell to the Romans in A.D. 70. If that is true, then the Essenes of Qumran could not have had it in their possession, for their stronghold had already been overrun by the Romans in 68, two years earlier!

But there is a still more plausible theory which makes finding the treasure even more desirable. Many scholars now believe that it was part of the enormous treasure of the Temple of Solomon, removed from Jerusalem just before King Nebuchadnezzar's army forced its way into the city in 586 B.C.

Which one is true? Is it possible that a key to the fabulous wealth of the world's wisest king has actually been uncovered? Unfortunately, the mystery of the scrolls is like a gigantic puzzle most of whose pieces have been forever lost.

It has often been said that a treasure hunt is not complete without a map, and while the treasure list and the descriptions given on the scrolls will not help us create a treasure map in the true, sense of the word, by following the various directions and locations as indicated in the scrolls the modern treasure hunter will find himself roaming over much of the Holy Land, thereby creating a treasure map of his own. But he must be prepared to traverse a lot of land, for wherever nations were subjugated by pagans, there is hidden treasure to be found; and in antiquity the pagans were everywhere.

Another fascinating aspect of the old copper scrolls is that they not only describe the amount and type of treasure hidden at a given location, but provide detailed descriptions of the hiding places as well. This advantage, however, has been countered by time. The accumulation of years has a tendency to obliterate many of the old landmarks left by our forefathers…….

But there is a still more plausible theory which makes finding the treasure even more desirable. Many scholars now believe that it was part of the enormous treasure of the Temple of Solomon, removed from Jerusalem just before King Nebuchadnezzar's army forced its way into the city in 586 B.C.

Which one is true? Is it possible that a key to the fabulous wealth of the world's wisest king has actually been uncovered? Unfortunately, the mystery of the scrolls is like a gigantic puzzle most of whose pieces have been forever lost.

It has often been said that a treasure hunt is not complete without a map, and while the treasure list and the descriptions given on the scrolls will not help us create a treasure map in the true sense of the word, by following the various directions arid locations as indicated in the scrolls the modern treasure hunter will find himself roaming over much of the Holy Land, thereby creating a treasure map of his own. But he must be prepared to traverse a lot of land, for wherever nations were subjugated by pagans, there is hidden treasure to be found; and in antiquity the pagans were everywhere.

Another fascinating aspect of the old copper scrolls is that they not only describe the amount and type of treasure hidden at a given location, but provide detailed descriptions of the hiding places as well. This advantage, however, has been countered by time. The accumulation of years has a tendency to obliterate many of the old landmarks left by our forefathers, and this same phenomenon has put its mark on the Holy Land. Even though the modern treasure hunter may be equipped with an accurate translation of the scrolls and may bring along his useful spade, tape measure, compass and metal detector, he will need a supernatural degree of wisdom in addition to perseverance in his search for the Jewish treasure, for the landmarks that were pinpointed in the copper scrolls have been changed.

I have no doubt that the treasure is there somewhere, but the mystery of the scrolls has added an extra dimension to the search…..

Where does this leave the modern treasure hunter and his unfulfilled dreams of finding the almost one billion dollars' worth of gold and silver that lies hidden somewhere in the Holy Land? In most areas he will be allowed to wander freely and be allowed to work quietly; he will remain undisturbed as long as no one knows what he is digging for. Many of the places mentioned on the corroded treasure list have been pinpointed with a fair degree of accuracy now by Old Testament scholars—but that is usually as far as their interest goes. Modern treasure hunting has become a field for specialists, for men with gold fever, resistivity meters and metal detectors—not necessarily the customary tools of the conventional archaeologist or Old Testament scholar. The fascination of the copper scrolls has by now created a gold fever with a quality all its own. A search for the scrolls' treasures possesses all the elements needed to make the job a very special one indeed. Every one of the clues on the crumbling treasure list presents its own unique set of identification problems, complicated by the shifting sands of time, and calls for a detailed background study of each location before any real fieldwork can be undertaken.

The scrolls of Cave #3 have made the Holy Land as promising a place for treasure hunters as the offshore areas of the Caribbean, even though the techniques employed will be quite different. Will anyone succeed in forcing ancient Israel to yield any of her secret treasures? Only time and luck will tell.

The Ark of the Covenant

No longer are the barren hills and the desolate windswept ruins of the Holy Land regarded merely as picturesque scenery. The knowledge that somewhere within the sandy crevices of the rocks, behind some crumbling old plaster and in unknown water conduits, are caches of treasure totalling close to one billion dollars has made even the most casual outing a subconscious exploration trip. People—natives and tourists alike—are now beginning to scout the land for treasure and are eagerly combing the ruins and steep cliffs of dried-out riverbeds with whatever tools are at their disposal. And the fever continues to rise with the fluctuating price of gold.

Seldom, however, is any serious consideration given to a search for the greatest hidden treasure of all—the golden Ark of the Covenant. In fact, not only is the elusive treasure of religious and historical significance to both Jews and Christians, but its monetary value far will exceed the riches found in King Tut's tomb.

The Ark of the Covenant first appeared in history as the central object of religious veneration in the Most Holy Place of the Sanctuary of Israel's tabernacle after the Jews departed Egypt on their way to the Promised Land. It was fashioned by Jewish craftsmen from gold the Jews had carried with them from their land of bondage, and in it Moses placed the Ten Commandments as they were given to him on Mount Sinai.

The ark was a box constructed of acacia wood, four feet four inches long and two feet seven inches in both breadth and height, overlaid inside and out with pure gold. Two golden rings on each side at the bottom enabled the ark to be carried on two poles. On the solid-gold lid stood two golden fifteen-foot-tall cherubim carved in olive wood and garbed in thick oakleaf, their outstretched wings spanning the twenty-five-foot innermost chamber of the Sanctuary and hovering over the Holy Ark.

Even without its religious significance, the ark was certainly an object worthy of reverence and admiration, but to many its splendor could not compare with the magnificence of the actual Temple of Solomon in which the ark finally found a resting place.

Israel experienced a tumultuous growth between 1000 and 920 B.C. during the reigns of King David and King Solomon.   Its   mighty  armies   and  commercial  power became the envy of the surrounding nations, and the Israelites exulted in having a united country and control of the trade routes necessary to enrich themselves beyond measure. During this time in history ancient Israel was rich, fabulously rich, in both gold and silver. In fact, the Bible tells us that King David contributed 3,000 talents of gold from the land of Ophir to the building of the temple. Figuring one talent at the equivalent of 75.558 pounds with 16 ounces to the pound and gold at an approximate price of U.S. $500 per ounce, David's contribution to the building of the temple alone was worth $1,813,392,000. Other biblical passages inform us that Solomon built a fleet of ships which, under the command of King Hiram of Tyre, left the port of Ezion-Geber on a journey to Ophir and returned with another 420 talents of gold.

According to the Bible account, David's son Solomon, who built the Temple, had extraordinary amounts of gold available to him. In addition to Hiram's fleet, Solomon had another fleet at his disposal, the ships of Tarshish, which brought him a shipment of gold once every three years. The altar, the inner sanctuary, and even the floors of Solomon's Temple were overlaid with gold. The tables and lampstands and all the sacred vessels in the temple were made of pure gold—an element so, plentiful that King Solomon overlaid his throne with it, ordered five hundred shields to be made from it, and even used it for his drinking cups. According to the biblical book of Kings, the weight in gold that came to Solomon in one year amounted to 50,322 pounds (666 talents), which did not include the gold offered to him by traders and other rulers who visited his kingdom, such as the Queen of Sheba, who presented him with a gift of 120 talents.

Thus it is no wonder that gold was so lavishly used in the construction of the Temple, which was started in the fourth year of Solomon's reign in 966 B.C. It was a painstaking task, for the dimensions and details are traditionally believed to have been dictated to the king by Jehovah, and to please his God, Solomon spared neither effort nor riches. It has now been estimated that the value of the total amount of gold used in the construction of the temple and its contents was in excess of four billion dollars at current rates of exchange. A truly incredible amount in our day, but even more staggering among the nations of old.

Ever since scholars began to study the issues related to the vast fortune of King Solomon, several important questions have troubled them. They wonder where the legendary land of Ophir really was, and what ever happened to all that gold?

The Biblical Archaeology Review in its September 1977 issue discussed the work of a U.S. Geological Survey team in Arabia.

"In the last year the U.S. Geological Survey announced that they have found King Solomon's mines at Mahd adh Dhahab, an ancient mine in central Saudi Arabia between Mecca and Medina. The New York Times quoted Dr. Robert Luce, one of the geologists who was part of the American-Saudi team exploring the area, as saying, 'Our investigations have confirmed that the old mine could have been as rich as described in biblical accounts and, indeed, is a logical candidate to be the lost Ophir .... King Solomon's mines are no longer lost.' "

And the remainder of the article supported his statement with details of the find. Other investigations which have been conducted since that time have fully upheld the conclusion of Dr. Luce. His report, however, was only partially original, for in 1932 an American mining engineer named Karl Twitchell explored the country's mining resources at the request of King Ibn Saud and reached basically the same conclusion at the end of his investigation.

Thus with one of the possible sources of King Solomon's gold having been identified, what ultimately happened to that vast fortune in gold that was used in the Israelite Kingdom between 1000 and 920 before Christ?

The copper scrolls have already shed much light on what happened to at least one billion dollars' worth of it, and perhaps another billion was removed by the Babylonian war machine that eventually crushed Jerusalem's resistance after shaking its walls fbr eighteen long months with battering rams and siege machines until the city fell in 587 B.C. The bloody slaughter that followed took the lives of the children of King Zedekiah, along with thousands of others. The Babylonians plundered and sacked the city ruthlessly, stripping the royal palace and the temple of the remaining treasures and golden vessels, and ended their frenzy by setting the city aflame. With the murder of the royal family and the removal of the now helpless and blinded King Zedekiah to Babylon, Israel's powerful adversary Nebuchadnezzar had effectively eradicated the House of David, which had reigned without interruption for four hundred years.

The city was destroyed. The royal family was murdered and the king blinded and taken into exile. The temple was plundered, and the remaining sacrificial vessels were taken.

But where was the Ark of the Covenant?

While there are sufficient historical references in II Kings 25, Daniel 5, and II Chronicles 36 that Nebuchadnezzar indeed carried off the temple treasures, there is not an accurate listing of the stolen items. A detailed account can, however, be found in the historical book of Ezra at 1:9-11, where Nebuchadnezzar's booty is described as follows:

"And this is the number of them: thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and twenty knives.

"Thirty basins of gold, silver basins of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand.

"All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred."

But still—no Ark of the Covenant.

It is at this point in ancient history that the golden Ark of the Covenant totally vanishes from the accepted historical record. The Bible simply no longer refers to it. But history does not leave us completely uninformed. The Apocrypha, the so-called hidden books that have never truly found a fitting place within the biblical canon by the Christian Church, provide us with a glimmer as to what may have happened to it just prior to the Babylonian sacking of the temple.

Maccabees 2:4-8 contains the following passage:

"Further, this document records that, prompted by a divine message, the prophet gave orders that the Tent of the Meeting and the Ark should go with him. Then he went away to the mountain from the top of which Moses saw God's promised land. When he reached the mountain, Jeremiah found a cave dwelling; he carried the tent, the Ark, and the incense-altar into it, then blocked up the entrance. Some of his companions came to mark out the way but were unable to find it. When Jeremiah learnt of this he reprimanded them. 'The place shall remain unknown,' he said, 'until God finally gathers his people together and shows mercy to them. Then the Lord will bring these things to light again, and the glory of the Lord will appear with the cloud, as it was seen both in the time of Moses, and when Solomon prayed that the shrine might be worthily consecrated.' "

Other traditions imply that Jeremiah left Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant either before the Babylonian seizure of the city or sometime during the battle and secreted it in a safe place. Not everyone agrees that this mysterious hide-away is located on the mountain from which Moses first saw the Promised Land, but they all concur that it was concealed from the Babylonians and never fell into enemy hands.

For many centuries both Solomon's treasures and the legendary Ark of the Covenant were almost forgotten, remembered only when the past glory of the Israelites was discussed. But that all changed when Captain Montague Brownslow Parker set his sights for both the ark and the treasures and arrived in Jerusalem with only one single goal: to locate the multibillion-dollar treasure that he believed was hidden somewhere beneath the temple mount.

No one knows how the Parker expedition really began, but that the infamous operation lasted from 1909 until 1911 is now a matter of history. Rumors have it that Valter H. Juvelius, an eccentric Swedish biblical scholar and philosopher, accidentally discovered a sacred code in the book of Ezekiel while studying it in ancient manuscript form in a Constantinople library in 1908, and this code described the exact location of the long-lost treasures hidden within a tunnel system underneath the temple mount.

Juvelius teamed up with Captain Montague Parker, and, with financing of $125,000 from, among others, the Duchess of Marlborough, the Parker expedition, bribing their way through the red tape of the Ottoman Empire, worked underneath Jerusalem from 1909 to 1911, desperately searching for the elusive gold. After months of fruit-less digging, tunneling, and probing, their quest came to an abrupt halt on the night of April 17, 1911, when Captain Parker and his men violated the sanctity of Islam and entered the sanctuary of the Dome of the Rock—the second most 'holy place in Islam. Still in the belief that the treasure was underneath the mount, their attention had been drawn to a natural cavern beneath the surface of the sacred rock. According to Jewish tradition, the place was Mount Moriah, where Abraham offered to sacrifice his son Isaac. It was also the spot from which Mohammed ascended to heaven on his horse Borek. Still other traditions held that the cavern led to the abode of evil spirits guarding an ancient treasure vault.

But Captain Parker, undaunted, felt that this was the night; and after lowering themselves into the cavern with ropes, his crew began to break the stones that closed off the entrance to an ancient tunnel. But, unfortunately for the expedition, one of the temple attendants had decided to spend the night on the temple mount; and, on hearing strange noises coming from the direction of the Sacred Stone, he daringly crept closer to investigate. He suddenly recoiled in utter horror when he found himself confronted with a group of peculiarly clothed foreigners, who, equally terrified upon seeing him, backed away deeper into the Holy Shrine.

Venting his fright, the attendant shrieked and ran panic stricken out of the mosque, spreading the news of the desecration of the holy place as he raced through the streets of Old Jerusalem. Within an hour the entire city was in a tumult. There was rioting in every street as rumors spread that the Englishman had discovered and stolen the Ring and Crown of Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Sword of Mohammed!

Captain Parker and his party escaped with little more than their lives and their yacht, which lay anchored in Jaffa  harbor. 

The political repercussions, including the replacing of the Turkish governor and the local commissioners, which followed the upheaval prevented Parker from ever returning to Jerusalem, and he never had a chance to continue his Ul-conceived and badly executed venture. Ironically, proof that Valter Juvelius had actually found a secret code in the book of Ezekiel was never substantiated. It may all have been based on a hoax.

And this is where the search ended—at least until the second world war, when Marshal Rommel's army began to fall apart in North Africa. Attempting to return to Germany, smaU armored units broke away from his disintegrating forces and stabbed northeast, hoping to circle around Jerusalem into the Near: East toward the Balkan states so as to reach the Fatherland. Fully cognizant of their plans, the Allied High Command quickly dispatched small roving armored units to the area east of Jerusalem to intercept the escapees.

A church administrator who had just returned from the Middle East in 1948 told me of the discovery made by one of those Allied armored units when we met to discuss the results of the fund-raising efforts of our group in 1947. It seemed that while one of the American units had been camping for the night somewhere in a narrow valley east of Jerusalem, it had been strafed and bombed by a German dive bomber. When one of the explosives hit the side of a cliff, it cut a hole in the rock, exposing a cave. Scrambling for shelter, several of the men clawed their way across the rubble and into the crevice.

"At first they saw nothing," he related to me; "but once their eyes had become adjusted to the dim light, they began to recognize a coffin with what looked like two angels with outstretched wings on top. It had been covered with cloth which had disintegrated and was now hanging down like torn cobwebs ..." His story ended there, for it was all he knew or could remember. In fact, he didn't even remember the name of the man who had told it to him. It was just one of the numerous stories he had picked up while traveling through western Europe and the Middle East immediately after the war; and even though he realized it was important, he couldn't recall the details.

End of the, story?

No, not quite.

Roughly twenty-five years later, an old friend hot on the trail of the Ark of Noah and the Ark of the Covenant flew halfway across the continent to my suburban Washington home with a tape recording that was nearly identical to the original 1948 report—only now many of the details that had been missing the first time were included, with the exception of the exact location. But this time a name was attached to the story, that of a U.S. Army chaplain, Captain Diefenbach, a priest who for a while in 1944 had been assigned to the 28th Field Hospital. The recording was of an interview with a former U.S. Axmy medic who had been with Captain Diefenbach in the same unit at the end of the war and claimed that he, Diefenbach, had told him the story.

It has been said that once you receive a serial number or a social security number you can never really get lost. Add to these the unusual name of Diefenbach and his rank of U.S. Army chaplain and the odds of locating him suddenly improve. Yet hot as the lead appeared to be, we decided to drop it for the time being in favor of pursuing the search for the "other ark"—Noah's. And it was not until 1980 that the subject of Captain Diefenbach surfaced once again. By now the search was really on, and signals were sent in all directions to find Captain Diefenbach. The Pentagon, the historical unit USA MEDS at Walter Reed Hospital, and the Catholic Military Ordinariat all became involved. The search had gone on only two weeks when our persistence was rewarded in the form of a phone call from the Ordinariat.

"We do have a Captain Diefenbach on file," the spokesman told us. "He was a priest and was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1946 and assigned to the St. Theresa Church in Houston, Texas."

"Can you give us a lead as to his current address?" we inquired politely of our contact.

"Yes, certainly," was the affirmative reply. "He is with God. He died on June 10, 1959."

We had both found and lost him—all in the space of two minutes. Now the opportunity to check the various stories that had been circulating ever since 1942 ended abruptly. But the investigation could not stop as yet. The case was still too much alive.

For numerous reasons we deemed it imperative to study the captain's military records to learn the name of the unit to which he had been attached during the final phases of Field Marshal Rommel's defeat, after which it would be necessary to locate the day reports of his roving armored unit to ascertain exactly where it had been bombed and strafed. The next logical step then would be to relocate the spot by using the various coordinates listed.

It was on September 24 that we received the long-awaited telephone call from the U.S. Army Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri, the only place in the system with access to all the information needed to solve the mystery surrounding the Diefenbach story. "We hate to tell you," the impersonal voice on the other end of the line informed us apologetically, "but Diefenbach's army records were destroyed in a fire that burned eighty percent of all World War II, Korean War and World War I records. There is no way in which we can trace him or his records. As far as we are concerned, he is dead. In fact, to the Army Record Center he never even existed!

We're still working on other leads and are slowly beginning to put back together the life of a "forgotten" man; but since dead men tell no tales, the investigation proceeds very slowly.

Other seekers interested in the Ark of the Covenant have taken the reference in the book of Maccabees literally and have conducted searches for the ark on Mount Nebo, the mountain from where Moses first saw the Promised Land. None of these expeditions have been successful, and understandably so, for in the days of King Zedekiah, Mount Nebo was not even part of Judah, which would make it a very improbable hiding place. With so many caves within the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem, it is unlikely that Jeremiah would chance getting caught with the temple treasures and the golden ark by smuggling them through the lines of a watchful enemy, crossing the river Jordan, entering another country, and wearily scaling the jagged rocks of a mountain to finally dispose of his heavy burden.

Other approaches to the problem of locating the golden ark utilizing entirely different methods were also being developed at about the same time we were looking for Captain Diefenbach, and for the first time in history a major university was beginning to show interest in the project.

It began when Lawrence W. Blaser, a Colorado building contractor, decided to follow his dreams and turn his lifelong interest in the Ark of the Covenant into a realistic search for the fabled object. With historical records, biblical references and statements from a nineteenth-century visionary as guides, he had come to believe that the ark had to be hidden in a cave, known as David's Cave. After a visual investigation he realized that the cave he had located was far too small to have provided refuge and protection for David from the pursuing army of King Saul or to have quartered his six hundred soldiers, so he set out to discover David's real hiding place.

Having scouted the area around En-Gedi—the biblical location of the Rocks of the Wild Goats and the Cave of David—in 1975 and 1976, he became convinced that if he could only find a large enough cave in the vicinity of En-Gedi, this would undoubtedly be David's Cave, and that within its cold and dark interior he would find the legendary Ark of the Covenant.

Blaser returned in 1977 with Frank Ruskey, a geophysical engineer, and Richard Burdick, an engineering geology technician, in order to conduct a thorough geophysical investigation for a hidden cave on the En-Gedi nature reserve. From their resistivity work and the seismic survey, combined with visual observations of the area, the scientists concluded that there was indeed a cavelike void, possibly twenty feet high, fifteen to twenty feet wide, and several hundred feet deep, with tunnels branching out like a two-pronged fork. Further visual investigation confirmed the initial impression that the cave had two possible entrances—both blocked—about ten to fifteen meters (thirty to forty-five feet) apart.

Expeditions aren't launched overnight, and it was late summer 1980 before the Blasers were able to finance a full-scale expedition to the area, under the scientific auspices of Andrew University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. It was the very first time that a scientific team had been assembled for the express purpose of finding the ark, and the seriousness of the occasion was reflected in the strategy meeting that was held in the headquarters trailer situated between the cave site and the Dead Sea, a mere eight hours before the early-morning trek to the cave. Our team was indeed a capable one, consisting of the jovial Dr. James F. Strange, an archaeologist from the University of South Florida; the bespectacled Dr. Edward Lugenbeal, a serious geoscientist from Andrews University; the lanky and soft-spoken Frank Ruskey, geophysical engineer of the U.S. Bureau of Mines; Dan Eitemiller, motion picture cameraman; and a contingent of guests and geological

and archaeological assistants. All that was needed now was the ark. . . .

At five the following morning the expedition members were geared up and climbing. We had studied the target through our binoculars from our campsite the day before, and the cave didn't seem all that hard to reach; but once we started our ascent, our lofty objective proved to be much more difficult to reach than anticipated. Once there, it didn't take long to clear the ground in front of the cave entrance, but instead of the mouth's being blocked by a pile of rocks stacked on top of one another as we had first thought, it was sealed off by one gigantic boulder which plugged up the entire opening. When it was time to return to camp after a day's work, all of our picks were either broken or bent. New resistivity soundings taken that day had reconfirmed the original conclusions that there was indeed a cave behind the boulder, yet we weren't any closer to getting inside than when the first pick had been raised against it that morning.

The next day, September 10, the assault continued, but to no avail. By the time we had brought in an airhammer from Jerusalem, it was clear that the job was too big for hand tools: only heavy equipment and possibly explosives could open this cave. Unfortunately this method had been overruled in advance by the Israeli government, since the cave was located in a wildlife reserve area. All our attempts to reach our objective had been thwarted in one way or another; and, frustrated and discouraged, we decided to pack our gear and leave the site. For the Blaser family, the investment—both financial and emotional— had been enormous, and what had taken years of preparation suddenly ended within two days without any conclusive results.

Today the blocked cave on En-Gedi Springs Hill still looks the way it did when the Blaser expedition left it on September 10, 1980. It is located only fifteen miles from the caves of Qumran where both the Dead Sea scrolls and the copper scrolls of Gave #3 were discovered. Among many of us there is still a strong feeling that the cave was blocked purposely, and that if it does not contain King Solomon's treasures, it may very well be a storage area for other artifacts.

That the search for the legendary ark is continuing was revealed in a UPI release that appeared in many U.S. newspapers during the first week of August 1981. The study had a familiar ring to it. Originating from the Durham, North Carohna, bureau, the release stated: "A team of researchers from Duke University and the University of South Florida were said Saturday to have found the first known Ark of the Covenant from ancient Palestine.

"Even though only the uppermost portion survives, this is the first intact Ark of the Covenant that has been recovered from ancient remains," said Dr. Eric Meyers, a professor in the Duke religion department and director of the archaeological team that made the find.

"In addition to Meyers, others involved in the discovery included his wife, Dr. Carol Meyers, an assistant religion professor at Duke; and Dr. James F. Strange, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of South Florida.

"The ark portion discovered by the team is made of white limestone and weighs a half ton. It was found at the site of Nabratein in Upper Galilee and features two lions astride a gabled roof and a scallop shell." 

It was a part of an ark, but not part of THE ark. That one still continues to elude the treasure seekers, and the search will go on until the day this revered artifact containing the tablets of stone will finally be discovered. There are those who strongly suspect that the ark is no longer in the Holy Land at all but was taken away from there many years ago. I received the first inkling of this while wandering through one of the mirrored marbled halls of the imperial palace in Addis Ababa shortly before the death of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassi. I was impressed with the great variety and richness of the exquisitely crafted gold artifacts that adorned the walls and lined the hallways of the palace, and commented about it to my companion, General Mobratu Fisseha.

"That's because of His Majesty's ancestry," he answered proudly. "Many of his treasures are reported to date back to the very beginning of his dynasty."

"You mean . . . " I began.

"Yes," he interrupted in his own quiet way. "They date back to Ibn Hakim, or Menelik, as he is also called, the son of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, and King Solomon."

"You're talking about a period roughly thirty centuries ago . . . 

"I know." He smiled as he watched the emperor's cheetahs, accompanied by their keeper, approach the door as they prepared for the arrival of the Lion of Judah. "But the connection is there. In fact, we call the city of Aksum the 'second Jerusalem' because of the many relics there connecting Ethiopia with ancient Israel."

And while the rest of our afternoon was spent in a meeting with the emperor, the story of the holy relics in Aksum, the ancient capital of Ethiopia and the spiritual home of the Abyssinian religion, began to take on a new dimension. And before the priests of the nearby Coptic church had finished their evening chants, I had already spent several hours reading with growing bewilderment the story of Kebra Nagast or "Glory of the Kings," an English translation of the fourteenth-century history of the emperor's ancestry. It was utterly unbelievable.

Its pages led me into one of the most fantastic treasure stories ever told. If we are to believe Ethiopian tradition, the Ark of the Covenant is no longer in Israel but is hidden under the ancient Church of St. Mary of Zion in Aksum, nor far from the tomb of Menelik, son of Solomon and Makeda. In Secrets of the Lost Races I referred to the reported ability of the ancients to travel through the skies, and in the Kebra Nagast I found a confirmation of the flight traditions I had previously discovered in the Chinese annals relating the activities of Emperor Shum (2258-2208 B.C.), who constructed his own flying machine, as well as those I had read about in the Indian classic Mahabharata which tells about an "aerial chariot with the sides of iron and clad with wings." The Kebra Nagast, however, ties its flight references in with the theft and the transport of the golden Ark of the Covenant from Solomon's Temple to Aksum. In Christian circles a theft of the ark by Ethiopians approximately one thousand years before Christ is totally unacceptable for a variety of reasons, all of a religious or theological nature; but the unbiased investigator has to examine every story so that an impartial evaluation can be formed.

The Kebra Nagast, a fourteenth-century compilation of Ethiopian tradition as written by the monk Yetshak, is an account of the kingdom of Sheba that extended across both banks of, the Red Sea. It was from this area that the Queen of Sheba made her legendary visit to the wise King Solomon. The biblical book of First Kings, the tenth chapter, tells us just enough to activate our imagination:

"And when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove him with hard questions. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bore spices, and very much gold, and precious stones .... And King Solomon gave unto the Queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants."

The ninth chapter of the Second Book of Chronicles repeats basically the same account with additional details, but the entire story has been related in only twenty-two verses without providing any further details about the Queen's origin, or even her race. Legends have sprung up concerning her visit to Solomon, and many have wondered whether she really was a queen or perhaps simply a seductress. The mystery of her visit has remained alive throughout the centuries in legend and tradition both in the East and the West.

But where the Bible stops the Kebra Nagast continues. In fact, to the Ethiopians it supplies the historical basis for the existence of the Conquering Lion of Judah. To us it provides another lead in the search for the golden ark.

Writing about Solomon's reaction to seeing the Queen at his court, the Kebra Nagast reads:

"And he paid her great honour and rejoiced and he gave her a habitation in the royal palace near him. And he sent her food for both the evening and the morning meal . . . and every day he arrayed her in garments which bewitched the eyes." (KN,25)

"Solomon gave unto her whatsoever she wished for of splendid things and riches and beautiful apparel. . . and everything on which great store was set in the country of Ethiopia, and camels and wagons six thousand in number, which were laden with beautiful things of the most desirable kind, and wagons wherein loads were carried over the desert . . . and a vessel wherein one could traverse the air, which Solomon had made by the wisdom God had given unto him." (KN,30)

According to tradition, the Queen's meeting with King Solomon resulted in the birth of a son called Bayna-Lehkem nine months and five days after her return to Sheba, and it was not until twenty-two years later that King Solomon saw his Sheban son for the first time. "And the youth Bayna-Lehkem was handsome, and his whole body and his members and the bearing of his shoulders resembled those of King Solomon his father, about his eyes, and his legs, and his whole gait resembled those of Solomon the King." (KN,22)

The Kebra Nagast records that soon after his arrival, not only did Bayna-Lehkem and Solomon enter a close father-and-son relationship, but when his newly arrived son expressed a secret desire to take the Ark of the Covenant with him to Sheba, Solomon—according to the tradition—is supposed to have reluctantly agreed, but only if it could be done secretly and if an exact duplicate could be fashioned to take its place in the temple.  


The actual theft of the ark is described a few chapters later.

"And he rose up straightway, and woke up three men his brethren, and they took the pieces of wood, and went into the house of God—now they found all the doors open, both that were outside and those that were inside— to the actual place where he found Zion, the Tabernacle of the Law of God; and it was taken away by them forthwith .... And the four of them carried Zion away, and they brought it into the house of Azarayas, and they went back into the House of God, and they set the pieces of wood where Zion had been, and they covered them with the covering of Zion, and they shut the door." (KN,48)

The rest of the story is equally unbelievable. Claiming that the entire caravan hovered above the ground due to the presence of Michael the archangel, the Kebra Nagast relates that the ark arrived at the palace of the Queen of Sheba and eventually found a resting place in Aksum.

The story is exciting, adventurous, full of allegations and almost unbelievable, yet what if it was stolen by the Shebans, and what it if is indeed hidden away under the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Aksum? What then about the various accounts placing the ark still in a cave in the Holy Land? Obviously the search which has now been narrowed down to perhaps twenty square miles will suddenly have to include northern Ethiopia and the sacred territory of the Coptic^ Church. And we will have to deal with the furor that will erupt in religious circles if King Solomon's treacherous act can indeed be proven. The search for the ark may take a new turn now that Ethiopia apparently has decided to sell some of its art treasures. Whether their eagerness for foreign currency will go as far as raiding their Coptic churches—thereby risking a religious uprising—will depend on the desperation of the government. If that should be the case, the Church of St. Mary of Zion will be a likely target, and the search for the ark may be on again—but this time in Aksum, Ethiopia.







Keith Hunt