Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Are the temple treasures hidden under a toilet in John the Baptist's hometown?

Lest my regular readers fear that this blog is going down the toilet, let me assure you that it is a coincidence that today's and yesterday's posts both have to do with toilets. These are serious topics in archaeology and history. But yes, I still sometimes snicker at potty jokes.

Apparently a building project in the city of Ein Karem, a suburb of Jerusalem, is causing quite a stir. Ha Aretz is reporting that plans to build a bathroom/garden shed has the local residents in an uproar. The proposed building is too big to be just a lavatory and shed, which has conspiracy theorists suspicious that something else is afoot.

Ein Karem is the traditional site of the John the Baptist's hometown and the place where, according to Luke, Mary went to stay with her aunt Elizabeth. It has become an important tourist/religious site along with Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. So local angst over the building project is understandable since the residents want to be sure that the site remains welcoming for visitors.

Among the many claims being made about the project is that the building is actually a secret storage site for treasures from the second temple. One man is claiming that these are the mysterious treasures described in the copper scroll. Here is what the article has to say.

But Ron Havilio, a neighborhood resident and leading opponent of the project who has researched Ein Karem's history extensively, believes the archaeological loss may have been even greater. There is a well-known legend about a Palestinian treasure being buried in one of the neighborhood's houses during the War of Independence in 1948, and Havilio - who is distantly related to Yossi Havilio - claims this legendary treasury may actually have comprised treasures from the Second Temple.

His source for this claim is the Copper Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1952. The scroll, which was written on metal, details the places where the Second Temple's treasures were hidden after its destruction in 70 C.E. Among other things it says: "At the ashuach in Beit Hakerem, when you go 10 cubits to the left, are 62 talents of silver."

The accepted view is that "ashuach" signifies a reservoir and that the ancient Beit Hakerem is the modern-day neighborhood of Ein Karem. The only question, Havilio argued, is the location of the ancient pool referred to in the scroll - and analyses of the area's former geography indicate that one possible answer is right under the giant lavatory.

"There is a chance, even if only a small one, that an exciting discovery could be made at Ein Karem, one of the most important discoveries in Israel of the last 100 years," he said.

You can read the whole article here.

Jim Davila doubts there is any real connection to the Copper Scroll and I too have my doubts. People have been looking for this treasure for years and no one has any idea if it is a real treasure much less where it is hidden. Perhaps the building is to hold the Ark of the Covenant? Maybe the Smithsonian no longer wants to store it.

1 comment:

  1. This gives new meaning flushing money down the toilet.
    Sorry, couldn't help myself.