From the BBC News, July 1998 (link added):
An American archaeologist says he is close to unearthing the lost Ark of the Covenant, the ancient casket believed to contain the Ten Commandments.
…Vendyl Jones - a Texan archaeologist who believes he may have been the inspiration for the film character Indiana Jones – says he has located where it is buried.
The Jordan Valley near Qumran is the lowest place on earth – a desolate wilderness, baking under the summer sun. But it is here that Vendyl Jones says he is on the verge of making one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.
On the verge, no less! Jones claimed that the Copper Scroll, a unique document from among the Dead Sea Scrolls, contains coded directions for digging up the lost treasure from Solomon’s Temple. So, what happened? Let’s catch up with Jones a mere seven years later, courtesy of a recent Arutz Sheva article:
An unnamed Kabbalist has granted blessing to famed archeologist Dr. Vendyl Jones to uncover the Holy Ark of the Covenant. Jones plans to excavate the Lost Ark by the Tisha B’Av Fast this summer.
…The Talmud says the Ark is hidden in a secret passage under the Temple Mount. Jones says that the tunnel actually continues 18 miles southward, and that the Ark was brought through the tunnel to its current resting place in the Judean Desert.
Tisha B’Av is August 14, the traditional date for the destruction of the First and Second Temples, as well as other significant Jewish disasters. So, Jones is again “on the verge”:
As recently as last month, the rabbi, who only communicates via messenger, told Jones that the time was not yet right to discover the Temple vessels.
Last Thursday, however, Dr. Jones received a communication from the rabbi reading, “The time is right.”
Arutz Sheva is a rag for the Israeli far-right, so there’s not going to be much criticism of Jones, who is a leader within the Noahide Movement (also known as The Sons of Noah). This is a curious new religious movement made up primarily of ex-Christian fundamentalists, and can be summed up as “Gentiles for Judaism”. Members believe that Christianity misunderstood Jesus’ teachings and that anti-Judaism in the Gospels can be rejected as late interpolations. In fact, God wants Jews to continue to keep the Mosaic Law, while Gentiles should keep the seven moral laws of Noah.
However, a 2000 profile in the Dallas Observer reveals Jones to be the Kent Hovind of archaeology: a man whose methods and claims cannot be taken seriously. Here’s a taste:
In three decades of digging in caves in Qumran, a region near the border of Israel and Jordan, Jones has made several discoveries–some of them dubious–that he links to the temple built by King Solomon, where the Ark was once supposedly kept.
These are: a jar of anointing oil, and the supposed discovery of sacred spices (He’s still looking for ashes from the Red Heifer, which will be needed to purify the priests for the next temple). But:
In academic papers published a few years [after the discovery of the oil], however, two Haifa university professors stated that the oil found inside resembled what is extracted in modern times from date stones. “No such oil was known in antiquity,” the professors wrote.
Four years later, Jones, who was spending his summer in Israel and winters in Texas, made another discovery. He held a news conference in the Qumran desert to announce he had excavated 900 pounds of red dirt. Standing beside Jones, a chemical analyst who produced a paper on the stationery of Israel’s famed Weitzmann Institute of Science, identified the compound as very likely having eight of the 11 spices that supposedly constituted the holy incense used in Solomon’s Temple to purify worshipers.
When reporters later called the Weitzmann Institute, however, they were told that Jones’ effort had no connection to the school. The scientist who had stood by his side at the news conference was merely a consultant, the Weitzmann officials said.
As the BBC noted, Jones has also made the claim that his story inspired Indiana Jones, “Vendyl” becoming “Endy” – the Observer reports that this has been denied by Spielberg. Other critiques of Jones are enumerated here; there is also an article by Daniel C Browning called “The Strange Search for the Ashes of the Red Heifer”, which appeared in Biblical Archaeology in Spring 1996, but which I have not been able to see.
Also worth noting: perhaps because he was talking to a right-wing Israeli newspaper rather than US or UK media, Jones felt able to express his extreme racist views as he explains the importance of the August deadline:
“At Kadesh Barnea, [the Jewish Nation] sent in those [twelve] spies who gave the evil report, and because they believed the evil report, they were sentenced to wander for 38 years before they could come into Gilgal” – an ancient city near Jericho.
The “evil report” was the spies’ opinion that the Canaanites were too strong to be defeated, as recounted in Numbers 13. Jones believes that the narrative of the Hebrew Bible reveals certain divine laws of history:
“1967 was a repetition of Kadesh Barnea,” Jones says. “If Israel had come in and taken this place [the Temple Mount], the Arabs would have fled like they did in 1948. But no, because of the evil report of Golda Meir and Motta Gur and Moshe Dayan, who said ‘We cannot do that, world opinion will be against us.’ So Israel was sentenced to 38 years more – and June the 7th , Jerusalem Day, will be the 38th year.
Yes, “the Arabs would have fled like they did in 1948″. That’s when 85% of the Palestinian population of Israel proper were forced to leave their homes and become refugees – a tragedy insignificant for the likes of Jones because merely human. Clearly, and unsurprisingly, Jones supports the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the name of Greater Israel and Jewish theocracy (like Hal Lindsey, he’s also a fan of the Kahanist “Sanhedrin”).
UPDATE: Apparently the 14 August deadline was a “misquote”. Now it’s on for September, if “funding” permits. See my entry here for further details.
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