The Ark-Eologists

Vendyl Jones has now disassociated himself from claims reported in May that he will find the Ark of the Covenant by August 14. As explained on his website:

What he actually said was that it would be very appropriate IF he could discover the Ark by Tisha B’Av [14 August]. At this time it is obviously not going to happen. However, as soon as the funding permits, he will be in Israel to drill the bore hole and proceed with the dig to uncover the Tabernacle and the Ark. We are hoping that this will be in September.

So all those months of massive publicity were just some misunderstanding. His website also contains the following titbit:

It may be hard to believe but Vendyl has no connection with the popular motion picture character [Indiana Jones].

So was this also a misquote?:

Jones’ escapades and explorations were the inspiration for the blockbuster movie ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ of the ‘Indiana Jones’ trilogy. The man who wrote the first draft of the film, Randolph Fillmore, was one of the volunteers who worked with Jones in 1977.

“I agreed to help him write the movie,” Jones said, “as long as – number one – he wouldn’t set it here (In Israel). Some people believe the ark is in Ethiopia or Egypt, some believe its in Constantinople or Rome. I just didn’t want it to be portrayed as being here. The second thing was, ‘Don’t use my name.’ So he didn’t. My name is Vendyl – V-E-N-D-Y-L. So he just dropped the first and last letters and it ended up Endy Jones.”

(Actually, this site dedicated to the movie gives a very different account:

…while Lucas was still trying to complete the script of his space adventure now called Star Wars, he met with director Philip Kaufman and the idea of the adventurous archaeologist emerged during a conversation…Kaufman, remembering a story he had heard by his dentist when he was a child, introduced the Ark of the Covenant as the story’s plot device.

…Lucas suggested that Spielberg should find a writer of his choice, so he set out to find the person who would put their adventurous ideas on paper. Spielberg proposed Lawrence Kasdan.

…The film’s main character would be named Indiana Smith after Lucas’ beloved female Alaskan Malamute dog, Indiana…Spielberg didn’t like the name Smith…Lucas then suggested the Jones name.

“Randolph Fillmore” is completely absent from the story)

As I blogged back in May, Vendyl Jones believes that the famous Copper Scroll is the key to finding the Ark. The scroll was found with the Dead Sea Scrolls, although its relationship to the other documents is disputed. It is possible that the scroll contains a guide to finding treasure taken from the Second Temple just before its destruction in 70CE, but there is no evidence that the Ark ever resurfaced after the destruction of the First Temple in 587BCE. Jones’s reading of the Scroll also seems to be based in some sort of contentious code. However, Jones believes that he has found the correct location, and that when the holy object is revealed through his Ark-hole Ariel Sharon’s government will be “history” and will be replaced by the far-right theocratic “Sanhedrin” he is associated with.

But Jones has some rivals. First off, The Jewish Press reports on one Barry Roffman, an orthodox Jew and US Coast Guard Lieutenant. Roffman believes the location of the Ark is hidden in a secret code written in the Torah, and was placed in Egypt by Jeremiah “to prevent a nuclear war between Israel and its enemies” (here’s a sample of his work). His book on the subject has a foreword by Robert Haralick of the Torah Code Society, although a 1999 report from the Jerusalem Post (reposted here) recounts the following:

…according to Barry Roffman, who worked for the US Coast Guard for 23 years as a disaster-response planner, a search of the Torah via ELS has revealed to him the longitude/latitude coordinates of the Ark’s final resting place: 31 degrees 16 minutes north, 33 degrees four minutes east, which places it in the Mediterranean 4.6 km. north of the Egyptian coast…

As convincing as Roffman sounded in his 40-minute presentation, the members of the Torah Code Society would have none of it, denouncing in no uncertain terms the methodology of Roffman’s search, as well as his conclusions.

Two further candidates are discussed by WorldNet Daily:

Some 30 explorers from the U.S., Australia, Norway and Estonia have been in a cave system north of the city’s Damascus Gate to try to determine if the Ark is indeed located there.

The group is trying to verify the claim made by relic hunter Ron Wyatt who said he actually saw the Ark there two decades ago after tunneling through a small passageway.

(I’ve been in that cave system, actually. It’s a nice cool spot on a hot day.) Ron Wyatt is now dead, but Richard Rives now runs Wyatt Archaeological Reseach Inc. Wyatt’s alleged successes rival those of St Helen:  as well as the Ark of the Covenant, he’s found Noah’s Ark, house and grave, pre-flood wood without tree rings, sulphur balls from Sodom and Gomorrrah, and much else – including Jesus’ blood, which contained 23 chromosomes from Mary and one from God. Alas, however, the ungodly (including other Christians) have been asking difficult questions (e.g. “Where is the report from the blood sample analysis of what Ron claims is the blood of Jesus Christ?”). But now Rives is about to find real proof – again, a few months from now, if everything goes according to plan.

WND also introduces Mike Sanders, creator of a number of Biblical Mysteries programmes. Sanders has a theory which is rather more sensible, if debateable:

“The Ark was certainly taken by the Egyptian King Shishak,” Sanders told WorldNetDaily. “There were obviously subsequent copies made as there were of all the other temple accoutrements which were also looted many times over the centuries. This has enabled the myth makers to come up with many wild and wonderful scenarios.”

Sanders believes the Ark’s contents – the stone tablets etched by God with the Ten Commandments – are located in the foundation deposit of an Egyptian temple he discovered in the Judean hills.

But even he can’t resist the temptation for sensationalist “it’s just around the corner” rhetoric rather than just getting on with the job:

“Hopefully we will extract the contents live on the Internet and on television sometime early next year when the situation in Israel is somewhat safer,” he says.

Israel safer by “early next year”? Seems Sanders is an optimist in all areas…

(Some links via Paleojudaica and Biblical Theology)

UPDATE: Barry Roffman responds in the comments.