Archaeologists and fortune hunters (not to mention Indiana Jones) have been searching for more than a century for the treasures stashed by Israel’s third king, Solomon. Traditionally seen as the greatest king of Israel, Solomon was famed for his military strength and was said to have amassed a great fortune through mining and trading, much of which he stowed in the crowning achievement of his reign: his great temple in Jerusalem. According to the Hebrew Bible, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II plundered and burned the temple in the 6th century B.C. Among the many treasures lost to history was the Ark of the Covenant, an ornate, gold-plated chest that was originally built to hold the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Now, a newly translated ancient Hebrew text seems to provide new information about where the elusive Ark, along with the other treasures of King Solomon, may have been hidden.
Bas-relief image of the Ark of the Covenant. (Credit: Getty Images)
The oldest version of the ancient text called Massekhet Kelim (“Treatise of the Vessels”) was included in the Hebrew book Emek Halchah, published in Amsterdam in 1648. A later version, published in 1876, was almost identical to that older version. As reported in LiveSciencethis week, James Davila, a professor at the University of St. Andrews, has recently translated the complete treatise into English for the first time.
According to Davila, the treatise claims that the treasures of King Solomon “were concealed by a number of Levites and prophets….[Some] were hidden in various locations in the Land of Israel and in Babylonia, while others were delivered into the hands of the angels Shamshiel, Michael, Gabriel and perhaps Sariel…” The text apparently stops short of revealing the exact location of the Ark and the other treasures, saying that it “shall not be revealed until the day of the coming of the Messiah son of David.”
Davila stresses that the treatise is less of a factual account of the treasures’ whereabouts than a fictional work based on a number of different legends. As such, it is sometimes inconsistent and confusing in its structure. The treatise does provide a lyrical description of Solomon’s treasures, including “seventy-seven tables of gold, and their gold was from the walls of the Garden of Eden that was revealed to Solomon, and they radiated like the radiance of the sun and moon, which radiate at the height of the world.”
According to Davila, the Treatise of the Vessels closely parallels another ancient text: the Copper Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls found near the site of Qumran in the West Bank. That ancient metallic scroll dates back some 1,900 years and also discusses the fate of a hidden treasure, though it is not known to which treasure it refers. The newly translated text states that the treasures of Solomon were recorded “on a tablet of bronze,” similar to the metallic Copper Scroll. Both texts also refer to “vessels” or “implements,” including artifacts made of gold and silver. As Davila told LiveScience, this may be coincidental, but it may also reflect an ancient tradition of recording important information on metal, which was far more durable than papyrus or parchment.
According to the Bible, Moses had the Ark of the Covenant built to hold the Ten Commandments at the command of God. The Israelites carried the Ark with them during their 40 years spent wandering in the desert, and after the conquest of Canaan, it was brought to Shiloh. King David later took the Ark to Jerusalem, where his son and successor, Solomon, eventually installed it in the temple. Since its disappearance, some 2,000 years ago, numerous theories have arisen about its fate. One of the most well known holds that Levitical priests moved the Ark to Egypt just before the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C. From there it was supposedly moved to Ethiopia, where it resides to this day in the town of Aksum, in the St. Mary of Zion cathedral. Only one man, a monk known as “the Guardian,” is allowed to see the Ark, and church authorities have never allowed it to be studied to determine its authenticity.