History's Greatest Mysteries (2020) s04e06 Episode Script

The Ark of the Covenant

Tonight, we explore
one of the Bible’s
most powerful artifacts.
Anybody who is unworthy
could be blinded,
or if they touch it,
they’ll be killed.
A holy relic that’s been missing
for over 2,000 years.
People continue to believe
that the Ark is still out there,
that it still can be found.
Now, we uncover the top theories
surrounding its disappearance.
It was simply carried
to Ethiopia.
It’s in the Vatican
Secret Archives.
He hid it in anticipation
of the Babylonian destruction.
Can a new search finally reveal
its location?
I’m confident
that this is the mother lode.
What became of the legendary
Ark of the Covenant,
and can it ever be found?
Qumran, Israel, 2014.
After 16 years of hard work,
researcher Jim Barfield
believes he’s closing in
on one of history’s
most mysterious artifacts.
This ancient Jewish settlement
is where the Dead Sea Scrolls
were found in 1947.
But I believe it hides
an even greater treasure.
I believe I’ve found
the location
of the greatest biblical
archaeological discovery,
the Ark of the Covenant.
If Barfield is correct,
he could solve
a mystery that begins
thousands of years ago.
According to the Book of Exodus,
the story of the Ark
dates back to Ancient Egypt
in the 13th century BCE.
The Exodus is one
of the most
famous stories ever told.
Moses and the Israelites
survive a plague that takes
the first-born sons of the land.
Moses leads the Israelites
out of the land of Egypt,
and they move across
the Red Sea,
where the waters
miraculously part
when he holds up
his magical staff.
They arrive at a mountain
in which God gives them
the Ten Commandments.
The Israelites build
a holy vessel,
a sacred box to hold these
tablets of the Commandments.
It’s called
the Ark of the Covenant.
The Bible gives
a very clear description
as to what the Ark of
the Covenant looks like.
God himself is, in fact,
the architect of this,
so it’s very precise
about the measurements
and the way that
it has to be built.
It’s made of acacia wood
two and a half cubits long,
one and a half cubits wide,
and one and a half cubits high,
or about 52 inches long,
31 inches wide, 31 inches high.
It’s covered entirely in gold
inside and out.
It has four gold rings
on which poles are attached
for it to be carried.
Finally, it’s topped off
with an ornate gold lid
that has two sculptures
of cherubim on top.
According to the Old Testament,
the Israelites carry the Ark
for 40 years
wandering through the desert.
Along the way,
it displays great power.
In the Book of Joshua,
when they reach
the River Jordan,
the Ark miraculously
dries up the waters
so that they can cross.
The first battle
that the Israelites fight
is against the great city
of Jericho.
Israelites were commanded
to circle the city seven times,
blow the horns, and then
in the presence of the Ark,
the walls of Jericho would fall.
The Israelites
would take the city
and they would gain possession
of that area
of the land of Israel.
Further accounts in
First and Second Samuel
note that anybody
who is unworthy
who even looks at the Ark
could be blinded,
or if they touch it,
they’ll be killed.
There’s also the story
of the Philistines.
The Philistines capture the Ark.
They’re suddenly afflicted
with a plague of mice or rats,
and with horrible boils
that the Philistines get
all over their bodies.
They actually end up
giving the Ark back
to the Israelites,
and along with it,
a coffer filled
with gold sculptures
kind of an apology for having
taken the Ark
in the first place.
Eventually, the Ark
is brought to Jerusalem,
where King Solomon builds
the first Jewish temple
at a place called
the Temple Mount.
He houses the Ark inside
within a special room
called the Holy of Holies.
The temple is completed
by around 950 BCE,
and for four centuries,
the Ark in the temple
becomes the center
sort of thrumming heart
of the Kingdom of Israel.
The Ark of the Covenant
was the focal point
of religious devotion,
a place where God
spoke to the world.
Then, war breaks out in 587 BC.
The Babylonians attack Jerusalem
and finally destroy the city
after a 30-month siege.
And the Babylonians
are absolutely brutal.
They tear down the temple.
They force Zedekiah to watch
every one of his sons murdered
in front of him.
They then blind him
so that this image
is the last thing he sees.
They take him to Babylon
and they make him
a prisoner there
until his death.
They also set Jerusalem on fire,
and everything burns,
including, perhaps, the Ark.
This isn’t just a Bible story.
We have archaeological evidence
that the Babylonians
destroyed Jerusalem.
Babylon loots the city
before it burns.
And we have some records
of some of the things
that they took, but something
that’s never mentioned
in any of those records
is the Ark of the Covenant,
something that would have
certainly been mentioned
had they taken it.
So, a large amount of historians
believe that the Ark
of the Covenant
was in Jerusalem up to 587 BC.
After that, it’s almost entirely
absent from the biblical text.
Is that really it?
Is this immensely powerful
object really gone
after centuries of it being
this kind of center of worship?
All of a sudden,
it just disappears?
Nobody wants this to be
the end of the Ark.
According to some
ancient texts, it’s not.
There’s a reason
why so many people
continue to believe
that the Ark is still out there,
that it still can be found.
There’s a reason
they’re still looking for it.
It’s because there are stories
that the Ark
narrowly escaped the temple’s
destruction in Jerusalem.
These stories come
from first and second-century
Jewish sources, including one
called the Mishnah.
And the Mishnah
is actually a collection
of oral traditions that claim
to go all the way back
to the destruction of the temple
at the hands of the Babylonians.
In one such story,
one Rabbi Yehudah
tells that before the Babylonian
destruction of the temple,
an earlier king, Josiah,
worried about the Ark,
and he hid it
in anticipation
of the Babylonian destruction.
According to Rabbi Yehudah,
the Ark is hidden
with a chest of gold
and a sacred walking stick
carried by Moses’ brother Aaron.
King Josiah
also hides this chest
that the Philistines
sent to the Israelites
along with the Ark
of the Covenant
in an effort to say,
"We’re sorry we stole
the Ark of the Covenant
from you."
Rabbi Yehudah offered the idea
that the priests of Jerusalem
prepared a secret
underground chamber
beneath the Temple Mount,
and that’s where
they hid the Ark.
The site
of Solomon’s original temple,
the Temple Mount,
has long been a powerful
and mysterious location.
There are at least
35 acres of ancient rooms
and over 50 tunnels
that we know of
under the Temple Mount.
Some of these date all the way
back to King Solomon.
Many Orthodox Jews
believe that
the Ark of the Covenant
was hidden in one
of these chambers,
and that one day
it will be rediscovered.
It’s 1970, and one theory
about the Ark of the Covenant
is about to be tested
as Israeli authorities
begin excavations
close to Jerusalem’s
Western Wall
near the site
of Solomon’s original temple.
It’s a major archaeological dig.
The Western Wall
runs along the west side
of the Temple Mount,
and beneath it are thousands
of years of construction,
structures, tunnels, artifacts.
This is a huge project,
planned to take
a total of 18 years.
It’s a project that
also creates religious tension,
as the site is now home
to the Dome of the Rock,
an Islamic shrine
built in 691 AD.
Because the Temple Mount
is under Islamic control,
you also have the political
part of this,
which is Israelis digging
into the Islamic part
of the city.
And any excavation
that cuts under the Temple Mount
by the Israeli government
would just be
a political timebomb.
But if you believe, like many
Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem,
that the Ark of the Covenant
is hidden in the Temple Mount,
then this excavation project
is coming tantalizingly close.
One such believer
is Rabbi Yehuda Getz.
Rabbi Getz is not affiliated
with this dig, right?
This is an Israeli government
scientific excavation.
But Rabbi Getz wants to find
the Ark of the Covenant.
And in the middle
of that excavation,
Rabbi Getz realizes
that they are close
to where he believes the Ark
of the Covenant might be.
So, Rabbi Getz
gathers up some workmen
and begins a secret excavation
of his own.
Getz chooses a spot
called the Warren Gate,
which leads straight under
the Temple Mount.
He’s had 11 years
to prepare for this moment.
He’s reviewed
archaeological reports,
ancient maps, he’s consulted
with experts,
and he is convinced that this is
the closest possible location
to the Holy of Holies chamber
that once held the Ark.
After some weeks of digging,
Muslim worshippers
in the Al-Aqsa Mosque
hear all kinds of banging
going on under their floor.
And so, the Muslim guards
go down to see what’s going on,
and they encounter a group
of Israeli young people
smuggling dirt
out of these tunnels.
A violent confrontation ensues
between these amateur excavators
armed only with shovels,
hoes, and picks,
and the guards rushing in
from all sides.
Israeli police have to come
to quell
a full-scale underground riot.
In 1982
the government orders the tunnel
to be resealed, and it remains
cemented shut to this day.
Rabbi Yehuda Getz claimed
that at the end of the tunnel
that he dug,
he could see something
something golden
and something glowing.
Is it perhaps
the Ark of the Covenant?
We may never know how close
Rabbi Getz got
to the Ark of the Covenant,
but those tunnels
are still there.
And maybe if some time
the political situation
changes in Israel,
we might be able to access them,
and perhaps reveal
that the rabbi
was right all along.
Others believe that
whatever Rabbi Getz
spotted in 1981,
it wasn’t the Ark,
because that relic was moved
centuries earlier.
After the Babylonians
destroyed the first temple,
let’s just assume that the Ark
is safely underneath
the Temple Mount,
and as years roll by,
other conquering people
come and go, and the Ark
is still there.
Eventually the Jews are allowed
to return to Jerusalem,
and they build a second temple
on the same site.
And then, a new sheriff
comes to town.
In 63 BCE, the Roman Empire
conquers the entire
Eastern Mediterranean region.
And when the Jews
rebel against Rome,
Rome decimates them.
The Romans destroy
the second temple in 70 AD,
and they dismantle it
stone by stone,
taking its treasures
back to Rome.
Some believe
one of those treasures
is the Ark.
There are many artworks
and writings from the Romans
describing the many spoils
from the Jewish War.
The Ark of the Covenant
is not shown among any of them.
But did the Romans know
that they captured the Ark,
if they captured the Ark?
Well, they didn’t know what
they captured in the temple.
They called the Menorah,
the great candelabrum
that the Jews had built
for the temple,
they just call it a candlestick.
With or without the Ark,
the temple’s spoils
are paraded around
the city of Rome
before they are put on display
in the ironically-named
Temple of Peace
that faces the Coliseum,
which is at that time
being built,
and largely funded by spoils
from the Jewish War.
The Temple of Peace
stands in Rome
for nearly 500 years.
After that, if the Ark is there,
we don’t know where it goes.
Rome is invaded by barbarians
and falls in the year 476 AD.
For hundreds of years,
it seems that the Ark
has just disappeared,
until the 12th century,
when it is mentioned in a book.
It’s supposedly still in Rome,
but it is not at
the Temple of Peace.
The book is called
the "Descriptio Lateranensis
It’s written by John the Deacon,
and he works at
the Lateran Basilica in Rome.
And he claims that this is where
the Ark of the Covenant
is being kept.
It’s the oldest church in Rome,
founded in the year 324 AD
while the Temple of Peace
is still standing,
and it’s only located
a half a mile away.
Some theorists believe
that after Constantine
legalizes Christianity
in the Roman Empire
in the year 312,
this church is built right away
to house the Christian relics
of Rome.
Around 1160, this is exactly
what John the Deacon writes.
He says that
the Ark of the Covenant
and many other temple treasures
are stored in the Lateran Church
beneath the altar.
Six-hundred years later,
the Ark is mentioned again
in papal records.
In 1745, the pope at the time,
Benedict XIV,
has three sacred objects
moved from the Lateran
the Staff of Moses,
there’s Aaron’s Rod,
and lastly, there’s the Ark
of the Covenant.
Now, this is the last
mention of the Ark in Rome.
But some theorists believe
that the Ark
has remained in the possession
of the popes ever since,
and they think it’s in
the Vatican Secret Archives.
Hidden beneath
St. Peter’s Square,
the archives have an estimated
53 miles of shelves
holding thousands of years’
worth of church documents
and artifacts.
They have the correspondence
of Martin Luther.
They have Henry VIII’s request
for a marriage annulment.
Who knows what else is in
the Vatican Archives?
Could the Ark of the Covenant
be down there?
But let’s be very clear.
No pope, no church official
has ever claimed
that the Vatican has possession
of the Ark of the Covenant.
Axum, capital of
an ancient African kingdom
known as one of the world’s
four great powers
in the first century BC.
Today, it’s the holiest city in
the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
This religion’s
36 million followers
have no doubt where
the Ark of the Covenant rests.
They know it’s here.
What the Ethiopians say,
according to their religion,
is that these Ark hunters
focused on what happened
following the destruction
of Jerusalem in 587 BC
are all on a wild goose chase.
The Ethiopians believe
that actually the Ark
left Jerusalem
about 350 years earlier than
the destruction of the temple.
And it wasn’t lost in a war,
and it wasn’t destroyed.
It was simply picked up
and carried off.
And it ends up being carried
all the way to Ethiopia,
where it remains to this day.
According to this tradition,
the Ark leaves Jerusalem during
the reign of King Solomon.
In the Bible’s
first Book of Kings
and second Chronicles,
there’s a story of King Solomon
who greets in his kingdom
a queen.
While she’s known
as the Queen of Sheba,
and her origins
were actually unknown,
modern-day historians
associate her
with the land of Ethiopia.
In the Bible, the Queen of Sheba
comes to Jerusalem
to test the wisdom
of the mighty King Solomon.
She brings him gold
and all kinds of presents,
and having discovered that
he is everything she’s heard,
the Queen of Sheba returns
to her kingdom in Africa.
But the Ethiopian texts
like to elaborate on this story,
that the Queen of Sheba
comes to visit Solomon,
and by the time she returns,
she’s pregnant
with Solomon’s baby.
And she gives birth to a son
and names him Menelik.
Menelik is raised in Ethiopia,
and when he comes of age,
his mother, the Queen of Sheba,
decides it’s time for him
to go to Jerusalem
and meet King Solomon,
his biological father.
So, they meet
for the first time,
and Solomon is really
favorably impressed
with this young man.
He asks Menelik to stay
and to become his heir.
Menelik declines,
returning to Ethiopia
as his mother’s heir.
When Menelik
returns to Ethiopia,
he’s shocked to discover
that along with his supplies,
he finds
the Ark of the Covenant.
Now, Ethiopian accounts vary
as to whether this was a gift
from Solomon,
or whether someone
in his entourage stole it.
But the Ark of the Covenant
is there in Ethiopia,
and they believe the Ark
is rightfully theirs.
Unlike, say, the story
of the Philistines
taking the Ark for themselves,
nothing bad happens
to these Ethiopians
for having
the Ark of the Covenant there.
There’s no plagues,
there’s no tumors,
there’s no walls collapsing,
and no instant death
for the people who gaze upon it.
Menelik’s kingdom thrives.
Menelik’s family line,
which claims to be
the Solomonic Dynasty,
flourishes for 2,000 years.
And to this day,
the church that they founded
claims to possess
the Ark of the Covenant.
Every aspect
of Ethiopian Orthodoxy
has the Ark at its core.
There are tens of thousands
of Ethiopian Orthodox churches
in the world, and every one
of them, to be consecrated,
must have a replica
Ark of the Covenant
inside its Holy of Holies
its inner sanctum chamber.
On special occasions,
the Ark of the Covenant replica
can be brought out
and paraded around.
But even it remains covered,
because even these replicas
are thought to have
tremendous power.
But with so many replicas,
where is the real Ark?
In Axum, a town 20 miles
from the Eritrean border,
is the Cathedral
of Our Lady Mary of Zion.
The cathedral is part
of a complex of buildings
that represent the holiest place
on Earth
for Ethiopian
Orthodox Christians.
It’s the equivalent
of the Roman Catholic Vatican.
The new cathedral building
was constructed in the 1950s
by the Emperor Haile Selassie.
It’s adjacent to the old church
built in the 1500s
on a site that had been in use
since the 4th century.
So, in between two buildings,
there’s another smaller one,
and the small one is the one
that’s really important,
and it’s known as
the Chapel of the Tablet.
And here is where
the Ethiopians believe
that the Ark of the Covenant
is kept.
The Chapel
of the Tablet was built in 1965
because, according to legend,
of a divine heat
that was emanating from the Ark
that was so hot,
it actually cracked the stones
of the old church
that sat next door.
So, the Chapel of the Tablet
is a more fortified home
for the safekeeping
for the Ark of the Covenant.
It’s one of the most
heavily secured chapels
that you would ever come across.
There is only one person
who can actually enter
into that building,
and he’s known
as the Guardian Monk.
The Guardian Monk
serves for life.
He needs to be a virgin,
he takes an oath of celibacy.
And he spends his entire life
in service to
the Ark of the Covenant,
making prayers and offering up
incense before it.
He’s not allowed to stray
more than 10 feet
from the building
in which the Ark sits.
He’s essentially bound to it,
a life in service
to this holy relic.
Before a Guardian Monk dies,
he appoints his own successor.
It’s a cycle that has continued
unbroken for generations.
Of course, some are suspicious
that all of the secrecy
that surrounds the site
means precisely
that the Ark isn’t there.
It could be that this Ark
is simply another replica.
But on the rare occasions
when these Guardian Monks
are interviewed, they state
with absolute certainty
that this is
the Ark of the Covenant.
They believe it, as do
tens of millions of followers
of Ethiopian Orthodoxy
I think it’s safe to say
that there is something
very precious in this chapel.
Whether that is actually
the Ark of the Covenant
is ultimately impossible to say.
But there may be
an opportunity to find out soon.
A new Chapel of the Tablet
is currently being built
behind the present one.
It’s slightly larger,
it has thicker walls.
It will also have an ornate
silver dome on the top.
As soon as this new chapel
is completed,
whatever object
is inside the current chapel
will have to be brought out.
Undoubtedly, they’ll do it
as quickly as possible
under as much secrecy
as possible.
If it’s the Ark of the Covenant,
maybe we’ll finally
get a glimpse of it,
and with it, some answers.
For centuries,
researchers try and fail
to track the Ark
of the Covenant.
But in the 1880s,
a British group
takes a different approach,
leading to a shocking new theory
that places the Ark
somewhere no one expected.
Starting around 1872,
some people who call themselves
the British Israelites
begin organizing,
first in England,
then in other parts
of the British Empire,
and eventually
also in the United States.
They believe
that they were descended
from the ancient Israelites,
the same people who built
the Ark,
lived in Jerusalem,
and were exiled
after the Babylonian
Led by three
British nationalists,
the group begins researching
a possible connection
between the ancient Israelites
and the British Anglo-Saxons.
I think it’s a self-serving
"If we can prove our ethnic
or social group
"is descended from
God’s chosen people,
then that makes us
that much more superior."
But sure enough, they believe
they found a connection.
The oldest records and texts
about the Israelites
settling in the Promised Land
said that they were divided
into 12 different tribes.
The number 12 may or may not
be historically accurate,
but we do know that
by the time that the Romans
had occupied that territory,
after the Jewish War,
around the year 70,
the Roman-Jewish
historian Josephus
says at that point,
only two tribes still remained.
The other 10 are in dispersion.
According to
the British Israelites,
these 10 lost tribes of Israel
migrated to Europe.
According to this theory,
they called themselves
Isaac’s Sons,
and from "Isaac’s Sons,"
we derive the word "Saxons."
We know that Saxons
definitely settled
in the British Isles
in around the mid-5th century.
Saxon presence there
is not disputed.
In fact, we owe a large chunk
of the English language
to the Saxons.
But did they come
all the way from Jerusalem,
and did they bring with them
the Ark of the Covenant?
If that’s true,
well, where is it?
Because they believe
that the lost tribes
ended up in Britain,
the British Israelites
start combing through
history books
and mythological materials
looking for clues.
And they find a book of ancient
Irish history, mythology.
It’s called
the "Lebor Gabala Erenn."
To them, this book
is the missing link
that connects them to the Ark.
The "Lebor Gabala Erenn"
describes a Far East princess
named Tea Tephi
who comes to Ireland
and marries King Erimon.
Traveling with
Princess Tea Tephi
are an old white-haired man
and his servant
whose name is Brach.
The British Israelites
believe that this old man
was Jeremiah accompanied by
his servant Baruch,
his scribe
who wrote down his story.
In the Book of Second Maccabees,
it says that
the Prophet Jeremiah
escaped the Babylonian
destruction of Jerusalem,
and took with him
the Ark of the Covenant
and a couple of other
temple vessels.
The British Israelites believe
that Prophet Jeremiah
brought the Ark of the Covenant
with Tea Tephi to Ireland.
The British Israelites
search the Bible for clues
to Tea Tephi’s identity.
When they destroy Jerusalem,
the Babylonians
capture King Zedekiah
and murder his sons.
But according to
the Book of Jeremiah,
his daughter is spared.
This daughter,
who’s named Tamar,
the British Israelites
believe is actually Tea.
So, as the theory goes,
this entourage of people
is the same group
who arrive with all
the stuff together in Ireland,
but they have brought
the Ark of the Covenant.
Tamar/Tea marries,
becomes a queen of Ireland,
and when she dies, she’s buried
along with the Ark
in an ancient sacred center
that was her kingdom,
now known as the Hill of Tara.
The Hill of Tara
is one of Ireland’s
most precious
national monuments.
It’s a place
that rivals Stonehenge
as one of many important
Neolithic sites
in the British Empire.
It’s the legendary seat
of the ancient Irish monarchs,
a place that humans have
associated with great power
for thousands of years.
Archaeologists at Tara
have found large
earthen structures,
ceremonial stone monuments,
and hundreds of ancient burials.
Tea, Tamar, Tara
some people think that the site
is named for the queen
who brought the Ark there.
Once the British Israelites
develop their theory,
they want to excavate the site,
convinced that they’re going
to find the Ark there.
In 1899, British Israelite
archaeologist Walton Adams
and Charles Groom
come to the site of Tara.
The group convinces the owner
of the land,
Gustavus Briscoe, to let them
begin digging for the Ark.
So, they get to work,
and they’re excavating
for months and months,
and nobody’s really
paying attention to them.
But eventually
some Irish nationalists
catch wind of what’s going on,
and they are furious.
The British Israelites
only care about one thing
the Ark
and they’re not very careful
about how they do
their business.
So, they’re causing
untold destruction
to a major cultural icon.
Nearby landowner,
Sir John Dillon,
keeps a detailed account
of the excavation.
Sir John Dillon
sees them taking out bones,
Roman coins, and they’re just
discarding it like it’s rubbish.
And he’s mortified
by what they’re doing.
If this is allowed to continue,
they are going to succeed
in laying waste
to probably Ireland’s
most significant sacred site.
By January of 1901,
a full-scale media campaign
is launched
to try and halt the digging.
National heroes like the writers
George Moore and W.B. Yeats
join in the chorus to save Tara,
and eventually they succeed.
These British Israelites
abandon their quest for the Ark,
and the site is now owned
by the Irish government,
which is never going to let them
search for the Ark again.
It’s an incredible story.
They’re combining the Bible
with Irish mythology
to place the Ark
of the Covenant,
one of the most powerful
objects in the world,
in one of the most
powerful places in the world.
But without any kind of proof,
it’s just that a story.
Over the years,
theories have placed
the powerful Ark of the Covenant
everywhere from Ethiopia
to Ireland.
But historians remain skeptical
that it could have traveled
so far from Jerusalem.
If the Ark existed
and survives, it’s probably
somewhere in the Middle East.
With the Babylonians closing in
around the destruction
of the temple,
the Jews would not
have had very much time.
And so, the best thing to do
would just to have been
to hide it.
It’s not like they can take it
on a long voyage.
They would have probably had
to carry it on foot.
It probably didn’t travel
very far.
So, you’re definitely left
with a limited radius
in which to look.
Could they even have
gotten the Ark out of Jerusalem?
Some theorists note that
before the Babylonians
actually laid siege to the city,
they actually surrounded it
for a couple of years,
and it would have been
to have smuggled
anything in or out.
But in 2007, a new discovery
challenges that thinking.
A team of archaeologists,
Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron,
discovered what they call
an escape hatch,
a tunnel running
from the Temple Mount
all the way down
outside of the city.
The tunnel has walls
that are up to 10 feet tall.
That’s plenty of space
for a group of priests
to have smuggled out
considerable numbers of objects,
the Ark of the Covenant.
This tunnel leads
under the city walls
to the Kidron Valley.
So now, we have
a possible escape route
for the Ark of the Covenant.
The discovery of this tunnel
connects a lot
of the biblical dots
of the story of the Ark.
The Book of Second Maccabees
suggests that Jeremiah,
the prophet,
takes the Ark of the Covenant
and the temple treasures
out of the city.
So, here’s the big question.
If this tunnel
is the Ark’s escape path
leading to the Kidron River,
where does it go from there?
According to
Ark hunter Jim Barfield,
there’s only one
possible answer.
The Kidron River heads east,
and then it branches off
into the Qumran River,
which leads past
an ancient settlement
also called Qumran.
Qumran is famous
because that’s where
the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
I’ve been studying Qumran
for 25 years,
and I believe that
it’s the resting place
of the Ark of the Covenant
as well.
The discovery of the
Dead Sea Scrolls here in 1947
stunned both the scientific
and religious communities.
This is one of the biggest
archaeological finds in history.
981 manuscripts,
some over 2,500 years old,
found buried and sealed
inside 11 caves.
It’s hard to overstate
their importance.
Here, we find the oldest
surviving manuscripts
of many parts
of the Hebrew Bible.
There’s a bunch
of other writings
in there as well that give us
all kinds of important
historical information.
So, as an archaeological find,
the Dead Sea Scrolls are huge.
Most of the scrolls
are papyrus or parchment,
and most of them contain
stories and scriptures.
But one of them,
discovered in 1952,
is made of copper.
It dates back
to the first century.
The Copper Scroll
is not a bible story.
On that copper,
they have hammered instructions
to find treasures from
the Temple of Solomon,
which I believe includes
the Ark of the Covenant.
The Copper Scroll
lists 64 places
where various items are hidden,
including hordes
of gold and silver.
But the text is vague
and difficult to decipher,
possibly to prevent outsiders
from discovering the location
of these sites.
The text gives a number
of directions to landmarks
that only locals
would likely have known.
Like, "It’s in the salt pit
under the steps,"
or, "in the cave
of the old washer’s chamber
on the third terrace."
Barfield was a fire investigator
for 23 years.
After dedicating his life
to solving mysteries,
he turns his attention
to this one.
And I made it my mission
to decode the Copper Scroll
and find
the Ark of the Covenant.
And now, I believe I’m on
the verge of a breakthrough.
So, there’s a compelling
trail of evidence
that leads Barfield to Qumran
in search of the Ark.
There’s a tunnel
leading out of Jerusalem
straight to a waterway.
They’ve done excavations
all along this path,
and they’ve found coins,
evidence that ancient Jews
were in that area.
The waterway leads to Qumran,
which is known
as a place of safekeeping
full of caves, in which
were found
hundreds of priceless artifacts,
including the Copper Scroll,
a treasure map written
in Hebrew, found in Qumran.
It doesn’t explicitly say
in the Copper Scroll
that the location for all these
hidden treasures is Qumran.
But it makes sense that
you might wanna look there.
In 2007 I was ready
to visit Qumran.
I had my own replica
of the Copper Scroll.
I had satellite maps
and all the information
that I could gather
from the biblical text.
But when I got there,
I had no idea
what I might encounter.
Was I wrong about all this?
Was it a wild goose chase?
There’s only one way
to find out.
In 2007, investigator
Jim Barfield’s search
for the famed
Ark of the Covenant
brings him to the ancient
Jewish settlement
of Qumran, Israel.
Qumran was destroyed
by the Romans, very similar
to what happened in Jerusalem.
But unlike Jerusalem,
the Romans didn’t take
all the treasures.
Nearly 2,000 years later,
the Dead Sea Scrolls remained,
waiting to be discovered.
And I believe still hiding
at Qumran
are the temple treasures
of King Solomon
and the Ark of the Covenant.
Barfield narrows his search
based on instructions
in the Copper Scroll.
Location one
on the Copper Scroll
describes 17 talents
of silver service vessels.
That’s around 1,200 pounds,
or $340,000 of pure silver.
But of course, it’s priceless
as an archaeological find.
This Copper Scroll said
it’s at the steps heading east,
40 cubits long.
That’s about 65 feet.
In Qumran,
Barfield is only able to find
one location with steps
heading east.
When I get there,
I measured the steps,
and they are exactly
40 cubits long.
And I am absolutely convinced
that those service vessels
are buried at that location.
Remember, this is Barfield’s
first visit out there.
He’s not part of any dig.
He’s just really trying
to line things up.
Next, Barfield turns
his attention
to finding location number two.
A second location
on the Copper Scroll
says "in the dry cistern",
"at the great ruined courtyard
of the peristyle,
"in the soft sea floor
is hidden polished gold.
In front of the uppermost
opening are 900 talents."
That’s an incredible 33 tons
of polished gold.
So now, Barfield
is looking for a cistern
and a courtyard,
but he’s still not sure
that the Copper Scroll
is referring to places
in and around Qumran.
He believes, though,
that the sites
keep lining up for him.
And when I found the location
of the cistern,
it was easy to determine
because there was
a great courtyard there
that matched the description
of the Copper Scroll.
Barfield is excited,
and he believes that he’s found
33 tons of polished gold
in this location.
Barfield lacks permission
to dig, so he can’t verify
the gold is here.
But he’s looking
for a much more valuable prize.
Locations one and two
are lining up.
But my ultimate goal is to find
location number three,
which could hold
the temple treasures
of King Solomon
and the Ark of the Covenant.
The Copper Scroll
describes this location
as being at the north end
of the Hill of Kohlit.
Whatever the ancient Jews
used to refer to
as the Hill of Kohlit,
it’s been lost
to the sands of time.
I realized that the hill
couldn’t be within Qumran
because there’s no hills within
the ruins of Qumran.
But there are several nearby.
Barfield studies
satellite imagery
to identify
a potential candidate
for the Hill of Kohlit.
Not only does Barfield
find a hill that seems to match,
when he gets there,
there appears to be a cave
that’s sealed shut.
To him, it doesn’t look
like a natural rock formation.
He believes the cave’s location
may also be a clue.
When I looked at this location
on my map,
locations three, two, and one
were in a perfectly
straight line.
It was as if
whoever wrote this document
was leading me to this
specific location.
Barfield is eager to prove
this cave is hiding something.
I decided that I would
take a sample of this stone
and send it off to a lab
in Skokie, Illinois,
where we had it examined.
And they find that it
is manmade mortar
in a common mixture and formula
from that timeframe.
Why would somebody seal
a random hill with concrete?
So, James Barfield
takes all of this evidence
and requests the permission
of Israeli authorities
to conduct a dig.
They don’t go that far,
but they do allow him
to return in 2014
with a parliamentary delegate
named Moshe Feiglin.
This time, he’s able to bring in
more advanced equipment.
What we decided to do was buy
an industrial metal detector.
Before I went back,
we took that metal detector,
and I buried 30 pounds of silver
in my front yard
to get a baseline, to make sure
that what we were seeing,
we could judge it
against whatever
we might find at Qumran.
Back in Qumran, we scanned
the courtyard of the peristyle,
and as we got close,
we just clipped the edge
where the 33 tons of gold
were buried,
and the readings
just went off the charts.
And when we get
to location number three,
the metal detector
confirms my suspicions
that this is the mother lode.
According to Barfield’s results,
the metal detector finds
five times the amount of metal
in location number three
than the 33 tons of gold
posited for location number two.
I’ve already proven that
something is down there.
Now, we’ve gotta dig it up
and see what it is.
The Copper Scroll,
the biblical text, the map,
the mortar,
the metal detector readings
all of these leave me
with no doubt,
in this sealed cave
are the greatest treasures
of Israel.
When they finally give us
permission to do the excavation,
we’re gonna be face to face
with the Ark of the Covenant.
Jim Barfield is currently
lobbying the Israeli Congress
for permission to excavate
at Qumran.
If he’s successful,
there’s a chance
that the search for
the Ark of the Covenant
may one day be over.
I’m Laurence Fishburne.
Thank you for watching
"History’s Greatest Mysteries."
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