Biblical archaeologist Vendyl Jones has survived cave-ins. He's avoided the deadly vipers that secret themselves in caves along the Dead Sea. But the man sometimes billed as "the real Indiana Jones" finds the Israeli bureaucracy almost more than he can handle.
Jones arrived at Qumran in Israel at the end of March for his seventh try at finding treasures from the Second Temple. He says that the Copper Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1952, lists where Essene zealots buried the treasure, oils, incense and vessels used for temple sacrifices. He expects to find the Ark of the Covenant (the object of the first "Indiana Jones" movie); the kalal, a vessel containing the Ashes of the Red Heifer needed for purification rites; priestly garments; and even the long-lost Tabernacle of Moses. He shrugs aside the possibility of tons of gold and silver that may also be buried."To me, that's not the important thing. I don't care about that," he said.
Jones has worked on his own translation of the Copper Scroll for 22 years along with his Israeli wife, Zahava, and is using this new translation to search for vessels used in the Temple of Herod before its destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D. He believes the Zadokite priests of the Essene settlement who wrote many of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and most certainly the Copper Scroll, took vessel replicas hidden in containers or baskets into the temple and switched them sometime before the coming of Vespasian in 68 A.D. They hid the real temple implements for use in the future temple period that they described in the Temple Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls translated by Yigael Yadin.
Jones' faith in the veracity of the Copper Scroll was validated in 1988 when a Qumran dig he sponsored uncovered a tiny clay jar that would fit in the palm of a hand. Archaeologist Joseph Patrich of Hebrew University said the jar was wrapped in palm leaves and, after analysis, was confirmed to contain the biblical ingredients of the oil that was used to anoint the Hebrew kings. Jones had found his first treasure from the Second Temple period as foretold in the Copper Scroll.
But the Texas Bible scholar was mentioned in just a parenthetical note at the end of the Jerusalem Post article on the find because, while he paid for the dig (investing more than $200,000 for a conveyor belt system and other equipment) and brought a volunteer crew from the United States, he is not considered an archaeologist by the Israeli authorities.
In fact, it's hard to actually describe just who this Texan is. In a telephone interview before he left for Qumran, Jones told how he walked away from being a Baptist minister and founded B'Nai Noach, an organization for gentiles who pledge to live the seven laws of Noah.
"My mother, who is not Jewish, read the Bible to us every night - from Genesis to Malachi," he said. "She never read the New Testament. In the seminary I attended, when I heard some of the things they were teaching I was staggered. I asked her, `Why didn't you read us the New Testament?' With her Scottish air, she said, `When you get married and have two wiggly sons, you try reading them the parables of Jesus and the doctrines of Paul. It's the Jewish stories that hold your attention. It (the Old Testament) is the only Bible Jesus and the disciples had - why do we need more?' "
While Jones is called a Jewish apologist by many, one Utah man insists Jones has a great love and knowledge of the New Testament. Jim Lehman of Sandy said that he had been in Jones' home when Vendyl prepared his famous hot Texas chili. After dinner, Jones had stretched out on a couch for a nap, and while he was asleep, Lehman and several others were trying to find a passage in the New Testament. Jones sat up in midsnore and named the verse in the book of John, and laid back down. "He knows the New Testament better in his sleep than most people do awake," Lehman said.
Jones eventually left the ministry, joined a Torah study group and enrolled in Hebrew studies at the Norman School of Linguistics. He moved to Israel, where he studied at Hebrew University and with the Chabad Lubavitchers in the ultra-orthodox Mea She'arim neighborhood of Jerusalem. His understanding of Mishnaic Hebrew made the Copper Scroll leap to life. (See related story on C2.)
Jones learned ancient Hebrew under an eight-year tutelage of the archaeologist who was known in Israel as "the master of the Judean Desert," the late Pesach Bar-Adon. Bar-Adon took Jones into the Qumran area before there was even a road. Jones and Bar-Adon were able to identify the Valley of Achor and ancient cities that were clues to find the "cave of the column," where the some of the temple treasures were believed to be buried. Jones has bachelor of divinity and master of theology degrees and some 30 hours in archaeology studies, but he does not have an archaeological degree.
His real qualifications at Qumran stem from a "grandfather clause," since he was exploring the Dead Sea shores when the area was Jordanian territory and began his first dig under a Jordanian permit that the Israelis had to honor. When Israel took over the area in the 1967 war, a status quo was maintained over previous archaeological commitments. The stubborn Texan took Israel's Antiquities Department to the highest court over his excavation permit and won the case.
He further solidified his claim
See JONES on C2
on the area by aiding the Israeli war effort. He was written about in the June 16, 1967, Time magazine report on the war. The story said that Jones had been working at a kibbutz near the Jordanian border and volunteered to use his unique type of colorblindness to help spot camouflaged artillery emplacements in Jordan for the Israelis. Said Time, "Using Jones as a spotter, the Israelis quickly knocked out the guns and began the march that a day and a half later ended in the capture of Jerusalem's Old City."
It was an early excavation that Jones says led to his tag of "Indiana Jones." While a spokesman from the office of George Lucas denies it, Jones claims to be the inspiration for the archaeologist made famous in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Jones says a writer named Randy Filmore spent time on Jones' 1977 dig at Qumran. Filmore thought the story intriguing and wrote a screenplay placing the action outside Israel at Jones' request. Filmore's agent disappeared with the draft, and a couple of years later, "Raiders" hit the screen.
Jones has the blessings and support of the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem, but every dig has brought a bureaucratic battle with the Israeli Antiquities Department. "The Antiquities Department has been fighting Vendyl for 22 years. He's not part of the `club,' " said Ed Partin, editor of Jones' publication, the Researcher.
On April 12 Jones called from Kibbutz Almog near the Qumran cave and told the staff of his Institute of Judaic-Christian Research, based in Arlington, Texas, that the team had uncovered a mysterious red substance. In the taped conversation, Jones said, "We have gotten to the bottom of this dome-shaped covering that is over the front of the cave. Under that, running in a parallel direction to the structure, we have found a very unusual red material. It is not dirt, and we don't know what it is. We will take it to the laboratory on Wednesday for analysis. . . . When you put some in your mouth, it dissolves. It has a little bit of salt taste to it. When you put it in a closed plastic bag, and let it sit in the sun for a while, when you open it again it smells like cinnamon."
In a press conference at Qumran on May 8, Jones announced that the red substance he had uncovered was incense from the Second Temple, and therefore approximately 2,000 years old.
Dr. Marvin Antleman, chemical consultant to the nuclear physics department at the Weizmann Institute of Science, supervised mass-spectrometry testing at the institute in Rehovot, Israel. Further tests at Bar Ilan University confirmed that the red material Jones discovered contains 11 ingredients that were used in the incense according to rabbinical tradition. (See story on C1.)
"At 40 stones (deep)," the Copper Scroll said, "here is the Great Mishkan (Tabernacle) for the Third (Temple Period) to be eternally established." The scroll then says that nearby will be found gold, the vessel containing the Ashes of the Red Heifer, "the garments of the high priest and everything that belongs to (the return) the vessel of Dam'a (the ashes)."
If Jones actually finds the lost treasures of the Second Temple, what would stun the archaeological world could mean jihad, or a Muslim holy war, for the Israeli government.
The Orthodox Jews in Israel who adamantly lobby for the rebuilding of the temple are a vocal minority, but a minority just the same. Nonetheless, even a hint about rebuilding the temple rouses outrage among Muslims. Time magazine recently quoted an official at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem as saying that Muslims "will defend the Islamic holy places to the last drop of blood."
So it was not surprising when two officials from the Israeli Department of Antiquities stopped the dig Jones was conducting on May 18. The Associated Press reported that Orna Hess, a department spokesperson, said, "This isn't something personal. The main problem is we never give a license to someone who isn't an archaeologist." The Dallas Morning News had a crew on the scene and reported one volunteer on the dig as saying, "They were nice, but they were firm and they had guns."
Ed Stribling, administrator at Jones' Texas headquarters, said in a telephone interview, "They had to either close the dig down or get some Israeli team in there. Heaven forbid some goy from the U.S. should find the temple treasures!"
Zahava Jones has already begun the process for a new permit for next November. For now, the colorful Vendyl Jones, who once described a hard-working volunteer as having "a steam shovel for a father and a badger for a mother," will battle permits instead of the hot Judean sun.Vendyl Jones is gearing up for another excavation this fall and is looking for volunteers and for excavation financial partners. Information about the dig in Qumran can be obtained by writing Vendyl Jones at the Institute of Christian-Judaic Research, P.O. Box 120366, Arlington, TX 76012, or by calling (817) 792-3304. A local contact is Jim Lehman at 255-4204.