The Ark of the Covenant Cave

June 10, 2005 / 3 Sivan 5765

NOTE: The following is an interview of Maggid ben Yoseif by Maggid ben Yoseif

A cave complex just to the north of Qumran is claimed by Vendyl Jones to hold the Ark of the Covenant. A leading but anonymous kabbalist has blessed Jones to "find the Ark" by T'sha b'Av (Aug. 14, 2005).

Jeremiah said the place shall remain unknown "until God gathers His People together again and shows His ruhamah (mercy)."  (2 Maccabees 2:7 NRSV)

"Before the place is made known, or shortly thereafter, the revived Great Sanhedrin must accept the descendants of Hosea's whore," said Maggid ben Yoseif, admitting to being one. If God says the judgments for our whoredom end when the place of the Ark is made known, then who is the Sanhedrin to argue? But if the Ark is found in the Cave of the Column complex, which includes the northern entrance rediscovered for Jones by MbY in 1988,  "it will be a theological Pandora's box for the Sanhedrin and revive the ghost that haunts the Chamber of Hewn Stones," MbY said.

The context of Jeremiah's prophecy

2 Maccabees 2:4-8 reads:

It was also in the same document that the prophet, having received an oracle, ordered that the tent and the ark should follow with him, and that he went out to the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God. Jeremiah came and found a cave-dwelling, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense; then he sealed up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up intending to mark the way, but could not find it. When Jeremiah learned of it, he rebuked them and declared, "The place shall remain unknown until God gathers His people together again and shows his mercy. Then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear, as they were shown in the case of Moses, and as Solomon asked that the place should be specially consecrated."  (NRSV)

The 1611 King James version reads: "... As for that place, it shall be unknown until the time that God gather His people again together and receive them unto mercy...."

No mercy for Israel but mercy for Judah

Hosea married a harlot who gave him three children, which God Himself named. Two were sons: Yizra'el (Jezreel or "the seed God will scatter") and Lo-Ammi (Not My People). Between their births was born a daughter, Lo-ruhamah (No mercy). The marriage to the harlot, Gomer, and their children's names prophesied the origin and fate of the Northern Kingdom in exile.

In the same breath God named the daughter, Lo-Ruhamah (No mercy), he added, "But I will have mercy upon the House of Judah, and will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen." (Hosea 1:7)

Biblical Israel still not regathered

"I'd like to think Vendyl will realize his life's dream. All of those years he had his crews thinking he was looking for a vessel made from cow dung containing ashes and he was always after the seventh chamber in that cave!" MbY said. But the reality on the ground, he added is "the vast majority of biblical Israel is still not regathered and the prophecy does not pertain to the gathering of Judah or Jews.  Mercy was not removed from Judah when God scattered and disowned Israel."

If Jeremiah spoke truly and his acts were recorded correctly, he found a cave on Mount Nebo, which was the mountain from which Moses looked into the land that would be Israel's inheritance. If the Ark were moved at any time, whenever that cave would be opened, the prophecy must then somehow be fulfilled, MbY explained.

Was Jeremiah's cave found at the time of Jesus?

In the past, Jones has theorized that the cave on Mt. Nebo could have been discovered at the time of Jesus and John the Baptist, both of whom the New Testament links to the Essenne community and regions nearby. Jones has cited the garments worn by Jesus and John the Baptist. The camel's hair dress worn by John the Baptist was the mantle of Elijah, he has postulated, and Elisha after him. And the tunic woven without a seam worn by Jesus that was "transfigured" may have been a priestly garment, audiences of Christians have been told.

MbY said he often would accompany his good friend, the late N.C. "Cam" Woolverton, Jr., of most blessed memory, from Palestine, TX., to Jones meetings at various churches and on occasion Jones asked him to help lead his weekly Torah discussion at the Institute of Judaic-Christian Research in Arlington, TX..

A compartment in the altar of incense

"On more than one occasion Jones spoke of the miracles of Jesus being attributed to the garment he wore, which made miracles possible even though he was defiled, such as when he came into contact with the woman who had an issue of blood."  Jones has further stated that a compartment existed in the altar of incense into which priestly garments were stored and that after the death of Elisha, this is also where the mantle was kept.

Motive and opportunity to move Ark stared Essenes in the face

The Essene community, who MbY said lived in the region of Qumran and surrounding caves, "included descendants of the legitimate Zadokite priests."  The priesthood became corrupted when the Zadokites were banished outside of the land of Israel to Syria. There they composed the  Damascus document by which the Essene community was later ruled. But the Zadokites, since being banished from Jerusalem, would never return to the Holy City. They chose instead to remain as "voices crying b'midbar (in the Wilderness)," which is generally the arid region between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Few would even enter Jerusalem and only then through a special "Essene Gate," by which they could avoid the formerly holy precincts they believed remained defiled.

"Naturally the Zadokites would be interested in the Ark and other holy furnishings in the Tabernacle," MbY said. "The Dead Sea Scrolls collection was a geniza or place where old manuscripts containing the four lettered name of God, which is considered holy, could be buried as a person would be buried, instead of destroying them. The collection includes several copies of the Maccabees. The Zadokites would have known about the mountain hiding place of the Ark. Every morning, afternoon and evening it would be staring them in the face.

The shimmering garment of the priest

Jones has also taught that John the Baptist, who the New Testament describes as a "voice crying in the Midbar," was from a family of priests and used mikvaot from artesian wells recently discovered at the base of Mount Nebo on the "other side of the Jordan."  The story of Jesus going to the "mountain set apart" and "six days journey from Caesarea" (which Jones has taught was Mt. Nebo) is accompanied by the story of Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah and Jesus' white garment was glistening and shimmering -- the so-called transfiguration.

The ketonet (tunic) worn by the priest was a "box-like knit and woven garment seamless from head to toe," according to a description in the Stone Torah. "The box-like indentations in the material made it shimmer like the "settings of jewels," MbY added.  Possibly no Jews alive in the first century would recognize a priestly garment from the First Temple period, since their exile to Babylon was 70 years. Also, there is no evidence of the same altar of incense being rescued from Mt. Nebo before the Second Temple was established and priests were never seen in public wearing these garments."

The 'transfiguration' story

As reported in the New Testament, Jesus appeared in a shimmering bright white garment together with Elijah and Moses in a vision on this mountain top. The implication is that the place where Moses was buried and the cave hiding the Ark and altar of incense from which the mantle of Elijah and the priestly garments may have been secured were the same cave. But if so, as Mr. Jones has taught, its location was made known at that time," MbY said, ... the time of John the Baptist and Jesus.

The garments of Jesus and Elijah and the appearance of other "men in white garments" who are mentioned in the New Testament, have been connected by Jones' teachings to the Essene community, to the Ark and to this Cave of the Column because of the mention of the word, Mishkan, (Tabernacle) to be found according to Jones' interpretation of the Copper Scroll in the elusive 7th Chamber.

If the prophecy of Jeremiah was true, and John and Jesus are connected with these garments, then Jones' discovery of the Ark, will have given theologians archaeological evidence validating the mission of John and Jesus to initiate the regathering of the Assimilation of Israel. And from that time forward,  Jesus has been the tzaddik of all needing a renewal of covenant. Also, at that time, God was restoring His mercy to the Assimilation and accepting them as His People.

Excavation of the 'bat cave'

MbY said he may have been chosen to make known the strategic northern entrance to the cave complex "because of my affinity to the same Gospel -- the Good News of the Restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. But Pesah bar-Adon, Mr. Jones' mentor, knew this entrance existed before I found it, or I should say it found my feet. Bar-Adon, in papers I later located at Hebrew University, called the entrance from the north, the "bat cave." 

"There was a large quantity of bat guana in this cave, and it was not uncommon to be buzzed by a bat as my friends from Jerusalem and a Bible college visiting from the States, and I hauled some 40 tons of rock one bucket at a time out of the caved-in entrance so Vendyl could return with an excavation crew and conveyor belts in 1992 and take the cave down to bedrock."

Problems with Jones' credentials

Also, after removing the first 13 feet of fill, we reached a compaction level in which , my friend Jan Karnis, former news director at Middle East Television, found a Turkish tin. That's when Jan, his dog Suzie (the dig dog) and I stopped digging. But apparently some Turkish soldier ate his lunch in the compacted entrance of that cave, 20 feet above bedrock.

Retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chief archaeologist Dr. Larry Banks returned with Jones in 1992 when the Israeli Department of Antiquties claimed Jones was not an archaeologist because he did not have the proper credentials and could not conduct his own excavations. When Banks was registered as the archaeologist of record some weeks later, the 1992 excavation was allowed to proceed under the supervision of an Israeli archaeologist, who was assigned by the Department of Antiquities.

MbY remembers day of discovery

Since I had already taken out 20 tons of fill by myself, I often spent most of my days off from the Jerusalem Post out at the dig and befriended many of the Christians who were volunteering and took time on the conveyor line myself. So I was there the morning the "red stuff" started coming out of pits carved into the bedrock 37 feet below the fill line. Dr. Banks asked me to taste some of the red stuff. It tasted very salty and had the consistency of peat moss.

But one of the volunteers, a Cajun from Lafayette, La., who had partied too hard the night before in Jerusalem, showed up later in the morning. He opened a sample bag of the red stuff, that had been laid out in the sun. The smell of 2,000+ year-old cinnamon wafted into the cave. The dig stopped until Vendyl and a rabbi could be found.

Tests on samples have mixed reviews

Initial tests by Rabbi Moshe Antelman, a chemical analyst at the Dept. of Nuclear Physics at the Weizmann Institute and independent laboratories at Bar-Ilan University confirmed the existence of the atomic footprints of 11 of the 14 ingredients that comprise the pitu'um ha-ketoret (the holy incense). However, since the ingredients -- about 600 pounds -- were removed from the stone pits, which kept them from being defiled, they can no longer be used in Temple rituals. Also the official position of the Department of Antiquities who also took a sample of the "red stuff" was that it was merely "red dirt." A similar view was held by Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Jerusalem Temple Institute, who was given a sample for independent analysis and by Barnabas Krochmal, a chemist at Hebrew Unversity.

Theological conundrums

Already the cave has posed a theological conundrum for the Christian world, Kairite Jews and secular Israelis who disputed the existence and/or authority of an oral tradition to parallel the Torah. The Torah lists only four ingredients that comprise the holy incense. The Talmud 14. This discovery by Banks validates 11 of those 14 with the earliest archaeological proof to date that the oral traditions were practiced as early as the Second Temple period and possibly much earlier.  Rabbi Antelman, (who is also a member of the Revived Sanhedrin along with Rabbi Richman), believes the missing ingredients may have occurred in too minute of quantities to be found in the sample or were mixed and ground in just before the incense was used.

A few days after the discovery, when the Israeli archaeologist assigned to Jones reported the find to the Dept. of Antiquites, the dig was shut down. After a legal and media battle, Jones received special permission to dig during a one-day press conference held near the cave but then the conveyors were removed and the cave partially refilled.

Jones says high-tech tests reveal hidden 7th chamber

Jones has since performed independent high technology tests of an undisclosed nature and believes he has found the elusive 7th Chamber containing the Ark of the Covenant. His treasure map for the past 35 years has been the Copper Scroll, the one scroll among the Dead Sea collection engraved on a roll of copper rather than parchment.

A description in the sixth stanza of this scroll tells the route Jeremiah may have taken toward the cave, if he hid the Ark originally in what has come to be known as the "Cave of the Column."  According to the tradition, Jeremiah took the Ark underground through the Cave of Zedekiah, whose entrance near the quarries adjacent to and under the Temple Mount has been sealed and cemented by the Israeli security forces. This cave was known to have an exit at the plains before Jericho.

The plains before Jericho

MbY said a Bedouin friend named Musa, who lives in the plains before Jericho, showed him a tel  just to the northeast of a modern Israeli water treatment plant and the cistern hole into which one of his father's donkeys had fallen many years ago. Opposite the tel about 30 yards to the west was a huge underground cave entrance big enough to drive a truck through, but that entrance also has been sealed by Israeli security forces, who continue to closely guard it.

"I told Vendyl about this entry/exit cave and the tel, which turned out to be nearby the site of Gilgal and the place where the Tabernacle was first set up on the land of Israel, which Jones later rediscovered.

"It would make sense for there to be a direct route underground from Jerusalem," MbY said, "if there is an underground rift running to the east from the Temple Mount under the Mount of Olives and to the Dead Sea as depicted in the prophesies of Ezekiel and Zechariah."

The mystery of the Kalal

But if Jeremiah came out of the tunnel at Aravot Jericho, (plains before Jordan), he would have had to backtrack several miles and scale the Qumran cliffs with the Ark. Another possibility is that the underground rift contains a tributary that leads directly to the Cave of the Column complex.

The sixth plate of the Copper Scroll states,

"On the way from Jericho to Secacah (which Pesah bar-Adon believed was an ancient name for Qumran), at the cave of the standing (column) with two entrances facing east, dig at the north entrance three cubits. There is a Kalal (vessel) and under it a book."

The two Hebrew lameds that make up the word "Kalal" in the scroll begin as half letters but extend into the line above. Vendyl believed ... or had his crews to believe ... this specially designated "vessel" was the Vessel of Dama, sometimes called the Vessel of Blood, which contains the ashes of the red heifer, necessary for purification rituals to be performed for the Tabernacle, holy furnishings, the priesthood and the Sanhedrin.

Search for the 7th Chamber

However, the use of the elevated lamed occurs throughout the Copper Scroll including in two other places in the sixth stanza and appears to be merely a stylistic device of the scribe who copied it.

In the early years of his excavations, Jones focused on the northernmost cave of the two entrances facing east and a cavity parallel to that entrance on a lower level. He believed he had located six separate chambers in the cave complex but the elusive 7th Chamber would be inside the standing pillar that separated the two entrances. He was unsure of the strike at which to penetrate into the column, however.

MbY finds northern entrance

The northern entrance was rediscovered on the last day of the excavation in 1988 by MbY who was walking along a cliffline path that petered out and rejoined a few feet on the other side. It all happened very quickly but I remember grabbing for a rock that gave way and sliding down the cliff. feet first. The cliffline was like a gigantic funnel which turned me over from my belly to my back. My feet landed atop a rock pile, which was fill from inside of the cave that had spilled out  concealing the cave entrance. It looked like an eagle's nest and you could not spot it except from directly above.

Zahava Jones, who was somewhat of a Hebrew scholar, kept telling her husband there was another entrance into the cave complex from the northern side. Perhaps Jones remembered the old bat cave known to Pesah bar-Adon but could not locate it since the entrance had caved in, MbY said.  But Jones showed up after we had finished tearing down the conveyors and were cleaning up after a frustrating dig in which absolutely nothing had been found.

He said, "You men have been working hard. Let's take a break. He showed us where various discoveries had been made in the region including the caves in which the Copper Scroll and a vial of shemen afarshimon (anointing oil) was found. Then, as we walked back to the excavation site he told us to fan out and look for the northern entrance about which Zahava had spoken.

I took the route closest to the road since I needed to get back into Jerusalem to go to work. . I was just trying to find a shortcut back to my car when all of this happened.

Esoteric clues

If the cave was used to mix or store incense, it is possible that this is another esoteric clue laid before Vendyl by Hashem to keep the dig alive. "Incense points to an incense altar and if the incense altar is buried with the Ark ..."

Rabbi Menahem Burstein in Jerusalem, who drove my family and a vanload of his children and relatives to the dig in 1992 heated some of the "red stuff" in a silver spoon. After sensing its aroma he declared, "When the pilgrims would come up to Jerusalem for the festivals, they would get to Jericho and begin to smell the incense and anointing oil and know that their eyes would soon behold the Holy Temple."

But if Jeremiah's prophecy is true, before the Temple is rebuilt, the House of Judah must welcome his brothers from the House of Joseph. Or, recognize that the movement to regather the Assimilated House of Israel may have been sanctioned at the time of Jesus and John the Baptist and this ancient prophecy of Jeremiah better defines their work with less confusion than the entire New Testament record.

Maggid ben Yoseif