Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tomb raiders, Modi'in, and the Copper Scroll

Tomb robbers, ancient tunnels and a cryptic Dead Sea Scroll bring drama to a sleepy suburb
Antiquities theft is on the rise around the quiet commuter town of Modi’in

By Matti Friedman June 21, 2012, 9:08 am 1 (The Times of Israel)

Before dawn on June 6, the members of a small squad from the Israel Antiquities Authority rappelled to the bottom of an ancient well, crawled through a narrow entrance into a 2,000-year-old horizontal tunnel and surprised two men scouring the passageway for artifacts.

The men, Palestinians from the West Bank, were cornered. They gave themselves up without a fight.

The incident followed another arrest, this one in February, by Antiquities Authority officers of five illegal diggers hiding in a cave in the same area — part of a notable rise in activity by antiquities thieves in the hills around Modi’in, a burgeoning but sleepy commuter city of 80,000 known more for clean parks than for ancient artifacts and tomb raiders.

“There is no doubt that we have seen an increase in the number of antiquities sites being damaged in the Modi’in area,” said Shai Bar-Tura, an officer with the Antiquities Authority unit that combats theft.

Suggested reasons for the increase include the construction of the West Bank security barrier in other areas once popular with antiquities thieves; a greater public awareness of the wealth of archaeological finds in the hills near Modi’in, which are full of the remains of 2,000-year-old villages and warrens of escape tunnels dating to the Jewish revolts against Rome; and even — perhaps fancifully — a connection to a mysterious treasure map in one of the most cryptic of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

And that treasure map is, of course, the Copper Scroll:
Others have offered a more colorful explanation for the interest in the area, and particularly in Haruba itself.

Haruba is a name that appears in one of the strangest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Copper Scroll — a long list of directions, hammered in Hebrew letters on copper, to places where gold and valuable vessels lie buried. Many scholars believe the Copper Scroll is a guide to the location of Temple treasures hidden around the time of the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE.

“In Haruba, which is in the Valley of Achor,” reads the scroll, discovered at Qumran in 1952, “beneath the steps that enter to the east, 40 lath cubits: a chest of silver and its vessels. Weight: 17 talents.”

The cryptic scroll lists other locations where treasure is buried, including “in the residence of the queen, on the west side,” 12 cubits underground, and “in the pit that is next to the eastern gate at a distance of 15 cubits.”

Haruba near Modiin indeed appears to be a popular site for antiquities thieves, but archaeologists tend to agree that the site has nothing to do with the Haruba of the Copper Scroll — the scroll appears quite clearly to list locations in and around Jerusalem and the Judean Desert, not near Modiin. And some scholars believe the sentence doesn’t refer to a site called “Haruba” at all, but should properly be translated, “In the ruins of the Valley of Achor.”
This article covers a lot of ground, both literally and metaphorically, and I encourage you to read it all. An earlier post on possible Copper Scroll-inspired looting at Modi'in is here. Another fairly recent post on Modi'in is here.

Cross-file under "Busted!"