Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Temple treasures in the Vatican?

REQUEST: Pope Francis, please inventory the spoils of Titus! (Rosie Rosenzweig, The Examiner).
Which brings us to the present with Pope Francis advocating a “poor church for poor people;” this caused a flurry among Catholic writers to interpret this. Dr. William Oddie, former editor of the Catholic Herald immediately asked: “Should Pope Francis sell off the Vatican’s art collection and give the money to the poor? The answer is an emphatic ‘No’!” It’s not the paintings that would be a gesture to Jews curious to know if the Vatican archives still house the spoils of Titus from the Holy Temple. In 1996, Israel’s Minister of Religious Affairs, based on research at the University of Florence, Shimon Shetreet asked Pope John Paul II to help locate the menorah described in the Bible and depicted in Titus Arch. At another time, Israeli President Moshe Katzav asked the Vatican to inventory a list of Judaica and Temple treasures held there.

Presently, the heirs of owners contesting many art treasures stolen by the Nazis, join the posse of many museums in Iraq and Iran seeking museum missing treasures stolen during their country’s various invasions. It would be a grand gesture of good will to the Vatican’s “elder brothers” to research the archives for the Temple treasures. And then, if found, would it make the Vatican’s archives that much poorer, to return these ritual items to the country where they were made? Of course it may be that the Vatican treasury doesn’t contain Titus’ spoils from the sacking of the Temple as Edward Gibbon suggests, and that these treasures may be somewhere at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
The idea that the Vatican might have some of the Temple treasures in its archives has been around for a while and I have explained here why I don't think it's likely. For Sean Kingsley's theory that they are in a monastery in the Holy Land see here and links. According to the legends in the external tractate Massekhet Kelim, the treasures are hidden in various sites in Palestine and Babylon. It is possible that the Copper Scroll is a list of Temple treasures hidden in Palestine in advance of the Great Revolt in 70 CE, but if so, most of the hiding places have probably been plundered and the treasures dispersed long since. I don't think the Temple treasures are at the bottom of any sea, but I would be surprised if any substantial portion of them remains collected at any one place today.