National Treasure – Israel Style

We read in the Hebrew Bible that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and “carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house” (2 Kings 24:13). The question of what happened to those treasures afterwards has been a subject of fascination ever since. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Elena Dugan discussed the Jerusalem temple treasure. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

One of the ongoing issues with investigations into the subject is that the tales have constantly grown in the telling. As Elena Dugan explained,

Even a whiff of lost treasure gathers rumors and legends around it quickly, so it’s nearly impossible to sort fact from fiction. What we can say is that some biblical texts, like the Book of Jeremiah, list temple implements made of bronze, gold, and silver being carried away in the sacking of the First Temple by the Babylonians.

Others, like the Book of Ezra, say treasures like 1,000 silver dishes were deposited back into the Second Temple.

Perhaps the most famous treasure belonging to the First Temple is the Ark of the Covenant, though the Ark represents a mystery all its own, as the biblical accounts do not mention it being carried off by the Babylonians, nor being restored under the Persians.

As time went on, the list of rumored treasures grew even longer—though more information probably doesn’t mean better information!

That said, there are rumors of some pretty fantastical treasures, ranging from Adam’s clothing and Eve’s earring, to the rod of Moses, to seventy-seven tables of gold made from the (purportedly) golden walls of the Garden of Eden.

We don’t have a clear indication of what exactly the treasure consisted.

What the Babylonians took away seems to have been returned during the Persian era for use in the Second Temple. The same Second Temple, however, would later be destroyed by a Roman army.

The Roman case is a bit different than the Babylonians. After the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, Persia took power in the region, and sent the treasures back into a rebuilt Second Temple. But after the Romans sacked Jerusalem and razed the Second Temple in 70 CE, there was no third Temple.

The Romans did the usual crowing about their booty and conquest—the most famous vestige of this braggery is a relief on the Arch of Titus depicting a menorah being carried away as spoils of war.

But as the years passed, and no treasures reappeared, many people became convinced that the Temple treasures were still in Rome, somewhere.

Some eyewitnesses in the earliest centuries CE claimed they’d seen Temple vessels in Rome. In fact, some people have gone to major news outlets in the last five years and claimed they’ve seen Temple vessels hidden in the basement of the Vatican!

But we have no evidence to back up any of these claims—ancient or modern. All we can say is that the Romans were quite proud to have claimed some of the Jerusalem Temple’s treasures as spoils.

Exactly how much they took, or where they ended up, is still a mystery.

The treasure seems to have been lost in this Roman conquest.

Ultimately, those who are interested in finding the treasure tend to fall into two camps:

The legends around the fate of the treasures can be roughly sorted into two camps. One group argues that the treasures were hidden in Jerusalem, while another prominent theory suggests the Temple’s valuables are still in Rome. …

From a scholarly perspective, one group of legends has as much corroboration as the other—which is to say, not much! No identifiable temple vessels have resurfaced over the years, much as we might wish they would.

The mystery remains and probably will do so for the foreseeable future.

For more about the Jerusalem temple treasure, including some information about the Massekhet Kelim text that holds a central place in the lore, head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk to read the full interview with Elena Dugan. While you’re there, check out the latest cornerstone piece about the Kirtland Temple and the Harold B. Lee quotes page.

1 comment for “National Treasure – Israel Style

  1. “We’re gonna steal the Ten Commandments.”

    – Nick Cage, probably.

    The music from that movie was awesome.

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