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Eyewitness is set in the celebrated Dead Sea region of Israel--renowned in antiquity for strange and fascinating events. South of Qumran, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls and my fictitious American archaeological team, lies the remains of the doomed Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. To the north is the Jordan River where John the Baptist christened Jesus at the start of his public ministry. To the west stretch the jagged hills of the Judean Wilderness where Jesus fasted and Satan tempted him. Farther south are the ruins of King Herod's palatial fortress, Masada, atop a rocky promontory. From 70-73 AD, it was the scene of a Roman siege that ended when 960 Jewish Zealots committed mass suicide rather than surrender. At another of Herod's nearby palaces, John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded by Herod Antipas at the urging of his stepdaughter, Salome. And of course, the centerpiece of the action is the Dead Sea itself, a deep and toxic salt lake, separating Israel from Jordan. At 1,400 feet below sea level, it is the lowest point on earth.
They are 900 ancient Biblical texts and the community rules of a splinter Jewish sect known as the Essenes. Starting in 1947, scrolls were discovered in earthenware pottery jars, hidden in hillside caves on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Following the first discovery, pottery jars, artifacts, and even skeletons were found in ten additional caves. The scrolls are a historic validation of the Jewish Bible, predating it by 1,000 years and correlating closely with the earliest Hebrew Old Testament books. By every account, the scrolls are one of the greatest archaeological finds in history. A superb description of the scrolls and their place in history can be found at the Library of Congress' web site: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/scrolls
A Ta'amireh Bedouin goat herder, Mohammed Ahmed el-Hamed, gets credit for the 1947 finding of the first scrolls. That day, wandering goats led him above ancient ruins to a plateau 300-feet above the Dead Sea. At that time, most people thought the ruins were those of an old Roman fort. Chasing a goat along a steep path, the herder noticed two black holes in the primeval rock. When he tossed pebbles into one opening, he heard a shattering noise and decided to investigate. Looking inside, he saw several earthen pottery jars. The next day he and a friend entered the cave and opened seven jars. One of them contained three parchment scrolls wrapped in crumbling linen wrappers.
They were a Jewish separatist group that maintained a monastery at Qumran from about 150 BC to 68 AD. Detached from the corrupt world, the sect anxiously awaited the apocalyptic end of the world. At the dawn of the Christian era, they believed a day of reckoning was imminent. On that day, the 'sons of darkness' would be destroyed and they, the 'sons of light,' would form the core of a new covenant with God.
Pliny the Elder, writing in 77 AD, described the Essenes as a "strange sect without property, money, or worldly desires." They lived a celibate life of prayer; content to tend their gardens, eat communal vegetarian meals, and make copies of holy writings. Excavations at their monastery, now known in Arabic as Khirbet Qumran, have discovered extensive bathing tubs and pools for ritual purification and perhaps relief from the relentless summer heat.
Scholars generally agree Essene scribes recorded most of the texts on the scrolls. The ruins of their monastery still contain a scribe's room, known as the "Scriptorium," as well as the remains of scroll preparation and storage facilities. Archaeologists have recovered fragments of a writing table and ceramic inkwells--all of which lend credence to the belief that the Essenes' monastery was a copy center for the Jewish Bible.
In addition to religious texts, archeologists have found a scroll that describes monastic life at Qumran. Called the Manual of Discipline, it recorded rules of life for staying pure until the "Lord returns to earth."
Interestingly, the Essenes copied every book of the Jewish Bible except Esther.
This remains one of the great Dead Sea Scroll mysteries. Some believe Jesus had been a monk at Qumran before his public ministry. His teachings are theologically in tune with those of the Essenes' "Teacher of Righteousness" who had founded the monastic community. Like the Essenes, Jesus preached the need for baptism, penitence, humility, purity of heart, and brotherly love. One Essene scroll includes a list of beatitudes that predates and closely tracks Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew's Gospel. Although there is no direct link between Jesus and the Essenes, it is fair to say that he was aware of their existence and empathized with their teachings.
In 66 AD, Israel revolted against its Roman conquerors. Alarmed at early Jewish victories, Emperor Vespasian sent the V, XII, and XV legions under the command of his son Titus to restore order. The legions rampaged the country, chasing rebels from their hideaways and slaughtering whole towns of people. In one raid in 68 AD, Roman soldiers set fire to the Essene monastery at Qumran and murdered many of the monks. In the months before the attack, Essene scribes had begun to deposit their library in Qumran caves for safekeeping.
They date back to the beginning of Christianity. Carbon-14 testing confirmed their composition between the first century BC and the second century AD--the same time the Essenes were active in Qumran. Despite the passage of time, the bone-dry climate allowed a dozen parchment scrolls to survive intact. Whole chapters of the book of the prophet Isaiah were recovered in pristine condition. All told, about 15,000 papyrus and parchment fragments, some no bigger than a thumbnail, have been recovered. Scholars have spent decades piecing fragments back together into over 500 additional manuscripts.
Archeological dating came into its own after World War II with the discovery of the radio-carbon effect. Since all living tissue absorbs carbon during its lifetime, it follows that organic carbon will dissipate after death. The development of radiation counters enabled the measurement of the rate of carbon decay. In 5,730 years, about half the carbon in a once living being is depleted--also known as the half-life. Based on this metric, one could calculate the age of any organism, whether plant leaf or a human bone, by measuring its residual radioactive carbon. Done properly, carbon dating can trace artifacts back 70,000 years. In the novel, the Eyewitness' scroll proved to be an ideal specimen for dating because it came from living things: wood and sheep.
Scientists have developed many methods for dating ancient artifacts. In my book, two techniques are used to confirm carbon-14 aging:
• Measuring the vanillin compounds present in flaxen clothes. Since vanillin decays at calculable rate, its decomposition can age flax products, such as a linen garment. A sample would be about 2,000-years old if its vanillin level remained in the 5-10% range.
• Measuring thermo-luminescence of a pottery product. This technique works on the principle that the stored energy in kiln-fired pottery declines at a known, measurable rate. Dr. Jodel knew for sure that his scroll was 2,000 years old when this third test, for triple redundancy, confirmed the other two tests.
Scrolls were the hardcover books of their day. They consisted of tanned sheets of parchment (animal skin) or papyrus (an Egyptian type of paper) bound together and attached at either end to a wooden roller or handle. A scroll would be read by unraveling it from side to side. A Hebrew scroll was opened and read from right to left. When finished, a scroll was rolled up and typically stored in an especially designed wooden cabinet.
Jewish scribes often copied texts onto kosher animal (sheep, goat, cow, and even gazelle) parchments, each about 25 centimeters square. The squares would then be stitched together top, middle, and bottom and held in place by leather strips or tendons. The first and last sheets were attached to the handles. By way of example, The Great Isaiah Scroll contains 17 sheets. To protect the parchments, many Qumran scrolls were encased in a linen wrapper coated with a black, pitchy substance to seal out moisture.
Copying texts onto a scroll with ink was a long and monotonous practice; scribes took great pains to make each sheet perfect. If a single letter was smudged, marred or unevenly spaced, the sheet was disregarded.
Traces of ink (made from a preparation of soot, honey, oil, vinegar and water) from inkwells recovered at Khirbet Qumran match the coloring found on the recovered texts. The monks aimed to produce a rich, radiant black color. Although no writing instruments have been recovered, experts believe the scribes used reed quills.
For more information on Dead Sea Scrolls, visit Brigham Young University's Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship: http:///www.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/dss/creation.html
While most scrolls were written on parchment, one was etched into copper sheets. It contains cryptic references to Second Temple treasures hidden in 64 places around Israel. In recent years, an Israeli team in Qumran has recovered artifacts in the Cave of Letters, based on directions in the Copper Scroll. Interesting, when the Romans conquered Jerusalem they were disappointed that most of the holy city's gold and silver treasures were missing. If the Copper Scroll is credible, a large quantity of Biblical treasure is waiting to be found in Israel and Palestinian territories.
My novel's inner story follows the time-honored accounts of the Four Gospels and the New Testament. It fills in the gaps of what is known, but does not deviate from known New Testament facts. My purpose is not to question or scandalize, but to point readers at the extraordinary personage of Jesus. I can do no more. Whether you accept Jesus as the Son of God, a prophet, or just a remarkable human being, even a casual acquaintance with Jesus is humbling, enlightening, and perhaps even life changing.
There is no evidence to support the theory that Mary of Magdalene was Jesus' girlfriend, wife, or the mother of his child. We know Mary was a young woman from the fishing village of Magdala on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is not far from Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle, and his hometown of Nazareth. The Gospel of Luke says Jesus drove seven devils from Mary Magdalene. Following her cure, she was a devoted and loyal follower--one of the few people who did not abandon him on Good Friday. Perhaps as a reward, she was the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
The Da Vinci Code cunningly blends fact with fiction to lead readers to believe Jesus married Mary and fathered her child. None of the gospels or even secular documents of the time suggests such a relationship. Indeed the only romantic link in writing was made over a 100 years after the crucifixion in two vague references in the heretical Gnostic Gospels of Mary and Philip. Reading the passages in the original Greek, moreover, one finds the Da Vinci author has translated companion to be wife and kiss to be sexual union.
Dead Sea is a modern name. The Israelites called it the Salt Sea due to its huge salt deposits and whitened mud flats; the Romans called it Lacus Asphaltitus due to the asphalt chunks that bubble to the surface and litter the shorelines. As far back as 1000 B.C., Israelis shipped bitumen judaicum or "Jewish pitch" from its shoreline to Egypt for preserving mummies. Today both Israelis and Jordanians mine the region for salt, potash, and asphalt. The salt must be specially processed because it is laden with chloride of calcium, which makes it oily.
The Dead Sea name comes from the fact that nothing--other than a blue algae at certain times of the year--lives in its salty, often toxic waters. Salt content varies by depth and location; it has been measured as high as 33% -- 6-8 times the levels found in most oceans and seas. The salt concentration is high because the Dead Sea has no natural outlets. In this sense, the Dead Sea is more accurately a lake, not a sea.
Their rock structures crystallized 200 million years ago. As tectonic plates diverged in the African Rift Valley, the earth stretched like putty into towering precipices and seemingly unending ravines. The rock was predominantly soft carbonate, mostly light in color and malleable, especially near Qumran. From the start, it was full of cracks and joints and fissures. Over the millennia, surface water seeped into the geological defects. When conditions were right, the water chemically reacted with the soft stone. The interaction formed a weak carbonic acid that gradually dissolved the limestone and formed the Qumran caves.
Although some think the Essenes carved the caves out of the rock, they have in fact been there for eons. Geologists called them karstic caves. Some are oblong plugs; others, such as the famous Cave of Letters, contains clusters of tunnels gouged hundreds of feet into the bedrock. Most are shaped like beehives and poke out of the golden-white cliffs like black owl eyes.
From 516 BC to 70 AD, the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem was the center of the country's spiritual and political life. (It replaced the first temple that had been destroyed in 586 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.) After centuries of gradual improvements, King Herod the Great launched a massive renovation in 19 BC. He employed 10,000 workers who leveled Mount Moriah in the city center to form a temple mount surrounded by 90-foot walls. Framed by 162 Corinthian columns, the temple's white marble was said to gleam like the sun. From its spiraling position, the temple dominated the landscape and could be seen ten miles away.
Upon entering the mount through one of multiple gates, a visitor would reach the Court of the Gentiles, which served as a market and bazaar. It was here that Jesus confronted the moneychangers and upturned their tables during Holy Week. Depending on one's rank and position in life, permission would be granted to enter successive courts until one stood in view of the Holy of Holies, a chamber reserved for the high priest only. Inside in a sacred space, once reserved for the Ark of the Covenant, stood the seven-tiered menorah. Some accounts say it was hidden behind a high curtain made of Egyptian flax and dyed purple from the indigo blood of 1,000 Murex shellfish.
The temple was destroyed and the population decimated to break the back of the Jewish revolt. In 70 AD, after an extended siege, Roman legions gained entry to the temple mount, slaughtered its defendants, and destroyed the temple.
All told some 660,000 Israelites were killed and Jewish captives forced to carry temple plunder to Rome. The solid-gold, seven-tiered menorah and many other valuables are memorialized to this day in bas-relief sculptures carved into the Arch of Titus near the Roman Forum.
The Roman Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, chronicled the war and temple destruction in his The War of the Jews. See http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/index.htm
Sal suffered from stage three achluophobia--a debilitating fear of darkness. In a classic phobic reaction, an achluophobiac's mind detaches from the reality and he loses awareness of time and events.
Clinically an achluophobiac, subjected to sudden darkness, loses control over his bodily functions. His brain spirals into a tailspin starting with dizziness and lightheadedness and progressing to weakened motor control and unconsciousness.
The root cause of the phobia is often a childhood trauma. Clinicians sometimes categorize it as a "defense mechanism of the unconscious mind." When it senses a return of the old trauma, the mind automatically turns on an uncontrollable physical reaction. The restoration of light usually returns the victim to conscious control.
Under the direction of Dr. Frederick "Fritz" Jodel, Salvatore Longo, an archaeologist from Columbia University, and assistants were searching the Qumran hills for undiscovered caves. Unlike previous expeditions, they were using ground-penetrating radar and computerized imaging equipment to find anomalies in the earth. They were working under the assumption that Biblical treasures from the Second Temple had been hidden in Qumran caves before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Unlike the Egyptians who mummified corpses and the Romans who cremated bodies, the Jews simply let nature take its course. Other than the poor, the downtrodden, and criminals, whose bodies are thrown into large pits and burned in the Jerusalem dump at Gehenna, most Jew were interred in above-ground chambers. The body would be smeared with olive oil and spices and left alone for one year. During that period, heat, bacteria, and bugs would bare the body of flesh and tissue. The bones were then placed in an ossuary. Often these small coffins were put in a place of honor in a family's home. When too many bones pile up, they were often buried in a garden. Sometimes bones were brought to a chemist's shop for pulverization. In this way, one ossuary might house the relics of several generations.
Jodel and Longo hired Lucy because she possessed three key qualifications of fieldwork in Israel: She spoke both Arabic and Hebrew; she had digital media skills; and she was fit and athletic.
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