By Andrew Harrod, Jihad Watch—
Some Jerusalem visitors “are suddenly transfixed and transformed, infused with visions and apocalyptic pretensions,” one Jerusalemite notes in The Copper Scroll Project: An Ancient Secret Fuels the Battle for the Temple Mount. Set in Israel and on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, this recent book by Christian Zionist and longtime Israel resident Shelley Neese weaves an intriguing tale around past and present controversies of piety, politics, faith, fact, and fiction.
Neese notes that “Israel’s health ministry records at least fifty patients a year” suffering from this “Jerusalem Syndrome,” a condition that throws into sharp relief disputes swirling around the Copper Scroll. Discovered in 1952, the scroll is among the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the Qumran caves along the Dead Sea beginning in 1947 that revolutionized studies of the Bible and the ancient world. Inscribed on thin copper sheets, the scroll “text screams buried treasure,” Neese writes.
Retired Oklahoma arson investigator Jim Barfield, leader of the Copper Scroll Project (CSP) since 2006, thinks that his interpretation of the scroll will uncover these treasures. In his understanding, the scroll documents nothing less than items rescued from the first Jewish Temple during its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. With the CSP’s tantalizing prospect of giving Biblical revelation tangible evidence, Neese’s “faith had experienced a cerebral revival.”
As Neese elaborates, the
Copper Scroll Project bred a contagious hope among Bible enthusiasts—a hope that the Bible would definitively be proven true. A hope that laying eyes on the Temple’s lost treasures would restore the faith of all unbelievers. And a hope that Israel, a nation that has known its share of persecution, would, upon receiving remnants of its glorious past be reassured of God’s fidelity to her exceptional covenant.
Yet as Neese discusses, academics such as Robert Cargill have detailed scathing attacks on Barfield’s “sensationalist archeology.” Cargill, for example, denounced Barfield’s “absurd claim” dating the Copper Scroll to the era of the prophet Jeremiah and the first temple’s destruction; all scholarly analysis places the scroll around the first century CE. Cargill noted in 2009 that Israeli antiquity authorities ultimately cut contacts with Barfield, a man with no academic qualifications in archeology or other pertinent fields.
Other individuals appearing in Neese’s book raise similar concerns, such as one American amateur archeologist who illegally explored caves within an Israeli Defense Forces artillery and tank firing range. Equally dismissed by Cargill, Barfield’s onetime mentor Vendyl Jones suggested before his 2010 death that he was the real-life model for the Indiana Jones movie character. Neese writes that Jones “strongly believed that once he recovered the Copper Scroll treasures, the secular and democratic government of Israel would dissolve, and the Sanhedrin would take its rightful governing place.”
Whatever doubts may surround Barfield, such Christian Zionists take sides in conflicts surrounding Israel that are all too real. Neese notes that he once spoke at the Oklahoma state Senate, where several conservative members “expressed their strong hope that a discovery would neutralize the international political pressures placed on Israel.” Many of these pressures concern Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the former site of the first and second Jewish Temple, the latter destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
Muslims have dominated the Temple Mount for most of the centuries following the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and the wider Holy Land in 638. Umayyad caliphs built the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque on the mount in 691 and 705, respectively. The second Temple’s remaining Western retaining wall (Kotel) emerged as a Jewish prayer site in 1546 during Jerusalem’s four centuries of Ottoman rule (1517-1917). Neese notes that often “local Muslims treated the area as a refuse dump in order to humiliate Jewish worshipers.”
Today, Neese observes, the “glinting Dome dominates panoramic views of the Old City. Five times a day the Muslim crier silences the competing prayers of Jerusalem’s Jews and Christians.” This demonstrates the Dome of the Rock’s purpose “to symbolize Islam’s victory over her Christian and Jewish enemies,” as indicated by the anti-Christian Quran verses inscribed in the building. “The structure was built directly atop the area identified with Solomon’s Temple” and “designed to eclipse the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulcher.”
Israelis rejoiced when victory in the 1967 Six Day War brought Jerusalem’s Old City with the Temple Mount under Israeli control after Jordanian forces had cruelly occupied the area beginning in Israel’s 1948 war. Although, Neese writes, “Israel annexed the Western Wall and Old City, they feared the righteous indignation of the whole Arab world if they did the same to the Temple Mount.” Thus the Israelis agreed to retain Jordanian Waqf religious authority control over the Mount and prohibit Jewish prayer there. “Six days after the ceasefire, a quarter of a million euphoric Jews congregated at the Western Wall to celebrate Shavuot. A few ignored the warnings and ascended the Temple Mount.”
Neese describes the current Temple Mount status quo such that the
holiest place in the Jewish religion, regrettably, is a hostile environment for Jewish people. On the best of days, non-Muslims are restricted to a two-hour window in the morning and one hour in the afternoon to visit the site. They can access the holy plateau through only one gate while Muslims choose from ten gates. The Waqfcriminalizes non-Muslims for praying, prostrating, dancing, kneeling, or visibly mourning. Torah scrolls or Jewish prayer books are confiscated at the entrance.
Hostility from individual Muslims on the Temple Mount further burdens Jews, Neese adds:
If visitors look overtly Jewish, such as wearing a kippa or menorah necklace, they require an Israeli police escort….If Muslims harass Jews on the Temple Mount, the standard procedure for the patrolling Israeli police is to clear the area of non-Muslim visitors. Their priority is to preserve order and protect public safety, but the consequences are disproportionately shouldered by Jewish worshipers.
While Palestinian authorities and even the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) practice ludicrous “Temple Denial” of any Jewish temple history, Jewish connections to the mount are growing. Despite conflicting rabbinical opinions over whether Jews may enter the Temples’ former area, Neese notes that “Jewish visits nearly doubled from 2009 to 2014” to some 11,000 annually. “A new tradition is developing for Israeli brides and grooms, across the religious spectrum, to visit the holy precinct before their nuptials.”
Accordingly, Neese relates that
Jews are revisiting the debates of 1967 and discussing topics that were once taboo: Is the Temple Mount likely to be transferred to a new Palestinian state in final status negotiations? If the Temple Mount is the preeminent holy site for Jews, why is their worship restricted to one of its retaining walls? Why are Israelis disenfranchised at the site? Since Israel captured the complex in 1967, shouldn’t the state exercise that sovereignty, rather than relinquish it?
These discussions also involve Jewish Temple Mount activists like Yehuda Glick, who have made various proposals to rebuild a Jewish temple despite their explosive implications for Muslims and numerous rabbinical objections. “Rather than emphasizing construction of a Third Temple, a seemingly impossible task,” Neese observes, these activists “are now advocating for a less eschatological cause: unrestricted Jewish access to the Mount and the right to worship.” With these “more peaceable and short-range goals, the call for Jewish civil rights on the Temple Mount is inching toward the mainstream.”
Among the colorful characters and conflicts in Neese’s book, Glick’s beliefs and behaviors are perhaps the least outlandish or outrageous. As one report has noted, Glick is a “gentle and benign man who seems sincerely interested in enabling members of all religions to coexist on the mount” with, for example, Third Temple concepts that would respect existing Muslim structures. Although perhaps nothing less than a miracle can realize his peaceful vision, he tells her in the book that the “Temple Mount will be the source of God’s wisdom to radiate out over all the nations.” Then the Temple Mount “will one day be the ultimate source of peace. Jews, Muslims, and Christians will worship there together…all the nations, even Muslims, will turn to the Jewish people for instruction when they finally realize that God is with us.”