The Old City of Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Indiana Jones, he is not.
A 19-year-old American tourist seeking a legendary, if not mythical, buried treasure in an ancient Jerusalem cave under the Old City instead found himself in handcuffs last week.
According to police, who recently released details of the incident, last Thursday the unidentified wouldbe treasure hunter hid overnight in Zedekiah’s Cave, also known as Solomon’s Quarries, located under the Muslim Quarter.
The 20,000-square-meter underground limestone quarry is the largest man-made cave in Israel, and although it is known that the cave was carved over a period of several thousand years, no one knows exactly how old it actually is.
During a tour late Thursday afternoon, the teen hid in one of the cave’s crevices with a backpack and digging tools and waited until the popular attraction was closed and workers left for the night, police said.
The following morning, startled returning workers alerted police after finding him covered in dust and mud, with his backpack filled with rock fragments he dug up. The backpack was immediately confiscated and he was arrested, police said.
While details of his subsequent questioning remain unclear, police said the suspect may have suffered from Jerusalem Syndrome, a mental phenomenon involving delusions driven by obsessive religious thoughts believed to be triggered in some by visiting the capital.
Police alerted his family of the unusual circumstances and allowed him to return to the US shortly after being released.
Fueled by unfounded claims in 1968 by an Arab resident of the Old City that his grandfather purportedly discovered several crates of gold coins in Zedekiah’s Cave in the 1940s, the site has attracted other treasure hunters who have also come up empty handed.
The Book of Jeremiah mentions that Zedekiah, the last king of Judea, attempted to escape from the city during the Babylonian invasion, and medieval Bible commentator Rashi writes that the beleaguered monarch fled through a huge tunnel.
Many attribute the cave to King Solomon himself, especially the Freemasons, who consider the legendary monarch the first Masonic Grand Master, and hold annual ceremonies in the cave.
For more than 300 years the cave lay dormant, not much more than another Jerusalem legend among many.
Then, in 1854, American missionary James Turner Barclay was walking his dog along the outskirts of Jerusalem when the dog sifted through some dirt alongside the Old City wall and abruptly disappeared through a hole that opened up.
Later that day, under the cover of darkness, Barclay and his two sons, decked out in Arab garb, slipped through the opening to reveal the yawning cavern, as well as the skeletons of several unfortunate souls who had apparently been trapped in the cave.
These days, entering the Zedekiah’s Cave is not quite as much of an ordeal, and visitors can access the opening just behind the Old City wall, between Herod Gate and Damascus Gate.