Does the Vatican have the Jewish Temple treasures? - opinion

Could it be that after 2,000 years behind closed doors, the ownership of these historical religious artifacts is being debated/disputed?

 A HALL INSIDE the Vatican Museum. (photo credit: Gary Krupp)
A HALL INSIDE the Vatican Museum.
(photo credit: Gary Krupp)

An age-old question that always seems to come up from generation to generation. Furthermore, if credible proof were to be found, who would take ownership of it moving forward?

Well, one thing we all know for-sure is that it wouldn’t be you or me.

Take a hypothetical scenario: Pretend for a moment that the Vatican Church in Rome has in its possession some sacred and precious relics that were originally in the Herodian Temple located in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago. If you were a pope living in the 15th century, for instance, and you could verify this fact, you would ask yourself, how indeed such Jewish artifacts had come to your residence in the first place. After some digging around (no pun intended), you would have found that your new Vatican residence was actually built over the one and only Caesar’s Palace. The Vatican, and some include St. Peter’s Basilica as well, was constructed over Emperor Vespasian’s Roman palace approximately 200 years after the sacking of Rome in 455 AD. Most scholars tend to overlook this important fact. In fact, there are excavations going on over there right now, even as you read this.

What all this means is that the Vandals and the Visigoths overlooked, or simply couldn’t find, the select treasures that were secreted away in that palace, and instead took with them the many Temple items on public display there at the Temple of Peace. It says in the Talmud in various places that the famous Jewish sage, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (author of the Zohar) and his colleagues went to Rome in order to nullify harsh decrees placed on Judea, and while there, saw the exact items I mention below in this article. They ended up being royal guests at Vespasian’s palace when asked to attend to heal his ailing daughter. When they miraculously did heal her, they were afforded the chance to see these extremely holy items, proving that they were in that place.

According to Dr. Michael A. Calvo those vessels found their way to the Vatican via another route; after making their way to the Byzantine Empire. “These include Temple candelabra given to Pope Innocent III by Baldwin I after the sacking of Constantinople and the massacre of the Christian Orthodox population, Temple shofars and utensils, garments of the High Priest… and many other objets d’art, books and manuscripts that the Vatican and other churches have appropriated and placed in their own storerooms, libraries and museums,” he wrote, in a piece titled “The Holy See and Israel,” published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

THE SECOND Temple, model in the Israel Museum, 2008. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)THE SECOND Temple, model in the Israel Museum, 2008. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

So now what to do? There’s no State of Israel, the sole worldwide representative of the Jewish People, to give the items back to. That won’t happen for another five centuries!

Fast forward to present-day reality. Roman Catholic relations with Israel are on the rise, interrelations dialogue and cooperation with the Jewish State is apparently the new in-thing, and there are even several Jews that have been knighted by recent Popes. So why not hand over whatever is there now?

As you can imagine, it’s not that simple. There’s this one thing in the way. In this age of political correctness, we are forced to ask an odd question: What if the Jewish People are no longer the legitimate owners of this ancient treasure? What about replacement theology? Could it be that after 2,000 years behind closed doors, the ownership of these historical religious artifacts is being debated/disputed? The same way for instance, that legal ownership of Jerusalem is currently being debated/disputed?

I say, yes.

This is not just food for thought folks. Believe it or not, and with all due respect, I have reason to suggest here (without getting into too much detail) that this is part and parcel of a new attitude and approach, an indication of what’s really being discussed in the long corridors of Rome, the United Nations, the EU and also the Palestinian Authority. And it has a name: ‘Lawfare.’

CASE IN POINT. Not too long ago PA President Mahmoud Abbas had a Papal consultation with Pope Francis. Fine. After agreeing that the two-state solution was the only way forward to make peace with Israel, Abbas stated that with respect to the advent of a Palestinian capital, “Jerusalem’s identity must be preserved through a special internationally guaranteed status.” In other words, the territory that used to belong to Israel so long ago is no proof necessarily that it belongs to them today, according to international law. Of course, I personally strongly disagree, but that last sentence has substance, and deserves repeating.

There’s more.

The official liaise of the Pope to Israel, Papal Nuncio Archbishop, Father Giuseppe Lazzarotto, stated in his official letter (dated November 15, 2013), that if the Temple treasures do in fact still exist, surely the Church would return those lost items to their “legitimate owners.” Let that sink in.

Having said that, I’m willing to make a wager that as sure as the sun rises in the east, if the United Nations and/or the International Court in the Hague were to lay down a ruling that any items from the Jerusalem Temple were now to have a special international ownership status and therefore be kept in a Smithsonian Museum somewhere (most likely in the West Bank or perhaps Mount Zion), everything would indeed change. No more need for the Vatican to ignore the elephant in the room; diplomatic evasion no longer required. And yes, at that point, I’m sure. I’m sure that the prefect superintendent would take everything out for the entire world.

At the end of the day though, as mentioned above, the proof is in the pudding. First-hand Vatican sightings that I’ve included in my book series The A.R.K. Report include the oldest (and very fragile) Torah scroll taken from the Temple building, the golden head plate of the High Priest with the holy Name of God engraved on it (tzitz in Hebrew), the giant curtain that hung from the Temple entrance (parokhet in Hebrew) that still has the tear from Titus’ sword in it, trumpets, and various other ritual utensils to boot.

Currently in my possession are Medieval travelogues, manuscripts from the 1930s and ‘50s, materials from the 1990s, and right up to something recent that happened just two years ago concerning an Israeli guard working at an Italian security firm, who went down there and saw what he saw. These are accounts from all walks of life, including big Rabbis, Italian soldiers, Holocaust survivors, and perhaps most importantly to me, a personal acquaintance I used to pray with at the Western Wall. I must note that it’s not just the Vatican that is involved. I also have reason to suggest that the British Museum in London has many smaller vessels from Herod’s Temple, specifically copper altar utensils.

The main concern here lies on the political level: Why wait until some arbitrary ruling comes forth from the powers that be (think UN Security Council Resolution 2334) designating, in this case the lost Temple vessels, as something other than that of 100% Jewish/Israeli ownership? Indeed, it’s worthy to raise some awareness that potentially this could amount to a huge betrayal of Jewish history. Although the status quo vis-à-vis the hidden Temple treasures has remained stagnant for millennia, one can assume that it won’t go on like that forever. Either way, like in the case of Jerusalem, decisions will eventually be made.

Unless the State of Israel starts preparing a legal case proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that these ancient Temple artifacts fully belong here in Jerusalem as the everlasting national heritage of the Jewish people, we all might have to face a new reality coming down from the UN sometime soon.

The writer is an investigative archaeologist, Temple scholar, award-winning film producer, and author of The A.R.K. Report. He is a longtime member of the White House press pool covering the geopolitical status of Jerusalem and surrounding areas. He can be reached at: [email protected]