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In Search of Solomon’s Lost Treasures, Neil Asher Silberman, BAR 6:04, Jul-Aug 1980.

Dome of the RockOn the morning of April 19, 1911, a crowd of angry Moslems, outraged at what they considered to be a desecration of the holy Mosque of Omar or the Dome of the Rock, rampaged through the streets of Jerusalem, quickly mobbing the entrance to the government citadel. The Turkish governor of the city, fearing for his own life at the hands of the crowd, ordered his troops to quell the disturbance. But the soldiers were unable to control the growing mobs, and by nightfall, rioting and mayhem had spread to all parts of the city.

Never before had an archaeological expedition ended in so violent an uproar. But never before had there been an archaeological expedition quite like Captain Parker’s. Conceived in folly, but planned with cunning, the Parker Mission had come to Jerusalem with a single goal- to locate and unearth the fantastic treasure of Solomon’s Temple buried beneath the Temple Mount.

The origins of the Parker Expedition of 1909–11 are still shrouded in mystery. Tradition has it that an eccentric Swedish “Biblical scholar” and “Master philosopher” named Valter H. Juvelius, while working in a Constantinople library in 1908, accidentally discovered a coded passage in the Book of Ezekiel which described the precise location of the long lost treasure of Solomon’s Temple.a1 This fabulous treasure,2 supposedly concealed at the time of Nebuchadnezer’s conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., was said to be hidden deep within the bowels of the Temple Mount in a cave connected to the city by a secret underground passage.

Forty years earlier, the British archaeologist Charles Warren had discovered a complex of underground tunnels and shafts south of the Temple Mount on the southeastern ridge of the city3—an area known as Ophel, or today, the City of David. In light of this discovery, Juvelius became convinced that the outlet of the secret passage to the Temple Mount treasure mentioned in his “coded text” might be located in the general area of Warren’s excavations. If a new excavation could be organized, and if the underground passage could be located, Juvelius was certain that it might actually be possible to clear the way to the Temple Mount and unearth the fantastic treasure.

In the months that followed, Juvelius traveled throughout Europe, promising to anyone who would help finance an expedition to Jerusalem a share in the $200 million that, he estimated, the treasure would bring on the open market.4 Without the proper connections and introductions, however, he could not persuade anyone to back his ambitious project. Eventually Juvelius was forced to turn to a young Englishman for help in raising the necessary funds.

The young Englishman to whom Juvelius turned was Montague Brownslow Parker, the thirty-year-old son of the Earl of Morley. Young Parker had served with distinction in the Boer War, rising to the rank of Captain in the Grenadier Guards by the age of twenty. Back in London after the war, he longed to return to a life of adventure.

Assuring Juvelius that he could make the expedition a reality, Parker spent the winter of 1908–9 traveling from England to Europe and then on to America, visiting the many wealthy friends of his well-connected father. Parker succeeded where the “master philosopher” had failed. He ultimately raised over $125,000 for the expedition to Jerusalem from such diverse sources as the Duchess of Marlborough and the Armour family of Chicago.5

While Juvelius busied himself in acquiring the services of a Danish clairvoyant to guide the search, Parker traveled to Constantinople to obtain the cooperation of the Turkish authorities. He had not, however, anticipated the severity of the Ottoman Empire’s antiquities’ policy which made all finds discovered in Palestine or elsewhere in the Empire the property of the state.

Forced to turn to his own brand of personal politics, Parker secretly contacted two high-ranking Commissioners in the Turkish Government. Privately offering them a bribe of 50% of any treasure he might find in Jerusalem, he was able to gain their confidence and support for his clandestine mission. Under their protection, an agent was quickly dispatched to Jerusalem to purchase all available land on the slope of the Ophel.6

Parker returned to England to make the final preparations for the expedition, enlisting an “excavation staff” of his good friends Clarence Wilson, Captain R. G. Duff, and Major Foley7—all young aristocrats like himself who shared a taste for excitement. During the spring they obtained expensive excavation equipment and fitted out Clarence Wilson’s yacht for the long journey to Palestine.

In August 1909, the Parker Expedition landed at Jaffa and traveled overland to Jerusalem. Moving into the spacious Augusta Victoria Hospice on the Mount of Olives, Parker spared no expense in the purchase of tents, rifles, camp furniture, and imported provisions. As support staff he hired a small army of native cooks, guides, bodyguards, housemaids, and workers. The governor of the city, Azmey Bey Pasha, proudly introduced Parker to the local dignitaries and hosted the expedition staff at a series of festive banquets at his official residence.8

The two Commissioners from Constantinople whom Parker had bribed soon arrived to supervise the search for the treasure, and Parker officially began the excavations on the Ophel. Closely following the instructions of Juvelius’ Danish clairvoyant, Parker ordered the workers to re-open one of the shafts dug by Charles Warren in 1867, in the hope that an investigation of the still largely unexcavated tunnel complex would quickly lead to the discovery of the secret passage to the Temple Mount. Bodyguards and soldiers were placed around the opening of the shaft to keep away unauthorized onlookers, but such stringent measures served only to intensify the curiosity of the local inhabitants.9

The archaeologists of the European and American archaeological schools in Jerusalem grew suspicious of the cloak of secrecy which surrounded the activities of the Parker Expedition, and were upset by the fact that the young men directing the work on the Ophel seemed totally ignorant of proper archaeological procedure.10 Records were not being kept and finds were not being classified. Since such methods were entirely unacceptable to the archaeological community at a site as important as the Ophel, strong protests were registered with the Turkish Governor.

In the face of these growing protests, Parker asked Père Louis Hugues Vincent of the Dominican Fathers in Jerusalem to serve as “archaeological advisor” to the expedition.11 Vincent, a long time resident of Jerusalem and head of the French École Biblique et Archéologique de St. Etienne, was one of the most respected authorities on the antiquities of the city, and had for many years been engaged in a study of the city’s early history and development. Captain Parker’s well-funded excavations on the Ophel must have seemed to Vincent to provide a unique opportunity to gain valuable archaeological evidence about ancient Jerusalem, and he gratefully accepted the invitation to join the expedition. But Parker, prudent as ever, apparently never revealed to Vincent the real objective of the mission.

With Vincent overseeing the excavations, the criticism of the local archaeological community subsided, but soon new cries of outrage arose from the Jews of the city. Accusing the excavators of defiling the place where the tombs of David and Solomon were thought by some archaeological authorities to be located, the Jews appealed for the Governor’s intervention to stop the work.12 But in this case, Parker was protected by his Turkish patrons, and the excavation continued, with his men clearing out and investigating Warren’s Shaft and examining the structures around the source of the Gihon spring, known as the “Virgin’s Well,” on the eastern slope of the Ophel.

A serious problem, however, was the weather. The rains of the winter of 1909–10 came early, and they added to the difficulty of clearing the debris from the subterranean water system. Parker had expected to find the passage to the treasure quickly, but the work underground in the first three months of the excavation had proved far more difficult than he had expected. In November he called a temporary halt to the work and returned with his men to England until the following summer.13

Back in England, with much of the expedition fund still at his disposal, Parker totally reorganized his methods of operation. Hiring several engineers who had worked on recently completed London Subway, he confronted them with the physical problems of the tunneling, and, at their advice, purchased “expensive and perfected machinery” for the next season of excavation.14

In August 1910, Parker and his reinforced staff returned to Jerusalem, but it soon became clear that their cozy relationship with the Turks was over. The two Turkish Commissioners had returned to Constantinople in obvious disgust at the failure of the Englishmen to find anything resembling the treasure they had promised. And the continual protest of the Jews of the city, which Parker had assiduously ignored, now found an official patron in the person of Baron Edmund de Rothschild, who purchased an adjoining piece of land on the Ophel and applied for permission for his own archaeologist to excavate there.15

Accordingly, the Turkish authorities informed Parker of the competing claim and announced that he must complete his work in Jerusalem by the end of the summer of 1911, only eleven months away. Time had never been much of a factor for Parker, but now it was running out. Leaving the more sumptuous accommodations on the Mount of Olives, he moved into a rented house close to the digging site and set the excavation gangs to work day and night16—clearing out by torchlight the entire length of what is now known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel in a desperate push to find the opening to the secret passage that would lead him to the Temple Mount—and to the treasure.

In the succeeding months of grueling work, while Parker and his men searched for their ‘secret passage,’ Père Vincent carefully recorded and analyzed the many passages and objects that they uncovered. Noting the presence of Bronze Age burial caves dug into the bedrock, and meticulously mapping the extensive subterranean water system and traces of ancient fortifications, Vincent was able to conclude with near certainty that the city of Jerusalem was originally located on the Ophel or City of David as it is now called.17

The rains came early again in 1910, but Parker had no choice but to continue, for despite Père Vincent’s important archaeological findings, the main objective of the expedition still had not been attained. Taking even greater risks in the narrow shafts deep beneath the surface of the ground, Parker’s men worked all through the winter.

Spring came, but still they found no passage. Up until April of 1911, Parker had been keeping in close touch with his backers in the United States and England, faithfully sending them monthly reports on the progress of the excavations. But by April, those communications with the outside world abruptly stopped.18 Only four months remained before the permit to excavate would expire. And Parker knew that even if his men were able to find the secret passage in time, they would be unable to clear the entire distance to the Temple Mount. Desperation now guided Parker’s action.

Since the departure of the Turkish Commissioners, Parker had developed close contacts with the local officials and had gained their confidence. Closest to him was the governor, Azmey Bey, who came down to the excavation site nearly every day. If Parker had read Bey’s character correctly, he was corruptible. Parker now offered Azmey Bey a bribe of $25,000 to arrange for the expedition to excavate on the holy Temple Mount itself—where for centuries Westerners had never been allowed even to enter. Azmey Bey accepted Parker’s bribe and arranged that Sheikh Khalil, the hereditary guardian of the Mosque, would also be handsomely bribed and included in the secret scheme.19
During the following week Parker and a small group of excavators disguised in Arab dress were secretly admitted to the Temple Mount under the cover of darkness. Every night for more than a week, they stealthily excavated in the southeast corner of the Temple Mount enclosure, a section known as “Solomon’s Stables,” where the Danish clairvoyant had assured them that the treasure lay.20 But after seven nights of digging, they still had found no treasure.

The time of the year was especially dangerous for taking risks that might arouse religious sensibilities, for in April 1911, Passover, Easter, and the Moslem feast of Nebi Mussa coincided. The city was mobbed with religious pilgrims from all over the world. At such festival times, Jerusalem was an explosive place. But that was of little concern to Parker, for he had gained the complicity of the Governor, the Sheikh, and, according to some later accounts, the commander of the city garrison as well.21 Far more pressing to Parker was his desperate search. Time was slipping away.

On the night of April 17, 1911, Parker and his men entered the sanctuary of the Dome of the Rock itself. Their attention had been drawn to a natural cavern beneath the surface of the sacred rock. The rock is supposed to be the spot from which Mohammed ascended to heaven on his horse Borek. The horse’s footprints are still in the rock to prove it. In Jewish tradition this was Mount Moriah where Abraham had offered to sacrifice his son Isaac. Other traditions associated the sacred rock with a passage to the bowels of the earth-filled with spirits and demons, and containing a fantastic treasure.22

Lowering themselves by ropes into the cavern, Parker and his men began to excavate, breaking apart a stone that covered the ancient shaft below.23 Their pace quickened as they felt that at last their treasure was near.

But as fate would have it, a simple attendant of the Mosque decided that he would sleep that night on the Temple Mount. Arriving after midnight, he heard strange noises in the Mosque, and investigating the source, came upon the strangely attired Englishmen backing away inside the holy shrine.24 Shrieking in horror, he bolted from the Mosque, scurrying into the city to expose the sacrilege. Parker and his panick-stricken men gathered up their tools and quickly escaped, for they knew that they had played out their final hand.

Parker and his men promptly fled, but by the time they reached Jaffa, the first news reports had already arrived from Jerusalem. The Holy City was in an uproar. Azmey Bey had reportedly ordered the immediate closing of the Temple Mount, but before his soldiers had a chance to take up positions there, a furious mob seized Sheikh Khalil. And Azmey Bey himself was mobbed by an angry crowd, spat upon, and called “a pig” for his suspected complicity in the sacrilege.25

The disturbances grew more violent as wild rumors spread, reporting that the Englishmen had discovered and stolen the Crown and Ring of Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant and the Sword of Mohammed.26 Customs authorities in Jaffa, alerted to these reports, immediately impounded the personal baggage of Parker and his men for a thorough search.

Finding nothing in any of the bags, the Turkish officials threatened to detain Parker and his men until further instructions arrived from Constantinople. But Parker knew that he must escape at once. Graciously denying the wild accusations that had been made about his excavations, he invited the officials to discuss the matter in the more comfortable surroundings of Clarence Wilson’s yacht. Things would be quickly sorted out, he assured them, and besides that, he had nothing to hide.
The customs’ authorities grudgingly accepted this arrangement, and Parker and his men were permitted to row out into the harbor to illuminate the yacht and prepare to receive their official guests.

But long before their guests arrived, Parker ordered the yacht’s crew to weigh anchor and steam out into the open sea.27 Parker and his men were empty handed, but at least they had escaped with their lives.

The rioting and disturbances in Jerusalem continued unabated for several days, and it was not long before the headlines of newspapers and magazines all over the world heralded the strange story of the Parker Expedition and its aftermath.28

Publicity was the last thing Parker needed at this time, for the exposure of the names of some of his backers and the public ridicule of the project placed him in a very difficult position. Over a hundred thousand dollars had been spent in three years, and the pressure was on Parker to recoup at least a part of that sum.

Safely back in London, Parker refused all comment on the events of the preceeding weeks. Instead, he announced that he had gained the cooperation of the Turkish government and would be returning to Palestine the following summer.29

In an effort to publicize the concrete archaeological achievements of his mission, he arranged for Père Vincent to publish in French and English the results of the first two seasons. Entitled Underground Jerusalem, (Jerusalem Sous-Terre in French), this handsome volume is a classic contribution to Jerusalem scholarship. But even the important finds of early Bronze Age pottery (later known as “Ophel ware”), and the positive identification of the Bronze Age city and City of David at this location did little to restore public confidence in the aims or motives of the Parker Expedition.30
A Turkish Commission of Inquiry arrived in Jerusalem soon after the disturbances had subsided. It ordered the appointment of a new sheikh for the Dome of the Rock, recalled Azmey Bey as Governor, and censured the two Turkish Commissioners who had dealt with Parker.31

But Parker’s investors still sought satisfaction, and in September he announced to a correspondent of the London Times that he was about to leave for Palestine again—to continue the important work that he had left unfinished.32 On September 30 he once again boarded Clarence Wilson’s yacht and set off for the Holy Land.

The renewed Parker Expedition arrived in Jaffa in late October, but as the Times reported, “The explorers were advised by friends that it would be un wise to land, (and) the yacht proceeded to Port Said.”33 In the wake of that announcement, Captain Montague Parker abandoned forever his dreams of ancient treasure and returned to the quiet life of an English gentleman. Valter H. Juvelius receded once again into the mists of eccentric obscurity, the “Danish clairvoyant” was never heard from again, and the investors’ $125,000 was gone. Although Père Vincent’s observations and report enhanced the scientific exploration of Jerusalem, the Parker Expedition itself was soon a memory, having gained for itself the reputation of being one of the most bizarre episodes in the annals of Biblical archaeology.

Rare Matson Photos

While Captain Montague Parker feverishly searched for the treasure of Solomon’s temple, two teenage members of a Christian commune in Jerusalem, the American Colony, were learning the trade they were to practice together for a lifetime. The Swede Eric Matson and the Kansan Edith Yantiss met in the Colony’s Photo Department. They married in 1924, and for 32 years, together ran the re-named Photo Department as the Matson Photo Service. Twenty thousand original negatives survived the partition of Jerusalem in 1948. Bequeathed to the Library of Congress in 1966, they provide a fascinating record of 50 years of Holy Land history. From a part of that collection—the 11 volume sales catalog the Matsons kept in their Jerusalem shop—come some of the pictures in this article. Arno Press of New York (3 Park Avenue) is just now publishing a four-volume, facsimile copy of this catalogue Each volume will cost $100.

a. Because the story of the Parker Mission has never been told so completely as it is in this article, BAR asked the author to provide extensive documentation. The citations in the text refer to his sources.

1. New York Times May 7; 14, 1911. For a concise account of the origin of the affair, see Jerry Landay, Silent Cities, Sacred Stones. (New York- 1971), p. 219. For a deeper glimpse into the workings of a truly unique mind, see Valter H. Juvelius, Judarnes Tiderakning i ny belysning. (Kuopio- 1906).

2. The precise nature of this “treasure” was never officially described, and varies in the different printed accounts. In the London Times of May 5, 1911, it is “the treasure of the tombs of David and Solomon.” In the New York Times of May 4, 1911, it is “the treasure of the Jewish kings, and ancient tablets which will set to rest all doubts concerning the resurrection of Christ.” This was amended in a later edition (May 5), which reported that the expedition was seeking “the gold encrusted Ark of the Covenant.”

3. The latest and most important of these is a 1549-foot subterranean tunnel dug by King Hezekiah c. 700 B.C. at the time of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem. This tunnel was designed to bring water from the unprotected Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley into the city itself. Surrounding and intertwined with it are earlier water tunnels, shafts, and aqueducts—evidence of the importance of the Gihon Spring and its intimate connections with the ancient city. For more details, see Hershel Shanks, The City of David.

4. New York Times May 7, 1911.

5. New York Times May 4; 5, 1911; Chicago Tribune May 4, 1911.

6. Bertha Spafford Vester, Our Jerusalem. (Garden City, N.Y. 1950), p. 213.

7. New York Times May 4, 1911; London Times May 5, 1911.

8. Vester, pp. 211–2.

9. London Times September 16, 1911; Vester, p. 212.

10. New York Times May 7, 1911; Chicago Tribune May 5, 1911. Both accounts include the testimony of Professor Richard Gottheil of Columbia University who spent the year at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem.

11. Vincent relates the story of his joining the expedition in Underground Jerusalem. (London- 1912), pp. 1–2; For another version, cf. Vester, p. 212.

12. Vester, pp. 212–3. Although the traditional site of David’s Tomb is on Mount Zion, the renowned French archaeologist and diplomat Charles Clermont-Ganneau suggested that the huge bend in Hezekiah’s Tunnel was made to avoid the authentic tombs of David and Solomon above it, see Shanks, pp. 66–70. This too might have been an objective of the Parker Expedition, but the facts of the matter are unclear. In any case, the Jewish community was clearly suspicious of Parker, and exerted what influence it had to prevent any damage to this important site.

13. London Times May 5, 1911.

14. London Times September 16, 1911; New York Times May 6, 1911; Underground Jerusalem, p. 2.

15. Vester, p. 213. Raymond Weill excavated on the Ophel under the patronage of Baron Rothschild in 1913–14, and cleared a wide section of the site, uncovering two badly damaged rock hewn cavities which he identified as the remains of the Royal Tombs. See Raymond Weill, La Cite de David. (Paris- 1920), pp. 157–73; for an opposing view, cf. Kathleen Kenyon, Digging Up Jerusalem. (London 1974), p. 156.

16. London Times September 16, 1911.

17. The complete archaeological record of the excavation on the Ophel was assembled by Père Vincent in Underground Jerusalem. Later, Parker himself claimed that the finding of the Bronze Age city was the major achievement of the excavation. Interview, London Times May 5, 1911. A preliminary report was issued by Vincent in “Les Recentes fouilles d’Ophel”, Revue Biblique 8 (1911), pp. 566ff.

18. New York Times May 5, 1911.

19. New York Times May 4, 1911; New York Tribune May 7, 1911; London Times May 5, 1911.

20. New York Times May 4, 1911.

21. New York Times May 14, 1911; Vester, p. 213.

22. For the ancient traditions associated with the “Well of the Spirits,” see Zev Vilnay, Legends of Jerusalem. (Philadelphia- 1973), pp. 26–7.

23. New York Times May 14, 1911; R. P. LaGrange, “La Pretendue Violation de la Mosquee d’Omar,” Revue Biblique 8 (1911), pp. 440–2.

24. Vester, p. 214.

25. New York Times May 4, 1911; London Times May 5, 1911.

26. New York Times May 14, 1911; London Times May 5, 1911.

27. New York Times May 14, 1911; Vester, p. 214.

28. New York Times May 7, 1911. The seven column headline read- HAVE ENGLISHMEN DISCOVERED THE ARK OF THE COVENANT?; London Illustrated News. May 13; 20, 1911.

29. London Times May 5, 1911; New York Tribune May 8, 1911.

30. A battle raged in the pages of the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement in the ensuing months. See PEFQS (1912), Gustav Dalman, “The Search for the Temple Treasure at Jerusalem,” pp. 35–9; Charles Warren, “Recent Excavations on the Hill of Ophel,” pp. 68–74; and a defense by Père Vincent himself, pp. 131–4.

31. London Times May 16; June 5, 15, 1911; New York Times May 16, 1911.

32. London Times September 23, 1911.

33. London Times October 30, 1911.

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