one Ark of the Covenant?
Just before the
First World War, a team of European explorers went to Jerusalem,
to dig for the Ark of the Covenant. Like genuine “Raiders
of the Lost Ark”, their account became the centre of an
international controversy, whereby some reports even suggested
they left Jerusalem with the prized possession.
the real Indiana Jones have been Finnish? Early in the 20th century,
a Finnish scholar and poet named Valter Henrik Juvelius (1865–1922)
claimed to know where the Ark of the Covenant was hidden. Juvelius
believed that certain ciphers in biblical passages—when
read in their original Hebrew format—could reveal the secret
hiding place of the greatest biblical treasure on record. He thus
obtained a Hebrew Old Testament and tried to solve the problem...before
going to the Holy Land and digging underneath the Temple Mount,
the most holy site for three of the world's major religions.
qualified as a surveyor in 1887 and completed his academic studies,
receiving the title Candidate of Philosophy the following year.
For the next 20 years, he served as a surveyor at Ilmajoki and
Lapua. In 1897, he published his first collection of poems, entitled
Kuvia ja säveliä ("Images and Notes"). One
of the poems he wrote, "Karjalan Kunnailla" ("O
Hills of Karelia"), is still very well known in Finland.
He also translated many Swedish and Finnish authors, as well as
the works of foreign writers such as Goethe, Burns, Byron and
Poe, into Finnish. For the poetry books and translations, Juvelius
used the pen name "Valter Juva".
Nothing so far in the life of Juvelius indicated what direction
his work and legacy would take. But a clue can be found in his
doctoral dissertation, written in Swedish and presented in 1906
to the Imperial Alexander University of Finland (nowadays Helsinki
University). The subject was Jewish chronology and his thesis
was approved; he was now "Doctor Juvelius". Nevertheless,
there was no direct connection between his subject matter and
his ensuing quest for the Ark of the Covenant. Clearly, though,
Juvelius was moving in this direction.
was a man of letters but also a man of ciphers, it seemed. Juvelius
became convinced that the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel contained
a secret code that described the location of the Ark of the Covenant
and the route to it. This was decades before Eli Rips, as reported
by Michael Drosnin, believed he had found a "Bible code",
but decades after "Egyptologists" had "identified"
a biblical chronology in the passageways of the Great Pyramid.
The Book of Ezekiel is, in essence, prophetic but has been interpreted
in various ways, from giving an accurate description of an extraterrestrial
spaceship to referring to the fixed cross of the Zodiac, as cosmologist
Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet believes the vision describes. For Juvelius,
it concerned the Ark of the Covenant.
The secret location of where the Ark was kept in safety, Juvelius
believed, had only been known to Ezekiel and the high priests.
Little is known about Ezekiel, but we do know that he was a priest
in the temple at Jerusalem, was the son of a priest and had a
wife prior to being carried off in the Jewish Exile of 597 BC
at the age of twenty-six. He died before the captivity in Babylon
ended. If the Ark was still present in Jerusalem in 597 BC (there
is no hard evidence that it was…or wasn't), and if it had
been secreted away ahead of the invading army, then the secret
of where the priests had hidden the precious artefact was about
to die with them. Hence, they needed to preserve that knowledge
so that a future generation could retrieve the most precious of
Jewish artefacts. This theory could explain how the Ark disappeared,
as well as the Bible's consequent silence on this point—though
it is equally possible historically that the Ark disappeared several
centuries earlier. The central question, of course, is whether
the Book of Ezekiel did contain a code—and if it did, it
seems worthy of a new Dan Brown novel!
was convinced that he had cracked the Ezekiel code. Like so many
who believe they have cracked a code, he drew maps and sketches,
pointing to the exact place underground tunnels which led from
the area of the Gihon Spring (the main water source in First Temple
times) to the Temple Mount—and to the location of the Ark
of the Covenant. During the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrian
king Sennacherib in 701 BC, King Hezekiah of Judah built a tunnel
to access the Temple Mount, and the Pool of Siloam to act as its
reservoir. Juvelius was specifically interested in the tunnel
system known as "Hezekiah's Tunnel", discovered in 1838,
and the cave system called "Warren's Shaft", found in
1867 by an Englishman, Captain Charles Warren. These water systems,
Juvelius believed, had been adapted and reworked, beyond what
was known so far, into a series of underground tunnels.
But it is one thing to believe something and another to investigate
it on the ground. Juvelius knew that a dig on—or, even worse,
under—the Temple Mount was not only illegal, it was sacrilegious
and thus was very unlikely to receive any permission whatsoever
to go ahead. Still, to obtain an excavation permit, Juvelius would
have to get approval from the Turkish government. There were two
major problems: first, despite what some later records would allege,
he did not have enough money to finance the operation himself;
second, it seemed most unlikely that a Finnish surveyor would
be given such a permit.
realise his ambition, Juvelius formed a company in London in 1908
in the name of JMPFW Ltd, which included the initials of the surnames
of the planned expedition's original members: Juvelius, Millen,
Parker, Forth and Waughan. All except the Finnish Juvelius and
the Swedish engineer Millen were English noblemen. He hoped that
this approach would greatly improve his chances for a permit,
if only because the entire financing of the expedition would now
be catered for.
amongst this group of sponsors was Captain Montague Parker (1878–1962).
Juvelius had persuaded this son of an English duke that, though
the Ark of the Covenant was priceless, the Ark and other treasures
secreted in the system were worth at least US$200 million. Parker
managed to collect $125,000 from various English and American
financiers. Juvelius then proceeded to Constantinople to get excavation
permits from the Ottoman government. To guarantee a positive outcome,
he promised that half of the treasure would be theirs—without
being too specific as to whether "theirs" meant the
government officials themselves or the government. The application
Juvelius expedition is not well-known and one might think we have
only his account on which to rely. That is not correct: other
accounts of the expedition exist, and one source is Millen, who
wrote the book On Right Tracks in 1922 (though some sources list
1917 as the date of publication). He was a member of the expedition
and believed that the discovery of the Ark would herald the new
Millennium, as mentioned in the Book of Revelation. As such, he
was convinced that the expedition was a quest to change the future
The Parker expedition arrived in Jerusalem in August 1909. Though
the team had received a permit, it was—unremarkably—not
allowed to dig in the Temple area itself. Instead, the team began
excavations 600 metres to the south of the area, at the Gihon
Spring, which had been the starting point of Juvelius's decoding.
A long road lay ahead to where Juvelius hoped to end up…but
he was sure he would get there.
The work was a major—and hence costly—undertaking:
excavation of the underground water system was only made possible
by diverting the water from its normal course, which meant that
the team members needed to build dams and pump out water. Worse
was the fact that once they were inside, they realised that Hezekiah's
Tunnel had parts that were only 18 centimetres high, which meant
that the clearing operation was gigantic. All of a sudden, clearing
600 metres seemed like 600 kilometres.
As if he didn't already have enough problems, Parker received
criticism that none of the team members was a trained, let alone
qualified, archaeologist. He therefore approached the French Dominican
Louis-Henri Vincent, a qualified archaeologist, who agreed to
join the team. Vincent was aided by Father Sabiniak, the photographer
of the Ecole Biblique. Together, they documented the tunnels and
channels unearthed by the workers as well as the finds dug up
start of the excavations also meant that Juvelius's theory would
be tested, and either proved or falsified. It should therefore
not come as a major revelation that, from here on, there are two
different accounts—underlining the fact that there are always
(at least) two sides to every story.
According to Millen's book, for three years the expedition penetrated
ever deeper, past labyrinths and tunnels. He stated that they
found poisonous gas in some of the tunnels, which caused burns
and dizziness, but it is more likely that this was natural gas,
which miners often come across in mineshafts. With every metre
gained, Millen became more convinced about the legitimacy of the
decipherment: Juvelius would predict upcoming features of the
underground network before stumbling across them and would know
which routes to take—all of this based on his decoding of
the Book of Ezekiel. Millen added that on most occasions the artificial
walls looked exactly like natural rock, and the team could only
penetrate through them by using Juvelius's decipherment of the
book. They circumvented several traps, and as they progressed
they stumbled upon vases, urns, lamps and other artefacts that
bore the seal of Solomon. They were sure they were getting closer.
The Ark of the Covenant was almost within reach.
of Jerusalem, with start of the expedition at the bottom, and
the Temple Mount marked at the top. The red route is the tunnel
the expedition hoped would take them to the Temple Mount.
The other side of the story goes that the excavations continued
throughout the summer and autumn of 1909 before they were stopped
due to incessant rainstorms. The excavations were resumed in August
1910, and the clearing of the water systems continued. Certain
artefacts were discovered and photographed. At the same time,
Vincent drew accurate maps of the ancient water systems; his records
are still used by scholars, showing that the expedition continues
to have archaeological benefits. But this version states that
these tunnels, rather than coming closer to the final hiding place
of the Ark or the Temple Mount, did not lead to the Temple Mount
at all. Therefore, Parker abandoned Juvelius's "indications"
and decided to dig new tunnels in the search for the Temple's
treasures. The tunnels were lined with wooden beams to prevent
collapse. Did these random digs, meant to force the excavations
in the direction of the Temple Mount, have any correspondence
with Millen's description that "the artificial walls looked
exactly like natural rock"?
Parker had abandoned Juvelius's "help", the expedition
soon had to do without him: during the fall of 1910, Juvelius
became sick, apparently with malaria, and travelled back to Finland.
The accounts converged once again in April 1911, at the start
of the third season, when everyone agreed that they were "close".
They were indeed. For one, the excavation permit was about to
expire in November 1911. A radical approach was needed, and Parker
was not afraid to take up the challenge. Juvelius was preparing
to return to Jerusalem, to be present in what he hoped would be
the final breakthrough. It would be his crowning moment, the start
of a new era. But before leaving Finland, he was informed by Parker
of something he had already been able to read in the newspapers:
his expedition had just become headline news across the globe.
Millen was convinced of Juvelius's decoding, Parker, it seems,
was less so. Still, Parker was savvy enough to realise that digging
under the Temple Mount, in whatever framework and regardless of
any theories, was a "good move" which could lead to
the discovery of the Ark or other treasure. Furthermore, from
the very first day of the expedition, it wasn't Juvelius's decoding
alone that was the main driving force: an Irish clairvoyant stated
that he had seen the hiding place of the Ark in a séance,
and it was his vision that was the primary impetus for the final
attempt in April 1911, which explains why Juvelius was not present
when controversy erupted. Parker needed to know where the final
resting place was—immediately. He didn't want to proceed
with Juvelius's long-winded voyage through underground labyrinths,
which after some distance seemed to turn away from the Temple
Mount. He didn't have the time to follow "Ezekiel's Ark hunt",
or he no longer believed that Juvelius's maps would bring them
That April, the Passover, the Greek Orthodox Easter and the Nabi
Musa festival coincided. Parker realised that Jerusalem would
be preoccupied with many religious festivals, some of them taking
place outside of the town, thus presenting a great opportunity
for his criminal element to come to the surface. For a reported
price tag of $25,000, he bribed Sheikh Halil, who was in charge
of the mosques on the Temple Mount, to let his expedition excavate
under the mountain during this "holy week".
Of course, the Temple Mount would not be deserted and the bribe
did not remove all risks. Parker and his men dressed as Arabs
and conducted excavations by night in Solomon's Stables and in
the well beneath the Foundation Stone. They continued throughout
the week until finally they were about to dig where they were
sure the Ark would be. But that night, one of the keepers of the
mosque, apparently unaware of the "private arrangement"
between Parker and the Sheikh, was sleeping on site and was awakened
by the noise of the excavation going on below him.
Rather than report to his superior, the man ran into the streets
to reveal the sacrilege. A riot ensued and apparently the Turkish
rulers had problems keeping the outraged crowds under control.
The team was caught red-handed and everyone—or at least
Parker—knew that this was the end. Later, Millen said he
thought that the riots were incited by a member of the expedition
whom they believed was a spy and who had made sure that the team
would not succeed in uncovering the Ark. According to Millen,
this suspicion was afterwards confirmed to Juvelius by a high-ranking
at the centre of a religious riot and international newspaper
reports, Parker officially denied the rumours about illegal excavations
and stated that the expedition had left the country as planned
on 18 April, due to heavy rains which did not allow any further
The news of his illegal excavation arrived in the port town of
Jaffa by telegraph before Parker did—just like it arrived
at Juvelius's home before Parker told him. But what happened next
was rather bizarre: Parker was arrested upon his arrival on the
accusation of stealing King Solomon's crown and ring, the Holy
Ark and Mohammed's sword. In the turmoil of Jerusalem, it seemed,
the conclusion was that the expedition had managed to escape with
the treasures. Despite being arrested, Parker was able to escape
and flee the country by sea.
Gihon spring and connected tunnels
happened during that fateful night in April 1911? Were the rumours
and press reports correct and did the Ark of the Covenant disappear
together with Parker? Were they rushing from Jerusalem not in
fear of the rioting mob but because they had to ship the Ark out
of Jerusalem as quickly as possible? Did the authorities at first
not realise that Parker had indeed discovered the Ark, then woke
up to their mistake and had him arrested in Jaffa? Or did the
authorities in Jaffa interpret the information from Jerusalem
In 1916, under the pen name Heikki Kenttä, Juvelius published
a book entitled Valkoinen kameeli ("the White Camel").
The book is a collection of short stories, one of which contains
Juvelius's version of the events which led to the riots in Jerusalem
in 1911. Unfortunately the book is written as fiction, which makes
any historical interpretation a quagmire at best. Furthermore,
we know that Juvelius was not an eyewitness to the turbulent end
of "his" expedition.
But back to the novel. In describing the riots, he argues that
there was no desecration of the Omar Mosque; he even maintains
that the team was working half a mile south of it. The rumours
resulted from one of their finds: a decorated chair from the pre-Davidic
era. Juvelius also writes that "there was much talk about
ancient manuscripts", but does not elaborate. He also suggests
that the central quest was not the Ark but the Tomb of Moses.
As for the riots, he argues that they were a myth, blaming the
press, which spread unsubstantiated rumours, and the Jews, who
were highly suspicious of their work and used every possible means
to find out what they were doing in an effort to obstruct their
As soon as the stories converge, they diverge again. And we need
to wonder whether Juvelius was putting history right (difficult
to do in a novel!) or rewriting it. As for the Tomb of Moses forming
the goal of their quest, the alleged tomb is believed to be at
Jebel Musa (Mount Nebo), to the northwest of Madaba, in Jordan,
though other locations have also been put forward. Juvelius's
novel has him visiting Mount Nebo, accompanied by a Finnish friend
whom he shows a piece of paper with a Finnish translation of ancient
manuscripts or Juvelius's interpretation of those manuscripts.
The text contains the exact measurements of a cave which, according
to Juvelius, is the burial place of Moses. Juvelius argues that,
according to the Bible, Moses died in a normal manner and therefore
no doubt was properly buried in a cave hewn into the rock, where
his embalmed body remained undisturbed to that day. Juvelius states
that he wanted to invalidate the claims that Moses had never existed.
He also discusses the matter with a rabbi, whom he calls Jonathan
ben Jochai, where Juvelius argues that the secrets of Moses' burial
place were known to a select few of the Jewish sages and were
passed on from one generation to another. When the Bible was committed
to paper, the secrets were codified and incorporated into the
The framework is identical to his alleged decoding of the Ark
of the Covenant's location from the Book of Ezekiel. In my opinion,
Juvelius was rewriting history, trying to defuse the outrage of
1911 and perhaps even hoping that he could mount a second expedition,
this time to discover the Tomb of Moses. Either way, it is clear
that it was the illegal excavations under the Temple Mount that
caused the outrage in Jerusalem in 1911; Juvelius was incidental
in that event.
rumours surrounding the expedition did not stop after the team's
return to England. Apart from newspapers repeating what their
treasure trove allegedly contained, they now also made reference
to "ancient texts", left unspecified by Juvelius in
his fictional account. These reports referred to the texts as
"ancient texts describing the Nocturnal Journey of Muhammad
and documents promising the return of Jesus Christ". They
suggested that the texts had nothing to do with ancient Jewish
accounts, but were rather Arab or Christian in nature. In England,
Parker had trouble sounding convincing that his work had been
purely scientific; everyone seemed to interpret the expedition
as a treasure hunt, which of course it was. To cover himself,
he rushed a scientific report of his expedition's activities into
print. The book, published in 1911, was written by Vincent in
French and translated into English by Parker himself. For obvious
reasons, Juvelius was left out.
did all of this mean for Juvelius? Though the Ark of the Covenant
was (apparently) not recovered, his theory still held confirmed.
It was largely due to Millen that the myth and the possibility
of a future discovery were kept alive. To keep the light of intrigue
burning, Millen claimed that Juvelius's material was stolen after
1911. Others reported that it was merely "lost". If
Parker found the Ark of the Covenant, it seems it did not change
his lifestyle—but then, would anyone who discovered such
a treasure give its existence away so easily? And if Parker did
find it, Juvelius would more than likely not have been privy to
Juvelius returned to a normal life. From 1918 to 1922 he worked
in the public library at Viipuri (Vyborg, Sweden), as its director.
According to Finnish researcher Voitto Viro, Juvelius made new
maps of the Jerusalem underground network during the period 1919
to 1922 to replace the stolen (or lost) originals. The maps remained
in the possession of the Juvelius family, and researchers who
have consulted and investigated these documents claim they are
muddled and in places contradictory. In short, they are useless.
Of course, this may say little about the original maps—but
if they, too, were muddled, this would explain Parker's decision
to abandon Juvelius's decodings and try to go it alone.
died from throat cancer on Christmas Day 1922, at the age of fiftyseven.
The Hebrew Bible that had served as the basis of his decipherment
was buried with him. It was around the time of Juvelius's death
that Millen published his book; it would guarantee the survival
of the Juvelius "myth". To make sure that he remained
the centre of attention, Millen said that when he wrote his book
he was pressured into leaving out certain details. If true, it
could merely have been some well-meant advice not to include outlandish
claims; but what was implied was that there was more about the
story than what could or should be publicly revealed. Furthermore,
he supposedly placed his personal papers in a safe deposit box,
bequeathing them to the Swedish Theosophical Society. When the
box was opened following his death, it was found to be totally
account of Juvelius has the hallmark of a group of idiots who
tried to recover the Ark and failed miserably—and of a group
of idiots who tried to recover the Ark or other treasures and
succeeded, but forever after had to deny everything. Both possibilities
remain, though the latter is on balance extremely unlikely. We
know very little of the riots, and we don't even know whether
the keeper checked first as to what was occurring beneath him
before running into the streets, causing people to beat themselves
into a frenzy. Perhaps the riots did need a legitimate cause,
such as the theft of a discovered precious artefact, or perhaps
not. Just like Indiana Jones and his quest for the Ark, in the
final outcome, if they ever did uncover something, it could only
befall the same fate as the Ark does in that movie. Of quests
that are illegally born, no legitimate offspring can ever be conceived.
article appeared in Nexus Magazine 13.6 (October-November 2006).