After nearly a decade of writing, the remarkable story of one man’s quest to decipher the ancient map leading to the gold and silver Temple vessels is being published.
Shelley Neese, vice president of the Jerusalem Connection, became involved in the story over a decade ago and has spent nearly eight years writing the The Copper Scroll Project, the story of an unlikely hero who may have unraveled one of history’s most enduring mysteries.
In 2007, Neese was the editor for Jerusalem Connection Magazine and she met Barfield at a Christian conference in Texas.
“I was unfamiliar with the Copper Scrolls, and at first I didn’t believe his story about treasure maps, gold, and the Jewish Temple,” Neese, told Breaking Israel News. “All the alarm bells in my head went off. But after I looked it up, I realized that he hadn’t embellished it at all.”
Discovered in 1952 near Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea, the Copper Scroll is unlike the other Dead Sea Scrolls which are mostly religious manuscripts written on parchment. The Copper Scroll, as its name suggests, is engraved on a thin sheet of copper. And, in contrast to the others, the Copper Scroll is a list of gold and silver items and the 64 locations where they can be found.
Many archaeologists believe the Copper Scroll is an inventory from the Second Temple.In addition to gold and silver, Temple vessels and priestly vestments are listed. No archaeologist has ever succeeded in deciphering the directions contained in the Copper Scroll and finding the treasure.
The book follows the efforts of Jim Barfield, a man who, at first glance, seems entirely unsuited to search for the Temple artifacts, but whose unique skills may have solved one of history’s most enduring mysteries. Barfield, a Noahide who speaks no Hebrew, also has no background in archaeology. A retired criminal investigator for the Oklahoma Fire Department, Barfield was used to patiently sifting through the ashes to find the truth.
In 2006, Barfield was interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls and their relevance to Bible study. At first, he was uninterested in the Copper Scroll which had no theological significance. Barfield’s fascination turned into a burning desire after he met Vendyl Jones. Jones, a Texas preacher turned Biblical archaeologist, believed Qumran to be the hiding place for the Temple vessels and spent 30 years searching for them using the Copper Scroll as a guide. Jones discovered a small vial of persimmon oil used to anoint kings and high priests, and a large quantity of what he believed was Temple incense. Barfield met with Jones, now deceased, and Jones suggested he revisit the Copper Scroll.
“Vendyl told Jim the Copper Scroll had more prophecy in it than any of the other Dead Sea Scrolls,” Neese said.
Barfield’s curiosity turned into passion and he returned to deciphering the Copper Scroll. He searched maps for the “ruins of the Valley of Achor” mentioned in the scroll. The valley is believed to be near Jericho but the precise location is unknown. As a young man, he had piloted helicopters for the U.S. Army. Using his map-reading skills to triangulate, he was able to pinpoint locations on an aerial map of Qumran. Very quickly, pieces of the puzzle began falling into place.
“It’s really not revolutionary what he did,” Neese said. “He figured it out using available sources in his office in Oklahoma, relying on his skills as an arson investigator.”
In one case, the scroll described steps, 40 cubits long, heading east. Barfield did indeed find stairs. The archaeologist reported the stairs to be 60 feet, or precisely 40 cubits. He also discovered the remains of a pool, precisely 40 cubits long, exactly where the scroll said it would be. He believed he had found many of the locations listed on the scroll but to verify his theories, he needed to visit the site.
In 2007, Barfield travelled to Israel to do exactly that, but to pursue his investigation, he needed the approval of the Israel Antiquities Authority to search Qumran. Barfield met with Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) director Shuka Dorfman. Dorfman was unreceptive at first, but as Barfield laid out his proofs, explaining the signposts described in the Copper Scroll, Dorfman became enthusiastic and arranged a meeting with veteran archaeologist and Qumran expert, Yuval Peleg.
Peleg agreed to dig some exploratory holes at the site with Barfield. Less than an hour after beginning shallow test pits, Peleg received a phone call and without any explanation, Peleg shut down the dig.
This was the beginning of many bureaucratic stone walls preventing Barfield from verifying his theory. He purchased a sophisticated metal detector that could penetrate 50 feet while differentiating between ferrous and non-ferrous metal, i.e. gold and silver. Barfield applied to the IAA, asking to run a non-intrusive scan of a few spots in Qumran. His request was denied.
In 2013, Barfield was in New York where he was introduced to Moshe Feiglin who, at the time, was a Likud Member of Knesset. Feiglin was a strong advocate for the Temple and became enthused when he heard Barfield’s story, even offering to accompany him on a tour of the site. A few weeks later, the two were wandering around the tourist site, a large duffel bag in tow. They visited five spots that Barfield felt were most likely repositories for Temple treasure.
One hour later, Barfield ran the data from the metal detector through his computer. Every spot was a hit and one locus especially so.
“It showed up on the metal detector like Fort Knox,” Neese said.
The Israeli government is still not permitting Barfield to investigate and there has been a moratorium on archaeological digging at Qumran.
“It is in area C and different laws apply to the archaeology than in other parts of Israel,” Neese said. “It is disputed territory and anything that comes out of the ground can be disputed. It is possible that the Israeli government is concerned that if they dig up this massive treasure, Jordan or the Palestinian Authority will sue for it. Even if it comes from the Jewish Temple.”
In fact, the Copper Scroll, an ancient artifact inscribed in Hebrew, is currently in a museum in Amman, Jordan.
In an interview with Breaking Israel News last year, Barfield stated his motives.
“I am a Noahide,” he explained to Breaking Israel News. “I want to return the Temple artifacts to the Jewish People. It’s time.”
If Barfield is successful, it will bring the Third Temple much closer.
Not only does Neese chronicle this amazing story but she was an integral player in much of it. A native of Louisiana, she first came to Israel in 2000 with her husband, a U.S. Air Force physician. With no knowledge of Israel, she became intensely curious about the country and received her M.A in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben Gurion University. She spent the months leading up to the Gaza disengagement in 2005 in Israel, working with a team of negotiators. When she went back to the U.S., she became the assistant to the Consul General at the Consulate of Israel to New England.