The Arch of Titus in Rome, erected shortly after the death of Titus who reigned as emperor from 79 to 81, clearly depicts Roman soldiers bearing on their shoulders the golden candelabrum, silver trumpets and bejewelled Table of the Divine Presence which the Roman emperor Vespasian and his son Titus carted back to Rome as trophies of war. Between 75 CE and the early 5th century, the treasure remained on public display in the Temple of Peace in Rome's Forum. Many Jews believe – almost as an article of faith – that the Temple artifacts remain there in Rome, secreted away in vaults beneath the Vatican.
The Golden Candelabrum as depicted on Arch of Titus
But in a newly published book, British historian Sean Kingsley, basing himself on untapped historical texts and new archaeological sources, argues that the treasures were removed from Rome after the Vandal invasion of 455 CE.
Kingsley, whose book God's Gold: The Quest for the Lost Temple Treasure of Jerusalem was released October 5 by John Murray, says that the loot was first taken to Carthage in Tunisia, then to Hippo Regius in Algeria, and on to Constantinople – today known as Istanbul, Turkey, before finally being returned to the Holy Land in the mid 6th century. At that time, the treasures were ultimately hidden in the Judean wilderness, beneath the remote Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Theodosius, 12 km east of Bethlehem.
It's a plausible argument that has almost messianic implications. If the Temple treasures were retrieved, the discovery could help lead to the actual rebuilding of the Temple, the resumption of biblical sacrifice – and the coming of the Messiah.
The Second Temple in Jerusalem
“One thing is for sure – it is not imprisoned deep in Vatican City. I am the first person to prove that the Temple treasures no longer languish in Rome,” says Kingsley, an expert on the East Mediterranean economy in Late Antiquity.
Kingsley’s sources include Josephus Flavius, the 1st-century Jewish general turned renegade who chronicled the history of the failed Jewish revolt against Rome. Kingsley also found evidence in, among others, the works of Procopius, a court historian of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who died in 562, and from Theophanes Confessor (c.760-817), a Christian monk from Constantinople.
In Chronographia, which spanned 284 to 813, Theophanes recorded that Geiseric the Lame, king of the Germanic tribe of the Vandals, loaded the treasures that "Titus had brought to Rome after the capture of Jerusalem" on a boat and took them to his North African capital Carthage in 455. Although history remembers the Vandal sack of Rome as extremely brutal (and their act made the word 'vandalism' a term for any wantonly destructive act), in actuality Geiseric honored his pledge to Pope Leo I not to make war on the people of Rome. The Vandals did however take gold, silver and many other things of value away from the city.
In the crusade of 533 to restore the lost Roman provinces of North Africa, the Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius seized the treasure from a Vandal ship fleeing the harbor of Hippo Regius, today known as Annaba or Bone, Algeria. It was then shipped to Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium. In recognition of Belisarius' great victory, the Emperor Justinian granted him a Roman triumph (the last one ever given) upon his return to Constantinople. In the procession were paraded the spoils of the Temple of Jerusalem which Belisarius had recovered.
In the 7th century, the Persians sacked Jerusalem, killing thousands of Christians, and dragging the Patriarch Zacharias to Persia. Kingsley believes that his replacement, Modestus, spirited away the treasures to their final hiding place in the Judean Desert in 614. The Monastery of St. Theodosius, where Kingsley believes the relics may be today, was founded in 476.
According to Kingsley, "The treasure resonates fiercely across modern politics. Since the mid-1990s, a heated political wrangle has been simmering between the Vatican and Israel, which has accused the papacy of imprisoning the treasure.
"The Temple treasure remains a deadly political tool in the volatile Arab-Israeli conflict centered on the Temple Mount [the site of the Jewish Temple and the Muslim Dome of the Rock].
"The treasure's final hiding place - in the modern West Bank ... deep in Hamas territory - will rock world religions."