I cannot tell you when the obsession began– most likely with the crusades– to find the lost treasure of Solomon’s temple from Jerusalem. We all know Titus took the holy ornaments– the menorah, the showbread table, horns, and candlesticks– after the sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They were paraded along with him in his Triumph back in Rome. His triumphal arch is decorated with the frieze of the sacred utensils being paraded into Rome. This is the last and only remaining tangible notation we have. Roman annalists tell us the golden treasure was placed in his father Vespasian’s Temple of Peace in the Forum.
The last tangible sight we have of them– being paraded into Rome with Titus in his Triumph.
From there all we have is a vapor of smoke. No one knows what happened to them. Did they melt when that temple burned? Did they get destroyed at some later date, with some fire that swept Rome? Were they carted off by the Goths or the Vandals when Rome itself was finally sacked hundreds of years after Titus’ triumph?
But many like to believe that the objects from the holy temple survived. Some have even sought them. After the Crusades there are numerous mentions of Solomonic objects in Rome. But that most likely is due to the fact that Crusaders mistook Byzantine art for ancient Jewish art, and when in Rome recognized Byzantine gifts to the Popes and the city.
The best place to start a search is to determine where the treasure cannot be, if it survived.
The most common theory is that Alaric took the treasure with him after he sacked Rome in 410 AD. It lies buried with him in his secret tomb near Cosentia. The problem with this is that Rome was a Christian city for quite sometime prior to its sacking. The sacred implements of the Temple at Jerusalem would have been no secret. They would have been openly revered. Yet no writers speak of having seen them. Well, we will look into that as these posts unfold.
Another theory is that the Vandals took them in 455 AD after they sacked Rome. They lie buried in Tunisia somewhere. The same arguments as above apply. Why do we not have any clear information on the existence of the temple treasures during the Christian era of Rome before it was sacked?
Some may wish to believe that they were kept secret by the ranking clergy. There’s always those who wish to believe in arcane rituals and conspiracy. But it is also a fact that we have no record from the pagan Romans as to when (if) the temple treasures were destroyed. They were quite a prize, remember. It is strange they had been forgotten, even by the pagan Romans before the city converted.
To those of faith the temple treasures were “forgotten” by men by the direct act of God in order to preserve them for their rediscovery. Therefore it is most likely they still exist; in a cave somewhere or, as is popular to believe, behind locked doors at Rome’s first church– St. John’s in Lateran.
A Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela noted that bronze columns from the Temple of Jerusalem were standing in St. John’s. This, of course, reinforced the notion that more could be behind the great bronze doors at the basilica which marked off-limits areas.
Others believe that the treasures were taken back to Israel and lie neglected and forgotten in the Palestinian zone, under the ground in an ancient cave. This belief hinges on the statement that the objects were seen being paraded through Constantinople during crusader times as they were being taken back.
Yet what exact treasures were really seen? Benjamin of Tudela clearly saw twisted Byzantine bronze columns that were gifted to Rome. He was told they were Solomonic because Crusaders had come to consider any old Byzantine work seen in the Holy Land to be ancient Jewish and even Herodian. In like manner those who claim they saw the treasure may have actually been seeing something else.
Hundreds of years ago, when a new apse was built into the reconstructed St. John’s, a bold inscription was carved advertising what it contained.
“Titus and Vespasian had this ark and the candelabrum and. . . the four columns here present taken from the Jews in Jerusalem and brought to Rome.”
A bold statement that does not, however, highlight the temple treasures. Those bronze columns are, once again, easily identifiable as Byzantine. What were the other objects? Where are they?
Everything starts at Rome. It is my favorite city. I know it well. Within the walls I have walked everywhere. Here in Rome we must begin. and to begin we must try and explain how the actual temple treasures could have survived into Christian times and their location not have been known with precision, and their shiny glory not revered.
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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.