A COLLECTION of sacred artefacts looted by the Romans from the Temple of Jerusalem and long suspected of being hidden in the vaults of the Vatican are actually in the Holy Land, according to a British archaeologist.
Sean Kingsley, a specialist in the Holy Land, claims to have discovered what became of the collection, which is widely regarded as the greatest of biblical treasures and includes silver trumpets that would have heralded the Coming of the Messiah.
The trumpets, gold candelabra and the bejewelled Table of the Divine Presence were among pieces shipped to Rome after the looting in AD70 of the Temple, the most sacred building in the ancient Jewish faith.
After a decade of research into previously untapped ancient texts and archaeological sources, Dr Kingsley has reconstructed the treasure’s route for the first time in 2,000 years to provide evidence that it left Rome in the 5th century.
He has discovered that it was taken to Carthage, Constantinople and Algeria before being hidden in the Judaean wilderness, beneath the Monastery of Theodosius.
Dr Kingsley said: "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 centred 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."
Emperor Vespasian ordered the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem after a Jewish revolt and Roman forces took about 50 tons of gold, silver and precious art to Rome.
The Arch of Titus, built a decade later, depicts Roman soldiers bearing the sacred spoils on their shoulders. The Jews were expelled from Jerusalem and dispersed throughout the world.
Between AD75 and the early 5th century, the treasure was on public display in the Temple of Peace in the Forum, in Rome.
The Vatican has told Dr Kingsley that there is no evidence in its archives that the treasure resided in Rome from the medieval period onwards.
He said: "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."
Dr Kingsley’s sources include Josephus, a 1st-century Jewish historian who sometimes exaggerated but is an authority on Roman and Jewish history. Dr Kingsley also found evidence in, among others, the works of Procopius, a court historian of the Emperor Justinian, who died in AD562, and from Theophanes Confessor (c760-817), a Christian monk from Constantinople.
In Chronographia, which spanned AD284 to 813, Theophanes recorded that Gaiseric, king of the Vandals, loaded the treasures that "Titus had brought to Rome after the capture of Jerusalem" on a boat to Carthage in Tunisia in AD455.
In the first holy crusade in AD533, the Byzantine Belisarius seized the treasure from a royal ship fleeing the Algerian harbour of Hippo Regius. It was then shipped to Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium.In the 7th century, Persians sacked Jerusalem, killing thousands of Christians, and dragging the Patriarch, Zacharias, to Persia. Dr Kingsley believes that his replacement, Modestus, spirited away the treasures to their final hiding place in AD614.
Dr Kingsley will reveal his findings in God’s Gold: The Quest for the Lost Temple Treasure of Jerusalem, to be published by John Murray on October 5.