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Thou shalt search

ARCHAEOLOGY: Irvine scholar says he may know where the tablets of the Ten Commandments lie.

March 3, 2001

At the Dead Sea.


'A SEEKER OF THE TRUTH': Michael Sanders holds sulfur 'balls' he says could be remnants of brimstone from the Dead Sea that the Bible says God used to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. His theory will be featured on a television documentary.
Photo by MINDY SCHAUER/The Orange County Register

The Orange County Register

Michael Sanders lives in a quiet corner of Irvine when he isn't off searching for the contents of the Ark of the Covenant, ancient cities and answers to assorted biblical mysteries.

He's been stoned and derided, endured broken ribs, plunged to the bottom of the Dead Sea in a mini-submarine, all in search of the tablets of the Ten Commandments and the biblical sin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

His claim that he believes he's found what he's looking for has earned him the attention of NBC and a spot in the Sunday lineup with a 7 p.m. documentary "Biblical Mysteries: Ark of the Covenant." Episode two, "Biblical Mysteries: Sodom and Gomorrah" will air at 7 p.m. March 11.

Irvine's own Indiana Jones wears an archaeologist's rugged gray beard and occupies a study piled high with tomes of archaeological lore.

The self-made scholar calls himself "a seeker of the truth." On his wall is a family tree that his Romanian great grandfather said showed the family was part of the biblical King David lineage.

Sanders, 61, was born in England, graduated from London University in psychology, and says he did research in parapsychology at Duke University. He began his biblical searches back in the 1970s, he says, when worked with the late Sir George Middleton, who was a retired British ambassador to the Middle East.

"I had the time to look around," he says.

He is among scores of adventurers and biblical scholars trying to determine what happened to the Ten Commandments that the Bible says God gave to Moses at Mount Sinai.

Sanders believes the tablets may be buried in the village of Djaharya on the West Bank of the Dead Sea, which is under control of Palestinian Authority. He searched that particular village because its name fits perfectly one mentioned in a significant ancient Egyptian manuscript, the so-called Harris Papyrus.

Sanders believes that the tablets may be buried under one of the four foundation stones of an ancient Egyptian temple whose unexcavated ruins may be in the village. If the temple is there, it would be the first one outside of Egypt built by pharaohs.

He has not gotten permission to excavate the area because he didn't have the right antiquities paperwork. But he says a subsurface radar scan showed cavities that could contain the broken stones of the Ten Commandments.

He found the site in 1986, but it took him years to get permission to search there because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He says that Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority, personally gave him permission. However, a spokeswoman at the Palestinian Liberation Organization office in Washington, D.C., which represents the authority in this country, said she had not heard about the expedition.

"It would be exciting if they could find it," says Mina Kay, chief assistant. ''We do know that Moses went to the mountain in that area of the desert."

Sanders says many biblical scholars don't agree with his theory, but he is not deterred.

"Some scientists also dismiss everything in the Bible as myth," he says. He won't talk about his own faith, because he says doesn't want it to become an issue that might detract from any scientific findings.

Robert Eisenman, professor of biblical archaeology at California State University, Long Beach, and author of "James, Brother of Jesus," is skeptical.

"Actually I have the tablets in my attic," Eisenman jokes. He was one of the bible scholars who was instrumental in obtaining widespread study access to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

He explains that many scholars and adventurers have woven similar elaborate theories to prove Bible stories.

"There are always excuses attached to most of these searches. 'I could have dug it up, but ... ' 'I could have taken a picture, but ... .'"

He discounts Sanders' theory that certain ancient Egyptians knew where the Ark of the Covenant was buried. He notes that in 2 Maccabees, which is part of the post biblical scriptures called the Apocrypha, Jeremiah hid the ark in a cave and covered it over.

"All the people who knew where it was perished," he says. "And then there's the problem that all these biblical stories might be just legend."

Episode two of the documentaries chronicles his quest to find Sodom and Gomorrah.

He says he found what might be one of the wicked cities of Bible fame accidentally while looking at satellite images that showed strange anomalies under the Dead Sea. He and his crew used a mini-submarine to search the north where the Jordan enters the Dead Sea. They found what they believe are mounds that could be a buried city.

He says they found large quantities of sulfur "balls" on shore on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. That could be remnants of the brimstone that the Bible says God used to destroy the cities. Geologists can't explain how these sulfur balls were formed in the sediment layers.

Others have found evidence of possibly up to 1.5 million skeletons on the southeast Dead Sea shore in three ancient cemeteries, Sanders says. He believes these could be the remains of those who perished in the biblical tragedy.

He acknowledges that many scholars believe that the cities could not be in that location, because the sea covered the area in the time the cities stood. The expense of undersea excavation remains prohibitive.

Eisenman sees more possibility of Sanders' unearthing Sodom and Gomorrah, even though the Biblical story surrounding the cities may be "highly fictionalized."

"These adventure stories appeal to the imagination of the gullible," Eisenman says. "But yet there are these remote possibilities that they are true that make them so interesting."



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