Elizabeth Newton was relaxing behind her desk in the Iraqi Warehouse designated as storage for artifacts and relics from the early Christian era in Iraq – specifically an area around ancient Babylon.
Elizabeth found herself feeling a little down today. She had been a widow now for four years, but she still missed her husband Ethan. Thankfully, she enjoyed their children and grandchildren. In fact, she thought, “I should be with my family instead of being here in this desolate place. I don’t even really know why they invited me over here. I’m sure it was mainly because of Ethan’s expertise; not mine. He was the Christian antiquities expert. I was just his student. I never should have gotten that advanced degree. I did it just to please Ethan – he could talk me into anything.”
Elizabeth glanced around her desk and saw her portable CD player. She knew she was behind the times because her children – and even grandchildren were using something called an iPod or blackberry or some other new-fangled thing she couldn’t remember. She flipped through her CD collection and put on her favorite upbeat music. It was a collection of old hymns. The music was played by a full orchestra, and the vocalists, while relatively unknown, were fabulous. She relaxed again in her chair, laying her head back and closing her eyes. She waited for the music to change her mood and lift her spirits. Instead of waking up with the music, Elizabeth actually dozed off. She woke up to the sound of the loudest song on the CD – ‘Oh Worship the King’. But the music wasn’t what woke her up. A young archeologist was standing in her door way babbling something about a ‘major find’ and that she must come with them at once.
Elizabeth blinked her eyes several times, trying not to appear too much like a very tired grandmother who hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in all the years since her husband died.
“What have you found?” Elizabeth asked.
“Well, we don’t know what we have found; we just know it is a major find,” the young man replied.
‘Please refresh my memory as to your name, and exactly what it is that you do,’ Elizabeth said as she walked toward the door.
“I’m Archie Wilcox. I’ve been here since before you got here; and, I am sure this is a major find,” the young man repeated excitedly as sweat popped out on his forehead.
‘Well, Mr. Wilcox, lead the way,’ she said.
“Call me Archie Mrs. Newton,” Archie said. “And be careful. The path over to the excavation site is pretty rocky. You don’t have that brittle bone disease do you? I can’t have you falling and breaking a bone, but you just have to come and see this and tell us what to do.”
“But Archie,’ Elizabeth said, ‘I am not supposed to tell anybody what to do. I just look at artifacts and relics, try to place them in a particular time period, and authenticate them as something likely to have originated in a particular place.’
‘Well, I know that. But we all also know that you were your husband’s assistant for years. He said he couldn’t do anything without you, and that you knew much more than he did. He wrote that in the front of all his books. Now no one here knows what to do, so we need you to come and see.’
Listening to Archie’s excited speech Elizabeth decided that it probably was a very good idea that she ‘go and see this major find’. She followed along as briskly as she could behind Archie while being careful not to fall and break a bone, because she did indeed have that ‘brittle bone disease’ that Archie had enquired about. Archie noticed she was walking carefully over the rocky ground, so he slowed his pace and offered her his arm to steady her in case she tripped.
When they reached the excavation site, the small crew was clustered together staring at a hole dug by a small back hoe. The back hoe was still idling and the noise was quite irritating.
‘Archie,’ Elizabeth questioned, ‘No one was excavating an archeological site with a back hoe were there?’
‘No mam, certainly not, well – not exactly,’ Archie said. ‘This is what happened. We think there was an old Christian church way over there,’ he said while pointing to the south. ‘We thought nothing was over here where the back hoe is. The back hoe driver was really just going to drag the bucket over the sand to even the ground out a little. We were thinking of moving the tents over here. Anyway – he decided to make a little bank of dirt behind where we want to set the tents – so he started to dig down a little – and that’s when he found it.’
“Found what?’ Elizabeth asked again.
“The major find!’ Archie said, ‘It is right here – look!’
Elizabeth looked into the shallow hole dug by the back hoe. At first glance she saw nothing; then she saw what appeared to be a corner of a metal box. The back hoe had apparently come down just over the corner of the box, and pulled part of it out of the dirt. It had also punched some holes in the side of the box.
It was too late to dig around it carefully and remove it from the sand with as little damage as possible.
‘Well, Archie, it looks like a box made of some sort of metal or metal and wood, but being so shallow it is likely a recent artifact,’ Elizabeth said.
‘That is what we thought at first,’ Archie said excitedly, ‘but if you go a little closer – you can see that it has writing on the box. Some of it I think is ancient Babylonian. But it also has an inscription in what appears to be ancient Greek. My Greek isn’t too good, but several of us read Greek, and we all think it says something like ‘enclosed in this box you will find the eye witness accounts of people who saw Jesus Christ do miracles, die on a Roman cross, be buried in a rich man’s tomb, rise up from the dead in three days, and ascend to heaven leaving us with His promise that this same Jesus will come again.’
Elizabeth thought carefully before she spoke. She finally said, ‘If we find those eye witness accounts in the box, and authenticate the age of the material on which it is written, then this will indeed be a major find. Let’s go a little closer and see what we can do. Since the box is punctured, we can’t leave it out here in the ground while we wait for someone with more expertise and authority.’
Hearing her words the crew immediately sprang into action. She was always amazed at how speedily the youthful could move when properly motivated. They attacked the box with dry brushes, quickly brushing the sand from the exposed part of the box, and digging around and under the rest of the box. It was soon free from the ground and slid onto a canvas sheet to make moving it easier.
‘So far so good,’ Elizabeth said to herself. Aloud to her work crew she said, ‘Let’s get it into my office area. There is a large table I use for my lab, and it has excellent lighting.’
Elizabeth had to admit it. Her heart was pounding. She was getting excited. This really might be a major archeological find. While such finds were not necessary to authenticate the Bible, they certainly did stir up publicity. However, she knew the box and its contents were already subject to controversy because of the way it was discovered, who discovered it, and how it was handled after it was unearthed. Oh well, she had no control over any of that. Once it was discovered, there was nothing to do but proceed. The box would not have survived outside for the night. Nothing left outside was there in the morning, and that was with guards constantly patrolling the area. Some of the items that ‘disappeared’ were definitely Christian, and those taking them may have had religious motivation to destroy any trace of Christianity in Iraq. Other thieves were just looking for something to sell. Either way, the box would have most certainly vanished before morning. Elizabeth was certain she had no choice in removing the box from its original discovery site and moving it indoors.
The next thought was that she had no great company of Christian archeology professors to give credibility to her explanation of what had transpired in locating the box and removing it from its original site. She assessed the crew as enthusiastic, but inexperienced and probably not a single advanced degree among them.
Still, this was exciting. The only thing to do was attempt to open the box and see what was inside. If it was still sealed, they could have x-rayed the contents and decided a course of action from there, but that was not the case. They would open the box as cautiously and carefully as possible, photograph every step in their procedure, and just go from there. Chances were there was nothing significant in the box anyway. This was a very non-productive site to begin with. That was why the inexperienced crew was operating on their own.
The box was quickly delivered to her lab/office and placed on the table. Elizabeth took a deep breath, and decided to take another one while she decided exactly how to proceed. She had spent her entire life masquerading as a bubble head who only got by on her husband’s coat tails. This had saved her countless difficulties. Only a few close friends knew she was actually a very capable and articulate person when she had to be.
‘Well Elizabeth,’ she said to herself, ‘I guess this is one of those times when you just have to make a decision and go forward.’
‘How many of you have cameras?’ Elizabeth asked. ‘Please get them and photograph everything as we proceed. Now, who doesn’t have a camera? I want you to use mine. The photographs will be mine. The memory card and the photographs on it will be totally mine. I will get a copy to you as soon as possible, and each of us will have the right to use the photos as we want to. Does anyone agree to that?’
A young woman stepped forward and held out her hand for the camera. ‘My name is Kelly Green, and I would be glad to take the photographs for you. I would like a copy of them as soon as possible, and we will both have full rights to the photographs, as long as whatever we do doesn’t stop the use of the photographs by the other one. Agreed?’
Elizabeth said firmly, ‘Yes, agreed.’
‘Video cameras anyone?’ she asked.
The answers to that question were ‘no, not really,’ ‘battery not charged’, ‘no tape,’ ‘lighting to bad anyway,’ and things like that. Disappointed but not surprised, Elizabeth said, ‘Let’s get busy’.
Elizabeth knew they should wait. She knew they should call for a well known crew, better equipment, and probably have the box transported to a better facility immediately. But there was a nagging thought in the back of her mind that they must proceed immediately and document everything as well as possible.
Archie was looking at the box through magnification, looking for how the box was originally sealed. She watched his face, looking for a sign that he had located a way into the box. She didn’t have to wait long. Archie saw the seal about the same time as some of the other students. With a trembling hand, Elizabeth reached toward the seal on the box. She barely touched the box when the lid cracked open.
‘Now listen,’ Elizabeth heard herself say in an authoritative manner, ‘the seal was apparently gone long ago. We may have nothing in here but dust. If something is in the box, it must be handled with extreme caution.’ As her hand reached for the box, she said silently to herself, ‘And with speed. Whatever you do, you have to do it fast.’
When Elizabeth’s hand touched the box to open it, it literally fell apart, as if it had only held together until someone was available to read what was written therein.
The box contained copper sheets. Elizabeth would have expected them to be rolled up, but instead they were lying flat. There was a large stack, sheet after sheet of copper.
Staring at the first page of the copper manuscript Elizabeth’s first thought was, ‘This will be easy to translate if all the pages look this good.’
A quick glance at the first page of the manuscript told Elizabeth that the top half of the page was in Greek and the bottom half was in Babylonian. ‘This is great,’ she thought. ‘We have an immediate comparison of the information, and if part of one page is damaged, we will be able to get the information from the other part of the page. Fabulous, just fabulous.’
Trying to keep the excitement from her voice she said, ‘Everyone take a few camera shots of page one of the manuscript. Then Archie, why don’t you see if you can pick it up without damaging it. If it seems too fragile to move, we will have to wait.’
When everyone was finished with the photographs Archie carefully slid his hand under the first page of the manuscript and carefully began to move it. It seemed to be quite solid, so he carefully moved it onto the table.
Quickly, each copper page was photographed in the box, photographed being removed from the box, and placed in order on the table. Then everything was photographed laid out in the order in which it had been removed from the box.
Elizabeth had an almost overwhelming desire to stop everything and begin to translate the copper manuscript, but she had an even more overwhelming sense of urgency to take photographs and get them out of Iraq and into the hands of credible witnesses, and into safety. She had a terrible feeling that the copper manuscript itself would never make it out of Iraq, much less into the hands of the scientific community.
As they finished removing and photographing the copper manuscript, Elizabeth began to give instructions to her assistants. ‘I want to make certain that each of you has a full set of photographs. Put hour hands up if you need a copy of photographs.’ The few who did not have cameras raised their hands.’
‘Alright,’ Elizabeth said, share as quickly as you can with those who didn’t have a camera. If you used film, have it developed as quickly as possible. Now we only have to decide what to do with the box and copper sheets. Any suggestions?’
Archie said, ‘I think there is no safe place. We may as well lock it up in the safest place we have here and concentrate on getting the photos out to people outside Iraq. Someone will contact us back by tomorrow I’m sure. If we can just keep it from ‘disappearing’ until then, we might have a chance to get it out of the country.’
Elizabeth said, ‘If we still have it tomorrow, it will probably be taken into custody by the Iraqi government, which is Moslem, and has no love for the Christians, whether those in the present or those in the past. In their hands it will either be destroyed or stored out of sight. No scientist, Christian or otherwise, will ever have the opportunity to study it. That is why the photographs are so important. That is why we have to get the photos out of Iraq as quickly as possible. I want each of you to send your digital photo’s to as many recipients as you can think of as quickly as your computer will let you send it. It will be all over the news by tomorrow, and no one will ever be able to cover up the existence of the copper sheets. Now, when they are translated, they may be proven a hoax, but we will never know unless we are able to translate them. So, get busy.’
As the students quickly began to leave, Elizabeth said, ‘Not you Archie, I need you to help me with one more thing.’
‘Sure,’ said Archie. ‘What did you have in mind?’
Waiting until she was sure everyone had left the room Elizabeth said, ‘We’re going to hide the box and the copper manuscript, and act like they were stolen. We need one more person. Who can we get?’
Archie gave Elizabeth a surprised look. ‘I thought you were a grandmother.’ He said. ‘Grandmothers don’t steal ancient artifacts.’
‘We aren’t stealing it. We are hiding it for safe keeping,’ Elizabeth countered. ‘All these photographs will prove it exists. Assuming there is something in the copper manuscript worth publicizing and analyzing, this will stir up enough interest so no one will be able to hide them away for generations before they are authenticated and studied. You know as well as I do that the chances of getting the box and manuscript to any open minded scientists or laboratories are slim to none the way things stand. If we can secure them somewhere, the time will come when they can be studied. The world will demand it. Now, we need one more person. How trustworthy is the back hoe driver?’
“Mrs. Newton, you are talking about stealing something that may be priceless, and you want someone trustworthy to help you?”
“I already told you, we aren’t stealing it. We are hiding it for safe keeping. And yes! I need someone to help me. Now what about the back hoe driver?’
‘He’ll go for it. His name is Jim Hensley, and I would trust him with anything. Since he dug it up, he thinks he has an extra stake in it anyway. Where do you think we should hide it?’
Somewhere on the dig that has already been excavated. I know they will look all over where this was just dug up, and they may even find something even better. But I have a feeling this box really is going to be a major find. I don’t want the world to miss it.’
‘OK, I’ll go get Jim. Do you need any help boxing it up some way?”
‘Probably, yes. I will stay with it right here in this room while you go get Jim. Then I have an ice chest made for the dessert that it should fit right into. It is supposed to be water tight when properly sealed. We will put it in the ice chest, and then bury it.’
When Archie left in search of Jim, Elizabeth sat at her desk and hurriedly uploaded the photos into her computer. Then she emailed them to her children and a few friends along with instructions to have them printed immediately and stored in a safe place. She had done that before, but never in such volume. Wondering what was keeping Archie and Jim, she thought about going in search of the ice chest and leaving the copper sheets alone, but decided against it. Instead she decided to email the photos to photoflash.com and have prints made and sent to her post office box in the United States. Just as she was finishing, Archie and Jim arrived. On the spur of the moment Elizabeth did one more thing. She took the diskette out of her camera and replaced it with a blank, hiding the small disk in an inner pocket in her lightweight field jacket.
‘Hello Jim’, she said. ‘I’m Elizabeth Newton. Did Archie fill you in on what we want done?’
“Yes mam,’ Jim said. ‘And I have an idea. I brought my personal GPS so we can bury the box, get the position, and never have to worry about remembering where we put it. It is one of the really expensive gadgets. We should be able to place its location within less than 2 feet. I actually already have a place to put it. There is a place just inside the parameter of the main excavation sight. It has been seriously studied. We have dug holes, gone over it with all sorts of equipment, including Geiger counters, so the likelihood of any re-excavation there is very slim. I think we will have to fill in the hole by hand – so you don’t need a back hoe for that.’
“I wasn’t planning on having you dig a hole to bury it,’ Elizabeth said. ‘I wanted you to move the back hoe to a different location, and make several false possible sites. The real site is going to be far away from our fake sites.’
‘OK. Good idea. What do we do first?’ Archie asked.
‘Well, let’s get it boxed up. Jim, you help me put it back in the box, and let’s photograph everything as we put it back in the box. It just kills me to have to box it back up, but I don’t see a better way to do it. Archie, you go get the ice chest. If it doesn’t fit in the ice chest, I don’t know what we will do. It’s just a big white chest in the storage area of this building. You shouldn’t have any trouble locating it.’
Archie sprinted to the storage area while Jim and Elizabeth started returning the copper pages to their original box. Each page was placed in the box by Elizabeth and photographed by Jim. It didn’t take that long. Archie returned with the ice chest at just the right time. They carefully placed the entire manuscript along with the pieces of the box into the ice chest. The inscription that had been on top of the box was the final piece to be put into the chest. The box was a snug fit, but it did fit into the ice chest. Elizabeth double checked the seal after the box was placed inside, and the two young men picked up the box and started for the door. The three of them allowed Jim to lead the way because he had a hiding place in mind. The box was quickly put in the ground and covered up. Jim set the area with his hand held GPS, and each one wrote down the coordinates. They would worry about storing the coordinates in a safe place later. Now they had to set up a false hiding place or two, or even three.
Jim went to the back hoe and started it up. Archie and Elizabeth went back into her office and went back out carrying a big box and acting like it was heavy. Elizabeth felt absolutely ridiculous, but she didn’t mention that. She knew the work was serious, and she hoped they really could lay a false trail as to where they actually hidden the box. The back hoe was so loud she was sure it would rouse the entire camp. She also noted that there were no security guards visible, which might explain how easily things disappeared at night. The back hoe dug one hole about six feet deep in a pretty obvious place. They pretended to bury something. Then they walked away. Then they met again, with still another box and walked around pretending to bury that box.
After a few hours of such clandestine behavior, daylight was coming and each of them went to try and catch a few hours sleep before morning. Elizabeth looked over the table where the copper manuscript had been recently. She automatically started to wipe the table down when she noticed several fragments of copper. She estimated that two fragments were more than two square inches and another was close to that size. She grabbed all the fragments and stuck them in her jacket pocket along with the camera disk. Although she was expecting no one in particular, Elizabeth was fairly certain someone would have heard about the copper sheets by morning, and visitors would result. Deciding to be overly cautious, she took the copper fragments and the camera card out of her pocket and began to look for a good hiding place. Finally she settled on hiding them in her makeup bag. The powder in her compacts were in a removable metal container. The compacts themselves were made to be reused. She took the powder out of the compact and put one copper fragment under it. Two other fragments were hidden the same way. The camera card went into the back of her checkbook. Smaller fragments went into the lid of her asthma inhaler.
‘I know this is ridiculous, but how can I be sure?’ she said to herself. ‘If I’m being ridiculous I’ll laugh at myself when I get home. But, I am just almost positive that something is going to happen!’
And she was right. She had barely gotten into bed and dozed off when an assistant woke her. Iraqi officials were on site – and wanted to know where the major archeological find was right then.
Elizabeth had to admit she was frightened. In spite of US and coalition forces doing a good job in Iraq, there were still many human rights violations. She knew there really didn’t have to be a reason to give her a hard time, or even put her in jail.
The next hours went by so fast and furious that Elizabeth only remembered them as a blur later. Her story that the box was not where she left it was not readily believed. However, the fragile looking woman could hardly have hidden the box by herself, and the students all seemed to have sound alibis that they didn’t have anything to do with it. They were all shocked and disappointed that the box was missing.
Authorities did attempt to confiscate all cameras and video equipment and even some computers that obviously had the photos on them. Elizabeth and most of the other students had hidden the photos in old files on the computer – or deleted them all together after emailing them to friends. Some had even taken photographs with their camera phones and sent out those pictures.
Then something strange happened. A patrol of US troops in Strykers came in from one direction. They had never seen Strykers in the area before, but there they were today. Then completely unexpectedly, another Stryker force came in from the opposite direction. They were just out on maneuvers and happened to be in the area.
The commanders came in to chat, and discovered what was going on. There was no open confrontation, but Elizabeth was always certain the Stryker forces were sent from God on that day, and that the unintentional show of force had diffused a potentially deadly situation.
The Iraqi’s suddenly shifted their aggressive ‘investigation’ to a simple ‘we came to close this excavation’ because ‘it is a waste of money to seek Christian artifacts in a land that is only Moslem.’
Everyone was told to leave immediately. They weren’t even allowed to take most of their belongings. The Strykers escorted the entire group out of the area and back into the green zone. Most of them were on a plane out of Iraq in less than 24 hours. Names and address were exchanged, but no one was really expecting a reunion any time soon. Kelly Green put her address in Elizabeth’s book.
‘Make sure I can read that. I will mail you a camera card with everything copied onto it as soon as I get home.’ Elizabeth wrote a note beside Kelly’s address saying that it was agreed the photographs would be shared between them freely. Kelly initialed Elizabeth’s notation.
Everyone had their own photographs somewhere, and they were anxious to begin personally translating the manuscript pages, or obtaining help in translations.
Elizabeth was no exception. She wanted get started, and working from her own home was going to be a bonus. As she got on the plane to leave Iraq she thought, ‘As excited as I am about translating these copper sheets I think I am just as excited about seeing my children and grandchildren.
Three days later, Elizabeth was home at her own desk. Two of the older grandchildren were visiting for the night. There had been a big family dinner when she returned. Of course her three children had received copies of the photographs of the copper manuscript. She had also copied the photos on the camera card to Kelly Green just as she had promised. In addition to making sure Kelly Green had a copy of the camera card containing the photographs, Elizabeth had sent a copy and a computer memory stick to Conner Marshall who had recruited Elizabeth to work on the dig in the first place. Conner was a family friend as well as a professional colleague. He and Ethan had worked together when Conner was a college student and they had become friends. He currently worked with a group called Christian Messianic Jews Archeological Alliance or CMJAA. In addition to mailing the material to Conner, Elizabeth had had a long phone conversation with him. His opinion was that the copper manuscript would turn out to be a hoax. ‘Elizabeth,’ he had told her, ‘You do whatever you want to, but do make a point to keep our name out of it as much as possible. In the unlikely event that we are ever able to retrieve the manuscript and verify its authenticity, then we will do whatever we can to publicize its discovery. In the meantime, just be cautious about how you proceed.’ Elizabeth understood his reluctance to pay much attention to an alleged ancient manuscript that no one with real archeological credentials had actually even seen. Her personal opinion was not going to count for much in the archeological or scientific community. She really didn’t care. She had seen it and her gut feeling was that it was definitely authentic. And, even more thankfully, she was free to proceed in her translation unencumbered by any approvals from CMJAA.
Within her family, Elizabeth’s children had talked about translating the manuscript themselves, but had ultimately decided to just let mom do it. They knew she would be able to put in the necessary hours to do a good job in the shortest time possible. They also had confidence in their mother’s ability because languages were more than a hobby to her. She had easily learned several ancient languages before she and Ethan had been married. In order to help Ethan she had worked on increasing her knowledge. When Ethan had died, she had started learning modern languages from Rosetta Stone courses. She had found that the more languages she learned, the more easily she learned another one. It was how she had coped with the first few years without Ethan. She definitely was qualified to translate the copper manuscript.
Elizabeth decided to put her youngest daughter Melody in charge of the copper fragments she had brought home with her. Melody was a professional student and a teacher at a local college. She had degrees in half the subjects available. Elizabeth thought Melody would eventually find something to do with archeology as a career, but in the mean time she had a quick interest in just about anything. She also had connection everywhere. She would know how to go about getting some sort of approximate date on the age of the copper fragments. Whether or not they could even be dated was not within Elizabeth’s area of expertise.
Elizabeth had enlarged copies of the photos made from her camera card so they would be easier to read and translate. Copies of that size cost a small fortune, but when she sat down at her desk that evening to translate she saw photographs that were actually a little larger than the copper pages of the manuscript itself. She took up the photograph of the first copper sheet, put it under her large magnifying lamp, and began to read in Greek and translate it to English.
The first line told her the name of the man who had written this account. His name was Joel.
‘Joel,’ Elizabeth thought. “His name was Joel.” Then looking at the page before her she said aloud, “Well Joel, what do you have to tell me and the rest of the world?’ Then she began to translate, carefully writing down as exact as possible the words written on each line of the copper manuscript.