Wadi Qumran, West Bank of the Dead Sea, Israel
February 21, 1947 – 12:35p.m.
~ 80 years ago
"J'uma! Come on. That stubborn lamb is getting farther up the hill!" Muhammed Ed-Dhib shouts as he turns back and motions with his arm for his cousin to hurry. His cousin is scrawny and having a hard time keeping up with him. The flock is being unruly today. Maybe it's the unusually hot weather or the lack of water this morning, but this is the second time a lamb has run off alone. "You know Kalil cannot watch the whole flock for more than an hour by himself without freaking out!"
Life as a Bedouin shepherd is a hard one. Life as a Bedouin in general is hard. Living nomadic and roaming the Syrian Desert region to scrounge a living off of the land is harsh enough without losing two sheep in one day. If he does not return with the full flock he will likely be punished.
The hills are yellowish, sandblasted, and bare, with narrow, winding gorges between them. They are also scalding hot and his hands are burning from climbing. He is the faster climber by far, but it seems J'uma is not taking it seriously. He takes a moment to look around while his cousin catches up. Something unusual catches his eye. A hole towards the top of the next hill. Not a hole from a chunk of stone fallen out, but a dark hole of a cavern.
He hears the nearby baying of the lamb he is after, but something about that strange hole seems to peak his curiosity. He can't shake the feeling. "Hey, J'uma come ere." He says to the skinny teen boy who finally scrambles to the hilltop beside him. "Look." He says, pointing to the hole.
"Ah ha. A hole? ... So what?" His cousin looks at him, eyebrows raining in puzzlement.
"Looks like a cave."
"Again. So what?" His cousin questions again. He hears the lamb. "Look we're about to catch the little trouble maker now!" He says, pointing to where Ed-Dhib just heard the noise too.
"I'm gonna check it out!" Ed-Dhib says excitedly. Before his cousin can object again he is half sliding half slipping down the current hill towards the next one. He climbs faster than ever now and it takes only a few moments to reach the top. He peaks his head into the hole. It smells musty and dusty, but he can't see a thing. Against his better judgement—as the area is known for its share of viper dens—he sticks his arm down into it, pressing his whole body flat against the side of the hill.
He stretches to the limit but his body is just too bulky to get further into it. He is shoulder deep and his arm painfully extended downwards when he feels the cool touch of something smooth. He smiles. I knew it! Treasure! He thinks. "J'uma! Hey come here! I think I found something!" Whether it is genuine curiosity or a way to shut Ed-Dhib up, J'uma comes up the hill. "I can't reach but maybe you're skinny enough."
With a humph J'uma takes a turn. He reaches in the same way Ed-Dhib had, but doesn't get any further. "Hold my belt, Ed. Let me try something else." Ed-Dhib obliges and J'uma manages to squeeze both his shoulders through the hole, and bends over. "Hey, you're right! There's something down here! Jars of some kind!"
"Yes. I knew it! Can you tell what they are?" ed-Dhib asks.
"No… can't reach." His strained reply comes. "Lower me more." So ed-Dhib lets his cousin's belt slack a little and takes a step forward. "That's it!" A scuffling sound comes out of the hole. "Okay. Pull!" So he does and out comes his cousin, holding a ceramic jar.
"What's inside?" ed-Dhib asks in wonder. They open it together. ed-Dhib's face sags with disappointment, but J'uma's gets a smile. Rolled tightly together and bound by leather cord are several scrolls that look really, really old.
"Maybe they're worth something! Let's go try n sell em at the market next time we caravan!" J'uma says excitedly. ed-Dhib grunts his reply and looks back towards camp. A wetness on the tip of his fingers draws his attention down. The little lamb has come back and is licking his fingers playfully. Oh well… at least the flock will return home whole.
Two weeks later he and J'uma are indeed trying to peddle the scrolls to anyone who will bother to look at them. So far there's been zero luck. Who would wanna buy a bunch of old scrolls anyway… Specially since there's things like I don't know… FOOD that's more of a necessity. He turns to J'uma about to tell him to give up and just head back to their caravan. J'uma isn't there!
Ed-Dhib usually walks around with his head in the clouds and doesn't pay attention to much, but this is the first time he's lost a person! He backtracks and asks a few of the merchants that they had spoken to if they'd seen him. They just shushed him out of their stalls and were no help at all. "This is impossible." He mutters. He continues wandering for another ten minutes when he hears J'uma shouting.
"Ed! Come on." J'uma shouts as he runs up next to him. "This sheikh I was showing the scrolls mentioned I should try and sell them to Kando."
"Kando? The antiques merchant?" Ed-Dhib clarifies. This might just be the break they were looking for. Khalil Eskander Shahin or "Kando" is a merchant but also an expert in old antiques and books and such. "But Kando's known to low-ball his customers.
"I'd say it's either that; or we can give up and use these pages as kindling for the next campfire, cause I don't see anyone else taking an interest."
For once he might be right… He thinks. "Alright, lets go."
It only takes a few minutes to get to the eccentric old geezer's shop and even before they opened the jar to show him the contents, the old man is inspecting it; mumbling about how he could tell how old it was based on this and that. When he finally does open it and see the scrolls his face lights up. He removes them so very carefully and handles them with as much care as a mother would a new born baby.
After another moment of studying them through his extremely thick glasses he turns. "You can see the excitement in his eyes and almost hear his breathing getting heavy with sheer anticipation. Then all at once the demeanor fades. "I'll give you seven pounds."
"What?! Seven pounds?" Ed-Dhib exclaims, astonished at how little he is offering. "These things look ancient. Gotta be worth at least twenty!"
The old man simply scowls, "Seven pounds or you can take em and leave." He says stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest.
J'uma elbows Ed-Dhib in the side as if to say 'Come on cousin. Take it!'
"Fine. Seven pounds, but just so you know. There's a lot more than that where those came from… and that information will cost you a whole lot more." The deal is struck and the old man plinks the seven coins into Ed'Dhib's hand and the two young men leave the shop with enough money to go get a drink.
"You have to come take a look at them right away! They are the find of the century! Maybe even EVER!" Kando shouts with pure elation. John C. Trever looks down at the phone, contemplating.
"And you're positive it's not forged, or stolen from a synagogue?" He asks once again.
"Yes, yes. They were a couple of dirt covered shepherds. No way could they replicate this kind of thing, especially the content of them. Written in Hebrew, but also Latin and even some Aramaic!" Comes the reply.
"Very well. I'll be on the next plane there. DO NOT show or tell anyone else. Do I make myself clear?!" He warns.
"Erm… Yes, yes of course. Perfectly." Click.
John hangs up the phone before any more can be said. Contemplating for a moment he absently rubs the solid gold ring with the symbol of the knights Templar encrusted into a large sapphire on his right middle finger. Hmm… The Father General may need to know about this… He dials another number and when it connects he relays the news he's just heard and also informs his superior on the other line that he intends to investigate the matter personally.
The dust trail coming his way can be seen for a mile before the jeep makes the rise to the top of the mesa that Ed'Dhib is currently watching his flock at. His heart beats in nervous anticipation. Our people never get visitors. I wonder how long it took my family to tell em where I was.
The jeep parks a good ways off and out steps an American with his slicked back hair and wire frame glasses. The man approaches with his hand extended for Ed-Dhib to shake. He does. "I'm John Trever with the American Schools of Oriental Research. How do you do?"
"Mohammed Ed-Dhib." He says in the best English he can muster.
"Mr. Dhib. It is come to my attention that you have come across some scrolls." Immediately Ed-Dhib grows suspicious. "I don't know what you know about them, Mr. Dhib, but they are of significant archeological importance to the whole world."
"I didn't know. Couldn't read a word of it." He says truthfully.
"Ah, I suspected as much." He says as he signals for another man to approach from the car. This man is holding a leather briefcase. "I am prepared to pay you handsomely if you would be so kind as to lead me to the area where you found them." John says, intertwining his fingers in front of his handsome suit. Ed-Dhib notices a large gold ring on his right middle finger.
This guy sure seems loaded… "How much?" He dares ask.
A smile cracks on the American's face. "Ten thousand. American." He motions for the man beside him to open the case and indeed there are stacked mint condition $20 bills.
That's more like it! So with that Ed-Dhib agrees and immediately jumps in the back seat of the jeep with the two men. He tells them the hills are only a few miles away and off they go.
A few minutes later the jeep crunches to a stop at the base of the very hill that two weeks ago Ed-Dhib and J'uma found the scrolls. "We found em inside that hole at the top!" Ed-Dhib points to the small black hole in the side of the rock face.
"Very good." John says with a quick glance over at his companion. With a quick shuffle the other man draws a small pistol and places it to the side of Ed-Dhib's neck. He cringes and throws both hands up in the air. "Take the money and leave. If you speak to another soul about our little discovery here I will have you and your family shot to death. Do I make myself clear?" He finishes, his voice now cold and sinister. Ed-Dhib nods and obeys. He grabs the briefcase and runs. As fast as he can away from those two bad men. He knows they are up to no good but is in no position at all to stop them.
"Very good work." John says to the other American. "Call the Father General… Tell him we found something right up his alley." He chuckles as he watches the shepherd run before turning back to the cavern at the top of the hill. "And tell him to send a team of archeologists. We have a lot of digging to do"