I cannot begin describe the emotions that washed over me. As an archaeologist, I am adept at imagining whole, thriving communities where others see only rubble and broken rock. I can look at a black smudge on a flat stone and picture clearly the burnt offerings of a priest of the early Hebrew ritual. I can visualize a family in the confines a few scattered rocks that delineate their home, long ago destroyed. So, to have walked upon the parched earth of Qumran and to have had visit me the startling clear image of the community in which Jesus lived! Well, it was too much. It took me quite a few minutes to slow the pounding of my heart and the trembling of my hands.
When I was finally calmed enough to explore, I found myself entering a cave. I had presumed that my colleague was right behind me but, when I turned and looked into the dusty shadows quickly engulfing me, I realized I was very much alone.
How cool and dry the air was in that cave! It was the particular dryness and temperature of the air of Qumran that allowed the Scrolls to have survived the better part of two thousand years in such remarkable shape.
It took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The sunlight outside the cave had been blindingly bright. The darkness was, at first, disorienting. But slowly, slowly I could make out shapes and forms. As I stood stock still, I looked around the cave. Something caught my eye far in a corner. I dismissed it as a boulder that had shifted out of its natural place but then, after several minutes when it preyed on my mind, I returned to it.
I was surprised to discover that the cave continued for some ways and what had looked like a nearby object was, in fact, nestled much deeper in the cave. The object I had been in search of turned out to be little more than a pile of sand. And now I found myself facing a fork in the cave.
Which way? Although I assumed both paths had been trod thousands of times by scholars and others, in my imagination I fancied that I was the archaeologist who first came to Qumran. I imagined that I was the first to set foot in these caves after they had remained for hundreds upon hundreds of years undisturbed, since the demise of the Essene community. My senses alive with the thought of such potential for discovery, I chose the fork that led to the right. After a short ways, I came to a pile of rocks that looked as if they had fallen from the side of the cave. Pushing them aside with my hand, my fingers hit something strange, something clearly unlike the surrounding rock.
“What’s this?” I asked myself, drawing an object from amongst the rocks.
Although I couldn’t see clearly in the darkness of the cave, my heart’s pounding told me that I had uncovered something special, something of unique value and worth. Coveting the object dearly, I retraced my steps until I was quickly approaching the mouth of the cave.
There, in the still dim light, I looked at the object I had uncovered. Could it be? No, impossible! But yes, here it was, in my own hands. A notebook! I opened to the first page. There, written in Latin characters, was a name, “Roland”.
“My Lord,” I sighed to myself. “What does it mean?”
Just then, my colleague came to the mouth of the cave. “There you are, Griffin, we thought we’d lost you.”
“Oh no no,” I stammered. “I wasn’t lost. I was just.. just exploring.”
My colleague chuckled. “Never change, will you? Always looking. Well, that’s what makes you such a good archaeologist — and a creative scholar.”
I didn’t mention that luck was an important ingredient to my success, perhaps the most important. One, my lips were parched by the heat and by excitement. Two, we professionals never like to list luck as one of our greatest advantages. After all, isn’t luck what we make it?
But it was luck which brought me to that cave — which brought me to Qumran after all these years. Luck had me imagine something in the sand, something that pointed me on to greater treasures.
I hid that book and held it close to me until I returned home where I could examine it closely. It was only then, in my private study, that I realized that I had discovered not just a great treasure but perhaps the greatest treasure since our Lord had walked the earth — a note-book written by a Roman Guard, a captain who had accompanied Pontius Pilate to Holy Land.
Once I made this discovery, I could not leave the journal alone. When I left my house, I feared for it. I was jittery and uncertain except in its presence. I could no longer lecture effectively. I could not longer contemplate future archaeological digs. I could no longer effectively respond to the questions of parents who wanted to know whether Biblical archaeology sought to “prove” the Bible. My God, I had on my desk at home an artifact written by a man who might have known Jesus, who might have been present at his crucifixion.