Sitting at his family’s dining room table, Mike Jerrod savored the melting butter on his piping hot yeast roll. It was his first All American Thanksgiving in years and with the TV on and the Dallas Cowboys stomping Tampa Bay, Mike reveled being back in Texas. Of course in a few days he’d start getting itchy to get back in the field, but for the moment he was in heaven.
Seven thousand miles east it was nearly midnight in Jerusalem and Itzhak Zukermann was pissed off. Once more he’d lost track of time and he was late for a party at the home of his girlfriend’s family and now Miriam was pissed at him. He saved his files, shut down his laptop, grabbed his jacket, turned out the lights and locked the door. During the short drive across Jerusalem he sorted through the sources of his irritation: First of all he loved his work, but this latest project for the IAA was overwhelming. If he were rational about it he would ask for help, but in his gut he felt that the entire thing was an elaborate fraud and a colossal waste of time and resources. Then he found himself admiring the work that went into the fabrication. Whether this was the grandiose fantasy of some post Exilic blowhard or the product of some more modern conspiracy of Maronite and fundamentalist Christians, it was well done. Worst of all he hated himself for getting ahead of himself. They hadn’t even completed the collation of the scrolls and he was already jumping to conclusions. All of this was compounded by the time and energy that dragged him away from his girlfriend. He was unsure of himself, off balance and out of control and he hated that feeling.
He turned into the driveway of Miriam’s family home and parked his car next to an ancient gnarled olive tree. The party had spilled out into the front yard and there was a baby goat roasting over the fire pit. He slipped his keys into the pocket of his jacket and closed his fingers around the large midnight blue velvet jewelry box. At least he was prepared to placate Miriam. Bearing a glass of wine her father was the first to greet him, “You’re just in time. We’re about to pull this goat off the spit.”
After their embrace, Itzhak accepted the wine and pulled the box out of his pocket and opened it to reveal a Bar Kochba shekel on a fine silver chain and two simple gold bands, “Tradition says we need to sign a Shetar haT'na'im, but with your permission I would simply ask for Miriam’s hand in marriage.”
Like Itzhak, Miriam’s family were all Sabra and Judaism was much more a national identity than a religious practice, but her father was nonetheless pleased that Itzhak choose to pay token respect to tradition, “It’s about time. She and her mother were making plans to have you abducted. Well don’t just stand there Zukermann, go inside and propose to the girl.”
Itzhak did as he was told and all was forgiven. The women gathered round to admire the antique shekel on Miriam’s neck and the men surrounded Itzhak to shake his hand and slap him on the back. Music and dancing followed and as the party carried on into the wee hours of the morning, not one scrap of baby goat remained on any bone.
Over the past six weeks Ari’s irascibility had been aggravated by an order of magnitude. These scrolls consumed the majority of his lab’s resources. The eleven olive wood cylinders contained 254 brass scrolls separated by matching sets of papyrus scrolls; all of these artifacts had to be sampled and processed to verify metallurgy and carbon dates. The volume of material brought all other work to a standstill. That in itself would have sufficient to agitate Ari’s temperament, but it was compounded by the idiots from Shin Bet (Shabak) who’d stove piped the entire operation to “maintain national security.” The obstacles presented by the politics of academia were bad enough but these “need to know” security politics were beyond the pale. The standard protocols of archeological investigation were layered with “chain of evidence” protocols from criminal investigation and every person involved was compelled to sign nondisclosure agreements that invoked criminal penalties for violation. It was no wonder that Ari had to bite his tongue during the weekly meetings to report and review the progress of what had been labeled “The Project.”
Twelve people sat at the table in the locked conference room: Ari and the heads of his labs, Dorfmann, the Director of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, Itzhak Zukermann and the three midlevel idiots from Shin Bet. Ari was grateful that his boss chaired the meetings because Dorfmann was a no nonsense administrator who hated meetings of any kind and he restricted conversation to simple questions and answers. He served as a buffer between Ari and Shin Bet. When Itzhak reported that he had finished his preliminary translations of forty scrolls and believed that he had collated all 254 scrolls, Meir Olmert, the head Shin Bet idiot and cousin of the new Prime Minister, asked, “Why not bring in more translators from the museum, wouldn’t that expedite the translations?”
Dorfmann answered his question with a question, “Have you ever witnessed a debate in the Knesset?”
“Many times,” he replied, to which Dorfmann added, “To my mind there are perhaps a dozen people who are qualified to translate Modern Hebrew from Ktav Ivri, but they are very of different minds and when they get together over the same script the result often makes a Knesset debate seem genteel by comparison.”
Ari coughed to stifle his laughter as his boss continued, “In time they will all be brought into “The Project” to review Zukermann’s work, but for the moment Itzhak will do the preliminary translation.”
So it went for weeks on end until Itzhak announced that he had completed his translation. Rather than bringing any relief to Ari’s agitation, the resulting conundrum exacerbated his state of mind: That the scrolls came into Jerusalem illegally was, in his opinion, a minor technicality. That they might be contemporary proof of the existence of the legendary kingdoms of David and Solomon was an argument that would go on forever. Ari’s dilemma was more personal. In deference to Jean Levy, he had illegally communicated bits and pieces of the progress on “The Project” using burn phones, but now that Zukermann had completed his task, Ari faced a simple moral choice that might put him in prison: Should he give the translation to Jean?
He put it off for as long as he could stand it until the on last day of August in 2007, only a few weeks until the High Holy Days, he looked into the mirror as he was shaving and carefully considered his options. It would be difficult but not impossible to get the translation file out of the building. There was no sure way he could send the translation from anywhere in Israel undetected. He couldn’t leave the country without arousing the suspicions of Shin Bet. His connections in the Knesset were no match for Meir Olmert’s blood relation to the Prime Minister. He had a family and grandchildren and three more years before he planned to retire, which was a very powerful argument not to risk conviction and imprisonment. On the other hand it seemed a sin of omission to deny Michael Jerrod the knowledge of his find. Ari Weiner was not a particularly religious man but he understood and deeply appreciated the meaning of Yom Kippur and he had no desire to add craven caution to his list of sins on the Day of Atonement.