"The Hidden Scroll has the feel of Dan Brown set in a much more interesting setting, and from the writing in the first chapter, it's better than Dan Brown's prose too!.....Very intriguing stuff!".....Simon Betterton, author of 'Back to Life".
 

 

This page includes the Prolog and the first two chapters of "From Timna to Mars"

 

MAIN CHARACTERS and EXCERPTS

MAJOR CHARACTERS

Avner Amram - Professor of Archaeology and Electronics

Daphna Amram - Archaeology Specialist. Avner's wife

Menachem Amram - Senior Mossad officer. Avner'sa brother.

Ken Cunningham - Senior CIA officer

Daniel Bianco - Professor of Metalurgy - Rare Earth Elements specialist

The Spider - KGB and SVR Director of USA Operation

MAJOR SUPPORT CHARACTERS

Evgeny Vassilevitz - KGB and SVR official. Also a Mossad double agent.

Sharona Litvak - Senior Mossad field agent

Bernard Krinsky - Senior GRU operative in Boston

Gideon Amram - Technion Professor. Avner's son.

Steve Blackman - Former pilot. Bianco's assistant

Robert Brady - Former astronaut

PROLOG


THE TIMNA VALLEY - 1987

 

The air-conditioned bus parked near an observation site overlooking a valley in Israel's Negev. A mix of foreign and Israeli vacationers stepped out and formed a line along a metal fence at the edge of a cliff.

“This is the Timna valley,” the tour guide explained. “It is 38 miles long with a history of copper mining going back more than 4,000 years. The famous King Solomon pillars were formed by cracks in the hard sandstones. They are .....”

The roar of an Israeli Air Force F-16 Falcon fighter plane flying northward silenced the guide. The vacationers lifted their heads and their eyes followed the path of the aircraft overhead. A sudden explosion at its exhaust nozzle was followed by an object shot up from the Falcon as the plane hurtled toward the valley. A parachute opened. In a deafening sound, the plane crashed on the eastern slope of the basin. Tourists picked up binoculars.

Within minutes, the staccato of an approaching chopper disturbed the silence as it headed to the pilot's landing site. The pilot discarded his parachute and climbed into the rescue aircraft. The chopper lifted and flew northward. A second helicopter landed at the site of the crash.  

“Probably a mechanical failure,” the tour guide said. “At least the pilot is safe.”

 

 

OAHU

 

Two F-16 Falcon fighter planes flew next to each other over the island of Oahu with continuous voice communication between them. They soared over the island like a pair of eagles sweeping over treetops. While flying over the Pacific with no sight of land, the US Air Force pilots became isolated from the real world until a few whales appeared. 

In exercises of attacking a simulated enemy ship, the two planes used a different formation. Roy Kolodny dived toward a floating target in the lead Falcon that Captain Brandon Donovan in the second plane recorded. The first two attempts were unsuccessful. On his third steep dive, Kolodny fired a missile at the simulated enemy ship. Despite Donovan's frantic calls for him to abort the attack, Kolodny’s plane continued its downward path and crashed into the target.

 

Back in the Air Force base, Captain Donovan turned off the projector to stop a video of the crash they had just watched. For a long moment of silence, he studied the stunned audience and finally said: “Roy was the most accomplished pilot in the squadron. I do believe his tragedy was no accident."

 

 

ODESSA

 

Originally, the Odessa security buildings had been built for use by NKVD, Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs. After the organization disbanded in 1954, the complex housed the MVD, the USSR Ministry of Internal Security Affairs and the KGB, the Soviet Committee for State Security.

Evgeny Vassilievitz was a young officer and a rising star of the KGB. Excelling in planning security operations in the Ukrainian city, he was on the Kremlin list of candidates destined to climb up the ranks. In the Ukraine, his Russian roots were known only to his supervisor Ivanov.

At the KGB main hall, field operatives assembled for presenting their year-end regional report to visiting officials from Moscow. 

“Evgeny.” Ivanov lifted his reading glasses and waved from his desk when his assistant entered. “Our Kremlin guys will arrive in a few minutes. Meanwhile, I want to tell you about your new task on a Tunguska discovery.”

“Another sensation-seeking announcement by geologists?”

“They reported a new claim.”

“Will they ever stop?” Evgeny asked. “After 80 years of research in that forsaken Siberian crater, there’s still no consensus on what caused the 1908 explosion and the devastation of 1000 square miles. I don’t believe any of their announcements.”

“Their new discovery may be important this time. The Kremlin wants us to look into it.”

“Again? Are they still interested in the cause of the explosion?”

“Moscow doesn’t care what event created the crater. A meteorite, an exploding volcano, a UFO, or exploding anti-matter. They only want to know the potential impact of the new finding on Soviet security.”

“What did the geologists find?”

“That’s the issue. They……..”

A secretary entered and announced the arrival of the Kremlin visitors.

“We’ll discuss this matter after the meeting.”

Ivanov walked out to greet the two officials.

 

 

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CHAPTER 1 - DAPHNA

 

The Timna Valley                      June, 1987  

The cold days of winter ended early in Jerusalem, but winter never reached southern Israel. Not a single drop of rain was recorded in the Timna valley. Under the scorching sun, the first sirocco wind with its bone-dry air swept over the Negev. A group of college students waited in the lobby of the Eilat Rimonim Hotel for a chartered bus. They had come from prestigious American, European and Israeli universities to volunteer at an archaeological excavation in the Negev. Dressed in army-style khaki slacks and short sleeved shirt, a young woman, not much older than the students, stepped off the bus and joined the group.  

 

From under a wide-brimmed hat to protect her brown hair from the sun and sporting dark sunglasses, Hebrew University Assistant Professor Daphna Amram greeted the students as they entered the Timna copper mine museum. After everyone was seated in the conference room, she walked to the podium.

“I am pleased by your enthusiasm as you start this summer’s dig. Your work may result in a new discovery or a disappointment, in frustration or a new discovery. Your chance of finding significant information will be lower than one in ten or even one in fifty. Somewhat discouraging, but no discovery is too small. If we learn something about life in Timna during the reign of King Solomon over 3000 years ago, then we will have succeeded. Good luck. Enjoy your summer.”

 

On that day, Daphna turned her attention to the adjacent copper mine.

As an amateur historian, she followed the age old disputes between Biblical Archaeology scholars. The maximalists accepted every written detail in the Bible and the minimalists claimed that all biblical events are stories based on legends. She was certain that the truth lied somewhere between them. She remembered a Bible lesson from her high school years. Her teacher had assigned a chapter on Moses that every student had to recite from memory. Years passed since then, but she still remembered the chapter:

“…a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey; a land wherein you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you shall dig copper."

 

For safety reasons, a miner accompanied Daphna. With her camera held by a strap around her neck, she walked along the path that led to dozens of ancient and deserted mine shafts and crevasses on the ground, some too small for an individual miner to enter. She photographed ones which seemed more interesting than others. She glanced at the narrow tunnels dug into the rocky wall on her right searching for one tall enough for her to walk through rather than crawl into.

This is crazy, she thought. How am I to know which one will lead me to  anything from King Solomon’s period?

She stood near one of the mine shafts looking down at its depth wondering how miners entered it.

The miner sensed her interest in that hole.

“I’ve been in many of the shafts,” he said. “But I’ve never found anything beside rocks.”

“Are there any openings large enough to walk through?” she asked him.

“None.” He smiled. “The largest ones are on the ground and can only be entered vertically with the help of a rope. I have one with me.”  

Paused to think about the miner’s suggestion, Daphna stared at him, made a right turn to look at the tunnels on the wall and turned back to inspect another mine shaft in the ground. After a few minutes of hesitation, she refused to consider the rope option and kept searching for an entrance into the adjacent wall. While the miner searched for a large hole in the ground along the valley surface, she gazed up and down the majestic Solomon’s Pillars and took a few pictures. As she squinted at the blinding sun, she found a thin vertical fracture between two pillars some twenty feet above their base.    

“What is that crack?” she asked and started climbing toward a ledge.

“Be careful,” the miner shouted. “The slope has slippery stones. Wait. Let me climb to check the wall.”

Daphna let him pass her and climb to the ridge. He reached the narrow opening between two rocks and inspected its size with his bare hands.   

“Not wide enough for a human of my size. A rock is blocking the entrance.”

“Throw me your rope,” she instructed him.

He threw her one end of his rope and tied the other end around his belt. 

Five minutes later she stood at the narrow opening.

“I think I can squeeze in, if we can move this rock.”

The miner pushed hard to move the blocking stone sideways, but it didn't move. To get a better angle, he placed his feet at a greater distance apart without success, while Daphna walked with caution along the cliff searching for another crack. The miner extended his feet farther until his body was almost horizontal and applied all the strength he could muster. The boulder finally budged slightly. At the sound of the moving rock, Daphna returned to find the exhausted miner lying flat on the floor, smiling.

“Is the opening wide enough now?” he asked.

"I think so.”

Daphna turned on her flashlight and squeezed past the pillar, ignoring all rules of safety and the danger of entering a dark crevice unescorted.

She followed a narrow pathway leading to a small chamber whose floor was covered with cobble stones of different sizes, small pot shards and broken glass lying in the sand. She felt as if she had entered a dense fog. It was a strange phenomenon of ancient history. A sense of excitement kept her walking as she scanned the walls with her flashlight and photographed them. She walked slowly over the stones, looked down and picked up a small shard trying to picture the people who had once been in the cave. Her tingling excitement increased as she forced her mind from visions of ancient events and started to walk faster. Her immediate objective was simply to take a few preliminary samples of shards for evaluation back in her archaeology laboratory. She gathered a few and placed them in her pouch. Suddenly, she slid over a slippery stone and fell down. The flashlight fell between two stones with its beam aimed at the cave's ceiling. Her sense of isolation turned into fear of being lost as she remained lying on the floor. She nervously turned, looked over her shoulder and reassured herself at seeing the brightness of the light beam. 

Her first thought was to call the miner for help, but she soon remembered that the entrance was too narrow for him. She crawled toward the fallen flashlight, picked it up and got up to inspect the bell-shaped limestone walls of the cave and its holes of different shapes apparently carved by ancient visitors or cave dwellers.  Slowly walking with caution along the wall, she sighted a square alcove about four feet from the cave floor. At first glance, it looked like others she’d passed since she entered the chamber. But there was something different about this one. Its square corners were carved into the rock with relatively straight bottom surface. She estimated it to be about twelve inches wide with a height of twelve to fifteen inches.  She scanned its internal space. Nothing.

 

Daphna placed her hand on the bottom surface of the alcove and cleared some of the the accumulated desert sand. The edge of a pottery shard scratched her fingers. She cleared the surrounding layer of dust with her bare palm and found a handle of a pottery jar. She retrieved a brush from her satchel and slowly removed additional crusted sand. In a few minutes she held a pottery jar filled with dark brown sediment. She was excited by the find. Does it hold any clues on the time of King Solomon's reign? Will I be able to carbon-date the sediment?

Eager to tell her husband and ask for his advice, Daphna placed the jar in her satchel to hide it from her escorting miner as she pondered on how to conceal her discovery before its sediment is analyzed in her Hebrew University laboratory.   

“We can leave now,” she said to the miner when she reached the outside of the cave.

I’ll come back alone.

 

Jerusalem        

                                         

Professor Avner Amram was in the archaeology laboratory when Daphna entered. With his six feet two height, her husband looked down at her with piercing eyes and a puzzling expression.

“You know better,” he said. “Going alone into an unknown cave without an escort is no way to find artifacts.”

“I know. But I had no choice. And I brought some samples.” She didn’t dare telling him about her fall.

“Never enter an unknown cave without an escort.” Avner took her satchel and place it on a workbench.

Ignoring his comment, she reached for the satchel, retrieved the object she found in the cave and placed it on the bench. 

“It’s a pottery jar,” she said. “A pretty old one and it’s full of sediment.”

“Your students will be delighted to work on testing its content and to determine if it can be carbon dated.”

“That’s my plan.”

“Good luck,” Avner smiled. “This is your lucky day.”

 

                                                        *                          *                          *

 

Daphna returned to visit the cave alone on another sunny and hot day. Standing twenty feet away from the cliff, she photographed the two pillars flanking the cave entrance. Their height of hundreds of feet was overwhelming and dwarfed the size of the crack. She snapped additional shots as she moved closer to the cliff and climbed carefully on the slippery rock. She entered the cave’s limestone chamber and followed the path to the hidden alcove.

She aimed the flashlight at the alcove's inner wall and wiped its bottom surface with a brush. A cloud of dust reached her face. She coughed and rubbed her eyes. When she looked again she found a vertical flat stone slab covering an inner cavity. A door  leading somewhere? She reached for the tools in her satchel and tried to lift the stone lid. After repeated attempts, the lid moved enough for her to slide her hand in the opening and push the stone aside.

She felt the second artifact with her hand before she saw it. The pottery jar was a twin to the one she had found in her previous visit. A second wave of excitement swept through her at the sight of ancient Hebrew letters engraved on the jar. She took it out and pushed the stone lid back in place.

The appearance of flying bats distracted her. She grabbed the new jar, hurried to the cave’s entrance and headed down the rocks.

I’ll come back again.

 

 

                                                                                                          RETURN TO THE BOOKS PAGE

CHAPTER   2     RARE EARTH ELEMENTS

 

Jerusalem                       December, 1987  

 

Under the December rain, Professor Avner Avram climbed the stairs of the Hebrew University's archaeology building and stepped into the hallway. The middle-aged professor paused to catch his breath and shake the accumulated rain from his raincoat.  As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he walked to an open door and entered.

"My dear Daphna!” he said to his wife who was bent over papers stacked on her desk. She swiveled around and greeted him with a broad grin.

“Avner. I’ve got news for you,” she said as she walked to hug and kiss him. 

She gestured to an armchair by the desk. “Take a load off your feet.  Coffee?"

"No thanks,” Avner answered. “I’m intrigued by your new finding in Timna."

"Believe it or not. I analyzed the sediment in the Timna jars and found traces of pure rhenium."

"Pure rhenium? Such a claim will raise serious doubts in the scientific world.”

“I expect them.”

“Rhenium has never been found before in a pure elemental form. How do you explain such a discovery?”

"I didn’t look for it. I hoped to find old artifacts and malachite. But it’s exciting is more than a surprise. Rhenium is an essential metal in the making of alloys used in jet engines to withstand high temperatures. If Israel has large rhenium deposits, can you imagine what such a rare mineral can do for the economy of the country? 

"Daphna. You’re an archaeologist like me, yet you seem quite familiar with the subject."

"The topic of rare metals is fascinating. Some are used in making electronic components, surgical instruments and orthopedic implants. Catalysts used in oil refineries to increase yield depend on lanthanum. Without rare metals, modern technology would come to a screeching halt.”

Avner smiled as he remembered a Harvard seminar on the beginning of time. At least three professors had claimed that not all the elements in the universe ended up in abundance on earth after the Big Bang. Some may be in greater abundance on Mars or on asteroids. 

Daphna opened a file marked ‘Rhenium’.

“I’ll tell you my thoughts. I wonder how our planet would be without rare earth metals. I fear for our technological revolution and even our civilization. At the present time, over fifty percent of these metals are supplied by China. Can you imagine what will happen if many companies move their factories to China to access these elements?”

“The economic balance of many countries will be affected.”

“Even wars may start.”

“You think so?”

“People don’t care about elements because they don't know much about them. If they lose their jobs, if their cost of living skyrockets, and - when they replace their cars with bicycles, can't use their TVs and can't get enough milk for their children, - they'll ask why their leaders didn’t solve the problem, even if it meant searching for solutions on the moon or sending astronauts to bring the needed elements from Mars.

“Sure, countries will declare wars to get rare elements. Imagine a medium-sized country discovering deposits of rhenium or neodymium the Soviet Union needs. Having to face an unrelated crisis like water rights or a border dispute, it may decide to impose a minerals embargo. Would the mighty USSR capitulate? Or would it just invade to take control of mines and processing factories? No United Nations resolution would stop the Soviets.”

“OK. I’ll ask again. How do you explain your find when pure rhenium has never been found on earth?”

Daphna walked to a bookcase and brought back a book entitled ‘Chemical Processes’. She sat next to Avner and opened a chapter on rhenium.

“Here, read the underlined paragraph.”

Avner took the book and read aloud.

 

Rhenium is a rare metal produced in a complex chemical process. It is extracted from flue gases during roasting of molybdenum concentrates and then converted to an ammonium compound which is then reduced in hydrogen to its high purity state.

 

“A mouthful of chemical details.”

Daphna smiled. “At first, I questioned the sediment test results. Then I suspected that someone had placed the pure metal in the mine after processing it in an industrial chemical laboratory, but I can’t rule out nature’s ability to offer a shortcut by performing the complex process.”

Doubting the nature’s ability theory, Avner glanced at the words she read.

“Did you date the sediment?” he asked.

“Sure, but it wasn’t easy. Over ninety five percent was non-organic matter which cannot be carbon dated. I had to use all the scientific methods to reach my conclusion.”

“I’m not interested in the scientific dating methods you used. What did you conclude?”

“The organic matter in the sediment is from about the tenth century BCE.” Dapha answered. 

“That would be about the reign of King Solomon.”

“So it seems.”

Avner’s mind ran back three thousand years, trying to picture the King holding the jar with its sediments. He picked up one of the jars, turned it around, inspected its surface and placed it back on the table. He assured himself that the nature’s ability option was an impossible explanation.   

 

*                          *                          *

 

Avner, Daphna and several scholars met with the executive director of the Timna copper mine museum, a ruddy-faced man in shorts and shirt sleeves. He led them to his office.  

Three color posters with photographs of the valley hung behind the director’s wooden desk. A book titled History of Copper Mining was on a center table with six armchairs. After welcoming greetings they followed him to the visitors display room.

Samples of rough and polished malachite rocks from the mines were displayed in two glass cabinets flanked by photographs of the valley rocks and cliffs. The director started with an introductory talk about the history of the mines and the use of modern mining techniques.

“How old is the oldest mine at Timna?” asked one of the scholars.

“5,000 years is a wild guess. In the 1930s, Nelson Glueck attributed the Timna mines to King Solomon, who lived in the 10th century BCE. More recently, surveys and excavations in the Timna basin enabled us to reconstruct the long and complex history of copper production during the reign of the Egyptian Pharaohs of the 14th century BCE.”

“About 3400 years ago?” the scholar asked.

“Yes,” agreed the director. “Sometime before the Iron Age. About four centuries before King Solomon’s reign. The existence of his mines is stated in the books of Deuteronomy, Job and Ezekiel. Information on his trades is rather limited. He was renowned for his wisdom and trading with other nations. His dealings with King Hiram of Tyre and the Queen of Sheba resulted in mutually beneficial diplomatic relations. The legends on his wealth are many.”

“What are these legends?” asked another scholar.

“Well, for example, The Bible tells us of ships King Solomon sent from his southern port to bring gold from the land of Ophir, whose location remains a mystery. Shomer Otzar HaMelech, the guardian of the king’s treasure, certainly recorded those transactions somewhere.”

“Is copper the only metal mined at Timna?” he asked the director.

“We found an insignificant amount of molybdenum.”

“Does rhenium ring a bell?” Daphna asked.

“Pure rhenium has never been found in its metallic form on earth,” the director said.

Daphna smiled. 

 

*                          *                          *

 

The face Avner saw in the mirror with all its craggy lines guided his mind to the land of nostalgia. Time had taken its toll. His mind travelled back to the lonely stretch on White Horse beach on the way to Cape Cod in Massachusetts. He was sun bathing on the sand, gazing at the sea when he spotted Elaine, the woman who became his first love from the moment he laid his eyes on her, the woman he married and bore him his only son Gideon, the woman who lost her battle with cancer at the age of forty seven. His mind relived his meeting with Daphna and marrying her seven years later. His scientific achievements gave him a sense of fulfillments and satisfaction, but didn't diminish his lust of challenges presented to him by the information during his Timna visit.

Avner's archaeology interest was aroused. What Daphna found in the Timna cave was a fact. If somehow nature found a way to perform the three processing levels of refining, nature is smarter than humans.  Pure rhenium may exist on another planet or on an asteroid, but if we could find it here on Earth, the ramifications of such a discovery would be enormous. 

He was mostly puzzled by three questions:

Could a scroll of a royal treasure guardian survive 3,000 years?

The second question was bothersome.

Why is the media not aware of last year’s discovery of molybdenum at Timna?

The third question was more intriguing.

How would the Prime Minister react to the idea of space missions to gather rare earth metals from an asteroid or a planet in the solar system?

 

*                          *                          *

 

Daphna returned from her third Timna visit with a new dilemma on whether she should reveal to her husband her real interest in King Solomon. It all started with Tolstoy. In his diary of 1884 he wrote:

“We must create a ‘Reading Club.’ I know what we should read: Socrates, Pascal, Buddha, Confucius, the Talmud, Montesquieu and…..”

The list included no less than three hundred thinkers and writers considered by Tolstoy as the essentials of philosophy. Among them, he included King Solomon. He stated that a philosopher loves and seeks wisdom, while a ‘wise man’ is a person who already had wisdom.  He labeled King Salomon “The Wise".

 

 

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