Large numbers of sincere, truth-seeking believers have been impressed, even excited, by the reports of remarkable discoveries by Ron Wyatt in ancient Bible lands. Even some well-informed students of scripture have been persuaded that there is genuine merit in Mr. Wyatt's findings. On the other hand there are scholars who take the opposite view, and dismiss his views as unsupported by hard evidence, not deserving serious consideration.
I am reporting here my own personal experience with Mr.Wyatt, in the hope this will shed some light on his style and his trustworthiness as an observer. While my acquaintance with him led me to reject his archaeological findings, I persist in dealing gently with him as a well-intentioned person and as a Christian.
At the outset I should say that I knew Wyatt well,
and had an up-close opportunity to evaluate his claims and his
personal credibility. This happened in the late 1980's, when
I joined Wyatt's digging team in East Jerusalem, expecting he would
lead us to the underground cavern in which he had personally seen--so
he had assured me--the gold-overlaid holy furniture from Solomon's
Temple. It had been hidden there, he said, by the priests
during the Babylonian siege in 586 BC. As he told it, it was a gripping
story, and somewhat believable to someone with a romantic bent.
It wasn't hard to imagine the senior Levites, foreseeing the imminent
collapse of Jerusalem's defenses, plotting to hide the precious furnishings, during
midnight darkness, in a secret cavern in the no-man's land
outside the city walls.
Wyatt not only constructed this story: he claimed he had found the cavern. I had first met him, many months before, in the Hotel Ararat in Dogubeyazit, at the foot of Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey. The hotel's humble foyer was buzzing with the comings and goings of men hunting for Noah's Ark. Amongst them all, Wyatt stood out, a tall impressive bearded figure, striding around with great self-assurance. He had in his hands a sheaf of large photographs showing his preferred site for the Ark, and he had the most persuasive story to back up his assertions. He had, I learned, a Seventh-day Adventist background, similar to my own, with a high view of scripture, so I felt inclined to listen respectfully to his story. Furthermore in real work-a-day life back home he was a nurse anesthetist, with interests similar to my own in anesthesiology. So we had some natural common ground. And at this first meeting I listened to his views, but kept an open mind.
Many months later Wyatt suddenly turned up in my town, Redlands. He phoned me and I invited him for an update chat. It was then that he told me the story of his surreptitious exploration of caves in the rear corner of the Garden Tomb, and of his penetration to a point from which, with a flashlight, he could see the holy furniture. He had kept this heart-stopping finding a secret for all the intervening months until he could gather funding and recruit some Christian colleagues to join him. They would be the work force that would open up the cavern and bring to the light of day the most extraordinary artifacts of all history. Would I be willing to join the team?
What could I say to an invitation like this? Was this serious archeology, or was it an Indiana Jones adventure? Was Wyatt's story believable? Or was it pure fabrication, making him a fraud? Here he was, looking fully into my face and telling me concrete details of what he himself had done and seen some 18 months before. The man was a Christian, and his prayers were as ardent and humble as you could ever hear. But still I was deeply skeptical, and my family advised me to have no part of it. On the other hand, the expedition was timed to coincide with the Eastern Easter, the most colorful, exciting time to visit Jerusalem. And I reasoned that if there was only a 5% chance that Wyatt had actually seen something significant in that cavern, then being present at its recovery was going to be a memorable event, possibly life-changing, well worth the high risk of probable failure. Even so, I made no move without due diligence. I personally checked out Wyatt's reputation in Tennessee where his church membership was located. I spoke by phone with a senior S.D.A. church administrator for that area, and he assured me that Wyatt was a member in good standing. He regularly taught a Bible study class at his church, and did it well. And though you could not be sure everything Wyatt claimed was exactly as he said it, nevertheless you could know that Wyatt himself believed in the facts as he presented them..
Reassured, I flew to Jerusalem. Wyatt met me at Lod airport, and drove me to join the rest of the team assembled at their small hotel near the Damascus Gate. It was an interesting, heart-warming group, professional men in various walks of life, all of them serious students of the Bible, and devout in their Christian faith. The next two weeks were exciting, and I can tell here only the essentials. We first got written permission from the Israeli authorities to pursue an exploration at the Garden Tomb. Two of our team (I was one of them) accompanied Wyatt into the office of Dan Bahat, the official in charge of archaeological activities in Jerusalem. I listened to the conversations, and could judge at once that the two men had met previously, and had already discussed the proposed probe into caves in the Garden Tomb. The permit was clearly legitimate; I watched Bahat sign it.
Our team proceeded to the Garden Tomb, whose custodians were expecting our arrival. Wyatt had negotiated cordially and successfully with them. With an assortment of gardening tools we set to work, moving a large pile of rubble and rock which had accumulated where Wyatt had probed earlier. Over several days we were able to excavate our way down into the same cave system that Wyatt had explored two years before. I'm sorry to report that in the end we came up empty-handed. The connecting channel through which Wyatt had claimed to see the furniture was not there. On the final day of excavation, when we could not see the internal cavern landmarks that Wyatt had predicted, Ron himself finally climbed down into the dim space. After a long time he emerged, looking confused. As we waited respectfully to hear his report, he mumbled a few words like: "It's not the same; it's changed. It's not the way I remember it." There was no opening to be seen, giving a view into an adjacent cavern. There was nothing. In the process of our digging we had come up with a few interesting little objects from Roman times, but they were irrelevant to our main goal.
Our team was disappointed, puzzled, disillusioned. We had enjoyed ten days of close fellowship, with daily shared prayer times, and an excited anticipation of momentous events just before us. Now all those hopes came crashing down. And sadly, Wyatt was not man enough to come clean, to apologize for bringing us on a wild goose chase, or to attempt any kind of explanation. We kept expecting some sort of statement, but he just remained silent, withdrawn. And we were too stunned, and perhaps too sorry for him in his confusion, to demand that he explain.
To this day I cannot give a rational account for the extreme misguidedness that Wyatt revealed. What was happening in his head? His participation in our group worship times had left all of us in no doubt about his sincerity and his devotion to Scripture. He was a competent Bible scholar. He was a brother. Yet he had misled us terribly, and had offered no words of regret or apology or explanation. I have reviewed the whole story many times since then, and am convinced that the church administrator was right: Wyatt might be mistaken, but he himself believed that what he had originally shared was true.
From medical school I remember hearing of a rare state of mind, with a long Latin name, that led its victims to concoct marvelously detailed accounts of events that were pure fabrications, yet which the story-teller himself had come to believe were absolutely true. I am inclined to believe that Wyatt was a florid example of this disorder. He was not a deliberate liar, a fraud. And some of his observations had merit. But I am convinced that some of his "discoveries" were matters which underwent transcription in his mind, and he came to believe as true certain ideas and observations that in fact were his own inventions.
This opinion became confirmed in my mind some time after the Jerusalem expedition. Wyatt was trying to convince everyone of the validity of his site for Noah's Ark. And in trying to convince me, he described some extraordinary details of the rock-and-earth formation that he believed gives us an outline of the Ark. He told me of probing with a tool into the earthen mound, and breaking into a cavity in which he could see--actually see--the remains of corroded metal "brackets" that he presumed were part of the Ark's construction. This description caught my attention--all of it. If Wyatt's report was factual, then we should get serious about his site for the Ark. But was Wyatt a trustworthy observer and reporter? Months later I followed up on this story, referring to my long-time friend John Baumgardner, who had personally visited Wyatt's Ark site, and had subjected the whole area to minute scrutiny, including a survey with penetrating radar. When I described to John the eyewitness report of Wyatt, he simply laughed and dismissed the whole thing. He assured me, beyond any doubt, that the Ark site under study revealed no cavitation as described by Wyatt, and that the description given to me was entirely a fabrication.
So there you have it. I am a long-time member of the S.D.A. fraternity, and have a high regard for Scripture and for handling its text in a responsible way. I am embarrassed that Wyatt, who identified himself with my community of faith, should turn out to be an unreliable witness to important archaeological data. I cannot put any confidence in his opinions, his assertions, or his declared eyewitness reports. Yet the man I knew, now at rest, was truly a man of The Word. He knew his Bible, and I heard him give impressive expositions of some difficult passages. In full verbal flight he could be eloquent. I expect his Bible study class was a good one. Yet he was sadly flawed. From close personal acquaintance, I cling to the belief that he was sincere, at the same time as he was woefully mistaken. It was through some quirk of mental dysfunction that he came himself to believe as true certain facts and stories that were his own inventions.
I must add one further cautionary note. Wyatt was a persuasive talker, and succeeded in firing the imaginations of many good people in church pews. But I do not know of any S.D.A. scholar who has given him serious favorable attention. He is an embarrassment to them. I have had some correspondence with Jim Pinkoski,* who was an ardent supporter. I have had no contact with Jonathan Gray; my friends and colleagues in Australia describe him as a publicity man, perhaps devoted as much to profit as to truth. Wyatt's claims have been reviewed and critiqued exhaustively by Drs.Colin and Russell Standish, who published a book on these matters, and also by Dr. David Pennington. These critics are in Australia; they all conclude that his claims and conclusions are in serious error.
Now you can understand why I have laid aside the claims of Ron Wyatt, and only speak my views when a respected colleague turns up with a curious interest. I feel an obligation to help people hear a balanced first-hand report. At the same time I remain grateful to this extraordinary but flawed fellow-pilgrim for opening for me a door into some memorable adventures.
Randall Price and Jim Pinkoski
--- Bernard Brandstater
Other Information and Links regarding Ron Wyatt
Posted January 25, 2002
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