Thou shalt search
ARCHAEOLOGY: Irvine scholar says he may know where the tablets of the
Ten Commandments lie.
March 3, 2001
At the Dead Sea.
SEEKER OF THE TRUTH': Michael Sanders holds sulfur 'balls'
he says could be remnants of brimstone from the Dead Sea that
the Bible says God used to destroy the cities of Sodom and
Gomorrah. His theory will be featured on a television
MINDY SCHAUER/The Orange County Register
By CAROL McGRAW
The Orange County Register
Michael Sanders lives in a quiet corner of Irvine when he isn't off
searching for the contents of the Ark of the Covenant, ancient cities
and answers to assorted biblical mysteries.
He's been stoned and derided, endured broken ribs, plunged to the
bottom of the Dead Sea in a mini-submarine, all in search of the tablets
of the Ten Commandments and the biblical sin cities of Sodom and
His claim that he believes he's found what he's looking for has
earned him the attention of NBC and a spot in the Sunday lineup with a 7
p.m. documentary "Biblical Mysteries: Ark of the Covenant." Episode two,
"Biblical Mysteries: Sodom and Gomorrah" will air at 7 p.m. March 11.
Irvine's own Indiana Jones wears an archaeologist's rugged gray beard
and occupies a study piled high with tomes of archaeological lore.
The self-made scholar calls himself "a seeker of the truth." On his
wall is a family tree that his Romanian great grandfather said showed
the family was part of the biblical King David lineage.
Sanders, 61, was born in England, graduated from London University in
psychology, and says he did research in parapsychology at Duke
University. He began his biblical searches back in the 1970s, he says,
when worked with the late Sir George Middleton, who was a retired
British ambassador to the Middle East.
"I had the time to look around," he says.
He is among scores of adventurers and biblical scholars trying to
determine what happened to the Ten Commandments that the Bible says God
gave to Moses at Mount Sinai.
Sanders believes the tablets may be buried in the village of Djaharya
on the West Bank of the Dead Sea, which is under control of Palestinian
Authority. He searched that particular village because its name fits
perfectly one mentioned in a significant ancient Egyptian manuscript,
the so-called Harris Papyrus.
Sanders believes that the tablets may be buried under one of the four
foundation stones of an ancient Egyptian temple whose unexcavated ruins
may be in the village. If the temple is there, it would be the first one
outside of Egypt built by pharaohs.
He has not gotten permission to excavate the area because he didn't
have the right antiquities paperwork. But he says a subsurface radar
scan showed cavities that could contain the broken stones of the Ten
He found the site in 1986, but it took him years to get permission to
search there because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He says that Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority,
personally gave him permission. However, a spokeswoman at the
Palestinian Liberation Organization office in Washington, D.C., which
represents the authority in this country, said she had not heard about
"It would be exciting if they could find it," says Mina Kay, chief
assistant. ''We do know that Moses went to the mountain in that area of
Sanders says many biblical scholars don't agree with his theory, but
he is not deterred.
"Some scientists also dismiss everything in the Bible as myth," he
says. He won't talk about his own faith, because he says doesn't want it
to become an issue that might detract from any scientific findings.
Robert Eisenman, professor of biblical archaeology at California
State University, Long Beach, and author of "James, Brother of Jesus,"
"Actually I have the tablets in my attic," Eisenman jokes. He was one
of the bible scholars who was instrumental in obtaining widespread study
access to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
He explains that many scholars and adventurers have woven similar
elaborate theories to prove Bible stories.
"There are always excuses attached to most of these searches. 'I
could have dug it up, but ... ' 'I could have taken a picture, but ...
He discounts Sanders' theory that certain ancient Egyptians knew
where the Ark of the Covenant was buried. He notes that in 2 Maccabees,
which is part of the post biblical scriptures called the Apocrypha,
Jeremiah hid the ark in a cave and covered it over.
"All the people who knew where it was perished," he says. "And then
there's the problem that all these biblical stories might be just
Episode two of the documentaries chronicles his quest to find Sodom
He says he found what might be one of the wicked cities of Bible fame
accidentally while looking at satellite images that showed strange
anomalies under the Dead Sea. He and his crew used a mini-submarine to
search the north where the Jordan enters the Dead Sea. They found what
they believe are mounds that could be a buried city.
He says they found large quantities of sulfur "balls" on shore on the
Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. That could be remnants of the brimstone
that the Bible says God used to destroy the cities. Geologists can't
explain how these sulfur balls were formed in the sediment layers.
Others have found evidence of possibly up to 1.5 million skeletons on
the southeast Dead Sea shore in three ancient cemeteries, Sanders says.
He believes these could be the remains of those who perished in the
He acknowledges that many scholars believe that the cities could not
be in that location, because the sea covered the area in the time the
cities stood. The expense of undersea excavation remains prohibitive.
Eisenman sees more possibility of Sanders' unearthing Sodom and
Gomorrah, even though the Biblical story surrounding the cities may be
"These adventure stories appeal to the imagination of the gullible,"
Eisenman says. "But yet there are these remote possibilities that they
are true that make them so interesting."