When the clues point to it being linked to a religious artifact of an ancient coded keepsake dating back to 36 AD, they call renowned artifact recovery specialists Alex and Sam in to help.
But they soon realize a powerful enemy behind the carefully planned plot will have them fight to decipher the code first.
Follow the infamous team between the ancient structures in and around Jerusalem, and then to Crete as the clues unravel themselves and they make a remarkable discovery so vital to history that it shakes the very core of Biblical prophecy.
On Friday, April 3, AD 33 a high priest filled with jealousy and rage, cunningly plotted the torturous public killing of an innocent man. The man’s unjust death was vindicated by the very power they had said he sacrilegiously acted against.
Put to shame and shunned by the people and his once revered Roman followers, the high priest fled to a neighboring country where he eventually died in AD 46. It is said he was tormented with guilt and self-loathing until he drew his very last breath. But before he died, in a final desperate attempt for forgiveness, hoping for his soul to be set free, he hid the two souvenirs he had secretly kept in repentance of what he had done.
His name was Caiaphas and his penitent keepsakes are about to be found.
AD 33, Jerusalem
Loud rumblings echoed from the riots in the streets outside the stately palace, forcing Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, to his feet. From his opulent courtyard balcony he stared at the people in the street down below.
“What’s happening down there?” he asked one of his elders who went by the name Nicodemus.
“We might have another protest on our hands, High Priest. It seems they’re accusing the Roman State of using temple funds to build the aqueduct. Hundreds are heading to Pilate to complain as we speak.”
“That must not happen! We need to stop them before they can get anywhere near him.”
“I’ll take care of it, High Priest,” the head of his guard jumped to command behind him.
Nicodemus paused, nervously tugging at his gray beard. “We might have a bigger problem on our hands.”
“Bigger than a rebellion?” Caiaphas sneered.
Nicodemus stopped, forcing Caiaphas to turn and face him.
“There’s a man from Galilee… a Jew. The priests reported that he turned over the collection tables in the temple.”
“Yes, I heard. It seems he’s causing quite a stir amongst the people.”
“Yes, well, it’s gotten worse. The people are turning away from the temple and choosing to follow him instead. He’s performing miracles all over Jerusalem.”
“Sorcery is what I call it,” a second elder, who stood to the high priest’s right added. “He’s put a spell on the people. They’re mesmerized by his wonders.”
Caiaphas turned and walked back into his house. “And? He’s not the first to trick people into seeing things. They’ll be back in our temple soon enough.”
“I’m not so sure. He’s different, High Priest. The people seem to be clinging to his every word. They like him and much of what he says is like that of a prophet. From what I hear he speaks words of wisdom,” Nicodemus replied.
“Careful, Nicodemus. Need I remind you where your loyalties lie?”
Nicodemus ignored the insinuation and continued his report without arguing. “The people are refusing to pay their temple taxes since they’re not attending our sermons anymore.”
Caiaphas stopped dead in his tracks. The last report had got his attention.
“How many people are we talking about?”
“Hundreds, High Priest, gaining more with each passing day,” a second elder answered.
“Well we can’t let that happen, can we? If he continues turning the people away from the temple the treasury will run dry and we will lose all of this.” Caiaphas gestured to the luxurious surroundings in his home. “Not to mention Pilate will have us all flogged,” he continued, and then paused in front of his copper basin signaling to one of his servants to run water over his hands.
“Assemble the chief priests and the other elders immediately,” he instructed both elders.
When darkness had fallen and a small group of his chief priests had gathered behind closed doors in his palace, the riots had all but quieted down in the village streets.
“What do you know of this man who threatens to destroy our temple?” Caiaphas asked them. “Have any of you witnessed his sacrilege against the house of God?”
No one answered him. The high priest paused briefly in front of each of the eight members, hoping his stern eyes would encourage them to speak up, but still no one spoke.
“We need to stop him,” Caiaphas continued. “We cannot have him go around tricking the Romans and calling himself the Messiah, king of the Jews. I will not have this man challenge my authority and corrupt the people against this house with his blasphemy, especially during Passover.”
Low murmurs erupted among the priests as the gravity of their leader’s last statement suddenly dawned on them and one of them commented in panic.
“We’re expecting thousands for Passover, High Priest. If they all follow this man we’d have no one to charge at the mikvehs.” (The chief priest was referring to the ritual immersion baths required by Jewish law upon entering the temple.)
Caiaphas knew all too well this surcharge yielded the most profit, especially during a sizable annual event like Passover. The threat of lost income angered him and when the rest of the group slowly caught on to what might come from it, it set about an uproar amongst the group of riled men.
“We need to remove him before he destroys everything we stand for,” the high priest guided his holy order.
“Remove him? What do you mean?” Nicodemus, who had been observing quietly, questioned his leader.
“You heard me. He needs to be executed. It’s the only way,” Caiaphas responded.
“Crucifixion, High Priest! He’s not a murderous thief. Surely you do not have the authority to sentence an innocent man to death for mere intimidation. None of us has even witnessed his supposed blasphemy. There has to be another way,” Nicodemus challenged his superior.
Caiaphas turned and faced his elder. “I have ruled this supreme house for eighteen years because I stay true to our cause. I would suggest you do the same. Bring him to me and find three witnesses who will testify to his treason and blasphemy. I will present their testimonies to Pilate and he will no doubt support my cause. Now leave me in peace and find me my witnesses. We have to be quick about this before the Passover starts.”
Several members of the Sanhedrin agreed with their supreme leader, except for Nicodemus who silently turned and walked towards the exit.
“Nicodemus,” Caiaphas called after his elder, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
Before the light of the new day, a man by the name of Judas, who was reportedly one of the man’s closest friends, was paid thirty pieces of silver to lead the Roman soldiers to the wanted man. Arrested and thrown into the dungeon prison chambers beneath Caiaphas’ home, the man from Galilee silently awaited his accusers.
“We have done as you asked, High Priest. The man has been captured,” Nicodemus reported.
“And the witnesses?”
“None of their accounts correspond, High Priest. We’re going to have to let him go.”
“That’s not going to happen, Nicodemus. Have you tried rewarding them?”
Nicodemus shifted his weight uncomfortably.
“That would be deceitful, High Priest.”
He paused, realizing he’d need to approach his superior from a different angle if he were to be successful at setting the innocent man free. “If the people find out you falsified testimony they would not look kindly upon your actions, High Priest. It is best for this house to set the man free.”
But Nicodemus’ words did not penetrate the hardened heart of his high priest and Caiaphas continued.
“Then we will trick him into confessing that he is the Messiah in front of us all so we can stand witness ourselves. Assemble the Sanhedrin at once. Before the sun sets, if it’s the last thing I do, this man will be brought before Pilate and crucified for all the people to witness.”
Current day, Jerusalem
It wasn’t until that moment that Luke realized his life was in grave danger. With his heart pulsing in his ears his feet descended the closed stairwell in his hostel three steps at a time as he ran to escape whoever was now chasing after him. The horrific images of his best friend’s brutal killing mere moments ago flashed through his mind that now raced at a million miles an hour. If he had any chance of staying alive he’d have to try and get to the Old City. It was the closest public place he could think of right now.
With his mind fixed on getting out of the building he hardly registered the sickening panic that threatened to exit through his mouth. He’d have to keep it together and stay focused, he silently reminded himself again. Mere moments later he heard the stairwell door open three floors above him, soon followed by thumping footsteps down towards him. He jumped the last four steps onto the landing and narrowly escaped a single bullet that ricocheted off the wall just above his left ear. Adrenaline thrust his body faster down the last flight of stairs while he kept his eyes pinned on the door of the humble building’s fire escape in front of him. He yanked the crossbar lever down and pushed both his flat palms against the hard metal before he welcomed the warm late afternoon sun on his face.
The graffitied street behind the hostel was quiet, lined only with several stationary cars trailing the narrow road in both directions. His mind ordered him to turn left in the direction of the Old City and he didn’t hesitate. He dared not stop and waste even one second. With his eyes focused on where he’d need to turn the corner up ahead he listened out for the hostel’s exit door behind him and when he didn’t detect any sound coming from it, found relief knowing they hadn’t caught up with him yet. The steel-gray scribbled walls soon blended into sand colored limestone walls that suggested he was getting closer to his destination, and moments later he turned up into the bustling street that led to the Jaffa Gate. His eyes frantically searched for signs of an ambush. He’d have to be prepared for anything. There was no telling how many of them were after him.
Cars and buses coming from both directions made it harder for him to cross the busy double lane road to where the familiar Old City walls beckoned up ahead. Deciding to chance it he ran into the traffic, only just avoiding an oncoming tour bus followed by a taxi and two more cars. Having now reached the narrow pedestrian island between the opposite lanes, he again chanced the oncoming traffic but wasn’t so lucky this time round. His body thudded on top of a car’s hood before it bounced off and slammed onto the hard sidewalk. With no time to ponder any injuries, he jumped to his feet and raced toward the stone portal in Jerusalem’s historic Old City walls. He took a few seconds and turned to look behind him for the first time as he entered through the arched entrance. In the distance he spotted three men causing a commotion in the street where he nearly got killed by the car and he hurried his escape between the crowds that were making their way through the entrance into the ancient city. Inside the Old City’s stone walls he picked up his pace and ran toward the congested market stalls that wound their way through the narrow cobbled streets. Careful not to announce his position by causing a disturbance he stealthily forged on while his mind raced for a way out from their pursuit. He knew they would be close on his heels but didn’t care to verify his suspicions at this stage. All he needed to do was focus on disappearing… and fast.
He briefly ran his hand over his hip that suddenly emitted sharp pangs of pain down his leg where it had collided with the vehicle. I can’t slow down now, the silent warning echoed in his mind.
A small group of Muslim women scattered when he interrupted their afternoon gathering in front of a spice vendor and Luke quickly changed direction to throw his pursuers off his trail. He was heading toward the Jewish Quarter as far as he could tell. He and Nathan had only been in Jerusalem three weeks so he wasn’t yet fully familiar with the location. But what he did recall from their guided tour mere weeks ago was that the Old City was divided into four residential quarters and when the Islamic residents gradually lessened and the number of Jewish men and women increased, it confirmed his assumption had paid off. It was a smart move on his part since he was confident his pursuers weren’t Jewish which meant they’d certainly raise a few eyebrows if found running through the Jewish Quarter.
Surrounded by teenage students who studied at the nearby yeshivas, Luke decided to slow his pace to a brisk walk instead. It was too crowded for him to comfortably continue running and he desperately needed to catch his breath and rest his injured hip. Besides, he was convinced he had managed to shake his hunters. His nostrils filled with the most delicious aroma of freshly baked bagels and he was suddenly reminded of home back in Canberra, Australia. In a moment of weakness he cursed his father for insisting he join Nathan in tracing their Jewish roots. He’d far rather have spent his time soaking up the sun on Bondi beach like all the other college students did during spring break. Now Nathan had been killed and he might be next. Panic flushed his veins making him pick up his pace again. The narrow alleyways through the Jewish precinct eventually met up to the Western Wall where the low murmurs of praying Jews provided him with some form of comfort. He paused in the middle of the open public square, carefully turning three hundred and sixty degrees to detect if he was still in any danger. Surrounded by tourists and people from all three of the practicing religions, he took in the divided but harmonious worship of Jews praying at the Western Wall, Muslims kneeling, facing south, and the Christians worshiping by singing praise behind him. All within the same city walls but distinctly opposing each other’s beliefs.
From the corner of his eye he spotted a ruckus amongst the crowds of onlookers on the outer edges of the sizable public gathering place and realized he was dangerously close to being discovered. If he ran now he’d alert them to his position, so he did the only thing that was left to do and, with his head turned downward, slowly but steadily moved in the opposite direction. Behind the infamous Wailing Wall the impressive gold dome on Temple Mount glistened in the last rays of the sun. Hiding on the mount wasn’t an option; they’d be closing the entrance soon. Getting there would also mean he’d have to follow the overhead walkway and risk being seen for certain. His eyes searched for another way out and he spotted one of the other entrance gates into the city. He had no idea where it would lead him but it proved his only option; he was trapped otherwise. Without hesitation he increased his pace and headed in the direction of the Dung Gate. But there was no escaping his friend’s killers and they soon spotted him. Luke’s steady pace increased to a light jog and he silently prayed he wouldn’t be stopped and questioned by security. His prayers were answered and he soon managed to successfully exit the Old City. Hordes of tourists were getting into their parked tour buses making it easier for Luke to disappear between them, but the men had already seen him exit through the gate. On a slight downward slope, the narrow road along the city wall snaked away from the historic Old City. His trainers slammed down hard and fast onto the asphalt. As the people became fewer the further he ran, so too did the traffic and before long Luke found himself in altogether unfamiliar desolate territory. The sun had just about set completely, and being out from under the harsh lights of the historic tourist venue and cars, made it much harder for him to find his way. But he kept running. As long as it was away from them.
Low limestone walls atop which the one closest to him included a high barbwire fence, flanked the road. On the other side of the fence, in the dusk light, he could just about make out a slight slope leading down the hill toward what looked like ruins or a deserted village under construction. When the fence a few feet further on offered a gaping hole, he grabbed the opportunity and squeezed his body through it. Suddenly on uneven rocky soil he lost his footing and tumbled down the hilltop. His already bruised hip shot new bolts of pain through his body as it hit the sharp edges of several large rocks on his way down the mound. Prickly bushes and thorny broken off branches scratched his hands and the bottom part of his legs as he reached out in an attempt to slow down, but it was only when his body thumped hard against a jagged boulder that it stopped the out-of-control motion of his body.
Hidden behind the large rock wall on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Luke rested his head back against the rugged dusty object and briefly cast his eyes at the full moon above his head. If ever there was a night he despised it being a full moon it was tonight. Conscious of the fact that his hiding place wasn’t obscure enough, he pulled his knees to his chest, making himself as invisible as possible. With any luck his fall had aided his escape and he could rest there for a bit until the coast was clear, he thought, hoping he had run fast enough to begin with.
A light breeze blew a fresh mist of orange desert dust in his face that stuck to his sweaty skin. He wiped his face on his sleeve, instantly regretting it when instead it made it worse and left a layer of gritty dirt scraping over his fresh scratches where the bushes had caught him. It was well past midnight and he and Nathan had been on the run for two days already. Had he known it was going to turn out like this he would have never taken it. His hand reached into his pants pocket where his fingers traced the small hard item he had put there after they killed Nathan. If only he had listened to Nathan none of this would have happened and his friend would still be alive. He shut his eyes in a futile attempt to stop the tears from escaping down his clammy cheeks as he recalled the events a mere forty eight hours ago.
“Luke you’re crazy! What if someone catches us?” Nathan had warned him.
“Oh come on Nate, where’s your sense of adventure? No one will see us. We didn’t give up Bondi so we could be stuck here with a bunch of geriatrics and a boring tour guide. We’ll be back before they miss us,” he had stupidly replied.
Nathan had always been the sensible one between them, always following the rules, never straying too far from the law. Luke, on the other hand, pushed the envelope in pretty much anything and everything he did in life. No matter how hard he tried he’d always find himself—and anyone with him—in some kind of a mess, as if trouble always found him. And now here he was, alone and desperately afraid for his life with no one coming to his rescue while his best friend was dead… all because of him.