By Ellen Frankel
At an international conference in Jerusalem, a presentation by American professor Boaz Goldmayer on one of the Dead Sea Scrolls is much anticipated by academics, Israeli antiquities officials and Christian extremists.
Goldmayer will be speaking about the Copper Scroll, unique in that it was written on a thin sheet of copper. It also is the only scroll that is a list of 64 places where the priests of the Second Temple in Jerusalem may have hidden gold and silver ritual objects before the Romans destroyed the city in 70 CE.
Before Professor Goldmayer’s presentation even begins, he’s found dead in his hotel room. His laptop is missing, his papers trashed, and his colleagues stunned.
The homicide investigation goes to Chief Inspector Sarit Levine of the Jerusalem Police. Tipped off by a Military Intelligence Service spy, the Israel Antiquities Authority asks the Service to step in as well. They assign Agent Maya Rimon to the case.
Sarit and Maya had been friends in the Army, but competition for a sole position in the Military Intelligence Service — which went to Maya — has left the two bitter rivals.
As she talks to the academics attending the Dead Sea Scroll conference, Maya meets Hillel Stone, a Bar Ilan University professor and former student of Goldmayer’s. He tells Maya that none of the items listed on the Copper Scroll has ever been found.
“But that hasn’t stopped archaeologists and treasure-hunters from trying. They’ve used everything from radar to bulldozers. Nobody knows how much this treasure’s worth in today’s dollars. Some say as much as sixty-five billion,” he adds.
Maya soon learns that an extremist Christian group, the Liberators of the Temple Mount, is among those deeply interested in the possible treasure. The group has secret plans to rebuild the Temple and bring back the sacrifices described in the Bible. They believe this will cause the end times and the return of Jesus Christ. The most auspicious time for this, the blood moon, is days away.
The Temple originally stood on the Temple Mount where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is now located. Any attempt to rebuild a Temple on its former location is sure to bring on war with followers of Islam.
With time running out, Sarit and Maya have to trust each other if they are to prevent an international religious crisis.
Author Ellen Frankel hits all the classic tropes of a thriller here: events with high stakes and international repercussions, conflicts between the two people responsible for solving the mystery, competing interests in the treasure and romance between Maya and Hillel.
Yet somehow, this book doesn’t quite make the mark. The romance seems adolescent; the events predictable; and the suspense less than intense.
The Author: Ellen Frankel (1951 – )
THE DEADLY SCROLLS is Ellen Frankel’s first mystery. The Copper Scroll of the mystery is an actual object found near Qumran.
She served as editor in chief of the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) from 1991 to 2009, and was chief executive officer of the JPS for 10 years. She has published 11 books, including THE FIVE BOOKS OF MIRIAM.
She has written librettos for chamber pieces and two operas in addition to traveling widely as a Jewish storyteller. She speaks widely at synagogues, summer study institutes, Hillels, Jewish women’s groups, Jewish Community Center and other venues on topics such as reading the Torah through a woman’s eyes, Jewish superstitions, Jewish ethics; Jewish book publishing and Jewish tales of love and romance.
She earned a doctorate in comparative literature from Princeton University.