Ancient Jewish treasures in monastery, book says

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Mar Theodosius, West Bank -- Until today, the main claim to fame of this sleepy monastery on the edge of the Judean wilderness was the tradition that the Three Wise Men slept in the caves here after visiting the infant Jesus in Bethlehem.

But a new book claims that the Greek Orthodox Monastery Mar Theodosius was the last hiding place of one of the greatest treasures of antiquity: the gold and silver vessels of the first century B.C. Temple in Jerusalem, the central shrine of Judaism that once housed the Holy Ark containing the sacred tablets brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses.

British archaeologist Sean Kingsley said he has traced the journey of the legendary vessels from the first time they disappeared from public view more than 1,500 years ago to their current location in this walled monastery east of Bethlehem in the West Bank. He said the items include "the central icons of biblical Judaism" -- a seven-branched gold candelabra, the bejeweled Table of the Divine Presence and a pair of silver trumpets.

But many people, including Israeli government officials, believe the treasures are hidden somewhere in Vatican vaults. In 1996, Israeli Religious Affairs Minister Shimon Shetreet officially asked the pope to return them....

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