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Finding buried treasure


In June 2023 an anonymous Kentuckian announced that he had found a stash of 700 gold coins in a cornfield. The coins, which may sell for a total of over a million dollars, apparently were buried there during the Civil War.

Stories of buried treasure have always captured our imaginations, going back to ancient times. One of my favorite treasure stories involves the biblical King David, who late in life made detailed plans for the Temple that his son Solomon would build. In preparation for the project, he amassed vast amounts of gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, and timber (1 Chronicles 22:14).

As it turns out, David gathered more than enough material for the Temple. Writing in the late first century AD, historian Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 7.15.3) reported that David “had great and immense wealth buried with him” when he died in about 970 BC.

Josephus also revealed that later rulers raided the riches in David’s tomb. In about 133 B.C., the Jewish priest-king John Hyrcanus persuaded the Seleucid ruler Antiochus VII to lift a siege of Jerusalem by giving him 3000 shekels of silver from David’s tomb. Then in the first century B.C., King Herod the Great, who was known for his expensive construction projects, “took away a great deal of money” from the same source.

Josephus (Antiquities 16.7.1) added an intriguing postscript to his Herod story, relating that Herod hoped to extract more wealth from the tomb but was thwarted in an attempt to do so. Herod, Josephus said, “had a great desire to make a more diligent search, and to go farther in, even as far as the very bodies of David and Solomon; where two of his guards were slain, by a flame that burst out upon those that went in, as the report was.”

This startling account, reminiscent of movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, suggests that God directly intervened to guard David’s tomb from further encroachment. We are left to wonder what might have happened to any remaining treasure from David’s tomb. Did the Romans grab what was left when they captured Jerusalem in 70 AD? If not, is there still treasure buried somewhere under the City of David?

We do not know the answers to these questions, but the story of David’s treasure invites us to investigate the even greater wealth available in the Bible, as well as in sources like the works of Josephus.

The news of the Kentucky gold coins also reminds me of a parable of Jesus: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). This parable implies that the greatest riches of all are to be found in following him.

Dr. Doug Ward is a mathematics professor at Miami University, where he has taught since 1984. He is an elder at Church of the Messiah in Xenia and an avid reader.