Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Lost Ashes of the Red Heifer

Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer in which is no defect and on which a yoke has never been placed. And you shall give it to Eleazar the priest and it shall be brought outside the camp and be slaughtered in his presence. Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight. Now a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place and the congregation of the sons of Israel shall keep it as water to remove impurity; it is purification from sin."

Moses and his brother Aaron were descendants of Levi who was Jacob’s third son. Aaron and his sons were chosen as God’s priests. God promised Aaron that his descendants would have hereditary rights to the priesthood in Israel.

Levitical priests were subject to Mosaic Law. Central to the purification ceremonies was the Red Heifer ritual. Moses and Aaron, who was the first High Priest, supervised the original Red Heifer ritual which was officiated by Eleazar, Aaron’s son. Since that time, eight more Red Heifers have been slaughtered and burned in the ceremonial fashion described in Book of Numbers.

The ritual of the Red Heifer was performed on the Mount of Olives by an officiating priest who was not necessarily the High Priest. The ashes from the most current holocaust were always mixed with the ashes from the previous Red Heifer ceremony. That created an unbroken link to Moses and the original Red Heifer ritual. One third of the mixture was used not only to purify the priests serving in the Temple but the entire congregation of Israel. Another third of the ashes was stored in the Temple to serve as a remembrance of the sacred event. The remaining third of the ashes was kept on the Mount of Olives to be mixed with the ashes from the next Red Heifer ritual. The ash mixture was dubbed the “original ashes” because of its link to Moses and the original ceremony.

The purity of the officiating priest was of paramount importance. Fueled by the ever present criticism levied by the Sadducees, Pharisaic Judaism took extreme precautions. Although the priest was isolated and hence insulated from impurity, there was always the possibility of an undetected circumstance. For example, he might pass over a corpse buried in an unmarked grave. Coming into contact with a corpse called for two sprinklings of the original ashes on the third and seventh day. Moreover, the ashes had to be applied by a person of unquestionable purity.

As a solution, “pure children” were raised in “safe houses” and isolated from society until the age of eight. Those children mixed the original ashes with the pristine waters from the Spring of Shiloach and sprinkled the formula on the officiating priest not twice, but once a day for seven days. Thus there could be no doubt about the purity of the priest officiating at the ritual of the Red Heifer.

Just as the Ark of the Covenant went missing after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, the Red Heifer’s original ashes vanished after Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Almost two thousand years later, the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in caves near the ruins of ancient Qumran. One of the scrolls is very different from the others. It is written on copper rather than parchment and is much more cryptic than the other scrolls. It reveals the location of temple treasures, including the vessel containing the ashes of the Red Heifer, hidden by priests before the Roman destruction of the Second Temple. The name of the mysterious location is Wadi HaKippah. A description of an entrance to a nearby grotto, called the Cave of the Column, is also revealed in the copper scroll.

In 1990, a group of treasure hunters identified the surreptitious site as Qumran plateau opposite one of the caverns related to the Dead Sea scrolls, called Cave #4. Utilizing state of the art Molecular Frequency Analysis, the same technology used by NASA in their satellites, they have taken readings to a depth of fifty feet below the earth’s surface. One reading shows a vessel containing ashes. Could they be the lost ashes of the Red Heifer?

Thus far, the vessel containing the ashes has not been found. Some believe the claims made in 1990 were a ruse to obtain funding for more archeological digs on the Qumran site. However, others believe the original ashes are vital for the purification of contemporary priests in Israel. They hope the clues revealed in the copper scroll will mark the way to the lost ashes, the recovery of which is essential to the cleansing of Temple Mount and the building of Jerusalem's Third Temple.


  1. Scriptural references: Numbers 19:1-3,5,9,11-13,17-20

  2. The times of the nine Red Heifer rituals: one during the time of Moses; one during the First Temple period, seven during the Second Temple period; none in the last 2,000 years.

  3. Melchizedek was the first priest. (Genesis 14:18)
    David’s prophecy: The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)
    Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in great numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7)

  4. Aaron was a fourth generation Levite. He and his four sons were chosen by God as the first Levitical priests. Only direct descendents of Aaron could serve as Levitical priests. Hence, all Levitical priests were Levites but not all Levites were Levitical priests. Levites, who were not direct descendents of Aaron, were chosen by God to serve in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, but their service was limited. They were forbidden from entering the Holy of Holies, under penalty of death, and they were prohibited from performing altar services. (Exodus 40:12-15; Numbers 18:3,7; Exodus 26:33)

  5. After the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 AD, Pharisaic Judaism became the basis of Rabbinical Judaism. Originally a rabbi was a scholar or teacher of Jewish law. Currently rabbi refers to an ordained Jew who is usually the head of a congregation and qualified to decide questions of law & ritual and perform marriages. While the responsibilities of rabbis have increased, the duties of Levitical priests have diminished. Their primary function is the reading of the Torah in synagogues.

  6. A Levitical priest is called a Kohen which is a Hebrew word meaning “to serve.”