Jerusalem, Israel

Ron Wyatt: “The Indiana Jones of the SDA Church”


In January of 1982 Ron Wyatt, helped by locals, continued to explore the cave systems beneath Golgotha near the siege wall in northern Jerusalem looking for the lost Ark of the Covenant.  The caves beneath the ancient city are a labyrinth of obscurity and tiny spaces, places where no one has stepped for thousands of years. Here the darkness eats the light, the beams of a flashlight narrowed and crowded by the consuming shadow. Lighted specs of ancient dusk reflect in the pools from battery-powered lanterns and the cave walls replicate sound so deceptive that it is difficult to determine from where the sound came. The smell of dry dust and organic mold lift from the cave floors amid the cool and dense air over thirty feet below the surface.

Stepping through the darkness, Wyatt’s small party came to a chimney-like tunnel through which Wyatt had to exhale to squeeze himself through and into a smaller cavern. Behind a scolecite Wyatt found a small hole that, when enlarged with a chisel, revealed a cavern full of rocks.  Wyatt was too large to fit inside so one of his helpers went inside and came scrambling back immediately.

The man’s face was white with fear in the bare light.  “What is in there? What is in there? I’m not going back in there!” he said and got out of the cave system as fast as he could.

Wyatt enlarged the hole and squeezed himself inside.  There was about 18 inches of clearance between the rocks and the ceiling of the cave as Wyatt crawled through the space shining his flashlight down through the rocks. He saw some dry rotten timbers and, beneath that, some dry animal skins that turned to powder at this touch. Then something reflected back, something shining and golden.

Wyatt fainted.

Wyatt found coins in the structure dating back to 135 AD and before, but no later evidence so the tunnel systems appeared to be out of use since antiquity.

Ron Wyatt was an anesthesia nurse and a Seventh Day Adventist from Madison, Tennessee. In 1960 Wyatt read an article in Life Magazine (some sources say it was the National Geographic) about a geographic anomaly in eastern Turkey on Mount Ararat which was shaped like a ship and had been newly hailed as the possible resting site of the Noah’s Ark. Between 1977 until his death in 1999 he made over one hundred trips to the Middle East to explore Biblical archeology.  

Wyatt spent a great deal of his time exploring the Mount Ararat anomaly and it is widely accepted that Wyatt had a considerable influence on the site’s later claims. Ron himself was regarded as a guest of honor at the opening in 1987 by the Turkish government of the Durupınar site, located approximately 18 miles south of Mount Ararat where the boat-shaped anomaly is located which is publicized by the government as the archaeological remains of Noah’s Ark.  It is now a tourist site in Turkey where thousands of believers come to see the remarkable shape of the geography. According to a headline in the Christian Courier Wyatt was, “the Indiana Jones of the SDA Church.”

On August of 1991, while waiting on a permit from the Turkish government for a full excavation of the Mount Ararat formation that never happened, Wyatt and two other Americans, a British tourist and a doctor from Australia, were taken hostage by Kurdish guerrillas. They spent twenty-one days in captivity at gunpoint, trekking the mountains in Eastern Turkey as their captors evaded the Turkish authorities trying to rescue them.  Eventually they were returned unharmed. In an article about the incident from the Orlando Sentinel Wyatt and his companions are touted as American archaeologists.

It seems clear that Wyatt enjoyed some amount of legitimacy in certain circles, perhaps more so in Turkey than in the United States. Accounts of Wyatt depict a sincere spoken, honest man. His voice croons a slow, southern drawl. His white hair is a cropped sea anemone. His face features a matching beard and crisp blue eyes and, as fortune would have it, he does look like some renaissance form of Biblical. Many photographs of Wyatt depict a man in khakis with an Indiana Jones-style hat. There appears little question about how Wyatt wanted to be seen. He was the adventurer and, more important, he was the man who was going to prove the Bible was real and bring people to God.

By the time he was crawling through caves beneath Jerusalem in 1982 he was a seasoned depiction of his own character. We know that in December Wyatt and his team claimed to be digging for the Ark at Golgotha near the Babylonian invasion wall. Quickly they uncovered some niches in the rock face of the typical size and shape of old Roman byways as this section of Golgotha served as a major thoroughfare in the Roman era. Since Roman’s crucified criminals on major roads, Wyatt speculated that this could have been a crucifixion route. They began to excavate further between the cliff and its rock base where he found what he thought to be rope holds chiseled into the cliff.  Thirty eight feet below ground level they found themselves in what appeared to be a cistern where they recovered pottery chards. According to Wyatt, the Israeli Antiquity Authority dated some of them to the Jebusite era (538—520 BCE). The latest chards were dated to the Roman period.

 While on the Roman level Wyatt found a chiseled hole, twenty-seven inches deep into solid bedrock, with a stone cap over it. There were several other chiseled holes that, since he was at the Roman archeological level, he assumed were cross holes (chiseled cavities in the rock in which the Roman’s placed the bases of the crosses for crucifixions). But the large hole with the stone cap was, Wyatt thought, the cross base where Jesus died because it had a fissure through it and Wyatt knew that, according to the Bible, the earth shook with a quake when Jesus died. The fissure was from the earth quake, Wyatt assumed.

Wyatt found coins in the structure dating back to 135 AD and before, but no later evidence so the tunnel systems appeared to be out of use since that time. It didn’t suffer at the hands of invaders, but one would wonder why such a presumably holy site would be abandoned entirely. Nonetheless this gave Wyatt the idea that the structure predated the holy sepulture. The trail seemed to have ended there; the structure did not appear to have any adjoining rooms or thoroughfares leading to other places.

 By the time Wyatt regained awareness in the cave, he had been unconscious for forty-five minutes. He removed some of the surface rocks and reached down into the crevices and brushed the ancient animal skins from the brilliant surface. Beneath shined a table with uplifted edges, like a tray, decorated in bells and alternating pomegranates which he claimed was the showbread table. He claims to have found a sword and a menorah alongside other temple furnishings. Inside a huge stone box, he claims, was the Ark of the Covenant which was poised just beneath the cross hole from the Roman archeological level above. There was a fissure directly above the ark from which dripped a dried dark substance that had pooled on the edges of the stone lid and seeped upon the ark lid itself.

Later, Wyatt will claim that this blood was not only devoid of the male set of chromosomes but that, upon hydration, it had animated. Wyatt never said who conducted the DNA work and stated only that it was lab in Israel.

Wyatt was unable to remove anything because of the rocks and the cramped space and for several days visited the site before reporting the find to his superiors.

In that time, Wyatt claimed that angels came to him in the cave and lifted the seat of the Ark to reveal the two tablets and told him that the Ark “could not be revealed to man until the end of times.” Then he reported the find to the Israeli government who, as it is told, put a gag order on Wyatt for the fear of stirring up political upheaval in an already hostile environment in the occupied territories which had been in dispute since the 1967 war. The “cave goods,” according to all the sources who have anything to say about Wyatt, are in the possession of the IAA (Israeli Antiquities Authority).

But there was a mysterious video of the findings inside the cave which had been seen by Ian Thain, a man who claims he was with Wyatt in Israel in ’82 and, while he did not go into the cave, he has seen the video of Wyatt’s discovery. In an interview conducted by Kevin Fisher, Thain stated the tape itself is in hiding in Israel. Thain denied he saw any angels on the tape but that he saw a table and various other unidentifiable objects along with the “blood stain” coming from the fissure in the ceiling of the cave. He claims the showbread table was a brassy color and there was an orb of bright light where the Ark should have been that was, according to Thain, not present in the cave when the video was taken but was later revealed on the tape.

Interviewer: How long ago did you see it [the video]?

Thain: Pass. That information might assist those who want to find the tape.

Interviewer: What’s the reason for holding it back?

Thain: Again, I can’t answer that, I’m afraid. Sorry.

The Israeli government denies ever issuing a permit for Wyatt to dig in Israel, much less the Holy city, and yet there are copied documents on that refer to the dating of objects excavated by Wyatt in Jerusalem. Of course in the 1980s one could buy a second-century Roman oil lamp right on the street for $60 before the government reigned in tighter control of the distribution of their national antiquities. And, it’s been pointed out, that Wyatt could have been digging on private land.

In addition there seems to be some manner of conflict between and The prior appears to be maintained by Wyatt’s family while the Ron Wyatt Museum is operated by a board of directors of unknown origin related to a Seventh Day Adventist publishing organization. On yet a third site the rivalry between the two websites is mentioned. It is clear that (the family site) has issues with how Wyatt is represented. Yet the Ron Wyatt Museum site is connected to the organization which published his books and financed his videos. Wyatt Archaeological Research published his book about the Ark findings in 1995 while Wyatt was still alive. Wyatt himself began Wyatt Archaeological Research which is an offshoot of the website  

Ron himself could be found on the lecture circuit up until the time of his death and Kevin Fisher (in the aforementioned interview with Ian Thain) states on his website that he will come to your church and speak to your congregation about the Wyatt findings.

Stories about Biblical objects are, at worst, a heavily-debated religious issue and, at best, big business. In 2018 religious books generated 593.7 million dollars in the U.S. according to That sum does not include the subsequent lecture circuit. A well-known speaker can earn $10,000 an appearance. But none of that may be of more value than the ideological implications of such a find which may bring people to faith. It’s hard to predict whether the sudden appearance of the Ark of the Covenant would or could change the minds of people, but it may well render whether or not Ron Wyatt found anything in the desert a moot point.

Missi Jarrar
Missi Jarrar is a writer, editor, and content creator based on the west coast of the United States. She holds a BFA in creative writing from Portland State University and has worked as an editor at Alembic (the biannual magazine now known as Letter & Line) and the award winning Alchemy Literary Magazine.