Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chapter 6

The Greatest Treasure

When Chris arrived at the Salt Lake airport a week later, John was there to pick him up. He gave him a short tour of the city, driving by the Temple and Church Office Building. As they drove south on I-15 John pointed out the ski areas at the top of the Wasatch Front. Chris was duly impressed by the beautiful setting, bordered by towering mountains. His home state of Texas was uniformly flat and a fifty foot high mound was considered a hill. He had lived in mountainous areas in Central America, but the semi-tropics were different.

They chatted as they drove, but John didn’t tell him anything of consequence. Finally they arrived at John’s “modest cottage”, an estate on the edge of the town of Alpine, at the base of the towering Lone Peak. The surroundings reminded Chris of Switzerland. He had visited there as a young man. John showed him to his room, encouraged him to use the fridge, pointed out the pool, and then abruptly left for a meeting he had to attend.

Chris unpacked, set up his laptop, and browsed through the fridge. He warmed up some leftover pizza in the microwave, and flipped on the news on John’s big screen. They were talking about a hurricane named Katrina which was approaching the gulf coast.

“I just got out of Houston in time” he thought to himself. Bored, he wandered around John’s spacious home noticing all the Mayan and Olmec artifacts that John had collected. Several of them, in addition to the jade mask John had just purchased, were Chris’ finds. He considered the value of the treasures before him—a large fortune. John indeed must be well heeled. Looking in the garage he noticed two other Mercedes besides the one John was driving. Maybe John would let him borrow one. The grounds were beautiful—secluded, perfectly landscaped, and bordered by woods.

Finally he settled down in front of John’s bookcase. There must have been at least a thousand books--titles ranging from “The Fall of the Roman Empire” to “Marco Polo”. There were two categories that caught his eye. About a third of them appeared to be religious books. He guessed that they must be related to John’s Mormon religion. Another third were archaeology texts and studies, many of which he had read, at least the older ones. He had not kept current on the newer publications. He had no need to. He was five or ten years ahead of the field research.

His eye caught one of the religious books. “The Quest for the Gold Plates” by a Stan Larson. It had a picture of a golden book on the jacket. Chris spent the rest of the evening browsing through it.

“I think I have an idea of what John has in mind for us, and I’m not sure I like it” Chris thought as he prepared for bed. “John’s still not home. It must have been a long meeting.”

The next morning when he arose John was already out in the kitchen having breakfast. Chris noticed that he had a woman that came in and cooked for him. After eating, he concluded that she was pretty good too. He couldn’t remember having quiche that tasty before. After breakfast Chris brought up the subject again.

“Well, I think it’s time you told me about the big secret. What’s the project you have in mind--but I think I might have guessed it already.”

“Really?” John lifted his eyebrows. “What do you think it is?”

“Well I noticed one of your books on the Mormon gold bible. Are you looking for that?”

“You’re getting hot, but that’s not exactly it. Come in the study and I’ll tell you all about it.” They took their hot chocolate and went into the other room. Chris was already missing his normal coffee.

“Which book were you looking at?” When Chris told him the title John jokingly cautioned him “You need to be careful of that one, it’s an anti-Mormon book.”

“What does that mean” Chris queried?

“It’s written by someone who’s got an ax to grind with the Mormon Church and it presents a negative view of the church and its leaders. But it does have some good information. You just have to be on your guard when you read it. But back to the subject at hand.”

John then went on to explain the Book of Mormon, the Angel Moroni, and the translation of the book from the gold plates by Joseph Smith. He explain the background of the book and how the Nephite people had kept records on golden plates for a thousand years, during which time they had accumulated hundreds of golden books. These books had all been hidden in a cave, in a mountain called Cumorah, somewhere in Central America. They were still buried there today. The Book of Mormon itself was only one of those books. “My goal is to locate Cumorah and find the cave if possible. In my opinion, this is the greatest, most valuable, treasure on the face of the earth. He who finds it will be the king of treasure hunters. It is the last great treasure, reserved for the last great treasure hunter!”

Chris hadn’t said anything the whole time and his face didn’t reveal his thoughts. He sat quietly for several seconds, then asked incredulously “You really believe all this stuff?”

John assured him that he did.

“It sounds like a lot of fairy tales to me. Why do you want to get involved in something like this? It’s like searching for the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant, just fantastic tales with nothing to base them on.”

“But that’s where you’re wrong” responded John. “There are lots of solid clues. There were many witnesses who saw the gold plates, or saw the plates when they were bundled up in a cloth covering. Even Joseph’s enemies believed he had them and they tried to get them many times, often by violent means. It’s not just one person. Many people have witnessed these things. Also there are a number of clues in the Book of Mormon itself-clues that can lead a person to the location, step by step.

I’m not asking you to believe the religious message, although I think you’ll come to see the truth of it for yourself over time. All I’m asking is that you help me evaluate the clues, locate them on a modern map, and assist me with your expertise on the ground and in the field. I can do a lot of it myself, but your natural instinct, and your experience in the jungle would be invaluable to me. And like I said at first, I’ll be paying you $100,000 a year whether you believe the story or not. What do you think?”

“Let me think about it for a day. I have some solid prospects in Guatemala that I could be working on, that are a lot more concrete than this, and it still sounds like pie-in-the-sky to me, but the hundred thousand in regular payments sounds good too.”

“OK, that’s fair. In the mean time I’d like to take you up to Salt Lake and show you a few things.”

They spent the afternoon wandering around Temple Square and some of the other historic sights in Salt Lake. Chris had to admit that it was all beautiful and very peaceful and serene. They ended up at one of the theaters in the visitors center and sat through The Testments movie which relates the Saviors visit to the Americas following his resurrection. It was very moving and Chris had to hurry and wiped his eyes during the closing scenes so no one would notice his tears. Maybe there was more to this Mormon Church than he had thought.

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