The unforgettable Vendyl Jones passed away on Monday.
For some Jews, he will be remembered as the one who introduced them to the serious Noachide, a non-Jew who accepts and practices the Seven Noachide Laws. A former pastor who became disenchanted with elements of Christian belief, he discovered the unique teaching of Judaism that opens the doors of Heaven wide open to all human beings. Once he discovered them, he clung to them, studied them, and shared them with others. Personal circumstances did not permit him to convert – even as some of his children (now living in Israel) did.
He was a swashbuckling adventurer who could charm an underfed crocodile. Many believed that the Indiana Jones figure was modeled upon him. The jury is still out as to whether he encouraged or discouraged this belief.
I will remember him for his emunah. Firm belief in Hashem comes in many shapes and forms. For believers, it is a pleasure and privilege to encounter any of them in others. There is beauty in the simple and innocent uncompromised belief of the unchallenged – those who have no questions, and for whom questions rarely if ever stir up conflicts within. We encounter such belief in both Jews and non-Jews.
My own leanings are to stand in greater awe and appreciation of firm belief in those who have encountered relentless challenges to that belief – those who have thought through every counter-argument and emerged with their bond to HKBH stronger for it, rather than weakened. I have encountered this in my own life almost exclusively in people with strong yeshiva training.
Vendyl was an exception. He worked as a freelance archeologist, defying conventions in a staid field regarding academic background and procedures. Because of this, he faced a huge wall of opposition and cynicism. He knew the arguments of those with less zeal and belief than his, and he stared them down. After grappling with them, he retained the same enthusiasm, which displayed itself in the impish smile on his face. The sentiment in some archeological circles was one of doubt about the historicity of Tanach. After all, places archeologists had been searching according to the Biblical record could not be located, and evidence of events depicted therein was not found to their satisfaction. I once heard Vendyl’s response in person. If the Bible says that the Israelites encamped in a certain location, then there was nothing less than a 100% chance of finding the evidence if he looked hard enough. He convinced others to contribute funds to lease sophisticated beneath-ground imaging devices to help locate the evidence. There was no question in his mind that the evidence would be found. It was only a question of when.
His emunah will remain an inspiration to all those who met him.