The connections to Finland

Biblical scholars and poets

Finland played a pivotal role in the Parker expedition from the start with Valter Juvelius to the less well known role of Pertti Uotila.

Valter Juvelius

Valter Henrik Juvelius was Finnish. He was born in 1865 in Pyhäjoki on the Baltic coast of northern Finland. After finishing school, Juvelius took up his father’s profession and worked as a surveyor for many years. A few years before the expedition he gave this up and studied for a doctorate at the Finnish Imperial University. While studying for his doctorate, Juvelius became interested in kabbalist ideas that there were hidden messages within the Old Testament text. His thesis was not directly about the existence of the cypher but it was closely related. It covered the time of the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the exile in Babylon. It was during this period that he said he discovered the hidden cyphers. Juvelius submitted his thesis in 1907 and, after completing his doctorate, became the head of a Workers Education College.

Juvelius’ other great passion was poetry and the Finnish language. He wrote poetry in Finnish. His most famous poem Karjalan Kunnailla (‘O Hills of Karelia’) is still well known in his home country. He also translated many foreign poets and authors into Finnish including Goethe, Burns and Byron. At the start of the 20th century he lived in Viipuri. The town is close to Saint Petersburg, is now known as Vyborg, and has become part of the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation.

Juvelius said that during his studies he discovered the secret cyphers in the Old Testament. The cypher or, more accurately, the cyphers that Juvelius claimed to have discovered were based on the number seven. This number is highly significant in the Bible, as it is considered a holy number, reflecting perfection. He documented cyphers in the book of Ezekiel, the book of Deuteronomy, the book of Leviticus and finally the Wisdom of Sirach.

The cyphers only work in the language the text was first written in. Hence the emphasis that it was from an old unvowelled version of the books of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Biblical Hebrew is different from the Hebrew in general usage today. One of the critical differences to modern Hebrew is that the alphabet only has 22 letters. It does not contain any vowels. These have to be inferred or vocalised from the text and context of the word. It is not certain where Juvelius found his unvowelled Bible. An expedition member told Rudyard Kipling that Juvelius found the cypher in a document in Saint Petersburg. As we know, Juvelius lived within the Russian Empire and Saint Petersburg is less than 100 miles from his home. The Saint Petersburg Imperial Library contained two of the oldest Hebrew Bible manuscripts in the world: the Codex Babylonicus Petropolitanus and the Leningrad Codex. Both contain the book of Ezekiel.

In late 1907 Juvelius finished documenting the cyphers.  The hidden cyphers were a series of cryptic statements which Juvelius interpreted to say where he believed the Ark was hidden. He concluded his findings by saying,

‘To find the Jews’ temple archives would be an enormous gain for science (and) it might be worth while to fit out an expedition to find the archive.’

The question for Juvelius was how to achieve this. He could not fund the expedition himself and he had no contacts in Constantinople. While he was trying to work out what to do he met an old friend in Helsinki. Pertti Uotila was fifteen years younger than Juvelius. Their families were friends and Juvelius had known Uotila since the younger man was a child. Uotila’s father was a landowner, lawyer and professor at Helsinki University. He was also a poet and translator. Pertti was his eldest son and was born in 1880. Despite the age gap, Uotila and Juvelius became good friends. They shared a common interest in the Finnish language. Pertti Uotila was a poet, like both his father and Juvelius. He also worked as a journalist.

The two friends met for a meal in the elegant restaurant of the Hotel Kämp in Helsinki. Uotila brought along a friend of his, Arne Basilier. He was Finnish but had been working as a chemist in America. Over the meal, Juvelius told them about his discoveries. Uotila was interested in helping his friend secure funding to test his theories. Basilier told Juvelius he knew someone who could help. He suggested involving his stepfather, Johan Millen. So started the process which led to the Parker expedition.

Pertti Uotila

Pertti Uotila was known by different names during his life, including Bertil Oskar Lemmitty Favén, Pertti Faven, Bertil Faven and Oskar Nevanlinna. As well as helping to introduce Juvelius to Millen, Uotila was a participant and investor in the project. As a young man, Uotila was a socialist, and in 1905 he helped translate the hymn of the left, the Internationale, into Finnish. Pertti’s younger brother was Antti Favén a painter who had studied in France and became a well-known Finnish impressionist artist.

Uotila accompanied Juvelius on the expedition to Jerusalem and ended up spending much more time than his friend in the city. Juvelius had to leave Jerusalem at the end of 1909 and he was now restricted to a remote role. Pertti Uotila agreed to stay in Jerusalem to represent him. He stayed there till the end of the expedition.

When he left for Jerusalem, he had recently sold his family estate, including agricultural land and forests. He had capital and invested some of this in the exploration company. When he finally returned home he was close to bankruptcy and divorced. Soon after, he too joined up to fight in the First World War. As Finland was part of the Russian Empire, he became an officer in the Russian Imperial Cavalry. He fought in the disastrous Russian campaigns against Germany. The losses the Russians suffered were significant contributory factors to the two revolutions in 1917, which saw first the Tsar overthrown and then the Bolsheviks seize power. Finland took advantage of the instability and declared independence from Russia. This led to a bloody civil war in Finland, with Red versus White. As with most civil wars, it was brutal, with atrocities committed by both sides. The war also drew in the Bolsheviks, the Germans and the Allies. Despite his youthful socialism, Uotila fought for the right-wing Whites, who eventually proved victorious. After the Finnish Civil War, Uotila fought against Bolshevik Russia for several more years in the so-called Tribal Wars.

Other geographical connections