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Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant Paperback – July 2, 1993

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

English journalist Hancock retells the circumstances and thoughts that led to his discovery that the Lost Ark of the Covenant really exists. (Note that the subtitle is not How Indy and I Raided the Lost Ark.) Hancock was in Ethiopia in 1983, having been hired by the Ethiopian government to write and produce a coffee-table book extolling that country. He was greatly surprised when told that Ethiopia's Falasha Jews did not exist, and that many people could land in jail, or worse, if he went around photographing such nonexistents. Even so, off he went to Axum, deep in the desert, to see the temples and statuary of the Black Jews of Ethiopia. What he found was a sect that claimed to have the original Ark of the Covenant. Refused entrance to the sanctuary of the jealously guarded Ark, Hancock went home--and saw Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, which inspired him to investigate the history of the Ark. Built at the foot of Mount Sinai, Hancock tells us, it ``was deposited [around 955 B.C.] by Solomon in the Holy of Holies of the First Temple.'' Later, Hancock says, it was stolen by Solomon's outcast son and carried south to Ethiopia and kept there for 800 years by a Judaic cult. Then it apparently was seized by the Knights Templar, who thought that it was the Holy Grail. The Knights converted the Jews, who kept the Ark in a great church. And to protect the Ark, all of the churches in the cult have their own replicas of the Ark: The original is never seen, even on the holiest days of the year. In 1991, during the Gulf War, Hancock returned to Axum to see the Ark--and was refused. Not as much fun as might be hoped as Hancock digs through literary and bibical texts while convincing himself that the Ark exists. (Sixteen pp. of b&w photographs--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


The Western Morning News As readable as a first-class detective story...

The Seattle Times Anyone who likes a great intellectual detective yarn will plunge into The Sign and the Seal and not come up until the end.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (July 2, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671865412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671865412
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am the author of the forthcoming Magicians of the Gods, published on 10 November 2015, and of the major international bestsellers The Sign and the Seal, Fingerprints of the Gods, Heaven's Mirror, Underworld, and Supernatural.

I share below the story of the journey that led me to these books

In the early 1980's, when I was East Africa correspondent of The Economist, writing about wars, politics, economics and aid programmes, I had no idea where fate was going to lead me or what strange seas of thought I would find myself sailing on. But in 1983 I made my first visit to Axum in northern Ethiopia, then in the midst of a war zone, and found myself in the presence of an ancient monk outside a little chapel in the grounds of the cathedral of Saint Mary of Zion. The monk told me that the chapel was the sanctuary of the Ark of the Covenant and that he was the guardian of the Ark, the most sacred relic of the Bible, supposedly lost since Old Testament times. What he said seemed ludicrous but for some reason it intrigued me. I began to look into the Ethiopian claim and found much surprising and neglected evidence that supported it, not least the faint traces of a mission to Ethiopia undertaken by the Knights Templar in the twelfth century. I kept adding to that dossier of evidence while also continuing to pursue my current affairs interests (including Lords of Poverty, my controversial book about foreign aid, published in 1989), and finally, in 1992, I published The Sign and the Seal: A Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, my first full-fledged investigation of a historical mystery.

As well as to Ethiopia and to Israel, my research for The Sign and the Seal had taken me to Egypt and opened my eyes to the incredible enigma of the Great Pyramid of Giza, while the "technological" aspects of the Ark (shooting out bolts of fire, striking people dead, etc) had alerted me to the existence of out of place technologies in antiquity. The stage was now set for my next project - a worldwide investigation into the possibility of a lost, prehistoric civilisation that resulted, in 1995, in the publication of Fingerprints of the Gods, undoubtedly my best known book. The Message of the Sphinx (co-authored with Robert Bauval) followed in 1996, looking specifically into the mysteries of the Great Sphinx of Giza, and then in 1998 Heaven's Mirror, photographed by my wife Santha Faiia, which shows why many ancient sites in all parts of the globe replicate the patterns of constellations on the ground and are aligned to important celestial events such as the rising points of the sun on the equinoxes and the solstices. In 2002, I published Underworld, the result of five years of scuba diving across all the world's oceans to find ancient ruins submerged by rising sea levels at the end of the Ice Age.

After Underworld, I decided to step away from lost civilisation mysteries for a while and my next non-fiction book, Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind, published in 2005, focussed on shamanism, altered states of consciousness and the astonishing universal themes that appear in rock and cave art from deepest antiquity right through to the paintings done by shamans in the Amazon rainforest today.

From my years as a journalist I've always distrusted armchair theorising and believed I have a responsibility to seek out direct personal, "boots on the ground" experience of what I'm writing about. That was why I did five years of often difficult and dangerous scuba diving for Underworld. And it's also why, as part of my research for Supernatural I travelled to the Amazon to drink the visionary brew Ayahuasca with shamans there. As well as better equipping me to write Supernatural, my experiences in the Amazon changed my life and brought out a new side of my own creativity. I've continued working with Ayahuasca ever since and in 2006, during a series of sessions in Brazil, in a ceremonial space overlooked by images of a blue goddess, my visions gave me the basic characters, dilemmas and plot of the book that would become my first novel, Entangled, published in 2010. Entangled tells the story of two young women, one living 24,000 years ago in the Stone Age, and the other in modern Los Angeles, who are brought together by a supernatural being to do battle with a demon who travels through time.

Since the publication of Entangled I have also written the first two volumes of a series of three epic novels about the Spanish conquest of Mexico - the War God trilogy. The first volume, War God: Nights of the Witch, was published in 2013, and the second volume, War God: Return of the Plumed Serpent, was published in 2014. The third volume, War God: Apocalypse, is already more than half written and will be published in 2016 but in the meantime my new non-fiction book, Magicians of the Gods, is published on 10 November 2015. Magicians is the sequel to Fingerprints of the Gods, and presents all the new evidence that has emerged since 1995 for a great lost civilisation of prehistoric antiquity and for the global cataclysm that destroyed that civilisation almost 13,000 years ago - a cataclysm on such a scale that it forced mankind, as Plato put it, "to begin again like children with no memory of what went before."

My ideas on prehistory and on the mysterious nature of reality have made me something of a controversial figure. In 1999, for example BBC Horizon made a documentary ("Atlantis Reborn") attacking my position on the lost civilisation. But part of that documentary was found by the UK's Broadcasting Standards Commission to be unfair - the first time ever that the flagship Horizon series had been judged guilty of unfairness. The BBC took the problem seriously enough to put out a revised re-edited version of the programme a year later. More recently, in 2013, my TED talk "The War on Consciousness" was deleted from the TED Youtube channel on grounds that TED itself later admitted to be spurious by striking out every one of the objections it had originally raised to my talk. TED, however, refused to restore the talk to its Youtube channel resulting in dozens of pirate uploads all over the internet that have now registered well over a million views.

I make mistakes like everyone else, but ever since my time with The Economist I've felt it is important to strive for rigour and accuracy, to check facts, to set out my sources clearly and openly for all to see and to admit my mistakes when I make them. As I continue to explore extraordinary ideas in my works of non-fiction, and in my novels, I'll also continue to do that.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Jolley HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is an exceedingly interesting book, albeit controversial, for anyone interested in "history's mysteries." For those of us who have pored through the works of Zecharia Sitchin and dared to ponder questions that the scientists and religious authorities regard as sacrilegious (after all, science itself is a religion), this is especially interesting material. You don't have to believe in Hancock's theories (although he offers a weighty, serious argument for them) in order to love this book. Even if you regard the idea of the Ark of the Covenant resting in Ethiopia (or the notion that the Ark even exists) as preposterous, you can still enjoy this book in the same way you can delight in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories; this book is about solving a mystery. Just as Holmes' series of adventures often resulted in no real, firm, graspable truth, so is the case here. This detracts little from the story, however. The final judgment is left up to you, the reader, which is the trademark of any substantive mystery--only in this way can the great and unattainable "truth," in its most esoteric sense, be glimpsed.
Granted, Hancock is not a scientist or theologian, but this may in fact serve as his greatest qualification for tackling the types of lofty problems he embraces. After all, the vast majority of scientists and theologians dismiss without consideration the sorts of "wild" ideas discussed in this book; if not for the open minds of men like Mr. Hancock, many truths that have now been established would remain jokes told by the arrogant "experts" over tea--take, as an example, the discovery of Troy. As for the content of this book, it truly is a mix of history, religion, and archaeology.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Simon Kinahan ( on October 7, 1998
Format: Paperback
I found this book and exciting and stimulating read, and Hancock does his research well, as best I can tell. He leaves the reader with a great deal to think about, both in the biblical context of discovering what happened to the Ark, and in the Ethiopian context of the unusual reverence the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has for the Ark, and their claim to possess the original artifact.
However readers should be forwarned that, as in all his other work I have read, Graham Hancock is willing to draw the most sensational conclusions from what appears to be very scanty evidence. He links his ideas together very poorly and often reasons from ealier conclusions that, while they seem reasonable, are never backed up fully. He has no single compelling piece of evidence, just a lot of suggestive ideas.
Nontheless, it is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. I just want to warn those who read it and feel 'all them historians and egyptologists is wrong, Graham Hancock knows the TRUTH' that he never proves any of his theories, and therefore as well as not being easy to dismiss, his ideas should not be too easily accepted.
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75 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Hey, Indy I've found something", Oh, wait, that's a line from the movie 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' isn't it? and 'The Sign & the Seal' is a serious historical, archaelogical account of the search for, and supposed discovery of the biblical Ark of the Covenant. Yes, one is fantasy and the other non-fiction, although after reading some parts of the book, don't be surprised if you find yourself flipping to the backcover to check on the publishing category. For your reference it's 'history/religion/archaeology'
That the book reads like a great adventure novel makes it enjoyable. That it purports to have solved the mystery of not only what happened to the Ark, but also that Hancock says that he knows where it is, makes this a book that deserves serious attention. The author spent considerable time researching this subject and his quest took him to Jerusalem, Egypt, the Chartres Cathedral in France and finally Ethiopia. He read widely and interviewed many people and discusses a wide variety of topics. The Kebra Nagast (the ancient Ethiopian history of the Queen of Sheba), the Templars, the Holy Grail, the biblical story of Solomon and the Babylonian Exile of the Jews all have some bearing on the wherabouts of the Ark. Hancock weaves it all together with style.
Research, genuine interest, enthusiasm and writing style however are insufficient in overcoming the critical flaw of the book. Unlike a movie which can end however it chooses, an investigative history book must prove it's thesis. Hancock neatly dodges producing proof by telling us that the guardian of the Ark won't let anyone see it. In recalling the conversation Hancock remembers saying 'this is a great disappointment for me', to which the guardian philosophically replied 'there are worse things in life than disappointment', to which I say, there are many movies that could use good endings like this but a history book should not be allowed to get away with it.
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55 of 63 people found the following review helpful By DR. BERNARD LEEMAN on June 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
Hancock's book is an entertaining account of an enthusiast who, from his own admission, was largely ignorant of his subject when he set out to discover the truth about it. The book has three main flaws. Whether by design or cultural self-centeredness, Hancock is too interested in searching for Knights Templar involvement, although the so-called Templar crosses in Ethiopia/Eritrea date from the 5th century AD. Linking the Ark to medieval Europeans sells books [Munro-Hay's Aksum (1991) and The Ark of the Covenant (1999) are far more informative but don't sell outside academia because European historical romanticism is absent in his works]. Secondly, Hancock had little understanding of the Kebra Nagast, which is a combination of two separate works, the Sheba-Menelik Cycle dating from oral (10th century BC) and written (pre-400BC) Semitic sources (Josephus summarises it (ca.90AD); and the Caleb Cycle (ca 518 AD). When Isaac's team compiled the Kebra Nagast around 1314 AD they used an Arabic Sheba-Menelik Cycle and a Ge'ez Caleb Cycle and then put in their own comments to try and make sense of the bizarre geography of the Sheba-Menelik Cycle. This included references to Cairo and Alexandria, which didn't exist in Solomon's day, something Hancock overlooked. Hancock is hardly alone in his third and major miscalculation. It is now generally accepted in mainstream archaeology that no evidence exists in Israel/Palestine of the events and places described in the Old Testament up until the Babylonian captivity. The site of modern day Jerusalem in Solomon's day was covered by a few small villages. There was no great city and nothing has been found of Omri's even more magnificent capital in Samaria.Read more ›
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