Customer Reviews: Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant
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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. This is not Indiana Jones' quest for the Ark of the Covenant, so anyone looking for that sort of action will be disappointed. Anyone expecting to see pictures and Hancock's personal descriptions of the Ark will also be disappointed. Whatever rests in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion in Ethiopia will not and probably should not be revealed to the eyes of anyone other than its appointed guardian.
What you will find in this book is a lesson on the history of the ancient Israelites and of the Biblical Ark, a history of Ethiopia (which I for one had never really heard the first thing about), a history of the mysterious Knights Templar (truly fascinating and mysterious men), and an enlightening story of Gothic architecture and mediaeval literature. Parzival is not an easy book to read, and thus it is rather unknown, even though it is just as important (and, if Hancock is correct, much more important) than Malory's better-known treatment of King Arthur and his search for the Holy Grail. The idea Hancock presents, namely that the Holy Grail was in fact the Ark of the Covenant, manages to bring together the story of the two most important Biblical artifacts in history. If you have an open mind and a zest for "understanding," then this book should definitely be included on your reading list. Believe Hancock's opinions or not, the tale he tells is fascinating, dramatic, and intellectually enlightening.
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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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on June 21, 2000
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. Historical linguistics, Tamil trade words in Hebrew, the lack of Egyptian words in Hebrew, the history of the Iron-Age (The Hebrews of Joshua were iron-age invaders of Canaan but were supposed to have fled bronze age Egypt), 11th century BC political-economic conditions, the name for the Ark in Ge'ez, the pattern of ancient Jewish settlement, the Saudi Gazette of Place Names, inscriptions on the Ethiopian plateau, remnant Judaic populations in northern Somalia and Eritrea, the history of the Queen of Sheba (three are mentioned in the Tigre inscriptions) and the extraordinary geographical references all point to the true location of Solomon's kingdom being between Taima and the Yemen border, in West Arabia, not Israel/Palestine. The Ark was probably stolen from a sanctuary near Abha in Arabia. If Hancock's hypothesis of a theft from the site of present Jerusalem it is difficult to accept that the Ark, reputedly the most dangerous weapon on the planet and in the hands of a small group of hunted desperadoes, would be casually waved all the way through tightly controlled Dynastic Egypt which was ruled by Solomon's own father in law. Hancock suggests the Ark was in the hands of the Elephantine Aramaic-speaking Jewish garrison in the 5th century BC who many commentators believe introduced Judaism to Ethiopia. However the Tigre inscriptions testify to a mixed Hebrew/Sheba population ruled by kings and queens of Shebans around 700 BC, which seems to corroborate the events in the Sheba-Menelik Cycle. Personally I believe the Sheba-Menelik Cycle pre-dates the Old Testament, which was first written around 400 BC without vowels and eventually standardised with vowels between 500-950 AD. Nevertheless, Hancock's work on the Ark in Ethiopia is very informative. What he has missed is a chance to show that the history of the Ark is the key to the true location of the Old Testament.
Dr Bernard Leeman Ethiopian Research Council Former Deputy Head of History, Asmara University
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on January 3, 2001
"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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on July 5, 1998
This book was the first of Graham Hancock's I ever read. Although the size was, at first, daunting, I quickly was drawn into the book as it contextualizes the history surrounding the Ark of the Covenant to explain where others quests may have gone awry. Hancock enables the reader to retrace the possible/probable trail the Ark may have taken and explains each twist and turn with basic logic. I was able to read it in 3 days and retained enough to retell the tale during 3 a.m. guard duty shifts to my fellow freezing comrades, making the time pass quickly and opening up more lively conversation than you usually find guarding an empty perimeter in the snow. I loaned it to a professor and have yet to get it back. Of course, now my brother has a copy. A great book.
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on February 10, 2000
Hancock writes a fascinating tail of one of the most sought after religious relics of our time. Displaying a profound and almost scary ability to find connections and meanings in the most darkest of corners. I found this book to be not only entertaining but very informative. Hancock's journalistic qualities are readily apparent as he weaves a fascinating tail of epic proportions. Fact or fiction? Only you can be the judge of that, but the evidence presented by Hancock is of a most astounding nature. Presenting convincing evidence of the long and perilous journey of the Ark and it's relationship to religious artifacts and cults of all genre. An absolutely fantastic book.
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on November 6, 2004
Cover to cover it is an engaging read. It doesn't matter if you don't agree with some of his conclusions and intrepretations it is still an educational and entertaining read. It describes a rich and ancient history of a country that the average North American would otherwise not know anything about. I would recommend it to any one interested in biblical history.
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on December 22, 1999
This book was captivating from the start. From an entertainment standpoint, the book was impossible to put down. Highly recommended for open-minded individuals searching for knowledge and truth. However, as should be the case with all works of this type, the reliability and proper intrepretation of the sources should be investigated before one considers the work scientific. In the end it all comes down to a matter of faith.
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on November 20, 1998
Hancock really did his homework on this one. Perhaps more emphasis could have been placed on the 'Menelik' myth. Nevertheless, a great job! It is very plausible that the ark is indeed located in Axum, Ehtiopia. Why should we be surprised? Ethiopia, one of the largest and oldest empires in antiquity, has long since had ties to Jeruselum. Making referencene in today's bible, Ethiopia, or 'Cush' can first be seen in Genesis. Secondly, Moses' wife during the 'exodus' was an Ethiopian woman. In the book of Acts, Phillip the evangelist, made a proselyte, of the new testament doctrine concerning the risen Christ, of an Ethiopian treasurer, who was worshipping in Jeruselum and conducting business for Candace, the queen of Ethiopia, at the time. As we can conclude, it would have been a very easy task for the the Queen of Sheba, using established trade & religious routes, to visit Jeruselum and the wise King Solomon; and seeing his obvious appreciation of women, for her to return home pregnant. We can easily dismiss the notion of an Arabic queen. Ethiopia has a historical lineage of queens leading right up to mordern history. The notion that the Queen of Sheba was Arabic can undoubtedly be attributed to the fact that Ethiopia, an imperial power of that time rivaling Egypt, probably controlled that region of the world. But we cannot dismiss the Falashas, or 'black Jews' who were recently (in the 70s'), officially recognized as Jews and were provided settlements in Isreal. They had preserved Old Testament religion to the exact 'letter of the law' as written by Moses, even unto this day. An interesting note, they claim descent from Menelik I, the illegimate son of King Solomon and Makeba, the Queen of Sheba. Even more fascinating is the modern day Battle of Adowa. The king of Ethiopia, Menelik II, as he was called (because of traditional lineage), was reported to have used the ark in this battle. A battle in which the Ethiopians, armed with a few rifles, spearmen, and men on horseback, defeated the Italians, equipped with mordern day weaponry, to include artillery pieces. The odds were something like 4-to-1, in favor of the Italians. In review of the battle, some of the artillery pieces were not even fired. How is that for intriguing (this battle actually happened)? Sounds like the ark of the covenent again. The result of this battle gave recognition to Ethiopia as a modern day world power. Quite a leap from men on horseback to an eventual modern day equipped nation that worshipped the God of Isreal. Other world powers stood in line to conduct business with Menelik II and Ethiopia. The point being, the Ark of the Covenent could only be kept and maintained by a people adhering to the undisputed law of God. And, what better place to keep the ark, if we are to believe in the supernatural power of God, than in a nation that still practices the law of Moses(Falashas), to this very day? Perhaps the ark is their motivation for having maintained the Old Testament doctrine? Especially seeing the many times that Isreal had been invaded and provided a brief home to many pagan religions, during the reign of the kings. I think the conclusion, whether theoretical, hypothetical or factual, is quite clear. Good job!
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on March 28, 2001
As an intellectual adventure story this book is top rate. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and I virtually read it in one sitting. That alone merits the book five stars; however, it is not without faults. I don't want to appear overly down on the book, but I do feel that I must point these things out. For one thing, the Holy Grail is not the Ark. They are two completely separate artifacts, and despite the fact that Hancock uses a lot of fudgery to convince himself of this, he is wrong. Next, the Knights Templar may have found the Ark, but again this is unlikely. Also, the book is a bit of a let-down because Hancock never actually finds the Ark. He rather assumes he has found it and then let's the reader's imagination run amok. While the Ark may be in Ethiopia (this is the most likely place for it's location), Hancock does not definitively show this. Many have faulted Hancock for what they term his "Egyptian bias". I myself do not. Anyone who has seen the Great Pyramids or even pictures of them knows that there is more to ancient Egypt than meets the modern eye. Egypt was pretty much the center of the ancient world, and it should be treated as such. Unfortunately, Hancock fails to reveal or appreciate the importance of the religious element in any rediscovery of the Ark. As a vessel which basically served as the meetingplace between man and God for the ancient Hebrew, a rediscovery of the Ark would be of immense religious significance for the Destiny of the Human Race in it's relationship with the Divine. This book is for dreamers and seekers, for those of us who view human history as guided by Providence and who continue to look for the primitive artifacts of our ancient ancestors in a better attempt to understand the place of man in this world.
A word of warning. I liked this book a lot, so I attempted to find some other books of Hancock's to read. About this: Don't even bother. He ends up "selling out" to the "aliens crowd", who regard all the ancient myths as nothing more than a battle between mankind and the aliens (whatever that might mean). Wherever an unknown creature or something mysterious occurs, they attribute it to aliens. This is a religious type of movement and a product of postmodern decadence. It's not that I'm hostile to the notion of aliens (however, I myself admire the kind of radical super-humanism behind such modern notions as the Anthropic Cosmological Principle), but the idea that aliens at one time inhabitted the earth is pretty much unfounded. This totally fails to appreciate the ancient myths for what they are, encoded science, encoded history, and the psychological attempt by man to give meaning to his existence. As such, it robs man of his proper place in the universe and his relation to nature. In his other books, Hancock just throws speculation upon speculation in an attempt to support these unsubstantiated hypotheses.
However, don't let this detract from the quality of this book, or the meaning behind man's search for the lost Ark.
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