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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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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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I first read this in 1994, and I thought it was grand. That it made a good case too. Since then, however, author Graham Hancock has sort of one off the deep end. So, with my second reading, what would I find?
I find Hancock's travelogues interesting. I find his analysis of sculpture at Chartres, his exegesis of the grail literature, and his reading of history reasonable, supportable, and interesting. I don't think he makes any logical leap too far. Is it a far-fetched theory? Sure. (But this is a book about an object most people would today consider a myth. Hancock himself thinks it's a magic box made with some unknown civilization's technology by Moses.)
Spoiler. The theory is: (a) the Ark was spirited out of the Temple in the reign of evil Manasseh; (b) righteous priests took it to Elephantine Island in the Nile in Egypt, where a number of Jews were already living; (c) Josiah reorganizes Judaism and cleanses the Temple, asking the priests to return the Ark, but Jeremiah hints that it is gone; (d) in the 400s BC, the native Egyptians expelled the Jews from Elephantine, so the Ark was moved southward to the Lake Tana region of Ethiopia, where some Jews may already have migrated; (e) these Jews were the ancestors of the Falasha (black Jews) of Ethiopia, and later would influence the Judaic character of Ethiopian Christianity; (f) eventually, after some movements, the Ark ended up in Axum under Christian protection; (g) Knights Templar in Jerusalem, looking perhaps for the Ark, made contact with Ethiopian Christians, and traveled there to help the Christians fight Muslim invaders; (h) the Templars left Templar crosses across parts of Ethiopia, and left clues to the location of the Ark in the Grail literature of Wolfram von Eschenbach and Chrétien de Troyes.
That, in some twists and turns, is the book. It makes good sense. The late Stuart Munro-Hay in <i>The Quest for the Ark of the Covenant</i> take some issue with Hancock's research and conclusions, but he does not offer a point-by-point demolition of Hancock's book. Like Munro-Hay, others in the scholarly community call it drivel, but Hancock does make some points that need consideration. For instance, the Templar–Ethiopia connection, the Grail–Ark connection, the Jerusalem–Elephantine–Falasha connection deserve more attention. I think, in most places, Hancock makes a good case.
Some caveats. If you believe in the literal truth of the Bible, Hancock does not. He thinks the Ark is a magic box done with ancient technological trickery. (He doesn't come out and say it, but perhaps radioactive trickery.) You see the birth in this book of Hancock's later works. Hancock posits that Moses, as architect of the Ark (not God), was the inheritor of some advanced ancient wisdom from a lost civilization. Here he places it some place equidistant from Egypt and Mesopotamia and in the distant past. Later, beginning with <i>Fingerprints of the Gods</i>, he conjures up some Atlantis-like fallen civilization (first in Antarctica, and later elsewhere).
A great page-turner for a non-fiction book, and well worth the cheap price you can probably find copies for.
Do I think it's possible that the Ark of the Covenant ended up in Ethiopia? Anything's possible, I suppose. It went somewhere. It didn't just disappear without a trace.
I guess I'm really on the fence about the whole thing. Is the Ark in Ethiopia? Possibly. The Ethiopians brag that they have it, but none will admit to actually having seen it.
If not Ethiopia, then where is it? Who has it? Considering the value of such an artifact, not just to history, but to religion, if another country/group was in possession of the Ark, surely they would come forward? If for no other reason than to brag?
If the Ark is in Ethiopia, then it is with a people who cherish it and respect it, which is the impression I get from Mr. Hancock's book. Maybe we're better off not knowing for certain where the Ark is. It's hard to say.