I’m a sucker for conspiracy theories and wild ideas, so I indulged that fondness by reading Graham Hancock’s The Sign and the Seal. Considered a pseudoarchaeologist by the mainstream, Graham Hancock is a journalist who also writes (supposedly) non-fiction, investigative books on unsolved mysteries. I had read a previous work of his, Fingerprints of the Gods, so I knew what I was in for.
What happened to the Biblical Ark of the Covenant? Was it removed and destroyed by the Babylonians in about the 6th century BCE? Is it stored and forgotten in some Washington DC warehouse? Or did something else, something more intriguing, happen to it?
That is the question that Hancock attempts to answer in this rather long book. On assignment in Ethiopia in the early 80s, Hancock encoutners a local tradition claiming that the Ark of the Covenant resides in Ethiopia, and more amazingly, was brought to Ethiopia by the son from the Queen of Sheba’s liaison with King Solomon.
According to Biblical tradition (or Raiders of the Lost Ark — whichever you are more familiar with), the Ark of the Covenant was the container used to carry the Ten Commandments and was built byMoses and the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt. After a few hundred years, the Ark came to reside in the Temple in Jerusalem built by Solomon. It remained in the Temple for a few hundred years until it disappeared from history and was no longer mentioned around the 6th Centure BCE. Scholars have long believed that it fell victim to the Babylonians when they conquered Jerusalem at that time. The Ark has always seemed somewhat mysterious, with Biblical anecdotes about people becoming sick or dying when they come too close to it, the Ark being used as a weapon and many rules for how it was to be carried and approached.
Hancock’s book centers around exploring the possibility that the Ark could be in Ethiopia as well as when it likely disappeared from Jerusalem adn who was responsible. He also discusses Moses and suggests that Moses might have been a great magician who had been initiated into Egypt’s magical knowledge as well as speculating on what the Ark was made of and the source of its mysterious power.
Unexpectedly, a big part of Hancock’s book explores a connection between the Ark legend with…who else…the Knights Templar! Amazingly, Hancock suggests that the Grail legends (Chretien de Troyes’ Perceval and Eschenbach’s Parzival) may in fact have been descriptions of the Ark and its secret location in Ethiopia and that the Ark was what the Templars were searching for in Jerusalem. He further suggests that the Templars knew of its location in Ethiopia and even spent time there.
Do I believe that the Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia after reading Hancock’s book? Maybe. He makes a decent case for his hypothesis. Of course, I also prefer or wish to believe that not all mysteries have been solved and that some crack-pot theories could be true. I was surprised by the presence of the Templars and the Grail legends in this book. By now, who isn’t familiar with the Templars, their time in Jerusalem during the Crusades, their brutal dissolution at the hands of the French king and the Pope and the various Grail legends? However, it was interesting to read them in a new context. When Hancock first encountered the possibility that the Ark was in Ethiopia, it was around the time that Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln published Holy Blood, Holy Grail and around two decades before Dan Brown unleashed The Da Vinci Code on the world. In light of Templar, Grail and Da Vinci Code fever, I’m surprised that Hancock’s book hasn’t encountered a resurgence since, frankly, it contains as much scholarship as any of the “sources” Brown used.
Hancock’s style was a little annoying. There was a little too much of him in the book, and I didn’t need the play-by-play of his thought process. Plus, it was hard to believe that he is the only one who has ever looked at Chartres Cathedral and wondered why the Queen of Sheba is featured in its carvings.
Interesting book. Interesting hypothesis. I doubt we’ll never know for sure about the fate of the Ark, but I know I would much rather prefer to believe it resides safely in an Ethiopian church than lost forever.