Saturday, June 07, 2014

Book Review -- The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant

The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant by
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I'm not sure how exactly I ended up with this book. In the end, it was offered to me by a friend from church and I accepted it and they brough it to church and handed it to me, but I can't recall what I said originally that made them think I would be interested (but I was).

This was a long book that took me a long time to read. I suppose it had to be written even considering how long the journey took him. The book chronicles the author's journeys across the Middle East researching what the Ark of the Covenant is, why the Bible stops referring to it (though never mentions what happened to it) and what probably did really happen to it.

Ethiopians claim the ark was not only a Biblical story, but an actual thing which did exists and still exists to this day and that it is located in the city of Axum.

Hancock begins with the Ethiopian traditions and works outwards from there. If it's in Ethiopia, how did it get there? When did it get there? Who took it there? Why was it removed from the Jewish Kingdom? Through study, dogged determination, lots of questioning and a few lucky breaks, the author pieces together a very plausible timeline for the series of events and in the process refutes some of the common thinking of how Ethiopia came to be a predominantly Jewish and later Christian country.

The descriptions of travel and adventure are kind of exciting (traveling at night with rebels through contested Middle Easter territories on the eve of the deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, for example) but because he tries to tell his narrative as a story in chronological order, there also is quite a bit that feels repetitive, bits that could be edited down and points where he quotes notes he's written to himself. It is also interesting to see how eager academia and historians are to help when they find someone genuinely interested in a topic they have studied extensively and how willing they are to admit when they aren't an expert - refreshing. He also spends time looking into some of the other claims as to where it might be as well as retelling the history of some of the other attempts to locate it.

A chapter on *what* the ark and contents - the 10-commandments - is less interesting. While I myself have wondered about its nature and whether or not it might be radioactive, to read someone else's theories, such as whether or not it was made of material from a meteor, just felt disjointed, out of place and a bit too speculative. It was during this section of the book that I most considered abandoning the book, but I felt I wanted to see it through to the end.

In the end, as you guessed, he does not actually confirm the existence of the Ark of the Covenant, but his process comes to a very plausible conclusion that it probably is there. The book sold well but was largely dismissed by academia.

Here's a Wikipedia article about the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion as well as an overhead shot from Google maps (the small square building with the cross on the roof).

At 515 pages, it took me a long time to read and is why I now am going to try to have a policy of not taking more than one week to read a book as several books have sat on my nightstand unread for weeks and one book even had to go back to the library because I didn't get to it in time.

The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant (
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