The Sign and the Seal
The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant (1992)
by Graham Hancock (1950-)
This is the story of Hancock’s quest to discover the truth of the Ethiopian tradition that a church in Axum is the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, built at the instruction of Moses to hold the tablets he brought down from Mount Sinai.
Hancock’s story began in 1983, working on a book about Ethiopia, and ended in 1990. Along the way, his research touched on the roots of Egyptian civilization; a possible common source for Egyptian and Sumerian civilization he identifies with Atlantis; the source of Moses’ knowledge; the relation between the religious practices of the Egypt Moses knew and the Judaism he instituted; the actual nature and function of the Ark; the mystery of the disappearance, without explanation, of the Ark from all mention in the Bible; the existence of the Falasha Jews of Ethiopia, observing an archaic Judaism; the legend of their descent from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; another Hebrew-influenced religious group in Ethiopia; the secret interests of the Knights Templar, in Solomon’s Temple and in Ethiopia; the activities of the Templars in Ethiopia and their interest in the church at Axum; an embassy from the king of the Ethiopians to the Pope in Avignon; the persecution of the Templars within a year of the Ethiopian embassy; the connection between the Templars and the two early stories of the Grail Quest, by Chretien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parsival; the source and meaning of certain carvings on the Gothic cathedral at Chartres; the hidden connection between the persecuted Templars and the Freemasons in Scotland, and another order in Portugal; the seeking of Prester John in Africa by Henry the Navigator, of Portugal; and another quest to Ethiopia by the Freemason, James Bruce of Scotland. All in all, a broad range of inquiry.
Hancock weaves a fascinating tale, and brings in many opinions of experts in fields related to his quest. Naturally, no single expert has addressed the quest as he sees it, and part of his task is to put the opinions of specialists in perspective. He seems to have done this fairly, and constructed a synthesis that appears to me to carry significant weight. In some ways, this feat is similar to Geoffrey Ashe’s discovery of the historical Arthur. The story is made more interesting by the coincidence that the Grail story, no doubt conveyed to Chretien de Troyes by someone familair with the Templars’ quest for the Ark, became (inappropriately) combined with the Arthurian legends.
As usual, I am attracted to syntheses that involve numerous threads connected in new or unusual ways. This work did not disappoint.
Regardless of the end of Hancock’s personal quest, he has opened a line of inquiry that will doubtless continue for some time to come. I expect to hear more along these lines.