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

ISBN: 0671865412
ISBN 13: 9780671865412
By: Graham Hancock

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About this book

The fact of the Lost Ark of the Covenant is one of the great historical mysteries of all time. To believers, the Ark is the legendary vessel holding the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. The Bible contains hundreds of references to the Ark's power to level mountains, destroy armies, and lay waste to cities. The Ark itself, however, mysteriously disappears from recorded history sometime after the building of the Temple of Solomon.After 10 years of searching through the dusty archives of Europe and the Middle East, as well as braving the real-life dangers of a bloody civil war in Ethiopia, Graham Hancock has succeeded where scores of others have failed. This intrepid journalist has tracked down the true story behind the myths and legends -- revealing where the Ark is today, how it got there, and why it remains hidden.Part fascinating scholarship and part entertaining adventure yarn, tying together some of the most intriguing tales of all time -- from the Knights Templar and Prester John to Parsival and the Holy Grail -- this book will appeal to anyone fascinated by the revelation of hidden truths, the discovery of secret mysteries.

Reader's Thoughts


Interesting, but let down at the end.


This book was mind boggling. It reads almost like a detective novel. Graham Hancock is looking for the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, and he traces its passage through history by analyzing social movements, art, architecture, myth and literature and establishing clues therein as guideposts toward his conclusion. It's a page turner, and well worth picking up.


OK, after this, I'll be as caught up as I'm going to get. It might be a while before I post again, as what I'm currently reading is an unpublished manuscript, and the book up after that doesn't look like a quick read at all. The final book to mention at the end of what amounts for me to be a flurry of posts is Graham Hancock's The Sign and the Seal. Hancock was the East African correspondent for The Economist until he began to write freelance in the early 1980's, when he became familiar with Ethiopian culture and politics. Part of this culture is the fervent belief that the Ark of the Covenant-- yes, THAT Ark of the Covenant--is kept even today under guard in the town of Axum. The story goes that the Ark was transported to Ethiopia during the time of Solomon, who had a son with the Queen of Sheba (whom the legend asserts was Ethiopian). This son went to visit Solomon, and made off with the Ark, transporting it to secrecy and safety in Northern Africa.At first, Hancock took this story simply for that: a story. But then, several years later, he was visting Chartres with his family when he noticed something interesting in one of the archway freizes: a carving of the Queen of Sheba with an African/Ethiopian under her foot. The carving and a few others on the cathedral piqued Hancock's interest and set him off on a journey of many years in search of answers. The best parts of this book, the parts which make it feel like a researcher's detective novel, are Hancock's rexamination of the facts known: the Knights Templar involvement in Jerusalem during the Crusades: the Falusha, a peculiar isolated Jewish tribe of Ethiopia; the establishment of a Jewish temple on an island in the Nile which may have been a stopping point for the Ark; the convergence of the Ark and the Holy Grail in medieval literature; etc. It's fascinating to see how Hancock pulls the pieces together, and at least opens some reasonable questions about the veracity of the legend.The worst parts of the book, though, threaten to undermine a lot of the solid foundations Hancock lays. Two specific points come to mind: the time when, near the end of his journey, he makes a terribly irresponsible disclaimer-- that he doesn't care how the academics and scholars reply to his work. In other words, he won't accept scholarly inquiry or verification of his work, although he generously provides a very long bibliography. The second glaring fault, though, seems to justify his nervousness: a long passage in the middle of the book arguing that much of the advanced knowledge necessary to create an object as powerful as the Ark depicted in the Old Testament must have been derived from an ancient, unknown, and long disappeared civilization-- Atlantis. Is the book still worth reading even with these thinly drawn speculations at its heart? Surprisingly, I would say yes, because I feel that the rest of the book would still be strongly formed without the Atlantis interlude. I want to call that section nonsense, but maybe I would be too quick to dismiss all of his observations out of hand. Not that I believe in the Atlantis myth for a second. However, there have been many observations of knowledge and civilizations lost over the centuries. This passage was the only area where Hancock's suppositions seemed utterly incredible, even though some of the others were a reach.Even if the Atlantis section clunks down in the middle of the book like a malformed plaything, it somehow suits the topic, however, to have such mythology at its base. For a secular Christian society, the world wobbles atop fantastic stories of all sorts, and the metaphors shift in and out of literal reality with the passing time. The story of the Ark of the Covenant--and, if Hancock is to be believed, the corresponding quests for the Holy Grail-- is the iconic myth of valor, power, and holy favor. I mean, for us children of the 80's, there are few movie scenes more memorable than the one near the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indy and Marion are tied to the posts and the Ark is opened. Faces melt, souls are released, the magic sand of the desert does not like being mocked.This may be a trivial manifestation of the myth, but it does show the power of the story to captivate us even now.There is a point near the end of the book when Hancock resigns himself to never actually seeing the true Ark. He realizes that he will have to be satisfied with the many symbolic replicas easily approachable at churches throughout Ethiopia. According to popular belief, THE Ark, of course, is jealously guarded, and although everyone knows of its existence, they know through faith, and not through being allowed to verify through facts and witness. There is a moment when that is enough. The strength of the story has carried through more than a thousand years, and there are still people who want to believe it so badly that they will dedicate their lives to protecting it. For at this point, the story and the artifact become one and the same.


More speculative non-fictionesque that I actually forgot I had read until I had a conversation with my sister today.


I experienced a sense of déjà vu when I first picked up this paperback: black cover, red titles, a yellow band with the legend “the explosively controversial international bestseller” emblazoned across the front. Back home I realised why. The design was a rip-off of (or, if you prefer, a loving homage to) The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent et al from a decade before. Oh dear – more hype and more tripe, I sensed, for Holy Blood, Holy Grail was a real dog’s dinner of a few facts, a lot of fiction and huge dollops of sensationalist speculation.In essence the book is, as it subtitle proclaims, “a quest for the lost Ark of the Covenant”. This artefact, popularised by the first of the Indiana Jones films, was ordered by Moses to be built near Mount Sinai after the exodus from Egypt. Modelled on Egyptian royal furniture, it functioned both as a container for the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments and as the seat of the invisible Israelite god Yahweh. Ensuring victory in battles for the Promised Land, it was placed in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem around the middle of the 10th century BC. And, after some subsequent references in the Old Testament, it simply disappears.It is at this point that most crank theories begin. The ark is a giant storage battery. Or an alien spacecraft. It’s hidden in Atlantis. Or any combination of these. And it is then that I lose interest.Twenty years ago Graham Hancock’s book seemed different. Yes, there are speculations about the Ark’s function, about Atlantis and so on, but it appeared at first that this ex-journalist had his feet firmly on the ground. His research suggests that in the reign of the apostate Manasseh (who flourished in the mid-seventh century BC) the Ark was removed from Jerusalem and taken to be housed in a purpose-built temple on the Egyptian island of Elephantine, on the Nile near Aswan. Two centuries later it was transported south into Ethiopia to an island on Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. For eight centuries it remained there in the midst of a long-established Jewish community (the Falasha people) until the country’s emperor converted to Christianity in the fourth century AD. Then it was removed to another Ethiopian town, Axum or Aksum, and placed in a new structure, the church of St Mary of Zion, where it remains as a vigorous and living tradition to this day, despite famine and civil war. And at the Ethiopian New Year (18th-19th January) replicas of Moses’ stone tablets, normally housed in the most secret part of every church, are carried in procession by the priests to tumultuous receptions.As far as I could see there was nothing inherently implausible in this reconstruction, and much to recommend it. History, archaeology and common sense are not distorted by it, and the thirteenth-century legend that it was brought to Ethiopia by the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba can be seen as an enthusiastic attempt to explain its presence there. But, even if this reconstruction is true, what are we to make of Hancock’s further assertions, that the Ark of the Covenant is also the Holy Grail?I must confess that my heart sank when I saw paraded the list of interested parties: the builders of Chartres, St Bernard, Wolfram von Eschenbach, the Knights Templar, the Freemasons and a few others besides. Haven’t we met these characters, the usual suspects, too frequently in decades past, and doesn’t each new theory claim to unite them all into an integrated secret history?Hancock invites us to consider and re-assess some familiar motifs. In the eleventh century the Templars reportedly spent more time involved in archaeological activity on the site of the Temple than in protecting pilgrims – if remotely true, it was with little result. Then they appear to have shifted interest from there to Ethiopia, at a time when the Christian emperor of that country was establishing diplomatic relations with the Mediterranean world. Their emblem, the croix pattée, now appears there for the first time. Around that period elaborations of the Grail story (Parzival and Der Jüngerer Titurel) not only have Templar-like knights as guardians of the Grail but also set its last resting place in the land of “Prester John”, a legendary Christian emperor somewhere in the East. The sacred object is most often described as a stone, particularly one that had “fallen from heaven”, and Moses’ tablets of stone, some unnamed scholars have suggested, may have been part of a meteorite.There’s more. After the downfall of the historical Templars it’s claimed continuity was maintained by two traditions: one is the Order of Christ – Portuguese Templars under another name – and the other is represented by the Freemasons. Prince Henry the Navigator, Grand Master of the Order of Christ, was very keen to establish diplomatic relations between Portugal and Ethiopia, while Vasco da Gama’s pioneering voyage around Africa in 1497 was in part an attempt to make contact with Prester John by a different route.Meanwhile, it is often argued that the Templars survived in Scotland to pass on their secrets to another clandestine organisation, the Freemasons. It is noteworthy, Hancock observes, that the eighteenth-century Freemason James Bruce of Kinnaird travelled to Ethiopia, allegedly to “discover the source of the Nile” even though the Portuguese had already achieved this goal a century before. And it is significant that Bruce was instrumental in bringing copies of the Ethiopian Ark legend back with him to Europe.I read this book two decades ago thinking that a précis doesn’t do justice to this intelligent and, it seemed to me, largely honest book. Here we had an author who, by his own account, risked his life to travel in war-torn Ethiopia and other parts of the Middle East. Why? All he wished to do was to ask the Ethiopian guardian of the Ark if he might have a glimpse of what obsessive research tells him is the prototype of the Grail (granted, this was a long shot given that the Axum priesthood have always kept their secret from prying eyes). An armchair archaeologist has to take on trust what an explorer describes, and The Sign and the Seal seemed to be more than just another sensationalist claim bolstered by hunches.And yet I constantly got the impression that this breathless history would have done better as a novel than an historical study. Hancock’s interests in the supernatural, the paranormal and ‘lost’ knowledge come to the fore in his subsequent books; and as this book already exhibits clear pseudohistorical traits by cherry-picking of bits of arcane lore to mix in with travelogue, its conclusions are to me fatally compromised. There is also the odd conceptual merging of two distinct objects in Hancock’s text, the Ark itself and the Tablets of Moses which the Ark contained, so that we get the impression that the precinct of St Mary of Zion in Axum contains both Ark and tablets even though the church (or rather, the Chapel of the Tablet) only claims one tablet.A more reliable and scholarly guide is Roderick Grierson and Stuart Munro-Hay’s The Ark of the Covenant (Phoenix 2000) which corrects many of the historical claims made by Hancock. The authors also draw attention to the unfortunate side-effects of Hancock’s book which are that this once obscure site is increasingly subject to outside pressure, with rumours that “international spies and intelligence networks have decided to steal the Ark of the Covenant”.Wouldbe Indiana Joneses are continuing to muddy the waters, ensuring that the silt of myth remains trapped in suspension in the river of history. But at least the Indiana Jones films made it clear that the Ark and the Grail are completely separate.

Linda Munro

This is long, detailed and often repeataive search through history in an attempt to locate the 'Ark of the Covenant' which simply disappears from the Bible. This book takes you through years of research and travel in an attempt to prove or disprove the church of Axum, Etheopia who claims to hold custody of the Ark. Using historical documentation, myth and the Bible, Hancock traces the Ark and the possibility of its travels to Etheopia, but is never able to verify its existence. Despite the outcome, anyone interested in history would enjoy this book.


Hancock is an engaging writer. He did quite a job in running down both primary and secondary sources relative to the topic. He also conducted several interviews and passed through some Indiana Jones-like moments. One can't help but be impressed with the devtion he gave his search for the Ark fo the Covenant. That being said, I also have to point out that he is given to making ,sometimes, preciptious leaps of logic that I couldn't always follow with enthusiam. In addition, I think his digression regarding Moses' use of 'Egyptian sorcery' to set himself up as a prophet-leader over the children of Israel detracted from the overall work. But in the end, this was well worth reading.


The Sign and the Seal reads like an exciting mystery or adventure novel. Through an interesting series of coincidences the author becomes interested in and ultimately obsessed with the lost ark of the covenant. He finds himself researching the fate of the ark and then chasing across the world to track it down.This is the first of Hancock's "Forbidden" books of history, archaeology, astronomy, etc., and like all of his books, its thoroughly researched with the appropriate references cited. Hancock is also fastidious in separating his speculations from fact, a super rarity among journalists, which Hancock was originally.It's always interesting to read the critiques of Hancock's books; there is never a specific refutation of the facts cited nor a logical deconstruction of his theories and speculations. Academics attack Hancock for daring to invade their field of endeavor and critics overall simply don't like the way Hancock tackles conventional wisdom and 'thinks outside the box'. The greatest achievement of his books is that he takes what are ordinarily very dry and recondite fields in science, history and archeology and makes them very interesting and compelling to the lay reader. One always finds oneself researching further many of the facts and topics he presents his books.


Interesting...I'm skeptical, but openContinuing...This book is a trip, almost literally. I never read with my rose glasses…. You know, prove it, I’ll believe it. So I went to several Ethiopian web sites, and it seems everyone in Ethiopia claims the Ark IS there. Hmmm…. So far, the main delight is the view of European history from a different, and if the author is correct, very enlightening angle. From Pope Clement V, Vasco de Gama, the Masonic Rite…. I am seeing some aspects of European history in a different light, and I admit the hook is in my mouth. As for the Ark, I’ll keep reading…. The supposition is that it has been in Ethiopia for about 2,900 years. So much can happen in 3,000 years…..Ok, my review:Ever see a movie that was full of excitement and action from start to almost end, and then, as if the director suddenly ran out of money, the movie just stops, ends; almost no resolution?Maybe not; I have. That is this book. It just stops, bamb. No answer.That doesn't make it a bad book, in fact, this book will go on my book shelf, instead of all the many boxes of books Brenda & I have packed away. This is 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', inreal life. I finished a few days after I bought the book. As above, it has great value in getting one to look at history from a different angle. Veracity? Hmmm... I checked some of the events in the book and those I checked seemed accruate; but I never found out if Sir Issac Newton was a freemason. Irony has my reading the autobiography of Ariel Sharon just after reading Sign and the Seal. He actually mentions the evacuation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and also the issues of their beliefs and customs which are expounded on in the Sign book.So, is the Ark of the Covenant in Africa? Great book, but no answer. The Ark travels in public from time to time, but it is always covered. The author was not allowed near it. So the Ark is there, or it isn't. I guess the future will let us know. Despite the lack of a resolution, the book it great, and pertinent to current events, or perhaps I should say it has portent. That, along with the action and history, is why I give it five stars. The Ark, if returned to Israel, would belong in a new Temple, a Temple which belongs on the Temple Mount, which is now occupied by The Dome of the Rock. That is a political time bomb.


My brother talked so much about this book that I eventually had to read it. This is the first of three Graham Hancock books that I have read and I have a feeling that I will continue to read future works of this guy as he evolves from one idea to another. I was talking with my boyfriend the other day and we decided, this guy lives the life! He gets to explore his theories and ideas as he wants and seems to have a these insane adventures all over the world. This adventure explores the possibility that the Ark of the Covenant is possibly still resting today in current Ethiopia. He researches intensely the information from the time that Jews migrated in to Africa and also explores the possibility that Moses and Jesus may have indeed processed some kind of “technological” sorcery that allowed them to perform the deeds described in the bible.


Very convincing evidence to Ethiopia's claim to be the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.


Hancock presents a well-reasoned argument, but his writing is a little boring for such a fascinating theory. And after reading of the 'powers' of the Ark, I had to wonder, "If they have it, why haven't they used it?" Following from that it occurred to me that its disappearance isn't the only mystery, there is also the mystery of why it apparently stopped working, did Solomon not recharge it? Hancock cites Biblical accounts of it lighting up, lifting people and objects, burning people, and destroying things, he also shares the story that it was used to quarry and lift the stelae and build at least one of the churches he visited. But after that, there are no stories of it doing anything miraculous (which probably made it easier to keep it hidden.)It has been said that it is 'convenient' that the Guardian is the only one allowed to see the Ark, thus alleviating Hancock of the burden of proof but as I neared the book's conclusion, I could only wonder how catastrophic the consequences of producing such proof could be. What would happen in Aksum if Hancock is proven correct? Even assuming the Ark's batteries are dead, the blueprints God gave Moses call for a considerable amount of gold . . .

Bo'kem Allah

This was my introduction to Graham Hancock. I learned a lot about Ethiopia, Khemet, Freemasonry & Knights Templars, as Graham Hancock searches for the Arc of the Covenant. This was truely an eye opener for me. At the time I read it, I was a Rastaman seeking a deeper understanding of the importance of the Arc. This book served as a slap in the face to a delusional youth looking for validation of my religious ideology. I walk away from this book with a new outlook. Religious ideology is NOT based on truthful, factual, information.


I'm halfway through this book and enjoying it! So much information about Ethiopa, Egypt, Israel and surrounding areas. So much research into the history of the areas and the people who lived there. This has made me curious for more information - last night I read the book of Genesis in the Bible, and tonight will read more. I like how this book helps me to understand the different ways of life that people have lived in the past, and still do. This book was great and I'm keeping it so that I can read it again someday. The author had done much research to tell about the areas in the story and some of the ways of life and religion years & years ago. I didn't pay much attention to his main point of the story concerning the Ark of the Covenant, I just enjoyed the story for all the historical detail. Finished 6-9.


While the author's premise is a good one, the evidence he bases his conclusions off of is flimsy at best. 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.

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