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


If you're a fan of history, or distant lands, or treasure finding, or mysteries, or are just intrigued by the notion that there may indeed be more truth to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" than meets the eye, then look no further. This book takes you through a journey of all of the above, and is tied up very smoothly by Graham Hancock and his gift with words.


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 It might be a while before I post again, as what I'm currently reading is an unpublished manuscript, and the book up after that doesn't look like a quick read at all.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.


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.


Hancock has definitely written some off-the-wall stuff. Having said that, he must have been in one of his more down-to-earth periods when he wrote this book. It's fun and intriguing, and for the most part, pretty good history. Although it's initial premise can be considered conjecture, the trail he follows is very interesting in the true sense of 'the journey is better than the destination.' More later...


I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It tells the story of the mystery of the Ark of the Covenant, lost in Biblical times.This is the first book I have read by Mr. Hancock and I found it to be well researched and written. The story is fascinating and follows Mr. Hancock's travels through Europe and the Middle East in his search for the Ark. The history and the tales of his travels are fascinating.

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.


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 . . .


Interesting, but let down at the end.


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.

Scott Olson

After reading and being impressed with Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods (and admittedly being a huge Indiana Jones fan), I decided to read his investigation into the whereabouts of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant. While not as much of an interdisciplinary study as Fingerprints, The Sign and the Seal focuses mostly on historic documents and cultural legends, it was just as much fun.


This is a rambling, wandering and, in the end, somewhat fantastical book on the Ark of the Covenant. Sorting through the clutter, the conclusion is a fun one for me, having lived almost half my life in Ethiopia!He sets out to follow the trail of all the traditions of what happened to the Ark and where it is today--under the former Jewish temple, under the sacred rock, in a church in Ethiopia. He analyzes the oral traditions with methods that are respected by historians today, reads and reports on volumes of history on the connections between Israel and Ethiopia, and concludes that it is most likely the Ark is in the church in Ethiopia, under the watch of a priest chosen by divine lot.His speculations about the nature of the Ark, why it did what it did in the Old Testament stories, and what is inside left me less convinced!

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.


Mind-blowing book! Some of the parallels he finds are stunning, among, for example, the Old Testament description of the Hebrews' celebration when the Ark of the Covenant, carried on the shoulders of the priests, was placed in Solomon's Temple & the depiction on the wall of an ancient Egyptian temple of the celebration when the priests carried a similar object in the same way & the celebration the author observed in Ethiopia when the Christian priests carried the "Ark" on their shoulders. His search on the ground & in ancient texts for clues to when the Ark was removed from the Temple in Jerusalem, & where it went from there, is exciting & convincing. All in all, an amazing book.


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


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.

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