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

By Graham Hancock

Contents I Legend 1 Initiation 2 Disenchantment


Holy Ark and Holy Grail 3 The Grail Cipher 4A ap to Hidden Treas!re

" #hite $nights% Dark Continent & 'esol(ing Do!)ts 121

* A +ecret and ,e(er-.nding /!est


La)yrinth 0 Into .thiopia 1 +acred Lake 12 Ghost in a a3e

11 And Da(id danced )e4ore the Ark 555


A 12

onstro!s Instr!ment agic 555 or ethod7

13 Treas!res o4 Darkness

#here is the Glory7

14 The Glory is departed 4rom Israel 1" Hidden History 1& Door o4 the +o!thern Co!ntries


The #aste Land 1* +!pping 8ith De(ils 10 A Treas!re Hard to Attain

'e4erences Inde9

:art I; .thiopia% 1103 Legend

< ap 1=

Chapter 1 I,ITIATI>,; 1103

It 8as gro8ing dark and the air o4 the .thiopian highlands 8as chill 8hen the monk appeared5 +tooped and leaning on a prayer stick he sh!44led to8ards me 4rom the door8ay o4 the sanct!ary chapel and listened attenti(ely as I 8as introd!ced to him5 +peaking in Tigrigna% the

local lang!age% he then so!ght clari4ication thro!gh my interpreter a)o!t my character and my moti(es; 4rom 8hich co!ntry had I come% 8hat 8ork did I do there% 8as I a Christian% 8hat 8as it that I 8anted 4rom him7 I ans8ered each o4 these ?!estions 4!lly% s?!inting thro!gh the gloom as I talked% trying to make o!t the details o4 my in?!isitor@s 4ace5 ilky cataracts (eiled his small s!nken eyes and deep lines 4!rro8ed his )lack skin5 He 8as )earded and pro)a)ly toothless A 4or altho!gh his (oice 8as resonant it 8as also oddly sl!rred5 All I co!ld )e s!re o4% ho8e(er% 8as that he 8as an old man% as old as the cent!ry perhaps% that he had his 8its a)o!t him% and that he did not seem to )e seeking in4ormation a)o!t me o!t o4 idle c!riosity5 >nly 8hen he 8as satis4ied 8ith e(erything that I had said did he condescend to shake hands 8ith me5 His grip 8as dry and delicate as papyr!s and 4rom the thick ro)es that he 8ore% 4aint )!t !nmistaka)le% arose the holy odo!r o4 4rankincense5 ,o8 that the 4ormalities 8ere o(er I got straight to the point5 Gest!ring in the direction o4 the )!ilding that loomed in shado8y o!tline )ehind !s% I said; @I ha(e heard o4 an .thiopian tradition that the Ark o4 the Co(enant is kept here 5 5 5 in this chapel5 I ha(e also heard that yo! are the g!ardian o4 the Ark5 Are these things tr!e7@ @They are tr!e5@ @B!t in other co!ntries no)ody )elie(es these stories5 Be8 kno8 a)o!t yo!r traditions any8ay% )!t those 8ho do say that they are 4alse5@ @:eople may )elie(e 8hat they 8ish5 :eople may say 8hat they 8ish5 ,e(ertheless 8e do possess the sacred Ta)ot% that is to say the Ark o4 the Co(enant% and I am its g!ardian555@ @Let me )e clear a)o!t this%@ I interCected5 @Are yo! re4erring to the original Ark o4 the Co(enant A the )o9 made o4 8ood and gold in 8hich the Ten Commandments 8ere placed )y the prophet oses7@ @Des5 God Himsel4 inscri)ed the ten 8ords o4 the la8 !pon t8o ta)lets o4 stone5 oses then placed these ta)lets inside the Ark o4 the Co(enant A 8hich a4ter8ards accompanied the Israelites d!ring their 8anderings in the 8ilderness and their con?!est o4 the :romised Land5 It )ro!ght them (ictory 8here(er they 8ent and made them a great people5 At last% 8hen its 8ork 8as done% $ing +olomon placed it in the Holy o4 Holies o4 the Temple that he had )!ilt in Eer!salem5 And 4rom there% not long a4ter8ards% it 8as remo(ed and )ro!ght to .thiopia555@ @Tell me ho8 this happened%@ I asked5 @#hat I kno8 o4 yo!r traditions is only that the /!een o4 +he)a is s!pposed to ha(e )een an .thiopian monarch5 The legends I ha(e read say that 8hen she made her 4amo!s Co!rney to Eer!salem she 8as impregnated )y $ing +olomon and )ore him a son A a royal prince A 8ho in later years stole the Ark555@ The monk sighed5 @The name o4 the prince yo! are speaking o4 8as enelik A 8hich in o!r lang!age means Fthe son o4 the 8ise manF5 Altho!gh he 8as concei(ed in Eer!salem he 8as )orn in .thiopia 8here the /!een o4 +he)a had ret!rned a4ter disco(ering that she 8as carrying +olomon@s child5 #hen he had reached the age o4 t8enty% enelik himsel4 tra(elled 4rom .thiopia to Israel and arri(ed at his 4ather@s co!rt5 There he 8as instantly recogni3ed and accorded great hono!r5 A4ter a year had passed% ho8e(er% the elders o4 the land )ecame Cealo!s

o4 him5 They complained that +olomon sho8ed him too m!ch 4a(o!r and they insisted that he m!st go )ack to .thiopia5 This the king accepted on the condition that the 4irst-)orn sons o4 all the elders sho!ld also )e sent to accompany him5 Amongst these latter 8as A3ari!s% son o4 Gadok the High :riest o4 Israel% and it 8as A3ari!s% not enelik% 8ho stole the Ark o4 the Co(enant 4rom its place in the Holy o4 Holies in the Temple5 Indeed the gro!p o4 yo!ng men did not re(eal the the4t to enelik !ntil they 8ere 4ar a8ay 4rom Eer!salem5 #hen at last they told him 8hat they had done he !nderstood that they co!ld not ha(e s!cceeded in so )old a (ent!re !nless God had 8illed it5 There4ore he agreed that the Ark sho!ld remain 8ith them5 And it 8as th!s that it 8as )ro!ght to .thiopia% to this sacred city 555 and here it has remained e(er since5@ @And are yo! telling me that this legend is literally tr!e7@ HIt is not a legend5 It is history5@ @Ho8 can yo! )e so s!re o4 that7@ @Beca!se I am the g!ardian5 I kno8 the nat!re o4 the o)Cect that has )een placed in my care5@ #e sat in silence 4or a 4e8 moments 8hile I adC!sted my mind to the calm and rational 8ay in 8hich the monk had told me these )i3arre and impossi)le things5 Then I asked him ho8 and 8hy he had )een appointed to his position5 He replied that it 8as a great hono!r that he sho!ld ha(e )een chosen% that he had )een nominated 8ith the last 8ords o4 his predecessor% and that 8hen he himsel4 lay on his death-)ed his t!rn 8o!ld come to nominate his o8n s!ccessor5 @#hat ?!alities 8ill yo! look 4or in that man7@ @Lo(e o4 God% p!rity o4 heart% cleanliness o4 mind and )ody5@ H>ther than yo!%@ I asked ne9t% @is anyone else allo8ed to see the Ark7@ @,o5 I alone may see it5@ @+o does that mean that it is ne(er )ro!ght o!t o4 the sanct!ary chapel7@ The g!ardian pa!sed 4or a long 8hile )e4ore ans8ering this ?!estion5 Then% 4inally% he told me that in the (ery distant past the relic had )een )ro!ght o!t d!ring all the most important ch!rch 4esti(als5 ore recently its !se in religio!s processions had )een limited to C!st one occasion a year5 That occasion 8as the ceremony kno8n as Timkat 8hich took place e(ery Ean!ary5 @+o i4 I come )ack ne9t Ean!ary 8ill I ha(e a chance o4 seeing the Ark7@ The monk looked at me in a 8ay that I 4o!nd strangely disconcerting and then said; @Do! m!st kno8 that there is t!rmoil and ci(il 8ar in the land 5 5 5 >!r go(ernment is e(il% the people oppose it% and the 4ighting comes closer e(ery day5 In s!ch circ!mstances it is !nlikely that the tr!e Ark 8ill )e !sed again in the ceremonies5 #e cannot risk the possi)ility that any harm might come to something so precio!s 5 5 5 Besides% e(en in time o4 peace yo! 8o!ld not )e a)le to see it5 It is my responsi)ility to 8rap it entirely in thick cloths )e4ore it is carried in the processions 5 5

@#hy do yo! 8rap it7@ @To protect the laity 4rom it5@ I remem)er asking my interpreter to clari4y the translation o4 this last p!33ling remark; had the monk really meant @to protect the laity 4rom it@7 >r had he meant @to protect it 4rom the laity@7 It 8as some time )e4ore I got my ans8er5 @To protect the laity 4rom it5 The Ark is po8er4!l5@



In early >ld Testament times the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as 8orshipped )y the Israelites as the em)odiment o4 God Himsel4% as the sign and the seal o4 His presence on earth% as the stronghold o4 His po8er% and as the instr!ment o4 His ine44a)le 8ill5<1= B!ilt to contain the ta)lets o4 stone !pon 8hich the Ten Commandments had )een 8ritten% it 8as a 8ooden chest meas!ring three 4eet nine inches long )y t8o 4eet three inches high and 8ide5<2=It 8as lined inside and o!t 8ith p!re gold and 8as s!rmo!nted )y t8o 8inged 4ig!res o4 cher!)im that 4aced each other across its hea(y golden lid5<3= Bi)lical and other archaic so!rces speak o4 the Ark )la3ing 8ith 4ire and light% in4licting cancero!s t!mo!rs and se(ere )!rns% le(elling mo!ntains% stopping ri(ers% )lasting 8hole armies and laying 8aste cities5 The same so!rces also lea(e no do!)t that it 8as% 4or a (ery long time% the cornerstone o4 the e(ol(ing Ee8ish 4aith; indeed 8hen $ing +olomon )!ilt the Birst Temple in Eer!salem his sole moti(e 8as to create @an ho!se o4 rest 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord@<4= At some !nkno8n date )et8een the tenth and the si9th cent!ry BC% ho8e(er% this !ni?!ely precio!s and p!issant o)Cect (anished 4rom its place in the Holy o4 Holies o4 that Temple% (anished 8itho!t song or lamentation in the +cript!res A almost as tho!gh it had ne(er e9isted at all5 The e(idence s!ggests that it 8as already long gone 8hen the armies o4 ,e)!chadne33ar )!rned Eer!salem in "0* BC5 Certainly it 8as not in the +econd Temple 8hich 8as )!ilt o(er the r!ins o4 the Birst a4ter the Ee8s had ret!rned 4rom their e9ile in Ba)ylon in "30 BC5 ,either does it seem to ha(e )een taken as )ooty )y the Ba)ylonians5 #riting in 110*% 'ichard .lliott Briedman% :ro4essor o4 He)re8 and Comparati(e 'eligion at the Ini(ersity o4 Cali4ornia% e9pressed a (ie8 shared )y many scholars 8hen he descri)ed the disappearance o4 the sacred relic as @one o4 the great mysteries o4 the Bi)le@;

There is no report that the Ark 8as carried a8ay or destroyed or hidden5 There is not e(en any comment s!ch as @And then the Ark disappeared and 8e do not kno8 8hat happened to it@ or @And no one kno8s 8here it is to this day@5 The most important o)Cect in the 8orld% in the )i)lical (ie8% simply ceases to )e in the story5@<"=

Indeed so5 A close reading o4 the >ld Testament re(eals more than t8o h!ndred separate re4erences to the Ark o4 the Co(enant !p !ntil the time o4 +olomon <1*2-131 BC=J a4ter the reign o4 that 8ise and splendid king it is almost ne(er mentioned again5<&= And this% s!rely% is the central pro)lem% the real historical enigma; not% h!man nat!re )eing 8hat it is% that an immensely (al!a)le golden chest sho!ld go missing% )!t A gi(en its s!preme religio!s signi4icance A that it sho!ld go missing amidst s!ch a dea4ening% impro)a)le silence5 Like a )lack hole in space% or a negati(e photographic image% it is identi4ia)le in the later )ooks o4 the >ld Testament only )y 8hat it is not A it is% in short% conspic!o!s only )y its a)sence5 Brom this it seems reasona)le to s!ggest that some sort o4 co(er-!p may ha(e taken place A a co(er-!p de(ised )y priests and scri)es to ens!re that the 8herea)o!ts o4 the sacred relic 8o!ld remain 4ore(er a secret5 I4 so then it is a secret that many ha(e tried to penetrate A a secret that has inspired se(eral treas!re-h!nting e9peditions <all o4 8hich ha(e 4ailed= and also one enormo!sly s!ccess4!l Holly8ood 4antasy% 'aiders o4 the Lost Ark% 8hich 8as 4irst released in the I+A and .!rope in 1101 8ith Harrison Bord in the starring role as Indiana Eones5 I 8as li(ing in $enya at the time and had no opport!nity to see the 4ilm !ntil it 4inally arri(ed in ,airo)i@s cinemas early in 11035 I enCoyed the com)ination o4 action% ad(ent!re and archaeology and I remem)er thinking 8hat a sensation it 8o!ld )e i4 someone 8ere really to 4ind the Ark5 Then% only a 4e8 months later% I made an e9tended (isit to .thiopia d!ring 8hich I tra(elled to the north-8est o4 the 8ar-torn pro(ince o4 Tigray5 It 8as there% in A9!m A the socalled @sacred city o4 the .thiopians@<*= A that I had my enco!nter 8ith the g!ardian monk reported earlier in this chapter5

1103; A C>I,T'D AT #A'

>n 20 ay 1111% a4ter years o4 )r!tal 4ighting% the go(ernment o4 .thiopia 8as 4inally toppled )y a 4ormida)le coalition o4 re)el 4orces in 8hich the Tigray :eople@s Li)eration Bront had played a leading role5 #hen I 8ent to A9!m in 1103% ho8e(er% the T:LB 8as still a relati(ely small g!erilla 4orce and the sacred city% altho!gh )esieged% 8as still in go(ernment hands5 >ther than mysel4% no 4oreigners had )een there since 11*4 8hen a team o4 British archaeologists had )een dri(en o!t )y the re(ol!tion that had o(erthro8n .mperor Haile +elassie and that had installed one o4 A4rica@s )loodiest dictators% Lie!tenant-Colonel engist! Haile ariam% as Head o4 +tate5 Lamenta)ly the 4ree access that I 8as granted to A9!m did not res!lt 4rom any special enterprise or initiati(e o4 my o8n )!t 4rom the 4act that I 8as 8orking 4or engist!5 As a res!lt o4 a )!siness deal that I 8as later )itterly to regret I 8as engaged in 1103 in the prod!ction o4 a co44ee-ta)le )ook a)o!t .thiopia A a )ook that engist!@s go(ernment had commissioned in order to proclaim the !nderlying !nity in the co!ntry@s c!lt!ral di(ersity% and to emphasi3e the ancient historical integrity o4 the political )o!ndaries that the re)els 8ere trying so hard to redra85 It had )een agreed )e4ore I )egan 8ork that there 8o!ld )e no o(ert promotion o4 the go(ernment@s ca!se% and it 8as 8ritten into my contract that no partic!lar indi(id!als < engist! incl!ded= 8o!ld )e praised or (ili4ied5 ,e(ertheless I 8as !nder no ill!sions a)o!t ho8 the

proCect 8as (ie8ed )y senior 4ig!res in the regime; they 8o!ld not ha(e 4ooted the )ills% or permitted me to (isit historic sites 4or)idden to others% i4 they did not think that 8hat I 8as doing 8o!ld )e help4!l to them5 .(en so it 8as )y no means easy 4or me to get to A9!m5 Intense re)el acti(ity along the main roads and aro!nd the sacred city itsel4 meant that dri(ing 8as completely o!t o4 the ?!estion5 The only option% there4ore% 8as to 4ly in5 To this end A together 8ith my 8i4e and researcher Carol and my photographer D!ncan #illetts A I tra(elled 4irst to Asmara <the regional capital o4 .ritrea= 8here I hoped that it might )e possi)le 4or !s to hitch a ride o(er the )attle lines on one o4 the many military aircra4t stationed there5 +tanding on a high and 4ertile platea! o(erlooking the 4earsome deserts o4 the .ritrean coastal strip% Asmara is a most attracti(e place 8ith a markedly Latin character A not s!rprising since it 8as 4irst occ!pied )y Italian 4orces in 1001 and remained an Italian stronghold !ntil the decoloni3ation o4 .ritrea <and its anne9ation )y the .thiopian state= in the 11"2s5<0= .(ery8here 8e looked 8e sa8 gardens er!pting 8ith the colo!r o4 )o!gain(illaea% 4lam)oyants and Cacaranda% 8hile the 8arm% s!nny air that s!rro!nded !s had an !nmistaka)le editerranean )o!?!et5 There 8as also another element that 8as hard to miss; the presence o4 large n!m)ers o4 +o(iet and C!)an com)at @ad(isers@ 8earing camo!4lage 4atig!es and carrying $alashniko( assa!lt ri4les as they s8aggered !p and do8n the 4ragrant pastel-shaded )o!le(ards5 The ad(ice that these thickset men 8ere gi(ing to the .thiopian army in its campaign against .ritrean separatists did not% ho8e(er% appear to !s to )e (ery good5 Asmara@s hospitals 8ere crammed to )!rsting point 8ith cas!alties o4 the 8ar and the go(ernment o44icials 8e met e9!ded an air o4 pessimism and tension5 >!r concerns 8ere heightened a 4e8 nights later in the )ar o4 Asmara@s rather splendid Am)asoira Hotel 8here 8e met t8o Gam)ian pilots 8ho 8ere on temporary secondment to .thiopian Airlines5 They had tho!ght that they 8ere going to )e spending si9 months e9panding their practical e9perience o4 commercial 4lying5 #hat they 8ere act!ally doing% ho8e(er% 8as 4errying to Legend inC!red soldiers 4rom the )attle 4ronts in Tigray and .ritrea to the hospitals in Asmara5 They had tried to get the airline to release them 4rom this ha3ardo!s d!tyJ on checking the small print o4 their contracts% ho8e(er% they had disco(ered that they 8ere )o!nd to do it5 A4ter se(eral 8eeks o4 almost contin!o!s sorties in aged DC3 passenger planes con(erted to carry 8o!nded troops% the t8o pilots 8ere shell-shocked% shaky and em)ittered5 They told !s that they had )oth taken to the )ottle to dro8n their sorro8s; @I can@t sleep at night !nless I@m completely dr!nk%@ one o4 them con4ided5 @I keep getting these pict!res passing thro!gh my mind o4 the things that I@(e seen5@ He 8ent on to descri)e the teenage )oy 8ho% that morning% had )een dragged a)oard his aircra4t 8ith his le4t 4oot )lo8n a8ay )y a mine% and another yo!ng soldier 8ho had lost hal4 his sk!ll a4ter a mortar )om) had e9ploded near)y5 @The shrapnel 8o!nds are the 8orst 5 5 5 people 8ith h!ge inC!ries in their )acks% stomachs% 4aces 5 5 5 it@s horri)le 55 5 sometimes the 8hole ca)in is C!st s8illing 8ith )lood and g!ts555 8e carry as many as 4orty cas!alties at a time A 8ay a)o(e the operating limits o4 a DC3% )!t 8e ha(e to take the risk% 8e can@t C!st lea(e those people to die5@ each day% the other pilot no8 added5 In the past 8eek he had )een t8ice to A9!m and on )oth occasions his plane had )een hit )y machine-g!n 4ire5 @It@s a (ery di44ic!lt airport A a gra(el r!n8ay s!rro!nded )y hills5 The T:LB C!st sit!p there and take

pot-shots at !s as 8e land and take o445 They@re not 4ooled )y the .thiopian Airlines li(ery5 They kno8 8e@re on military )!siness 5 5 >(erCoyed to ha(e 4o!nd some sympathetic non-'!ssian and non-C!)an 4oreigners to share their 8oes 8ith% the Gam)ians had not yet asked !s 8hat 8e 8ere doing in .thiopia5 They did so no8% and seemed highly am!sed 8hen 8e replied that 8e 8ere prod!cing a co44ee-ta)le )ook 4or the go(ernment5 #e then e9plained that 8e needed to get to A9!m o!rsel(es5 @#hy7@ they asked% d!m)4o!nded5 @#ell% )eca!se it@s one o4 the oldest and most important archaeological sites and )eca!se it 8as there that .thiopian Christianity 4irst got started5 It 8as the capital 4or h!ndreds o4 years5 >!r )ook@s going to look really sick 8itho!t it5@ Initiation @#e might )e a)le to take yo!%@ one o4 the pilots no8 s!ggested5 @#hat A yo! mean 8hen yo! ne9t go to pick !p 8o!nded7@ @,o5 Do! de4initely 8o!ldn@t )e allo8ed on those 4lights5 B!t a delegation o4 military top )rass are s!pposed to )e going there the day a4ter tomorro8 to inspect the garrison5 ay)e yo! co!ld hitch a ride then5 It 8o!ld depend on 8hat sort o4 strings yo!@re a)le to p!ll )ack in Addis5 #hy don@t yo! check it o!t7@


#e spent most o4 the ne9t day on the telephone to Addis A)a)a talking to the minister directly responsi)le 4or o!r proCect5 It 8as to!ch and go% )!t his in4l!ence 4inally did get !s seats on the 4light that o!r Gam)ian 4riends had told !s a)o!t5 In the e(ent% ho8e(er% they 8ere not to )e o!r pilotsJ a 4!lly .thiopian cre8 8as on )oard the DC3 4or the short hop to A9!m5 D!ring the one-ho!r delay )e4ore o!r morning take-o44 4rom Asmara airport% and d!ring the t!r)!lent thirty-4i(e-min!te Co!rney itsel4% I completed my )ackgro!nd reading reass!ring mysel4 in the process that the (isit really 8as 8orth8hile5 The early historical re4erences painted a pict!re o4 an important and cosmopolitan !r)an centre5 In AD &4% 4or e9ample% the anonymo!s a!thor o4 a Greek trading man!al kno8n as the :eripl!s o4 the .rythrean +ea had re4erred to the A9!mite r!ler as )eing @a prince s!perior to most and ed!cated 8ith a kno8ledge o4 Greek@5<1= +ome h!ndreds o4 years later a certain E!lian% am)assador o4 the 'oman .mperor E!stinian% descri)ed A9!m in glo8ing terms as @the greatest city o4 all .thiopia@5 The king% he added% 8as almost naked% 8earing only a garment o4 linen em)roidered 8ith gold 4rom his 8aist to his loins and straps set 8ith pearls o(er his )ack and stomach5 He 8ore golden )racelets on his arms% a golden collar aro!nd his neck% and on his head a linen t!r)an A also em)roidered 8ith gold A 4rom 8hich h!ng 4o!r 4illets on either side5

#hen recei(ing the am)assador@s credentials% this monarch apparently stood on a 4o!r-8heeled chariot dra8n )y 4o!r elephantsJ the )ody o4 the chariot 8as high and co(ered 8ith gold plates5@ In the si9th cent!ry AD% a m!ch-tra(elled Christian monk% Cosmas Indicople!stes% added 4!rther colo!r to the impression con(eyed )y E!lian5 A4ter his (isit to the city he reported that the @4o!r-to8ered palace o4 the $ing o4 .thiopia@ 8as adorned 8ith @4o!r )ra3en 4ig!res@ o4 a !nicorn% as 8ell as the skin o4 a rhinoceros @st!44ed 8ith cha44@5 He also sa8 se(eral gira44es 8hich had )een ca!ght @)y command o4 the $ing 8hen yo!ng and tamed to make a sho8 4or his am!sement@5<11= These images o4 )ar)aric splendo!r 8ell )e4itted the capital o4 8hat had )y that time )ecome the most important po8er )et8een the 'oman .mpire and :ersia A a po8er that sent its merchant na(ies as 4ar a4ield as .gypt% India% Ceylon and China and that had adopted Christianity as its state religion as early as the 4o!rth cent!ry AD5 The story o4 the con(ersion o4 .thiopia is preser(ed in the 8ritings o4 the 4o!rth-cent!ry By3antine theologian '!4ini!s A an a!thority highly regarded )y modern historians5 Apparently a certain eropi!s% a Christian merchant descri)ed )y '!4ini!s as a @philosopher o4 Tyre@% once made a (oyage to India% taking 8ith him t8o +yrian )oys 8hom he 8as ed!cating in @h!mane st!dies@5 The elder 8as called Br!menti!s and the yo!nger Aedesi!s5 >n their ret!rn Co!rney thro!gh the 'ed +ea the ship 8as sei3ed o44 the .thiopian coast in an act o4 reprisal against the .astern 'oman .mpire 8hich had )roken a treaty 8ith the people o4 the area5 eropi!s 8as killed in the 4ighting5 The )oys% ho8e(er% s!r(i(ed and 8ere taken to the A9!mite $ing% .lla Amida% 8ho promptly made Aedesi!s his c!p-)earer and Br!menti!s A the more sagacio!s and pr!dent o4 the t8o A his treas!rer and secretary5 The )oys 8ere held in great hono!r and a44ection )y the king 8ho% ho8e(er% died shortly a4ter8ards lea(ing his 8ido8 and an in4ant son A .3ana A as his heir5 Be4ore his death% .lla Amida had gi(en the t8o +yrians their 4reedom )!t no8 the 8ido8ed ?!een )egged them% 8ith tears in her eyes% to stay 8ith her !ntil her son came o4 age5 +he asked in partic!lar 4or the help o4 Br!menti!s A 4or Aedesi!s% tho!gh loyal and honest at heart% 8as simple5 D!ring the years that 4ollo8ed% the in4l!ence o4 Br!menti!s in the A9!mite kingdom gre85 He so!ght o!t s!ch 4oreign traders 8ho 8ere Christians and !rged them @to esta)lish con(enticles in (ario!s places to 8hich they might resort 4or prayer5@ He also pro(ided them 8ith @8hate(er 8as needed% s!pplying sites 4or )!ildings and in e(ery 8ay promoting the gro8th o4 the seed o4 Christianity in the co!ntry5@ At aro!nd the time that .3ana 4inally ascended the throne% Aedesi!s ret!rned to Tyre5 Br!menti!s 4or his part Co!rneyed to Ale9andria% in .gypt A then a great centre o4 Christianity A 8here 8here he in4ormed :atriarch Athanasi!s o4 the 8ork so 4ar accomplished 4or the 4aith in .thiopia5 The yo!ng man )egged the ecclesiastical leader @to look 4or some 8orthy man to send as )ishop o(er the many Christians already congregated5@ Athanasi!s% ha(ing care4!lly 8eighed and considered the 8ords o4 Br!menti!s% declared in a co!ncil o4 priests; @#hat other man shall 8e 4ind in 8hom the spirit o4 God is as in thee 8ho can accomplish these things7@ He there4ore @consecrated him and )ade him ret!rn in the Grace o4 God 8hence he came5@<12=

Br!menti!s accordingly 8ent )ack to A9!m as .thiopia@s 4irst Christian )ishop and there he contin!ed his missionary endea(o!rs A 8hich 8ere re8arded% in the year AD 331% )y the con(ersion o4 the king himsel45 The s!r(i(ing coins o4 .3ana@s reign record the transition; the earlier ones )ear crescent and disk images o4 the ne8 and 4!ll moonJ later e9amples are stamped !ncompromisingly 8ith the cross A amongst the earliest coins o4 any co!ntry to carry this Christian sym)ol5@<13= Important as the seed-)ed o4 .thiopian Christianity A and as the capital o4 the .thiopian empire 4rom the 4irst !ntil appro9imately the tenth cent!ry AD A A9!m@s interest in terms o4 o!r proCect 8as ne(ertheless m!ch )roader than this5 Here% I read% 8e 8o!ld come across many imposing pre-Christian r!ins o4 great archaeological merit <incl!ding the remains o4 se(eral immense palaces=% and also A still 8ell preser(ed A the mon!ments 4or 8hich the city 8as )est kno8n; its ancient o)elisks% some more than t8o tho!sand years old% attesting to a high le(el o4 ad(ancement in art and architect!re at a date 4ar earlier than that o4 any other ci(ili3ation in s!)+aharan A4rica5 ,or 8ere s!ch physical arte4acts the only 8itnesses to A9!m@s !ni?!e stat!re5 To my astonishment% the re4erence 8orks I had 8ith me reported that according to .thiopian legends the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as kept here in a small chapel adCacent to an especially sacred ch!rch5 The legends 8ere connected to .thiopia@s claim to ha(e )een the realm o4 the )i)lical /!een o4 +he)a )!t 8ere generally dismissed )y historians as prepostero!s 4ictions5 Ha(ing only recently seen the 4irst Indiana Eones mo(ie% 'aiders o4 the Lost Ask% I 8as nat!rally intrig!ed )y the possi)ility A ho8e(er remote A that the most precio!s and mystical relic o4 >ld Testament times% a relic )elie(ed to ha(e )een lost 4or almost three tho!sand years% might act!ally rest in the city I 8as a)o!t to (isit5 I there4ore decided that I 8o!ld not lea(e 8itho!t learning more a)o!t this strange tradition and I looked do8n 8ith rene8ed interest 8hen the captain anno!nced that A9!m 8as directly )eneath !s5 The DC3@s descent to the narro8 r!n8ay 4ar )elo8 8as !northodo9 in the e9treme A and ?!ite alarming5 Instead o4 the !s!al long% lo8 and slo8 approach% the pilot )ro!ght the plane do8n (ery 4ast 4rom a considera)le altit!de in a tight corkscre8 pattern that kept !s at all times directly a)o(e the to8n5 This% one o4 the military men riding 8ith !s e9plained% 8as so as to minimi3e the time that 8e 8o!ld )e a target 4or snipers in the s!rro!nding hills5 I remem)ered 8hat the Gam)ians had said a)o!t reg!larly getting hit )y machine-g!n 4ire 8hen landing at A9!m and prayed silently that this 8o!ld not happen to !s5 It 8as an !npleasant 4eeling to )e strapped into a 4limsy seat in a narro8 t!)e o4 metal h!ndreds o4 4eet a)o(e the gro!nd and to 8onder 8hether% at any moment% )!llets 8ere going to start pl!nking thro!gh the ca)in 4loor and 8alls5 Bort!nately nothing so )ad happened that morning and 8e to!ched do8n sa4ely5 I remem)er the red gra(el o4 the strip% the d!st that 4le8 !p as the 8heels made contact% and the sight o4 large n!m)ers o4 .thiopian soldiers A all armed to the teeth and dressed in com)at 4atig!es A staring at !s intently as 8e ta9ied to a halt5 I noticed other things as 8ell; trenches had )een d!g on )oth sides o4 the r!n8ay and there 8ere n!mero!s pits% co(ered 8ith camo!4lage netting% o!t o4 8hich protr!ded the )arrels o4 hea(y artillery pieces5 I recall se(eral armo!red personnel carriers lined !p near the to8er and perhaps hal4-a-do3en +o(iet tanks5 :arked o44 to one side% on the apron% there 8ere also t8o i-24 helicopter g!nships 8ith rocket pods (isi)le )eneath their st!))y sta)ili3ing 4ins5

Brom the )eginning to the end o4 o!r (isit% A9!m ne(er 4or a second shed the Cittery and 8atch4!l atmosphere o4 a city !nder siege5 #e 8ere permitted to stay only one night )!t 8e 4elt as tho!gh o!r time there 8as dra8n-o!t% protracted% almost in4inite5

:ALAC.+% CATAC> B+ A,D >B.LI+$+

>!r 8ork )egan the moment that 8e arri(ed5 #aiting to greet !s as 8e stepped do8n 4rom the plane 8as an elderly A)yssinian gentleman 8earing a slightly thread)are three-piece s!it and a most splendid patriarchal )eard5 In ?!aint )!t e9cellent .nglish% he introd!ced himsel4 as Berhane eskel Gelele8 and e9plained that he had )een contacted )y radio 4rom Addis A)a)a and ordered to g!ide !s and act as o!r interpreter5 He 8as employed% he said% )y the inistry o4 C!lt!re @to keep an eye on the anti?!ities o4 A9!m@5 In this capacity he had helped the archaeologists 4rom the British Instit!te in .astern A4rica 8hose e9ca(ations o4 some o4 the city@s most interesting r!ins had )een interr!pted )y the re(ol!tion o4 11*45<14= @It@s so nice to see other British people here a4ter s!ch a long time%@ he e9claimed as 8e introd!ced o!rsel(es5 #e clim)ed into a (intage Land 'o(er 8ith a lime-green paint Co) and t8o neat )!llet holes in the 4ront 8indscreen5 @Bort!nately no one 8as killed%@ Gelele8 reass!red !s 8hen 8e asked him a)o!t these5 La!ghing ner(o!sly as 8e dro(e a8ay 4rom the air4ield% I then e9plained 8hat 8e had come to do% listed the historic sites that 8e 8anted to (isit% and told him that I 8as partic!larly intrig!ed )y A9!m@s claim to )e the last resting place o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 @Do yo! )elie(e that the Ark is here7@ I asked5 @Des5 Certainly5@ @And 8here is it e9actly7@ @It is deposited in a chapel near the centre o4 the city5L HIs this chapel (ery old7@ @,o5 Its constr!ction 8as ordered )y o!r late .mperor 5 5 5 in 11&" I think5 Be4ore that the relic had rested 4or many h!ndreds o4 years 8ithin the Holy o4 Holies o4 the near)y ch!rch o4 +aint ary o4 Gion 5 5 Gelele8 pa!sed% then added; @Haile +elassie had a special interest in this matter% )y the 8ay 5 5 5 He 8as the t8o h!ndred and t8enty-4i4th direct-line descendant o4 enelik% son o4 the /!een o4 +he)a and $ing +olomon5 It 8as enelik 8ho )ro!ght the Ark o4 the Co(enant to o!r co!ntry 5 5 I 8as all 4or (isiting the chapel at once% )!t Gelele8 pers!aded me that there 8as little point in h!rrying; @yo! 8ill not )e allo8ed any8here near the Ark5 #here it rests is holy gro!nd5 The monks and the citi3ens o4 A9!m protect it and they 8o!ld not hesitate to kill anyone 8ho tried to )reak in5 E!st one man is allo8ed to enter and he is the monk responsi)le 4or g!arding the Ark5 #e 8ill try to meet him later today% )!t 4irst let !s go and see the /!een o4 +he)a@s palace5@

A4ter 8e had assented to this attracti(e proposition 8e t!rned on to a )!mpy% potholed road that A had 8e )een a)le to 4ollo8 it all the 8ay A 8o!ld e(ent!ally ha(e led !s h!ndreds o4 miles so!th-8est% thro!gh the gigantic peaks and (alleys o4 the +imien mo!ntains% to the city o4 Gondar near Lake Tana5 In open co!ntry )arely a mile 4rom the centre o4 A9!m% ho8e(er% 8e stopped 8ithin sight o4 an e9tensi(ely 4orti4ied military post 8hich% Gelele8 e9plained% marked the limit o4 the go(ernment-controlled sector5 He 8a(ed e9pressi(ely at the near)y hills; @.(erything else T:LB% so 8e cannot go5 It@s a pity5 There are so many interesting things to see 5 5 5 There% C!st aro!nd that corner in the road% are the granite ?!arries 8here all the stelae 8ere c!t5 >ne still remains partially !ne9ca(ated 4rom the rock5 And there is a )ea!ti4!l car(ing o4 a lioness5 It is (ery ancient5 It 8as p!t there )e4ore the coming o4 Christianity5 B!t !n4ort!nately 8e cannot reach it5@ @Ho8 4ar is it e9actly7@ I asked% tantali3ed5 @6ery close% less than three kilometres5 B!t the military 8ill not let !s past the checkpoint and i4 they did 8e 8o!ld certainly )e taken )y the g!erillas5 .(en here 8e sho!ld not stand aro!nd 4or too long5 Do!r 4oreign 4aces 8ill )e noticed )y the T:LB snipers5 They might think yo! are '!ssians and decide to shoot at yo! 5 5 5@ He la!ghed; @That 8o!ld )e highly !ndesira)le% 8o!ld it not7 Come% 4ollo8 me5@ He led the 8ay into 4ields to the north o4 the road and 8e ?!ickly )egan to st!m)le across the remains o4 8hat m!st% once% ha(e )een an imposing )!ilding5 @This 8as the /!een o4 +he)a@s palace%@ Gelele8 anno!nced pro!dly5 @According to o!r traditions her name 8as akeda and A9!m 8as her capital5 I kno8 that 4oreigners do not accept that she 8as an .thiopian at all5 ,e(ertheless no other co!ntry has a stronger claim than o!rs5@ I asked 8hether any archaeology had e(er )een done on the site to test the legends5 @Des% in the late 11&2s the .thiopian Instit!te o4 Archaeology cond!cted some e9ca(ations here 5 5 5 I helped on the dig5@ HAnd 8hat 8as disco(ered7@ Gelele8 made a mo!rn4!l 4ace5 @The opinion 8as that the palace 8as not s!44iciently old to ha(e )een the residence o4 the /!een o4 +he)a5@ #hat the archaeologists had !nearthed% and 8hat 8e no8 spent some time e9ploring% 8ere the r!ins o4 a great and 8ell )!ilt edi4ice 8ith 4inely mortared stone 8alls% deep 4o!ndations and an impressi(e drainage system5 #e sa8 a still-intact 4lagstone 4loor A 8hich Gelele8 claimed 8as a large throne room A and a n!m)er o4 stair-8ells 8hich hinted at the e9istence o4 at least one !pper storey5 There 8ere also pri(ate )athing areas o4 sophisticated design and a 8ell-preser(ed kitchen dominated )y t8o )rick o(ens5 Across the road% in a 4ield 4acing the palace% 8e then inspected a n!m)er o4 ro!gh-he8n granite stelae% some standing more than 4i4teen 4eet high% some 4allen and )roken5 ost 8ere !ndecorated )!t one% the largest% 8as car(ed 8ith 4o!r hori3ontal )ands% each )and topped )y a ro8 o4 circles in relie4 A like protr!ding )eam ends in a )!ilding made o4 8ood and stone5 This cr!de o)elisk% Gelele8 told !s% 8as tho!ght )y the to8nspeople to mark the gra(e o4 the /!een o4 +he)a5 ,o e9ca(ation 8ork had )een carried o!t )eneath it% ho8e(er% and the 4ield 8as no8

entirely gi(en o(er to 4armers 8ho gre8 crops 4or the A9!m garrison5 .(en as 8e talked 8e sa8 t8o peasant )oys approach 8ith an o9% 8hich they harnessed to a 8ooden plo!gh5 >)li(io!s to the history that lay all aro!nd them% and apparently indi44erent to o!r presence as 8ell% they )egan to till the soil5 A4ter 8e had 4inished taking pict!res and notes 8e dro(e )ack into the centre o4 the city and then o!t again to the north-east to another palace comple9% this one on a hill-top 8ith commanding (ie8s o4 the 8hole area5 +?!are in plan% the str!ct!re meas!red a)o!t t8o h!ndred 4eet on each side5 The 8alls% 8hich had long since cr!m)led% sho8ed signs o4 ha(ing originally )een proCected at the corners to 4orm 4o!r to8ers A possi)ly the (ery to8ers 8hich% in the si9th cent!ry% the monk Cosmas had descri)ed as )eing adorned 8ith )rass !nicorns5 Beneath the 4ortress Gelele8 then led !s do8n steep stone stair8ays into a n!m)er o4 !ndergro!nd galleries and cham)ers 8hich 8ere roo4ed and 8alled 8ith massi(e dressed granite )locks that 4itted precisely against one another 8itho!t any mortar in the Coints5 Local tradition% he said% identi4ied this cool dark 8arren as the treas!ry !sed )y .mperor $ale) <AD "14 A "42= and also )y his son Ge)re- askal5 #ith the aid o4 a 4lashlight 8e sa8 the empty stone co44ers 8hich lay 8ithin A co44ers )elie(ed to ha(e once contained great riches in gold and pearls5<1"= B!rther rooms% as yet !ne9ca(ated% e9tended into the hillside 4rom there% )locked o44 )ehind thick granite 8alls5 .(ent!ally 8e le4t the hill-top 4ortress and made o!r 8ay do8n into the centre o4 A9!m on a gra(el road5 ,ear the )ottom o4 the gradient% to o!r le4t% 8e pa!sed to photograph a large% open deep-8ater reser(oir d!g do8n into the red granite o4 the hillside and approached )y means o4 ro!gh-he8n stair8ays5 $no8n as the ai +h!m% it seemed to !s (ery old A an impression that Gelele8 con4irmed 8hen he remarked that it 8as originally the /!een o4 +he)a@s pleas!re )ath; @At least so o!r people )elie(e5 +ince the )eginning o4 Christian times it has )een !sed 4or )aptismal ceremonies to cele)rate the Holy .piphany% 8hich 8e call Timkat5 And o4 co!rse the peasants still come here e(ery day to dra8 their 8ater5@ As tho!gh to con4irm this last o)ser(ation he pointed to a gro!p o4 8omen care4!lly descending the time-8orn steps )earing go!rds on their heads5 By no8% 8itho!t any o4 !s really noticing ho8 the time had passed% it 8as already 8ell past the middle o4 the a4ternoon5 Gelele8 !rged !s to h!rry% pointing o!t that 8e 8ere sched!led to 4ly )ack to Asmara at 4irst light the ne9t day and that 8e still had m!ch to see5 >!r ne9t destination 8as close )y% the so-called @:ark o4 the +telae@ A certainly the 4ocal point o4 A9!m@s archaeological interest5 Here 8e e9amined and photographed a remarka)le series o4 giant o)elisks car(ed 4rom sla)s o4 solid granite5 The most massi(e o4 these% a t!m)led 4ract!red r!in% 8as )elie(ed to ha(e 4allen to the gro!nd more than a tho!sand years pre(io!sly5 In its heyday% tho!gh% it had stood one h!ndred and ten 4eet tall and m!st ha(e dominated the entire area5 I remem)ered 4rom the reading I had done on the 4light that its 8eight 8as estimated to e9ceed 4i(e h!ndred tons5 It 8as tho!ght to )e the largest single piece o4 stone e(er s!ccess4!lly ?!arried and erected in the ancient 8orld5 This 4allen stele 8as painstakingly he8n to mimic a high% slender )!ilding o4 thirteen storeys A each storey complete 8ith ela)orate representations o4 8indo8s and other details% and

demarcated 4rom the ne9t )y a ro8 o4 sym)olic )eam-ends5 At the )ase co!ld )e discerned a 4alse door complete 8ith a knocker and lock% all per4ectly car(ed in stone5 Another 4allen A )!t m!ch smaller and !n)roken A o)elisk% Gelele8 told !s% had )een stolen d!ring the Italian occ!pation o4 113"-41% transported 8ith enormo!s di44ic!lty to 'ome )y !ssolini% and re-erected near the Arch o4 Constantine5 +ince it% too% 8as ela)orately car(ed A and there4ore o4 great artistic (al!e A the .thiopian go(ernment 8as campaigning 4or its ret!rn5 In the meantime% ho8e(er% it 8as 4ort!nate that a third decorated monolith still remained in sit! in the stelae park5 #ith a 4lo!rish o!r g!ide no8 pointed to this to8ering stone needle% more than se(enty 4eet high and topped 8ith a c!r(ed headpiece shaped like a hal4 moon5 #e strolled o(er to e9amine it properly and 4o!nd that% like its h!ge neigh)o!r% it had )een car(ed to resem)le a con(entional )!ilt-!p str!ct!re A in this case a nine-storey )!ilding in the 4ashion o4 a to8erho!se5 >nce again% the main decoration on the 4ront ele(ation 8as pro(ided )y the sem)lance o4 8indo8s and o4 )eams o4 tim)er s!pposedly inserted hori3ontally into the 8alls5 The inter(als )et8een each o4 the 4loors 8ere de4ined )y ro8s o4 sym)olic log-ends% and the ho!se-like appearance 8as 4!rther enhanced )y the presence o4 a 4alse door5 +e(eral other stelae o4 (arying si3es 8ere ranged aro!nd this re4ined mon!ment A all o4 them clearly the prod!cts o4 an ad(anced% 8ell organi3ed and prospero!s c!lt!re5 ,o8here else in s!)-+aharan A4rica had anything e(en remotely similar )een )!ilt and% 4or this reason% A9!m 8as a mystery A its antecedents !nkno8n% the so!rces o4 its inspiration !nremem)ered5


Across the road% directly opposite the park o4 the stelae% stood a spacio!s 8alled compo!nd containing t8o ch!rches A one old and the other o)(io!sly m!ch more recent5 These% Gelele8 told !s% 8ere )oth dedicated to +aint ary o4 Gion5 The ne8 one% 8hich had a domed roo4 and a lo4ty )ell-to8er in the shape o4 an o)elisk% had )een )!ilt )y Haile +elassie in the 11&2s5 The other dated )ack to the mid-se(enteenth cent!ry and 8as the 8ork o4 .mperor Basilidas A 8ho% like so many .thiopian monarchs )e4ore and since% had )een cro8ned in A9!m and had (enerated the sacred city despite making his capital else8here5 #e 4o!nd Haile +elassie@s pretentio!s modern @cathedral@ as !npleasant as it 8as !ninteresting5 #e 8ere attracted% ho8e(er% to the Basilidas constr!ction 8hich% 8ith its t!rrets and crenellated )attlements% seemed to !s @hal4 ch!rch o4 God% hal4 castle@ A and th!s to )elong to a tr!ly ancient .thiopian tradition in 8hich the distinctions )et8een the military and the clergy 8ere o4ten )l!rred5 In the dimly lit interior I 8as a)le to st!dy se(eral striking m!rals incl!ding one depicting the story o4 the li4e o4 ary% another that o4 the Cr!ci4i9ion and 'es!rrection o4 Christ% and a third the legend o4 +aint Dared A the s!pposed in(entor o4 .thiopia@s eerie ch!rch m!sic5 Baded 8ith age% this latter 8ork sho8ed Dared per4orming )e4ore $ing Ge)re- askal5 The saint@s 4oot

had )een pierced )y a spear dropped 4rom the monarch@s hand )!t )oth men 8ere so entranced )y the m!sic o4 sistr!m and dr!m that they had not noticed5 ,ot 4ar 4rom the old ch!rch 8ere the r!ins o4 a )!ilding that m!st once ha(e )een (ery e9tensi(e )!t 8as no8 red!ced to little more than its deeply entrenched 4o!ndations5 These% Gelele8 e9plained% 8ere the remains o4 the original +aint ary o4 Gion A 8hich had )een )!ilt in the 4o!rth cent!ry AD at the time o4 the con(ersion o4 the A9!mite kingdom to Christianity5 +ome t8el(e h!ndred years later% in 1"3"% it had )een ra3ed to the gro!nd )y a 4anatical !slim in(ader% Ahmed Gragn <@the le4t-handed@=% 8hose 4orces s8ept across the Horn o4 A4rica 4rom Harar in the east and% at one time% threatened the complete e9tinction o4 .thiopian Christendom5 +hortly )e4ore its destr!ction% this @4irst +aint ary@s@ A as Gelele8 called it A 8as (isited )y an itinerant :ort!g!ese 4riar named Brancisco Al(are35 I later looked !p his description o4 it A the only one that s!r(i(es;

It is (ery large and has 4i(e na(es o4 a good 8idth and o4 a great length% (a!lted a)o(e% and all the (a!lts are co(ered !p% and the ceiling and sides are all paintedJ it also has a choir a4ter o!r 4ashion 5 5 5 This no)le ch!rch has a (ery large circ!it% pa(ed 8ith 4lagstones% like gra(estones% and it has a large enclos!re% and is s!rro!nded )y another large enclos!re like the 8all o4 a large to8n or city5<1&=

Gelele8 rightly dated the start o4 constr!ction 8orks on the 4irst +aint ary@s at AD 3*2<1*= A 8hich meant that this 8as ?!ite possi)ly the earliest Christian ch!rch in s!)-+aharan A4rica5 A great 4i(e-aisled )asilica% it 8as regarded 4rom its ina!g!ration as the most sacred place in all .thiopia5 This 8as so )eca!se it 8as )!ilt to ho!se the Ark o4 the Co(enant A 8hich% i4 there 8as any tr!th to the legends% m!st ha(e arri(ed in the co!ntry long )e4ore the )irth o4 Ees!s and m!st then ha(e )een co-opted )y the Christian hierarchy at some point a4ter the ne8 religion had )een o44icially adopted )y the A9!mite state5 #hen Al(are3 (isited +aint ary@s in the 1"22s A )ecoming% in the process% the 4irst .!ropean to doc!ment the .thiopian (ersion o4 the legend o4 the /!een o4 +he)a and the )irth o4 her only son enelik<10= A the Ark 8as still in the Holy o4 Holies o4 the ancient ch!rch5 It did not stay there 4or (ery m!ch longer% ho8e(er5 In the early 1"32s% 8ith the in(ading armies o4 Ahmed Gragn dra8ing e(er closer% the sacred relic 8as remo(ed @to some other place o4 sa4ekeeping@ <Gelele8 did not kno8 8here=5 It th!s escaped the destr!ction and looting that the !slims !nleashed !pon A9!m in 1"3"5 A h!ndred years later% 8ith peace restored thro!gho!t the empire% the Ark 8as )ro!ght )ack in tri!mph and installed in the second +aint ary@s A )!ilt )y Basilidas )eside the ra3ed remains o4 the 4irst5 And there apparently it stayed !ntil 11&" 8hen Haile +elassie had it mo(ed to the ne8 and more sec!re chapel p!t !p at the same time as his o8n grandiose cathedral )!t anne9ed to the se(enteenth-cent!ry ch!rch5 It 8as in the gro!nds o4 Haile +elassie@s chapel that the g!ardian monk told me his astonishing story a)o!t the Ark and 8arned me that it 8as @po8er4!l@5

@Ho8 po8er4!l7@ I asked5 @#hat do yo! mean7@ The g!ardian@s post!re sti44ened and he seemed s!ddenly to gro8 more alert5 There 8as a pa!se5 Then he ch!ckled and p!t a ?!estion to me; @Ha(e yo! seen the stelae7@ @Des@% I replied% @I ha(e seen them5@ @Ho8 do yo! think they 8ere raised !p7@ I con4essed that I did not kno85 @The Ark 8as !sed%@ 8hispered the monk darkly% @the Ark and the celestial 4ire5 co!ld ne(er ha(e done s!ch a thing5@ en alone

>n my ret!rn to the .thiopian capital Addis A)a)a% I took the opport!nity to cond!ct some research into the historical merits o4 the legend that the g!ardian had related to me5 I 8anted to 4ind o!t 8hether there 8as any possi)ility at all that the /!een o4 +he)a co!ld ha(e )een an .thiopian monarch5 And i4 there 8as% then co!ld she really ha(e Co!rneyed to Israel in the time o4 +olomon A aro!nd three tho!sand years ago7 Co!ld she ha(e )een impregnated )y the Ee8ish king7 Co!ld she ha(e )orne him a son named enelik7 ost importantly% co!ld that son ha(e made his 8ay to Eer!salem as a yo!ng man% spent a year there at his 4ather@s co!rt% and then ret!rned to A9!m 8ith the Ark o4 the Co(enant7

Chapter 2 DI+.,CHA,T .,T

/!estions o4 the kind that I needed to ask in order to e(al!ate A9!m@s claim to )e the last resting place o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8ere not entirely 8elcome in Addis A)a)a in 11035 There 8as still a certain amo!nt o4 re(ol!tionary Cingoism in the air less than nine years a4ter Haile +elassie had )een o(erthro8n <and less than eight a4ter he had )een smothered 8ith a pillo8 )y the man 8ho had engineered his do8n4all A Lie!tenant-Colonel engist! Haile ariam=5 istr!st% hatred and rank 4ear co!ld also )e detected e(ery8here; people remem)ered )itterly the period in the late 11*2s 8hen engist!@s 4orces had !nleashed the @'ed Terror@ against those seeking to restore the monarchy5 +tate-sponsored death s?!ads had roamed the streets rooting o!t s!spects 4rom their homes and e9ec!ting them on the spot5 The 4amilies o4 the (ictims o4 these p!rges had then had to reim)!rse the cost o4 the )!llets !sed to kill their relati(es )e4ore they 8ere allo8ed to claim )ack the )odies 4or )!rial5 It 8as in the emotional climate 4ostered )y s!ch atrocities that I 8as o)liged to cond!ct my preliminary research into a s!)Cect that had e9plicit connections 8ith .thiopia@s last emperor and 8ith the +olomonic dynasty to 8hich he had )elonged5 E!st ho8 close these connections in 4act 8ere 8as made clear to me 8hen a 4riend passed me a sami3dat copy o4 a doc!ment prepared at the peak o4 Haile +elassie@s po8er and pop!larity A the 11"" 'e(ised Constit!tion5 Implemented 8ith the intent o4 enco!raging @the modern .thiopian to acc!stom himsel4 to take part in the direction o4 all departments o4 +tate@ and @to share in the mighty task 8hich .thiopian

+o(ereigns ha(e had to accomplish alone in the past@% this remarka)le piece o4 legislation ne(ertheless contained the 4ollo8ing !ne?!i(ocal con4irmation o4 the age-old monarchy@s Di(ine 'ight to r!le;

The Imperial dignity shall remain perpet!ally attached to the line o4 Haile +elassie I% 8hose line descends 8itho!t interr!ption 4rom the dynasty o4 enelik I% son o4 the /!een o4 .thiopia% the /!een o4 +he)a% and $ing +olomon o4 Eer!salem 555 By (irt!e o4 His Imperial Blood% as 8ell as )y the anointing 8hich He has recei(ed% the person o4 the .mperor is sacred% His Dignity in(iola)le and His :o8er indisp!ta)le5<1=

I ?!ickly esta)lished that Gelele8% o!r g!ide in A9!m% had )een correct a)o!t at least one o4 the things that he had told !s; the .mperor had claimed to )e the t8o h!ndred and t8enty-4i4th direct-line descendant o4 enelik5 B!rthermore% (ery 4e8 o4 the .thiopians to 8hom I talked in Addis A)a)a A e(en the most re(ol!tionary amongst them A serio!sly do!)ted the sacral pedigree o4 the +olomonic dynasty5 Indeed% it 8as 8hispered that :resident engist! himsel4 had pl!cked the ring o4 +olomon 4rom Haile +elassie@s dead hand and no8 8ore it on his o8n middle 4inger A as tho!gh% )y this de(ice% he co!ld appropriate some o4 the charisma and s!pposed magical po8ers o4 his predecessor5 +!ch 8hispers and r!mo!rs 8ere interesting eno!gh5 They did not% ho8e(er% satis4y my desire 4or hard in4ormation a)o!t the Ark o4 the Co(enant and a)o!t its mystical associations 8ith the deposed @line o4 Haile +elassie I@5 The pro)lem 8as that most o4 my .thiopian contacts 8ere too terri4ied to tell me 8hat they kne8 and sh!t !p like clams 8hene(er I mentioned the Ark% the 4ormer emperor% or indeed anything to do 8ith the prere(ol!tionary period that might possi)ly )e interpreted as seditio!s5 I there4ore only managed to make progress 8hen a kno8ledgea)le colleag!e arri(ed in Addis A)a)a 4rom .ngland A :ro4essor 'ichard :ankh!rst% 8hom I had in(ited to Coin me as co-a!thor in the )ook that I 8as preparing 4or the go(ernment5 Grandson o4 the 4amo!s .nglish s!44ragette .mmeline :ankh!rst% and the son o4 +yl(ia :ankh!rst A 8ho had 4o!ght heroically alongside the A)yssinian resistance d!ring the Italian occ!pation in the 1132s A 'ichard 8as% and remains% the leading historian o4 .thiopia5 In the time o4 .mperor Haile +elassie he had 4o!nded the scholarly and 8ell respected Instit!te o4 .thiopian +t!dies at Addis A)a)a Ini(ersity5 +hortly a4ter the re(ol!tion in 11*4 he had le4t the co!ntry 8ith his 4amily% )!t 8as no8 an9io!s to get rein(ol(edJ o!r )ook proCect% there4ore% s!ited his o8n re?!irements 8ell and he had taken a 4e8 days o44 4rom his 8ork at the 'oyal Asiatic +ociety in London in order to disc!ss o!r colla)oration on the te9t5 A tall )!t rather stooped man in his late 4i4ties% he had a di44ident% almost apologetic manner 8hich A as I had disco(ered some time pre(io!sly A disg!ised great sel4-con4idence and a 8icked sense o4 h!mo!r5 His kno8ledge o4 .thiopian history 8as comprehensi(e and one o4 the 4irst matters I disc!ssed 8ith him 8as the Ark o4 the Co(enant and the seemingly 4ar4etched claim that it might no8 rest in A9!m5 Did he think there co!ld )e any 4act!al )asis at all to this tradition7

He replied that the story o4 +olomon and +he)a that I had heard in the sacred city had an ancient pedigree in .thiopia5 There 8ere many (ersions o4 it% )oth oral and 8ritten5 Amongst the latter the oldest still s!r(i(ing 8as contained in a thirteenth-cent!ry man!script kno8n as the $e)ra ,agast A 8hich 8as greatly re(ered and 8hich most .thiopians )elie(ed to tell @the tr!th% the 8hole tr!th and nothing )!t the tr!th@5 As a historian% ho8e(er% he co!ld not accept this A partic!larly since the homeland o4 the /!een o4 +he)a had almost certainly )een located in Ara)ia and not in .thiopia at all5 ,e(ertheless he co!ld not entirely dismiss the possi)ility that the legend might contain @some scintilla o4 (eracity@5 There had )een 8ell doc!mented contacts )et8een .thiopia and Eer!salem in anti?!ity <tho!gh not as 4ar )ack as the time o4 +olomon= and there co!ld )e no do!)t that .thiopian c!lt!re did contain a strong @4la(o!r@ o4 E!daism5 This 8as )est ill!strated )y the presence in the co!ntry o4 a gro!p o4 indigeno!s Ee8s A kno8n as the Balashas A 8ho li(ed in the +imien mo!ntains to the so!th o4 A9!m and aro!nd the shores o4 Lake Tana5 There 8ere also certain 8idespread c!stoms <many o4 8hich A)yssinian Christians shared 8ith their Balasha neigh)o!rs= 8hich pro(ided at least circ!mstantial e(idence o4 early ties 8ith E!daic ci(ili3ation5 These c!stoms incl!ded circ!mcision% the 4ollo8ing o4 4ood proscriptions (ery close to those o!tlined in the )ook o4 Le(itic!s% and the practice <still adhered to in isolated r!ral comm!nities= o4 cele)rating the +a))ath on +at!rdays rather than on +!ndays5 I 8as already a8are o4 the e9istence o4 the Balashas and had re?!ested <)!t not yet )een granted= o44icial permission to (isit and photograph at least one o4 their (illages on o!r ne9t 4ield trip A 8hich 8o!ld take !s to Lake Tana and thence north8ards to the city o4 Gondar and hope4!lly also to the +imien mo!ntains5 I kne8 ne9t to nothing a)o!t the so-called @Black Ee8s o4 .thiopia@% ho8e(er% and asked 'ichard to tell me more a)o!t them5 He replied that in physical appearance and in dress they 8ere ?!ite indisting!isha)le 4rom other A)yssinian highlanders5 Their mother tong!e% too% 8as indigeno!s% )eing a dialect o4 the Aga8 lang!age 8hich A altho!gh no8 rapidly )eing replaced )y Amharic% the national ling!a 4ranca A had once )een spoken e9tensi(ely in the northern pro(inces5 In short% the only really !ni?!e ?!ality that the Balashas possessed 8as their religion A 8hich 8as !ndo!)tedly Ee8ish% tho!gh o4 a (ery archaic and idiosyncratic kind5 Their adherence to ancient c!stoms% long a)andoned else8here% had led a n!m)er o4 romantic and e9cita)le (isitors to proclaim them as @the lost tri)e o4 Israel@5 And in the last decade this notion had recei(ed the o44icial )lessing o4 the Ashkena3i and +ephardi Chie4 'a))is in Eer!salem 8ho had de4ined the Balashas !ne?!i(ocally as Ee8s A a stat!s that rendered them eligi)le 4or Israeli citi3enship !nder the terms o4 the La8 o4 'et!rn5 B!t% I asked% 8here had the Balashas come 4rom in the 4irst place7 And ho8 e9actly had they )een marooned in the middle o4 .thiopia nearly t8o tho!sand miles 4rom Israel7 'ichard admitted that there 8ere no easy ans8ers to these ?!estions5 The (ie8 accepted )y most scholars 8as that a n!m)er o4 Ee8s had migrated to the A)yssinian mainland 4rom so!th-8estern Ara)ia in the 4irst and second cent!ries AD and had s!)se?!ently con(erted some sections o4 the local pop!lation to their 4aithJ the Balashas 8ere there4ore seen as the descendants o4 these con(erts5 It 8as tr!e% he added% that an important Ee8ish comm!nity had esta)lished itsel4 in the Demen 4ollo8ing persec!tion )y the 'oman occ!piers o4 :alestine in the 4irst cent!ry AD A so it 8as theoretically possi)le that missionaries and traders had crossed the narro8 'ed +ea straits o4 Ba)-el- ande) and entered .thiopia5 ,e(ertheless he kne8 o4 no historical e(idence 8hich con4irmed that this 8as really 8hat had happened5

And 8hat did the Balashas themsel(es say7 'ichard smiled; @That they are descended 4rom $ing +olomon o4 co!rse 5 5 5 Their legend is )asically the same as the Christian one )!t a )it more ela)orate5 I4 I remem)er correctly% they claim that +olomon not only made the /!een o4 +he)a pregnant )!t also her maidser(ant A th!s 4athering not only enelik )!t also a hal4-)rother 8ho 4o!nded a dynasty o4 Balasha kings5 All the rest o4 the Ee8s in .thiopia today are s!pposed to )e the descendants o4 the )odyg!ard made !p o4 the 4irst-)orn sons o4 the elders o4 Israel 8ho accompanied enelik 8ith the Ark o4 the Co(enant5@ @And do yo! think there@s any possi)ility that 8hat they say might )e tr!e A I mean that the Ark co!ld really ha(e )een stolen 4rom +olomon@s Temple in Eer!salem and )ro!ght to A9!m7@ 'ichard made a 8ry 4ace; @Brankly no5 ,o possi)ility at all5 As a matter o4 4act A9!m didn@t e(en e9ist in the period 8hen this is s!pposed to ha(e happened5 It simply 8asn@t there 5 5 5 Look% +olomon died A I don@t kno8 e9actly 8hen )!t it m!st ha(e )een aro!nd the 142s or 132s BC5 I4 enelik 8as his son then it 8o!ld ha(e had to ha(e )een aro!nd those dates A may)e e(en ten or 4i4teen years earlier A that he )ro!ght the Ark to A9!m5 B!t there@s a)sol!tely no 8ay that he co!ld ha(e done that5 Do! see% A9!m 8asn@t 4o!nded !ntil at least the third cent!ry BC% perhaps not e(en !ntil the second cent!ry BC A in other 8ords a)o!t se(en or eight h!ndred years a4ter the s!pposed the4t o4 the Ark5@ @#ell%@ I said% @that rather p!ts paid to the 8hole story doesn@t it7@ @Des A altho!gh I e9pect it@s C!st 4easi)le that the Ark co!ld ha(e )een )ro!ght to some other place in .thiopia 8hich later got mi9ed !p 8ith A9!m in the traditions that ha(e )een handed do8n5 There are% ho8e(er% many other 4allacies% anachronisms and inacc!racies in the legend A 8hich is 8hy no historian or archaeologist 8orth his salt has e(er )een prepared to spend time in(estigating it 5 5 5 ,e(ertheless not all the things that the Balashas say a)o!t themsel(es are complete 4antasies and some aspects o4 their origins 8o!ld merit 4!rther research5@ @#hat% 4or e9ample7@ The claim I mentioned that there 8as once a dynasty o4 Ee8ish kings in .thiopia 555 I4 8e go )ack to say the 4i4teenth and si9teenth cent!ries AD 8e 4ind ?!ite a lot o4 e(idence to s!pport that (ie8 A and it@s pro)a)le that they had a monarchic system long )e4ore then as 8ell5 In 4act% )y all acco!nts% the Ee8s 8ere once a 4orce to )e reckoned 8ith in this co!ntry; sometimes they e(en 4o!ght s!ccess4!l 8ars 8ith the Christian r!lers in order to preser(e their independence5 B!t o(er the years they grad!ally 8eakened and )egan to disappear5 #e kno8 that their n!m)ers 8ere greatly red!ced )et8een the 4i4teenth and eighteenth cent!ries5 And !n4ort!nately they@(e contin!ed to )e in steady decline e(er since5 There are pro)a)ly no more than t8enty tho!sand o4 them le4t no8 A and most o4 them are trying to get to Israel5@ 'ichard and I 8orked together in Addis 4or the ne9t three days A d!ring 8hich time I )ene4ited enormo!sly 4rom the detailed )rie4ings that he ga(e me a)o!t .thiopian c!lt!re and history5 Then he ret!rned to London and Carol% D!ncan and I em)arked on the 4ield trip that 8o!ld take !s to Lake Tana% Gondar and the +imiens5

TAB>T+; '.:LICA+ >B TH. A'$

Dri(ing o!t o4 Addis A)a)a in the )attered Toyota Landcr!iser that the go(ernment had pro(ided to 4acilitate o!r 8ork 8e clim)ed the immense e!calypt!s-co(ered sho!lder o4 o!nt .ntoto and then tra(elled in a north-8esterly direction 4or many miles across high% )leak moorlands5 At De)ra Li)anos <the name means @ o!nt Le)anon@=% 8e pa!sed to photograph a si9teenth-cent!ry ch!rch 8here tho!sands o4 pilgrims had congregated to cele)rate the li4e and miracles o4 Tekla Haimanot% a 4amo!s .thiopian saint5 #e sa8 normally shy and conser(ati(e men and 8omen casting o44 all their clothes to )athe naked in a spring o4 holy 8ater5 :ossessed )y the demanding spirit o4 their o8n religio!s 4er(o!r% they seemed enrapt!red% entranced% lost to the 8orld5 B!rther north still 8e crossed the spectac!lar Bl!e ,ile gorge )e4ore 4inally arri(ing at Bahar Dar% a small to8n at the so!thern tip o4 Lake Tana% .thiopia@s mighty inland sea5 Here 8e spent se(eral days p!ttering a)o!t on the reed-4ringed 8aters in a large diesel-engined la!nch pro(ided to !s )y the aritime A!thority5 #e (isited some o4 the t8enty monasteries on the lake@s n!mero!s islands and photographed their 8onder4!l collections o4 old ill!minated man!scripts% religio!s paintings and m!rals5 Beca!se o4 their literal @isolation@% 8e learned% these monasteries had 4re?!ently )een !sed d!ring times o4 tro!)le as places o4 sa4ety 4or art treas!res and 4or sacred relics 4rom all parts o4 the co!ntry5 Their main p!rpose% ho8e(er% 8as to pro(ide their inmates 8ith peace and solit!de5 >ne monk told me that he had not le4t his tiny% 8ooded island 4or t8enty-4i(e years and had no intention o4 e(er doing so5 @By c!tting mysel4 o44 like this%@ he said% @I get real happiness5 All my days I ha(e )een loyal to God and 8ill remain so !ntil I die5 I ha(e separated mysel4 4rom the li4e o4 the 8orld5 I am 4ree 4rom its distractions5@ .(ery monastic comm!nity had its o8n ch!rch A and these )!ildings% !s!ally circ!lar in plan rather than rectang!lar% 8ere o4ten (ery old5 Typically they 8o!ld ha(e an o!ter 8alk8ay% open at the sides )!t co(ered )y the proCecting thatch o4 the roo4% then an inner circ!it <the k@ane mahlet= richly decorated 8ith paintings% then a second circ!it <the keddest% !sed 4or comm!nion= 8hich in t!rn s!rro!nded a 8alled central enclos!re <the mak@das= containing the Holy o4 Holies5 I had )een in many .thiopian ch!rches )e4ore% )!t those on Lake Tana 8ere the 4irst in 8hich I )egan to get some idea o4 the signi4icance o4 the Holy o4 Holies5 I disco(ered that each o4 these inner sanct!ms A 8hich only the most senior priests co!ld enter A contained an o)Cect regarded as )eing immensely sacred5 +peaking thro!gh o!r go(ernment interpreter at the 4o!rteenth-cent!ry monastery o4 $e)ran Ga)riel% I asked 8hat this sacred o)Cect 8as5 @It is the ta)ot%@ replied my in4ormant% ninety-year-old A))a Haile ariam5

The 8ord so!nded 4amiliar and% a4ter a moment@s re4lection% I remem)ered that I had heard it in A9!n 8hen I had sat in the gro!nds o4 the sanct!ary chapel talking to the g!ardian monk; it 8as the .thiopian name 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 @#hat does he mean )y ta)ot7@ I asked o!r interpreter5 @Does he mean the Ark o4 the Co(enant7 #e 8ere C!st in A9!m a co!ple o4 8eeks ago and 8e 8ere told that the Ark 8as there 5 5 I pa!sed% gen!inely p!33led% then concl!ded rather lamely; @I don@t see ho8 it can )e here as 8ell5@ A lengthy disc!ssion 4ollo8ed% into 8hich se(eral o4 the other monks 8ere dra8n5 Bor a 8hile I despaired o4 e(er learning anything o4 s!)stance 4rom these people 8ho A ?!iet and 8ithdra8n !ntil a moment )e4ore A 8ere no8 garr!lo!s% animated and arg!mentati(e5 .(ent!ally% ho8e(er% 8ith 4!rther pro)ing 4rom me and m!ch clari4ication )y the interpreter% a clear pict!re )egan to emerge5 .(ery >rthodo9 ch!rch in .thiopia% it seemed% had its o8n Holy o4 Holies% and in e(ery Holy o4 Holies 8as a ta)ot5 ,o claim 8as made that any o4 these o)Cects 8ere act!ally the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 There 8as only one tr!e Ark and that% properly kno8n as Ta)ota Gion% had indeed )een )ro!ght )y enelik to .thiopia in the time o4 +olomon and no8 stood in the sanct!ary chapel in A9!m5 All the others thro!gho!t the length and )readth o4 the land 8ere merely replicas o4 that sacred and in(iola)le original5 These replicas% ho8e(er% 8ere important5 Indeed they 8ere s!premely important5 +ym)olic on se(eral le(els% it appeared 4rom 8hat I 8as told that they 4!lly em)odied the intangi)le notion o4 sanctity5 As A))a Haile ariam painstakingly e9plained to me d!ring o!r inter(ie8 at $e)ran Ga)riel; @It is the ta)ots% rather than the ch!rches that they stand in% that are consecratedJ 8itho!t a ta)ot at its heart% in its Holy o4 Holies% a ch!rch is C!st an empty h!sk A a dead )!ilding o4 no greater or lesser signi4icance than any other5@

TH. BLAC$ E.#+ >B .THI>:IA

#hen o!r 8ork at the island monasteries 8as complete 8e ret!rned to Bahar Dar and then dro(e north% aro!nd the c!r(ing eastern shore o4 Lake Tana% to the city o4 Gondar A 4o!nded in the se(enteenth cent!ry )y Basilidas% the same emperor 8ho had re)!ilt the ch!rch o4 +aint ary o4 Gion at A9!m5 D!ring the Co!rney I had time to gi(e 4!rther consideration to the ta)ot tradition that I had C!st learned a)o!t5 At the (ery least% I remem)er thinking% it 8as intrig!ing and odd that the .thiopian Christians sho!ld ascri)e so m!ch importance to the Ark o4 the Co(enant that they 4elt the need to place replicas o4 it in e(ery single one o4 their ch!rches5 The Ark% a4ter all% 8as a pre-Christian relic and had a)sol!tely nothing to do 8ith the teachings o4 Ees!s5 +o 8hat on earth 8as going on here7 Ine(ita)ly I )egan to 8onder again a)o!t the (alidity o4 the A9!mite claims concerning the /!een o4 +he)a% $ing +olomon and their son enelik5 :erhaps% a4ter all% there 8as some

s!)stance to the legends5 The presence o4 indigeno!s )lack Ee8s in the co!ntry% 8hose origin seemed to )e shro!ded in mystery% 8as also intrig!ing A and co!ld% it seemed to me% ?!ite possi)ly )e connected5 I there4ore 4o!nd mysel4 looking 4or8ard 8ith interest to (isiting the Balasha settlements 8hich I kne8 that 8e 8o!ld enco!nter 8ith increasing 4re?!ency on the ne9t stage o4 o!r 4ield trip5 Be4ore lea(ing Gondar% ho8e(er% 8e 8ere 8arned )y a senior o44icial that 8e sho!ld on no acco!nt try to inter(ie8 or photograph any .thiopian Ee8s5 Inder the circ!mstances I 8as e9tremely 4r!strated )y this% and e(en more 4r!strated A and annoyed A 8hen o!r interpreter and o44icial g!ide e9plained the reason 4or the )an5 #ith an a)sol!tely straight 4ace he told me; @This year the position o4 o!r go(ernment is that the Balashas don@t e9ist5 And i4 they don@t e9ist then o)(io!sly yo! can@t talk to any o4 them or take their pict!res 5 5 5 It 8o!ld )e a contradiction5@ Less than ten min!tes@ dri(e )eyond the city limits% ho8e(er% I spotted a +tar o4 Da(id positioned on top o4 a h!t in a small (illage )y the side o4 the road5 @Come on% Balcha%@ I said to the interpreter% @that@s a Balasha ho!se isn@t it7@ Balcha 8as an intelligent% sensiti(e and highly ed!cated man 8ho had spent se(eral years in the Inited +tates5 He 8as (astly o(er-?!ali4ied 4or the go(ernment Co) he 8as no8 doing5 He 8as also ?!ite o)(io!sly impatient 8ith the more l!natic edicts o4 the )!rea!crats in Addis A)a)a and% indeed% 8ith o44icial secrecy in general5 Altho!gh 8e had already le4t the Balasha (illage )ehind I there4ore made a determined e44ort to pers!ade him to let !s t!rn )ack5 He cast me a discom4ited glance o!t o4 the corner o4 his eye; @'eally it is (ery di44ic!lt5 #e ne(er kno8 4rom one day to the ne9t 8hat line o!r )osses are going to take 5 5 5 Late last year I )ro!ght a Canadian 4ilm cre8 to that (ery (illage 5 5 5 they 8ere interested in the Ee8s and they had all the o44icial permissions and e(erything5 Any8ay% they poked aro!nd and asked a lot o4 leading ?!estions a)o!t religio!s 4reedom% political persec!tion and so on A all o4 8hich I had to translate5 A4ter8ards I 8as arrested )y the sec!rity police and locked !p 4or a 4e8 8eeks acc!sed o4 4acilitating anti-state propaganda5 Do yo! really 8ant that to happen to me again7@ @,o% o4 co!rse not5 B!t I@m certain there 8on@t )e any pro)lems5 I mean 8e@re act!ally here 8orking 4or the go(ernment and trying to prod!ce a 8orth8hile )ook a)o!t the peoples and c!lt!res o4 this co!ntry5 +!rely that makes a )ig di44erence7@ @,ot necessarily5 Last year% 8hen I came 8ith the 4ilm cre8% the Balashas o44icially e9isted A the go(ernment 8asn@t denying them A )!t I still ended !p in Cail5 This year there are s!pposed to )e no Ee8s in .thiopia% so I think i4 I take yo! to one o4 their (illages I 8ill )e in serio!s tro!)le5@ I had to admit that Balcha@s logic 8as 4a!ltless5 As 8e dro(e on thro!gh increasingly mo!ntaino!s terrain% I asked him to e9plain the o44icial position A i4 he co!ld5 :art o4 the pro)lem% he replied% 8as that most o4 @the )osses@ in Addis A)a)a )elonged to the dominant Amhara ethnic gro!p5 The Balashas li(ed mainly in the pro(inces o4 Gondar and GoCCam A 8hich 8ere )oth Amhara strongholds A and% as a res!lt% there 8as tension )et8een the t8o peoples5 In the past there had )een occasional massacres as 8ell as s!stained economic persec!tion% and the Ee8s 8ere still looked do8n !pon and despised )y their Amhara neigh)o!rs

today5 +ince the re(ol!tion some e44orts had )een made to impro(e the sit!ation% )!t mem)ers o4 the r!ling elite contin!ed to s!44er 4rom a kind o4 collecti(e g!ilty conscience a)o!t the 8hole matter and did not 8ant any 4oreigners @sticking their noses in@5 oreo(er% since the )eginning o4 the 1102s% o44icial paranoia had )een greatly heightened )y the strong anti-go(ernment line taken )y (isiting American and British Ee8s% 8ho had openly and (oci4ero!sly e9pressed concern a)o!t Balasha 8el4are5 @This has )een seen as meddling in o!r internal a44airs%@ Balcha e9plained5 As 8e talked I learned that there 8ere other more comple9 considerations too5 Instincti(ely lo8ering his (oice A tho!gh o!r dri(er spoke no .nglish A Balcha pointed o!t that Addis A)a)a 8as the Head?!arters o4 the >rgani3ation o4 A4rican Inity and that .thiopia had Coined other A4rican states in ending its diplomatic relationship 8ith Israel a4ter the last Ara) A Israeli 8ar5 The 4act 8as% ho8e(er% that clandestine links did still contin!e )et8een the t8o co!ntries; indeed the Israelis 8ere pro(iding a certain amo!nt o4 military assistance to the regime5 In ret!rn 4or this help% some h!ndreds o4 Balashas had ?!ietly )een permitted to emigrate e(ery year to Israel5 The pro)lem 8as% ho8e(er% that tho!sands more had 4led illegally )y trekking across the )order into re4!gee camps in the +!dan A 4rom 8hence% they hoped% they might e(ent!ally )e airli4ted to Tel A(i(5 As a res!lt o4 all this% the entire iss!e had no8 )ecome (ery sensiti(e5 >n the one hand the go(ernment 4eared that its co(ert g!ns-4or-people deal 8ith the Israelis might at any moment )e e9posed% th!s ca!sing ma9im!m em)arrassment 8ithin the >AI5 >n the other hand there 8as real resentment at the 4act that large n!m)ers o4 .thiopian citi3ens 8ere )eing l!red into re4!gee camps in a neigh)o!ring and not entirely 4riendly co!ntry5 This% Balcha said% made @the )ig-shots in Addis@ look as tho!gh they 8ere no longer 4!lly in control A 8hich 8as tr!e )!t not something that they 8anted to p!)lici3e5 D!ring the ne9t three days I had little time to gi(e 4!rther consideration to the Balasha ?!estion5 >!r Co!rney had )ro!ght !s into the heart o4 the +imien mo!ntains A an A4ro-Alpine 8ilderness% all o4 8hich lay at more than si9 tho!sand 4eet a)o(e sea le(el% m!ch at nine tho!sand 4eet or more% and a not insigni4icant portion at thirteen tho!sand 4eet pl!s5 The giant o4 the range% the sno8-capped peak o4 o!nt 'as Dashen% soared !p to 4o!rteen tho!sand nine h!ndred and ten 4eet A making it the highest point in .thiopia and the 4o!rth highest in the 8hole continent o4 A4rica5 At an altit!de o4 ten tho!sand 4eet% the camp that 8e had esta)lished as the )ase 4or o!r photography and research 8as 4ree3ing cold at night A so cold that 8e had to keep a h!ge 4ire stoked and )!rning5 In the mornings% ho8e(er% as the da8n mists e(aporated )eneath the rising s!n% 8armth 4illed the air and astonishing (ie8s !n4olded in all directions o(er a s!rreal landscape 8hich ancient seismic acti(ity% 4ollo8ed )y millions o4 years o4 erosion% had le4t 4olded and 4iss!red% c!t thro!gh 8ith steep (alleys% and dominated )y isolated% C!tting crags5 >!r treks 4re?!ently took !s !p a)o(e t8el(e tho!sand 4eet on to remote% !npop!lated heaths5 At lo8er altit!des% ho8e(er% 8e sa8 4re?!ent signs o4 h!man ha)itation; grassy meado8s that pro(ided gra3ing 4or sheep% goats and cattle% and terraced hillsides di(ided into allotments and planted 8ith cereals5 6ie8ing these tidy smallholdings% I had the sense o4 a (ery old% longesta)lished pattern o4 agric!lt!ral li4e and o4 a peasant c!lt!re that pro)a)ly had e9perienced no signi4icant change in the past cent!ry A nor e(en in the past millenni!m5

There 8ere a 4e8 Balasha comm!nities A 8hich% at Balcha@s insistence% 8e rigoro!sly a(oided5 The maCority o4 the pop!lation% ho8e(er% 8ere Amharas 8ho li(ed not in (illages )!t in small hamlets A !s!ally o4 si9 ho!ses or less A that tended to )e inha)ited )y single e9tended 4amilies5 Typically their homes 8ere circ!lar str!ct!res 8ith 8alls made o4 8attle-and-da!) or sometimes o4 stone% and 8ith conical thatched roo4s s!pported )y 8ooden poles rising thro!gh the centre5 The peasant 8hom 8e met and talked to 8ere poor% in some cases (ery poor indeed% and their li(es 8ere clearly r!led )y the iron rods o4 soil and season5 ,e(ertheless they 8ere also digni4ied and pro!d and this% Balcha told !s% 8as )eca!se they 4elt A 8ith good reason A that they )elonged to a @master race@5 >(er an astonishing period o4 more than se(en h!ndred years% 4rom AD 12*2 !ntil the o(erthro8 o4 .mperor Haile +elassie in 11*4% all )!t one o4 the r!lers o4 .thiopia had )een Amharas5 It 8as their mother-tong!e% 4!rthermore A Amharic A that had )een adopted as the co!ntry@s o44icial lang!age5 Ine(ita)ly% there4ore% Amhara c!lt!re A e9pressed thro!gh an almost !ni(ersal dedication to the Christian 4aith A had had an enormo!s impact5 In the past 4e8 cent!ries% 8hole tri)es and peoples had )ecome @Amhari3ed@% and this process 8as still contin!ing in many di44erent parts o4 .thiopia5 In s!ch a conte9t% Balcha concl!ded% it 8as little short o4 a miracle that s!)Cect gro!ps like the Balashas had managed to s!r(i(e at all% let alone maintain their o8n distinct identity5 A ma(erick at heart% Balcha <8ho some years later de4ected to the Inited +tates= s!rprised !s on o!r Co!rney )ack to Gondar )y ordering o!r dri(er to stop at the same Balasha (illage that 8e had seen on o!r 8ay o!t5 @Go on%@ he said% @I@ll gi(e yo! ten min!tes5@ He then 4olded his arms and pretended to 4all asleep5 Brom the moment 8e clim)ed do8n 4rom the Landcr!iser 8e 8ere )esieged )y 8omen and children all sho!ting @+halom% +halom@ A 8hich% it ?!ickly transpired% 8as C!st a)o!t the only 8ord o4 He)re8 that they kne85 #ith Balcha stead4astly re4!sing to interpret 4or !s% 8e at 4irst had some di44ic!lty in comm!nicatingJ soon% ho8e(er% 8e 4o!nd a yo!ng man 8ho spoke some .nglish and% in e9change 4or a small s!m o4 money% he agreed to sho8 !s aro!nd5 There 8as not m!ch to see5 +pra8led !p a slope at the side o4 the road% the (illage A it 8as called #eleka A 8as dirty and seething 8ith 4lies5 any o4 the people 8ho pressed aro!nd !s seemed to think that 8e o!rsel(es m!st )e Ee8ish and that 8e had come to take them a8ay to Israel5 >thers ran to8ards !s 8ith armloads o4 so!(enirs A 4or the most part )aked clay representations o4 the +tar o4 Da(id and o4 the s!pposed )ed-time scene )et8een +olomon and +he)a5 The plainti(e earnestness 8ith 8hich these items 8ere to!ted to!ched me and I asked o!r g!ide ho8 long it had )een since there had )een any 4oreigners here to )!y their goods5 @,ot since year )e4ore%@ he replied5 In the short time 8e had at o!r disposal 8e photographed 8hat 8e co!ld5 Here a loom stood positioned 4or a 8ea(er a)o(e a hole in the gro!ndJ there pieces o4 iron lay scattered aro!nd a 4ire% in the 4lickering 4lames o4 8hich a )lacksmith 8as 4orging an a9e-headJ in one h!t clay 8as )eing )akedJ in another 8e 4o!nd a 8oman at 8ork 4ashioning pottery5 The Amharas% Balcha told !s later% despised s!ch lo8ly trades A indeed% in their lang!age% the 8ord 4or @man!al 8orker@ <ta)i)= had the same meaning as @one 8ith the e(il eye@5

By the time 8e le4t #eleka I 4elt thoro!ghly Caded5 :artly prompted )y 8hat 'ichard :ankh!rst had told me a)o!t the medie(al history o4 the Balashas% and partly )eca!se I 8as intrig!ed )y the possi)le connection o4 this people to the Ark o4 the Co(enant story that I had heard in A9!m% I had )!ilt !p some rather !nrealistic and e9tra(agant e9pectations5 A romantic at heart% I had n!rt!red dreams o4 enco!ntering a no)le and ancient E!daic ci(ili3ation5 The reality% ho8e(er% seemed to )e a degraded and impo(erished peasant c!lt!re o(eran9io!s to pander to the enth!siasms o4 4oreigners5 .(en the place o4 8orship% 8hich the Balashas called a mesgid% t!rned o!t to )e 4illed 8ith chint3y gi4ts 4rom Israel; )o9es o4 matsos 8ere stacked in one corner and no)ody co!ld read the Torah A 8hich had )een printed in Tel A(i( A )eca!se it 8as 8ritten in He)re85 E!st )e4ore 8e dro(e a8ay I )o!ght one o4 the miniat!re sc!lpt!res o4 +olomon and +he)a in )ed together5 I ha(e it still5 At the time I remem)er thinking that its cheap 8orkmanship and sentimental imagery appropriately sym)oli3ed the de4iciencies o4 the legend itsel45 Disappointed and disenchanted I glo8ered o!t o4 the 8indo8 o4 the Landcr!iser as 8e motored )ack into Gondar5

C>I: D. G'AC.

By the end o4 1103 I had entirely lost interest in the A9!mite claim to the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 The co!p de grace% ho8e(er% 8as not deli(ered )y the ta8dry Balasha (illage )!t )y 8hat I sa8 8hen I 4ollo8ed !p the one iss!e still o!tstanding a4ter the completion o4 o!r 4ield 8ork A the ?!estion o4 the ta)ots% the replicas o4 the Ark% 8hich 8ere lodged in e(ery .thiopian Christian ch!rch5 This c!stom had str!ck me as )eing o4 possi)le rele(ance and I 8anted to 4ind o!t more a)o!t it5 I raised the matter in the late a!t!mn o4 1103 on a (isit that I made to 'ichard :ankh!rst@s home in London@s elegant Hampstead district5 >(er tea and )isc!its the historian con4irmed that ta)ots 8ere indeed s!pposed to )e replicas o4 the Ark and added; @It@s a most c!rio!s tradition5 As 4ar as I@m a8are there@s no precedent 4or it in any other )rand o4 Christianity5@ I asked i4 he kne8 ho8 long ta)ots had )een in !se in .thiopia5 He replied that he honestly had no idea5 @The 4irst historical mention 8as pro)a)ly made )y Bather Brancisco Al(are3 8ho (isited the north o4 the co!ntry in the si9teenth cent!ry5 B!t it@s clear that he 8as 8itnessing a tradition that 8as already (ery old at that time5@ 'ichard then p!lled do8n 4rom his )ookshel4 a slim (ol!me% printed in 11*2% entitled The .thiopian >rthodo9 Ch!rch5 @This is an o44icial ch!rch p!)lication%@ he said% @let@s ha(e a look and see i4 it o44ers any enlightenment on the s!)Cect5@ There 8as no inde9% )!t 8e checked 4irst in a chapter entitled @The Consecration o4 a Ch!rch@5 Here I read;

The consecration o4 a ch!rch is a solemn and impressi(e ceremony 8ith rites sym)olic o4 the sacred !ses to 8hich the edi4ice is dedicated5 The (ario!s parts o4 the ser(ice are o4 (ery ancient date 5 5 5 The Ta)ot% or Ark% pre(io!sly consecrated )y the :atriarch% is installed 8ith grande!r and is the chie4 4eat!re o4 the ceremony5<2=

In another chapter% @Ch!rch B!ildings@% I came across this passage; @It is the Ta)ot 8hich gi(es sanctity to the ch!rch in 8hich it is placed5@<3= Binally% in the glossary% I 4o!nd the 8ord ta)ot de4ined simply as @Ark o4 the Co(enant@5<4= I ne9t asked 'ichard i4 he had any idea 8hat ta)ots looked like5 @The Bi)le says that the original Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as a 8ood and gold )o9 a)o!t the si3e o4 a tea-chest5 Do the ta)ots 4it that description7@ @#ell% no% I@m a4raid they don@t5 >4 co!rse lay people aren@t s!pposed to see them at all5 .(en 8hen they@re )ro!ght o!t in procession they@re al8ays co(ered in cloth 8rappings5 B!t they@re certainly m!ch smaller than the )i)lical description5 #e needn@t spec!late on this tho!gh5 Do! can go and see some ta)ots 4or yo!rsel4 at the British !se!m5 They 8ere looted 4rom .thiopia d!ring the ,apier .9pedition to agdala in the nineteenth cent!ry and )ro!ght )ack to .ngland5 I don@t think they@re on p!)lic display any more% )!t yo!@ll 4ind them in the .thnographic +tore in Hackney5@ The ne9t morning% a4ter I had made a 4e8 phone calls% I dro(e o(er to >rsman 'oad% London ,I% 8here the .thnographic +tore 8as located5 It 8as a modern and 4!ndamentally !nattracti(e )!ilding 8ith ?!ite a high le(el o4 sec!rity; @:eople sometimes try to )reak in here and nick o!r st!44%@ e9plained the caretaker as I signed in5 He took me in a li4t to one o4 the !pper 4loors and then into an enormo!s 8areho!se o4 a room completely 4illed 8ith ro8s o4 metal 4iling racks5 These e9tended 4rom 4loor to ceiling and 8ere separated only )y narro8 8alk8ays )adly lit )y o(erhead 4l!orescent t!)es5 The caretaker no8 cons!lted a (ol!mino!s inde9% m!ttering incomprehensi)ly to himsel4 as he did so5 @I think it@s this 8ay%@ he said 4inally5 @Bollo8 me5@ As 8e 8alked I 8as reminded irresisti)ly o4 the closing scene in 'aiders o4 the Lost Ark A the scene in 8hich the sacred relic is sealed in a 8ooden crate and d!mped in a 4ederal depository amidst tho!sands o4 other anonymo!s containers5 This parallel contin!ed 8hen% a4ter ?!ite a 4e8 4alse t!rns in the ma3e o4 shel(es% 8e 4inally arri(ed at the right spot5 Here% 8ith a certain amo!nt o4 ceremony% the caretaker p!lled o!t 5 5 5 a large )o95 I 4elt a thrill o4 e9citement as he opened it !p5 Inside% ho8e(er% there 8as nothing that )ore e(en the remotest resem)lance to my image o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 +eparated )y sheets o4 crMpe paper there 8ere% instead% nine 8ooden sla)s% some s?!are% some rectang!lar% none e9ceeding eighteen inches in length and 8idth% and none more than three inches thick5 The maCority 8ere (ery plain )!t all )ore 8riting 8hich I recogni3ed as Ge@e3% the ancient lit!rgical lang!age o4 .thiopia5 A 4e8 8ere additionally engra(ed 8ith crosses and other de(ices5 I asked the caretaker to check his inde95 Co!ld he possi)ly ha(e made a mistake7 Co!ld 8e )e looking at the 8rong things7

He s?!inted at the list in his hands% then replied; @,o5 ,o mistake5 These are yo!r ta)ors all right5 Brom the Holmes collection5 Bro!ght )ack )y the British .9pedition to A)yssinia in 10&*N05 That@s 8hat it says here5@ I thanked him 4or his tro!)le and le4t% satis4ied that I had 4inally laid the 8hole matter to rest5 These pathetic l!mps o4 8ood 8ere s!pposed to )e replicas o4 the sacred relic in the sanct!ary chapel at A9!m5 #hate(er that relic might )e% there4ore% one thing 8as no8 a)sol!tely clear; it 8as not the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 @+o that@s the end o4 that%@ I remem)er thinking as I stepped o!t on to >rsman 'oad and ran to my car thro!gh a dismal sho8er o4 rain5 I co!ld not ha(e )een more 8rong5

:A'T II; .I'>:.% 1101 H>LD A'$ A,D H>LD G'AIL

< ap 2=

CHA:T.' 3 TH. G'AIL CI:H.'

It 8as in 1103 that I (isited A9!m and learned at 4irst hand a)o!t .thiopia@s a!dacio!s claim to )e the last resting place o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 I had )een li(ing in A4rica at the time5 In 1104 I mo(ed to .ngland 8ith my 4amily5 ,e(ertheless in the years that 4ollo8ed I contin!ed to tra(el reg!larly to Addis A)a)a% prod!cing a n!m)er o4 p!)lications 4or the go(ernment and generally strengthening my contacts 8ith those in po8er A incl!ding :resident engist! Haile ariam himsel45 The dictator had a )ad rep!tation 4or a)!sing h!man rights )!t I c!lti(ated him assid!o!sly and 8on a n!m)er o4 !se4!l pri(ileges as a res!lt A nota)ly access to many areas that 8ere normally closed to 4oreigners5 I4 I had 8anted to look 4!rther into the Ark mystery there is no do!)t that I 8o!ld ha(e )een strongly placed to do so5 I 8as C!st not interested% ho8e(er5 I there4ore did not 4eel e(en a t8inge o4 regret 8hen% at the end o4 1100% the 4orces o4 the Tigray :eople@s Li)eration Bront la!nched a massi(e o44ensi(e against A9!m and capt!red it in a single day o4 )loody hand-to-hand 4ighting A d!ring 8hich more than t8o tho!sand o4 the go(ernment@s troops 8ere killed or capt!red5 At that stage my in(ol(ement 8ith the engist! regime had )ecome so close that the re)els@ s!ccess meant the doors o4 the sacred city 8ere no8 e44ecti(ely closed to me5 B!t I had no partic!lar reason to 8ant to go )ack there any8ay5 >r at least so I tho!ght5

TH. /I.., >B +H.BA AT CHA'T'.+

I spent most o4 the second hal4 o4 1100 and the 4irst ?!arter o4 1101 8riting the accompanying commentary 4or an ill!strated )ook 4oc!ssing on the historic northern regions o4 .thiopia and on the religio!s ceremonies and c!stoms o4 the peoples li(ing there5 This proCect 8as not commissioned )y the go(ernment )!t 8as the 8ork o4 t8o internationally reno8ned photographers% Angela Bisher and Carol Beck8ith<1= A )oth o4 8hom 8ere close 4riends o4 mine5 Beca!se o4 the nat!re o4 the s!)Cect% I had to do some ?!ite detailed )ackgro!nd research into se(eral di44erent ethnic gro!ps A amongst them the Balashas% the indigeno!s )lack Ee8s o4 the .thiopian highlands 8hom I had 4irst enco!ntered in 11035 At the same time% )eca!se o4 its 4ormati(e role in A)yssinian religio!s c!lt!re% I 4o!nd it necessary to read an ancient te9t to 8hich :ro4essor 'ichard :ankh!rst had long )e4ore dra8n my attention5 Called the $e)ra ,agast <@Glory o4 $ings@= this te9t dated 4rom the thirteenth cent!ry AD and had originally )een 8ritten in Ge@e35 It contained the earliest-s!r(i(ing (ersion o4 the story told to me in A9!m a)o!t the /!een o4 +he)a and $ing +olomon% the )irth o4 their son enelik% and the e(ent!al a)d!ction o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant 4rom the Birst Temple in Eer!salem5 An .nglish translation had )een made in the 1122s )y +ir .5 A5 #allis B!dge% 4ormerly $eeper o4 .gyptian and Assyrian Anti?!ities at the British !se!m5 It 8as o!t o4 print% )!t I managed to o)tain a photocopy 8hich I st!died closely and dre8 on at (ario!s stages in the )ook I 8as 8riting5 y man!script 8as not 4inali3ed !ntil the end o4 arch 11015 In April% 8anting a complete )reak% I 8ent on holiday to Brance 8ith my 4amily5 #e hired a car in :aris and then% 8ith no partic!lar itinerary in mind% headed so!th5 >!r 4irst stop 8as 6ersailles 8here 8e spent a co!ple o4 days looking at the palace and at the chOtea!95 Then 8e 8ent on to Chartres% a lo(ely old to8n in the departement o4 .!re-et-Loire that is 4amo!s 4or its Gothic cathedral A a cathedral dedicated% like the great ch!rch at A9!m% to +aint ary the other o4 Christ5 Chartres has )een an important Christian site since at least the si9th cent!ry AD and a 4ocal point 4or the c!lt o4 the adonna since the ninth cent!ry 8hen Charles the Bald% grandson o4 the 4amo!s Charlemagne% presented the to8n 8ith its most precio!s religio!s relic A a (eil said to ha(e )een 8orn )y ary 8hen she ga(e )irth to Ees!s5 In the ele(enth cent!ry the ch!rch )!ilt )y Charles the Bald 8as )!rnt do8n and a ne8% m!ch enlarged% cathedral 8as erected on its 4o!ndations5 Bollo8ing classical% @'omanes?!e@ design principles that emphasi3ed hori3ontal solidity% this cathedral% too% 8as )adly damaged )y 4ire5 +!)se?!ently% d!ring the t8el4th and thirteenth cent!ries% its s!r(i(ing shell 8as e9tensi(ely modi4ied and enlarged in the ne8% soaring% !p8ard-stri(ing style that came to )e kno8n as @Gothic@5 Indeed the high north to8er o4 Chartres cathedral% completed in the year 1134% is tho!ght to )e the 8orld@s earliest e9ample o4 Gothic architect!re5<2= The so!th to8er 8as added o(er the ne9t t8o decades% as 8ere 4!rther 4eat!res s!ch as the 8est-4acing 'oyal :ortal5 Then% in a concentrated )!rst o4 )!ilding )et8een 1114 and 122" most o4 the rest o4 the s!per) Gothic e9terior 8as p!t in place A remaining intact and (irt!ally !naltered e(er since5<3= #hen I (isited Chartres 8ith my 4amily in April 1101 I 8as initially m!ch less interested in the history o4 the cathedral than in its spectac!lar and glorio!s )ea!ty5 It 8as s!ch a (ast

constr!ction% 8ith so m!ch comple9 sc!lpt!re aro!nd its 8alls% that I reali3ed it might take a li4etime to get to kno8 it properly5 #e had other things to do and see% ho8e(er% and decided to stay in the to8n 4or C!st three days )e4ore mo(ing on to8ards the so!th5 I spent the greater part o4 those three days 8alking slo8ly aro!nd the cathedral% grad!ally im)i)ing its po8er4!l and n!mino!s atmosphere A the remarka)le stained glass 8indo8s telling )i)lical stories and ill!minating the inner gloom 8ith strange patterns o4 light% the enigmatic la)yrinth mapped o!t 8ith pa(ing stones in the centre o4 the na(e% the 4lying )!ttresses s!pporting the soaring 8alls% the pointed arches% and the o(er8helming sensation o4 harmony and proportion con(eyed )y the grace and agility o4 the architect!re5 G!ide)ooks that I had p!rchased stressed that nothing 8as accidental here5 The entire edi4ice had )een care4!lly and e9plicitly designed as a key to the deeper religio!s mysteries5 Th!s% 4or e9ample% the architects and masons had made !se o4 gematria <an ancient He)re8 cipher that s!)stit!tes n!m)ers 4or the letters o4 the alpha)et= to @spell o!t@ o)sc!re lit!rgical phrases in many o4 the key dimensions o4 the great )!ilding5<4= +imilarly the sc!lptors and gla3iers A 8orking !s!ally to the instr!ctions o4 the higher clergy A had care4!lly concealed comple9 messages a)o!t h!man nat!re% a)o!t the past% and a)o!t the prophetic meaning o4 the +cript!res in the tho!sands o4 di44erent de(ices and designs that they had created5 The stat!es and 8indo8s 8ere in themsel(es 8orks o4 art and )ea!ty that 8ere capa)le% at the most s!per4icial le(el o4 !nderstanding% o4 pro(iding satis4action% moral g!idance and e(en entertainment to the (ie8er5 The challenge% ho8e(er% 8as to del(e deeper and to decode the in4ormation concealed )eneath the more o)(io!s s!r4ace interpretations o4 this or that set o4 sc!lpt!res% this or that arrangement o4 stained glass5<"= I 8as initially rather !ncon(inced )y arg!ments like these and 4o!nd it hard to accept that there co!ld )e anything more to the )!ilding than its o!t8ard appearance5 Grad!ally% ho8e(er% as I e9plored 4!rther and Coined se(eral specialist to!rs% I )egan to see that the (ast str!ct!re 8as indeed a kind o4 @)ook in stone@ A an intricate and pro(ocati(e op!s that co!ld )e approached and !nderstood at se(eral di44erent le(els5 +oon eno!gh% there4ore% I too started to play the game A and se(eral times entertained mysel4 )y trying to 8ork o!t the deeper signi4icance o4 (ario!s pieces o4 stat!ary that ca!ght my eye5 #hen I tho!ght I had 4o!nd the correct ans8er to a partic!lar arrangement or ta)lea! I 8o!ld then check in the g!ide)ooks to see 8hether I 8as right or not5 Then something !ne9pected happened5 >pposite the cathedral@s so!th porch I stopped 4or a snack in a ca4e called La 'eine de +a)a5 y recent reading o4 the $e)ra ,agast containing the .thiopian legend o4 the /!een o4 +he)a 8as still 4resh in my mind and I asked one o4 the 8aiters 8hy this name had )een chosen5 @Beca!se there is a sc!lpt!re o4 the /!een o4 +he)a in the porch o(er there%@ he e9plained5 y c!riosity aro!sed% I crossed the road and clim)ed the se(enteen steps to the ornate porch A 8hich consisted o4 a 8ide central arch8ay sand8iched )et8een t8o slightly narro8er )ays5 Here% on almost e(ery a(aila)le s?!are inch o4 masonry% 8ere h!ndreds and h!ndreds o4 stat!ettes and many 4!ll-si3e stat!es5 I co!ld 4ind none% ho8e(er% that seemed o)(io!sly to

represent the /!een o4 +he)a5 I there4ore checked in the g!ide)ooks I had 8ith me% the most detailed o4 8hich% Chartres; G!ide o4 the Cathedral% told me 8here to look;

The inner archi(olt o4 the o!ter arch has t8enty-eight stat!ettes o4 kings and ?!eens o4 the >ld Testament; 8e recognise Da(id 8ith his harp% +olomon 8ith a sceptre% and the /!een o4 +he)a holding a 4lo8er in her le4t hand5 At the top% the 4o!r maCor prophets% )earded% talk 8ith 4o!r minor prophets 8ho are clean sha(en5<&=

The )ook also in4ormed me that the 8hole o4 the so!th porch had )een )!ilt in the 4irst ?!arter o4 the thirteenth cent!ry A the same cent!ry in 8hich the $e)ra ,agast had )een compiled in .thiopia to tell the story o4 the /!een o4 +he)a% enelik and the the4t o4 the Ark5 This str!ck me as an am!sing coincidence and I there4ore e9amined the stat!ette o4 the /!een o4 +he)a 8ith some considera)le interest5 I co!ld see a)sol!tely nothing a)o!t it% ho8e(er% that made it special in any 8ay A other than the 4act that it seemed to )e a little o!t o4 place in the a!g!st company o4 a large n!m)er o4 Ee8ish monarchs and prophets5 I kne8 that according to the $e)ra ,agast the ?!een had )een con(erted to E!daism%<*= )!t I also kne8 that the relati(ely short )i)lical acco!nt o4 her (isit to Eer!salem made no mention o4 this5 In Chapter 12 o4 the )ook o4 $ings and in Chapter 1 o4 the )ook o4 Chronicles A the only places 8here she 8as speci4ically named in the +cript!res A she arri(ed at +olomon@s co!rt a heathen and apparently le4t there a heathen still5<0= It 8as her paganism% there4ore% that made her the odd one o!t A !nless% o4 co!rse% the )!ilders o4 Chartres cathedral had )een Bamiliar 8ith the .thiopian story o4 her con(ersion5 This% ho8e(er% seemed most !nlikely A indeed the >ld Testament did not e(en hint that she might ha(e come 4rom .thiopia at all and the maCority o4 scholars )elie(ed her to ha(e )een a +o!th Ara)ian monarch 8ho had hailed ?!ite speci4ically 4rom +a)a or +a)aea in 8hat is no8 the Demen5<1= I might (ery 8ell ha(e le4t the matter there% as a minor anomaly amongst the sc!lpt!res in the so!th porch o4 Chartres cathedral% i4 I had not disco(ered% )y reading 4!rther in my g!ide)ook% that there 8as a second stat!e o4 the /!een o4 +he)a in the north porch5 That porch% too% had )een )!ilt )et8een the years 1222 and 122"% and 8as de(oted to an e9tensi(e portrayal o4 >ld Testament themes5@<12=

TH. A'$ A,D TH. I,+C'I:TI>,+

I s!ppose% on that 4irst (isit% that I spent t8o ho!rs in the north porch trying to p!33le o!t the con(ol!ted stories told )y the sc!lpt!res5 The le4t )ay contained se(eral representations o4 the 6irgin ary and o4 the in4ant Christ together 8ith >ld Testament prophets like Isaiah and Daniel5 There 8ere also moral tales A nota)ly one 8hich portrayed the tri!mph o4 the 6irt!es o(er the 6ices% and another 8hich

depicted the )eatit!des o4 the )ody and so!l as descri)ed )y the great t8el4th-cent!ry cleric +aint Bernard o4 Clair(a!95 The central )ay 8as dominated )y a gro!p o4 >ld Testament patriarchs and prophets% nota)ly the 4ig!re o4 elchi3edek A the mysterio!s priest-king o4 +alem descri)ed in Chapter 14 o4 the )ook o4 Genesis and in :salm 1125<11= A)raham% oses% +am!el and Da(id 8ere there also% as 8ere .lisha and +aint :eter5 >ther scenes incl!ded the Garden o4 .den% 8ith its 4o!r ri(ers% and the 6irgin ary cro8ned and seated on the hea(enly throne )eside Ees!s5 It 8as in the right )ay that I 4o!nd the /!een o4 +he)a5 This time she 8as not an o)sc!re stat!ette on the arch% as had )een the case in the so!th porch% )!t rather a 4!ll-si3e stat!e5 +he 8as placed ne9t to a 4ig!re o4 +olomon% 8hich made sense gi(en the )i)lical conte9t5 #hat immediately ca!ght my eye% ho8e(er% 8as that )eneath her 4eet cro!ched an A4rican A descri)ed in one o4 my g!ide)ooks as @her negroid ser(ant@%<12= and in another as @her .thiopian sla(e@5<13= ,o 4!rther details 8ere gi(en5 ,e(ertheless I had seen eno!gh to )e satis4ied that the sc!lptors 8ho had 8orked in the north porch o4 Chartres in the thirteenth cent!ry had 8anted to place the ?!een !nmistaka)ly in an A4rican conte9t5 This meant that I co!ld no longer so easily dismiss the possi)ility that those sc!lptors might ha(e )een 4amiliar 8ith the .thiopian traditions a)o!t her 8hich% in the thirteenth cent!ry% had )een set do8n in the $e)ra ,agast5 That% at least% 8o!ld e9plain 8hy an apparently pagan monarch had )een gi(en so m!ch importance in the iconography o4 a Christian cathedral; as noted a)o(e% it had only )een in the $e)ra ,agast% and not in the Bi)le% that she had )een descri)ed as a con(ert to the tr!e 4aith o4 the patriarchs5 At the same time% ho8e(er% it raised another di44ic!lt ?!estion; ho8 and )y 8hat means co!ld the .thiopian story ha(e 4iltered into northern Brance at so early a date7 It 8as 8ith s!ch tho!ghts passing thro!gh my mind that% on a col!mn )et8een the central and right-hand )ays% I came across a piece o4 sc!lpt!re that 8as to ha(e an e(en more po8er4!l impact on me5 iniat!ri3ed A no more than a 4e8 inches high and 8ide A it depicted a )o9 or chest o4 some sort )eing transported on an o9-cart5 Beneath it% in capital letters% 8ere car(ed these t8o 8ords;


o(ing on aro!nd the col!mn in an anti-clock8ise direction I then 4o!nd a separate scene% )adly damaged and eroded% 8hich seemed to sho8 a man stooping o(er the same )o9 or chest5 There 8as an inscription here% too% a little di44ic!lt to make o!t;

HIC A ICITI' A'CHA C.D.'I+ <or possi)ly HIC A ITTITI' A'CHA C.D.'I+% or HIC A ITITI' A'CHA C.D.'I+% or e(en HIC A IGITI' A'CHA C.D.'I+=5

The style o4 the lettering 8as archaic% C!m)led !p and o)sc!re5 I reali3ed that it m!st )e Latin% or a 4orm o4 Latin5 Ho8e(er% ha(ing )een o)liged )y my schoolmasters to a)andon that s!)Cect at the age o4 thirteen <on acco!nt o4 my o8n ling!istic incompetence=% I made no attempt at a 4!ll translation5 It seemed to me% ho8e(er% that the 8ord A'CHA m!st mean @Ark@ A as in Ark o4 the Co(enant5 I co!ld also see that the )o9 or chest depicted in the sc!lpt!res 8as a)o!t the right si3e <scaled against the other 4ig!res= to ha(e )een the Ark descri)ed in the )ook o4 .9od!s5<14= I4 I 8as correct in this ass!mption% I reasoned% then the positioning o4 an image o4 the Ark 8ithin a (ery 4e8 4eet o4 an image o4 the /!een o4 +he)a strengthened the hypothesis that the )!ilders o4 Chartres might% in some as yet !ne9plained 8ay% ha(e )een in4l!enced )y the .thiopian traditions set do8n in the $e)ra ,agast5 Indeed the 4act the sc!lptors had placed the ?!een so !nam)ig!o!sly in an A4rican conte9t made this hypothesis look m!ch more pla!si)le than it had seemed 8hen it had 4irst occ!rred to me in the so!th porch5 I there4ore 4elt that it 8o!ld )e 8orth my 8hile to esta)lish 8hether the miniat!ri3ed de(ices on the col!mns 8ere really images o4 the Ark and to 8ork o!t the meaning o4 the Latin inscriptions5 I sat do8n on the pa(ing o4 the north porch and pored thro!gh my g!ide)ooks5 >nly t8o o4 them made any mention at all o4 the decorations on the col!mns I 8as interested in5 >ne o44ered no translation o4 the inscriptions )!t con4irmed that the scenes depicted did indeed relate to the Ark o4 the Co(enant5<1"= The other pro(ided the 4ollo8ing translation A 8hich I 4o!nd interesting% )!t also rather s!spect;

A'CHA C.D.'I+; @Do! are to 8ork thro!gh the Ark5@

HIC A ITITI' A'CHA C.D.'I+; @Here things take their co!rseJ yo! are to 8ork thro!gh the Ark5@<1&=

.(en my school)oy Latin 8as s!44icient to s!ggest that these interpretations 8ere pro)a)ly incorrect5 I there4ore decided that I 8o!ld ha(e to re4er the matter to an e9pert 4or clari4ication and it occ!rred to me that in C!st a 4e8 days I 8o!ld )e passing ?!ite close to the home o4 a man 8ell ?!ali4ied to help A :ro4essor :eter Lasko% an art historian and a 4ormer director o4 the Ini(ersity o4 London@s Co!rta!ld Instit!te% 8ho no8 spent si9 months o4 e(ery year li(ing in so!thern Brance5 The 4ather o4 a close 4riend o4 mine% Lasko had made a li4etime st!dy o4 the sacred art and architect!re o4 the medie(al period and co!ld pro)a)ly gi(e me an a!thoritati(e opinion A or at any rate point me in the right direction5 Accordingly I care4!lly copied o!t the inscriptions and then stood !p to try to prod!ce a sketch o4 the 8hole north porch5 As I 8as doing so I noticed something else that 8as possi)ly signi4icant; the Ark ta)lea!% tho!gh standing to the 4ront o4 the porch on the s!pporting col!mns% 8as positioned e9actly mid8ay )et8een elchi3edek% the >ld Testament priest-king 8hose

stat!e dominated the central )ay% and the stat!e o4 the /!een o4 +he)a% 8hich dominated the right-hand )ay5 Indeed I 4o!nd that I co!ld dra8 a neat triangle connecting !p all three pieces o4 sc!lpt!re A 8ith elchi3edek and the /!een o4 +he)a at either end o4 the long )ase and the Ark o4 the Co(enant at the ape9 o4 the t8o shorter sides5 ,or 8as this all5 As I st!died the layo!t o4 images in the t8o )ays I reali3ed that the Ark on its little cart had )een depicted as mo(ing a8ay 4rom elchi3edek and directly to8ards the /!een o4 +he)a A along the side o4 the triangle I had dra8n5 Gi(en the cryptic nat!re o4 m!ch o4 the sc!lpt!re at Chartres% and the 8ay in 8hich di44erent 4ig!res 8ere o4ten deli)erately C!9taposed in order to tell stories and con(ey in4ormation% it seemed to me that this partic!lar arrangement 8as !nlikely to ha(e )een accidental5 >n the contrary it looked (ery m!ch like another piece o4 e(idence to s!pport my e(ol(ing hypothesis that the )!ilders o4 Chartres m!st% someho8% ha(e )een e9posed to the .thiopian legend o4 the /!een o4 +he)a as related in the $e)ra ,agast5 Tho!gh there 8as 4ar too little to go on here to C!sti4y any 4irm concl!sions% it 8as at least possi)le that the c!rio!s iconography o4 the north porch did contain echoes o4 the tradition that the Ark o4 the Co(enant had )een taken a8ay 4rom ancient Israel <represented )y the priest-king elchi3edek= and to .thiopia <represented )y the /!een o4 +he)a=5 I there4ore paid special attention to the stat!e o4 elchi3edek )e4ore lea(ing the north porch5 He had ca!ght my eye 8hen I had 4irst arri(ed% )!t no8% as I sketched him% I )egan to notice more details5 Dangling )eneath his right hand% 4or e9ample% 8as a censer (ery similar to those that I had o4ten seen in !se in .thiopian ch!rch ser(ices A 8here copio!s ?!antities o4 incense 8ere ro!tinely )!rned5 ean8hile he held in his le4t hand a long-stemmed chalice or c!p containing not li?!id )!t rather some sort o4 solid cylindrical o)Cect5 I searched thro!gh my g!ide)ooks again% )!t co!ld 4ind no re4erence to the censer and only con4licting e9planations o4 the c!p5 >ne so!rce said that elchi3edek 8as intended here to )e (ie8ed as a prec!rsor o4 Christ and that the chalice and the o)Cect 8ithin it 8ere th!s meant to represent @the )read and the 8ine% the sym)ols o4 the .!charist5<1*= Another captioned its photograph o4 the stat!e 8ith these 8ords; @ elchi3edek )earing the Grail c!p o!t o4 8hich comes the +tone@% and then added <some8hat p!33lingly=;

#ith this 8e may connect the poem o4 #ol4ram (on .schen)ach% 8ho is said to ha(e )een a Templar A tho!gh there is no proo4 o4 this A 4or 8hom the Grail is a +tone5<10=

,one the 8iser% I e(ent!ally le4t the north porch and Coined my 8i4e and children in the gardens )ehind the great cathedral5 The ne9t day 8e dro(e so!th 4rom Chartres in the direction o4 Bordea!9 and Biarrit35 And some time a4ter that% no8 heading east to8ards the CPte d@A3!r% 8e arri(ed in the dQpartement o4 Tarn-et-Garonne near the city o4 To!lo!se5 There% 8ith the aid o4 a good map% I e(ent!ally 4o!nd the home o4 the art historian :ro4essor :eter Lasko 8hom I had telephoned 4rom Chartres and 8ho had e9pressed a 8illingness to talk to me a)o!t the sc!lpt!res in the north porch A tho!gh% he had modestly added% he co!ld not claim to )e an e9pert on them5

A, .THI>:IA, C>,,.CTI>,7

I spent an a4ternoon 8ith :eter Lasko at his ho!se in the (illage o4 ontaig! de /!ercy5 A disting!ished% grey-haired man in his si9ties% I had met him se(eral times )e4ore and he kne8 that% as a 8riter% I speciali3ed in .thiopia and the Horn o4 A4rica5 He there4ore )egan )y asking me 8hy I had s!ddenly taken an interest in medie(al Brench cathedrals5 I replied )y o!tlining my theory that the sc!lpt!res I had seen in the north porch o4 Chartres might in some 8ay ha(e )een in4l!enced )y the $e)ra ,agast; @ elchi3edek 8ith his c!p co!ld represent >ld Testament Israel%@ I concl!ded5 @He 8as priest-king o4 +alem% a4ter all% 8hich a n!m)er o4 scholars ha(e identi4ied 8ith Eer!salem5<11= Then the /!een o4 +he)a 8ith her A4rican ser(ant co!ld represent .thiopia5 And then 8e ha(e the Ark )et8een the t8o% going in the direction o4 .thiopia5 +o the message 8o!ld )e that the Ark had gone 4rom Eer!salem to .thiopia A 8hich is e9actly 8hat the $e)ra ,agast says5 Ho8 does that so!nd to yo!7@ @To )e per4ectly honest% Graham% it so!nds prepostero!s5@ H#hy7@ @#ell 5 5 5 I s!ppose it@s C!st possi)le that .thiopian traditions co!ld ha(e 4iltered into .!rope as early as the thirteenth cent!ry A in 4act% come to think o4 it% there has )een at least one scholarly paper 8hich does s!ggest that this co!ld ha(e happened5 I rather do!)t that (ie8 mysel45 ,e(ertheless% e(en i4 the $e)ra ,agast story 8as kno8n in Chartres at the right time I C!st don@t see 8hy anyone 8o!ld ha(e 4elt moti(ated to translate it into the iconography o4 the cathedral5 That 8o!ld ha(e )een a most pec!liar thing to do A partic!larly in the north porch 8hich is mainly a)o!t the >ld Testament 4orer!nners o4 Christ5 elchi3edek is there 4or that (ery reason% )y the 8ay5 He@s speci4ically identi4ied 8ith Christ in the )ook o4 He)re8s5<22= @He@s sho8n holding a c!p in the sc!lpt!re and there@s also some kind o4 cylindrical o)Cect in the c!p5@ @:ro)a)ly meant to represent )read A the )read and the 8ine o4 the .!charist5@ @That@s 8hat one o4 my g!ide)ooks says5 B!t there@s another one 8hich identi4ies the c!p 8ith the Holy Grail and 8hich arg!es that the cylindrical o)Cect is a stone5@ :eter Lasko raised a ?!i33ical eye)ro85 @I@(e ne(er heard s!ch a thing )e4ore5 It so!nds e(en more 4ar-4etched than yo!r theory o4 an .thiopian connection 5 5@ He pa!sed re4lecti(ely% then added; @There is one thing tho!gh5 That scholarly paper 8hich I mentioned A the one that talks a)o!t .thiopian ideas 4inding their 8ay into medie(al .!rope 5 5 @Des5@ @#ell oddly eno!gh it@s a)o!t the Holy Grail5 I4 I remem)er rightly it arg!es that #ol4ram (on .schen)ach@s Grail A 8hich 8as a stone% not a c!p A 8as in4l!enced )y some sort o4 Christian .thiopian tradition5@

I sat 4or8ard in my chair; @That@s interesting 5 5 5 #ol4ram (on .schen)ach 8as also mentioned in my g!ide)ook5 #ho 8as he7@ @>ne o4 the earliest o4 the medie(al poets to concern himsel4 8ith the Holy Grail5 He 8rote a )ook-length 8ork on the s!)Cect called :ar3i(al5@ @Isn@t that the name o4 an opera7@ @Des% )y #agner5 He 8as inspired )y #ol4ram5@ @And this #ol4ram 5 5 5 8hen did he 8rite7@ @Late t8el4th or early thirteenth cent!ry5@ @In other 8ords at the same time that the north porch o4 Chartres cathedral 8as )!ilt7@ @Des5@ #e )oth remained silent 4or a 8hile% then I said; @The paper that yo! told me a)o!t 8hich arg!es that #ol4ram@s 8ork 8as in4l!enced )y .thiopian traditions A I don@t s!ppose yo! happen to remem)er the title o4 it do yo!7@ @5 5 5 Ah5 ,o5 I@m a4raid not5 It m!st ha(e )een at least t8enty years ago 8hen I read it5 It 8as )y someone or other Adol4% I think5 That name sticks in my mind% any8ay5 #ol4ram 8as a German so yo! really need to talk to a specialist in iddle High German literat!re to 4ind o!t more details5@ +ilently resol(ing that I 8o!ld do C!st that% I then asked :eter i4 he co!ld help me 8ith a translation o4 the inscriptions that had so intrig!ed me at Chartres5 y g!ide)ook% I told him% had rendered A'CHA C.D.'I+ as @Do! are to 8ork thro!gh the Ark@ and HIC A ITITI' A'CHA C.D.'I+ as @Here things take their co!rseJ yo! are to 8ork thro!gh the Ark5@ These interpretations% ho8e(er% 8ere in his (ie8 completely 8rong5 A'CHA certainly meant Ark and C.D.'I+ 8as most pro)a)ly a corr!ption o4 B>.D.'I+ A meaning Co(enant5 >n this reading% there4ore% A'CHA C.D.'I+ 8o!ld translate (ery simply and logically as @Ark o4 the Co(enant@5 Another alternati(e% ho8e(er% 8as that the 8ord C.D.'I+ 8as intended as a 4orm o4 the (er) cedar A meaning to yield or to gi(e !p or to go a8ay5 The tense 8as !northodo9% )!t the )est translation o4 A'CHA C.D.'I+ i4 this 8as the case 8o!ld )e @the Ark that yo! 8ill yield@ <or @gi(e !p@ or @send a8ay@=5 As to the longer inscription% the pro)lem 8as the o)sc!rity o4 the 4o!rth letter o4 the second 8ord5 y g!ide)ook had pres!med it to )e a single @T@5 It 8as m!ch more likely to )e an a))re(iation representing a do!)le @T@% ho8e(er <)eca!se there 8as no Latin 8ord spelt A ITITI' 8ith a single @T@=5 I4 a do!)le @T@ had indeed )een intended then the phrase 8o!ld read HIC A ITTITI' A'CHA C.D.'I+% meaning something like @Here it is let go% the Ark that yo! 8ill yield@% or perhaps @Here it is let go% >h Ark% yo! are yielded@% or alternati(ely A i4 C.D.'I+ 8as a corr!ption o4 B>.D.'I+ @Here it is let go% the Ark o4 the Co(enant@5 It 8as also possi)le% ho8e(er% that the 4o!rth letter o4 the second 8ord 8as a @C@ o4 some kind <8hich 8as act!ally 8hat it looked like=5 I4 so then the rele(ant phrase )ecame HIC

A ICITI' A'CHA C.D.'I+ A 8hich 8o!ld translate either as @Here is hidden the Ark o4 the Co(enant@% or @Here is hidden the Ark that yo! 8ill yield@ <or @gi(e !p@ or @send a8ay@=5 @.(en the 8ord FhiddenF isn@t de4inite%@ concl!ded :eter as he closed his Latin dictionary5 @Amicit!r in this conte9t co!ld e?!ally 8ell mean Fco(ered !pF A altho!gh that does con(ey the same sort o4 idea doesn@t it7 I don@t kno85 The 8hole thing@s a )it o4 a p!33le really5@ I agreed 8holeheartedly 8ith him on this point5 The 8hole thing 8as indeed a p!33le5 It 8as% moreo(er% a p!33le that I 4elt challenged% intrig!ed and tantali3ed )y and that I (ery m!ch 8anted to sol(e5 D!ring the remainder o4 my holiday in Brance my tho!ghts kept 8andering )ack to the north porch o4 Chartres 8here I had seen the little sc!lpt!res5 #hat I co!ld not 4orget 8as the 8ay in 8hich the relic on its o9-cart had appeared to )e mo(ing to8ards the /!een o4 +he)aJ nor co!ld I dismiss 4rom my mind the possi)ility that this s!ggested mo(ement or a Co!rney to8ards .thiopia5 I kne8 that I 8as ind!lging in 8ild spec!lation 4or 8hich there 8as no academic C!sti4ication 8hatsoe(er and I 4!lly accepted :eter Lasko@s arg!ment that the sc!lptors o4 Chartres 8o!ld not ha(e allo8ed themsel(es to )e in4l!enced )y an .thiopian legend in their choice o4 s!)Cect matter5 This% ho8e(er% le4t me 8ith a m!ch more e9citing possi)ility to contemplate; perhaps those responsi)le 4or the north porch o4 the cathedral <8hich had also )een called @the door o4 the initiates@=<21= had )een dra8ing a cryptic map 4or 4!t!re generations to 4ollo8 A a map that hinted at the location o4 the most sacred and precio!s treas!re that the 8orld had e(er kno8n5 :erhaps they had disco(ered that the Ark o4 the Co(enant really had )een let go% or yielded <or sent a8ay7= 4rom Israel in >ld Testament times and that it had s!)se?!ently )een hidden <or co(ered !p7= in .thiopia5 :erhaps this 8as the tr!e meaning o4 the little sc!lpt!res 8ith their p!33ling inscriptions5 I4 so then the implications 8ere tr!ly )reathtaking and the A9!mite traditions that I had so readily dismissed in 1103 8o!ld% at the (ery least% merit a close second look5

A'D% TH. G'AIL A,D TH. A'$

#hen I ret!rned 4rom Brance at the end o4 April 1101 I set my research assistant to 8ork on the pro)lem o4 the scholarly paper that :eter Lasko had mentioned to me5 I kne8 that it might ha(e )een 8ritten )y someone named Adol4 and I kne8 that the s!)Cect matter had to do 8ith a possi)le .thiopian in4l!ence on #ol4ram (on .schen)ach@s story o4 the Holy Grail5 I did not kno8 8here% or 8hen% the paper had )een p!)lished% or e(en in 8hat lang!age% )!t I ad(ised my researcher to contact the !ni(ersities to see i4 there 8ere any specialists on medie(al German literat!re 8ho might )e a)le to help5 #hile 8aiting 4or an ans8er on this I 8ent o!t and )o!ght a n!m)er o4 di44erent (ersions o4 the Grail @romance@5 These incl!ded ChrQtien de Troyes@s Conte d! Grad% le4t !n4inished )y the a!thor in AD 1102%<22= +ir Thomas alory@s Le orte D@Arth!r% a m!ch later epic dated to the mid-4i4teenth cent!ry%<23= and last )!t not least :ar3i(al% 8hich #ol4ram (on .schen)ach 8as

tho!ght to ha(e 8ritten )et8een the years 111" and 1212<24= A dates that coincided almost e9actly 8ith the main phase o4 constr!ction 8ork on the north porch o4 Chartres cathedral5 I )egan to read these )ooks and initially 4o!nd alory@s the most accessi)le A since it had )een the inspiration 4or a n!m)er o4 stories and 4ilms dealing 8ith the ?!est 4or the Holy Grail that I had enCoyed as a child5 I ?!ickly disco(ered% ho8e(er% that alory had presented an ideali3ed% saniti3ed and a)o(e all Christiani3ed acco!nt o4 @the only tr!e ?!est@5 #ol4ram@s story% )y contrast% 8as more earthy% pro(ided a more acc!rate portrayal o4 the realities o4 h!man )eha(io!r% and A most important o4 all A 8as completely de(oid o4 ,e8 Testament sym)olism 8here the Grail itsel4 8as concerned5 In alory the sacred relic 8as descri)ed as a @(essel o4 gold@ carried )y a @per4ect clean maiden@ and containing @part o4 the )lood o4 >!r Lord Ees!s Christ@5<2"= This% as I 8as 8ell a8are% 8as precisely the image that had long )een enshrined in pop!lar c!lt!re% 8here the Grail 8as al8ays portrayed as a c!p or a )o8l <!s!ally that in 8hich Eoseph o4 Arimathea ca!ght a 4e8 drops o4 Christ@s )lood 8hen the +a(io!r h!ng s!44ering on the cross=5 I mysel4 had )een so in4l!enced )y this conception that I 4o!nd it di44ic!lt to think o4 the Grail as anything other than a c!p5 #hen I t!rned to #ol4ram@s :ar3i(al% ho8e(er% I 4o!nd con4irmation o4 8hat I had learned in Brance% namely that the relic A altho!gh carried )y a maiden C!st as in alory A 8as depicted as a stone;

Ho8e(er ill a mortal man may )e% 4rom the day on 8hich he sees the +tone he cannot die 4or that 8eek% nor does he lose his colo!r5 Bor i4 anyone% maid or man% 8ere to look at the Gral 4or t8o h!ndred years% yo! 8o!ld ha(e to admit that his colo!r 8as as 4resh as in his early prime 5 5 5 +!ch po8ers does the +tone con4er on mortal men that their 4lesh and )ones are soon made yo!ng again5 This +tone is called @The Gral@5<2&=

I 8as str!ck )y this odd and compelling imagery% and it raised a nagging ?!estion in my mind; 8hy sho!ld the orte D@Arth!r ha(e depicted the Grail as @a (essel@ 8hen the 4ar earlier :ar3i(al had !nam)ig!o!sly descri)ed it as @a +tone@7 #hat 8as going on here7 I in(estigated 4!rther and learnt 4rom one a!thority on ?!est literat!re that alory 8as @merely em)roidering a theme% the meaning o4 8hich RheS did not !nderstand@ 8hen he 8rote the orte D@Arth!r5<2*= That theme had )een most de4initi(ely spelled o!t in #ol4ram@s :ar3i(al and in ChrQtien de Troyes@s Conte d! Graal%<20= )oth o4 8hich 8ere more than t8o h!ndred years older than the orte5 .nco!raged )y this ad(ice I t!rned to my copy o4 ChrQtien@s !n4inished story and there read the 4ollo8ing description o4 the Grail A the 4irst in literat!re <and% 4or that matter% in history=5 As in )oth #ol4ram and alory% the precio!s o)Cect 8as carried )y a damsel;

>nce she had entered 8ith this grail that she held% so great a radiance appeared that the candles lost their )rilliance C!st as the stars do at the rising o4 the s!n and the moon 5 5 5 The grail 5 5 5 8as o4 p!re re4ined gold RandS 8as set 8ith many kinds o4 precio!s stones% the richest and most costly in sea or earth5<21=

At no point% I disco(ered% did ChrQtien@s man!script e9plicitly state that the Grail 8as a c!p or )o8l5 It 8as clear 4rom the conte9t% ho8e(er% that this 8as precisely 8hat he sa8 it as5 In se(eral places he re4erred to a central character A @the Bisher $ing@ A )eing @ser(ed 4rom the grail@%<32= and later added; @he@s ser(ed 8ith a single consecrated 8a4er )ro!ght to him in that grail A that s!pports his li4e in 4!ll (igo!r% so holy a thing is the grail@5<31= >n checking 4!rther I learned that the (ery 8ord @grail@ 8as itsel4 deri(ed 4rom the >ld Brench gradate <Latin gradalis= meaning @a 8ide and some8hat hollo8ed-o!t (essel in 8hich delicio!s 4ood is ser(ed@5 In the collo?!ial parlance o4 ChrQtien@s day gradale 8as o4ten prono!nced greal5 And e(en in more recent times gra3al% gra3a!% and grial contin!ed to )e !sed in parts o4 the so!th o4 Brance to denote receptacles o4 (ario!s kinds5<32= Here% there4ore% 8as the origin o4 alory@s conception o4 the sacred o)Cect as a (essel5 >ther than the mention o4 @a consecrated 8a4er@% ho8e(er% ChrQtien@s treatment o44ered no !ne?!i(ocal connections 8ith Christianity <not e(en in the notion o4 the Grail )eing a @holy thing@ A 8hich co!ld as easily ha(e )een inspired )y the >ld Testament as )y the ,e8<33=5 Like #ol4ram% the Brench poet did not mention Christ@s )lood at all and certainly did not s!ggest that the relic 8as a container 4or it5 It 4ollo8ed that the @sacred )lood@ imagery associated 8ith the Grail in pop!lar c!lt!re 8as a gloss added )y later a!thors A a gloss that )roadened% )!t also to some e9tent o)sc!red% the original theme5 #ith a little more 8ork on the s!)Cect I 8as a)le to satis4y mysel4 that this process o4 @Christiani3ation@ had )een sponsored )y the Cistercian monastic order5<34= And the Cistercians in their t!rn had )een pro4o!ndly in4l!enced and shaped )y one man A +aint Bernard o4 Clair(a!9% 8ho had Coined the >rder in the year 1112 and 8ho 8as regarded )y many scholars as the most signi4icant religio!s 4ig!re o4 his era5<3"= This same +aint Bernard% I then disco(ered% had also played a 4ormati(e role in the e(ol!tion and dissemination o4 the Gothic architect!ral 4orm!la in its early days <he had )een at the height o4 his po8ers in 1134 8hen the soaring north to8er o4 Chartres cathedral had )een )!ilt% and he had constantly stressed the principles o4 sacred geometry that had )een p!t into practice in that to8er and thro!gho!t the 8hole 8onder4!l )!ilding=5<3&= oreo(er% long a4ter his death in 11"3% his sermons and ideas had contin!ed to ser(e as prime so!rces o4 inspiration 4or the 4!rther e(ol!tion o4 Gothic architect!re and also 4or stat!ary and sc!lpt!res like those I had seen in the north porch at Chartres5<3*= The principal )ridge )et8een the earlier non-Christian (ersions o4 the story o4 the Holy Grail and the styli3ed ,e8 Testament tract that it had )ecome% )y alory@s time had )een 4ormed )y the so-called /!este del +aint Graal A compiled )y Cistercian monks in the thirteenth cent!ry5<30= oreo(er% altho!gh he 8as already dead 8hen this great anthology 8as )eg!n% it seemed to me that the strong hand o4 +aint Bernard co!ld also )e seen at 8ork here A reaching o!t 4rom )eyond the gra(e as it 8ere5 I arri(ed at this concl!sion )eca!se% in his

e9tensi(e 8ritings% this immensely in4l!ential cleric had propo!nded a mystical (ie8 o4 Christ@s )lood% a (ie8 that 8as incorporated )y the compilers o4 the /!este into their ne8 concept o4 the Grail itsel45<31= Brom no8 on #ol4ram@s +tone 8as completely 4orgotten and ChrQtien@s @(essel@% altho!gh preser(ed% 8as 4illed !p 8ith the )lood o4 Christ5 #hat I 4o!nd interesting a)o!t this notion 8as the 8ay in 8hich it had immediately )eg!n to )e interpreted )y the ch!rch5 In hymns% sermons and epistles% I learned% s!)se?!ent generations o4 Christians all o(er .!rope had gone to great lengths to e?!ate the Grail sym)olically 8ith the Blessed 6irgin ary A to 8hom% I remem)ered% Chartres cathedral had )een dedicated5 The reasoning !nderlying this pio!s allegory 8as as 4ollo8s; the Grail <according to the /!este and other later recensions o4 the legend= contained the holy )lood o4 ChristJ )e4ore she ga(e )irth to him% ary had contained Christ himsel4 8ithin her 8om)J there4ore% /.D% the Grail 8as A and al8ays had )een A a sym)ol 4or ary5<42= According to this logic% ary Theotokos% the @God Bearer@% 8as the sacred (essel 8ho had contained the +pirit made 4lesh5 Th!s% in the si9teenth-cent!ry Litany o4 Loretto<41= she 8as the (as spirit!ale <spirit!al (essel=% the (as honora)ile <(essel o4 hono!r=% and the (as insigne de(otionis <sing!lar (essel o4 de(otion=5<42= #hy did this sym)olism attract my attention7 /!ite simply )eca!se the Litany o4 Loretto had also re4erred to the Blessed 6irgin as arca 4oederis<43= A 8hich% as I already kne8% 8as Latin 4or @the Ark o4 the Co(enant@5 I researched this coincidence 4!rther and disco(ered that the Litany 8as not the only place in 8hich it cropped !p5 In the t8el4th cent!ry% the redo!)ta)le +aint Bernard o4 Clair(a!9 had also e9plicitly compared ary to the Ark o4 the Co(enant A indeed he had done so in a n!m)er o4 his 8ritings5<44= And as early as the 4o!rth cent!ry +aint Am)rose% the Bishop o4 ilan% had preached a sermon in 8hich he had arg!ed that the Ark had )een a prophetic allegory 4or ary; C!st as it had contained the >ld La8 in the 4orm o4 the Ten Commandments% so she had contained the ,e8 La8 in the 4orm o4 the )ody o4 Christ5<4"= I 8as s!)se?!ently to disco(er that concepts like these had persisted into the t8entieth cent!ry and had )een 8o(en into the 4a)ric o4 modern Christian 8orship5 >n a trip to Israel% 4or e9ample% I came across a small and )ea!ti4!l Dominican ch!rch )!ilt in 1124 and dedicated A la 6iQrge arie Arche d@Alliance A in other 8ords @To the 6irgin ary Ark o4 the Co(enant@5 The ch!rch stood at $iriath-Eearim% o(erlooking the road )et8een Tel A(i( and Eer!salem% and its se(en-metre steeple 8as topped o44 8ith a 4!ll-si3ed representation o4 the Ark5 There 8ere also se(eral paintings o4 the sacred relic arranged aro!nd the interior 8alls o4 the )!ilding itsel45 D!ring my (isit I 8as gi(en the 4ollo8ing <(ery @Am)rosian= e9planation o4 the dedication A and o4 the sym)olism A )y a senior ch!rch o44icial% +ister 'aphael ikhail;

@#e compare ary to a li(ing Ark5 ary 8as the mother o4 Ees!s% 8ho 8as the master o4 the La8 and o4 the Co(enant5 The ta)lets o4 stone 8ith the Ten Commandments o4 the La8 8ere placed inside the Ark )y osesJ so also God placed Ees!s in the 8om) o4 ary5 +o she is the li(ing Ark5@

It seemed to me highly signi4icant that )oth the Ark and the Grail% apparently so di44erent% sho!ld ne(ertheless ha(e )een compared repeatedly to the same )i)lical personality% and in e9actly the same 8ay5 I4 ary 8as )oth a @li(ing Ark@ and a @li(ing Grail@% I spec!lated% then s!rely this s!ggested that the t8o sacred o)Cects might not in 4act ha(e )een so (ery di44erent A that they might% indeed% ha(e )een one and the same thing5 This str!ck me as a tr!ly electri4ying possi)ility5 And% 4ar4etched tho!gh it at 4irst appeared% it did shed interesting light on the choice and C!9taposition o4 stat!ary in the north porch o4 Chartres cathedral5 I4 I 8as correct then elchi3edek@s @Grail@ c!p 8ith the @+tone@ inside it 8o!ld at one le(el ha(e represented ary )!t co!ld% at another% ha(e )een intended to ser(e as an esoteric sym)ol 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant and 4or the stone ta)lets that it had contained5 +!ch an interpretation% I 4elt% added considera)le 8eight to the hypothesis that the other iconography o4 the north porch signalled the remo(al o4 the sacred relic to .thiopia5 B!t I also reali3ed that I had no really 4irm gro!nds on 8hich to )ase a concl!sion o4 this magnit!de A only coincidence% g!ess8ork and a strong int!ition that I might )e on to something important5 I ha(e al8ays )een inclined to 4ollo8 my int!itions to see 8here they lead5 Ho8e(er% it seemed to me that i4 I 8as going to in(ol(e mysel4 in a proper% thoro!gh% e9pensi(e and timecons!ming in(estigation then I needed something rather more solid to go on than a 4e8 happy accidents and presentiments5 I did not ha(e to 8ait long5 In E!ne 1101 my researcher 4inally managed to locate the academic paper that% according to :eter Lasko% had s!ggested a possi)le .thiopian in4l!ence on the portrayal o4 the Holy Grail in #ol4ram (on .schen)ach@s :ar3i(al5 The enco!ragement gi(en to me )y that paper la!nched me on the ?!est that 8as to dominate my li4e 4or the ne9t t8o years5

LIT.'A'D I,BLI.,C. A >' +> .THI,G


The paper% entitled @,e8 Light on >riental +o!rces 4or #ol4ram@s :ar3i(al@% had appeared in 114* in the academic Co!rnal : LA <:!)lications o4 the odern Lang!ages Association o4 America=5<4&= The a!thor 8as Helen Adol4% a highly regarded medie(alist 8ho had taken a special interest in the literary pedigree o4 the Holy Grail5 The thesis that she p!t 4or8ard <4or 8hich she admitted that she 8as inde)ted to t8o earlier a!thorities=<4*= 8as that #ol4ram A altho!gh largely in4l!enced )y ChrQtien de Troyes A m!st also @ha(e kno8n% )esides ChrQtien% a Grail story in >riental setting@5<40= #hen I )egan to read Helen Adol4@s paper I 8as already a8are% 4rom the )ackgro!nd research that I had done% that ChrQtien de Troyes had e44ecti(ely @in(ented@ the Grail in 11025 :rior to that date it had e9isted neither in history% nor in myth5 ost a!thorities on the s!)Cect agreed that there 8ere earlier legends A dealing% 4or e9ample% 8ith magic ca!ldrons% heroic ?!ests% and deeds o4 chi(alry done )y $ing Arth!r and his $nights A 8hich the co!rtly poets and raconte!rs had dra8n !pon to add te9t!re to their Grail stories5<41= These older lays% ho8e(er% 8hich had )een handed do8n )y 8ord o4 mo!th 4rom generation to generation% had

)een too 8ell kno8n% too @tried and tested@% in short too 4amiliar to all and s!ndry% to ha(e pro(ided the creati(e imp!lse 4or the distinct cycle o4 romances that ChrQtien initiated in the late t8el4th cent!ry5 The great Brench poet had ne(er 4inished his 4amo!s Conte d! Graal5 #ithin a (ery 4e8 years% ho8e(er% #ol4ram (on .schen)ach capitali3ed on the good start that had )een made% e9tending and completing his predecessor@s story A 8hile at the same time rather ch!rlishly acc!sing ChrQtien o4 @doing 8rong@ )y it and adding that his o8n German te9t 8as the @a!thentic tale@5<"2= #hat made s!ch protestations seem odd 8as the 4act that #ol4ram had o)(io!sly li4ted many details directly 4rom the Conte d! Graal and% )y and large% had remained 4aith4!l to its plot and characters5<"1= Indeed there 8as only one glaringly o)(io!s di44erence A the )i3arre inno(ation o4 making the Grail a +tone5 The moti(e 4or this inno(ation did% there4ore% look like a gen!ine mystery to some scholars5 It co!ld not ha(e )een a simple mistake on #ol4ram@s part A he 8as m!ch too cle(er and precise a raconte!r to ha(e made an error o4 s!ch signi4icance5 The only reasona)le concl!sion% there4ore% 8as that he had descri)ed the relic in the 8ay he did 4or some special reason o4 his o8n5 It 8as to precisely this ?!estion that Helen Adol4 addressed hersel4 in her short paper5 And she o44ered an ans8er to it that I 4o!nd most intrig!ing5 +omeho8 or other% she arg!ed% #ol4ram m!st ha(e gained access to the $e)ra ,agast% enCoyed the story a)o!t the Ark o4 the Co(enant )eing remo(ed 4rom Eer!salem to A9!m% and decided to 8ork elements o4 it into his o8n :ar3i(al5 The in4l!ence 8as only @indirect@% she tho!ghtJ ne(ertheless the most likely e9planation 4or the c!rio!s character o4 #ol4ram@s Grail co!ld )e traced to the !se% @in e(ery A)yssinian ch!rch@% o4 8hat she descri)ed as @a so-called Ta)ot% a sla) o4 8ood or stone@5<"2= Adol4 e9plained that this practice had its origins in the religio!s traditions set do8n in the $e)ra ,agast A an o)ser(ation that I kne8 to )e correct5 In 1103 I had learned that Ta)ot 8as the local name 4or the sacred relic A )elie(ed to )e the Ark o4 the Co(enant A that enelik had s!pposedly )ro!ght 4rom Eer!salem and that 8as no8 kept in the sanct!ary chapel at A9!m5 oreo(er% as the reader 8ill recall% I had s!)se?!ently disco(ered% as Adol4 also a44irmed% that each and e(ery .thiopian >rthodo9 ch!rch possessed its o8n ta)ot5 These o)Cects% 8hich 8ere o4ten spoken o4 as replicas o4 the original in A9!m% 8ere not )o9es or chests )!t took the 4orm o4 4lat sla)s5 The ones I had seen had all )een made o4 8ood5 'esearching the matter 4!rther% ho8e(er% I disco(ered that many 8ere indeed made o4 stone5<"3= >n the )asis o4 se(eral comparisons Adol4 asserted that #ol4ram% too% had kno8n this and had deri(ed his Grail-+tone 4rom the .thiopian ta)ot5 +he also pointed o!t that not all the characters in :ar3i(al had )een )orro8ed 4rom ChrQtien de TroyesJ there 8ere a 4e8 additional 4ig!res 8hose origins 8ere mysterio!s and 8ho might 8ell ha(e )een inspired )y the $e)ra ,agast5 +he co!ld o44er no solid e9planation as to ho8 the German raconte!r co!ld ha(e )ecome 4amiliar 8ith the $e)ra ,agast )!t s!ggested rather tentati(ely that 8andering Ee8s might ha(e )ro!ght it to .!rope5 In the medie(al period% she pointed o!t% @the Ee8s 8ere not only the mediators )et8een Ara)s and Christians in general5 They had a special stake in .thiopia% 8here they 4ormed% and still 4orm% an important part o4 the pop!lation5@<"4=

I 4o!nd Adol4@s arg!ments pers!asi(e )!t e9tremely limited in scope5 +he had con4ined hersel4 to the speciali3ed 4ield o4 literary criticism% and accordingly her concerns had )een o4 an entirely literary nat!re5 Ha(ing set o!t to pro(e the possi)ility o4 a connection )et8een the $e)ra ,agast and :ar3i(al <8ith the 4ormer @indirectly in4l!encing@ the latter= she had )een ?!ite happy to stop 8hen she 4elt she had achie(ed this goal5 I 8as enormo!sly grate4!l to her% ho8e(er% )eca!se she had opened my eyes to something 4ar more e9citing A something o4 in4initely greater signi4icance5 >n the )asis o4 the comparisons cited earlier )et8een the Ark o4 the Co(enant% the Holy Grail% and ary the other o4 Christ% I had already )eg!n to 8onder 8hether the identities o4 the Ark and the Grail 8ere really as distinct and separate as they seemed at 4irst sight5 ,o8 it occ!rred to me that i4 #ol4ram@s Grail looked as i4 it had )een in4l!enced )y .thiopian traditions concerning the Ark then there 8as C!st a chance that there co!ld )e more to this A perhaps m!ch more A than Helen Adol4 had e(er g!essed5 To c!t a long story short% I )egan to 8onder 8hether the German poet might not ha(e deli)erately constr!cted his 4ictional Grail as a kind o4 @code@ 4or the real and historical Ark5 I4 so then the ?!est that 4ormed the central theme o4 :ar3i(al co!ld also )e a code that might% like some cryptic treas!re map% point the 8ay to the last resting place o4 the Ark itsel45 I had already )ecome intrig!ed )y the possi)ility that a similar code in the north porch o4 Chartres cathedral A tho!gh car(ed in stone rather than 8ritten in a )ook A might hint that the relic had )een taken to .thiopia5 It 8as there4ore 8ith real enth!siasm and e9citement that I set o!t to try to @decode@ :ar3i(al5

C.L.+TIAL #'ITI,G% LA#+ A,D >'ACL.+

It seemed to me that my initial task sho!ld )e to determine 8hether #ol4ram@s Grail co!ld indeed ha(e )een designed as a sort o4 cryptogram 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 To this end I decided that I 8o!ld temporarily postpone 4!rther e9amination o4 the .thiopian connection s!ggested )y Adol45 Instead I 8o!ld look 4or direct parallels )et8een the characteristics o4 the Grail and the characteristics o4 the Ark as descri)ed in the >ld Testament and other ancient Ee8ish so!rces5 >nly i4 those parallels pro(ed pers!asi(e 8o!ld there )e any point in going 4!rther5 The 4irst thing that attracted my attention 8as the 8ay in 8hich #ol4ram had trans4ormed ChrQtien@s Grail c!p A or (essel A into a stone5 It occ!rred to me that the Brench poet@s description o4 the Grail had )een s!44iciently (ag!e and mystical to allo8 #ol4ram to impose an identity on it% to mo!ld his predecessor@s rather imprecise concept o4 a sacred receptacle into a shape that s!ited his o8n p!rposes A in short to de4ine that receptacle )y speaking not directly o4 it )!t o4 its contents5 The Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as% a4ter all% a receptacle too% and it did indeed contain a stone A or rather t8o stone ta)lets !pon 8hich the Ten Commandments had )een inscri)ed )y the 4inger o4 God5 I there4ore 4o!nd it intrig!ing that #ol4ram@s Grail% like the Ta)lets o4 the La8% )ore A 4rom time to time A the imprint o4 a celestial script 8hich set o!t certain r!les5F

There 8ere other s!ch coincidences A 4or e9ample% the orac!lar 4!nction that the Grail played 4or the comm!nity that depended on it;

#e 4ell on o!r knees )e4ore the Gral% 8here s!ddenly 8e sa8 it 8ritten that a knight 8o!ld come to !s and 8ere he heard to ask a /!estion there% o!r sorro8s 8o!ld )e at an endJ )!t that i4 any child% maiden or man 8ere to 4ore8arn him o4 the /!estion it 8o!ld 4ail in its e44ect% and the inC!ry 8o!ld )e as it 8as and gi(e rise to deeper pain5 @Ha(e yo! !nderstood7@ asked the #riting5 @I4 yo! alert him it co!ld pro(e harm4!l5 I4 he omits the ?!estion on the 4irst e(ening% its po8er 8ill pass a8ay5 B!t i4 he asks his /!estion in season he shall ha(e the $ingdom5@<"&=

The Ark% too% 4re?!ently ser(ed as an oracle% dispensing ad(ice that 8as cr!cial to the s!r(i(al o4 the Israelites5 In the )ook o4 E!dges% 4or e9ample% 8here the identity o4 God Himsel4 8as o4ten completely 4!sed 8ith that o4 the Ark% I 4o!nd this passage;

And the children o4 Israel en?!ired o4 the Lord% <4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 God 8as there in those days% and :hinehas% the son o4 .lea3ar% the son o4 Aaron% stood )e4ore it in those days=% saying +hall I yet again go o!t to )attle against the children o4 BenCamin my )rother% or shall I cease7@ And the Lord said% Go !p; 4or tomorro8 I 8ill deli(er them into thine hand5<"*=

I also came across a m!ch later )i)lical passage 8hich stated that it had )ecome rare 4or the Ark act!ally to speak and that @(isions@ 8ere no8 @!ncommon@5 ,e(ertheless% as the prophet +am!el lay do8n @in the ho!se o4 the Lord% 8here the Ark o4 God 8as@% a (oice iss!ed 4orth 4rom the sacred relic 8arning; @Behold% I 8ill do a thing in Israel at 8hich )oth the ears o4 e(eryone that heareth it shall tingle5@<"0= ,either 8ere !tterances and (isions the only 8ays in 8hich the Ark comm!nicated its orac!lar messages5 Like the Grail% it also !sed the 8ritten 8ord 4rom time to time A nota)ly to impart to $ing Da(id the )l!eprint 4or the Temple that his son +olomon 8as to )!ild5<"1=

TH. #.IGHT >B +I,% TH. G>LD., CALB% A,D +T>,.+ B'>


As my research progressed I disco(ered many other shared characteristics linking the Grail to the Ark A and partic!larly to the Ta)lets o4 +tone5 >ne e9ample concerned the 8ay in 8hich the 8eight o4 the relic seemed to )e spirit!ally controlled5 According to #ol4ram; @the Gral R8hile it may )e carried )y the p!re o4 heartS is so hea(y that sin4!l mortals co!ld not li4t it 4rom its place5@<&2=

In this% I tho!ght there might 8ell )e a connection to an ancient Ee8ish legend 8hich descri)ed the moment 8hen the prophet oses descended 4rom o!nt +inai carrying the Ta)lets o4 +tone% then 4reshly inscri)ed 8ith the di(ine 8ords o4 the Ten Commandments5 As he came into camp the prophet ca!ght the children o4 Israel in the act o4 8orshipping the golden cal4% a sin so !nspeaka)le that;

All at once he sa8 the 8riting (anish 4rom the ta)lets% and at the same time )ecame a8are o4 their enormo!s 8eightJ 4or 8hile the celestial 8riting 8as !pon them they carried their o8n 8eight and did not )!rden oses% )!t 8ith the disappearance o4 the 8riting all this changed5<&1=

In #ol4ram@s cryptic prose the golden cal4% too% made an appearance5 It did so% moreo(er% in a conte9t so cr!cial that I 4elt certain that the a!thor 8as !sing it ?!ite deli)erately to con(ey a message A a message 4!rther identi4ying the Grail 8ith the Ark;

There 8as a heathen named Blegetanis RI read in Chapter 1 o4 :ar3i(alS 8ho 8as highly reno8ned 4or his ac?!irements5 This same physic!s 8as descended 4rom +olomon% )egotten o4 Israelitish kin all the 8ay do8n 4rom ancient times 5 5 5 He 8rote o4 the mar(els o4 the Gral5 Blegetanis% 8ho 8orshipped a cal4 as tho!gh it 8ere his god% 8as a heathen )y his 4ather555 RandS 8as a)le to de4ine 4or !s the recession o4 each planet and its ret!rn% and ho8 long each re(ol(es in its or)it )e4ore it stands at its mark again5 All h!man kind are a44ected )y the re(ol!tions o4 the planets5 #ith his o8n eyes the heathen Blegetanis sa8 A and he spoke o4 it re(erentially A hidden secrets in the constellations5 He declared there 8as a thing called the Gral% 8hose name he read in the stars 8itho!t more ado5 @A troop Ro4 Angels= le4t it on earth and then rose high a)o(e the stars% as i4 their innocence dre8 them )ack again5@<&2=

To my mind 8hat 8as really important a)o!t this passage 8as the 8ay in 8hich it !sed Blegetanis <8ith his intrig!ingly +olomonic and Ee8ishNpagan )ackgro!nd= to signal an astral origin 4or the Grail5 #hy important7 +imply )eca!se some o4 the most serio!s )i)lical scholarship that I st!died arg!ed that the Ta)lets o4 +tone contained 8ithin the Ark o4 the Co(enant had% in reality% )een t8o pieces o4 a meteorite5<&3= ,either 8as this merely some latter-day interpretation that co!ld not ha(e )een shared )y oses and )y the Le(itical priests 8ho attended the Ark5 >n the contrary% since ancient times% +emitic tri)es s!ch as the children o4 Israel had )een kno8n to (enerate stones that @4ell 4rom hea(en@ <&4= The )est ill!stration o4 this c!stom% since it had contin!ed into modern times% 8as the special re(erence accorded )y !slims to the sacred Black +tone )!ilt into a corner o4 the 8all o4 the $a@a)a in ecca5 $issed )y e(ery pilgrim making the HaC to the holy site% this stone 8as declared )y the :rophet !hammad to ha(e 4allen 4rom hea(en to earth 8here it 8as 4irst gi(en

to Adam to a)sor) his sins a4ter his e9p!lsion 4rom the Garden o4 .denJ later it 8as presented )y the angel Ga)riel to A)raham% the He)re8 :atriarchJ 4inally it )ecame the cornerstone o4 the $a@a)a A the @)eating heart@ o4 the Islamic 8orld5<&"= Geologists% I learned% !nhesitatingly attri)!ted a meteoric origin to the Black +tone5<&&= Like8ise the pairs o4 sacred stones% kno8n as )etyls% that some pre-Islamic Ara) tri)es carried on their desert 8anderings 8ere )elie(ed to ha(e )een aerolites A and it 8as recogni3ed that a direct line o4 c!lt!ral transmission linked these )etyls <8hich 8ere o4ten placed in porta)le shrines= 8ith the Black +tone o4 the $a@a)a and 8ith the stone Ta)lets o4 the La8 contained 8ithin the Ark5<&*= I then disco(ered that )etyls had )een kno8n in medie(al .!rope as lapis )etilis A a name;

stemming 4rom +emitic origins and taken o(er at a late date )y the Greeks and 'omans 4or sacred stones that 8ere ass!med to possess a di(ine li4e% stones 8ith a so!l Rthat 8ere !sedS 4or di(ers s!perstitions% 4or magic and 4or 4ort!netelling5 They 8ere meteoric stones 4allen 4rom the sky5<&0=

In s!ch a conte9t% I 4o!nd it hard to )elie(e that #ol4ram had merely )een ind!lging in 4lights o4 4ancy 8hen he had speci4ied a meteoric origin 4or his Grail-+tone5 ,ot only did he !se his character Blegetanis to this end )!t also% a 4e8 pages 4!rther on% he pro(ided a strange alternati(e name 4or the Grail A @Lapsit erillis@5<&1= Altho!gh I came across a (ariety o4 interpretations 4or the real meaning o4 this pse!do-Latin epithet%<*2= the most pla!si)le )y 4ar 8as that it had )een deri(ed 4rom lapis e9 caelis <stone 4rom hea(en@=% lapsit e9 caelis <it 4ell 4rom hea(en@=% or e(en lapis% laps!s e9 caelis% @stone 4allen 4rom hea(en@5<*1= At the same time it seemed to me that the )astardi3ed 8ords Lapsit e9illis 8ere ?!ite close eno!gh to lapis )etilis to raise the s!spicion that the German poet had intended a deli)erate A and characteristically cryptic A p!n5

B.,.DICTI>,+% +I:.',ATI'AL LIGHT% A,D TH. :>#.' >B CH>IC.

Another and ?!ite di44erent area o4 comparison lay in #ol4ram@s repeated descriptions o4 the Grail as a so!rce o4 )lessing and 4ertility 4or those p!re-hearted people 8ho came into contact 8ith it5 To cite one e9ample amongst many%<*2= I 4o!nd this passage in Chapter " o4 :ar3i(al;

#hate(er one stretched o!t one@s hand 4or in the presence o4 the Gral% it 8as 8aiting% one 4o!nd it all ready and to hand A dishes 8arm% dishes cold% ne8-4angled dishes and old 4a(o!rites 5 5 5 4or the Gral 8as the (ery 4r!it o4 )liss% a corn!copia o4 the s8eets o4 this 8orld5<*3=

It seemed to me ?!ite pro)a)le that this description echoed an ancient Talm!dic commentary 8hich had it that;

#hen +olomon )ro!ght the Ark into the Temple% all the golden trees that 8ere in the Temple 8ere 4illed 8ith moist!re and prod!ced a)!ndant 4r!it% to the great pro4it and enCoyment o4 the priestly g!ild5<*4=

I 4o!nd an e(en closer correspondence )et8een the Ark and the Grail in the other8orldly l!minescence said to ha(e )een gi(en o44 )y )oth o)Cects5 The Holy o4 Holies in +olomon@s Temple <8here the Ark 8as installed )e4ore it mysterio!sly (anished= 8as a place o4 @thick darkness@ according to the Bi)le5<*"= Talm!dic so!rces recorded% ho8e(er% that; @The High :riest o4 Israel entered and le4t )y the light that the Holy Ark iss!ed 4orth@ A a con(enient state o4 a44airs that changed a4ter the relic disappeared5 Brom then on the :riest @groped his 8ay in the dark@5<*&= The Ark% there4ore% 8as a so!rce o4 paranormal lam)ency; a da33ling radiance 8as emitted )y it A as n!mero!s )i)lical passages con4irmed5<**= In similar 4ashion ChrQtien@s Grail% 8hich I tho!ght that #ol4ram had )een happy to accept <)eca!se it pro(ided the receptacle part o4 the Ark cipher that he then completed 8ith his +tone=% sent o!t a radiance @so great 5 5 5 that 5 5 5 candles lost their )rilliance C!st as the stars do at the rising o4 the s!n or moon5@<*0= ChrQtien@s Grail 8as like8ise made o4 @p!re gold@<*1= 8hile the Ark 8as @o(erlaid 8ith p!re gold% 8ithin and 8itho!t@<02= and 8as co(ered 8ith a lid <kno8n as the @mercy seat@= 8hich 8as also @o4 p!re gold@5<01= B!t it 8as not 4rom this precio!s metal that Ark and Grail deri(ed their light-generating ?!alityJ rather this 8as the prod!ct o4 their shared impregnation 8ith a 4iery celestial energy5 And it 8as this same energy <cast 4orth )y the Ta)lets o4 +tone a4ter the Ten Commandments had )een inscri)ed !pon them )y the 4inger o4 God= that ca!sed oses@ 4ace to shine 8ith an eerie% s!pernat!ral )rilliance 8hen he descended 4rom o!nt +inai;

As he came do8n 4rom the mo!ntain% oses had the t8o Ta)lets o4 the Testimony in his hands5 He did not kno8 that the skin on his 4ace 8as radiant 5 5 5 And 8hen Aaron and all the sons o4 Israel sa8 oses% the skin on his 4ace shone so m!ch that they 8o!ld not (ent!re near him5<02=

I there4ore tho!ght it not entirely coincidental that #ol4ram@s Grail-+tone% on its (ery 4irst appearance in :ar3i(al% 8as carried in procession in the hands o4 a certain 'epanse de +choye 8hose 4ace @shed s!ch re4!lgence that all imagined it 8as s!nrise5@<03=

TH. H.A6.,-D.+TI,.D H.'>

'epanse de +choye 8as a :rincess@<04= and 8as also @o4 per4ect chastity@5<0"= Her most important characteristic% ho8e(er% 8as that the Grail had chosen her; @+he 8hom the Gral s!44ered to carry itsel4%@ #ol4ram e9plained% @had the name 'epanse de +choye 5 5 5 By her alone% no other I am told% did the Gral let itsel4 )e carried5@<0&= +!ch phrases seemed to imply that the relic possessed a kind o4 sentience5 And linked to this 8as another ?!ality; @,o man can 8in the Gral%@ #ol4ram stated in Chapter 1 o4 :ar3i(al% @other than one 8ho is ackno8ledged in Hea(en as destined 4or it5@<0*= The same point 8as then 4orce4!lly reiterated in Chapter 1"; @,o man co!ld e(er 8in the Gral )y 4orce% e9cept the one 8ho is s!mmoned there )y God5@<00= These t8o notions A o4 the Grail e9ercising po8ers o4 choice and o4 it )eing a pri3e to )e 8on only )y those 8ho 8ere @Hea(en-destined@ A 8ere o4 great importance in #ol4ram@s o(erall scheme o4 things5 I concl!ded% moreo(er% that precedents 8ere pro(ided 4or )oth o4 them in )i)lical descriptions o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 In ,!m)ers 12;33% 4or instance% it chose the ro!te that the children o4 Israel 8ere to take thro!gh the desert% and it also determined 8here they sho!ld camp5 ean8hile in the )ook o4 Chronicles there 8as this e9ample o4 certain indi(id!als )eing @Hea(en-destined@ 4or the Ark;

,one o!ght to carry the Ark o4 God )!t the Le(itesJ 4or them hath the Lord chosen to carry the Ark o4 God and to minister !nto it5<01=

It 8as not in the Bi)le% ho8e(er% that I 4o!nd the closest correspondences )et8een the Ark o4 the Co(enant and #ol4ram@s sentient% Hea(en-destined Grail5 These came rather in the $e)ra ,agast% 8hich told the story o4 the Ark@s a)d!ction to .thiopia5 In +ir .5 A5 #allis B!dge@s a!thoritati(e .nglish translation<12= I came across this passage in 8hich the sacred relic 8as re4erred to almost as tho!gh it 8ere a 4eminine person <8ho% like all ladies% co!ld change her mind=;

And as 4or 8hat tho! sayest concerning the going o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant to their city% to the co!ntry o4 .thiopia% i4 God 8illed it and she hersel4 8illed it% there is no one 8ho co!ld pre(ent herJ 4or o4 her o8n 8ill she 8ent and o4 her o8n 8ill she 8ill ret!rn i4 God pleaseth5<11=

,e9t I noted the 4ollo8ing strange re4erences 8hich seemed to imply that the relic possessed intelligence and also that the hono!r o4 keeping it 8as granted as a res!lt o4 hea(enly predestination;

The Ark goeth o4 its o8n 4ree 8ill 8hithersoe(er it 8isheth% and it cannot )e remo(ed 4rom its seat i4 it does not desire it5<12=

#itho!t the #ill o4 God the Ark o4 God 8ill not d8ell in any place5<13=

B!t the chosen ones o4 the Lord are the people o4 .thiopia5 Bor there is the ha)itation o4 God% the hea(enly GI>,%<14= the Ark o4 His Co(enant5<1"=

Last )!t not least% in Chapter &2 o4 the $e)ra ,agast% I 4o!nd a lengthy lamentation s!pposedly !ttered )y +olomon 8hen he learned that the Ark had )een a)d!cted )y his son enelik 4rom the Holy o4 Holies o4 the Temple in Eer!salem5 At the moment o4 his )itterest grie4 an angel appeared to him and asked;

@#hy art tho! th!s sorro84!l7 Bor this hath happened )y the #ill o4 God5 The Ark hath 5 5 5 )een gi(en 5 5 5 to thy 4irst-)orn son 5 5 5@ And the $ing 8as com4orted )y this 8ord% and he said% @The 8ill o4 God )e done and not the 8ill o4 man5@<1&=

Co!ld this not )e% I 8ondered% e9actly 8hat had )een in #ol4ram@s mind 8hen he had 8ritten that @no man co!ld e(er 8in the Gral )y 4orce e9cept the one 8ho is s!mmoned there )y God@7 In other 8ords% i4 the Grail 8as indeed a cryptogram 4or the Ark then might not the prototype 4or the German poet@s @Hea(en-destined@ hero ha(e )een none other than enelik himsel47 To ans8er this ?!estion I read :ar3i(al again5 I 8as not looking% ho8e(er% 4or literary in4l!ences 4rom the $e)ra ,agast A as Helen Adol4 had done A )!t rather 4or the presence o4 e9plicit cl!es em)edded 8ithin the te9t 8hich pointed in the direction o4 .thiopia5 I 8anted to kno8 8hether there 8as there anything at all to s!ggest that .thiopia might in 4act )e #ol4ram@s mysterio!s Terre +al(aesche<1*= A the land o4 the Grail and% there4ore% )y implication% the land o4 the Ark5

CHA:T.' 4 A A: T> HIDD., T'.A+I'.

y readings o4 :ar3i(al d!ring the spring and s!mmer o4 1101 had )ro!ght a startling possi)ility to my attention; the 4ictional o)Cect kno8n as the Holy Grail co!ld ha(e )een de(ised to ser(e as a comple9 sym)ol 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 This in t!rn had led me to 4orm!late another hypothesis A namely that )ehind #ol4ram (on .schen)ach@s Hea(en-destined Grail hero% there might lie another 4ig!re 8ho% once recogni3ed% 8o!ld point the 8ay to the heart o4 the mystery o4 the 8herea)o!ts o4 the Ark A a 4ig!re 8hose real identity the poet had there4ore disg!ised )eneath layers o4 arcane and sometimes deli)erately misleading details5 This 4ig!re% I s!spected% might )e none other than enelik I A the son o4 the /!een o4 +he)a and $ing +olomon 8ho% according to A)yssinian legends% had )ro!ght the Ark o4 the Co(enant to .thiopia5 I4 there 8as anything at all to this spec!lation% I reasoned% then I might hope to 4ind 4!rther cl!es em)edded in :ar3i(al A cryptic cl!es that might )e o)sc!red )y 4re?!ent 4alse trails% that might )e scattered here and there amongst 8idely separated chapters% that might )e calc!latedly (ag!e and am)ig!o!s% )!t that 8o!ld% ne(ertheless% ser(e to rein4orce the .thiopian connection i4 only they co!ld )e gathered together and made sense o45

B>,D A,D I6>'D

I 4o!nd the 4irst o4 these cl!es early in the te9t o4 :ar3i(al in a chapter 8hich spoke o4 a 4ar-o44 land called @Ga3amanc@ 8here the people @8ere all as dark as night@5<1= To this land came a 8andering .!ropean aristocrat% @Gahm!ret o4 AnCo!@%<2= and there he 4ell in lo(e 8ith no lesser personage than the ?!een A @s8eet and constant Belacane@5<3= In @Belacane@ I co!ld not help )!t hear an echo o4 @ akeda@% the .thiopian name 4or the /!een o4 +he)a that I had 4irst )ecome ac?!ainted 8ith 8hen I had (isited A9!m in 11035 I 8as also a8are that this same monarch had )een kno8n in !slim tradition as Bil?!is5<4= +ince I 8as )y this time ?!ite 4amiliar 8ith #ol4ram@s lo(e o4 neologisms% and 8ith his tendency to make !p ne8 and 4anci4!l names )y r!nning old ones together% it seemed to me rash totally to reCect the possi)ility that @Belacane@ might )e a kind o4 composite o4 @Bil?!is@ and @ akeda@ A and do!)ly rash since the poet descri)ed her as a @d!sky ?!een@5<"= #hen I looked more closely at the lo(e a44air )et8een Belacane and Gahm!ret% reco!nted at length in the 4irst chapter o4 :ar3i(al% I 4o!nd 4!rther echoes o4 the $ing +olomon and /!een o4 +he)a story told in the $e)ra ,agast and also% 8ith minor (ariations% in a range o4 other .thiopian legends5 In this connection I 4elt it 8as not accidental that #ol4ram had gone to considera)le lengths to make it clear that Gahm!ret A like +olomon A 8as 8hite% 8hile Belacane% like akeda% 8as )lack5 Bor e9ample% a4ter the arri(al o4 the @4air comple9ioned@ Ange(in knight<&= in Ga3amanc% Belacane o)ser(ed to her handmaidens; @His skin is a di44erent colo!r 4rom o!rs5 I only hope this is no sore point 8ith him7@<*= Certainly it 8as not% )eca!se her romance 8ith Gahm!ret )lossomed in the 4ollo8ing 8eeks% one thing led to another% and e(ent!ally the co!ple retired to her )edroom in the palace;

The /!een disarmed him 8ith her o8n dark hands5 There 8as a magni4icent )ed 8ith a sa)le co(erlet% 8here a ne8 tho!gh pri(ate hono!r a8aited him5 They 8ere no8 alone; the yo!ng ladies-in-8aiting had le4t the room and closed the doors )ehind them5 The /!een yielded to s8eet and no)le lo(e 8ith Gahm!ret% her heart@s o8n darling% little tho!gh their skins matched in colo!r5<0=

The lo(ers married5 Beca!se Belacane 8as an !n)apti3ed heathen% ho8e(er% and Gahm!ret a Christian 8ith many deeds o4 chi(alry still to do% he 4led Ga3amanc 8hen she 8as @t8el(e 8eeks gone 8ith child@<1= and le4t her only this letter;

@Like a thie4 I ha(e sailed a8ay5 I had to steal a8ay to spare o!r tears5 adam% I cannot conceal it that did yo! )!t li(e 8ithin my rite I 8o!ld long 4or yo! to all eternity5 .(en no8 my passion gi(es me endless tormentT I4 o!r child has the aspect o4 a man% I s8ear he 8ill )e )ra(e5@<12=

Long a4ter his depart!re Gahm!ret contin!ed to s!44er agonies o4 remorse since @the d!sky lady 8as dearer to him than li4e@5<11= Later he proclaimed;

@,o8 many an ignorant 4ello8 may think that it 8as her )lack skin I ran a8ay 4rom% )!t in my eyes she 8as as )right as the s!nT The tho!ght o4 her 8omanly e9cellence a44licts me% 4or i4 no)lesse 8ere a shield she 8o!ld )e its centre-piece5@<12=

+o m!ch then 4or Belacane and Gahm!ret5 B!t 8hat o4 their child7

#hen her time came the lady 8as deli(ered o4 a son5 His skin 8as pied5 It had pleased God to make a mar(el o4 him% 4or he 8as )oth )lack and 8hite5 The /!een 4ell to kissing his 8hite spots% time and time again5 The name she ga(e her little )oy 8as Beire4i3 the Ange(in5 #hen he gre8 !p he cleared 8hole 4orests A so many lances did he shatter% p!nching holes in shields5 His hair and all his skin 8ere particolo!red like a magpie5@<13=

#ol4ram co!ld hardly ha(e 4o!nd a more graphic 8ay to emphasi3e that Beire4i3 8as a hal4-caste A the prod!ct o4 a !nion )et8een a )lack 8oman and a 8hite man5 This hal4-caste Beire4i3% 4!rthermore% 8as to go on to play a cr!cial role in the story o4 :ar3i(al5 His 4ather% the amoro!s Gahm!ret% ret!rned to .!rope a4ter deserting Belacane and there married another ?!een% a certain Her3eloyde% 8hom he immediately set a)o!t making pregnant5 He then a)andoned her also% 8ent o44 to ha(e se(eral more ad(ent!res% earned great hono!r in a series o4

)attles% and e(ent!ally managed to get himsel4 killed5 @A 4ortnight later%@ #ol4ram related% Her3eloyde @8as deli(ered o4 a )a)e% a son so )ig in the )one that she scarce s!r(i(ed5@<14= That son 8as :ar3i(al himsel4% the eponymo!s hero o4 #ol4ram@s tale and A thro!gh Gahm!ret A the hal4-)rother o4 Beire4i35<1"= In the $e)ra ,agast and other rele(ant .thiopian legends there 8ere% I disco(ered% n!mero!s parallels to the comple9 o4 relationships in(ol(ing Gahm!ret% Belacane% Beire4i3% :ar3i(al et al5 These parallels 8ere o4ten o4 an indirect kindJ ne(ertheless I had come to e9pect s!ch tantali3ing hints 4rom #ol4ram and I )ecame increasingly con4ident that he 8as laying do8n a trail o4 cl!es that A thro!gh snares and ma3es A 8o!ld lead me to .thiopia in the end5 The constant re4erences to the contrasting )lackness and 8hiteness o4 Belacane and Gahm!ret had )een !nmissa)le 4eat!res o4 the opening sections o4 :ar3i(al5 In the $e)ra ,agast the lo(ers 8ere $ing +olomon and the /!een o4 +he)a5 Like Gahm!ret and Belacane they had retired to )ed together5<1&= Like Gahm!ret and Belacane% one o4 them <in this case akeda= had deserted the other and gone on a long Co!rney5<1*= Like Gahm!ret and Belacane the 4r!it o4 their !nion had )een a hal4-caste son% in this case enelik<10= And again like Gahm!ret and Belacane% the di44erence in their colo!r 8as repeatedly emphasi3ed in the rele(ant te9t% in this case the $e)ra ,agast5 In a typical scene the Ee8ish monarch 8as !p)raided 4or enelik@s a)d!ction o4 the Ark in the 4ollo8ing !nam)ig!o!s terms;

Thy son hath carried a8ay the Ark o4 the Co(enant%<11= thy son 8hom tho! hast )egotten% 8ho springeth 4rom an alien people into 8hich God hath not commanded yo! to marry% that is to say 4rom an .thiopian 8oman% 8ho is not o4 thy colo!r% and is not akin to thy co!ntry% and 8ho is% moreo(er% )lack5<22=

There 8ere% in addition% certain parallels )et8een enelik and Beire4i3 8hich 8ent )eyond their shared identity as hal4-castes5 Amongst these% 4or e9ample% 8as the c!riosity o4 the (ery name @Beire4i3@5 #hat lang!age did it )elong to% and 8hat A i4 anything A did it mean7 I checked and disco(ered that literary critics had ?!ite 4irm ideas on this s!)Cect5 ost interpreted the strange-so!nding epithet as a characteristic #ol4ram neologism )ased on the Brench 8ords @yak 4ils@ meaning% literally% @pie)ald son@5F Another school o4 tho!ght% ho8e(er% deri(ed it e?!ally pla!si)ly 4rom @(rai 4ils@ A @tr!e son@5<22= In the $e)ra ,agast itsel4 I co!ld 4ind no comparison directly re4lecting either etymology <altho!gh% in Chapter 3&% +olomon declared% on 4irst )eing introd!ced to enelik; @Look ye% this is my son@<23=5 In a some8hat di44erent )!t e?!ally ancient .thiopic recension o4 the same legend% ho8e(er <translated into .nglish in 1124 )y :ro4essor .rno Littman o4 :rinceton Ini(ersity=% the moment o4 the meeting )et8een +olomon and enelik 8as also descri)ed% and contained this passage;

At once enelik 8ent to him and took his hand to greet him5 Then said +olomon; @Tho! art my tr!e son@5<24=

@6rai 4ils@% in other 8ordsT


.CHA,I+ +

Coincidences like these made it increasingly di44ic!lt 4or me to resist the notion that #ol4ram had indeed linked his Beire4i3 8ith enelik5 #hy sho!ld he ha(e done that7 ,ot% I spec!lated% )eca!se he had )een in4l!enced )y the $e)ra ,agast <as the scholar Helen Adol4 had s!ggested in the 1142s<2"= )!t rather )eca!se he had kno8n the 4inal resting place o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant to )e in .thiopia% and )eca!se he had set o!t to encode this kno8ledge 8ithin the story o4 :ar3i(al A 8hich 8as th!s a kind o4 literary @treas!re map@ that !sed the Grail as a cryptogram 4or the Ark itsel45 #ol4ram had )een addicted to ingenio!s tricks A to a species o4 (er)al legerdemain that 8as as )a44ling as it 8as entertaining5 I 4elt% ho8e(er% that I 8as )eginning to see thro!gh most o4 his ill!sions and also to recogni3e the decoys that he so 4re?!ently set !p in order to l!re his readers a8ay 4rom the secret that lay hidden at the heart o4 his story5 I 8as there4ore !ndist!r)ed )y the 4act that it 8as not Beire4i3 himsel4 8ho 8as depicted as )eing on a ?!est 4or the Grail A nor Beire4i3 8ho 8as e(ent!ally accorded the hono!r o4 4inding the precio!s relic5 +!ch an o!tcome 8o!ld ha(e pro(ided m!ch too direct and o)(io!s a pointer5 And% )esides% #ol4ram co!ld not ha(e a44orded to allo8 the heathen hal4-caste son o4 a )lack ?!een to )ecome the hero o4 a romance 8ritten 4or the am!sement o4 medie(al .!ropean Christians5 Bor these reasons% it seemed to me that the cle(er German poet had )een ?!ite content to let all-8hite% all-good :ar3i(al 8in thro!gh to the non-e9istent Grail A 8hich 8as the only thing that most o4 his a!dience 8o!ld )e interested in5 ean8hile% 4or the discerning 4e8% it 8o!ld )e Beire4i3 A the tr!e son A 8ho 8o!ld point the 8ay to the Ark5 I reali3ed% ho8e(er% that I needed something more solid to s!pport this hypothesis than C!st a series o4 coincidences A no matter ho8 s!ggesti(e and intrig!ing these coincidences might seem5 I there4ore set a)o!t the )rain-)ending task o4 com)ing thro!gh :ar3i(al yet again5 .(ent!ally I 4o!nd 8hat I 8as looking 4or5 I remem)ered 4rom my pre(io!s readings that Beire4i3 had ended !p marrying 'epanse de +choye<2&= A the p!re and per4ect Grail-)earer 8ho% s!rro!nded )y an a!ra o4 sanctity and po8er% had appeared and disappeared constantly thro!gho!t the story5 ,o8 I came across a small )!t highly signi4icant detail contained in a single line that I had missed )e4ore; according to #ol4ram@s @happily-e(er-a4ter@ concl!sion% the son o4 Beire4i3 and 'epanse de +choye had )een named @:rester Eohn@5<2*= It 8as o)(io!s to me at once that this co!ld )e a momento!s cl!e5 I kne8 that the 4irst .!ropeans to arri(e in .thiopia had addressed the monarchs o4 that co!ntry as @:rester Eohn@5<20= I also kne8 that the legendary 4o!nder o4 the sel4-styled @+olomonic@ dynasty to 8hich those monarchs had )elonged had )een enelik I A the s!pposed son o4 +olomon and the /!een o4 +he)a5 I there4ore co!ld not help )!t )e e9cited to read that 'epanse de +choye had gi(en

Beire4i3 @a son named FEohnF @ and% moreo(er% that @They called him F:rester EohnF% and% e(er since% they call their kings )y no other name5@<21= It 8o!ld ha(e )een (ery nice i4 I had )een a)le% there and then% to demonstrate that the land o4 the Grail A Terre +al(aesche A 8as in 4act the same as the land r!led )y @:rester Eohn@5 +!ch a direct linkage 8o!ld% at the (ery least% ha(e enormo!sly strengthened 8hat I 8as coming to think o4 as my @treas!re map@ theory o4 #ol4ram@s 8ork5 In4ort!nately% ho8e(er% there 8as not a single shred o4 e(idence in :ar3i(al to s!pport this (ie8; the location o4 Terre +al(aesche 8as ne(er spelled o!t in anything other than the most dreamlike and inde4inite terms and at no point 8as it s!ggested that its king 8as @:rester Eohn@5 I 8as a)o!t to concl!de that I had marched optimistically into an e9tremely depressing c!l de sac 8hen I disco(ered that there 8as another medie(al German epic in 8hich :rester Eohn did )ecome the g!ardian o4 the Grail5 Called Der BUngerer Tit!rel <@The Do!nger Tit!rel@=% it 8as 8ritten in a style so close to that o4 :ar3i(al that scholars had long attri)!ted it to #ol4ram himsel4 <this attri)!tion dated )ack to the thirteenth cent!ry=5<32= 'elati(ely recently% ho8e(er% the hand o4 a slightly later a!thor had )een detected5 Tho!ght to ha(e )een a certain Al)recht (on +char4en)erg% this a!thor 8as )elie(ed to ha(e compiled @The Do!nger Tit!rel@ )et8een 12*2 and 12*" <a)o!t 4i4ty years a4ter #ol4ram@s death= and to ha(e )ased it on pre(io!sly !ncirc!lated 4ragments o4 #ol4ram@s o8n 8ork5<31= Indeed Al)recht@s identi4ication 8ith @his master@<32= had )een so complete that he had act!ally claimed to )e #ol4ram% @adopting not C!st his name and s!)Cect matter )!t also his mannerisms as a narrator and e(en the details o4 his personal history5@<33= I kne8 that there 8as a 8ell esta)lished tradition in medie(al literat!re o4 later 8riters e9tending and completing the 8ork o4 their predecessors5 #ol4ram@s :ar3i(al had itsel4 gro8n o!t o4 ChrQtien de Troyes@s original story o4 the Holy Grail5 ,o8 it seemed that it had )een le4t to a third poet% Al)recht% to pro(ide an ending to that story A an ending in 8hich the Grail 4o!nd its last resting place5 This last resting place% as @The Do!nger Tit!rel@ stated clearly% 8as the land o4 :rester Eohn5<34= I tho!ght it highly signi4icant that s!ch a statement e9isted in the literat!re o4 the Grail and% moreo(er% that it had )een made )y a #ol4ram acolyte 8ho appeared to ha(e had pri(ileged access to the notes and Cottings o4 #ol4ram himsel45 This% in my opinion% 8as C!st the sort o4 de(io!s mechanism that @the master@ might ha(e set !p in order not to ha(e to spell o!t his .thiopian secret too )l!ntly in :ar3i(al A 8hile at the same time ens!ring that that secret 8o!ld )e transmitted to 4!t!re generations5 :erhaps this concl!sion 8as 8arrantedJ perhaps it 8as not5 Its signi4icance% ho8e(er% lay less in its academic merits than in the 4act that it enco!raged me to take #ol4ram@s o8n )rie4 mention o4 @:rester Eohn@ serio!sly A and th!s to perse(ere 8ith 8hat t!rned o!t to )e an e9ha!sting )!t !ltimately 4r!it4!l in(estigation5 The p!rpose o4 that in(estigation 8as to 4ind the ans8er to a single ?!estion; 8hen #ol4ram talked o4 @:rester Eohn@ co!ld he ha(e had an .thiopian monarch in mind7 The 4irst indications 8ere that he had notJ indeed he stated plainly that @:rester Eohn@s@ )irth had taken place in India@<3"= A a co!ntry o4 8hich Beire4i3 8as apparently the king and to

8hich he and 'epanse de +choye had ret!rned a4ter the ad(ent!res descri)ed in :ar3i(al 8ere o(er5 To complicate the pict!re 4!rther the same paragraph then 8ent on to ad(ise that @India@ 8as also kno8n as @Tri)ali)o4@ <@Here 8e call it FIndiaF; there it is FTri)ali)otF @<3&=5 Checking )ack I 4o!nd earlier passages in 8hich Beire4i3 had )een spoken o4 as the @Lord o4 Tri)ali)ot@<3*= A 8hich 8as consistent eno!gh since I no8 kne8 that his son :rester Eohn@ had !ltimately s!cceeded him as the r!ler o4 Tri)ali)otNIndia5 Ho8e(er% I co!ld hardly 4orget that Beire4i3 8as himsel4 the son o4 Belacane the /!een o4 @Ga3amanc@5 I 8as there4ore not s!rprised to learn that #ol4ram had also re4erred to Beire4i3 as the @$ing o4 Ga3amanc@5<30= The only reasona)le concl!sion to )e dra8n 4rom this con4etti o4 e9otic titles and appellations 8as that @Ga3amanc@% @Tri)ali)ot@ and @India@ 8ere all% in 4act% the same place5 B!t co!ld this place possi)ly )e .thiopia7 #asn@t it m!ch more reasona)le to ass!me A since he had act!ally named it A that #ol4ram had had the s!)continent o4 India in mind all along7 I decided to research the real% historical pedigree o4 @:rester Eohn@ to see i4 this 8o!ld shed any more light on the pro)lem5

A '.AL $I,G

The name @:rester Eohn@% I disco(ered% had )een completely !nkno8n )e4ore the t8el4th cent!ry A a cent!ry d!ring 8hich .!ropean Cr!saders had occ!pied the Holy City o4 Eer!salem 4or a contin!o!s period o4 more than eighty years <they 8ere 4inally e9pelled )y the +aracens in 110*=5 Historians agreed that the (ery 4irst mention o4 :rester Eohn had )een made ro!ghly hal48ay thro!gh this period A in 114" in the Chronicle o4 Bishop >tto o4 Breisingen5 Claiming that his in4ormant 8as a +yrian ch!rchman% the )ishop had 8ritten o4 a certain @Eohn% king and priest Rre9 a sacerdosS % a Christian 8ho li(ed in @the !ttermost .ast@ 8here he commanded enormo!s armies 8hich% apparently% he 8ished to p!t at the disposal o4 the de4enders o4 Eer!salem5 This @:rester Eohn A 4or so he 8as 8ont to )e styled@ 8as said to )e so rich that he !sed a sceptre o4 solid emerald5<31= +!)se?!ently% in 11&"% a letter p!rporting to ha(e )een 8ritten )y :rester Eohn himsel4 and addressed to @(ario!s Christian kings% especially to the .mperor an!el o4 Constantinople and the 'oman .mperor Brederick@%<42= 8as circ!lated 8idely in .!rope5 Billed 8ith the most prepostero!s% legendary and s!pernat!ral claims% this lengthy epistle stated% inter alia% that the :rester@s realm 8as di(ided into 4o!r parts @4or there are so many Indias@5<41= The ne9t de(elopment came in 11** 8hen :ope Ale9ander III <8riting 4rom 6enice= addressed a letter to his @dearest son in Christ% Eohn% ill!strio!s and magni4icent $ing o4 the Indians@5<42= Altho!gh the :ope certainly )elie(ed that he 8as replying to the a!thor o4 the 11&" letter he made it clear that he had also had in4ormation a)o!t @the :rester@ 4rom another so!rce5 He spoke% 4or e9ample% o4 his personal physician% @the leech :hilip@% 8ho had apparently )een approached in Eer!salem )y the :rester@s emissaries5 +igni4icantly these emissaries% 8ho 8ere re4erred to as @hono!ra)le persons o4 the monarch@s kingdom@% had e9pressed their r!ler@s desire to

)e granted something that had not e(en )een mentioned in the 11&" letter A a sanct!ary in the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre in Eer!salem5<43= 'esponding to this re?!est% the :ope commented;

The more no)ly and magnanimo!sly tho! cond!ctest thysel4% and the less tho! (a!ntest o4 thy 8ealth and po8er% the more readily shall 8e regard thy 8ish as to the concession o4 Ran altarS in the Ch!rch o4 the Lord@s +ep!lchre at Eer!salem5<44=

There 8as m!ch that 8as p!33ling in these t8el4th-cent!ry doc!ments5 B!t the one thing that 8as clear 4rom all o4 them 8as that :rester Eohn% in his earliest incarnations% had )een e9plicitly associated 8ith @India@5 As I looked more deeply into the 8hole iss!e I 8as a)le to con4irm that this 8as indeed the case; again and again @the :rester@s@ realms 8ere re4erred to as India or% more loosely% @the Indies@5 It 8as ?!ite o)(io!s% ho8e(er% that none o4 the medie(al a!thorities concerned had had any 4irm idea in their o8n minds as to 8here e9actly India andNor the Indies 8ere5 And it 8as e?!ally o)(io!s% 8hen they talked a)o!t @India@% that they 8ere only rarely speaking o4 the s!)continent itsel45 The maCority o4 the re4erences 8ere ?!ite clearly to some other place% perhaps in A4rica% perhaps else8here A altho!gh no)ody really seemed to kno85 As I researched the s!)Cect 4!rther I )egan to !nderstand 8hat the so!rce o4 all this !ncertainty might ha(e )een; 4or more than a tho!sand years )e4ore the earliest mention o4 :rester Eohn a pro4o!nd terminological m!ddle had e9isted in 8hich @India@ had 4re?!ently )een con4!sed 8ith @.thiopia@5 Indeed 4rom the 4irst cent!ry BC <8hen 6irgil had 8ritten o4 the ,ile rising in @India@=% !ntil at least the time o4 arco :olo A 8hen all the co!ntries that )ordered on the Indian >cean 8ere still re4erred to as @the Indies@<4"= A the terms @.thiopia@ and @India@ appeared to ha(e )een !sed as tho!gh they 8ere completely interchangea)le5 The classic e9ample o4 this lay in the 8orks o4 '!4ini!s% the 4o!rth-cent!ry By3antine theologian 8ho had compiled the de4initi(e acco!nt o4 .thiopia@s con(ersion to Christianity that I had st!died in 11035<4&= The details o4 this important treatise <8hich incl!ded place names s!ch as A9!m and historically recogni3ed 4ig!res s!ch as Br!menti!s and $ing .3ana= con4irmed )eyond all do!)t that the co!ntry '!4ini!s had talked a)o!t had indeed )een .thiopiaJ ne(ertheless he had re4erred to it thro!gho!t as @India@5<4*= This had happened% as one historian e9plained% )eca!se @the early geographers had al8ays regarded .thiopia as the 8estern part o4 the great empire o4 lndia@5<40= oreo(er% it seemed that this same geographical mistake% co!pled 8ith the c!rio!s letters that had circ!lated in the t8el4th cent!ry% had helped to create the impression that :rester Eohn 8as an Asiatic% indeed an Indian% king5 This impression% tho!gh erroneo!s% had pro(ed so tenacio!s that it 8as still in e(idence long a4ter @the :rester@ had ceased to )e a mythical 4ig!re A and long a4ter his realms had )een 4irmly located in the Horn o4 A4rica5 In the late thirteenth cent!ry% 4or e9ample% arco :olo pro(ided some insight into the con(entional 8isdom o4 his era 8hen he 8rote that @A)yssinia is a

large pro(ince and is called middle or second India5 The r!ler o4 this co!ntry is a Christian5@<41= +imilarly% in the 4o!rteenth cent!ry% the Blorentine tra(eller +imone +igoli 8as still speaking o4 @:resto Gio(anni@ as a monarch d8elling in IndiaJ this @India@% ho8e(er% 8as a land 8hich )ordered on the dominions o4 the +!ltan o4 .gypt and its king 8as descri)ed as )eing the @master o4 the ,ile@% the 4lo8 o4 8hich into .gypt he 8as )elie(ed to )e a)le to control5<"2= 'ather later% 8hen the 4irst o44icial :ort!g!ese em)assy 8as sent to .thiopia in the si9teenth cent!ry% its mem)ers )elie(ed that they 8ere going to meet @the :rester Eohn o4 the Indies@5 The a!thorised acco!nt o4 this mission 8as s!)se?!ently 8ritten )y Bather Brancisco Al(are3% 8ho disem)arked at the 'ed +ea port o4 assa8a in April 1"22 and then spent the ne9t si9 years tra(elling o(erland aro!nd .thiopia5 Despite this ard!o!s physical to!r o4 8hat 8as !nmistaka)ly part o4 the A4rican mainland% the title o4 his 8ork contin!ed to re4lect the old terminological con4!sion; @6erdadera In4ormacam das tetras do :reste Eoan; das Indicts@ <@Tr!th4!l in4ormation a)o!t the co!ntries o4 the :rester Eohn o4 the Indies@=5<"1= Thro!gho!t his scholarly and in4ormati(e )ook% Al(are3 al8ays re4erred to the .mperor o4 .thiopia as @the :rester@ or as :rester Eohn@5<"2= I 8as also a)le to esta)lish that m!ch earlier than this A in 13"2 A the Branciscan Gio(anni de arignolli% apostolic legate in Asia% had spoken <in his Chronica= o4 @.thiopia 8here the negroes are and 8hich is called the land o4 :rester Eohn@5<"3= +imilarly in 1320 a certain Briar Eordan!s Catalani had re4erred to the .mperor o4 the .thiopians @?!ern (os (ocatis :restre Bohan@5<"4= And% later% in 14"1% Bra a!ro@s 8ell regarded map o4 the then kno8n 8orld indicated a great city 8ithin the )o!ndaries o4 presentday .thiopia 8ith the r!)ric; @/!i ii :reste Canni 4a residentia principal5@<""= +!r(eying all the con4licting re4erences )e4ore me I 4elt literally da3ed; sometimes% it seemed% :rester Eohn had )een !nam)ig!o!sly located in .thiopiaJ on other occasions he had )een located in .thiopia )!t spoken o4 as the r!ler o4 the @Indies@; and sometimes he had )een located in India itsel4 A or else8here in the 4ar east5 Behind all this con4!sion% ho8e(er% there seemed to )e no do!)t that the real :rester Eohn% the so!rce o4 all the myth-making% m!st all along ha(e )een the r!ler o4 .thiopia A the only non-.!ropean Christian kingdom that had e9isted any8here in the 8orld in medie(al times% and there4ore the only model that #ol4ram co!ld possi)ly ha(e dra8n on 8hen he had talked o4 an @India@ )eing r!led )y :rester Eohn@% the Christian son o4 Bier4i3 and 'apanse de +choye5 Bor a 4inal and hope4!lly de4initi(e 8ord I t!rned to the .ncyclopaedia Britannica% 8hich o)ser(ed;

It is not impro)a)le that 4rom a (ery early date the title :rester Eohn@ 8as assigned to the A)yssinian king% tho!gh 4or a time this identi4ication 8as o(ershado8ed )y the pre(alence o4 the Asiatic legend5 At the )ottom o4 the do!)le allocation there 8as% no do!)t% that con4!sion o4 .thiopia 8ith India 8hich is as old as 6irgil or perhaps older5<"&= +igni4icantly 4or my p!rposes% the .ncyclopaedia concl!ded its entry 8ith a re4erence to the e9change o4 letters )et8een the :ope and :rester Eohn that% as noted earlier% had taken place in the second hal4 o4 the t8el4th cent!ry;

Ho8e(er (ag!e may ha(e )een the ideas o4 :ope Ale9ander III respecting the geographical position o4 the potentate 8hom he addressed 4rom 6enice in 11**% the only real person to 8hom the letter can ha(e )een sent 8as the king o4 A)yssinia5 Let it )e o)ser(ed that the @hono!ra)le persons o4 the monarch@s kingdom@ 8hom the leech :hilip had met 8ith in the .ast m!st ha(e )een the representati(es o4 some real po8er% and not o4 a phantom5 It m!st ha(e )een a real king 8ho pro4essed to desire 5 5 5 the assignation o4 5 5 5 an altar at Eer!salem5 oreo(er 8e kno8 that the .thiopic Ch!rch did long possess a chapel and altar in the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre5 <"*=

Indeed so5 In 4act% as I 8as soon a)le to ascertain% the chapel and the altar had 4irst )een granted to .thiopia in the year 1101 A and not )y the :ope <8ho )y then 8as no longer in a position to distri)!te s!ch 4a(o!rs= )!t )y the !slim general +aladin 8ho had 8rested Eer!salem 4rom the hands o4 the Cr!saders in 110*5 ost important o4 all% these special pri(ileges in the Holy +ep!lchre had )een o)tained 4or the .thiopian >rthodo9 Ch!rch as a res!lt o4 a direct appeal to +aladin )y no lesser person than the $ing o4 .thiopia himsel45<"0= These e(ents had taken place C!st a decade )e4ore !nkno8n stonemasons in northern Brance had le4t enigmatic representations o4 the Holy Grail% o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant% and o4 an .thiopian /!een o4 +he)a in the north porch o4 Chartres cathedral A and also C!st a decade )e4ore #ol4ram (on .schen)ach had )eg!n to 8rite his :ar3i(al5 It seemed to me% moreo(er% that s!ch coincidences 8ere !nlikely to )e C!st coincidences5 >n the contrary% I no8 4elt that the circ!mstantial e(idence (ery strongly s!pported my hypothesis that the Chartres sc!lpt!res and #ol4ram@s remarka)le narrati(e poem had )een e9plicitly created to ser(e as esoteric treas!re maps5 And% tho!gh not act!ally marked 8ith an @K@% there seemed to )e little do!)t that the spot identi4ied )y these maps as the hiding place o4 the treas!re co!ld only )e .thiopia A the land o4 :rester Eohn% the land that had pro(ided the last resting place o4 the 4ictional Holy Grail% and th!s <i4 my theory 8as correct= the land in 8hich the Ark o4 the Co(enant% the real o)Cect that the Grail sym)oli3ed% 8o!ld )e 4o!nd5 ,o8% ho8e(er% other ?!estions presented themsel(es;

V Ho8% in the late t8el4th cent!ry% co!ld in4ormation that the Ark might rest in .thiopia possi)ly ha(e reached a German poet and a gro!p o4 Brench iconographers7 V #hat connected the 4ormer to the latter7 A 4or they m!st ha(e )een connected in some 8ay i4 they had )oth prod!ced 8orks o4 art encoding the same message5 V Binally% 8hy sho!ld anyone ha(e chosen to e9press the secret o4 the Ark@s location in a story and in sc!lpt!res7 I had already concl!ded that this might ha(e )een done to ens!re transmission o4 the secret to 4!t!re generations5 At the same time% ho8e(er% the code !sed A partic!larly )y #ol4ram A had )een e9ceptionally di44ic!lt to crack5 I mysel4% 8ith all the research reso!rces o4 the t8entieth cent!ry at my disposal% had only got as 4ar as I had )eca!se I had )een to A9!m and had th!s )een predisposed to accept that the Ark might )e in .thiopia5 In the t8el4th and thirteenth cent!ries% ho8e(er% that ad(antage sho!ld not ha(e )een a(aila)le to anyone5 Brom this it 4ollo8ed that the hidden message o4 :ar3i(al co!ld not ha(e )een decoded

in the medie(al period at all A !nless there had )een people 8ith access to some (ery special and pri(ileged kno8ledge5 +ince there 8o!ld ha(e )een no point in creating a code that no one co!ld crack% it seemed to me logical to ass!me that s!ch people m!st ha(e e9isted5 B!t 8ho co!ld they ha(e )een7

I did 4ind one gro!p o4 .!ropeans 8ho 4itted the )ill per4ectly5 As part o4 the Cr!sading army o4 occ!pation they had maintained a massi(e presence in Eer!salem in the t8el4th cent!ry; they had )een there in 114" 8hen the :rester Eohn legends had 4irst )eg!n to circ!late% and they had still )een there in 11** 8hen en(oys o4 the $ing o4 .thiopia had (isited the Holy City seeking an altar in the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre5 Direct contact )et8een .thiopians and mem)ers o4 this .!ropean gro!p 8o!ld there4ore ha(e )een per4ectly possi)le5 The gro!p in ?!estion 8as% moreo(er% highly secreti(e and made reg!lar !se o4 codes and ciphers in its 4ar-4l!ng international comm!nications5 It 8as% in addition% a gro!p that had )een in(ol(ed 8ith the e(ol!tion and dissemination o4 Gothic architect!re in .!rope <and ?!ite speci4ically 8ith the architect!re and iconography o4 Chartres cathedral=5 Binally% and most importantly% it 8as a gro!p that #ol4ram (on .schen)ach had se(eral times mentioned )y name A a name that I had also come across in connection 8ith the c!rio!s Grail c!p that the sc!lptors o4 the north porch o4 Chartres cathedral had placed in the le4t hand o4 their imposing stat!e o4 the priest-king elchi3edek<"1= <8hich% incidentally% 8as almost the only depiction o4 elchi3edek in the 8hole o4 medie(al .!rope=5<&2= #hat then 8as the name o4 this strangely in4l!ential% po8er4!l and 8idely tra(elled gro!p7 Its 4!ll and 4ormal title 8as the @:oor $nights o4 Christ and o4 the Temple o4 +olomon@&1 A )!t its mem)ers 8ere )etter kno8n simply as @Templars@% or as $nights Templar5 It 8as% 4!ndamentally% a religio!s order% an order o4 8arrior monks% and thro!gho!t m!ch o4 the t8el4th cent!ry it had its head?!arters in Eer!salem on the site o4 +olomon@s Temple A the same site 4rom 8hich the Ark o4 the Co(enant had ine9plica)ly (anished in >ld Testament times5

CHA:T.' " #HIT. $,IGHT+% DA'$ C>,TI,.,T

According to .mma E!ng% analyst% lect!rer and 8i4e o4 the eminent psychiatrist Carl G!sta( E!ng% the 8ay in 8hich the literary genre o4 the Holy Grail appeared at the end o4 the t8el4th cent!ry 8as )oth s!dden and s!rprising5 In an a!thoritati(e st!dy o4 the Grail legend <8hich she !ndertook on )ehal4 o4 the E!ng Bo!ndation= she arg!ed that something o4 great signi4icance m!st ha(e lain )ehind this a)r!pt and dramatic materiali3ation5 Indeed she 8ent so 4ar as to s!ggest that in ChrQtien de Troyes@s Conte d! Graal and #ol4ram@s :ar3i(al A the 4irst

t8o e9emplars o4 the genre A it 8as almost @as i4 a s!)terranean 8aterco!rse had )een tapped@5<1= #hat might that @s!)terranean 8aterco!rse@ ha(e )een7 The ans8er% I tho!ght% lay in the period o4 history in 8hich the Grail romances )egan to circ!late5 This% a4ter all% 8as the era o4 the Cr!sades A an era that had )ro!ght .!ropeans into close contact 8ith Ara) and E!daic c!lt!re 4or the 4irst time and that sa8 the occ!pation o4 Eer!salem )y Christian armies 4or eighty-eight years <4rom AD 1211 !ntil the recapt!re o4 the Holy City )y +aladin in 110*=5 It 8as in 1102 A the eighty-third year o4 the occ!pation A that ChrQtien prod!ced his (ersion o4 the Grail story5 And shortly a4ter the 4all o4 Eer!salem #ol4ram (on .schen)ach started 8ork on his o8n :ar3i(al5 I there4ore 4o!nd it di44ic!lt to resist the concl!sion that these early recensions o4 the Grail romance m!st ha(e )een )ased on something that had happened A or on material that had come to light A d!ring the period that Eer!salem had )een !nder the 4!ll control o4 .!ropean 4orces5 I looked (ery care4!lly at the te9t o4 :ar3i(al to see 8hether there 8as any e(idence to s!pport this go Holy Ark and Holy Grail conCect!re and disco(ered that #ol4ram had on se(eral occasions made mention o4 a mysterio!s so!rce named @$yot@ A a man% he said% 8hom he had relied !pon hea(ily 4or his in4ormation and 8ho 4ort!nately had )een;

a )apti3ed Christian A other8ise this tale 8o!ld still )e !nkno8n5 ,o in4idel art 8o!ld a(ail !s to re(eal the nat!re o4 the Gral and ho8 one came to kno8 its secrets5<2=

This 8as )y no means the only place in :ar3i(al 8here the German poet had hinted that there might ha(e )een more to his Grail than at 4irst met the eye5 I 8as already satis4ied that this @something more@ co!ld 8ell ha(e )een the Ark o4 the Co(enant A the real o)Cect that lay )ehind the )ea!ti4!l 4ictional sym)ol5 ,o8 as I st!died the 8idely scattered re4erences to @$yot@ it occ!rred to me that this shado8y 4ig!re% 8hose identity 8as ne(er clari4ied% co!ld ha(e )een the so!rce 8ho had introd!ced #ol4ram to the secret o4 the Ark@s hiding place in .thiopia5 'e4erred to at one point as @$yot% 8ho sent !s the a!thentic tale@%<3= he 8as clearly (ery important5 B!t 8ho 8as he7 There 8ere 4e8 o)(io!s cl!es in :ar3i(al itsel45 Here $yot 8as spoken o4 as a @ aster@<4= and there it 8as s!ggested that his mother tong!e had )een Brench5<"= B!t )eyond s!ch hints there 8as (ery little to go on5 I there4ore t!rned to the literary scholars and 4o!nd that se(eral o4 them had identi4ied $yot ?!ite speci4ically 8ith a t8el4th-cent!ry Brench poet% G!yot de :ro(ins% 8ho had made a pilgrimage to Eer!salem shortly )e4ore the recapt!re o4 the Holy City )y the +aracens<&= A and 8ho had also )een attached 4or a 8hile to the co!rt o4 the Holy 'oman .mperor Brederick Bar)arossa5<*= This latter 4act ca!ght my eye )eca!se I kne8 that Brederick A like #ol4ram A had )een a German )y )irth <)e4ore his election as .mperor in 11"2 he had )een D!ke o4 +8a)ia<0=5 And I also kne8 <see pre(io!s chapter= that this same Brederick had )een one o4 the t8o monarchs speci4ically named amongst the (ario!s Christian kings to 8hom the @letter o4 :rester Eohn@ had )een addressed in the year 11&"5

In(estigating 4!rther I then learned something else A something that t!rned o!t to )e o4 maCor importance; G!yotN$yot had )een closely associated 8ith the $nights Templar<1= 8ho% according to .mma E!ng@s st!dy% @8ere considered to )e the g!ardians o4 +olomon@s Temple5@<12= I also kne8 that it 8as 4rom +olomon@s Temple that the Ark o4 the Co(enant had mysterio!sly disappeared in >ld Testament times5 I 8as there4ore e9cited to disco(er that% in :ar3i(al% #ol4ram had descri)ed the g!ardians o4 the Grail as @Templars@<11= and had re4erred to them% 4latteringly% as;

a no)le Brotherhood 5 5 5 8ho% )y 4orce o4 arms% ha(e 8arded o44 men 4rom e(ery land% 8ith the res!lt that the Gral has )een re(ealed only to those 8ho ha(e )een s!mmoned to !nsal(aesche to Coin the Gral Company5<12=

#ere #ol4ram@s @Templars@ the same as the 4amo!s military order o4 that name7 I 4o!nd that the 8ord translated into .nglish as @Templars@ had% in the iddle High German o4 :ar3i(al% )een Templeis5<13= Amongst the scholars there 8as some de)ate a)o!t 8hat e9actly had )een meant )y this5 The consens!s% ho8e(er% 8as that the term 8as @an o)(io!s (ariant o4 the reg!lar 4orms templari!s% templier% .ng5 Templar@<14= and that #ol4ram@s @>rder o4 $nighthood dedicated to the ser(ice o4 the Gral@ co!ld there4ore )e @identi4ied 8ith the order o4 the $nights Templar@5<1"= I then remem)ered that one o4 the g!ide)ooks I had !sed on my (isit to Chartres cathedral had spoken o4 @#ol4ram (on .schen)ach% 8ho is said to ha(e )een a Templar A tho!gh there is no proo4 o4 this@5<1&= >n 4!rther in(estigation I 8as a)le to esta)lish that there had indeed )een persistent r!mo!rs to this e44ect5<1*= I also learned that se(eral 8ell respected scholars had s!ggested that the German poet might himsel4 ha(e paid a (isit to the Holy Land 8hilst 8riting :ar3i(al5<10=

DIGGI,G B>' HIDD., T'.A+I'.7

I had )een intrig!ed )y .mma E!ng@s assertion that the Templars in #ol4ram@s time @8ere considered to )e the g!ardians o4 +olomon@s Temple@5 I had not !nderstood 8hy this sho!ld ha(e )een so5 Ho8e(er% 8hen I )egan to research the order% I disco(ered that it had deri(ed its o44icial title <@The :oor $nights o4 Christ and o4 the Temple o4 +olomon@= 4rom the 4act that its Eer!salem head?!arters had )een located on the s!mmit o4 o!nt oriah A 8here +olomon@s Temple had stood !ntil its destr!ction )y the Ba)ylonians in "0* BC5 That Temple had )een )!ilt in the tenth cent!ry BC and its e9plicit A indeed its only A p!rpose had )een to ser(e% as the Bi)le p!t it% as @an ho!se o4 rest 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord@5<11= By identi4ying themsel(es 8ith +olomon@s Temple% there4ore% it seemed to me that there 8as a (ery real sense in 8hich the knights had also identi4ied themsel(es 8ith the Ark o4 the

Co(enant5 And my 4eeling that this 8as so strengthened as I )egan to in(estigate the c!rio!s history o4 the order5 The Templars% I learned% had )een 4o!nded )y nine Brench no)lemen 8ho had made their 8ay to the Holy Land in AD 1111 A t8enty years a4ter Eer!salem had )een capt!red and occ!pied )y the .!ropean po8ers5 The t8el4th-cent!ry historian% Arch)ishop #illiam o4 Tyre% noted that @4oremost and most disting!ished@ amongst these nine men @8ere the (enera)le H!gh de :ayens and God4rey de +t >mer5@<22= >n checking 4!rther I disco(ered something interesting5 H!gh de :ayens% 8ho 8as in 4act the 4irst Grand aster o4 the >rder%<21= had )een )orn in the (illage o4 :ayens% eight miles north o4 the city o4 Troyes in the old Brench co!nty o4 Champagne5<22= oreo(er it seemed that the nine 4o!nders 8ere all 4rom the same region5<23= In this there 8ere se(eral coincidences;

1 Chartres% 8ith its great cathedral% had A in )oth the t8el4th and thirteenth cent!ries A )een a dominion o4 the Co!nts o4 Champagne5<24= 2 >ne o4 the original nine knights% AnarQ de ont)ard <8ho later )ecame the 4i4th Grand aster=% 8as an !ncle o4 +aint Bernard o4 Clair(a!9<2"= A 8ho 8as himsel4 a nati(e o4 Champagne5 This enormo!sly in4l!ential cleric had taken a special interest )oth in Gothic architect!re and in the Grail romances5<2&= 3 The city o4 Troyes% so close to the )irthplace o4 H!gh de :ayens% the 4irst Templar Grand aster% 8as also the home o4 ChrQtien de Troyes% the @in(entor@ o4 the Holy Grail5 4 H!gh de :ayens 8as a co!sin o4 the Co!nt o4 Champagne%<2*= and% in the year 112"% the Co!nt o4 Champagne Coined the Templars5<20= " #hen ChrQtien de Troyes rose to prominence rather later in the t8el4th cent!ry his principal patron 8as the Co!ntess o4 Champagne5<21=

,oting this string o4 coincidences 8ith some interest% I 8ent on to learn more a)o!t the early history o4 the Templars5 There 8as m!ch that 8as strange5 :erhaps strangest o4 all% ho8e(er% 8as the 8ay in 8hich the nine original knights 8ere recei(ed )y $ing Bald8in I o4 Eer!salem in 11115 As soon as they had arri(ed in the Holy City they told him that they 8anted to esta)lish their head?!arters on the Temple o!nt<32= A 8here the monarch had recently con(erted the Al-A?sa os?!e to ser(e as his o8n royal palace5 'ather astonishingly he complied at once 8ith their re?!est% gi(ing them% 4or their e9cl!si(e !se% a large part o4 the 4ormer mos?!e and its o!t)!ildings immediately adCacent to the 4amo!s @Dome o4 the 'ock@% 8hich marked the site 8here +olomon@s Temple had once stood5<31= Therea4ter% like latter-day archaeologists 8ith an important dig to complete% the knights li(ed% ate% slept and 8orked on this !ni?!ely precio!s site; indeed 4or almost se(en years a4ter their arri(al they rarely le4t it and adamantly re4!sed admission to any o!tside party5 In p!)lic

prono!ncements they had declared that their mission in the Holy Land 8as to @to keep the road 4rom the coast to Eer!salem 4ree 4rom )andits@5<32= I co!ld 4ind no e(idence% ho8e(er% to s!ggest that they took any steps to 4!l4il this mission d!ring those 4irst se(en years o4 their e9istenceJ on the contrary% as one a!thority p!t it% @the ne8 >rder apparently did (ery little@ in this period5<33= Besides% simple logic s!ggested that nine men co!ld hardly ha(e protected any)ody on a high8ay almost 4i4ty miles long A and their n!m)er stayed at nine !ntil they 8ere Coined )y the Co!nt o4 Champagne in 112"5 oreo(er% the mem)ers o4 an older and 4ar larger military order A the $nights o4 +aint Eohn A 8ere already doing the Co) o4 protecting pilgrims 8hen the Templars arri(ed5<34= I co!ld only concl!de% there4ore% that H!gh de :ayens and his colleag!es m!st ha(e had some other% !ndeclared% p!rpose5 As noted a)o(e% they largely con4ined themsel(es to the precincts o4 the Temple o!nt d!ring the 4irst se(en years o4 their soCo!rn in Eer!salem A and this s!ggested (ery strongly that their real moti(e m!st ha(e had to do 8ith that (ery special site5 Brom the )eginning their )eha(io!r 8as secreti(e and I 4o!nd% as a res!lt% that there 8as no really hard e(idence a)o!t 8hat they had )een !p to there5 It seemed at least possi)le% ho8e(er% that they might ha(e )een looking 4or something% and this s!spicion deepened 8hen I learned that they had indeed !sed their occ!pancy o4 the Temple o!nt to cond!ct ?!ite e9tensi(e e9ca(ations5 Beca!se the Temple o!nt today contains the third and 4o!rth most sacred sites o4 Islam A the Dome o4 the 'ock and the Al-A?sa os?!e A modern archaeologists ha(e ne(er )een permitted to 8ork there5 In recent years% ho8e(er% Israeli teams ha(e operated 4reely immediately to the so!th o4 the o!nt% and there they 4o!nd the e9it-point o4 a t!nnel 8hich they identi4ied as ha(ing )eing d!g )y the Templars in the t8el4th cent!ry5<3"= In their o44icial report the archaeologists stated;

The t!nnel leads in8ard 4or a distance o4 a)o!t thirty metres 4rom the so!thern 8all )e4ore )eing )locked )y pieces o4 stone and de)ris5 #e kno8 that it contin!es 4!rther% )!t 8e had made it a hard-and-4ast r!le not to e9ca(ate 8ithin the )o!nds o4 the Temple o!nt% 8hich is c!rrently !nder oslem C!risdiction% 8itho!t 4irst ac?!iring the permission o4 the appropriate oslem a!thorities5 In this case they permitted !s only to meas!re and photograph the e9posed section o4 the t!nnel% not to cond!ct an e9ca(ation o4 any kind5 Ipon concl!ding this 8ork 5 5 5 8e sealed !p the t!nnel@s e9it 8ith stones5<3&=

And that 8as all that 8as kno8n% or co!ld )e said% a)o!t the Templar t!nnel5 The archaeologists had only )een a)le to con4irm that it contin!ed 4!rther than they themsel(es had )een allo8ed to go5 .9tending in8ards 4rom the so!thern 8all% ho8e(er% I reali3ed that it might 8ell ha(e penetrated into the (ery heart o4 the sacred precincts% ?!ite possi)ly passing directly )eneath the Dome o4 the 'ock a h!ndred or so metres to the north o4 the Al-A?sa os?!e5 The Dome o4 the 'ock% I disco(ered% 8as so named )eca!se 8ithin it lay a h!ge stone% kno8n to the Ee8s as the +hetiyyah <literally the @Bo!ndation@=5 #hen the Temple o4 +olomon had )een erected on this e9act spot in the mid-122s BC% the Ark o4 the Co(enant had )een placed

on the +hetiyyah% 8hich had 4ormed the 4loor o4 the Holy o4 Holies5<3*= Then% in "0* BC% the Temple had )een destroyed )y the Ba)ylonians and most o4 the pop!lation o4 Eer!salem had )een carried o44 into e9ile5 There 8as no e(idence% ho8e(er% to s!ggest that the con?!erors had also carried o44 the ArkJ on the contrary% it appeared to ha(e (anished into thin air5<30= +!)se?!ently a legend )egan to circ!late 8hich pro(ided a possi)le e9planation 4or 8hat had happened A an e9planation that 8as accepted )y most Ee8s5 According to this legend% only moments )e4ore the Ba)ylonian looters had )!rst into the Holy o4 Holies% the sacred relic had )een hidden a8ay in a sealed and secret ca(ern directly )eneath the +hetiyyah5<31= .9pressed as it 8as in a (ariety o4 Talm!dic and idrashic scrolls% and in the pop!lar apocalypse kno8n as the @6ision o4 Bar!ch@<42= A all o4 8hich 8ere still (ery m!ch in circ!lation in Eer!salem in the t8el4th cent!ry AD A it occ!rred to me that the Templars might easily ha(e learned the details o4 this intrig!ing legend5 oreo(er% 8ith a little 4!rther research% I 8as a)le to esta)lish that they co!ld 8ell ha(e done so some years )e4ore 1111 A the date o4 their o44icial arri(al in Eer!salem5 H!gh de :ayens% the 4o!nder o4 the order% had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1124 in the company o4 the Co!nt o4 Champagne5<41= The t8o men had then ret!rned to Brance and 8ere kno8n to ha(e )een together there in 11135<42= Three years later H!gh 8ent )ack to the Holy Land alone<43= and then ret!rned once more A this time to gather together the eight knights 8ho tra(elled 8ith him in 1111 and 8ho 4ormed the n!cle!s o4 the Templar order5 The more I tho!ght a)o!t this se?!ence o4 e(ents the more likely it seemed to me that H!gh and the Co!nt o4 Champagne co!ld% on their 1124 pilgrimage% ha(e heard o4 the startling possi)ility that the Ark o4 the Co(enant might lie concealed some8here 8ithin the Temple o!nt5 I4 so% I spec!lated% then 8as it not also pro)a)le that they co!ld ha(e 4orm!lated a plan to try to reco(er the sacred relic7 And did this not e9plain the determined manner in 8hich the nine knights had taken control o4 the Temple o!nt in 1111 A and also the many other c!riosities o4 their )eha(io!r in the early years o4 the order@s e9istence7 I 4o!nd tangential s!pport 4or this conCect!re in .mma E!ng@s a!thoritati(e st!dy o4 the Grail legend5 There% in an e9c!rs!s% the psychoanalyst arg!ed that the .!ropean occ!pation o4 Eer!salem in the t8el4th cent!ry had )een inspired% at least in part% )y a )elie4 that some p!issant% sacred and incalc!la)ly precio!s relic lay concealed in that city5 As she commented;

This deeply-rooted concept o4 hidden treas!re contri)!ted to the 4act that the s!mmons to li)erate the Holy +ep!lchre a8akened a reso!nding echo RandS imparted RanS in4lammatory moti(e po8er to the Cr!sades A i4 it did not act!ally ca!se them5<44=

There co!ld ha(e )een no treas!re more precio!s or more sacred than the lost Ark o4 the Co(enant A 8hich% in a cent!ry that 8as !n!s!ally o)sessed 8ith the reco(ery o4 religio!s relics%<4"= co!ld 8ell ha(e looked like the !ltimate pri3e5 It there4ore seemed to me not C!st possi)le% )!t act!ally highly pro)a)le% that H!gh de :ayens and his )acker the Co!nt o4 Champagne co!ld indeed ha(e )een moti(ated )y a desire to 4ind the Ark A and that they co!ld

ha(e esta)lished the Templars% and taken control o4 the Temple goal5

o!nt% in order to achie(e this

I4 so% ho8e(er% then they 4ailed in their o)Cecti(e5 In the t8el4th cent!ry% as one e9pert p!t it% @the asset (al!e o4 a 4amo!s relic 8as prodigio!s@5<4&= :ossession o4 a relic as !ni?!ely signi4icant as the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8o!ld% in addition% ha(e )ro!ght enormo!s po8er and prestige to its o8ners5 Brom this it 4ollo8ed% that i4 the Templars had 4o!nd the Ark% they 8o!ld certainly ha(e )ro!ght it )ack to .!rope in tri!mph5 +ince that had not happened it seemed to me ?!ite sa4e to concl!de that they had not 4o!nd it5 Det r!mo!rs persisted that they had 4o!nd something in their se(en years o4 intensi(e digging on the Temple o!nt5 ,one o4 these r!mo!rs had any academic a!thority 8hatsoe(er A )!t some 8ere intrig!ing5 According to one mystical 8ork% 8hich attempted to address 8hat the Templars had really )een !p to in Eer!salem )et8een 1111 and 112&;

The real task o4 the nine knights 8as to carry o!t research in the area in order to o)tain certain relics and man!scripts 8hich contained the essence o4 the secret traditions o4 E!daism and ancient .gypt% some o4 8hich pro)a)ly 8ent )ack to the days o4 oses 5 5 5 There is no do!)t that RtheyS 4!l4illed this partic!lar mission and that the kno8ledge o)tained 4rom their 4inds 8as ta!ght in the oral tradition o4 the >rder@s 5 5 5 secret circles5<4*=

,o doc!mentary proo4 8as o44ered to )ack !p this attracti(e assertion5 In the same so!rce% ho8e(er% I 8as interested to note a name that I had come across se(eral times )e4ore in my research A +aint Bernard o4 Clair(a!9% 8ho here 8as said <again 8itho!t any s!pporting e(idence= to ha(e sent the nine knights to Eer!salem5<40= I already kne8 that Bernard had )een the nephe8 o4 one o4 the nine 4o!nder knights5 I 8as also a8are that he had Coined the Cistercian order in 1112% that he had )ecome an a))ot )y 111"<41= and that he had risen to a position o4 considera)le prominence in Brench religio!s circles )y 1111 8hen the 4irst Templars had arri(ed in Eer!salem5 I there4ore tho!ght that it 8o!ld )e most !n8ise to dismiss o!t o4 hand the possi)ility that he might ha(e played some role in the 4orm!lation o4 their mission5 This s!spicion intensi4ied considera)ly 8hen I )egan to look into 8hat had happened to the Templars a4ter their 4irst c!rio!s se(en years5

A T'AD.->BB7

Late in 112& H!gh de :ayens s!ddenly le4t Eer!salem and ret!rned to .!rope accompanied )y none other than AndrQ de ont)ard%<"2= the !ncle o4 +aint Bernard5 The knights arri(ed in Brance in 112* and% in Ean!ary 1120% participated in 8hat 8as to )e the most signi4icant e(ent in the early history o4 the Templars5 That e(ent 8as the +ynod o4 Troyes% 8hich had )een

con(ened 8ith the e9plicit o)Cecti(e o4 proc!ring the Ch!rch@s o44icial )acking 4or the Templar order5<"1= Three things partic!larly interested me a)o!t this important meeting5 Birst% it took place in the home to8n o4 the poet 8ho% some years later% 8as to in(ent the Holy GrailJ second% it 8as presided o(er )y +aint Bernard% in his capacity as its secretaryJ<"2= and third% d!ring the co!rse o4 the +ynod% it 8as Bernard himsel4 8ho dre8 !p the 4ormal '!le o4 the $nights Templar that% hence4orth% 8as to g!ide the e(ol!tion and de(elopment o4 the order5<"3= I4 my s!spicions 8ere C!sti4ied% there4ore% it seemed that the original nine knights had initially )een preocc!pied 8ith their e9ca(ations on the Temple o!nt in Eer!salem5 #hate(er else they might ha(e !nearthed there% ho8e(er% it had )ecome clear to them )y 112& that they 8ere not going to 4ind the prime o)Cect o4 their search% the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 This reali3ation had made it necessary 4or them to consider their 4!t!re; speci4ically% ha(ing lost their raison d@Mtre% sho!ld they simply cease to e9ist as an order% or sho!ld they try to 4orge ahead7 History sho8ed that they had indeed s!44ered a crisis o4 identity in 112&% that they had resol(ed it and decided to 4orge ahead% and that they had enlisted the po8er4!l s!pport o4 +aint Bernard in this enterprise5 At the +ynod o4 Troyes he dre8 !p their '!le and o)tained the 4!ll )acking o4 the Ch!rch 4or their e9pansion5 And therea4ter% in a series o4 sermons and glo8ing panegyrics s!ch as De la!de no(ae militae%<"4= he (igoro!sly promoted the yo!ng order A th!s !sing his o8n prestige and in4l!ence to g!arantee its s!ccess5 The res!lts 8ere spectac!lar5 ,e8 recr!its 4locked in 4rom all o(er Brance and later 4rom many other parts o4 .!rope as 8ell5 Donations o4 land and money 8ere recei(ed 4rom 8ealthy patrons% and political po8er ?!ickly 4ollo8ed5 By the late t8el4th cent!ry the order had )ecome phenomenally rich% 8as operating a sophisticated international )anking system%<""= and o8ned properties thro!gho!t the kno8n 8orld5 And all this% in a sense% it o8ed to the inter(ention o4 +aint Bernard in 1120 A and to his contin!ed solidarity and s!pport in the years that 4ollo8ed5 Had he played this role on )ehal4 o4 the Templars p!rely o!t o4 a sense o4 altr!ism7 >r had they perhaps gi(en him something in ret!rn7 'emem)ering that the 1132s 8ere the decade in 8hich Gothic architect!re had s!ddenly and mysterio!sly )!rst !pon the scene in Brance% remem)ering that Bernard had )een a prime mo(er in the dissemination o4 the Gothic 4orm!la% and remem)ering too the persistent r!mo!rs that the Templars had gained access in Eer!salem to some deep and ancient so!rce o4 kno8ledge% I co!ld not help )!t 8onder i4 this had )een the trade-o445 To )e s!re% the knights had 4ailed to 4ind the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 B!t 8hat i4% in their e9ca(ations on the Temple o!nt% they had !nearthed scrolls% man!scripts% theorems or )l!eprints relating to +olomon@s Temple itsel47 #hat i4 these disco(eries had incl!ded the lost architect!ral secrets o4 geometry% proportion% )alance and harmony that had )een kno8n to the )!ilders o4 the pyramids and other great mon!ments o4 anti?!ity7 And 8hat i4 the Templars had shared these secrets 8ith +aint Bernard in ret!rn 4or his enth!siastic )acking 4or their order7 These spec!lations 8ere not entirely 8itho!t 4o!ndation5 >n the contrary% one o4 the oddities o4 the Templars 8as the 4act that they had )een great architects5 In 1131% :ope Innocent

II <8hose candidacy% incidentally% had also )een enth!siastically )acked )y +aint Bernard=% <"&= granted the order a !ni?!e pri(ilege A the right to )!ild their o8n ch!rches5<"*= This 8as a pri(ilege that they s!)se?!ently e9ercised to the 4!ll; )ea!ti4!l places o4 8orship% o4ten circ!lar in plan like the Temple Ch!rch in London% )ecame a hallmark o4 Templar acti(ities5 The knights also e9celled in military architect!re and their castles in :alestine 8ere e9ceptionally 8ell designed and (irt!ally impregna)le5 Boremost amongst these imposing 4ortresses 8as Atlit <ChOtea! :QlQrin or Castle :ilgrim= 8hich% I disco(ered% had )een )!ilt in the year 1210 )y the 4o!rteenth Grand aster o4 the Templars% #illiam o4 Chartres<"0= A in 8hose name 8as re(ealed yet another connection to the great Gothic cathedral5 +tanding to the so!th o4 Hai4a on a sp!r o4 land s!rro!nded on three sides )y the sea% Atlit in its heyday 8as 8ell s!pplied 8ith orchards% 4resh 8ater% and (egeta)le gardens and e(en possessed its o8n har)o!r and ship-yard together 8ith a Cetty t8o h!ndred 4eet long5 >4ten )esieged )y the +aracens )!t ne(er capt!red% it had )een capa)le o4 sheltering as many as 4o!r tho!sand people5 Its massi(e 8alls% resting on !n!s!ally deep 4o!ndations% 8ere more than ninety 4eet high and si9teen 4eet thick<"1= A and 8ere so 8ell made that large sections o4 them still s!r(i(e intact5 The site 8as thoro!ghly e9ca(ated )y the archaeologist C5 ,5 Eohns in 11325 He concl!ded that the skills o4 the Templar architects and masons had )een astonishingly ad(anced )y comparison 8ith the norm in the iddle Ages and had% indeed% )een @e9ceptional@ e(en )y modern standards5<&2= The Templars also )!ilt e9tensi(ely in Eer!salem 8here they contin!ed to maintain their head?!arters on the Temple o!nt !ntil the Holy City 8as recapt!red )y the !slim general +aladin in 110*5 I learned that a German monk named Theoderic had made a pilgrimage to Eer!salem in 11*4 A at 8hich time he reported that all the )!ildings 8ithin the precincts o4 the Dome o4 the 'ock 8ere still @in the possession o4 the Templar soldiers@5<&1= He added;

They are garrisoned in these and other )!ildings )elonging to them 5 5 5 Belo8 them they ha(e sta)les once erected )y $ing +olomon 5 5 5 8ith (a!lts% arches% and roo4s o4 many (arieties 5 5 5 According to o!r estimation they 8ill hold ten tho!sand horses 8ith grooms5<&2=

In 4act the @sta)les@ had not )een erected )y $ing +olomon% )!t dated )ack to the reign o4 Herod the Great <aro!nd the time o4 Christ=5 The (a!lts% arches and roo4s% ho8e(er% had )een the 8ork o4 the Templars themsel(es% 8ho greatly e9tended these s!)terranean halls and 8ho 8ere the 4irst and only people to !se them to accommodate horses5<&3= Theoderic@s eye8itness acco!nt o4 the Temple 8ords; o!nt in 11*4 contin!ed 8ith these

>n the other side o4 the palace Ri5e5 the Al-A?sa os?!eS the Templars ha(e )!ilt a ne8 ho!se% 8hose height% length and )readth% and all its cellars and re4ectories% staircase and roo4% are

4ar )eyond the c!stom o4 this land5 Indeed its roo4 is so high that% i4 I 8ere to mention ho8 high it is% those 8ho listen 8o!ld hardly )elie(e me5<&4=

The @ne8 ho!se@ that Theoderic had re4erred to in 11*4 8as% !n4ort!nately% knocked do8n in the 11"2s d!ring some reno(ations !ndertaken on the Temple o!nt )y the !slim a!thorities5 The German monk@s testimony 8as% ho8e(er% (al!a)le in itsel4 A and 8hat I 4o!nd most (al!a)le a)o!t it 8as its )reathless tone5 Clearly he had regarded the Templars@ architect!ral skills as almost s!pernat!rally ad(anced and had )een partic!larly impressed )y the soaring roo4s and arches that they had )!ilt5 'e(ie8ing his statements I tho!ght it 4ar 4rom accidental that soaring roo4s and arches had also )een the disting!ishing 4eat!res o4 the Gothic architect!ral 4orm!la as e9pressed at Chartres and other Brench cathedrals in the t8el4th cent!ry A cathedrals that I kne8 8ere regarded )y some o)ser(ers as @scienti4ically 5 5 5 4ar )eyond 8hat can )e allo8ed 4or in the kno8ledge o4 the epoch@5<&"= And this )ro!ght me )ack again to +aint Bernard o4 Clair(a!95 Looking more thoro!ghly into 8hat 8as kno8n a)o!t his li4e and ideas% I 8as a)le to con4irm my earlier impression that his in4l!ence on the iconography o4 the Gothic cathedrals had )een massi(e% )!t indirect% taking the 4orm mainly o4 gro!ps o4 sc!lpt!res and o4 stained-glass 8indo8s that had )een inspired )y his sermons and 8ritings% o4ten a4ter his death5<&&= Indeed% in his li4etime% Bernard had 4re?!ently opposed the !nnecessary proli4eration o4 images and had stated; @There m!st )e no decoration% only proportion5@<&*= This emphasis on proportion% harmony and )alance in architect!re 8as% I kne8% the key to the strange magic o4 Gothic architect!re and% as I )ecame more 4amiliar 8ith +aint Bernard@s thinking% I reali3ed that it 8as in this area that his in4l!ence on the design o4 Chartres and other cathedrals had )een most pro4o!nd5 In those great edi4ices% the introd!ction o4 a n!m)er o4 remarka)le technical inno(ations like ri))ed (a!lting% ogi(e arches and 4lying )!ttresses had ena)led the )!ilders to !se geometrical per4ection to gi(e e9pression to comple9 religio!s ideas5 Indeed% in a (ery real sense% it seemed that architect!re and 4aith had merged in t8el4th-cent!ry Gothic to 4orm a ne8 synthesis5 This synthesis had )een s!mmed !p )y +aint Bernard himsel4 8hen he had asked @#hat is God7@ A and had then replied to his o8n rhetorical ?!estion 8ith these s!rprising 8ords; @He is length% 8idth% height and depth5@<&0= Gothic architect!re% as I already kne8% had )een )orn at Chartres cathedral 8ith the start o4 constr!ction 8ork on the north to8er in 11345 This% I no8 learned% 8as no accident5 In the years immediately prior to 1134 Bernard had c!lti(ated a partic!larly close 4riendship 8ith Geo44rey the Bishop o4 Chartres%<&1= inspiring him 8ith an @!ncommon enth!siasm@ 4or the Gothic 4orm!la<*2= and holding @almost daily negotiations 8ith the )!ilders themsel(es@5<*1= Interesting tho!gh it 8as in itsel4% the great signi4icance o4 this piece o4 in4ormation 4or my p!rposes lay in the 4act that @the years immediately prior to 1134@ 8ere also the years immediately a4ter the +ynod o4 Troyes% at 8hich +aint Bernard had o)tained o44icial Ch!rch recognition 4or the >rder o4 the :oor $nights o4 Christ and o4 the Temple o4 +olomon5 Historians had ne(er )een a)le to acco!nt ade?!ately 4or the s!dden 8ay in 8hich Gothic architect!re had emerged in Brance in the 1132s5 B!t my earlier spec!lation that the Templars might ha(e had a hand in it no8 looked increasingly pla!si)le5 'e(ie8ing all the e(idence I had

gathered I 4elt satis4ied that they co!ld indeed ha(e !nearthed on the Temple o!nt some repository o4 ancient kno8ledge concerning the science o4 )!ilding% and that they co!ld ha(e passed on 8hat they had learned to +aint Bernard in ret!rn 4or his s!pport5 oreo(er Templar interest in the Ark o4 the Co(enant% and the Templar connections 8ith #ol4ram and 8ith Chartres% also rather neatly tied together the t8o cryptic @maps@ that I )elie(ed I had identi4ied <one car(ed in stone in the north porch o4 the cathedral% the other encoded in the plot o4 :ar3i(al=5 Those @maps@ had appeared to s!ggest that .thiopia 8as the last resting place o4 the Ark5 The ?!estion I no8 needed to address% there4ore% 8as this; ho8 co!ld the Templars ha(e come to the concl!sion that the sacred relic <8hich they had 4ailed to 4ind a4ter se(en years o4 digging in Eer!salem= had in 4act )een remo(ed to .thiopia7 #hat co!ld ha(e led them to think this 8ay7 A possi)le ans8er% I disco(ered% lay in Eer!salem itsel4 A 8here an e9iled .thiopian prince had soCo!rned 4or a ?!arter o4 a cent!ry )e4ore ret!rning to his homeland to claim his kingdom in 110"5<*2= ,ot m!ch more than a decade later #ol4ram )egan to 8rite his :ar3i(al and 8ork started on the north porch o4 Chartres cathedral5

A, .THI>:IA, :'I,C. I, E.'I+AL.

The name o4 the prince 8ho had spent so long in e9ile in Eer!salem 8as Lali)ela5 I )ecame interested in him )eca!se o4 the @letter o4 :rester Eohn@ re4erred to in the last chapter5 That letter had )een 8ritten in 11&" and I kne8 that in 11** :ope Ale9ander III had 8ritten a letter o4 his o8n to @:rester Eohn@ in response to a re?!est 4rom @the :rester@s@ emissaries 4or the concession o4 an altar and a chapel in the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre in Eer!salem5 According to the .ncyclopaedia Britannica% @the only real person@ to 8hom the :ope@s letter co!ld ha(e )een sent 8as the $ing o4 .thiopia5<*3= I had there4ore nat!rally 8ondered 8hich king had sat on the .thiopian throne in 11**5 >n researching the matter I had disco(ered that it had )een a man named Har)ay and that the concession re?!ested had not )een granted to him )!t rather to his s!ccessor% Lali)ela5 ,either Har)ay nor Lali)ela had stemmed 4rom the line o4 monarchs s!pposedly descended 4rom $ing +olomon and the /!een o4 +he)a thro!gh enelik I5 Instead they had )oth )elonged to a !s!rper dynasty kno8n as the Gag8e 8hich had r!led in .thiopia 4rom ro!ghly AD 1232 !ntil 12*2 8hen the +olomonids 8ere 4inally restored to the throne5<*4= This 8as a period o4 .thiopian history a)o!t 8hich (ery little 8as kno8n5 I 8as a)le to con4irm% ho8e(er% that the +olomonic line had )een interr!pted aro!nd AD 102 and that this co!p d@Qtat had )een the 8ork o4 a tri)al chie4tainess named G!dit% 8ho adhered to the Ee8ish 4aith and 8ho seemed to ha(e )een moti(ated a)o(e all else )y a desire to o)literate the Christian religion5 At any rate she attacked A9!m% ra3ed m!ch o4 the ancient city to the gro!nd% and s!cceeded in killing its +olomonic emperor5 T8o o4 the royal princes 8ere also m!rdered )!t a third escaped 8ith his li4e and 4led to the pro(ince o4 +hoa% 4ar to the so!th% 8here he married and prod!ced children% th!s ens!ring the s!r(i(al o4 the old dynasty% altho!gh in m!ch red!ced circ!mstances5<*"=

G!dit 8as the head o4 a large tri)al con4ederation kno8n as the Aga8 A to 8hich the Balashas% the indigeno!s )lack Ee8s o4 .thiopia% also )elonged5<*&= Altho!gh it 8as )y no means certain that she had le4t any direct s!ccessor% historians accepted that 8ithin 4i4ty years o4 her death most o4 northern .thiopia had )een !nited !nder the Gag8e monarchs 8ho% like her% 8ere all o4 Aga8 e9traction5 In its early days this dynasty co!ld A again like G!dit A ha(e )een Ee8ish5<**= I4 so% ho8e(er <and the case 8as not pro(ed=% it had certainly con(erted to Christianity 8ell )e4ore the )irth o4 :rince Lali)ela A 8hich took place in the ancient mo!ntain to8n o4 'oha% in 8hat is no8 the pro(ince o4 #ollo% aro!nd the year 11425 The yo!nger hal4-)rother o4 $ing Har)ay% Lali)ela appeared to ha(e )een destined 4or greatness 4rom the moment 8hen his mother sa8 a dense s8arm o4 )ees s!rro!nding him as he lay in his cri)5 'ecalling an old )elie4 that the animal 8orld co!ld 4oretell the 4!t!re o4 important personages% the legends said that she had )een sei3ed )y the spirit o4 prophecy and had cried o!t @Lali)ela@ A meaning% literally% @the )ees recogni3e his so(ereignty@5<*0= Th!s the prince recei(ed his name5 The prophecy that it e9pressed ca!sed Har)ay to 4ear 4or the sa4ety o4 his throne to s!ch an e9tent that he tried to ha(e Lali)ela m!rdered 8hile he 8as still a )a)e in arms5 This 4irst attempt 4ailed% )!t persec!tions o4 one kind or another contin!ed 4or se(eral years% c!lminating in the administration o4 a deadly poison that pl!nged the yo!ng prince into a cataleptic sleep5 .thiopian legends said that the st!por lasted 4or three days% d!ring 8hich time Lali)ela 8as transported )y angels to the 4irst% second and third Hea(ens5 There he 8as addressed directly )y the Almighty 8ho told him to ha(e no an9iety as to his li4e or 4!t!re so(ereignty5 A :!rpose had )een mapped o!t 4or him% 4or 8hich reason he had )een anointed5 A4ter a8aking 4rom his trance he 8as to 4lee .thiopia and seek re4!ge in Eer!salem5 He co!ld rest sec!re% ho8e(er% that 8hen the time 8as tight he 8o!ld ret!rn as king to 'oha% his )irthplace5 oreo(er it 8as his destiny that he 8o!ld )!ild a n!m)er o4 8onder4!l ch!rches there% the like o4 8hich the 8orld had ne(er seen )e4ore5 God then ga(e Lali)ela detailed instr!ctions as to the method o4 constr!ction that 8as to )e !sed% the 4orm that each o4 the ch!rches 8as to take% their locations and e(en their interior and e9terior decorations5<*1= Legend and history coincided at this point in a single 8ell doc!mented 4act; Lali)ela did indeed s!44er a long period o4 e9ile in Eer!salem 8hile his hal4-)rother Har)ay contin!ed to occ!py the throne o4 .thiopia5<02= This e9ile% I learned% )egan aro!nd the year 11&2 A 8hen Lali)ela 8o!ld ha(e )een a)o!t t8enty years old A and ended in 110" 8hen he ret!rned in tri!mph to his o8n co!ntry% deposed Har)ay and proclaimed himsel4 king5<01= Brom that date on8ards there 8ere relia)le chronicles o4 his r!le% 8hich lasted !ntil AD 12115<02= He made his capital at 'oha% 8here he had )een )orn and 8hich 8as no8 renamed @Lali)ela@ in his hono!r5<03= There% perhaps in 4!l4ilment o4 his legendary (ision% he almost immediately set a)o!t )!ilding ele(en spectac!lar monolithic ch!rches A ch!rches that 8ere literally car(ed o!t o4 solid (olcanic rock <I mysel4 had (isited those ch!rches in 1103 some 8eeks a4ter my trip to A9!m% and had 4o!nd that they 8ere still places o4 li(ing 8orship=5 ,either did Lali)ela 4orget his t8enty-4i(e-year soCo!rn in the Holy Land A many o4 the 4eat!res o4 8hich he attempted to reprod!ce in 'oha-Lali)ela5 Bor e9ample% the ri(er r!nning thro!gh the to8n 8as renamed @Eordan@J one o4 the ele(en ch!rches A Beta Golgotha A 8as

speci4ically designed to sym)oli3e the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre in Eer!salemJ and a near)y hill 8as called De)ra Geit <@ o!nt o4 >li(es@= so that it might represent the place 8here Christ 8as capt!red5<04= ,ot content 8ith making his capital a kind o4 @,e8 Eer!salem@% the .thiopian king also so!ght% thro!gho!t his reign% to maintain close links 8ith Eer!salem itsel45 There 8as% I disco(ered% nothing partic!larly ne8 a)o!t this5 +ince the late 4o!rth cent!ry AD clergy 4rom the .thiopian >rthodo9 Ch!rch had )een permanently stationed in the Holy City5<0"= It had )een a desire to increase and consolidate this presence that had led to Har)ay@s re?!est to :ope Ale9ander III to grant the concession o4 an altar and a chapel in the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre5 ,othing had come o4 that A other than the :ope@s rather tentati(e letter sent in 11** in reply to Har)ay@s initial approach5 A decade later% ho8e(er% there had )een t8o important de(elopments; in 110" Lali)ela had sei3ed the .thiopian throne% and in 110* +aladin had dri(en the Cr!saders o!t o4 the Holy City and had 4orced Eer!salem@s .thiopian comm!nity% together 8ith other .astern Christians% to 4lee to Cypr!s5<0&= The royal chronicles sho8ed that Lali)ela had )een deeply dist!r)ed )y this t!rn o4 e(ents and% in 1101% his en(oys had managed to pers!ade +aladin to allo8 the .thiopians to ret!rn and also to grant them% 4or the 4irst time% a key site o4 their o8n A the Chapel o4 the In(ention o4 the Cross% in the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre5<0*= +!)se?!ently% in relati(ely modern times% these pri(ileges had again )een lostJ in conse?!ence% I learned% A)yssinian pilgrims 8ere no8 o)liged to make their de(otions on the roo4 o4 the chapel A 8here they had esta)lished a monastery5<00= They also still possessed t8o other ch!rches in Eer!salem as 8ell as a s!)stantial :atriarchate sit!ated in the heart o4 the >ld City 8ithin a 4e8 min!tes@ 8alk o4 the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre5 Both in terms o4 4oreign and domestic policy% and also in terms o4 architect!ral e9pression and spirit!al de(elopment% Lali)ela@s reign had represented the 3enith o4 the Gag8e dynasty@s po8ers and achie(ements5 A4ter his death a steep decline set in5 Binally% in AD 12*2% his grandson ,aak!to Laa) 8as pers!aded to a)dicate in 4a(o!r o4 Dek!no Amlak A a monarch claiming +olomonic descent5<01= Therea4ter% !ntil Haile +elassie 8as deposed d!ring the comm!nist re(ol!tion o4 11*4% all )!t one o4 .thiopia@s emperors had )elonged to the royal line that traced its heritage )ack% thro!gh enelik I% to $ing +olomon o4 Eer!salem5 A pattern o4 coincidences 'e(ie8ing 8hat I had learned a)o!t Lali)ela@s ill!strio!s reign% I reali3ed that it 4itted per4ectly into the )eg!iling pattern o4 coincidences that I had already identi4ied as )eing associated 8ith the Cr!sades% 8ith the Templars% and 8ith the t8el4th cent!ry; V At the (ery )eginning o4 the t8el4th cent!ry <or more properly in 1211% the last year o4 the ele(enth cent!ry= Eer!salem 8as sei3ed )y the Cr!saders5 V In 1111 the nine 4o!nding knights o4 the Templar order A all Brench no)lemen A arri(ed in Eer!salem and took !p residence on the site o4 the original Temple o4 +olomon5 V In 1120 +aint Bernard o4 Clair(a!9 8on o44icial ch!rch recognition 4or the Templars at the +ynod o4 Troyes5

V In 1134 8ork started on the north to8er o4 Chartres cathedral% the 4irst-e(er e9ample o4 Gothic architect!re5 V In 114" the name @:rester Eohn@ 8as 4irst heard in .!rope5 V In 11&2 :rince Lali)ela% the 4!t!re monarch o4 .thiopia% arri(ed in Eer!salem as a political e9ile 4leeing the persec!tions o4 his hal4-)rother Har)ay <8ho then occ!pied the throne=5 V In 11&" a letter p!rporting to ha(e )een 8ritten )y @:rester Eohn@ and making a series o4 a8e-inspiring claims a)o!t the si3e o4 his armies% his 8ealth and his po8er% had )een circ!lated in .!rope addressed to @(ario!s Christian kings@5 V In 11** :ope Ale9ander III iss!ed a response to the a)o(e doc!ment )!t% signi4icantly% made re4erence in it to another comm!nication that he had recei(ed some8hat later A a re?!est 4rom @:rester Eohn@ to )e granted an altar in the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre in Eer!salem5 It seemed that this re?!est had )een lodged )y @the :rester@s@ emissaries 8ho had spoken to the :ope@s personal physician :hilip d!ring a (isit that the latter had made to :alestine5 <The @:rester Eohn@ 8ho had asked 4or this concession co!ld only ha(e )een Lali)ela@s hal4-)rother Har)ay 8ho% in 11**% 8as still on the throne o4 .thiopia5= V In 1102 the Holy Grail made its 4irst-e(er appearance in literat!re <and% 4or that matter% in history= in an !ncompleted narrati(e poem )y ChrQtien de Troyes5 V In 110" :rince Lali)ela le4t Eer!salem and ret!rned to .thiopia 8here he s!ccess4!lly deposed Har)ay and sei3ed the throne5 Almost immediately therea4ter he )egan )!ilding a gro!p o4 spectac!lar rock-he8n ch!rches in his capital 'oha A later renamed @Lali)ela@ in his hono!r5 V In 110* Eer!salem 4ell to the !slim 4orces o4 +!ltan +aladin and the Cr!saders 8ere dri(en o!t% along 8ith mem)ers o4 the .thiopian comm!nity in the Holy City A 8ho so!ght temporary re4!ge in Cypr!s5 <+ome Templars also 8ent to Cypr!s A indeed% a4ter the 4all o4 Eer!salem% the knights )o!ght the island 8hich )ecame% 4or a 8hile% their head?!arters5=<12= V In 1101 emissaries sent to +aladin )y $ing Lali)ela managed to pers!ade the !slim general to allo8 the .thiopians to ret!rn to Eer!salem and also to grant them a pri(ilege that they had ne(er enCoyed )e4ore% the same pri(ilege that Har)ay had so!ght 4rom the :ope in 11** A namely a chapel and altar in the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre5 V Bet8een the years 111" and 1222 #ol4ram (on .schen)ach )egan to 8rite :ar3i(al% 8hich contin!ed the earlier 8ork done )y ChrQtien de Troyes and 8hich% in the process% trans4ormed the Grail into a +tone% incorporated many .thiopic elements into the story% and speci4ically mentioned not only @:rester Eohn@ )!t also the Templars5 V At e9actly the same time 8ork started on the north porch o4 Chartres cathedral 8ith its .thiopic /!een o4 +he)a% its Grail <containing a +tone=% and its representation o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 The Templars% Gothic architect!re% the Holy Grail and the notion that some8here in the 8orld there e9isted a po8er4!l non-.!ropean Christian king called @:rester Eohn@ had there4ore all )een the prod!cts o4 the t8el4th cent!ry5 And in that same cent!ry% C!st )e4ore :ar3i(al 8as

8ritten and the north porch o4 Chartres cathedral )!ilt% a 4!t!re Christian king o4 .thiopia A Lali)ela A had ret!rned to his homeland to claim his throne a4ter spending t8enty-4i(e years in Eer!salem5

It seemed to me% 4rom e(erything I had learned% that all these matters m!st ha(e )een intricately connected )y some common 4actor that had remained hidden 4rom history% perhaps )eca!se it had )een deli)erately concealed5 :roo4 positi(e o4 a Templar ?!est 4or the lost Ark o4 the Co(enant% 4irst in Eer!salem and then later in .thiopia% 8o!ld pro(ide that hidden )!t common 4actor A the missing link in the comple9 chain o4 inter-related e(ents% ideas and personalities that I had identi4ied5 I kne8% at least 4or the moment% that I had gone as 4ar as I co!ld 8ith the part o4 my in(estigation that related to Eer!salem5 B!t 8hat a)o!t .thiopia7 #as there really any e(idence at all that the Templars might ha(e gone there to look 4or the Ark A and that they might s!)se?!ently ha(e arranged 4or the res!lts o4 their ?!est to )e encoded )y #ol4ram in the arcane sym)olism o4 his @+tone called the Gral@7

@TH>+. T'.ACH.'>I+ T. :LA'+ 5 5 5@

The 4irst )reakthro!gh came 8hen I recei(ed an .nglish translation o4 the 4!ll te9t o4 the letter s!pposedly 8ritten )y :rester Eohn himsel4 to (ario!s Christian kings in the year 11&"5 Inlike :ope Ale9ander III@s letter to :rester Eohn% 8ritten in 11** <8hich 8as a gen!ine doc!ment intended% as I no8 kne8% 4or Lali)ela@s hal4-)rother Har)ay= the 11&" letter 8as regarded 8ith great s!spicion )y scholars5 Its date 8as a!thentic% )!t it 8as tho!ght most !nlikely that it co!ld ha(e )een 8ritten )y anyone 8ith a real claim to the title :rester Eohn@ A and it 8as there4ore regarded as an ela)orate hoa95<11= As I read it I co!ld !nderstand 8hy5 I4 the 8riter 8as to )e )elie(ed his @realms@ contained% amongst other things; @8ild hares as )ig as sheep@J @)irds called gri44ins 8ho can easily carry an o9 or a horse into their nest@J @horned men 8ho ha(e )!t one eye in 4ront and three or 4o!r in the )ack@J @other men 8ho ha(e hoo4ed legs like horses@J @)o8men 8ho 4rom the 8aist !p are men% )!t 8hose lo8er part is that o4 a horse@J the 4o!ntain o4 yo!thJ a @sandy sea@ 4rom 8hich @e(ery piece o4 de)ris 5 5 5 t!rns into precio!s stones@J @the tree o4 li4e@J @se(en-headed dragons@ A and so on and so 4orth5<12= E!st a)o!t e(ery mythical )east and o)Cect e(er dreamed o4% it seemed% 8as to )e 4o!nd in the land o4 :rester Eohn5 #here e9actly this land 8as located% ho8e(er% 8as no8here speci4ied in the letter A e9cept in the loose re4erence to the @many Indias@ ?!oted in the pre(io!s chapter <a re4erence% as I no8 kne8% that 8as more likely to ha(e applied to .thiopia than to the s!)continent=5 oreo(er% scattered here and there amongst the 4a)!lo!s creat!res 8ere other animals that did seem to )elong to the real 8orld; @elephants@ and @dromedaries@% 4or e9ample% and also @!nicorns@ 8ith @a single horn in 4ront@ 8hich so!nded (ery m!ch like rhinoceroses A all the more so since% apparently% they 8ere sometimes kno8n to @kill lions@5<13= +!ch details made me 8onder 8hether the 8riter o4 the letter might ha(e )een something more than a hoa9er A might% in 4act% ha(e had direct kno8ledge o4 .thiopia <8here% o4 co!rse%

camels% elephants% lions and rhinos 8ere all to )e 4o!nd=5 y s!spicion that this might ha(e )een so deepened 8hen I noticed that mention 8as also made o4 @$ing Ale9ander o4 acedonia@ in a conte9t that linked him to @Gog and agog@5<14= This ca!ght my eye )eca!se I remem)ered that Ale9ander% Gog and agog had )een connected in an almost identical manner in a (ery ancient .thiopic man!script kno8n as the Le4a4a +edek% the @Bandlet o4 'ighteo!sness@%<1"= 8hich 8as s!pposedly !nkno8n o!tside A)yssinia !ntil the nineteenth cent!ry5 Another point o4 interest 8as that @:rester Eohn@ claimed in the letter that his Christian kingdom contained large n!m)ers o4 Ee8s A 8ho seemed to )e semi-a!tonomo!s and 8ith 8hom 8ars 8ere o4ten 4o!ght5 Again this had a certain 4la(o!r o4 gen!ine .thiopian conditions; 4ollo8ing the tenth-cent!ry Ee8ish !prising )y G!dit <8hich had temporarily o(erthro8n the +olomonic dynasty= there had in 4act )een se(eral h!ndred years o4 con4lict )et8een .thiopia@s Ee8s and Christians5<1&= All in all% there4ore% despite the many 4antastic and o)(io!sly apocryphal aspects o4 the letter% I 8as not disposed to )elie(e that it 8as entirely an impost!re5 It seemed to me% 4!rthermore% that its prime o)Cecti(e might ha(e )een to impress and scare the .!ropean po8ers to 8hom it 8as addressed5 In this regard I noted in partic!lar the 4re?!ent re4erences that it made to the si3e o4 @the :rester@s@ armed 4orces A 4or e9ample;

#e ha(e 5 5 5 4orty-t8o castles% 8hich are the strongest and most )ea!ti4!l in the 8orld% and many men to de4end them% to 8it ten tho!sand knights% si9 tho!sand cross)o8men% 4i4teen tho!sand archers% and 4orty tho!sand troopers 5 5 5 #hene(er 8e go to 8ar 5 5 5 kno8 that in 4ront o4 !s there march 4orty tho!sand clerics and an e?!al n!m)er o4 knights5 Then come t8o h!ndred tho!sand men on 4oot% not co!nting the 8agons 8ith pro(isions% and the elephants and camels 8hich carry arms and amm!nition5<1*=

This 8as !nmistaka)ly 4ighting talk% )!t 8hat 8as most nota)le a)o!t it 8as that it 8as closely tied to something else A speci4ic% and hostile% mention o4 the Templars5 In a section apparently intended 4or the @$ing o4 Brance@ the letter s!ggested;

There are Brenchmen among yo!% o4 yo!r lineage and 4rom yo!r retin!e% 8ho hold 8ith the +aracens5 Do! con4ide in them and tr!st in them that they sho!ld and 8ill help yo!% )!t they are 4alse and treachero!s 5 5 5 may yo! )e )ra(e and o4 great co!rage and% pray% do not 4orget to p!t to death those treachero!s Templars5<10=

'e(ie8ing this omino!s s!ggestion in the conte9t o4 the rest o4 the )i3arre letter I asked mysel4 a ?!estion; in the year 11&"% 8hich candidate 4or the role o4 @:rester Eohn@ co!ld possi)ly ha(e had a moti(e <a= to try to 4righten o44 the .!ropean po8ers in general )y )oasting o4 his o8n o(er8helming military strength% and <)= to attempt to smear the $nights Templar in partic!lar and to re?!est that they sho!ld )e @p!t to death@7

The ans8er I came !p 8ith 8as Har)ay% 8ho% in 11&"% had )een the reigning Gag8e monarch o4 .thiopia% and 8ho% as I ha(e already o)ser(ed% had certainly )een the intended recipient o4 the letter 8ritten to :rester Eohn )y :ope Ale9ander III in 11**5 >ne o4 my reasons 4or pinpointing Har)ay as the real a!thor o4 the s!pposedly hoa9 letter o4 11&" 8as terminological5 I had disco(ered% as my research had progressed% that all the Gag8e monarchs had 4a(o!red the !se o4 the .thiopic term Ban in their string o4 titles<11= Deri(ed 4rom Bano% a reddish-p!rple toga 8orn only )y royalty% the 8ord meant @$ing@ or @ aCesty@ and might easily ha(e )een con4!sed 8ith @Eohn@J indeed it co!ld ha(e )een precisely )eca!se o4 this <co!pled 8ith the 4act that se(eral o4 the Gag8e r!lers 8ere also priests= that the phrase @:rester Eohn@ had 4irst )een coined5 B!t there 8as a stronger reason to s!spect Har)ay5 He% a4ter all% had )een a man 8ith a )!rgeoning political pro)lem in the year 11&"5 By then his disa44ected hal4-)rother Lali)ela <8ho 8as e(ent!ally to depose him= had already )een in e9ile in Eer!salem 4or 4i(e years A long eno!gh% I spec!lated% 4or him to ha(e got to kno8 the Templars and to ha(e made 4riends amongst them5 :erhaps he had e(en asked the knights to help him to o(erthro8 Har)ay and perhaps Har)ay had got 8ind o4 this plot5 +!ch a scenario% I tho!ght% 8as not entirely impla!si)le5 The slightly later re?!est to the :ope 4or a concession in the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre <a re?!est presented in :alestine )y @hono!ra)le persons@ o4 @:rester Eohn@s@ kingdom= s!ggested that Har)ay reg!larly sent emissaries to Eer!salemJ s!ch emissaries% there4ore% co!ld easily ha(e picked !p intelligence o4 a conspiracy )re8ing )et8een Lali)ela and the Templars in 11&"5 I4 this had )een 8hat had happened then it 8o!ld !ndo!)tedly go a long 8ay to e9plain the strangely menacing s!ggestion to the $ing o4 Brance that it might )e a good idea i4 he 8ere to ha(e the @treachero!s Templars@ <still mainly Brenchmen at that time= e9ec!ted 4orth8ith5 The @letter o4 :rester Eohn@ A at least according to this hypothesis A 8o!ld there4ore ha(e )een concocted )y Har)ay@s agents in Eer!salem as a deli)erate strategy to deter coll!sion )et8een the Templars and :rince Lali)ela5 This 8as o)(io!sly an attracti(e line o4 reasoning5 It 8as also dangero!sly spec!lati(e% ho8e(er% and I 8o!ld ha(e )een rel!ctant to 4ollo8 it any 4!rther i4 I had not 4o!nd certain passages in :ar3i(al 8hich seemed to con4irm that the Templars might indeed ha(e entered into precisely the sort o4 alliance 8ith Lali)ela that Har)ay 8o!ld ha(e 4eared5

@D..: I,T> AB'ICA 5 5 5@

#ritten some years a4ter Lali)ela had 4orce4!lly deposed Har)ay 4rom the throne o4 .thiopia% :ar3i(al contained a n!m)er o4 direct re4erences to the Templars A 8ho% as I ha(e already noted% 8ere depicted as )eing mem)ers o4 @the Grail Company@5<122= #hat I 4o!nd intrig!ing 8as the speci4ic s!ggestion% 8hich #ol4ram repeated se(eral times% that these Templars 8ere occasionally sent on missions o(erseas A missions that 8ere highly secreti(e and that 8ere to do 8ith 8inning political po8er5 Bor e9ample;

#riting 8as seen on the Gral to the e44ect that any Templar 8hom God sho!ld )esto8 on a distant people 5 5 5 m!st 4or)id them to ask his name or lineage% )!t m!st help them gain their rights5 #hen s!ch a ?!estion is p!t to him the people there cannot keep him any longer5<121=

>r similarly;

I4 a land sho!ld lose its lord% and its people see the hand o4 God in it and ask 4or a ne8 lord 4rom the Gral Company% their prayer is granted 5 5 5 God sends the men o!t in secret5@<122=

This 8as all (ery interesting% )!t the passage that really ca!ght my attention came one page later in a lengthy monolog!e )y a mem)er o4 the Grail Company 8ho spoke% amongst other things% o4 riding @deep into A4rica 5 5 5 past the 'ohas@5<123= +cholars% I disco(ered% had tentati(ely identi4ied @the 'ohas@ 8ith the 'ohitscher Berg in +aanga! +tyria5@<124= B!t this deri(ation looked completely sp!rio!s to me; it 8as not at all s!ggested )y a conte9t that had C!st mentioned A4rica and I 8as ?!ite !ncon(inced )y the reasons gi(en 4or it5<12"= I kne8 something% ho8e(er% that the #ol4ram specialists in !ni(ersities in Germany and .ngland co!ld not ha(e )een e9pected to kno8; 'oha 8as the old name 4or a to8n in the remotest highlands o4 .thiopia A a to8n no8 called Lali)ela in hono!r o4 the great king 8ho 8as )orn there and 8ho made it his capital 8hen he ret!rned to it in tri!mph in the year o4 o!r Lord 110"5 ,either 8as there any reason 4or the e9perts in medie(al German literat!re to ha(e )een a8are that this same Lali)ela had spent the pre(io!s ?!arter o4 a cent!ry in Eer!salem r!))ing sho!lders 8ith the knights o4 a military-religio!s order 8hose head?!arters stood on the site o4 the Temple o4 +olomon A knights 8ho 8o!ld ha(e had a special interest in any contender to the throne o4 a co!ntry 8hich claimed to possess the lost Ark that the Temple had originally )een )!ilt to ho!se5 The ?!estion that I no8 needed to address% there4ore% 8as this; 8as there any e(idence at all to s!ggest that Lali)ela might ha(e )een accompanied )y a contingent o4 Templars 8hen he ret!rned to .thiopia in 110" and deposed Har)ay7 I did not think that the ans8er to this ?!estion 8o!ld )e easy to 4ind5 L!ckily% ho8e(er% I had )een to the to8n o4 Lali)ela in 1103 8hile 8orking on my )ook 4or the .thiopian go(ernment% and I had kept 4ield notes5 I there4ore st!died these notes 8ith great care5 To my s!rprise% I almost immediately came across something o4 interest5 >n the ceiling o4 the rock-he8n ch!rch o4 Beta ariam <yet another place o4 8orship dedicated to +aint ary the other o4 Christ= I had noticed @4aded red-painted crosses o4 the Cr!sader type@5 I had then remarked; @These don@t look at all like any o4 the normal .thiopian crosses A check o!t origins 8hen )ack in Addis5@ I had e(en made a ro!gh sketch o4 one o4

these @Cr!sader crosses@ <8hich had triang!lar arms 8idening o!t8ards=5 And% altho!gh I co!ld not remem)er doing so% I had o)(io!sly 4ollo8ed the matter !p to some e9tent; )eneath the sketch and in a di44erent pen I had later added the technical term croi9 patted5 #hat I had not kno8n in 1103 8as that the Templars@ em)lem A adopted a4ter the +ynod o4 Troyes had gi(en o44icial recognition to the order in 1120 A had )een a red croi9 pattQe5<12&= I did kno8 this in 1101% ho8e(er5 oreo(er I also kne8 that the Templars had )een associated thro!gho!t their history 8ith the constr!ction o4 8onder4!l ch!rches5 Almost ine(ita)ly% 4!rther ?!estions )egan to 4orm in my mind5 By a considera)le margin% the ele(en rock-he8n ch!rches o4 Lali)ela 8ere the most architect!rally ad(anced )!ildings that .thiopia had e(er kno8n <indeed% in the considered opinion o4 I,.+C>% they deser(ed to )e ranked amongst the 8onders o4 the 8orld=5<12*= oreo(er% a certain air o4 mystery cl!ng to them; there 8ere other rock-he8n ch!rches in the co!ntry% to )e s!re% )!t none 8ere e(en o4 a remotely compara)le standard5 Indeed% in terms o4 o(erall conception% o4 8orkmanship% and o4 aesthetic e9pression% the Lali)ela monoliths 8ere !ni?!e5 ,o e9pert had )een a)le to s!ggest e9actly ho8 they had )een )!ilt% and there had )een persistent r!mo!rs o4 4oreign in(ol(ement in their constr!ction5 +e(eral academics had spec!lated that Indians% or .gyptian Copts% had )een hired as masons )y $ing Lali)ela5<120= .thiopian legends% )y contrast% attri)!ted the 8ork to angelsT I no8 had to ask mysel4% ho8e(er% 8hether the tr!e arti4icers o4 the Lali)ela ch!rches might not ha(e )een the Templars5 Certainly% my 1103 4ield notes painted a pict!re o4 a 4antastic architect!ral comple9;

To8ering edi4ices RI had 8ritten S% the ch!rches remain places o4 li(ing 8orship eight h!ndred years a4ter they 8ere )!ilt5 It is important to stress% ho8e(er% that they 8ere not )!ilt at all in the con(entional sense% )!t instead 8ere e9ca(ated and he8n directly o!t o4 the solid red (olcanic t!44 on 8hich they stand5 In conse?!ence% they seem s!perh!man A not only in scale% )!t also in 8orkmanship and in conception5 Close e9amination is re?!ired )e4ore the 4!ll e9tent o4 the achie(ement that they represent can )e appreciated5 This is )eca!se% like medie(al ysteries% considera)le e44orts ha(e )een made to cloak their real nat!res; some lie almost completely concealed 8ithin deep trenches% 8hile others hide in the open mo!ths o4 h!ge ?!arried ca(es5 Connecting them all is a comple9 and )e8ildering la)yrinth o4 t!nnels and narro8 passage8ays 8ith o44set crypts% grottoes and galleries A a cool% lichen-enshro!ded% s!)terranean 8orld% shaded and damp% silent )!t 4or the 4aint echoes o4 distant 4oot4alls as priests and deacons go a)o!t their timeless )!siness5 Bo!r o4 the ch!rches are completely 4ree-standing% )eing attached to the s!rro!nding rock only )y their )ases5 Altho!gh their indi(id!al dimensions and con4ig!rations are (ery di44erent% they all take the 4orm o4 great hills o4 stone% precisely sc!lpt!red to resem)le normal )!ildings5 They are 8holly isolated 8ithin the deep co!rtyards e9ca(ated aro!nd them and the most striking o4 them is Beta Giorghis <the Ch!rch o4 +aint George=5 It rests in maCestic isolation at a considera)le distance 4rom all the others5 +tanding more than 4orty 4eet high in the centre o4 a

deep% almost 8ell-like pit% it has )een he8n )oth e9ternally and internally to resem)le a cross5 Inside there is a 4a!ltless dome o(er the sanct!ary and% thro!gho!t% the cra4tsmanship is s!per)5

I concl!ded my 1103 notes A 4rom 8hich I ha(e copied only the )rie4 e9tract a)o(e A 8ith the 4ollo8ing ?!estion;

+etting aside the assistance s!pposedly pro(ided )y angels% ho8 e9actly 8ere Lali)ela@s 8onders created7 Today% i4 tr!th )e told% no one really kno8s; the techni?!es that made possi)le the e9ca(ation and chiselling o4 stone on so dramatic a scale% and 8ith s!ch per4ection% ha(e long )een lost in the mists o4 history5

In the s!mmer o4 1101% looking )ack at 8hat I had 8ritten si9 years pre(io!sly% I 8as !ncom4orta)ly a8are o4 ho8 little those mists had cleared A and o4 ho8 m!ch there remained 4or me to 4ind o!t5 Int!iti(ely I had a strong 4eeling that the Templars co!ld ha(e )een in(ol(ed in the creation o4 the Lali)ela comple95 The 4act 8as% ho8e(er% that there 8as really nothing to s!pport this (ie8 other than the red @Cr!sader crosses@ that I had o)ser(ed painted on the ceiling o4 +aint ary@s <one o4 the 4o!r completely 4ree-standing ch!rches=5 ,e(ertheless there 8as a gen!ine mystery s!rro!nding the origin o4 the ch!rches5 This mystery 8as re4lected in the ina)ility o4 scholars to e9plain ho8 they had )een e9ca(ated or 8ho their architects co!ld ha(e )een5 It also 4o!nd an echo in the ?!aint insistence o4 some o4 the inha)itants o4 Lali)ela that angels had )een in(ol(ed in the 8ork5 ,o8% as I st!died my 1103 4ield notes I disco(ered that there 8ere other dimensions to the enigma5 Inside +aint ary@s% I had recorded% a priest had taken me close to the (eiled entrance o4 the Holy o4 Holies and there had pointed o!t a tall pillar5 I had descri)ed this pillar in the 4ollo8ing terms;

A)o!t as thick as a good-si3ed tree-tr!nk% it soars !p8ards o!t o4 the rock 4loor and disappears into the gloom a)o(e5 It is completely 8rapped% spiral-4ashion% in a (ery old% discolo!red shro!d o4 cloth that )ears 4aint traces o4 8ashed-o!t dyes5 The priest says that the pillar is sacred and that engra(ed !pon it are certain 8ritings )y $ing Lali)ela himsel45 Apparently these 8ritings tell the secrets o4 ho8 the rock-he8n ch!rches 8ere made5 I asked i4 the cloth co!ld )e dra8n )ack so that I co!ld read these secrets% )!t the poor priest 8as horri4ied5 @That 8o!ld )e sacrilege%@ he told me% @the co(ering is ne(er remo(ed5@

Gallingly% my notes had nothing else to add on this point5 I had gone on to scri))le my little entry on the @Cr!sader crosses@ and then had le4t +aint ary@s 4or the ne9t ch!rch in the comple95

Closing the )attered 4oolscap Cotter that had tra(elled e(ery8here 8ith me in 1103% I 4elt 8hat I can only descri)e as a sense o4 retrospecti(e 4!ry at my earlier lack o4 c!riosity5 There had )een so m!ch in Lali)ela that I had 4ailed to in(estigate5 There had )een so many ?!estions that I sho!ld ha(e asked and had 4ailed to ask5 Golden opport!nities had thro8n themsel(es 8antonly at me 4rom e(ery direction and I had ignored them5 'ather 8earily I t!rned my attention to the he4ty stack o4 primary and secondary re4erence materials that I had acc!m!lated on .thiopia5 The )!lk o4 8hat I had consisted o4 photocopies o4 8orthy )!t irrele(ant academic papers5 There 8as% ho8e(er% one )ook 8hich looked rather promising5 .ntitled The :rester Eohn o4 the Indies% it 8as an .nglish translation o4 the narrati(e o4 the :ort!g!ese em)assy to .thiopia in 1"22 A &5 #ritten )y Bather Brancisco Al(are3% this narrati(e A r!nning to more than 4i(e h!ndred pages A had 4irst )een printed in Lis)on in 1"42 and had )een rendered into .nglish in 1001 )y the ninth Baron +tanley o4 Alderley5 It 8as Lord +tanley@s translation that I had )e4ore me A in a relati(ely ne8 edition iss!ed )y the Hakl!yt +ociety in 11&15 The editors% :ro4essors C5 B5 Beckingham and G5 #5 B5 H!nting4ord o4 the Ini(ersity o4 London% descri)ed Al(are3 as @rarely silly or incredi)le 5 5 5 a kind% tact4!l% sensi)le man 5 5 5 4ree 4rom the dishonesty o4 the tra(eller 8ho tries to e9aggerate his o8n kno8ledge5@ As a res!lt his )ook 8as !ni(ersally regarded )y scholars as )eing @o4 great interest 5 5 5 incompara)ly detailed RandS a (ery important so!rce 4or .thiopian history5@<121= #ith this glo8ing testimonial 4resh in my mind I t!rned to page 22" o4 6ol!me I% 8here Al(are3 )egan his acco!nt o4 his o8n (isit to Lali)ela5 A lengthy ch!rch-)y-ch!rch description 4ollo8ed 8hich I co!ld only admire 4or its e9ha!sti(e detail and 4or its plain% no-nonsense lang!age5 #hat I 4o!nd most striking o4 all 8as ho8 little things seemed to ha(e changed in the 4o!r and a hal4 cent!ries that had elapsed )et8een Al(are3@s (isit and my o8n5 .(en the co(ering on the pillar in +aint ary@s had )een thereT A4ter gi(ing an acco!nt o4 other aspects o4 that ch!rch the :ort!g!ese tra(eller had added; @It had )esides a high col!mn in the cross o4 the transept o(er 8hich is 4i9ed a canopy% the tracery o4 8hich looks as i4 it had )een stamped in 8a95@<112= 'e4erring to the 4act that all the ch!rches 8ere @entirely e9ca(ated in the li(ing rock% (ery 8ell he8n@ Al(are3 e9claimed at one point;

I 8eary o4 8riting more a)o!t these )!ildings% )eca!se it seems to me that I shall not )e )elie(ed i4 I 8rite more% and )eca!se regarding 8hat I ha(e already 8ritten they may )lame me 4or !ntr!th5 There4ore I s8ear )y God% in 8hose po8er I am% that all I ha(e 8ritten is the tr!th% to 8hich nothing has )een added% and there is m!ch more than 8hat I ha(e 8ritten% and I ha(e le4t it that they may not ta9 me 8ith its )eing 4alsehood% so great 8as my desire to make kno8n this splendo!r to the 8orld5<111=

Like the good reporter he !ndo!)tedly 8as% Al(are3 talked to some o4 the senior priests at the end o4 his (isit A a (isit% it is 8orth remem)ering% that 8as made only three and a hal4 cent!ries a4ter the ch!rches 8ere )!ilt5 Ama3ed )y e(erything he had seen% the :ort!g!ese cleric

asked his in4ormants i4 they kne8 ho8 long the car(ing and e9ca(ation o4 the monoliths had taken and 8ho had carried o!t the 8ork5 The reply he 8as gi(en% !nenc!m)ered )y later s!perstitions% ca!sed my p!lse to race;

They told me that all the 8ork on these ch!rches 8as done in t8enty-4o!r years% and that this is 8ritten% and that they 8ere made )y 8hite men 5 5 5 They say that $ing Lali)ela ordered this to )e done5<112=

Coming at the end o4 e(erything else I had learned% I 4elt that I co!ld not disregard this p!re and early piece o4 testimony5 To )e s!re% the history )ooks on my shel(es made no mention o4 any @8hite men@ going to .thiopia )e4ore the time o4 Al(are3 himsel45 That% ho8e(er% did not r!le o!t the possi)ility that 8hite men had gone A 8hite men 8ho had )elonged to a militaryreligio!s order that 8as reno8ned 4or its international o!treach and 4or its secreti(enessJ 8hite men 8ho% in the 8ords o4 #ol4ram (on .schen)ach% 8ere @4ore(er a(erse to ?!estioning@J<113= 8hite men 8ho 8ere sometimes sent to @distant people 5 5 5 to 5 5 5 help them gain their rights@J<114= 8hite men 8hose head?!arters in the t8el4th cent!ry had stood o(er the 4o!ndations o4 the Temple o4 +olomon in Eer!salem5 The priests@ strange statement a)o!t the @8hite men@ 8ho had come to Lali)ela there4ore str!ck me as )eing a matter o4 the !tmost importance5 A)o(e all else% it strengthened my con(iction that #ol4ram had )een ind!lging in something more than mere 8himsy 8hen% in :arsi(al% he had linked the Templars so closely to his Grail cryptogram and to .thiopia5 He had ne(er% any8ay% )een a 8himsical 8riterJ on the contrary he had )een pragmatic% cle(er and highly 4oc!ssed5 I th!s no8 4elt increasingly con4ident that my s!spicions a)o!t him 8ere C!sti4ied and that he had indeed )een admitted to the inner circles o4 a great and terri)le mystery A the secret o4 the last resting place o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 :erhaps thro!gh the good o44ices o4 his @so!rce@% the Templar acolyte G!yot de :ro(ins% or perhaps )y means o4 a more direct contact% he had )een commissioned )y the order to encrypt that secret in a compelling story that 8o!ld go on )eing told and retold 4or cent!ries5 #hy sho!ld the Templars ha(e 8anted #ol4ram to do s!ch a thing7 I co!ld think o4 at least one possi)le ans8er5 #ritten do8n and placed in some 4orm o4 container <a chest )!ried in the gro!nd 4or e9ample=% the secret o4 the Ark@s 8herea)o!ts might easily ha(e )een lost or 4orgotten 8ithin a cent!ry or so% and 8o!ld then only ha(e come to light i4 some)ody physically d!g it !p again5 Cle(erly encoded in a pop!lar (ehicle s!ch as :ar3i(al% ho8e(er <8hich% I disco(ered% had )een translated into almost all modern lang!ages and reprinted in .nglish 4i(e times in the 1102s in the :eng!in Classics edition alone=% the same secret 8o!ld ha(e stood an e9cellent chance o4 )eing preser(ed inde4initely in 8orld c!lt!re5 In this 8ay% thro!gh all the passing cent!ries% it 8o!ld ha(e contin!ed to )e a(aila)le to those 8ith the capacity to decipher #ol4ram@s code5 It 8o!ld% in short% ha(e )een hidden in 4!ll (ie8% enCoyed )y all as a @cracking good yarn@% )!t accessi)le only to a 4e8 A initiates% insiders% determined seekers A as the treas!re map that it really 8as5

CHA:T.' & '.+>L6I,G D>IBT+

y (isit to Chartres cathedral and my readings o4 #ol4ram@s :ar3i(al d!ring the spring and s!mmer o4 1101 had opened my eyes to many things that I had missed )e4ore A nota)ly to the re(ol!tionary possi)ility that the $nights Templar co!ld ha(e made an e9pedition to .thiopia in the t8el4th cent!ry in search o4 the lost Ark5 As e9plained in Chapter "% I did not 4ind it di44ic!lt to see ho8 and 8hy they might ha(e )een moti(ated to do that5 B!t 8hat I no8 needed to esta)lish 8as this; other than the Templar @?!est@ that I tho!ght I had identi4ied% 8as there really any con(incing e(idence to s!ggest that the last resting place o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant might act!ally )e in the sanct!ary chapel at A9!m7 A4ter all% there 8ere literally h!ndreds o4 cities and ch!rches aro!nd the 8orld 8hich )oasted o4 possessing holy relics o4 one kind or another A 4ragments o4 the Tr!e Cross% Christ@s shro!d% the 4inger-)one o4 +aint +e)astian% the lance o4 Longin!s% and so on and so 4orth5 In almost e(ery case 8here a proper in(estigation had )een cond!cted s!ch )oasts had t!rned o!t to )e hollo85 #hy% there4ore% sho!ld A9!m )e any di44erent7 The 4act that its citi3ens o)(io!sly )elie(ed their o8n legends certainly didn@t pro(e anything A e9cept% perhaps% that they 8ere a s!scepti)le and s!perstitio!s lot5 And% on the 4ace o4 things% there seemed to )e se(eral good reasons 4or concl!ding that the .thiopians did not possess the Ark o4 the Co(enant5


Birst and 4oremost% in the mid-nineteenth cent!ry% a legate o4 the Armenian :atriarch had (isited A9!m determined to pro(e that the tradition o4 the Ark@s presence there% @8hich the 8hole o4 A)yssinia )elie(ed to )e the tr!th@% 8as in 4act @an appalling lie@5<1= A4ter p!tting some press!re on the A9!mite priests% the legate A 8hose name 8as Dimotheos A had )een sho8n a sla) o4 @reddish-colo!red mar)le% t8enty-4o!r centimetres long% t8enty-t8o centimetres 8ide and only three centimetres thick@<2= 8hich the priests had said 8as one o4 the t8o ta)lets o4 stone contained 8ithin the Ark5 They had not sho8n him the o)Cect )elie(ed )y .thiopians to )e the Ark itsel4 and had clearly hoped that he 8o!ld )e satis4ied 8ith a glimpse o4 the ta)let A 8hich they had re4erred to as @the Ta)ot o4 oses@5<3= Dimotheos had indeed )een satis4ied5 He reported 8ith the o)(io!s pleas!re o4 a man 8ho has C!st de)!nked a great myth;

The stone 8as (irt!ally intact% and sho8ed no sign o4 age5 At the most it dated 4rom the thirteenth or 4o!rteenth cent!ry o4 the present era 5 5 5 +t!pid people like the A)yssinians 8ho )lindly accept this stone as the original are )asking in a !seless glory )y possessing it% R4or it isS

not the tr!e original at all5 Those that kno8 the Holy +cript!res do not re?!ire any 4!rther proo4 o4 this; the 4act is that the ta)lets on 8hich the di(ine la8s 8ere inscri)ed 8ere placed inside the Ark o4 the Co(enant and lost 4ore(er5<4=

#hat 8as I to make o4 this7 I4 the sla) o4 stone sho8n to the Armenian legate had really come 4rom the relic claimed )y the A9!mites to )e the Ark o4 the Co(enant then he 8as right to s!ggest that they 8ere )asking in !seless glory% )eca!se it 8ent 8itho!t saying that something made in @the thirteenth or 4o!rteenth cent!ry o4 the present era@ co!ld not possi)ly ha(e )een one o4 the t8o @ta)lets o4 the la8@ on 8hich the Ten Commandments had s!pposedly )een inscri)ed more than t8el(e h!ndred years )e4ore the )irth o4 Christ5 In other 8ords% i4 the contents 8ere )og!s then it 4ollo8ed that the container m!st )e )og!s too% 8hich meant that the entire A9!mite tradition 8as indeed @an appalling lie@5 B!t that 8as a concl!sion% I 4elt% that it 8o!ld )e premat!re to accept )e4ore attempting to 4ind the ans8er to an important ?!estion; had Dimotheos )een sho8n the o)Cect )elie(ed to )e the gen!ine Ta)ot o4 oses% or had he in 4act )een sho8n something else7 This ?!estion 8as partic!larly pertinent )eca!se the Armenian legate had so o)(io!sly )een a44ronted and o!traged )y the possi)ility that a people as @st!pid@ as the .thiopians might possess a relic as precio!s as the Ark o4 the Co(enant A and had there4ore (ery m!ch 8anted to pro(e that they did not5 oreo(er% as I read and re-read his acco!nt% it )ecame apparent to me that his desire to (indicate his o8n preC!dices had o(er-ridden any proper in(estigati(e spirit on his part A and that he had also a)sol!tely 4ailed to recogni3e the s!)tle and de(io!s nat!re o4 the .thiopian character5 #hen he had (isited A9!m in the 10&2s the specially dedicated sanct!ary chapel had not yet )een )!ilt<"= and the Ark A or the o)Cect )elie(ed to )e the Ark A 8as still kept in the Holy o4 Holies o4 the ch!rch o4 +aint ary o4 Gion <8here% in the se(enteenth cent!ry% it had )een installed )y .mperor Basilidas a4ter the reconstr!ction o4 that great edi4ice=<&=5 Dimotheos% ho8e(er% had not )een permitted to enter the Holy o4 Holies5 Instead he had )een taken to a rickety 8ooden o!t)!ilding @sit!ated 8ith some other rooms o!tside the ch!rch on the le4t@5<*= it had )een in this o!t)!ilding that the @reddish-colo!red mar)le stone@ had )een re(ealed to him5<0= Beca!se o4 this it seemed to me that there 8as a (ery high degree o4 pro)a)ility that the Armenian legate had )een d!ped )y the priests5 The Ark% I kne8% 8as regarded as !ni?!ely sacred )y the .thiopian >rthodo9 Ch!rch5 It 8as there4ore inconcei(a)le that it% or any part o4 its contents% 8o!ld ha(e )een remo(ed e(en temporarily 4rom the Holy o4 Holies o4 +aint ary o4 Gion !nless there had )een some e9tremely compelling reason5 The (oye!ristic 8him o4 a (!lgar 4oreigner 8o!ld certainly not ha(e ?!ali4ied as s!ch a reason5 At the same time% ho8e(er% this 4oreigner had )een an emissary o4 the Armenian :atriarch in Eer!salem and it 8o!ld there4ore ha(e )een tho!ght 8ise to treat him 8ith a certain amo!nt o4 respect5 #hat to do7 The ans8er% I s!spected% 8as that the priests had decided to sho8 him one o4 the many ta)ots kept at A9!m5 And )eca!se he had so 4orce4!lly e9pressed his 8ish to see something connected to the Ark% i4 not the Ark itsel4% it 8o!ld only ha(e )een kindly and polite to massage his ears 8ith 8ords that he o)(io!sly (ery m!ch 8anted to hear% namely that 8hat he 8as )eing sho8n 8as the @original Ta)ot o4 oses@5

,eeding to )e s!re that I 8as right a)o!t this I made a long-distance telephone call to Addis A)a)a% 8here :ro4essor 'ichard :ankh!rst A my co-a!thor on the go(ernment )ook in 1103 A 8as no8 li(ing <he had mo(ed )ack to the city in 110* to take !p his old post at the Instit!te o4 .thiopian +t!dies=5 A4ter telling him a little a)o!t my re-a8akened interest in the A9!mite tradition concerning the Ark o4 the Co(enant% I asked him a)o!t the Dimotheos incident5 Did he think that the Ta)ot that the Armenian legate had )een sho8n co!ld act!ally ha(e )een one o4 the o)Cects )elie(ed )y .thiopians to ha(e )een placed in the Ark )y oses7 @ ost !nlikely%@ 'ichard replied5 @They 8o!ldn@t sho8 s!ch a sacred thing to any o!tsider5 Besides% I@(e read Dimotheos@s )ook and it@s 4!ll o4 mistakes and misapprehensions5 He 8as a pompo!s man% pretty !nscr!p!lo!s in his dealings 8ith the .thiopian >rthodo9 Ch!rch% and not entirely honest5 I imagine the A9!m clergy 8o!ld ha(e seen thro!gh him (ery ?!ickly and 4o))ed him o44 8ith some other ta)ot that 8asn@t o4 any great importance to them5@ #e talked 4or some time longer and 'ichard s!pplied me 8ith the names and telephone n!m)ers o4 t8o .thiopian scholars 8ho he tho!ght might )e a)le to help me 8ith my research A Dr Belai Gedai <8ho had spent se(eral years making an e9ha!sti(e st!dy o4 his co!ntry@s ancient history% dra8ing hea(ily on rare Amharic and Ge@e3 doc!ments= and Dr +erge8 Ha)le-+elassie o4 the Instit!te o4 .thiopian +t!dies% the a!thor o4 a highly respected 8ork entitled Ancient and edie(al .thiopian History to 12*2<1= 8ith 8hich I 8as already 4amiliar5 The ?!estion o4 8hat Dimotheos had or had not seen in A9!m 8as still (ery m!ch at the 4ore4ront o4 my mind and I decided that I 8o!ld p!t the pro)lem to Ha)le-+elassie5 I there4ore called him% introd!ced mysel4% and asked 4or his opinion on the matter5 He la!ghed; @#ell certainly that 4ello8 did not see the original Ta)ot o4 oses5 To satis4y his 8ish the priests sho8ed him a s!)stit!te A not the real one 5 5 5 Here in .thiopia it is normal 4or each ch!rch to ha(e more than one ta)ot5 In 4act some ha(e as many as ten or t8el(e% 8hich they !se 4or di44erent ceremonial p!rposes5 +o he 8o!ld ha(e )een sho8n one o4 these5 There@s no do!)t a)o!t that at all5@ The con4ident nat!re o4 the historian@s response laid to rest any remaining !ncertainty that I may ha(e 4elt a)o!t the merits o4 the Armenian legate@s testimony5 The @reddish-colo!red mar)le stone@ that he had seen had no (al!e as e(idence either 4or or against .thiopia@s claim to possess the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 ,e(ertheless his acco!nt o4 his (isit to A9!m had raised another complicated reser(ation in my mind A a reser(ation to do 8ith the 8hole iss!e o4 ta)ots as a category o4 sacred o)Cects5 As 4ar as I 8as a8are these o)Cects 8ere s!pposed to )e replicas o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant A 8hich% as I kne8 (ery 8ell% had )een a )o9 a)o!t the si3e o4 a teachest5 Det the small mar)le sla) that Dimotheos had )een sho8n had )een called a ta)ot and it had )een descri)ed as one o4 the ta)lets o4 stone contained inside the Ark5 This 8as something that I really needed to clari4y5 .(ery .thiopian ch!rch had its o8n ta)ot <and% as I no8 kne8% they sometimes had se(eral=5 B!t 8ere these ta)ots really s!pposed to )e replicas o4 the sacred o)Cect% tho!ght to )e the Ark% that 8as kept in the sanct!ary chapel in A9!m7 I4 that 8ere the case% and i4 all ta)ots 8ere 4lat sla)s% then the implication 8as that that sacred o)Cect% too% m!st )e a 4lat sla) A 8hich meant that it co!ld not )e the Ark <altho!gh it might possi)ly )e one o4 the ta)lets o4 the la8 on 8hich the Ten Commandments had )een inscri)ed=5

Certainly the ta)ots that I had seen o(er my many years o4 ac?!aintance 8ith .thiopia had all )een sla)s rather than )o9es A sla)s that had )een made sometimes o4 8ood% and sometimes o4 stone5 And certainly% also% it had )een this (ery characteristic that had led the scholar Helen Adol4 to concl!de that #ol4ram (on .schen)ach m!st ha(e had some kno8ledge o4 ta)ots 8hen he had de(ised his Grail +tone5<12= That 8as all (ery 8ell A i4 ta)ots 8ere meant to represent the stone ta)lets that the Ark had contained5 >n the other hand% i4 these o)Cects 8ere tho!ght o4 as replicas o4 the Ark itsel4 then the A9!mite claim to that relic 8o!ld )e se(erely damaged5 I co!ld hardly 4orget that it had )een precisely this pro)lem A )ro!ght starkly to my attention a4ter my (isit to the British !se!m .thnographic +tore in 1103 A that had ca!sed me to a)andon my initial research into the great mystery that 8as no8 clamo!ring 4or my attention once again5 Be4ore going any 4!rther% there4ore% I 4elt that it 8as imperati(e to esta)lish once and 4or all e9actly 8hat ta)ots 8ere s!pposed to )e5 To this end I telephoned Dr Belai Gedai% the other .thiopian scholar 8hom 'ichard :ankh!rst had recommended to me5 A4ter introd!cing mysel4 I got straight to the point; @Do yo! )elie(e%@ I asked% @that the Ark o4 the Co(enant is in .thiopia7@ @Des%@ he replied emphatically5 @,ot only me )!t all .thiopians )elie(e that the Ark o4 the Co(enant is in .thiopia% kept in the ch!rch o4 +aint ary o4 Gion in A9!m5 It 8as )ro!ght here a4ter the (isit o4 .mperor enelik I to his 4ather +olomon in Eer!salem5@ @And 8hat a)o!t the .thiopian 8ord ta)ot7 Does that mean FArkF7 Are ta)ots s!pposed to )e replicas o4 the Ark in A9!m7@ @In o!r lang!age the correct pl!ral o4 ta)ot is ta)otat5 And% yes% they are replicas5 Beca!se there is only one original Ark and )eca!se the ordinary people need something tangi)le to 8hich they may attach their 4aith% all the other ch!rches make !se o4 these replicas5 There are no8 more than t8enty tho!sand ch!rches and monasteries in .thiopia and e(ery one o4 them has at least one ta)ot5@ @That@s 8hat I tho!ght5 B!t I@m p!33led5@ @#hy7@ @ ainly )eca!se none o4 the ta)otat I@(e seen looked anything like the )i)lical description o4 the Ark5 They 8ere all sla)s% sometimes made o4 8ood% sometimes made o4 stone% and none o4 them 8ere m!ch more than a 4oot long and 8ide or more than t8o or three inches thick5 I4 o)Cects like these are s!pposed to )e replicas o4 the relic kept in the ch!rch o4 +aint ary o4 Gion in A9!m then the logical ded!ction is that that relic can@t )e the Ark o4 the Co(enant a4ter all 5 5 @#hy7@ @Beca!se o4 the )i)lical description5 .9od!s clearly depicts the Ark as a 4air-si3ed rectang!lar chest5 Hang on% I@ll look !p the details555@ I took do8n my copy o4 the Eer!salem Bi)le 4rom the )ookshel4 a)o(e my desk% t!rned to Chapter 3* o4 .9od!s% 4o!nd the rele(ant passage% and read o!t ho8 the arti4icer Be3aleel had )!ilt the Ark according to the di(ine plan gi(en to him )y oses;

Be3aleel made the Ark o4 acacia 8ood% t8o and a hal4 c!)its long% one and a hal4 c!)its 8ide% one and a hal4 c!)its high5 He plated it% inside and o!t% 8ith p!re gold5<11=

@Ho8 long e9actly is a c!)it7@ Gedai asked5 @Appro9imately the length o4 a 4orearm 4rom the el)o8 to the tip o4 the middle 4inger A in other 8ords a)o!t eighteen inches5 +o that means the Ark 8o!ld ha(e )een a)o!t three 4eet nine inches in length and t8o 4eet three inches in 8idth and depth5 Ta)otat simply don@t 4it those dimensions5 They@re m!ch too small5@ @Do! are right%@ Gedai m!sed5 @,e(ertheless 8e do ha(e the original Ark o4 the Co(enant5 This is certain5 In 4act there is e(en an eye8itness description5@ @Do! mean the one gi(en )y the Armenian legate Dimotheos7@ @,o% no5 Certainly not5 He sa8 nothing5 I am re4erring to someone 8ho came m!ch earlier% a geographer named A)! +alih A 8ho 8as also an Armenian% )y the 8ay5 He li(ed in the (ery early thirteenth cent!ry and he made a s!r(ey o4 Christian ch!rches and monasteries5 These ch!rches and monasteries 8ere mainly in .gypt5 In addition% ho8e(er% he (isited some neigh)o!ring co!ntries% incl!ding .thiopia% and his )ook contains material on these co!ntries as 8ell5 That is 8here the description o4 the Ark is gi(en5 I4 I remem)er correctly it does accord ?!ite 8ell 8ith 8hat yo! ha(e C!st read me 4rom .9od!s5@ @This )ook o4 A)! +alih@s7 Has it e(er )een translated into .nglish7@ @>h yes5 A (ery good translation 8as made in the nineteenth cent!ry5 Do! sho!ld )e a)le to 4ind a copy5 The editor 8as a certain r .(etts5 T8o days later I emerged tri!mphantly 4rom the stacks o4 the li)rary o4 the +chool o4 >riental and A4rican +t!dies in London5 In my hand 8as B5 T5 .(etts@s translation o4 A)! +alih@s mon!mental Ch!rches and onasteries o4 .gypt and some ,eigh)o!ring Co!ntries5<12= >n page 204% in small print% I 4o!nd the s!)heading @A)yssinia@ 4ollo8ed )y eight pages o4 o)ser(ations and comments5 Amongst them 8as this re4erence;

The A)yssinians possess the Ark o4 the Co(enant% in 8hich are the t8o ta)les o4 stone inscri)ed )y the 4inger o4 God 8ith the commandments 8hich he ordained 4or the Children o4 Israel5 The Ark o4 the Co(enant is placed !pon the altar% )!t is not so 8ide as the altarJ it is as high as the knee o4 a man and is o(erlaid 8ith gold5<13=

I )orro8ed a r!ler 4rom the li)rarian and meas!red my o8n leg 4rom the sole o4 my 4oot to my knee; t8enty-three inches5 This% I 4elt% 8as close eno!gh to the t8enty-se(en inches gi(en in .9od!s to )e signi4icant A partic!larly i4 the statement @as high as the knee o4 a man@ had

re4erred to a man 8earing shoes or )oots5 I kne8 that s!ch a ro!gh meas!re co!ld ne(er )e concl!si(e as a piece o4 e(idenceJ on the other hand it )y no means e9cl!ded the possi)ility that the Armenian geographer had seen the original Ark o4 the Co(enant 8hen he had made his (isit to .thiopia in the thirteenth cent!ry5 And any8ay% 4rom my point o4 (ie8% the real importance o4 the acco!nt that he had gi(en 8as this; it indisp!ta)ly descri)ed a s!)stantial )o9 or chest co(ered 8ith gold rather than a sla) o4 8ood or stone a 4e8 inches thick like the ta)otat that I had seen A or% 4or that matter% like the ta)ot that had )een sho8n to Dimotheos in the nineteenth cent!ry5 .?!ally signi4icantly% A)! +alih had gi(en some details a)o!t ho8 the o)Cect that he had seen had )een !sed )y the Christians o4 A9!m;

The lit!rgy is cele)rated !pon the Ark 4o!r times in the year% 8ithin the palace o4 the kingJ and a canopy is spread o(er it 8hen it is taken o!t 4rom its o8n ch!rch to the ch!rch 8hich is in the palace o4 the king; namely on the 4east o4 the great ,ati(ity% on the 4east o4 the glorio!s Baptism% on the 4east o4 the Holy 'es!rrection% and on the 4east o4 the ill!minating cross5<14=

There co!ld% it seemed to me% )e no ?!estion )!t that this early and ?!ite matter-o4-4act eye8itness acco!nt pro(ided considera)le s!pport 4or .thiopia@s claim to )e the last resting place o4 the gen!ine Ark o4 the Co(enant5 The dimensions and appearance 8ere ro!ghly right and e(en A)! +alih@s description o4 the 8ay in 8hich the relic that he had seen had )een co(ered 8ith a @canopy@ 8hen transported 8as in accord 8ith the reg!lations laid do8n in the Bi)le;

And 8hen the camp setteth 4or8ard 5 5 5 they shall take do8n the co(ering (eil and co(er the Ark 8ith it5 And they shall 5 5 5 spread o(er it a cloth5<1"=

+o 4ar so good5 B!t tho!gh the Armenian geographer 8as help4!l% he still did not pro(ide me 8ith any ans8er to the knotty pro)lem posed )y the shape o4 that category o4 o)Cects kno8n as ta)otat5 ,or 8as this pro)lem one that I co!ld a44ord to ignore5 I there4ore decided to check o!t the etymology o4 the .thiopic 8ord5 In its p!re and original 4orm% I 8ondered% did ta)ot act!ally mean @Ark@7 >r did it mean @stone ta)let@7 >r did it mean something else altogether7 y in(estigation into this matter took me into intellect!al territory that I had ne(er charted )e4ore <and that I 8o!ld pre4er ne(er to ha(e to chart again=% namely ling!istics5 :lo!ghing thro!gh reams o4 o)sc!re and )oring doc!ments I esta)lished that the ancient .thiopian lang!age kno8n as Ge@e3% together 8ith its modern and 8idely spoken descendant Amharic% are )oth mem)ers o4 the +emitic 4amily o4 lang!ages% to 8hich He)re8 also )elongs5 <1&= I then learned that the 8ord most 4re?!ently !sed in )i)lical He)re8 to re4er to the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as @aron%<1*= 8hich o)(io!sly )ore no similarity 8hatsoe(er to ta)ot5 There 8as

another He)re8 8ord% ho8e(er A te)ah A 4rom 8hich scholars agreed that the .thiopic ta)ot had !ndo!)tedly )een deri(ed5<10= I ne9t so!ght to con4irm 8hether this 8ord te)ah had 4eat!red in the He)re8 >ld Testament% and% a4ter 4!rther research% I disco(ered that it had A tho!gh only t8ice5 +igni4icantly% in )oth cases% it had )een !sed to re4er to a ship-like container 4irst the ark o4 ,oah 8hich contained the s!r(i(ors o4 the h!man race a4ter the 4lood%<11= and secondly the ark o4 )!lr!shes 8hich contained the in4ant oses a4ter his mother had set him adri4t on the ,ile to sa(e him 4rom the 8rath o4 :haraoh5<22= T!rning to the $e)ra ,agast I then 4o!nd one passage in 8hich the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as speci4ically descri)ed as @the )elly o4 a ship 5 5 5 T8o c!)its and hal4 a c!)it shall )e the length thereo4% and a c!)it and hal4 a c!)it the )readth thereo4% and tho! shalt co(er it 8ith p!re gold% )oth the o!tside thereo4 and the inside thereo45@<21= #ithin this @)elly o4 a ship@% 4!rthermore% 8ere to )e placed @the T8o Ta)les 8hich 8ere 8ritten )y the 4inger o4 God@5<22= +!ch lang!age le4t no room 4or do!)t5 Both in terms o4 its etymology and its early !sage the .thiopic 8ord ta)ot !nam)ig!o!sly connoted the )i)lical Ark o4 the Co(enant in its original 4orm as a gold-co(ered container A a 4orm 4or 8hich the @)elly o4 a ship@ co!ld ser(e as a cle(er metaphor capa)le not only o4 s!mmoning !p an image o4 the o)Cect )!t also o4 linking it concept!ally to earlier @ships@; the ark o4 ,oah and the ark o4 )!lr!shes% 8hich o4 co!rse had )oth also contained sacred and precio!s things5 By the same token% ho8e(er% ta)ot de4initely did not mean or in any 8ay connote 4lat solid sla)s o4 8ood or stone5 +o there 8as still a gen!ine mystery here5 That mystery% ho8e(er% 8as 4inally resol(ed 4or me )y :ro4essor .d8ard Illendor44% Bello8 o4 the British Academy and the 4irst inc!m)ent o4 the Chair o4 .thiopian +t!dies at the Ini(ersity o4 London5 ,o8 retired and li(ing in >94ord% this reno8ned scholar insisted that he co!ld see no di44ic!lty in e9plaining ho8 sla)s o4 8ood or stone had come to )e re4erred to as @Arks@ )y the .thiopians; The gen!ine Ark is s!pposed to rest at A9!mJ all other ch!rches can only possess replicas5 In most cases they are not% ho8e(er% replicas o4 the 8hole Ark% )!t merely o4 its s!pposed contents% i5e5 the ta)lets o4 the La8 5 5 5 In other 8ords; the description o4 these stone or 8ooden ta)lets as ta)otat is simply )y 8ay o4 a pars pro toto re4erring to the most important part o4 the Ark% the ta)les o4 the Co(enant5<23=

BLI.+ I, A B.'

By eliminating an apparent contradiction% Illendor44@s sol!tion to the ta)ot pro)lem li4ted one o4 the clo!ds o4 do!)t that ho(ered o(er .thiopia@s claim to possess the lost Ark5 >ther clo!ds remained% ho8e(er5 Amongst them% one o4 the darkest 8as )ro!ght to my attention )y Illendor445 himsel45 In a paper entitled @The /!een o4 +he)a in .thiopian Tradition@ he had indicated (ery strongly that the $e)ra ,agast 8as not to )e taken serio!sly as a 8ork o4 historyJ rather its p!rpose had )een to glori4y .thiopia and it 8as to this end that the Ark had )een introd!ced into it5<24=

,or 8as Illendori4 alone in the (ie8 that the $e)ra ,agast 8as largely apocryphal5 In the Introd!ction to his translation o4 that great epic% 4or e9ample% +ir .5 A5 #allis B!dge pointed o!t that it 8as most !nlikely that the /!een o4 +he)a co!ld ha(e )een an .thiopian at all; @It is 4ar more pro)a)le@% he 8rote <rehearsing an arg!ment 8ith 8hich I 8as already some8hat 4amiliar=% @that her home 8as +e)ha% or +a)a% in the so!th-8est o4 Ara)ia5@<2" = +e(eral a!thorities made m!ch o4 the 4act that in +olomon@s time A a tho!sand years )e4ore Christ A .thiopia had not possessed any real ci(ili3ation o4 its o8n and certainly had not )oasted an ad(anced !r)an society capa)le o4 prod!cing so ill!strio!s a monarch as the /!een o4 +he)a5 Indeed% the consens!s 8as that enlightenment had not e(en )eg!n to da8n in the A)yssinian highlands !ntil a)o!t the si9th cent!ry BC and had not reached any le(el o4 sophistication !ntil some 4o!r h!ndred years a4ter that5 ,either co!ld this period o4 progress )e regarded as an .thiopian achie(ement; instead the catalyst had )een an in4l!9 o4 Ara) tri)esmen 8hose @s!perior ?!alities@ had re(ol!tioni3ed the sl!ggish c!lt!re o4 the nati(e inha)itants5 Coming mainly 4rom the Demen% these +emitic immigrants had settled in the north o4 .thiopia and in the process o4 assimilation 8ith the local pop!lation )ro!ght a)o!t a c!lt!ral trans4ormation5 They )ro!ght 8ith them gi4ts )eyond price; religion% a more highly-de(eloped social organi3ation% architect!re and art% and a system o4 8riting5<2&= In short% .thiopian ci(ili3ation 8as not only m!ch more recent than the A9!mite legends implied )!t also had )een )orro8ed 4rom else8here5 In their heart o4 hearts% 4!rthermore% most .thiopians kne8 this to )e tr!e and 4elt deeply insec!re a)o!t their heritage5 Indeed one standard 8ork o4 history 8ent so 4ar as to s!ggest that the $e)ra ,agast 8as pop!lar )eca!se it 4illed a deep psychological need on the part o4 the A)yssinians @to pro(e their ancient origins 5 5 5 :ar(en! peoples% like par(en! indi(id!als% hanker a4ter ancestors% and peoples ha(e as little scr!ple in 4orging 4amily trees as ha(e indi(id!als5<2*= In my (ie8 the importance o4 all these arg!ments lay less in the notion that the $e)ra ,agast 8as mainly a 8ork o4 4iction <since that did not precl!de the possi)ility that 8hat it had to say a)o!t the a)d!ction o4 the Ark co!ld ha(e )een )ased on some real e(ent=% )!t rather in the consens!s that .thiopian ci(ili3ation 8as relati(ely yo!ng and that it had )een deri(ed 4rom +o!th Ara)ia5 This consens!s had a real )earing on my attempts to esta)lish the legitimacy o4 the .thiopian claim to the Ark )eca!se it applied not only to the general ci(ili3ation o4 the highlands )!t also A and ?!ite speci4ically A to the Balashas5 The $e)ra ,agast stated ?!ite plainly that the Ee8ish 4aith had )een introd!ced into .thiopia in the 1"2s BC 8hen enelik and his companions had arri(ed 8ith the Ark <indeed it e(en said that the /!een o4 +he)a hersel4 had )een con(erted to E!daism=5<20= >n the 4ace o4 things% there4ore% the e9istence o4 indigeno!s )lack Ee8s in .thiopia looked like signi4icant corro)orati(e e(idence 4or the Ark@s presence5 >n closer e9amination% ho8e(er% this t!rned o!t not to )e the case A or at least not according to the scholars5 As 'ichard :ankh!rst had told me in "103%<21= the academic esta)lishment 8as o(er8helmingly o4 the opinion that the Ee8ish 4aith 8as !nlikely to ha(e reached .thiopia )e4ore the second cent!ry AD% and that it had )een )ro!ght across the 'ed +ea 4rom the Demen 8here a large Ee8ish comm!nity had indeed )een esta)lished a4ter AD *2 )y emigrants 4leeing 'oman persec!tions in :alestine5<32=

>ne o4 the strongest proponents o4 this (ie8 8as :ro4essor Illendor44% 8ho presented a long arg!ment on the s!)Cect in his in4l!ential .thiopia and the Bi)le and 8ho concl!ded ?!ite emphatically that the ancestors o4 the Balashas m!st ha(e )een con(erted )y Ee8s 8ho had @entered .thiopia (ia +o!th Ara)ia@ o(er a lengthy period 4rom AD *2 thro!gh !ntil a)o!t AD ""25<31= I decided that I 8o!ld ha(e to in(estigate this iss!e (ery thoro!ghly5 I4 the E!daism o4 the Balashas 8as indeed less than t8o tho!sand years old A and had come 4rom Ara)ia A then a great s8athe o4 apparently con(incing @c!lt!ral corro)oration@ 4or direct contacts )et8een .thiopia and Eer!salem in >ld Testament times 8o!ld )e o)literated at a stroke and A9!m@s candidacy as the last resting place o4 the Ark 8o!ld lose m!ch i4 not all o4 its credi)ility5 +oon a4ter I )egan this ne8 phase o4 my research% ho8e(er% it )ecame apparent to me that the scholarly consens!s in 4a(o!r o4 @the Demeni theory@ had largely come a)o!t )eca!se there 8as an a)sence o4 e(idence 4or any alternati(e theory5 There 8as nothing 8hate(er 8hich pro(ed that the Ee8ish 4aith co!ld not ha(e arri(ed )y some other ro!teJ on the other hand there 8as no proo4 that it had5 The tendency there4ore had )een to 4oc!s on +o!th Ara)ia as the likely so!rce )eca!se it 8as kno8n that there had )een other migratory mo(ements 4rom that region into .thiopia5<32= This str!ck me as a deplora)le 4ail!re o4 logic in 8hich a)sence o4 e(idence% 8hich 8as one thing% 8as in 4act )eing treated as e(idence o4 a)sence A 8hich 8as ?!ite another5 To reiterate% the pro)lem 8as a lack o4 proo4 that E!daism might ha(e arri(ed in .thiopia m!ch earlier and )y a di44erent ro!te than the scholars )elie(edJ )!t there 8as no proo4 at all that this co!ld not ha(e )een the case5 I there4ore 4elt that the 4ield 8as open and that 8hat I needed to do in order to satis4y mysel4 one 8ay or the other 8as to st!dy the traditions% )elie4s and )eha(io!r o4 the Balashas themsel(es and to dra8 my o8n concl!sions a)o!t their origins 4rom these5 I tho!ght it likely% ho8e(er% that their religio!s o)ser(ances 8o!ld ha(e )een ad!lterated d!ring the t8entieth cent!ry )y e9tensi(e e9pos!re to 8estern and Israeli (isitors5 I there4ore t!rned to older acco!nts that depicted their 8ay o4 li4e )e4ore it had )een contaminated )y modern c!lt!ral change5

<Big!re 1-1"=

Ironically% se(eral o4 these acco!nts 8ere 8ritten )y 4oreigners 8ho came to .thiopia 8ith the e9press intention o4 engineering c!lt!ral change% nota)ly nineteenth-cent!ry Christian missionaries 8ho had heard r!mo!rs o4 the e9istence o4 a si3ea)le pop!lation o4 A)yssinian Ee8s and 8ho had r!shed to con(ert them5 >ne s!ch e(angelist 8as artin Blad% a yo!ng German 8ho arri(ed in .thiopia in 10"" to proselyti3e on )ehal4 o4 the London +ociety 4or :romoting Christianity amongst the Ee8s5<33= His )ook% The Balashas o4 A)yssinia% 8as p!)lished in 10&15 I 4o!nd a 8orn and m!ch-handled copy o4 it in the British Li)rary and soon )ecame intrig!ed )y se(eral passages in 8hich the a!thor insisted that there m!st ha(e )een Ee8s in .thiopia at least since the time o4 the prophet

Eeremiah <aro!nd &2* BC=<34=% and possi)ly since the reign o4 +olomon5 Blad )ased this assertion in part on the 4act that;

The Balashas kno8 nothing o4 either the Ba)ylonian or the Eer!salem Talm!d% 8hich 8ere composed d!ring and a4ter the time o4 the capti(ity5 They also do not o)ser(e the Beasts o4 :!rim and o4 the Dedication o4 the Temple% 8hich 5 5 5 are still solemnly kept )y the Ee8s o4 o!r time5<3"=

>n 4!rther in(estigation% I disco(ered that the Beast o4 the Dedication o4 the Temple 8as properly kno8n as Han!kkah <meaning% literally% @Dedication@=5 Brom my point o4 (ie8 the most signi4icant 4act a)o!t it 8as that it 8as instit!ted in 1&4 BC<3&= and there4ore 8o!ld certainly ha(e )een o)ser(ed )y the Ee8ish comm!nity that esta)lished itsel4 in the Demen a4ter AD *25 The academic orthodo9y 8hich had pre(io!sly pers!aded me to see the Balashas as the descendants o4 .thiopians con(erted )y these Demeni Ee8s th!s s!ddenly )egan to look (ery s!spect5 To p!t matters as plainly as possi)le% non-o)ser(ance o4 Han!kkah s!ggested only one rational concl!sion; the Balashas m!st ha(e ac?!ired their E!daism )e4ore 1&4 BC and th!s not 4rom the Demen )!t 4rom some other so!rce5 I ne9t researched the Beast o4 :!rim o4 8hich Blad had also 4o!nd .thiopia@s Ee8s to )e ignorant5 This 4esti(al% too% I learned% had )een o)ser(ed since at least the second cent!ry BC5 Indeed it 8as ?!ite possi)ly o4 e(en earlier pro(enance than that; the e(ents that it commemorated took place in the mid-4i4th cent!ry BC and se(eral o4 the a!thorities 8hom I cons!lted s!ggested that its o)ser(ance had )ecome 8idely pop!lar )y 42" BC5<3*= This raised the interesting possi)ility A o4 8hich Blad himsel4 had o)(io!sly )een con(inced A that the Balashas had )ecome isolated 4rom the e(ol(ing )ody o4 8orld E!daism 8ell )e4ore that date% perhaps d!ring the si9th cent!ry BC5 I no8 had a gro8ing sense that the gap )et8een A)yssinian legend and historical 4act 8as closing 4ast; 4i(e h!ndred years )e4ore Christ% a4ter all% 8as only 4o!r h!ndred years a4ter +olomon5 It 8as )eginning to look more and more pro)a)le that the E!daism o4 the Balashas had arri(ed in .thiopia in early >ld Testament times A C!st as the $e)ra ,agast and the Balashas themsel(es had al8ays claimed5 I4 this 8ere so% then the implications 8ere clear; at the (ery least the story o4 the a)d!ction o4 the Ark to .thiopia )y enelik deser(ed to )e taken m!ch more serio!sly than the academics had hitherto allo8ed5 I 4o!nd 4!rther e(idence 4or this point o4 (ie8 in the acco!nt o4 another nineteenthcent!ry missionary% Henry Aaron +tern% 8ho 8as himsel4 a German Ee8ish con(ert to Christianity5 He had 8orked and tra(elled 8ith Blad in .thiopia and had p!)lished his o8n #anderings among the Balashas in A)yssinia in 10&25 As I read this 322-page (ol!me I de(eloped an intense dislike 4or its a!thor% 8ho came across as an arrogant% )r!tal and !nscr!p!lo!s proselyti3er 8ith no respect 8hatsoe(er 4or the c!lt!re or traditions o4 the people amongst 8hom he 8as 8orking5 In general% too% I 4elt that his descriptions o4 Balasha religion and li4estyle 8ere thin and poorly o)ser(ed5 As a res!lt% )y the time I 8as hal48ay thro!gh the )ook I had )ecome thoro!ghly impatient 8ith it5

Then% on page 100% I came across something interesting5 Here% a4ter a lengthy treatise on the a)sol!te interdiction amongst the Balashas o4 @intermarriages 8ith those o4 another tri)e or creed@% +tern descri)ed the .thiopian Ee8s as )eing 4aith4!l to the la8 o4 oses @8hich 5 5 5 is the 4orm!la a4ter 8hich they ha(e mo!lded their 8orship5@ He then added;

It so!nds strange to hear in central A4rica o4 a Ee8ish altar and atoning sacri4ices 5 5 5 RDetS% in the rear o4 e(ery place o4 8orship is a small enclos!re 8ith a h!ge stone in the centreJ and on this cr!de altar the (ictim is sla!ghtered% and all other sacri4icial rites per4ormed5<30=

Tho!gh at this stage my general kno8ledge a)o!t E!daism 8as limited to say the least% I 8as 8ell a8are that animal sacri4ice 8as no longer practised any8here in the 8orld )y modern Ee8s5 I had no idea 8hether this ancient instit!tion still e9isted amongst the Balashas in the late t8entieth cent!ryJ +tern@s acco!nt% ho8e(er% made it ?!ite clear that it had 4lo!rished a h!ndred and thirty years earlier5 Contin!ing his description o4 the sacri4icial enclos!re% the German missionary ne9t remarked;

This sanct!m is sacredly g!arded 4rom !nla84!l intr!sion 5 5 5 and 8oe )etide the stranger 8ho% ignorant o4 Balasha c!stoms% (ent!res too close to the 4or)idden precincts 5 5 5 I 8as one day on the (ery (erge o4 committing this !npardona)le o44ence5 It 8as a (ery s!ltry and close noon 8hen% a4ter se(eral ho!rs@ 4atig!ing march% 8e reached a Balasha (illage5 .ager to o)tain a short rest% I 8ent in ?!est o4 a cool and ?!iet shelter% 8hen accidentally I espied in the midst o4 a secl!ded grassy spot a smooth )lock that looked as i4 it had )een charita)ly placed there to in(ite the 8eary to solit!de and repose5 The thorny stockade easily yielded to the iron o4 my lance% and I 8as C!st a)o!t to ensconce mysel4 )ehind the 4lattened stone 8hen a chor!s o4 angry (oices 5 5 5 reminded me o4 my mistake% and !rged me to )eat a hasty retreat5<31=

I 4o!nd mysel4 8ishing that +tern had recei(ed the p!nishment he deser(ed 4or (andali3ing a holy place5<42= At the same time% ho8e(er% I co!ld not help )!t )e grate4!l to him 4or dra8ing my attention to the practice o4 sacri4ice amongst the Balashas5 This 8as a lead 8ell 8orth 4ollo8ing !p since it might pro(ide another cl!e to the date at 8hich .thiopia@s Ee8s )ecame separated 4rom the main )ody o4 their co-religionists5 I de(oted considera)le e44ort to researching the o)sc!re s!)Cect o4 E!daic sacri4ice in >ld Testament times5 The pict!re that e(ent!ally emerged 4rom the 4og o4 scholarly re4erences 8as o4 a constantly e(ol(ing instit!tion that started o!t as a simple o44ering to God 8hich anyone% priest or layman% co!ld make and in (irt!ally any place 8here a local shrine had )een esta)lished5 This state o4 relati(e !nreg!lation% ho8e(er% )egan to change a4ter the .9od!s 4rom .gypt aro!nd 12"2 BC5<41= D!ring the He)re8s@ 8anderings in the 8ilderness o4 +inai the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as )!ilt and ho!sed in a porta)le tent or @ta)ernacle@5 Thence4or8ard all

sacri4ices 8ere to )e made at the door o4 this ta)ernacle and anyone diso)eying the ne8 la8 8as to )e p!nished )y )anishment;

#hatsoe(er man there )e o4 the Ho!se o4 Israel 5 5 5 that o44ereth a )!rnt o44ering or sacri4ice and )ringeth it not to the door o4 the ta)ernacle o4 the congregation% to o44er it !nto the LordJ e(en that man shall )e c!t o44 4rom among his people5<42=

I learned% ho8e(er% that this prohi)ition 8as rather less a)sol!te than it so!nded5 The main point o4 the code 8as not to a)olish sacri4ice at local shrines in all circ!mstances )!t rather to ens!re that sacri4ices 8ere carried o!t e9cl!si(ely at a centrali3ed national place o4 8orship 8hen and i4 s!ch a place e9isted5 In the 8ilderness the ta)ernacle ho!sing the Ark 8as s!ch a central point5 Later% 4rom ro!ghly 1222 to 1222 BC% a national sanct!ary 8as esta)lished in Israel at +hiloh% 8hich th!s )ecame the ne8 sacri4icial centre5 +igni4icantly% ho8e(er% there 8ere periods o4 political !phea(al 8hen +hiloh 8as a)andoned and d!ring these periods the He)re8s 8ere permitted to sacri4ice once again at local shrines5<43= By the 1"2s BC +olomon@s Temple in Eer!salem had s!perseded +hiloh as the national religio!s centre5 There is e(idence% ho8e(er% that local sacri4ices did take place else8here 4rom time to time% partic!larly amongst those Ee8s li(ing 4ar 4rom the capital5 Indeed it 8as not !ntil the reign o4 $ing Eosiah <&42-&21 BC= that a )lanket )an on all 4orms o4 sacri4ice other than at the Temple )egan to )e strictly en4orced5@<44= +o serio!sly 8as this prohi)ition taken that the Ee8s appear not to ha(e attempted sacri4ice o4 any kind in the decades immediately 4ollo8ing the Temple@s destr!ction )y ,e)!chadne33ar in "0* BC5 The early tradition o4 re(erting to local shrines in the a)sence o4 a centrali3ed national place o4 8orship seems to ha(e )een irre(oca)ly a)andoned5 /!ite simply% 8hile there 8as no Temple there co!ld )e no sacri4ice5<4"= A4ter the ret!rn 4rom the Ba)ylonian .9ile% the +econd Temple 8as )!ilt in Eer!salem and the instit!tion o4 sacri4ice 8as reresta)lished e9cl!si(ely 8ithin its precinctsJ mean8hile the a)sol!te prohi)ition on local o44erings 8as rein4orced and appears to ha(e )een strictly o)eyed5 This system o4 centrali3ed sacri4ice remained 4irmly in place 4rom "22 BC% 8hen the +econd Temple 8as dedicated% !ntil *2 AD 8hen it 8as ra3ed to the gro!nd )y the 'oman .mperor Tit!s5<4&= ,o Third Temple had e(er )een contemplated% other than )y millennial gro!ps 8ho linked the 4!l4ilment o4 that dream 8ith the coming o4 the still-a8aited essiah5<4*= In conse?!ence% since AD *2% sacri4ice had e(ery8here )een a)andoned )y the Ee8s5 The Balashas 8ere the sole e9ception to this r!k5<40= oreo(er +tem@s acco!nt s!ggested that they had o44ered sacri4ices at all their places o4 8orship 8hen he had 8orked amongst them in the nineteenth cent!ry5 #ith a little 4!rther research I 8as a)le to con4irm that this tradition 8as so strong that sacri4ices contin!ed to )e made )y the maCority o4 Balasha comm!nities today despite their increased e9pos!re to modern Ee8ish practices5<41=

As I considered this 4act% I reali3ed that there might )e a n!m)er o4 possi)le e9planations 4or it5 The most o)(io!s and attracti(e o4 these e9planations% ho8e(er% 8as also the simplest A and there4ore the most likely to )e correct5 I 8rote in my note)ook;

The ancestors o4 today@s Balashas m!st ha(e )een con(erted to E!daism at a time 8hen it 8as still accepta)le 4or those 4ar a8ay 4rom the centrali3ed national sanct!ary to practise local sacri4ice5 That 8o!ld s!ggest that the con(ersion took place )e4ore $ing Eosiah@s )an A i5e5 no later than the se(enth cent!ry BC and possi)ly e(en earlier than that5 HD:>TH.+I+; At some stage a4ter the )!ilding o4 +olomon@s Temple <mid-122s BC= )!t )e4ore Eosiah <mid&22s BC a gro!p o4 Ee8s migrated 4rom Israel and settled in .thiopia5 They esta)lished local shrines at 8hich they cond!cted sacri4ices to their God and they )egan to con(ert the nati(es o4 the co!ntry to their 4aith5 :erhaps they initially maintained contact 8ith their homeland5 The distance 8as great% ho8e(er% and it is reasona)le to s!ppose that they 8o!ld e(ent!ally ha(e )ecame completely isolated5 They 8o!ld th!s ha(e )een !nto!ched )y the great re(ol!tions in theological tho!ght that took place in the E!daic 8orld in s!)se?!ent cent!ries5 This e9plains 8hy the Balashas are the only Ee8s still practising sacri4ice5 Bro3en like 4lies in am)er% trapped in a time-8arp% they are the last s!r(i(ing practitioners o4 gen!ine Birst Temple E!daism5 +o 4ar so good5 B!t /I.+TI>,; 8hy 8o!ld a gro!p o4 Ee8s ha(e migrated 4rom Israel to some8here as 4ar a8ay as .thiopia7 #e are talking the tenth to se(enth cent!ries BC here% not e9actly the Cet age5 The QmigrQs m!st there4ore ha(e had a (ery strong moti(e5 #hat co!ld that ha(e )een7 A,+#.'; The $e)ra ,agast is in no do!)t a)o!t 8hat the moti(e 8as5 It says that the migrants 8ere the 4irst-)orn sons o4 the elders o4 Israel% and that they came to .thiopia in the ento!rage o4 enelik to attend the Holy Ark o4 the Co(enant 8hich they had a)d!cted 4rom the Temple5


I4 the $elm ,agast@s acco!nt o4 the arri(al o4 E!daism in .thiopia 8ere tr!e% I reasoned% then I might e9pect to 4ind e(idence some8here in the historical annals to pro(e that the Ee8ish 4aith had 4ormerly enCoyed a m!ch greater prominence in that co!ntry than it did today5 That certainly 8o!ld make sense i4 it had originally )een associated 8ith so e9alted a 4ig!re as enelik I5 I remem)ered% moreo(er% that my old 4riend 'ichard :ankh!rst had mentioned something to me that 8as rele(ant to this line o4 In?!iry5 #hen 8e had 8orked together in 1103 he had told me that the Balashas had once )een a prospero!s and po8er4!l people 8ith kings o4 their o8n5

I there4ore placed another telephone call to 'ichard in Addis A)a)a to see i4 he co!ld recommend any so!rces that might shed light on the decline and 4all o4 the Balashas5 He directed me to a )ook 8ith 8hich I 8as already slightly 4amiliar5 Tra(els to Disco(er the +o!rce o4 the ,ile in the Dears 1*&0-1**3 8ritten )y the +cottish ad(ent!rer Eames Br!ce o4 $innaird5 :ankh!rst also s!ggested that I sho!ld look into the @'oyal Chronicles@ compiled d!ring the reigns o4 a n!m)er o4 .thiopian emperors since medie(al times5 These% he said% doc!mented a series o4 8ars that had )een 4o!ght )et8een the Christians and the Ee8s and co!ld )e o4 interest5 @>ther than that%@ he added% @I@m not s!re 8here yo! can get the kind o4 in4ormation yo! 8ant5 The pro)lem is that almost nothing in depth 8as e(er 8ritten a)o!t the Balashas )e4ore Br!ce5@ Eames Br!ce o4 $innaird% as I 8as to disco(er% 8as something o4 an enigma5 Hailing 4rom a sta!nchly :res)yterian +tirlingshire 4amily% he had )elonged to the minor aristocracy and had inherited s!44icient 8ealth to ind!lge a li4elong passion 4or o(erseas tra(el5 Initially it seemed to me that it 8as only this 8anderl!st that had l!red him into the heart o4 the .thiopian highlands5 #hen I )egan to look at his 8ork on the Balashas% ho8e(er% it grad!ally da8ned on me that his interest in these people had )een too intense and too s!stained to )e e9plained a8ay merely as the normal c!riosity o4 an intelligent tra(eller5 >(er a period o4 se(eral years he had carried o!t metic!lo!s research into the 4aith% c!stoms and historical origins o4 A)yssinia@s )lack Ee8s5 In the process% inter(ie8ing elders and religio!s 4ig!res% he had recorded many ancient traditions that 8o!ld other8ise most certainly ha(e )een lost to history5 Amongst these traditions 8as one 8hich stated that $ing .3ana o4 A9!m had )een reading the :salms o4 Da(id 8hen he 8as 4irst introd!ced to Br!menti!s% the yo!ng +yrian 8ho later con(erted him to Christianity5<"2= Br!ce% 4!rthermore% made it ?!ite clear that the monarch@s ac?!aintance 8ith this )ook o4 >ld Testament (erse res!lted 4rom the 8idespread pre(alence o4 E!daism in .thiopia at that time<"1= A i5e5 the early part o4 the 4o!rth cent!ry AD5 'esol(ing Do!)ts 141 In the conte9t o4 8hat I no8 kne8 a)o!t Balasha c!stoms% I 8as happy to gi(e credence to this assertion5 Indeed I took it as additional s!pport 4or my o8n rapidly e(ol(ing hypothesis A namely that a 4orm o4 the Ee8ish 4aith incorporating archaic traditions o4 )lood sacri4ice had )een in .thiopia 4or at least a tho!sand years )e4ore Br!menti!s t!rned !p to preach the gospel o4 Christ5 I 8as soon to 4ind 4!rther con4irmation o4 this in an old and rare .thiopic man!script that had once rested in the Tigrayan 4ortress o4 agdala <stormed and looted )y British 4orces !nder General ,apier in the nineteenth cent!ry=5 .ntitled A History and Genealogy o4 the Ancient $ings it contained the 4ollo8ing passage;

Christianity 8as introd!ced into A)yssinia 331 years a4ter the )irth o4 Christ )y A)!na +alama% 8hose 4ormer name 8as Br!mentos or Br!menti!s5 At that time the .thiopian kings reigned o(er A9!m5 Be4ore the Christian religion 8as kno8n in .thiopia hal4 the inha)itants 8ere Ee8s% 8ho o)ser(ed the La8J the other hal4 8ere 8orshippers o4 +ando% the dragon5<"2=

The re4erence to 8orshippers o4 @the dragon@ A pres!ma)ly a r!)ric 4or all sorts o4 primiti(e animistic gods A 8as interesting5 It s!ggested that E!daism had at no point )ecome the e9cl!si(e state religion o4 .thiopia and that% in the pre-Christian era% the Balashas A like Ee8s e(ery8here A had accepted the coe9istence o4 many pagan creeds5 I reasoned% ho8e(er% that they 8o!ld !ndo!)tedly ha(e )een p!t on their g!ard% and )een tempted to a)andon their traditional tolerance% )y the arri(al o4 a militantly e(angelistic monotheistic sect like the Christians% 8hom they 8o!ld ha(e had good reason to see as a real threat to their preeminence and to their )elie4s5 The con(ersion o4 the A9!mite king 8o!ld ha(e looked partic!larly omino!s in s!ch a conte9t and therea4ter Ee8s and Christians might 8ell ha(e 4o!nd themsel(es locked in )itter str!ggle5 There 8as considera)le s!pport 4or this analysis amongst the traditions recorded )y Br!ce5 The +cottish ad(ent!rer asserted% 4or e9ample% that the Balashas 8ere (ery po8er4!l at the time o4 the con(ersion to Christianity or% as they term it% @the Apostasy@5 At this time they declared a prince o4 the tri)e o4 E!dah% and o4 the race o4 +olomon and enelik% to )e their so(ereign5 5 5 This prince 5 5 5 re4!sed to a)andon the religion o4 his 4ore4athers5<"3= +!ch a state o4 a44airs% Br!ce added% 8as )o!nd to lead to con4lict since the Christians% too% claimed to )e r!led )y a king descended 4rom the line o4 +olomon5 The con4lict% 8hen it came% 8as th!s precipitated )y concerns that 8ere entirely sec!lar;

Altho!gh there 8as no )loodshed !pon di44erence o4 religion% yet% each ha(ing a distinct king 8ith the same pretensions% many )attles 8ere 4o!ght 4rom moti(es o4 am)ition and ri(aiship o4 so(ereign po8er5<"4=

Br!ce pro(ided no details o4 these @many )attles@ and the history )ooks% too% 8ere silent concerning them A other than noting that in the si9th cent!ry AD $ale)% a Christian king o4 A9!m% assem)led a (ast army and took it across the 'ed +ea to do )attle 8ith a Ee8ish monarch in the Demen5<""= #as it not ?!ite pro)a)le% I no8 spec!lated% that this Ara)ian campaign had )een an escalation o4 4ighting )et8een Ee8s and Christians in .thiopia itsel47 .(idence that this might indeed ha(e )een the case 8as contained in the $e)ra ,agast5 To8ards the end o4 the great epic I 4o!nd speci4ic mention o4 $ing $ale) in a chapter that seethed 8ith anti-E!daic sentiments; here% 4or no apparent reason% the .thiopian Ee8s 8ere s!ddenly descri)ed as the @enemies o4 God@J 4!rthermore% the te9t ad(ocated that they sho!ld )e @c!t to pieces@ and that their lands sho!ld )e laid 8aste5<"&= All this 8as said in a conte9t that ascri)ed t8o sons to $ale)5 >ne o4 these sons 8as named @Israel@ 8hile the other 8as re4erred to as @Ge)ra askal@ <an .thiopic term meaning @+la(e o4 the Cross@=5 The sym)olism o4 a Ee8ish A Christian ri4t 8as hard to miss <8ith the Christian 4action% o4 co!rse% )eing represented )y Ge)ra askal and the Ee8ish 4action )y Israel=5 And this analysis )egan to look e(en more credi)le 8hen I remem)ered that the Balashas ne(er re4erred to themsel(es as @Balashas@ )!t al8ays as @Beta Israel@% i5e5 @Ho!se o4 Israel@5<"*=

The )asic message% there4ore% seemed clear eno!ghJ ne(ertheless% the 8hole passage 8as complicated )y dense and o)sc!re imagery5 +e(eral times% 4or e9ample% the 8ords @Chariot@ and @Gion@ cropped !p5 I co!ld make little or no sense o4 the 4ormer5 I already kne8 (ery 8ell% ho8e(er% that the latter A @Gion@ A 8as one o4 a n!m)er o4 di44erent epithets 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant !sed 4re?!ently in the $e)ra ,agast5<"0= .(erything )ecame clear 8hen I read that Israel and Ge)ra each other5 A4ter this )attle% the te9t contin!ed; askal 8ere destined to 4ight

God 8ill say to Ge)ra askal% @Choose tho! )et8een the Chariot and Gion@% and He 8ill ca!se him to take Gion% and he shall reign openly !pon the throne o4 his 4ather5 And God 8ill make Israel to choose the chariot% and he shall reign secretly and he shall not )e (isi)le5<"1=

In this 4ashion% the $e)ra ,agast concl!ded;

The kingdom o4 the Ee8s shall )e made an end o4 and the $ingdom o4 Christ shall )e constit!ted 5 5 5 Th!s hath God made 4or the $ing o4 .thiopia more glory and grace and maCesty than 4or all the other kings o4 the earth )eca!se o4 the greatness o4 Gion% the Ark o4 the La8 o4 God5<&2=

It seemed to me )eyond any reasona)le do!)t that 8hat 8as )eing descri)ed here% al)eit in arcane and sym)olic lang!age% 8as a con4lict )et8een the Ee8s and Christians o4 .thiopia A a )attle 4or s!premacy in 8hich the 4ollo8ers o4 the ne8 religion tri!mphed 8hile the 4ollo8ers o4 the older 4aith 8ere (an?!ished% therea4ter to li(e in(isi)ly in secret places5 It 8as also clear that the Ark o4 the Co(enant A @Gion@ A had stood at the heart o4 this str!ggle 4or po8er and that the Christians had in some 8ay managed to 8rest it 4rom the Ee8s 8ho thence4or8ard had had to content themsel(es 8ith the @Chariot@% in other 8ords 8ith second )est5 As my researches contin!ed% ho8e(er% it )ecame o)(io!s that the Balashas had not tamely accepted the in(isi)ility and second-class stat!s that the Christians had so!ght to impose on them5 >n the contrary% I 4o!nd a considera)le )ody o4 e(idence to s!ggest that they had 4o!ght )ack A and% 4!rthermore% that they had done so 8ith great determination and o(er a rather lengthy period5 The 4irst tantali3ing hint o4 s!stained 8ar4are )et8een A)yssinia@s Ee8s and Christians came in an acco!nt 8ritten )y a ninth-cent!ry tra(eller named .ldad Hadani A )etter kno8n as .ldad @the Danite@ )eca!se he claimed descent 4rom the lost Israeli tri)e o4 Dan5 .9actly 8ho he 8as% or 8here he came 4rom% 8as )y no means clear5 In a 8idely circ!lated letter 8ritten in AD 033% ho8e(er% he had claimed that the Danites A and three other @lost@ Ee8ish clans A li(ed in .thiopia 8here they 8ere locked in permanent antagonism 8ith the Christian r!lers o4 that

co!ntry; @And they sle8 the men o4 .thiopia and !nto this (ery day they 4ight 8ith the children o4 the kingdoms o4 .thiopia5@<&1= >n in(estigating 4!rther I disco(ered that se(eral a!thorities regarded .ldad as a charlatan and his letter as an impro)a)le piece o4 4iction5 >thers% ho8e(er% 4elt that m!ch o4 8hat he said 8as 4irmly gro!nded in 4act5<&2= I had no hesitation in aligning mysel4 8ith the latter camp A simply )eca!se .ldad@s re4erences to the A)yssinian Ee8s 8ere too close to the tr!th a)o!t the Balashas to ha(e )een p!re 4a)rications5 He insisted% 4or e9ample% that they had emigrated 4rom the Holy Land to .thiopia in Birst Temple times% shortly a4ter the separation o4 the kingdoms o4 E!dah and Israel <i5e5 aro!nd 131 BC=<&3=5 In conse?!ence% he said% they did not cele)rate 4esti(als instit!ted a4ter that date s!ch as :!rim and Han!kkah5 ,either did they ha(e ra))is @4or these 8ere o4 the +econd Temple and they did not reach them5@<&4= I 8as already 8ell a8are o4 the non-o)ser(ance o4 the later 4esti(als )y the Balashas% and o4 the implications o4 this5 >n checking I no8 disco(ered that they did not ha(e ra))is either; indeed their religio!s o44icials 8ere called kahen% a 8ord deri(ed 4rom the He)re8 kohen <more 4amiliar as the common name Cohen= meaning @priest@ and dating )ack to the era o4 the Birst Temple5<&"= All in all% there4ore% it did so!nd (ery m!ch as tho!gh .ldad had )een in .thiopia as he had claimed% and had gi(en a 4aith4!l eno!gh description o4 the state o4 E!daism there in the midninth cent!ry AD5 His report o4 s!stained 4ighting )et8een the A)yssinian Ee8s and their neigh)o!rs d!ring this period th!s also looked ?!ite pla!si)le;

And their )anner is 8hite and 8ritten thereon in )lack is @Hear 2 Israel% the Lord o!r God is one God@ 5 5 5 They are n!mero!s as the sands o4 the sea% and ha(e no employment )!t 8ar and% 8hensoe(er they 4ight% they say it is not good 4or mighty men to 4lee% let them die yo!ng% )!t let them not 4lee% let them strengthen their heart !nto God% and se(eral times they say and cry all o4 them together% @Hear 2 Israel% o!r God is one God@% and then they all take heed5<&&=

.ldad concl!ded that the Ee8ish tri)es in .thiopia had )een s!ccess4!l in their 8arlike endea(o!rs and had @placed their hands on the necks o4 their enemies@5<&*= This% it seemed to me% 8as nothing more nor less than a 4airly acc!rate description o4 the tr!e )alance o4 po8er )et8een Christians and Ee8s in the ninth and early tenth cent!ries AD5 It 8as% a4ter all% at precisely this time that the Christian +olomonic dynasty o4 A9!m had )een o(erthro8n5 And I already kne8 4rom my pre(io!s research that this co!p d@Qtat had )een the 8ork o4 a Ee8ish monarch A a great ?!een named G!dit <or E!dit% or possi)ly Deh!dit=5 As o!tlined in Chapter "% G!dit@s )rie4 and )loody reign 8as 4ollo8ed% perhaps hal4 a cent!ry later% )y the esta)lishment o4 the Gag8e dynasty% to 8hich $ing Lali)ela had )elonged5 Altho!gh they 8ere almost certainly Ee8s at the o!tset% the Gag8es themsel(es later con(erted to Christianity and s!)se?!ently <a)o!t 4i4ty years a4ter Lali)ela@s death= a)dicated the throne in 4a(o!r o4 a monarch claiming +olomonic descent5

#hate(er else it achie(ed% ho8e(er% it ?!ickly )ecame apparent to me that the Gag8e interregn!m had not halted the chronic state o4 con4lict )et8een the A)yssinian Ee8s and Christians5 As my researches contin!ed I learned that BenCamin o4 T!dela% a 8idely tra(elled +panish merchant 8ho li(ed in the t8el4th cent!ry% had reported the e9istence o4 Ee8s in .thiopia 8ho 8ere @not !nder the yoke o4 the Gentiles@% and 8ho had @cities and castles on the s!mmits o4 mo!ntains@5 He spoke o4 8ars 8ith the Christians in 8hich the Balashas 8ere normally s!ccess4!l% taking @spoil and )ooty@ at 8ill )eca!se no man co!ld @pre(ail against them@5<&0= Then% in the 4i4teenth cent!ry% the Ee8ish tra(eller .liCah o4 Berrara related that he had met a yo!ng Balasha in Eer!salem and 8as told ho8 his co-religionists @preser(ed their independence in a mo!ntaino!s region 4rom 8hich they la!nched contin!al 8ars against the Christian emperors o4 .thiopia5@<&1= A h!ndred years later the Ees!it Bishop o4 >(iedo asserted that the Balashas hid a8ay in @great inaccessi)le mo!ntainsJ and they had dispossessed the Christians o4 many lands 8hich they 8ere masters o4% and the kings o4 .thiopia co!ld not s!)d!e them% )eca!se they ha(e )!t small 4orces% and it is (ery di44ic!lt to penetrate into the 4astnesses o4 their rocks5@<*2= The )ishop 8as 8rong% ho8e(er5 His statement 8as made in 1""* A )y 8hich date% 4ar 4rom @dispossessing@ anyone% the Balashas 8ere act!ally !nder s!stained attack 4rom Christian 4orces )ent% apparently% on genocide5 +arsa Dengel% the +olomonic emperor 8ho r!led 4rom 1"&3 to 1"14% 8aged a se(enteen year campaign against them A a campaign descri)ed )y one respected scholar as @a (erita)le cr!sade% inspired )y religio!s 4anaticism5@<*1= D!ring the 4ighting% 8hich sa8 )r!tal onsla!ghts against Balasha strongholds in the +imien mo!ntains 8est and so!th o4 the Taka33e ri(er% the de4enders ac?!itted themsel(es 8ith great dignity5 .(en +arsa Dengel@s sycophantic chronicler co!ld not a(oid e9pressing admiration 4or the co!rage o4 one gro!p o4 Ee8ish 8omen 8ho% rather than )e capt!red and !sed )y the emperor@s men% h!rled themsel(es o44 a cli44 8ith the cry @Adonai RGodS help me@5<*2= Later the Balasha king% 'adai% 8as taken prisoner5 >44ered his li4e i4 only he 8o!ld )eg the 6irgin ary 4or mercy A and death i4 he 8o!ld not A he is reported to ha(e said; @Is not the mention o4 the name o4 ary 4or)idden7 ake hasteT It is )etter 4or me that I sho!ld depart 4rom a 8orld o4 lies to a 8orld o4 C!stice% 4rom the darkness to the lightJ kill me% s8i4tly5@ The emperor@s general% Donael% ans8ered; @I4 yo! pre4er death% die )ra(ely and )o8 yo!r head5@ 'adai then )o8ed and Donael str!ck him 8ith a great s8ord; the single )lo8 instantly decapitated the Balasha monarch and passed thro!gh his knees also% the )lade 4inally )!rying itsel4 in the gro!nd5 Those 8ho 8itnessed this horri)le scene 8ere said to ha(e admired @the co!rage o4 the Ee8 in death 8ho declared the things o4 the earth are )ad and the things o4 hea(en are good5@<*3= To8ards the end o4 the same campaign the last t8o Balasha 4ortresses in the high +imiens 8ere attacked and o(er8helmed despite the )ra(ery o4 the de4enders5 In )oth cases the leaders and their picked men chose s!icide rather than capti(ity5 This did not )ring an end to the persec!tions% ho8e(er5 >n the contrary% e(en 8orse atrocities 8ere committed a4ter 1&2* 8hen .mperor +!sneyos ascended the throne5 He la!nched

a pogrom against all Balashas still li(ing in the (ast highland e9panses )et8een Lake Tana and the +imien mo!ntains5 D!ring the ne9t t8enty years o4 @!n8arranta)le )!tchery@ tho!sands 8ere killed in 4ierce 4ighting and their children 8ere sold as sla(es5 The 4e8 s!r(i(ors% according to the detailed acco!nt gi(en )y the +cottish tra(eller Eames Br!ce;

8ere ordered !pon pain o4 death to reno!nce their religion% and )e )aptised5 To this they consented% seeing there 8as no remedy 5 5 5 any o4 them 8ere )aptised accordingly% and they 8ere all ordered to plo!gh and harro8 on the +a))ath day5<*4=

The !pshot o4 s!ch s!stained and (indicti(e oppression 8as that it 4ore(er depri(ed .thiopia@s Ee8s o4 the a!tonomo!s statehood that they had o)(io!sly once enCoyed A and th!s hastened their slide into o)sc!rity5 Looking )ack thro!gh the admittedly sketchy historical doc!ments at my disposal% I 4o!nd that it 8as e(en possi)le to chart this grad!al s!)mergence and disappearance in n!merical terms5 In the early 1&22s% 4or e9ample% the Balashas 8ere said to ha(e n!m)ered some @122%222 e44ecti(e men@5<*"= Ass!ming one @e44ecti(e man@ per 4amily o4 4i(e% this 8o!ld gi(e a total pop!lation 4or that period o4 aro!nd "22%2225 ,early three h!ndred years later A in the late nineteenth cent!ry A the Ee8ish scholar Eoseph HalQ(y p!t total Balasha n!m)ers at aro!nd 1"2%2225<*&= By the end o4 the 4irst ?!arter o4 the t8entieth cent!ry this 4ig!re had pl!mmeted to C!st "2%222 A according to the !ndo!)tedly 8ell-in4ormed estimate o4 another Ee8ish in(estigator% Eac?!es Baitlo(ich5<**= +i9ty years on% in the 4amine year o4 1104% the Balasha pop!lation o4 .thiopia 8as relia)ly estimated at 20%2225<*0= y reading le4t me in no do!)t that the 8atershed had come at the )eginning o4 the se(enteenth cent!ry 8ith the +!sneyos campaigns% 8hich had clearly )roken the )ack o4 Balasha resistance5 Be4ore that they had )een a pop!lo!s and po8er4!l 4olk 8ith kings and a kingdom o4 their o8nJ a4ter8ards% disen4ranchised and )eaten% their n!m)ers remorselessly declined5 The historical record% there4ore% more than ade?!ately resol(ed the contradiction that had )een )othering me% namely ho8 to e9plain the latter-day (ictimi3ation and impo(erishment o4 the Balashas i4 it 8ere tr!e that E!daism had )een )ro!ght to .thiopia )y so e9alted a 4ig!re as enelik I A 8ho had also )ro!ght the Holy Ark o4 the Co(enant% the most precio!s and prestigio!s relic o4 the ancient 8orld5 I no8 reali3ed that there 8as no contradiction at all5 Indeed a scenario in 8hich the Ee8ish religion had once enCoyed great in4l!ence s!ggested the only possi)le moti(e 4or the merciless pogroms% killings and mass ensla(ements that +!sneyos and other Christian emperors had in4licted !pon their Balasha compatriots5 +imply stated% s!ch )i3arre and apparently psychopathic )eha(io!r made a t8isted kind o4 sense i4 the Christians had acti(ely 4eared the possi)ility o4 a res!rgence o4 E!daism A and i4 their 4ear had stemmed 4rom the 4act that this ri(al monotheistic 4aith had earlier represented an e9tremely strong and end!ring theme in .thiopian li4e5


ATI>, >B H.A'T@+ D.+I'. 5 5 5@

All this% I reasoned% strongly s!pported the (ie8 that E!daism had arri(ed in .thiopia long )e4ore Christianity5 By the same token it also added some social corro)oration to the legendary acco!nt o4 enelik@s a)d!ction o4 the Ark5 To s!mmari3e% I no8 kne8 that;

V The Balashas@ archaic traditions o4 )lood sacri4ice A as 8ell as some o4 their other religio!s practices A cast gra(e do!)t on the academic orthodo9y 8hich 4a(o!red a late <and +o!th Ara)ian= origin 4or .thiopian E!daism5 >n the contrary the e(idence s!ggested ?!ite compellingly that the Ee8ish 4aith m!st ha(e come to .thiopia in Birst Temple times and m!st then ha(e )een isolated there5 B!rthermore% the )est possi)le acco!nt o4 ho8 and 8hy E!daism had taken root in the heart o4 A4rica at so early a date 8as pro(ided )y the $e)ra ,agast5 +ince the story o4 the a)d!ction o4 the Ark 8as central to that acco!nt it 4ollo8ed that .thiopia@s claim to possess the sacred relic deser(ed to )e taken serio!sly5 V There 8as clear e(idence to s!ggest that the Ee8ish 4aith had )een an important 4orce in .thiopia long )e4ore the arri(al o4 Christianity in the 4o!rth cent!ry AD5 This e(idence also s!ggested that Ee8s and Christians had s!)se?!ently engaged in a protracted str!ggle to the death5 The 8inners o4 this str!ggle had )een the Christians A 8ho had% in the process% capt!red the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 Therea4ter they had grad!ally incorporated it into their o8n non-Ee8ish religio!s ceremonies5 This 8as the only satis4actory e9planation 4or 8hat 8as other8ise an incomprehensi)le anomaly A namely the cr!cial role% !ni?!e in the Christian 8orld% played in all .thiopian ch!rch ser(ices )y replicas o4 an >ld Testament relic5 V These replicas depicted the contents o4 the Ark A i5e5 the ta)lets o4 stone A rather than the Ark itsel45 This had originally con4!sed meJ I no8 !nderstood% ho8e(er% that it 8as merely an e9ample o4 a c!lt!re )eing @economical 8ith its sym)ols@5 In the Holy o4 Holies o4 e(ery one o4 the more than t8enty tho!sand >rthodo9 ch!rches in .thiopia 8as a ta)ot5 Behind these ta)otat A and directly responsi)le 4or the s!perstitio!s dread 8hich they inspired in the general pop!lation A lay a mysterio!s and p!issant o)Cect5 There no8 seemed to me to )e e(ery possi)ility that that o)Cect might indeed )e the Holy Ark o4 the Co(enant5

>4 co!rse there 8ere still se(eral loose ends5 These incl!ded the important iss!e o4 the ethnic identity o4 the /!een o4 +he)a <co!ld she really ha(e )een an .thiopian7=5 Linked to this% and o4 at least e?!al 8eight% 8as another legitimate do!)t that the scholars had raised; in the era o4 +olomon 8as it really possi)le that .thiopia co!ld ha(e possessed a s!44iciently @high@ ci(ili3ation to ha(e engaged in direct c!lt!ral contact 8ith ancient Israel7 Binally there 8as the pro)lem o4 A9!m A to 8hich 'ichard :ankh!rst had dra8n my attention in 11035<*1= The sacred city had not e(en e9isted in +olomon@s time and there4ore the Ark co!ld not ha(e )een )ro!ght to it5 This did not precl!de the possi)ility that the relic might ha(e )een deposited at some other place in .thiopia and then mo(ed to A9!m at a later date5 I4 so% 8here 8as that @other place@ and 8hy had I enco!ntered no traditions concerning it7 These% I reali3ed% 8ere ?!estions 4or 8hich I 8o!ld e(ent!ally ha(e to seek ans8ers5 There 8ere others% too5 Indeed it 8as perhaps intrinsic to the occ!lt and recondite nat!re o4 the

Ark o4 the Co(enant that it 8o!ld al8ays generate ?!estions% con4!sions% am)ig!ities and misgi(ings5 An o)Cect so rare and precio!s% im)!ed 8ith s!ch po8er% (enerated 8ith s!ch 4er(o!r o(er so many cent!ries A and charged 8ith the n!mino!s energy o4 God A co!ld hardly )e e9pected to yield !p its secrets easily or to any cas!al in?!irer5 I 4elt% ho8e(er% that the e(idence I had already !nearthed in s!pport o4 .thiopia@s claim to )e the last resting place o4 the relic 8as s!44iciently tho!ght-pro(oking to merit 4!rther research5 oreo(er% 8hen I com)ined this e(idence 8ith the res!lts o4 the decoding e9ercise that I had C!st carried o!t on #ol4ram@s :ar3i(al% I 4o!nd it di44ic!lt to resist the concl!sion that t8o pl!s t8o did indeed e?!al 4o!r5 In short% kno8ing 8hat I kne8 no8% it seemed to me hardly s!rprising that the clandestine tradition o4 ?!est that I had identi4ied sho!ld ha(e 4oc!ssed on the A)yssinian highlands5 A4ter all% 4or a gro!p o4 knights 8hose (ery identity 8as )o!nd !p 8ith the mysteries o4 +olomon@s Temple% no real historical relic other than the Ark co!ld possi)ly ha(e ser(ed as a more 4itting o)Cect o4 chi(alric endea(o!r5 By the same token% there 8as only one co!ntry in 8hich s!ch an endea(o!r might ha(e )een !ndertaken 8ith any gen!ine hope o4 s!ccess A a co!ntry 8hich had a li(ing instit!tion o4 Ark-8orship% a +olomonic heritage% and a credi)le claim to possess the Ark itsel45 I there4ore )elie(ed I 8as right in my hypothesis that the Templars had la!nched a ?!est in .thiopia in the late t8el4th cent!ry and I )elie(ed that they had 4o!nd the precio!s relic 8hich #ol4ram had descri)ed as @the cons!mmation o4 heart@s desire@5<02= As I shall reco!nt in the ne9t chapter% ho8e(er% I also )elie(ed that they had lost it again A that it had )een 8rested 4rom them and that they had )een o)liged to ?!it .thiopia 8itho!t it5 #hy7 Beca!se a (ery 4e8 intrepid men contin!ed to tra(el to .thiopia in search o4 the Ark long a4ter the !tter destr!ction o4 the $nights o4 the Temple o4 +olomon in the 4o!rteenth cent!ry5 B!rthermore% tho!gh they tra(elled at di44erent periods% and 8ere )orn in di44erent lands% all these later ad(ent!rers 8ere directly linked to the Templars and had inherited their traditions5

CHA:T.' * A +.C'.T A,D ,.6.'-.,DI,G /I.+T

Brom the 4irst to the si9th cent!ry AD the empire centred on the city o4 A9!m in northern .thiopia co!ld rightly claim to rank amongst the most po8er4!l and prospero!s in the kno8n 8orld5 It dealt on e?!al terms 8ith 'ome and :ersia and sent its na(ies sailing to ports as 4ar a4ield as .gypt% India% Ceylon and China5 Its architect!ral and artistic achie(ements 8ere impressi(e and it )ecame the 4irst )astion o4 Christianity in s!)-+aharan A4rica% adopting the ne8 4aith as its o44icial religion in the early 4o!rth cent!ry AD <coincidentally at m!ch the same time as the mirac!lo!s con(ersion o4 Constantine the Great=5<1= By the se(enth cent!ry% ho8e(er% A9!m@s light had )eg!n to dimJ the em)assies that it sent a)road 8ere no8 4e8 and 4ar

)et8een and its once 4ormida)le military po8er 8as clearly in decline5 This marked change% 8hich e(ent!ally led to total isolation% had m!ch to do 8ith the ad(ance o4 the )elligerent 4orces o4 Islam and the encirclement o4 A)yssinian Christianity d!ring and a4ter the li4etime o4 the :rophet !hammad <AD "*2 A &32=5 @.ncompassed )y the enemies o4 their religion%@ 8rote .d8ard Gi))on in his Decline and Ball o4 the 'oman .mpire% @the .thiopians slept 4or near a tho!sand years% 4orget4!l o4 the 8orld )y 8hom they 8ere 4orgotten5@<2= The millenni!m to 8hich the great .nglish historian re4erred lasted 4rom ro!ghly the se(enth to the si9teenth cent!ries% d!ring 8hich time it 8o!ld )e 4air to say that .thiopia all )!t disappeared 4rom 8orld conscio!sness5 Bormerly 8ell kno8n to o!tsiders% and relati(ely 8ell tra(elled% this Christian co!ntry in the remote highlands o4 A4rica 8as grad!ally trans4ormed into a mysterio!s realm o4 myth and magic in 8hich dragons and other monsters 8ere )elie(ed to d8ell A a terra incognita 8here no one dared <or 8anted= to (ent!re5 It 8o!ld ha(e )een tempting to ass!me that the A)yssinians had re(erted to )ar)arism or stagnated d!ring the long% dark hole in their history5 y researches had sho8n me% ho8e(er% that the opposite 8as tr!e; as the e9traordinary rock-he8n ch!rches o4 Lali)ela pro(ed% a rich and idiosyncratic c!lt!re had )een preser(ed thro!gho!t5 oreo(er% altho!gh this c!lt!re 8as intro(erted and s!spicio!s o4 the moti(es o4 4oreign po8ers% it had stayed in contact 8ith the o!tside 8orld5 :rince Lali)ela himsel4 had spent t8enty-4i(e years as an e9ile in Eer!salem in the second hal4 o4 the t8el4th cent!ry5 And it had )een 4rom Eer!salem that he had ret!rned to .thiopia to claim his kingdom and to )!ild the monolithic ch!rches that no8 )ear his name5 As o!tlined in Chapter "% my 4indings had con(inced me o4 the possi)ility that Lali)ela might ha(e )een accompanied )y a contingent o4 Templars 8hen he le4t the Holy Land in 110" to 8in )ack his throne5 These knights% I )elie(ed% 8o!ld ha(e )een moti(ated 4irst and 4oremost )y a desire to seek o!t the Ark o4 the Co(enant in .thiopia5 In 4!rtherance o4 this end it seemed logical to s!ppose that they 8o!ld ha(e )een more than 8illing to assist the prince to achie(e his o8n political o)Cecti(es A since )y so doing they might reasona)ly ha(e e9pected to gain great in4l!ence5 The reader 8ill recall that I then learned o4 an .thiopian tradition 8hich told o4 the in(ol(ement o4 mysterio!s @8hite men@ in the constr!ction o4 the Lali)ela ch!rches5 This tradition 8as an ancient one5 Indeed% it had already )een (ery old 8hen it had 4irst )een recorded in the early si9teenth cent!ry )y a :ort!g!ese (isitor% Bather Brancisco Al(are35 I kne8 that the Templars had )een great )!ilders and architects%<3= and it 8as there4ore di44ic!lt to resist the concl!sion that they might ha(e )een the @8hite men@ 8ho had had a hand in the creation o4 the rock-he8n monoliths5 B!rthermore% since the ch!rches 8ere t8enty-4o!r years in the making% the implication 8as that the knights had A at the (ery least A had a s!stained presence in .thiopia and perhaps had entertained plans 4or an e(en longer-term in(ol(ement in the a44airs o4 that co!ntry5 The s!spicion that this might indeed ha(e )een the case deepened as my research contin!ed5 In order to e9plain 8hy% it is 4irst o4 all necessary to ac?!aint the reader 8ith 8hat happened to the Templars d!ring and immediately a4ter the )r!tal s!ppression o4 the order in the early 4o!rteenth cent!ry5 It is also necessary to cross-re4erence this in4ormation 8ith certain e(ents that took place in .thiopia at aro!nd the same time5

A :.'I>D I,6>L6.D I, DA'$,.++

Bo!nded in the year 1111% and gi(en o44icial recognition )y the ch!rch in 1120 at the +ynod o4 Troyes% the Templars ?!ickly rose to a position o4 great international po8er% 8ealth and prestige A a position 4rom 8hich they 8ere ne(ertheless doomed to 4all 8ithin t8o cent!ries5 The history o4 the order@s catastrophic collapse has )een too 4re?!ently and thoro!ghly reco!nted else8here to re?!ire e9tensi(e repetition here5<4= +!44ice it to say that ?!ite s!ddenly% on Briday 13 >cto)er 132*% all Templars residing in Brance 8ere arrested5 This 8as a 8ell coordinated operation that sa8 sim!ltaneo!s da8n s8oops on h!ndreds o4 Templar properties )y the )aili44s and seneschals o4 the Brench king% :hilip I65 By night4all 1"%222 men 8ere in chains and Briday the 13th had 8on a !ni?!e place 4or itsel4 in the pop!lar imagination as the most !nl!cky and ina!spicio!s date in the calendar5 The charges le(elled against the Templars to C!sti4y their dramatic and h!miliating arrests 8ere as l!rid as they 8ere imaginati(e5 They 8ere acc!sed% 4or e9ample% o4 denying Christ and spitting on His image% and o4 gi(ing each other indecent kisses @in shame o4 h!man dignity% according to the pro4ane rite o4 the order@ <these kisses 8ere said to )e placed on the an!s% na(el and mo!th o4 each initiate at the time o4 his ind!ction=5 It 8as also alleged that they engaged in a 8ide range o4 other homose9!al practices <8hich 8ere @re?!ired 8itho!t the possi)ility o4 re4!sal@=% and A last )!t not least A that they made o44erings to idols5<"= At this time <and !ntil 13**= the o44icial residence o4 the :apacy 8as the city o4 A(ignon in :ro(ence5 The reasons 4or the a)andonment o4 the 6atican need not )e gone into here5<&= >)(io!sly% ho8e(er% the remo(al o4 the Holy +ee to a point so close to Brench territory ga(e $ing :hilip great in4l!ence o(er the :ope <Clement 6 8ho had )een cro8ned at Lyons in :hilip@s presence in 132"=<*=5 This in4l!ence 8as e9ercised to the detriment o4 the Templars% 8hose destr!ction :hilip 8as determined to ens!re not only in Brance )!t also in e(ery other co!ntry in 8hich they 8ere esta)lished5 To this end the Brench monarch p!t press!re on Clement 6 8ho in d!e co!rse iss!ed a )!ll <:astorales praeeminentiae% dated 22 ,o(em)er 132*= 8hich ordered the arrest o4 the Templars thro!gho!t the Christian 8orld5<0= :roceedings 4ollo8ed as 4ar a4ield as .ngland% +pain% Germany% Italy and Cypr!s and% in 1312% another )!ll 4rom the p!ppet :ope o44icially s!ppressed the order5 ean8hile tho!sands o4 Templars had )een s!)Cected to the most horri4ic tort!res and in?!isitions5 any 8ere s!)se?!ently )!rned at the stake A incl!ding Grand aster Eac?!es de olay and the :receptor o4 ,ormandy% Geo44roi de Charnay5<1= It is not my intention here to go in any depth into the persec!tion% trial and destr!ction o4 the Templars5 I only )ecame interested in these matters )eca!se o4 the e(idence I had !nearthed 8hich s!ggested a possi)le Templar ?!est 4or the Ark in .thiopia in the late t8el4th cent!ry5 Ha(ing esta)lished that a gro!p o4 knights co!ld ha(e accompanied Lali)ela 4rom Eer!salem in the year 110" I nat!rally 8ondered 8hat might ha(e happened ne9t and this c!riosity led me to look 4or cl!es in the s!)se?!ent history o4 the Templar >rder5

That history% o4 co!rse% 8as rather short; less than 132 years a4ter Lali)ela@s accession to the throne o4 .thiopia the Templars had )een ro!nded !p% tort!red% and )!rnt at the stake5 Their properties and money had )een shared o!t amongst the r!ling ho!ses o4 .!ropeJ their order had ceased to e9istJ and their good name had )een tainted )y charges o4 sodomy% )lasphemy and idolatry5 ,or% in the records o4 the last cent!ry o4 their e9istence% co!ld I 4ind a single shred o4 e(idence to s!pport the (ie8 o4 a s!stained Templar ?!est in .thiopia5 A4ter the early 1222s the trail simply 8ent coldJ 4rom then !ntil the arrests in 132* the order seemed to ha(e )een concerned solely 8ith its campaigns in the ,ear .ast and 8ith the )!ild-!p o4 its o8n considera)le po8er and 8ealth5 #here else% I 8ondered% might I 4ind the in4ormation I 8as looking 4or7 Be8 attempts had )een made to chronicle de(elopments in .thiopia in the period that no8 concerned me5 I kne8% ho8e(er% that Eames Br!ce had done his !tmost to gather and record ancient traditions d!ring his lengthy (isit in the eighteenth cent!ry5 I there4ore t!rned to his Tra(els A 8hich I no8 kept constantly on my desk5 To8ards the end o4 6ol!me I% as I had hoped% I came across se(eral pages de(oted to the reign o4 $ing Lali)ela5 In4ort!nately m!ch o4 8hat the +cottish ad(ent!rer had 8ritten 8as irrele(ant to my o8n in(estigation5 There 8as% ho8e(er% one partic!lar detail that attracted my attention5 Dra8ing on @the histories and traditions 5 5 5 tho!ght the most a!thentic@ in .thiopia%<12= Br!ce reported that Lali)ela had promoted a scheme to red!ce the do8nstream 4lo8 o4 8ater into the ,ile ri(er system in order @to 4amish .gypt@5<11= A4ter @an e9act s!r(ey and calc!lation@% it seemed this ill!strio!s monarch o4 the Gag8e dynasty had ascertained;

that there ran on the s!mmit% or highest part Ro4 .thiopiaS% se(eral ri(ers 8hich co!ld )e intercepted )y mines% and their stream directed into the lo8 co!ntry so!th8ard% instead o4 Coining the ,ile% a!gmenting it and r!nning north8ard5 By this he 4o!nd he sho!ld )e a)le so to disappoint its increase% that it ne(er 8o!ld rise to a height proper to 4it .gypt 4or c!lti(ation5<12=

+!ch a proCect% I co!ld not help )!t think% 8o!ld certainly ha(e s!ited Templar am)itions 8hich% )y the end o4 Lali)ela@s reign <AD 1211=% had )eg!n to 4oc!s on the con?!est o4 .gypt5 +e(eral e9tensi(e )attles 8ere 4o!ght at this time on the )anks o4 the ,ile% and the Templars spent more than a year )esieging the Ara) 4ortress at Damietta in the delta5<13= There co!ld )e no do!)t% there4ore% that a @4amished@ and 8eakened .gypt 8o!ld ha(e )een (ery m!ch to their liking5 In the e(ent% ho8e(er% the di(ersion o4 the ri(ers 8as ne(er completed; @Death% the ordinary enemy o4 all these st!pendo!s !ndertakings% interposed here and p!t a stop to this enterprise o4 Lali)ela5<14= Br!ce then added a comment on the last t8o monarchs o4 the Gag8e dynasty;

To Lali)ela s!cceeded Imrahana Christos% remarka)le 4or nothing )!t )eing son o4 s!ch a 4ather as Lali)ela% and 4ather to s!ch a son as ,aak!to Laa)J )oth o4 them disting!ished 4or 8orks (ery e9traordinary% tho!gh (ery di44erent in their kind5 The 4irst% that is those o4 the 4ather% 8e ha(e already hinted at% consisting in great mechanical !ndertakings The other 8as an operation o4 the mind% o4 still more di44ic!lt nat!re% a (ictory o(er am)ition% the (ol!ntary a)dication o4 a cro8n5@<1"=

I 8as already 4amiliar 8ith the historical details that 4ollo8ed5 In 12*2% ,aak!to Laa) A the last o4 the Gag8es A 8as pers!aded to a)dicate his throne in 4a(o!r o4 a certain Dek!no Amlak% a monarch claiming +olomonic descent5 This king% as the reader may recall% had )een )iding his time in the distant pro(ince o4 +hoa 8here the +olomonic line had )een preser(ed )y the descendants o4 the single royal prince 8ho had escaped the !prising o4 the Ee8ish ?!een G!dit in the tenth cent!ry5<1&= Br!ce had little or nothing to say a)o!t Dek!no Amlak himsel4% or a)o!t his immediate s!ccessors% Dag)a Gion <120"-14= and #edem Ara@ad <8ho r!led !ntil the year 1314=5 Indeed% it seemed that the normally 4astidio!s research methods 4a(o!red )y the +cottish tra(eller had 4ailed to yield any solid in4ormation at all 4or the cent!ry that 4ollo8ed Lali)ela@s death in AD 1211; All this period is in(ol(ed in darkness%@ Br!ce complained5 @#e might g!ess% )!t since 8e are not a)le to do more% it ans8ers no good p!rpose to do so m!ch5<1*= +imilar darkness% as I already kne8% also enshro!ded the period )e4ore Lali)ela@s accession to the throne5 I 8as there4ore le4t 8ith a host o4 !nans8ered ?!estions5 >4 these )y 4ar the most important concerned the Ark o4 the Co(enant; I needed to kno8 8hat had happened to it d!ring the ro!ghly 322 years <4rom the tenth to the thirteenth cent!ry= in 8hich the r!le o4 the +olomonic dynasty had )een interr!pted5 And I needed to kno8 8hether the Templars might ha(e gained direct access to the sacred relic i4% as I s!pposed% they had esta)lished themsel(es in .thiopia d!ring Lali)ela@s reign5 >nce again I telephoned the historian Belai Gedai in Addis A)a)a to see i4 he co!ld enlighten me 8ith his kno8ledge o4 local traditions5 @In the tenth cent!ry@% he told me% @8e .thiopians say that the Ark 8as remo(ed 4rom A9!m )y the priests and the people in order to keep it sa4e 4rom the ra(ages o4 /!een G!dit% and 8e say that it 8as )ro!ght to an island on Lake G8ai555@ @Do! mean in the 'i4t 6alley A so!th o4 Addis A)a)a7L HDes5@ @That 8as a hell o4 a long 8ay 4or it to )e mo(ed5@ @Des% )!t no lesser distance 8o!ld ha(e )een sa4e5 G!dit 8as Ee8ish% yo! kno85 +he 8anted to esta)lish the Balasha religion all o(er the co!ntry and she 8anted to destroy Christianity5 +he came to )!rn and ro) the ch!rches at A9!m5 +o the priests carried o44 the Ark to pre(ent it 4rom 4alling into her hands% and they )ro!ght it (ery 4ar A all the 8ay to G8aiT A 8here they 8ere s!re that it 8o!ld )e o!t o4 her reach5@

@Do yo! kno8 ho8 long it remained on the island7@ @>!r traditions say that it 8as there 4or se(enty years and that a4ter that it 8as taken )ack to A9!m5@ I thanked Gedai 4or his help and rang o445 #hat he had told me 4itted A more or less A 8ith the pict!re o4 .thiopian medie(al history that I had th!s 4ar managed to piece together5 I kne8 that the throne o4 .thiopia had )een held )y G!dit 4or some years a4ter she had deposed the +olomonids5 I also kne8 that she had e(ent!ally )een s!cceeded )y the 4irst monarch o4 the Gag8e dynasty% himsel4 pro)a)ly a Ee85 Later% ho8e(er <and certainly 8ell )e4ore Lali)ela@s time=% the Gag8es had con(erted to Christianity5 It there4ore seemed ?!ite possi)le that they might ha(e permitted the sa4e ret!rn o4 the Ark to its c!stomary resting place in A9!m A 8here% pres!ma)ly% it 8o!ld still ha(e )een 8hen Lali)ela came to po8er5 >4 o)(io!s rele(ance to this arg!ment 8as the eye8itness acco!nt o4 the Ark in .thiopia gi(en )y the Armenian geographer A)! +alih in his Ch!rches and onasteries o4 .gypt and some ,eigh)o!ring Co!ntries5 Brom internal te9t!al e(idence <the translator and editor o4 this important 8ork e9plained in his Introd!ction=% it 8as clear that it had )een 8ritten @in the 4irst years o4 the thirteenth cent!ry<10= A in other 8ords d!ring the reign o4 Lali)ela himsel45 And altho!gh A)! +alih at no point stated in 8hich .thiopian city he had seen the sacred relic% there 8as no good reason to s!ppose that this city had not )een A9!m5 oreo(er% as I re-read the rele(ant passage% I 8as str!ck )y a 4e8 8ords that I had o(erlooked )e4ore5 Descri)ing the transportation o4 the Ark on certain ceremonial occasions% the geographer had noted that it 8as @attended and carried@ )y )earers 8ho 8ere @8hite and red in comple9ion% 8ith red hair@5<11= #ith a shock o4 gen!ine e9citement I reali3ed that I 8as looking at a second piece o4 p!re and early testimony s!ggesting the presence o4 mysterio!s 8hite men in .thiopia at the time o4 $ing Lali)ela <partic!larly so since another a!thoritati(e translation o4 the same passage rendered @red hair@ as @)lond hair@<22=5 Al(are3 had already alerted me to the old tradition that 8hite men had )!ilt the 8onder4!l rock-he8n ch!rches A a tradition that 4itted 8ell 8ith 8hat I kne8 a)o!t the ad(anced architect!ral skills possessed )y the Templars5 ,o8% as tho!gh to )ear o!t my o8n e(ol(ing theory% here 8as A)! +alih addressing me across se(en cent!ries 8ith the electri4ying ne8s that men 8ho 8ere 8hite and red in comple9ion% men 8ith red or e(en )lond hair A men% in other 8ords% 8ho so!nded (ery m!ch like northern .!ropeans A had )een associated closely and directly 8ith the Ark o4 the Co(enant itsel45 The possi)ility that these men might ha(e )een Templars 8as a (ery sed!cti(e one% )!t it still le4t my in(estigation stranded in the early thirteenth cent!ry and it still le4t the key ?!estions !nans8ered5 I4 the northern .!ropeans seen )y A)! +alih had indeed )een Templars then had they C!st contented themsel(es 8ith carrying the relic 4rom time to time or had they perhaps tried to remo(e it 4rom .thiopia and take it )ack to .!rope7 ost Important o4 all A i4 they had tried% had they s!cceeded7 >n all these points% I had to admit% I 8as e44ecti(ely )locked )y the a)sol!te lack o4 historical in4ormation5 >)sessi(ely secreti(e Is the Templars had !ndo!)tedly )een<21= it did not really s!rprise me that their o8n doc!ments and records yielded so little5 ,or 8as there any

com4ort to )e gained 4rom .thiopian annals; a4ter e9amining a 8ide range o4 di44erent so!rces% I 8as 4orced to accept that the cent!ry a4ter the death o4 $ing Lali)ela had indeed )een a period @in(ol(ed in darkness@% C!st as Eames Br!ce had o)ser(ed5 Almost nothing 8as kno8n a)o!t 8hat had gone on in these years5

<Big!re 3&-4*=

I 8as )y no8 4eeling e9tremely pessimistic a)o!t the prospects o4 e(er )reaking the research deadlock5 ,e(ertheless I telephoned 'ichard :ankh!rst in Addis A)a)a and asked him i4 there 8ere any records 8hich might s!ggest that there had )een contacts o4 any kind )et8een .thiopians and .!ropeans d!ring the period in ?!estion5 @,one that I kno8 o4 )e4ore 1322%@ he replied5 @And ho8 a)o!t a4ter 13227 I s!ppose the 4irst doc!mented .!ropean contact 8as 8ith the :ort!g!ese em)assy that arri(ed in .thiopia in 1"227@ @,ot ?!ite5 A small n!m)er o4 missions tra(elled in the other direction )e4ore that A I mean 4rom .thiopia to .!rope5 As it happens% the (ery 4irst o4 these 8as sent 8ithin a cent!ry o4 Lali)ela@s death A so that does p!t it into the period yo!@re interested in5@ I sat 4or8ard in my chair; @Do yo! happen to kno8 the e9act date7@ @Des% I do%@ 'ichard replied5 @It 8as 132&% and it 8as ?!ite a large mission5 It 8as sent )y the .mperor #edem Ara@ad and it had% I )elie(e% a)o!t thirty mem)ers5@ @Do yo! remem)er 8hat the p!rpose o4 this mission 8as7L HI@m not a)sol!tely certain5 Do! 8o!ld ha(e to check the so!rce5 B!t I do kno8 that its destination 8as A(ignon in the so!th o4 Brance5@


'ichard did not reali3e it% )!t he had C!st dropped a small )om)shell5 A(ignon had )een the seat o4 :ope Clement 6 A 8ho had )een cro8ned at Lyons in 132" in the presence o4 $ing :hilip o4 Brance5 oreo(er% as I 8as already 8ell a8are% it had )een Clement 6 8ho had ordered the arrest o4 the Templars thro!gho!t Christendom in 132*5 ,o8 I had learned that a high-le(el .thiopian delegation <the 4irst e(er to )e sent to .!rope= had (isited A(ignon in 132& A C!st a year )e4ore the arrests5 #ere these dates and e(ents cl!stered together )y coincidence7 >r 8as there% perhaps% some !nderlying pattern o4 ca!se and e44ect7 To get ans8ers to these ?!estions I 8o!ld ha(e to try to esta)lish 8hether the A)yssinian en(oys had in 4act met 8ith the :ope d!ring their (isit and% i4 they had% I 8o!ld also ha(e to try to learn 8hat had passed )et8een them5

The original so!rce o4 in4ormation on the 132& mission had )een a Genoese cartographer% Gio(anni da Carignano% 8ho had )een acti(e in map-making d!ring the years 1211-13215F I 8as intrig!ed to disco(er that this same Carignano had )een responsi)le 4or a maCor shi4t in .!ropean ideas a)o!t .thiopia; a4ter cent!ries o4 con4!sion <see disc!ssion in Chapter 4= he had )een the 4irst a!thority to a44irm !nam)ig!o!sly that @:rester Eohn@ r!led in A4rica rather than in @India@5<23= Carignano had met 8ith the mem)ers o4 the .thiopian em)assy 8hen they had passed thro!gh Genoa in 132& on their 8ay )ack 4rom A(ignon to their homeland5 Beca!se o4 ad(erse 8inds they had spent @many days@ in the Italian port and there the cartographer had ?!estioned them a)o!t @their rites% c!stoms and regions@5<24= 'egretta)ly% ho8e(er% Carignano@s treatise containing all the in4ormation that the .thiopians had gi(en him had s!)se?!ently )een lost5 All that remained o4 it today 8as a )rie4 a)stract preser(ed in a Bergamese chronicle o4 the late 4i4teenth cent!ry 8ritten )y a certain Eacopo Bilippo Boresti5@<2"= I 4inally managed to get my hands on an .nglish translation o4 the a)stract in ?!estion5 It consisted o4 only a single paragraph in 8hich Boresti praised and then s!mmari3ed Carignano@s treatise;

Amongst many things 8ritten in it a)o!t the state o4 Rthe .thiopiansS 5 5 5 it is said that their emperor is most Christian% to 8hom se(enty-4o!r kings and almost inn!mera)le princes pay allegiance 5 5 5 It is kno8n that this emperor in the 5 5 5 year o4 o!r sal(ation 132& sent thirty en(oys R8hoS 5 5 5 presented themsel(es re(erentially )e4ore :ope Clement 6 at A(ignon5<2&=

And that A apart 4rom a 4e8 4rills and the @:rester Eohn@ re4erence already mentioned A 8as all that 8as kno8n a)o!t the 4irst-e(er .thiopian mission to .!rope5 +kimpy tho!gh the data 8as% ho8e(er% it did con4irm my s!spicion that the en(oys had met 8ith :ope Clement 6<2*= A and that they had done so C!st a year )e4ore he a!thori3ed the mass arrests o4 the $nights Templar5 ,o in4ormation 8as gi(en concerning the s!)stance o4 the meetingJ nor 8as there the slightest hint as to 8hy the .mperor o4 .thiopia sho!ld ha(e )een so an9io!s to make contact 8ith :ope Clement 6 in the year 132&5 It seemed to me impro)a)le% ho8e(er% that #edem Ara@ad 8o!ld ha(e sent so large an em)assy on s!ch a long and !nprecedented mission i4 he had not had a (ery strong moti(e indeed5 I no8 4elt at li)erty to spec!late a)o!t 8hat that moti(e might ha(e )een5 >pening my note)ook I Cotted do8n the 4ollo8ing series o4 propositions% conCect!res and hypotheses;

Ass!me 4or the moment that the Templars did go 4rom Eer!salem to .thiopia 8ith :rince Lali)ela in 110" A and that they did help to install him on his throne5 Ass!me that the @8hite men@ said to ha(e )!ilt the Lali)ela ch!rches 8ere in 4act Templars5 Ass!me also that the @8hite men@ seen acting as )earers 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant in .thiopia in the early 1222s 8ere these same Templars5 The implication is that the order had s!cceeded in 8inning a position o4 po8er% tr!st and in4l!ence 8ith Lali)ela% and 8ith the Gag8e dynasty to 8hich he )elonged5 I4 so then it 8o!ld )e reasona)le that the last t8o Gag8e monarchs <Imrahana Christos and ,aak!to Laa)= 8o!ld also ha(e had a good relationship 8ith the Templars A 8hom they might ha(e contin!ed to grant pri(ileged access to the Ark5 Ass!me that this 8as 8hat happened and that d!ring the si9 decades a4ter Lali)ela@s death in 1211 the Templars 8ere allo8ed to approach the sacred relic )!t not% o4 co!rse% to take it o!t o4 .thiopia5 :erhaps they planned to take it )!t 8ere simply )iding their time !ntil a 4a(o!ra)le opport!nity presented itsel45 ean8hile% as the knights 8ho had originally come to .thiopia gre8 old the order 8o!ld ha(e sent o!t others 4rom the Holy Land to replace them5 There 8o!ld ha(e )een no partic!lar sense o4 !rgencyJ indeed they might ha(e )een ?!ite content 4or the Ark to stay in .thiopia5 This state o4 a44airs 8o!ld ha(e changed dramatically in 12*2% ho8e(er% 8hen <4or 8hate(er reasons= ,aak!to Laa) 8as pers!aded to a)dicate his throne and 8as replaced )y Dek!no Amlak A a monarch claiming +olomonic descent5 Inlike the Gag8es% the (ery identity o4 the +olomonids 8as irre(oca)ly )o!nd !p 8ith the Ark o4 the Co(enant and 8ith the notion that enelik I A the 4o!nder o4 their dynasty A had )ro!ght it 4rom Eer!salem d!ring the reign o4 $ing +olomon himsel45 In this conte9t it is 8orth remem)ering that the 4irst 8ritten (ersion o4 the $e)ra ,agast 8as prepared on the orders o4 Dek!no Amlak5<20= In other 8ords% altho!gh the legend 8as )y then already (ery old in oral 4orrn%<21= Dek!no Amlak 8anted it 4ormali3ed5 #hy7 Beca!se it ser(ed to legitimi3e and glori4y his title to the throne5 Brom this it 4ollo8s that Dek!no Amlak 8o!ld ha(e )een horri4ied )y the presence in his co!ntry o4 a )ody o4 armed% militant <and technologically ad(anced= 4oreigners like the Templars; 4oreigners 8ho co!ld call on rein4orcements 4rom amongst the tho!sands o4 other mem)ers o4 their order in the ,ear .astJ 4oreigners 8ho clearly had a special interest in the Ark and 8ho 8ere possi)ly plotting to steal a8ay 8ith it5 Ass!me% ho8e(er% that Dek!no Amlak <ne8 to the throne and still insec!re= initially tried to placate these po8er4!l and dangero!s 8hite men% perhaps )y gi(ing them the 4alse impression that he 8as 8illing to co-operate 8ith them in m!ch the same 8ay as the Gag8es had done5 That 8o!ld ha(e )een a logical strategy A partic!larly since it is kno8n that his army 8as (ery small<32= A and 8o!ld e9plain 8hy nothing spectac!lar happened d!ring his reign5 It 8o!ld there4ore ha(e )een !p to his s!ccessors to seek a 4inal sol!tion to the pro)lem o4 ho8 to get rid o4 the Templars and retain the Ark5 Dek!no Amlak@s son <Dag)a Gion% 120"-14= 8as% i4 anything% e(en 8eaker than his 4ather in military terms5

Dag)a Gion% ho8e(er% 8as s!cceeded )y a m!ch stronger character% #edem Ara@ad% 8ho reigned !ntil 13145 +igni4icantly it 8as #edem Ara@ad 8ho sent a large em)assy to :ope Clement 6at A(ignon in 132&5 Is it not possi)le that the p!rpose o4 that em)assy 8as to stir !p tro!)le 4or the Templars A and perhaps to gi(e the :ope and the Brench king <:hilip I6= an !rgent moti(e to destroy the order7 +!ch a moti(e co!ld ha(e )een pro(ided )y the s!ggestion that the knights 8ere planning to )ring the Ark o4 the Co(enant to Brance5 A4ter all% this 8as a period 8hen deep s!perstitions r!led the pop!lar imagination5 #ith so sacred and so po8er4!l a relic in their hands the Templars 8o!ld ha(e )een in a !ni?!e position to challenge )oth the sec!lar and religio!s a!thorities o4 the land A and those a!thorities 8o!ld certainly ha(e taken any steps they co!ld to pre(ent s!ch an e(ent!ality5 This theory )egins to look partic!larly attracti(e 8hen set against the )ackdrop o4 the arrests o4 the Templars in Brance and else8here5 All these arrests took place in 132* A i5e5 a)o!t a year a4ter the depart!re o4 the .thiopian mission 4rom A(ignon5 This 4its per4ectly 8ith 8hat is kno8n a)o!t the )eha(io!r o4 $ing :hilip 6; there is e(idence that he )egan to plan his operation against the Templars a)o!t a year in ad(ance o4 its implementation<31= <i5e5 in 132&= and there is also e(idence that on se(eral occasions d!ring that year he disc!ssed his plans 8ith :ope Clement5<32= It 8o!ld o4 co!rse )e 4olly to imagine that the destr!ction o4 the Templars 8as occasioned only )y the lo))ying o4 the .thiopian en(oys5 alice and greed on the part o4 :hilip I6 also played a role <the 4ormer )eca!se the king had se(eral times )een sn!))ed )y the orderJ the latter )eca!se he !ndo!)tedly had his eyes on the h!ge s!ms o4 money resting in Templar treas!ries thro!gho!t his realm=5 By the same token% ho8e(er% it 8o!ld )e 4olly to imagine that the .thiopian mission to A(ignon in 132& had nothing to do 8ith the e(ents o4 132*5 >n the contrary it is more than pro)a)le that there 8as a link A and that link% I am con(inced% 8as the Ark o4 the Co(enant5

:>'TIGI.+. A,D +C>TTI+H C>,,.CTI>,+

The Templars 8ere a rich and po8er4!l international )rotherhood o4 religio!s 8arriors5 As s!ch% despite the )est e44orts o4 $ing :hilip 6 and :ope Clement 6% they did not pro(e easy to destroy5 The s!ppression 8as most e44ecti(ely and completely implemented in BranceJ e(en there% ho8e(er% some )rothers managed to e(ade capt!re<33= <as did the entire Templar 4leet 8hich slipped o!t o4 the Atlantic port o4 La 'ochelle on the morning o4 the arrests and 8as ne(er seen again=5<34= In other co!ntries the trials and in?!isitions 8ere p!rs!ed 8ith m!ch less (igo!r than in BranceJ ne(ertheless% tort!res% imprisonments% e9ec!tions% con4iscation o4 property and the 4inal dissol!tion o4 the order 8ere the end res!lt in .ngland <a4ter some considera)le delay=% in +pain% in Italy% in Germany% in Cypr!s and else8here5<3"=

In :ort!gal and +cotland% ho8e(er% the Templars appear to ha(e escaped persec!tion almost completely5 Indeed% circ!mstances 8ere so 4a(o!ra)le in these co!ntries that% !nder di44erent disg!ises% the order managed to li(e on in )oth o4 them5 At the time 8hen :ope Clement 6 iss!ed his )!ll ordering the arrests o4 the Templars thro!gho!t Christendom A ,o(em)er 132* A +cotland 8as locked in a 4ierce str!ggle to preser(e its national independence against the colonial aspirations o4 .ngland5 Leading this str!ggle 8as the most 4amo!s o4 all +cots monarchs A $ing 'o)ert the Br!ce 8ho% at the )attle o4 Bannock)!rn in 1314% 8as to in4lict s!ch a cr!shing de4eat !pon the .nglish that his co!ntry@s 4reedom 8as g!aranteed 4or cent!ries a4ter8ards5 #ith all his energies 4oc!ssed on the 8ar% Br!ce had no interest 8hatsoe(er in p!rs!ing the papal (endetta against the Templars5 He there4ore only 8ent thro!gh the motions o4 s!ppressing them; C!st t8o knights 8ere arrested<3&= and the most that appears to ha(e )een re?!ired o4 the remainder 8as that they sho!ld keep a lo8 pro4ile5 There 8as method in the +cottish king@s )eha(io!r; all the e(idence s!ggests that he granted sa4e ha(en not only to local Templars )!t also to mem)ers o4 the order 4leeing persec!tion in other lands5<3*= ,ot nat!rally altr!istic% it seems that he adopted is genero!s policy in order to enco!rage 4!giti(e knights to Coin his army5<30= It has% 4!rthermore% )een cogently arg!ed that a Templar contingent did 4ight on Br!ce@s side at Bannock)!rn<31= A a s!ggestion that looks 8orthy o4 4!rther research 8hen it is remem)ered that the (ictorio!s +cots marched )ehind a tiny Ark-shaped reli?!ary at that 4amo!s )attle5F The 4a(o!r that Br!ce sho8ed to8ards the Templars in +cotland% and the 4act that many knights escaped arrest in .ngland <)eca!se o4 a delay in implementing the papal )!ll there=% made it possi)le 4or the order to go !ndergro!nd in the British Isles A in other 8ords to s!r(i(e in a secret and hidden 4orm rather than to )e completely destroyed5 Bor h!ndreds o4 years it has )een r!mo!red that this secret s!r(i(al took the 4orm o4 Breemasonry5<42= A a (ie8 s!pported )y a speci4ic asonic tradition that the oldest +cottish lodge <$il8inning= 8as 4o!nded )y $ing 'o)ert the Br!ce a4ter the )attle o4 Bannock)!rn <41=4or the reception o4 those $nights Templar 8ho had 4led 4rom Brance5<42= In the eighteenth cent!ry Andre8 'amsay% a prominent +cots ason and historian% added credi)ility to this tradition 8ith a considera)le )ody o4 8ork on the connections )et8een Breemasonry and the Templars5<43= And at aro!nd the same time Baron Carl (on H!nd% a leading German ason% declared that @Breemasonry originated in $night Templary% and that% in conse?!ence% e(ery ason is a Templar5@<44= That s!ch 4orthright statements sho!ld ha(e )een made in the eighteenth cent!ry <rather than in any earlier cent!ry= is not s!rprising; this 8as the period in 8hich Breemasons 4inally @came o!t o4 the closet@ and )egan to talk a)o!t themsel(es and a)o!t their history5<4"= +!)se?!ently% as the ne8 spirit o4 openness enco!raged 4!rther research% it )ecame clear that @$night Templarism@ 8as and al8ays had )een an important 4orce 8ithin the asonic system5<4&= This research% together 8ith m!ch other material not pre(io!sly !nco(ered% has recently )een incorporated into a detailed and a!thoritati(e st!dy 8hich itemi3es the many 8ays in 8hich Breemasonry 8as shaped and in4l!enced )y 4!giti(e Templars5<4*= It is not my intention here to participate at all in 8hat is !ndo!)tedly a heated% con(ol!ted and highly speciali3ed de)ate5 The point I 8ish to make is simply that the asonic system did inherit many o4 the most central traditions o4 the >rder o4 the Temple o4 +olomon% and that this

inheritance 8as 4irst passed on in the British Isles in the years 132*-14 )y Templars 8ho had s!r(i(ed papal persec!tion )eca!se o4 the specially 4a(o!ra)le conditions then pre(ailing in +cotland5 ,or% as I ha(e already noted% 8as +cotland the only co!ntry in 8hich the Templars 8ere le4t !nscathed5 In :ort!gal they 8ere tried )!t 4o!nd to )e 4ree o4 g!ilt% and th!s neither tort!red nor imprisoned5<40= >4 co!rse% as a good Catholic% the :ort!g!ese monarch <Dennis I= co!ld not a44ord to ignore papal instr!ctions completely; accordingly lip ser(ice 8as paid to these instr!ctions and the Templars 8ere o44icially dissol(ed in 13125 E!st si9 years later% ho8e(er% they 8ere re)orn !nder a ne8 name; the ilitia o4 Ees!s Christ <also kno8n as the $nights o4 Christ or% more simply% as the >rder o4 Christ=5<41= This trans4ormation o4 one order into another ena)led the :ort!g!ese Templars not only to s!r(i(e the 4ires o4 the In?!isition d!ring the years 132* to 1314 )!t also to emerge phoeni9like 4rom the ashes in 1310 A a4ter 8hich date they seem to ha(e carried on 8ith )!siness (ery m!ch as !s!al5 All Templar properties and 4!nds in :ort!gal 8ere trans4erred intact to the >rder o4 Christ% as 8ere all personnel5<"2= oreo(er% on 14 arch 1311% the ne8ly 4ormed entity recei(ed the appro(al and con4irmation o4 :ope Eohn KKII <Clement mean8hile ha(ing died=5<"1= In s!mmary% there4ore% despite the harshness o4 the s!ppression in Brance and else8here% the :ort!g!ese >rder o4 Christ% and British <and especially +cottish= Breemasonry% 8ere the means )y 8hich Templar traditions 8ere preser(ed and carried 4or8ard into the distant 4!t!re A perhaps right !p to modern times5 As my research contin!ed I 8as to )ecome increasingly s!re that one o4 the traditions th!s perpet!ated 8as the ?!est 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant5

@ABT.' BATTL. LI$. #>L6.+ A,D ABT.' +LAIGHT.' LI$. LI>,+ 555@

.(en i4 my theory a)o!t the Templars in .thiopia 8as correct% I kne8 that there 8as no 8ay that I co!ld esta)lish 8hat might ha(e happened to them in that co!ntry a4ter the persec!tions )egan in .!rope in 132*5 Historical records 4rom the reign o4 #edem Ara@ad 8ere (irt!ally non-e9istent5 A4ter sending his mission to A(ignon% ho8e(er% my g!ess 8as that he 8o!ld ha(e stayed in to!ch 8ith de(elopments and 8o!ld ha(e )een in4ormed o4 the order@s destr!ction5 +ec!re in the kno8ledge that no 4!rther knights co!ld no8 )e sent to (e9 him% the .mperor 8o!ld then ha(e mo(ed against those Templars 8ho remained in .thiopia and either e9pelled them or 8iped them o!t A most pro)a)ly the latter5 That% at any rate% 8as my 8orking hypothesis% and pro)a)ly I 8o!ld ha(e tho!ght no more a)o!t this aspect o4 my in(estigation i4 I had not learnt a)o!t the @:ort!g!ese connection@ represented )y the >rder o4 Christ5 Do! see% 8ith C!st t8o !nimportant e9ceptions%<"2= all the kno8n early (isitors to .thiopia 8ere :ort!g!ese5 oreo(er% this :ort!g!ese interest in the realm o4 @:rester Eohn@ 8as already prono!nced 8ithin a cent!ry o4 the destr!ction o4 the Templars and 8as% 4rom the )eginning% spearheaded )y mem)ers o4 the >rder o4 Christ5

In this endea(o!r% the 4irst and most acti(e 4ig!re on 8hom any solid in4ormation is a(aila)le 8as :rince Henry the ,a(igator% Grand aster o4 the >rder o4 Christ and a man descri)ed )y his )iographer as possessing @strength o4 heart and keenness o4 mind to a (ery e9cellent degree 5 5 5 R8hoS 8as% )eyond comparison% am)itio!s o4 achie(ing great and lo4ty deeds5@<"3= Born in 1314% and acti(ely in(ol(ed in sea4aring )y 141"%<"4= Henry@s greatest am)ition A as he himsel4 declared A 8as that he 8o!ld @ha(e kno8ledge o4 the land o4 :rester Eohn@5<""= Chroniclers 8ho 8ere his contemporaries% as 8ell as modern historians% are in 4!ll agreement that he de(oted the greater part o4 his ill!strio!s career to the p!rs!it o4 precisely this goal5<"&= Det an atmosphere o4 mystery and intrig!e s!rro!nds all his e44orts5 As .dgar :restage% the late Camoens :ro4essor o4 :ort!g!ese Lang!age% Literat!re and History at the Ini(ersity o4 London% o)ser(ed; >!r kno8ledge o4 the Henrican (oyages is inade?!ate% and this is largely d!e to the adoption o4 a policy o4 secrecy 8hich incl!ded the s!ppression o4 4acts 5 5 5 historical 8orks 5 5 5 na!tical g!ides% maps% instr!ctions to na(igators and their reports5<"*= Indeed% so great 8as the commitment to secrecy in Henry@s time that the release o4 in4ormation on the res!lts o4 the (ario!s e9ploratory (oyages that 8ere !ndertaken 8as p!nisha)le )y death5<"0= Despite this% ho8e(er% it is kno8n that the prince 8as o)sessed 8ith the notion o4 making direct contact 8ith .thiopia A and that he so!ght to achie(e this end )y circ!mna(igating A4rica <since the shorter ro!te thro!gh the editerranean and then into the 'ed +ea (ia .gypt 8as )locked )y hostile !slim 4orces=<"1=5 oreo(er% e(en )e4ore the Cape o4 Good Hope 8as ro!nded% the masters o4 :ort!g!ese (essels (ent!ring do8n the #est A4rican coast 8ere instr!cted to en?!ire a4ter @:rester Eohn@ to see 8hether it might not )e ?!icker to approach his kingdom o(erland5<&2= >ne can only spec!late as to the tr!e o)Cecti(e o4 the :ort!g!ese prince5 The common (ie8 is that he intended A as a @good cr!sader@<&1= A to 4orge an anti-Islamic alliance 8ith the Christian .thiopian emperor5 :erhaps he did5 +ince all serio!s plans to 8in the Holy Land 4or Christendom had )een a)andoned more than a cent!ry )e4ore Henry 8as )orn% ho8e(er% I 4o!nd it di44ic!lt to resist the notion that he m!st ha(e had some other moti(e A some hidden agenda% perhaps% that 8o!ld ha(e acco!nted )oth 4or his secrecy and 4or his 4ascination 8ith :rester Eohn5 As I st!died the li4e o4 the great na(igator 4!rther I )ecame more and more certain that this moti(e 8as rooted and gro!nded in his identity as Grand aster o4 the >rder o4 Christ% in 8hich capacity he 8o!ld ha(e inherited all the mystical traditions o4 the >rder o4 the Temple o4 +olomon5 It is nota)le that he immersed himsel4 in the st!dy o4 mathematics and cosmography% @the co!rse o4 the hea(ens and astrology@%<&2= and that he 8as constantly s!rro!nded )y Ee8ish doctors and astronomers<&3= A men in e(ery 8ay reminiscent o4 #ol4ram@s character Blegetanis 8ho @sa8 hidden secrets in the constellations RandS declared there 8as a thing called the Gral 8hose name he read in the stars 8itho!t more ado5@<&4= Another 4actor 8hich s!ggested to me that the :ort!g!ese prince 8as pro4o!ndly in4l!enced )y Templar traditions 8as his celi)acy5 The $nights o4 Christ 8ere not )o!nd )y s!ch strict r!les as their predecessors in the >rder o4 the Temple5

,e(ertheless% like the Templar Grand asters )e4ore him% Henry @8o!ld ne(er marry% )!t preser(ed great chastity RandS remained a (irgin till his death5@<&"= Like8ise% I co!ld not help )!t 8onder 8hether it 8as entirely a matter o4 coincidence that the ill!strio!s na(igator chose to make his last 8ill and testament on 13 >cto)er 14&2<&&= A the 1"3rd anni(ersary o4 the arrests o4 the Templars in Brance <8hich took place on 13 >cto)er 132*=5 Henry died in 14&2% shortly a4ter making his 8ill% and it 8as not !ntil the early years o4 the t8entieth cent!ry that certain secret archi(es pertaining to the last decade o4 his li4e came to light5 Amongst these archi(es <details o4 8hich 8ere p!)lished )y Dr Eaime Corte3ao in 1124 in the re(ie8 L!sitania=<&*= a )rie4 note 8as 4o!nd to the e44ect that @an am)assador o4 :rester Eohn (isited Lis)on eight years )e4ore Henry@s death@5<&0= It is not kno8n 8hat the p!rpose o4 this mission 8as% or 8hat the prince and the .thiopian en(oy disc!ssed5 ,e(ertheless% t8o years a4ter their meeting it can hardly ha(e )een accidental that $ing Al4onso 6 o4 :ort!gal granted spirit!al C!risdiction o(er .thiopia to the >rder o4 Christ5<&1= @#e are@% admits :ro4essor :restage% @still ignorant o4 the moti(es that led to this concession5@<*2= In the year that Henry the ,a(igator died A 14&2 A a 4itting s!ccessor 8as )orn at +ines% a seaport in the so!th o4 :ort!gal5 That s!ccessor% also a $night o4 the >rder o4 Christ%<*1= 8as 6asco da Gama% 8ho 8as to open !p the Cape ro!te to India in 141*5 It is nota)le that 8hen he set o44 on this 4amo!s (oyage da Gama 8as carrying t8o things; a 8hite silk )anner 8ith the do!)le red cross o4 the >rder o4 Christ em)roidered !pon itJ and letters o4 credence 4or deli(ery to :rester Eohn5<*2= oreo(er% altho!gh his !ltimate destination 8as indeed India% the :ort!g!ese admiral de(oted a considera)le part o4 the e9pedition to A4rican e9ploration and is reported to ha(e 8ept 4or Coy 8hen% at anchor o44 o3am)i?!e% he 8as rightly told that :rester Eohn li(ed in the interior 4ar to the north5<*3= It 8as also claimed )y the same in4ormants that the .thiopian emperor @held many cities along the coast@5<*4= This claim 8as incorrect% )!t da Gama@s s!)se?!ent stop-o(ers at alindi% om)asa% Bra(a <8here he )!ilt a lightho!se that still stands= and ogadish! 8ere in part moti(ated )y his contin!ing desire to make contact 8ith :rester Eohn5<*"= ean8hile% in 140* A a decade )e4ore da Gama set o44 A the >rder o4 Christ had sponsored a di44erent initiati(e also aimed at reaching .thiopia5 In that year $ing Eohn II o4 :ort!gal% then Grand aster o4 the >rder% had sent his tr!sted aide :ero de Co(ilhan on a perilo!s Co!rney to the co!rt o4 :rester Eohn (ia the editerranean% .gypt and the 'ed +ea5 Disg!ised as a merchant% Co(ilhan passed thro!gh Ale9andria and Cairo to +!akin and there% in 1400% he took ship in a small Ara) )ar?!e 4or the Demeni port o4 Aden5 He then )ecame ca!ght !p in (ario!s ad(ent!res 8hich delayed him considera)ly5 As a res!lt it 8as not !ntil 1413 that he 4inally s!cceeded in entering A)yssinia5<*&= >nce there% ho8e(er% he made his 8ay immediately to the emperor@s co!rt 8here he 8as 4irst 8elcomed )!t later placed !nder com4orta)le ho!se arrest5 >ne can only spec!late as to 8hy this happened% )!t since it is kno8n that Co(ilhan@s greatest skill 8as as a spy <he had pre(io!sly 8orked as a secret agent in +pain=<**= it is di44ic!lt to resist the notion that the >rder o4 Christ may ha(e commissioned him to gather intelligence on the 8herea)o!ts o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 :erhaps he aro!sed s!spicion )y making en?!iries a)o!t the sacred relicJ perhaps not5 At any rate he 8as detained in .thiopia 4or the rest o4 his li4e5<*0=

Co(ilhan 8as still ali(e 8hen the 4irst o44icial :ort!g!ese em)assy to the co!rt o4 :rester Eohn landed at the port o4 assa8a in 1"22 and made its 8ay inland to meet 8ith Le)na Dengel% the +olomonic emperor 8ho had )een on the throne since 1"205 >ne o4 the mem)ers o4 this em)assy 8as Bather Brancisco Al(are3 A and the reader 8ill recall that it 8as Al(are3 8ho had )een told )y priests o4 the ancient tradition that the rock-he8n ch!rches o4 Lali)ela had )een @made )y 8hite men@5<*1= I no8 t!rned )ack to the .nglish translation o4 the lengthy narrati(e that Al(are3 had 8ritten a4ter lea(ing .thiopia in 1"2&5 'e-reading his chapter on Lali)ela I 8as str!ck )y the description he ga(e o4 the ch!rch o4 +aint George5 Car(ed into the roo4 o4 this great edi4ice% he said% 8as @a do!)le cross% that is% one 8ithin the other% like the crosses o4 the >rder o4 Christ@s5@<02= >4 co!rse% as I already kne8% the Lali)ela ch!rches had )een he8n in the time o4 the Templars% long )e4ore the >rder o4 Christ 8as created to 4ollo8 in their 4ootsteps5 It seemed logical to s!ppose% ho8e(er% that the cross o4 the >rder o4 Christ 8as deri(ed 4rom a design that 8o!ld ha(e )een signi4icant to the Templars5 It 8as there4ore intrig!ing to learn that this design had )een !sed on +aint George@s A !ndo!)tedly the 4inest ch!rch in the Lali)ela comple95 Casting my mind )ack to my o8n (isit there in 1103% I co!ld not recall the do!)le cross moti45 I 8as s!44iciently interested% ho8e(er% to look o!t the photographs that had )een taken on that tripJ these con4irmed that the description that Al(are3 had gi(en o4 +aint George@s 8as a)sol!tely correct; the do!)le cross 8as there5 In the mid-1"22s% 8hile the :ort!g!ese em)assy 8as still at the co!rt o4 Le)na Dengel% it )ecame clear that .thiopia 8o!ld soon come !nder attack 4rom !slim 4orces massing in the emirate o4 Harar in the eastern part o4 the Horn o4 A4rica5 These 4orces 8ere led )y a redo!)ta)le and charismatic 8arlord% Ahmed I)n I)rahim el Gha3i% 8hose nickname 8as @Gragn@ <meaning @the le4t-handed@=5 A4ter some years o4 care4!l preparations% Gragn e(ent!ally declared his holy 8ar in 1"20 and led hordes o4 8ild +omali troops <s!pported )y Ara) mercenaries and T!rkish matchlockmen= on a rampage into the Christian highlands5<01= This t!rned o!t to )e no )rie4 campaign )!t rather contin!ed% year in year o!t% 8itho!t any remit5 Across the length and )readth o4 .thiopia to8ns and (illages 8ere )!rnt% ch!rches 8ere destroyed% priceless treas!res 8ere looted% and tho!sands o4 people 8ere p!t to the s8ord5<02= Le)na Dengel had )een some8hat cool to8ards the :ort!g!ese5 D!ring the si9 years that their em)assy had )een in his co!ntry <1"22A&= he had constantly stressed his o8n sel4s!44iciency% saying% in spite o4 the !slim threat <8hich 8as (ery apparent )y 1"2&=% that he sa8 no point in hastening into an alliance 8ith any 4oreign po8er5<03= This strangely aloo4 attit!de% I )elie(e% co!ld ha(e )een occasioned )y concerns as to the tr!e moti(es o4 the .!ropean (isitors A partic!larly as regards the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 #hate(er 4ears the emperor may ha(e entertained% ho8e(er% it grad!ally )ecame apparent to him that Gragn posed a 4ar greater threat than the 8hite men e(er 8o!ld A and not only to the sacred relic )!t also to the (ery e9istence o4 .thiopian Christendom5 In 1"3" the !slims attacked A9!m and ra3ed to the gro!nd the ancient and most holy ch!rch o4 +aint ary o4 Gion<04= <4rom 8hich% as I shall reco!nt later in this chapter% the priests had already taken the

Ark to another place 4or sa4ekeeping=5 In 1"3"% too A and not )y coincidence A Le)na Dengel at last o(ercame his antipathy to8ards 4oreign alliances and sent an en(oy to the king o4 :ort!gal 8ith an !rgent re?!est 4or military assistance5<0"= ean8hile comm!nications )et8een .thiopia and .!rope had )ecome m!ch more di44ic!lt <)eca!se the T!rks had 8on control o4 m!ch o4 the coast o4 the Horn o4 A4rica as 8ell as many o4 the 'ed +ea ports=5 It took a long 8hile 4or the emperor@s +>+ to reach its destination and% in conse?!ence% it 8as not !ntil 1"41 that a contingent o4 4"2 :ort!g!ese m!sketeers landed at assa8a to lend their s!pport to the A)yssinian army A 8hich appeared at that point to )e !tterly )eaten and demorali3ed <Le)na Dengel% a4ter years on the r!n% had died o4 e9ha!stion and had )een s!cceeded )y his son Cla!di!s% then )arely o!t o4 his teens=5<0&= +ince they 8ere armed 8ith matchlocks% hand-g!ns% and se(eral pieces o4 hea(y artillery% m!ch hope 8as pinned !pon the inter(ention o4 the :ort!g!ese troops5 The .thiopian royal chronicle 4or 1"41 speaks o4 the con4ident manner in 8hich they marched !p into the highlands 4rom the coast% praising them as @)old and co!rageo!s men 8ho thirsted a4ter )attle like 8ol(es and a4ter sla!ghter like lions@5<0*= ,or did this description o(erstate their ?!alities; tho!gh small in n!m)ers they 4o!ght 8ith inspiring (alo!r and 8on a series o4 decisi(e (ictories5 The British historian .d8ard Gi))on 8as later to s!mmari3e their achie(ements in C!st nine 8ords; @.thiopia 8as sa(ed )y 4o!r h!ndred and 4i4ty :ort!g!ese5@<00= +igni4icantly in my opinion% the commander o4 the relie4 4orce 8as none other than Don Christopher da Gama% son o4 the 4amo!s 6asco and% like his 4ather% a $night o4 the >rder o4 Christ5<01= Eames Br!ce 8as inordinately interested in the character o4 this yo!ng ad(ent!rer and descri)ed him in the 4ollo8ing terms; He 8as )ra(e to a 4a!ltJ rash and (ehementJ Cealo!s o4 8hat he tho!ght military hono!rJ and o)stinate in his resol!tions 5 5 5 RHo8e(erS% in a long catalog!e o4 (irt!es 8hich he possessed to a (ery eminent degree% RheS had not the smallest claim to that o4 patience% so (ery necessary to those that command armies5<12= I )elie(e that% as a $night o4 the >rder o4 Christ% Don Christopher may 8ell ha(e had an !lterior moti(e 4or his operations in .thiopia; 4irst he 8o!ld de4eat the !slimsJ later he 8o!ld seek o!t the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 His rashness and lack o4 patience% ho8e(er% 8ere to cost him his li4e )e4ore either o)Cecti(e co!ld )e achie(ed5 Despite o(er8helming odds% he repeatedly engaged Ahmed Gragn@s 4orces in )attle <on one occasion% deserted )y the A)yssinians% the :ort!g!ese 4aced 12%222 spearmen A and )eat them=5 +!ch 4eats o4 derring-do% ho8e(er% 8ere loaded 8ith risks and% in 1"42% Don Christopher 8as taken prisoner <an eye8itness descri)ed ho8% shortly )e4ore his capt!re% he @had )een shot in the right knee and 8as 4ighting 8ith his s8ord in his le4t hand% 4or his right arm had )een )roken )y another shot@=5<11= The :ort!g!ese commander 8as 4irst horri)ly tort!red and then% according to Br!ce@s acco!nt o4 his last ho!rs% 8as )ro!ght into the presence o4 the oorish general Gragn% 8ho loaded him 8ith reproachesJ to 8hich he replied 8ith s!ch a share o4 in(ecti(es that the oor% in the (iolence o4 his passion% dre8 his s8ord and c!t o44 his head 8ith his o8n hand5<12=

Barely a year later% ho8e(er% the !slim leader too 8as killed5 In a )attle 4o!ght on the shores o4 Lake Tana on 12 Be)r!ary 1"43 he 8as shot dead )y a certain :eter Leon% a man o4 lo8 stat!re% )!t (ery acti(e and (aliant% 8ho had )een (alet de cham)re to Don Christopher 5 5 5 The oorish army no sooner missed the presence o4 their general than% concl!ding all lost% they 4ell into con4!sion and 8ere p!rs!ed )y the :ort!g!ese and A)yssinians 8ith a great sla!ghter till the e(ening5<13= Th!s% a4ter 4i4teen years o4 !nparalleled destr!ction and (iolence% ended the !slim attempt to s!)d!e the Christian empire o4 .thiopia5 The costs to the :ort!g!ese relie4 4orce 8ere considera)le; as 8ell as the redo!)ta)le Don Christopher% more than hal4 o4 the original contingent 4"2 m!sketeers 8ere killed in the 4ighting5 A)yssinian cas!alties% o4 co!rse% 8ere 4ar greater <r!nning into tens o4 tho!sands= and the c!lt!ral damage A in terms o4 )!rnt man!scripts% icons and paintings% ra3ed ch!rches and looted treas!res A 8as to cast a shado8 o(er the ci(ili3ation o4 the highlands 4or cent!ries to come5 The greatest treas!re o4 all% ho8e(er% 8as sa(ed; mo(ed o!t o4 A9!m )y the priests only days )e4ore that city 8as )!rnt in 1"3"% the Ark had )een taken to one o4 the many islandmonasteries on Lake Tana5 There it 8as kept in sa4ety !ntil long a4ter Gragn@s death5 Then% in the mid 1&22s% .mperor Basilidas <descri)ed )y Br!ce as @the greatest king that e(er sat !pon the A)yssinian throne@<14= )!ilt a ne8 cathedral o4 +aint ary o4 Gion o(er the g!tted r!ins o4 the old A and there% 8ith d!e ceremony% the sacred relic 8as at last re-installed in all its 4ormer glory5<1"= Basilidas did one other thing also5 Despite the de)t o4 gratit!de that his co!ntry o8ed to the :ort!g!ese <8hose n!m)ers had )een allo8ed to increase steadily a4ter the s!ccess4!l concl!sion o4 the 8ar 8ith Gragn= he made it his )!siness to thro8 all the settlers o!t5 Indeed% he seemed so 8ary o4 their intentions that he entered into a )!siness arrangement 8ith the T!rks at assa8a; any :ort!g!ese tra(ellers arri(ing there and seeking entry into .thiopia 8ere to )e apprehended and decapitated A 8ith a s!)stantial s!m in gold paya)le 4or each head th!s o)tained5<1&=

TH. +>I'C. >B A


A4ter the death o4 Don Christopher da Gama the intense and 4oc!ssed interest that the >rder o4 Christ had sho8n in .thiopia seemed to come to an end5 And a4ter the reign o4 Basilidas there 8as no longer any 8ay in 8hich that interest co!ld ha(e )een p!rs!ed )y any :ort!g!ese5 Ho8e(er% as noted earlier% the >rder o4 Christ 8as not the only (ehicle in 8hich Templar traditions 8ere perpet!ated5 +cottish Breemasonry% too% inherited some portions o4 the mystical legacy o4 the Temple o4 +olomon A in 8hich the Ark o4 the Co(enant played s!ch a central role5 Beca!se o4 this +cottish connection% and )eca!se he had claimed to )e a distant descendant o4 the king 8ho had 8elcomed the 4!giti(e Templars in the 4o!rteenth cent!ry%<1*= I 4elt that a

closer in(estigation 8as 8arranted into the acti(ities o4 one o4 the most a!dacio!s and determined 4oreigners e(er to (isit .thiopia; Eames Br!ce o4 $innaird5 +tanding rather more than si9 4eet 4o!r inches tall% and 8ith a girth to match% Br!ce 8as a giant o4 a man <@the tallest man yo! e(er sa8 gratis@% as one contemporary descri)ed him=5 He 8as also 8ealthy and 8ell ed!cated5 Born in 1*32 in the lo8lands o4 +cotland on the 4amily estate at $innaird% he 8as sent at the age o4 t8el(e to Harro8 school% 8here his 8ork in the classical lang!ages 8as considered e9cellent )y his teachers5 He later completed his st!dies at .din)!rgh Ini(ersity5 A period o4 illness 4ollo8ed and 8hen he reco(ered he 8ent to London intending to take !p a Co) o44er 8ith the .ast India Company5 >nce there% ho8e(er% he 4ell passionately in lo(e 8ith a )ea!ti4!l 8oman named Adriane Allan% 8hom he married in 1*"35 +oon a4ter8ards he Coined his 4ather-in-la8@s 8ine-trading )!siness as a partner5 Tragedy 4ollo8ed5 >n a trip to Brance in 1*"4 Adriane died s!ddenly and% tho!gh he remarried m!ch later and 4athered se(eral children% Br!ce seems to ha(e taken a long time to reco(er 4rom the loss o4 his 4irst 8i4e5 'estless and depressed% he )egan to tra(el almost contin!o!sly% learning ne8 lang!ages 8ith great 4acility 8here(er he 8ent5 His peregrinations took him 4irst to .!rope% 8here he 4o!ght a d!el in Belgi!m% sailed do8n the 'hine% inspected 'oman r!ins in Italy% and st!died Ara)ic man!scripts in +pain and :ort!gal5 +!)se?!ently A a4ter his ling!istic a)ility had )een recogni3ed )y his go(ernment A he 8as gi(en a diplomatic posting as British cons!l in Algiers5 Brom there he later tra(elled e9tensi(ely along the ,orth A4rican coast% (isiting the r!ins o4 Carthage% )e4ore Co!rneying on8ards to the Holy Land 8here he e9plored se(eral other ancient sites5 He also 4o!nd the time to ret!rn occasionally to +cotland to attend to the 4amily estates o4 8hich he 8as no8 the laird% his 4ather ha(ing died in 1*"05 D!ring this period the yo!ng +cotsman )ecame something o4 an astronomer% ac?!iring t8o state-o4-the art telescopes that s!)se?!ently 8ent e(ery8here 8ith him5 He also picked !p s!r(eying and na(igational skills that 8o!ld )e in(al!a)le to him on his tra(els in A)yssinia5 It is not clear e9actly 8hen he concei(ed o4 this last ad(ent!re% )!t there is e(idence that he had )een planning it 4or a considera)le 8hile <it is kno8n% 4or e9ample% that he had )eg!n to learn Ge@e3% the classical lang!age o4 .thiopia% as early as 1*"1=<10=5 Beca!se o4 s!ch preparations% 8hich incl!ded detailed readings o4 the 8orks o4 all pre(io!s tra(ellers% he had acc!m!lated a great deal o4 )ackgro!nd kno8ledge a)o!t the co!ntry )y the time that he arri(ed in Cairo in 1*&0 to )egin his epic Co!rney5 #hat 8as it that inspired Br!ce to go to .thiopia7 His o8n acco!nt o4 his moti(es is !nam)ig!o!s; he 8ent% he said% risking @n!m)erless dangers and s!44erings% the least o4 8hich 8o!ld ha(e o(er8helmed me )!t 4or the contin!al goodness and protection o4 :ro(idence@% in order to disco(er the so!rce o4 the ,ile5<11= Lest anyone sho!ld )e in any do!)t that this 8as indeed his am)ition he enshrined it conspic!o!sly in the 4!ll title o4 the immense )ook that he later 8rote; Tra(els to Disco(er the +o!rce o4 the ,ile in the Dears 1*&0% 1*&1% 1**2% 1**1% 1**2 and 1**35

There is a mystery here% ho8e(er% 8hich has attracted the attention o4 more than one historian <tho!gh no sol!tion has e(er )een proposed to it=5<122= The mystery is this; long )e4ore he set o!t 4or .thiopia% Eames Br!ce kne8 that the Bl!e ,ile@s so!rce had already )een (isited and thoro!ghly e9plored )y t8o other .!ropeans; :edro :ae3 and Eeronimo Lo)o <)oth o4 8hom 8ere :ort!g!ese priests 8ho had li(ed in .thiopia in the 1&22s )e4ore the Basilidas )an 8as p!t into e44ect=5 As my research into the Ark o4 the Co(enant progressed d!ring 1101% the mystery o4 Br!ce@s o)Cecti(es came to engage my attention more and more5 The 4i(e he4ty (ol!mes o4 his Tra(els had )ecome essential re4erence 8orks 4or me )eca!se they pro(ided a !ni?!e pict!re o4 .thiopian c!lt!re at a time 8hen that c!lt!re 8as still not too 4ar separated 4rom its o8n archaic origins5 oreo(er% I kne8 the +cottish ad(ent!rer to ha(e )een a considera)le scholar% and I 8as impressed 4rom the o!tset )y the solid acc!racy o4 his o)ser(ations and )y the general 8orth o4 his C!dgments and opinions on matters o4 history5 I also regarded him as an honest man% not o(erly prone to hyper)ole% e9aggeration or misrepresentation5 Ho8 then% I had to ask mysel4 A since it 8as clear 4rom many o4 his o8n comments that he had care4!lly read the 8orks o4 )oth :ae3 and Lo)o<121= A co!ld I acco!nt 4or the 4act that he had 4ailed to gi(e them credit 4or their achie(ements7<122= +ince I 4!lly agreed 8ith the s!)se?!ent C!dgment o4 history <namely that @Br!ce% 4ar 4rom )eing a romancer% 8as a most relia)le g!ide@=<123= I 4o!nd mysel4 increasingly p!33led )y his o)(io!s dishonesty o(er this cr!cially important iss!e A a dishonesty 8hich he compo!nded 8ith the )ald assertion that @none o4 the :ort!g!ese 5 5 5 e(er sa8% or indeed pretended to ha(e seen% the so!rce o4 the ,ile@5<124= I 8as soon to disco(er that this 8as not the only matter a)o!t 8hich Br!ce had lied5 >n the s!)Cect o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant he 8as e(en more e(asi(e and deceit4!l5 Descri)ing his o8n (isit to the sacred city o4 A9!m% he commented on the destr!ction )y Ahmed Gragn o4 the 4irst ch!rch o4 +aint ary o4 Gion and added A correctly A that another had no8 )een )!ilt in its place;

In it RisS s!pposed to )e preser(ed the Ark o4 the Co(enant 5 5 5 8hich enelik 555 is said% in their 4a)!lo!s legends% to ha(e stolen 4rom his 4ather +olomon on his ret!rn to .thiopia 5 5 5 +ome ancient copy o4 the >ld Testament% I do )elie(e% 8as deposited here 5 5 5 )!t 8hate(er this might )e% it 8as destroyed 5 5 5 )y Gragn% tho!gh pretended 4alsely to s!)sist there still5 This I had 4rom the $ing himsel45<12"=

In s!mmary% 8hat Br!ce appeared to )e saying 8as that the Ark had ne(er )een )ro!ght to A9!m <since the story o4 enelik and +olomon 8as C!st a @4a)!lo!s legend@=% that the relic once stored in the ch!rch co!ld there4ore only ha(e )een @some ancient copy o4 the >ld Testament@% and that e(en this relic no longer e9isted since it had )een @destroyed )y Gragn@5 These statements 8ere then )acked !p 8ith the assertion that they had )een corro)orated )y @the $ing himsel45 Had it not )een 4or that last remark I might ha(e )een content to )elie(e that Br!ce had simply ne(er learned o4 ho8 the Ark had )een sa(ed d!ring the 8ar 8ith the !slims% and o4

ho8 it had later )een ret!rned to A9!m a4ter the re)!ilding o4 +aint ary o4 Gion5 The claim that @the $ing himsel4@ had attested to the destr!ction o4 the relic 8as patently 4alse% ho8e(er; in 1&12 A long a4ter the Gragn campaigns and C!st eighty years )e4ore Br!ce@s o8n (isit A an .thiopian monarch had entered the Holy o4 Holies o4 the ne8 +aint ary@s 8here he had act!ally seen the Ark <th!s con4irming its contin!ed e9istence=5 The monarch in ?!estion <Iyas! the Great= had )een a priest as 8ell as a king% and )eca!se o4 this he had )een allo8ed not only to (ie8 the sacred relic )!t also to open it and ga3e inside it5<12&= +ince it is inconcei(a)le that the king in Br!ce@s day 8o!ld not ha(e kno8n o4 this 4amo!s and !nprecedented incident% I had to concl!de that the +cottish tra(eller 8as once again )eing @economical 8ith the tr!th@5<12*= y con(iction that this 8as so deepened 4!rther 8hen I reali3ed A contrary to his o8n statement ?!oted a)o(e A that Br!ce had not in 4act regarded the .thiopian tradition o4 enelik% +olomon and the /!een o4 +he)a as a @4a)!lo!s legend@5 >n the contrary% he had treated it 8ith the !tmost respect5 In 6ol!me I o4 his Tra(els A some tho!sand pages )e4ore his acco!nt o4 his (isit to A9!m A he had 8ritten at great length a)o!t the close c!lt!ral and commercial connections )et8een .thiopia and the Holy Land in early >ld Testament times5<120= Here% amongst other things% he had !ne?!i(ocally stated his o8n (ie8 that the /!een o4 +he)a had )een a real historical person <rather than a mythical 4ig!re=% <121= that she had indeed made her (oyage to the co!rt o4 $ing +olomon in Eer!salem <@there can )e no do!)t o4 this e9pedition@<112= and A most important o4 all A that she had come 4rom .thiopia rather than 4rom any other co!ntry; @R>thersS ha(e tho!ght this /!een 8as an Ara)%@ he concl!ded% @R)!tS many reasons 5 5 5 con(ince me that she 8as an .thiopian5@<111= He ne9t 8ent on to descri)e as @)y no means impro)a)ly@<112= the acco!nt gi(en in the $e)ra ,agast o4 the ?!een@s lo(e a44air 8ith +olomon and the s!)se?!ent )irth o4 enelik5 In the same (ein he then retold the story o4 enelik@s o8n (isit to Eer!salem and !ltimate ret!rn to .thiopia )ringing 8ith him @a colony o4 Ee8s% among 8hom 8ere many doctors o4 the la8 o4 oses@5<113= These e(ents% Br!ce concl!ded% had led to @the 4o!ndation o4 an .thiopian monarchy% and the contin!ation o4 the sceptre in the tri)e o4 E!dah do8n to this day 5 5 5 4irst 8hen Ee8s% then 5 5 5 a4ter they had em)raced Christianity5<114= All this 8as nothing more nor less than a straight4or8ard prQcis o4 the $e)ra ,agast in a conte9t that granted it a great deal o4 8eight and historical a!thenticity5 +trangely% ho8e(er% 8hile co(ering e(ery other maCor detail% Br!ce at this point made a)sol!tely no mention o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant A an omission that co!ld only ha(e )een deli)erate gi(en the central and all-per(asi(e role played )y the sacred relic in the .thiopian national epic5 >nce again% there4ore% I 8as 4orced to concl!de that the +cottish tra(eller had kno8ingly misled his readers a)o!t the Ark5 B!t 8hy sho!ld he ha(e 8anted to do that7 #hat possi)le moti(e co!ld he ha(e had7 y c!riosity aro!sed% I care4!lly reread his description o4 A9!m and came across an important detail that I had completely o(erlooked )e4ore; his o8n (isit there had taken place on 10 and 11 o4 Ean!ary 1**25<11"= This timing% I s!ddenly reali3ed% co!ld ha(e )een no accident% 4or on precisely those t8o days he 8o!ld ha(e 8itnessed the cele)ration o4 Timkat% the most important 4esti(al o4 the .thiopian >rthodo9 Ch!rch5 D!ring this 4esti(al% and at no other time A as I had esta)lished 8hen I talked to the g!ardian-priest in 1103 A the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as traditionally 8rapped in rich )rocades <@to protect the laity 4rom it@=<11&= and carried o!t in procession5<11*=

Br!ce had there4ore chosen to )e in A9!m on the single occasion in the year 8hen% as a layman% he might ha(e had a reasona)le opport!nity to get close to the sacred relic5 I 8as )y no8 serio!sly )eginning to 8onder 8hether it had not )een the Ark all along that had l!red the +cottish tra(eller to .thiopia; his claim to ha(e gone there to 4ind the so!rce o4 the ,ile did not stand !p to close scr!tiny and )ore all the hallmarks o4 a @co(er story@ intended to (eil the real o)Cect o4 his ?!est5 oreo(er his e(asi(eness on the s!)Cect o4 the Ark itsel4 8as most pec!liar and really only made sense i4 he had indeed had a special interest in it A an interest that he had 8anted to keep secret5 +oon I learned other things that deepened my s!spicions5 I disco(ered% 4or e9ample% that Br!ce had )een 4l!ent in ancient He)re8% Aramaic and +yriac<110= A dead lang!ages that he co!ld ha(e had no reason to learn !nless he had 8ished to make an intimate st!dy o4 early )i)lical te9ts5 oreo(er% there co!ld )e no do!)t that he had made s!ch a st!dy; his kno8ledge o4 the >ld Testament% 8hich shone o!t 4rom nearly e(ery page o4 the Tn3(els% 8as descri)ed )y one script!ral e9pert as @o!tstanding@5<111= ,or 8as this the only e9ample o4 Br!ce@s @more than common er!dition@5<122= As I already kne8% he had also carried o!t metic!lo!s and original research into the c!lt!re and traditions o4 the )lack Ee8s o4 .thiopia5 @I did not@% as he himsel4 had p!t it% @spare my !tmost pains in in?!iring into the history o4 this c!rio!s people% and li(ed in 4riendship 8ith se(eral esteemed the most kno8ing and learned among them5<121= Beca!se o4 s!ch e44orts he had managed to make a lasting contri)!tion to the st!dy o4 Balasha society A a contri)!tion that% like so m!ch else% did not Ci)e at all 8ith his pro4essed enth!siasm 4or geographical e9ploration )!t that 8as entirely consistent 8ith a ?!est 4or the lost Ark5 I telephoned the historian Belai Gedai in Addis A)a)a and asked him 8hether he had any (ie8s on Br!ce@s moti(es5 His reply shook me; @As a matter o4 4act 8hat 8e .thiopians say is that r Eames Br!ce did not come to o!r co!ntry to disco(er the so!rce o4 the ,ile5 #e say that he 8as C!st pretending that5 #e say that he had another reason5@ @Tell me more%@ I re?!ested5 @#hat do yo! think his o)Cecti(e co!ld ha(e )een i4 it 8asn@t the ,ile7@ @The real reason he came 8as to steal o!r treas!res%@ Gedai said resent4!lly% @o!r c!lt!ral treas!res5 He took many precio!s man!scripts )ack to .!rope5 The )ook o4 .noch% 4or e9ample5 Also 4rom the imperial repository at Gondar he carried o44 an ancient copy o4 the $e)ra ,agast5@ This 8as ne8s to me A )!t e9citing ne8s i4 tr!e5 I in(estigated 4!rther and in d!e co!rse con4irmed that Gedai 8as a)sol!tely correct5 >n lea(ing .thiopia Br!ce had indeed carried the $e)ra ,agast 8ith him A and not C!st the single splendid copy taken 4rom the imperial repository )!t also a copy o4 that copy that he had made himsel4 <his kno8ledge o4 Ge@e3% the classical .thiopic lang!age% )eing near-per4ect=5<122= !ch later he ga(e )oth man!scripts to the Bodleian Li)rary at >94ord% 8here they remain to this day <as @Br!ce 13@ and @Br!ce 1*@=5<123= ,or 8as this all5 :rior to the eighteenth cent!ry% scholars had )elie(ed the )ook o4 .noch to )e irretrie(a)ly lost; composed long )e4ore the )irth o4 Christ%<124= and considered to )e one o4 the most important pieces o4 Ee8ish mystical literat!re% it 8as only kno8n 4rom 4ragments and

4rom re4erences to it in other te9ts5 Eames Br!ce changed all this )y proc!ring se(eral copies o4 the missing 8ork d!ring his stay in .thiopia5 These 8ere the 4irst complete editions o4 the )ook o4 .noch e(er to )e seen in .!rope5 <12"= I 8as o4 co!rse interested to disco(er that Br!ce had )ro!ght )ack the $e)ra ,agast to .!rope A and that he had also gone to the tro!)le o4 copying o!t the entire massi(e (ol!me )y hand5 This made the omission o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant in his s!mmary o4 that 8ork look e(en more s!spicio!s than I had originally tho!ght5 +!spicions are not certainties% ho8e(er5 It 8as there4ore only 8hen I got the 4!ll story o4 the Book o4 .noch% and o4 the ser(ice that the +cottish ad(ent!rer had per4ormed 4or scholarship in this regard% that I 4inally 4elt s!re that I 8as on the right track5 I learned that the Book o4 .noch has al8ays )een o4 great signi4icance to Breemasons% and that certain rit!als dating )ack to long )e4ore Br!ce@s time identi4ied .noch himsel4 8ith Thoth% the .gyptian god o4 8isdom5<12&= I then 4o!nd a lengthy entry in the 'oyal asonic Cyclopaedia 8hich recorded other rele(ant traditions o4 the order A 4or e9ample that .noch 8as the in(entor o4 8riting% @that he ta!ght men the art o4 )!ilding@% and that% )e4ore the 4lood% he @4eared that the real secrets 8o!ld )e lost A to pre(ent 8hich he concealed the Grand +ecret% engra(en on a 8hite oriental porphyry stone% in the )o8els o4 the earth5@ The entry in the Cycicopaedia concl!ded 8ith these 8ords; @The Book o4 .noch 8as kno8n to e9ist 4rom (ery ancient times% and is contin!ally all!ded to )y the 4athers o4 the Ch!rch5 5 5 Br!ce )ro!ght home three copies 4rom A)yssinia5<12*= This )rie4 and 4amiliar mention o4 Br!ce% co!pled 8ith the 4act that he had gone to s!ch great lengths to o)tain not one )!t three copies o4 the Book o4 .noch% raised the possi)ility that he might himsel4 ha(e )een a Breemason5 I4 so% then a sol!tion to all the p!33les a)o!t his e(asi(eness and dishonesty s!ggested itsel45 I 8as already con(inced that he had a special interest in the Ark o4 the Co(enant A an interest that he had )een determined to conceal5 ,o8 I co!ld see e9actly ho8 he might ha(e ac?!ired that interest <and 8hy he might ha(e 8anted to keep it secret=5 As a Breemason A and a +cottish Breemason to )oot A he co!ld ha(e )een e9posed to the Templar traditions concerning the Ark@s presence in .thiopia5 B!t 8as Br!ce a ason7 Binding the ans8er to this ?!estion 8as )y no means easy5 In the more than 3%222 pages o4 his Tra(els there 8as not a single cl!e that 8o!ld ha(e ena)led me e(en to arri(e at an in4ormed opinion on the matter5 ,or 8as any enlightenment shed )y the t8o detailed and e9tensi(e )iographies that had )een 8ritten a)o!t him <the 4irst in 103&<120= and the second in 11&0<121=5 It 8as not !ntil A!g!st 1112 that I 8as at last a)le to tra(el to +cotland to (isit Br!ce@s 4amily estate% 8here I hoped I might )e a)le to o)tain some de4initi(e in4ormation5 I 4o!nd $innaird Ho!se on the o!tskirts o4 the Balkirk s!)!r) o4 Lar)ert5 +it!ated 8ell )ack 4rom the main road in e9tensi(e and secl!ded gro!nds% it 8as an imposing edi4ice o4 grey stone5 A4ter some !nderstanda)le hesitation% its present o8ner A r Eohn Bindlay '!ssell A in(ited me in and sho8ed me aro!nd5 It 8as ?!ite o)(io!s 4rom many architect!ral details% ho8e(er% that the )!ilding did not date )ack to Br!ce@s time5

@That@s ?!ite right%@ Bindlay '!ssell agreed5 @$innaird Ho!se passed o!t o4 the possession o4 the Br!ce 4amily in 101" and 8as knocked do8n )y its ne8 o8ner% a Dr 'o)ert >rr5 He )!ilt the present mansion in 101*5@ #e 8ere standing in an immense panelled hall8ay directly in 4ront o4 a )road stone staircase5 Bindlay '!ssell no8 pointed to these stairs and added pro!dly; @They@re C!st a)o!t the only original 4eat!re to ha(e )een preser(ed5 Dr >rr le4t them in place and )!ilt his ho!se aro!nd them5 They@re o4 some historic signi4icance yo! kno85@ @>h% really7 #hy7@ @Beca!se Eames Br!ce died on them5 It 8as in 1*145 He@d seen gi(ing a dinner in one o4 the !pstairs rooms and he 8as escorting a g!est do8n the stairs 8hen he tripped and pitched o(er on his head5 That 8as the end o4 him5 A great tragedy5@ Be4ore lea(ing I asked Bindlay '!ssell i4 he had any idea 8hether Br!ce might ha(e )een a Breemason or not5 @,o%@ he said5 @,o idea at all5 >4 co!rse I take a great interest in him% )!t I 8o!ldn@t claim to )e an e9pert5@ I nodded% disappointed5 As I 8as 8alking o!t o4 the door% ho8e(er% another ?!estion occ!rred to me; @Do yo! happen to kno8 8here he@s )!ried7@ @Lar)ert >ld Ch!rch5 Do!@ll ha(e a Co) 4inding the tom) tho!gh5 There !sed to )e a great iron o)elisk raised !p o(er it% )!t that 8as p!lled do8n some years ago )eca!se it 8as r!sting a8ay5 It 8as considered a danger to the p!)lic5@ The dri(e to the ch!rch took only ten min!tes5 Locating the last resting place o4 one o4 +cotland@s greatest e9plorers took m!ch longer% ho8e(er5 It 8as a misera)le% rainy a4ternoon and I gre8 more and more depressed as I h!nted !p and do8n the ro8s o4 gra(estones5 As a personality% there 8as no do!)t that Br!ce had had many 4ailings5 ,e(ertheless% I 4elt strongly that this )ra(e and enigmatic man deser(ed some lasting mon!ment; it seemed shame4!l that he sho!ld ha(e )een le4t to lie in a completely !nmarked patch o4 gro!nd5 A4ter I had thoro!ghly searched the main cemetery and 4o!nd nothing% I noticed a thickly o(ergro8n area s!rro!nded )y a lo8 stone 8all set into 8hich 8as a small gate5 I opened this gate and then 8alked do8n a 4light o4 three steps 8hich led 5 5 5 to a r!))ish tip5 :iles o4 old clothing% discarded shoes% tin cans and )its o4 )roken 4!rnit!re lay scattered aro!nd amidst dense patches o4 stinging nettles and )ram)les5 +e(eral massi(e trees locked )ranches o(erhead and their intert8ined lea(es 4ormed a dripping green canopy that allo8ed (ery little light to penetrate5 C!rsing the s8arms o4 midges and 8asps that rose !p to greet me% I proceeded to stamp do8n as m!ch o4 the (egetation as I co!ld5 I had looked e(ery8here else% I reasoned% so I might as 8ell look here too5 I had almost gi(en !p hope% ho8e(er% 8hen 4inally% in the centre o4 the enclos!re% I st!m)led !pon se(eral solid stone sla)s laid 4lat on the gro!nd and completely

co(ered 8ith moss% lichen and (ile nettles5 #ith a sense o4 re(erence A )!t also o4 anger A I cleared the sla)s as )est I co!ld and ga3ed do8n at them5 There 8as nothing to say that they co(ered Br!ce@s remains )!t% someho8% I 4elt s!re that they did5 In(ol!ntarily a l!mp rose in my throat5 Here lay a man A a great man A 8ho had preceded me to .thiopia5 oreo(er% i4 my g!ess a)o!t his asonic connections 8as correct% then there co!ld )e little do!)t that he had gone to that 4ar co!ntry in ?!est o4 the lost Ark5 ,o8% ho8e(er% it seemed that I might ne(er )e a)le to pro(e those connections5 The only thing that 8as certain 8as that Br!ce 8as lost himysel4 A lost and 4orgotten in the land o4 his )irth5 I stayed there 4or a 8hile% thinking my gloomy tho!ghts5 Then I le4t the little enclos!re% not )y the gate thro!gh 8hich I had entered it )!t rather )y clam)ering o(er the s!rro!nding 8all into a co!rtyard )eyond5 There% almost immediately% I sa8 something interesting; lying on its side ?!ite close to 8here I stood 8as an enormo!s metal o)elisk5 I approached and 4o!nd that Eames Br!ce@s name 8as engra(ed !pon it% together 8ith the 4ollo8ing epitaph;

His li4e 8as spent per4orming !se4!l and splendid actions5 He e9plored many distant regions5 He disco(ered the 4o!ntains o4 the ,ile5 He 8as an a44ectionate h!s)and% an ind!lgent parent% An ardent lo(er o4 his co!ntry5 By the !nanimo!s (oice o4 mankind his name is .nrolled 8ith those 8ho 8ere conspic!o!s Bor geni!s% 4or (alo!r% and 4or (irt!e5

#hat I 4o!nd most e9citing o4 all a)o!t the o)elisk 8as that it 8as intact A not r!sting and cr!m)ling A and that it 8as co(ered 8ith 4resh red primer paint5 +omeone% clearly% 8as still taking an interest in the e9plorer A eno!gh o4 an interest to ha(e had his mon!ment restored% tho!gh not yet set !p o(er his gra(e again5 Later that a4ternoon I made en?!iries 8ith the ch!rch a!thorities and disco(ered the identity o4 the mysterio!s )ene4actor5 It seemed that the o)elisk had )een taken a8ay 4or repairs some years pre(io!sly and had only )een ret!rned to Lar)ert the day )e4ore my o8n arri(al5 The restoration 8ork had )een organi3ed and paid 4or )y no lesser person than the tit!lar head o4 the Br!ce 4amily in +cotland A the .arl o4 .lgin and $incardine% himsel4 a aster ason5<132= This 8as a promising lead and I 4ollo8ed it all the 8ay to Broomhall% the )ea!ti4!l estate C!st north o4 the Birth o4 Borth 8here Lord .lgin li(ed5 I telephoned 4irst A the Broomhall n!m)er 8as not e9-directory A and made an appointment 4or +at!rday morning% 4 A!g!st5 @I can@t gi(e yo! more than a)o!t 4i4teen min!tes%@ the earl 8arned5

@Bi4teen min!tes 8ill )e eno!gh%@ I replied5 .lgin t!rned o!t to )e a short% stocky% elderly man 8ith a prono!nced limp <apparently the res!lt o4 inC!ries recei(ed 8hile a prisoner o4 the Eapanese d!ring the +econd #orld #ar=5 #itho!t m!ch ceremony he !shered me into a splendid dra8ing room dominated )y 4amily portraits and s!ggested that I get straight to the point5 +o 4ar his manner had )een a little a)r!pt5 As 8e talked a)o!t Br!ce% ho8e(er% he so4tened A and it grad!ally )ecame clear to me 4rom his detailed and e9tensi(e kno8ledge that he had made a close st!dy o4 the li4e o4 the +cottish e9plorer5 At one stage he took me into another room and sho8ed me se(eral shel(es 4illed 8ith old and esoteric )ooks in many di44erent lang!ages5 @These 8ere 4rom Br!ce@s personal li)rary%@ he e9plained5 @He 8as a man o4 (ery 8ide interests 5 5 5 I also ha(e his telescope% his ?!adrant and his compass 5 5 5 I can look them o!t 4or yo! i4 yo! like5@ #hile all this 8as going on% the ?!arter o4 an ho!r I had )een promised had t!rned into an ho!r and a hal45 +pell)o!nd )y .lgin@s enth!siasm% I had someho8 still not managed to ask him the ?!estion that had )ro!ght me here5 ,o8% ?!ite s!ddenly% he glanced at his 8atch and said; @Gosh% look at the time5 I@m a4raid yo!@ll ha(e to go5 Things to do 5 5 5 I@m o44 to the Highlands this a4ternoon5 :erhaps yo! can come )ack on some other occasion7@ @.r 555 yes5 I@d like that (ery m!ch5@ At this% )eaming gracio!sly% the earl stood !p5 I stood too and 8e shook hands5 I 4elt distinctly 4oolish )!t I 8as determined not to lea(e 8itho!t satis4ying my c!riosity5 @I4 yo! don@t mind%@ I said% @there@s one other thing I partic!larly 8anted to ask yo!5 It@s to do 8ith a theory I@(e )een de(eloping a)o!t the moti(es that led Br!ce to make his A +ecret and ,e(er-.nding /!est 10* e9pedition to .thiopia5 Do yo! happen to kno8 5 5 5 er 5 5 5 !m 5 5 5 I mean is there any chance% any possi)ility at all% that he might ha(e )een a Breemason7@ .lgin looked slightly ama3ed5 @ y dear )oy%@ he replied5 @>4 co!rse he 8as a 8as a (ery% (ery important part o4 his li4e5@ ason5 It

:A'T III; .THI>:IA% 1101-12 LABD'I,TH

< A: 3=

CHA:T.' 0 I,T> .THI>:IA

>n my (isit to his estate in +cotland% the .arl o4 .lgin con4irmed that my s!spicions a)o!t Eames Br!ce 8ere correct; the e9plorer had indeed )een a Breemason <a mem)er o4 Canongate $il8inning Lodge ,o5 2 in the city o4 .din)!rgh=5 .lgin also told me that Br!ce had )een (ery m!ch in(ol(ed in the @spec!lati(e@ side o4 Breemasonry A as distinct 4rom the more pragmatic and m!ndane @cra4t@ asonry5 This meant that he 8o!ld ha(e c!lti(ated an interest in the esoteric and occ!lt traditions o4 the )rotherhood A traditions% incl!ding @$night Templarism@% that most modern asons neither kne8 nor cared anything a)o!t5 I sho!ld add% at this point% that I had ne(er 4elt that all asons 8o!ld ha(e had access to the Templar legacyJ on the contrary% it 8as reasona)le to s!ppose that s!ch access 8o!ld at all times ha(e )een restricted to a (ery 4e8 people5 Br!ce% ho8e(er% looked like an ideal candidate 4or mem)ership o4 that pri(ileged gro!p5 #ith his e9tensi(e kno8ledge o4 the +cript!res% his scholarly attraction to mystical 8orks s!ch as the Book o4 .noch% and his @spec!lati(e@ leanings 8ithin the asonic system% he 8as precisely the kind o4 man 8ho 8o!ld ha(e in(estigated Templar traditions concerning the last resting place o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 A4ter my meeting 8ith Lord .lgin% there4ore% I 4elt more con4ident than e(er that it had )een the Ark all along% rather than the ,ile% that had l!red the +cottish ad(ent!rer to .thiopia in 1*&05 His parado9ical dishonesty on certain key iss!es parado9ical )eca!se he 8as normally so tr!th4!l= no8 made sense to meJ his e(asi(eness and secrecy 8ere no8 e9plained5 I might ne(er kno8 8hat mysteries he had !nco(ered in the A)yssinian highlands all those many years agoJ no8% ho8e(er% I co!ld at least )e reasona)ly s!re a)o!t his moti(es5 It had )een in the s!mmer o4 1101 8hen I had 4irst )eg!n to 8onder 8hether Br!ce might ha(e )een a ason% )!t it 8as not !ntil A!g!st 1112 that I had my disc!ssion 8ith Lord .lgin5 ean8hile% as reco!nted in the last chapter% I had 4ollo8ed !p the @:ort!g!ese connection@ represented )y mem)ers o4 the >rder o4 Christ 8ho had tra(elled to .thiopia in the 4i4teenth and si9teenth cent!ries5 All the e(idence that I had !nearthed seemed to point in the direction o4 a contin!ing ?!est 4or the Ark A a co(ert (ent!re that had dra8n tra(ellers hailing 4rom ?!ite di44erent historical periods and 4rom di44erent lands to8ards the same lo4ty and end!ring goal5 oreo(er% i4 this had )een the case in cent!ries past then might it not still )e the case today7 ight not others )e seeking the Ark in .thiopia C!st as I 8as7 As my research progressed I kept an open mind on this ?!estion 8hile contin!ally adding to my 4iles on people like Eames Br!ce and Christopher da Gama5 .(en 8itho!t the stim!l!s o4 competition% ho8e(er% my 4indings d!ring the spring and s!mmer o4 1101 had con(inced me that it 8as high time 4or me to ret!rn to .thiopia to add some detailed 4ield 8ork to 8hat had hitherto )een primarily an intellect!al e9ercise5


I took this decision as early as E!ne 1101% )!t se(eral months 8ere to elapse )e4ore I 8as 4inally a)le to implement it5 #hy7 Beca!se on 11 ay o4 that year a (iolent co!p had )een attempted in Addis A)a)a thro8ing the 8hole o4 .thiopia into t!rmoil5 The go(ernment o4 :resident engist! Haile- ariam s!r(i(ed% )!t only at great cost5 A4ter the d!st had settled one h!ndred and se(enty-si9 re)ellio!s o44icers 8ere ro!nded !p and arrested% incl!ding no less than t8enty-4o!r generals% amongst them the Commander o4 Gro!nd Borces and the Chie4 o4 >perations5 'ather than )e capt!red and 4ace trial% the Armed Borces Chie4 o4 +ta44 and the Commander o4 the Air Borce committed s!icide5 .le(en other generals 8ere killed in the 4ighting and the inister o4 De4ence 8as shot dead )y the co!p plotters5 The conse?!ences o4 this !gly )lood)ath 8ere to ha!nt engist! and his regime 4or a (ery long 8hile to come; 8ith the o44icer corps e44ecti(ely g!tted% the military@s decision-making capacity 8as red!ced (irt!ally to 3ero% a state o4 a44airs that ?!ickly translated itsel4 into re(erses on the )attle4ield5 Indeed% in the months immediately 4ollo8ing the co!p% the .thiopian army s!44ered a series o4 cr!shing de4eats that ended in its total e9p!lsion 4rom the pro(ince o4 Tigray <8hich the T:LB declared a @li)erated 3one@= and 4rom most o4 .ritrea as 8ell <8here the .:LB 8as already laying in place the str!ct!res 4or an independent state=5 The 4ighting also spread 8ith alarming rapidity into other areas A incl!ding north-east #ollo% 8here the ancient city o4 Lali)ela 8as o(err!n in +eptem)er 1101% and Gondar% 8here the regional capital 8as )esieged5 The 8orst set)ack o4 all% at least 4rom my o8n sel4ish perspecti(e% 8as that the go(ernment 8as no longer in control o4 A9!m5 Indeed% as noted in Chapter 3% the sacred city had )een sei3ed )y the T:LB at the end o4 1100% some months )e4ore the attempted co!p5 I had at 4irst hoped that this 8o!ld )e a temporary state o4 a44airs5 As the dismal e(ents o4 the second hal4 o4 1101 )egan to !n4old% ho8e(er% I had to 4ace !p to the possi)ility that the g!erillas might )e a)le to hold on to A9!m inde4initely5 This% o4 co!rse% le4t me 8ith the option o4 approaching the T:LB in London and trying to 8in their co-operation in getting into the areas that they no8 administered5 I 8as% ho8e(er% not ready to p!rs!e this option immediately5 y o8n long-standing connections 8ith the .thiopian go(ernment meant that the Li)eration Bront 8o!ld regard any o(ert!res 4rom me 8ith intense s!spicion5 >ne possi)le o!tcome% !nless I played my cards (ery cle(erly indeed% 8as that they 8o!ld point-)lank re4!se my re?!est to go to A9!m5 B!t 4rankly I 8as more concerned a)o!t the sa4ety o4 my skin i4 they did agree to take me in; as a kno8n 4riend o4 the hated engist! regime 8asn@t there a chance% on the long and dangero!s road into Tigray% that some local g!erilla commander might decide I 8as a spy and ha(e me shot A e(en i4 the London o44ice had cleared me 4or the (isit7 In the post-co!p atmosphere nothing co!ld )e certain in .thiopiaJ no plans co!ld )e made 8ith any degree o4 con4idenceJ and there 8as no 8ay o4 predicting 8hat might happen 4rom one 8eek to the ne9t5 Any n!m)er o4 dramatic de(elopments looked theoretically possi)le A not least the 4all o4 engist! and a complete (ictory 4or the com)ined 4orces o4 the .:LB and the T:LB5 I decided% there4ore% that I 8o!ld 4oc!s my e44orts on other aspects o4 my research !ntil a clearer pict!re had emerged5 It 8as th!s not !ntil ,o(em)er 1101 that I 4inally ret!rned to .thiopia5

A +.C'.T HIDI,G :LAC.7

The in4ormation that precipited my ret!rn 8as pro(ided to me )y the 6ery 'e(erend Li?a Berhanat +olomon Ga)re +elassie5 I 4irst enco!ntered the man 8ho o8ned this e9tremely long name in London on 12 E!ne 1101% at 8hich time I disco(ered that he also had an e9tremely long and 4!ll grey )eard% n!t-)ro8n skin% t8inkling eyes% splendid ceremonial ro)es% and A s!spended aro!nd his neck A an ela)orate 8ooden cr!ci4i95 Archpriest o4 the +aint ary o4 Gion .thiopian >rthodo9 Ch!rch in the Inited $ingdom% he 8as% in 4act% a missionary5 He had )een sent to Britain some years pre(io!sly )y the :atriarchate in Addis A)a)a in order to spread the >rthodo9 message5 oreo(er he had s!cceeded in 8inning a n!m)er o4 con(erts% mainly yo!ng Londoners o4 #est Indian origin% some o4 8hom he )ro!ght 8ith him to o!r meeting A 8hich I had arranged in order to p!mp him 4or in4ormation a)o!t the Ark5 Archpriest +olomon 8as% 4or me% the (ery image o4 an >ld Testament patriarch5 The (enera)le )eard% the sagacio!s and yet slightly rog!ish manner% the charismatic personality lea(ened 8ith gen!ine h!mility% and the a)sol!te con(iction o4 a deeply held 4aith all added irresisti)ly to this impression5 It ?!ickly )ecame clear to me as 8e talked that he possessed an !nshaka)le )elie4 that the sacred relic 8as indeed in .thiopia5 An intelligent and o)(io!sly highly ed!cated man 8ho spo!ted o!t )i)lical re4erences 8ith an ass!rance )orn o4 a li4etime o4 st!dy% he e9pressed this (ie8 4irmly and calmly and re4!sed to accept that there 8as any possi)ility at all that he might )e mistaken5 >n a sheet o4 paper in 4ront o4 me I took care4!l notes as he 4orce4!lly reiterated this point; the original Ark o4 the Co(enant 8hich had )een constr!cted at the 4oot o4 o!nt +inai to contain the ta)lets o4 stone )earing the Ten Commandments A that (ery same p!re and a!thentic o)Cect no8 rested in A9!m5 B!rthermore% he insisted% it still had @its po8ers% thanks to the Grace o4 God@ and 8as% in addition% @protected )y the entire pop!lation o4 Tigray@5 @It remains today@% he concl!ded% @in the sa4e hands o4 the ch!rch and Christian people 8ho are constantly seen aro!nd the ch!rch@s compo!nd5@ Be4ore the archpriest le4t% I 8rote do8n a list o4 4i4teen ?!estions that I 8anted him to ans8er in detail5 #hen his considered replies arri(ed at my home )y post in mid-E!ly% ho8e(er% I 8as 4ar a8ay in .gypt5 >n my ret!rn some 8eeks later I )arely glanced at the ten pages o4 mi9ed hand8riting and typescript that he had sent me5 Indeed I 8as so )!sy analysing and 8orking thro!gh the .gyptian material I had gathered that I didn@t e(en )other to send him a note o4 thanks5 In an idle moment in early ,o(em)er I 4inally t!rned my attention to the doc!ment 8hich I had placed in the @pending@ tray on my desk more than three months pre(io!sly5 I 4o!nd that it contained point-)y-point responses to all my 4i4teen ?!estions5 +ome o4 the ans8ers% 4!rthermore% 8ere )oth intrig!ing and pro(ocati(e5

Bor e9ample% I had asked 8hether the alleged @s!pernat!ral@ po8ers o4 the Ark had e(er )een harnessed )y the r!lers o4 .thiopia to )ring (ictory in 8ar5 The Bi)le made it clear that this had )een done on se(eral occasions in ancient Israel5<1= I4 the Ark 8as really in .thiopia% there4ore% 8asn@t it logical to s!ppose that this tradition 8o!ld ha(e )een maintained7 @In the teaching o4 o!r Ch!rch@% +olomon had replied% @God is the only po8er in the !ni(erse5 He is the creator o4 all e9isting li4e% (isi)le and in(isi)le5 He himsel4 is the !ncreated eternal light% 8hich gi(es !s light and po8er and grace5 There is% ho8e(er% a tangi)le dimension in 8hich 8e can !nderstand the relation )et8een God and the Ark% 4or since the Ark contains the ten sacred 8ords o4 the La8% 8ritten )y God% the gi4t o4 His holiness cannot )e diminished 8ithin it5 Ip to this day% there4ore% His grace still rests !pon the Ark% so )y the name o4 God it is holy and o4 great spirit!al signi4icance5@ The 4ormer r!lers o4 .thiopia% the archpriest@s ans8er contin!ed% had kno8n this5 +ince their prime 4!nction 8as to protect and de4end the >rthodo9 Christian 4aith they had% d!ring the many 8ars 4o!ght o(er the passing cent!ries% made !se o4 the Ark 4rom time to time @as a so!rce o4 spirit!al strength against the aggressors 5 5 5 The $ing 8o!ld rally the people 4or )attle and the priests 8o!ld stand as on the day 8hen Eosh!a carried the Ark aro!nd the city o4 Eericho5 Like8ise o!r priests carried the Ark% chanting and going into )attle in the glory o4 God5@ This !se o4 the sacred relic as a 8ar palladi!m A and as an e44ecti(e one at that A 8as not% according to Archpriest +olomon% C!st something that had happened in .thiopia@s distant past5 >n the contrary; @As recently as 101& 8hen the $ing o4 $ings enelik the +econd 4o!ght against the Italian aggressors at the )attle o4 Ado8a in Tigray region% the priests carried the Ark o4 the Co(enant into the 4ield to con4ront the in(aders5 As a res!lt o4 this% enelik 8as (ery (ictorio!s and ret!rned to Addis A)a)a in great hono!r5@ I re-read this part o4 the reply 8ith considera)le interest )eca!se I kne8 that enelik II had indeed )een @(ery (ictorio!s@ in 101&5 In that year% !nder the command o4 General Baratieri% 1*%*22 Italian troops e?!ipped 8ith hea(y artillery and the latest 8eapons had marched !p into the A)yssinian highlands 4rom the .ritrean coastal strip intent on coloni3ing the 8hole co!ntry5 enelik@s 4orces% tho!gh ill prepared and less 8ell armed% had met them at Ado8a on the morning o4 1 arch% 8inning in less than si9 ho!rs 8hat one historian had s!)se?!ently descri)ed as @the most nota)le (ictory o4 an A4rican o(er a .!ropean army since the time o4 Hanni)al@5<2= In a similar tone% the London +pectator o4 * arch 101& commented; @The Italians ha(e s!44ered a great disaster555 greater than has e(er occ!rred to 8hite men in A4rica5@ The tantali3ing hint that the Ark had )een !sed at Ado8a raised in my mind the hal4serio!s possi)ility that it might still )e )eing !sed today A perhaps )y the T:LB% 8ho no8 had control o4 A9!m and 8ho% like enelik II% had certainly )een (ery (ictorio!s in recent months5 +olomon% ho8e(er% did not spec!late a)o!t this in his 8ritten ans8ers5 Instead <in his reply to a ?!estion that I had asked concerning the sec!rity o4 the Ark in the sanct!ary chapel d!ring the c!rrent all-o!t 8ar )eing 4o!ght )et8een go(ernment and re)el 4orces= he 8ent on to s!ggest a completely di44erent scenario5 #hen I had talked to him in E!ne he had seemed con4ident that the sacred relic 8as still in its !s!al place% @protected )y the entire pop!lation o4 Tigray@5 ,o8 he did not seem so s!re5 @There ha(e )een (ery in4re?!ent occasions@% he e9plained% @d!ring periods o4 great (iolence and

tri)!lation% 8hen the g!ardian monk% 8ho 8atches the Ark day and night !ntil he dies% has )een o)liged to co(er it !p and )ring it o!t o4 A9!m to sa4ety5 #e kno8% 4or instance% that this happened in the si9teenth cent!ry 8hen Tigray 8as in(aded )y the !slim armies o4 Ahmed Gragn and most o4 A9!m 8as destroyed5 Then the g!ardian took the Ark to the monastery o4 Daga +tephanos% 8hich stands on an island in Lake Tana5 There it 8as hidden in a secret place5@ It 8as the archpriest@s concl!sion that really ca!sed me to sit !p and pay attention5 Inder the present circ!mstances o4 8ar and chaos in Tigray% he said% it 8as ?!ite possi)le that the g!ardian co!ld ha(e taken the Ark o!t o4 A9!m again5

T#> LA$.+% T#> I+LA,D+

I 4le8 )ack to Addis A)a)a on T!esday 14 ,o(em)er 1101% arri(ing on the morning o4 #ednesday 1" ,o(em)er5 Despite the contin!ing 4ighting in almost all parts o4 northern .thiopia% I 8as ?!ite clear in my o8n mind a)o!t the o)Cecti(es o4 this trip5 I4 Archpriest +olomon@s analysis 8as correct% I reasoned% might not the sacred relic )elie(ed to )e the Ark o4 the Co(enant )e resting e(en no8 on the monastic island o4 Daga +tephanos A in that same @secret place@ to 8hich it had )een taken in the si9teenth cent!ry7 This% 4!rthermore% 8as not the only location in 8hich it might ha(e )een concealed5 I also remem)ered (ery 8ell that Dr Belai Gedai had told me in one o4 o!r se(eral long-distance telephone con(ersations o4 another% earlier tradition concerning the sa(ing o4 the Ark d!ring the !prising o4 /!een G!dit in the tenth cent!ry5 At the time% the .thiopian historian had e9plained% it had )een )ro!ght to one o4 the islands on Lake G8ai5 I had there4ore come to .thiopia to check o!t )oth Lake Tana and Lake G8ai; the 4ormer lying in the 8ar-torn north% tho!gh still in an area controlled )y the go(ernmentJ the latter in sa4er territory a)o!t t8o ho!rs@ dri(e to the so!th o4 Addis A)a)a5 I 4elt a tremendo!s sense o4 !rgency d!ring my 4irst 4e8 days in the .thiopian capital5 I had le4t .ngland less than a 8eek a4ter reading Archpriest +olomon@s ans8ers to my ?!estions% and the reason 8hy I 8as in s!ch a h!rry 8as ?!ite simple; tho!gh Lake G8ai 8as sec!re eno!gh% 4or the present at least% there 8as a)sol!tely no g!arantee that Lake Tana 8as going to remain in go(ernment hands 4or (ery m!ch longer5 'e)el 4orces% I kne8% had s!rro!nded the 4ortress city o4 Gondar% 8hich stood some thirty miles to the north o4 the (ast lake5 ean8hile% sporadic artillery and hit-and-r!n attacks had also )een directed against the port o4 Bahar Dar on the so!thern shore5 +ince the only 8ay 4or me to reach Daga +tephanos 8as thro!gh Bahar Dar I 4elt that I had no time to lose5 There co!ld )e no ?!estion o4 going thro!gh the normal )!rea!cratic channels to arrange the internal tra(el permit5 Accompanied )y my old 4riend 'ichard :ankh!rst% 8ho had taken a 4e8 days o44 4rom the Instit!te o4 .thiopian +t!dies in order to help me o!t% I there4ore 8ent along to a meeting 8ith one o4 my highest-ranking contacts A +himelis a3engia% Head o4 Ideology and a senior mem)er o4 the r!ling :olit)!ro o4 the #orkers@ :arty o4 .thiopia5

A tall slim man in his 4orties 8ho spoke 4l!ent .nglish% +himelis 8as a committed ar9ist )!t also one o4 the most intelligent and c!lt!red o4 the :olit)!ro mem)ers5 His po8er 8ithin the regime 8as considera)le and I kne8 him to ha(e a gen!ine enth!siasm 4or the ancient history o4 his co!ntry5 I there4ore hoped that he might )e pers!aded to !se his in4l!ence to )ack the research that I 8anted to do A and in this I 8as not disappointed5 A4ter I had o!tlined my proCect to him he agreed readily to my proposed 4ield trips to Lake Tana and to Lake G8ai5 The only condition 8as that my stay in the Tana area sho!ld )e kept as short as possi)le5 @Do yo! ha(e a sched!le in mind7@ he asked5 I p!lled o!t my diary and% a4ter a moment@s tho!ght% proposed depart!re to Lake Tana; @I@ll 4ly to Bahar Dar% hire a la!nch 4rom the Daga onday the 22th 4or my aritime A!thority% (isit

+tephanos and then come )ack to Addis on A say A #ednesday the 22nd5 That sho!ld gi(e me eno!gh time 5 5 5 I4 it@s >$ 8ith yo! I@d then like to dri(e do8n to G8ai on Th!rsday the 23rd5 +himelis t!rned to 'ichard; @And 8ill yo! )e going as 8ell :ro4essor :ankh!rst7@ @#ell% i4 it is accepta)le 5 5 5 o4 co!rse I 8o!ld like (ery m!ch to go5@ @Certainly it is accepta)le5@ +himelis then telephoned the Head?!arters o4 the ,ational +ec!rity :olice in Addis A)a)a and spoke rapidly in Amharic to someone in a!thority5 A4ter he had h!ng !p he told !s that o!r; permits 8o!ld )e ready 4or collection that a4ternoon5 @Come )ack and see me ne9t Briday%@ he said% @a4ter yo! ha(e 4inished at Lake Tana and Lake G8ai5 Do! can make a; appointment 8ith my secretary5@ #e le4t the :arty )!ilding in high spirits5 @I ne(er tho!ght 8o!ld )e so easy%@ I said to 'ichard5

CHA:T.' 1 +AC'.D LA$.

The morning 4light 4rom Addis A)a)a to Bahar Dar on the so!thern shore o4 Lake Tana took a)o!t an ho!r and a hal45 Despite the 4ighting reported in the area% no special proced!res 8ere o)ser(ed d!ring the landing% and the plane made a lo8% slo8% scenic approach o(er the Bl!e ,ile Balls )e4ore to!ching do8n on the )!mpy gra(el strip5 Brom there% a4ter hiring a ta9i% 'ichard :ankh!rst and I motored the 4e8 remaining kilometres into to8n along roads lined 8ith Cacaranda and 4lame trees5 #e checked into t8o o4 the h!ndred empty rooms at the Tana Hotel on the lake@s edge and then dro(e to the aritime A!thority pier 8here the motor la!nch that 8e hoped to !se 8as

moored5 A4ter protracted negotiations 8ith the o44icials concerned it 8as e(ent!ally agreed that 8e co!ld charter the )oat A )!t not !ntil the ne9t day% T!esday 21 ,o(em)er% and then only i4 8e 8ere prepared to pay the piratical hire o4 "2 I+ dollars an ho!r5 +ince I had no other choice I gr!dgingly accepted this e9tortionate 4ig!re and asked that the (essel sho!ld )e made ready 4or a " a5m5 depart!re5 #ith time to kill that a4ternoon 8e dro(e o!t o4 Bahar Dar to the near)y (illage o4 Tissisat and then hiked thro!gh ta8ny co!ntryside o(erlaid 8ith a patch8ork o4 4ields !ntil 8e came to a massi(e stone )ridge thro8n across a steep gorge5 B!ilt )y the :ort!g!ese in the early se(enteenth cent!ry% this cr!m)ling edi4ice looked highly dangero!sJ 'ichard ass!red me% ho8e(er% that it 8as still ser(icea)le5 #e crossed it% and clim)ed a hillside A at the top o4 8hich t8o militiamen s!ddenly appeared o!t o4 a cl!mp o4 shr!))ery5 They searched !s% looked at o!r passports <classically% mine 8as e9amined !pside do8n= and then 8a(ed !s on5 Bi4teen min!tes later% a4ter negotiating a narro8 goat-track lined 8ith thick tropical shr!))ery and yello8 daisies% 8e )egan to sense a lo8% th!ndering (i)ration !nder4oot5 #e 8alked on% a8are o4 an increasing dampness in the air% and in a short 8hile ca!ght a 4irst glimpse o4 8hat 8e had come to see A the spectac!lar )asalt cli44 o(er 8hich% 8ith tremendo!s po8er% the Bl!e ,ile h!rls itsel4 )e4ore em)arking on its epic Co!rney o!t o4 the A)yssinian highlands5 The local name 4or the Bl!e ,ile Balls% and 4or the (illage thro!gh 8hich one m!st approach them% is Tissisat% meaning @8ater that smokes@5 As I stood enrapt!red% ga3ing at the rain)o8s playing amongst the 4ine sp!mes o4 spray thro8n high into the air )y the )oiling cataract% I co!ld 8ell !nderstand 8hy5 I 8as also reminded A and str!ck )y the acc!racy A o4 the description gi(en )y the +cottish e9plorer Eames Br!ce a4ter his (isit here in 1**2;

The ri(er 5 5 5 4ell in one sheet o4 8ater% 8itho!t any inter(al% a)o(e hal4 an .nglish mile in )readth% 8ith a 4orce and a noise that 8as tr!ly terri)le% and 8hich st!nned and made me% 4or a time% per4ectly di33y5 A thick 4!me% or ha3e% co(ered the 4all all aro!nd% and h!ng o(er the co!rse o4 the stream )oth a)o(e and )elo8% marking its track% tho!gh the 8ater 8as not seen 5 5 5 It 8as a most magni4icent sight% that ages% added to the greatest length o4 h!man li4e% 8o!ld not de4ace or eradicate 4rom my memoryJ it str!ck me 8ith a kind o4 st!por% and a total o)li(ion o4 8here I 8as% and o4 e(ery other s!)l!nary concern5<1=

.thiopia% I re4lected% 8as a co!ntry in 8hich time really co!ld stand still; there 8as nothing at all% in the scene no8 laid o!t )e4ore me% 8hich s!ggested that more than t8o cent!ries had elapsed since Br!ce had )een here5 ,ot 4or the last time I 4elt a deep sense o4 empathy 8ith the +cottish tra(eller 8hose 4amily name I happened )y coincidence to share <thro!gh the maternal line A my grandmother 8as )orn a Br!ce% and Br!ce% too% is my o8n middle name=5 Later% s!rro!nded )y cro8ds o4 local children 8ho had materiali3ed 4rom no8here in order to demand money% pens and s8eets% 'ichard and I set o44 on the 8alk )ack to8ards Tissisat (illage5 Th!s 4ar there had )een something almost idyllically peace4!l and r!stic a)o!t the

a4ternoonJ e(en the militiamen 8ho had searched !s earlier had done so lethargically and 8ith good h!mo!r5 ,o8% ho8e(er% as 8e recrossed the :ort!g!ese )ridge 8ith the 4irst chill o4 e(ening setting in% 8e 8ere con4ronted )y an incongr!o!s and Carring spectacle; at least three h!ndred hea(ily armed soldiers dressed in green )attle 4atig!es ad(ancing to8ards !s 4rom the other direction5 It 8as impossi)le to )e s!re 8hether 8e 8ere looking at go(ernment or re)el troops5 They 8ore no regimental insignia% nor any other identi4ying paraphernalia5 ,either did they appear to )e disciplined or e(en !nder the command o4 an o44icer; rather than )eing organi3ed into a discerni)le marching order they slo!ched oa4ishly along 8ith angry and resent4!l glares5 I also noticed that a n!m)er o4 the men 8ere carrying their 8eapons (ery sloppily; one !sed his ri4le as a 8alking stickJ another held an A$-4* )arrel-4or8ards across his sho!lderJ a third 8as loosely 8a(ing a loaded rocket la!ncher 8hich% i4 4ired accidentally% co!ld ha(e demolished a 4air-si3ed )!ilding A or% 4or that matter% the )ridge 8e 8ere all standing on5 'ichard% 8hose Amharic is )etter than mine% greeted se(eral indi(id!al mem)ers o4 this s!rly ra))le in a 4amiliar manner% shook hands heartily 8ith perhaps a do3en more% and made eccentric gest!res o4 4riendship to8ards most o4 the rest5 @They think all 4oreigners are slightly mad%@ he e9plained to me in a stage 8hisper5 @I@m C!st li(ing !p to the stereotype5 Belie(e me% it@s the )est thing to do5@

TH. E.#.L >B .THI>:IA

The ne9t morning 8e arri(ed at the aritime A!thority pier at " a5m5 There 8as no sign o4 acti(ity and 'ichard% 8ho 8as 8rapped in a )lanket against the cold% m!ttered something a)o!t the @maam)4ak syndrome@5 @#hat@s that7@ I asked5 @ any appointments are made )!t 4e8 are kept%@ the historian gr!m)led5 #ithin hal4 an ho!r% ho8e(er% the captain o4 the 6 Dahlak had arri(ed5 +o too had a clean-sha(en yo!ng man in a 8ell c!t s!it 8ho introd!ced himsel4 as #ondem! and in4ormed !s% 8ith great h!mility% that he 8as the +econd Dep!ty-Assistant 'egional Administrator; @Desterday a4ternoon my )oss recei(ed a phone call 4rom Comrade +himelis a3engia in Addis telling him that 8e sho!ld look a4ter yo!5 I immediately reported to yo!r hotel )!t yo! 8ere not present5 Then 4rom 'eception I learned a)o!t this research yo! are cond!cting today5 +o%@ he concl!ded 8ith a )road smile% @here I am5@ By "54"% shi(ering in the da8n chill% 8e 8ere on the 8ater and making good head8ay to8ards Daga +tephanos some t8enty miles to the north5 A)o(e the mo!ntains ringing the eastern shore o4 the h!ge lake the s!n 8as already rising5 A 4resh )ree3e carried the so!nds o4 )irdsong and o4 )arking dogs5

Be4ore too long 'ichard and #ondem! disappeared into the ca)in to chat and drink tea5 .ntranced )y the (ie8% )y the in(igorating Alpine ?!ality o4 the air% and )y the romance o4 tra(el% I remained on deck ga3ing o!t at the e(er-shi4ting lac!strine panorama and 4retting s!)liminally a)o!t e9actly ho8 m!ch this little pleas!re cr!ise 8as going to cost me5 To reach Daga% the captain had said% 8o!ld take a)o!t t8o and a hal4 ho!rs5 +ince 8e 8o!ld need to )e on the island 4or at least that long and 8o!ld then re?!ire a 4!rther t8o and a hal4 ho!rs to get )ack% it looked like I 8as going to end !p shelling o!t almost 422 dollars5 I 8as interr!pted in this slightly depressing piece o4 mental arithmetic )y the striking spectacle o4 t8o nati(e long )oats 8ith high% c!r(ed pro8s p!lling o!t to8ards !s 4rom the distant shore5 +ilho!etted in the pink light o4 the early s!n I co!ld discern 4i(e or si9 men cro!ched do8n inside each (essel 8ielding paddles 8hich% in !nison% they raised and dipped into the 8ater% raised and dipped% raised and dipped5 $no8n as tank8as% I remem)ered 4rom my pre(io!s (isit in 1103 that local cra4t s!ch as these 8ere a common sight on Lake Tana5 The t8o no8 r!nning )rie4ly parallel to !s% )!t heading in the opposite direction% 8ere m!ch larger than any that I had seen )e4ore5 ,e(ertheless they 8ere clearly o4 the same )asic design% )eing made o4 )!ndles o4 papyr!s reeds )o!nd together5 Ha(ing spent a considera)le 4raction o4 the pre(io!s 4e8 months st!dying archaeological sites in .gypt I 8as no8 a)le to con4irm 8ith my o8n eyes something 8hich I kne8 that se(eral historians had already o)ser(ed A namely that the .thiopian tank8as )ore an !ncanny resem)lance to the reed )oats !sed )y the :haraohs 4or transportation% h!nting and 4ishing on the ,ile5<2= I had seen representations o4 high-pro8ed (essels C!st like these in 4rescoes decorating the tom)s in the 6alley o4 the $ings and also in relie4s car(ed into the temple 8alls at $arnak and L!9or5 ,ot 4or the 4irst time I 4o!nd mysel4 8ondering 8hether the ancient .gyptians had e(er (isited the Tana area5 It 8as not C!st the similarity in )oat design% s!ggesti(e as it 8as o4 a strong c!lt!ral in4l!ence% that led me to this spec!lation% )!t also the lake@s importance as the principal reser(oir o4 the Bl!e ,ile5 Tana is not itsel4 o44icially regarded as the so!rce o4 that great ri(er% identi4ied as t8in springs% in the mo!ntains to the so!th% that 8ere (isited )y Br!ce and )y other tra(ellers )e4ore him5<3= At these springs rises a ri(er kno8n as the @Little A)ai@ 8hich 4lo8s across the so!thern edge o4 the lake <there is a discerni)le c!rrent= and then o!t again as the @Big A)ai@% the local name 4or the Bl!e ,ile5 To all intents and p!rposes% ho8e(er% as geographers and engineers no8 accept%<4= the Bl!e ,ile@s real so!rce is Lake Tana% 8hich is 4ed not only )y the @Little A)ai@ )!t also )y many other ri(ers% th!s draining a h!ge e9panse o4 the A)yssinian highlands5 Indeed% 8ith a s!r4ace area o4 3%&*3 s?!are kilometres% this (ast inland sea pro(ides an estimated si9-se(enths o4 the total (ol!me o4 8ater in the com)ined streams o4 the Bl!e and the #hite ,iles5<"= ost important o4 all% it is .thiopia@s long rainy season A 8hich ca!ses a (erita)le 4lood to race o!t o4 Lake Tana and along the Bl!e ,ile A that has )een responsi)le since time immemorial 4or the ann!al in!ndation that )rings silt and 4ertility to .gypt@s Delta5 By comparison the longer #hite

,ile A 8hich loses more than hal4 o4 its (ol!me in the s8amplands o4 so!thern +!dan A contri)!tes almost nothing5<&= As I sat 8atching the papyr!s-reed tank8as% there4ore% it seemed to me inconcei(a)le that the priests o4 $arnak and L!9or A 8ho 8orshipped the ,ile as a li4e-gi(ing 4orce and also% sym)olically% as a )lessed god A 8o!ld not at some stage in their long history ha(e made their 8ay to .thiopia5 There 8ere no records to pro(e this% C!st another h!nchJ )!t ne(ertheless% in the n!mino!s da8n glo8 o4 that ,o(em)er morning% I 4elt con4ident that the ancient .gyptians m!st at some point ha(e (isited Tana A and (enerated it5 Certainly the Greek geographer +tra)o% 8ho li(ed aro!nd the time o4 Christ and 8ho 8as deeply (ersed in .gyptian learning% 8as a8are <as later scholars 8ere not= that the Bl!e ,ile rose in a giant lake in .thiopia% a lake 8hich he called @:se)oe@5<*= In the second cent!ry AD the .gyptian geographer Cla!di!s :tolemy e9pressed a similar opinion% altho!gh the name that he ga(e to Tana 8as @Coloe@5<0= I also tho!ght that the Athenian dramatist Aeschyl!s might ha(e )een inspired )y more than C!st poetic 4ancy 8hen he 8rote ha!ntingly in the 4i4th cent!ry BC o4 @a copper-tinted lake 5 5 5 that is the Ce8el o4 .thiopia% 8here the all-per(ading s!n ret!rns again and again to pl!nge his immortal 4orm% and 4inds a solace 4or his 8eary ro!nd in gentle ripples that are )!t a 8arm caress5<1= These% I kne8% 8ere not the only re4erences linking the mysterio!s 8aters o4 Lake Tana to the ancient c!lt!res o4 Greece% .gypt and the iddle .ast5 As I sat on the deck o4 the 6 Dahlak en m!te to Daga +tephanos I also remem)ered that the A)yssinians themsel(es 4irmly )elie(ed the Bl!e ,ile to )e nothing less than the Gihon o4 Genesis 2;13 A @the second ri(er@ that @compasseth the 8hole land o4 .thiopia@5 This% 4!rthermore% 8as a (ery old tradition%<12= almost certainly pre-Christian% and th!s added considera)le 8eight to the notion that the lake% together 8ith its ri(ers and islands% might indeed ha(e some gen!ine connection 8ith the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 It 8as there4ore 8ith a certain 4l!sh o4 optimism that I looked ahead% across the inter(ening miles% to the green slopes o4 Daga island rising a)o(e the shining 8aters like the peak o4 some s!)merged mo!ntain5

+AGA +T.:HA,>+

It 8as aro!nd 0532 8hen 8e 4inally moored at Daga5 The s!n 8as no8 high in the sky and% despite the altit!de <Tana stands more than &%222 4eet a)o(e sea le(el=% the morning 8as hot% h!mid and )reathless5 #e 8ere met on the 8ooden Cetty )y a delegation o4 monks dressed in astonishingly dirty ro)es5 They had o)(io!sly )een monitoring o!r approach 4or some time )!t did not appear to )e in the least )it pleased to see !s5 #ondem! had a 8ord 8ith them and e(ent!ally% 8ith o)(io!s rel!ctance% they led !s thro!gh a small )anana plantation and then !p a steep% 8inding path to8ards the s!mmit o4 the island5

As 8e 8alked I stripped o44 the p!llo(er I had )een 8earing% stretched my arms and took a 4e8 deep )reaths5 The track that 8e 8ere 4ollo8ing passed thro!gh the midst o4 a dense 4orest o4 tall gnarled trees% the lea(es o4 8hich 4ormed a canopy a)o(e !s5 The air 8as laden 8ith the loamy scent o4 4reshly t!rned earth and 8ith the 4ragrance o4 tropical 4lo8ers5 Bees and other large insects )!33ed ind!strio!sly a)o!t and% in the distance% I co!ld hear the monotono!s ringing o4 a traditional stone )ell5 .(ent!ally% some 32 4eet a)o(e the s!r4ace o4 the lake% 8e )egan to come across lo8 ro!nd )!ildings 8ith thatched roo4s A the d8ellings o4 the monks5 ,e9t 8e passed !nder an arch set into a high stone 8all and 4inally entered a grassy clearing at the centre o4 8hich stood the ch!rch o4 +aint +tephanos5 This 8as a long rectang!lar str!ct!re% c!r(ed at the ends% 8ith a co(ered 8alk8ay e9tending all aro!nd it5 @Doesn@t look all that old%@ I said to 'ichard5 @It isn@t%@ he replied5 @The original )!ilding 8as )!rnt do8n in a grass 4ire a)o!t a h!ndred years ago5@ @I s!ppose that 8o!ld ha(e )een the one that they )ro!ght the Ark to in the si9teenth cent!ry7@ @Des5 In 4act there@s pro)a)ly )een some sort o4 ch!rch on this site 4or at least a tho!sand years5 ay)e e(en 4or longer than that5 Daga is reckoned to )e one o4 the holiest places on Lake Tana5 Beca!se o4 that the m!mmi4ied )odies o4 4i(e 4ormer emperors are kept here5@ #ondem!% in his sel4-appointed role as o!r g!ide and interloc!tor% had )een talking ?!ietly to some o4 the monks5 ,o8 he detached one mem)er o4 the gro!p A 8hose (estments 8ere slightly cleaner than those o4 his 4ello8s A and led him )y the hand to8ards !s5 @This%@ he anno!nced pro!dly% @is Archpriest $i4le- ariam engist5 He 8ill ans8er all yo!r ?!estions5@ The archpriest% ho8e(er% seemed to ha(e ideas o4 his o8n on this s!)Cect5 His 8rinkled% pr!ne-like 4eat!res registered a c!rio!s mi9t!re o4 hostility% resentment and greed5 In silence he si3ed 'ichard and me !p% then t!rned to #ondem! and 8hispered something in Amharic5 @Ah 5 %@ sighed o!r g!ide% @I am a4raid he 8ants money5 It is to p!rchase candles% incense and 5 5 5 er 5 5 5 other necessary ch!rch items5@ @Ho8 m!ch7@ I asked5 @#hate(er yo! 4eel is appropriate5@ I proposed to .thiopian 12 )irr A a)o!t " I+ dollars A )!t $i4le- ariam indicated that this s!m 8as not s!44icient5 Indeed% he declared% the pro44ered note 8as so lacking in the ?!ality o4 s!44iciency that he co!ld not e(en )ring himsel4 to detach it 4rom my 4ingers5 @I think yo! sho!ld pay more%@ #ondem! hissed politely in my ear5 @I@ll )e happy to do that% o4 co!rse%@ I said5 @B!t I@d like to kno8 8hat I@ll )e getting in ret!rn5@

@In ret!rn he 8ill talk to yo!5 >ther8ise he says he has m!ch to do5@ #e settled% a4ter 4!rther de)ate% on 32 )irr5 The money 8as ?!ickly 4olded and conC!red a8ay in some noisome 4old or po!ch in the priestly ro)es5 Then 8e strolled o(er to the arcade s!rro!nding the ch!rch and sat do8n in the shade )eneath the o(erhanging ea(es o4 the thatched roo45 +e(eral o4 the other monks 4ollo8ed !s and l!rked a)o!t looking sel4-conscio!sly contemplati(e and pretending not to listen to o!r con(ersation5 $i4le- ariam engist )egan )y telling !s that he had )een on the island 4or eighteen years and had )ecome an e9pert on all matters concerning the monastery5 As tho!gh to pro(e this point he then la!nched into a kind o4 potted history A 8hich 8ent on% and on% and on5 @'ight%@ I interr!pted a4ter #ondem! had gi(en me the dri4t o4 this )oring speech5 @I do 8ant to get a general pict!re5 B!t 4irst I@d like to ask the archpriest a speci4ic ?!estion A 8hich is this; I@(e heard it said that the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as )ro!ght here in the si9teenth cent!ry 8hen A9!m 8as attacked )y the armies o4 Ahmed Gragn5 Does he kno8 this story7 And is it tr!e7@ Bi4teen or t8enty min!tes o4 incomprehensi)le arg!ment 4ollo8ed% at the end o4 8hich #ondem! anno!nced that the priest de4initely did not kno8 the story5 oreo(er% since he did not kno8 it% he 8as not a)le to tell !s 8hether it 8as tr!e or not5 I tried a di44erent tack5 Do they ha(e a ta)ot o4 their o8n7 Here5 Inside this ch!rch7@ Thro!gh the open door8ay )ehind !s I pointed e9pressi(ely to8ards the entrance o4 the Holy o4 Holies% 8hich 8as C!st (isi)le in the gloom 8ithin5 A4ter another Amharic ?!estion-and-ans8er session #ondem! anno!nced; @Des5 >4 co!rse they ha(e their ta)ot5@ @Good5 #ell I@m glad 8e@(e esta)lished that at any rate5 ,o8% ask him this; does he accept that their ta)ot is a copy A a replica A o4 the original ta)ot in A9!m7@ @:erhaps%@ came the enigmatic reply5 @I see5 >$5 #ell in that case I@d like yo! to ask him 8hether he kno8s anything at all a)o!t the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 Ho8 it came to A9!m5 #ho )ro!ght it5 Things like that5 Get him to tell !s the story in his o8n 8ords5@ An immediate and per4!nctory response 8as gi(en to this ?!estion5 @He says he does not kno8 the story%@ #ondem! translated rather mo!rn4!lly5 @He says he is not an a!thority on s!ch matters5@ @Is there anyone else 8ho is7@ I asked in e9asperation @,o5 $i4le- ariam engist is the senior priest on the island5 I4 he does not kno8 then it is impossi)le that anyone else 8ill kno85@ I looked at 'ichard; @#hat@s going on here7 I@(e ne(er% ne(er e(er% met an .thiopian priest 8ho didn@t kno8 the $e)ra ,agast story a)o!t the Ark5@

The historian shr!gged; @,or ha(e I5 It@s (ery pec!liar5 :erhaps yo! sho!ld o44er him a 4!rther ind!cement5@ I groaned5 It al8ays came do8n to money in the end% didn@t it7 I4 a 4e8 more )irr 8as 8hat it 8o!ld take to get this tight-lipped old )astard talking% ho8e(er% then it 8o!ld )e )est to pay !p ?!ickly5 A4ter all% I@d come all the 8ay 4rom London to check Daga +tephanos o!t A and e(en no8 the 6 Dahiak 8as moored at the Cetty 8ith its meter r!nning at the rate o4 appro9imately a dollar a min!te5 #ith grim resignation I passed o(er another small hand4!l o4 cr!mpled notes5 This latest act o4 generosity% ho8e(er% did me a)sol!tely no good at all5 The priest had nothing 4!rther to say on any s!)Cect o4 interest5 #hen this had 4inally s!nk in A and it took some time A I leaned )ack against one o4 the pillars that s!pported the roo4% inspected my 4ingernails% and tried to decide 8hat to do ne9t5 There 8ere% I reali3ed% t8o possi)le e9planations 4or the apparent ignorance o4 $i4leariam engist5 >ne% the least likely% 8as that the man 8as gen!inely st!pid5 The other% more pro)a)le )y 4ar% 8as that he 8as lying5 B!t 8hy sho!ld he lie7 #ell% I reasoned% there 8ere t8o possi)le e9planations 4or that as 8ell5 The 4irst A and the least likely A 8as that he had something important to hide5 The second A more pro)a)le )y 4ar A 8as that he 8anted to e9tract 4!rther notes 4rom my rapidly diminishing 8ad o4 .thiopian c!rrency5 I stood !p and said to #ondem!; @Ask him again5 Ask him i4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as )ro!ght here 4rom A9!m in the si9teenth cent!ry 5 5 5 and ask him 8hether it@s here no85 Tell him I@ll make it 8orth his 8hile i4 he@ll sho8 it to me5@ >!r g!ide raised a ?!i33ical eye)ro85 #hat I had C!st proposed 8as not in good taste5 @Go on%@ I !rged5 @E!st ask him5@ ore Amharic% then this 4rom #ondem!; @He says the same as )e4ore5 He does not kno8 a)o!t the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 B!t he also says that nothing has )een )ro!ght to Daga +tephanos 4rom o!tside 4or a (ery long time5@ The gro!p o4 monks 8ho had )een standing in a semi-circle ea(esdropping on my con(ersation 8ith $i4le- ariam engist dispersed at this point5 >ne o4 them% ho8e(er A )are4oot% toothless and dressed in s!ch poor rags that he 8o!ld ha(e passed 4or a )eggar on any street in Addis A)a)a A accompanied !s as 8e 8alked )ack do8n the steep track to the Cetty5 Be4ore 8e clim)ed on )oard the la!nch he p!lled #ondem! aside and 8hispered something in his ear5 @#hat 8as that7@ I asked sharply% e9pecting a 4!rther demand 4or payment o4 some kind5 oney% ho8e(er% t!rned o!t not to )e the iss!e this time5 #ondem! 4ro8ned; @He says that 8e sho!ld go to Tana $irkos5 Apparently 8e 8ill learn something a)o!t the Ark there 5 5 5 something important5@ #hat@s Tana $irkos7@

@It is another island 5 5 5 east o4 here5 /!ite 4ar5@ @Ask him to tell !s more5 #hat does he mean )y something important7 #ondem! p!t the ?!estion again and translated the ans8er5 @He says that the Ark o4 the Co(enant is on Tana $irkos5 That is all he kno8s5@ y 4irst reaction to this astonishing piece o4 ne8s 8as to roll my eyes hea(en8ards% t!g distractedly at my hair% and kick the side o4 the la!nch5 ean8hile the monk% 8hom I 8anted more in4ormation 4rom% had ho))led )ack along the Cetty and (anished into the )anana gro(e5 I looked at my 8atch5 It 8as no8 almost noon5 #e had )een o!t o4 Bahar Dar 4or si9 ho!rs% or 322 dollars5 @Is Tana $irkos on o!r 8ay )ack7@ I asked #ondem!5 @,o%@ he replied% @I ha(e ne(er )een there5 ,o one e(er goes there5 B!t I kno8 it is more or less d!e east5 Bahar Dar is so!th5@ @I see5 Any idea ho8 long it 8ill take !s7@ @,o5 I shall ask the captain5@ #ondem! did that5 It 8o!ld take !s a)o!t an ho!r and a hal45 @And a4ter that% ho8 long )ack to Bahar Dar7@ @A)o!t three more ho!rs5@ I did some rapid calc!lations in my head5 +ay t8o ho!rs on Tana $irkos% pl!s an ho!r and a hal4 to get there% pl!s three ho!rs to Bahar Dar 5 5 5 that@s si9 and a hal4 ho!rs5 Call it se(en% pl!s the si9 8e@(e already had5 That@s% let@s see% thirteen ho!rs5 Thirteen )loody ho!rsT At 4i4ty )!cks an ho!r5 +i9 h!ndred and 4i4ty dollars minim!m5 ChristT 1 4!lminated in8ardly 4or some time longer5 .(ent!ally% ho8e(er A 8ith a heart as hea(y as my 8allet 8as light A I made !p my mind to go5 >4 co!rse the Ark 8o!ldn@t act!ally )e on Tana $irkos5 I kne8 that5 In 4act the most likely scenario 8as that I 8o!ld )e gi(en the r!n-aro!nd again% C!st as on Daga +tephanos5 oney 8o!ld )e e9tracted 4rom me in dri)s and dra)s !ntil the point 8as reached 8here I 8as o)(io!sly not prepared to hand o(er any more5 Then another tantali3ing little hint 8o!ld )e dropped naming yet another island A and o44 I 8o!ld go% )anknotes at the ready% to enrich yet another comm!nity o4 needy anchorites5 Eames Br!ce% I remem)ered% had )een to Tana in the eighteenth cent!ry5 @There are 4orty4i(e inha)ited islands in the lake%@ he had 8ritten% @i4 yo! )elie(e the A)yssinians% 8ho% in e(erything% are (ery great liars5 5 5@<11=

TA,A $I'$>+

I 8as not in a recepti(e 4rame o4 mind 8hen 8e arri(ed at Tana $irkos5 ,e(ertheless% as I stood in the )o8s o4 the 6 Dahiak sco8ling at the island ahead% I had to admit that it 8as a )ea!ti4!l and !n!s!al place5 Completely co(ered in dense green shr!))ery% 4lo8ering trees and tall cact!s plants% it rose steeply 4rom the 8ater to a high peak on 8hich I co!ld C!st make o!t the thatched roo4 o4 a circ!lar d8elling5 H!mming)irds% king4ishers and )right )l!e starlings darted thro!gh the air5 >n the shore o4 a small sandy )ay% on a makeshi4t Cetty% stood a gro!p o4 monks5 +miling5 #e dropped anchor and clam)ered o!t o4 the )oat5 #ondem! did the !s!al ro!nd o4 introd!ctions and e9planations5 Hands 8ere shaken5 Lengthy greetings 8ere e9changed5 Binally 8e 8ere led !p a narro8% o(ergro8n path c!t o!t o4 the side o4 a grey cli44% thro!gh an arch8ay at the top A again he8n o!t o4 the )are stone A and 4inally into a clearing containing three or 4o!r dilapidated )!ildings and a do3en ragged monks5 +et )ack )ehind nat!ral rock 8alls% the grassy space in 8hich 8e stood 8as enclosed% silent and dark5 The light that did penetrate% 4iltered as it 8as thro!gh the o(erarching trees and )!shes% seemed m!ted and green5 Against my )etter C!dgment% I )egan to s!spect that there might )e something 8orth seeing here a4ter all5 I co!ld not ha(e e9plained 8hy% )!t Tana $irkos 4elt @right@ in a 8ay that Daga +tephanos had not5 The senior priest no8 arri(ed and introd!ced himsel4% thro!gh #ondem!% as emhir Bisseha5 He 8as lean and smelled o4 incense5 He did not ask 4or money% )!t he did ask 8hether or not 8e had sec!rity clearance5 I 8as nonpl!ssed )y s!ch a ?!estion% coming as it did 4rom a traditional 4ig!re in clerical ro)es5 @As a matter o4 4act%@ I said% @yes 8e do5@ I p!lled 4rom my pocket the permit 8e had o)tained 4rom the sec!rity police in Addis and ga(e this to #ondem!% 8ho in t!rn passed it to emhir Bisseha5 The old man A 8ere all priests in .thiopia so old7 A st!died the doc!ment 8ith an a)stracted air and then handed it )ack to me5 He seemed to )e satis4ied5 #ondem! no8 e9plained that I 8anted to ask some ?!estions a)o!t Tana $irkos and a)o!t the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 #o!ld that )e >$7 @Des%@ the priest replied% rather sadly I tho!ght5 He directed !s to the door8ay o4 8hat% 4rom the )lackened pots and pans lying inside% appeared to )e a kitchen5 Here% on a small stool% he sat do8n% indicating that 8e sho!ld Coin him5 @Do yo! )elie(e%@ I )egan% @that the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as )ro!ght 4rom Eer!salem to .thiopia )y .mperor enelik I7@ @Des%@ #ondem! translated5 I hea(ed a sigh o4 relie45 This 8as already m!ch )etter than Dap +tephanos5 @I ha(e heard a story@% I contin!ed% @that the Ark is no8 here A on the island o4 Tana $irkos5 Is that story tr!e7@

An ang!ished e9pression crossed tr!e5@

emhir Bisseha@s leathery 4ace as he ans8ered; @It 8as

#as tr!e7 #hat on earth did that signi4y7 @Get him to ela)orate%@ I )arked at #ondem! in some agitation5 @#hat does he mean )y 8as tr!e7@ The priest@s response e9cited and distressed me in ro!ghly e?!al meas!re; @It 8as tr!e5 B!t the Ark o4 the Co(enant is not here any longer5 It has )een taken to A9!m5@ @Taken )ack to A9!mT@ I e9claimed5 @#hen7 #hen did they take it7@ An intense disc!ssion 4ollo8ed in Amharic% 8ith the main point o)(io!sly )eing clari4ied se(eral times5 Binally #ondem! translated; @The Ark 8as taken to A9!m one tho!sand si9 h!ndred years ago% in the time o4 $ing .3ana5 It 8as not taken )ack5 It 8as simply taken there% and it has stayed there e(er since5@ I 4elt perple9ed and 4r!strated5 @Let me get this clear%@ I said a4ter a moment@s tho!ght5 @He@s not telling !s that the Ark 8as here recently and has no8 gone )ack to A9!m% is he7 He@s telling !s that it 8ent there a (ery long time ago5@ @.9actly5 >ne tho!sand si9 h!ndred years ago5 That is 8hat he says5@ @>$% then ask him this5 Ho8 did the Ark get here in the 4irst place7 Did it come here 4rom A9!m% and then go )ack there7 >r 8as it here )e4ore it 8as e(er taken to A9!m7 That seems to )e 8hat he means% )!t I 8ant to )e a)sol!tely s!re5@ +lo8ly and pain4!lly the story emerged5 .9tracting it 8as like e9tracting the st!mp o4 a rotten tooth 4rom an in4lamed g!m5 +e(eral times cons!ltation 8as re?!ired 8ith the other monks and once a h!ge% leather-)o!nd )ook 8ritten in ancient Ge@e3 8as re4erred to and a passage read o!t5 In s!mmary% 8hat emhir Bisseha told !s 8as that the Ark had )een stolen 4rom the Temple o4 +olomon in Eer!salem )y enelik I and his companions5 They had )ro!ght it o!t o4 Israel% he e9plained% and into .gypt5 Then they had 4ollo8ed the ,ile A 4irst the ,ile and a4ter8ards its tri)!tary the Taka33e A !ntil they had reached .thiopia5 This% o4 co!rse% 8as the tradition o4 the the4t o4 the Ark reported in the $e)ra ,agast5 #hat came ne9t% ho8e(er% 8as completely ne85 Looking 4or some8here sa4e and appropriate 8here they might install the precio!s relic% the old priest contin!ed% the tra(ellers had come to Tana5 At that time% he said% the entire lake 8as sacred5 It 8as dear to God5 A holy place5 +o they had come to Tana% to its eastern shore% and they had chosen this island% no8 called $irkos% as the resting place 4or the Ark5 @Ho8 long did it stay here7@ I asked5 @Bor eight h!ndred years%@ came the reply5 @It )lessed !s 8ith its presence 4or eight h!ndred years5@ @#as there a )!ilding7 #as it p!t into some sort o4 temple7@

@There 8as no )!ilding5 The Holy Ark 8as placed inside a tent5 And it stayed 8ithin that tent% here on Tana $irkos% 4or eight h!ndred years5 #e 8ere Ee8s then5 A4ter8ards% 8hen 8e )ecame Christians% $ing .3ana took the Ark to A9!m and placed it in the great ch!rch in that city5@ @And yo! say the Ark 8as taken to A9!m one tho!sand si9 h!ndred years ago7@ @Des5@ @+o i4 it 8as on Tana $irkos 4or eight h!ndred years )e4ore that% then A let@s see A it m!st ha(e arri(ed here something like t8o tho!sand 4o!r h!ndred years ago5 Is that right7 Are yo! telling me it came here a)o!t 4o!r h!ndred years )e4ore the )irth o4 Christ7@ @Des5@ @Do! do kno8 that 422 BC 8as a long time a4ter +olomon A 8ho 8as s!pposed to )e enelik@s 4ather7 In 4act +olomon 8o!ld ha(e )een dead 4or a)o!t 4i(e cent!ries )y then5 #hat do yo! say to that7@ @I say nothing5 I ha(e told yo! o!r tradition as it is recorded in o!r sacred )ooks and in o!r memory5@ A remark that the priest had made a 4e8 moments earlier had interested me enormo!sly% and I no8 picked him !p on this; @Do! told me that yo! 8ere Ee8s then7 #hat did that mean7 #hat kind o4 religion did yo! ha(e7@ @#e 8ere Ee8s5 #e per4ormed sacri4ice 5 5 5 the sacri4icial lam)5 And 8e contin!ed 8ith this practice !ntil the Ark 8as taken 4rom !s to A9!m5 Then A))a +alama came and he ta!ght !s the Christian 4aith% and 8e )!ilt a ch!rch here5@ A))a +alama% I kne8% 8as the .thiopic name 4or Br!menti!s% the +yrian )ishop 8ho had con(erted $ing .3ana and the entire A9!mite kingdom to Christianity in the 332s AD5 This meant that the periods o4 time that emhir Bisseha had gi(en me made sense A or at least 8ere internally consistent5 The only contradiction 8as the h!ge gap )et8een the kno8n dates 4or +olomon A mid 122s BC A and the date that the Ark had s!pposedly )een )ro!ght to Tana $irkos <8hich% i4 I s!)tracted eight h!ndred years 4rom 32 AD% 8o!ld ha(e )een 42 BC=5 I pressed on; @Be4ore A))a +alama came and ta!ght yo! Christianity yo! had no ch!rch here7@ @,o ch!rch5 I told yo!5 #e 8ere Ee8s5 #e per4ormed sacri4ice5@ He pa!sed% then added; @The )lood 4rom the lam) 8as collected in a )o8l 5 5 5 a gomer5 Then it 8as scattered o(er some stones% some small stones5 They are here still% !p to this day5@ @+orry5 Come again5 #hat are here to this day7@ @The stones that 8e !sed 4or sacri4ice 8hen 8e 8ere Ee8s5 Those stones are here5 >n the island5 They are here no85@

@Can 8e see them7@ I asked5 I 4elt a tiny thrill o4 e9citement5 I4 8hat emhir Bisseha had C!st said 8as tr!e% then he 8as talking a)o!t physical e(idence A real physical e(idence to s!pport the strange )!t c!rio!sly con(incing story that he had told5 @Do! can see them%@ he replied5 He got to his 4eet5 @Bollo8 me5 I 8ill sho8 yo!5@


The priest led !s to a high point on the cli44 edge near the s!mmit o4 the island% o(erlooking Lake Tana5 Here% on a raised plinth made o4 nat!ral !nhe8n rock% he sho8ed !s three short stone pillars gro!ped closely together5 The tallest o4 the three A perhaps a metre and a hal4 high A 8as s?!are in section% 8ith a c!p-shaped decli(ity hollo8ed o!t in its top5 The remaining t8o 8ere each a)o!t a metre high% circ!lar in section% and as thick as a man@s thigh5 At the top they also had )een hollo8ed o!t to a depth o4 appro9imately 12 centimetres5 Tho!gh copio!s ?!antities o4 green lichen gre8 on them I 8as a)le to esta)lish that the three pillars 8ere all monoliths% that they 8ere 4reestanding% and that they had )een car(ed 4rom the same type o4 grey granite5 They looked old% and I asked 'ichard 4or his opinion on this5 @>4 co!rse%@ he replied% @I@m not an archaeologist5 B!t I 8o!ld say 4rom the 8ay they are c!t% the style A partic!larly the s?!are one 5 5 5 I 8o!ld say they are at least 4rom the A9!mite period% i4 not earlier5@ I asked emhir Bisseha 8hat the c!p-shaped decli(ities 8ere 4or5

@To contain )lood%@ 8as his ans8er5 @A4ter the sacri4ice% some 8as scattered o(er the stones and some on to the tent that contained the Ark5 The remainder 8as po!red into these hollo8s5@ @Can yo! sho8 me ho8 it 8as done7@ The old priest )eckoned one o4 the other monks and ga(e him instr!ction in a lo8 (oice5 He strode o44 and ret!rned a 4e8 min!tes later carrying a 8ide )!t shallo8 )o8l so corroded and (arnished 8ith age that I co!ld not e(en g!ess o4 8hat metal it 8as made5 This% 8e 8ere told% 8as the gomer in 8hich the sacri4icial )lood 8as 4irst collected5 #hat e9actly does gomer mean7@ I asked #ondem!5 He shr!gged; @I don@t kno85 It is not an Amharic 8ord% nor Tigrigna5 It does not so!nd like it )elongs to any .thiopian lang!age5@ I looked to 'ichard 4or enlightenment )!t he con4essed that he 8as not 4amiliar 8ith the 8ord either5 emhir Bisseha said simply that it 8as called a gomer and had al8ays )een called a gomer and that 8as all he kne85 He then positioned himsel4 ne9t to the stones 8ith the )o8l in his le4t hand% dipped into it 8ith his right 4ore4inger% s8ept his right hand a)o(e the le(el o4 his

head and commenced an !p-and-do8n motion5 The )lood 8as scattered in this 8ay%@ he said% @o(er the stones and o(er the tent o4 the Ark5 A4ter8ards% as I told yo!% 8hat 8as le4t 8as po!red th!s5@ He then tipped the )o8l side8ays a)o(e the c!p-shaped hollo8s in the tops o4 the pillars5 I asked the priest i4 he kne8 8here e9actly on the island the Ark had )een kept in its tent5 All he 8o!ld say% ho8e(er% 8as @near here 5 5 5 some8here near here@5 I then so!ght clari4ication o4 o!r earlier disc!ssion; @Do! told me that it 8as taken 4rom Tana $irkos to A9!m one tho!sand si9 h!ndred years ago5 Is that correct7@ #ondem! translated the ?!estion5 emhir Bisseha nodded a44irmati(ely5

@>$%@ I contin!ed5 @,o8 8hat I 8ant to kno8 is this; has it e(er )een )ro!ght )ack here7 At any time% 4or any reason% has the Ark e(er come )ack to this island7@ @,o5 It 8as taken to A9!m and it stayed in A9!m5@ @And as 4ar as yo! are a8are it is still there to this day7@ @Des5@ ,o 4!rther in4ormation seemed likely to )e 4orthcoming% )!t I 8as more than satis4ied 8ith 8hat I had got A partic!larly since the in4ormation gi(en had at no point )een )artered 4or money5 Grate4!l 4or this I handed o(er a too )irr note as a (ol!ntary contri)!tion to the monastery@s e9penses5 Then% 8ith emhir Bisseha@s permission% I set a)o!t photographing the sacri4icial pillars 4rom a (ariety o4 di44erent angles5 #e 8ere )ack in Bahar Dar shortly )e4ore eight that e(ening5 #e had )een o!t and a)o!t on Lake Tana 4or more than 4o!rteen ho!rs and the 4inal )ill 4or the hire o4 the 6 Dahlak came to *"2 I+ dollars5 It had )een% )y any standards% a costly day5 I no longer )egr!dged the e9pense% ho8e(er5 Indeed% the do!)ts that had )eset me so 4orce4!lly on Dap +tephanos had )een completely )anished )y Tana $irkos and I 4elt that I co!ld no8 contin!e the ?!est 8ith a rene8ed sense o4 commitment and optimism5 This positi(e mood recei(ed a 4!rther )oost )ack in Addis A)a)a5 There% )e4ore I set o!t 4or the planned trip to Lake G8ai on Th!rsday 23 ,o(em)er% I had the opport!nity to (isit the Ini(ersity Li)rary and e9amine a n!m)er o4 re4erences concerning the !se o4 sacri4icial stones in >ld Testament E!daism5 #hat I disco(ered 8as that pillars similar to those that I had seen on Tana $irkos had )een associated 8ith the (ery earliest phases o4 the religion A )oth in +inai and in :alestine5 $no8n as masse)oth% they 8ere set !p as altars on high places and 8ere !sed 4or c!ltic and sacri4icial p!rposes5<12= I then looked in the Bi)le to see i4 I co!ld 4ind any speci4ic details concerning the proper per4ormance o4 sacri4ices in >ld Testament times5 I did 4ind s!ch details and% as I read and reread the rele(ant passages% I reali3ed that 8hat emhir Bisseha had descri)ed to me on the island had )een an a!thentic and (ery ancient ceremony5 ,o do!)t m!ch had )ecome m!ddled and

con4!sed in the memories o4 the tradition that had )een handed do8n 4rom generation to generation5 #hen he had talked a)o!t the scattering o4 )lood% ho8e(er% he had )een astonishingly close to the mark5 In Chapter 4 o4 the )ook o4 Le(itic!s% 4or e9ample% I came across this (erse; @And the priest shall dip his 4inger in the )lood% and sprinkle o4 the )lood se(en times )e4ore the Lord% )e4ore the (eil o4 the sanct!ary5<13= Like8ise in Chapter " I read; @And he shall sprinkle o4 the )lood o4 the sin o44ering !pon the side o4 the attarJ and the rest o4 the )lood shall )e 8r!ng o!t at the )ottom o4 the altar5<14= It 8as not !ntil I t!rned to the ishnah% ho8e(er% the compilation in 8ritten 4orm o4 early oral Ee8ish la8% that I reali3ed C!st ho8 a!thentic emhir Bisseha@s acco!nt in 4act had )een5 In the tractate kno8n as Doma% in the second di(ision o4 the @ ishnah% I 4o!nd detailed descriptions o4 the sacri4icial rit!als carrled o!t )y the High :riest 8ithin +olomon@s Temple in 4ront o4 the c!rtain that shielded the Ark o4 the Co(enant 4rom the ga3e the laity5 La)yrinth I read that the )lood o4 the (ictim A 8hether lam)% goat% or )!llock A 8as collected in a )asin and gi(en @to one that sho!ld stir it !p 5 5 5 so that it sho!ld not congeal@5 Then the priest% ha(ing emerged 4rom the sanct!ary% @took the )lood 4rom him that 8as stirring it and entered again into the place 8here he had entered and stood again on the place 8hereon he had stood% and sprinkled the )lood once !p8ards and se(en times do8n8ards5@<1"= And 8here% e9actly% did the priest sprinkle this )lood7 According to the ishnah he sprinkled it @on the c!rtain o!tside% opposite the Ark% once !p8ards and se(en times do8n8ards% not as tho!gh he intended to sprinkle !p8ards or do8n8ards% )!t as tho!gh he 8ere 8ielding a 8hip 5 5 5 He then sprinkled the cleansed s!r4ace o4 the altar se(en times and po!red o!t the resid!e o4 the )lood5F <1&= It seemed to me highly impro)a)le that emhir Bisseha had e(er read the ishnah5 As a Christian he 8o!ld ha(e no reason to do soJ nor 8o!ld he ha(e had access to s!ch a )ook on his remote islandJ nor co!ld he ha(e !nderstood any o4 the lang!ages into 8hich it had )een translated5 Det his hand mo(ements% 8hen he had sho8n me ho8 the scattering o4 the )lood 8as done% had )een precisely those o4 a man 8ielding a 8hip5 And he had spoken con4idently o4 the )lood )eing po!red not only !pon the altar stones )!t also @on the tent o4 the Ark@5 The correspondences 8ere too close to )e ignored and I 4elt s!re that at some time in the distant past an o)Cect o4 great religio!s signi4icance had )een )ro!ght )y Ee8s to the island o4 Tana $irkos5 Despite the chronological inconsistency in the s!pposed date o4 its arri(al% there 8as also e(ery reason to s!ppose A as emhir Bisseha himsel4 had so o)(io!sly )elie(ed A that that o)Cect might indeed ha(e )een the Holy Ark o4 the Co(enant5

CHA:T.' 12 GH>+T I, A AG.

D!ring the disc!ssions on Tana $irkos a comment that the priest had made to me C!st )e4ore he had got to his main point had aro!sed my c!riosity5 That comment A the implications o4 8hich I no8 8anted to in(estigate 4!rther in the li)rary at the Instit!te o4 .thiopian +t!dies A had )een to do 8ith the ro!te that the Ark had 4ollo8ed on its Co!rney to .thiopia5 A4ter )eing stolen 4rom the Temple o4 +olomon in Eer!salem% the priest had said% it had 4irst )een carried into .gypt and 4rom there had )een )ro!ght to Lake Tana )y 8ay o4 the ,ile and the Taka33e ri(ers5 Despite all the research that I had done d!ring the pre(io!s 4e8 months% I reali3ed that I had ne(er gi(en serio!s consideration to the ?!estion o4 enelik@s itinerary5 I there4ore 8anted to see 8hat the $e)ra ,agast had to say on the matter5 I also 8anted to kno8 i4 there 8as anything in it that speci4ically contradicted the priest@s assertion that the Ark had spent eight h!ndred years at Tana $irkos )e4ore )eing taken to A9!m5 The only rele(ant in4ormation that I co!ld 4ind in the great epic 8as contained in Chapter 045 There it 8as reported that enelik and his tra(elling companions had )ro!ght the sacred relic to a place called De)ra akeda a4ter their arri(al in .thiopia5<1= To my s!rprise there 8as no mention o4 A9!m 8hatsoe(er5 @De)ra akeda@% 8here(er it might ha(e )een% 8as early and !nam)ig!o!sly highlighted as the Ark@s 4irst home in .phiopia5 At a stroke this cleared !p one o4 the more serio!s 4act!al inconsistencies that had )othered me since 1103 A namely that the city o4 A9!m had not )een 4o!nded !ntil a)o!t eight h!ndred years a4ter the date o4 enelik@s s!pposed Co!rney5<2= +e(eral o4 my original in4ormants had told me that A9!m had )een the 4inal destination o4 that Co!rney and that the Ark had )een lodged there 4rom the o!tset<3= A 8hich% o4 co!rse% 8o!ld ha(e )een historically impossi)le5 ,o8% ho8e(er% I co!ld see that the $e)ra ,agast made no s!ch claim and said only that enelik and his companions had )ro!ght the relic 4rom Eer!salem to @De)ra akeda@5 I kne8 that the 8ord @de)ra@ meant @mo!ntain@ and that @ akeda@ 8as the name gi(en in .thiopian tradition to the /!een o4 +he)a5 @De)ra akeda@ there4ore meant @ o!nt akeda@ A the /!een o4 +he)a@s mo!ntain5 In the $e)ra ,agast@s )rie4 description I sa8 nothing to s!ggest that this @/!een o4 +he)a@s o!ntain@ might act!ally ha(e )een Tana $irkos5 By the same token% ho8e(er% I co!ld 4ind nothing that r!led that possi)ility o!t5 +eeking 4!rther cl!es I then re4erred to an a!thoritati(e geographical s!r(ey o4 Lake Tana carried o!t in the 1132s and learned that @$irkos@ 8as a name that had )een gi(en to the island in relati(ely recent times <in hono!r o4 a Christian saint=5 @Be4ore the con(ersion o4 .thiopia to Christianity%@ the s!r(ey added% @Tana $irkos 8as called De)ra +ehel5@<4= The o)(io!s ?!estion immediately 4ormed itsel4 in my mind; 8hat% e9actly% did +ehel mean7 To 4ind o!t I cons!lted se(eral o4 the scholars 8ho 8ere then st!dying in the li)rary5 They told me that it 8as a Ge@e3 8ord rooted in the (er) @to 4orgi(e@5 @#o!ld I )e right@% I asked% @in ass!ming that a correct translation o4 the 4!ll name De)ra +ehel 8o!ld )e something like F o!nt o4 Borgi(enessF7@ @Des%@ they replied5 @That is correct5@ ,o8 this 8as interesting5 In #ol4ram (on .schen)ach@s :ar3i(al% as I remem)ered (ery 8ell% the location o4 the Grail castle A and o4 the Grail Temple A 8as gi(en as

!nsal(aesche5<"= There had )een some de)ate o(er the e9act interpretation o4 this 8ord !nsal(aescheJ more than one #ol4ram e9pert% ho8e(er% had s!ggested that )ehind it lay @the )i)lical ons +al(ationis% o!nt o4 +al(ation@5<&= There co!ld )e no do!)t that the notions o4 @4orgi(eness@ and @sal(ation@ 8ere linked A since in order to )e @sa(ed@% in the religio!s sense% one m!st 4irst )e @4orgi(en@% oreo(er% as :salm 132 p!ts it; @I4 tho!% Lord% sho!ldest mark ini?!ities 5 5 5 8ho shall stand7 B!t there is 4orgi(eness 8ith thee 5 5 5 Let Israel hope in the Lord; 4or 8ith the Lord there is mercy% and 8ith him is plenteo!s redemption5@<*= @'edemption@ is% o4 co!rse% a close synonym 4or @sal(ation@5<0= I there4ore co!ld not help )!t 8onder 8hether #ol4ram@s @ o!nt o4 +al(ation@ might not in some 8ay ha(e )een associated 8ith .thiopia@s @ o!nt o4 Borgi(eness@ A no8 kno8n as Tana $irkos5 I 8as 4!lly a8are that spec!lation o4 this kind co!ld only e(er )e ten!o!s and that it 8as a long C!mp indeed 4rom De)ra +ehel to !nsal(aesche5 ,e(ertheless% a4ter my many readings o4 :ar3i(al% I co!ld hardly 4orget that the mystical Grail Temple <@smooth and ro!nded as tho!gh 4rom a lathe@=<1= had stood on a lake A and ?!ite possi)ly on an island on that lake5<12= ,or did it seem entirely irrele(ant that .thiopian >rthodo9 ch!rches and Balasha places o4 8orship 8ere traditionally circ!lar in shape<11= A as 8ere the maCority o4 Templar ch!rches <incl!ding se(eral still standing to this day s!ch as the t8el4th-cent!ry Temple Ch!rch o44 London@s Bleet +treet=5 I there4ore 4elt that there 8ere certain correspondences in all o4 this 8hich it might )e !n8ise 4or me to ignore entirely <tho!gh it 8o!ld )e e?!ally !n8ise to read too m!ch into them=5 ean8hile there 8as another and rather less tentati(e link to consider A that )et8een De)ra +ehel and De)ra akeda5 As the 4ormer name o4 Tana $irkos made clear% .thiopian islands co!ld ac?!ire the pre4i9 De)ra <meaning @ o!nt@=5 And% indeed A rising steeply to a high peak that to8ered a)o(e the s!r4ace o4 the lake ATana $irkos had looked to me (ery m!ch like a mo!ntain 8hen I had 4irst set eyes on it5 This certainly did not pro(e that the $e)ra ,agast had )een re4erring to De)ra +ehel 8hen it had spoken o4 the Ark )eing taken to the /!een o4 +he)a@s mo!ntain5 I reasoned% ho8e(er% that it did at least ele(ate the island to the stat!s o4 a candidate 4or that distinction5 #ith this esta)lished% I mo(ed on to consider the ?!estion o4 the ro!te that enelik and his companions had 4ollo8ed on their io!rney5 :re(io!sly I had al8ays ass!med that the tra(ellers had gone )y ship A 4rom +olomon@s port o4 .3ionge)er <modern .lat on the G!l4 o4 A?a)a=%<12= and thence do8n the 'ed +ea to the .thiopian coast5 ,o8% as I pored o(er the copy o4 the $e)ra ,agast pro(ided to me )y the li)rarian% I disco(ered that my earlier ass!mption had )een ?!ite 8rong5 enelik@s long Co!rney 4rom Eer!salem had in(ol(ed a s!)stantial cara(an and had )een o(erland thro!gho!t5@<13= B!t 8hat o(erland ro!te had )een 4ollo8ed7 The description o4 the trek gi(en in the $e)ra ,agast had the dreamlike% mirac!lo!s and s!rreal ?!ality o4 imaginati(e storytelling% in 8hich recogni3a)le place names and geographical 4eat!res 8ere not easy to 4ind5 ,e(ertheless there 8ere some details that 8ere )oth speci4ic and important5 A4ter lea(ing Eer!salem the tra(ellers had 4irst made their 8ay to Ga3a <on Israel@s editerranean coast% 8here a city o4 that name still e9ists=5 Brom there% pres!ma)ly 4ollo8ing the 8ell esta)lished trade ro!te across the northern edge o4 the +inai penins!la%<14= they had crossed into .gypt 8here% not long a4ter8ards%

they had arri(ed at a great ri(er; @Let !s let do8n the 8agons%@ they said at this point% @4or 8e ha(e come to the 8ater o4 .thiopia5 This is the Taka33e 8hich 4lo8eth do8n 4rom .thiopia and 8atereth the (alley o4 .gypt5@<1"= It 8as clear 4rom the conte9t that enelik and his companions 8ere still in @the (alley o4 .gypt@ 8hen they !ttered these 8ords A and pro)a)ly not 4ar so!th o4 the site o4 modern Cairo5 The ri(er )eside 8hich they had let do8n their 8agons co!ld there4ore only ha(e )een the ,ile5 #hat 8as striking% ho8e(er% 8as that they had immediately identi4ied it 8ith the Taka33e A the same great .thiopian tri)!tary that the priest had mentioned to me on Tana $irkos5 Brom the li)rarian I o)tained an atlas and traced the Taka33e@s co!rse 8ith my 4ingertip5 I 4o!nd that it rose in A)yssinia@s central highlands not 4ar 4rom the ancient to8n o4 Lali)ela% took a 8inding path in a north-8esterly direction thro!gh the +imien mo!ntains% merged 8ith the At)ara in the +!dan% and 4inally Coined the ,ile proper some h!ndreds o4 miles to the north o4 the modern city o4 $harto!m <8hich stands at the con4l!ence o4 the Bl!e and #hite ,iles=5 Looking at the map I co!ld immediately see t8o other things; 4irst that the ,ile A 4rom an .thiopian perspecti(e A might easily ha(e come to )e regarded as an e9tension o4 the Taka33eJ<1&= secondly that it 8o!ld ha(e )een entirely sensi)le 4or the cara(an carrying the Ark o4 the Co(enant to ha(e 4ollo8ed the ,ile and then the Tak33e in order to reach .thiopia5 The alternati(e 8o!ld ha(e )een to proceed m!ch 4!rther so!th8ards thro!gh the hostile deserts o4 the +!dan as 4ar as the con4l!ence o4 the t8o ,iles and then to 4ollo8 the Bl!e ,ile into the highlands5 Ho8e(er A since the latter ri(er makes a 8ide c!r(ing deto!r to the so!th )e4ore t!rning north again to8ards Lake Tana A this 8o!ld ha(e re?!ired an !nnecessarily lengthy e9peditionJ the Taka33e ro!te% )y contrast% 8as the )est part o4 a tho!sand miles shorter5 The map made something else clear as 8ell; a gro!p o4 tra(ellers 4ollo8ing the Taka33e to its head8aters 8o!ld% near the end o4 their Co!rney% ha(e reached a point less than se(enty miles 4rom the eastern shore o4 Lake Tana5 And Tana $irkos lay not 4ar o44 that same eastern shore5 There 8as th!s no mystery s!rro!nding the tradition that the little island had )een the 4irst resting place o4 the Ark in .thiopia; indeed% casting aro!nd 4or some8here sa4e and close to install the sacred relic% enelik and his companions co!ld hardly ha(e made a )etter choice5


., I, A B>AT

The ne9t morning 8hen 'ichard :ankh!rst and I tra(elled to Lake G8ai 8e 8ere accompanied )y an old 4riend o4 mine% Dohannes Berhan!% the General anager o4 the stateo8ned ,ational To!r >peration5 The three o4 !s met !p C!st )e4ore & a5m5 at the ,T> o44ices% 8here Dohannes had tho!ght4!lly pro(ided a cha!44e!r-dri(en Toyota Landcr!iser5 T8enty min!tes later 8e had le4t the sl!ms and skyscrapers o4 Addis A)a)a )ehind and 8ere r!m)ling along the )road high8ay that led so!th thro!gh the to8n o4 De)ra Geit into the heart o4 the Great 'i4t 6alley5 Disco!nting the $oka reser(oir% 8hich is man-made% Lake G8ai is the northernmost o4 .thiopia@s string o4 'i4t 6alley lakes5 It has a s!r4ace area o4 some t8o h!ndred s?!are miles and a ma9im!m depth o4 a)o!t 4i4ty 4eet5 >(al in shape% it is st!dded 8ith islands and has marshy

shores o(ergro8n 8ith reeds that pro(ide an ideal ha)itat 4or storks% pelicans% 8ild d!cks% geese and 4ish eagles A as 8ell as 4or great n!m)ers o4 hippopotami5 >!r destination% a4ter the t8o-ho!r dri(e 4rom Addis A)a)a% 8as a Cetty on the so!thern side o4 the lake5 Here 8e had )een told that the inistry o4 Bisheries o8ned and operated a n!m)er o4 )oats% one o4 8hich 8o!ld s!rely )e pro(ided 4or !s at minimal cost5 :redicta)ly% ho8e(er% all the larger (essels had gone 4ishing5 >nly a single small motor)oat 8as a(aila)le A and there 8as no 4!el 4or its o!t)oard engine5 A lengthy pala(er 4ollo8ed 8ith the inistry sta44 8ho e9plained that the motor)oat 8asn@t really )ig eno!gh to take 'ichard% Dohannes and me as 8ell as a pilot5 De)ra Gion% the island to 8hich I had )een told that the Ark had )een )ro!ght 4or sa4ekeeping in the tenth cent!ry% 8as distant; at least a three-ho!r Co!rney in this h!m)le cra4t5 B!rthermore% 8ith no deck to shelter !nder% 8e 8o!ld )e grie(o!sly a44licted )y the s!n5 :erhaps% there4ore% 8e 8o!ld care to come )ack tomorro8 8hen more s!ita)le transport co!ld )e arranged7 Dohannes (ehemently declined this s!ggestion5 :ro4essor :ankh!rst and r Hancock% he said% had important appointments in Addis A)a)a tomorro8 A appointments 8hich co!ld not !nder any circ!mstances )e altered5 #e m!st% there4ore% reach De)ra Gion today5 ore disc!ssions 4ollo8ed and e(ent!ally 8e trooped along the Cetty and sat e9perimentally in the tiny motor)oat5 Arranged aro!nd its sides 8e did more or less 4it into it% altho!gh o!r com)ined 8eight 4orced it rather lo8 in the 8ater5 #hat to do7 The Bisheries o44icials seemed d!)io!s )!t at last agreed to let !s ha(e o!r 8ay5 The (essel 8as o!rs5 They 8o!ld pro(ide a pilot5 And there 8o!ld )e no charge5 #e% ho8e(er% 8o!ld ha(e to arrange 4or the 4!el o!rsel(es5 :erhaps 8e co!ld send o!r dri(er into the nearest to8n 8ith a Cerrycan7 #e did this5 A (ast and completely ine9plica)le delay then ens!ed5 >ne ho!r passed5 Then another5 Gro8ing impatient I stood at the end o4 the Cetty and made the ac?!aintance o4 se(eral mara)o! storks; h!ge% l!g!)rio!s% long-)eaked% )ald-headed )irds o)(io!sly descended 4rom pterodactyls5 Binally o!r dri(er ret!rned 8ith the necessary 4!el and A C!st a4ter 11 a5m5 A 8e started !p the o!t)oard motor and set o445 #e p!ttered% (ery slo8ly% thro!gh the rippling 8aters% passing one densely 8ooded island% then another5 The reed-4ringed shoreline receded and then disappeared )ehind !s% there 8as no sign o4 De)ra Gion% the s!n 8as no8 directly o(erhead% and the )oat 8as leaking in a small )!t noticea)le 8ay5 At this point Dohannes Berhan! rather pointedly reminded !s that the lake 8as 4!ll o4 hippopotami <8hich he descri)ed as @(ery aggressi(e and !ntr!st8orthy animals@=5 He 8as% I o)ser(ed% 8earing a li4e-Cacket that he m!st someho8 ha(e ac?!ired )e4ore o!r depart!re 4rom the Cetty5 ean8hile% 'ichard :ankh!rst@s nose 8as t!rning an interesting shade o4 lo)ster pink5 And I5 5 5 8ell I 8as gritting my teeth and trying to ignore the implications o4 an increasingly 4!ll )ladder5 #here 8as that )loody island7 And 8hen e9actly 8ere 8e going to get there I looked impatiently at my 8atch and 8as s!ddenly o(ertaken )y a 4aint )!t de4inite sense o4 the ridic!lo!s5 I mean% 'aiders o4 the Lost Ark 8as one thing )!t this% to )e honest% 8as more like Three en in a Boat5

The Co!rney to De)ra Gion did not take as long as 8e had )een told it 8o!ldJ ne(ertheless it took ?!ite long eno!gh and I 8as the 4irst on to dry land 8hen 8e 4inally arri(ed5 I dashed past the delegation o4 monks 8aiting to greet !s% disappeared )ehind the nearest )!sh and emerged again some min!tes later 4eeling (ery m!ch )etter5 #hen I reCoined the others% 8ho 8ere deep in con(ersation 8ith the 8elcoming committee% I noticed a n!m)er o4 papyr!s-reed )oats lined !p along the shore5 They seemed identical in e(ery respect to those I had seen on Lake Tana5 I 8as on the point o4 asking a)o!t this 8hen Dohannes interr!pted my chain o4 tho!ght )y anno!ncing e9citedly; @Graham5 There is something strange here5 It seems that the mother-tong!e o4 these people is Tigrigna5@ This 8as strange indeed5 #e 8ere no8 in the so!thern part o4 the pro(ince o4 +hoa% an Amharic-speaking area5 Tigrigna% on the other hand% 8as the lang!age o4 the sacred city o4 A9!m and o4 the pro(ince o4 Tigray A h!ndreds o4 miles to the north5 I kne8 4rom direct e9perience that .thiopia 8as a co!ntry in 8hich regional distinctions% partic!larly ling!istic distinctions% had (ery pro4o!nd implications <pro4o!nd eno!gh% any8ay% to lead to ci(il 8ar=5 It 8as there4ore most s!rprising to 4ind that Amharic 8as not the 4irst lang!age o4 the monks o4 De)ra Gion5 ,or% as it t!rned o!t% did this pec!liarity apply only to the monks5 #e ?!ickly esta)lished that e(ery inha)itant o4 the island% incl!ding the 4armers and the 4ishermen% ro!tinely con(ersed in a dialect o4 Tigrigna and only !sed Amharic <8hich many o4 them did not speak at all 8ell= on the rare occasions 8hen they 8ere (isited )y go(ernment o44icials5 As 8e hiked !p the 8inding path to the top o4 the hill 8here De)ra Gion@s main ch!rch 8as sited I asked; @Ho8 come yo! all speak Tigrigna7@ @Beca!se o!r 4ore4athers came 4rom Tigray%@ the monks replied thro!gh the medi!m o4 Dohannes5 @#hen did they come7@ @It 8as aro!nd one tho!sand and thirty years ago5@ I did some ?!ick mental arithmetic5 >ne tho!sand and thirty years 4rom 1101 ga(e a date o4 AD 1"15 The tenth cent!ry% I tho!ght5 The cent!ry in 8hich /!een G!dit had o(erthro8n the +olomonic dynasty and in 8hich the Ark o4 the Co(enant had s!pposedly )een taken o!t o4 A9!m and )ro!ght to De)ra Gion 4or sa4ekeeping5 #itho!t really ha(ing )eg!n to inter(ie8 any)ody it 8as already )eginning to look (ery m!ch as tho!gh the tradition reported to me )y Belai Gedai had some s!)stance to it5 @#hy did they come7@ I asked ne9t5 @Get them to tell !s the story o4 ho8 and 8hy they came here5@ Dohannes p!t this to the monks and then translated their ans8er; @Do! see% their 4ore4athers came here 8ith the ta)ot5 It 8as in the time o4 G!dit5 +he attacked the Christians in Tigray5 There 8as m!ch 4ighting5 They 8ere escaping 4rom her5 And they came here 8ith the ta)ot5@

@#hich ta)ot7@ @They say it 8as the ta)ot 4rom the Ch!rch o4 +aint ary o4 Gion in A9!m5@

@By that do they mean the original ta)ot that 8as )ro!ght )y enelik 4rom Eer!salem to .thiopia7 The Ark o4 the Co(enant in other 8ords5 >r do they ha(e some other ta)ot in mind7 I 8ant to )e a)sol!tely dear on this point5@ Dohannes man4!lly pl!nged into this mine4ield o4 interpretation 8hile 8e carried on 8alking !p the steep hill5 !ch arg!ment and de)ate 4ollo8ed )e4ore he 4inally commented; @I do not think they are (ery clear themsel(es5 B!t they say that it is 8ritten 5 5 5 that it is all 8ritten in a )ook% kept here in the ch!rch% and that 8e sho!ld disc!ss the 8hole matter 8ith their senior priest5@

+T>L., HI+T>'D

Bi(e min!tes later 8e arri(ed at the ch!rch 8hich% I 8as not entirely s!rprised to disco(er% 8as dedicated to +aint ary o4 Gion5 It 8as a plain and !npretentio!s 8attle-and-da!) )!ilding% 8hite8ashed on the o!tside and s!rmo!nted )y a simple cross5 The (ie8 that it commanded 4rom its position on the hilltop 8as% ho8e(er% s!per)% gi(ing !s some idea o4 the e9tent o4 this large island5 Behind !s% 4rom the direction 8e had come% the path 8o!nd )ack thro!gh 4ields dotted 8ith the poor h!ts o4 peasant 4armers5 Ahead o4 !s the land sloped steeply a8ay to the lake@s edge thro!gh a 4orest o4 acacia trees and cact!s5 The senior priest% A))a Ge)ra Christos% no8 presented himsel45 A small 8iry man% pro)a)ly in his late si9ties% he 8ore a thin grey )eard and a thread)are t8o-piece s!it% aro!nd the sho!lders o4 8hich he had draped a length o4 8hite cotton cloth in traditional highland 4ashion5 His manner 8as 8elcoming and genial eno!gh )!t there 8as also a 4o9y and calc!lating look a)o!t him that seemed to 4ore)ode imminent 4inancial transactions5 I ner(o!sly 4ingered the greasy 8ad o4 )irr that I had st!44ed into my pocket )e4ore lea(ing Addis and resol(ed to pay only 4or high-?!ality in4ormation5 Then% making as little song and dance as possi)le% I s8itched on my tape-recorder and asked my 4irst ?!estion; did he kno8 the story o4 ho8 enelik had a)d!cted the ark o4 the Co(enant 4rom the Temple o4 +olomon in Eer!salem7 Des% Dohannes translated% o4 co!rse he did5 And did he kno8 8hat had happened ne9t7 enelik% the priest replied% had )ro!ght the Ark to .thiopia 8here it remained to this day5 @Is he s!re@% I asked @that this 8as the original Ark o4 the Co(enant% containing the Ten Commandments inscri)ed on the Ta)lets o4 +tone )y the 4inger o4 God7@ Dohannes p!t the ?!estion and A))a Ge)ra Christos replied gra(ely; @Des5 I am s!re5@

@>$5 Good5 ,o8 tell me 5 5 5 8as this same original Ark e(er )ro!ght here to Lake G8ai A to De)ra Gion7@ @Des%@ said the priest% @at the time o4 G!dit the Ark 8as )ro!ght ere 4rom A9!m5@ @B!t 8hy 8as it )ro!ght here7@ I asked5 @I mean% 8hy here7 #hy s!ch a long 8ay7 +!rely there m!st ha(e )een h!ndreds o4 secret places 8here it co!ld ha(e )een hidden in Tigray7@ @Listen 5 5 5 This G!dit 5 5 5 she 8as a de(il5 +he )!rned many ch!rches in Tigray5 And in other regions o4 .thiopia5 It 8as a time o4 great 4ighting% great danger5 >!r 4ore4athers 8ere (ery m!ch a4raid that she 8o!ld capt!re the Ark5 +o they )ro!ght it o!t o4 A9!m and they carried it to G8ai 8here they kne8 that it 8o!ld )e sa4e5 They tra(elled only )y night% hiding )y day in 4orests and in ca(es5 They 8ere (ery m!ch a4raid% I tell yo!T B!t in this 8ay they e(aded her soldiers and they )ro!ght the Ark to G8ai and to this island5@ @Do yo! kno8 ho8 long it remained here7@ #ith no hesitation at all A))a Ge)ra Christos replied; @A4ter se(enty-t8o years it 8as ret!rned )ack to A9!m5@ ,o8% I tho!ght% 8as the right time to pop the si9ty-4o!r tho!sand dollar ?!estion; @Has there )een any other occasion@% I asked tentati(ely% @8hen the Ark has )een )ro!ght here again 4or sa4ekeeping7 :erhaps recently7@ Again there 8as no hesitation; @,e(er%@ @+o as 4ar as yo! kno8 it is still in A9!m7@ @Des5@ @.(en no8 A 8ith all the 4ighting going on in Tigray7@ He shr!gged; @I )elie(e so5 B!t that is only my opinion5 To 4ind o!t tr!ly yo! m!st ask those in A9!m5@ Another tho!ght no8 occ!rred to me; @#hen 8e 8ere 8alking !p here%@ I said% @some o4 the monks told !s that yo! ha(e an ancient )ook in 8hich is 8ritten the history o4 ho8 the Ark came to De)ra Gion in G!dit@s time5 Is that correct7 Do yo! ha(e s!ch a )ook7@ As Dohannes translated this ?!estion% the 8i3ened 4eat!res o4 A))a Ge)ra Christos 4ormed themsel(es into the e9pression o4 one 8ho has C!st tasted something !ne9pectedly so!r5 He responded readily eno!gh% ho8e(er; @Des% there is a )ook5@ @Can 8e see it7@ A momentary hesitation% then; @Des 5 5 5 B!t the part concerning the Ark is no longer there5@ @I@m sorry5 I don@t 4ollo85 #hat do yo! mean e9actly7@

@A)o!t t8enty years ago a certain man came and c!t some pages 4rom the )ook and took those pages a8ay 8ith him5 They 8ere the pages in 8hich the story o4 the Ark 8as told@ @This man5 #as he a 4oreigner7 >r 8as he an .thiopian7@ @#ell% he 8as an .thiopian5 B!t since that time 8e ha(e not )een a)le to track him do8n5@ As I considered the implications o4 this last ans8er I co!ld not help )!t re4lect on the )i3arre and con(ol!ted nat!re o4 the enterprise that I 8as no8 in(ol(ed in5 #as the matter o4 the !nkno8n man 8ho had c!t an !nkno8n n!m)er o4 pages 4rom an !nkno8n )ook something that sho!ld concern me7 >r 8as it an irrele(ance7 #as I picking !p the traces o4 someone else@s ?!est 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant7 >r 8as I dealing simply 8ith a local man!script h!nter 8ho t8enty years ago had made a 4ast )!ck on the anti?!ities market 8ith the sale o4 a 4e8 ill!minated 4olios7 I s!spected that I might ne(er kno85 :!rs!ing the Ark thro!gh .thiopia 8as t!rning o!t to )e 4ar more da!nting and di44ic!lt than I had e(er imagined5 Indeed it 8as something like p!rs!ing a ghost thro!gh a ma3e5 A(en!es that seemed promising and open 4rom one perspecti(e t!rned o!t% on closer e9amination% to )e impassa)le dead endsJ )y contrast apparent dead ends had more than once trans4ormed themsel(es into paths to !nderstanding5 I sighed% re4oc!ssed my mind on the immediate iss!e% and told A))a Ge)ra Christos that e(en i4 the most important pages 8ere missing% I 8o!ld still (ery m!ch like to see the )ook that he had mentioned5 :erhaps he 8o!ld allo8 !s to photograph it7 This s!ggestion prod!ced a 4l!rry o4 ner(o!s o)Cections5 ,o% the old priest said% he co!ld not possi)ly let !s do that5 :hotographs 8ere o!t o4 the ?!estion !nless speci4ic 8ritten permission 8ere gi(en )y the :atriarch o4 the .thiopian >rthodo9 Ch!rch in Addis A)a)a5 Did 8e )y any chance ha(e s!ch @emission@7 ,o% 8e did not5 Then% regret4!lly% 8e co!ld not photograph the )ook5 #e co!Id% ho8e(er% see it i4 that 8as 8hat 8e 8anted5 I indicated that 8e 8o!ld )e grate4!l e(en 4or that small mercy5 Ge)ra Christos nodded sagely% led !s inside his ch!rch and 5 5 5 Liked o(er to a c!p)oard near the )ack o4 the h!m)le )!ilding5 A tremendo!s pantomime ens!ed as he searched in all his pockets 4or the necessary key A 8hich% a4ter some moments% he con4essed that he co!ld not 4ind5 A yo!ng deacon 8as then s!mmoned and sent o44 some8here5 Ten min!tes later% panting and o!t o4 )reath% the )oy ret!rned cl!tching a )!ndle o4 at least t8enty keys5 >ne a4ter another these 8ere tried in the lock and e(ent!ally A to my considera)le s!rprise A the door 8as opened5 The c!p)oard% ho8e(er% 8as almost )are and the one )ook that it contained pro(ed to )e an early t8entieth-cent!ry 8ork donated to the ch!rch )y :rincess Ga!dit!% the da!ghter o4 .mperor enelik II5

At this point A))a Ge)ra Christos s!ddenly remem)ered an important 4act; the man!script 8e 8anted to see 8as not in the ch!rch a4ter all5 A 4e8 8eeks ago he himsel4 had taken it to the repository% 8hich 8as in a separate )!ilding some distance a8ay5 I4 8e 8o!ld like to accompany him he 8o!ld sho8 it to !s there5 I looked at my 8atch% decided there 8as C!st eno!gh time )e4ore 8e had to lea(e the island% and ga(e my assent to this plan5 A lengthy hike 4ollo8ed and 8e e(ent!ally arri(ed at a rather decrepit stone-)!ilt t8o-storey ho!se5 The priest !shered !s grandly into a dank and m!sty rear room% aro!nd the 8alls o4 8hich 8ere arranged do3ens o4 8ooden chests and garishly painted tin tr!nks5 A4ter a moment o4 indecision he ad(anced to8ards one o4 these tr!nks and thre8 )ack its lid re(ealing a pile o4 )ooks 8ithin5 He li4ted o!t the topmost o4 these A a 8eighty tome 8ith pages made o4 c!red sheepskin A and passed it o(er to me5 'ichard :ankh!rst and Dohannes cro8ded ro!nd as I opened the (ol!me5 They immediately con4irmed that it 8as 8ritten in Ge@e35 oreo(er it 8as !ndo!)tedly (ery old; @Brom the style o4 the ill!minations% and 4rom the )inding% I 8o!ld g!ess thirteenth cent!ry%@ (ol!nteered 'ichard5 @It@s certainly not later than the 4o!rteenth cent!ry5 There@s no do!)t that it@s an early 8ork5 :ro)a)ly (ery (al!a)le5@ .agerly 8e )egan to t!rn the pages5 At no point% ho8e(er% 8as there any indication that anything had )een remo(ed5 As 4ar as 8e co!ld tell the man!script 8as intact5 #e pointed this o!t to A))a Ge)ra Christos% 8ho had )een standing silently 8atching !s% and asked him 8hether he 8as a)sol!tely certain that this 8as the )ook he had talked to !s a)o!t5 As it t!rned o!t% it 8as not5 Apologetically the old priest then r!mmaged in a n!m)er o4 other )o9es aro!nd the room% passing !s a series o4 ancient man!scripts5 @It@s ?!ite ama3ing%@ 'ichard commented at one point5 @+o many old )ooks5 A real treas!re tro(e5 And they@re C!st lying here in complete disarray5 They co!ld get damp5 They co!ld get stolen5 Anything co!ld happen to them5 I 8ish 8e co!ld mo(e the 8hole lot o4 them to the Instit!te5@ The last (ol!me 8e looked at 8as a 8ood-)o!nd and )ea!ti4!lly ill!minated copy o4 the .thiopian Book o4 +aints5 It too 8as intact5 #hen 8e had 4inished going thro!gh it 'ichard n!dged me in the ri)s; @1 think%@ he said% @that 8e@re not getting any8here here5@ I nodded; @I think yo!@re right5 And it@s really late5 #e@d )etter go or 8e@ll end !p ha(ing to cross the 8hole lake in the dark5@ Be4ore lea(ing% ho8e(er% I asked Dohannes to make a 4inal attempt to get some sense o!t o4 the priest5 #as the )ook that told the story o4 the Ark really here or not7 Certainly it 8as here% A))a Ge)ra Christos insisted5 >4 co!rse it 8as here5 The only pro)lem 8as that he 8as no longer certain in 8hich )o9 he had placed it5 I4 8e 8o!ld care to 8ait A C!st a little longer A he 8as s!re that he co!ld locate it 5 5 5 This 8as an o44er that I 4elt sa4e in declining5 It seemed to me that the old man 8as )eing deli)erately e(asi(e A and i4 that 8ere the case then pres!ma)ly it meant that he 8as hiding

something5 B!t 8hat7 ,ot% I tho!ght% the Ark itsel45 :erhaps not e(en the notorio!s )ook5 B!t something% de4initely5 :!33led and a little pi?!ed I led the 8ay )ack to the motor)oat5 #e said o!r 4are8ells5 Then% 8ith at least an ho!r o4 s!nlight still le4t in the sky% 8e headed o!t onto the still 8aters o4 Lake G8ai5

<Big!re 1&-3"=

I 8rote in my note)ook;

I don@t )elie(e there is any p!rpose in spending 4!rther time in(estigating De)ra Gion5 A4ter inter(ie8ing the monks and the senior priest I 4eel ?!ite certain that the Importance o4 the island lies solely in the strength o4 its ancient traditions concerning the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 Broadly speaking these traditions seem to con4irm 8hat Belai Gedai told me in one o4 o!r telephone con(ersations A namely that the Ark 8as )ro!ght to De)ra Gion in the tenth cent!ry to keep it sa4e 4rom G!dit% that it stayed here 4or a)o!t se(enty years% and that it 8as then ret!rned to A9!m5 The 4act that the mother-tong!e o4 all the islanders is Tigrigna rather than Amharic is strong @social@ e(idence in s!pport o4 the oral history I 8as gi(en A )eca!se the only logical e9planation 4or s!ch an ethnographic pec!liarity is that there 8as indeed a mo(ement o4 pop!lation 4rom the A9!m area to De)ra Gion in the distant past5 +omething as momento!s as the need to )ring the Ark to sa4ety co!ld certainly acco!nt 4or a migration o4 this sort5 oreo(er% i4 the relic did stay here 4or as long a period as se(enty years )e4ore )eing taken )ack to A9!m% then it@s ?!ite easy to see 8hy some o4 the descendants o4 the original migrants 8o!ld ha(e 8anted to stay on the island% 8hich 8o!ld ha(e )een the only home they kne85 It@s also to )e e9pected that they 8o!ld ha(e maintained a 4olk memory o4 the glorio!s e(ents in 8hich their 4ore4athers 8ere in(ol(ed5 That 4olk memory is 8hat I@(e spent most o4 the a4ternoon listening to5 In the process some intrig!ing local mysteries s!r4aced5 At no point% ho8e(er% did I get any sense at all that the Ark might act!ally )e here no85 >n the contrary% I 4eel con4ident in saying that it isn@t here A and% 4!rthermore% that it hasn@t )een here 4or the )est part o4 a tho!sand years5 +ince the same goes 4or the islands o4 Lake Tana as 8ell it@s )ecoming transparently o)(io!s that A9!m is still the most pro)a)le place 4or the relic to )e5 In other 8ords% like it or not% I@m going to ha(e to go to A9!m5 The )est time to do that 8o!ld )e in Ean!ary d!ring Timkat% 8hich is the one occasion 8hen I might )e a)le to get close to the Ark 8itho!t ha(ing to gain access to the sanct!ary chapel5 And Timkat 1**2 8as 8hen Br!ce 8as there A pres!ma)ly 4or the same reason5

Big!res 1&-3"

I closed my note)ook and looked !p at 'ichard and Dohannes5 @Do yo! think there@s any possi)ility%@ I asked% @that the go(ernment 8ill ha(e capt!red A9!m )y Ean!ary7 I@d really like to get there in time to attend the ne9t Timkat5@

BIGI'.+ 1&-3"

Dohannes said nothing5 'ichard made a 4ace; @A nice idea5 B!t yo! might as 8ell plan to 4ly to the moon5@ @#ell%@ I said% @it 8as C!st a tho!ght5@ It 8as a4ter dark 8hen 8e 4inally moored the motor)oat at the inistry o4 Bisheries Cetty% and almost 12 p5m5 )y the time 8e reached the spra8ling o!tskirts o4 Addis A)a)a5 #e instr!cted o!r dri(er to head 4or Dohannes@s o44ice in the centre o4 to8n 8here 8e had parked o!r cars that morning <there 8ere still t8o ho!rs le4t )e4ore c!r4e8 and o!r plan 8as to gra) a ?!ick dinner at a near)y resta!rant=5 As 8e clim)ed do8n o!t o4 the Landcr!iser% ho8e(er% 8e heard a prolonged )!rst o4 a!tomatic ri4le 4ire 8hich seemed to come 4rom an apartment )lock C!st across the road5 +econds later there 8ere t8o short ans8ering )!rsts 4rom a di44erent 8eapon5 Then a pro4o!nd silence 4ell5 @#hat on earth 8as that all a)o!t7@ I asked5 @:ro)a)ly nothing serio!s%@ 'ichard o44ered5 @There ha(e )een a 4e8 isolated incidents since the attempted co!p 5 5 5 shootings here and there5 B!t nothing maCor5@ @,e(ertheless%@ said Dohannes gra(ely% @I think that it 8o!ld )e 8ise 4or !s to a)andon dinner5 Let !s all go to o!r homes5@

I, .TH,>G'A:HIC BI,G.':'I,T

Back at the Hilton I slept so!ndly and a8oke )e4ore se(en the ne9t morning A Briday 24 ,o(em)er5 I then took a t!rn in the pool% had )reak4ast and telephoned the o44ice o4 +himelis a3engia5 The :olit)!ro mem)er had asked 'ichard and me to report )ack to him a4ter completing o!r trips to Lake Tana and Lake G8ai5 His secretary no8 told me that she had )een% e9pecting my call and ga(e !s an appointment 4or three o@clock that same a4ternoon5

+atis4ied 8ith this arrangement% and determined to )ring !p the ?!estion o4 Timkat and A9!m despite 'ichard@s pessimism% I le4t the hotel and dro(e ro!nd to the Instit!te o4 .thiopian +t!dies5 y research on #ednesday the 22nd had esta)lished the pla!si)ility o4 the ,ileNTaka33e ro!te mentioned in the $e)ra ,agast and also )y the priest on Tana $irkos5@<1*= #hat I 8anted to do no8 8as to test o!t a hypothesis that had s!)se?!ently taken ro!gh shape in my mind5 It seemed to me that i4 enelik and the 4irst-)orn sons o4 the elders o4 Israel had indeed )ro!ght the Ark to Tana $irkos )y 4ollo8ing the Taka33e ri(er% then this 8o!ld ha(e had implications 4or the distri)!tion o4 the Ee8ish 4aith in .thiopia5 I4 there 8as some tr!th to the legend% I reasoned% then the traditional epicentre o4 the Balasha pop!lation sho!ld lie )et8een the Taka33e and Lake Tana A since it 8o!ld ha(e )een in precisely this area that enelik 8o!ld 4irst ha(e )eg!n to con(ert the local pop!lation to E!daism5 I4 the legends 8ere 4alse% ho8e(er% then I might e9pect to 4ind that the )!lk o4 the Balashas li(ed else8here A most likely m!ch 4!rther north and close to the 'ed +ea <since academic orthodo9y had it that their 4ore4athers had )een con(erted )y Ee8ish immigrants 4rom the Demen=5 I t!rned 4irst to Eames Br!ce% 8hose early 8ork on the Balashas had already impressed me so m!ch5 In 6ol!me III o4 his Tra(els I kne8 that the +cottish a!thor had de(oted a chapter to 8hat might loosely )e termed the @social geography@ o4 eighteenth-cent!ry .thiopia5 Tho!gh I did not remem)er the contents o4 this chapter (ery dearly I hoped that it 8o!ld ha(e something to say a)o!t the location o4 the principal Balasha settlements at that time5 I 8as not disappointed5 Br!ce@s s!r(ey )egan in the north o4 .thiopia A at the 'ed +ea port o4 assa8a A and 8orked inland 4rom there5 +e(eral ethnic gro!ps 8ere co(ered )!t no mention 8as made o4 the Balashas in either .ritrea or Tigray5 @A4ter passing the Taka33e@% ho8e(er% the co!ntry stretching to the so!th and 8est as 4ar as Lake Tana 8as descri)ed as )eing;

in great part possessed )y Ee8s% and there RtheS king and ?!een o4 that nation and% as they say% o4 the ho!se o4 E!dah% maintain still their ancient so(ereignty and religion 4rom (ery early times5<10=

#riting in the nineteenth cent!ry <a)o!t eighty years a4ter Br!ce= the German missionary artin Blad had recorded a similar distri)!tion o4 pop!lation% noting that the Balashas li(ed in a total o4 4o!rteen pro(inces A all o4 8hich lay @8est o4 the Taka33e@5<11= The modern so!rces that I ne9t re(ie8ed painted the same pict!re5 The (ast maCority o4 .thiopia@s Ee8s inha)ited the territory to the 8est and so!th o4 the Taka33e ri(er; this 8as their traditional homeland and their occ!pation o4 it 8as ancient )eyond memory5<22= >ne partic!larly detailed and a!thoritati(e st!dy incl!ded a map in 8hich the entire area o4 Balasha settlement 8as shaded A a long )!t relati(ely narro8 strip e9tending so!th-8est 4rom the Taka33e thro!gh the +imien mo!ntains and the city o4 Gondar and then going on% 8itho!t any interr!ption% to encompass the 8hole o4 Lake Tana5<21=

It 8o!ld ha(e )een di44ic!lt to 4ind more telling s!pport 4or my hypothesis that this A 8ith the !ni?!e impet!s pro(ided )y the presence o4 the Ark on Tana $irkos A had )een precisely the area in 8hich the con(ersion o4 nati(e A)yssinians to >ld Testament E!daism had )een concentrated5 >n the )asis o4 my o8n research <see Chapter &= I had any8ay )eg!n to do!)t the merits o4 the academic theory 8hich held that the Ee8ish 4aith had 4irst )een imported into the 4ar north o4 .thiopia 4rom the Demen at some point a4ter AD 25 Hitherto my dissatis4action 8ith s!ch notions had stemmed mainly 4rom their 4ail!re to e9plain the e9tremely archaic nat!re o4 Balasha )elie4s and rit!als <again% see Chapter &=5 ,o8 the ethnographic e(idence made the case against the @Demeni connection@ look e(en stronger; on the map% the area in 8hich the Balashas li(ed stood o!t like a tell-tale 4ingerprint con4irming that the religion o4 +olomon co!ld only ha(e entered .thiopia 4rom the 8est A thro!gh .gypt and the +!dan along the ancient and 8ell-tra(elled trade ro!tes pro(ided )y the ,ile and Taka33e ri(ers5<22=

TH. 6I'TI. >B :ATI.,C.

At three sharp% 'ichard and I kept o!r appointment 8ith +himelis a3engia5 The :olit)!ro mem)er 4irst o4 all 8anted to hear ho8 o!r trips to Lake Tana and to Lake G8ai had gone5 Had 8e )een s!ccess4!l7 Had 8e 4o!nd anything o!t7 I replied that o!r disco(eries on Tana $irkos island A and the strange% archaic traditions that had )een reported to !s there A had had a pro4o!nd e44ect on my thinking5 I 8as no8 almost certain that this 8as the region to 8hich the Ark o4 the Co(enant had 4irst )een )ro!ght )e4ore )eing taken to A9!m5 @+o yo! really )elie(e that 8e ha(e the Ark7@ +himelis asked 8ith a smile5 @I@m increasingly con4ident o4 that5 The e(idence is )!ilding !p 5 5 5 I hesitated% then t!rned his ?!estion )ack on him; @#hat do yo! think7@ @I think there is something (ery special in the sanct!ary at A9!m5 ,ot necessarily the Ark% mind yo!% )!t something (ery special5 It is an ancient tradition5 It cannot completely )e ignored5@ I asked 8hether his go(ernment had e(er made a determined e44ort to 4ind o!t 8hether the sacred A and immensely (al!a)le A relic 8as really there or not5 The #orkers@ :arty o4 .thiopia 8ere ar9ists% a4ter all% and so pres!ma)ly 8ere not hampered )y reactionary s!perstitions5 It 8as only ?!ite recently that they@d lost A9!m to the T:LB5 :rior to that% hadn@t they e(er tho!ght o4 taking a look7 @#e ne(er 4or a moment considered it%@ +himelis replied5 @,e(er 4or a single moment 5 5 5 I4 8e had tried to do something like that I think 8e 8o!ld ha(e had@ A he smiled ironically A @a re(ol!tion on o!r hands5 >!r people are (ery traditional% as yo! kno8% and there 8o!ld ha(e )een an e9plosion i4 any go(ernment o44icial had e(er in(ol(ed himsel4 in s!ch a matter5@ @Do yo! think the T:LB ha(e the same attit!de7@ I asked5 @,o8 that they control A9!m% I mean5@

The :olit)!ro mem)er shr!gged; @That is not 4or me to say5 B!t they are not reno8ned 4or their religio!s sensiti(ities5 5 5@ I 8as a little hesitant a)o!t p!tting my ne9t ?!estion% )!t did so any8ay; @I@m sorry i4 this so!nds impertinent%@ I said% @)!t I@(e got to ask5 Is there any chance at all that yo!r side is going to 8in the city )ack in the immediate 4!t!re7@ @#hy do yo! ask7@ @Beca!se I@(e come to the concl!sion that I@m going to ha(e to go there mysel45 In 4act I@d like to get there 4or the ne9t Timkat cele)rations5@ @Do! mean this coming Ean!ary7@ I nodded my head5 @Impossi)le%@ said +himelis 4latly5 @Besides% 8hy )e in s!ch a h!rry7 I4 yo! are right% then the Ark has already )een in o!r co!ntry 4or three millennia5 In another year% t8o at the most% 8e 8ill recapt!re A9!m and 8hen 8e do I think I can promise that yo! 8ill )e the 4irst 4oreigner into the city5 +o )e patient5 Do! 8ill get yo!r chance5@ I had to admit that this 8as so!nd ad(ice5 In a co!ntry like .thiopia patience 8as almost al8ays a (irt!e5 I 8as not prepared to 8ait t8o years% ho8e(er5 I there4ore silently resol(ed to aim 4or A9!m not in Ean!ary 1112% )!t in Ean!ary 11115 The con4idence that +himelis had sho8n had impressed me and I hoped (ery m!ch that the sacred city 8o!ld )e )ack in go(ernment hands )y then5 ean8hile% ho8e(erA C!st as a preca!tion A I tho!ght that I might also try to open !p some dialog!e 8ith the T:LB5 I had hitherto a(oided the re)els )!t it no8 seemed to me that it might )e in my interests to make some preliminary o(ert!res in their direction5 I looked across the ta)le at +himelis5 @Do!@re right o4 co!rse%@ I said5 @B!t 8o!ld yo! mind i4 I asked yo! another 4a(o!r7@ #ith an elo?!ent hand gest!re% the :olit)!ro mem)er indicated that I sho!ld go ahead5 @I@d still like to attend a Timkat ceremony%@ I contin!ed% @and since A9!m is o)(io!sly o!t o4 the ?!estion I 8as 8ondering 8hether I might )e a)le to go to Gondar this Ean!ary instead5@ Beside me 'ichard co!ghed politely5 The city that I had C!st named 8as reportedly )esieged )y re)el 4orces and there had )een r!mo!rs that it might 4all any day5 @#hy Gondar7@ +himelis asked5 @Beca!se it@s in the Lake Tana area A 8hich% as I said% I@(e identi4ied as )eing closely associated 8ith the early history o4 the Ark in this co!ntry5 And )eca!se I !nderstand that many Balashas still li(e in and aro!nd Gondar5 I remem)er passing thro!gh Ee8ish (illages C!st north o4 the city 8ay )ack in 1103% )!t I didn@t ha(e a chance to carry o!t any proper inter(ie8s at that time5 +o 8hat I@d like to do% i4 it@s >$ 8ith yo!% is kill t8o )irds 8ith one stone5 I@d like to attend Timkat in Gondar5 And 8hile I@m there I@d like to carry o!t some research amongst the Balashas5@

@It may )e possi)le%@ replied +himelis5 @It depends on the military sit!ation% )!t it may )e possi)le5 I shall look into it and let yo! kno85@

CHA:T.' 11 A,D DA6ID DA,C.D B.B>'. TH. A'$5 5 5

>n 10 and 11 Ean!ary 1**2 the +cottish ad(ent!rer Eames Br!ce had ?!ietly attended the Timkat ceremonials in A9!m and% as o!tlined in Chapter *% I )elie(ed that he had done so in order to get as close as possi)le to the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 .9actly t8o h!ndred and t8enty years later A on 10 and 11 Ean!ary 1112 A I attended Timkat in the city o4 Gondar to the north o4 Lake Tana5 oreo(er% altho!gh I had not shared my tr!e 4eelings 8ith either 'ichard :ankh!rst or 8ith +himelis a3engia% I sa8 this trip as )eing o4 pi(otal signi4icance to my ?!est5 Immersed as I 8as in the great historical mystery that connected the Ark to .thiopia% it had )ecome clear to me that sooner or later% someho8 or other% I 8as going to ha(e to go )ack to A9!m5 I had resol(ed to try to make that ha3ardo!s (isit in Ean!ary 1111 A and to make it !nder the a!spices o4 the re)els i4 necessary5 I there4ore sa8 Gondar as a cr!cial @dry r!n@; the closest point to A9!m still in go(ernment hands% it 8as also% like A9!m% a 4ormer capital o4 .thiopia% an important historic site and a centre o4 religio!s learning5 In s!ch a setting% I reasoned% I might hope to prepare mysel4 spirit!ally and psychologically 4or the real ordeal that lay ahead% to 4amiliari3e mysel4 8ith aspects o4 the same arcane rit!als that Br!ce m!st ha(e 8itnessed in 1**2% to gather s!ch intelligence as I co!ld% and to ?!icken my commitment to the ?!est5 This% ho8e(er% 8as not the only (oice 8ithin me5 >ther% less stead4ast tho!ghts also passed thro!gh my mind and I co!ld see the possi)ility o4 a di44erent o!tcome5 I4% 4or e9ample% I 8ere to disco(er anything at Gondar 8hich cast serio!s do!)t on the legitimacy o4 .thiopia@s claim to )e the last resting place o4 the Ark then might I not A 8ith hono!r A a)andon my plan to go to A9!m in 11117 This 8as a dist!r)ing )!t oddly sed!cti(e notion to 8hich I 4o!nd mysel4 increasingly attracted as the date o4 the Gondar trip approached5 That trip itsel4 8as 4or a 8hile in do!)t A indeed it 8as not !ntil 0 Ean!ary 1112 that I 4inally recei(ed a tele9 4rom +himelis con4irming that the necessary permission had )een o)tained 4rom the military a!thorities5

'IDDL.+ T> +>L6.

I kne8 that I co!ld e9pect a central 4eat!re o4 the Timkat ceremonies to )e the carrying in procession o4 the ta)otat A the sym)ols or replicas o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant normally kept in the Holy o4 Holies o4 e(ery .thiopian ch!rch5 >4 co!rse in Gondar I 8o!ld not see the o)Cect 8hich the .thiopians claimed to )e the Ark itsel4 <since there 8as no s!ggestion that it had e(er )een lodged there=5 #hat I 8o!ld see% ho8e(er% 8as an e(ent other8ise identical in character that 8as regarded as the s!preme 4esti(al o4 the .thiopian >rthodo9 calendar5 I had )een a8are 4or some time that Timkat meant @.piphany@ A a holy day associated )y the 8estern ch!rch 8ith the mani4estation o4 Christ to the Gentiles5<1= .piphany% ho8e(er% had an entirely di44erent signi4icance amongst eastern Christians% 4or 8hom it commemorated the Baptism o4 Christ5<2= I had esta)lished that the .thiopians 8ere in complete agreement 8ith the rest o4 the eastern ch!rch on this latter point% )!t that they di(erged radically 4rom the norm 8hen it came to the speci4ic rit!als employed5<3= In partic!lar% their !se o4 the ta)or 8as !ni?!e to them% !nparalleled in any other c!lt!re and !nrecogni3ed e(en )y the Coptic :atriarchate in Ale9andria5<4= <8hich had s!pplied .thiopia 8ith all its arch)ishops 4rom the date o4 the con(ersion o4 the A9!mite kingdom in AD 331 !ntil a!tocephaly 8as achie(ed in 11"1=5<"= Against this )ackgro!nd I 4elt that close o)ser(ation o4 the Timkat rit!als and o4 the role o4 the ta)otat 8ithin them might help me to 4athom 8hat I had long since come to regard as the central parado9 o4 .thiopian Christianity A namely its in4iltration% indeed domination% )y a preChristian relic; the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 This% ho8e(er% 8as not my sole p!rpose in making the trip to Gondar5 #hile there I also intended to talk to Balashas li(ing in the en(irons o4 the city5 I had already mentioned this to +himelis and he had not o)Cected A 4or the simple reason that m!ch had changed since my pre(io!s (isit to the area in 11035 Then% dri(ing north 4rom Gondar into the +imien mo!ntains% o44icial policy had made it almost impossi)le to do any serio!s 8ork amongst the )lack Ee8s; their (illages had )een e44ecti(ely o!t o4 )o!nds and there had )een no opport!nity to o)ser(e their c!stoms or to carry o!t proper inter(ie8s5 This repressi(e state o4 a44airs had )een s8ept a8ay in ,o(em)er 1101 8hen% a4ter a si9teen-year )reak% Addis A)a)a and Eer!salem had restored diplomatic relations5 At the heart o4 this agreement 8as a commitment on .thiopia@s part to allo8 the Balashas A all the Balashas A to emigrate to Israel5 By then% any8ay% there 8ere 4e8 eno!gh le4t A pro)a)ly no more than 1"%2225<&= All the others had died d!ring the 4amines o4 the mid 1102s or had already 4led clandestinely to Israel (ia re4!gee camps in the +!dan <4rom 8hich% d!ring 1104N" alone% the airli4t kno8n as @>peration oses@ had taken more than 12%222 to sa4ety<*=5 The net e44ect o4 all this% )y Ean!ary 1112% 8as that the n!m)er o4 .thiopian Ee8s 8as d8indling 4ast5 In the three months since the restoration o4 diplomatic relations some 3%222 o4 them had le4t the co!ntry5 any more had deserted their (illages and 4locked to Addis A)a)a hoping 4or an early place on the planes o!t5 Ine9ora)le and !nstoppa)le% this latter-day .9od!s 8as gathering pace% and I co!ld see that (ery soon not a single Balasha 8o!ld )e le4t in .thiopia5 Therea4ter% o4 co!rse% it 8o!ld still )e possi)le to inter(ie8 them and research their 4olklore and traditions in the :romised Land5 This% ho8e(er% 8o!ld almost certainly )e the last year in 8hich it 8o!ld )e possi)le to get any impression at all o4 their traditional li4e in its traditional s!rro!ndings5

I 8as determined not to miss this chance; the riddle o4 ho8 there had e(er come to )e Ee8s A indigeno!s% )lack Ee8s A in the heart o4 .thiopia 8as intimately connected to the enigma o4 the Holy ArkJ sol(e one% I 4elt% and I 8o!ld sol(e the other5 ,either 8ere the Balashas the only ethnic gro!p o4 interest to me in the Gondar area5 In the 8eek o4 research that I had done C!st prior to my depart!re 4rom .ngland I had t!rned !p an intrig!ing re4erence to another people A a people kno8n as the /emant 8ho 8ere descri)ed as @He)raeo-:agans@ in the single anthropological paper 8ritten a)o!t them5<0= :!)lished in 11&1 )y an American scholar named Brederick Gamst% this o)sc!re monograph o)ser(ed that;

The He)raism 4o!nd among the /emant is an ancient 4orm !na44ected )y He)raic religio!s change o4 the past t8o millennia5 This He)raism is dominant in the religion o4 the Balasha% neigh)o!rs o4 the /emant 5 5 5 sometimes called @the )lack Ee8s o4 .thiopia@5<1=

I had hitherto )een completely !na8are o4 the /emant and 8as there4ore intrig!ed )y Gamst@s s!ggestion that their religion contained ancient @He)raic@ elements5 This% I 4elt% 8as a matter that o)(io!sly merited 4!rther in(estigation since it might help to shed light on the anti?!ity o4 E!daic in4l!ence in .thiopia A and also on the per(asi(eness o4 that in4l!ence5

TH. >,. G>D A,D TH. B.TI+H T'..

In his st!dy o4 the /emant Gamst had mentioned that he had )een )e4riended )y a religio!s leader 8ho had helped him enormo!sly 8ith his 4ield 8ork in the 11&2s5 The name o4 this dignitary% I kne8% 8as !l!na arsha and his title 8as #am)ar <a 8ord meaning @High :riest@ in the /emant lang!age=5 In the short time a(aila)le% it seemed to me that my )est strategy 8o!ld )e to try to locate this man <8hom Gamst had descri)ed as a mine o4 in4ormation= and to inter(ie8 him a)o!t the religio!s )elie4s o4 his people5 I co!ld not )e s!re% ho8e(er% 8hether he 8o!ld still )e ali(e a4ter so many years A or e(en 8hether I 8o!ld )e a)le to 4ind any /emant still adhering to the traditional He)raeo-:agan 4aith <since there had )een less than 4i(e h!ndred o4 them in Gamst@s time=5<12= A4ter my arri(al in Gondar on #ednesday 1* Ean!ary I disc!ssed this 8orry 8ith the o44icials 8ho came to meet me at the airport and 8as told that there 8ere a (ery 4e8 /emant A no8 mostly elderly A 8ho contin!ed to adhere to the old religion5 Beelers 8ere then p!t o!t% radio messages 8ere sent to :arty cadres in remote areas% and% on Th!rsday the 10th% I got the good ne8s that the #am)ar 8as still ali(e5 His home (illage% apparently% 8as inaccessi)le )y road )!t it 8as tho!ght possi)le that he might )e pers!aded to come to an intermediate point A Aykel% a)o!t t8o ho!rs@ dri(e d!e 8est o4 Gondar5 The Co!rney% 4!rthermore% 8o!ld almost certainly )e sa4e; in recent 4ighting the re)els had )een p!shed )ack and the 8estern region into 8hich 8e 8o!ld )e going 8as considered to )e sec!re d!ring daylight ho!rs5

Timkat% 8hich I shall descri)e later in this chapter% took !p all o4 my attention 4or the rest o4 Th!rsday and all o4 Briday5 .arly in the a4ternoon o4 +at!rday 22 Ean!ary% ho8e(er% I 8as 4inally a)le to set o44 4or Aykel in the Toyota Landcr!iser that the :arty had p!t at my disposal5 In addition to the dri(er% I 8as accompanied )y Legesse Desta A the yo!ng and enth!siastic o44icial 8ho 8as acting as my interpreter A and )y t8o do!r soldiers armed 8ith $alashniko( assa!lt ri4les5 As 8e )!mped along the ro!gh% graded track thro!gh glo8ing 4ields and golden-)ro8n hills I st!died the ichelin map o4 the Horn o4 A4rica that I no8 took e(ery8here 8ith me5 I 8as interested to note that o!r destination lay not 4ar 4rom the head8aters o4 the At)ara ri(er 8hich rose a)o!t 4i4ty miles to the north-8est o4 Lake Tana and 4lo8ed 4rom there into the +!dan% 8here it 8as e(ent!ally Coined )y the Taka33e )e4ore merging 8ith the ,ile C!st a)o(e the Bi4th Cataract5 Beca!se it passed so close to Tana $irkos% and )eca!se it 8as speci4ically mentioned in the $e)ra ,agast% the Taka33e itsel4 still looked to me like the strongest contender 4or the ro!te o4 the Ark5 ,e(ertheless it 8as clear 4rom the map that tra(ellers 4ollo8ing the At)ara 8o!ld also ha(e arri(ed in this same general area5 I considered the implications o4 this and then remarked in my Co!rnal;

The ri(ers are roads thro!gh the desert5 In the case o4 And Da(id danced )e4ore the Ark 243 .thiopia all these @roads@ A 8hether the Taka33e% the At)ara% or the Bl!e ,ile A seem to lead to Lake Tana5 The Balashas <and their relati(es the @He)raeo-:agan@ /emant= ha(e al8ays li(ed in precisely this area and are indigeno!s .thiopians A nati(es o4 this co!ntry5 +ince their E!daism <or @He)raism@ as Gamst pre4ers to call it= is a 4oreign element in their c!lt!re% it is logical to ded!ce that it m!st ha(e )een imported along the ri(ers5

As 8e dro(e into Aykel 8e 8ere met )y a gro!p o4 local :arty o44icials 8ho told !s that #am)ar !l!na arsha had arri(ed some time ago and 8as 8aiting 4or !s5 #e 8ere then taken to a large% circ!lar h!t 8ith a high )eehi(e-shaped roo4 and !shered into the cool semi-darkness 8ithin5 Thin sha4ts o4 s!nlight 4ell thro!gh gaps in the 8attle-and-da!)% highlighting motes o4 d!st that h!ng s!spended in the air5 Brom the ne8ly )r!shed earth 4loor there arose a loamy 4ragrance complicated )y a 4aint note o4 sandal8ood5 The #am)ar% as I had e9pected% 8as an elderly man5 He had e(idently dressed !p 4or this occasion since he 8as 8earing a 8hite t!r)an% 8hite ceremonial ro)es and a 4ine )lack cape5 +eated on one o4 the se(eral chairs that had )een arranged inside the h!t% he stood gracio!sly as 8e came in and% a4ter the necessary introd!ctions had )een made% shook my hand 8armly5 +peaking thro!gh the interpreter he immediately asked; @Do yo! 8ork 8ith r Gamst7@

I had to admit that I did not5 @B!t@ I added% @I@(e read the )ook that he 8rote a)o!t yo!r people5 That@s 8hy I@m here5 I@m (ery interested in learning a)o!t yo!r religion5@

The #am)ar smiled rather mo!rn4!lly5 As he did so I noticed that one tooth% disconcertingly long% gre8 do8n 4rom the le4t side o4 his !pper Ca8 and protr!ded t!sk-like o(er his lo8er lip5 @>!r religion@% he said% @has )ecome a thing o4 the past5 Almost no)ody practises it today5 The /emant are no8 Christians5@ @B!t yo! yo!rsel4 are not a Christian 5 5 5 7@ @,o5 I am the #am)ar5 I still 4ollo8 the old 8ays5@ @And are there others like yo!7@ @A 4e8 remain5@ That smile again5 Then% slyly and some8hat parado9ically; @.(en those 8ho say they are Christians ha(e not entirely a)andoned their 4ormer )elie4s5 The sacred gro(es are still tended 5 5 5 The sacri4ices are still made5@ A pa!se 4or tho!ght% a shake o4 the old% gri33led head% a sigh; @B!t things are changing 5 5 5 Al8ays there is change5 5 5@ @Do! said Fsacred gro(esF5 #hat did yo! mean )y that7@ @>!r 8orship% i4 it is cond!cted as it sho!ld )e% takes place in the open air5 And 8e pre4er to make o!r de(otions amongst trees5 Bor this p!rpose 8e ha(e set aside special gro(es called degegna5@ I p!t se(eral more ?!estions on this s!)Cect and esta)lished that there 8ere in 4act t8o kinds o4 gro(es5 +ome A the degegna themsel(es A 8ere !sed 4or ann!al ceremonies5 They had 4irst )een planted in the distant past 8hen the 4o!nder o4 the /emant religion 8as sho8n the correct locations in his dreams5 In addition there 8ere other m!ch smaller sacred sites A called ?ole A 8hich o4ten consisted o4 only a single tree 8here a partic!larly po8er4!l spirit 8as )elie(ed to reside5 These ?ole 8ere normally sit!ated in high places5 As it happened there 8as one on the o!tskirts o4 Aykel 8hich I co!ld see i4 I liked5 I then asked the #am)ar i4 he kne8 8hether the Balashas also (enerated sacred gro(es5 @,o%@ he replied% @they do not5@ @#o!ld yo! say that their religion is in any 8ay similar to yo!rs7@ A sage nod; @Des5 In many 8ays5 #e ha(e m!ch in common5@ Inprompted he then added; @The 4o!nder o4 the /emant religion 8as called Anayer5 He came here to .thiopia so long ago5 He came% a4ter se(en years o4 4amine% 4rom his o8n co!ntry% 8hich 8as 4ar a8ay5 As he tra(elled on the Co!rney 8ith his 8i4e and children he met the 4o!nder o4 the Balasha religion% also tra(elling on the same Co!rney 8ith his 8i4e and children5 A marriage alliance 8as disc!ssed )et8een the t8o gro!ps% )!t it did not s!cceed5@ @Did Anayer and the 4o!nder o4 the Balasha religion come originally 4rom the same co!ntry7@ @Des5 B!t they 8ere separate5 They made no marriage alliance5@ @,e(ertheless% the co!ntry o4 their )irth 8as the same7@ @Des5@

@Do yo! kno8 8here it 8as7@ @It 8as 4ar 5 5 5 It 8as in the iddle .ast5@

@Do yo! kno8 the name o4 this co!ntry7@ @It 8as the land o4 Canaan5 Anayer 8as the grandson o4 Canaan 8ho 8as the son o4 Ham% 8ho 8as the son o4 ,oah5@ I 8as intrig!ed )y this genealogy and )y the 4aded memory o4 an ancestral migration 4rom the iddle .ast A a memory that also s!ggested a common loc!s 4or the origin o4 the Balasha and the /emant religions5 I co!ld not get the #am)ar to con4irm 8hether the @Canaan@ that he had re4erred to 8as the :romised Land o4 the Bi)le5 Indeed% despite his 4amiliarity 8ith names like Ham and ,oah% he claimed ne(er to ha(e read the Bi)le5 I )elie(ed him on this point )!t% at the same time% 8as in no do!)t that there 8as a script!ral )ackgro!nd to 8hat he had C!st told me5 Contained in his acco!nt% 4or e9ample% 8ere echoes o4 the great trek made )y the patriarch A)raham and his 8i4e +arah 8ho had 4led Canaan and @Co!rneyed% going on still to8ard the so!th@ )eca!se @there 8as 4amine in the land@5<11= At the same time% like .gypt in the )ook o4 Genesis% the co!ntry that Anayer had come 4rom had )een a44licted )y se(en years o4 4amine5<12= @Tell me more a)o!t yo!r religion%@ I no8 asked the #am)ar5 @Do! mentioned spirits earlier A spirits li(ing in trees5 B!t 8hat a)o!t God7 Do yo! )elie(e in one God% or many gods7@ @#e )elie(e in one God5 >nly one God5 B!t he is s!pported )y angels5@ The #am)ar then 8ent on to list these5 angels; Eakaranti% $i)er8a% Aderaiki% $iddisti% e3gani% +hemani% An3atatera5 .ach% apparently% had his o8n distincti(e place in the co!ntryside5 @#hen o!r religion 8as strong% all the /ement !sed to go to these places to pray to the angels to mediate 8ith God on their )ehal45 Eakaranti 8as the most respected% then e3gani and An3atatera5@ @And God7@ I asked5 @The God o4 the /emant5 Does he ha(e a name7@ @>4 co!rse5 His name is Deadara5@ @#here does he reside7@ @He is e(ery8here5@ A single God then% and an omnipresent one5 I 8as )eginning% already% to see 8hy Gamst had characteri3ed these people as He)raeo-:agans5 This impression% 4!rthermore% 8as strengthened )y almost e(erything else that the #am)ar told me d!ring o!r long disc!ssion in the (illage o4 Aykel5 I kept detailed notes o4 that disc!ssion and% a4ter my ret!rn to Addis A)a)a% made a care4!l st!dy o4 his ans8ers A comparing them point )y point 8ith the +cript!res5 >nly 8hen I had completed this e9ercise 8as I a)le to appreciate C!st ho8 strong and ho8 old the E!daic dimension o4 /emant religion really 8as5 The #am)ar had told me% 4or e9ample% that the /emant 8ere 4or)idden to eat any animal that 8as not clo(en-hoo4ed and that did not che8 the c!d5 In addition% he had said% camels and

pigs 8ere regarded as !nclean and 8ere strictly 4or)idden5 These restrictions accorded per4ectly 8ith those placed !pon the Ee8s in the ele(enth chapter o4 the >ld Testament )ook o4 Le(itic!s5<13= The #am)ar had also said that amongst the /emant e(en @clean@ animals co!ld not )e eaten i4 they had not )een sla!ghtered properly5 @Their throats m!st )e c!t !ntil all the )lood is gone%@ he had e9plained A adding that% 4or the same reason% it 8as 4or)idden to eat any animal that had died o4 nat!ral ca!ses5 Both proscriptions% I disco(ered% 8ere per4ectly in line 8ith E!daic la85<14= +till on the s!)Cect o4 4ood% the #am)ar had told me that the cons!mption o4 meat and dairy prod!cts at the same ta)le 8as permitted )y /emant religion5 He had added% ho8e(er% that it 8as regarded as an a)omination to eat the 4lesh o4 an animal that had )een cooked in milk5 I kne8 that orthodo9 Ee8s 8ere 4or)idden to mi9 meat and dairy 4oods in the same meal5 #hen I researched the )ackgro!nd to this partic!lar $osher restriction% ho8e(er% I learnt that it deri(ed its a!thority 4rom the )ooks o4 .9od!s and De!teronomy% )oth o4 8hich stated; @Tho! shalt not seethe a kid in his mother@s milk5@<1"= This% more or less e9actly% 8as the r!le o)eyed )y the /emant5 Another area o4 con(ergence concerned the +a))ath A 8hich% like the Ee8s% the /emant o)ser(ed on +at!rday5 @It is 4or)idden to 8ork on that day%@ the #am)ar had told me5 @It is 4or)idden to light 4ires on +at!rday5 And i4 a 4ield sho!ld catch 4ire accidentally on the +a))ath then that is a 4ield that 8e m!st no longer !se5<1&= These restrictions and others like them A all (ery m!ch in accord 8ith )i)lical la8 A made me more and more con4ident that a deep and tr!ly ancient E!daic s!)strat!m did indeed !nderlie the religion o4 the /emant5 #hat 4inally con(inced me that this 8as so% ho8e(er% 8as the one practice that the #am)ar had descri)ed to me 8hich had not so!nded E!daic at all A namely the (eneration o4 @sacred gro(es@5 He had told me d!ring o!r inter(ie8 that there 8as a ?ole site on the o!tskirts o4 Aykel 8here I might see a tree )elie(ed to )e the residence o4 a po8er4!l spirit5 I did go to look at this tree% 8hich t!rned o!t to )e a h!ge% spreading acacia5 It stood to the 8est o4 the (illage on a sp!r o4 high gro!nd% )eyond 8hich% across a h!ndred descending miles% the land sloped steeply a8ay to8ards the +!danese )order5 A so4t a4ternoon )ree3e% laden 8ith the 4ragrance o4 distant deserts% )le8 thro!gh the ta8ny canyons )eneath me% circ!lated amongst the ra(ines and 4oothills% and soared on eagles@ 8ings across the 4irst )attlements o4 the escarpment5 Gnarled and massi(e% the acacia 8as so ancient that it 8o!ld ha(e )een easy to )elie(e that it had stood here 4or h!ndreds and perhaps e(en 4or tho!sands o4 years5 Inside the 8alled enclos!re that s!rro!nded it% laid o!t !pon the gro!nd% 8ere (ario!s o44erings A a Car o4 oil% a heap o4 millet% small piles o4 roasted co44ee )eans% and a tr!ssed chicken a8aiting sacri4ice5 In their o8n 8ay all these o)lations contri)!ted to the pec!liar character o4 the place; n!mino!s and eerie% )y no means menacing )!t none the less distinctly strange5 #hat m!ltiplied this other-8orldly e44ect% ho8e(erA and 8hat made this /emant ?ole site so di44erent 4rom any other place o4 8orship I had e(er come across in my tra(els A 8as the 4act that e(ery )ranch o4 the tree to a height o4 a)o!t si9 4eet o44 the gro!nd had )een 4estooned

8ith 8o(en strips o4 (ari-colo!red cloth5 '!stling in the 8ind% these 8a(ing pennants and ri))ons seemed to 8hisper and m!rm!r A almost as tho!gh they 8ere seeking to impart a message5 And I remem)er thinking that i4 I co!ld only !nderstand that message then many hidden things might )e re(ealed5 +!perstitio!sly I to!ched the li(ing 8ood% sensed its age% and ret!rned to my companions 8ho 8ere a8aiting me at the )ottom o4 the hill5 Later% )ack in Addis A a4ter I had looked into the other comparisons )et8een /emant religion and >ld Testament E!daism A I ran a ro!tine check in the +cript!res and in 8orks o4 )i)lical archaeology to see i4 I co!ld 4ind any re4erences to sacred trees5 I did not e9pect that I 8o!ld5 !ch to my s!rprise% ho8e(er% I disco(ered that certain specially planted 4orest gro(es had )een accorded a sacred character in the (ery earliest phases o4 the e(ol!tion o4 the Ee8ish 4aith5 I 8as also a)le to con4irm that these gro(es had )een !sed as places o4 acti(e 8orship5 In the t8enty-4irst chapter o4 the )ook o4 Genesis% 4or e9ample% it 8as stated that; @A)raham planted a gro(e in Beershe)a% and called there on the name o4 the Lord% the e(erlasting God5@<1*= 'eading more 8idely aro!nd the s!)Cect I esta)lished the 4ollo8ing points 8ith certainty; 4irst% that the He)re8s had @)orro8ed@ the !se o4 sacred gro(es 4rom the Canaanites <8ho 8ere the indigeno!s inha)itants o4 the :romised Land=J second% that the gro(es 8ere normally sit!ated in high places <kno8n as )amoth=J and third% that they o4ten contained sacri4icial stone pillars o4 the kind that I had seen on Tana $irkos and that A as I already kne8 A 8ere called masse)oth5<10= 6ery little 8as !nderstood a)o!t ho8 the gro(es had )een !sed% 8hat they had looked like% 8hat sort o4 ceremonies had gone on 8ithin them% or 8hat kind o4 o44erings had )een made there5 The reason 4or this ignorance 8as that the priestly elite o4 later )i)lical times had t!rned sa(agely against all s!ch practices% c!tting do8n and )!rning the sacred trees and o(erthro8ing the masse)oth5<11= +ince it 8as these same priests 8ho had also )een responsi)le 4or the compilation and editing o4 the +cript!res% it 8as hardly s!rprising that they had le4t !s 8ith no clear pict!re o4 the 4!nction and appearance o4 the gro(es5 oreo(er the single re4erence that did e(oke some kind o4 image 8as regarded as a mystery )y )i)lical scholars5 This re4erence% in the second )ook o4 $ings% spoke o4 a place @8here the 8omen 8o(e hangings 4or the gro(e@5<22= As I read these 8ords% the memory 8as still 4resh in my mind o4 the strips o4 8o(en cloth that h!ng 4rom e(ery )ranch o4 the 4etish tree on the o!tskirts o4 the (illage o4 Aykel5 And it seemed to me then <as it seems to me no8= that there 8as no mystery at all a)o!t the 8ords in the )ook o4 $ings A )!t m!ch that still cried o!t 4or e9planation a)o!t the /emant 8ho% in the heart o4 A4rica% had managed to ac?!ire a E!daeo-Canaanite tradition as hoary 8ith age as this one5 The 8hole iss!e% I 4elt s!re% 8as intimately connected to the larger pro)lem o4 the Balashas% the /emant@s )etter-kno8n neigh)o!rs5

A+#A, A,D


Despite the strong E!daic 4la(o!r o4 their religion% no one has e(er claimed that the /emant are in 4act Ee8s; there is too m!ch that is pagan and animist a)o!t them to ha(e allo8ed that to happen5 The position% ho8e(er% is ?!ite di44erent 4or the Balashas5 They ha(e )een 8idely regarded as tr!e Ee8s since the early nineteenth cent!ry A tho!gh they 8ere not 4ormally recogni3ed as s!ch )y the +ephardi Chie4 'a))i o4 Eer!salem !ntil 11*35 T8o years later the Ashkena3i Chie4 'a))i 4ollo8ed s!it% opening the 8ay 4or the Israeli inistry o4 the Interior to declare that the Balashas 8ere entitled to a!tomatic citi3enship o4 Israel !nder the terms o4 the La8 o4 'et!rn5<21= Ironically the main reason that ra))inical recognition 8as so long delayed 8as the prono!ncedly >ld Testament character o4 Balasha religion 8hich did not in any 8ay incorporate or re4er to the Talm!d <the a!thoritati(e )ody o4 Ee8ish la8 and lore acc!m!lated )et8een 222 BC and AD "22=<22=5 This made the Balashas seem ?!ite alien to many Israeli and other Ee8sJ it 8as later accepted% ho8e(er% that ignorance o4 Talm!dic precepts 8as simply a 4!nction o4 the 4act that the .thiopian arm o4 the 4aith m!st ha(e )een c!t o44 4rom the e(ol(ing )ody o4 8orld E!daism at some e9tremely early date5 This same isolation also e9plained the Balashas@ contin!ing adherence to practices that had long )een 4or)idden )y the ra))is% nota)ly animal sacri4ice <see Chapter &=5 The important point A 8hich 8eighed hea(ily 8hen o44icial recognition 8as 4inally granted in the 11*2s A 8as that the social and religio!s )eha(io!r o4 the Balashas did clearly and !nam)ig!o!sly con4orm to the teachings o4 the Torah <>ld Testament=5 oreo(er% 8ithin the Torah% as one 8o!ld e9pect o4 pre-Talm!dic Ee8s 8hose religio!s )elie4s 8ere gen!inely ancient% they sho8ed the greatest respect 4or the :entate!ch <i5e5 the 4i(e )ooks )elie(ed )y the orthodo9 to ha(e )een 8ritten )y oses himsel4% namely Genesis% .9od!s% Le(itic!s% ,!m)ers and De!teronomy=5<23= This @4!ndamentalism@ 8ithin Balasha religion 8as typi4ied )y their strict o)ser(ance o4 the 4ood restrictions en!merated in the )ooks o4 Le(itic!s and De!teronomy and )y their re4!sal to eat any animal A @clean@ or not A that had )een sla!ghtered )y a Gentile5 It 8as also recogni3ed that they paid metic!lo!s attention to the osaic la8s o4 cleanliness and p!rity5 +pecial h!ts% 4or e9ample% 8ere set aside 4or those mem)ers o4 the comm!nity considered to )e temporarily in states o4 rit!al imp!rity A s!ch as menstr!ating 8omen% 8ho 8ere segregated 4or se(en days in line 8ith a Le(itical edict5<24= Balasha circ!mcision ceremonies <ge3rat= 8ere e?!ally traditional% taking place on the eighth day a4ter the )irth o4 a male child% e9actly as stip!lated in the :entate!ch5<2"= Like8ise their +a))ath proced!res 8ere rigoro!sly orthodo9 8ith all 4ires )eing e9ting!ished )e4ore s!nset on Briday% and on the +a))ath itsel4 no 8ork o4 any kind )eing done% no 8ater )eing dra8n% no 4ire )eing lit% no co44ee )eing )oiled% and only the cons!mption o4 cold 4ood and drink )eing permissi)le5 I 8as a8are o4 all this 8hen% d!ring my stay in Gondar in Ean!ary 1112% I (isited se(eral Balasha settlements5 y o)Cecti(e 8as to make contact 8ith religio!s leaders% to 8hom I 8anted to p!t certain speci4ic ?!estions5 Beca!se o4 the mass migration o4 .thiopia@s Ee8s to Israel this 8as no easy task; many homesteads 8ere completely deserted% stripped o4 their goods and chattels% their doors le4t !n)arred% and their inha)itants gone5 ,e(ertheless% in the co!ntryside some t8enty miles 4rom Gondar I did 4ind one (illage that still seemed to )e 4!nctioning5 Called

An)o)er% it straggled across a steep slope in rolling mo!ntaino!s terrain and 8as pop!lated almost entirely )y 8omen and children% the maCority o4 the men4olk ha(ing already le4t 4or Israel5 Balashas ha(e neither synagog!es nor ra))isJ instead their places o4 8orship are called mesgid and their religio!s o44icials kahenat <sing!lar kahen% meaning @priest@=5 #ith my interpreter Legesse Desta% I no8 8alked !p thro!gh the (illage 4ollo8ed )y a rapidly gro8ing cro8d o4 mischie(o!s children5 #e 8ere making 4or the mesgid A identi4ia)le )y the +tar o4 Da(id on its roo4 A 8here I hoped (ery m!ch that I might 4ind the kahen in residence5 >n this occasion I 8as not disappointed; inside the h!m)le )!ilding% at a ro!ghly made 8ooden ta)le% a lean% elderly man sat st!dying a copy o4 the Torah <8hich 8as )ea!ti4!lly 8ritten in Ge@e3 on c!red sheepskin lea(es=5 Legesse )egan )y e9plaining 8hy 8e had come and then asked the priest i4 he 8o!ld mind ans8ering some ?!estions 4rom me5 A4ter a lengthy de)ate he ga(e his assent to this and introd!ced himsel4 as +olomon Alem!5 He 8as% he said% se(enty-eight years old5 He had )een the kahen o4 An)o)er 4or almost thirty years5 #e spent the ne9t co!ple o4 ho!rs going thro!gh n!mero!s aspects o4 Balasha )elie4 and rit!aL All +olomon@s ans8ers con4irmed the p!re >ld Testament character o4 the religion and 8ere (ery m!ch in line 8ith 8hat I had already learned 4rom my research5 In this conte9t I pressed him partic!larly hard on the iss!e o4 )lood sacri4ice% trying to esta)lish 8hy his people contin!ed 8ith this practice 8hen Ee8s e(ery8here else had a)andoned it t8o tho!sand years pre(io!sly5 #e )elie(e@% he replied 8ith great con(iction% @that God in his throne o)ser(es these ceremonies and is pleased5@ :erhaps +olomon kne8% perhaps he did not% ho8 close this simple statement 8as to a (erse in the )ook o4 Le(itic!s 8hich descri)ed o44erings made )y 4ire as )eing @o4 a s8eet sa(o!r to the Lord@5<2&= Certainly% he seemed a 8ise and 8ell read man5 #hen I complimented him on his scholarship% ho8e(er% his response A 8ith no trace o4 4alse modesty A 8as to insist that he !nderstood 4ar less a)o!t the E!daic traditions o4 the Balashas than his 4ather had done5 And he added that his 4ather% in his t!rn% had !nderstood less than his grand4ather A 8ho had also )een kahen o4 An)o)er5 #e are 4orgetting o!r o8n past%@ he said sadly5 Day )y day 8e 4orget o!r history5@ Taking my c!e 4rom this I asked +olomon i4 he kne8 4or ho8 many cent!ries there had )een Ee8ish people in .thiopia5 @#e came here@% he replied% @long ago 5 5 5 long )e4ore the Christians5 The Christians are recent compared 8ith !s5@ He then proceeded to tell me the 4amiliar story o4 the /!een o4 +he)a% enelik and the )ringing o4 the Ark5 In this 8ay% he said% the Ee8ish 4aith had arri(ed in .thiopia5 I asked cas!ally; @Do yo! ha(e any idea 8hat ro!te 8hen they made their Co!rney7@ enelik and his companions !sed

Tho!gh it might ha(e s!rprised me once I no8 accepted his ans8er to this last ?!estion 8ith per4ect complacency; @According to o!r traditions they tra(elled 4rom Eer!salem thro!gh .gypt and +!dan5@

Almost )ored% I prompted; @:res!ma)ly they 8o!ld ha(e 4ollo8ed the ri(er ,ile 4or m!ch o4 the Co!rney7@ The kahen nodded; @Des5 That is 8hat o!r traditions say5@ He then added t8o details that 8ere completely ne8 to me; @>n the 8ay%@ he said% @they rested at As8an and eroe5@ As8an% I kne8% 8as in Ipper .gypt <near the site o4 the modern high dam o4 the same name=% and in :haraonic times had )een important as a so!rce o4 the granite !sed in the constr!ction o4 the :yramids5 eroe% the ancient capital o4 ,!)ia% had )een located m!ch 4!rther to the so!th% in 8hat is no8 the 'ep!)lic o4 the +!dan5 Intrig!ed% I p!shed +olomon 4or more details o4 the Balasha traditions concerning these places5 He insisted% ho8e(er% that the little that he had already said 8as the s!m o4 his kno8ledge a)o!t them5 @I heard their names@% he sighed% @in stories told to me )y my grand4ather5 He 8as a 8ise man 5 5 5 )!t he is gone 5 5 5 +oon 8e 8ill all )e gone5@

C.'. >,D >B TH. A'$

.(erything that I learned d!ring my stay in Gondar rein4orced my (ie8 that it had )een to precisely this region o4 .thiopia that the Ee8ish 4aith had 4irst )een )ro!ght in anti?!ity5 The Balashas 8ere Ee8ish thro!gh and thro!gh% and this 8as their homeland5 Their near neigh)o!rs the /emant also sho8ed con(incing signs o4 an archaic and deeply ingrained E!daic in4l!ence5 ,or 8as this in4l!ence limited to the Balashas and the /emant5 >n the contrary% in Gondar and thro!gho!t .thiopia% s!pposedly @>rthodo9@ Christians displayed many c!stoms and )elie4s that 8ere !nmistaka)ly Ee8ish in origin5 E!st like the Balashas% as I already kne8% they circ!mcised their sons on the eighth day a4ter )irth% a date commanded )y the )ook o4 Le(itic!s A a date that% amongst all the peoples o4 the 8orld% 8as no8 o)ser(ed only )y Ee8s and )y .thiopians5<2*= Like8ise <in a remarka)le instance o4 the phenomenon kno8n as religio!s syncretism= the Ee8ish +a))ath 8as still )eing respected in the t8entieth cent!ry )y millions o4 A)yssinian Christians A not instead o4 the +!nday +a))ath adhered to )y their co-religionists else8here )!t in addition to it5<20= There 8ere other holidays 8hich% altho!gh s!per4icially Christian% 8ere also clearly E!daic in origin5 I had learned% 4or e9ample% that the .thiopian ,e8 Dear 4east <.nk!tatsh= corresponded closely to the Ee8ish ,e8 Dear <'osh Ha-shanah=5 Both 8ere held in +eptem)er and )oth 8ere 4ollo8ed a 4e8 8eeks later )y a second 4esti(al <kno8n as askal in .thiopia and Dom $ipp!r in Israel=5 In )oth c!lt!res% 4!rthermore% this second 4esti(al 8as connected to the ,e8 Dear )y a period o4 e9piation and atonement5<21= .thiopian Christians also strictly o)eyed many o4 the :entate!chal la8s o4 cleanliness and p!rity5 ,o man% 4or e9ample% 8o!ld consider going to ch!rch a4ter ha(ing had se9!al interco!rse 8ith his 8i4e% nor 8o!ld he ha(e interco!rse prior to ha(ing contact 8ith any consecrated thing% nor 8o!ld he ha(e interco!rse d!ring days o4 4asting% nor 8o!ld he ha(e

interco!rse 8ith any menstr!ating 8oman5<32= ,one o4 these restrictions 8ere called 4or )y Christian loreJ all o4 them% ho8e(er% 8ere demanded in the :entate!ch <nota)ly in the )ooks o4 .9od!s and Le(itic!s=5<31= In a similar 4ashion .thiopian Christians also o)ser(ed the >ld Testament 4ood la8s% scr!p!lo!sly a(oiding the 4lesh o4 @!nclean@ )irds and mammals <pork )eing partic!larly a)horred= and e(en attending to the min!tiae s!ch as the @sine8 8hich shrank@ re4erred to in Chapter 32 o4 the )ook o4 Genesis5<32= This same sine8% I 8as a)le to esta)lish% 8as sh!nned )y all A)yssinian Christians and 8as kno8n in Ge@e3 as @the 4or)idden m!scle@5<33= Another intrig!ing link that I had t!rned !p 8hile researching this s!)Cect 8as that .thiopian clerical (estments seemed to )e modelled !pon the special garments 8orn )y the priests o4 ancient Israel<34= A the k@enat <)elt= corresponding to the High :riest@s girdleJ<3"= the k@o)a <sk!ll-cap= corresponding to the mitreJ<3&= and the askema <scap!lar=% 8ith its t8el(e crosses in 4o!r ro8s o4 three% corresponding to the priestly )reast-plate <8hich% as Chapter 20 o4 the )ook o4 .9od!s makes clear% 8as adorned 8ith t8el(e precio!s stones also arranged in 4o!r ro8s o4 three5F All in all% there4ore% I 4o!nd it di44ic!lt to disagree 8ith Arch)ishop Da(id atthe8 8ho% in 114*% had descri)ed @the 8hole cast o4 religio!s e9pression in .thiopia as anti?!e and ceremonial and im)!ed 8ith an !nderc!rrent o4 E!daic practice5@<30= It 8as not !ntil I participated in the Christian Timkat cele)rations on 10 and 11 Ean!ary 1112% ho8e(er% that the real per(asi(eness and po8er o4 this !nderc!rrent 8as 4inally )ro!ght home to me5 The preparations 4or Timkat 8ere already 8ell ad(anced 8hen% in the mid-a4ternoon o4 Th!rsday 10 Ean!ary% I slipped thro!gh a 8ildly e9cited cro8d% !p a 4light o4 steps and on to the e9terior 8alk8ay o4 the ch!rch o4 edhane Alem <literally @+a(io!r o4 the #orld@=5 +it!ated in the oldest part o4 Gondar% this 8as a large% circ!lar )!ilding laid o!t in the traditional 4ashion A some8hat like an archery target i4 (ie8ed 4rom a)o(e A 8ith a series o4 concentric am)!latories s!rro!nding the Holy o4 Holies <mak@das=5 This distincti(ely .thiopian pattern% as I already kne8% 8as repeated in a slightly di44erent manner in rectang!lar and octagonal as 8ell as in ro!nd ch!rches% and had )een recogni3ed )y scholars as )eing )ased @on the three4old di(ision o4 the He)re8 Temple@5<31= According to .d8ard Illendor44% the 4irst :ro4essor o4 .thiopian +t!dies at the Ini(ersity o4 London;

The o!tside am)!latory o4 the three concentric parts o4 the A)yssinian ch!rch is called k@ene mahlet% i5e5 the place 8here hymns are s!ng% RandS corresponds to the .dam o4 +olomon@s Temple5 The ne9t cham)er is the k@eddest% 8here comm!nion is administered to the peopleJ and the innermost part is the mak@das 8here the ta)or rests and to 8hich only priests ha(e access 5 5 5 This di(ision into three cham)ers applies to all A)yssinian ch!rches% e(en to the smallest o4 them5 It is th!s clear that the 4orm o4 the He)re8 sanct!ary 8as pre4erred )y A)yssinians to the )asilica type 8hich 8as accepted )y early Christians else8here5<42=

:ro4essor Illendor44 declined to spec!late as to precisely 8hy the A)yssinians sho!ld ha(e 4a(o!red a pre-Christian model 4or their Christian ch!rches5 As I stepped into the 4irst am)!latory o4 edhane Alem% ho8e(er% it seemed to me that the ans8er 8as o)(io!s; the +yrian e(angelist Br!menti!s% 8ho 8as responsi)le 4or the con(ersion o4 the A9!mite kingdom and 8ho 8as appointed as .thiopia@s 4irst arch)ishop )y the Coptic :atriarch o4 Ale9andria in AD 331% m!st deli)erately ha(e adapted the instit!tions o4 the ne8 4aith to the pre-e9isting E!daic traditions o4 the co!ntry5<41= B!rthermore% as Illendor44 did admit;

It is clear that these and other traditions% in partic!lar that o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant at A9!m% m!st ha(e )een an integral part o4 the A)yssinian national heritage long )e4ore the introd!ction o4 Christianity in the 4o!rth cent!ryJ 4or it 8o!ld )e inconcei(a)le that a people recently con(erted 4rom paganism to Christianity <not )y a Christian Ee8 )!t )y the +yrian missionary Br!menti!s= sho!ld therea4ter ha(e )eg!n to )oast o4 Ee8ish descent and to insist on Israelite connections% c!stoms and instit!tions5<42=

#alking in stockinged 4eet A since it is considered sacrilege to 8ear shoes inside any .thiopian ch!rch A I made a circ!it o4 the k@ene mahlet st!dying the 4aded paintings o4 saints and holy men that adorned its 8alls; here 8as +aint George% mo!nted on his 8hite charger% slaying the dragonJ there 8as God Almighty% @the Ancient o4 Days@% s!rro!nded )y the @li(ing creat!res@ descri)ed )y the :rophet .3ekielJ here 8as Eohn )apti3ing Christ in the EordanJ there the $ings and +hepherds at the angerJ and o(er there oses recei(ing the Ta)les o4 the La8 4rom the hand o4 God on o!nt +inai5 +tanding lost in contemplation )e4ore a portrayal o4 the /!een o4 +he)a@s Co!rney to Eer!salem% I )ecame a8are o4 the slo8% deep thro) o4 a ke)ero A the large o(al dr!m% made o4 co8skin stretched o(er a 8ooden 4rame% that 4eat!res in so m!ch o4 the m!sic o4 the .thiopian >rthodo9 Ch!rch5 To this )ar)aric so!nd 8as no8 added a chor!s o4 (oices chanting a Ge@e3 hymn% and then the mystic Cingle o4 sistra5 y c!riosity aro!sed% I proceeded ro!nd the am)!latory and% at last% near the door8ay that led in8ards to the k@eddest% I came across a gro!p o4 priests and deacons gathered a)o!t the dr!mmer% 8ho 8as seated cross-legged on the 4loor h!nched o(er his ke)ero5 This 8as a strange and archaic scene; nothing a)o!t it )elonged to the modern 8orld and% as I 8atched% I 4elt mysel4 transported )ack8ards thro!gh time% riding the eerie 8a(e4orms o4 the m!sic A 8hich seemed to me to )elong neither to A4rica nor to Christianity )!t to some other place and to some in4initely older 4aith5 Dressed in their traditional 8hite ro)es and )lack sho!lder-capes% leaning on tall prayer sticks% the deacons s8ayed and chanted% s8ayed and chanted% a)sor)ed in the primal cadence o4 the dance5 .ach held in his hand a sil(er sistr!m 8hich% in the silent interstices )et8een the dr!m-)eats% he raised and then let 4all% prod!cing a clear and melodio!s tintinna)!lation5 The chanting 8as antiphonal in 4orm% 8ith phrases !ttered )y one gro!p o4 singers )eing gi(en their response )y others% a dialog!e in 8hich (erses and chor!ses 8ere passed )ack and

4orth amongst the participants allo8ing the hymn to )!ild to its pondero!s crescendo5 This same system% I kne8% had )een an esta)lished part o4 the Ee8ish lit!rgy in >ld Testament times5<43= As I 8as re4lecting on this coincidence a 4ragrant clo!d o4 incense )illo8ed 4rom the open door o4 the k@eddest5 .dging 4or8ard I looked inside and sa8 a s8irling 4ig!re 8rapped in ro)es o4 green em)roidered 8ith golden threads% a 4ig!re o!t o4 a dream% hal4 sorcerer% hal4 priest% 8ho 8hirled and t!rned 8ith drooping eyes5 Gathered ro!nd him 8ere other men% similarly attired% each holding a smoking censer s!spended in a 4ine net o4 sil(er chain5 I strained my eyes to look )eyond these 4ig!res thro!gh the 4!mes and darkness and co!ld C!st make o!t% at the (ery centre o4 the k@eddest% the c!rtained entrance to the Holy o4 Holies5 I kne8 that )eyond that hea(y (eil% (enerated and mysterio!s% g!arded )y s!perstition% concealed and secret 8ithin its sanct!ary% lay the ta)ot A the sym)ol o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 And I 8as reminded that in ancient Israel the High :riest co!ld not approach the Ark !nless he had 4irst )!rnt s!44icient ?!antities o4 incense to co(er it completely 8ith smoke5<44= The thick 4!mes 8ere tho!ght necessary to protect his li4e A necessary to ens!re% Is the )ook o4 Le(itic!s rather chillingly p!t it% @that he die not@5<4"= I stepped across the threshold into the k@eddest to get a closer look at 8hat 8as going on there )!t 8as almost immediately 8a(ed )ack into the o!ter am)!latory5 At the same time the song o4 the deacons ceased% the dr!m-)eats stilled and% 4or a moment% a)sol!te silence 4ell5 I co!ld sense an intangi)le atmosphere o4 imminence% as tho!gh a h!ge charge o4 lightning 8ere )!ilding !p 8ithin a th!nderclo!d5 A general stirring and mo(ement then ens!ed% 8ith people sc!rrying in all directions5 At the same time a smiling priest took my arm lightly )!t 4irmly% and g!ided me o!t o4 the k@eddest% thro!gh the k@ene mahlet% to the main door o4 the ch!rch 8here I stood )linking in the )rilliant a4ternoon s!nlight% ama3ed at the rapid change o4 mood that seemed to ha(e o(ertaken the proceedings5 The cro8d% )ig eno!gh 8hen I had arri(ed% had no8 s8elled into a h!ge m!ltit!de that completely 4illed the e9tensi(e compo!nd in 8hich edhane Alem 8as sit!ated and that also spilled o!t on to the road as 4ar as I co!ld see5 en and 8omen% small children% the (ery elderly% lame people% o)(io!sly sick and dying people% la!ghing% happy% healthy people A hal4 o4 .thiopia seemed to )e here5 any cl!tched m!sical instr!ments o4 one kind or another; cym)als and tr!mpets% 4l!tes and 4iddles% lyres and )i)lical harps5 oments a4ter my o8n e9it 4rom the ch!rch% a gro!p o4 richly ro)ed priests appeared5 These 8ere the same men 8hom I had last seen amidst the incense clo!d )e4ore the dra8n (eil o4 the Holy o4 Holies% )!t no8 one o4 them A slender and )earded 8ith 4ine% delicate 4eat!res and smo!ldering eyes A )ore on his head the ta)ot 8rapped in costly )rocades o4 red and gold5 At once the cro8d er!pted into a 4ren3y o4 sho!ts and stamping 4eet and% 4rom the 8omen% shrill !l!lations A a ro!sing% trem!lo!s (i)ration that% I kne8% had )een connected )y more than one scholar to @certain m!sical !tterances in ancient He)re8 8orship <He)re8 hallel% .thiopic ellel= 5 5 5 the mode o4 e9!ltation is to repeat the so!nd elleT many times% saying ellelleIlellellell% etc5 5 5 5 The proper meaning o4 FHallel!yahF 8ill pro)a)ly )e Fsing hallel or elleT !nto Eeho(ah5F @<4&=

A4ter standing at the door8ay o4 the ch!rch 4or some min!tes 8hile the agitation o4 the cro8d gre8% the priests no8 8heeled and t!rned% making a complete circ!it o4 the e9terior 8alk8ay )e4ore descending the 4light o4 steps to gro!nd le(el5 The instant that their 4eet to!ched the earth% the m!ltit!de parted )e4ore them A creating a path8ay thro!gh 8hich they might pass A and the sho!ts and !l!lation% the )lo8ing o4 tr!mpets% the 8histle o4 4l!tes% the str!mming o4 lyres% and the Cingle o4 the tam)o!rines )!ilt !p to a pitch that dea4ened the ear and 4illed the mind 8ith 8onder5 I 4ollo8ed as closely as I dared )ehind the gro!p o4 priests% dra8n along in their t!r)!lent 8ake5 And tho!gh the people 8ere gathered in their h!ndreds on either side o4 me% tho!gh many 8ere into9icated either )y millet )eer or )y the t!m!lt% tho!gh I 8as repeatedly Costled% and tho!gh more than once I 8as almost knocked o44 my 4eet% I did not 4or a second 4eel threatened or alarmed5 +ometimes 4!nnelled thro!gh narro8 alley8ays% sometimes spreading o!t across patches o4 open land% sometimes stopping ine9plica)ly% sometimes 4ast% sometimes slo8% al8ays )!rsting 8ith m!sic and song% 8e progressed thro!gh the ancient city5 And all the time I str!ggled to keep my eyes 4i9ed on the red and gold 8rappings o4 the ta)ot% 8hich 8as no8 4ar ahead o4 me5 Bor a 8hile% as a ne8 horde o4 re(ellers Coined !s 4rom a side street% I completely lost sight o4 the sacred o)Cect5 Then standing on tiptoe% craning my neck% I 4o!nd it and h!rried 4or8ard5 Determined not to )e separated 4rom it again I scram)led !p a grassy )ank% p!t on a )!rst o4 speed% o(ertook a massed )lock o4 t8o or three h!ndred people% skidded past the priests% and l!m)ered )ack do8n on to the road perhaps t8enty yards in 4ront o4 them5 Here I 4o!nd the reason 4or the c!rio!s stop-start% halting% l!rching motion o4 the m!ltit!de5 In the space ahead o4 the ta)ot se(eral imprompt! tro!pes o4 dancers had 4ormed themsel(es A some o4 mi9ed se9% some all male% some all 4emale% some dressed in e(eryday 8orking clothes% some in ch!rch (estments5 At the centre o4 each o4 these gro!ps 8as a dr!mmer% his ke)ero sl!ng aro!nd his neck% )eating o!t an ancient and sa(age rhythm% 8hirling% C!mping% t!rning and sho!ting 8hile those aro!nd him e9ploded 8ith energy% leaping and gyrating% clapping their hands% )eating tam)o!rines and cym)als% po!ring 8ith s8eat as they capered and reeled5 ,o8% !rged on )y tr!mpet )lasts and )y sho!ts% )y the thr!m o4 a ten-stringed )egegna<4*= and the ha!nting tones o4 a shepherd@s 4l!te% a yo!ng man dressed in traditional ro)es o4 8hite cotton per4ormed a 8ild solo dance 8hile the priests stood in their place stopping the eager cro8d )ehind them and )earing the sacred ta)ot alo4t5 Bea!ti4!l in his lithe (igo!r% splendid in his 4erocio!s energy% the yo!th seemed entranced5 #ith all eyes !pon him he circled the p!lsing ke)ero% piro!etting and s8aying% sho!lders Cerking% head )o))ing% lost in his o8n inner rhythms% praising God 8ith e(ery lim)% 8ith e(ery o!nce o4 his strength% 8ith e(ery particle o4 his )eing5 And I tho!ght 5 5 5 this 8as 8hat it m!st ha(e )een like% three tho!sand years ago at the gates o4 Eer!salem 8hen

Da(id and all the ho!se o4 Israel )ro!ght !p the Ark o4 the Lord 8ith sho!ting% and 8ith the so!nd o4 the tr!mpet RandS played )e4ore the Lord on all manner o4 instr!ments made o4 4ir

8ood% e(en on harps% and on psalteries% and on tim)rels% and on cornets% and on cym)als 5 5 5 and Da(id danced )e4ore the Lord 8ith all his might 5 5 5 leaping and dancing )e4ore the Lord5<40=

In mid-stride% 8itho!t any 8arning% the yo!th collapsed and sank to the gro!nd in a dead 4aint5 He 8as picked !p )y se(eral o4 the spectators% carried to the roadside and made com4orta)le5 Then the cro8d s!rged 4or8ard again m!ch as )e4ore% 8ith ne8 dancers constantly taking the place o4 those 8ho 8ere e9ha!sted5 +oon a4ter8ards a transition occ!rred5 A4ter t!m)ling and charging do8n a last narro8 street the cro8d de)o!ched into a h!ge open s?!are5 And into this same s?!are% 4rom three other directions% I co!ld see three other processions also approaching A each o4 8hich 8as similar in si3e to o!r o8n% each o4 8hich 8as centred !pon a ta)ot )orne !p )y a gro!p o4 priests% and each o4 8hich seemed inspired )y the same transcendent spirit5 Like 4o!r ri(ers meeting% the separate processions no8 con(erged and mi9ed5 The priest carrying the ta)ot 4rom the ch!rch o4 edhane Alem A 8hom I had 4ollo8ed 4aith4!lly th!s 4ar A stood in line 8ith other priests carrying the ta)otat 4rom three o4 the other principal ch!rches o4 Gondar5 Behind this 4irst sacred rank 8ere more priests and deacons5 And )ehind them again 8ere the assem)led congregations% 4orming an army that co!ld not ha(e )een less than ten tho!sand strong5 Almost as soon as the processions had Coined 8e 8ere on the mo(e again% 8elling 4orth o!t o4 the s?!are and do8n a steep% )road high8ay 8ith the ta)otat ahead o4 !s5 ,o8 and then children 8o!ld )e p!shed close to me and 8o!ld shyly take my hands% 8alk 8ith me 4or a 8hile and then release me 5 5 5 An old 8oman approached and addressed me at length in Amharic% smiling toothlessly 5 5 5 T8o teenage girls% giggling and ner(o!s% to!ched my )lond hair 8ith 4ascinated c!riosity and then r!shed o44 5 5 5 And in this 4ashion% entirely ca!ght !p in the gaiety and po8er o4 the occasion% I allo8ed mysel4 to )e s8ept along% o)li(io!s to the passing ho!rs o4 the a4ternoon5 Then% ?!ite s!ddenly% an imposing 8alled compo!nd set amidst grassy 8oods appeared aro!nd a )end in the track like an image o!t o4 a legend5 At some distance )ehind the s!rro!nding ramparts% I tho!ght that I co!ld C!st make o!t the t!rrets o4 a great castle A t!rrets high and @mar(ello!sly em)attled@5 ,ot 4or the 4irst time in my tra(els in .thiopia I 8as ha!ntingly reminded o4 the 8ondro!s Grail sanct!ary descri)ed )y #ol4ram (on .schen)ach A o4 the @impregna)le stronghold@ 8ith its @cl!sters o4 to8ers and n!mero!s palaces@ that had stood at the edge o4 a mysterio!s lake in the realm o4 !nsal(aesche5<41= At the centre o4 the enclos!re 8all 8as a narro8 arched gate8ay thro!gh 8hich those ahead o4 me in the procession no8 )egan to stream A and to8ards 8hich I 4elt mysel4 irresisti)ly dra8n5 Indeed there 8as a tremendo!s 4orce and comp!lsion in this h!man 4lo8% as tho!gh 8e 8ere )eing s!cked helter-skelter into a (orte95 As I 8as impelled )eneath the arch% Costled and cr!shed )y the scr!m o4 eager )odies% I 8as sho(ed momentarily against ro!gh stone and my 8rist8atch 8as knocked o44J almost immediately% ho8e(er% some !nkno8n person )ehind me managed to retrie(e it 4rom the gro!nd and pressed it )ack into my hand5 Be4ore I co!ld thank or e(en identi4y my )ene4actor I )!rst

thro!gh the )ottleneck and arri(ed% slightly da3ed% on the 8ide and open la8ns 8ithin the compo!nd5 In the same second the enormo!s constriction and compression 8as relie(ed and I e9perienced a delicio!s sense o4 4reedom5 5 5 The compo!nd 8as rectang!lar in shape and co(ered an area as large as 4o!r city )locks5 +et in the midst o4 this great grassy space 8as a second 8alled enclos!re a)o!t one-third o4 the si3e o4 the 4irst A 8hich in t!rn contained the tall% t!rreted castle that I had glimpsed earlier and% to the rear and sides o4 this str!ct!re% a man-made lake hal4 4illed 8ith 8ater5 The castle itsel4 had )een )!ilt )y .mperor Basilidas in the se(enteenth cent!ry and appeared to )e accessi)le only )y 8ay o4 a narro8 stone )ridge that passed o(er a deep moat and that led directly to a massi(e 8ooden door8ay set into the 4ront o4 the )!ilding5 The cro8d% I noticed% 8as still po!ring thro!gh the narro8 arch8ay that I had negotiated a 4e8 moments )e4ore% and people milled a)o!t apparently aimlessly% greeting one another 8ith )oistero!s and high-spirited )onhomie5 >44 to my right% directly in 4ront o4 the castle% a large gro!p o4 priests and deacons had gathered and I co!ld see that they no8 carried a total o4 se(en ta)otat5 I there4ore s!rmised that processions 4rom three other Gondarene ch!rches m!st at some point en ro!te ha(e Coined 8ith the original 4o!r that had con(erged in the city@s main s?!are earlier in the a4ternoon5 The priests )earing the 8rapped ta)otat on their heads stood in line% sho!lder-to-sho!lder5 Directly )ehind them 8ere many more priests 8ho held !p )rightly colo!red ceremonial !m)rellas that 8ere 4ringed at the edges and decorated 8ith crosses% stars% s!ns% crescent moons and other c!rio!s de(ices5 Bi(e metres to the le4t 8ere t8o 4!rther ro8s o4 priests% 4acing each other% carrying long prayer sticks and sil(er sistra5 And )et8een these latter t8o ro8s sat a dr!mmer h!nched o(er his ke)ero5 As I edged closer to get a )etter (ie8% the 4acing ro8s o4 priests )egan a slo8 s8aying dance )e4ore the ta)otat A a dance acted o!t to the same mesmeri3ing rhythm and to the same antiphonal chanting that I had heard earlier in the ch!rch o4 edhane Alem5 A 4e8 moments later the dance )roke !p as s!ddenly as it had )eg!n% the dancers dispersed and the priests )earing the se(en ta)otat proceeded maCestically on to the stone )ridge that led o(er the moat and into the castle5 They pa!sed there 4or a moment% ca!ght in a 8arm ray o4 light 4rom the descending s!n% and the 8omen in the cro8d ga(e (ent to more 8ild !l!lation5 Then% on oiled hinges% the hea(y 8ooden door o4 the 4ortress s8!ng silently open A a44ording me a transient glimpse o4 the shado8y interior A and the ta)otat 8ere carried inside5 Grad!ally% almost gently% the assem)led tho!sands )egan to settle do8n aro!nd the gardens5 +ome had )ro!ght )lankets% others cotton shemmas <sha8ls= and thicker 8oollen ge))is <cloaks=5 All% ho8e(er% had the look o4 people 8ho 8ere going to )e here 4or the d!ration o4 the Timkat holiday% and all seemed at peace 8ith themsel(es A calm no8 a4ter the e44ort and e9!ltation o4 the processions and prepared 4or the (igil ahead5

By 1 p5m5 n!mero!s camp 4ires had )een lit5 Aro!nd the 4lickering 4lames people 8rapped in shemmas and )lankets h!ddled and m!rm!red secreti(ely A their 8ords% in the old +emitic lang!age o4 .thiopia% t!rning to chill mist as they spoke5

Braced and e9hilarated )y the cold A4ro-Alpine air% I sat do8n on the grass% reclined% pillo8ed my head on my hands and ga3ed !p8ards% delighting in the clo!ds o4 stars that had ascended the sky5 y tho!ghts dri4ted 4or a 8hile% then 4oc!ssed on the so!nd o4 8ater g!shing steadily into the lake some8here ?!ite close to 8here I sat5 At almost the same moment% 4rom 8ithin the old castle% a so4t cadenced chanting and dr!mming rose !p A an eldritch% heartstopping resonance that 8as at 4irst so 4aint and so m!ted that I co!ld )arely make it o!t5 I stood and mo(ed closer to the )ridge o(er the moat5 It 8as not my intention to cross it <I did not think that I 8o!ld )e permitted to do so=J rather I hoped merely to 4ind a (antage point 4rom 8hich I might hear the archaic m!sic more clearly5 Ine9plica)ly% ho8e(er% I 4elt many hands p!shing me 4or8ard A p!shing me 4irmly )!t gentlyA and soon I 4o!nd mysel4 on the )ridge5 There a child led me to the to8ering door% opened it and indicated 8ith a smile that I sho!ld proceed 8ithin5 'ather timidly I crossed the threshold into a large% s?!are% high-ceilinged% incense4ragrant room ill!minated )y do3ens o4 candles mo!nted in niches in the ro!gh stone 8alls5 A 8intry c!rrent insin!ated itsel4 !nder the door that I had no8 closed )ehind me and on all sides cold dra!ghts p!shed thro!gh chinks and gaps in the masonry% ca!sing the little 4lames to g!tter and dim5 In this ghostly hal4-light I co!ld make o!t the ro)ed and hooded 4ig!res o4 perhaps 4i4ty people standing in ranks t8o-deep and 4orming an almost complete circle that 8as-)roken only )y the door8ay in 8hich I stood5 Tho!gh it 8as di44ic!lt to )e certain it seemed to me that all these 4olk 8ere men and that most o4 them 8ere either priests or deacons% 4or they held prayer sticks and sistra and 8ere chanting a Ge@e3 psalm so poignant and so e(ocati(e that it ca!sed the hairs at the nape o4 my neck to prickle and stand erect5 Directly in 4ront o4 me% on 4lagstones stre8n 8ith 4reshly c!t grass% sat a dr!mmer 8rapped in a 8hite shemma% striking the stretched skin o4 a ke)ero 8ith a ?!iet )!t insistent )eat5 ,o8% 8itho!t any )reak in tempo% se(eral mem)ers o4 the choir )eckoned to me and I 4elt mysel4 p!lled into their circle% 8armed in% made a part o4 it all5 A sistr!m 8as p!shed into my right hand% a prayer stick into my le4t and the chant contin!ed% 8ith the singers s8aying (ery gently and (ery slo8ly 4rom side to side5 In(ol!ntarily I 4elt my o8n )ody )eginning to ac?!aint itsel4 8ith the rhythm5 #atching the others% shedding all sel4-conscio!sness% I raised and let 4all my sistr!m )et8een the dr!m )eats% and as I did so the little metal disks in the ancient instr!ment prod!ced a t!neless% rattling Cingle5 This oddly compelling so!nd% I kne8% 8as older )y 4ar than the Temple o4 +olomon% 8as older e(en than the :yramids A 4or sistra C!st like these had 4irst )een !sed in pre-dynastic .gypt<"2= and had passed 4rom there% )y 8ay o4 the priestly g!ilds o4 :haraonic times% into the lit!rgy o4 Israel5 Ho8 strange this solemn ceremony 8as% and stranger still that I sho!ld ha(e )een allo8ed to participate in it% here in the heart o4 the .thiopian highlands at the edge o4 a sacred lake5 #ith a shi(er o4 e9citement I reali3ed that there 8as nothing in the scene !n4olding aro!nd me A a)sol!tely nothing at all A that )elonged to the t8entieth cent!ry AD5 I might C!st as easily ha(e )een a 8itness to the arcane rit!als o4 the tenth cent!ry BC 8hen the Ark o4 God 8as placed )y +olomon in the @thick darkness@ o4 the Holy o4 Holies and 8hen the priests%

Being arrayed in 8hite linen% ha(ing cym)als and psalteries and harps% stood at the east end o4 the altar RmakingS one so!nd to )e heard in praising and thanking the LordJ and 8hen they li4ted !p their (oice 8ith the tr!mpets and cym)als and instr!ments o4 m!sick% and praised the Lord% saying% Bor he is goodJ 4or his mercy end!reth 4or e(er5<"1=

#as it not in C!st this 4ashion that the priests o4 .thiopia A in 8hose midst I stood A no8 also praised the Lord7 And 8as it not 8ith C!st s!ch 4er(o!r and con(iction that they thanked Him 4or His mercy and )lessed His ine44a)le name% singing;

'ise Dah8eh God% come to yo!r resting place% Do! and the Ark o4 yo!r po8er5 Do!r priests% Dah8eh God% are (ested in sal(ation% Do!r 4aith4!l reCoice in prosperity5<"2=

The night passed 8ith a dreamlike sense o4 real and impossi)le things randomly mi9ed !p together5 There 8ere moments 8hen I hall!cinated that the Ark itsel4 8as concealed some8here 8ithin the old castle5 In my heart% ho8e(er% I also kne8 that I had not yet come to the end o4 my Co!rney% that the Ark 8as not here in Gondar% and that I still had miles and months to go )e4ore I co!ld e(en hope to approach it5 Bor the present I 8o!ld ha(e to content mysel4 8ith the ta)otat that reposed some8here 8ithin the castle A 8ith the se(en cloth-8rapped )!ndles that the alchemy o4 )lind 4aith had e44ortlessly trans4ormed in the past t8enty-4o!r ho!rs into o)Cects o4 immense sym)olic 8eight5 Be4ore da8n the priests !shered me o!t o4 the castle and )ack o(er the narro8 )ridge5 As light grad!ally )egan to in4!se the sky I then spent an ho!r or so e9ploring the great compo!nd5 I4 there had )een ten tho!sand people there the e(ening )e4ore there 8ere hardly 4e8er no85 +ome 8alked and talked in t8os and threes% others stood aro!nd in large h!ddled gro!ps% others still 8armed themsel(es )y the pale 4lames o4 the 4ading 4ires5 And I tho!ght that I co!ld detect again the same mood o4 e9pectancy% the same sense o4 eager and restless anticipation% that had preceded the )ringing o!t o4 the ta)ot at the ch!rch o4 edhane Alem the pre(io!s a4ternoon5 I made a complete circ!it o4 the inner compo!nd that s!rro!nded the castle and the lake5 'eaching the 4ar side o4 the comple9 I then clim)ed the enclos!re 8all and looked do8n at a scene )oth )ea!ti4!l and )i3arre5 Belo8 me an earthen em)ankment perhaps 4i(e 4eet 8ide ran all the 8ay aro!nd the still and shining 8aters% and on this em)ankment A on e(ery s?!are inch o4 it A people stood 8atch4!lly% 8aiting 4or something to happen% their shimmering re4lections picked o!t )y the risen s!n5

A )alcony proCected at the rear o4 the castle and no8% on to this )alcony% o!t o4 a clo!d o4 incense% stepped a gro!p o4 priests dressed in splendid ro)es o4 green and red5 Lo!d !l!lations arose 4rom the cro8d and a short ceremony ens!ed 8hich <I learned later= ser(ed to )less and consecrate the 8aters5 Then% 8ith ama3ing s!ddenness A and apparently o)li(io!s to the morning chill A people )egan to h!rl themsel(es into the lake5 +ome leapt in 4!lly clothed% some completely !ndressed5 Here a yo!ng 8oman 8ith ripe )reasts thr!st her naked )a)y )eneath the s!r4ace and )ro!ght him !p again% co!ghing and spl!ttering% in a sho8er o4 droplets5 There% 8ith mo(ements that 8ere )rittle and precise% an old man% lean and 8i3ened% crooked and in4irm% 8aded in !p to his chest5 Here a gro!p o4 teenage )oys s8am and sported5 There a middle-aged matron% stripped to the 8aist% lashed her )ack and sho!lders 8ith a dampened )ranch 5 5 5 ean8hile% 4rom the main compo!nd in 4ront o4 the castle% a roar o4 e9citement co!ld )e heard as others in their tho!sands came to Coin the throng% to splash and di(e% to pl!nge and 4rolic5 I clim)ed do8n 4rom my (antage point on the 8all and r!shed ro!nd to the 4ront o4 the compo!nd5 Amidst all this distraction 8hat I 8anted to do 8as to get )ack inside the castle5 The ta)otat had not )een in the place 8here I had spent most o4 the night singing and chanting% dancing and s8ayingA so 8here 8ere they7 And 8hat 8o!ld happen ne9t7 Innoticed )y the near-hysterical cro8d% I crossed the )ridge o(er the moat% p!shed open the door and stepped insideJ as I did so I o)ser(ed that the 4loor o4 the great room 8as still stre8n 8ith grass and that its 8alls 8ere )lackened 8ith candle smoke5 It 8as no8 perhaps * a5m5 and )right s!nlight streamed in% startling a gro!p o4 deacons 8ho had gathered there5 >pposite me there 8as a c!rtain dra8n across an arch 8hich I had not seen d!ring the night% and no8 thro!gh this c!rtain a priest appeared5 He regarded me ?!i33ically% then smiled and seemed to o44er a 8elcome5 I 8alked !p to him and signalled that I 8o!ld like to pass thro!gh )eyond the (eil5 At this% ho8e(er% he shook his head (ehemently5 @,o%@ he 8hispered in .nglish5 @,o5 Impossi)le5 Ta)ot inside5@ Then he 8ithdre8 again )ehind the c!rtain% )eyond 8hich I tho!ght that I co!ld C!st make o!t 4aint stirrings and 4oot4alls5 I called o!t% hoping to attract the attention o4 someone in a!thority% )!t got no response5 Then A crassly A I p!t my hand on the c!rtain and made to open it5 At this three o4 the deacons standing in the room )ehind me leapt on me% gra))ed me )y the arms and 8restled me to the 4loor 8here I recei(ed se(eral se(ere )r!ises5 I c!rsed and str!ggled% not thinking clearly% a8are only that I 8as da3ed and shocked; C!st a 4e8 ho!rs earlier I had )een made to 4eel so m!ch at home hereJ no8 I 8as )eing )eaten !p5 #ith some di44ic!lty I shook my assailants o44 and p!lled mysel4 to my 4eet5 This action% ho8e(er% 8as misinterpreted as the prel!de to another attempt on the c!rtain and I 8as p!mmelled and )!44eted 8hile se(eral more deacons )locked my 8ay5 @Cannot go in there%@ one o4 them 8arned% indicating the room )eyond the (eil5 @>nly priests to go inside5@ He 8agged his 4inger at me and added; @Do! are (ery )ad man5@ I 8as then !nceremonio!sly )!ndled o!t o4 the castle door and deposited ro!ghly on the narro8 )ridge in 4ront o4 se(eral tho!sand 4ro8ning people A and I tho!ght; i4 I get into this m!ch tro!)le C!st 4or trying to enter a room 8here some ta)otat are kept% then 8hat on earth is going to happen to me in A9!m 8hen I try to see the Ark itsel47

I crossed the )ridge% picked my 8ay thro!gh the cro8d and stood on a patch o4 clear gro!nd% shaking slightly )eca!se o4 the adrenalin that 8as p!mping thro!gh my )loodstream5 Taking stock I co!ld see that many people 8ere still in the lake% and I co!ld hear splashes and sho!ts5 The maCority% ho8e(er% 8ere no8 o!t o4 the 8ater and assem)led on the )road la8ns in 4ront o4 the castle% leaning 4or8ard a(idly% craning their necks% e9cited and yet oddly silent5 Then se(en 4!lly ro)ed priests appeared at the castle door 8ith 8rapped ta)otat )alanced on their heads5 +lo8ly and deli)erately they stepped o!t on to the )ridge and made their 8ay across% 4ollo8ed )y yet more priests holding !p ceremonial !m)rellas5 At the same moment the cro8d ga(e (ent to a h!ge collecti(e sigh% an ardent gasp o4 a8e and de(otion that 8as soon enhanced )y the 4amiliar high-pitched !l!lations o4 the 8omen and )y an !rgent% distracted Costling as people scram)led )ack8ards and side8ays to clear a path 4or the ad(ancing ta)otat5 As the morning 8ore on and as the s!n rose to8ards its 3enith I 4ollo8ed the procession )ack thro!gh the streets o4 Gondar as 4ar as the main s?!are o4 the old city5 There the dance o4 Da(id )e4ore the Ark 8as again enacted amidst sho!ting and the so!nds o4 tam)o!rines and cym)als% amidst the )lo8ing o4 tr!mpets and the m!sic o4 sistra and stringed instr!ments5 Then 4inally the priests carrying the se(en ta)otat 8heeled and separated5 As they did so the m!ltit!de too di(ided itsel4 into se(en di44erent parts A se(en di44erent processions that no8 streamed o!t o4 the s?!are in se(en di44erent directions5 '!nning to keep !p% panting and s8eating% I 4ollo8ed close )ehind the ta)ot o4 edhane Alem% 4ollo8ed it all the 8ay )ack to the old ro!nd ch!rch and there% amidst a tho!sand e9!)erant songs and dances% 8atched as the priest 8ho )ore it circled the )!ilding once% circled it t8ice% and then at last% to a tremendo!s roar o4 Coy and appro)ation% (anished 4rom my sight into the darkness 8ithin A into the Holy o4 Holies% into the mystery o4 mysteries5

A D.A'@+ '.:'I.6.5 5 5

I le4t Gondar in Ean!ary 1112% ?!ite certain that I 8as right to seek the Ark in .thiopia5 Despite a thin and s!per4icial Christian (eneer% the central role o4 the ta)otat in the ceremonies that I had 8itnessed% the strange dances o4 the priests% the 4ren3ied ad!lation o4 the laity% the archaic m!sic o4 sistra and o4 tam)o!rines% o4 tr!mpets% dr!ms and cym)als% 8ere all phenomena li4ted straight o!t o4 the most distant and recondite past5 And it seemed to me then% as it seems to me no8% that these intricate rit!als% these comple9 instit!tions A all o4 them 4oc!ssed !pon the >ld Testament 8orship o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant A 8o!ld not ha(e )een adhered to 8ith s!ch 4er(o!r and 4idelity o(er so many 8eary cent!ries i4 all that lay )ehind them 8ere mere replicas5 ,o5 The .thiopians had the Ark itsel45 :erhaps in the 8ay descri)ed in the $e)ra ,agast% or perhaps )y some other more historically pro)a)le means that I might in d!e co!rse )e a)le to identi4y% it had come into their possession in the 4irst millenni!m BC5 And no8% so near the end o4 the second millenni!m AD% they had it still% hidden a8ay% concealed 4rom prying eyes5 B!t 8here7@

In ans8ering this last ?!estion I 4elt that I co!ld not ignore the implications o4 my o8n research; the sacred relic 8as not on an island in Lake G8aiJ it 8as not on an island in Lake TanaJ instead all the e(idence s!ggested that it lay still in its traditional resting place A sa4e in the Holy o4 Holies o4 the sanct!ary chapel at A9!m5 There co!ld )e no a)sol!te certainty% o4 co!rse% )!t I 4elt s!re in my o8n mind that I 8as right5 And t8el(e months hence% 8hen Tim)al came aro!nd again in Ean!ary 1111% I 8o!ld ha(e to go to A9!m to seek it A and to see it i4 I co!ld5 I 4elt a sense o4 ine(ita)ility a)o!t this% as tho!gh a challenge had )een laid do8n A laid do8n as clearly and as compellingly as the Green $night@s ta!nt to +ir Ga8ain;

I am kno8n to many% so i4 to 4ind me tho! endea(o!r% tho!@lt 4ail not to do so5 There4ore comeT >r to )e called a cra(en tho! deser(est5 5 Det a respite I@ll allo8% till a year and a day go )y5<"3=

And 8hat 8o!ld I do in my period o4 reprie(e% in my year o4 grace7 I 8o!ld% I determined% learn e(erything I co!ld a)o!t the )ale4!l o)Cect that )eckoned to me A a)o!t its origins% and a)o!t its po8ers5 I 8o!ld st!dy the Ark o4 God and I 8o!ld attempt to disco(er 8hether there might not )e a rational e9planation 4or the terrors and the miracles that it 8as )elie(ed to ha(e 8orked in >ld Testament times5

:A'T I6; .GD:T% 1101-12 A >,+T'>I+

I,+T'I .,T

< ap 4=

CHA:T.' 12 AGIC 5 5 5 >' .TH>D7

D!ring 1101 and 1112% as I immersed mysel4 e(er more deeply in the mysteries o4 the lost Ark o4 the Co(enant% I )ecame interested not only in 8hen it 8as )!t also in 8hat it 8as5 ,at!rally I t!rned 4irst to the Bi)le% 8here the earliest mention o4 the Ark occ!rs d!ring the period o4 the @8ilderness 8anderings@ immediately a4ter the prophet oses had led the children o4 Israel o!t o4 their capti(ity in .gypt <aro!nd 12"2 BC=5<1= In Chapter 2" o4 the )ook o4

.9od!s 8e read that the precise dimensions o4 the sacred relic and the materials to )e !sed in its constr!ction 8ere re(ealed to oses on o!nt +inai )y God Himsel4;

Do! are to make me an Ark o4 acacia 8ood t8o and a hal4 c!)its long% one and a hal4 c!)its 8ide% and one and a hal4 c!)its high Ri5e5 a rectang!lar chest meas!ring three 4eet nine inches )y t8o 4eet three inches )y t8o 4eet three inchesS5<2=5 Do! are to plate it% inside and o!t% 8ith p!re gold% and decorate it all aro!nd 8ith a gold mo!lding5 Do! 8ill cast 4o!r gold rings 4or the Ark and 4i9 them to its 4o!r s!pports Ror cornersS<3=; t8o rings on one side and t8o rings on the other5 Do! 8ill also make sha4ts o4 acacia 8ood plated 8ith gold and pass the sha4ts thro!gh the rings on the sides o4 the Ark% to carry the Ark )y these5 The sha4ts m!st remain in the rings o4 the Ark and not )e 8ithdra8n 5 5 5 B!rther yo! are to make a throne o4 mercy% o4 p!re gold% t8o and a hal4 c!)its long% and one and a hal4 c!)its 8ide5 Bor the t8o ends o4 this throne o4 mercy yo! are to make t8o golden cher!)imJ yo! are to make them o4 )eaten gold5 ake the 4irst cher!) 4or one end and the second 4or the other% and 4asten them to the t8o ends o4 the throne o4 mercy so that they may make one piece 8ith it5 The cher!)im are to ha(e their 8ings spread !p8ards so that they o(ershado8 the throne o4 mercy5 They m!st 4ace one another% their 4aces to8ards the throne o4 mercy5 Do! m!st place the throne o4 mercy on top o4 the Ark 5 5 5 There I shall come to meet yo!; there 4rom a)o(e the throne o4 mercy% 4rom )et8een the t8o cher!)im that are on the Ark5<4=

This @di(ine )l!eprint@ is% s!rely% one o4 the (ery strangest passages in the Bi)le5 A4ter recei(ing it% oses passed it on (er)atim to an arti4icer named Be3aleel% a man @4illed 8ith the spirit o4 God% in 8isdom% and in !nderstanding% and in kno8ledge% and in all manner o4 8orkmanship% to de(ise c!nning 8orks5@<"= Be3aleel made the Ark e9actly as speci4ied5<&= Then% 8hen it 8as ready% oses placed inside it the t8o ta)lets o4 stone% also gi(en to him on o!nt +inai% on 8hich God had inscri)ed the Ten Commandments5<*= The sacred o)Cect% no8 pregnant 8ith its precio!s contents% 8as then installed )ehind a @(eil@ in the Holy o4 Holies o4 the Ta)ernacles<0= A the porta)le tent-like str!ct!re that the Israelites !sed as their place o4 8orship d!ring their 8anderings in the 8ilderness5

TH. T.''>'+ A,D TH.


+oon terri)le things )egan to happen5 The 4irst concerned ,ada) and A)ih!% t8o o4 the 4o!r sons o4 Aaron the High :riest% 8ho 8as oses@s o8n )rother5 As mem)ers o4 the priestly 4amily they enCoyed access to the Holy o4 Holies% into 8hich they one day ad(anced carrying metal incense )!rners in their hands5<1 =There% according to the )ook o4 Le(itic!s they @o44ered strange 4ire )e4ore the Lord% 8hich He commanded them not@5<12= The de(astating conse?!ence 8as that a 4lame leapt o!t 4rom the Ark @and de(o!red them and they died5@<11=

And the Lord spake !nto oses a4ter the death o4 the t8o sons o4 Aaron% 8hen they o44ered )e4ore the Lord and diedJ And the Lord said !nto oses% +peak !nto Aaron thy )rother% that he come not at all times into the holy place 8ithin the (eil )e4ore the throne o4 mercy% 8hich is !pon the ArkJ that he die not; 4or I 8ill appear in the clo!d !pon the throne o4 mercy5<12=

The throne o4 mercy A @mercy seat@ in some translations A 8as the sla) o4 p!re gold that ser(ed as the Ark@s co(er5 The reader 8ill recall that mo!nted on either end o4 it A and 4acing each other A 8ere t8o golden 4ig!res o4 cher!)im5 @The clo!d !pon the throne o4 mercy@ 8hich threatened death to Aaron m!st there4ore ha(e )een (isi)le )et8een the cher!)im5 It 8as not al8ays present% )!t on those occasions 8hen it did materiali3e the Israelites )elie(ed @that the demons held s8ay@<13= A and then e(en oses 8o!ld not dare to approach5<14= >ther s!pposedly s!pernat!ral phenomena also mani4ested themsel(es @)et8een the cher!)im@ that 4aced each other across the Ark@s golden lid5 Bor e9ample% C!st a 4e8 days<1"= a4ter the !n4ort!nate demise o4 Aaron@s t8o sons% oses 8ent into the Holy o4 Holies o4 the Ta)ernacle% 8hich 8as then still pitched in the shado8 o4 o!nt +inai5 A4ter he had entered% the prophet @heard the (oice o4 one speaking !nto him 4rom o44 the mercy seat that 8as !pon the Ark 5 5 5 4rom )et8een the t8o cher!)im5@<1&= Certain (ery ancient Ee8ish legends state that this (oice came 4rom hea(en @in the 4orm o4 a t!)e o4 4ire@5<1*= And 4ire A in one g!ise or another% 8ith and 8itho!t the deadly clo!d A seems o4ten to ha(e )een associated 8ith the cher!)im5 According to an end!ring 4olk memory% 4or e9ample% @t8o sparks Relse8here descri)ed as F4iery CetsF= iss!ed 4rom the cher!)im 8hich shaded the Ark@ A sparks 8hich occasionally )!rned and destroyed near)y o)Cects5<10= .(ent!ally the time came 4or the Israelites to a)andon their camp at the 4oot o4 +inai A also called the @ o!ntain o4 Dah8eh@ <a4ter the name o4 God=; o!nt

They set o!t 4rom the mo!ntain o4 Dah8eh and Co!rneyed 4or three days5 The Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 Dah8eh 8ent at their head 4or this Co!rney o4 three days% searching o!t a camping place 4or them 5 5 5 And as the Ark set o!t% oses 8o!ld say% @Arise Dah8eh% may yo!r enemies )e scattered and those 8ho hate yo! r!n 4or their li(es )e4ore yo!T@ And as it came to rest% he 8o!ld say% @Come )ack% Dah8eh% to the thronging hosts o4 Israel5@<11=

Tra(elling at the head o4 the Israelite col!mn% the sacred relic 8as )orne on the sho!lders o4 @the $ohathites@ <or @sons o4 $ohath@=% a s!)-clan o4 the tri)e o4 Le(i to 8hich )oth oses and Aaron also )elonged5 According to se(eral legends% and to ra))inical commentaries on the >ld Testament% these )earers 8ere occasionally killed )y the @sparks@ 8hich the Ark emitted<22= and% in addition% 8ere li4ted )odily o44 the gro!nd 4rom time to time )eca!se @the Ark R8asS a)le to carry its carriers as 8ell as itsel45@<21= ,or is this the only Ee8ish tradition to s!ggest that the Ark might ha(e )een a)le to e9ert a mysterio!s 4orce that in some 8ay 8as a)le to co!nteract gra(ity5 +e(eral other pieces o4 learned idrashic e9egesis also testi4y that it sometimes li4ted its )earers o44 the gro!nd <th!s temporarily relie(ing them o4 8hat 8o!ld other8ise ha(e )een a considera)le )!rden=5<22= In a similar (ein a partic!larly striking Ee8ish legend reports an

incident d!ring 8hich the priests attempting to carry the Ark 8ere @tossed )y an in(isi)le agency into the air and 4l!ng to the gro!nd again and again5@<23= Another tradition descri)es an occasion 8hen @the Ark leaped o4 itsel4 into the air5<24= Im)!ed as it 8as 8ith s!ch strange energies it is little 8onder% thro!gho!t their 8anderings in the 8ilderness% that the Israelites 8ere a)le to !se the Ark as a 8eapon A a 8eapon 8ith po8ers so terri)le that it co!ld )ring (ictory e(en 8hen the odds seemed o(er8helming5<2"= An acco!nt o4 one s!ch )attle descri)es the Ark as 4irst !ttering @a moaning so!nd@% then rising !p o44 the gro!nd and r!shing to8ards the enemy<2&= A 8ho not s!rprisingly 8ere pl!nged into disarray and sla!ghtered on the spot5 >n another occasion% ho8e(er A and as tho!gh to pro(e the r!le A the Israelites 8ere themsel(es de4eated5 This happened% according to the Bi)le% )eca!se they did not ha(e the Ark 8ith them at the time A oses had 8ithheld it 4rom them a4ter ad(ising them against mo!nting an assa!lt in that partic!lar area;

They set o!t pres!mpt!o!sly to8ards the heights o4 the highlands5 ,either the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 Dah8eh nor oses le4t the camp5 Then the Amalekites came do8n 5 5 5 8hich d8elt in that hill co!ntry% and smote them and discom4ited them5<2*=

According to the Bi)le% 4orty years 8ere spent in the 8ilderness%<20= years d!ring 8hich the Israelites learned that it 8as in their interests to 4ollo8 oses@s ad(ice to the letter5 Therea4ter% !nder his leadership and 8ith the help o4 the Ark% they s!ccess4!lly s!)d!ed the 4ierce tri)es o4 the +inai penins!la% con?!ered TransCordania% spoiled the idianites%<21= and generally laid 8aste to all those 8ho opposed them5 Binally% to8ards the end o4 their 4o!r decades o4 8andering% they @pitched their camp in the plains o4 oa) 5 5 5 opposite Eericho5@<32= E!st across the Eordan ri(er% the :romised Land 8as no8 in sight5 By this time oses@s )rother Aaron had already died<31= and had )een replaced in the o44ice o4 High :riest )y .lea3ar5<32= ean8hile oses himsel4 had )een 4ore8arned )y Dah8eh that it 8as not his destiny to enter Canaan and% accordingly% had in(ested @Eosh!a% the son o4 ,!n@ as his s!ccessor5<33= +oon a4ter8ards oses died%<34= )!t not )e4ore he had initiated Eosh!a into the mysteries o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5<3"= The ne8 leader there4ore had a 4ormida)le 8eapon at his disposal to deploy against the 4ierce resistance that he 8as a)o!t to enco!nter in the hea(ily 4orti4ied city o4 Eericho5 Eosh!a seemed to kno8 that the Ark 8as a t8o-edged s8ord A that% i4 not properly handled% it co!ld harm the Israelites as 8ell as their enemies5 .arly in the campaign% 8hile he 8as planning the ad(ance across the Eordan ri(er to8ards Eericho% he sent his o44icers thro!gho!t the camp to tell the people this;

#hen ye see the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord yo!r God% and the priests the Le(ites )earing it% then ye shall remo(e 4rom yo!r place and go a4ter it5 Det there shall )e a space )et8een yo! and it% a)o!t t8o tho!sand c!)its )y meas!re; come not near !nto it 5 5 5<3&=

Then% 8hen all 8as prepared;

Eosh!a spake !nto the priests% saying% Take !p the Ark o4 the Co(enant% and pass o(er )e4ore the people 5 5 5 And it came to pass 5 5 5 as they that )are the Ark 8ere come !nto Eordan5 5 5 RthatS the 8aters 8hich came 4rom a)o(e stood and rose !p !pon an heap 5 5 5 and those that came do8n 8ere c!t o44 5 5 5 and the priests that )are the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord stood 4irm on dry gro!nd in the midst o4 Eordan 5 5 5 And 5 5 5 8hen the priests 5 5 5 8ere come !p o!t o4 the midst o4 Eordan and the soles o4 the priests@ 4eet 8ere li4ted !p onto the dry land 5 5 5 the 8aters o4 Eordan ret!rned !nto their place 5 5 5 And REosh!aS spake 5 5 5 saying 5 5 5 the Lord yo!r God dried !p the 8aters o4 Eordan 4rom )e4ore yo!% !ntil ye 8ere passed o(er5<3*=

Anyone reared in the E!daeo-Christian tradition 8ill )e 4amiliar 8ith the details o4 the assa!lt on Eericho that 4ollo8ed the tri!mphal crossing o4 the Eordan5 #hile the main mass o4 the people stood )ack at the o)ligatory distance o4 t8o tho!sand c!)its <more than hal4 a mile=% a hand-picked gro!p o4 priests )lo8ing tr!mpets marched aro!nd the 8alls o4 the city )earing the Ark5 This proced!re 8as repeated e(ery day 4or si9 days5 Then;

>n the se(enth day 5 5 5 they rose early a)o!t the da8ning o4 the day% and compassed the city a4ter the same manner 5 5 5 only on that day they compassed the city se(en times5 And 5 5 5 at the se(enth time% 8hen the priests )le8 8ith the tr!mpets% Eosh!a said !nto the people% +ho!tJ 4or the Lord hath gi(en yo! the city 5 5 5 +o the people sho!ted 8hen the priests )le8 8ith the tr!mpets; and it came to pass% 8hen the people heard the so!nd o4 the tr!mpet% and the people sho!ted 8ith a great sho!t% that the 8all 4ell do8n 4lat% so that the people 8ent !p into the city 5 and they took the city 5 5 5 and they !tterly destroyed all that 8as in the city5<30=

In the 8ilderness% 8hen it 8as ne8% the Ark 8as nigh-on in(inci)le% and d!ring Eosh!a@s campaigns in the :romised Land the )i)lical testimony s!ggests that it contin!ed to play a signi4icant military role long a4ter the 4all o4 Eericho5<31= #ithin a)o!t a h!ndred and 4i4ty years o4 Eosh!a@s death% ho8e(er% a change took place; a close e9amination o4 the rele(ant )ooks o4 the >ld Testament sho8s that% )y this time% the relic 8as no longer ro!tinely )eing carried into )attleJ instead it had )een installed <in its Ta)ernacle= at an important shrine-sanct!ary kno8n as +hiloh% 8here it rested permanently5<42= The reason 4or this change 8as the increasing po8er and con4idence o4 the Israelites themsel(es 8ho% )y the ele(enth cent!ry BC% had managed to capt!re% settle and control most o4

the :romised Land and 8ho e(idently 4elt that it 8as no longer necessary in s!ch circ!mstances 4or them to )ring o!t their secret 8eapon5@<41= This sel4-ass!rance% ho8e(er% pro(ed misplaced on one signi4icant occasion A the )attle o4 .)ene3er% at 8hich the Israelites 8ere de4eated )y the :hilistines and 4o!r tho!sand o4 their men 8ere killed5<42= A4ter this dQ)rOcle;

The troops ret!rned to the camp and the elders o4 Israel said 5 5 5 @Let !s 4etch the Ark o4 o!r God 4rom +hiloh so that it may come among !s and resc!e !s 4rom the po8er o4 o!r enemies5@<43=

This s!ggestion 8as immediately accepted;

+o the people sent to +hiloh% that they might )ring 4rom thence the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord o4 Hosts% 8hich d8elleth )et8een the cher!)im 5 5 5 and 8hen the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord came into the camp% all Israel sho!ted 8ith a great sho!t so that the earth rang5<44=

Hearing this noise% the :hilistines e9claimed;

@#hat can this great sho!ting in the He)re8 camp mean7@ And they reali3ed that the Ark o4 Dah8eh had come into the camp5 At this the :hilistines 8ere a4raidJ and they said% @God has come to the camp@5 @AlasT@ they cried5 @This has ne(er happened )e4ore5 AlasT #ho 8ill sa(e !s 4rom the po8er o4 this mighty God75 5 5 B!t take co!rage and )e men% :hilistines% or yo! 8ill )ecome sla(es to the He)re8s 5 5 5 Be men and 4ight5@<4"=

Battle 8as Coined again and% to the !tter astonishment o4 all concerned;

Israel 8as smitten% and they 4led e(ery man into his tent; and there 8as a (ery great sla!ghterJ 4or there 4ell o4 Israel thirty tho!sand 4ootmen5 And the Ark o4 God 8as taken5<4&=

This 8as tr!ly a catastrophe5 ,e(er )e4ore had the Israelites s!44ered de4eat 8hen they had carried the Ark into )attle and ne(er )e4ore had the Ark itsel4 )een capt!red5 +!ch an e(ent!ality had )een !nthinka)le% !nimagina)le A and yet it had happened5

As the :hilistines )ore the relic tri!mphantly a8ay% a r!nner 8as sent to carry the )ad ne8s to .li% the High :riest% 8ho had remained )ehind at +hiloh;

And 5 5 5 lo% .li sat !pon a seat )y the 8ayside 8atching 5 5 5 ,o8 .li 8as ninety and eight years old and his eyes 8ere dim that he co!ld not see5 And the man said !nto .li% I am he that came o!t o4 the army% and I 4led today o!t o4 the army5 And he said% #hat is there done% my son7 And the messenger ans8ered and said% Israel is 4led )e4ore the :hilistines% and there hath )een also a great sla!ghter among the people 5 5 5 and the Ark o4 God is taken5 #hen he mentioned the Ark o4 God% .li 4ell )ack8ard o44 his seat 5 5 5 His neck 8as )roken and he died% 4or he 8as old and hea(y5 RAndS his da!ghter-in-la8 5 5 5 8as 8ith child and near her time5 #hen she heard the ne8s that the Ark o4 God had )een capt!red 5 5 5 she cro!ched do8n and ga(e )irth% 4or her la)o!r pains came on5<4*=

The child th!s )orn 8as called Icha)od meaning @8here is the glory7@<40= This c!rio!s name 8as chosen% the Bi)le e9plained% )eca!se the mother had gi(en (ent to a great cry o4 grie4 8hen she had recei(ed the in4ormation a)o!t the loss o4 the Ark; @And she said% The glory is departed 4rom Israel; 4or the Ark o4 God is taken5@<41= .(en stranger and more alarming e(ents 8ere to 4ollo8;

Then the :hilistines had capt!red the Ark o4 God they )ro!ght it 4rom .)ene3er to Ashdod5 Taking the Ark o4 God% the :hilistines p!t it in the temple o4 Rtheir deityS Dagon% setting it do8n )eside Rthe stat!e o4S Dagon5 ,e9t morning the people o4 Ashdod 8ent to the temple o4 Dagon and there lay Dagon 4ace do8n on the gro!nd )e4ore the Ark o4 Dah8eh5 They picked Dagon !p and p!t him )ack in his place5 B!t early ne9t morning there lay Dagon 4ace do8n again !pon the gro!nd )e4ore the Ark o4 Dah8eh% and Dagon@s head and t8o hands 8ere lying se(ered on the thresholdJ only the tr!nk o4 Dagon 8as le4t in its place5 This is 8hy the priests o4 Dagon and indeed all 8ho enter Dagon@s temple do not step on the threshold o4 Dagon in Ashdod to the present day5 The hand o4 Dah8eh 8eighed hea(ily on the people o4 Ashdod and str!ck terror into them% a44licting them 8ith t!mo!rs% in Ashdod and its territory5 #hen the men o4 Ashdod sa8 8hat 8as happening they said% @The Ark o4 the God o4 Israel m!st not stay here 8ith !s% 4or his hand lies hea(y on !s and on Dagon o!r god5@ +o they s!mmoned all the :hilistine chie4s to them% and said% @#hat shall 8e do 8ith the Ark o4 the God o4 Israel7@ They decided% @The Ark o4 the God o4 Israel m!st go to Gath5@ +o they took the Ark o4 the God o4 Israel to Gath5 B!t a4ter they had taken it there% the hand o4 Dah8eh lay hea(y on that to8n and a great panic )roke o!tJ the people o4 the to8n% 4rom yo!ngest to oldest% 8ere str!ck 8ith t!mo!rs that he )ro!ght o!t on them5 They then sent the Ark o4 God to .kron% )!t 8hen it came to .kron the .kronites sho!ted% @They ha(e )ro!ght !s the Ark o4 the God o4 Israel to )ring death to !s and o!r people5@ They

s!mmoned all the :hilistine chie4s and said% @+end the Ark o4 the God o4 Israel a8ayJ let it not )ring death to !s and o!r people@ A 4or there 8as mortal panic thro!gho!t the to8nJ the hand o4 God 8as (ery hea(y there5 The people 8ho did not die 8ere str!ck 8ith t!mo!rs and the 8ailing 4rom the to8n 8ent !p to hea(en5<"2=

+hattered )y the horri)le a44lictions that they had s!44ered )eca!se o4 the relic% the :hilistines e(ent!ally decided A a4ter se(en months<"1= A to @send it )ack to 8here it )elongs@5<"2= To this end they loaded it onto a @ne8 cart@ ha!led )y @t8o milch kine@<"3= and set it r!m)ling on its 8ay to8ards Bethshemesh% the nearest point inside Israelite territory5<"4= Another disaster soon 4ollo8ed% and this time the :hilistines 8ere not the (ictims;

They o4 Bethshemesh 8ere reaping their 8heat har(est in the (alley; and they li4ted !p their eyes% and sa8 the Ark% and reCoiced to see it5 And the cart came !nto the 4ield o4 Eosh!a% a Bethshemite% and stood there% 8here there 8as a great stone; and the men o4 Bethshemesh o44ered )!rnt o44erings and sacri4iced sacri4ices the same day !nto the Lord 5 5 5 RB!t= he smote the men o4 Bethshemesh )eca!se they had looked into the Ark o4 the Lord% e(en he smote o4 the people 4i4ty tho!sand and threescore and ten menJ and the people lamented )eca!se the Lord had smitten many o4 the people 8ith great sla!ghter5<""=

The te9t ?!oted a)o(e is 4rom the $ing Eames A!thori3ed 6ersion o4 the Bi)le% prod!ced in the early se(enteenth cent!ry5 >ther more recent translations agree that certain men o4 Bethshemesh 8ere smitten or @str!ck do8n@ )y the Ark )!t p!t the n!m)er slain at se(enty rather than 4i4ty tho!sand and se(enty A and it is the consens!s o4 modern scholarship that this 4ig!re is the correct one5<"&= +e(enty men% there4ore% looked into the Ark o4 the Co(enant a4ter it arri(ed in the 4ield o4 Eosh!a the Bethshemite% and these se(enty men died as a res!lt5<"*= ,o8here is it stated e9actly ho8 they diedJ )!t there can )e no do!)t that they 8ere killed )y the Ark A and in a manner s!44iciently dramatic and horri)le to lead the s!r(i(ors to concl!de; @,o one is sa4e in the presence o4 the Lord% this holy God5 To 8hom can 8e send it to )e rid o4 him7@<"0= At this point% s!ddenly and rather mysterio!sly% a gro!p o4 Le(itical priests appeared% @took do8n the Ark o4 the Lord%@<"1= and carried it o44A not to its 4ormer home at +hiloh )!t instead to a place called @$iriath-Eearim@ 8here it 8as installed in @the ho!se o4 A)inada) on the hill@5<&2= And on that hill it remained% isolated and g!arded%<&1= 4or the ne9t hal4 cent!ry or so5<&2= Indeed it 8as not )ro!ght do8n again !ntil Da(id had )ecome $ing o4 Israel5 A po8er4!l and headstrong man% he had recently capt!red the city o4 Eer!salem5 ,o8 it 8as his intention to consolidate his a!thority )y )ringing !p to his ne8 capital the most sacred relic o4 his people5 The date 8o!ld ha(e )een some8here )et8een 1222 and 112 BC5<&3= This is 8hat happened;

They placed the Ark o4 God on a ne8 cart and )ro!ght it 4rom A)inada)@s ho!se 8hich is on the hill5 I33ah and Ahio 5 5 5 8ere leading the cart5 I33ah 8alked alongside the Ark o4 God and Ahio 8ent in 4ront 5 5 5 #hen they came to the threshing 4loor o4 ,acon% I33ah stretched his hand o!t to the Ark o4 God and steadied it% as the o9en 8ere making it tilt5 Then the anger o4 Dah8eh )la3ed o!t against I33ah% and 4or this crime God str!ck him do8n on the spot% and he died there )eside the Ark o4 God5<&4=

/!ite nat!rally;

Da(id 8as a4raid o4 the Lord that day and said% @Ho8 can I har)o!r the Ark o4 the Lord a4ter this7@ He 4elt he co!ld not take the Ark o4 the Lord 8ith him to the City o4 Da(id5<&"=

Instead he @t!rned aside and carried it to the ho!se o4 >)ededom the Gittite5@<&&= At that ho!se% 8hile the Ee8ish monarch 8aited to see i4 it 8o!ld kill anyone else% the Ark o4 the Co(enant remained 4or three months5 ,o 4!rther disasters occ!rred% ho8e(er5 >n the contrary; @Dah8eh )lessed >)ed-edom and his 8hole 4amily5@<&*= The +cript!res are not e9plicit a)o!t the nat!re o4 this )enediction5 According to ancient 4olk traditions% ho8e(er% @it consisted in >)ededom )eing )lessed 8ith many children 5 5 5 The 8omen in his ho!se ga(e )irth a4ter a pregnancy o4 t8o months only and )ore si9 children at one time5@<&0= The Bi)le takes !p the story again as 4ollo8s;

It 8as told $ing Da(id% saying% the Lord hath )lessed the ho!se o4 >)ed-edom and all that pertaineth !nto him% )eca!se o4 the Ark o4 God5 +o Da(id 8ent and )ro!ght the Ark o4 God 4rom the ho!se o4 >)ed-edom into the City o4 Da(id 8ith gladness5<&1=

>n this Co!rney;

the children o4 the Le(ites )are the Ark o4 God !pon their sho!lders 8ith the sta(es thereon% as oses had commanded according to the 8ord o4 God5<*2=

Then% 4inally% Da(id led the Coyo!s procession into Eer!salem @8ith sho!ting and 8ith the so!nd o4 the tr!mpet@%<*1= and 8ith m!sic played @on all manner o4 instr!ments made o4 4ir 8ood% e(en on harps% and on psalteries% and on tim)rels% and on coronets% and on cym)als5@<*2= It had )een Da(id@s hope that he 8o!ld )e a)le to )!ild a temple in Eer!salem in 8hich the Ark co!ld )e ho!sed5 In the e(ent% ho8e(er% he 8as not to 4!l4il this am)ition and instead had to content himsel4 8ith placing the relic in a simple tent o4 the type that had )een !sed d!ring the desert 8anderings5<*3= The hono!r <or the conceit7= o4 erecting the Temple 8as there4ore le4t to another man5 As Da(id himsel4 p!t it )e4ore he died;

As 4or me% I had it in mine heart to )!ild an ho!se o4 rest 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord 5 5 5 and had made ready 4or the )!ilding 5 5 5 B!t God said !nto me% Tho! shalt not )!ild an ho!se 4or my name 5 5 5 +olomon thy son% he shall )!ild my ho!se5<*4=

This prophecy 8as d!ly 4!l4illed5 At +olomon@s command% 8ork 8as started on the Temple aro!nd the year 1&& BC<*"= and 8as completed rather more than a decade later% pro)a)ly in 1"" BC5<*&= Then% 8hen all 8as done% the Holy o4 Holies A a place 8hich the Lord had ordered sho!ld )e !tterly dark A 8as made ready to recei(e the precio!s o)Cect that it had )een )!ilt to contain;

+olomon assem)led the elders o4 Israel% and all the heads o4 the tri)es 5 5 5 that they might )ring !p the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord 5 5 5 And all the elders o4 Israel came% and the priests took !p the Ark5 And they )ro!ght !p the Ark o4 the Lord 5 5 5 And $ing +olomon% and all the congregation o4 Israel that 8ere assem)led !nto him% 8ere 8ith him )e4ore the Ark% sacri4icing sheep and o9en that co!ld not )e told nor n!m)ered 4or m!ltit!de5 And the priests )ro!ght in the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord to its place in the Temple 5 5 5 in the Holy o4 Holies5<**=

And there the sacred relic remained% en(eloped in @thick darkness@% !ntil it mysterio!sly (anished at some !nkno8n date )et8een the tenth and si9th cent!ries BC5<*0= As I ha(e already indicated in Chapter 1% a)sol!tely no e9planation e9ists 4or its disappearance% 8hich scholars regard as one o4 the great !nsol(ed riddles o4 the Bi)le5<*1= Almost e?!ally p!33ling% ho8e(er% are the a8esome po8ers that it seems to ha(e possessed in its heyday A po8ers portrayed in the >ld Testament as stemming directly 4rom God5

D.I+ .K


In trying to !nderstand the Ark% I 4o!nd mysel4 ret!rning again and again to the perple9ing iss!e o4 these po8ers5 #hat co!ld ha(e acco!nted 4or them7 It seemed to me that there 8ere three possi)le ans8ers;

1 The >ld Testament 8as tight5 The Ark 8as indeed a repository o4 di(ine energies and these energies 8ere the so!rce o4 all the @miracles@ that it per4ormed5 2 The >ld Testament 8as 8rong5 The Ark 8as C!st an ornate casket and the children o4 Israel 8ere the (ictims o4 a collecti(e mass hall!cination that lasted 4or se(eral h!ndred years5 3 The >ld Testament 8as )oth right and 8rong at the same time5 The Ark possessed gen!ine po8ers% )!t those po8ers 8ere neither @s!pernat!ral@ nor di(ine5 >n the contrary% they 8ere man-made5 I looked into all three options and concl!ded that I certainly co!ld not accept the 4irst !nless I 8as also prepared to accept that Dah8eh% the God o4 the Israelites% 8as a psychopathic killerAor a kind o4 malign genie 8ho li(ed in a )o95 ,or co!ld I accept the second A primarily )eca!se the >ld Testament% 8hich is a compilation o4 )ooks codi4ied in 8idely di44erent periods% 8as remarka)ly consistent 8here the Ark 8as concerned5 Thro!gho!t the +cript!res it 8as the only arte4act e9plicitly and !nam)ig!o!sly portrayed as )eing im)!ed 8ith s!pernat!ral energies5 All other man-made o)Cects 8ere treated ?!ite matter-o4-4actly5 Indeed e(en e9ceptionally holy items s!ch as the se(en-)ranched golden candlestick kno8n as the menorah% the so-called @ta)le o4 the sho8)read@% and the altar !pon 8hich sacri4ices 8ere per4ormed% 8ere clearly !nderstood to )e nothing more than important pieces o4 rit!al 4!rnit!re5 The Ark 8as there4ore ?!ite !ni?!e% !nri(alled in the special re(erence accorded to it )y the scri)es% and matchless in the a8esome deeds attri)!ted to it thro!gho!t the lengthy period in 8hich it completely dominated the )i)lical story5 oreo(er its alleged po8ers sho8ed 4e8 signs o4 ha(ing 4allen (ictim to imaginati(e literary em)ellishment5 >n the contrary% 4rom the time o4 its constr!ction at the 4oot o4 o!nt +inai !ntil its s!dden and !ne9plained disappearance h!ndreds o4 years later% it contin!ed to e9hi)it the same spectac!lar )!t limited repertoire5 Th!s it contin!ed to li4t itsel4% its )earers% and other o)Cects aro!nd it o44 the gro!ndJ it contin!ed to emit lightJ it contin!ed to )e associated 8ith a strange @clo!d@ that materiali3ed @)et8een the cher!)im@J it contin!ed to a44lict people 8ith ailments like @leprosy@s<02= and @t!mo!rs@J and it contin!ed to kill those 8ho accidentally to!ched or opened it5 +igni4icantly% ho8e(er% it e9hi)ited none o4 the other mar(ello!s characteristics that one might ha(e e9pected i4 a mass hall!cination had )een in(ol(ed or i4 a great deal o4 4iction had )een allo8ed to ad!lterate the record; 4or e9ample% it did not make rainJ it did not t!rn 8ater into 8ineJ it did not res!rrect the deadJ it did not dri(e o!t de(ilsJ and it did not al8ays 8in the )attles into 8hich it 8as taken <altho!gh it !s!ally did=5 In other 8ords% thro!gho!t its history% it consistently )eha(ed like a po8er4!l machine that had )een designed to carry o!t certain (ery speci4ic tasks and that only per4ormed e44ecti(ely 8ithin its design parameters A altho!gh e(en then% like all machines% it 8as 4alli)le )eca!se o4 de4ects in its constr!ction and )eca!se it 8as s!)Cect )oth to h!man error and to 8ear and tear5

I there4ore 4orm!lated the 4ollo8ing hypothesis% in line 8ith the third alternati(e set o!t a)o(e; the >ld Testament had indeed )een )oth right and 8rong at the same time5 The Ark had possessed gen!ine po8ers% )!t those po8ers had )een neither s!pernat!ral nor di(ineJ on the contrary% they m!st ha(e )een the prod!cts o4 h!man skill and ingen!ity5 This% o4 co!rse% 8as only a theory A a spec!lation intended to g!ide my 4!rther research A and it 8as con4ronted )y a great many legitimate do!)ts5 ost important o4 all% ho8 co!ld men possi)ly ha(e man!4act!red so potent a de(ice more than three tho!sand years ago% 8hen technology and ci(ili3ation had s!pposedly )een at a (ery r!dimentary stage7 This ?!estion% I 4elt% lay at the heart o4 the mystery5 In seeking to ans8er it I 4o!nd that I had to consider 4irst and 4oremost the c!lt!ral conte9t o4 the sacred relic A a conte9t that 8as almost entirely .gyptian5 A4ter all% the Ark 8as )!ilt in the 8ilderness o4 +inai 8ithin a (ery 4e8 months a4ter oses had led his people o!t o4 their capti(ity in .gypt A a capti(ity that had lasted 4or more than 4o!r h!ndred years5<01= It there4ore 4ollo8ed that .gypt 8as the most likely place in 8hich to 4ind cl!es to the Ark@s tr!e nat!re5


I )ecame con(inced that I 8as right a)o!t this a4ter I had paid a (isit to the Cairo !se!m5 Located in the heart o4 .gypt@s capital city% close to the east )ank o4 the ,ile% this imposing )!ilding is an !ne?!alled repository o4 :haraonic arte4acts dating )ack as 4ar as the 4o!rth millenni!m BC5 >ne o4 the !pper 4loors is gi(en o(er to a permanent e9hi)ition o4 o)Cects reco(ered 4rom the tom) o4 T!tankhamen% the yo!th4!l monarch 8ho r!led .gypt 4rom 13"2 to 1343 ac A i5e5 a)o!t a cent!ry )e4ore the time o4 oses5<02= I 8as entranced )y this e9hi)ition and spent se(eral ho!rs 8andering amongst the display cases ama3ed at the )ea!ty% (ariety and sheer ?!antity o4 the relics on (ie85 It did not s!rprise me to learn that the reno8ned British archaeologist Ho8ard Carter had taken si9 4!ll years to empty the great sep!lchre that he had 4o!nd in the 6alley o4 the $ings in 11225<03= Ho8e(er% 8hat interested me most o4 all a)o!t the treas!res that he had !nearthed 8as that they incl!ded do3ens o4 Ark-like chests or )o9es% some 8ith carrying poles% some 8itho!t% )!t all o4 them concept!ally similar to the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 By 4ar the most striking o4 these o)Cects 8ere the 4o!r shrines that had )een )!ilt to contain the sarcophag!s o4 T!tankhamen5 These shrines% 8hich I st!died closely% took the 4orm o4 large rectang!lar caskets that had originally )een positioned one inside the other )!t that 8ere no8 installed in separate display cases5 +ince each casket 8as made o4 8ood% and since each% moreo(er% 8as plated @inside and o!t 8ith p!re gold@%<04= it 8as di44ic!lt to resist the concl!sion that the mind that had concei(ed the Ark o4 the Co(enant m!st ha(e )een 4amiliar 8ith o)Cects like these5 B!rther s!pport 4or this in4erence 8as pro(ided )y the presence on the doors and rear 8alls o4 each o4 the shrines o4 t8o mythical 4ig!res; tall and terri)le 8inged 8omen% 4ierce and imperio!s in stat!re and (isage A like stern angels o4 (engeance5 These po8er4!l and commanding creat!res% placed so as to pro(ide rit!al protection 4or the precio!s contents o4 the

tom)% 8ere tho!ght to )e representations o4 the goddesses Isis and ,ephthys5<0"= #hile that identi4ication in itsel4 held no special signi4icance 4or me% I co!ld not help )!t note that the deities had their @8ings spread !p8ards@ C!st like the cher!)im re4erred to in the )i)lical description o4 the Ark5 They also 4aced each other C!st as the )i)lical cher!)im had done5 And altho!gh they 8ere shaped in high relie4 on the 4lat planes o4 the doors <rather than )eing distinct pieces o4 stat!ary= they 8ere ne(ertheless 4ashioned @o4 )eaten gold@ A again (ery m!ch like the cher!)im descri)ed in the Bi)le5<0&= ,o scholar% I kne8% had e(er )een a)le to esta)lish e9actly 8hat those cher!)im had looked like5 There 8as only consens!s that they co!ld in no 8ay ha(e resem)led the ch!))y angelic @cher!)s@ o4 m!ch later 8estern art% 8hich 8ere% at )est% saniti3ed and Christiani3ed interpretations o4 a tr!ly ancient and pagan concept5<0*= Lost in tho!ght in the Cairo !se!m% ho8e(er% it seemed to me that the 4ormida)le 8inged g!ardians o4 T!tankhamen@s inter-nested shrines 8ere the closest models that I 8as e(er likely to 4ind 4or the t8o cher!)im o4 the Ark% 8hich indeed had )een concei(ed as standing sentinel o(er it and 8hich had also 4re?!ently ser(ed as channels 4or its immense and deadly po8er5


I 8as s!)se?!ently to disco(er that the Ark@s .gyptian )ackgro!nd 8as 8ider and deeper e(en than this5 T!tankhamen had also le4t another legacy 8hich helped me to !nderstand the 4!ll signi4icance o4 that )ackgro!nd5 D!ring a (isit to the great temple at L!9or in Ipper .gypt in April 1112% 8hile passing thro!gh the elegant colonnade that e9tends east8ards 4rom the co!rt o4 'ameses II% I came across a story car(ed in stone A a permanent and richly ill!strated acco!nt o4 the important @Besti(al o4 Apet@ 8hich had )een inscri)ed here in the 4o!rteenth cent!ry BC on T!tankhamen@s direct orders5<00= Altho!gh no8 )adly eroded )y the passage o4 the millennia% the 4aded relie4s on the 8est and east 8alls o4 the colonnade 8ere still s!44iciently (isi)le 4or me to grasp the r!diments o4 the 4esti(al% 8hich in T!tankhamen@s time had marked the peak o4 the ann!al ,ile 4lood !pon 8hich almost all o4 .gypt@s agric!lt!re depended5<01= I already kne8 that this perennial in!ndation <today held )ack )y the As8an High Dam 8ith pro4o!ndly !n4ort!nate ecological conse?!ences= had )een almost e9cl!si(ely the prod!ct o4 the long rainy season in the .thiopian highlands A a del!ge that e(ery year roared do8n o!t o4 Lake Tana and along the Bl!e ,ile )esto8ing h!ndreds o4 tho!sands o4 tons o4 rich silt on the 4armlands o4 the Delta and contri)!ting an estimated si9-se(enths o4 the total (ol!me o4 8ater in the ,ile ri(er system5<12= This opened !p the possi)ility that the Apet ceremonials might in some 8ay pro(e rele(ant to my ?!est; a4ter all% they had cele)rated a clear link )et8een the li4e o4 ancient .gypt and e(ents in 4ar-o44 .thiopia5 ost pro)a)ly this link had )een no more than a coincidental one to do 8ith climate and geographyJ ne(ertheless I regarded it as )eing o4 at least prima 4ade interest5 It t!rned o!t to )e 4ar more than that5 +t!dying 4irst the 8estern 8all o4 the colonnade on 8hich the T!tankhamen relie4s 8ere displayed% my eye 8as ca!ght )y 8hat appeared to )e an Ark% li4ted sho!lder high on its carrying

poles )y a gro!p o4 priests5 +tepping closer I ?!ickly con4irmed that this 8as indeed the case; 8ith the sole pro(iso that the o)Cect )eing transported took the 4orm o4 a miniat!re )oat rather than a casket% the scene )e4ore me looked like ?!ite a 4aith4!l ill!stration o4 the passage in the 4irst )ook o4 Chronicles 8hich states that the Le(itical priests o4 ancient Israel @carried the Ark o4 God 8ith the sha4ts on their sho!lders as oses had ordered@5<11= +tanding )ack to get perspecti(e I esta)lished that the entire 8estern 8all o4 the colonnade 8as co(ered 8ith images (ery similar to the one that had initially attracted my attention5 In 8hat seemed to )e a massi(e and Coyo!s procession I 8as a)le to make o!t the shapes o4 se(eral di44erent Ark-like )oats )eing carried on the sho!lders o4 se(eral di44erent gro!ps o4 priests% )e4ore 8hom m!sicians played on sistra and a (ariety o4 other instr!ments% acro)ats per4ormed% and people danced and sang% clapping their hands in e9citement5 #ith my p!lse ?!ickening I sat do8n in a patch o4 shade aro!nd the )roken )ase o4 a col!mn and re4lected on the implications o4 the h!ge sense o4 dQCW (! that had C!st o(ertaken me5 It 8as )arely three months since I had attended Timkat in the .thiopian city o4 Gondar on 10 and 11 Ean!ary 11125 The details o4 the ceremonials that I had 8itnessed d!ring those t8o days o4 religio!s 4ren3y 8ere there4ore still 4resh in my mind A so 4resh in 4act that I co!ld hardly 4ail to note the similarities )et8een them and the ecstatic procession portrayed on the time-8orn stones o4 this .gyptian temple5 Both e(ents% I reali3ed% 4oc!ssed aro!nd a kind o4 @Ark 8orship@% 8ith the Arks )eing )orne alo4t )y gro!ps o4 priests and adored )y hysterical cro8ds5 ,or 8as this all; Timkat had )een characteri3ed )y the per4ormance o4 8ild dances and the playing o4 m!sical instr!ments )e4ore the Arks5 This sort o4 )eha(io!r% it 8as no8 clear% had also )een an intrinsic part o4 the Apet 4esti(al% right do8n to the types o4 m!sical instr!ments !sed% 8hich in many cases 8ere identical to those that I had seen in Gondar5 >4 co!rse the 4lat sla)s o4 the ta)otat carried on the heads o4 the .thiopian priests 8ere rather di44erent in appearance 4rom the Arklike )oats carried on the sho!lders o4 their long-dead .gyptian co!nterparts5 Brom my earlier research% ho8e(er <detailed at some length in Chapter &=% I co!ld hardly 4orget that according to esta)lished etymologies the original meaning o4 ta)ot had )een @ship-like container@5 Indeed% as I kne8 (ery 8ell% the archaic He)re8 8ord te)ah <4rom 8hich the .thiopic term had )een deri(ed=<12= had )een !sed in the Bi)le to re4er speci4ically to ship-like arks% namely the ark o4 ,oah and the ark o4 )!lr!shes in 8hich the in4ant oses had )een cast adri4t on the ,ile5 ,or% I no8 reali3ed% co!ld it possi)ly )e irrele(ant that the $e)ra ,agast had at one point descri)ed the Ark o4 the Co(enant as @the )elly o4 a ship@<13= containing @the T8o Ta)les 8hich 8ere 8ritten )y the 4inger o4 God5@<14= A4ter catching my )reath% I stood !p and stepped o!t 4rom my patch o4 shade into the 4ierce mid-day s!nlight that )athed the 8hole o4 the colonnade area5 I then contin!ed my e9amination o4 the 4aded relie4s o4 the Apet 4esti(al 8hich% on the 8estern 8all% concerned the )ringing o4 the arks 4rom $arnak to the Temple at L!9or <a distance o4 a)o!t three miles= and% on the eastern 8all% sho8ed the procession@s e(ent!al ret!rn 4rom L!9or )ack along the ,ile to $arnak again 8here% 8ith all d!e ceremony% the sacred (essels 8ere reinstalled in their original resting places5 .(ery detail o4 these comple9 and )ea!ti4!lly car(ed scenes reminded me irresisti)ly o4 Timkat in Gondar A 8hich had also in(ol(ed an o!tgoing procession <)ringing the ta)otat 4rom the ch!rches to the @)aptismal@ lake )eside the old castle= and a ret!rning procession <)ringing the ta)otat )ack to their home ch!rches again=5 oreo(er% I co!ld no8 see clearly that the )i3arre ceremonies I had 8itnessed in the early morning o4 10 Ean!ary at the lake itsel4 had

also )een pre4ig!red in the Apet 4esti(al 8hich% at e(ery stage% appeared to ha(e in(ol(ed a special re(erence 4or 8ater <indeed% the relie4s o4 the early part o4 the procession sho8ed that the arks had )een carried directly 4rom the temple to the )anks o4 the ,ile% 8here a n!m)er o4 ela)orate rit!als had then )een per4ormed=5

+CH>LA'LD C>''>B>'ATI>,

A4ter completing my trip to .gypt in April 1112 I took the opport!nity to carry o!t some 4!rther research into the e(idence that I had st!m)led !pon there5 I disco(ered that the e9perts had no ?!arrel 8ith my (ario!s conCect!res5 At one meeting% 4or e9ample% $enneth $itchen% :ro4essor o4 .gyptology at Li(erpool Ini(ersity% con4irmed that the caskets 4rom T!tankhamen@s tom) that I had seen in the Cairo !se!m co!ld indeed ha(e )een prototypes 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant; @At the (ery least%@ he said in his )road and rather emphatic Dorkshire accent% @they pro(e that 8ooden )o9es lined 8ith gold 8ere standard arte4acts o4 the religio!s 4!rnit!re o4 the period and that oses 8o!ld there4ore ha(e had the technology and skills at his disposal to man!4act!re the Ark5 The methods o4 constr!ction that he 8o!ld ha(e employed% and the !se o4 s!ch pre4a)ricated str!ct!res 4or religio!s p!rposes% are a)!ndantly attested )y act!al remains% pict!res and te9ts in .gypt o(er a long period o4 time5@<1"= I also 4o!nd scholarly corro)oration 4or the link that I )elie(ed had e9isted )et8een the 4esti(al o4 Apet and the early E!daic ceremonies s!rro!nding the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 #orking thro!gh piles o4 re4erence materials in the British Li)rary I came across a )ook p!)lished in London in 1004 )y the 'eligio!s Tract +ociety and entitled Bresh Light 4rom the Ancient on!ments5 I might ha(e ignored this slim and !nprepossessing (ol!me entirely had I not noticed that its a!thor 8as a certain A5 H5 +ayce <8ho at the time had )een Dep!ty :ro4essor o4 :hilology at >94ord Ini(ersity=5 'emem)ering that .5 A5 #allis B!dge% one o4 the great a!thorities on .gyptian religion% had held +ayce in the highest regard <descri)ing him as a @disting!ished scholar@=<1&= I opened the )ook at a chapter entitled @The .9od!s o!t o4 .gypt@ and read that% in +ayce@s opinion% @the la8 and rit!al o4 the Israelites@ had )een deri(ed 4rom many so!rces5 Amongst these 8ere @(ario!s 4esti(als and 4asts@ in 8hich the gods 8ere carried in procession in @ships@% 8hich% as 8e learn 4rom the sc!lpt!res% resem)led in 4orm the He)re8 Ark% and 8ere )orne on men@s sho!lders )y means o4 sta(es5<1*=

.nco!raged )y the s!pport 4or my spec!lations that the disting!ished nineteenth-cent!ry pro4essor had gi(en me% I looked 4!rther thro!gh the re4erence 8orks at my disposal and 8as a)le to con4irm that the ship-like arks carried d!ring the Apet ceremonials had indeed contained gods% or rather small stat!es o4 (ario!s deities in the .gyptian pantheon5<10= These stat!es had )een made o4 stone and th!s% it seemed to me% 8ere not 4ar remo(ed in concept 4rom the stone @Ta)lets o4 the Testimony@ that had s!pposedly )een lodged inside the Ark o4 the Co(enant and that the Israelites had regarded as em)odying their God5 As one He)re8 scholar had p!t it in a seminal paper p!)lished in the 1122s;

The tradition o4 the t8o sacred stone ta)lets 8ithin the Ark 8o!ld point strongly to the concl!sion that the original contents o4 the Ark m!st ha(e )een a sacred stone 5 5 5 R8hichS 8as either concei(ed o4 as the deity himsel4% or as the o)Cect in 8hich the deity 8as tho!ght to reside permanently5<11=

,or 8as this the only connection that I 8as a)le to esta)lish )et8een the Ark o4 the Co(enant and the ship-like arks that had )een carried in the Apet ceremonies5 Those ceremonies% it 8ill )e remem)ered% had taken place in the Ipper .gyptian to8n no8 kno8n as @L!9or@% a relati(ely recent name deri(ed 4rom the Ara)ic L@>!?sor <meaning @the palaces@=5 !ch earlier% d!ring the period o4 Greek in4l!ence in .gypt <4rom a)o!t the 4i4th cent!ry BC= the 8hole area incl!ding the near)y temple at $arnak had )een kno8n as The)ai5 odern .!ropeans had s!)se?!ently corr!pted this name to the more 4amiliar @The)es@5<122= In the process% ho8e(er% they had o)sc!red an intrig!ing etymology; the 8ord The)ai had in 4act )een deri(ed 4rom Taper% the name )y 8hich the L!9orN$arnak religio!s comple9 had )een kno8n in the era o4 T!tankhamen and oses5<121= And Taper in its t!rn 8as merely the 4eminine 4orm o4 Apet A in other 8ords% L!9or and $arnak had originally )een named a4ter the great 4esti(al 4or 8hich they had )een 4amo!s%<122= a 4esti(al that had centred !pon a procession in 8hich arks had )een carried )et8een the t8o temples5 #hat intrig!ed me a)o!t this% o4 co!rse% 8as the phonetic similarity o4 the 8ords Taper and Ta)ot% a similarity that looked all the less coincidental a4ter I had disco(ered 4rom one learned so!rce that the shape o4 the Taper arks had e(ol(ed o(er the passing cent!ries% grad!ally ceasing to resem)le ships so closely and )ecoming instead @more and more like a chest@5<123= As noted a)o(e% I had long since esta)lished that the .thiopic term Ta)ot had )een deri(ed 4rom the He)re8 te)ah% meaning @ship-like container@5 ,o8 I )egan to 8onder 8hether it 8as not entirely possi)le that the 8ord te)ah had itsel4 originally )een deri(ed 4rom the ancient .gyptian Taper A and 8hether this deri(ation might not ha(e come a)o!t )eca!se the ceremonies de(ised 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant had )een modelled !pon those o4 the Apet 4esti(al5<124= +!ch links and coincidences% tho!gh )y no means attaining the stat!re o4 hard e(idence% did deepen my con(iction that the Ark o4 the Co(enant co!ld only properly )e !nderstood in the conte9t o4 its .gyptian )ackgro!nd5 Amongst other things% as :ro4essor $itchen had pointed o!t% that )ackgro!nd demonstrated that oses 8o!ld ha(e had the technology and skills at his disposal to 4!l4il God@s command to )!ild an @Ark o4 acacia 8ood@ and @to plate it inside and o!t 8ith p!re gold@5 At the same time% ho8e(er% the sacred relic had )een m!ch more than C!st a 8ooden )o9 lined 8ith gold5 I there4ore 8ondered 8hether an e9planation o4 its )ale4!l and destr!cti(e po8ers might also )e 4o!nd in .gypt5 +eeking s!ch an e9planation I tra(elled to that co!ntry se(eral times and talked to theologians% )i)lical scholars and archaeologists5 I also s!rro!nded mysel4 8ith rare )ooks% religio!s te9ts% 4olklore% myths and legends and tried to discern 8hether threads o4 4act might not lie entangled amongst the 8ilder 4ancies5

As my research progressed I )ecame increasingly intrig!ed )y the personality o4 oses% the He)re8 prophet and la8-gi(er 8ho challenged :haraoh% 8ho led the children o4 Israel to the :romised Land% and 8ho also ordered the constr!ction o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant a4ter he had s!pposedly recei(ed the @)l!eprint@ 4or its design 4rom God Himsel45 The more closely I looked at this to8ering% heroic 4ig!re% the more con(inced I )ecame that in4ormation o4 4!ndamental importance to my !nderstanding o4 the Ark 8o!ld )e 4o!nd 8ithin the records o4 his li4e5


AGICIA, >B TH. HIGH.+T >'D.'5 5 5@

It is pro)a)ly the case that e(ery Christian% !slim and Ee8 ali(e in the 8orld today has a shado8y image o4 the prophet oses t!cked a8ay in some corner o4 his or her mind5 Certainly I 8as no e9ception to this r!le 8hen I )egan to think serio!sly a)o!t him and a)o!t his role in the mystery o4 the Ark5 y pro)lem% ho8e(er% 8as that I needed to 4lesh o!t the caricat!re that I had ac?!ired in +!nday school and% in the process% to gain some real insight into the man 8ho scholars agree 8as @the o!tstanding 4ig!re in the emergence and 4orm!lation o4 the Ee8ish religion@5<12"= >4 considera)le help to me in completing this task 8ere the e9tensi(e and highly regarded historical 8ritings o4 Bla(i!s Eoseph!s% a :harisee 8ho li(ed in 'oman-occ!pied Eer!salem in the 4irst cent!ry AD5 In his Anti?!ities o4 the Ee8s% compiled 4rom traditions and re4erence materials !na(aila)le today% this diligent scholar chronicled the 4o!r h!ndred years o4 He)re8 ensla(ement in .gypt% 8hich lasted ro!ghly 4rom 1&"2 !ntil 12"2 BC% the pro)a)le date o4 the .9od!s5<12&= The )irth o4 oses 8as the key e(ent o4 this period and 8as% Eoseph!s said% the s!)Cect o4 a prophecy )y an .gyptian @sacred scri)e@% a person @8ith considera)le skill o4 acc!rately predicting the 4!t!re@% 8ho in4ormed :haraoh that there 8o!ld arise amongst the Israelites one 8ho 8o!ld a)ase the so(ereignty o4 the .gyptians 8ere he reared to manhood% and 8o!ld s!rpass all men in (irt!e and 8in e(erlasting reno8n5 Alarmed thereat% the king% on the sage@s ad(ice% ordered that e(ery male child )orn to the Israelites sho!ld )e destroyed )y )eing cast into the ri(er5<12*=

>n hearing this edict a certain Amram < oses@s 4ather-to-)e= 8as pl!nged into @grie(o!s perple9ity@ )eca!se @his 8i4e 8as then 8ith child@5 God% ho8e(er% appeared to him in a dream and com4orted him 8ith the ne8s that;

This child% 8hose )irth has 4illed the .gyptians 8ith s!ch dread that they ha(e condemned to destr!ction all the o44spring o4 the Israelites% shall escape those 8ho are 8atching to destroy him% and% reared in mar(ello!s 8ise% he shall deli(er the He)re8 race 4rom their )ondage in .gypt% and )e remem)ered so long as the !ni(erse shall end!re% not )y He)re8s alone )!t e(en )y alien nations5<120=

These t8o passages 8ere help4!l to me )eca!se they considera)ly e9panded the )i)lical narrati(e on the )irth o4 oses gi(en in the opening chapters o4 the )ook o4 .9od!s5 I noted 8ith interest that the great legislator o4 the Ee8s had indeed )een remem)ered @e(en )y alien nations@5 ore intrig!ing )y 4ar% ho8e(er% 8as the special emphasis p!t on the prophecy o4 the @sacred scri)e@ 8ho% 8ith his a)ility to 4oretell the 4!t!re% co!ld only ha(e )een an astrologer at the co!rt o4 the :haraoh5 In making this point% Eoseph!s seemed to )e hinting that A 4rom the o!tset A there had )een something almost magical a)o!t oses5 In the time-hono!red tradition o4 setting a thie4 to catch a thie4% 8hat 8e had here 8as a magician predicting the coming o4 a magician5 The )are )ones o4 the e(ents that occ!rred a4ter the child 8as )orn are too 4amiliar to re?!ire lengthy repetition; aged only three months he 8as placed )y his parents in a papyr!s )asket coated 8ith )it!men and pitch and cast adri4t on the ,ileJ do8nri(er :haraoh@s da!ghter 8as )athingJ she sa8 the 4loating cri)% heard cries% and sent her handmaiden to resc!e the me8ling in4ant5 +!)se?!ently oses 8as )ro!ght !p in the royal ho!sehold 8here% according to the Bi)le% he 8as instr!cted @in all the 8isdom o4 the .gyptians@5<121= Eoseph!s had little to add at this point% )!t another classical a!thority A :hilo% the respected Ee8ish philosopher 8ho li(ed aro!nd the time o4 Christ A ga(e a 4airly detailed acco!nt o4 e9actly 8hat oses 8as ta!ght; @Arithmetic% geometry% the lore o4 metre% rhythm and harmony 8ere imparted to him )y learned .gyptians5 These 4!rther instr!cted him in the philosophy con(eyed in sym)ols as displayed in the so-called holy inscriptions5@ ean8hile @inha)itants o4 neigh)o!ring co!ntries@ 8ere assigned to teach him @Assyrian letters and the Chaldean science o4 the hea(enly )odies5 This he also ac?!ired 4rom the .gyptians% 8ho ga(e special attention to astrology5<112= 'eared as an adopted son o4 the royal 4amily% oses 8as seen 4or a considera)le period as a s!ccessor to the throne5<111= The implication o4 this special stat!s% I learned% 8as that in his yo!th he 8o!ld ha(e )een gi(en a thoro!gh initiation into all the most arcane priestly secrets and into the mysteries o4 .gyptian magic@ <112= A a co!rse o4 st!dy that 8o!ld ha(e incl!ded not only star-kno8ledge% as indicated )y :hilo% )!t also necromancy% di(ining and other aspects o4 occ!lt lore5<113= A cl!e that this may indeed ha(e )een so 8as gi(en in the Bi)le% 8here oses 8as descri)ed as )eing @mighty in 8ords and deeds@5<114= In the cogent and dependa)le C!dgment o4 that great scholar and ling!ist +ir .5 A5 #allis B!dge% this phrase A also and perhaps not coincidentally applied to Ees!s ChristF<11"= A contained the coded s!ggestion that the He)re8 prophet 8as @strong o4 tong!e@% like the .gyptian goddess Isis5 #hat this meant% tho!gh oses 8as sel4-con4essedly lacking in oratorical elo?!ence%<11&= 8as that he m!st ha(e )een capa)le o4 !ttering 8ords o4 po8er @8hich he kne8 8ith correct pron!nciation% and halted not in his speech% and 8as per4ect )oth in gi(ing the command and in saying the 8ord5@<11*= As s!ch% again like Isis A 8ho 8as 4amo!s 4or her pro4iciency in all kinds o4 8itchcra4t A he 8o!ld ha(e )een e?!ipped to cast the most potent spells5 >thers aro!nd him 8o!ld there4ore ha(e treated him 8ith a high degree o4 respect since they 8o!ld !n?!estioningly ha(e )elie(ed him capa)le o4 )ending reality and o(erriding the la8s o4 physics )y altering the normal order o4 things5 I 8as a)le to t!rn !p a considera)le )ody o4 e(idence 4rom the >ld Testament to s!pport the contention that oses had )een seen in e9actly this 8ay5 There 8as% ne(ertheless% one

important pro(iso; his magic 8as depicted thro!gho!t as )eing 8ro!ght solely at the command o4 Dah8eh% the God o4 the He)re8s5 According to the )ook o4 .9od!s% oses@s 4irst enco!nter 8ith Dah8eh took place in a 8ilderness near the land o4 ilian <to 8hich he had 4led to escape retri)!tion a4ter his anger at the persec!tion o4 He)re8 la)o!rers had led him to kill an .gyptian o(erseer=5 Brom the geographical cl!es that 8ere gi(en% it 8as clear that this 8ilderness m!st ha(e )een located in the so!thern part o4 the +inai penins!la% most pro)a)ly 8ithin sight o4 the peak o4 o!nt +inai itsel4<110= <8here oses 8as later to recei(e the Ten Commandments and the @)l!eprint@ 4or the Ark=5 The Bi)le% at any rate% spoke o4 @the mo!ntain o4 God@ and placed oses at its 4oot 8hen the Lord appeared to him @in a 4lame o4 4ire o!t o4 the midst o4 a )!sh; and he looked% and% )ehold% the )!sh )!rned 8ith 4ire% and the )!sh 8as not cons!med5<111= God instr!cted oses that he sho!ld ret!rn to .gypt in order to lead his people o!t o4 their )ondage there5<122= Be4ore agreeing% ho8e(er% the prophet asked the name o4 the strange and po8er4!l )eing 8ho had addressed him5<121= This daring ?!estion in itsel4 contained e(idence o4 oses@s identity as a sorcerer 4or% as the great anthropologist +ir Eames Bra3er o)ser(ed in his seminal 8ork The Golden Bo!gh;

.(ery .gyptian magician 5 5 5 )elie(ed that he 8ho possessed the tr!e name possessed the (ery )eing o4 god or man% and co!ld 4orce e(en a deity to o)ey him as a sla(e o)eys his master5 Th!s the art o4 the magician consisted in o)taining 4rom the gods a re(elation o4 their sacred names% and he le4t no stone !nt!rned to accomplish his end5<122=

The Lord% ho8e(er% did not respond directly to the prophet@s ?!estion5 Instead he replied )rie4ly and enigmatically 8ith these 8ords; @I A #H> I A 5@ By 8ay o4 4!rther clari4ication he then added; @I am the God o4 thy 4ather% the God o4 A)raham% the God o4 Isaac and the God o4 Eaco)5@<123= The phrase @I am 8ho I am@ <or @I am 8hat I am@% am that I am@% depending on the translation= 8as% I disco(ered% the root meaning o4 the name Dah8eh !sed in the >ld Testament A and s!)se?!ently )astardi3ed in the A!thori3ed $ing Eames 6ersion o4 the Bi)le as @Eeho(ah@5 This name% ho8e(er% 8as no nameJ rather it 8as an e(asi(e 4orm!la )ased loosely on the He)re8 (er) @to )e@ and 8ritten as 4o!r consonants 8hich transliterated into the Latin alpha)et as @DH#H@5 $no8n to theologians as the tetragran!naton% these letters re(ealed nothing )eyond the acti(e e9istence o4 God and th!s contin!ed to conceal the di(ine identity 4rom modern researchers e(ery )it as e44ecti(ely as they had once done 4rom oses5 Indeed so potent 8as their mystery that no one today co!ld e(en claim to kno8 e9actly ho8 they sho!ld )e prono!ncedJ rendering the tetragrammaton as @Dah8eh@ )y the insertion o4 the (o8els @a@ and @e@ 8as% ho8e(er% the accepted con(ention5<124= The importance o4 all this 4rom the )i)lical perspecti(e 8as that the deity kne8% and prono!nced% the name o4 osesJ oses% )y contrast% only managed to o)tain 4rom Him the rit!al incantation @I am 8ho I am@5 Hence4or8ard% there4ore% the prophet 8as )o!nd to ans8er to God

and to do his )iddingJ like8ise all his sorcery in the 4!t!re 8o!ld deri(e 4rom the po8er o4 God% and 4rom the po8er o4 God alone5 It 8as !nderstanda)le that the later redactors o4 the +cript!res sho!ld ha(e 8anted to present the relationship )et8een omnipotent God and 4alli)le man in precisely this 8ay5 #hat they co!ld not do% ho8e(er% 8as erase the e(idence that that man had indeed )een a sorcererJ neither co!ld they co(er !p the most con(incing demonstrations o4 his sorcery A the plag!es and pestilences that he 8as soon to in4lict !pon the .gyptians in order to 4orce :haraoh to release the children o4 Israel 4rom capti(ity5 In 8orking these terri)le miracles oses 8as assisted )y his older hal4-)rother Aaron% 8ho 4re?!ently ser(ed as his agent and spokesman5 Both oses and Aaron 8ere also e?!ipped 8ith rods A e44ecti(ely magicians@ 8ands A 8hich they !sed to 8ork their spells5 That o4 oses 8as sometimes re4erred to as @the rod o4 God@<12"= and 4irst appeared 8hen the prophet complained to Dah8eh that neither :haraoh% nor the children o4 Israel% 8o!ld )elie(e that he had )een di(inely commissioned% !nless he 8as a)le to pro(ide some kind o4 proo45 @#hat is that in thine hand7@ God asked5 @A rod%@ oses replied5<12&= God then told him to thro8 it on the gro!nd @that they may )elie(e that the Lord God hath appeared !nto thee@;

And he cast it on the gro!nd and it )ecame a serpentJ and oses 4led 4rom )e4ore it5 And the Lord said !nto oses% :!t 4orth thine hand and take it )y the tail5 And he p!t 4orth his hand and ca!ght it% and it )ecame a rod in his hand5@<12*=

>nce again the emphasis p!t )y the script!ral te9t on the primacy o4 God@s role in all o4 this 8as !nderstanda)le5 >nce again also% ho8e(er% the connections 8ith .gyptian occ!lt practice 8ere ?!ite !nmissa)le5 The t!rning o4 an inanimate stick into a snake% and then )ack again into a stick% 8as a 4eat 4re?!ently carried o!t )y the magicians o4 that co!ntryJ like8ise the po8er to control the mo(ements o4 (enomo!s reptiles 8as claimed )y .gyptian priests 4rom the (ery earliest timesJ last )!t not least% all .gyptian magicians A amongst them the sage A)aaner and the sorceror-king ,ectane)!s A possessed mar(ello!s rods made o4 e)ony5<120= Looked at in this light% I did not 4ind it s!rprising that the 4irst contests )et8een oses and Aaron on one side% and the priests at :haraoh@s co!rt on the other% 8ere 4airly e(enly dra8n5 To impress the .gyptian tyrant% Aaron thre8 do8n his rod A 8hich% o4 co!rse% )ecame a serpent as soon as it hit the gro!nd5 Inda!nted :haraoh called 4or his o8n sages and sorcerers% @and 8ith their 8itchcra4t the magicians o4 .gypt did the same5 .ach thre8 his sta44 do8n and these t!rned into serpents5@ Then% ho8e(er% Aaron@s rod A im)!ed 8ith the s!perior po8er o4 Dah8eh A s8allo8ed !p the rods o4 the magicians5<121= In the ne9t enco!nter oses and Aaron t!rned the 8aters o4 the ,ile to )lood5 'emarka)le tho!gh this trick 8as% :haraoh remained !nimpressed )eca!se @the magicians o4 .gypt !sed their 8itchcra4t to do the same5F <132=

The plag!e o4 4rogs% 8hich 4ollo8ed% 8as like8ise matched )y :haraoh@s sorcerers5<131= B!t the plag!e o4 mos?!itoes <gnats in some translations% lice in others= 8as too m!ch 4or them; @The magicians 8ith their 8itchcra4t tried to prod!ce mos?!itoes and 4ailed5 The mos?!itoes attacked men and )easts5 +o the magicians said to :haraoh% FThis is the 4inger o4 God5F @<132= +till the hard-hearted king re4!sed to let the He)re8s go5 He 8as p!nished 4or this 8ith a plag!e o4 4lies<133= and soon a4ter8ards 8ith a pestilence that killed li(estock5<134= oses ne9t ca!sed a plag!e o4 )oils to )reak o!t <he did this )y thro8ing a hand4!l o4 soot into the air<13"= and then% )y !sing his rod% he proc!red th!nder and hail% a plag!e o4 loc!sts and three days o4 @thick darkness@5<13&= Binally% the He)re8 prophet arranged 4or the death o4 @all the 4irst-)orn o4 the land o4 .gypt; the 4irst-)orn o4 :haraoh% the 4irst-)orn o4 the prisoner in his d!ngeon% and the 4irst-)orn o4 all the cattle5<13*= A4ter this; @The .gyptians !rged the people to h!rry !p and lea(e the land )eca!se% they said% F>ther8ise 8e shall all )e deadF5<130= +o the .9od!s )egan% and 8ith it a prolonged period o4 danger and enchantment d!ring 8hich% at the 4oot o4 o!nt +inai% the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as )!ilt5 Be4ore reaching +inai% ho8e(er% the 'ed +ea had to )e crossed5 Here oses ga(e another dramatic demonstration o4 his pro8ess in the occ!lt arts;

And oses stretched o!t his hand o(er the seaJ and the Lord ca!sed the sea to go )ack )y a strong east 8ind all that night% and made the sea dry land% and the 8aters 8ere di(ided5 And the children o4 Israel 8ent into the midst o4 the sea !pon the dry gro!nd; and the 8aters 8ere a 8all !nto them on their right hand and on their le4t5<131=

As e(eryone 8ho has e(er attended +!nday school 8ill remem)er% the p!rs!ing .gyptian 4orces 4ollo8ed the Israelites into @the midst o4 the sea% e(en all :haraoh@s horses% his chariots and his horsemen5@<142= Then;

oses stretched 4orth his hand o(er the sea A and the 8aters ret!rned% and co(ered the chariots% and the horsemen% and all the host o4 :haraoh that came into the sea a4ter themJ there remained not so m!ch as one o4 them5 B!t the children o4 Israel 8alked !pon dry land in the midst o4 the seaJ and the 8aters 8ere a 8all !nto them on their right hand% and on their le4t5

Again% and predicta)ly% the Bi)le p!t emphasis on the po8er o4 God; oses may ha(e stretched o!t his hand a co!ple o4 times )!t it 8as the Lord 8ho @ca!sed the 8aters to go )ack@ A and to @ret!rn@5 I 4o!nd it slightly harder to accept the script!ral party-line on this% ho8e(er% a4ter I had learned that the a)ility to command the 8aters o4 seas and lakes had also 4re?!ently )een claimed )y .gyptian priests and magicians5 Bor e9ample% one o4 the ancient doc!ments that I st!died <the #estcar :apyr!s= related a story 4rom the early Bo!rth Dynasty A some 1%"22 years )e4ore the time o4 oses A 8hich 4oc!ssed on the doings o4 a certain Tchatcha-em-ankh% a $her He) or High :riest attached to the co!rt o4 :haraoh +ene4er!5 Apparently the :haraoh 8as

o!t )oating one day in the pleasant company o4 @t8enty yo!ng (irgins ha(ing )ea!ti4!l heads o4 hair and lo(ely 4orms and shapely lim)s5@ >ne o4 these ladies dropped a m!ch-4a(o!red ornament o4 hers into the lake and 8as )roken-hearted to ha(e lost it5 The :haraoh% ho8e(er% s!mmoned Tchatcha-em-ankh 8ho;

spake certain 8ords o4 po8er <heka!= and ha(ing th!s ca!sed one section o4 the 8ater o4 the lake to go !pon the other% he 4o!nd the ornament lying !pon a pot-sherd% and he took it and ga(e it to the maiden5 ,o8 the 8ater 8as t8el(e c!)its deep% )!t 8hen Tchatcha-em-ankh had li4ted !p one section o4 the 8ater onto the other% that portion )ecame 4o!r and t8enty c!)its deep5 The magician again !ttered certain 8ords o4 po8er% and the 8ater o4 the lake )ecame as it had )een )e4ore he had ca!sed one portion o4 it to go !p onto the other5<142=

#hile o4 co!rse to do 8ith a m!ch more tri(ial incident% the story in the #estcar :apyr!s ne(ertheless contained many points that I co!ld only regard as startlingly similar to the parting o4 the 8aters o4 the 'ed +ea5 This% in my (ie8% le4t no room 4or do!)t that oses@s (irt!oso per4ormance in )ringing a)o!t the great miracle esta)lished him 4irmly in an ancient% and (ery .gyptian% occ!lt tradition5 +ir .5 A5 #allis B!dge% 8ho I had 4irst enco!ntered thro!gh his translation o4 the $e)ra ,agast% )!t 8ho had also )een keeper o4 .gyptian and Assyrian Anti?!ities at the British !se!m% had this to say on the s!)Cect;

oses 8as a skilled per4ormer o4 magical rit!als and 8as deeply learned in the kno8ledge o4 the accompanying spells% incantations% and magical 4orm!las o4 e(ery5 description 5 5 5 R oreo(erS the miracles 8hich he 8ro!ght 5 5 5 s!ggest that he 8as not only a priest% )!t a magician o4 the highest order and perhaps e(en a $her He)5<143=

+.C'.T +CI.,C.7

As a $her He) <High :riest= o4 the .gyptian temple oses 8o!ld !ndo!)tedly ha(e had access to a s!)stantial corp!s o4 esoteric 8isdom and o4 magico-religio!s @science@ that the priestly g!ilds kept secret 4rom the laity5 I kne8 that modern .gyptologists accepted that s!ch a )ody o4 kno8ledge had e9isted5<144= I also kne8 that they had (ery little idea as to 8hat it might act!ally ha(e consisted o4 o)sc!re re4erences to it appeared in inscriptions in the tom)s o4 senior temple o44icials )!t almost nothing o4 any s!)stance had s!r(i(ed in 8ritten 4orm5 A great deal 8as pro)a)ly passed on in an e9cl!si(ely oral tradition con4ined to initiates5<14"= +cholarly opinion had it% ho8e(er% that most o4 the rest had )een destroyed% either deli)erately or accidentally5 #ho co!ld possi)ly g!ess 8hat treas!res o4 learning 8ere lost 8hen 4ire ra(aged the great li)rary at Ale9andria A a li)rary that 8as rep!ted% )y the second cent!ry BC% to ha(e contained more than 222%222 scrolls7@ <14&=

There 8as% ho8e(er% one matter on 8hich there 8as no need to spec!late; as Herodot!s p!t it in the 4i4th cent!ry BC% @.gypt has more 8onders in it than any co!ntry in the 8orld and more 8orks that are )eyond description than any8here else5@ Amongst other achie(ements% this 8idely tra(elled Greek historian A 8hose )ooks are still in print A rightly credited the .gyptians 8ith )eing @the 4irst o4 mankind to in(ent the year and to make t8el(e di(isions o4 the seasons 4or it@5 Herodot!s also claimed to ha(e penetrated some o4 the mysteries o4 the .gyptian priesthood% )!t then% rather tantali3ingly% added that he co!ld not A or 8o!ld not A re(eal 8hat he had learned5<14*= Herodot!s 8as not the 4irst or the last (isitor to .gypt to come a8ay 8ith the distinct impression that there 8ere hidden secrets there A and that there might )e more to these secrets than mere religio!s m!m)o-C!m)o5 Indeed the notion that this ancient c!lt!re originally promoted itsel4 to greatness thro!gh the application o4 some kind o4 ad(anced% )!t no8 lost% scienti4ic kno8ledge 8as% I disco(ered% one o4 the most d!ra)le and per(asi(e in h!man history; it had pro(ed e?!ally attracti(e to 4!rio!s cranks and so)er scholars and had )een the s!)Cect o4 immense amo!nts o4 contro(ersy% acrimony% 8ild spec!lation and serio!s research5 It 8as a notion% 4!rthermore% that impinged directly !pon my ?!est )eca!se it raised an intrig!ing possi)ility; as a magician skilled in .gyptian @sacred science@% might not oses ha(e had at his disposal 4ar more in the 8ay o4 kno8ledge and technology than had hitherto )een recogni3ed )y the archaeologists7 And might he not ha(e applied this kno8ledge and technology to the constr!ction o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant7 +!ch a hypothesis seemed 8orthy o4 4!rther in(estigation5 I ?!ickly disco(ered% ho8e(er% that 8hat 8as kno8n a)o!t the technological achie(ements o4 the ancient .gyptians raised at least as many ?!estions as it ans8ered5 It 8as clear% 4or e9ample% that these people 8ere cle(er metal8orkers; their gold Ce8ellery@% in partic!lar% 8as ?!ite e9?!isite% sho8ing a degree o4 cra4tsmanship rarely e?!alled since5 It 8as also nota)le% 4rom the (ery earliest times% that the edges o4 their copper tools 8ere )ro!ght to a remarka)le degree o4 hardness A so hard% in 4act% that they co!ld c!t thro!gh schist and the to!ghest limestone5 ,o modern )lacksmith% I learned% 8o!ld ha(e )een a)le to achie(e s!ch res!lts 8ith copperJ it 8as tho!ght likely% ho8e(er% that any @lost art@ lay less in the man!4act!re o4 the tools than in the manner in 8hich they 8ere manip!lated on site )y the stonemasons5<140= A st!dy o4 many s!r(i(ing hieroglyphs and papyri le4t me in no do!)t that the ancient .gyptians 8ere A at the (ery least A moderate mathematicians in the modern sense5 They employed !nit 4ractions and appeared to ha(e de(eloped a special 4orm o4 in4initesimal calc!l!s 8hich ena)led them to comp!te the (ol!me o4 comple9 o)Cects5<141= It also seemed highly pro)a)le% more than 12%222 years )e4ore the Greeks% that they had !nderstood ho8 to !se the transcendental n!m)er pi to deri(e the circ!m4erence o4 any circle 4rom its diameter5<1"2= .gyptian o)ser(ational astronomy 8as another area in 8hich great progress appeared to ha(e )een made at a (ery early date5 According to Li(io +tecchini% an American pro4essor o4 the history o4 science and an e9pert on ancient meas!rement% astronomical techni?!es in !se as early as 2222 BC had ena)led .gyptian priests to calc!late the length o4 a degree o4 latit!de and

longit!de to 8ithin a 4e8 h!ndred 4eet A an achie(ement that 8as not to )e e?!alled )y other ci(ili3ations 4or almost 4%222 years5 <1"1= The .gyptians also e9celled in medicine; their s!rgeons 8ere skilled in a (ariety o4 di44ic!lt proced!res%<1"2= their !nderstanding o4 the h!man ner(o!s system 8as re4ined% and their pharmacopoeia incl!ded se(eral 8ell kno8n dr!gs in their 4irst-recorded applications5<1"3= I came across many 4!rther pieces o4 e(idence 8hich ill!strated the relati(ely ad(anced state o4 .gyptian kno8ledge at a time 8hen the .!ropean peoples 8ere still pl!nged in )ar)arism5 In my (ie8% ho8e(er% none o4 the data s!ggested the e9istence o4 any science that 8e 8o!ld regard as tr!ly )reathtaking today% nor o4 any )ranch o4 technical achie(ement s!44iciently sophisticated to acco!nt 4or the potent energies that the Ark o4 the Co(enant had )een a)le to !nleash5 ,e(ertheless% as I ha(e already noted% the )elie4 that the .gyptians 8ere the g!ardians o4 some @great and secret 8isdom@ 8as 8idespread and almost imm!ne to co!nter-arg!ment5 I kne8 (ery 8ell that s!ch ardent con(iction o4ten stemmed more 4rom a s!)conscio!s desire to glori4y the past o4 the h!man species than 4rom any rational 8eighing !p o4 empirical 4acts5 This% certainly% 8as the dominant opinion o4 mem)ers o4 the archaeological esta)lishment% most o4 8hom regarded the @great and secret 8isdom@ theory as )alderdash and claimed to ha(e 4o!nd nothing e9traordinary in .gypt in more than a cent!ry o4 painstaking digging and si4ting5 I mysel4 am sceptical and pragmatic )y nat!re5 ,e(ertheless I m!st con4ess that the physical e(idence 8hich I sa8 e(ery8here aro!nd me d!ring the series o4 research trips that I made to this )ea!ti4!l and time8orn land con(inced me that the academics did not ha(e all the ans8ers% that m!ch remained to )e e9plained% and that there 8ere a n!m)er o4 aspects o4 the .gyptian e9perience 8hich had )een lamenta)ly !nder-researched simply )eca!se they 8ere )eyond the scope o4 con(entional archaeology A and pro)a)ly o4 all other accepted 4orms o4 scholarly in(estigation as 8ell5 Three sites had a partic!larly pro4o!nd impact on me; the temple comple9 at $arnakJ the Goser @step@ pyramid at +a??araJ and the Great :yramid at Gi3a on the o!tskirts o4 Cairo5 It seemed to me that the special composite ?!ality o4 ra8 po8er% delicate grace% imposing grande!r% mystery and immortality that these edi4ices possessed stemmed 4rom the 8orking o!t 8ithin them o4 a re4ined and highly de(eloped !nderstanding o4 harmony and proportion A an !nderstanding that co!ld reasona)ly )e said to ha(e amo!nted to a science5 Com)ining engineering% architect!re and design% that science had )een remarka)le )y any standards5 It had ne(er since )een s!rpassed in its a)ility to stim!late religio!s a8e% and it had )een e?!alled in .!rope only in the great Gothic cathedrals o4 the iddle Ages s!ch as Chartres5 #as this an accident7 #as the essentially similar e44ect on the senses o4 the .gyptian mon!ments and the Gothic cathedrals a matter o4 p!re chance A or 8as there perhaps a connection7 I had long s!spected that there had indeed )een a connection and that the $nights Templar% thro!gh their disco(eries d!ring the Cr!sades% might ha(e 4ormed the missing link in the chain o4 transmission o4 secret architect!ral kno8ledge5<1"4= At $arnak% as I 8alked slo8ly past the looming pylons% into the Great Co!rt% and thro!gh the 4orest o4 giant col!mns o4 the Hypostyle Hall% I co!ld not help )!t remem)er that +aint Bernard o4 Clair(a!9% the Templars@ patron% had de4ined God A astonishingly 4or a Christian A as @length% 8idth% height and

depth@5<1""= ,or co!ld I 4orget that the Templars themsel(es had )een great )!ilders and great architects% or that the Cistercian monastic order to 8hich +aint Bernard had )elonged had also e9celled in this partic!lar 4ield o4 h!man endea(o!r5<1"&= Cent!ries and ci(ili3ations )e4ore them% ho8e(er% it had )een the ancient .gyptians 8ho had )een the 4irst masters o4 the science o4 )!ilding A the 4irst and still the greatest architectmasons that the 8orld had e(er kno8n5 oreo(er% the mon!ments that they le4t )ehind )eggared description and challenged time itsel45 Typical in this respect 8ere t8o tall o)elisks that dominated the $arnak comple9 and that I 4o!nd mysel4 partic!larly dra8n to on my o8n (isits there5 >ne% I disco(ered% had )een erected )y :haraoh T!thmosis I <1"24-1412 BC= and the other )y /!een Hatsheps!t <14*3-14"0 BC=5<1"*= Both 8ere per4ect monoliths% he8n 4rom single sla)s o4 solid pink granite% the 4ormer standing *2 4eet in height and 8eighing an estimated 143 tons% the latter standing 1* 4eet in height and 8eighing an estimated 322 tons5<1"0= A 4e8 min!tes@ 8alk to the so!th% o(erlooking a sacred lake that 8as !sed )y the temple priests 4or ela)orate p!ri4ication ceremonies% I 4o!nd a third% )!t t!m)led and )roken% o)elisk% the top 32 4eet o4 8hich A s!rmo!nted )y a 4inely pointed pyramidion A 8ere ne(ertheless ?!ite !ndamaged5 >n one occasion% 4ollo8ing the ad(ice o4 a g!ide)ook I had 8ith me%<1"1= I stepped o(er the rope perimeter s!rro!nding this 4allen giant and placed my ear to the angle o4 the pyramidion5 I then str!ck the granite 4irmly 8ith the palm o4 my hand and listened% entranced% as the entire monolith re(er)erated 8ith a deep% lo8-pitched tone like some strange and prodigio!s m!sical instr!ment5 It seemed to me that this phenomenon co!ld not possi)ly ha(e )een accidental5 >n the contrary% the enormo!s care and skill re?!ired to prod!ce s!ch a monolith <8hen the same splendid (is!al e44ect might ha(e )een achie(ed simply )y cementing )lock on )lock= only really made sense i4 the ancient .gyptians had 8anted to reali3e some special property inherent in a single piece o4 stone5 +omething% at any rate% other than mere aesthetic considerations m!st ha(e lain )ehind the erection o4 these elegant and 4la8less stelae5 I learned that they had not )een he8n locally )!t rather had )een transported )y ri(er 4rom granite ?!arries more than 222 kilometres to the so!th5 The ,ile 8as a high8ay )road and deep5 It 8as there4ore reasona)le to s!ppose% once the o)elisks had )een loaded !pon )arges% that it 8o!ld not ha(e )een so di44ic!lt a matter to 4loat them do8nstream5 #hat I 4o!nd m!ch harder to !nderstand% ho8e(er% 8as the method that the ancient .gyptians had employed to get these massi(e needles o4 stone on to the )arges in the 4irst place A and then o44 them again once they had arri(ed at their destination5 >ne monolith had )een le4t in sit! at the ?!arries% only partially separated 4rom the )edrock% )eca!se it cracked )e4ore it 8as completely e9ca(ated5 Had this accident not )e4allen it% ho8e(er% it 8o!ld ha(e made an o)elisk 13* 4eet high and almost 14 4eet thick at its )ase5 >)(io!sly% 8hen the 8ork 8as started% it had )een con4idently intended that this monstro!s o)Cect A 8eighing a staggering 14&0 tons<1&2= A 8o!ld )e mo(ed and erected some8here5 Det it 8as e9tremely di44ic!lt to e9plain e9actly ho8 that 8o!ld ha(e )een done )y a people 8ho <according to the archaeologists= lacked e(en simple 8inches and p!lley systems5<1&1= Indeed I kne8 that the task o4 mo(ing so large a piece o4 solid stone o(er a distance o4 se(eral h!ndred 4eet A ne(er mind se(eral h!ndred kilometresT A 8o!ld ha(e ta9ed to the limit the ingen!ity o4 a modern team o4 constr!ction engineers s!pported )y the most sophisticated and po8er4!l machinery5

.?!ally p!33ling% once the monoliths reached $arnak% 8as the manner in 8hich they had )een set !pright on their pedestals 8ith s!ch 4a!ltless acc!racy5 In one o4 the temples a relie4 depicted :haraoh raising an o)elisk 8ith no assistance o4 any kind and making !se o4 C!st a single piece o4 rope5<1&2= It 8as ?!ite normal 4or the r!ler to )e portrayed in heroic poses and perhaps all that 8as intended here 8as a sym)olic representation o4 a real process in 8hich h!ndreds o4 la)o!rers 8ere trained to p!ll together on m!ltiple ropes5 Ho8e(er% I co!ld not rid mysel4 o4 the s!spicion that there m!st ha(e )een more to it than this5 According to Eohn Anthony #est% an e9perienced .gyptologist% the :haraohs and priests 8ere preocc!pied 8ith a principle kno8n as a @at A o4ten translated as @e?!ili)ri!m@ or @)alance@5 It 8as possi)le% he s!ggested% that this principle might ha(e )een carried o(er into practical spheres and @that the .gyptians !nderstood and !sed techni?!es o4 mechanical )alance !nkno8n to !s@5 +!ch techni?!es 8o!ld ha(e ena)led them to @manip!late these immense stones 8ith ease and 4inesse 5 5 5 #hat 8o!ld )e magic to !s 8as method to them5@<1&3= I4 the o)elisks% at times% seemed like the prod!cts o4 almost s!perh!man skill% I had to admit that the :yramids in all 8ays s!rpassed them5 As Eean Brancois Champollion% the 4o!nder o4 modern .gyptology% once remarked% @the .gyptians o4 old tho!ght like men a h!ndred 4eet tall5 #e in .!rope are )!t Lillip!tians5<1&4= Certainly% 8hen I 4irst entered the Great :yramid at Gi3a% I 4elt like a Lillip!tian A d8ar4ed and slightly intimidated% not only )y the sheer mass and si3e o4 this mo!ntain o4 stone )!t also )y an almost tangi)le sense o4 the acc!m!lated 8eight o4 the ages5 >n pre(io!s (isits I had only seen the e9terior o4 the pyramid% since I had 4elt no desire to Coin the s8arms o4 to!rists po!ring inside5 .arly in the morning o4 2* April 1112% ho8e(er% I managed )y means o4 a small )ri)e to get into the great str!ct!re completely on my o8n5 In the dim light pro(ided )y a series o4 lo8-8attage )!l)s% and )ent o(er almost do!)le to a(oid hitting my head on the rock 4ace a)o(e% I clim)ed the 121 4eet o4 the ascending passage% and then the 1"* 4eet o4 the more spacio!s Grand Gallery% !ntil I reached the so-called @$ing@s Cham)er@ A a 2;1 rectangle% the 4loor o4 8hich meas!red 34 4eet 4 inches )y 1* 4eet 12 inches5 E!st o(er 1 4eet high% the ceiling o4 this room A 8hich occ!pied the (ery heart o4 the pyramid A consisted o4 nine monolithic )locks o4 granite each 8eighing appro9imately "2 tons5<1&"= I do not remem)er ho8 long I remained in the cham)er5 The atmosphere 8as m!sty% and the air 8arm A like the e9halation o4 some giant )east5 The silence that s!rro!nded me seemed a)sol!te% all-en(eloping% and dense5 At some point% 4or a reason that I cannot e9plain% I mo(ed to the middle o4 the 4loor and ga(e (oice to a s!stained lo8-pitched tone like the song o4 the 4allen o)elisk at $arnak5 The 8alls and the ceiling seemed to collect this so!nd% to gather and ampli4y it A and then to proCect it )ack at me so that I co!ld sense the ret!rning (i)rations thro!gh my 4eet and scalp and skin5 I 4elt electri4ied and energi3ed% e9cited and at the same time calm% as tho!gh I stood on the )rink o4 some tremendo!s and a)sol!tely ine(ita)le re(elation5 A4ter my April 1112 (isit I 8as so impressed )y the Great :yramid that I spent se(eral 8eeks researching its history5 I disco(ered that it had )een )!ilt aro!nd 2""2 BC 4or $!4! <or Cheops=% the second :haraoh o4 the Bo!rth Dynasty% and that it 8as also the single largest edi4ice e(er constr!cted )y man5<1&&= The con(entional )elie4 amongst archaeologists 8as that it had )een designed p!rely and simply as a tom)5 This conCect!re% ho8e(er% str!ck me as )eing !tterly incomprehensi)le; no m!mmy o4 any :haraoh had e(er )een 4o!nd there% only a poor and

!ndecorated sarcophag!s in the so-called $ing@s Cham)er <a sarcophag!s% )y the 8ay% that 8as lidless and completely empty 8hen it 8as 4irst )ro!ght to light )y Caliph Al- am!n% an Ara) r!ler o4 .gypt 8ho )roke in 8ith a party o4 diggers in the ninth cent!ry AD5=<1&*= As I researched the s!)Cect 4!rther it )ecame clear to me that the real p!rpose o4 the Great :yramid 8as% in 4act% a matter o4 considera)le de)ate5 >n one side stood the most orthodo9 and prosaic scholars insisting that it 8as nothing more than a ma!sole!m5 >n the other side stood the pyramidologists A an apocalyptic tri)e 8ho pretended to 4ind all manner o4 prophecies and signs in (irt!ally e(ery dimension o4 the immense str!ct!re5 The l!nacies o4 this latter gro!p 8ere perhaps )est s!mmari3ed )y one I+ critic 8ho pointed o!t that it is possi)le to marshal n!m)ers to pro(e almost anything; @I4 a s!ita)le !nit o4 meas!rement is !sed% an e9act e?!i(alent to the distance to Tim)!kt! is certain to )e 4o!nd in the n!m)er o4 street lamps in Bond +treet% or the speci4ic gra(ity o4 m!d% or the mean 8eight o4 ad!lt gold4ish5<1&0= This% o4 co!rse% 8as ?!ite tr!e5 ,e(ertheless% I co!ld see that there 8ere certain s!rprising 4eat!res to 8hich the pyramidologists persistently dre8 attention 8hich did seem !nlikely to )e accidental5 Bor e9ample% it 8as a 4act that the latit!de and longit!de lines that intersected at the Great :yramid <32 degrees north and 31 degrees east= crossed more dry land than any others5 This p!t the edi4ice at the (ery centre o4 the ha)ita)le 8orld5<1&1= Like8ise% it 8as a 4act that 8hen a north-4acing ?!adrant <a cake-slice-shaped ?!arter circle= 8as dra8n on a map 8ith its a9is at the pyramid then this ?!adrant e9actly encaps!lated the entire ,ile Delta5<1*2= Binally% it 8as a 4act that all the pyramids at Gi3a 8ere precisely aligned to the cardinal points A north% so!th% east and 8est5<1*1= It 8as% I tho!ght% e9tremely di44ic!lt to e9plain ho8 this partic!lar 4eat o4 s!r(eying co!ld ha(e )een achie(ed so long )e4ore the s!pposed date o4 the in(ention o4 the compass5 #hat intrig!ed me most o4 all a)o!t the Great :yramid% ho8e(er% 8as simply its sheer si3e and scope5 >cc!pying a gro!nd area o4 1351 acres% I ascertained that the core masonry o4 the str!ct!re 8as composed o4 no less than 1253 million )locks o4 limestone each 8eighing appro9imately 25" tonnes5<1*2= Herodot!s% 8hose in4ormant 8as an .gyptian priest% claimed that gangs o4 122%222 la)o!rers )!ilt the edi4ice in 22 years <8orking only d!ring the three-month agric!lt!ral lay-o44 season=% and that the constr!ction techni?!e in(ol(ed @le(ers made o4 short tim)ers@ 8hich 8ere !sed to li4t the massi(e )locks 4rom gro!nd le(el5<1*3= ,o researcher s!)se?!ently had )een a)le to g!ess at e9actly 8hat these @le(ers@ might ha(e )een or ho8 they co!ld ha(e )een !sed5 Ho8e(er% a4ter taking acco!nt o4 the time re?!ired 4or all the site-clearing% ?!arrying% le(elling and other 8orks that 8o!ld ha(e had to )e done% ci(il engineer :5 GardeHanson o4 the Danish .ngineering Instit!te calc!lated that 4%222 )locks 8o!ld ha(e had to )e installed each day% at the rate o4 &5&* )locks per min!te% i4 the Co) 8ere indeed to ha(e )een completed 8ithin 22 years5 @Generally speaking%@ he concl!ded% @I )elie(e it 8o!ld demand the com)ined geni!s o4 a Cyr!s% an Ale9ander the Great% and a E!li!s Caesar% 8ith a ,apoleon and #ellington thro8n in 4or good meas!re% to organi3e the armies re?!ired 4or carrying o!t the 8ork as ass!med5@<1*4= I then learned that a team o4 Eapanese engineers had recently tried to )!ild a 3"-4eet-high replica o4 the Great :yramid <rather smaller than the original% 8hich 8as 401 4eet " inches in height=5 The team started o44 )y limiting itsel4 strictly to techni?!es pro(ed )y archaeology to

ha(e )een in !se d!ring the Bo!rth Dynasty5 Ho8e(er% constr!ction o4 the replica !nder these limitations t!rned o!t to )e impossi)le and% in d!e co!rse% modern earth-mo(ing% ?!arrying and li4ting machines 8ere )ro!ght to the site5 +till no 8orth8hile progress 8as made5 Iltimately% 8ith some em)arrassment% the proCect had to )e a)andoned5<1*"= All in all% there4ore% the Great :yramid A 8ith its many riddles and mysteries A s!ggested to me that the ancient .gyptians m!st ha(e )een m!ch more than @technically accomplished primiti(es@ <as they had o4ten )een descri)ed=% and that there m!st ha(e e9isted amongst them a special kind o4 scienti4ic kno8ledge5 I4 so then it 8as entirely possi)le that the )ale4!l po8ers o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant co!ld ha(e )een the prod!cts o4 that science A in 8hich oses 8o!ld most certainly ha(e )een a leading practitioner5

CHA:T.' 13 T'.A+I'.+ >B DA'$,.++

y research had con(inced me o4 the possi)ility that the ancient .gyptians might ha(e possessed some ad(anced )!t secret scienti4ic kno8ledge 8hich oses co!ld ha(e applied to the design o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 B!t 8here co!ld s!ch a )ody o4 kno8ledge ha(e come 4rom7 Ancient .gypt itsel4% as I 8as (ery 8ell a8are% pro(ided a simple A tho!gh s!pernat!ral A ans8er to this ?!estion5 .(ery rele(ant s!r(i(ing record that I had st!died claimed !nam)ig!o!sly that it had )een gi(en to mankind )y the moon-god Thoth% the lord and m!ltiplier o4 time% the celestial scri)e and in(igilator o4 indi(id!al destinies% the in(entor o4 8riting and o4 all 8isdom% and the patron o4 magic5<1= Bre?!ently represented on temple and tom) 8alls as an i)is% or as an i)is-headed man% and more rarely as a )a)oon% Thoth 8as (enerated thro!gho!t .gypt as a tr!e l!nar deity 8ho in some mani4estations 8as identical 8ith the moon itsel4 and in others 8as the g!ardian o4 the moon% charged 8ith ens!ring that it kept to its co!rse across the night skies% 8a9ing and 8aning% (anishing and reappearing% precisely as and 8hen it sho!ld5 It 8as in this capacity A as the di(ine reg!lati(e 4orce responsi)le 4or all hea(enly calc!lations and annotations A that Thoth meas!red time% di(iding it into months <to the 4irst o4 8hich he ga(e his o8n name=5<2= His po8ers% ho8e(er% 8ere )elie(ed to ha(e e9tended 4ar )eyond the mere cali)ration o4 the seasons5 According to the per(asi(e and in4l!ential teachings o4 the priestly g!ild esta)lished at the sacred city o4 Hermopolis in Ipper .gypt% Thoth 8as the !ni(ersal demi!rge 8ho created the 8orld thro!gh the so!nd o4 his (oice alone% )ringing it into )eing 8ith the !tterance o4 a single 8ord o4 po8er<3= 'egarded )y the .gyptians as a deity 8ho !nderstood the mysteries o4 @all that is hidden !nder the hea(enly (a!lt@% Thoth 8as also )elie(ed to ha(e had the a)ility to )esto8 8isdom on certain specially selected indi(id!als5 It 8as said that he had inscri)ed the r!diments o4 his secret kno8ledge on 3&%"3" scrolls and then hidden these scrolls a)o!t the earth intending that they

sho!ld )e so!ght 4or )y 4!t!re generations )!t 4o!nd @only )y the 8orthy@ A 8ho 8ere to !se their disco(eries 4or the )ene4it o4 mankind5<4= Later identi4ied )y the Greeks 8ith their o8n god Hermes% Thoth in 4act stood at the (ery centre o4 an enormo!s )ody o4 .gyptian traditions stretching )ack into the most distant and impenetra)le past5 ,o scholar% I learned% co!ld honestly say ho8 old this moon-god really 8as% or e(en make a g!ess at 8here and 8hen his c!lt )egan5 At the da8n o4 ci(ili3ation in .gypt% Thoth 8as there5 B!rthermore% thro!gho!t the entire 3%222 or more years o4 the dynastic period% he 8as contin!o!sly re(ered 4or certain (ery speci4ic ?!alities that he 8as said to possess and 4or his s!pposed contri)!tions to h!man 8el4are5 He 8as% 4or e9ample% credited 8ith )eing the in(entor o4 dra8ing% o4 hieroglyphic 8riting and o4 all the sciences A speci4ically architect!re% arithmetic% s!r(eying% geometry% astronomy% medicine and s!rgery5 He 8as also seen as the most po8er4!l o4 sorcerers% endo8ed 8ith nothing less than complete kno8ledge and 8isdom5 He 8as e9alted as the a!thor o4 the great and terri)le )ook o4 magic that 8as regarded )y the priests at Hermopolis as the so!rce o4 their !nderstanding o4 the occ!lt5 oreo(er 8hole chapters o4 the 4amo!s Book o4 the Dead 8ere attri)!ted to him% as 8ell as almost the entire corp!s o4 closely g!arded sacred literat!re5 He 8as )elie(ed% in short% to possess a (irt!al monopoly on esoteric learning and 8as there4ore called @the mysterio!s@ and @the !nkno8n@5<"= The ancient .gyptians 8ere ?!ite con(inced that their 4irst r!lers 8ere gods5 ,ot s!rprisingly% Thoth 8as one o4 these di(ine kings; his reign on earth A d!ring 8hich he passed on to mankind his greatest and most )ene4icial in(entions A 8as said to ha(e lasted 322& years5<&= Be4ore him the .gyptians )elie(ed that they had )een r!led )y another deity A >siris% 8ho 8as also closely associated 8ith the moon <and 8ith the n!m)ers se(en% 4o!rteen and t8enty-eight 8hich relate to physical l!nar cycles=5<*= Altho!gh >siris and Thoth looked ?!ite di44erent 4rom one another in some o4 their mani4estations% I 8as a)le to esta)lish that they 8ere similar or related in others <in certain archaic te9ts they 8ere descri)ed as )rothers=5<0= A n!m)er o4 papyri and inscriptions 8ent e(en 4!rther and portrayed them as )eing e44ecti(ely the same entity% or at least as per4orming the same 4!nctions5 They 8ere most commonly associated in the celestial E!dgment Hall 8here the so!ls o4 the dead came to )e 8eighed in the Great +cales5 Here >siris A as C!dge and 4inal ar)iterA o4ten seemed to )e the s!perior o4 the t8o gods% 8hile Thoth 8as a mere scri)e 8ho recorded the (erdict5 any o4 the ta)lea!9 4rom the Book o4 the Dead% ho8e(er% re(ersed this relationship% as did a large (ignette o4 the E!dgment +cene 4o!nd amongst the The)an 4!nerary papyri o4 the ,e8 $ingdom5 This latter doc!ment portrayed >siris sitting passi(ely to one side 8hile Thoth determined the (erdict% and then recorded and prono!nced it5<1= In other 8ords% not only 8ere Thoth and >siris )oth gods o4 the moon% gods o4 the dead <and perhaps )rothers=J )oth 8ere also C!dges and la8-makers5 As my research contin!ed I noted s!ch similarities 8ith interest% )!t 4ailed% at 4irst% to see their rele(ance to my o8n ?!est 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 Then it occ!rred to me that there 8as one in(aria)le link )et8een the t8o deities 8hich also tied them concept!ally to oses and to all his 8orks; like him they 8ere a)o(e all else ci(ili3ing heroes 8ho )esto8ed the )ene4its o4 religion% la8% social order and prosperity !pon their 4ollo8ers5 Thoth% it 8ill )e remem)ered% in(ented 8riting and science and )ro!ght these and many other 8onders o4 enlightenment into the 8orld in order to impro(e the lot o4 the .gyptian people5

Like8ise% >siris 8as !ni(ersally )elie(ed to ha(e played a cr!cial role in the e(ol!tion and de(elopment o4 .gyptian society5 #hen he )egan his r!le on earth as di(ine monarch the co!ntry 8as )ar)aric% r!de and !nc!lt!red and the .gyptians themsel(es 8ere canni)als5 #hen he ascended to Hea(en% ho8e(er% he le4t )ehind an ad(anced and sophisticated nation5 His many contri)!tions incl!ded teaching his people to c!lti(ate the soil% to plant grain and )arley% to gro8 (ines% to 8orship the gods% and to a)andon their pre(io!sly sa(age c!stoms5 He also pro(ided them 8ith a code o4 la8s5<12= +!ch stories% o4 co!rse% co!ld ha(e )een 4a)rications5 In a spec!lati(e 4rame o4 mind% ho8e(er% I 4o!nd mysel4 8ondering 8hether there might not a4ter all ha(e )een something more than p!re 4ancy and legend )ehind the tradition that .gypt )ecame a great nation )eca!se o4 the gi4ts o4 Thoth and >siris5 #as it not C!st possi)le% I conCect!red% that the all-8ise% all-kno8ing moon-god co!ld ha(e )een a mythical (ersion o4 the tr!th A a metaphor 4or some real indi(id!al or gro!p o4 indi(id!als 8ho% in remotest anti?!ity% )ro!ght the )ene4its o4 ci(ili3ation and science to a primiti(e land7


I might ha(e dismissed this notion o!t o4 hand had I not learned shortly a4ter8ards o4 the e9istence o4 a great mystery A a mystery to 8hich no de4initi(e sol!tion had e(er )een proposed5 'ather than de(eloping slo8ly and pain4!lly% as might ha(e )een e9pected% it seemed that the ci(ili3ation o4 .gypt had emerged all at once and 4!lly 4ormed5 Indeed% )y all acco!nts% the period o4 transition 4rom primiti(e to ad(anced society had )een so short that it really made no kind o4 historical sense5 Technological skills that sho!ld ha(e taken h!ndreds or e(en tho!sands o4 years to e(ol(e had appeared almost literally o(ernight% and apparently 8ith no antecedents 8hatsoe(er5 Bor e9ample% remains 4rom the pre-dynastic period dated to aro!nd 3&22 BC sho8ed no trace o4 8riting5 Then% ?!ite s!ddenly and ine9plica)ly% the hieroglyphs 4amiliar 4rom so many o4 the r!ins o4 ancient .gypt )egan to appear and to do so% 4!rthermore% in a complete and per4ect state5 Bar 4rom )eing mere pict!res o4 o)Cects or actions% this 8ritten lang!age 8as comple9 and str!ct!red% 8ith signs that represented so!nds only and 8ith a detailed system o4 n!merical sym)ols5 .(en the (ery earliest hieroglyphs 8ere already styli3ed and con(entionali3edJ it 8as also clear that an ad(anced c!rsi(e script had come into common !sage )y the da8n o4 the Birst Dynasty5<11= #hat str!ck me as remarka)le a)o!t all this 8as that there 8ere a)sol!tely no traces o4 e(ol!tion 4rom simple to more sophisticated styles5 The same 8as tr!e o4 mathematics% medicine% astronomy and architect!re% and also o4 .gypt@s ama3ingly rich and con(ol!ted religiomythological system <e(en s!ch re4ined 8orks as the Book o4 the Dead e9isted right at the start o4 the dynastic period5=<12= In4ort!nately% there is not space here to present all or e(en a tiny part o4 the data 8hich con4irms the sheer s!ddenness 8ith 8hich .gyptian ci(ili3ation emerged5 By 8ay o4 s!mmary%

ho8e(er% I 8ill ?!ote the a!thoritati(e opinion o4 :ro4essor #alter .mery% late .d8ards :ro4essor o4 .gyptology at the Ini(ersity o4 London;

At a period appro9imately 3%422 years )e4ore Christ% a great change took place in .gypt% and the co!ntry passed rapidly 4rom a state o4 neolithic c!lt!re 8ith a comple9 tri)al character to Rone o4S 8ell-organi3ed monarchy5 5 5 At the same time the art o4 8riting appears% mon!mental architect!re and the arts and cra4ts de(elop to an astonishing degree% and all the e(idence points to the e9istence o4 a l!9!rio!s ci(ili3ation5 All this 8as achie(ed 8ithin a comparati(ely short period o4 time% 4or there appears to )e little or no )ackgro!nd to these 4!ndamental de(elopments in 8riting and architea!re5<13=

>ne e9planation% I reali3ed% co!ld simply ha(e )een that .gypt had recei(ed its s!dden and tremendo!s c!lt!ral )oost 4rom some other kno8n ci(ili3ation o4 the ancient 8orld A +!mer% on the Lo8er .!phrates in esopotamia% )eing the most likely contender5 oreo(er% despite many )asic di44erences% I 8as a)le to esta)lish that a (ariety o4 shared )!ilding and architect!ral styles<14= did s!ggest a link )et8een the t8o regions5 ,one o4 these similarities% ho8e(er% t!rned o!t )e strong eno!gh to allo8 me to in4er that the connection had )een in any 8ay ca!sal% 8ith one society directly in4l!encing the other5 >n the contrary% as :ro4essor .mery p!t it;

The impression 8e get is o4 an indirect connection% and perhaps the e9istence o4 a third party% 8hose in4l!ence spread to )oth the .!phrates and the ,ile 5 5 5 odern scholars ha(e tended to ignore the possi)ility o4 immigration to )oth regions 4rom some hypothetical and as yet !ndisco(ered area5 RHo8e(erS% a third party 8hose c!lt!ral achie(ements 8ere passed on independently to .gypt and esopotamia 8o!ld )est e9plain the common 4eat!res and 4!ndamental di44erences )et8een the t8o ci(ili3ations5<1"=

This theory% I 4elt% shed re(ealing light on the other8ise mysterio!s 4act that the .gyptians and the +!merian people o4 esopotamia 8orshipped (irt!ally identical l!nar deities 8ho 8ere amongst the (ery oldest in their respecti(e pantheons5<1&= .9actly like Thoth% the +!merian moon-god +in 8as charged 8ith meas!ring the passage o4 time <@At the month@s )eginning to shine on earth% tho! shalt sho8 t8o horns to mark si9 days5 >n the se(enth day di(ide the cro8n in t8o5 >n the 4o!rteenth day% t!rn thy 4!ll 4ace5@=<1*= Like Thoth% too% +in 8as regarded as )eing all-kno8ing and all-8ise5 At the end o4 e(ery month the other gods o4 the +!merian pantheon came to cons!lt him and he made decisions 4or them5<10= ,either 8as I alone in my int!ition that something more than mere chance might ha(e !nderpinned these links )et8een +in and Thoth5 According to the eminent .gyptologist +ir .5 A5 #allis B!dge;

The similarity )et8een the t8o 5 5 5 gods is too close to )e accidental 5 5 5 It 8o!ld )e 8rong to say that the .gyptians )orro8ed 4rom the +!merians or the +!merians 4rom the .gyptians% )!t it may )e s!)mitted that the literati o4 )oth peoples )orro8ed their theological systems 4rom some common )!t e9ceedingly ancient so!rce5<11=

The ?!estion% there4ore% 8as this; 8hat 8as that @common )!t e9ceedingly ancient so!rce@% that @hypothetical and as yet !ndisco(ered area@% that ad(anced @third party@ to 8hich )oth B!dge and .mery re4erred7 Ha(ing st!ck their necks o!t a long 8ay already% I 8as 4r!strated to 4ind that neither a!thority 8as prepared to spec!late m!ch 4!rther5 .mery% ho8e(er% did hint at 8here he tho!ght the cradle o4 .gyptian ci(ili3ation might ha(e )een located; @6ast tracts o4 the iddle .astand the 'ed +ea and .ast A4rican coasts@% he rather coyly o)ser(ed in this conte9t% @remain !ne9plored )y the archaeologist@<22= I 8as s!re that i4 .gypt had indeed recei(ed the gi4ts o4 ci(ili3ation and science 4rom else8here then some record o4 this momento!s transaction 8o!ld ha(e )een preser(ed5 The dei4ication o4 t8o great ci(ili3ers AThoth and >siris A 8as e(idence o4 a kind; altho!gh presented as theology% the legends o4 these gods so!nded to my ears m!ch more like the echoes o4 long-4orgotten e(ents 8hich had act!ally taken place5<21= B!t I 4elt I needed something more s!)stantial A something 8hich clearly and indisp!ta)ly attested to )ene4icial contacts 8ith an ad(anced donor society and 8hich also e9plained ho8 that society had managed to disappear 8itho!t a trace5 I did 4ind s!ch an acco!nt5 It 8as the 4amiliar story o4 the lost continent o4 Atlantis A a story that% in recent years% had )een so thoro!ghly degraded )y o!tlandish spec!lations that it had )ecome a 4orm o4 pro4essional s!icide 4or any scholar e(en to appear to take it serio!sly <let alone to research it properly=5 A4ter peeling a8ay all the ,e8 Age nonsense% ho8e(er% I 8as str!ck )y a single signi4icant 4act; the earliest-s!r(i(ing report o4 Atlantis had come 4rom the Greek philosopher :lato A one o4 the 4o!nders o4 rational 8estern tho!ghtA8ho had insisted that 8hat he had said on the matter 8as @not 4iction )!t tr!e history@5<22= B!rthermore% 8riting aro!nd the )eginning o4 the 4o!rth cent!ry BC% :lato had added that the original so!rce o4 his story had )een an .gyptian priest A a priest 8ho had spoken o4 the rec!rrent destr!ction o4 ci(ili3ations )y 4loods and 8ho had said o4 the Greeks;

Do! are all yo!ng in mind 5 5 5 yo! ha(e no kno8ledge hoary 8ith age5 RB!tS o!r traditions here are the oldest5 5 5 In o!r temples 8e ha(e preser(ed 4rom earliest times a 8ritten record o4 any great or splendid achie(ement or nota)le e(ent 8hich has come to o!r ears 8hether it occ!rred in yo!r part o4 the 8orld% or here% or any8here elseJ 8hereas 8ith yo!% and others% 8riting and the other necessities o4 ci(ili3ation ha(e only C!st )een de(eloped 8hen the periodic sco!rge o4 the del!ge descends% and spares none )!t the !nlettered and !nc!lt!red% so that yo! ha(e to )egin again like children% in complete ignorance o4 8hat has happened in o!r part o4 the 8orld or in yo!rs in early times5

Tho!sands o4 years )e4ore% the priest contin!ed%

There 8as an island opposite the strait 8hich yo! call the :illars o4 Herc!les% an island larger than Li)ya and Asia com)inedJ 4rom it tra(ellers co!ld in those days reach the other islands% and 4rom them the 8hole opposite continent 8hich s!rro!nds 8hat can tr!ly )e called the ocean5 >n this island o4 Atlantis had arisen a po8er4!l and remarka)le dynasty o4 kings 5 5 5 Their 8ealth 8as greater than that possessed )y any pre(io!s dynasty% or likely to )e acc!m!lated )y any later% and they 8ere pro(ided 8ith e(erything they co!ld re?!ire5 Beca!se o4 the e9tent o4 their po8er they recei(ed many imports% )!t 4or most o4 their needs the island itsel4 pro(ided5 It had mineral reso!rces 4rom 8hich 8ere mined )oth solid materials and metals% incl!ding one metal 8hich s!r(i(es today only in name% )!t 8as then mined in ?!antities in a n!m)er o4 localities in the island% orichak% in those days the most (al!a)le metal e9cept gold5 There 8as a plenti4!l s!pply o4 tim)er 4or str!ct!ral p!rposes and e(ery kind o4 animal domesticated and 8ild% among them n!mero!s elephants5 Bor there 8as plenty o4 gra3ing 4or this largest and most (oracio!s o4 )easts% as 8ell as 4or all creat!res 8hose ha)itat is marsh% s8amp and ri(er% mo!ntain or plain5 Besides all this% the earth )ore 4reely o4 all the aromatic s!)stances it )ears today 5 5 5 There 8ere c!lti(ated crops 5 5 5 There 8ere the 4r!its o4 trees 5 5 5 All these 8ere prod!ced )y that sacred island% then still )eneath the s!n% in 8onder4!l ?!ality and pro4!sion5<23=

This paradise 8as not to remain @)eneath the s!n@ 4or m!ch longer% ho8e(er% )eca!se soon A to p!nish its inha)itants 4or 8rongdoing and an o(era)!ndance o4 materialistic pride A there came @earth?!akes and 4loods o4 e9traordinary (iolence% and in a single dread4!l day and night the island o4 Atlantis 8as s8allo8ed !p )y the sea and (anished5@<24= y interest in this story did not stem 4rom 8hat it had to say a)o!t Atlantis itsel4% nor 8as I con(inced )y the s!ggestion as to the island@s location @opposite the pillars o4 Herc!les@5 y o8n (ie8 A 8ell s!pported )y geophysical e(idence<2"= A 8as that there co!ld ne(er ha(e )een s!ch a landmass in the Atlantic >cean and that those 8ho persisted in looking 4or it there 8ere 4ishing 4or the reddest o4 red herrings5 It did seem to me% ho8e(er A and the a!thorities rel!ctantly conc!rred on this point<2&= A that :lato@s acco!nt m!st ha(e had some )asis in 4act5 ,o do!)t he introd!ced many distortions and e9aggerations o4 his o8n )!t he 8as% ne(ertheless% recording something that had act!ally happened% some8here in the 8orld% and a (ery long time ago5 B!rthermore A and o4 the greatest signi4icance to me A he made it a)sol!tely clear that a memory o4 this e(ent had )een retained )y .gyptian priests and set do8n in the @priestly 8ritings@5<2*= I reasoned that i4 a similar memory had )een preser(ed in esopotamia then the chance o4 this )eing p!re coincidence 8as slight5 A 4ar more likely e9planation 8o!ld )e that the same cataclysm A 8here(er it took place A had inspired the traditions o4 )oth regions5 Accordingly I took a second look at the legends in 8hich I had 4irst noted the similarity )et8een Thoth and the +!merian moon-god +in5 #hat I learned did not s!rprise me; like their .gyptian contemporaries% the +!merians had not only 8orshipped a 8ise l!nar deity )!t had also preser(ed a record o4 a 4lood in ancient times that had destroyed a great% prospero!s and po8er4!l society5<20=

As my research progressed% there4ore% @Atlantis@ did come to sym)oli3e 4or me that @hypothetical and as yet !ndisco(ered area@ 4rom 8hence the 8onder4!l ci(ili3ations o4 .gypt and o4 +!mer )oth came5 As already noted% I did not )elie(e that the area in ?!estion co!ld possi)ly ha(e )een in or e(en near the Atlantic5 Instead% I 4o!nd mysel4 8holeheartedly agreeing 8ith :ro4essor .mery that it 8as likely to ha(e stood at a point ro!ghly e?!idistant 4rom )oth the ,ile Delta and the Lo8er .!phrates A perhaps in some (anished archipelago similar to the modern aldi(es <8hich scientists )elie(e 8ill )e completely in!ndated 8ithin 4i4ty years as a res!lt o4 rising sea le(els linked to glo)al 8anning=<21=% or along the (ast !ne9ca(ated coasts o4 the Horn o4 A4rica% or in a 4lood-prone region o4 the Indian s!)continent like modern Bangladesh5 +!ch tropical 3ones looked all the more credi)le 8hen I remem)ered that :lato had mentioned the e9istence o4 elephants in his @Atlantis@ A creat!res that% 4or many tho!sands o4 years% ha(e li(ed only in A4rica% India and +o!th-.ast Asia5<32= The more tho!ght I ga(e to notions like these the more it seemed to me that they possessed gen!ine merit and 8ere 8orthy o4 4!rther in(estigation5 In order to orientate mysel4 in this task I there4ore 8rote do8n the 4ollo8ing conCect!res and hypotheses in my note)ook;

+!ppose that some8here aro!nd the )asin o4 the Indian >cean% in the early or middle part o4 the 4o!rth millenni!m BC% a technologically ad(anced society 8as destroyed )y 4lood5 +!ppose it 8as a maritime society5 +!ppose that there 8ere s!r(i(ors5 And s!ppose that some o4 them sailed in their ships to .gypt and esopotamia% made land4all there and set a)o!t the task o4 ci(ili3ing the primiti(e inha)itants they enco!ntered5 ost important o4 all% s!ppose that in .gypt the priestly traditions o4 sacred science A to 8hich oses 8as e9posed 4rom his childhood A 8ere the means )y 8hich the skills and kno8ho8 o4 the settlers 8ere deli)erately preser(ed so that they co!ld )e passed do8n to s!)se?!ent generations5 In .gypt these traditions 8ere associated 4rom the o!tset 8ith the 8orship o4 the moon-god Thoth <and% in esopotamia% 8ith the 8orship o4 +in=5 :erhaps this 8as )eca!se the settlers themsel(es re(ered the moon A or perhaps they 8ittingly and rather cold-)loodedly enco!raged the dei4ication o4 a prominent and 4amiliar )!t yet 4rightening and ghostly sidereal o)Cect5 Their aim% a4ter all% 8o!ld ha(e )een to shape and direct the simple and sa(age minds o4 the peoples they had 4o!nd themsel(es amongst and to create a d!ra)le c!lt A capa)le o4 s!r(i(ing 4or millennia A as a (ehicle 4or all their other8ise 4ragile and easily 4orgotten kno8ledge5 In s!ch circ!mstances% it is really not di44ic!lt to see 8hy they might ha(e chosen to 4oc!s on a glo8ing and !ncanny l!nar god rather than on some more a)stract% more sophisticated )!t less (isi)le and less corporeal di(inity5 At any rate% once the c!lt o4 Thoth had )een esta)lished in early .gypt% and once its priests had learned and instit!tionali3ed the scienti4ic and technological @tricks o4 the trade@ )ro!ght )y the settlers% then it is logical to s!ppose that a sel4-perpet!ating process 8o!ld ha(e )eg!n; the ne8-4o!nd and (al!a)le kno8ledge 8o!ld ha(e )een 4enced a)o!t 8ith mysteries% protected 4rom o!tsiders )y all kinds o4 rit!al sanctions and then passed 4rom initiate to initiate% 4rom generation to generation% in an e9cl!si(e and secret tradition5 This kno8ledge% o4 co!rse% 8o!ld ha(e gi(en its possessors !nprecedented mastery o(er the physical 8orld A at least )y the r!dimentary standards o4 the nati(e c!lt!re pre(ailing in .gypt )e4ore the coining o4 the settlers A and 8o!ld ha(e )een e9pressed in 8ays that 8o!ld ha(e seemed asto!nding to laymen <not

least in the erection o4 st!pendo!s and a8e-inspiring )!ildings=5 It is there4ore easy to !nderstand ho8 the )elie4 that the moon-god had @in(ented@ )oth science and magic might ha(e taken hold in the pop!lation at large% and 8hy it 8as that the priests o4 this god 8ere regarded as masters o4 sorcery5

+A6.D B'>


As my research progressed I t!rned !p se(eral pieces o4 e(idence 8hich seemed to pro(ide strong s!pport 4or the central hypotheses listed a)o(e% namely that a secret tradition o4 kno8ledge and enlightenment had )een @carried@ and preser(ed 8ithin the c!lt o4 Thoth A a tradition that had )een started in the most distant past )y sophisticated immigrants 8ho had s!r(i(ed a 4lood5 Highly signi4icant% in this respect% 8as a (ery strong theme A traces o4 8hich I 4o!nd r!nning thro!gh almost all the sacred literat!re A 8hich repeatedly associated 8isdom% and other ?!alities o4 the ci(ili3ing hero% 8ith indi(id!als 8ho had )een @sa(ed 4rom 8ater@5 The 4irst thing I disco(ered 8as that Thoth% 8ho had )een seen )y the .gyptians as the so!rce o4 all their kno8ledge and science% had )een credited 8ith ha(ing ca!sed a 4lood to p!nish h!mankind 4or 8ickedness5<31= In this episode% related in Chapter CLKK6 o4 the Book o4 the Dead% he had acted Cointly 8ith his co!nterpart >siris5<32= Both deities had s!)se?!ently r!led on earth a4ter the h!man race had )eg!n to 4lo!rish again5 I 8as there4ore e9cited% 8hen I looked more closely at the story o4 >siris% to learn that he had )een @sa(ed 4rom 8ater@5 The 4!llest acco!nt o4 the original .gyptian legend 8as gi(en )y :l!tarch<33= and stated that% a4ter impro(ing the condition o4 his o8n s!)Cects% teaching them all manner o4 !se4!l skills and pro(iding them 8ith their 4irst legal code% >siris le4t .gypt and tra(elled a)o!t the 8orld in order to )ring the )ene4its o4 ci(ili3ation to other nations as 8ell5 He ne(er 4orced the )ar)arians he enco!ntered to accept his la8s% pre4erring instead to arg!e 8ith them and to appeal to their reason5 It 8as also recorded that he passed on his teaching to them )y means o4 hymns and songs accompanied )y m!sical instr!ments5 #hile he 8as a8ay% ho8e(er% he 8as plotted against )y se(enty-t8o mem)ers o4 his co!rt led )y his )rother-in-la8 +et5 >n his ret!rn the conspirators in(ited him to a )an?!et 8here a splendid co44er o4 8ood and gold 8as o44ered as a pri3e to any g!est 8ho co!ld 4it into it e9actly5 #hat >siris did not kno8 8as that the co44er had )een constr!cted precisely to his o8n )ody meas!rements5 As a res!lt% 8hen the assem)led g!ests tried one )y one to get into it they 4ailed5 The god-king then took his t!rn and lay do8n com4orta)ly inside5 Be4ore he had time to get o!t the conspirators r!shed 4or8ard% nailed the lid tightly closed and sealed e(en the cracks 8ith molten lead so that there 8o!ld )e no air to )reathe5 The co44er 8as then cast adri4t on the ,ile 8here it 4loated 4or some time% e(ent!ally coming to rest in the papyr!s s8amps o4 the eastern Delta5<34= At this point Isis% the 8i4e o4 >siris% inter(ened5 Ising all her great magic A and Assisted )y the moon-god Thoth A she 8ent to look 4or the co44er% 4o!nd it% and concealed it in a secret place5 Her e(il )rother +et% ho8e(er% o!t h!nting in the marshes% disco(ered the location

o4 the co44er% opened it% and in a mad 4!ry c!t the royal corpse into 4o!rteen pieces 8hich he then scattered thro!gho!t the land5 >nce more Isis set o44 to @sa(e@ her h!s)and5 +he made a small )oat o4 papyr!s reeds% coated 8ith )it!men and pitch% and em)arked on the ,ile in search o4 the remains5 #hen she had 4o!nd them she called again on the aid o4 Thoth 8ho helped her to 8ork certain po8er4!l spells 8hich re!nited the dismem)ered parts o4 the )ody so that it res!med its old 4orm5 Therea4ter% in an intact and per4ect state% >siris 8ent thro!gh a process o4 res!rrection to )ecome god o4 the dead and king o4 the !nder8orld A 4rom 8hich place% the legend had it% he occasionally ret!rned to earth in the g!ise o4 a mortal man5<3"= There 8ere three details o4 this story that I regarded as )eing o4 the greatest interest; 4irst the 4act that% d!ring his r!le on earth% >siris 8as a ci(ili3er and a legislator% secondly that he 8as placed in a 8ooden co44er and thro8n into the ,ileJ and thirdly that Isis came to resc!e his )ody in a papyr!s )oat coated 8ith )it!men and pitch5 The parallels 8ith the li4e o4 oses co!ld not ha(e )een more o)(io!s A he% too% )ecame a great ci(ili3er aid la8gi(er% he too 8as cast adri4t !pon the 8aters o4 the ,ile% he too 4loated in a (essel o4 papyr!s coated 8ith )it!men and pitch% and he too 8as sa(ed )y an .gyptian princess5 Indeed% as the historian Eoseph!s recorded% the (ery name @ oses@ meant @sa(ed 4rom 8ater@; @4or the .gyptians call 8ater mo! and those 8ho are sa(ed esesJ so they con4erred !pon him this name compo!nded o4 )oth 8ords5@<3&= :hilo% the other great classical commentator% conc!rred 8ith this etymology; @+ince he had )een taken !p 4rom 8ater% the princess ga(e him a name deri(ed 4rom this% and called him oses% 4or o! is the .gyptian 8ord 4or 8ater5@<3*= I asked mysel4 8hether there might not ha(e )een other instances A in .gypt and perhaps in esopotamia as 8ell A o4 ci(ili3ing heroes 8ho had )een sa(ed 4rom 8ater5 A search in ancient annals and legends re(ealed that there had )een many5 Bor e9ample Hollis% the son o4 Isis and >siris% 8as m!rdered )y Titans and thro8n into the ,ile5 Isis resc!ed him and re(i(ed him 8ith her sorcery5 He then learned 4rom her @the arts o4 physic and di(ination and !sed them 4or the )ene4it o4 mankind@5<30= Like8ise% in esopotamia% +argon the Great A 8hose r!le )ro!ght !nri(alled 8ealth% splendo!r and sta)ility to +!mer and neigh)o!ring territories at the end o4 the third millenni!m BC<31= A had claimed ?!ite speci4ically to ha(e )een sa(ed 4rom 8ater;

y mother 8as a priestess5 I did not kno8 my 4ather5 The priestess% my mother% concei(ed me and ga(e )irth to me in hiding5 +he placed me in a )asket made o4 reeds and closed the lid 8ith pitch5 +he p!t the )asket in the ri(er 8hich 8as not high5 The ri(er carried me a8ay and )ro!ght me to Akki 8ho 8as a man responsi)le 4or li)ations5 Akki looked !pon me 8ith kindness and dre8 me 4rom the ri(er5<42=

I 4o!nd that the theme o4 sal(ation 4rom 8ater also ran (ery strongly thro!gh the pages o4 the >ld Testament5 The prophet Eonah% 4or instance% 8as thro8n into the sea d!ring a raging tempest% s8allo8ed ali(e )y a giant 4ish and three days later @(omited o!t !pon dry land@ so that

he co!ld preach the 8ord o4 God to the citi3ens o4 ,ine(eh and di(ert them 4rom their e(il 8ays5<41= .(en more 4amiliar 8as the m!ch more ancient story o4 ,oah% 8ho A together 8ith all his 4amily and 8ith @t8o o4 e(ery sort o4 li(ing thing@<42= A rode o!t the prime(al del!ge in a remarka)le s!r(i(al ship 8hich 8e kno8 as the ark <@make it 8ith reeds and line it 8ith pitch inside and o!t@<43=5 A4ter the 4lood 8aters had receded% ,oah@s three sons% +hem% Ham and Eapheth% heard God@s command to @)e 4r!it4!l and m!ltiply@ and 8ent o!t to repop!late the 8orld5<44= By 4ar the most 4amo!s and in4l!ential )i)lical 4ig!re to )e @sa(ed 4rom 8ater@% ho8e(er% 8as Ees!s Christ himsel4 A the only indi(id!al% other than oses% to )e descri)ed in the +cript!res as @mighty in deed and 8ord@<4"= <a phrase 8hich% as I already kne8% implied pro4iciency in the !tterance o4 magical 8ords o4 po8er=5 'ather than )eing an act!al resc!e% the incident in ?!estion 8as 8holly sym)olic and took the 4orm o4 the mysterio!s rite o4 )aptism in the 8aters o4 the ri(er Eordan5 This% Ees!s e9plained% 8as a)sol!tely necessary 4or sal(ation; @.9cept a man )e )orn o4 8ater 5 5 5 he cannot enter into the kingdom o4 God5@<4&=

And it came to pass in those days% that Ees!s came 4rom ,a3areth o4 Galilee% and 8as )apti3ed o4 Eohn in Eordan5 And straight8ay coming !p o!t o4 the 8ater% he sa8 the hea(ens opened% and the +pirit like a do(e descending !pon him5 And there came a (oice 4rom hea(en saying% Tho! art my )elo(ed +on% in 8hom I am 8ell pleased5<4*=

Tho!gh I kne8 that the (ast maCority o4 practising Christians took this passage 4rom the Gospel o4 +aint ark entirely at 4ace (al!e I co!ld not help )!t 8onder 8hether a deeper layer o4 meaning might not ha(e )een encoded in the stirring and )ea!ti4!l 8ords5 It seemed to me at least possi)le that 8hat 8as really )eing descri)ed here 8as the initiation o4 Ees!s into the enlightened kno8ledge o4 a secret c!lt 8hose 4o!nders 8ere literally @sa(ed 4rom 8ater@ tho!sands o4 years earlier5 B!rthermore% I tho!ght it not accidental that it 8as only a4ter this initiation that Christ )egan to 8ork his miracles A most o4 8hich <incl!ding healing the sick% restoring the dead to li4e% m!ltiplying loa(es and 4ishes% and controlling the elements= 8o!ld ha(e )een instantly recogni3a)le to the High :riests and sorcerers o4 ancient .gypt as @magic tricks@ o4 the type that they% too% had )een trained to per4orm5<40= A4ter considering all the data that I had compiled I made the 4ollo8ing entry in my note)ook;

The theme o4 the ci(ili3er% or 4o!nding 4ather% or great prophet% or legislator% or essiah 8ho has in one 8ay or another )een @sa(ed 4rom 8ater@ occ!rs in the +cript!res% and in .gyptian and iddle .astern mythology% so 4re?!ently and 8ith s!ch consistency that it cannot )e a matter o4 p!re chance5 I am not proposing that all the indi(id!als concerned 8ere act!al s!r(i(ors o4 that @hypothetical and as yet !ndisco(ered area@% that s!pposed technologically ad(anced society 8hich may ha(e )een the cradle 4or the ci(ili3ations o4 )oth esopotamia and

.gypt5 The 4act is that only ,oah% >siris A and perhaps Horns A )elong to a period o4 prehistory s!44iciently remote to ?!ali4y them 4or that distinction5 +argon% oses% Eonah% and Ees!s% ho8e(er <together 8ith many other important 4ig!res in di44erent places and at di44erent periods=% 8ere all also sa(ed 4rom 8ater A either literally or sym)olically5 It there4ore seems to me that 8hat is really implied )y this rec!rrent image is initiation o4 the indi(id!als concerned into a tradition o4 secret 8isdom started a (ery long time ago )y the s!r(i(ors o4 a 4lood in an e44ort to preser(e (ital kno8ledge and skills that might other8ise ha(e ?!ickly )een 4orgotten5

Going )eyond 8hat co!ld )e ded!ced 4rom myths and legends% I also 4o!nd some rather more tangi)le e(idence in .gypt to s!pport the @sa(ed 4rom 8ater theory@5 I kne8 that this e(idence A the concealment o4 complete ocean-going )oats )eside almost all the most important tom)s o4 pharaohs and nota)les% and also near all the pyramids A had th!s 4ar )een treated )y archaeologists according to the hoary old dict!m that @i4 yo! can@t !nderstand a partic!lar c!stom then the sa4est thing to do is to p!t it do8n to religion@5 It grad!ally da8ned on me% ho8e(er% that the practice o4 )oat )!rial co!ld 8ell ha(e )een moti(ated )y something other than a simple desire to install near the gra(e a @physical representation o4 the sym)olic cra4t that 8o!ld take the so!l or spirit o4 the dead king to its !ltimate destination in the sky5@<41= A prime case in point 8as the cedar8ood ship disco(ered )!ried and dismantled in a pit )eside the so!thern edge o4 the Great :yramid at Gi3a and no8 reassem)led in a special m!se!m on site5 +till in per4ect condition 4%"22 years a4ter it 8as )!ilt% I learnt that this giant (essel 8as more than 142 4eet long and had a displacement o4 aro!nd 42 tons5 Its design 8as partic!larly interesting% incorporating <in the in4ormed opinion o4 Thor Heyerdahl= @all the sea-going ship@s characteristic properties% 8ith pro8 and stern soaring !p8ard% higher than in a 6iking ship% to ride o!t the )reakers and high seas% not to contend 8ith the little ripples o4 the ,ile5@<"2= Another e9pert 4elt that the care4!l and cle(er constr!ction o4 this strange pyramid )oat 8o!ld ha(e made it @a 4ar more sea8orthy cra4t than anything a(aila)le to Col!m)!s@J indeed% it 8o!ld pro)a)ly ha(e had no di44ic!lty in sailing ro!nd the 8orldT<"1= +ince the ancient .gyptians 8ere highly skilled at making scale models and representations o4 all manner o4 things 4or sym)olic p!rposes<"2= it seemed to me impla!si)le that they 8o!ld ha(e gone to s!ch tro!)le to man!4act!re and then )!ry a )oat as sophisticated as this one i4 their only p!rpose had )een to )etoken the spirit!al (essel that 8o!ld carry o44 the so!l o4 the king to hea(en5 That co!ld ha(e )een achie(ed C!st as e44ecti(ely 8ith a m!ch smaller cra4t5 Besides% I learnt that recent research at Gi3a had re(ealed the e9istence o4 another h!ge )oat% also on the so!th side o4 the pyramid% still sealed in its pit A and there 8ere also kno8n to )e three <no8 empty= rock-he8n pits on the eastern side5 As one other8ise orthodo9 .gyptologist rather daringly admitted% @it is di44ic!lt to see 8hy so many )oat pits sho!ld ha(e )een tho!ght necessary5@ :redicta)ly he then 4ell )ack on the great stand)y o4 all p!33led scholars and declared; @it is clear that their presence 8as re?!ired 4or some religio!s p!rpose relating to the a4terli4e o4 the king5@<"3= It 8as precisely this point% ho8e(er% 8hich 8as not clear to me at all A partic!larly since% as noted in the pre(io!s chapter% there 8as a)sol!tely no indication that any pharaoh 8as e(er interred 8ithin the Great :yramid5 B!rthermore% the earliest 4!nerary )oats to )e disco(ered in .gypt dated )ack to that mysterio!s period% C!st )e4ore the inception o4 the Birst Dynasty%

8hen ci(ili3ation and technology in the ,ile 6alley !nder8ent a s!dden and ine9plica)le trans4ormation5<"4= I there4ore 4o!nd it di44ic!lt to resist the concl!sion that the c!rio!s practice o4 )oat )!rial 8as more likely to )e linked to the 8ell esta)lished tradition o4 @sal(ation 4rom 8ater@ than to any p!rely religio!s sym)olism5 +t!rdy ocean-going (essels% I reasoned% 8o!ld ha(e )een o4 immense importance to a gro!p o4 4oreigners 8ho had s!r(i(ed a 4lood and 8ho had settled in .gypt a4ter sailing a8ay 4rom the site o4 the cataclysm5 :erhaps they% or those 8ho came a4ter them% had )elie(ed that the )!ried )oats might one day )e needed A not to ena)le reincarnated so!ls to na(igate the hea(ens like celestial pleas!re trippers )!t% instead% to allo8 li(ing indi(id!als to escape once again 4rom the sco!rge o4 some terri)le del!ge5

HIDD., 'ICH.+ >B +.C'.T :LAC.+

The really great achie(ements o4 ancient .gypt all took place early5 The peak period spanned the Third to the Bi4th Dynasties A ro!ghly 4rom 2122 BC to 2322 BC5 Therea4ter% al)eit grad!ally and 8ith some nota)le res!rgences% the general trend 8as steadily do8nhill<""= This scenario A accepted )y all scholars A 8as% I 4elt% completely consistent 8ith the theory that ci(ili3ation 8as )ro!ght into the ,ile 6alley d!ring the 4o!rth millenni!m BC 4rom some technologically ad(anced )!t as yet !nidenti4ied area5 A4ter all% one 8o!ld not ha(e e9pected an imported c!lt!re to prod!ce its most per4ect 4orms o4 e9pression 4rom the (ery moment that the settlers arri(edJ there 8o!ld !ndo!)tedly ha(e )een a great leap 4or8ard at that time )!t the 4!ll potential 8o!ld not ha(e )een reali3ed !ntil the nati(e inha)itants had picked !p and learned the ne8 techni?!es5 And this 8as precisely 8hat seemed to ha(e happened in .gypt5 E!st )e4ore the )eginning o4 the Birst Dynasty <say aro!nd 3422 Bc=% 8riting% arithmetic% medicine% astronomy and a comple9 religion all appeared (ery s!ddenly A 8itho!t% as already noted% any local e(idence o4 prior e(ol!tion in any o4 these spheres5 At the same time highly sophisticated mon!ments and tom)s 8ere )eing )!ilt that incorporated ad(anced architect!ral concepts A again 8ith no trace o4 e(ol!tion5 The Birst and +econd Dynasties <say 4rom 3322 BC on8ards= sa8 the constr!ction o4 e(er more ela)orate mon!ments 8hich em)odied 8ith increasing con4idence and (igo!r the ne8-4o!nd skills and kno8ledge that had arri(ed in .gypt5<"&= And this trend to8ards greater and greater )ea!ty and e9cellence recei(ed 8hat many modern scholars regarded as its !ltimate e9pression in the remarka)le stone edi4ices o4 the 4!nerary comple9 o4 $ing Goser% the 4irst :haraoh o4 the Third Dynasty5 The comple9% 8hich I (isited se(eral times in 1101 and 1112% is dominated )y a to8ering si9-tiered pyramid 11* 4eet high and is located to the so!th o4 the city o4 Cairo at +a??ara5 The complete site takes the 4orm o4 a rectangle nearly 2%222 4eet long and 1%222 4eet 8ide and 8as originally enclosed )y a single massi(e stone 8all% large sections o4 8hich are still standing5 >ther 4eat!res incl!de an e9tensi(e colonnade 8ith 4orty tall col!mns% an elegant co!rtyard% and n!mero!s shrines% temples and o!t)!ildings A all on a colossal scale )!t 8ith clean and delicate lines5

I 8as a)le to esta)lish that in .gyptian tradition the conception and design o4 the entire Goser comple9 had )een regarded as the 8ork o4 a single creati(e geni!s A Imhotep the B!ilder% 8hose other titles 8ere +age% +orcerer% Architect% High :riest% Astronomer and Doctor5<"*= I )ecame interested in this legendary 4ig!re )eca!se o4 the great emphasis p!t )y s!)se?!ent generations on his scienti4ic and magical a)ilitiesJ indeed% like >siris% his achie(ements in these 4ields 8ere so highly regarded that he 8as e(ent!ally dei4ied5 #ith !ni?!ely impressi(e engineering 4eats s!ch as the Goser pyramid to his credit% Imhotep looked to me like an o)(io!s candidate 4or mem)ership o4 the c!lt o4 Thoth; the mon!ments at +a??ara seemed elo?!ently to con4irm that he had assimilated and then p!t )rilliantly into practice the technological de9terity pec!liar to that c!lt5 I 8as there4ore e9cited to disco(er that Imhotep 8as o4ten characteri3ed in inscriptions as @the image and likeness o4 Thoth@<"0= A and also as the @s!ccessor to Thoth@ a4ter the deity had ascended to hea(en5<"1= I then learnt something o4 e(en greater signi4icance; in anti?!ity% oses too 8as 4re?!ently compared to Thoth <indeed% in the second cent!ry BC an entire 8ork 8as 4illed 8ith s!ch comparisons )y the E!daeo-Greek philosopher Artapan!s% 8ho credited the prophet 8ith a range o4 remarka)le and clearly @scienti4ic@ in(entions=5<&2= The 4act that indi(id!als as 4ar apart in history as oses and Imhotep sho!ld ha(e )een e9plicitly linked thro!gh the c!lt o4 the moon-god str!ck me as strong circ!mstantial e(idence not only 4or the e9istence o4 a secret 8isdom tradition )!t also 4or the d!ra)ility o4 that tradition5 Accordingly I )egan to 8onder 8hether there had )een other magicians and sages like Imhotep to 8hom the design o4 partic!larly sophisticated and ad(anced )!ildings had )een attri)!ted5 In4ort!nately% no record s!r(i(ed o4 the architect 8ho )!ilt the Great :yramid at Gi3a5 This remarka)le edi4ice 8as certainly the cro8ning achie(ement o4 the splendid Bo!rth Dynasty A d!ring 8hich .gyptian ci(ili3ation reached its 3enith5 As one a!thority p!t it;

The :haraohs 8o!ld ne(er again )!ild to s!ch scale and per4ection5 And this le(el o4 e9pertise carried o(er into almost e(ery other 4orm o4 art or cra4t5 Inder the Bo!rth Dynasty the 4!rnit!re 8as the most elegant% the linen the 4inest% the stat!ary at once the most po8er4!l and the most per4ect 5 5 5 Certain skills% s!ch as the making o4 inlaid eyes% reached le(els that )order on the s!pernat!ral5 Later dynasties co!ld prod!ce )!t mediocre (ersions and !ltimately the kno8ledge disappeared entirely5<&1=

I co!ld only agree 8ith most o4 the a)o(e remarks5 It seemed to me% ho8e(er% that the (ery special technological skills re?!ired 4or the erection o4 splendid and imposing mon!ments had )een preser(ed 4or a considera)le period )e4ore @disappearing entirely@5 Tho!gh not gi(en any practical e9pression% 4or e9ample% there 8as no do!)t that these skills had someho8 s!r(i(ed the many cent!ries o4 c!lt!ral stagnation that set in a4ter the Bo!rth Dynasty and had then reasserted themsel(es in the remarka)le res!rgence that occ!rred d!ring the .ighteenth and ,ineteenth Dynasties <1"02-1222 BC=5 The cro8ning achie(ement o4 this latter era% 8hich 4illed me 8ith a8e e(ery time I set eyes on it% 8as the )ea!ti4!l o)elisk o4 /!een Hatsheps!t at $arnak5 ,ear)y% on the 8estern side

o4 the ,ile% the same monarch had also commissioned a massi(e mort!ary temple that had later come to )e regarded as one o4 the great architect!ral masterpieces o4 the 8orld5<&2= I learnt that the name o4 the long-dead architect responsi)le 4or )oth o4 these mon!ments had )een +enm!t5 Intrig!ingly% an inscription that he himsel4 had composed A and that co!ld still )e read on his tom) 8all A le4t little do!)t that his special kno8ledge and a)ilities had )een ac?!ired a4ter he had )een admitted to the mysteries o4 an ancient and secret 8isdom tradition5 @Ha(ing penetrated all the 8ritings o4 the Di(ine :rophets%@ he )oasted% @I 8as ignorant o4 nothing that has happened since the )eginning o4 time5@<&3=

+!ppose RI 8rote in my note)ookS that oses <8ho li(ed )arely 222 years a4ter +enm!t= 8as also an initiate in this same secret tradition A a tradition that stretched )ack )eyond the hori3on o4 history thro!gh Imhotep to the god-kings Thoth and >siris% and that e9tended 4or8ard as 8ell to incl!de other great scientists and ci(ili3ers like Ees!s Christ5 I4 there is anything at all to this hypothesis then is it not possi)le that some o4 the tr!ly e9traordinary thinkers o4 more recent years may also ha(e )een heirs to the @occ!lt@ kno8ledge that inspired the )!ilders o4 the pyramids and o)elisks% and that made it possi)le 4or oses to per4orm his miracles7

In seeking to ans8er this ?!estion% I 8as dra8n )ack 4irst and 4oremost to the $nights Templar A 8ho had occ!pied the original site o4 the Temple o4 +olomon in Eer!salem in AD 1111 and 8ho% I )elie(ed% had learned something in the Holy City that had s!)se?!ently ca!sed them to seek the Ark o4 the Co(enant in .thiopia5 As reported in Chapter "% the research that I had carried o!t into the )elie4s and )eha(io!r o4 this strange gro!p o4 8arrior monks had con(inced me that they had tapped into some e9ceedingly ancient 8isdom tradition A and that the kno8ledge they had th!s ac?!ired had )een p!t to !se in the constr!ction o4 ch!rches and castles that 8ere architect!rally 4ar in ad(ance o4 other )!ildings o4 the t8el4th and thirteenth cent!ries5 #as it not possi)le% I no8 asked mysel4J that the 8isdom tradition into 8hich the Templars had )een initiated had )een the (ery one to 8hich oses% +enm!t and Imhotep had )elonged7 And i4 so then 8as it not also possi)le that the knights@ ?!est 4or the Ark had )een connected to this tradition7 I kne8 that it 8o!ld pro)a)ly pro(e impossi)le to s!)stantiate s!ch esoteric g!ess8ork5 ,e(ertheless% I 8as e9cited to disco(er a n!m)er o4 ancient Ee8ish traditions 8hich asserted that the Ark had contained @the root o4 all kno8ledge@5<&4= In addition% as the reader 8ill recall% the golden lid o4 the sacred relic had )een s!rmo!nted )y t8o 4ig!res o4 cher!)im5 Co!ld it there4ore ha(e )een p!re coincidence that% in E!daic lore% @the distincti(e gi4t o4 the cher!)im 8as kno8ledge@7<&"= These 8ere )y no means the only tantali3ing hints 8hich s!ggested to me that the ?!est 4or the Ark might also ha(e )een a ?!est 4or 8isdom5 .?!ally signi4icant 8as the 4act that 8hen the Templars 8ere persec!ted% tort!red and p!t on trial in the early 4o!rteenth cent!ry many o4 them con4essed to 8orshipping a mysterio!s )earded head% the name o4 8hich 8as gi(en as Baphomet5<&&= +e(eral a!thorities% pointing to the close connections that the knights had c!lti(ated 8ith Islamic mystics% had identi4ied Baphomet 8ith !hammad<&*= A th!s )lithely

ignoring the 4act that Islam co!ld hardly ha(e inspired s!ch )eha(io!r <since !slims% as I 8as (ery 8ell a8are% regarded their prophet as h!man not di(ine and had an a)sol!te a)horrence o4 any kind o4 idol 8orship=5 A 4ar more con(incing e9planation% ho8e(er% 8as gi(en )y Dr H!gh +chon4ield% an e9pert on early Christianity% 8ho had deciphered a secret code !sed in a n!m)er o4 the 4amo!s @Dead +ea +crolls@ A a code that the Templars might easily ha(e learned d!ring their long residence in the Holy Land5 Dr +chon4ield sho8ed that i4 the name Baphomet 8ere 8ritten in this code and then transliterated the res!lt 8o!ld )e the Greek 8ord +ophia5<&0= And the Greek 8ord +ophia% in its t!rn% meant nothing more nor less than #isdom@5<&1= By this analysis% there4ore% 8hen the Templars 8orshipped Baphomet 8hat they 8ere really doing 8as 8orshipping the principle o4 #isdom5 And that% o4 co!rse% 8as e9actly 8hat the ancient .gyptians had done 8hen they had 8orshipped Thoth as @the personi4ication o4 the mind o4 God@%<*2= as @the a!thor o4 e(ery 8ork on e(ery )ranch o4 kno8ledge% )oth h!man and di(ine@%<*1= and as @the in(entor o4 astronomy and astrology% the science o4 n!m)ers and mathematics% geometry and land s!r(eying% medicine and )otany@5<*2= I 8as enco!raged to look 4!rther5 >ne 4act 8hich ?!ite ?!ickly came to light 8as that the Breemasons had also held Thoth in special regard5 Indeed% according to a (ery old asonic tradition% Thoth @had played a maCor part in preser(ing kno8ledge o4 the mason cra4t and transmitting it to mankind a4ter the 4lood@5<*3= And the a!thor o4 a 8ell researched academic st!dy on the origins o4 Breemasonry 8ent so 4ar as to say that% in their early days% the asons had regarded Thoth as their patron5<*4= I 8as already a8are <see Chapter *= that close links had e9isted )et8een the Templars and the Breemasons% 8ith the latter almost certainly )eing descended 4rom the 4ormer5 ,o8 I co!ld see that 8hat I 8as coming to think o4 as the @Thoth connection@ set those links in the ancient and end!ring conte9t o4 a 8isdom tradition stretching )ack to :haraonic times5 I there4ore asked mysel4 this; in addition to the Templars and the asons had there )een any other gro!ps or indi(id!als 8hose 8orks and ideas had appeared !n!s!ally ad(anced A and 8ho might possi)ly ha(e )een initiates in the same 8isdom tradition7 I 4o!nd that there had )een many5 Bor e9ample% Copernic!s% the 'enaissance astronomer 8hose theory o4 a heliocentric !ni(erse had o(ert!rned the earth-centred complacency o4 the iddle Ages% had said ?!ite openly that he had arri(ed at his re(ol!tionary insights )y st!dying the secret 8ritings o4 the ancient .gyptians% incl!ding the hidden 8orks o4 Thoth himsel45<*"= Like8ise the se(enteenth-cent!ry mathematician $epler <8ho% amongst other things% compiled an imaginary acco!nt o4 a trip to the moon= admitted that in 4orm!lating his la8s o4 the planetary or)its he 8as merely @stealing the golden (essels o4 the .gyptians@5 <*&= In a similar (ein% +ir Isaac ,e8ton had stated his (ie8 that @the .gyptians concealed mysteries that 8ere a)o(e the capacity o4 the common herd !nder the (eil o4 religio!s rites and hieroglyphic sym)ols5@F Amongst these mysteries% he )elie(ed% 8as the kno8ledge that the earth or)ited the s!n and not (ice-(ersa; @It 8as the most ancient opinion that the planets re(ol(ed a)o!t the s!n% that the earth% as one o4 the planets% descri)ed an ann!al co!rse a)o!t the s!n% 8hile )y a di!rnal motion it t!rned on its a9is% and that the s!n remained at rest@<*0= ,e8ton@s pro4o!nd intellect and scholarship had ena)led him to lay the 4o!ndations o4 physics as a modern discipline5 His speci4ic achie(ements had incl!ded epoch-making disco(eries in mechanics% optics% astronomy and mathematics <the )inomial theorem and the

di44erential and integral calc!l!s=% h!ge steps 4or8ard in the !nderstanding o4 the nat!re o4 light% and A a)o(e all else A the 4orm!lation o4 the !ni(ersal la8 o4 gra(itation 8hich had altered 4ore(er mankind@s (ision o4 the cosmos5 #hat 8as m!ch less 8ell kno8n a)o!t the great .nglish scientist% ho8e(er% 8as the 4act that he had spent a signi4icant part o4 his ad!lt li4e deeply immersed in hermetic and alchemical literat!re <more than a tenth o4 his personal li)rary had )een taken !p 8ith alchemical treatises=5<*1= B!rthermore he had )een o)sessed A literally o)sessed A 8ith the notion that a secret 8isdom lay concealed 8ithin the pages o4 the +cript!res; Daniel o4 the >ld Testament and Eohn o4 the ,e8 partic!larly attracted him )eca!se @the lang!age o4 the prophetic 8ritings 8as sym)olic and hieroglyphical and their comprehension re?!ired a radically di44erent method o4 interpretation5@<02= It seemed to me% as I researched ,e8ton 4!rther% that p!rs!it o4 this method perhaps e9plained 8hy he had in(ol(ed himsel4 in an e9acting st!dy o4 some t8enty di44erent (ersions o4 the )ook o4 'e(elation5 He had learned He)re8 in order to do the Co) properly<01= and had then carried o!t a similarly metic!lo!s e9ercise on the )ook o4 .3ekiel5<02= I 8as also a)le to esta)lish that he had dra8n on the in4ormation contained in this latter 8ork to prod!ce a painstaking reconstr!ction o4 the 4loorplan o4 the Temple o4 +olomon5 #hy7 Beca!se he had )een con(inced that the great edi4ice )!ilt to ho!se the Ark o4 the Co(enant had )een a kind o4 cryptogram o4 the !ni(erseJ i4 he co!ld decipher this cryptogram% he had )elie(ed% then he 8o!ld kno8 the mind o4 God5<03= ,e8ton@s Temple 4loorplan had )een preser(ed in the Ba)son College Li)rary5<04= ean8hile the se(enteenth-cent!ry scientist had e9pressed his other @theological@ 4indings and o)ser(ations in pri(ate 8ritings that had totalled 8ell o(er a million 8ords5<0"= In the midt8entieth cent!ry these rather s!rprising man!scripts came to light and 8ere p!rchased at a!ction )y Eohn aynard $eynes5 @,e8ton 8as not the 4irst o4 the age o4 reason%@ the o)(io!sly shaken economist later told the 'oyal +ociety% @he 8as the last o4 the magicians% the last o4 the Ba)ylonians and +!merians% the last great mind 8hich looked o!t on the 8orld 8ith the same eyes as those 8ho )egan to )!ild o!r intellect!al inheritance rather less than ten tho!sand years ago5@ $eynes made an e9tremely care4!l st!dy o4 the man!scripts and concl!ded A signi4icantly in my (ie8 A that ,e8ton sa8 the 8hole !ni(erse and all that is in it as a riddle% as a secret 8hich co!ld )e read )y applying p!re tho!ght to certain e(idence% certain mystic cl!es 8hich God had hid a)o!t the 8orld to allo8 a sort o4 philosopher@s treas!re h!nt to the esoteric )rotherhood5 He )elie(ed that these cl!es 8ere to )e 4o!nd partly in the e(idence o4 the hea(ens and in the constit!tion o4 elements% )!t also partly in certain papers and traditions handed do8n )y the )rethren in an !n)roken chain )ack to the original cryptic re(elation5<0&=

Indeed soT And altho!gh I kne8 that I might ne(er )e a)le to pro(e that the @)rethren@ in ?!estion had )een directly linked to the occ!lt traditions o4 the moon-god Thoth A and to those scientists and ci(ili3ers 8ho had )een @sa(ed 4rom 8ater@ AI 4elt that there 8as at least s!44icient e(idence to con4irm one intrig!ing 4act In making his greatest disco(eries% ,e8ton had indicated se(eral times that he had dra8n not only !pon his o8n geni!s )!t also !pon some (ery old and secret repository o4 8isdom5 He had once stated ?!ite e9plicitly% 4or instance% that the la8 o4 gra(itation e9po!nded in his :rincipia 8as not ne8 )!t rather had )een kno8n and 4!lly

!nderstood in ancient timesJ he had arri(ed at it )y decoding the sacred literat!re o4 past ages5<0*= >n another occasion he had descri)ed Thoth as a )elie(er in the Copernican system5<00= Be4ore that he had aligned himsel4 8ith the German physician and alchemist ichael aier <1"&0-1&22= 8ho had arg!ed that% thro!gho!t history% all the tr!e adepts o4 science had deri(ed their kno8ledge 4rom the .gyptian moon-god5<01= Amongst many other c!riosities% I disco(ered that ,e8ton had )een str!ck )y the 4act that @there 8as a general tradition o4 del!ge amongst ancient peoples@<12= and had sho8n considera)le interest in the )i)lical (ie8 that ,oah 8as the common ancestor o4 all h!manity5<11= oreo(er% despite his o8n de(o!tly held religio!s con(ictions% he seemed at times to ha(e seen Christ as an especially gi4ted man and as an interpreter o4 God@s master-plan% rather than as the +on o4 God5<12= #hat I 4o!nd most 4ascinating o4 all% ho8e(er% 8as that the really pi(otal 4ig!re in ,e8ton@s theology% and in his conception o4 early science% had )een none other than the prophet oses% 8hom he had regarded as an adept in the mysteries o4 the !ni(erse% a master o4 alchemy% and a 8itness to the do!)le re(elation o4 God <as e9pressed in His 8ord and in His 8orks=513 Long cent!ries )e4ore o!r o8n enlightened era% ,e8ton had )elie(ed% oses !nderstood that matter consisted o4 atoms% and that these atoms 8ere hard% solid and imm!ta)le; @gra(ity accr!ed to )oth atoms and to the )odies they composedJ gra(ity 8as proportional to the ?!antity o4 matter in e(ery )ody5@<14= ,e8ton had also regarded the acco!nt o4 creation presented in Genesis A and attri)!ted to oses A as an allegorical description o4 an alchemical process;

oses% that ancient Theolog!e% descri)ing and e9pressing ye most 8onder4!l Architect!re o4 this great 8orld% tells !s that ye spirit o4 God mo(ed !pon ye 8aters 8hich 8as an indigested chaos% or mass created )e4ore )y God5

Later% re4erring to the e44orts o4 the alchemists% the great .nglish scientist had added;

E!st as the 8orld 8as created 4rom dark chaos thro!gh the )ringing 4orth o4 the light and thro!gh the separation o4 the aery 4irmament and o4 the 8aters 4rom the earth% so o!r 8ork )rings 4orth the )eginning o!t o4 )lack chaos and its 4irst matter thro!gh the separation o4 the elements and the ill!mination o4 matter5<1"=

Last )!t not least% I tho!ght it 8as not accidental that ,e8ton@s 4a(o!rite )i)lical passage<1&= had )een one that had hinted at the e9istence o4 some 4orm o4 co(ert kno8ledge a(aila)le only to initiates;

And I 8ill gi(e thee the treas!res o4 darkness% and hidden riches o4 secret places% that tho! mayest kno8 that I% the Lord% 8hich call thee )y thy name% am the God o4 Israel5<1*=

I reasoned that i4 ,e8ton had indeed had access to the same @treas!res o4 darkness@ and to the same @hidden riches@ as oses% then this 8o!ld imply A at the (ery least A the contin!o!s e9istence o(er a period o4 millennia o4 a clandestine sect or c!lt str!ct!red to pass on an e9cl!si(e and pri(ileged 8isdom5 This so!nded 4ar-4etchedJ it 8as% ho8e(er% )y no means impossi)le5 >n the contrary% kno8ledge and skills had 4re?!ently and s!ccess4!lly )een trans4erred do8n the generations A and 4rom one region o4 the 8orld to another A 8itho!t any concrete e(idence )eing a(aila)le to doc!ment the process5 Bor e9ample% 'ha)das% a mathematician 8ho had li(ed in the city o4 Constantinople in the t8el4th cent!ry AD% 8as kno8n to ha(e !sed a method 4or deri(ing s?!are roots that had e9isted only in ancient .gypt more than t8o tho!sand years pre(io!sly and that had not% other8ise% )een employed else8here5<10= Ho8% and 4rom 8here% he had ac?!ired this techni?!e 8as not easy to e9plain5 +imilarly% I 8as (ery m!ch a8are that the transmission o4 esoteric in4ormation% co!pled 8ith the teaching and sharing o4 arcane rit!als and ceremonies% had occ!rred 4or cent!ries 8ithin the (ario!s asonic orders 8itho!t any p!)lic record e(er )eing a(aila)le5 Charting the conto!rs o4 a gen!inely reticent sect 8as% there4ore% a da!nting !ndertaking5 B!t 8hat I 4o!nd more da!nting )y 4ar 8as the task o4 g!essing the real nat!re o4 the science and technology that s!ch a long-li(ed and secreti(e instit!tion as the c!lt o4 Thoth might ha(e protected and preser(ed A partic!larly i4% as I s!spected% that science and technology had originated in a historically remote and no8 !tterly o)literated c!lt!re5 As I 8rote in my note)ook;

It 8o!ld )e a mistake to ass!me that o!r o8n t8entieth-cent!ry machinery and in(entions are any g!idelineJ on the contrary% i4 an ad(anced society did e9ist at some archaic period% then its 8isdom is likely to ha(e )een ?!ite di44erent 4rom anything 8ith 8hich 8e are 4amiliar% and its machines co!ld reasona)ly )e e9pected to ha(e operated according to principles !nkno8n to !s5

>,+T'>I+ I,+T'I .,T

It 8as 8ith s!ch tho!ghts% as my research mo(ed on% that I 4o!nd mysel4 dra8n to the strange passages in the >ld Testament )ooks o4 .9od!s and De!teronomy 8hich descri)ed the enco!nters )et8een God and oses on o!nt +inai5 Amidst th!nder and 4ire% electrical storms and clo!ds o4 smoke% Dah8eh s!pposedly disclosed the )l!eprint o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant to the He)re8 mag!s and presented him 8ith the stone Ta)lets o4 the La8 inscri)ed 8ith the Ten Commandments5 Then the Ark itsel4 8as )!ilt )y the arti4icer Be3aleel 8ho sla(ishly 4ollo8ed the @di(ine@ plan% almost as tho!gh he kne8 that he 8as 4orging some monstro!s instr!ment5 And this% I s!spect% is 8hat the Ark really 8as; a monstro!s instr!ment capa)le o4 releasing 4ear4!l energies in an !ncontrolled and catastrophic manner i4 it 8as mishandled or

mis!sed in any 8ay A an instr!ment that 8as not concei(ed in the mind o4 God% as the Bi)le teaches% )!t rather in the mind o4 oses5 A master sorcerer in an era 8hen sorcery and science 8ere indisting!isha)le 4rom one another% it is a4ter all possi)le <and perhaps more than possi)le= that oses co!ld ha(e had the technical kno8ledge A and there4ore the a)ility A to design a de(ice o4 this sort5 There is a)sol!tely no proo4 o4 this% o4 co!rse5 ,e(ertheless I think that only those 8ith a pedantic and ca(illing attit!de to history 8o!ld insist that the ancient 8isdom traditions o4 .gypt co!ld ha(e contained no special skills or ideas o4 a technical nat!re on 8hich the prophet might ha(e dra8n in order to im)!e the Ark 8ith the a8esome po8ers attri)!ted to it in the >ld Testament5 +pec!lation on s!ch matters is s!rely healthy and A 4or those readers 8ho are interested in penetrating more deeply into the mystery A I o44er the 4ollo8ing hypotheses and conCect!res as 4ood 4or tho!ght5

>TI6. A,D >::>'TI,ITD

Ass!me 4or a moment that oses did indeed ha(e the technical kno8ledge to create @a monstro!s instr!ment@ capa)le o4 destroying city 8alls <as in the case o4 Eericho=<11=% striking people dead <as in the case o4 I33ah and the @men o4 Bethshemesh@=<122=% in4licting cancero!s t!mo!rs on those 8ho approached it 8itho!t proper protection <as in the case o4 the :hilistines a4ter the )attle o4 .)ene3er=<121=% and co!nteracting gra(ity <as in the case o4 the )earers 8hom% on one occasion% it @tossed into the air and 4l!ng to the gro!nd again and again=5<122= I4 oses co!ld ha(e made s!ch a machine then it only remains to ask 8hether he had a moti(e to do so% and 8hether he had the opport!nity5 I 8o!ld like to s!ggest that he had ample moti(e5 >ne in a long line o4 ci(ili3ing heroes 8ho had )een @sa(ed 4rom 8ater@% there is e(idence to s!ggest that his prime o)Cecti(e in li4e might not ha(e )een to esta)lish the Ee8ish 4aith <altho!gh he certainly did that= )!t rather to ci(ili3e the Israelites A 8ho% prior to the .9od!s% 8ere little more than an anarchic tri)e o4 migrant la)o!rers marooned in .gypt5 +!ppose that the prophet decided to inspire <and th!s mo)ili3e= this primiti(e and almost !ngo(erna)le gro!p o4 nomads )y con(incing them that he 8as going to lead them to the @:romised Land@ A Canaan A 8hich he had enticingly depicted as @a good land and a large 5 5 a land 4lo8ing 8ith milk and honey@5<123= I4 so then he 8as 4ar too 8ily a leader% and 4ar too ast!te a C!dge o4 h!man 4railty% to take 8hat 8as )asically a disorgani3ed ra))le straight there5 He kne8 that they 8o!ld 4ace 4ormida)le 4oes 8hen they e(ent!ally arri(edJ i4 they 8ere to o(ercome these 4oes% there4ore% he 8o!ld 4irst need to mo!ld and shape them% )end them to his 8ill% and impose some discipline !pon them5 This reasoning appeals to me )eca!se it seems to o44er a logical e9planation 4or something that other8ise makes (ery little sense A namely the 4act that the Israelites s!pposedly spent 4orty years 8andering in the inhospita)le 8ildernesses o4 the +inai penins!la5<124= There

8ere% at the time% at least t8o 8ell kno8n and m!ch-4re?!ented trade ro!tes 8hich normally ena)led tra(ellers to cross the deserts )et8een .gypt and Canaan in C!st a 4e8 days5<12"= It seems to me% there4ore% that oses@s decision not to !se these high8ays <and instead to in4lict a lengthy period o4 hardship on his people= co!ld only ha(e )een a deli)erate and calc!lated strategy; he m!st ha(e seen this as the )est 8ay to get the Israelites into shape 4or the con?!est o4 the :romised Land5<12&= +!ch a strategy% ho8e(er% 8o!ld also ha(e had its dra8)acks A nota)ly the pro)lem o4 pers!ading the tri)esmen to stick together in the desert and to p!t !p 8ith all the di44ic!lties and a!sterities o4 nomadic li4e5 This pro)lem 8as tr!ly a knotty one; the )i)lical acco!nt o4 the 8anderings in the 8ilderness makes it pain4!lly clear that oses had a hard time trying to keep his people@s con4idence and to 4orce them to o)ey him5 It 8as tr!e that they 4ell )rie4ly into line 8hene(er he 8orked some ne8 miracle <and he 8as o)liged to 8ork many=J on other occasions% ho8e(er A and partic!larly 8hen they 4aced ad(ersity A they seethed 8ith discontent% critici3ed him )itterly and sometimes re)elled openly against him5<12*= In s!ch circ!mstances% is it not reasona)le to s!ppose that the prophet might ha(e seen the need to e?!ip himsel4 8ith some sort o4 porta)le @miracle machine@ to enthral and impress the Israelites 8hene(er and 8here(er a )it o4 @magic@ 8as re?!ired7 And 8asn@t that e9actly 8hat the Ark 8as A a porta)le miracle machine 8hich oses !sed to ens!re that the people 8o!ld o)ey him no matter ho8 di44ic!lt the circ!mstances7 .9amples o4 the sacred o)Cect )eing !sed in precisely this manner are not hard to 4ind in the Bi)le5 Indeed a dramatic change appears to ha(e taken place in oses@s )eha(io!r a4ter the )!ilding o4 the Ark5 :re(io!sly he had responded to the incessant demands and complaints o4 the Israelites 8ith relati(ely minor acts o4 8i3ardry A striking a desert rock 8ith his 8and in order to make 4resh 8ater g!sh 4orth 4rom it%<120= e9tracting pota)le 8ater 4rom a stagnant pool%<121= deli(ering 4ood in the 4orm o4 manna and ?!ails%<112= and so on and so 4orth5 Later% ho8e(er% the prophet did not )other 8ith conC!ring tricks like these5 Instead% 8hene(er the people gr!m)led% re)elled against him% or dared to disp!te his leadership in any 8ay he simply t!rned the Ark on them A 8ith predicta)ly dread4!l res!lts5 >n one 4airly typical occasion he !sed it to in4lict a dis4ig!ring skin condition on his sister iriam )eca!se she had ?!estioned his a!thority5@<111= The Bi)le calls this skin condition @leprosy@5<112= @#hen iriam had )een s!ita)ly chastened% ho8e(er% her sores (anished5 +ince they had appeared in the 4irst place immediately a4ter she had )een e9posed to the mysterio!s clo!d that sometimes iss!ed 4orth 4rom )et8een the t8o cher!)im mo!nted on the Ark@s lid% it is most !nlikely that they 8ere act!ally ca!sed )y leprosy5<113= ight they not rather ha(e )een ind!ced )y some chemical or other contaminant released 4rom the Ark itsel47 iriam 8as not the only person to ha(e )een a44ected in this 8ay a4ter inc!rring oses@s 8rath5 oreo(er other dissidents not l!cky eno!gh to )e mem)ers o4 the priestly 4amily tended to )e p!nished 8ith e(en greater se(erity5 A partic!larly interesting series o4 e(ents occ!rred in response to a m!tiny in 8hich the ascendancy o4 oses and Aaron 8as openly ?!estioned;

T8o h!ndred and 4i4ty o4 the sons o4 Israel Coined 4orces against oses and Aaron saying% Do! take too m!ch on yo!rsel(esT The 8hole comm!nity and all its mem)ers are consecrated% and Dah8eh li(es among them% #hy set yo!rsel(es higher than the comm!nity o4 Dah8eh7<114=

oses 8as at 4irst so shocked )y this ins!)ordination that he @4ell !pon his 4ace@5<11"= He ?!ickly reco(ered% ho8e(er% and proposed the 4ollo8ing @test@; to 4ind o!t 8hether the t8o h!ndred and 4i4ty re)els 8ere really as @holy@ as he 8as% he s!ggested that they sho!ld each 4ill a )ron3e censer 8ith incense and that they sho!ld then come in )e4ore the Ark to )!rn this incense5<11&= I4 this 8as done% he arg!ed% it 8o!ld allo8 Dah8eh to @choose the one 8ho is the consecrated man@5<11*= The challenge 8as accepted; @And they took e(ery man his censer% and p!t 4ire in them% and laid incense thereon% and stood at the door o4 the Ta)ernacle 5 5 5 8ith oses and Aaron5@<110= ,o sooner had this gathering taken place than @the glory o4 Dah8eh appeared@5<111= Then the deity s!pposedly ga(e his @4a(o!rites@ a three-second 8arning o4 8hat he 8as a)o!t to do; @Dah8eh spoke to oses and Aaron5 He said% F+tand apart 4rom this assem)ly% I am going to destroy them here and no85F @<122= At this% the prophet and the High :riest @thre8 themsel(es 4ace do8n8ard on the gro!nd 5 5 5 And there came o!t a 4ire R4rom the ArkS and cons!med the t8o h!ndred and 4i4ty men that o44ered incense5@<121= A4ter8ards% the children o4 Israel spake !nto oses% saying% Behold% 8e die% 8e perish% 8e all perish 5 5 5 #hosoe(er cometh anything near !nto the ta)ernacle o4 the Lord shall die; shall 8e )e cons!med 8ith dying7<122=

They had% it seemed% learned a sal!tary lesson5 +!)d!ed )y the po8ers o4 the Ark% they mo!nted no 4!rther re)ellions o4 any signi4icance5 >n the contrary% apart 4rom a 4e8 lo8-key gripes and m!rm!rs% they 4ell (ery m!ch into line )ehind oses and did e9actly 8hat he told them to do d!ring the remainder o4 their soCo!rn in the 8ilderness5 +o m!ch% then% 4or moti(e5 oses clearly had great need o4 a porta)le miracle machine e9actly like the Ark5 oreo(er% once he had e?!ipped himsel4 8ith that machine A i4 machine it indeed 8as A he sho8ed no hesitation in !sing it5 oti(e and a)ility alone% ho8e(er% do not add !p to a coherent case5 The ne9t ?!estion% there4orJ is this; did he ha(e the opport!nity to prepare a proper )l!eprint 4or the Ark and to 4a)ricate some sort o4 @po8er-pack@ 4or it A some sort o4 energy so!rce )y means o4 8hich it might )e acti(ated7 The ans8er is yes A ample opport!nity5 To !nderstand 8hy it is 8orth recalling the main e(ents o4 oses@s li4e% in the order that they occ!rred;

1 He 8as )orn in .gypt5

2 He 8as cast adri4t on the ,ile in a )asket made o4 papyr!s reeds coated 8ith )it!men and pitch5 3 He 8as @sa(ed 4rom 8ater@ )y the da!ghter o4 :haraoh5 4 He 8as reared in the royal ho!sehold 8here he learned @all the 8isdom o4 the .gyptians@ A and )ecame an adept in sorcery% and almost certainly a High :riest5<123= " At the age o4 4orty%<124= according to the Bi)le% he heard that his o8n nati(e people A the Israelites A 8ere )eing oppressed )y the .gyptians5 Accordingly he le4t the co!rt and 8ent to 4ind o!t 8hat 8as happening to them5 He disco(ered that they 8ere li(ing a li4e o4 )ondage% 4orced to do hard la)o!r day and night5 Incensed at this cr!el treatment% and at the arrogance o4 the .gyptians% he lost his temper% killed an o(erseer and then 4led into e9ile5<12"= & At the age o4 eighty<12&= A i5e5 4orty years later A he ret!rned 4rom e9ile to lead the Israelites o!t o4 their capti(ity5

#hat happened d!ring the missing 4orty years7 The Bi)le is sing!larly !nhelp4!l in ans8ering this ?!estion% de(oting C!st ele(en (erses to direct disc!ssion o4 the entire period5<12*= It does% ho8e(er% make one thing a)!ndantly clear; in all this great e9panse o4 time the key e(ent 8as oses@s enco!nter 8ith Dah8eh at the )!rning )!sh A an enco!nter that took place at the 4oot o4 o!nt +inai 8here% some time later% the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as to )e )!ilt5 Long )e4ore oses pers!aded the Israelites to 4ollo8 him across the 'ed +ea% is it not there4ore pro)a)le that he had thoro!ghly 4amiliari3ed himsel4 8ith the 4earsome 8ildernesses o4 the +inai penins!la7 The location o4 the )!rning )!sh incident lea(es no room 4or do!)t that he spent at least part o4 his 4orty-year e9ile in these remote and mo!ntaino!s deserts5 Indeed% it is e(en possi)le that he passed most or all o4 this period there A a (ie8 4or 8hich there is a degree o4 academic s!pport5 According to one learned .gyptologist% oses co!ld ha(e spent as long as a ?!arter o4 a cent!ry in +inai% li(ing in a settlement on a mo!ntain kno8n as +era)it-el-$hadem )arely 4i4ty miles 4rom o!nt +inai itsel45<120= In E!ne 1101 I (isited and clim)ed +era)it-el-$hadem% 8hich stands in the a!stere and )arren highlands o4 so!thern-central +inai5 >n the 4lat top o4 the mo!ntain% completely innocent o4 to!rists% 8ere the r!ins o4 the settlement in 8hich oses 8as tho!ght to ha(e li(ed A r!ins dominated )y the o)elisks% altars and grace4!l col!mns o4 8hat m!st once ha(e )een an e9tensi(e .gyptian temple5 As a High :riest o4 the ancient .gyptian religion% I reasoned% oses 8o!ld ha(e 4elt com4orta)le here A and i4 he had indeed 4led the 8rath o4 :haraoh a4ter killing an o(erseer as the Bi)le claimed% then he 8o!ld ha(e )een relati(ely sa4e in this remote and o)sc!re spot5 I decided to 4ind o!t more a)o!t +era)it-el-$hadem and researched it in some depth a4ter my initial (isit5 In the co!rse o4 this 8ork% t8o signi4icant 4acts came to light5 Birst% I learned that the temple site 8hich I had seen had )een thoro!ghly in(estigated in 1124-" )y the great British archaeologist +ir #illiam Blinders :etrie A and that he had !nearthed 4ragments o4 se(eral stone ta)lets there5<121= These ta)lets 8ere inscri)ed 8ith

8riting in a strange pictographic alpha)et that% m!ch later% 8as pro(ed to ha(e )elonged to a +emitic-Canaanite lang!age related to ancient He)re85<132= +econd% I disco(ered that the settlement at +era)it-el$hadem had )een an important centre 4or the mining and man!4act!re o4 copper and t!r?!oise 4rom ro!ghly 1112 BC !ntil 1112 BC5<131= These dates meant that there 8as no anachronism in the ass!mption that oses might ha(e soCo!rned here in the thirteenth cent!ry BC% C!st prior to the .9od!s5 And the e(idence that an alpha)et related to He)re8 had )een in !se on the site at a)o!t the same time looked like 4!rther corro)oration o4 this (ie85 #hat really interested me% ho8e(er% 8as the point emphasi3ed a)o(e% namely that +era)it had 4!nctioned as a sort o4 ind!strial and metall!rgical comple9 and that the 8hole area had )een e9tensi(ely mined5 It seemed to me that i4 oses had indeed li(ed here 4or a lengthy period then he co!ld hardly ha(e 4ailed to ac?!ire kno8ledge o4 the minerals and metal ores o4 so!thern5 +inai5 A4ter my (isit to +era)it-el-$hadem in E!ne 1101 I dro(e my hired Eeep the 4i4ty miles across the desert to o!nt +inai5 In a sense the 8ord @desert@ is a misnomer 4or this region% 4or altho!gh there are sandy e9panses% the )!lk o4 the co!ntryside consists o4 steep and 8ithered mo!ntain ranges% red in colo!r% !pon 8hich almost nothing gro8s5 The only patches o4 greenery are created )y occasional oases in the (alleys% and one s!ch oasis% rich in date palms% stands at the 4oot o4 o!nt +inai5 Here% in the 4o!rth cent!ry AD% a small Christian chapel 8as erected on the s!pposed site o4 the )!rning )!sh5 That chapel 8as greatly e9tended in s!)se?!ent years5 By the 4i4th cent!ry it had )ecome a s!)stantial monastery !nder the patronage o4 the Coptic Ch!rch o4 Ale9andria5 In the si9th cent!ry the 'oman .mperor E!stinian massi(ely 4orti4ied the monastery@s 8alls so that it co!ld )etter 8ithstand the attacks o4 mara!ding )edo!in tri)es5 Binally% in the ele(enth cent!ry% the 8hole comple9 8as dedicated to +aint Catherine5<132= It contin!es to )e kno8n as @+aint Catherine@s@ today% and many o4 the str!ct!res )!ilt in the 4i4th and si9th cent!ries still stand5 Be4ore em)arking on the ard!o!s *%4"2-4oot clim) to the top o4 o!nt +inai I spent some time inside the ancient monastery5 The main ch!rch contained se(eral remarka)le icons% mosaics and paintings% some o4 them almost 1%"22 years old5 In the gardens 8as a 8alled enclos!re )!ilt aro!nd a large rasp)erry )!sh that 8as )elie(ed )y the monks to )e the original )!rning )!sh5<133= This it certainly 8as not A and% indeed% I 8as 8ell a8are that e(en o!nt +inai@s claim to )e the @ o!nt +inai@ re4erred to in the Bi)le had )y no means )een concl!si(ely pro(ed5 The 4act 8as% ho8e(er% that monastic traditions dating )ack at least to the 4o!rth cent!ry AD had associated this partic!lar peak 8ith the @mo!ntain o4 God%@ and had almost certainly done so on the )asis o4 relia)le so!rces o4 in4ormation no8 lost5<134= oreo(er I kne8 that local tri)al traditions conc!rred; the )edo!in name 4or o!nt +inai 8as simply Ee)el !sa A @the mo!ntain o4 oses@5<13"= +cholarly opinion also associated the )i)lical o!nt +inai 8ith the peak )earing that name today A and the 4e8 dissenting (oices did not 4a(o!r a di44erent region )!t rather other near)y peaks in the same range <4or e9ample Ee)el +er)al=5<13&= I m!st con4ess that a4ter clim)ing o!nt +inai in E!ne 1101 I 8as le4t in no do!)t that this had indeed )een the mo!ntain to 8hich oses had )ro!ght the Israelites @in the third month@ a4ter lea(ing .gypt5 :a!sing at the s!mmit% I stood on a ledge 8hich o(erlooked t!m)led miles o4 8orn and Cagged !plands descending to sere plains in the 4ar distance5 There 8as a ha3e and a po8der-)l!e stillness in the air A not silence% e9actly% )!t stillness5 Then a s!dden 8ind 8hipped !p% cool and dry at that altit!de% and I 8atched an eagle soar hea(en8ards on a thermal%

gliding )rie4ly le(el 8ith me )e4ore it disappeared 4rom sight5 I remained there alone 4or a 8hile% in that pitiless and !ncompromising place% and I remem)er thinking that oses co!ld hardlyha(e chosen a more dramatic or a more appropriate location in 8hich to recei(e the Ten Commandments 4rom the hand o4 God5 B!t is that really 8hat the He)re8 mag!s came to o!nt +inai to do7 It seems to me that there is an alternati(e scenario5 Co!ld it not )e that his tr!e p!rpose all along had )een to )!ild the Ark o4 the Co(enant and to place inside it some great energy so!rce% the ra8 s!)stance o4 8hich he had kno8n that he 8o!ld )e a)le to 4ind on this partic!lar mo!ntain top7 This is a highly spec!lati(e thesis A )!t it is spec!lation that 8e are ind!lging in here and there is room 4or a little imaginati(e licence5 I4 oses had kno8n o4 the e9istence o4 some potent s!)stance on the peak o4 o!nt +inai% then 8hat might that s!)stance ha(e )een7 >ne s!ggestion A p!t 4or8ard in a di44erent conte9t in Chapter 3 A is that the ta)lets o4 stone on 8hich God s!pposedly 8rote the Ten Commandments 8ere in 4act t8o pieces o4 a meteorite5 'esonant 8ith echoes o4 #ol4ram@s Grail +tone <descri)ed as ha(ing )een )ro!ght do8n 4rom hea(en )y a troop o4 angels=<13*=% this intrig!ing possi)ility is taken serio!sly )y se(eral top-4light )i)lical scholars% 8ho point to the 8orship o4 meteoric 4ragments in a n!m)er o4 ancient +emitic c!lt!res<130= and add that;

concealing ta)les o4 la8 8ithin a closed container RseemsS some8hat odd 5 5 5 #ords o4 la8 engra(ed !pon stone 8ere s!rely meant to )e p!)licly displayed 5 5 5 Rit may there4ore )eS s!pposed that the Ark held not t8o ta)les o4 the la8 )!t a 4etish stone% a meteorite 4rom o!nt +inai5<131=

I4 this conCect!re is correct then the 4ield lies open to g!ess 8hat element e9actly the @meteorite 4rom o!nt +inai@ might ha(e consisted o45 It is at any rate not )eyond the )o!nds o4 reason to s!ppose that it might ha(e )een radioacti(e% or that it might ha(e possessed some chemical characteristic that 8o!ld ha(e made it !se4!l to oses i4 his p!rpose had really )een to man!4act!re a potent and d!ra)le so!rce o4 energy 4or installation in the Ark5 The notion that he might ha(e )een man!4act!ring something on o!nt +inai is certainly not r!led o!t )y the +cript!res5 >n the contrary% many passages in the rele(ant chapters o4 the )ook o4 .9od!s are s!44iciently pec!liar and paining to allo8 C!st s!ch an interpretation to )e p!t on them5 The so-called @theophany@ A the mani4estation o4 a deity to a mortal man A )egan immediately a4ter the Israelites had @camped )e4ore the mo!nt@5 Then @ oses 8ent !p !nto God% and the Lord called !nto him o!t o4 the mo!ntain5@<142= At this early stage the Bi)le makes no mention o4 smoke or 4ire or any o4 the other special e44ects that 8ere soon to )e )ro!ght into play5 Instead the prophet simply clim)ed the

mo!ntain and held a pri(ate con(ersation 8ith Dah8eh% a con(ersation that 8as not 8itnessed )y anyone else5 +igni4icantly% one o4 the 4irst instr!ctions that he s!pposedly recei(ed 4rom the deity 8as this;

Tho! shalt set )o!nds !nto the people ro!nd a)o!t% saying% Take heed to yo!rsel(es that ye go not !p into the mo!nt% or to!ch the )order o4 it; #hoe(er to!ches the mo!ntain 8ill )e p!t to death 5 5 5 He m!st )e stoned or shot do8n )y arro8 5 5 5 he m!st not remain ali(e5<141=

It goes almost 8itho!t saying that oses 8o!ld ha(e had a strong reason to impose C!st s!ch a rigoro!s and @di(inely ordained@ e9cl!sion 3one i4 he had indeed )een planning to man!4act!re or process some s!)stance on o!nt +inai; the prospect o4 )eing stoned or shot 8o!ld certainly ha(e deterred the c!rio!s 4rom (ent!ring !p to see 8hat he 8as really doing there and th!s 8o!ld ha(e ena)led him to preser(e the ill!sion that he 8as meeting 8ith God5 At any rate% it 8as only a4ter he had spent three days on the mo!ntain that the drama really )egan5 Then;

In the morning 5 5 5 there 8ere th!nders and lightnings% and a thick clo!d !pon the mo!nt% and the (oice o4 the tr!mpet e9ceeding lo!dJ so that all the people that 8as in the camp trem)led 5 5 5 And mo!nt +inai 8as altogether on a smoke% )eca!se Dah8eh had descended on it in the 4orm o4 4ire5 Like smoke 4rom a 4!rnace the smoke 8ent !p5<142=

Initially it seems that oses spent only part o4 his time isolated on the peak% and that he 8as 4re?!ently in the camp5 +oon% ho8e(er% God told him this;

Come !p to me on the mo!ntain and stay there 8hile I gi(e yo! the stone ta)lets A the la8 and the commandments A 8hich I ha(e 8ritten5<143=

This% then% 8as the prel!de to 8hat 8as to )e the key e(ent on +inai A oses@s ac?!isition o4 the t8o ta)lets o4 stone that he 8o!ld later place inside the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 The prophet@s ascent 8as accompanied )y 4!rther special e44ects;

oses 8ent !p into the mo!nt% and a clo!d co(ered the mo!nt5 And the glory o4 Dah8eh settled !pon mo!nt +inaiJ 4or si9 days the clo!d co(ered it% and on the se(enth day Dah8eh called to oses 4rom inside the clo!d5 To the eyes o4 the sons o4 Israel the glory o4 Dah8eh seemed like a de(o!ring 4ire on the mo!ntain top5 oses 8ent right into the clo!d5 He 8ent !p the mo!ntain and stayed there 4or 4orty days and 4orty nights5<144=

#o!ld an omnipotent God ha(e re?!ired 4orty days and 4orty nights to deli(er t8o stone ta)lets to His prophet7 +!ch a lengthy period seems hardly necessary5 I4% ho8e(er% oses had not )een recei(ing @the ta)lets o4 the Testimony@ at all% )!t instead had )een man!4act!ring or re4ining some compact stone-like energy so!rce to place inside the Ark% then he co!ld 8ell ha(e needed that m!ch time to 4inish the 8ork5 Brom this perspecti(e% the @de(o!ring 4ire@ on the mo!ntain top that the Israelites had interpreted as @the glory o4 Dah8eh@ 8o!ld really ha(e )een the in4ernal glo8 gi(en o44 )y 8hate(er de(ices or chemical processes the prophet 8as !sing to achie(e his o)Cecti(e5 And altho!gh this hypothesis so!nds 4ar-4etched% it is s!rely not more so than the strange in4ormation concerning the ta)lets o4 stone that is contained in the >ld Testament% in the ishnah% in the idrash% in the Talm!d% and in the most archaic Ee8ish legends5

TABL.T+ >B +T>,.7

The clearest descriptions o4 the ta)lets are contained in the Talm!dic- idrashic so!rces 8hich yield the 4ollo8ing in4ormation; <1= they 8ere @made o4 a sapphire-like stone@J <2= they 8ere @not more than si9 hands in length and as m!ch in 8idth@ )!t 8ere ne(ertheless enormo!sly hea(yJ <3= tho!gh hard they 8ere also 4le9i)leJ <4= they 8ere transparent5@<14"=

It 8as !pon these pec!liar o)Cects that the Ten Commandments 8ere s!pposedly 8ritten A )y no lesser 4ig!re than Dah8eh Himsel4J as the Bi)le is at pains to point o!t;

#hen He had 4inished speaking 8ith oses on the mo!ntain o4 +inai% He ga(e him the t8o ta)lets o4 the Testimony% ta)lets o4 stone% inscri)ed )y the 4inger o4 God 5 5 5 And oses t!rned and 8ent do8n 4rom the mo!nt 8ith the t8o ta)lets o4 the Testimony in his hands% ta)lets inscri)ed on )oth sides% inscri)ed on the 4ront and on the )ack5 These ta)lets 8ere the 8ork o4 God% and the 8riting on them 8as God@s 8riting5<14&=

Theologically% there4ore% there can )e no do!)ting the sanctity or the signi4icance o4 the prophet@s )!rden; 8ritten !pon )y the (ery 4inger o4 God% the t8o ta)lets 8ere ?!ite literally

4ragments o4 the di(ine5 Brom the )i)lical (ie8point nothing more precio!s had e(er )een entr!sted to mortal man5 >ne 8o!ld ha(e tho!ght that oses 8o!ld ha(e looked a4ter them5 He did not do so% ho8e(er5 Instead% in a 4it o4 pi?!e% he )roke these p!re and per4ect gi4ts5 #hy did he do this incomprehensi)le thing7 According to the e9planation gi(en in .9od!s it 8as )eca!se the per4idio!s Israelites had lost hope that he 8o!ld e(er ret!rn a4ter his 4orty days on the mo!ntain and had 4ashioned a golden cal4% 8hich they 8ere 8orshipping5 Arri(ing in the camp oses then ca!ght them in 4lagrante delicto o44ering sacri4ices and dancing and prostrating themsel(es )e4ore the idol5 At the sight o4 this grotes?!e apostasy the prophet@s @anger 8a9ed hot and he thre8 do8n the ta)lets that he 8as holding and )roke them at the 4oot o4 the mo!ntain5<14*= He then disposed o4 the golden cal4% had a)o!t three tho!sand o4 the 8orst idolators e9ec!ted% and restored order5<140= +o m!ch% then% 4or the o44icial acco!nt o4 ho8 and 8hy the original ta)lets o4 stone came to )e )roken5 These items% ho8e(er% 8ere clearly o4 (ital importance and had to )e replaced5 Accordingly God instr!cted oses to ret!rn to the mo!ntain top to recei(e t8o ne8 ta)lets5 The prophet complied and @stayed there 8ith Dah8eh 4orty days and 4orty nights 5 5 5 and he inscri)ed on the ta)lets the 8ords o4 the Co(enant% the Ten Commandments5<141= oses then clim)ed do8n the mo!ntain again )earing the ta)lets% e9actly as he had done )e4ore5 A close st!dy o4 the rele(ant )i)lical passages% ho8e(er% does re(eal a single s!)stanti(e and signi4icant di44erence )et8een his t8o descents; on the second occasion @the skin o4 his 4ace shone@J<1"2= on the 4irst there had )een no mention o4 this odd phenomenon5 #hat co!ld ha(e ca!sed the prophet@s 4ace to shine7 The )i)lical scri)es nat!rally ass!med that it had )een his pro9imity to God% and e9plained; @the skin on his 4ace 8as radiant a4ter speaking 8ith Dah8eh5@<1"1= Det on se(eral pre(io!s occasions% dating )ack as 4ar as the )!rning )!sh% oses had stood close to Dah8eh and had not s!44ered any s!ch conse?!ences5 Indeed% a typical e9ample had occ!rred C!st )e4ore he had em)arked on his second 4orty-day e9pedition to +inai5 #hile still in the Israelite camp he had participated in a lengthy and intimate enco!nter 8ith the deity% an enco!nter that had )een held in a specially sancti4ied str!ct!re called the @Tent o4 eeting@5<1"2= There @the Lord spake !nto oses 4ace to 4ace% as a man speaketh !nto his 4riend%@<1"3= )!t there 8as no hint or s!ggestion that the prophet@s skin had glo8ed as a res!lt5 +o 8hat co!ld ha(e prod!ced this e44ect7 Is it not reasona)le to s!ggest that it might ha(e )een the ta)lets o4 stone themsel(es7 >)li?!e corro)oration 4or precisely this s!ggestion e9ists in the Talm!dic and idrashic so!rces 8hich insist that the ta)lets had )een in4!sed 8ith @Di(ine radiance@5 #hen God handed them to oses; @He sei3ed them )y the top third% 8hereas oses took hold o4 the )ottom third% )!t one third remained open% and it 8as in this 8ay that the Di(ine radiance 8as shed !pon oses@ 4ace5@<1"4= +ince this did not happen 8ith the 4irst set o4 ta)lets A the ones that oses )roke A it is legitimate to ask a ?!estion; 8hy 8ere things so di44erent the second time aro!nd7 Co!ld the ans8er possi)ly )e that oses had disco(ered that the 4irst set o4 ta)lets 8ere technically imper4ect as an energy so!rce precisely )eca!se they didn@t )!rn his 4ace7 This 8o!ld e9plain 8hy he )roke them5 He did% ho8e(er% s!stain )!rns 4rom the second set5 :erhaps this pro(ed to him that 8hate(er process he had !sed to man!4act!re them had 8orked A and made him con4ident that they 8o!ld 4!nction properly 8hen they 8ere placed inside the Ark5

The idea that the glo8 or shine on oses@s skin might in 4act ha(e )een ca!sed )y some sort o4 )!rn is o4 co!rse p!rely spec!lati(e5 There is no s!pport 4or it in the Bi)le5 ,e(ertheless% it seems to me to )e a per4ectly reasona)le ded!ction A as reasona)le as any other A 4rom the small amo!nt o4 e(idence that is a(aila)le there5 The description o4 the prophet@s descent 4rom the mo!ntain 8ith the second set o4 ta)lets is limited to C!st se(en (erses in Chapter 34 o4 .9od!s5<1""= These (erses% ho8e(er% make it a)sol!tely clear that his appearance 8as so gr!esome 8hen he arri(ed in the camp that all the Israelites 8ere @a4raid to come nigh him@5<1"&= To spare their 4eelings @he p!t a (eil o(er his 4ace@<1"*= A and e(er a4ter8ards% e9cept 8hen he 8as alone in his tent% he 8ore this (eil5<1"0= Does this not so!nd m!ch less like the )eha(io!r o4 a man 8ho had )een to!ched )y the radiance o4 God than o4 a man )!rned A and )!rned )adly A )y some potent energy so!rce7

A T.+TA .,T T> L>+T T'ITH+

It 8o!ld )e possi)le to spec!late endlessly a)o!t the tr!e character o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant A and o4 its contents5 I ha(e gone as 4ar as I 8ish to do8n this partic!lar road5 'eaders 8ho 8o!ld like to go 4!rther% ho8e(er% might 4ind it interesting to consider 4irst the materials 4rom 8hich the Ark 8as made5 H!ge ?!antities o4 gold seem to ha(e )een !sed A and gold% as 8ell as )eing )ea!ti4!l and no)le% is also chemically non-reacti(e and e9ceptionally dense5 In partic!lar the @mercy seat@ A8hich ser(ed as the lid o4 the relic A 8as )elie(ed )y one learned ra))i <8ho li(ed in the t8el4th cent!ry AD= to ha(e )een a 4!ll hand-)readth thick5<1"1= +ince a hand-)readth 8as traditionally meas!red 4rom the tip o4 the th!m) to the e9tended tip o4 the little 4inger% this means that the Ark 8as closed 8ith a h!lking sla) o4 solid gold nine inches deep5<1&2= #hy 8as it necessary to !se so m!ch o4 the precio!s metal7 And 8as it an accident that 'a))i +helomo Ditshaki 8ho proc!red this in4ormation A as 8ell as a great deal o4 other intelligence concerning the sacred relic A 8as )orn and spent most o4 his li4e in the city o4 Troyes in the heart o4 Brance@s Champagne region7<1&1= That same city 8as the home o4 ChrQtien de Troyes 8hose 8ork on the Holy Grail% 8ritten se(enty-4i(e years a4ter the ra))i@s death% esta)lished the genre in 8hich #ol4ram (on .schen)ach 8as soon to 4ollo85 And it 8as in Troyes as 8ell that the r!le o4 the $nights Templar 8as dra8n !p )y +aint Bernard o4 Clair(a!95 In this 8ay the mysteries and the connections m!ltiply5 Those 8ho are c!rio!s might also 8ish to gi(e some tho!ght to pec!liar garments that the High :riests o4 ancient Israel 8ore 8hen they approached the Ark5<1&2= I4 they did not 8ear these garments their li(es 8ere )elie(ed to )e at risk5<1&3= #as this p!rely a matter o4 s!perstition and rit!al7 >r 8as protecti(e clothing necessary 4or some reason that perhaps had to do 8ith the nat!re o4 the Ark itsel47 'elated to this point is another A the c!rio!s co(erings% consisting o4 t8o layers o4 cloth and one o4 leather% that the Ark had to )e 8rapped in )e4ore it co!ld )e transported<1&4= <apparently in order to pre(ent anyone 4rom )eing killed as a res!lt o4 accidentally to!ching it 8hilst it 8as on the mo(e=<1&"=5 .(en 8hen these preca!tions had )een 4!lly complied 8ith% ho8e(er% the sacred relic still sometimes ca!sed the death o4 its )earers5 It did so 8ith

@sparks@5<1&&= B!t 8hat 8ere these sparks7 And 8ere the 8rappings A 8hich 8ere all made o4 noncond!cti(e materials<1&*= A perhaps intended to ser(e as ins!lation7<1&0= Also o4 some potential interest is the story o4 ,ada) and A)ih!% the t8o sons o4 Aaron 8ho 8ere str!ck do8n )y the Ark soon a4ter its installation in the Ta)ernacle <I ha(e descri)ed this incident )rie4ly in Chapter 12J according to the +cript!res a 4lame leapt o!t at them @and de(o!red them and they died=5<1&1= +!rprisingly% oses completely ignored the normally lengthy He)re8 4!neral proced!res and instead ordered that the )odies sho!ld immediately )e taken @4ar a8ay@ o!t o4 the camp5<1*2= #hy sho!ld he ha(e done s!ch a thing7 #hat 8as it e9actly that he 4eared7 o(ing 4or8ard in time% I s!ggest that those 8ho 8ish to learn more co!ld do 8orse than e9amine the passages in the Bi)le 8hich reco!nt the dread4!l a44lictions that the Ark 8orked amongst the :hilistines d!ring the se(en months that it spent in their hands a4ter they had capt!red it at the )attle o4 .)ene3er5<1*1= Again% I ha(e descri)ed these e(ents in Chapter 12% )!t I ha(e also le4t m!ch !nsaid that co!ld )e said5 any riddles% too% might )e sol(ed )y a close st!dy o4 8hat happened in the years a4ter the Ark 8as ret!rned to the Israelites )y the :hilistines and )e4ore $ing +olomon 4inally installed it in the Holy o4 Holies o4 his Temple in Eer!salem5 I )elie(e that an e9planation e9ists 4or the miracles and the terrors that it 8orked d!ring this period<1*2= A a rational e9planation connected to its character as a man-made de(ice and not to any di(ine or !nearthly in4l!ences5 Indeed% my o8n in(estigations ha(e led me to concl!de that it may only )e possi)le to !nderstand the sacred relic properly 8hen it is seen in this light A not as a repository o4 s!pernat!ral po8ers )!t as an arte4act and as an instr!ment5 ,o do!)t this instr!ment 8as (ery di44erent 4rom any kno8n to !s today% )!t it 8as none the less the prod!ct o4 h!man ingen!ity% de(ised )y h!man hands to 4!l4il (ery h!man o)Cecti(es5 As s!ch its magic and its mystery are not diminished 4or me5 The gi4t o4 an ancient and secret science% I think o4 it as a key to the sealed and !nremem)ered history o4 o!r species% a sign o4 o!r 4orgotten glory% and a testament to lost tr!ths a)o!t o!rsel(es5 And 8hat else is the ?!est 4or the Ark or the Grail i4 it is not a ?!est 4or kno8ledge% a ?!est 4or 8isdom and a ?!est 4or enlightenment7

:art 6; Israel and .gypt% 1112 #here is the Glory7

< ap "=

Chapter 14 The Glory is departed 4rom Israel

In the mid-a4ternoon o4 Th!rsday 4 >cto)er 1112 I entered the old 8alled city o4 Eer!salem thro!gh the Ea44a Gate5 A4ter passing >mar I)n el-$hata) +?!are% 8ith its pleasant ca4Qs and ha8kers@ stands% a )e8ildering ma3e o4 narro8 streets pa(ed 8ith ancient co))le stones lay ahead o4 me5 A 4e8 years earlier this 8hole area 8o!ld ha(e )een seething 8ith shoppers and sightseersJ no8% ho8e(er% it 8as almost deserted5 The :alestinian inti4ada% and recent threats )y Ira? to @)!rn@ Israel 8ith +c!d missiles% had )een eno!gh to dri(e (irt!ally all 4oreigners a8ay5 To my right% as I 8alked% 8as the Armenian /!arter and% to my le4t% the Christian /!arter dominated )y the Ch!rch o4 the Holy +ep!lchre5 #ithin this great edi4ice 8as the Chapel o4 the In(ention o4 the Cross 8hich the (ictorio!s !slim general +aladin A at the re?!est o4 $ing Lali)ela A had granted to the .thiopian comm!nity o4 Eer!salem a4ter the Cr!saders had )een e9pelled 4rom the city in AD 110*5<1= In later years the .thiopians had lost their pri(ileges in the chapel5 I kne8% ho8e(er% that they still occ!pied an e9tensi(e monastery on its roo45 I contin!ed in an easterly direction thro!gh the silent and deserted alleys% many o4 8hich 8ere co(ered 8ith can(as a8nings that c!t o!t the glare and heat o4 the a4ternoon s!n% creating a cool% almost s!)terranean atmosphere5 A 4e8 4orlorn shopkeepers sitting in their door8ays made hal4-hearted attempts to sell me so!(enirs that I did not 8ant and )ags o4 ripe oranges that I had no desire to carry5 To my right no8% as I proceeded along the +treet o4 the Chain% 8as the Ee8ish /!arter 8here gangs o4 Hasidic yo!ths dressed in dark s!its and incongr!o!s 4!r hats roamed p!gnacio!sly a)o!t% declaring )y their )ody lang!age that they 8ere the masters o4 they s!r(eyed5 To my le4t% 4illed to the )rim 8ith !nhappiness% 4r!stration and restless despair% 8as the !slim /!arter5 And straight ahead% rising !p a)o(e the cl!tter o4 the old city like a golden sym)ol o4 hope% 8as the Dome o4 the 'ock A the )ea!ti4!l mos?!e erected )y the Caliph >mar and his s!ccessors in the se(enth cent!ry AD= and regarded as the third most sacred place in the Islamic 8orld5<2= It 8as the Dome o4 the 'ock that I had come to see% altho!gh not )eca!se o4 its signi4icance to !slims )!t )eca!se it had )een )!ilt on the original site o4 the Temple o4 +olomon5 Inside I kne8 that I 8o!ld 4ind a great stone% )elie(ed )y orthodo9 Ee8s to )e the +hetiyyah A the 4o!ndation-stone o4 the 8orld5 And on that stone% in the tenth cent!ry BC% amidst the @thick darkness@ o4 the Holy o4 Holies% the Ark o4 the Co(enant had )een placed )y +olomon himsel45<3= Like a man 8ho seeks to conC!re !p an image o4 his long-departed lo(er )y caressing some item o4 her clothing% I there4ore hoped that )y to!ching the +hetiyyah I might gain a deeper and more a)iding sense o4 the lost relic that I so!ght5 This% ho8e(er% 8as not my only p!rpose on that a4ternoon in >cto)er5 E!st a 4e8 h!ndred metres to the so!th o4 the Dome o4 the 'ock I kne8 that I 8o!ld also )e a)le to (isit another )!ilding o4 central importance to my ?!est A the Al-A?sa os?!e% 8hich the $nights Templar had !sed as their head?!arters in the t8el4th cent!ry AD5 Brom this )ase% I s!spected% they had sallied 4orth to cond!ct in(estigations o4 their o8n in the ca(erns )eneath the +hetiyyah A

8here certain legends s!ggested that the Ark had )een concealed shortly )e4ore the destr!ction o4 +olomon@s Temple5<4= It 8as to the Al-A?sa os?!e that I 8ent 4irst% slipping o44 my shoes and entering the cool and roomy rectang!lar hall )elie(ed )y !slims to )e the @4!rthermost sanct!ary@% to 8hich !hammad 8as s!pposedly transported )y angels on his 4amo!s ,ight Eo!rney5 #hate(er place o4 prayer e9isted in the :rophet@s li4etime <AD "*2-&32= had long since (anished% ho8e(er% and I 8as con4ronted )y a medley o4 di44erent )!ilding styles% the oldest o4 8hich dated )ack to aro!nd AD 123" and the most recent to the period 1130-42% 8hen the Italian dictator !ssolini had donated the 4orest o4 mar)le col!mns that lay ahead o4 me and 8hen $ing Baro!k o4 .gypt had 4inanced the restoration and repainting o4 the ceiling5<"= The Templars% too% had le4t their mark on the great mos?!e5 Taking !p residence here in AD 1111 and not lea(ing !ntil 110* 8hen they 8ere dri(en o!t o4 Eer!salem )y +aladin% they had )een responsi)le% amongst other things% 4or the three magni4icent central )ays o4 the porch5 !ch o4 the other architect!re that the knights had added had s!)se?!ently )een destroyed5 Their re4ectory% ho8e(er% had s!r(i(ed <)eing incorporated into the near)y #omen@s os?!e=% and the (ast !ndergro!nd area 8hich they had de(eloped as sta)les 4or their horses <the so-called @+ta)les o4 +olomon@= 8ere also in a good state o4 repair5<&= As I care4!lly picked my 8ay in stockinged 4eet amongst the !slims 8ho 8ere already assem)ling 4or a4ternoon prayer I 4elt strangely light-headed )!t at the same time alert A keyed!p5 The C!m)le o4 di44erent eras and in4l!ences% the old mi9ed in 8ith the ne8% !ssolini@s mar)le col!mns% and the ele(enth-cent!ry Islamic mosaics% had all conspired to con4!se my perceptions5 C!rrents o4 incense-laden air 8a4ted thro!gh the spacio!s and light-4illed interior% s!mmoning !p (isions o4 the .!ropean knights 8ho had li(ed and died here so long ago and 8ho had named their strange and secreti(e order a4ter the Temple o4 +olomon A the site o4 8hich% no8 occ!pied )y the Dome o4 the 'ock% 8as only t8o min!tes@ 8alk a8ay5 The raison d@Mtre o4 the Temple had )een e9tremely simple5 It had )een concei(ed and designed as nothing more% and nothing less% than @an ho!se o4 rest 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord@5<*= B!t the Ark% o4 co!rse% had long since (anished% and the Temple% too% 8as gone5 Itterly and completely destroyed )y the Ba)ylonians in "0* BC% the str!ct!re erected )y +olomon had )een replaced hal4 a cent!ry later )y the +econd Temple A 8hich% in its t!rn% had )een ra3ed )y the 'omans in AD *25 The site had then lapsed into dis!se !ntil the arri(al o4 the !slim armies in AD &30 8hen the Dome o4 the 'ock had )een )!ilt5<0= Thro!gho!t all these changes the +hetiyyah had remained in place5 The sacred 4loor on 8hich the Ark had once stood 8as there4ore the single constant 4actor that had 8eathered all the storms o4 history% that had seen Ee8s and Ba)ylonians and 'omans and Christians and !slims come and go% and that still end!red today5

Lea(ing the Al-A?sa os?!e% and slipping on my shoes again% I no8 made my 8ay !p thro!gh the tree-lined precincts o4 the Temple o!nt to the Dome o4 the 'ock A the (ery name o4 8hich re4lected its g!ardianship o4 the +hetiyyah5 A large and elegant octagonal )!ilding 4aced 8ith rich )l!e tiling% its dominant e9terior 4eat!re 8as its massi(e golden dome <8hich% indeed% co!ld )e seen 4rom many di44erent parts o4 Eer!salem=5 To my eye% ho8e(er% there 8as

nothing o(er8helming a)o!t this tall and per4ect mon!ment5 >n the contrary it con(eyed a comple9 4eeling o4 lightness and grace co!pled 8ith an !nderstated )!t reass!ring strength5 This 4irst impression 8as enhanced and completed )y the interior o4 the )!ilding% 8hich ?!ite literally took my )reath a8ay5 The soaring ceiling% the col!mns and arches s!pporting the inner octagon% the (ario!s niches and recesses% the mosaics% the inscriptions A all these elements and many more melded together in a s!)lime harmony o4 proportion and design that ga(e elo?!ent e9pression to h!manity@s yearning 4or the di(ine and that proclaimed that yearning to )e )oth no)le and pro4o!nd5 y glance had )een dra8n !p8ards 8hen I entered A !p8ards into the c!pola% the 4arthest reaches o4 8hich 8ere lost in the cool darkness o(erhead5 ,o8% ho8e(er% as tho!gh attracted )y some po8er4!l magnetic 4orce% I 4elt my attention t!gged do8n again to8ards the (ery centre o4 the mos?!e 8here a h!ge ta8ny rock perhaps thirty 4eet across% 4lat in places% Cagged in others% lay directly )eneath the dome5 This 8as the +hetiyyah and% as I approached it% I 8as a8are that my heart 8as )eating more ?!ickly than !s!al and that my )reathing seemed la)o!red5 It 8as not di44ic!lt to !nderstand 8hy the ancients had tho!ght o4 this great )o!lder as the 4o!ndation-stone o4 the 8orld or to see 8hy +olomon had chosen it as the centrepiece o4 his Temple5 'o!gh-te9t!red and asymmetrical% it C!tted o!t a)o(e the )edrock o4 o!nt oriah as solid and as !nshaka)le as the earth itsel45 A car(ed 8ooden railing s!rro!nded the 8hole central area% )!t into one corner o4 this railing 8as set a shrine thro!gh 8hich I 8as allo8ed to p!sh my hand to to!ch the +hetiyyah5 Its te9t!re% smoothed do8n )y the caresses o4 co!ntless generations o4 pilgrims )e4ore me% 8as slick% almost glasslike% and I stood there% lost in my o8n tho!ghts% drinking in thro!gh the pores o4 my 4ingers the immense anti?!ity o4 this strange and 8onder4!l stone5 Tho!gh it 8as perhaps a small (ictory% it ne(ertheless meant a great deal to me to )e in this place and to sa(o!r this moment o4 ?!iet re4lection at the so!rce o4 the mystery that I so!ght to sol(e5 .(ent!ally I 8ithdre8 my hand and contin!ed my circ!it o4 the +hetiyyah5 At one side a stair8ay led do8n to a deep hollo8 )eneath the stone A a ca(e-like cist kno8n to the !slims as Bir el-A r8eh% the @#ell o4 +o!ls@5 Here% according to the 4aith4!l% the (oices o4 the dead co!ld sometimes )e heard mingled 8ith the so!nds o4 the ri(ers o4 paradise5 As I entered% ho8e(er% I co!ld hear nothing e9cept the m!rm!red prayers o4 the hal4-do3en or so pilgrims 8ho had preceded me and 8ho 8ere no8 sl!mped in o)eisance on the cold rock 4loor in(oking in melli4l!o!s Ara)ic the name o4 Allah% the Compassionate% the erci4!l A a deity 8hose prophets% long )e4ore the time o4 !hammad% had incl!ded A)raham and oses and 8ho% in his a)sol!te and !ncompromising oneness% 8as in no 8ay di44erent 4rom Dah8eh% the God o4 the Ark5<1= I already kne8 that a n!m)er o4 Ee8ish and Islamic legends spoke o4 a sealed and secret passage )eneath the #ell o4 +o!ls leading into the )o8els o4 the earth% 8here the Ark had s!pposedly )een concealed at the time o4 the destr!ction o4 +olomon@s Temple A and 8here many )elie(ed that it rested still% g!arded )y spirits and demons5<12= As noted in :art II% I s!spected that the $nights Templar co!ld ha(e )een moti(ated to search here 4or the Ark in the t8el4th cent!ry AD a4ter learning o4 these legends5 >ne (ariant o4 the tale that might partic!larly

ha(e e9cited their interest p!rported to )e an eye8itness acco!nt )y a certain @Bar!ch@ o4 an inter(ention )y an @angel o4 the Lord@ only moments )e4ore the Ba)ylonian army )roke into the Temple;

And I sa8 him descend into the Holy o4 Holies% and take 4rom it the (eil% and the Holy Ark% and its co(er% and the t8o ta)lets 5 5 5 And he cried to the earth in a lo!d (oice% @.arth% earth% earth% hear the 8ord o4 the mighty God% and recei(e 8hat I commit to yo!% and g!ard them !ntil the last times% so that% 8hen yo! are ordered% yo! may restore them% and strangers may not get possession o4 them 5 5 5@ And the earth opened its mo!th and s8allo8ed them !p<11= I4 the Templars had indeed )een inspired )y this te9t to search )eneath the #ell o4 +o!ls they 8o!ld not% I 8as a)sol!tely con4ident% ha(e 4o!nd the Ark there5 The so-called @Apocalypse o4 Bar!ch@ <4rom 8hich the a)o(e ?!otation is taken= might easily ha(e seemed to them like a gen!inely ancient doc!ment dating 4rom the si9th cent!ry AD5 The tr!th% ho8e(er% as modern scholarship had s!)se?!ently re(ealed% 8as that it 8as 8ritten in the late 4irst cent!ry AD and that it there4ore co!ld not possi)ly ha(e )een an eye8itness acco!nt o4 the concealment o4 the sacred relic% 8hether )y an angel or )y any other agency5 >n the contrary it 8as% 4rom )eginning to end% a 8ork o4 imaginati(e 4iction 8hich% despite its eerie and e(ocati(e tone% possessed no historical merit 8hatsoe(er5<12= Bor this and other reasons% I 4elt s!re that the Templars 8o!ld ha(e )een 4r!strated in their e9ca(ations )eneath the Temple o!nt5 B!t I also s!spected that they had later learned o4 .thiopia@s claim to )e the last resting place o4 the Ark and that a gro!p o4 knights had !ltimately gone there to in(estigate this claim 4or themsel(es5<13= I% too% 8as 4ollo8ing the same trail that those knights had st!m)led !pon so many cent!ries )e4ore% and I 4elt that it pointed compellingly to8ards the sanct!ary chapel in the sacred city o4 A9!m5 Be4ore attempting to make my o8n 8ay into the 8ar-torn highlands o4 Tigray% ho8e(er% I 8anted to )e a)sol!tely satis4ied that there 8as no other co!ntry or place 8here the lost relic co!ld )e5 It 8as that desire that had )ro!ght me to the original site o4 the Temple o4 +olomon on 4 >cto)er 11125 And it 8as that desire that had dra8n me to the +hetiyyah% on 8hich the Ark had once stood and 4rom 8hich it had (anished5 That 8as my starting point% )!t no8 I intended to !se the rest o4 my stay in Eer!salem to talk to religio!s and academic a!thorities and to e9amine in the greatest possi)le depth all the circ!mstances kno8n to ha(e s!rro!nded the mysterio!s disappearance o4 the relic5 >nly i4 I 8as still con4ident o4 the )asic merit o4 the .thiopian claim a4ter I had completed that e9ercise 8o!ld I 4inally commit mysel4 to the A9!m ad(ent!re5 The Ean!ary 1111 Timkat ceremonials at 8hich I hoped that the o)Cect )elie(ed to )e the Ark 8o!ld )e carried in procession 8ere% ho8e(er% less than 4o!r months a8ay5 I 8as there4ore ac!tely a8are that my time 8as r!nning o!t5



The installation o4 the Ark in the Temple o4 +olomon% 8hich A as I had already esta)lished A m!st ha(e taken place aro!nd the year 1"" BC%<14= 8as descri)ed in the 4irst )ook o4 $ings;

Then +olomon assem)led the elders o4 Israel 5 5 5 And the priests )ro!ght in the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord to its place in the Temple 5 5 5 in the Holy o4 Holies 5 5 5 And it came to pass% 8hen the priests 8ere come o!t o4 the holy place% that the clo!d 4illed the ho!se o4 the Lord% so that the priests co!ld not stand to minister )eca!se o4 the clo!d; 4or the glory o4 the Lord had 4illed the ho!se o4 the Lord5 Then spake +olomon% @The Lord said that he 8o!ld d8ell in the thick darkness5 I ha(e s!rely )!ilt thee a ho!se to d8ell in% a settled place 4or thee to a)ide in 4ore(er 5 5 5 B!t 8ill God indeed d8ell on the earth7 )ehold% the hea(en and hea(en o4 hea(ens cannot contain theeJ ho8 m!ch less this ho!se that I ha(e )!ilded7@<1"=

According to the +cript!res% +olomon had later @t!rned a8ay his heart a4ter other gods@ and had 8orshipped 8ith partic!lar enth!siasm @Ashtoreth the goddess o4 the Gidonians and 5 5 5 ilcom the a)omination o4 the Amorites@5 <1&= Beca!se o4 this tendency to apostasy I 4o!nd it di44ic!lt to )elie(e that the monarch 8hose legendary 8isdom 8as said to ha(e e9celled @all the 8isdom o4 .gypt@ <1*= had e(er really held Dah8eh in especially high esteem5 And 4or the same reason I did not think that he had )een paying metaphysical tri)!te to the omnipotence and omnipresence o4 the God o4 Israel 8hen he had e9pressed his do!)ts a)o!t the a)ility o4 the Temple to @contain@ the Ark5 >n the contrary% it seemed to me that 8hen +olomon had !ttered these c!rio!s 8ords he had )een gi(ing (oice to gen!ine 4ears o4 a pragmatic rather than o4 a spirit!al nat!re5 ight not the sacred relic still )reak 4ree% e(en tho!gh it 8as anchored no8 to the (ery 4o!ndation-stone o4 the 8orld7 ight not the !npredicta)le energies pent !p 8ithin it still )e s!44iciently potent and dangero!s to )!rn thro!gh the thick darkness o4 the Holy o4 Holies and to destroy the great @ho!se@ that had )een erected aro!nd it7 There 8as% I 4elt% a real sense in 8hich the Temple appeared to ha(e )een )!ilt less as an earthly palace 4or a dearly )elo(ed )!t incorporeal deity than as a kind o4 prison 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 #ithin the Holy o4 Holies% a)o(e the t8o cher!)im that 4aced each other across the relic@s golden lid% +olomon had installed t8o additional cher!)im o4 giant si3e A grim g!ardians indeed% 8ith 8ingspans o4 4i4teen 4eet or more% all co(ered in gold5<10= ean8hile the Holy o4 Holies itsel4 A the p!rpose o4 8hich% the Bi)le stated e9plicitly% had )een @to contain the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 Dah8eh<11= A had )een a per4ect c!)e% 4o!rs?!are and immensely strong5 eas!ring thirty 4eet long% )y thirty 4eet 8ide% )y thirty 4eet high%<22= its 4loor% its 4o!r 8alls and its ceiling had )een lined 8ith p!re gold% 8eighing an estimated 4"%222 po!nds%<21= and ri(eted 8ith golden nails5<22= ,or 8as this golden cell the only 4eat!re o4 the Temple@s constr!ction that ca!ght my attention5 At least as interesting 8as the pedigree o4 the cra4tsman A a 4oreigner A 8ho had )een called in to complete all the other metal8ork that +olomon had re?!ired;

And +olomon sent 4or Hiram o4 TyreJ he 8as the son o4 a 8ido8 o4 the tri)e o4 ,aphtali 5 5 5 and he 8as 4illed 8ith 8isdom% and !nderstanding% and c!nning to 8ork all 8orks in )ron3e<23=

The phrase Xhe 8as the son o4 a 8ido8Y had C!mped o!t at me 4rom the page as soon as I had set eyes !pon it5 #hy7 Beca!se I kne8 that the (ery 4irst mention in literat!re o4 the Grail hero :ar3i(al had descri)ed him in almost e9actly the same 8ords as @the son o4 the 8ido8ed lady@<24= Indeed% )oth ChrQtien de Troyes% the 4o!nder o4 the genre% and his s!ccessor #ol4ram (on .schen)ach% had gone to great lengths to make it clear that :ar3i(al@s mother had )een a 8ido85<2"= Co!ld I )e looking% I 8ondered% at yet another o4 the )i3arre coincidences in 8hich% thro!gh the !se o4 dense and o4ten decepti(e sym)olism% the 4ictional ?!est 4or the Holy Grail seemed to ha(e )een deli)erately de(ised to ser(e as a cryptogram 4or the real ?!est 4or the lost Ark7 I had long since satis4ied mysel4 that the $nights Templar had )een key players in )oth and that% a4ter the destr!ction o4 their order in the 4o!rteenth cent!ry% many o4 their traditions had )een preser(ed in Breemasonry5 I 8as there4ore intrig!ed to learn that Hiram o4 Tyre% 8ho the Bi)le said had )een called to Eer!salem )y +olomon% 8as not only a 8ido8@s son like :ar3i(al% )!t also a 4ig!re o4 immense signi4icance to BreemasonsA8ho kne8 him as @Hiram A)i44@% and 8ho made re4erence to him in all their most important rit!als5<2&= According to asonic tradition Hiram 8as m!rderd )y three o4 his assistants soon a4ter he had completed the )ron3e8ork o4 the Temple5 And this e(ent 8as 4or some reason regarded as so laden 8ith meaning that it 8as commemorated in the initiation ceremonies 4or aster asons A in 8hich each initiate 8as re?!ired to play the role o4 the m!rder (ictim5 In one a!thoritati(e st!dy I 4o!nd this description o4 the rele(ant part o4 the ceremonial <8hich is still in reg!lar !se today=;

Blind4olded on the gro!nd% the initiate hears the three m!rderers decide to )!ry him in a pile o4 r!))le !ntil @lo8 t8el(e@ <midnight=% 8hen they 8ill carry the )ody a8ay 4rom the Temple5 To sym)olise the )!rial o4 Hiram A)i44% the candidate is 8rapped in a )lanket and carried to the side o4 the room5 +oon he hears a )ell strike t8el(e times and is carried 4rom the @r!))le@ gra(e to a gra(e d!g on the )ro8 o4 a hill @8est o4 o!nt oriah@ <the Temple o!nt=5 He hears the m!rderers agree to mark his gra(e 8ith a sprig o4 acacia% then set o!t to escape to .thiopia across the 'ed +ea5<2*=

Here% then% 8ere more coincidences A a minor one in the 4orm o4 the sprig o4 acacia <the same 8ood that 8as !sed to make the Ark=% and a maCor one in the asonic tradition that Hiram@s m!rderers had intended to 4lee @to .thiopia@5 I had no idea ho8 m!ch 8eight I sho!ld attach to s!ch details )!t I co!ld not rid mysel4 o4 the 4eeling that they m!st in some 8ay )e rele(ant to my ?!est5

This s!spicion deepened% 4!rthermore% 8hen I t!rned )ack to the Bi)le to 4ind that one o4 the )ron3e items o4 Temple 4!rnit!re that Hiram 8as said to ha(e )!ilt 8as the +ea o4 cast metal% ten c!)its 4rom rim to rim% circ!lar in shape and 4i(e c!)its highJ a cord thirty c!)its long ga(e the meas!rement o4 its girth 5 5 5 It 8as a hands)readth in thickness% and its rim 8as shaped like the rim o4 a c!p% like a 4lo8er5 It held t8o tho!sand )aths5<20=

This @+ea@% I learned% had stood in the co!rtyard o4 the Temple5 It had )een a h!ge )ron3e )asin% 4i4teen 4eet in diameter and se(en and a hal4 4eet high5 It had 8eighed aro!nd thirty tonnes 8hen empty )!t had normally )een kept 4!ll 8ith an estimated 12%222 gallons o4 8ater5<21= ost a!thorities admitted 4rankly that they did not kno8 8hat its 4!nction had )een A altho!gh some tho!ght that it had sym)oli3ed the @primordial 8aters@ re4erred to in the )ook o4 Genesis<32= and others )elie(ed that it had )een !sed )y the priests 4or their rit!al a)l!tions5<31= I% ho8e(er% 4o!nd neither o4 these hypotheses satis4actory A and% o4 the t8o% the latter seemed the most impro)a)le )eca!se the Bi)le stated ?!ite plainly that Hiram had made ten smaller )ron3e )asins 4or precisely this p!rpose <placed on 8heeled stands% each )asin held @4orty )aths@=5<32= A4ter re(ie8ing the e(idence% there4ore% I entered the 4ollo8ing spec!lation in my note)ook;

Is it not possi)le that the )ron3e @+ea@ 8hich Hiram made 4or the co!rtyard o4 +olomon@s Temple 8as a thro8)ack to the ancient .gyptian rit!als on 8hich the ceremonies o4 the Ark appear to ha(e )een closely modelled7 In the 4esti(al o4 Apet at L!9or the @Arks@ containing e44igies o4 the gods 8ere al8ays carried to 8ater5<33= And this% too% is precisely 8hat happens in .thiopia today; at Timkat in Gondar the ta)otat are carried to the edge o4 a @sacred lake@ at the rear o4 the castle5<34= +o perhaps the )ron3e +ea 8as also a kind o4 sacred lake7

According to the Bi)le% the other items 4ashioned )y Hiram 4or +olomon@s Temple had incl!ded @the ash containers% the scoops and the sprinkling )o8ls@<3"= and also t8o )ron3e pillarsJ the height o4 one pillar 8as eighteen c!)its% and a cord t8el(e c!)its long ga(e the meas!rement o4 its girthJ so also 8as the second pillar5 5 He set !p the pillars in 4ront o4 the (esti)!le o4 the sanct!aryJ he set !p the right-hand pillar and named it EachinJ he set !p the le4t-hand pillar and named it Boa35 +o the 8ork on the pillars 8as completed5<3&=

Eachin and Boa3% I disco(ered% also 4eat!red in asonic traditions5<3*= According to the @old rit!al@ these t8o great pillars had )een hollo85 Inside them had )een stored the @ancient records@ and the @(al!a)le 8ritings@ pertaining to the past o4 the Ee8ish people5<30= And amongst these records% the Breemasons claimed% had )een @the secret o4 the magical +hamir and the history o4 its properties@5<31= y c!riosity 8as aro!sed )y this mention o4 the @magical +hamir@5 #hat had it )een7 #as it C!st a piece o4 asonic arcana% or 8as it re4erred to in the Bi)le7

A4ter a painstaking search% I 8as a)le to con4irm that the 8ord @+hamir@ appeared only 4o!r times in the >ld and ,e8 Testaments<42= A thrice as a place name and once as the name o4 a man5 Clearly% there4ore% none o4 these co!ld ha(e )een the @magical@ +hamir% the secrets o4 8hich the asons claimed had )een concealed in Hiram@s )ron3e pillars5 I did 4ind the in4ormation that I 8as looking 4or% ho8e(er A not in the +cript!res )!t in the Talm!dic- idrashic so!rces at my disposal5 Beca!se oses had commanded the Israelites not to !se @any tool o4 iron@ in the constr!ction o4 holy places%<41= +olomon had ordered that no hammers% a9es or chisels sho!ld )e !sed to c!t and dress the many massi(e stone )locks 4rom 8hich the o!ter 8alls and co!rtyard o4 the Temple had )een )!ilt5 Instead he had pro(ided the arti4icers 8ith an ancient de(ice% dating )ack to the time o4 oses himsel45<42= This de(ice 8as called the +hamir and 8as capa)le o4 c!tting the to!ghest o4 materials 8itho!t 4riction or heat5<43= Also kno8n as @the stone that splits rocks@%<44= the +hamir may not )e p!t in an iron (essel 4or sa4ekeeping% nor in any metal (essel; it 8o!ld )!rst s!ch a receptacle as!nder5 It is kept 8rapped !p in a 8oollen cloth% and this in t!rn is placed in a lead )asket 4illed 8ith )arley )ran 5 5 5 #ith the destr!ction o4 the Temple the +hamir (anished5<4"=

I 8as 4ascinated )y this odd and ancient tradition% 8hich also claimed that the +hamir had possessed @the remarka)le property o4 c!tting the hardest o4 diamonds@5<4&= I then 4o!nd a collateral (ersion o4 the same story 8hich added that it had )een ?!ite noiseless 8hile it 8as at 8ork5<4*= All in all% I concl!ded% these characteristics <like many o4 the characteristics o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant= so!nded )roadly technological in nat!re% rather than in any 8ay @magical@ or s!pernat!ral5 And I also tho!ght it signi4icant that this pec!liar de(ice A again like the Ark A had )een directly associated 8ith oses5 Binally it did not seem to me entirely irrele(ant that the Breemasons had maintained their o8n separate traditions a)o!t it A traditions 8hich stated that its secrets had )een concealed inside the t8o )ron3e pillars placed @in 4ront o4 the (esti)!le o4 the sanct!ary@ )y Hiram the 8ido8@s son5 #itho!t kno8ledge o4 those long-lost @secrets@% I reali3ed that I co!ld not hope to go any 4!rther 8ith this line o4 in?!iry5 At the same time% ho8e(er% I 4elt that the story o4 the +hamir deepened the mystery s!rro!nding the real nat!re o4 the great stronghold on the top o4 o!nt oriah that had )een )!ilt and e9plicitly dedicated as @an ho!se o4 rest 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord@5 #ith its )ron3e pillars and its )ron3e @+ea@% its giant cher!)im and its golden inner shrine% +olomon@s Temple had clearly )een a special place% 8onder4!lly made% the 4oc!s o4 s!perstition and religio!s dread% and the centre o4 Ee8ish 4aith and c!lt!ral li4e5 Ho8% then% co!ld the Ark possi)ly ha(e disappeared 4rom it7


An o)(io!s ans8er to the last ?!estion A 8hich% i4 correct% 8o!ld completely in(alidate the .thiopian claim A 8as that the Ark co!ld ha(e )een taken )y 4orce 4rom the Temple d!ring one o4 the se(eral military catastrophes that Israel s!44ered a4ter the death o4 +olomon5 The 4irst o4 these catastrophes occ!rred in 12& BC d!ring the !ns!ccess4!l reign o4 +olomon@s son 'eho)oam5<40= Then% according to the 4irst )ook o4 $ings% an .gyptian :haraoh kno8n as +heshon? <or @+hishak@= mo!nted a 4!ll-scale in(asion;

In the 4i4th year o4 king 'eho)oam 5 5 5 +hishak king o4 .gypt came !p against Eer!salem; And he took a8ay the treas!res o4 the ho!se o4 the Lord% and the treas!res o4 the king@s ho!seJ he e(en took a8ay all5<41=

There 8as nothing in this tantali3ingly )rie4 acco!nt to s!ggest that +hishak@s )ooty had not incl!ded the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 B!t i4 the Ark had indeed )een capt!red C!st thirty years a4ter +olomon had installed it in the Temple then it seemed to me that the scri)es 8o!ld ha(e said so A and 8o!ld in addition ha(e lamented the loss o4 the precio!s relic5 They had not e(en mentioned it% ho8e(er<"2= A 8hich to my mind implied one o4 t8o things; either the Ark had )een secretly remo(ed )e4ore the arri(al o4 the .gyptian army <perhaps d!ring the reign o4 +olomon himsel4 as .thiopian tradition insisted=J or it had remained in sit! in the Holy o4 Holies thro!gho!t the in(asion5 B!t the notion that the :haraoh co!ld ha(e taken it looked most impla!si)le5 A 4!rther indication that this 8as so had )een le4t )y +hishak himsel4 in the 4orm o4 his (ast tri!mphal relie4 at $arnak5 I had already )ecome ?!ite 4amiliar 8ith that relie4 d!ring my (ario!s (isits to .gypt and I 4elt s!re that it had made no mention o4 the Arc o4 the Co(enant or% 4or that matter% o4 any siege or pillage o4 Eer!salem5<"1= >n checking 4!rther I 8as no8 a)le to con4irm that this impression had )een correct5 >ne a!thoritati(e st!dy stated !ne?!i(ocally that the maCority o4 the to8ns and cities listed as ha(ing )een sacked )y +hishak had in 4act )een in the northern part o4 Israel;

Eer!salem% target o4 +hishak@s campaign according to the Bi)le% is missing5 Altho!gh the inscription is hea(ily damaged% it is certain that Eer!salem 8as not incl!ded )eca!se the list is arranged into geographical se?!ences 8hich allo8 no space 4or the name Eer!salem5<"2=

#hat then co!ld ha(e happened at the holy city to e9plain the +cript!ral assertion that +hishak had taken a8ay @the treas!res o4 the ho!se o4 the Lord% and the treas!res o4 the king@s ho!se@7 The academic consens!s% I disco(ered% 8as that the :haraoh had s!rro!nded Eer!salem )!t that he had ne(er act!ally entered itJ instead he had )een @)o!ght o44 8ith the treas!res o4 +olomon@s temple and palace5@<"3= These treas!res% moreo(er% co!ld not possi)ly ha(e incl!ded

the Ark% e(en i4 it had still )een there in 112& BCJ instead they 8o!ld ha(e consisted o4 4ar less sacred items% mainly p!)lic and royal donations dedicated to Dah8eh5 +!ch items% normally ?!ite precio!s and made o4 sil(er and gold% 8ere not stored in the Holy o4 Holies )!t rather in the o!ter precincts o4 the Temple in special treas!ries that 8ere al8ays mentioned in the >ld Testament conCointly 8ith the treas!ries o4 the king@s ho!se5<"4= @>ccasionally%@ as one leading )i)lical scholar p!t it% these treas!ries 8ere depleted either )y 4oreign in(aders or )y the kings themsel(es 8hen they 8ere in need o4 4!nds5 The treas!ries th!s constantly oscillated )et8een a state o4 a44l!ence and 8ant 5 5 5 The in(asion o4 +hishak RhadS% there4ore% nothing to do 8ith the Temple sanct!ms% and it 8o!ld )e entirely inacc!rate to associate RitS 8ith the disappearance o4 the Ark5<""=

:recisely the same ca!tion% I disco(ered% also applied to the ne9t occasion on 8hich the Temple had apparently )een looted5 This had happened at a time 8hen the !ni4ied state that Da(id and +olomon had 4orged had )een split into t8o 8arring kingdoms A @E!dah@ in the so!th <8hich incl!ded Eer!salem= and @Israel@ in the north5 In *1& BC<"&= Eehoash% the monarch o4 the northern kingdom% Coined )attle at Bethshemesh 8ith his E!daean co!nterpart Ama3iah;

And E!dah 8as p!t to the 8orse )e4ore Israel% and they 4led e(ery man to their tents5 And Eehoash king o4 Israel took Ama3iah king o4 E!dah 5 5 5 at Bethshemesh% and came to Eer!salem% and )rake do8n the 8all o4 Eer!salem 5 5 5 And he took all the gold and sil(er% and all the (essels that 8ere 4o!nd in the ho!se o4 the Lord% and in the treas!ries o4 the king@s ho!se5<"*=

>nce again% this pillage o4 the Temple had not in(ol(ed the Holy o4 Holies or the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 As one a!thority on the period e9plained;

Eehoash did not e(en enter the Temple@s o!ter sanct!m% certainly not the inner one 5 5 5 The phrase @the ho!se o4 the Lord@ mentioned in connection 8ith Eehoash 5 5 5 is simply a shortened 4orm o4 @the treas!ries o4 the ho!se o4 the Lord@5 This may )e seen 4rom the 4act that the @treas!ries o4 the king@s ho!se@ 8hich are al8ays contig!o!sly mentioned 8ith the @treas!ries o4 the ho!se o4 the Lord@ are also mentioned5<"0=

+o m!ch then 4or +hishak and Eehoash5 The reason that neither o4 them had claimed to ha(e taken the Ark% and the reason that neither had )een reported )y the Bi)le to ha(e done so% 8as no8 ?!ite clear to me; they had got no8here near the Holy o4 Holies in 8hich the sacred relic had )een kept and had helped themsel(es only to minor treas!res o4 gold and sil(er5 The same% ho8e(er% co!ld not )e said 4or Eer!salem@s ne9t and greatest in(ader% $ing ,e)!chadne33ar o4 Ba)ylon5 He attacked and occ!pied the holy city not once )!t t8ice% and

e(en on the 4irst occasion% in "10 BC%<"1= it 8as clear that he had penetrated deeply into the Temple itsel45 The Bi)le descri)ed this disaster in the 4ollo8ing terms;

The troops o4 ,e)!chadne33ar king o4 Ba)ylon marched on Eer!salem% and the city 8as )esieged5 ,e)!chadne33ar 5 5 5 himsel4 came to attack the city 8hile his troops 8ere )esieging it5 Then Eehoiachin king o4 E!dah s!rrendered to the king o4 Ba)ylon% he% his mother% his o44icers% his no)les and his e!n!chs% and the king o4 Ba)ylon took them prisoner5 This 8as the eighth year o4 $ing ,e)!chadne33ar5 The latter carried o44 all the treas!res o4 the ho!se o4 the Lord% and the treas!res o4 the king@s ho!se% and c!t in pieces all the golden 4!rnishings that +olomon king o4 Israel had made 4or the sanct!ary o4 Dah8eh5<&2=

#hat had ,e)!chadne33ar@s )ooty consisted o47 I already kne8 that the @treas!res o4 the ho!se o4 the Lord% and the treas!res o4 the king@s ho!se@ co!ld not ha(e incl!ded any tr!ly sacred o)Cects s!ch as the Ark5 As noted a)o(e% these phrases had (ery speci4ic and distinct meanings in the original He)re8 and re4erred only to dispensa)le items stored in the royal and priestly treas!ries5 ore signi4icant )y 4ar 8as the statement that the Ba)ylonian monarch had @c!t in pieces all the golden 4!rnishings that +olomon king o4 Israel had made 4or the sanct!ary o4 Dah8eh5@ The He)re8 8ord that the translators o4 the Eer!salem Bi)le had rendered as @sanct!ary@ 8as% I disco(ered% hekal and its precise meaning 8as @o!ter sanct!m@5<&1= In trying to en(isage its location I 4o!nd it !se4!l to recall the )asic layo!t o4 .thiopian >rthodo9 ch!rches 8hich A as I had learned on my trip to Gondar in Ean!ary 1112 A e9actly re4lected the tripartite di(ision o4 the Temple o4 +olomon5<&2= By co-ordinating this mental pict!re 8ith the )est scholarly research on the s!)Cect I 8as a)le to con4irm )eyond any shado8 o4 a do!)t that the hekal had corresponded to the k@eddest o4 .thiopian ch!rches5<&3= This meant that the @sanct!ary o4 Dah8eh@ despoiled )y ,e)!chadne33ar had not )een the Holy o4 Holies in 8hich the Ark had stood )!t rather the antecham)er to that sacred place5 The Holy o4 Holies itsel4 A the inner sanct!m A had )een kno8n in ancient He)re8 as the de)it and corresponded to the mak @das in 8hich the ta)otat 8ere kept in .thiopian ch!rches5<&4= I4 the Ark had still )een in the Temple at the time o4 ,e)!chadne33ar@s 4irst attack% there4ore A and that% as it t!rned o!t% 8as a (ery )ig i4A then it 8as certain that the Ba)ylonian king had not taken it5 Instead he had contented himsel4 8ith c!tting @in pieces@ and carrying o44 the @golden 4!rnishings@ that +olomon had placed in the hekal5<&"= The other @4!rnishings@ that had )een looted )y ,e)!chadne33ar A and the list 8as ?!ite speci4icA8ere as 4ollo8s;

the lamp-stands% 4i(e on the right and 4i(e on the le4t in 4ront o4 the de)it% o4 p!re goldJ the 4loral 8ork% the lamps% the e9ting!ishers o4 goldJ the )asins% kni(es% sprinkling )o8ls% incense )oats% censers% o4 p!re goldJ the door sockets 4or the inner shrine A that is% the Holy o4 Holies A and 4or the hekal% o4 gold5<&&=

>4 co!rse% in this translation% the terms @inner shrine@% @de)itF and @Holy o4 Holies@ 8ere all !sed interchangea)ly to re4er to the same sacred place A i5e5 the place in 8hich the Ark had )een installed )y +olomon so many cent!ries )e4ore<&*= >nce I had satis4ied mysel4 that that 8as indeed the case% a single signi4icant 4act s!ddenly )ecame clear to me; 8hile not looting the Holy o4 Holies% ,e)!chadne33ar had nonetheless remo(ed its door-sockets5 Brom this it 8as sa4e to ded!ce that the doors had )een taken o44 their hinges and that the Ba)ylonian monarch A or the soldiers 8ho had carried o!t his orders A 8o!ld th!s ha(e )een a)le to look right into the de)ir5 I reali3ed immediately that this 8as an important% indeed a cr!cial% 4inding5 Ga3ing into the inner sanct!m the Ba)ylonians sho!ld immediately ha(e )een a)le to see the t8o giant cher!)im% o(erlaid 8ith gold% that +olomon had placed as sentinels o(er the Ark A and they sho!ld also ha(e )een a)le to see the Ark itsel45 +ince they had sho8n no comp!nction in remo(ing the gold 4rom the 4!rnishings o4 the hekal it there4ore had to )e asked 8hy they had not immediately r!shed into the de)ir to strip the 4ar larger ?!antities o4 gold 4rom its 8alls and 4rom the cher!)im% and 8hy they had not taken the Ark as )ooty5 The Ba)ylonians had demonstrated that they held the Ee8s A and their religion A in complete contempt5<&0= There 8as th!s no mileage in ass!ming that they might ha(e re4rained 4rom looting the Holy o4 Holies o!t o4 some sort o4 altr!istic desire to spare the 4eelings o4 the (an?!ished5 >n the contrary all the e(idence s!ggested that i4 they had indeed )een con4ronted )y rich pickings like the Ark% and the gold o(erlay on the 8alls and on the cher!)im% then ,e)!chadne33ar and his men 8o!ld !nhesitatingly ha(e helped themsel(es to the lot5 #hat made this e(en more pro)a)le 8as that it had )een the normal practice o4 the Ba)ylonians at this time to sei3e the principal idols or c!lt-o)Cects o4 the peoples they had con?!ered and to transport them )ack to Ba)ylon to place in their o8n temple )e4ore the stat!e o4 their god ard!k5<&1= The Ark 8o!ld ha(e )een an ideal candidate 4or this sort o4 treatment5 Det it had not e(en )een stripped o4 its gold% let alone carried o44 intact5 Indeed neither it nor the cher!)im had )een mentioned at all5

The logical concl!sion RI 8rote in my note)ookS is that the Ark and the gold-co(ered cher!)im 8ere no longer in the de)it5 in "10 BC 8hen the 4irst Ba)ylonian in(asion took place A and% indeed% that the 8alls% 4loor and ceiling o4 the de)ir had also )een stripped o4 their gold prior to that date5 This 8o!ld seem to lend at least prima 4acie s!pport to the .thiopian claim A since I ha(e already esta)lished that +hishak and Eehoash did not get their hands on the Ark% or on the other precio!s contents o4 the de)ir% and since they 8ere the only pre(io!s in(aders to ha(e ac?!ired any sort o4 treas!re 4rom the Temple5

>4 co!rse the Ba)ylonian assa!lt on Eer!salem in "10 BC had not )een the last that ,e)!chadne33ar 8o!ld mo!nt A and the concl!sion that I had C!st scri))led in my note)ook 8o!ld )e pro(ed completely 4alse i4 there 8ere any e(idence to s!ggest that he had taken the Ark the second time that he sacked the holy city5

A4ter the s!ccess4!l operation o4 "10 BC he had installed a p!ppet king% Gedekiah% on the throne5<*2= This @p!ppet@% ho8e(er% t!rned o!t to ha(e ideas o4 his o8n and% in "01 BC% he re)elled against his Ba)ylonian o(erlord5<*1= The response 8as instantaneo!s5 ,e)!chadne33ar marched on Eer!salem once again and laid siege to it% 4inally )reaching its 8alls and o(err!nning it in late E!ne or early E!ly o4 the year "0* BC5<*2= +lightly less than a month later;<*3=

,e)!3aradan% commander o4 the g!ard% an o44icer o4 the king o4 Ba)ylon 5 5 5 )!rned do8n the Temple o4 Dah8eh% the royal palace and all the ho!ses in Eer!salem5 The 5 5 5 troops 8ho accompanied the commander o4 the g!ard 5 5 5 )roke !p the )ron3e pillars 4rom the Temple o4 Dah8eh% the 8heeled stands and the )ron3e +ea that 8ere in the Temple o4 Dah8eh% and took the )ron3e a8ay to Ba)ylon5 They took the ash containers% the scoops% the kni(es% the incense )oats% and all the )ron3e 4!rnishings !sed in 8orship5 The commander o4 the g!ard took the censers and the sprinkling )o8ls% e(erything that 8as made o4 gold and e(erything made o4 sil(er5 As regards the t8o pillars% the one +ea and the 8heeled stands 5 5 5 there 8as no reckoning the 8eight in )ron3e in all these o)Cects5<*4=

This% then% 8as the detailed in(entory o44ered in the Bi)le o4 all the o)Cects and treas!res )roken !p or carried o44 to Ba)ylon a4ter ,e)!chadne33ar@s second attack on the city5 >nce again% and signi4icantly% the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as not incl!ded A and nor 8as the gold that +olomon had !sed to line the Holy o4 Holies and to o(erlay the great cher!)im that had stood 8ithin that sacred place5 Indeed a)sol!tely nothing else 8as mentioned at all and it 8as clear that the )!lk o4 the loot taken in "0* BC had consisted o4 )ron3e sal(aged 4rom the pillars and the @+ea@ A and also 4rom the 8heeled )asins A that Hiram had made 4o!r cent!ries earlier5 A 4act that arg!ed (ery strongly in 4a(o!r o4 the )asic (eracity o4 the list 8as that it 8as entirely consistent 8ith the )i)lical acco!nt o4 8hat had pre(io!sly )een stolen 4rom the Temple in "10 BC5 >n that occasion ,e)!chadne33ar had le4t the )ron3e items in place )!t had remo(ed the @treas!res o4 the ho!se o4 the Lord% and the treas!res o4 the king@s ho!se@ and had also stripped o44 all the gold 4rom the 4!rnishings o4 the hekal5 This 8as 8hy% ele(en years later% ,e)!3aradan@s ha!l o4 gold and sil(er had consisted only o4 a 4e8 censers and sprinkling )o8ls;<*"= he had not )een a)le to 4ind anything more (al!a)le 4or the simple reason that all the )est items had )een looted and taken to Ba)ylon in "10 BC5 +ince I had already satis4ied mysel4 that those items had not incl!ded the Ark% and since the relic had not )een amongst the second lot o4 )ooty either% I 4elt increasing con4idence in my concl!sion that it m!st ha(e disappeared at some stage prior to the Ba)ylonian in(asions5 By the same token the other o4t-cited e9planation 4or the loss o4 the relic A namely that it m!st ha(e )een destroyed in the great 4ire that ,e)!3aradan had started<*&= A also looked increasingly !ntena)le5 I4 the Ark had indeed )een taken a8ay )e4ore "10 BC A perhaps to .thiopia A then it 8o!ld o4 co!rse ha(e escaped the destr!ction o4 the Temple5 B!t 8as it sa4e% 4rom this chain o4 reasoning% to ded!ce that it had gone to .thiopia7 Certainly not5 'esearching the matter 4!rther I 4o!nd that E!daic traditions o44ered se(eral

alternati(e e9planations 4or 8hat had happened A any o4 8hich% i4 s!44iciently strong% might pro(e 4atal to the .thiopian case and all o4 8hich there4ore had to )e considered on their merits5

@D..: A,D T>'TI>I+ CACH.+ 5 5 5@

The 4irst point that )ecame clear to me 8as that the Ee8s as a people had only )ecome conscio!s o4 the loss o4 the Ark A and conscio!s that this loss 8as a great mystery A at the time o4 the )!ilding o4 the +econd Temple5 I 8as already a8are that in "10 BC ,e)!chadne33ar had sent into e9ile in Ba)ylon a large n!m)er o4 the inha)itants o4 Eer!salem5<**= In "0* BC% a4ter the )!rning o4 +olomon@s Temple%

,e)!3aradan% commander o4 the g!ard% deported the remainder o4 the pop!lation le4t )ehind in the city% the deserters 8ho had gone o(er to the king o4 Ba)ylon% and the rest o4 the common people 5 5 5 Th!s E!dah 8as deported 4rom this land5<*0=

The tra!ma o4 the )anishment% the h!miliations o4 the capti(ity% and the 4irm resol(e that Eer!salem sho!ld ne(er )e 4orgotten% 8ere soon to )e immortali3ed in one o4 the most poignant and e(ocati(e pieces o4 poetry in the 8hole o4 the >ld Testament;

By the ri(ers o4 Ba)ylon% there 8e sat do8n% yea% 8e 8ept% 8hen 8e remem)ered Gion5

#e hanged o!r harps !pon the 8illo8s in the midst thereo4%

Bor there they that carried !s a8ay capti(e re?!ired o4 !s a songJ and they that 8asted !s re?!ired o4 !s mirth% saying% +ing !s one o4 the songs o4 Gion5

Ho8 shall 8e sing the Lord@s song in a strange land7

I4 I 4orget thee% 2 Eer!salem% let my right hand 4orget her c!nning5

I4 I do not remem)er thee% let my tong!e clea(e to the roo4 o4 my mo!thJ i4 I pre4er not Eer!salem a)o(e my chie4 Coy5<*1=

This physical e9ile o4 an entire people 8as not to last 4or (ery long5 ,e)!chadne33ar had )eg!n the process in "10 BC and had completed it in "0*5 +lightly less than hal4 a cent!ry later% ho8e(er% the empire that had e9panded so dramatically !nder his r!le 8as !tterly cr!shed )y Cyr!s the Great% king o4 :ersia% 8hose tri!mphant armies entered Ba)ylon in "31 BC5<02= This Cyr!s% 8ho has )een descri)ed as @one o4 the 8orld@s most astonishing empire)!ilders@%<01= adopted an enlightened approach to8ards his s!)Cect peoples5 There 8ere others% like the Ee8s% 8ho had also )een held capti(e in Ba)ylon5 He made it his )!siness to set them all 4ree5 oreo(er% he permitted them to remo(e their con4iscated idols and c!lt o)Cects 4rom the temple o4 ard!k and to carry these home 8ith them5<02= The Ee8s% o4 co!rse% 8ere !na)le to take 4!ll ad(antage o4 this latter opport!nity% )eca!se their principal c!lt o)Cect% the Ark o4 the Co(enant% had not )een )ro!ght to Ba)ylon in the 4irst place5 ,e(ertheless a large n!m)er o4 the lesser treas!res that ,e)!chadne33ar had sei3ed 8ere still intact% and these the :ersians handed o(er 8ith all d!e ceremony to the appropriate E!daean o44icials5 The >ld Testament contained a detailed report o4 the transaction;

$ing Cyr!s took the (essels o4 the Temple o4 Dah8eh 8hich ,e)!chadne33ar had carried a8ay 4rom Eer!salem and dedicated to the temple o4 his god5 Cyr!s king o4 :ersia handed them o(er to ithredath% the treas!rer% 8ho co!nted them o!t to +hesh)a33ar% the prince o4 E!dah5 The in(entory 8as as 4ollo8s; thirty golden )o8ls 4or o44eringsJ one tho!sand and t8enty-nine sil(er )o8ls 4or o44eringsJ thirty golden )o8lsJ 4o!r h!ndred and ten sil(er )o8lsJ one tho!sand other (essels5 In all% 4i(e tho!sand 4o!r h!ndred (essels o4 gold and sil(er5 +hesh)a33ar took all these 8ith him 8hen the e9iles tra(elled )ack 4rom Ba)ylon to Eer!salem5<03=

That ret!rn Co!rney took place in "30 BC5<04= Then% in the spring o4 "3* BC% the +econd Temple )egan to )e )!ilt a)o(e the ra3ed 4o!ndations o4 the Birst5<0"= The 8ork 8as 4inally completed aro!nd "3* BC%<0&= and altho!gh this 8as a ca!se 4or great reCoicing there 8ere also reasons 4or sorro85 The remo(al o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant 4rom the Birst Temple A 8hene(er it had occ!rred A had clearly )een kept secret 4rom the p!)lic <not a di44ic!lt task since no one )!t the High :riest 8as s!pposed to enter the Holy o4 Holies=5 ,o8% ho8e(er% a4ter the ret!rn 4rom Ba)ylon% it 8as impossi)le to disg!ise the 4act that the precio!s relic had gone% and that it there4ore co!ld not )e installed in the inner sanct!m o4 the +econd Temple5 This great change 8as e9plicitly admitted in the Talm!d% 8hich stated; @In 4i(e things the Birst +anct!ary di44ered 4rom the +econd; in the Ark% the Ark-co(er% the Cher!)im% the Bire% and the Irim-andTh!n!nim5@<0*= The Irim and Th!n!nim had )een mysterio!s o)Cects <here re4erred to

collecti(ely as a single o)Cect= that had possi)ly )een !sed 4or di(ining and that had )een kept in the )reast-plate o4 the High :riest in the time o4 oses5 They 8ere not present in the +econd Temple5 ,either 8as the celestial 4ire that had al8ays )een associated 8ith the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 And o4 co!rse the Ark itsel4 8as also missing A together 8ith its thick golden co(er and the t8o golden cher!)im that had )een mo!nted !pon it5<00= The secret% there4ore% 8as o!t; the most precio!s relic o4 the Ee8ish 4aith had (anished% apparently into thin air5 oreo(er the people kne8 that it had not )een )ro!ght into capti(ity 8ith them in Ba)ylon5 +o 8here co!ld it possi)ly ha(e gone7 Almost at once theories started to circ!late and% in the normal 8ay o4 things% some o4 these theories ?!ickly took on the character o4 re(ealed tr!ths5 The maCority s!pposed that ,e)!chadne33ar@s looters had 4ailed to 4ind the Ark )eca!se% )e4ore their arri(al% it had )een care4!lly hidden some8here 8ithin o!nt oriah itsel4% 8here the +econd Temple no8 stood on the site pre(io!sly occ!pied )y the Birst5 According to one post-e9ilic legend% 4or e9ample% +olomon had 4oreseen the destr!ction o4 his Temple e(en 8hile he 8as )!ilding it5 Bor this reason he had @contri(ed a place o4 concealment 4or the Ark% in deep and tort!o!s caches@5<01= It 8as this tradition% I 4elt s!re% that m!st ha(e inspired the a!thor o4 the Apocalypse o4 Bar!ch to s!ggest that the relic had )een s8allo8ed )y the earth )elo8 the great @4o!ndation stone@ kno8n as the +hetiyyah5 I kne8% o4 co!rse that no reliance co!ld )e placed on that relati(ely late and apocryphal 8ork5 ,e(ertheless I 8as a8are that other acco!nts e9isted 8hich like8ise identi4ied some secret ca(ern 8ithin the Temple o!nt as the last resting place o4 the Ark5 'ein4orcing the notion that that ca(ern might ha(e )een located directly )eneath the Holy o4 Holies% the Talm!d e9pressed the (ie8 that @the Ark 8as )!ried in its o8n place5@<12= And this entom)ment% it seemed% had )een the 8ork o4 $ing Eosiah% 8ho had r!led in Eer!salem 4rom &42 to &21 BC%<11= i5e5 !ntil C!st a decade )e4ore the 4irst Ba)ylonian sei3!re o4 the city5 ,ear the end o4 his long reign% the story 8ent% 4oreseeing @the imminent destr!ction o4 the Temple@% @Eosiah hid the Holy Ark and all its app!rtenances% in order to g!ard them against desecration at the hands o4 the enemy5@<12= This% I 4o!nd% 8as ?!ite a per(asi(e )elie45 ,ot all the so!rces% ho8e(er% agreed that the place o4 concealment had )een in the immediate (icinity o4 the Holy o4 Holies5 Another parallel% recorded in the ishnah% s!ggested that the relic had )een )!ried @!nder the pa(ement o4 the 8ood-ho!se% that it might not 4all into the hands o4 the enemy5@<13= This 8ood-ho!se had stood 8ithin the precincts o4 +olomon@s Temple% )!t its precise location had )een 4orgotten )y the time that the Ee8s ret!rned 4rom their e9ile in Ba)ylon and th!s @remained secret 4or all time@5<14= ,e(ertheless the ishnah reported that a priest had once )een 8orking in the co!rtyard o4 the +econd Temple and there% )y accident% he had st!m)led !pon @a )lock o4 pa(ement that 8as di44erent 4rom the rest@;

He 8ent and told it to his 4ello8% )!t )e4ore he co!ld make an end o4 the matter his li4e departed5 +o they kne8 ass!redly that there the Ark lay hidden5<1"=

An entirely separate acco!nt o4 the concealment o4 the relic 8as p!t 4or8ard in the second )ook o4 acca)ees <a 8ork e9cl!ded 4rom the He)re8 Bi)le% )!t incl!ded in the canon o4 the Greek and Latin Christian ch!rches% and in the Apocrypha o4 the .nglish Bi)le=5<1&= Compiled at some time )et8een 122 BC and AD *2 )y a Ee8 o4 :harisaic sympathies <8ho 8rote in Greek=%<1*= the opening (erses o4 2 acca)ees 2 had this to say a)o!t the 4ate o4 the Ark;

The prophet Eeremiah 5 5 5 8arned )y an oracle Ro4 the impending destr!ction o4 the Temple o4 +olomonS% ga(e instr!ctions 4or the ta)ernacle and the Ark to go 8ith him 8hen he set o!t 4or the mo!ntain 8hich oses had clim)ed to s!r(ey God@s heritage5 >n his arri(al Eeremiah 4o!nd a ca(e d8elling% into 8hich he )ro!ght the ta)ernacle% the Ark and the altar o4 incense% a4ter8ards )locking !p the entrance5<10=

In the opinion o4 the scholars 8ho prod!ced the a!thoritati(e .nglish translation o4 the Eer!salem Bi)le A 4rom 8hich the a)o(e ?!otation is taken A Eeremiah@s s!pposed e9pedition to hide the Ark 8as nothing more than an inspirational 4a)le de(ised )y the a!thor o4 the second )ook o4 acca)ees as part o4 a deli)erate attempt to re-a8aken the interest o4 e9patriate Ee8s n the national homeland5<11= The editors o4 the >94ord Dictionary o4 the Christian Ch!rch like8ise regarded the passage as )eing o4 no historical (al!e5<122= And since it 8as 8ritten some 4i(e h!ndred years a4ter the death o4 Eeremiah himsel4 it co!ld not e(en )e said to )e a partic!larly ancient tradition<121= A altho!gh its a!thor had attempted to dress it !p as s!ch )y claiming that he had )ased his acco!nt on a doc!ment 4o!nd in @the archi(es@5<122= It 8as a 4act% ho8e(er% that the prophet Eeremiah <!nlike the a!thor o4 acca)ees= had li(ed at aro!nd the time o4 the destr!ction o4 +olomon@s Temple A 8hich meant that he co!ld% C!st concei(a)ly% ha(e played some role in the concealment o4 the Ark5 oreo(er @the mo!ntain 8hich oses had clim)ed to s!r(ey God@s heritage@ A o!nt ,e)o<123= A 8as a kno8n place that stood )arely 4i4ty kilometres to the east o4 Eer!salem as the cro8 4lies5<124= C!lt!rally appropriate )eca!se o4 its associations 8ith the 4o!nder o4 E!daism% this (enerated peak th!s also looked like a 4easi)le hiding place in terms o4 its geographical location5 The acca)ees story had there4ore not )een entirely dismissed )y later generations o4 Ee8sJ on the contrary% altho!gh ne(er incorporated into the Ee8ish canon o4 +cript!re% it had )een s!)stantially ela)orated !pon and em)ellished in the 4olklore A 8here% 4or e9ample% the knotty pro)lem o4 e9actly ho8 Eeremiah <8ho had )een (ery m!ch at odds 8ith the priestly 4raternity in the Temple=<12"= had managed to get the sacred items o!t o4 the Holy o4 Holies and across the Eordan (alley to ,e)o 8as sol(ed )y pro(iding him 8ith an angel 4or a helperT<12&= A4ter looking )ack thro!gh all the Ee8ish traditions that I had s!r(eyed concerning the last resting place o4 the Ark% I entered the 4ollo8ing s!mmary in my note)ook;

>!tside o4 the Talm!d% the ishnah% the Apocalypse o4 Bar!ch% the second )ook o4 acca)ees% and (ario!s rather colo!r4!l legends% there is nothing o4 any s!)stance in Ee8ish tradition concerning the 8herea)o!ts o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 +ince it no8 seems certain that it 8as not looted )y +hishak or Eehoash or ,e)!chadne33ar% it there4ore 4ollo8s that the only alternati(es to the claim that it is in A9!m are <a= (ery sketchy% <)= historically d!)io!s% and <c= lacking in any c!rrent (itality <)y contrast religio!s 4eeling in .thiopia contin!es to )e massi(ely 4oc!ssed !pon the )elie4 that the relic is indeed there=5 All this makes the .thiopian case look more and more credi)le5 ,e(ertheless the Ee8ish @alternati(es@ cannot )e dismissed o!t o4 hand simply )eca!se they seem to )e a )it 4limsy5 ACTI>,; 4ind o!t 8hether any archaeologists ha(e e9ca(ated at o!nt ,e)o% or in and aro!nd the Temple o!ntA8hich are the only t8o locations proposed )y the Ee8s as the last resting place o4 the Ark5

I 8rote that note in my hotel room in Eer!salem on the night o4 +at!rday & >cto)er 11125 T8o days later% on the morning o4 onday 0 >cto)er% I attempted to go )ack to take a second look at the Temple o!nt% and to (isit some e9ca(ations that I kne8 8ere in progress C!st o!tside the sacred precincts% perhaps a h!ndred metres to the so!th o4 the Al-A?sa os?!e5 As I approached% ho8e(er A 8alking along the city 8all 4rom Da(id@s To8er to the D!ng Gate A the so!nd o4 g!n4ire and o4 people screaming 4ore8arned me that something had gone serio!sly 8rong5

D.ATH >, TH.


#hat I had 8alked into s!)se?!ently came to )e kno8n as the @Temple o!nt massacre@% and altho!gh it represented the coming to a head o4 years o4 hatred )et8een the Ee8s and the Ara)s o4 Eer!salem% its pro9imate ca!se 8as a demonstration )y an !ltra-conser(ati(e Gionist gro!p kno8n as the @Temple o!nt Baith4!l@5 The large )anner that they carried as they marched !p to the oghra)i Gate )ore a +tar o4 Da(id and a pro(ocati(e inscription in He)re8 8hich s!mmari3ed the key iss!e 4or all concerned5 That inscription read;

T. :L.

>I,T A TH. +D B>L >B >I'

:.>:L. I+ I, TH. HA,D+ >B >I' .,. I.+

#hat the demonstrators hoped to do 8as to enter the Temple o!nt itsel4 thro!gh the oghra)i Gate% march !p to the Dome o4 the 'ock% and there lay the cornerstone 4or a proposed

Third Temple5 This am)ition% o)(io!sly% 8as packed 8ith political dynamite; since 8ork )egan on the constr!ction o4 the Dome o4 the 'ock in the se(enth cent!ry AD% the 8hole o4 the Temple o!nt area had )een a sacred site o4 immense importance to Islam as 8ell as to E!daism5 oreo(er% m!ch to the chagrin o4 gro!ps like the @Temple o!nt Baith4!l@% it is the !slims 8ho are in possession o4 that site A 8hich has contained no Ee8ish place o4 8orship since the destr!ction o4 the +econd Temple )y the 'omans in AD *25 #ishing to de4end this stat!s ?!o A against 8hat m!st ha(e looked to them like a gen!ine threat A an estimated 4i(e tho!sand militant Ara)s had gathered inside the 8alls o4 the Temple o!nt and had armed themsel(es 8ith stones 8hich they planned to h!rl do8n at the approaching Gionists5 The atmosphere 8as th!s highly charged 8ith emotion 8hen the Temple o!nt Baith4!l )egan their march on onday 0 >cto)er5 And 8hat added enormo!sly to the tension 8as the location o4 the oghra)i Gate thro!gh 8hich they intended to pass5 >pening o!t into the main compo!nd less than 4i4ty metres 4rom the 4ront porch o4 the Al-A?sa os?!e% this gate is )!ilt into the so!thern end o4 the #estern #all A the e9posed e9terior o4 8hich% kno8n as the @#ailing #all@% is today the single most important Ee8ish holy place5 Dating )ack to +econd Temple times% it is part o4 a retaining )!ttress )!ilt )y Herod the Great in the late 4irst cent!ry BC5 It escaped demolition )y the 'omans in AD *2 <)eca!se% said the idrash% the @Di(ine :resence@ ho(ered o(er it= and% in later years% it )ecame a potent sym)ol o4 the nationalist aspirations o4 the Ee8ish people scattered d!ring the diaspora5 .(en a4ter the 4ormation o4 the +tate o4 Israel it contin!ed to )e administered )y the Hashemite $ingdom o4 Eordan and it 8as not !ntil the +i9 Day #ar o4 11&* that it 8as 4inally incorporated into Israel proper5 A large pla3a 8as then cleared in 4ront o4 it and dedicated as a 4ormal place o4 8orship A 8here% to this day% Ee8s 4rom all o(er the 8orld gather to lament the 4act that they ha(e no Temple5 To a(oid a potentially catastrophic con4rontation 8ith Islam% ho8e(er% Ee8ish 8orship in any 4orm contin!es to )e )anned on the Temple o!nt itsel4% 8hich remains !nder the e9cl!si(e control o4 the !slims o4 Eer!salem and 8hich directly o(erlooks the #ailing #all5<12*= By choosing to try to enter the Temple o!nt thro!gh the oghra)i Gate% there4ore% the Temple o!nt Baith4!l 8ere asking 4or tro!)le5 Access 8as in 4act denied to them )y the Israeli police )!t% as they t!rned a8ay% the 4i(e tho!sand Ara)s 8ho had gathered inside )egan to rain do8n sho8ers o4 stones A not only on the heads o4 the 3ealots 8ho had participated in the march )!t also on the large n!m)ers o4 other Ee8s then making their de(otions at the #ailing #all5 In this 8ay something that had started li4e as an apparently sym)olic demonstration 8as (ery rapidly trans4ormed into a 4!ll-scale riot in 8hich ele(en Israeli 8orshippers and eight policemen 8ere h!rt% and in 8hich t8enty-one Ara)s 8ere shot dead and one h!ndred and t8enty-4i(e serio!sly inC!red5 By the time I arri(ed on the scene the 8orst o4 it 8as o(er; piles o4 stones lay amongst pools o4 )lood at the )ase o4 the #ailing #allJ the 8o!nded 8ere )eing 4erried a8ay in am)!lancesJ and the police A dressed in riot gear and armed to the teeth A appeared to )e in 4!ll control5 The Temple o!nt itsel4J ha(ing C!st )een stormed )y the sec!rity 4orces% 8as o44limits5 +o too 8as the area o4 e9ca(ations immediately to the so!th that I had intended to (isit5 H!ndreds o4 angry and e9cited Ee8s% a 4e8 o4 them pro!dly 8earing )lood-stained )andages% milled aro!nd in a decidedly )ellicose mood and soon a 8ild cele)ration )egan in 4ront o4 the #ailing #all A altho!gh e9actly 8hy anyone sho!ld ha(e reCoiced o(er the )r!tal killing o4 a score o4 Ara) yo!ths 8as something that I C!st co!ld not !nderstand5

Disg!sted and depressed I e(ent!ally le4t the area% clim)ing !p the steps that led into the Ee8ish /!arter o4 the old city and crossing into the +treet o4 the Chain A along 8hich I had 8alked a 4e8 days pre(io!sly on my 4irst (isit to the Temple o!nt5 Here I sa8 4!rther grat!ito!s (iolence as the police% carrying g!ns and tr!ncheons% ro!nded !p :alestinians 8hom they s!spected o4 ha(ing )een amongst the rioters5 >ne yo!ng man% protesting his innocence in a high-pitched and terri4ied (oice% 8as repeatedly p!nched and slappedJ another ran at )reak-neck speed into a narro8 alley 8here he 8as cornered and )eaten )e4ore )eing dragged a8ay5 Altogether% it had )een a most !npleasant morning and it cast a )light o(er the rest o4 my stay in Eer!salem5 This 8as so not only )eca!se o4 the h!man s!44ering that c!rrent e(ents had no8 directly linked to the place 8here the Ark had once stood% )!t also )eca!se the Temple o!nt and the e9ca(ations to the so!th o4 it remained sealed o44 )y the sec!rity 4orces !ntil long a4ter I had le4t Israel5 Despite these ina!spicio!s omens% ho8e(er% I 8as determined not to 8aste any o4 the 4e8 days remaining to me in that !nhappy co!ntry% and I there4ore contin!ed 8ith my in(estigation as )est I co!ld5


The immediate ?!estion that I 8as seeking to ans8er 8as the one that I had Cotted do8n in my note)ook on the night o4 +at!rday & >cto)er; had any e44orts )een made )y archaeologists to dig at the Temple o!nt% or at o!nt ,e)o% in order to test the Ee8ish traditions a)o!t the last resting place o4 the Ark7 I )egan 8ith the e9ca(ations that I had tried !ns!ccess4!lly to (isit on the morning o4 0 >cto)er5 Tho!gh I co!ld not no8 gain access to them% I 8as a)le to meet 8ith some o4 the archaeologists in(ol(ed in them and to research their 4indings5 #hat I learned 8as that proper digging had started here in Be)r!ary 11&0 A some eight months a4ter Israeli paratroopers had sei3ed control o4 Eer!salem in the +i9 Day #ar5 And altho!gh all the e9ca(ations 8ere sa4ely o!tside the sacred precincts o4 the Temple o!nt they had )een a 4oc!s o4 contro(ersy 4rom the (ery )eginning5 According to eir Ben-Do(% Bield Director o4 the dig% early opposition came 4rom mem)ers o4 the Higher !slim Co!ncil% 8ho s!spected a plot against their interests5 @The e9ca(ations are not in 4act a scienti4ic (ent!re%@ they complained% @their Gionist o)Cecti(e is rather to !ndermine the so!thern 8all o4 the Temple o!nt% 8hich is like8ise the so!thern 8all o4 the Al-A?sa os?!e% as a 8ay o4 destroying the mos?!e5@<120= To Ben-Do(@s s!rprise% Christians 8ere at 4irst almost e?!ally !nhelp4!l5 @They s!spected@% he e9plained% @that the p!rpose o4 the e9ca(ation 8as to lay the gro!nd8ork 4or )!ilding the Third Temple and the 8hole )!siness a)o!t an archaeological (ent!re 8as C!st a co(er 4or an in(idio!s plot5 All I can say is that !ntil yo! act!ally hear these r!mo!rs 8ith yo!r o8n ears% they so!nd like the prod!ct o4 a demonic imagination5 Det more than once A 8hether in Cest or other8ise A people 8hose e9ceptional intelligence and a)ilities as historians and archaeologists are )eyond ?!estion ha(e come straight o!t and asked me; FDon@t yo! intend to reinstit!te the Temple7F @<121=

The strongest opposition o4 all came 4rom the Ee8ish religio!s a!thorities A 8hose agreement to the dig 8as re?!ired )y the go(ernment )e4ore any 8ork co!ld )egin5 :ro4essor a3ar o4 the Archaeological Instit!te o4 the He)re8 Ini(ersity led the negotiations 8ith the +ephardi and Ashkena3i Chie4 'a))is A )oth o4 8hom t!rned him do8n 4lat 8hen he 4irst approached them in 11&*;

The +ephardi Chie4 'a))i% 'a))i ,issim% e9plained his re4!sal )y the 4act that the area o4 o!r proposed dig 8as a holy place5 #hen asked to el!cidate his ans8er 4!rther% he intimated that 8e might pro(e that the #ailing #all 8as not in 4act the 8estern 8all o4 the Temple o!nt5 Besides% 8hat point 8as there in taking the chance and cond!cting a dig 4or scienti4ic p!rposes 8hen they 8ere irrele(ant any8ay7 >n the other hand the Ashkena3i Chie4 'a))i% 'a))i Interman% agoni3ed o(er halakhic pro)lems <?!estions o4 Ee8ish la8=5 @#hat 8ill happen%@ he m!sed alo!d% @i4% as a res!lt o4 the archaeological e9ca(ation% yo! 4ind the Ark o4 the Co(enant% 8hich Ee8ish tradition says is )!ried in the depths o4 the earth7@ @That 8o!ld )e 8onder4!lT@ :ro4essor a3ar replied in all innocence5 B!t the (enera)le 'a))i told the learned :ro4essor that that 8as precisely 8hat he 4eared5 +ince the Children o4 Israel are not @p!re@ 4rom the (ie8point o4 Ee8ish religio!s la8% they are 4or)idden to to!ch the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 Hence it is !nthinka)le to e(en consider e9ca(ating !ntil the essiah comesT<112=

The ra))i@s concern a)o!t the Ark 8as entirely orthodo95 All Ee8s ha(e indeed )een considered to )e in a condition o4 rit!al imp!rity since the destr!ction o4 the +econd Temple A a condition that is only s!pposed to end 8ith the coming o4 the tr!e essiah5<111= Dogma o4 this sort th!s represented a considera)le o)stacle in the path o4 the archaeologists5 ,e(ertheless they managed in d!e co!rse to 8in the ra))is o(er A and also to o(ercome the o)Cections o4 the representati(es o4 the other t8o monotheistic 4aiths descended 4rom the >ld Testament 8orship o4 Dah8eh5 The dig 8ent ahead5 oreo(er% despite the location o4 the site o!tside the Temple o!nt% a n!m)er o4 arte4acts 4rom the days o4 the Birst Temple 8ere reco(ered5 :redicta)ly% tho!gh% no trace o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as 4o!nd% and the (ast )!lk o4 the disco(eries pro(ed to )e 4rom the later +econd Temple% !slim and Cr!sader periods5<112= In s!mmary% there4ore% I co!ld see that eir Ben-Do(@s e9ca(ations had certainly not (indicated the Ee8ish traditions a)o!t the concealment o4 the Ark5 B!t neither had they concl!si(ely dispro(ed those traditions5 >nly one thing co!ld do that% and that 8o!ld )e a thoro!gh and painstaking dig on the Temple o!nt itsel45 y o8n 4eeling% as the reader 8ill recall% 8as that s!ch a dig had )een carried o!t )y the $nights Templar long cent!ries )e4ore the discipline o4 archaeology 8as e(er in(ented% and that they% too% had 4ailed to 4ind the Ark5 ,e(ertheless I still needed to kno8 8hether any e9ca(ations had )een !ndertaken in modern times% and i4 so 8hat had )een 4o!nd5 I p!t these ?!estions to Dr Ga))y Barkai% an archaeologist at Eer!salem@s He)re8 Ini(ersity 8ho speciali3es in the Birst Temple period5

@+ince modern archaeology emerged%@ he told me )l!ntly% @no e44ort has )een made to dig inside the Temple o!nt5@ @#hy7@ I asked5 @Beca!se it@s the !ltimate sacred site5 The !slim a!thorities are !tterly opposed to any kind o4 scienti4ic in(estigations )eing !ndertaken there5 It 8o!ld )e the 8orst kind o4 sacrilege 4rom their point o4 (ie85 +o the Temple o!nt remains a riddle 4or archaeology5 ost o4 8hat 8e kno8 a)o!t it is theoretical and interpreti(e5 Archaeologically 8e only ha(e the 4indings o4 Charles #arren5 And :arker o4 co!rse5 He act!ally did dig inside the Dome o4 the 'ock A in 1112 i4 I remem)er correctly5 B!t he 8asn@t an archaeologist5 He 8as a l!natic5 He 8as looking 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant5@ I 8as not s!re 4rom this statement 8hether Barkai had descri)ed :arker as a @l!natic@ )eca!se he had looked 4or the ArkJ or 8hether he had looked 4or the Ark )eca!se he had )een a l!naticJ or 8hether his l!nacy had )een mani4estly apparent )e4ore he had started to dig inside the Dome o4 the 'ock5 This% ho8e(er% seemed like an e9cellent opport!nity to re4rain 4rom mentioning that I% too% 8as looking 4or the Ark5 I there4ore con4ined mysel4 to asking the archaeologist 8here I might 4ind o!t more a)o!t :arker A and a)o!t Charles #arren% the other name he had mentioned5 A co!ple o4 days o4 archi(e research 4ollo8ed% d!ring 8hich I learned that #arren had )een a yo!ng lie!tenant in Britain@s 'oyal .ngineers 8ho had )een commissioned )y the London-)ased :alestine .9ploration B!nd to e9ca(ate the Temple o!nt in the year 10&*5 His 8ork% ho8e(er% had )een con4ined to m!ch the same areas A o!tside and to the so!th o4 the sacred precincts A that 8ere to )e more thoro!ghly in(estigated a cent!ry later )y eir BenDo( and his colleag!es5<113= The di44erence 8as that #arren had (ery acti(ely so!ght permission to e9ca(ate inside the Temple o!nt as 8ell5 B!t all his e44orts had )een re)!44ed )y the >ttoman T!rks 8ho then administered Eer!salem5 oreo(er% on the one occasion 8hen he had managed to c!t a t!nnel north8ards and to )!rro8 !nder the e9terior 8alls% the sledgehammers and other tools !sed )y his la)o!rers had dist!r)ed the prayers o4 the 4aith4!l going on a)o(e them in the Al-A?sa os?!e5 The res!lt had )een a hail o4 stones% a riot% and orders 4rom I33et :asha% the go(ernor o4 the city% that the dig sho!ld )e s!spended 4orth-8ith5<114= Despite s!ch di44ic!lties% #arren had re4!sed to )e disco!raged and had pers!aded the >ttomans to let him go )ack to 8ork again5 He had s!)se?!ently made se(eral other clandestine attempts to t!nnel )eneath the Temple o!nt% 8here he had planned to @locate and map all the ancient remains@ that he might enco!nter5<11"= B!t he 8as !na)le to reali3e this am)ition and reached only the 4o!ndations o4 the e9terior 8alls5<11&= >4 co!rse he did not 4ind the Ark o4 the Co(enant A there 8as no e(idence that it had e(er )een his intention to look 4or it any8ay5 His chie4 interest had )een in the +econd Temple period and in this conte9t he did make many disco(eries o4 lasting (al!e to scholarship5<11*= The same co!ld not )e said 4or ontag!e Bro8nslo8 :arker% a son o4 the .arl o4 orley% 8ho had gone to Eer!salem in 1121 8ith the e9press intention o4 locating the Ark A and 8ho had made no contri)!tion to scholarship 8hatsoe(er5

:arker@s e9pedition% later politely descri)ed )y the reno8ned British archaeologist $athleen $enyon as @e9ceptional )y any standards@%<110= 8as the )rainchild o4 a Binnish mystic named 6alter H5 E!(eli!s% 8ho in 112& had presented a paper at a +8edish !ni(ersity on the s!)Cect o4 the destr!ction o4 $ing +olomon@s Temple )y the Ba)ylonians5 E!(eli!s claimed to ha(e ac?!ired relia)le in4ormation a)o!t the hiding place A inside the Temple precincts A o4 @the gold-encr!sted Ark o4 the Co(enant@% and he also said that a close st!dy that he had made o4 the rele(ant )i)lical te9ts had re(ealed the e9istence o4 a secret !ndergro!nd passage r!nning into the Temple o!nt 4rom some part o4 the city o4 Eer!salem5 A4ter poring o(er the reports o4 Charles #arren@s e9ca(ations% he had con(inced himsel4 that this secret passage 8o!ld )e 4o!nd to the so!th o4 the Al-A?sa os?!e% in the area that #arren had already d!g5 :ro44ering the l!re o4 the I+ Z222 million that he )elie(ed the Ark 8o!ld )e 8orth i4 it co!ld )e reco(ered% E!(eli!s there4ore so!ght in(estors to 4inance an e9pedition 8hich 8o!ld locate and clear that passage in order to gain access to the treas!re5<111= His 4!nd-raising e44orts 8ere not cro8ned 8ith s!ccess !ntil% in London% he enco!ntered ontag!e Bro8nslo8 :arker% then aged thirty% and 8on his s!pport 4or the (ent!re5 ilking his contacts in the British aristocracy and a)road% incl!ding mem)ers o4 Chicago@s 8ealthy Armo!r 4amily% :arker (ery ?!ickly managed to raise the !se4!l s!m o4 Z12"%2225 The e9pedition accordingly 8ent ahead and% )y A!g!st 1121% had esta)lished its head?!arters on the o!nt o4 >li(es <8hich directly o(erlooks the Temple o!nt=5 Digging )egan immediately on the site that #arren had pre(io!sly so painstakingly e9plored5 oreo(er :arker and E!(eli!s 8ere not deterred )y the 4act that their ill!strio!s predecessor had 4o!nd nothing o4 enormo!s signi4icanceJ on the contrary they proceeded 8ith optimism A since they had )y no8 hired an Irish clair(oyant to assist them in their search 4or the s!pposed @secret t!nnel@5 Time passed5 There 8ere the predicta)le protests 4rom the 4aith4!l o4 all religio!s pers!asions5 And% as 8inter came% the 8eather t!rned 4o!l% 4looding the e9ca(ations 8ith ri(ers o4 m!d5 Inderstanda)ly% :arker 8as disco!raged5 He called a temporary halt and did not res!me the dig again !ntil the s!mmer o4 11125 +e(eral months o4 4renetic acti(ity then 4ollo8ed5 The secret t!nnel% ho8e(er% still o)stinately re4!sed to re(eal itsel4 and% in the meantime% opposition to the 8hole proCect had gro8n decidedly more prono!nced5 By the spring o4 1111 Baron .dmond de 'othschild% a Gionist and a mem)er o4 the 4amo!s international )anking 4amily% had made it his personal mission to pre(ent the potential desecration o4 the holiest site o4 E!daism% and to this end had p!rchased a plot o4 land adCoining the e9ca(ations 4rom 8hich he co!ld directly threaten :arker5 The yo!ng British aristocrat 8as rattled )y this de(elopment5 In April o4 1111% there4ore% he a)andoned the search 4or the t!nnel and resorted to more desperate means5 Eer!salem 8as then still !nder the control o4 the >ttoman T!rks and the go(ernor o4 the city% Am3ey Bey :asha% 8as not a man kno8n 4or his scr!p!lo!s honesty5 A )ri)e o4 Z2"%222 sec!red his cooperation% and an additional tho!gh smaller s!m pers!aded +heikh $halil A the hereditary g!ardian o4 the Dome o4 the 'ock A to admit :arker and his team to the sacred site and to t!rn a )lind eye to 8hate(er they did there5 The 8ork% 4or o)(io!s reasons% 8as carried o!t at dead o4 night5 Disg!ised as Ara)s% the treas!re h!nters spent a 8eek e9ca(ating the so!thern part o4 the Temple o!nt close to the Al-

A?sa os?!e A 8here E!(eli!s and the Irish clair(oyant )oth )elie(ed that the Ark had )een )!ried5 These e44orts pro(ed entirely 4r!itless% ho8e(er% and in the small ho!rs o4 the morning o4 10 April 1111 :arker s8itched his attentions to the Dome o4 the 'ock% and to the legendary ca(erns s!pposed to lie 4ar )elo8 the +hetiyyah5 In those days the staircase leading do8n to the @#ell o4 +o!ls@ had not yet )een installed and :arker and his team had to lo8er themsel(es and their e?!ipment )y means o4 ropes 4astened to the +hetiyyah itsel45 They then lit storm lanterns and )egan to hack a8ay at the 4loor o4 the grotto in the hope that they might th!s gain access to the lasting resting place o4 the Ark5 Disaster str!ck )e4ore they had e(en )eg!n to esta)lish 8hether other hollo8s lay )eneath them5 Tho!gh +heikh $halil% the hereditary g!ardian% had )een )o!ght o44% another mos?!e attendant !ne9pectedly appeared <the story goes that he had decided to sleep on the Temple o!nt )eca!se his o8n home 8as 4!ll o4 g!ests=5 Hearing the so!nd o4 digging 4rom the Dome o4 the 'ock he )!rst in% peered do8n into the #ell o4 +o!ls and% to his horror% sa8 a n!m)er o4 8ild-eyed 4oreigners attacking the holy gro!nd 8ith picks and sho(els5 The reaction% on )oth sides% 8as dramatic5 The shocked mos?!e attendant !ttered a piercing ho8l and 4led screaming into the night to rally the 4aith4!l5 The .nglishmen% 8isely reali3ing that the game 8as !p% also )eat a hasty retreat5 ,ot e(en )othering to ret!rn to their )ase camp% they le4t Eer!salem at once and made 4or the port o4 Ea44a A 8here% con(eniently% a motor-yacht that they had chartered lay moored in the har)o!r5 In this 8ay they managed to cheat the hysterical mo) that arri(ed at the Temple o!nt only moments a4ter their depart!re and that carried o44 the !n4ort!nate +heikh $halil to an !nspeaka)le 4ate5 Be4ore morning there 8ere 4!ll-scale riots in Eer!salem and Am3ey Bey :asha A 8ho 8as rightly s!spected o4 complicity A had )een assa!lted and ins!lted5 His response 8as to close the Temple o!nt and to iss!e orders that the treas!re h!nters sho!ld )e apprehended on their arri(al at Ea44a5 ,o do!)t he took this latter step in part to ass!age his g!ilty conscience5 Ho8e(er% r!mo!rs had spread that :arker had 4o!nd and a)d!cted the Ark o4 the Co(enant% and !slim and Ee8ish leaders 8ere (oci4ero!s in their demands that the sacred relic m!st not )e allo8ed to lea(e the co!ntry5 Alerted )y telegraph% the Ea44a police and c!stoms a!thorities arrested the 4!giti(es% impo!nded all their )elongings and made an e9tremely thoro!gh search5 They 4o!nd nothing5 +ome8hat nonpl!ssed )y this they then locked the )aggage !p )!t allo8ed the .nglishmen to ro8 o!t to their yacht% in the sal!)rio!s s!rro!ndings o4 8hich% it had )een agreed% the interrogation 8o!ld contin!e5 As soon as he and his colleag!es 8ere sa4ely on )oard% ho8e(er% :arker ordered the cre8 to 8eigh anchor5 A 4e8 8eeks later he 8as )ack in .ngland5 He had 4ailed to 4ind the lost Ark% )!t he had s!cceeded in losing the entire Z12"%222 8ith 8hich in(estors in the Inited +tates and Britain had entr!sted him5<122= @The 8hole episode% and e9ca(ations%@ $athleen $enyon concl!ded many years later% @did not redo!nd to the credit o4 British archaeology5@<121= British archaeologists% ho8e(er% 8ere not in(ol(ed in the ne9t attempt to 4ind the Ark% 8hich took place in the 1122s and 8hich 4oc!ssed on o!nt ,e)o 8here% according to the )ook

o4 acca)ees% the prophet Eeremiah had concealed the sacred relic C!st )e4ore the destr!ction o4 +olomon@s Temple5 The prime mo(er on this occasion 8as an eccentric American e9plorer 8ho liked to dress !p in 4lo8ing Ara) ro)es and 8ho% tho!gh male% 8ent )y the c!rio!s name o4 Antonia Brederick B!tterer5 A4ter thoro!ghly s!r(eying o!nt ,e)o <and also its neigh)o!ring peak o!nt :isgah= he claimed A 8ith tr!ly a8e-inspiring originality A to ha(e 4o!nd 5 5 5 a secret passage5 This passage 8as )locked )y a 8all o4 some sort and B!tterer did not attempt to )reak it do8n5 #hen he e9amined it )y 4lashlight% ho8e(er% he disco(ered 5 5 5 an ancient inscription% 8hich he 4aith4!lly copied and carried )ack to Eer!salem5 There he made contact 8ith a @scholar@ at the He)re8 Ini(ersity 8ho help4!lly deciphered the hieroglyphs 4or him5 The message read;

H.'.I, LI.+ TH. G>LD., A'$ >B TH. C>6.,A,T

In4ort!nately B!tterer 8o!ld not name the scholar 8ho had prod!ced this translationJ nor% in the 4!rore that 4ollo8ed% did anyone step 4or8ard to claim that hono!rJ nor 8as B!tterer s!)se?!ently a)le to prod!ce the copy that he claimed to ha(e made o4 the inscriptionJ nor did he e(er go )ack to o!nt ,e)o to retrie(e the Ark 4rom its alleged secret passage5<122= Hal4 a cent!ry later% ho8e(er% a ne8 champion emerged to pick !p the )aton that B!tterer had dropped5 That champion% too% 8as an American e9plorer% Tom Crotser )y name% 8hose pre(io!s @disco(eries@ had incl!ded the To8er o4 Ba)el% ,oah@s Ark% and the City o4 Adam5 In 1101% )y rather circ!ito!s means% this gentleman ac?!ired some papers that B!tterer had le4t% papers 8hich apparently incl!ded a sketch o4 the 8alled-!p secret passage on o!nt ,e)o 8here the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as s!pposed to lie )!ried5<123= o!nt ,e)o is located C!st inside the )order o4 the modern state o4 Eordan and it 8as to that co!ntry that Crotser no8 4le8% together 8ith a gro!p o4 3ealo!s colleag!es 4rom an organi3ation kno8n as the @Instit!te 4or 'estoring History International@ <head?!arters; #in4ield% $ansas=5<124= Their mission% o4 co!rse% 8as to sal(age the Ark5 To this end they spent 4o!r days sleeping ro!gh on o!nt ,e)o A m!ch to the consternation o4 the Branciscans o4 Terra +anta 8ho o8n the s!mmit% 8ho g!ard the By3antine ch!rch that 8as erected there o(er the s!pposed )!rial place o4 oses% and 8ho% 4or the past se(eral decades% ha(e cond!cted care4!l and pro4essional archaeological e9ca(ations in the area5<12"= ,eedless to say% the Branciscans ha(e ne(er 4o!nd the Ark% and nor did Crotser A at least not on o!nt ,e)o5 A4ter 4inishing there% ho8e(er% he and his team mo(ed on to neigh)o!ring o!nt :isgah <8hich B!tterer had also (isited=5 >n that peak they st!m)led !pon a g!lly 8hich they 8ere con4ident 8o!ld gi(e them access to the @secret passage@ identi4ied in B!tterer@s sketch5 The 4act that part o4 the 4loor o4 the g!lly 8as )locked )y a length o4 tin sheeting only added to their e9citement5 >n the night o4 31 >cto)er 1101 they remo(ed this 4limsy o)stacle and% s!re eno!gh% a passage stretched ahead o4 them5 They 4ollo8ed the passage% 8hich they said 8as a)o!t 4o!r 4eet 8ide and se(en 4eet high% 4or a distance o4 some si9 h!ndred 4eet into the

)o8els o4 the earth5 There they came across a 8all e9actly like the one that B!tterer had descri)ed and% 8itho!t 4!rther ado% they )roke it do8n5 Beyond it 8as a rock-he8n crypt meas!ring ro!ghly se(en 4eet )y se(en 4eet and containing% according to Crotser% a gold-co(ered rectang!lar chest meas!ring si9ty-t8o inches long% thirty-se(en inches 8ide and thirty-se(en inches high5 Beside it% apparently% 8ere carrying poles e9actly matching the )i)lical description o4 the carrying poles o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 And o44 to one side lay cloth-8rapped packages 8hich Crotser ass!med to )e the cher!)im that% in times gone )y% had )een mo!nted !pon the mercy seat5 The Americans 8ere certain that they had 4o!nd the sacred relic5 They did not remo(e it neither did they to!ch it or open itJ !sing 4lash-g!ns% ho8e(er% they did take colo!r photographs o4 it5 Then they le4t Eordan and ret!rned to the I+A 8here they immediately in4ormed the press agency I:I a)o!t their disco(ery5 The res!lt 8as an internationally syndicated ne8s story 8hich% according to the Co!rnalist responsi)le% @got more play than anything I 8rote in my li4e5@<12&= +o% had the Ark really )een 4o!nd7 >)(io!sly the photographs taken in the crypt 8ere cr!cial e(idence that might (indicate the sensational claim that the Americans had made A i4 s!ita)ly ?!ali4ied )i)lical archaeologists 8ere gi(en the opport!nity to st!dy them5 It 8as there4ore di44ic!lt to !nderstand 8hy Crotser stead4astly re4!sed to release these pict!res to anyone5 Be8 8ere con(inced )y his arg!ment that God had instr!cted him to gi(e them only to the London )anker Da(id 'othschild 8ho% he said% 8as a direct descendant o4 Ees!s Christ and had )een chosen )y the Lord to )!ild the Third Temple A in 8hich the Ark o4 the Co(enant% retrie(ed 4rom its hiding place% 8o!ld occ!py centre stage5<12*= A mem)er o4 the same international )anking 4amily that had opposed ontag!e :arker@s e9ca(ations at the Temple o!nt in 1112% 'othschild icily declined to take deli(ery o4 the photographs A 8hich Crotser still keeps in his home in #in4ield% $ansas% 8hich he still re4!ses to release% )!t 8hich he 8ill sho8 to selected (isitors5 In 1102% one s!ch (isitor 8as the respected archaeologist +ieg4ried H5 Horn% a specialist on the o!nt ,e)o area and the a!thor o4 more than a do3en scholarly )ooks5<120= as He spent some time closely e9amining Crotser@s photographs 8hich% !n4ort!nately% seemed to ha(e come o!t o4 the de(elopment process rather )adly;

All )!t t8o sho8ed a)sol!tely nothing5 >4 the t8o that registered images% one is 4!33y )!t does depict a cham)er 8ith a yello8 )o9 in the centre5 The other slide is ?!ite good and gi(es a clear (ie8 o4 the 4ront o4 the )o95<121=

Immediately a4ter lea(ing Crotser@s ho!se% Horn <8ho is an accomplished dra!ghtsman= made a sketch o4 the )o9 as he had o)ser(ed it in the slide5 +ome parts o4 the yello8 metal o(erlay appeared to him to )e )rass% not gold% and% moreo(er% 8ere stamped 8ith a diamond pattern that looked machine-8orked5 ore damning )y 4ar% ho8e(er% 8as the 4act that a nail 8ith

a modern style o4 head co!ld )e seen protr!ding o!t o4 the !pper right corner o4 the 4ront o4 the )o95<132= Horn concl!ded;

I do not kno8 8hat the o)Cect is )!t the pict!res con(inced me that it is not an ancient arte4act )!t o4 modern 4a)rication 8ith machine-prod!ced decorati(e strips and an !nderlying metal sheet5<131=



A4ter 8orking my 8ay steadily thro!gh the archaeological records in Eer!salem I 8as !na)le to trace any 4!rther re4erences to e9peditions that had so!ght to test the E!daic traditions a)o!t the last resting place o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 And the scholars 8hom I talked to con4irmed that the 4ield 8as indeed a limited one; Charles #arren% and later eir Ben-Do( and his team% had d!g in the (icinity o4 the Temple o!nt <tho!gh they 8ere not looking 4or the Ark=J ontag!e Bro8nslo8 :arker A not an archaeologist )!t a @l!natic@% as Ga))y Barkai had descri)ed him A had d!g inside the Temple o!nt )!t had not 4o!nd anythingJ Antonia Brederick B!tterer had 4o!nd% )!t not e9plored% a secret passage on o!nt ,e)o 8hich he had )elie(ed to contain the ArkJ and lastly Tom Crotser claimed to ha(e 4o!nd the Ark itsel4 in that same passage A 8hich% ho8e(er% seemed to ha(e migrated 4rom o!nt ,e)o to o!nt :isgah in the 4i4ty years since B!tterer@s (isit5 And that 8as it5 That% as the saying goes% 8as the )oiling lot A 8ith the sole e9ception o4 my o8n acti(ities5 And 8hat 8as I doing7 #eill 8as looking 4or the Ark% too% o4 co!rse A a (ent!re in 8hich% I m!st con4ess% I 8as disconcerted to disco(er that I had )een preceded only )y essianic (isionaries and hare)rained cranks5 y sa(ing grace% I s!pposed% 8as that I had not the slightest interest in the )!ilding o4 the Third Temple and that I did not )elie(e that the Ark had )een )!ried )eneath the Dome o4 the 'ock or in o!nts ,e)o or :isgah5 I reali3ed that it 8o!ld )e practically impossi)le to pro(e that those locations concealed no 4!rther secretsJ )!t I 8as no8 as satis4ied as I e(er 8o!ld )e that the lost relic had not gone to any o4 the places indicated in the E!daic traditions% that it had not )een taken )y the .gyptians or the Ba)ylonians% and that it had not )een destroyed either5 Its disappearance% there4ore% looked more and more like a gen!inely )a44ling mystery A @one o4 the great mysteries o4 the Bi)le@ as 'ichard .lliott Briedman% :ro4essor o4 He)re8 and Comparati(e 'eligion at the Ini(ersity o4 Cali4ornia% had once descri)ed it5<132= All my 8ork in 1101 and 1112 had strengthened my con(iction that the sol!tion to that mystery m!st lie in .thiopia5 And yet 5 5 5 And yet 5 5 5 the one pro)lem that I had not con4ronted at all% at any stage o4 my research% 8as that .thiopia@s claim to possess the Ark seemed to rest on 4o!ndations that 8ere e(ery )it as 4limsy as the Apocalypse o4 Bar!ch or the )ook o4 acca)ees5 To p!t matters plainly% I 8as )eginning to 4eel that the $e)ra ,agast@s )old assertions 8ere not s!44iciently relia)le as a historical 8itness to C!sti4y a trip to the sacred city o4 A9!m A

a trip d!ring 8hich I 8o!ld ha(e to p!t my o8n li4e at risk5 The insistence that the /!een o4 +he)a had )een an .thiopian and the linked pretence that she had )orne a son to $ing +olomon 8ho% in d!e co!rse% had a)d!cted the Ark 4rom Eer!salem% had more the ring o4 prepostero!s 4ictions than o4 so)er tr!ths5 To )e s!re% I had !nco(ered a great deal o4 e(idence in .thiopia A pers!asi(e e(idence A 8hich did lend considera)le s!pport to the notion that the relic might really lie in the sanct!ary chapel in A9!m5 And no8 I had satis4ied mysel4 that no other location co!ld hope to present a more con(incing case5 That% ho8e(er% 8as less a re4lection o4 the strength o4 the $e)ra ,agast@s acco!nt o4 ho8 the Ark had got to .thiopia than o4 the 8eakness o4 the alternati(es5 Be4ore 4inally committing mysel4 to going to A9!m% there4ore% I 4elt that I needed to 4ind a more con(incing e9planation than that o44ered in the $e)ra ,agast o4 ho8 @the most important o)Cect in the 8orld in the Bi)lical (ie8@<133= co!ld possi)ly ha(e ended !p in the heart o4 A4rica5 By the time that I 4inally le4t Eer!salem in mid->cto)er 1112 I had 4o!nd that e9planation A as I shall reco!nt in the ne9t chapter5

CHA:T.' 1" HIDD., HI+T>'D

A4ter a painstaking in(estigation% I had satis4ied mysel4 that .thiopia@s claim to )e the last resting place o4 the lost Ark 8as not challenged )y any partic!larly strong or striking alternati(e5 That 4inding% ho8e(er% had not )een the only o!tcome o4 my research5 As I 8rote in my note)ook;

,o one 8ho has 4ollo8ed the story o4 the Ark 4rom its constr!ction at the 4oot o4 o!nt +inai !ntil the moment o4 its deposition in +olomon@s Temple 8o!ld serio!sly disp!te that it 8as an o)Cect o4 immense importance to the Ee8ish people5 And yet the 4act is that the +cript!res A so dominated )y the presence o4 the relic )e4ore +olomon A seem to 4orget a)o!t it entirely a4ter him5 Its loss is 4ormally recogni3ed at the time o4 the constr!ction o4 the +econd Temple5 The great mystery% ho8e(er% to ?!ote the 8ords o4 :ro4essor 'ichard Briedman% is that; @There is no report that the Ark 8as carried a8ay or destroyed 5 5 5 There is not e(en any comment s!ch as FAnd then the Ark disappeared% and 8e do not kno8 8hat happened to it%F or FAnd no one kno8s 8here it is to this day5F The most important o)Cect in the 8orld% in the )i)lical (ie8% simply ceases to )e in the story5<1=

'e(ie8ing the e(idence I had to ask mysel4; #hy sho!ld this )e7 #hy sho!ld the compilers o4 the >ld Testament ha(e allo8ed the Ark to (anish 4rom the sacred te9ts A not 8ith a )ang% as one might ha(e e9pected% )!t 8ith a 8himper7

The $e)ra ,agast% I kne8% did o44er a clear ans8er to e9actly this ?!estion5 In Chapter &2 it descri)ed +olomon@s grie4 a4ter he had disco(ered that his son enelik had a)d!cted the relic 4rom the Temple and carried it o44 to .thiopia5 #hen he had had time to collect his tho!ghts% ho8e(er% the king t!rned to the elders o4 Israel A 8ho 8ere like8ise lo!dly lamenting the loss o4 the Ark A and 8arned them to desist;

Cease ye% so that the !ncirc!mcised people may not )oast themsel(es o(er !s and may not say !nto !s% @Their glory is taken a8ay% and God hath 4orsaken them5@ 'e(eal ye not anything else to alien 4olk 5 5 5 And 5 5 5 the elders o4 Israel made ans8er and said !nto him% @ ay thy good pleas!re )e done% and the good pleas!re o4 the Lord GodT As 4or !s% none o4 !s 8ill transgress thy 8ord% and 8e 8ill not in4orm any other people that the Ark hath )een taken a8ay 4rom !s5@ And they esta)lished this co(enant in the Ho!se o4 God A the elders o4 Israel 8ith their $ing +olomon !nto this day5<2=

In other 8ords% i4 the $e)ra ,agast 8as to )elie(ed% there had )een a massi(e co(er-!p5 The Ark had )een remo(ed to .thiopia d!ring the li4etime o4 +olomon himsel4J all in4ormation a)o!t this tragic loss had% ho8e(er% )een s!ppressed% 8hich 8as 8hy no mention 8as made o4 it in the +cript!res5 There 8as% I tho!ght% m!ch to recommend this arg!ment5 It made a great deal o4 sense to s!ppose that the Ee8ish king 8o!ld indeed ha(e so!ght to keep 4rom the common herd any kno8ledge o4 the loss o4 the Ark5 B!t at the same time I had serio!s pro)lems 8ith some other aspects o4 the $e)ra ,agast acco!nt A nota)ly those concerning the /!een o4 +he)a@s .thiopian credentials% her alleged lo(e a44air 8ith +olomon% the )irth o4 their son enelik% the notion that the latter had )ro!ght the Ark to .thiopia% and the implication that this had happened in the tenth cent!ry BC;

1 There appeared to )e no C!sti4ication 4or the $e)ra ,agast@s a!dacio!s claim that the /!een o4 +he)a had )een an .thiopian 8oman5 It 8as not a)sol!tely impossi)le that she might ha(e )een <in his Anti?!ities o4 the Ee8s% 4or e9ample% Bla(i!s Eoseph!s had descri)ed her as @the ?!een o4 .gypt and .thiopia@<3=5 >n )alance% ho8e(er% historical research did not s!ggest that she had started her Co!rney in the A)yssinian highlands 8hen% as the Bi)le p!t it% she had tra(elled to @Eer!salem 8ith a (ery great train% 8ith camels that )are spices% and (ery m!ch gold% and precio!s stones5@<4= 2 I4 the e(idence linking the /!een o4 +he)a to .thiopia 8as thin% then e(idence 4or the (ery e9istence o4 her son enelik 8as e(en thinner5 I had kno8n 4or some time that historians considered the s!pposed 4o!nder o4 .thiopia@s @+olomonic@ dynasty to )e a p!rely legendary 4ig!re A and I had learnt nothing in t8o years o4 research to pers!ade me that they 8ere mistaken a)o!t this rather cr!cial point5

3 In partic!lar it seemed to )e inconcei(a)le that an ad(anced c!lt!re and a centrali3ed monarchy o4 the kind descri)ed in the $e)ra ,agast co!ld ha(e e9isted in the A)yssinian mo!ntains in the tenth cent!ry BC5 @At the time 8hen +olomon 8as reigning%@ as .5 A5 #allis B!dge had p!t it% @the nati(es o4 the co!ntry 8hich 8e no8 call A)yssinia 8ere sa(ages5@<"= This 8as the orthodo9 (ie8 and my research had !nco(ered nothing that 8o!ld ena)le me to re4!te it5 4 .(en more 4atal to any kind o4 literal acceptance o4 the $e)ra ,agast 8as the e(idence that I mysel4 had collected in .thiopia5 >4 all the many traditions that I had enco!ntered in that co!ntry% )y 4ar the p!rest and most con(incing had indicated that the Ark o4 the Co(enant had )een )ro!ght 4irst o4 all to Lake Tana% 8here it had )een concealed on the island o4 Tana $irkos5 emhir Bisseha% the priest 8hom I had inter(ie8ed there <see Chapter 1=% had told me that the relic had remained on the island 4or eight h!ndred years )e4ore it had 4inally )een taken to A9!m at the time o4 .thiopia@s con(ersion to Christianity5 +ince that con(ersion had occ!rred aro!nd AD 332% the implication o4 the strong 4olk memory preser(ed on Tana $irkos 8as that the Ark m!st ha(e arri(ed in .thiopia in 4*2 BC or therea)o!ts A in other 8ords a)o!t 4i(e h!ndred years a4ter +olomon% enelik and the /!een o4 +he)a5

These% o4 co!rse% 8ere not the only di44ic!lties that I had 8ith the acco!nt gi(en in the $e)ra ,agast5 +omething else that )othered me greatly% 4or e9ample% 8as the practical ?!estion o4 ho8 enelik and his companions co!ld possi)ly ha(e remo(ed so precio!s and so hea(y an o)Cect as the Ark 4rom the Temple o4 +olomon 8itho!t attracting the attention o4 the 3ealo!s Le(ites 8ho g!arded the Holy o4 Holies5 And I had se(eral other reser(ations too% all o4 8hich% together 8ith those listed a)o(e% had 4orced me to agree 8ith the academic e9perts that the $e)ra ,agast 8as indeed a remarka)le doc!ment )!t that it had to )e taken 8ith a (ery large pinch o4 salt5 This% ho8e(er% did not make me 8ant to dismiss the great epic entirely5 >n the contrary% in common 8ith many other legends% I 4elt that there 8as e(ery possi)ility that its ela)orate 4ictional s!perstr!ct!re might ha(e )een erected a)o(e a solid 4o!ndation o4 historical tr!th5 In short% 8hile rel!ctantly reCecting the lo(ely idea o4 the romance )et8een +olomon and +he)a% and the cheeky s!ggestion that the Ark had )een stolen 4rom the Temple )y their son enelik% I sa8 no reason to concl!de that the relic might not ha(e )een )ro!ght to .thiopia )y some other means% th!s creating an enigma 8hich the $e)ra ,agast had m!ch later gone on to e9plain in its o8n pec!liarly original and colo!r4!l 8ay5 Indeed% I 8as satis4ied that the social and c!lt!ral e(idence in .thiopia itsel4 (ery strongly s!pported that co!ntry@s claim to )e the last resting place o4 the Ark5 And% since I no8 also kne8 that no other co!ntry or place had a stronger claim% I 8as more inclined than e(er to )elie(e that the Ark really 8as there5 ,e(ertheless% the 4inal pieces o4 the Cigsa8 p!33le remained to )e p!t in place5 I4 the /!een o4 +he)a had not )een +olomon@s lo(er% and i4 she had ne(er )orne him a son called enelik as the legends claimed% then 8ho in 4act had )ro!ght the Ark to .thiopia A and 8hen% and !nder 8hat circ!mstances7

TH. LADD D>TH :'>T.+T T>>


.THI,$+ 5 5 5

In my attempt to ans8er these ?!estions I kept at the 4ore4ront o4 my mind the (ery accepta)le notion% p!t 4or8ard in the $e)ra ,agast% that the remo(al o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant 4rom the Holy o4 Holies co!ld ha(e )een the s!)Cect o4 a co(er-!p A o4 a conspiracy o4 silence in(ol(ing the priestly elite and the king5 B!t% i4 not +olomon% then 8hich king7 :art o4 the de4inition o4 a @co(er-!p@% o4 co!rse% is that it sho!ld )e di44ic!lt to detect5 I there4ore did not e9pect that e(idence o4 the sort that I 8as seeking 8o!ld )e easily e9tracted 4rom the >ld Testament5 That great and comple9 )ook had g!arded its secrets 8ell 4or more than t8o tho!sand years and there 8as no reason to s!ppose that it 8o!ld simply s!rrender them to me no85 I )egan )y typing !p e(ery single mention o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant that had e(er appeared in the Bi)le5 .(en 8ith access to the )est scholarship on the s!)Cect it 8as a hard task to track them all do8n% and 8hen I had 4inished I had )e4ore me a doc!ment more than 4i4ty pages long5 +trikingly and signi4icantly% only the last page contained re4erences that related to the period a4ter +olomon@s deathJ all the others concerned themsel(es 8ith the story o4 the Ark d!ring the 8anderings in the 8ilderness% the con?!est o4 the :romised Land% the reign o4 $ing Da(id% and the reign o4 $ing +olomon himsel45 The Bi)le% as I 8as 8ell a8are% contains a hotch-potch o4 material prod!ced )y se(eral di44erent schools o4 scri)es o(er h!ndreds o4 years5 any o4 the re4erences to the Ark% I kne8% 8ere (ery old indeedJ )!t others 8ere relati(ely late5 ,one o4 those in the 4irst )ook o4 $ings% 4or e9ample% 8ere codi4ied )e4ore the reign o4 Eosiah <&42-&21 BC=5<&= This meant that the acco!nt o4 the Ark@s installation in +olomon@s Temple in I $ings 0% altho!gh !ndo!)tedly )ased on ancient oral and 8ritten traditions% had )een the 8ork o4 the priests 8ho had li(ed long a4ter the e(ent5 And e9actly the same o)ser(ation applied to all the rele(ant re4erences in the )ook o4 De!teronomy% since this% too% 8as a late doc!ment that dated only 4rom the time o4 $ing Eosiah5<*= There4ore% i4 the Ark had )een secretly remo(ed 4rom the Holy o4 Holies )e4ore the destr!ction o4 the Temple in "0* BC% it seemed to me pro)a)le that the traces o4 any co(er-!p 8o!ld )e 4o!nd in $ings and in De!teronomy A i4 they 8ere to )e 4o!nd any8here A 4or in compiling these )ooks the scri)es 8o!ld ha(e had an opport!nity to tamper 8ith the 4acts in order to create the desired impression that @the glory@ had not departed 4rom Israel5 >n close e9amination o4 the te9ts I came across a passage in Chapter 0 o4 the 4irst )ook o4 $ings that seemed someho8 o!t o4 character% that Carred in a c!rio!s 8ay 8ith the rest o4 the description o4 the great ceremony that had s!rro!nded the deposition o4 the Ark in the Holy o4 Holies5 That passage read as 4ollo8s;

The priests )ro!ght in the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord to its place% the inner shrine o4 the ho!se% the ost Holy :lace% )eneath the 8ings o4 the cher!)im5 The cher!)im spread their 8ings o(er the place o4 the ArkJ they 4ormed a screen a)o(e the Ark and its poles5 The poles proCected and their ends co!ld )e seen 4rom the Holy :lace immediately in 4ront o4 the inner shrine% )!t 4rom no8here else o!tsideJ they are there to this day5<0=

#hy% I 8ondered% had the )i)lical scri)e responsi)le 4or this passage 4o!nd it necessary to assert that the carrying poles o4 the Ark co!ld% in his day% still )e seen proCecting o!t o4 the inner shrine7 #hat 8o!ld ha(e )een the point o4 s!ch a statement !nless the relic had in 4act not )een there at the time that these 8ords 8ere 8ritten <appro9imately &12 BC according to the a!thorities7=<1= The oddly de4ensi(e tone had% I tho!ght% the ring o4 one o4 those emphatic declarations o4 innocence that g!ilty parties sometimes make in order to o)sc!re the tr!th5 In short% like the 4amo!s lady in +hakespeare@s Hamlet% the a!thor o4 $ings 0 had aro!sed my s!spicions )y @protesting too m!ch@5<12= I 8as pleased to disco(er that I 8as not alone in this int!ition5 In 1120 the leading )i)lical scholar E!lian orgenstern had also )een str!ck )y the strangeness o4 the 8ords @they are there to this day@5 His concl!sion% in an er!dite paper p!)lished in the He)re8 Inion College Ann!al% 8as that the scri)e m!st ha(e intended;

to con(ince his readers that the sta(es o4 the Ark% and there4ore% o4 co!rse% the Ark itsel4% 8ere present in the innermost part o4 the Temple% e(en tho!gh they co!ld not )e seen )y the people at large% or% 4or that matter% )y anyone other than the High :riest% 8hen he entered the Holy o4 Holies once a year% on Dom $ipp!r 5 5 5 The 4act that Rthe scri)eS seems to ha(e 4elt compelled to insist in this manner that the Ark 8as still present in the Temple in his day 5 5 5 indicates that he m!st ha(e had to contend 8ith a pre(alent and persistent do!)t o4 this% a do!)t 4o!nded in all likelihood !pon act!al 4act5<11=

,or 8as this all5 The (ery ne9t (erse o4 the same chapter o4 the )ook o4 $ings insisted;

There 8as nothing in the Ark e9cept the t8o stone ta)lets oses had placed in it 5 5 5 the ta)lets o4 the co(enant 8hich Dah8eh had made 8ith the Israelites 8hen they came o!t o4 the land o4 .gyptJ they are still there today5<12=

And the )ook o4 De!teronomy% 8ritten at the same time% said almost e9actly the same thing A the ta)lets o4 stone 8ere placed in the Ark )y oses% @and there they ha(e remained e(er since@5<13= orgenstern@s analysis o4 these 8ords 8as that they @m!st ha(e )een inserted 4or some partic!lar p!rpose@5<14= And% a4ter re4erring to the original He)re8 te9t% he concl!ded that this p!rpose co!ld only ha(e )een to pro(ide; a direct and positi(e a44irmation% almost% it 8o!ld seem% in the 4ace o4 a do!)t or ?!estion% that the ta)lets o4 the Ten Commandments 8ere still present in the Ark in the days 5 5 5 o4 the a!thor o4 this (erse5<1"=

De!teronomy and the 4irst )ook o4 $ings had% o4 co!rse% dealt 8ith 8idely di44erent periods o4 Israelite history5 Cr!cially% ho8e(er A and the point is so important that it 8ill )ear

repetition A they had )oth )een compiled at the same time5 That time% as I had already esta)lished% had )een the reign o4 $ing Eosiah% i5e5 4rom &42 to &21 BC5 y c!riosity aro!sed% I t!rned to the typescript in 8hich I had set do8n all the )i)lical re4erences to the Ark5 I remem)ered that there 8ere (ery 4e8 in the 8hole o4 the >ld Testament 8hich related to the period a4ter the death o4 +olomon5 ,o8 I disco(ered that there 8ere in 4act only t8o; one had )een 8ritten d!ring Eosiah@s reignJ the other ?!oted the 8ords o4 Eosiah himsel4J and )oth appeared on the last page o4 my doc!ment5


I had already come across Eosiah in my research5 #hen I had )een in(estigating the anti?!ity o4 the religio!s c!stoms o4 the )lack Ee8s o4 .thiopia I had learned that it had )een d!ring his reign that the instit!tion o4 sacri4ice had 4inally and concl!si(ely )een centrali3ed on Eer!salem and )anned in all other locations <see Chapter &=5 +ince the Balashas themsel(es still practised sacri4ice in .thiopia <ha(ing altars in all their (illages=% I had concl!ded in my note)ook that their ancestors m!st ha(e )een con(erted to E!daism at a time 8hen it 8as still accepta)le 4or those 4ar a8ay 4rom the;

centrali3ed national sanct!ary to practise local sacri4ice5 This 8o!ld s!ggest that the con(ersion took place )e4ore $ing Eosiah@s )an A i5e5 no later than the se(enth cent!ry BC5

y research had mo(ed on into areas that I had not e(en dreamt o4 8hen I had originally 8ritten those 8ords in 1101% and no8 I 8as con4ronted )y a pec!liarly interesting set o4 circ!mstances5 +itting in my hotel room in Eer!salem in >cto)er 1 1112 I there4ore opened my note)ook again and listed the 4ollo8ing points;

V In I $ings 0 and De!teronomy there are signs o4 e44orts )eing made to con(ince people that the Ark 8as still in its place in the TempleJ this looks like an attempt to co(er !p the tr!th A i5e5 that the relic 8as in 4act no longer there5 V The rele(ant passages 8ere 8ritten in the time o4 $ing Eosiah5 V Brom this I concl!de that the Ark may ha(e )een remo(ed 4rom the Temple d!ring Eosiah@s reignJ it is more likely )y 4ar% ho8e(er% that its loss 8as disco(ered then )!t that it had act!ally occ!rred some8hat earlier5 #hy7 Beca!se Eosiah 8as a 3ealo!s re4ormer 8ho so!ght to emphasi3e the paramo!nt importance o4 the Temple in Eer!salem A and )eca!se the raison d@Mtre o4 the Temple 8as as @an ho!se o4 rest 4or the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord@5 It is (irt!ally inconcei(a)le that s!ch a monarch 8o!ld ha(e permitted the !ltimate sym)ol o4 E!daism% the sign and the seal o4 Dah8eh@s presence on earth% to )e taken o!t o4 the Holy o4

Holies5 The logical ded!ction% there4ore% is that the Ark m!st ha(e )een spirited a8ay )e4ore Eosiah came to po8er A i5e5 )e4ore &42 BC5 V The religio!s c!stoms o4 the Balashas incl!de local sacri4ice% a practice that 8as only concl!si(ely )anned d!ring Eosiah@s reign5 >n the )asis o4 this and other data it has )een my opinion 4or some time that the ancestors o4 the Balashas m!st ha(e migrated to .thiopia )e4ore &42 BC5 V +!rely these matters cannot )e !nconnected7

The chain o4 e(idence looked con(incing; the Ark 8as remo(ed 4rom the Temple )e4ore &42 BCJ the ancestors o4 the Balashas migrated to .thiopia )e4ore &42 BCJ 8as it there4ore not reasona)le to ass!re that the ancestors o4 the Balashas might ha(e taken the Ark 8ith them7 This str!ck me as a 4airly logical hypothesis5 It did not% ho8e(er% esta)lish 8hen )e4ore &42 BC the s!pposed migration 4rom Eer!salem had taken place5 ,either did it entirely r!le o!t the possi)ility that the Ark co!ld ha(e )een remo(ed d!ring Eosiah@s reign5 Gi(en the kno8n religio!s integrity and traditionalism o4 that monarch the latter notion looked like a (ery long shot indeed5 ,e(ertheless it had to )e considered A i4 only )eca!se% as I already kne8 <see pre(io!s chapter=% certain Ee8ish legends had 4!rnished him 8ith a (alid moti(e5 In the last years o4 his reign% those legends said% he had 4oreseen the destr!ction o4 the Temple )y the Ba)ylonians and had hidden @the Holy Ark and all its app!rtenances in order to g!ard them against desecration at the hands o4 the enemy5<1&= oreo(er he 8as )elie(ed A possi)ly )y mirac!lo!s means A to ha(e concealed the relic @in its o8n place@5<1*= I 8as no8 as satis4ied as I e(er 8o!ld )e that the Ark had not )een )!ried in the Temple o!nt A or any8here else in the Holy Land5 ,e(ertheless I still had to ask mysel4; 8as this possi)le7 Co!ld Eosiah really ha(e 4oreseen the 4ate o4 the Temple and taken steps to sa4eg!ard the Ark7 I looked into this scenario )!t concl!ded that% !nless the Ee8ish king had possessed a tr!ly remarka)le gi4t o4 prescience% there 8as C!st no 8ay that he co!ld ha(e predicted the e(ents o4 "10-"0* BC5 He died in &21 BC% 4i(e years )e4ore ,e)!chadne33ar A the a!thor o4 Eer!salem@s destr!ction A inherited the Ba)ylonian throne5<10= oreo(er% ,e)!chadne33ar@s predecessor ,a)opolassar had sho8n little or no military interest in Israel and had concentrated instead on 8ars 8ith Assyria and .gypt5<11= The historical )ackgro!nd to Eosiah@s reign there4ore did not s!pport the theory that he might ha(e concealed the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 ore damning )y 4ar% ho8e(er% 8as the (ery last mention o4 the sacred relic in the >ld Testament% 8hich cropped !p in a passage in the second )ook o4 Chronicles A a passage that descri)ed Eosiah@s campaign to restore traditional (al!es to Temple 8orship;

Eosiah remo(ed all the a)ominations thro!gho!t the territories )elonging to the sons o4 Israel 5 5 5 And he set the priests in their charges% and 5 5 5 said !nto the Le(ites that ta!ght all

Israel% 8hich 8ere holy !nto the Lord% @:!t the Holy Ark in the ho!se 8hich +olomon the son o4 Da(id king o4 Israel did )!ildJ it shall not )e a )!rden !pon yo!r sho!lders5@<22=

It 8as immediately o)(io!s to me that these 4e8 short (erses% partic!larly the 8ords emphasi3ed in italics a)o(e% 8ere o4 (ital importance to my ?!est5 #hy7 /!ite simply )eca!se Eosiah 8o!ld ha(e had no need to ask the Le(ites to p!t the Ark in the Temple i4 it had already )een there5 T8o inescapa)le concl!sions emerged 4rom this;

<1= The king himsel4 co!ld not ha(e )een responsi)le 4or the remo(al o4 the relic )eca!se he plainly tho!ght that it had )een taken )y its traditional )earers% the Le(itesJ and <2= the date o4 the Ark@s disappearance 4rom the Temple co!ld no8 )e 4i9ed to some time )e4ore Eosiah had made this little speech5

And 8hen e9actly had that speech )een made7 Happily the )ook o4 Chronicles pro(ided a (ery precise ans8er to this ?!estion; @in the eighteenth year o4 the reign o4 Eosiah@<21= A in other 8ords in &22 BC5<22= #hat Chronicles did not do% ho8e(er% 8as gi(e any indication at all that the Le(ites had complied 8ith the king@s orderJ indeed% 4ar 4rom the colo!r4!l ceremony that one might ha(e e9pected to accompany any reinstallation o4 the Ark in the Temple% there 8as no 4ollo8-!p A either in this )ook or in any other part o4 the Bi)le A to Eosiah@s strange command5 >n the contrary% it 8as clear that his 8ords had 4allen on dea4 ears or on the ears o4 people 8ho 8ere not in a position to o)ey them5 Chronologically% as I ha(e already o)ser(ed% Eosiah@s speech contained the last re4erence to the Ark o4 the Co(enant in the 8hole o4 the >ld Testament5 I no8 t!rned to e9amine the pen!ltimate re4erence5 This occ!rred in the )ook o4 Eeremiah% in a chapter composed )y Eeremiah himsel4 aro!nd the year &2& BC%<23= and took the 4orm o4 a prophetic !tterance addressed to the people o4 Eer!salem;

And 8hen yo! ha(e increased and )ecome many in the land% then A it is Dah8eh 8ho speaks A no one 8ill e(er say again @#here is the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 Dah8eh7@ There 8ill )e no tho!ght o4 it% no memory o4 it% no regret 4or it% no making o4 another5 #hen that time comes% Eer!salem shall )e called; @The throne o4 Dah8eh@J all nations 8ill gather there in the name o4 Dah8eh and 8ill no longer 4ollo8 the dictates o4 their o8n st!))orn hearts5<24=

Like Eosiah% I kne8 that Eeremiah had )een credited in certain Ee8ish legends A and in the apocryphal )ook o4 acca)ees A 8ith hiding the Ark <in his case on o!nt ,e)o immediately )e4ore the destr!ction o4 the Temple A see pre(io!s chapter=5 The 8ords ?!oted a)o(e% ho8e(er% had in4initely greater (al!e as historical testimony than the legends or the Apocrypha )eca!se they had )een spoken at a kno8n date )y a real person% Eeremiah

himsel45<2"= oreo(er% in the conte9t o4 e(erything else that I had learned% there co!ld )e no do!)t a)o!t the meaning o4 these 8ords% or a)o!t their 8ider implications5 To p!t matters as plainly as possi)le% they corro)orated the impression gi(en in Eosiah@s speech that the Ark 8as no longer in the Temple )y &22 BC A and they p!shed )ack to at least &2& BC the likely date at 8hich it had gone missing5 I say at least to &2& BC )eca!se that% as noted a)o(e% 8as the year in 8hich Eeremiah had !ttered his prophecy5 It 8as clear% ho8e(er% that in doing so he had )een responding% at least in part% to some pre(alent and pro)a)ly )y then ?!ite long-esta)lished ang!ish o(er the loss o4 the Ark5 This 8as the only possi)le e9planation 4or the (erse 8hich stated; @And 8hen yo! ha(e increased and )ecome many in the land% then555 no one 8ill e(er say again F#here is the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 Dah8eh7F >)(io!sly i4 people had not )een saying s!ch things in &2& BC% and 4or some considera)le 8hile )e4orehand% then there 8o!ld ha(e )een no need 4or Eeremiah to ha(e made s!ch a remark5 In reaching this C!dgment I 8as pleased to disco(er that I had the 4!ll s!pport o4 one o4 the 8orld@s leading )i)lical scholars% :ro4essor enahem Horan o4 Eer!salem@s He)re8 Ini(ersity5 In his a!thoritati(e treatise on Temples and Temple +er(ice in Ancient Israel% this learned academic had considered the passage in ?!estion and had reached the 4ollo8ing concl!sion;

This (erse 4ollo8s !pon 8ords o4 consolation and itsel4 contains a message o4 consolation and mercy5 #hat the prophet promises here is that in the good days to come there 8ill no longer )e any need 4or the Ark A implying that its a)sence sho!ld no longer ca!se any grie45 These 8ords 8o!ld% o4 co!rse% )e de(oid o4 any signi4icance i4 the Ark RhadS still 555 )een inside the Temple at the time5<2&=

>n this )asis I 4elt that it 8as entirely sa4e to concl!de that I 8o!ld ha(e to peer )ack into the period )e4ore &2& BC i4 I 8as to ha(e any prospect o4 esta)lishing the act!al date on 8hich the Ark had disappeared5 oreo(er I did not think that it 8o!ld )e at all 4r!it4!l to de(ote time to a close st!dy o4 the earlier years o4 $ing Eosiah@s reign A i5e5 4rom &2& BC )ack to &42 ac5 As I already kne8% that monarch had so!ght !ns!ccess4!lly to ha(e the relic reinstalled in the Temple in &22 BCJ it 8as there4ore hardly likely that he 8o!ld ha(e )een responsi)le 4or its remo(al in the 4irst place5 The g!ilty party m!st ha(e )een one o4 his predecessors A any one% in 4act% o4 the 4i4teen kings 8ho had r!led in Eer!salem since +olomon had placed the Ark in the Holy o4 Holies in 1"" BC5<2*=


I 8as looking at a period o4 31" years A 4rom 1"" BC do8n to Eosiah@s accession to the throne in &42 BC5 In this time Eer!salem and the Temple had )een at the centre o4 an enormo!sly comple9 series o4 e(ents5 And altho!gh these e(ents 8ere descri)ed at great length in se(eral )ooks o4 the Bi)le% the Ark o4 the Co(enant had not )een mentioned once; )et8een +olomon and

Eosiah% as I had pre(io!sly esta)lished% the sacred relic had )een enshro!ded in a thick )lanket o4 silence5 I resorted to a modern research tool to 4ind o!t C!st ho8 thick that ancient )lanket really 8as5 >n the desk in my hotel room in Eer!salem 8as a comp!teri3ed edition o4 the $ing Eames A!thori3ed 6ersion o4 the Bi)le that I had )ro!ght 8ith me 4rom .ngland5<20= Bor the period that I 8as no8 interested in I kne8 that it 8o!ld )e !seless to r!n a search-and-4ind programme on the 8ords @Ark@ or @Ark o4 the Co(enant@ or @Ark o4 God@ or @Holy Ark@ or any similar epithets; they simply did not appear5 I did% ho8e(er% ha(e one other option% and that 8as to look 4or phrases that had )een reg!larly associated 8ith the Ark earlier in the +cript!res% and also 4or reports o4 a44lictions o4 the type ro!tinely ca!sed )y the Ark5 In the realm o4 a44lictions I settled on the 8ord @lepro!s@% )eca!se% in Chapter 12 o4 the )ook o4 ,!m)ers oses had p!nished iriam 4or critici3ing his a!thority )y !sing the po8ers o4 the Ark to make her lepro!s@5<21= In the realm o4 phrases I chose @)et8een the cher!)ims@% )eca!se the God o4 Israel had )een )elie(ed to d8ell @)et8een the cher!)ims@ mo!nted on the Ark@s golden lid and )eca!se% prior to the reign o4 +olomon% this 4orm!la had al8ays )een !sed in connection 8ith the Ark and ne(er in any other 8ay5<32= I started )y r!nning the 8ord @lepro!s@5 y electronic Bi)le o4 co!rse picked it !p in Chapter 12 o4 the )ook o4 ,!m)ers% 8hich descri)ed 8hat happened to iriam5 A4ter that it occ!rred only t8ice more in the 8hole o4 the +cript!res; in the second )ook o4 $ings% 8here there 8as a plainly irrele(ant re4erence to @4o!r lepro!s men@ sitting )y a gate in the northern Israelite city o4 +amariaJ<31= and in the second )ook o4 Chronicles A 8here it cropped !p in a passage that looked (ery rele(ant indeed5 That passage% in 2 Chronicles 2&% descri)ed ho8 $ing I33iah A 8ho had r!led Eer!salem 4rom *01 to *42 BC<32= A @transgressed against the Lord his God% and 8ent into the Temple o4 the Lord to )!rn incense !pon the altar o4 incense5@<33= At once the High :riest A3ariah and some o4 his assistants r!shed in a4ter the monarch hoping to diss!ade him 4rom committing this act o4 sacrilege at the (ery entrance to the Holy o4 Holies;

Then I33iah 8as 8roth% and had a censer in his hand to )!rn incense; and 8hile he 8as 8roth 8ith the priests% the leprosy e(en rose !p in his 4orehead )e4ore the priests in the ho!se o4 the Lord% 4rom )eside the incense altar5<34=

It seemed that I33iah had not act!ally entered the Holy o4 Holies <altho!gh the te9t 8as some8hat am)ig!o!s on this point=% )!t he had certainly stood (ery close to it5 oreo(er he had )een holding a metal incense )!rner in his hand A and that% since the t8o sons o4 Aaron had )een str!ck do8n at the 4oot o4 o!nt +inai 4or o44ering @strange 4ire )e4ore the Lord@%<3"= had al8ays )een a dangero!s thing to do 8ithin striking distance o4 the Ark5<3&= >n this )asis% there4ore% I 4elt that there 8as at least a prima 4acie case 4or concl!ding that the @lepro!s@ sores on I33iah@s 4orehead had )een ca!sed )y e9pos!re to the Ark <and I 8as later to disco(er that others had tho!ght so too A an ill!stration 4rom an eighteenth-cent!ry .nglish

Bi)le reprod!ced in the present 8ork clearly sho8s the !n4ort!nate king standing )eside the Ark at the (ery moment that he is @smitten=5

I4 the monarch@s a44liction 8as ca!sed )y the Ark RI 8rote in my note)ookS then this means that it 8as still present in the Holy o4 Holies in *42 BC <I33iah@s reign ended in that year as a res!lt o4 8hat had happened to him=5<3*= This narro8s the 4ield enormo!sly% since the implication is that the relic co!ld only ha(e )een remo(ed in the cent!ry )et8een that date and the )eginning o4 Eosiah@s reign A i5e5 at some point )et8een *42 BC and &42 BC5

>4 co!rse I 8as 8ell a8are that the I33iah incident had little (al!e as historical e(idence; it 8as a tantali3ing hint A a cl!e i4 yo! like A )!t it 8as ?!ite impermissi)le to concl!de 4rom it that the Ark had de4initely still )een in the Temple in *42 BC5 I needed something stronger i4 I 8as to )e satis4ied that that had indeed )een the case A and I 4o!nd 8hat I 8as looking 4or 8hen I ran a search 4or the phrase @)et8een the cher!)ims@5 As noted a)o(e% in )i)lical passages re4erring to the period )e4ore the reign o4 +olomon% these 8ords had )een !sed e9cl!si(ely in connection 8ith the Ark% and in no other 8ay 8hatsoe(er5 Altho!gh it 8o!ld )e necessary to keep a close eye on the conte9t% I there4ore 4elt that any rec!rrence o4 these 8ords a4ter the deposition o4 the relic in the Temple in 1"" BC 8o!ld constit!te strong e(idence that it had in 4act still )een present in the Holy o4 Holies on the date A or dates A that the phrase had )een !sed5 Accordingly I programmed my comp!ter to search 4or the 8ords @)et8een the cher!)ims@5 A 4e8 seconds later I kne8 that they had )een cited only se(en times in the entire post +olomonic period5 T8o o4 these citations% in :salm 02;1 and in :salm 11;1% clearly re4erred to the cher!)im o4 the Ark5 In4ort!nately they 8ere impossi)le to date 8ith any degree o4 acc!racy;<30= there 8as a small chance that they 8ere pre-+olomonic% )!t the )alance o4 scholarly opinion held that the rele(ant (erses 8ere likely to ha(e )een composed in the @early years o4 monarchy@<31= A i5e5 d!ring +olomon@s li4etime or 8ithin a cent!ry or so o4 his death5 The 8ords @)et8een the cher!)ims@ also cropped !p three times in the )ook o4 .3ekiel%<42= 8hich 8as a late 8ork 8ritten a4ter the year "13 BC5<41= In this conte9t% ho8e(er% all the !ses o4 the phrase 8ere irrele(ant to my in(estigation )eca!se;

<a= the @cher!)ims@ re4erred to had )een seen )y .3ekiel in a (ision that came to him 8hile he sat in his ho!seJ<42= <)= they 8ere descri)ed as ha(ing @4o!r 4aces@ and @4o!r 8ings@ each% 8hereas the cher!)im o4 the Ark had each only one 4ace and t8o 8ingsJ<43= and <c= they 8ere clearly li(ing creat!res o4 enormo!s si3e% not the relati(ely compact 4ig!rines o4 solid geld that had 4aced each other across the @mercy seat@5<44= Indeed% at the end o4

.3ekiel@s (ision% his cher!)ims @li4ted !p their 8ings and mo!nted !p 4rom the earth in my sight 555 and the so!nd o4 the cher!)ims@ 8ings 8as 5 5 5 e(en 5 5 5 as the (oice o4 the Almighty God 8hen he speaketh5@<4"=

In my h!nt 4or re4erences that might pro(e the contin!ed presence o4 the Ark in the Eer!salem Temple at partic!lar periods% there4ore% .3ekiel@s cher!)ims 8ere o4 no conse?!ence and co!ld sa4ely )e ignored5 This meant that o!t o4 all the occ!rrences o4 the phrase that I had instr!cted my comp!ter to search 4or I 8as no8 le4t 8ith only t8o that might )e o4 any help to me at all5 These appeared in Chapter 3* o4 the )ook o4 Isaiah and in Chapter 11 o4 the second )ook o4 $ings5<4&= Both reco!nted the same e(ent% )oth 8ere o4 great importance% and )oth clearly and !nam)ig!o!sly re4erred to the Ark o4 the Co(enant A tho!gh they did not mention it )y name5 This is 8hat they said <the Isaiah (ersion% the older o4 the t8o% is in the le4t-hand col!mnJ the $ings (ersion is in the right-hand col!mn=;

He3ekiah 8ent !p !nto the ho!se o4 the Lord% and 5 5 5 prayed !nto the Lord% saying% > Lord o4 Hosts% God o4 Israel% that d8ellest )et8een the cher!)ims% tho! art the God% e(en tho! alone% o4 all the kingdoms o4 the earth5<4*=

He3ekiah 8ent !p into the ho!se o4 the Lord% and 5 5 5 prayed )e4ore the Lord% and said% > Lord God o4 Israel% 8hich d8ellest )et8een the cher!)ims% tho! art the God% e(en tho! alone% o4 all the kingdoms o4 the earth5<40=

As the reader 8ill no do!)t ha(e o)ser(ed% )oth passages not only spoke o4 the same e(ent )!t also did so in almost e9actly the same lang!age5 Indeed the (erses in $ings came (ery close to )eing a (er)atim repeat o4 the (erses in Isaiah5 Those (erses% scholars 8ere agreed% had )een 8ritten )y Isaiah himsel45<41= And% since a great deal 8as kno8n a)o!t the li4e% times and acti(ities o4 this 4amo!s prophet% it 8as possi)le to p!t a 4airly precise date on his acco!nt o4 He3ekiah@s prayer to the God o4 Israel that d8elled @)et8een the cher!)ims@5 Isaiah 8as called to the prophetic o44ice in *42 BC<"2= A the (ery year in 8hich $ing I33iah had died a4ter )eing smitten 8ith lepro!s sores in the incident descri)ed earlier5<"1= He

then contin!ed his ministry thro!gho!t the reigns o4 Eotham% Aha3 and He3ekiah <respecti(ely *42-*3& BC% *3&-*1& BC and *1&-&0* BC=5<"2= >4 cr!cial signi4icance to my in(estigation 8as a 4act !pon 8hich academic opinion 8as !nanimo!s; the (erse in 8hich my comp!ter had 4lagged the phrase @)et8een the cher!)ims@ had )een 8ritten )y Isaiah in *21 BC A the year in 8hich the Assyrian $ing +ennacheri) had tried and 4ailed to capt!re Eer!salem5<"3= Indeed% it had )een on Isaiah@s direct ad(ice that He3ekiah A the E!daean monarch A had re4!sed to s!rrender the city to the Assyrians5<"4= +ennacheri)@s response had )een to send a letter threatening death and destr!ction% and He3ekiah had act!ally )een carrying this letter<""= 8hen he had gone !p @!nto the ho!se o4 the Lord% and 5 5 5 prayed !nto the Lord% saying% > Lord o4 Hosts% God o4 Israel% that d8ellest )et8een the cher!)ims% tho! art the God% e(en tho! alone% o4 all the kingdoms o4 the earth5@ He3ekiah@s prayer had contin!ed as 4ollo8s;

Incline thine ear% > Lord% and hearJ open thine eyes% > Lord% and see; and hear all the 8ords o4 +ennacheri)% 8hich hath sent to reproach the li(ing God5 >4 a tr!th% Lord% the kings o4 Assyria ha(e laid 8aste all the nations and their co!ntries5 5 5 5 ,o8 there4ore% > Lord o!r God% sa(e !s 4rom his hand% that all the kingdoms o4 the earth may kno8 that tho! art the Lord% e(en tho! only5<"&=

irac!lo!sly% the Lord complied5 Birst he sent his prophet Isaiah to He3ekiah 8ith this message;

Th!s saith the Lord concerning the king o4 Assyria% He shall not come into this city% nor shoot an arro8 there% nor come )e4ore it 8ith shields% nor cast a )ank against it 5 5 5 Bor I 8ill de4end this city to sa(e it 4or mine o8n sake5<"*=

Dah8eh 8as as good as his 8ord5 That (ery night

The angel o4 the Lord 8ent 4orth% and smote in the camp o4 the Assyrians a h!ndred and 4o!rscore and 4i(e tho!sand; and 8hen they arose early in the morning% )ehold% they 8ere all dead corpses5 +o +ennacheri) king o4 Assyria departed5<"0=

There co!ld )e no do!)t a)o!t the historicity o4 these e(ents; the Assyrians had s!rro!nded Eer!salem in *21 BC and they had s!ddenly li4ted their siege and 4led%<"1= +cholars )elie(ed that this had happened )eca!se they had )een a44licted )y an o!t)reak o4 )!)onic plag!e5<&2= +trangely% ho8e(er% there 8as no e(idence that anyone in Eer!salem itsel4 had gone

on to contract this easily transmissi)le disease5 In the conte9t o4 e(erything that I had learned hitherto% there4ore% I co!ld not help )!t 8onder 8hether the Ark o4 the Co(enant might not in some 8ay ha(e )een in(ol(ed in +ennacheri)@s !ndoing5 The mass sla!ghter that had taken place did so!nd (ery m!ch like the sort o4 @miracle@ that% in earlier times% the relic had so 4re?!ently per4ormed5<&1= B!t this 8as only an int!ition% a h!nch o4 my o8n5 It had no stat!s 8hatsoe(er as e(idence o4 the contin!ed presence o4 the Ark in the Temple in *21 BC5 #hat did ha(e that stat!s 8as Isaiah@s p!re and elo?!ent testimony that $ing He3ekiah had prayed 4or his deli(erance to the @God o4 Israel% that d8ellest )et8een the cher!)ims@5 The monarch !ttered this prayer inside the Temple5<&2= oreo(er the 4!ll te9t o4 the 4irst (erse o4 the passage containing this citation not only stated that he had carried +ennacheri)@s threatening letter 8ith him A as noted a)o(e A )!t also added that he had @spread it )e4ore the Lord@5<&3= In C!st s!ch a 4ashion% tho!gh in an earlier era% @+olomon came to Eer!salem and stood )e4ore the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord 5 5 5 and o44ered peace o44erings5@<&4= In C!st s!ch a 4ashion% tho!gh in an earlier era% @Da(id and all the ho!se o4 Israel played )e4ore the Lord on all manner o4 instr!ments made o4 4ir 8ood% e(en on harps% and psalteries% and on tim)rels% and on cornets% and on cym)als5@<&"= And in C!st s!ch a 4ashion% tho!gh in an earlier era% @the Lord separated the tri)e o4 Le(i% to )ear the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord% to stand )e4ore the Lord to minister !nto him% and to )less his name5@<&&= To c!t a long and con(ol!ted story (ery short indeed% the 4act that He3ekiah had spread +ennacheri)@s letter o!t @)e4ore the Lord@% and then had prayed to the @God o4 Israel% that d8ellest )et8een the cher!)ims@ made it ?!ite certain that the Ark o4 the Co(enant had )een in the Holy o4 Holies at that time5 There 8as no other 8ay in 8hich this passage co!ld )e interpreted5 And )eca!se it did so e44ecti(ely pro(e the contin!ed presence o4 the relic 8ithin the Temple long a4ter the reign o4 +olomon it also dealt a 4atal )lo8 to the $e)ra ,agast@s claim that the Ark had )een stolen )y enelik 8hile +olomon 8as still ali(e5 I 8as not s!re 8hether I sho!ld reCoice o(er this disco(ery or 8hether I sho!ld lament it5 I al8ays 4ind it slightly depressing 8hen a )ea!ti4!l myth is discredited5 And altho!gh I still hoped to (indicate the central contention o4 the $e)ra ,agast A namely that the Ark had indeed gone to .thiopia <altho!gh o4 co!rse not )y the hand o4 enelik= A I had a)sol!tely no idea ho8 I 8as going to do this5 'ather dispiritedly% there4ore% I t!rned )ack to the piles o4 research papers and )ooks spread o!t all aro!nd me in my hotel room in Eer!salem5 The good ne8s% I s!pposed% 8as that my in(estigation had come a long 8ay5 I had satis4ied mysel4 that the Ark had not )een remo(ed 4rom the Temple either d!ring or a4ter the reign o4 $ing Eosiah% 8hich had )eg!n in &42 BC5 oreo(er it 8as no8 clear that it had still )een in its place in the Holy o4 Holies in *21 BC% the date o4 He3ekiah@s prayer5 This le4t C!st si9ty-one years in 8hich it co!ld ha(e disappeared% and e(en that period co!ld )e narro8ed do8n some8hat5 #hy7 Beca!se it seemed o)(io!s that He3ekiah himsel4 8o!ld not ha(e allo8ed the sacred relic A )e4ore 8hich he had prayed so e44icacio!sly A to )e carried o44 )y anyone5 He3ekiah had died in &0* BC and Eosiah had taken the throne in &42 BC5 Bet8een them there 8ere only t8o monarchs A anasseh <&0*-&42 BC= and Amon <&42-&42BC=5<&*= It

4ollo8ed that the loss o4 the Ark m!st ha(e occ!rred d!ring the reigns o4 one or other o4 these t8o kings5

TH. +I, >B


As I immersed mysel4 in the )i)lical te9ts once again it ?!ickly )ecame apparent that the g!ilty party co!ld only ha(e )een anasseh% 8ho 8as castigated !nmerci4!lly )y the scri)es )eca!se;

He did that 8hich 8as e(il in the sight o4 the Lord% a4ter the a)ominations o4 the heathen 5 5 5 Bor he 5 5 5 reared !p altars 4or Baal 5 5 5 and 8orshipped all the host o4 hea(en% and ser(ed them5 And he )!ilt altars in the ho!se o4 the Lord 5 5 5 4or all the host o4 hea(en 5 5 5 And he made his son pass thro!gh the 4ire% and 5 5 5 !sed enchantments% and dealt 8ith 4amiliar spirits and 8i3ards; he 8ro!ght m!ch 8ickedness in the sight o4 the Lord to pro(oke him to anger 5 5 5 And he set a gra(en image o4 the gro(e that he had made in the ho!se% o4 8hich the Lord said to Da(id and to +olomon his son% In this ho!se% and in Eer!salem% 8hich I ha(e chosen o!t o4 all the tri)es o4 Israel% 8ill I p!t my name 4or e(er5<&0=

#hat 8as this @gra(en image o4 the gro(e@ that in the Temple had he p!t it7

anasseh had made7 And 8here e9actly

To 4ind an ans8er to the 4irst ?!estion I temporarily a)andoned the $ing Eames A!thori3ed 6ersion o4 the Bi)le <4rom 8hich the a)o(e ?!otation is taken= and t!rned to the more modern Eer!salem Bi)le 8hich in4ormed me that the @gra(en image o4 the gro(e@ 8as in 4act a @car(ed image o4 Asherah@% an ar)oreal pagan deity5<&1= The ans8er to the second ?!estion 8as sel4-e(ident; the @ho!se@ in 8hich Dah8eh had said that he 8o!ld p!t his @name 4or e(er@ 8as the Holy o4 Holies o4 the Temple A the de)ir% the dense golden cell that +olomon had @designed 5 5 5 to contain the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 Dah8eh5@<*2= The implications o4 8hat I had C!st learnt 8ere enormo!s5 anasseh% 8ho had done @that 8hich 8as e(il in the sight o4 the Lord@% had introd!ced an idol into the Holy o4 Holies o4 the Temple5 In taking this momento!s step )ack8ards to8ards paganism it 8as inconcei(a)le that he co!ld ha(e allo8ed the Ark o4 the Co(enant to remain in its place A since the Ark 8as the sign and the seal o4 Dah8eh@s presence on earth and the !ltimate sym)ol o4 the 4iercely monotheistic E!daic 4aith5 At the same time it 8as impro)a)le that the apostati3ing king 8o!ld act!ally ha(e destroyed the sacred relic; on the contrary% 8ith his predilection 4or enchantments and 8i3ardry% he 8o!ld ha(e regarded that as a most !n8ise thing to do5 The most likely scenario% there4ore% 8as that he 8o!ld ha(e ordered the Le(ites to remo(e the Ark 4rom the Temple )e4ore he installed his @Asherah@ in the inner sanct!m5 And this 8o!ld ha(e )een an order that they 8o!ld ha(e )een more than happy to comply 8ith; as 4aith4!l ser(ants o4 Dah8eh they 8o!ld ha(e done anything 8ithin their po8er to a(oid the poll!tion o4 the o)Cect that they regarded as the

@4ootstool@ o4 their God<*1= A and they co!ld hardly ha(e imagined any 8orse poll!tion than 4or it to ha(e to share the Holy o4 Holies 8ith the gra(en image o4 some alien deity5 As priests they 8o!ld not ha(e )een in a position to pre(ail militarily against a po8er4!l monarch like anassehJ their )est co!rse o4 action 8o!ld ha(e )een to )o8 to the ine(ita)le and to carry the Ark a8ay to a place o4 sa4ety5 There 8ere e(en indications in the Bi)le that the relic@s en4orced depart!re 4rom the Temple might ha(e res!lted in some kind o4 mass p!)lic protest against the king A a protest that he had r!thlessly s!ppressed5 This 8as only g!ess8ork on my part% o4 co!rse% )!t s!ch a hypothesis did help to e9plain 8hy anasseh 8as said to ha(e @shed innocent )lood 5 5 5 in s!ch great ?!antity that he 4looded Eer!salem 4rom end to end5@<*2= At any rate% it 8as clear that the reign o4 this monarch had% in later years% come to )e regarded as a )lot% an a)erration and an a)omination5 He had )een s!cceeded )y his son Amon in &42 BC and Amon had in t!rn )een s!cceeded in &42 .sc )y Eosiah% the 3ealo!s re4ormer 8ho 8as 4amo!s <and )elo(ed o4 the scri)es= 4or ha(ing restored the traditional 8orship o4 Dah8eh5 #hy had Amon@s ten!re o4 the throne )een so )rie47 Beca!se% as the Bi)le e9plained% he had done

that 8hich 8as e(il in the sight o4 the Lord% as his 4ather anasseh did5 And he 8alked in all the 8ay that his 4ather 8alked in% and ser(ed the idols that his 4ather ser(ed% and 8orshipped them 5 5 5 And the ser(ants o4 Amon conspired against him% and sle8 the king in his o8n ho!se 5 5 5 and the people o4 the land made Eosiah his son king in his stead5<*3=

Eosiah% ho8e(er% had )een only @eight years old 8hen he )egan to reign@<*4= and it 8as not !ntil eight years a4ter that% the Bi)le reported% that he had sho8n the 4irst signs o4 8anting to @seek a4ter the God o4 Da(id@5<*"= Indeed the yo!ng monarch@s passionate reaction against the sins o4 anasseh and Amon did not )egin !ntil the @t8el4th year@ o4 his reign 8hen A at the age o4 t8enty A he la!nched a campaign @to p!rge E!dah and Eer!salem 4rom 5 5 5 the car(ed images% and the molten images@5<*&=

And he )ro!ght o!t the gro(e RAsherahS 4rom the ho!se o4 the Lord% right o!t o4 Eer!salem% !nto the )rook $idron% and )!rned it in the )rook $idron% and stamped it to small po8der% and cast the po8der thereo4 on the common )!rying gro!nd5<**=

A passionate reaction indeedT And% moreo(er% one that co!ld )e dated; it had )een in &20 BC% the t8el4th year o4 Eosiah@s reign% that anasseh@s loathsome idol had at last )een rooted o!t o4 the Holy o4 Holies5 The Ark% ho8e(er% had certainly not )een )ro!ght )ack in to replace it5 As I already kne8% Eeremiah had )een responding to p!)lic grie4 at the contin!ed a)sence o4 the relic t8o years later 8hen he had prophesied that a time 8o!ld e(ent!ally come 8hen people

8o!ld no longer ask @8here is the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 Dah8eh@ A a time 8hen they 8o!ld ha(e @no regret 4or it@ and 8hen they 8o!ld not consider @making another@5 Bo!r years a4ter that Eosiah himsel4 had rather 4orlornly asked the Le(ites to restore the Ark to the Temple% adding @it shall not )e a )!rden 4or yo!r sho!lders@5 That had )een in &22 BC% the eighteenth year o4 his reign% and it 8as no coincidence that it had )een in that (ery same year% ha(ing completed a lengthy nation8ide p!rge% that he had @ret!rned to Eer!salem@ and iss!ed orders @to repair the ho!se o4 the Lord his God@5<*0= The repairs had )een d!ly carried o!t )y @carpenters and )!ilders and masons@5<*1= The great mystery% ho8e(er% 8as that the Le(ites had )een !na)le to comply 8ith Eosiah@s re?!est that they sho!ld @p!t the Holy Ark in the ho!se 8hich +olomon the son o4 Da(id king o4 Israel did )!ild5@ I 8as no8 increasingly s!re that the ans8er to that mystery m!st lie in .thiopia A altho!gh I 8as not yet in a position to 4athom o!t e9actly ho8 or 8hy5 ean8hile I so!ght academic s!pport 4or my (ie8 that it m!st ha(e )een d!ring the reign o4 anasseh that the Ark had gone missing in the 4irst place5 I 4o!nd that s!pport in an a!thoritati(e treatise that I had already had occasion to cons!lt se(eral times )e4ore A :ro4essor enahem Haran@s Temples and Temple +er(ice in Ancient Israel5 Here% in a )rie4 section in the middle o4 the )ook% I read that;

thro!gho!t the (ario!s changes that took place in the $ingdom o4 E!dah% the Temple at Eer!salem ne(er ceased to ser(e e9cl!si(ely as a Temple o4 Dah8eh 5 5 5 There 8as only one single period in its history 8hen it 8as temporarily depri(ed o4 its original 4!nction and 4or a short 8hile ceased to ser(e as a Temple to Dah8eh 5 5 5 This occ!rred d!ring the reign o4 anasseh 5 5 5 8ho set !p (essels 4or Baal 5 5 5 in the o!ter sanct!m and introd!ced the image o4 Asherah into the inner sanct!m o4 the Temple 5 5 5 This is the only happening 8hich may e9plain the disappearance o4 the Ark and the cher!)im 5 5 5 #e are entitled to in4er that the image o4 Asherah 5 5 5 8as s!)stit!ted 4or the Ark and the cher!)im5 +ome 4i4ty years a4ter8ards% 8hen Eosiah remo(ed the Asherah 4rom the Temple and )!rnt it in the $idron 6alley% )eating it to d!st and desecrating e(en the d!st% the Ark and the cher!)im 8ere no longer there5<02=

A4ter making a n!m)er o4 telephone calls to the He)re8 Ini(ersity I managed to track do8n :ro4essor Haran5 I told him that I had read his )ook and that I 8as e9cited )y his s!ggestion that the Ark o4 the Co(enant might ha(e )een lost d!ring the reign o4 anasseh5 Co!ld he spare me hal4 an ho!r or so to disc!ss the matter 4!rther7 He replied that he 8o!ld )e only too happy to do so and in(ited me to (isit him at his home in Eer!salem@s Al4asi +treet5 Haran pro(ed to )e an elderly )!t ro)!st man% grey-haired and solidly )!ilt A the (ery image o4 the type o4 learned )!t eminently practical )i)lical scholar that one meets so o4ten in Israel5 I told him a little a)o!t my o8n research and then asked 8hether he 8as certain in his o8n mind that the Ark had indeed )een remo(ed 4rom the Temple in anasseh@s time5 @Des%@ he replied 8ith con(iction% @I am as certain o4 that as I can possi)ly )e5 This is 8hy the Ark is not re4erred to in the long lists o4 Temple (essels and treas!res that 8ere later taken )y

the Ba)ylonians5 And I sho!ld add 8ith all modesty that my (ie8s on this s!)Cect ha(e ne(er )een re4!ted in scholarship5@ I took this opport!nity to p!t a ?!estion that had )een )othering me 4or some time; @I4 the Ark 8as taken o!t as a res!lt o4 anasseh@s idolatry then ho8 do yo! acco!nt 4or the 4act that the +cript!res make a)sol!tely no mention o4 the loss7@ @I acco!nt 4or it in this 8ay5 To ha(e to 8rite do8n s!ch a report 8o!ld ha(e 4illed the scri)es 8ith disg!st A 8ith s!ch a horri)le 4eeling A that de4initely they 8o!ld ha(e a(erted 4rom it5 I there4ore )elie(e that they deli)erately re4rained 4rom reporting the loss o4 the Ark5 .(en in 8hat they did report o4 anasseh@s reign their 4eelings o4 !tter horror do come thro!gh5 Det they co!ld not )ring themsel(es to ind!lge in a description o4 the occ!rrence itsel45@ @Do yo! ha(e any idea at all@% I asked ne9t% @8hat co!ld ha(e happened to the relic a4ter it 8as remo(ed7@ Haran shr!gged; @>n that I cannot spec!late5 It is impossi)le to pro(e5 I can only say 8ith con4idence that the orthodo9 priests o4 Dah8eh 8o!ld !nder no circ!mstances ha(e permitted the Ark o4 Dah8eh to stay in the same place as the idol o4 Asherah5@ @+o do yo! think they took it a8ay some8here7 To a place o4 sa4ety7@ Another shr!g; @As I say% I cannot spec!late on s!ch matters5 Ho8e(er it is e(ident 4rom o!r records% 4rom the Holy #rit% that Eer!salem itsel4 A in 4act the 8hole co!ntry A 8as 8as not a sa4e place 4or those 8ho 8ere loyal to the 8orship o4 Dah8eh d!ring anasseh@s time5@ @Are yo! re4erring to the passage in the )ook o4 $ings that talks a)o!t innocent )lood )eing spilled7@ @Des5 2 $ings 21;1&5 And not only that5 Eeremiah also speaks o)li?!ely o4 the same e(ents 8hen he says Fyo!r s8ord hath de(o!red yo!r prophets like a destroying lionF5 I ha(e no do!)t that this 8as a re4erence to the acts o4 anasseh and I in4er 4rom it that certain prophets had opposed him and that 4or this they 8ere massacred5 It is an interesting phenomenon% yo! kno8% that yo! do not 4ind any prophets at all d!ring the reign o4 anasseh himsel4 A Eeremiah came C!st a4ter8ards and others% like Isaiah% came C!st )e4ore5 The gap 8as the res!lt o4 persec!tions and o4 a s!stained campaign against the 8orship o4 Dah8eh5@ The :ro4essor 8o!ld not )e p!shed any 4!rther on this s!)Cect and resol!tely re4!sed to ind!lge in 8hat he o)(io!sly regarded as idle spec!lation a)o!t 8here the Ark co!ld ha(e gone5 #hen I mentioned my theory that it might ha(e )een taken to .thiopia he looked at me )lankly 4or a)o!t hal4 a min!te and then concl!ded; @That seems rather 4ar5@

A T. :L. >, TH. ,IL.

A4ter inter(ie8ing enahem Haran I ret!rned to my hotel 4eeling directionless and con4!sed5 >4 co!rse it had )een e9citing to get his con4irmation that the Ark had )een lost d!ring

anasseh@s reign5 The tro!)le 8as% ho8e(er% that I no8 seemed to ha(e arri(ed at the )rink o4 a deep intellect!al precipice5 .thiopia 8as indeed @rather 4ar@ 4rom Eer!salem% and I co!ld see no good reason 8hy the loyal priests o4 Dah8eh 8ho had carried the sacred relic o!t o4 the Temple sho!ld s!)se?!ently ha(e taken it to s!ch a distant place5 oreo(er% the dates didn@t 4it5 anasseh had sat on the throne in Eer!salem 4rom &0* to &42 BC% )!t the Tana $irkos traditions asserted that the Ark had not arri(ed in .thiopia !ntil appro9imately 4*2 BC5 +o I 8as still t8o h!ndred years adri4t5 As I che8ed o(er this pro)lem I reali3ed that 8hat I needed to do 8as to talk to some .thiopians5 And 8hat )etter place 8as there in 8hich to talk to .thiopians than in the +tate o4 Israel7 A4ter all% tens o4 tho!sands o4 Balashas A 8ho claimed citi3enship !nder the terms o4 the La8 o4 'et!rn A had )een airli4ted here o(er the past decade5 +!rely amongst them there m!st )e some elders% kno8ledgea)le in the 4olk memory o4 their people% 8ho co!ld help me to )ridge the geographical and chronological a)yss that ya8ned )e4ore me7 B!rther en?!iries at the He)re8 Ini(ersity prod!ced the name o4 +hal(a #eil% a social anthropologist 8ho had speciali3ed in 4ar-4l!ng Ee8ish comm!nities and 8ho 8as regarded as something o4 an e9pert on Balasha c!lt!re5 I telephoned her at her home and% a4ter introd!cing mysel4% asked her i4 she co!ld recommend any mem)er o4 the Balasha comm!nity in Eer!salem 8ho might )e a)le to speak 8ith a!thority on the ancient traditions o4 the .thiopian Ee8s5 @Do!r )est )et@% she replied 8itho!t hesitation% @8o!ld )e 'aphael Hadane5 He@s a priest% a (ery senior priest5 He@s )een here 4or a 4e8 years5 He@s an elderly man and e9tremely kno8ledgea)le5 The only pro)lem is he doesn@t speak .nglish so yo! sho!ld try to see him 8ith his son5@ @#hose name is7@ @Doseph Hadane5 He came to Israel as a )oy in the early 11*2s and he@s no8 a 4!lly trained ra))i5 He does speak 4l!ent .nglish so he@ll )e a)le to translate 4or yo!5@ Arranging the meeting took !p most o4 my last t8o days in Eer!salem5 Binally% ho8e(er% I did manage to get together 8ith the Hadane 4amily at the Balasha A)sorption Centre% 8hich 8as located in a s!)!r) called e(asserit Gion to the 8est o4 the city5 Here I 4o!nd h!ndreds o4 .thiopians% some ne8ly arri(ed% others long-term residents% li(ing in a some8hat ramshackle ho!sing estate5 'aphael Hadane% the Balasha priest% 8as dressed in a traditional A)yssinian shemma and sported a considera)le )eard5 His son% the ra))i% 8as clean-sha(en and 8ore a smart )!siness s!it5 Bor a long 8hile 8e sat aro!nd drinking tea and e9changing pleasantries 8hile children played at o!r 4eet and (ario!s assorted relati(es came and 8ent5 >ne o4 these latter% as it happened% had )een )orn and )ro!ght !p in the (illage o4 An)o)er% 8hich I had (isited in Ean!ary 1112 on my trip to Gondar5 @Does An)o)er really still e9ist7@ he asked me rather plainti(ely5 @It@s 4i(e years since I le4t home5@

@It does still e9ist%@ I replied% @or rather it did in Ean!ary5 The pop!lation seemed to )e mainly 8omen and children% tho!gh5@ @This is )eca!se the men emigrate 4irst to prepare a place 4or their 4amilies5 Did yo! talk to anyone there7@ I told them that I had inter(ie8ed the priest% +olomon Alem!% and this )ro!ght smiles o4 recognition 4rom e(eryone aro!nd the ta)le5 @They all kno8 him 8ell%@ e9plained 'a))i Hadane5 @>!rs is a small society 5 5 5 and close knit5@ .(ent!ally I s8itched on my tape-recorder and )egan the inter(ie8 8ith the ra))i@s (enera)le 4ather5 !ch o4 8hat he had to say a)o!t Balasha c!lt!re and religion 8as already (ery 4amiliar5 #hen I t!rned to 8hat 8as no8 the central iss!e 4or me% ho8e(er A i5e5 e9actly ho8 and 8hen E!daism had arri(ed in .thiopia A he told me something that made me prick !p my ears5 I had asked a leading ?!estion a)o!t enelik and the /!een o4 +he)a A hoping% a4ter the rit!al repetition o4 the $e)ra ,agast story% to pin the old man do8n on the matter o4 the date that enelik@s s!pposed Co!rney had taken place5 Hadane s!rprised me )y dismissing the legend entirely; @+ome o4 !s say that 8e are descended 4rom the Israelites 8ho accompanied enelik% )!t personally I do not )elie(e that5 According to the traditions that I heard in my childhood% o!r ancestors 8ere Ee8s 8ho had 4irst li(ed in .gypt )e4ore they came to .thiopia5@ @B!t%@ I interCected% @the $e)ra ,agast says that too5 It says that companions tra(elled thro!gh .gypt5@ enelik and his

@That is not 8hat I mean5 A4ter lea(ing Israel% o!r 4ore4athers did not C!st tra(el thro!gh .gypt5 They settled in that co!ntry 4or a (ery long time A 4or h!ndreds o4 years5 And they )!ilt a temple there5@ I leaned 4or8ard o(er the tape-recorder; @A temple7 #here did they )!ild this temple7@ @At As8an5@ This% I tho!ght% 8as (ery interesting5 +olomon Alem!% the priest at An)o)er% had also mentioned As8an to me 8hen I had inter(ie8ed him in Ean!ary5 At the time I had resol(ed to make a trip there5 And I had in 4act tra(elled ?!ite 8idely in .gypt since doing that inter(ie85 I had not yet gone as 4ar so!th as As8an% ho8e(er% and I 8as no8 )eginning to 8onder 8hether that might not ha(e )een a mistake5 I4 there had indeed )een a Ee8ish temple there% as Hadane had C!st indicated% then this 8as potentially a matter o4 great importance A )eca!se the 4!nction o4 the Temple in orthodo9 E!daism had )een to ho!se the Ark o4 the Co(enant5 I4 it 8as tr!e that a temple had )een )!ilt at As8an% and i4 this had happened a4ter the Ark had )een remo(ed 4rom Eer!salem% then the implications 8ere o)(io!s5 Hadane 8as !na)le to )e at all speci4ic as to the date o4 this As8an temple% ho8e(er5 All he co!ld tell me 8as that it had end!red @4or a long 8hile@ )!t that it had e(ent!ally )een destroyed5 @#hy 8as it destroyed7@

@There 8as a great 8ar in .gypt5 A 4oreign king 8ho had capt!red many co!ntries came to .gypt and destroyed all the temples o4 the .gyptians5 B!t he did not destroy o!r temple5 +o 8hen the .gyptians sa8 that only the Ee8ish temple 8as not destroyed they s!spected 8e 8ere on the side o4 the in(ader5 Beca!se o4 this they started to 4ight against !s and they destroyed o!r temple and 8e 8ere 4orced to 4lee5@ @And yo! 8ent to .thiopia7@ @,ot straight a8ay5 >!r 4ore4athers passed 4irst into +!dan% thro!gh eroe% 8here they remained 4or a short 8hile5 B!t they 8ere dri(en o!t )y another 8ar5 Then they split into t8o parties; one gro!p 8ent 4ollo8ing the Taka33e ri(erJ the other gro!p 4ollo8ing the ,ile5 And in this 8ay they arri(ed in .thiopia% in /!ara% close to Lake Tana5 There 8e made o!r homes5 There 8e )ecame .thiopians5 And )eca!se 8e 8ere 4ar 4rom Israel% tho!gh 8e had stayed in to!ch 8ith Eer!salem all the time that 8e 8ere in .gypt and in the +!dan% 8e no8 lost that contact and it )ecame to !s only a memory5@ I ne9t asked Hadane 8hether there 8as any place in the Lake Tana area that the Balashas regarded as )eing partic!larly important or sacred5 @Three places%@ he replied5 @The 4irst% the most important% is Tana $irkos% the second is Daga +tephanos% the third is Gegie5@ I raised my eye)ro8s; @#hy is Tana $irkos the most important7@ @I do not kno8 e9actly5 B!t all o!r people regard it as sacred5@ y last ?!estion 8as a speci4ic one a)o!t the Ark; @.thiopian Christians say that they ha(e the Ark o4 the Co(enant at A9!m A the original Ark o4 the Co(enant that 8as s!pposed to ha(e )een )ro!ght 4rom Eer!salem )y enelikCon o4 the /!een o4 +he)a and $ing +olomon5 Do!@(e told me that yo! don@t )elie(e the enelik story5 B!t do yo! )elie(e that the Christians ha(e the Ark as they claim7@ @>!r people )elie(e% and I mysel4 also )elie(e% that the Ark o4 the Co(enant is in A9!m5 As a matter o4 4act% some years ago% I and others o4 o!r spirit!al leaders 8ent 4rom o!r home to A9!m to try to see the Ark 4or o!rsel(es5 #e 8ere (ery interested in this tradition and 8e 8anted to see the Holy Ark5 +o 8e 8ent there% and 8e got to A9!m% and to the ch!rch o4 +aint ary5 B!t 8e 8ere told that it 8as 4or)idden 4or !s to enter the chapel 8here the Ark is% )eca!se i4 8e 8ere to enter into there 8e 8o!ld die5 +o 8e said% F>$5 #e 8ill p!ri4y o!rsel(es and then 8e 8ill go in there and 8e 8ill see5F +o 8e did that% 8e p!ri4ied o!rsel(es% )!t still the Christian priests 8o!ld not permit !s to enter the chapel5 Beca!se o4 that 8e had to ret!rn to o!r place 8itho!t seeing it5@ @I@(e heard that it is )ro!ght o!t in p!)lic once a year% at the ceremony o4 Timkat5 Do! 8o!ld ha(e had a )etter chance o4 seeing it i4 yo! had gone there at Timkat5@ Hadane la!ghed )itterly; @I ha(e heard that too5 B!t I do not )elie(e that the Christians 8o!ld e(er )ring o!t the tr!e Ark5 They 8o!ld not do that5 They 8ill ne(er sho8 it to anyone5 They 8ill !se a replica instead5 Do yo! kno8 8hy7 Beca!se they took the Ark 4rom !s long% long ago% and they do not 8ant to gi(e it )ack5 They are Cealo!s o4 it5 +o there4ore they keep it

al8ays concealed in its chapel% s!rro!nded )y )ars% 8here no one may approach it other than the one 8ho is appointed as its g!ardian5@ #hen I 4inally le4t the Balasha A)sorption Centre at e(asserit Gion and ret!rned to do8nto8n Eer!salem my head 8as literally )!33ing 8ith ideas and ?!estion5 >4 all the .thiopian Ee8s 8hom I had talked to d!ring the co!rse o4 my research% Hadane had pro(ed to )e )y 4ar the most l!cid and the most in4ormati(e5 The story o4 his attempt to see the Ark in A9!m had intrig!ed me5 And the special importance that he had accorded to the island o4 Tana $irkos 8as s!rely o4 great signi4icance in the light o4 8hat I mysel4 had learnt there d!ring my trip in ,o(em)er 11015 B!t 8hat had interested me most o4 all a)o!t his ans8ers 8as the re4erence that he had made to the e9istence% at some remote period in history% o4 a Ee8ish temple at As8an5 I4 there 8as any tr!th to this then I 8o!ld certainly ha(e to go to that Ipper .gyptian to8n% 8hich lay some t8o h!ndred kilometres to the so!th o4 $arnak and L!9or5 Back in my hotel room I dialled the n!m)er o4 Dr +hal(a #eil% the social anthropologist 8ho had p!t me in to!ch 8ith Hadane5 @Ho8 did the inter(ie8 go7@ she asked )ree3ily5 @6ery 8ell% thank yo!5 ost help4!l5 I@m grate4!l to yo! 4or the contact5@

I pa!sed a8k8ardly5 I al8ays 4eel slightly silly p!tting completely idiotic ?!estions to academics5 B!t there 8as no getting aro!nd this one5 I had to ask; @D!ring o!r inter(ie8 Hadane mentioned something to me a)o!t a temple A a Ee8ish temple A at As8an in .gypt5 I kno8 8hat I@m going to say ne9t is a )it n!ts% )!t I@(e learnt not to dismiss 4olk-traditions completely 8itho!t at least checking them o!t5 Any8ay% 8hat I 8ant to ask yo! is this; is there act!ally any possi)ility that s!ch a temple co!ld e(er ha(e e9isted7@ @Certainly it e9isted%@ Dr #ell replied5 @It 8as a proper temple% dedicated to Dah8eh5 B!t it 8asn@t act!ally in As8an proper5 It stood on the island o4 .lephantine in the middle o4 the ,ile5 There are some archaeological e9ca(ations going on there right no8% as a matter o4 4act5@ @And this island 5 5 5 I mean 5 5 5 is it 4ar 4rom As8an7@ @,ot more than t8o h!ndred metres in a straight line5 It takes a)o!t 4i(e min!tes to sail there in a 4el!cca5@ @+o e44ecti(ely Hadane 8as right 8hen he talked a)o!t a temple at As8an7@ @A)sol!tely right% yes5@ @B!t does this temple ha(e anything to do 8ith the Balashas7 Hadane said that it had )een )!ilt )y his 4ore4athers5@ @It@s possi)le% I s!ppose5 Academics are di(ided on the iss!e5 ost o4 !s )elie(e that the Balashas are the descendants o4 Ee8ish merchants and settlers 8ho reached .thiopia 4rom so!th Ara)ia5 B!t there is one respecta)le )ody o4 opinion 8hich holds that they are descended 4rom the Ee8s 8ho 4led 4rom .lephantine5@ @Bled7 #hy7@

@Their temple 8as destroyed A sometime in the 4i4th cent!ry BC I )elie(e A and the Ee8ish comm!nity that had li(ed on the island (anished a4ter that5 It@s a )it o4 a mystery% act!ally5 They C!st melted a8ay5 B!t I@m not an e9pert 5 5 5 I can recommend some )ooks i4 yo! like5@

I thanked Dr #eil 4or this o44er% Cotted do8n the short )i)liography that she ga(e me% and said good)ye to her in a state o4 some e9citement5 It had )een in the 4i4th cent!ry BC% according to the Tana $irkos traditions% that the Ark o4 the Co(enant had arri(ed in .thiopia5 ,o8 I kne8 that a Ee8ish temple on the !pper ,ile had )een destroyed in that same cent!ry5 #as it not possi)le that that temple had )een )!ilt t8o h!ndred years earlier to ho!se the Ark a4ter it had )een remo(ed 4rom Eer!salem d!ring the reign o4 anasseh7 I intended to 4ind o!t and le4t Israel the ne9t day A not 4or London% as I had originally planned% )!t 4or .gypt5

CHA:T.' 1& D>>' >B TH. +>ITH.', C>I,T'I.+

As8an is located on the east )ank o4 the ,ile at a point ro!ghly e?!idistant 4rom Israel and 4rom the northern )orders o4 .thiopia5 #ell placed as a staging post )et8een the A4rican and editerranean 8orlds% its name 8as deri(ed 4rom the Greek 8ord +eyene% 8hich in t!rn 8as a corr!ption o4 the ancient .gyptian +8enet% meaning @making )!siness@5<1= In anti?!ity the to8n pro4ited greatly 4rom a rich t8o-8ay commerce in 8hich man!4act!red goods 4lo8ed so!th8ards 4rom the high ci(ili3ation o4 .gypt% and in 8hich spices% aromatic s!)stances% sla(es% gold and i(ory 4rom s!)-+aharan A4rica 8ere traded north5 It 8as 4rom this latter commodity% i(ory% that the island in 8hich I 8as interested had recei(ed its name% 4or .lephantine <8hich lies in the middle o4 the ,ile directly opposite As8an= had once )een kno8n simply as A)!% or .lephant Land5<2= At the reception desk o4 the ,e8 Cataract Hotel in As8an I en?!ired a)o!t .lephantine and partic!larly a)o!t its Ee8ish temple5 +hal(a #ell had already told me that it had )een destroyed in the 4i4th cent!ry BC )!t she had also said that archaeologists 8ere 8orking there% so I hoped (ery m!ch that there might )e r!ins to (isit5 ention o4 the 8ord @Ee8ish@ did not elicit a 4a(o!ra)le response 4rom the hotel sta44J despite the relati(ely positi(e diplomatic relationship that had )een 4orged )et8een .gypt and Israel in recent years I had 4orgotten ho8 m!ch )ad )lood and )itterness still di(ided the peoples o4 the t8o neigh)o!ring co!ntries5 Binally% ho8e(er% I did manage to e9tract the 4ollo8ing

intelligence 4rom the 4ront-desk manager; @ any temples on .lephantine A .gyptian% 'oman% may)e Ee8ish 5 5 5 I don@t kno85 Do! can go see% take a 4el!cca ride% 4ind o!t5 Any8ay there are archaeologists there% German archaeologists5 E!st ask 4or r $aiser5@ r $aiser% eh% I tho!ght as I 8alked o!t o4 the lo))y and into a 4iercely hot day% a likely storyT

I,DIA,A E>,.+

A4ter a short 4el!cca ride to .lephantine I 8as sho8n to a )!ilding on the island@s 8est )ank 8here I 8as told @the Germans@ li(ed5 I made my 8ay to the 4ront door% knocked% and 8as admitted )y a ,!)ian manser(ant 8earing a red 4e35 #itho!t ?!estioning me he led me along a corridor and into an interesting room% the 8alls o4 8hich 8ere lined 4rom 4loor to ceiling 8ith 8ooden shel(es loaded 8ith )roken 4ragments o4 pottery and other arte4acts5 Then he t!rned to go5 I co!ghed; @.9c!se me5 .r555 I@m looking 4or r $aiser5 Co!ld yo! call him please7@

The ser(ant pa!sed% 4a(o!red me 8ith an inscr!ta)le stare and then le4t% still 8itho!t saying anything5 Bi(e min!tes or so passed% d!ring 8hich I stood dithering in the middle o4 the 4loor% and then 5 5 5 Indiana Eones appeared in the door8ay5 >r% rather% not Indiana Eones himsel4 )!t a Harrison Bord lookalike5 #earing a :anama hat at a Ca!nty angle% he 8as tall and m!sc!lar% r!ggedly handsome% and gimlet-eyed5 Clearly he had not sha(ed 4or se(eral days5 I resisted a strong !rge to e9claim% @ r $aiser% I pres!me@% and asked less theatrically; @Are yo! r $aiser7@ @,o5 y name is Corneli!s (on :ilgrim5@ He ad(anced to8ards me% and% as I introd!ced mysel4% he e9tended a strong and s!ntanned right hand 4or me to shake5 @I@m (isiting .lephantine@% I e9plained% @in connection 8ith a proCect o4 mine5 I@m interested in the archaeology o4 the temple here5@ @Ah ha5@ @Des5 Do! see I@m in(estigating a historical mystery 5 5 5 the 5 5 5 er 5 5 5 the loss o4% I mean the disappearance o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant5@ @Ah ha5@ @Do yo! kno8 8hat I mean )y the Ark o4 the Co(enant7@

By no8 Corneli!s (on :ilgrim@s e9pression co!ld only )e descri)ed as gla3ed5 @,o%@ he replied c!rtly in ans8er to my ?!estion5 @Do! do speak .nglish do yo!7@ I asked5 I 8anted to )e s!re5 @Des5 /!ite 8ell5@ @Good5 >$% then5 The Ark5 ,o8 let@s see5 Do! kno8 a)o!t A 4aint nod5 @And the Ten Commandments% car(ed on ta)lets o4 stone7@ Another nod5 @#ell% the Ark o4 the Co(enant 8as the chest made o4 8ood and gold that the Ten Commandments 8ere p!t in5 And 5 5 5 er 5 5 5 I@m looking 4or it5@ Corneli!s (on :ilgrim did not seem to )e o(erly impressed5 Then he said% 8itho!t the slightest trace o4 h!mo!r; @Ah ha5 Like Indiana Eones yo! mean7@ @Des5 That@s e9actly 8hat I mean5 Any8ay% the reason 8hy I@m in .lephantine is that I 8as told on good a!thority that there 8as a Ee8ish temple here5 y theory is that the Ark% someho8% 8as taken to .thiopia in ancient times5 +o nat!rally I@m 8ondering 8hether there is any possi)ility A or any archaeological e(idence e(en A that it might ha(e )een )ro!ght here 4irst )e4ore it 8ent to .thiopia5 Do! see% I think it 8as remo(ed 4rom Eer!salem in the se(enth cent!ry BC5 +o the ?!estion is A 8hat happened in the inter(ening t8o h!ndred years7@ @Do! are 8ondering 8hether d!ring those t8o cent!ries the Ark co!ld ha(e )een kept in the Ee8ish temple on this island7@ @A)sol!tely5 In 4act I@m hoping that yo! and yo!r team may ha(e e9ca(ated the temple5 I4 yo! ha(e then I@d (ery m!ch like to kno8 8hat yo! 4o!nd5@ Corneli!s (on :ilgrim remo(ed his hat )e4ore demolishing my hopes5 @Des%@ he said a4ter a rather lengthy pa!se% @)!t on the site that yo! are interested in there@s nothing to )e seen5 #e@d tho!ght there might )e something le4t 5 5 5 )eneath the r!ins o4 the 'oman temple that 8as later )!ilt on top o4 the Ee8ish one5 B!t no8 8e@(e d!g do8n all the 8ay thro!gh the 4o!ndations5 And there@s C!st nothing5 A)sol!tely nothing at all5 It@s a 4act that there 8as a s!)stantial Ee8ish settlement here )et8een the se(enth and the 4i4th cent!ry BC )!t nothing remains o4 it no8 4or archaeology e9cept some o4 the ho!ses o4 the people5 That@s all% I@m a4raid5@ Trying to ignore the immense 4eeling o4 depression that had C!st 8ashed o(er me I asked; @I4 nothing remains o4 the temple then ho8 do yo! kno8 that it 8as e(er there7@ @>h5 That is not a pro)lem5 That is not in do!)t5 Bor a 8hile there 8as a great deal o4 correspondence )et8een this island and the city o4 Eer!salem5 These letters 8ere 8ritten on ostraca A potsherds A and on papyr!s scrolls5 any o4 them ha(e )een 4o!nd and translated and a large n!m)er make speci4ic re4erence to the Temple o4 Dah8eh on .lephantine5 The matter is 8ell attested historically and )eca!se o4 this 8e do kno8% 8ithin a 4e8 metres% the e9act site o4 the temple% 8e also kno8 8hen the temple 8as destroyed A it 8as 412 BC A and 4inally 8e kno8 that the later 'oman temple 8as )!ilt in the place 8here the Ee8ish temple had pre(io!sly stood5 It is all (ery clear5@ oses% right7@

@#hy 8as the Ee8ish temple destroyed7@ @Look55 I am not an e9pert in these matters5 I speciali3e in the remains 4rom the second millenni!m BC A 8ell )e4ore yo!r period5 To 4ind o!t more detailed in4ormation yo! 8ill ha(e to talk to a colleag!e o4 mine 8ho has taken a special interest in the Ee8ish colony5 He is r Achim $rekeler5@ @Is he here no87@ @In4ort!nately not5 He is in Cairo5 B!t he 8ill ret!rn tomorro85 #ill yo! still )e here tomorro87@ @Des5 I mean 5 5 5 I don@t ha(e long5 I ha(e to get )ack to .ngland5 B!t I can 8ait !ntil tomorro85@ @Good5 +o I s!ggest then that yo! come )ack tomorro8% in the a4ternoon% say aro!nd three p5m5% and yo! 8ill see r $rekeler5 ean8hile% i4 yo! like% I 8o!ld )e happy to sho8 yo! 8here the Ee8ish colony 8as 5 5 5 and the site o4 yo!r temple5@ I took (on :ilgrim !p on this kind o44er5 As 8e 8alked I asked him !nder 8hose a!spices the e9ca(ations on .lephantine 8ere )eing cond!cted5 @#e are 4rom the German Archaeological Instit!te in Berlin%@ he replied5 @#e ha(e )een 8orking here 4or a n!m)er o4 years5@ #e had arri(ed at the 4oot o4 a lo8 hill5 >n the slopes a)o(e !s% spread o!t o(er a 8ide area% 8as a ma3e o4 r!))le and masonry% amidst 8hich partially reconstr!cted dry-stone 8alls )etrayed the o!tlines o4 rooms% ho!ses and streets5 @This@% said (on :ilgrim% @8as the part o4 the old to8n o4 .lephantine 8here the Ee8ish people li(ed5@ #e )egan to clim)% picking o!r 8ay 8ith care amongst the cr!m)ling r!ins5 By the time 8e reached the s!mmit I 8as ?!ite o!t o4 )reath A )!t I had also shaken o44 the mood o4 depression that had assailed me earlier5 Tho!gh I co!ld not ha(e e9plained e9actly 8hy% I 4elt that there 8as something a)o!t this place 8hich 8as 5 5 5 5 right A something ha!nting and e(ocati(e that spoke o4 ancient days and hidden histories5 Corneli!s (on :ilgrim had led me to the highest point on the island o4 .lephantine5 ,o8 he gest!red aro!nd !s and said; @The Ee8ish temple 8as here% )eneath 8here 8e are standing5@ I pointed to a massi(e% )roken col!mn that loomed C!st ahead o4 !s and to o!r right and asked 8hat it 8as5 @:art o4 the 'oman temple I told yo! a)o!t5 As a matter o4 4act there@s e(idence that ?!ite a n!m)er o4 other temples stood here at di44erent periods% dedicated to the gods o4 the (ario!s 4oreign po8ers that occ!pied .gypt in the 4irst millenni!m BC5 >4ten the architects o4 these temples 8o!ld re-!se the materials 4rom the earlier )!ildings5 This% I think% is 8hy the Ee8ish temple so completely disappeared5 It 8as destroyed% knocked do8n% may)e )!rnt% and then its masonry 8as )roken !p and incorporated into the 8alls o4 the ne9t temple5@

@I asked )e4ore 8hy the Ee8ish temple 8as destroyed5 Do! didn@t get ro!nd to telling me555@ @Broadly speaking 8e )elie(e that there 8as a pro)lem )et8een the mem)ers o4 the Ee8ish comm!nity and the .gyptian residents o4 the island5 Do! see there 8as an .gyptian temple too 5 5 @>n the same site7@ @,o5 The Ee8ish temple had )een )!ilt more or less )eside it5 The .gyptian temple 8as o(er there@ A he gest!red in the direction o4 another pile o4 r!))le A @and some remains 4rom it ha(e )een 4o!nd5 It 8as dedicated to the god $hn!m5 He 8as a ram-headed god5 All his e44igies sho8 him 8ith the head o4 a ram5 And 8e spec!late 4rom this that some serio!s tension may ha(e arisen )et8een the Ee8ish priests and the .gyptian priests5@ @#hy tension7@ @#ell% it@s o)(io!s5 It is kno8n that the Ee8s here practised sacri4ice and almost certainly they sacri4iced rams5 This 8o!ld not ha(e made the priests o4 $hn!m (ery happy5 +o 8e g!ess that at a certain date they simply t!rned on the Ee8s and perhaps massacred them% or perhaps e9pelled them 4rom the island% and then a4ter8ards destroyed their temple5@ @And yo! said that that date 8as 412 BC7@ @Des5 That@s right5 B!t yo! m!st talk to Achim $rekeler 4or more details5@


I++I,G LI,$7

I ret!rned the ne9t a4ternoon as (on :ilgrim had s!ggested5 ean8hile I had spent a sleepless night and a restless morning thinking thro!gh e(erything that I had learned% 8orking o!t the logic o4 e(ents and trying to arri(e at some tentati(e concl!sions5 As a res!lt o4 this process A e(en )e4ore my meeting 8ith $rekeler A I 8as reasona)ly con4ident in my o8n mind that the Ee8ish temple on .lephantine might indeed pro(e to )e the missing link in the chain o4 cl!es that I had assem)led o(er the pre(io!s t8o years5 I4 I 8as right% and i4 a gro!p o4 Le(ites had le4t Eer!salem 8ith the Ark o4 the Co(enant d!ring the reign o4 anasseh% then they co!ld hardly ha(e chosen a )etter place o4 sa4ety5 Here they 8o!ld ha(e )een 4ar )eyond the reach o4 the 8icked Ee8ish king 8ho had introd!ced an idol into the Holy o4 Holies5 oreo(er% since I had esta)lished the relationship )et8een the ceremony o4 the Ark and the 4esti(al o4 Apet <held each year at L!9or C!st t8o h!ndred kilometres to the north A see chapter 12=% it seemed to me that this Ipper .gyptian island co!ld also ha(e )een seen )y the 4!giti(e priests as a !ni?!ely appropriate location; s!rro!nded on all sides )y the sacred 8aters o4 the ri(er ,ile% might they not ha(e 4elt that they had ret!rned to their roots7

All this 8as spec!lation5 #hat 8as certain% ho8e(er% 8as that a Ee8ish temple had )een )!ilt here at appro9imately the right time to ha(e sheltered the Ark a4ter its remo(al 4rom the Holy o4 Holies in Eer!salem5 It 8as also certain that that same temple had s!)se?!ently )een destroyed d!ring the same cent!ry in 8hich A according to the Tana $irkos traditions A the Ark had )een )ro!ght to .thiopia5 All this% it seemed to me% added !p to a compellingly s!ggesti(e series o4 e(ents5 And I 8as not greatly 8orried )y the 4act that the date o4 the .lephantine temple@s destr!ction A 412 BC A 8as appro9imately si9ty years later than the date that I had calc!lated 4or the Ark@s arri(al on Tana $irkos <4*2 BC=5 >(er the h!ge period o4 time )et8een the 4i4th cent!ry BC and the t8entieth cent!ry AD it seemed to me ?!ite possi)le that the .thiopian oral traditions on 8hich I had )ased that calc!lation co!ld ha(e gone adri4t )y si9ty years or so5 I 8as there4ore in an optimistic 4rame o4 mind 8hen I arri(ed )ack at the German Archaeological Instit!te@s ho!se 4or my meeting 8ith Achim $rekeler5 A stocky% 4riendly man in his mid-thirties 8ho spoke good .nglish% I 4o!nd him poring o(er 4ragments o4 ancient papyr!s 8hich% he e9plained% had to )e handled 8ith great care )eca!se they 8ere e9ceptionally )rittle5 @And it@s papyri like these that ha(e pro(ided the main e(idence 4or the e9istence o4 the Ee8ish temple7@ @Des% and 4or its destr!ction5 A4ter 412 BC a n!m)er o4 letters 8ere sent to Eer!salem descri)ing 8hat had happened and seeking 4!nds and permission 4or a possi)le reconstr!ction5@ @B!t the temple 8as ne(er re)!ilt% 8as it7@ @,o% de4initely not5 In 4act all the correspondence s!ddenly stopped aro!nd 422 BC5 A4ter that it seems that the Ee8ish people le4t .lephantine5@ @Do yo! kno8 8hat happened to them7@ @,o5 ,ot really5 B!t clearly they had )een in tro!)le 8ith the .gyptians 4or some time5 :ro)a)ly they 8ere 4orced to lea(e5@ @And yo! don@t kno8 8here they 8ent7@ @,o in4ormation on that has e(er )een 4o!nd5@ At some length I e9plained to $rekeler my interest in the Ark o4 the Co(enant and my 4eeling that it might ha(e got to .thiopia )y 8ay o4 .lephantine5 I then asked 8hether he tho!ght that there 8as any possi)ility at all that the sacred relic co!ld ha(e )een )ro!ght to the island5 @>4 co!rse it is possi)le5 Anything is possi)le5 B!t I had al8ays !nderstood that the Ark 8as destroyed 8hen the Temple in Eer!salem 8as )!rnt do8n )y the Ba)ylonians5@ @That@s the orthodo9 theory5 B!t I@m 4airly s!re that it 8as taken o!t ?!ite some time )e4ore then A in the se(enth cent!ry BC% d!ring the reign o4 anasseh5 +o one o4 the things that I@m hoping yo!@ll )e a)le to gi(e me is a precise date 4or the )!ilding o4 the temple here in .lephantine5@

@I@m a4raid there is no precise date5 >pinions (ary5 B!t personally I 8o!ld ha(e no di44ic!lty in accepting that it might ha(e )een )!ilt sometime in the se(enth cent!ry BC5 >ther scholars also share that (ie85@ @And do yo! ha(e any idea 8hat the temple 8o!ld ha(e looked like7 I kno8 yo! ha(en@t reco(ered any material arte4acts )!t I@m 8ondering 8hether there might ha(e )een any hints in the papyri7@ @A 4e85 ,o sacred 8ritings as s!ch ha(e yet )een reco(ered5 B!t 8e ha(e 4o!nd a 4air amo!nt o4 descripti(e in4ormation a)o!t the e9terior o4 the temple5 Brom this 8e can say 4or certain that it had pillars o4 stone% 4i(e gate8ays also made o4 stone% and a roo4 o4 cedar8ood5@ @#o!ld it ha(e had a Holy o4 Holies7@ @:res!ma)ly5 It 8as a s!)stantial )!ilding% a proper temple5 B!t there is ins!44icient e(idence to )e certain 8hether there 8as a Holy o4 Holies or not5@ #e contin!ed to talk aro!nd the s!)Cect 4or another ho!r or so5 Binally% ho8e(er% $rekeler anno!nced that his time 8as short as he 8as d!e to ret!rn to Cairo the ne9t day and he had m!ch to do5 @I can lend yo! t8o o4 the )est academic p!)lications on .lephantine%@ he o44ered% @as long as yo! promise to )ring them )ack tomorro85 They s!mmari3e all the main 4indings o4 the research that has )een done here )y scholars 4rom many di44erent co!ntries since the t!rn o4 the cent!ry5@ #hen I ret!rned to my hotel I 8as carrying the 8eighty tomes that $rekeler had mentioned5 They 4!lly repaid the long night that I spent st!dying them5

TH. A'$ I, .L.:HA,TI,.

Here is 8hat I learned a)o!t the Ee8ish Temple on .lephantine A the key 4acts o4 rele(ance to my ?!est% as I recorded them in my note)ook;

1 The temple% as $rekeler told me% m!st ha(e )een a )!ilding o4 some considera)le si3e5 /!ite a lot o4 in4ormation a)o!t its appearance s!r(i(ed in the papyri and the archaeologists ha(e concl!ded that its dimensions 8ere ninety 4eet long )y thirty 4eet 8ide5<3= In old meas!rements this is% o4 co!rse si9ty c!)its )y t8enty c!)its5<4= Interestingly% the Bi)le gi(es e9actly the same meas!rements 4or +olomon@s Temple in Eer!salem5<"= 2 The .lephantine Temple 8as roo4ed 8ith cedar8oodJ<&= so 8as +olomon@s Temple5<*= 3 It seems% there4ore% that +oloman@s Temple m!st ha(e pro(ided the model 4or the .lephantine Temple5 +ince the 4ormer had originally )een )!ilt to accommodate the Ark o4 the Co(enant% is it not pro)a)le that the latter 8as as 8ell7

4 Animal sacri4ice 8as ro!tinely practised at the .lephantine Temple A incl!ding the all-important sacri4ice o4 a lam) as the opening rite o4 :asso(er 8eek5<0= This is highly signi4icant since it indicates that the Ee8ish comm!nity m!st ha(e migrated to .lephantine )e4ore the re4orms o4 $ing Eosiah <&42-&21 BC=5 Those re4orms concl!si(ely )anned sacri4ice at any location other than the Eer!salem Temple <a )an that 8as s!)se?!ently respected e(en )y the e9iles d!ring the capti(ity in Ba)ylon=5 >n .lephantine% ho8e(er% sacri4ice contin!ed to )e an important rit!al 4or the Ee8s in the si9th and 4i4th cent!ries BC5<1= +ince those Ee8s 8ere engaged in a reg!lar correspondence 8ith Eer!salem there can )e no do!)t that they 8o!ld ha(e kno8n a)o!t Eosiah@s )an5 ,e(ertheless% they contin!ed to per4orm sacri4ices5 They m!st% there4ore% ha(e 4elt that they had some special a!thority so to do5 It goes 8itho!t saying that the presence o4 the Ark o4 the Co(enant in their temple 8o!ld ha(e pro(ided them 8ith all the a!thority they needed5 " In this connection it is 8orthy o4 note that the .lephantine Ee8s clearly tho!ght that Dah8eh resided physically in their temple; a n!m)er o4 papyri speak o4 him A in no !ncertain terms A as @d8elling@ there5@<12= In ancient Israel <and d!ring the 8anderings in the 8ilderness= Dah8eh 8as )elie(ed to reside 8here(er the Ark 8as<11= indeed this )elie4 only really changed a4ter the loss o4 the Ark had )een recogni3ed5<12= #hen the Ee8s o4 .lephantine spoke o4 Dah8eh as a deity 8ho 8as physically present 8ith them% there4ore% it 4ollo8s that they co!ld 8ell ha(e )een re4erring to the Ark5 & The .lephantine Ee8s 4re?!ently spoke o4 the deity d8elling in their temple as @the Lord o4 Hosts@ or @Dah8eh o4 Hosts@5<13= +cholars recogni3e this phrase as an archaic one5<14= It 8as 4re?!ently !sed in connection 8ith the Ark <e5g5 in the period )e4ore +olomon@s Temple 8as )!ilt @the people sent to +hiloh that they might )ring 4rom thence the Ark o4 the Co(enant o4 the Lord o4 Hosts@=5<1"=5 * All the a)o(e 4actors lend credi)ility to the (ie8 that the Ark co!ld ha(e )een lodged in the .lephantine Temple A and% indeed% that its presence on the island co!ld ha(e )een the reason 4or the )!ilding o4 that Temple in the 4irst place5 $rekeler 8as right to tell me that no e9act date o4 constr!ction has yet )een esta)lished5 Brom the literat!re% ho8e(er% it is clear that the scholars 8ho analysed the papyri did a great deal o4 8ork on precisely this s!)Cect5 They point o!t that )y the early se(enth cent!ry BC there 8as already a s!)stantial Ee8ish pop!lation on the island o4 .lephantine% made !p mainly o4 a garrison o4 mercenaries in the pay o4 the .gyptians5 These Ee8ish soldiers% together 8ith their 4amilies% 8o!ld ha(e constit!ted a (ia)le social conte9t 4or temple 8orship5 >n the )asis o4 this and a great deal o4 other e(idence% the considered opinion o4 the scholars is there4ore that the .lephantine Temple m!st ha(e )een )!ilt )y the year &"2 BC5<1&= 0 It is impossi)le to o(erstate the signi4icance o4 this date5 #hy7 Beca!se it 4alls d!ring the reign o4 anasseh A the king 8ho introd!ced an idol into the Holy o4 Holies o4 the Eer!salem Temple% th!s ca!sing the Ark to )e remo(ed <pro)a)ly )y priests 8ho remained loyal to the traditional 8orship o4 Dah8eh=5 It 8as a di44ic!lt eno!gh task to esta)lish that the sacred relic m!st indeed ha(e )een taken o!t at this timeF A )!t% ha(ing completed that task% I am satis4ied that there is no e(idence in the Bi)le a)o!t 8here it might ha(e )een taken to <e(en :ro4essor enahem Haran 8as !na)le to p!t 4or8ard any theories as to 8hat co!ld ha(e happened to it a4ter it le4t Eer!salem=5

1 The academic a!thorities 8ho st!died the .lephantine papyri% and 8ho arri(ed at the date o4 &"2 BC 4or the constr!ction o4 the Temple% 8ere clearly not a8are that the Ark co!ld ha(e gone missing 4rom Eer!salem d!ring the reign o4 anasseh5 I4 they had )een then they 8o!ld certainly ha(e p!t t8o and t8o together5 They 8ere a8are% ho8e(er% o4 the 8idespread o!trage ca!sed )y that monarch@s @pagan inno(ations@% and they concl!ded that this o!trage 8as the only possi)le e9planation 4or the other8ise ine9plica)le 4act that a Ee8ish temple 8as )!ilt on .lephantine;

anasseh@s reign 8as accompanied )y m!ch )loodshed and it may )e s!rmised that priests as 8ell as prophets opposed his paganisation5 +ome o4 the priests 4led to .gypt% Coined the Ee8ish garrison at .lephantine% and there 5 5 5 erected the Temple5<10=

12 These are the 8ords o4 Be3alel :orten% a!thor o4 the a!thoritati(e st!dy Archi(es 4rom .lephantine5 :orten ne(ertheless remains p!33led )y the 4act that a Ee8ish temple co!ld ha(e )een )!ilt at .lephantine at all% )eca!se o4 the notion% deeply entrenched 8ithin E!daism% @that 4oreign soil 8as !nclean and that% there4ore% no Temple to the Lord might )e erected on it5<11= He points o!t that% a4ter the destr!ction o4 +olomon@s Temple in Eer!salem% the Ee8s carried o44 into e9ile in Ba)ylon @8ere co!nselled )y Eeremiah to settle do8n and pray <not sacri4ice= to the Lord5@ The same a!thor then adds; @there is no e(idence that any Temple to DH#H 8as erected in Ba)ylonia@ and asks; @#ith 8hat C!sti4ication% then% did the Ee8s at .lephantine erect their temple7@<22= 11 It seems to me that the ans8er to :orten@s rhetorical ?!estion is o)(io!s; their C!sti4ication 8as that they had )ro!ght 8ith them 4rom Eer!salem the Ark o4 the Co(enant and that they no8 needed to )!ild @an ho!se o4 rest@ 4or it%<21= C!st as +olomon had done so long )e4ore5


#hen I ret!rned to .ngland I 4elt ?!ite con4ident that I had at last !nco(ered the real se?!ence o4 e(ents !nderlying the mystery o4 the lost Ark5 +eeking s!pporting e(idence I 8ent to the +chool o4 >riental and A4rican +t!dies in London and ac?!ired copies o4 the t8o o!t-o4-print (ol!mes that Achim $rekeler had lent me% (ol!mes that I no8 8anted to e9amine m!ch more thoro!ghly5 I also assem)led other rele(ant so!rces% incl!ding The History o4 Herodot!s <)eca!se I had learned that the 4amo!s Greek scholar had paid a (isit to .lephantine aro!nd the year 4"2 BC=5<22= This 4!rther research e44ort pro(ed 4r!it4!l5 >ne thing that had )een )othering me% 4or e9ample% 8as 8hy Eosiah A the 3ealo!s traditionalist 8ho had inherited the throne in Eer!salem t8o years a4ter anasseh@s death A had not so!ght to get the Ark )ack 4rom .lephantine5 The

ans8er to that ?!estion did not pro(e di44ic!lt to 4ind5 As I had already esta)lished% Eosiah@s re4orms had not started !ntil the t8el4th year o4 his reign <8hen he 8as t8enty= and his restoration o4 the Temple had only )eg!n in the eighteenth year o4 his reign <&22 BC=5<23= By this time relations )et8een E!dah and .gypt had deteriorated dramatically A so m!ch so% in 4act% that Eosiah 8as !ltimately killed 4ighting the .gyptians5<24= .(en i4 he had kno8n that the Ark had )een taken to .lephantine% there4ore% he 8o!ld not ha(e )een in a position to en4orce its ret!rn 4rom a po8er4!l co!ntry 8ith 8hich he 8as at 8ar5 Ha(ing satis4ied mysel4 on this point I then mo(ed on to consider the ne9t stage o4 the lost history that I 8as attempting to reconstr!ct A the Co!rney o4 the Ark 4rom .lephantine into .thiopia d!ring the 4i4th cent!ry BC5 y inter(ie8 in Eer!salem 8ith the Balasha priest 'aphael Hadane had raised the intrig!ing possi)ility that the ancestors o4 .thiopia@s )lack Ee8s might ha(e )een migrants 4rom .lephantine A )eca!se there co!ld )e no do!)t that he had )een speaking o4 that island 8hen he had told me that his 4ore4athers had )!ilt a temple at As8an5 oreo(er the notion that the Balashas might ha(e reached .thiopia 4rom .lephantine 8as s!pported )y the 4indings o4 my o8n earlier research5 In ,o(em)er I101 I had )een str!ck )y the @ethnographic 4ingerprint@ o4 Balasha settlement aro!nd Lake Tana and A on the )asis o4 this and other e(idence A I had concl!ded that;

the religion o4 +olomon co!ld only ha(e entered .thiopia 4rom the 8est A thro!gh .gypt and the +!dan along the ancient and 8ell-tra(elled trade ro!tes pro(ided )y the ,ile and Taka33e ri(ers5

Bor some time )e4ore reaching that concl!sion I had )een pro4o!ndly dissatis4ied 8ith the large )ody o4 academic opinion 8hich held that the Balashas 8ere the descendants o4 Ee8s 4rom so!thern Ara)ia 8ho had arri(ed in .thiopia a4ter AD *2 <see Chapter &=5 ,o8% as I 4ollo8ed !p the )i)liography that the social anthropologist +hal(a #ell had dictated to me in Eer!salem% I disco(ered that a n!m)er o4 other theories had )een p!t 4or8ard to challenge the pre(ailing orthodo9y5 Tho!gh repeatedly ridic!led )y the masters o4 .thiopian st!dies like :ro4essor .d8ard Illendor44%<2"= some o4 the dissenting (oices had s!ggested that the ancestors o4 the Balashas co!ld 8ell ha(e )een con(erted to E!daism )y migrants 4rom the Ee8ish colony on the island o4 .lephantine5<2&= ,o do!)t there had )een e9tensi(e commercial and c!lt!ral contacts )et8een Demen and .thiopia d!ring this periodJ the reality 8as% ho8e(er% that se(eral ?!ite s!)stantial Ee8ish comm!nities had )een esta)lished in .gypt 4or h!ndreds o4 years )e4ore any Ee8s had settled in so!th Ara)ia5 Gi(en the pro4o!ndly >ld Testament character o4 Balasha religion% there4ore% logic s!ggested that the Ee8ish 4aith m!st ha(e )een carried so!th-east8ards 4rom .gypt and into .thiopia in a grad!al process o4 @c!lt!ral di44!sion@5<2*= To )e s!re% there 8ere no a)sol!tely !nassaila)le historical 4acts linking the Balashas to .lephantine5 I did% ho8e(er% come across a great many tantali3ing cl!es and coincidences 8hich seemed to me to )e highly s!ggesti(e o4 s!ch a link5 All the e(idence 8as circ!mstantial and none o4 it act!ally pro(ed my theory that the Ark had reached .thiopia in the 4i4th cent!ry BC a4ter spending t8o h!ndred years in the Ee8ish Temple on .lephantine5 6ie8ed in the conte9t o4

e(erything else that I had learned% ho8e(er A in Israel% in .gypt and in .thiopia itsel4 A my latest 4indings took on a di44erent and entirely more pers!asi(e aspect5 +et o!t )elo8% as I recorded them in my note)ook% are the principal concl!sions that I reached and the e(idence on 8hich they 8ere )ased;

1 The 4act that the Ee8ish comm!nity at .lephantine practised sacri4ice A and that it contin!ed to do so long a4ter $ing Eosiah@s re4orms A is s!rely highly signi4icant5 >ne o4 the proo4s o4 the anti?!ity o4 E!daism in .thiopia is the e9tremely archaic character o4 Balasha religion% in 8hich animal sacri4ice o4 precisely the kind carried o!t at .lephantine plays a cr!cial role5<20= This adds 8eight to the hypothesis that the Balashas are the @c!lt!ral descendants@ o4 Ee8ish migrants 4rom .lephantine and there4ore pro(ides strong s!pport 4or the thesis that the Ark o4 the Co(enant may ha(e )een )ro!ght to .thiopia 4rom that island5 2 In its heyday the Ee8ish Temple on .lephantine had i