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Book review: The Sign and the Seal, by Graham Hancock - Lethargic Man (anag.)

Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2016-09-05 22:34
Subject: Book review: The Sign and the Seal, by Graham Hancock
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I am posting my entry for this book in my not-usually-blogged reading log to preemptively head off any comments from ewx following my reference to it (this book) in my last blog post. :o)

The author's quest for the Ark of the Covenant. Knowing Hancock's reputation, I approached the book with an air of scepticism, but found most of his arguments convincing—though a few the opposite.

Amongst the former: that Ethiopia has a long tradition that it had the Ark of the Covenant, that there has been a connection between there and Jerusalem for two thousand years, that although the Ark of the Covenant disappears from the Bible after the time of Solomon, if you read between the lines, there's evidence that it was still present in the time of Hezekiah (Isaiah referring to God dwelling between the cherubim) but absent by the time of Josiah (I'm not entirely convinced by his "the lady doth protest too much" argument, more so by Josiah telling the Levites (2 Chron. 35:3) to put the Ark in the Temple when you'd have thought it was already there, and no reference to the Levites complying, as opposed to the ceremony when Solomon first installed it there), implying the Levites had removed it during the reign of Menashe when the latter put pagan idols in the Temple.

Based on Ethiopian traditions that the Ark arrived in Ethiopia a few centuries later via the Nile, he then claims that it spent the intervening time in the temple at Elephantine, which nicely explains why the temple even existed.

I'm prepared to buy his argument that the first Templars were searching for the Ark, and that (given that there was always an Ethiopian Christian presence in Jerusalem) there may even have been Templars in Ethiopia, but I'm more sceptical of his claims that the Holy Grail was just a cipher for the Ark, and that the Templars gained architectural expertise from documents they found on the Temple site, and left coded messages in the layout of Chartres Cathedral; and whilst it's possible that the shape of the Ark was influenced by Egyptian culture, his claims that Priests and Levites retained knowledge of that Egyptian past in Temple times, or that the Ark was a high-tech artefact, left me cringing and wanting the chapter to end.

He also frequently used midrashic or aggadic evidence in support of the Bible, despite the intervening centuries; the fact he points this out for another source near the end as evidence against that source suggests poor scholarship to me.

The book then concludes with the hair-raising story of his journey back to Axum when it was in rebel hands, and his attempt to see the Ark taken out of its chapel on the one time in the year when that allegedly happened (though he ends up proving it was only a replica that was taken out). The book was also fascinating for its insight into Ethiopian Christianity, which appears to be overlaid on an earlier Judaism (and for a now dying sect which practised Hebraic worship that looked like it dated from the patriarchal (IIRC) period).

—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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