Monday, June 7, 2010

Book Review: the Lost Ark of the Covenant

Lost Ark of the Covenant Lost Ark of the Covenant by Tudor Parfitt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tudor Parfitt's epic twenty-year quest for the lost Ark of the Covenant is a real page-turner! According to the Bible, the Ark contained the Ten Commandments given to Moses and possessed a divine, awesome power. It was used by the ancient Israelites in battle and, by Bible accounts, had the devastating powers of a modern-day weapon of mass destruction. Regarded as the holiest object in the world by the Jewish and Islamic faiths, the Ark suddenly disappeared from Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem over 2,500 years ago and was, apparently, lost forever. The author embarked on a long, arduous, and often dangerous journey in what became an obsessive quest to track down the truth behind this fabled artefact and discover its whereabout today.

I read Graham Hancock's The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, which claimed to have located the Ark in Ethiopia, it having been taken there by Menelik, the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. So, it was with renewed interest that I tackled Mr. Parfitt's account of the link between the holy drum, or ngoma, of the Lemba tribe in Zimbabwe and the Ark. Tudor Parfitt's journey takes him on a trail of ancient documents and codes from Oxford, to Jerusalem, to Africa, and even to Papua, New Guinea. It encompasses not only his obsession with the Ark, but also the dreams and ambitions of friends, helpers, and other interested parties.

The author also takes the reader on some astonishing side paths - the discovery that the DNA of the Lemba, an African tribe, links them directly to the Jews of the Middle East and specifically to the priestly tribe that would have been the guardians of the Ark; the vision that they have of their lost city Senna, and their wish to be recognized. In addition, the strange link that the Gogodala tribesmen of Papua, New Guinea have with Judaism and Israel is also fascinating and makes for one of the funniest travel accounts I have ever read, putting me in mind of Gerald Durrell. That section alone is well worth the book because one feels 'in the author's shoes' (covered with Shoosnake) so to speak!

I enjoyed the author's theory that there were multiple arks, for multiple reasons. Dealing with ancient, biblical, and tribal history is difficult. Oral traditions become twisted as ancient authors sought to portray their particular traditions or holy objects in the best possible light. One only has to read medieval and older accounts of historical figures and events to realize just how much 'tampering' went on, and that history is surely written by the victors. The book left me with unanswered questions: what happened to the Lemba after their DNA links to Israel were confirmed, and what were the results of the DNA testing on the eager Gogodala who, by all accounts, appear to be more Jewish than the Jews?

In dealing with research in Africa, I, as someone living in South Africa, have a special appreciation of what Mr. Parfitt has endured in his search. Africa is a tragic story: a continent riven by corruption, nepotism, wholesale destruction of historical assets, criminality, lawlessness, and tribalism. It's a miracle he managed to find anything in Zimbabwe, given the present state of that country. In all, a fascinating read. With the plethora of investigations into ancient history and secrets, I think readers should enjoy what riveting nuggets authors such as Mr. Parfitt have uncovered.

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