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The Sunday Times - London


September 6 1998 MIDDLE EAST


Is lost Ark buried in terrorist camp?

by Jon Ungoed-Thomas

EVEN Indiana Jones could be forgiven for getting the jitters over this one. A biblical scholar has uncovered new evidence in the quest for the lost Ark of the Covenant which suggests its secret burial site could be at a terrorist stronghold on the West Bank.

Michael Sanders, a British-born publisher of classical university texts, believes the sacred golden Ark was buried after a raid on Solomon's Temple in the 10th century BC by one of the Egyptian kings. By studying new satellite images, together with documents in the British Museum and other accounts, he claims to have identified its final resting place in the Judaean hills.

The location has, however, been renowned for years as a training ground for Hamas terrorists. "It is in very dangerous territory, but it must be worth the risk," said Sanders, who has spent more than 25 years researching biblical history and is now planning an expedition to the site. "We believe we may have found the configuration of an Egyptian temple and it is under there that we will dig for the Ark. There will be archeologists with us, but the search for the Ark is bound to be more of a treasure hunt than a classical archeological dig."

The whereabouts of the Ark is one of the world's most enduring and fascinating mysteries. According to the Old Testament, the Ark was built at the foot of Mount Sinai around 1250BC at the command of Moses to hold the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

For 200 years it was used, according to biblical records, to bring victory on the battlefield against the enemies of Israel, but it disappeared between the 10th and 6th centuries BC after being placed in Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem.

The Old Testament does not record the circumstances of the Ark's removal, but in modern times adventurers and archeologists have criss-crossed the world in the hunt for the sacred relic, even though its existence has never been conclusively proved. One legend suggested the Ark was taken to Ethiopia by the Queen of Sheba, while others believe it is hidden in caves in Qumran overlooking the Dead Sea. In the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones fights the Nazis for the long-lost treasure.

Sanders contends that the Ark was looted by Shishak, the King of Egypt, when Solomon's Temple was plundered in about 925BC in the first of a series of raids on Jerusalem. He claims a document in the British Museum identifies the Egyptian temple where the Ark may have been buried in a post-battle ritual.

"I don't think the Ark is a fantasy and it is a very reasonable suggestion that it was taken by Shishak because that was the first time it could have been removed," said Jonathan Tubb, an expert in Syrian and Palestinian archeology at the British Museum. "If an Egyptian temple can be identified, it would be a great place to dig. It could solve all sorts of mysteries."

Sanders, 58, who was born in Leeds but is now based in Irvine, California, says the Harris Papyrus in the British Museum identifies the Judaean hills as the site of an Egyptian temple to which looted treasures were taken by the Egyptians.

He believes the tablets of stone could be discovered there because pharaohs often buried plundered artifacts beneath their temples.

"This temple is referred to in the papyrus as a 'mysterious house in the land of Zahi' which was dedicated to the god Amun Ra," said Sanders. "In 1830, the American explorer Dr Edward Robinson walked the route taken by the invading Egyptians in Palestine and found old ruins at a village called Djahiriya. The village is still there and is the most likely resting place of the tablets of stone. If the Egyptians had just seized the most sacred religious codes from the people they had invaded, they would have laid them in the foundations of their new temple."

Sanders has studied satellite images of the area and identified a ruin to the south of the settlement which he thinks may be the remains of the temple. He has, however, not yet received permission to start an excavation. "This has long been a Hamas training center and a local sheikh controls the area," said Sanders.



Copyright 1998 Times Newspapers Ltd. This service is provided on Times Newspapers' standard terms and conditions. To inquire about a license to reproduce material from The Sunday Times, visit the Syndication website.


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