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Documentary : Does Trail to Ark of Covenant End Behind Aksum Curtain? : A British author believes the long-lost religious object may actually be inside a stone chapel in Ethiopia.

June 09, 1992|MICHAEL A. HILTZIK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"They have a wooden box, but it's empty," he says. "Middle- to late-medieval construction, when these were fabricated ad hoc." The mystery around it is "mostly to maintain the idea that it's a venerated object."

How does he know this? No one was permitted to see it, the monks said. Hancock had even tried to make a virtue out of this by arguing that it attested to the object's importance. For, obviously, no mere mortal would be permitted to view something so divine. ("I . . . was never worthy enough," he wrote.)

Hogwash, Ullendorff says. "I've seen it. There was no problem getting access when I saw it in 1941," he says.

He isn't surprised that Hancock was denied permission, for he was nothing but a parvenu. "You need to be able to speak their language, classical Ge'ez," he said. "You need to be able to show that you're serious."

A Journey Into Theory

Author Graham Hancock's "reasonable route" for the Ark of the Covenant:

1. The Ark is spirited away from Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem.

2. It is transferred to a Jewish garrison at Elephantine island in the upper Nile of Egypt.

3. Tana Kirkos Island in Ethiopia's Lake Tana becomes the next home of the Ark.

4. It arrives and remains at Aksum.

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