Gary A. Byers

“Moses as High Priest and Sorcerer? A Response to Graham Hancock’s Egyptian Explanation for the Ark of the Covenant.” This was the title of a fascinating paper presented by Michael Heiser of Pilsbury Baptist Bible College at the Near Eastern Archaeological Society’s Annual Meeting in Chicago last November. Heiser’s remarks were prompted by Hancock’s book, The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, published by Crown Publishers in 1992. Approaching bestseller status, it was even featured on National Geographic’s Explorer series. While Hancock’s views have attracted the fascination of the American public, Old Testament scholars find little new or even believable in his book.

Heiser’s paper does not address the viability of Hancock’s views as to the fate of the ark. Instead, he addresses what he calls Hancock’s “misdirected research steered by manipulation of the Biblical data, fallacious linguistical evidence and consistently faulty logic.”

Heiser attacks several of Hancock’s presuppositions, including his assertions that:

1. The Ark, itself, possessed genuine powers.

2. The powers of the Ark stemmed from two pieces of radioactive material (perhaps a crashed meteorite) which Moses found at Mount Sinai. He placed them in the Ark and duped the Israelites into believing they were tablets of stone written by Yahweh and containing His laws.

3. Moses received training as an Egyptian magician and became one of the “possessors” of secret knowledge.

4. Moses’ training in Egypt gave him the ability to tap into the power of this radioactive material and turn it into a controllable weapon.

5. Moses borrowed both the physical design and religious meaning of the Ark from Pharaoh Tutankhamen and the ancient Egyptian festival of Apet.

6. Moses used the Ark like a high-tech secret weapon. He turned it on Israel’s enemies and even on the Israelites, themselves, when they got out of line.

Unfortunately, Hancock’s book reads better as science fiction than investigative reporting. One could get as good an understanding of the Ark of the Covenant from Hancock’s

BSP 8:3 (Summer 1995) p. 74

book as they would from tabloids at the supermarket checkout line. While public interest in Biblical material is encouraging, this kind of journalism does nothing for the cause of Biblical truth.

Heiser, on the other hand, does a masterful job exposing the failures of Hancock’s logic and evidence. This includes Hancock’s lack of knowledge in Egyptian language, chronology and religion, as well as minimal understanding of both current scholarship and the Old Testament.

But, Heiser’s paper does more than effectively neutralize Hancock’s ideas on an academic level. It is written in a readable and enjoyable manner. The Associates for Biblical Research have arranged with Prof. Heiser to make copies of his thorough 15-page paper available for $5.00 each to our readers. We would not recommend purchasing Hancock’s book, but for those interested in the subject, we would recommend purchasing a copy of Michael Heiser’s paper.