There is an incredible story I want to share today. I heard it from Graham Hancock and then later from Bob Cornuke. The sources are listed at the end.
If you are right now focused on your daily concerns, let me encourage you to close your eyes for a moment and relax. Prepare yourself for a fascinating exploration to another time and place.
Let us begin…
In 1119, knights were more common than they are today. In that year a particular group of knights formed into an organization under the name of The Knights Templar. Their headquarters were on the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem, hence the label “Templar.” Among their various activities, they also seemed interested in trying to seek and discover holy Christian relics: things such as the nails and cross used to crucify Jesus, the chalice used by Christ, and the like. They excavated large parts of the Temple Mount and one of the items they sought was the Ark of the Covenant. However, in that location, they never found it. They were also known for having an interest in architecture and likely had some construction experts among their ranks. Legends tell us that many of them traipsed around Europe and the Middle East on their searches and projects. But a sizable number of them remained at home in Jerusalem since they imagined that there was much to be found there. After several decades, their group swelled to at least 15,000 members, so they were eventually not an insignificant part of the population of Jerusalem.
Stephen Lawhead’s trilogy called Celtic Crusades proposes the idea that maybe the Knights Templar never really passed out of existence. Maybe, just maybe they went underground and that even today, there is still a secret society; scattered, but silently recruiting new members while the older members pass away. His books in this series are called The Iron Lance, The Black Rood and The Mystic Rose.
Despite these three interesting novels, non-fictional history tells us that two groups most likely inherited any legacy of the Knights Templar, as well as any of their possessions. These are the Scottish Freemasons and the Portuguese Order of Christ. These groups still exist today.
Around 1175-1180, an exiled Ethiopian prince, named Gebre Mesqel Lalibela also happened to be in Jerusalem. Back home, his brother, Kedus Harbe had taken the throne and Gebre fled.
However, in about 1180-1181, Gebre returned to Ethiopia and assumed the throne, becoming King. Speculation is that he took power by force, since his brother was still alive. Legends say that Gebre then built 11 churches, spectacularly carved out of granite, and below ground level. The town where you can still see these churches, now bears his family name: Lalibela. His communal design was patterned after the Holy Land. In fact, he constructed a “River Jordan,” which divides his “earthly Jerusalem” from the “New Jerusalem.” He evidently had grand designs and aspired to create a new holy nexus for Christian worship in Africa. But why? What fueled his passion for such an ambitious project?
If you have ever seen the famous stone churches in Lalibela Ethiopia, you will understand the reason they are considered mysterious. Even just from photos, you can tell that to carve such massive structures downward into solid rock is an incredible feat for the ancient world. Historically, no one really knows who built them or how.
Legend says that they were constructed in only 24 years by either “white men” or by “angels.” Some modern scientists claim that such an account should be dismissed, citing the variation in design among the churches. That is, they claim these structures were built over a much longer time frame, which on the surface sounds reasonable since some estimate it would take at least 40,000 men to build them. However, the point of this article is to suggest another possibility…
There is a tall rock column in the Church of St. George, in Lalibela, that is shrouded in a white cloth. Beneath that fabric, legend says there are engravings put there by King Lalibela, that explain exactly how the churches were built. Even so, the local priests closely guard the column and forbid anyone from viewing the engravings. Here are two photos:
Ark of the Covenant
If you have seen the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, you might be familiar with the idea of the gold-covered, angel-topped box that was originally used by Moses in the worship of Yaweh, or Jehovah. It also held the original Ten Commandments. As implied by the movie name, most people believe it was in fact permanently lost. However, to prove that not everyone thinks that, go to Google Maps and type in this: “Ark of the Covenant.” You will, in fact, be taken to a small church in Aksum, Ethiopia, about 8 hours away (by car) from Lalibela. If you were on foot, you’d get there in about a week, so it was not a totally unrealistic trip to make in ancient times. Why do I mention that? Well, here is where it gets interesting.
In his book, The Sign and the Seal, Graham Hancock spins a fascinating tale. His theories are extensive and multi-layered, but for sake of simplicity I will summarize. His ideas go something like this…
In about 650 BC, Manasseh took the throne in Jerusalem, as King over Judah. His story is recorded for us in the Bible, in 2 Kings 21: 1-18. He is described as wicked and immoral, with little to no regard for the Temple. He installed pagan idols inside the Temple and did other things that priests considered to be offensive to God. However, what the Bible does not tell us is that during his reign of malice, the faithful priests secretly removed the Ark from the Temple for safe keeping. (This is why it was not present when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. If it had been there then, it might have been lost forever.) Anyway, those priests took it far from Jerusalem, to Egypt in fact. They floated it South down the Nile until reaching Elephantine Island, where they built a Jewish temple to house the Ark. That location is near Aswan, Egypt. It remained there for over 200 years, during which time, animal sacrifice and full temple operations continued. Around 410 BC that temple was destroyed and burned down by local Egyptians who worshipped a ram deity. They were upset because the Jews did not venerate the ram, but openly sacrificed it. The Jewish community then fled further South, down the Blue Nile, and all the way to Lake Tana, in Ethiopia. They settled on an island called Tana Qirqos. The Ark remained there for about 800 years, during which time, the community went from being Jewish to Christian. In about 400, Ethiopia’s first Christian king came to Tana Qirqos and took the Ark back with him to Aksum. It has remained in Aksum for over 1,500 years in the Church of St. Mary of Zion. See a map of these locations or a smaller map below (better for mobile devices).
The Knights in Ethiopia
When Prince Lalibela was in Jerusalem around 1180, he would have known of the presence of the Ark at Aksum, since it had been there for over 700 years, by then. He met some of the Knights Templar in the Holy Land, and learned of their interest in religious relics. When he told them that his country possessed the Ark, the Knights rallied their support for him and agreed to return with him and to make him King. Since the promise of the original Ark was more substantial than anything they had discovered in Jerusalem, they sent many—if not most—of their contingent back with the Prince to Ethiopia. They also inspired Prince Lalibela to consider building a new and better resting place for the Ark, all modeled after Jerusalem.
So off they went. With the military power of the Knights Templar, it was easy for Gebre to take the throne from his brother in around 1181. Then by at least 1185, the Knights Templar began construction of a miniaturized version of Jerusalem, of sorts, carving the churches downward out of solid rock. The design shows they apparently wanted to protect the Ark for many years to come. Could it be that the 11 churches were intended to hold not just the Ark, but other relics that the Knights Templar expected to discover?
Curiously, the Ark never was transferred from Aksum to Lalibela, even when the churches were completed. For reasons that are a mystery to us today, it remained in Aksum, and is still there now, inside the heavily guarded Church of St. Mary of Zion. In 2009 authorities announced that the Ark was to be revealed, for all the world to see. But after a few days, the planned unveiling was cancelled.
The good news is that maybe we know where the Ark is. The bad news is that no one gets to see it.
At this point in the story, researchers head in all different directions. Some ponder the international implications of the possibility of Israel demanding that such an authentic object be returned to Jerusalem (should it really exist). And certainly, with such a relic in hand, a third Temple would most likely need to be constructed. But where? On the Temple Mount where today sit five mosques?
Others wonder if there is a way to convince the church leaders in Aksum to open the doors and let others see this grand item. I speculate that the local church authorities are “waiting for the right moment,” when they have some sort of sense that God wants it to be shown. Maybe they wait for the return of Christ, whereupon he will order the Ark back to Jerusalem?
All these ideas are fascinating.
But for me, another bit of bad news is that there is still a significant outstanding question:
How did the Knights Templar build the churches of Lalibela? Did they just have enough manpower, or could it be that they possessed advanced architectural skills?
Or did they possibly have the Shamir?
Apparently, for the construction of at least the First Temple (and possibly the Second), builders had access to a special tool that could cut rock like a knife. It was known as the Shamir…“stone that split rocks.” Legend says that Moses had this item and passed it to the Hebrews. Could that be why Moses, Solomon and Joshua commanded that no iron tool was to be used on such structures? (Deuteronomy 27:5 and Joshua 8:31)
There is an interesting article from a Jewish website that hazards a guess that the original Shamir was an item that emitted alpha radiation, and therefore, could have been used to cut rock. (Which has a curious side trail, when one recalls that at times the face of Moses glowed and had to be covered by a veil…coupled with the fact that some radioactive material also glows. Hmmm.) Anyway, the implications about the Shamir lead one to consider various questions:
- Could it be that in their searches, the Knights Templar had discovered such an ancient tool (the Shamir) and brought it to Lalibela, Ethiopia to carve the amazing churches there?
- Might such a tool (or similar ones) have been used on some other mysteriously precise carvings and structures in other parts of the world? (Think: Petra, Pyramids, Tiwanacu, Puma Punku, Sacsayhuaman, Baalbeck.)
- Could the Scottish Freemasons or the Portuguese Order of Christ still possess the Shamir, even though due to half-life radioactive decay, it might retain none of its prior “superpowers?”
- If there was an item that could cut rock, might it also have not been harmful to humans? Or did it in fact harm the builders (since most radioactive substances are harmful), who used it anyway to achieve their purposes?
The article below explores some Jewish theories regarding the Shamir. (I do not endorse this whole site, but the article is curious.)
Hancock, Graham, The Sign and the Seal, Touchstone, 1992, pp 369-370.
Cornuke, Bob, The Ark of the Covenant (video), BASE Institute.
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