From Egypt to Ethiopia


Supposing that the ark was in fact contained in a temple at Elephantine in southern Egypt, how could it have got to Ethiopia? In 410 B.C. the Jewish temple at Elephantine was destroyed, apparently by local Egyptian residents. The papyri discovered show that letters were sent to Jerusalem at this time appealing for help in rebuilding the temple, an appeal apparently not successful.

Not long afterwards, however, the Jews disappeared from Elephantine. Where did they go? According to Hancock, they went to Ethiopia, bearing the ark with them. This was in accordance with what the Falasha rabbi, Raphael Hadane, had told him (see above). Hancock discovered that, although the general scholarly opinion was that Judaism entered Ethiopia in Roman times, as referred to above, others believed that the Falashas were converted by the Jews of Elephantine who had migrated into

Ethiopia after their settlement came to an end. This was supported by the absence of any of the later rabbinical aspects of Judaism in their beliefs and practices. Because of this, when the Falashas emigrated to Israel, there was considerable difficulty in getting them accepted by the orthodox Jews. Such is the nature of modern-day Judaism, with its reliance on later tradition, that those whose practices correspond more closely to the Law of Moses have difficulty in being accepted as truly Jewish.

Why did the Jews of Elephantine go to Ethiopia, if indeed that is what they did? Hancock's answer is that Jews were already there, in the form of the Qemant (see above), whose presence in Ethiopia seems to have been older than that of the Falashas. He cites Zephaniah as evidence for Jews being in Ethiopia before the fall of Jerusalem: "From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My suppliants, even the daughter of My dispersed, shall bring Mine offering" (3:10). "Ethiopia" translates the Hebrew Cush, meaning 'black', and refers to modern Sudan, which means 'black' in Arabic, the name arising from the fact that, in contrast to Egypt, the people here are black. However, "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia" would indicate modern Ethiopia, south of Sudan. This verse is in the context of the Kingdom, and would therefore apply to the modern-day Jews of this area, but it may well have as its background the fact that Jews had already migrated to this area, perhaps at the time of the Assyrian invasions.

Supposing that the ark was really carried to Ethiopia from Elephantine, what happened to it then? In the highland of northern Ethiopia is a large lake, Lake Tana, the main source of the Blue Nile. There is a long-standing tradition associating an island on the lake called Tana Kirkos with the ark. Hancock interviewed a priest here who said that it had been on the island for a period of 800 years up to about 400 A.D., and that at that time the people were Jews, not Christians. In confirmation of this, Raphael Hadane, the Falasha rabbi, later told Hancock that Tana Kirkos was regarded by the Falashas as an important holy place.

This 800-year period during which the ark was supposedly at Tana Kirkos corresponds well with the period from 400 B.C., when the Jewish community at Elephantine ceased to exist there, to A.D. 400, when Christianity came to Ethiopia. According both to the Falashas and to the monk on Tana Kirkos, at that time the ark was taken to Axum, where it has remained since, apart from the 100-year period referred to at the beginning of the article.

Next section: Is the Ark of the Covenant Really in Ethiopia?