Sunday, May 15, 2022

Review of ‘Raiders of the Hidden Ark’ by Graham Addison

The Ark of the Covenant, the sacred relic of the Israelites containing the tablets carved with the Ten Commandments, has been missing for 2,500 years. We don’t know if it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon; carried off by Titus to Rome; or brought to Ethiopia by the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Perhaps the Ark was hidden before the Babylonian invasion and is buried somewhere below the Temple Mount? This possibility has fascinated countless biblical scholars and archaeologists, but, spoiler alert, the Ark is still missing.

Raiders of the Hidden Ark by Graham Addison (Edgcumbe Press, August 2021) tells the largely unknown story of the Parker Expedition, a group of British aristocrats and army officers that carried out excavations in Jerusalem searching for Temple treasures between 1909 and 1911.

In this exhaustively researched work, we meet Montagu Brownlow Parker, 5th Earl of Morley, who, encouraged by the writings and explorations of other Christians, wanted to prove doubters of the Bible wrong and more importantly to bring about the End of Days. To organize his expedition, Parker enlisted “men similar to himself; young upper-class Englishmen connected by social background, school, military service and combat in the Boer War.”

But the group was motivated as much by business considerations. They bought shares in a syndicate that would benefit from the sale of any treasures discovered.

The author provides detailed backgrounds of the expedition members, but this slows down the narrative. Mentions of how novelist Joseph Conrad described steamships in the Congo; Second Boer War battles in South Africa; and an attempted assassination of Queen Victoria; may give readers a better understanding of the personalities involved, but they do not contribute to one’s understanding of the actual excavations in Jerusalem

The story of the archaeological dig, of the team’s exploration of the tunnels, shafts, and suspected hiding places of the treasures, only begins some 100 pages into the book. Cyphers in Biblical texts suggested that “the Ark of the Covenant could be found by working through underground passages from Gihon, which would lead … to the mosque.”

Parker and his band retrace the steps and digs of previous explorers and set off in new directions underground. Their work, approved by the Ottoman authorities but a thorn in the side for Palestinians whose homes were above the tunnels, failed to bring them the riches they sought. Instead, their story is just a historical footnote to the many archaeological digs conducted over the years in Jerusalem.

Overall, this book is more the story of the members of the expedition, than of the expedition itself. While details of the only dig ever sanctioned inside the Dome of the Rock itself are fascinating, less so are descriptions of the “misfortunes which befell former members of the expedition” in the following years.

The expedition’s story, which sounds stranger than fiction, was ultimately unsuccessful but may have served as inspiration for later archaeologists and for the creators of action-adventure film “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The mystery of the Ark of the Covenant’s location, as highlighted in this thoroughly researched book, will no doubt captivate future explorers as well.

GrahamAddison worked for many years in the Human Resources department of firms developing mobile communications, Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets, and search engines, and at Apple's European headquarters. He also ran his own software company, but his first love has always been history. After reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem: The Biography, he was captivated by a brief expedition to Jerusalem of young Eton-educated men searching for the Ark of the Covenant, an expedition he describes as a “crazy combination of Downton Abbey meets Indiana Jones meets Dan Brown.” Raiders of the Hidden Ark is his first book.


Previously published on The Times of Israel.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

"Have a Nice Day" - short story

Hastings wakes up, shaves, showers, combs his hair. Puts on his suit, adjusts his tie. Picks up his briefcase on his way out and checks that he has locked his apartment behind him. Rides the elevator down to the lobby where he is greeted by Al, the building’s doorman.

“Good morning, Mr. Hastings!”

“Morning,” he replies with a wave.

“Busy day ahead?”

“Same as always.”

“Important court case, is it?”

“No, nothing important.”

“What is it then? Divorce settlement? Defending a tax evader?”

He shakes his head.

“You probably have clients lining up outside your door, you’re such a well-known attorney.”

Read the rest of the story on Written Tales.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Fifty Years in Israel

Shortly before 10 in the morning of May 2, 1972, a Greek cruise ship docked in Haifa port. Along with members of my family, I stepped foot in Israel for the first time. 

Fifty years in Israel and look how far I've come. I finished high school in Jerusalem; served in the Israeli army; was a founder of a new kibbutz in the Arava; married and raised a family; and I now live in a small community outside Jerusalem, along with my wife, daughters, and four granddaughters (my son lives in Tel Aviv). Fifty years after making aliya, I am still here.

During my fifty years in Israel I lived through a war, and many undeclared wars. I lived with the fear of terrorist attacks and Iraqi Scud missiles. I rejoiced when Maccabi Tel Aviv won its first European Championship, and with each of Israel's Eurovision wins. I cried when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and renewed my hope in the Israeli political system after elections when Netanyahu was defeated.

Fifty years in Israel. I welcomed visitors to the country during years of employment in the hotel industry. I became part of the Startup Nation with my ongoing work in firms based on the Internet. I barbecued on Israeli Independence Day, and ate falafel and shwarma in the eateries of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I bathed in the Dead Sea, climbed Masada at sunrise. 

Fifty years in Israel and I wouldn't live anywhere else. I am still falling in love with my country - hiking through the deserts and mountains; running on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv; getting lost in the alleyways of the Old City; visiting Metula; and seeing Mt. Hermon in the distance.

On this occasion, marking fifty years in Israel, I repost an article I wrote ten years ago marking forty years in Israel. My memories of making aliya in 1972 are still strong. I wonder what wonders and challenges the next years in Israel will bring.

Aliya Circa 1972

Originally published August 10, 2012

Moving to Israel is not easy, and never was. Take it from an oleh vatik who is this year celebrating forty years in Israel. Looking back, one sometimes wonders how such a life-changing move like aliyah is even possible.

The Greek cruise ship Queen Anna Maria served as the Mayflower for many Americans making aliyah to Israel in the early 1970s. After a week-long crossing of the Atlantic and making port calls in Lisbon and Athens, the ship delivered its ambitious, idealistic passengers at the docks of their new homeland.

My first home in Israel was a third floor apartment on Bar Yochai Street in Jerusalem's Katamon Tet neighborhood. From inside the tiny, spartanly furnished rooms I could hear the calls of the watermelon merchant, “Avatiach!” as his horse-drawn wagon made its way down the street with huge, tantalizing melons. Children from the tenement buildings ran alongside to the parking lot, where a few shoppers approached, eager to taste the merchant's fresh produce.

Life at a Merkaz Klita

Little did my family realize, before moving to Israel in the spring of 1972, that the Katamon Tet Merkaz Klita, or Absorption Center, was located in one of Jerusalem's poorest neighborhoods. For us, the time spent in the slum area was a strange introduction into Israeli society. For the residents living on that street, immigrant families who were veterans of the waves of immigration from Arab countries in the 1950s, life was a never-ending struggle to remain above the poverty line. Katamon Tet was a place they were eager to escape.

Most of the families at the Merkaz Klita were from Russia or Georgia, with a small number from Argentina. There were few fellow American or English families to ease this transitional period. The staff of the center was willing to help, to offer advice and assistance. Teaching the adults the basics of the Hebrew language was top priority, while the children were assigned to ulpan classes in the city center. Like any normal teenager, skipping classes to go see movies in the downtown cinemas seemed a more important way to spend the summer.

A few times a week, fresh milk was delivered to our apartment door. The cream separated from the milk and we needed to shake the glass bottles before it could be poured. There was a shared television on the first floor and the American show “Hawaii Five-O” was very popular, if not that colorful when broadcast in black and white. On the streets, long-haired teenagers sported Beatles t-shirts, even though the well-known group had disbanded two years before. There was an asimon-swallowing payphone at the center; waiting to receive a private phone line could take months. The preferred method of communicating with loved ones back in the old country was by mailing paper-thin aerogrammes.

A loss of innocence

That year, Jerusalem was in the midst of a massive building boom, the result of the heady euphoria in the wake of Israel’s stunning victory in the Six Day War. New, high-class residential areas were being built in Ramat Eshkol and French Hill. The standard of living for Israelis was rising. Jews around the world were encouraged to make aliyah, to return to their roots in the Jewish State.

We were naïve about many things in our new homeland, an innocence that quickly faded when we faced the horrific news of a terrorist attack at Lod Airport at the end of May 1972. Even more powerful in establishing our connection to Israel was the massacre of our athletes at the Munich Olympics that September. The father of one of my high school classmates was one of the victims; I didn’t yet have a strong enough command of Hebrew to fully comprehend what sitting shiva meant.

In the early days of my life in Israel I took frequent walks in the open fields behind the Katamon Tet Absorption Center, watching the train pass by twice daily on its way to and from Tel Aviv. The hills in the distance were bare, while in the other direction it was possible to hike up to the Holyland Hotel to view the model of Second Temple Jerusalem.

Forty years later, those hills are covered with the suburban sprawl of Gilo, and the old train tracks are no longer visible due to the presence of the Malha Mall and Teddy Stadium. The red-bricked tenements of Katamon Tet circa 1972 are still in place, but their use as an absorption center for new olim struggling to establish a foothold in Israel has faded into rose-colored memories.

This image of an apartment building in the Katamon Tet neighborhood was taken by user Gilabrand and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

"Aliya Circa 1972" was originally published on The Times of Israel.