The Quest for the Lost Ark
Channel 4, Mon 14 Apr, 9pm
As Harrison Ford prepares to dust off his fedora, khaki shirt and bullwhip for the belated fourth instalment of Steven Spielberg’s swashbuckling Indiana Jones adventure series, a documentary about a non-fiction quest for the Ark of the Covenant seems timely. ‘Real-life Indiana Jones’ Professor Tudor Parfitt has spent decades searching the world for the Ark, the sacred container housing the stone tablets on which Moses inscribed the Ten Commandments, and which has inspired hundreds of failed investigations since its disappearance some 2500 years ago.
According to the Bible, this ancient ‘super weapon’, which breathed fire over God’s enemies, guided the Israelites out of Egypt and helped break down the walls of Jericho, was last seen in Jerusalem, somewhere around the Temple Mount. According to Parfitt, this site has proved a particular lure to treasure-seekers despite its political sensitivity: a 1911 investigation led to a riot.
After 20 years, the good professor now believes he has cracked the riddle of the Ark and can reveal its location. Parfitt’s narration ramps up the tension and excitement from the outset. ‘My findings will change everything everyone has ever believed about the lost ark,’ he asserts, before conducting his eager audience on a journey from the Ark’s origins in Sinai in Egypt via the Middle East to Ethiopia and an African tribe called the Lemba, who claim to be a lost tribe of Israel. His findings are ultimately a little on the inconclusive side and, unsurprisingly, his ‘discovery’ of the Ark’s location involves something of a fudge. Still, this is an engaging expedition through the history and folklore surrounding this most elusive of ancient treasures.