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One man holds the key to locating the Ark of the Covenant — but he’s hidden deep in the desert and no one has seen him since he was a boy. In this explosive sequel to Blessed Child, Jewish soldier-turned-archaeologist Rebecca Soloman leads a team deep into the Ethiopian desert to find the one man who may know the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Such a discovery would bring hope back to her people. Her search brings excitement and danger — including unexpected love and a discovery far more powerful than even the holy artifact. Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalists dispatch Ismael, their most accomplished assassin, to pursue Rebecca and the man she’s searching for. These men fear that the Ark’s discovery will compel Israel to rebuild Solomon’s temple — on the very site of their holy mosque in Jerusalem. But the man they seek is no ordinary man. His name is Caleb, and he too is on a mission — to find again the love he embraced as a child and to share that love with the world.
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Ted Dekker is known for novels that combine adrenaline-laced stories packed with unexpected plot twists, unforgettable characters, and incredible confrontations between good and evil. He lives in the mountains of Colorado with his wife and children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Fifteen Years Later...
David Ben Solomon turned from the window overlooking the Old City's night skyline and faced the old man.
"So you have a tale that will change the life of every Jew. Every Jew has a tale that will change the life of every Jew. In the end they never do." He paused, studying the man. "We don't have all night. Get on with it."
The hunched Falasha Jew bit off a reply in his foreign tongue, Amharic, and then sat unsteadily on the chair, favoring his shiny brass cane for support. A large white candle at his elbow cast amber hues on the mud walls, but he could see neither the light nor the five faces watching him from its shadows.
His blind eyes had frozen to slits many years ago.
Rebecca thought the Ethiopian Falasha Jew must have passed the hundred-year mark judging by the wrinkled flesh hanging off his skeleton. Solomon just stared at him. If the Falasha priest hadn't been blind, Rebecca imagined he'd be drilling her father with an indignant stare.
The servant boy who had guided the man here spoke beside the door. "He says that he won't speak to a man who does not show proper respect," the boy said nervously. "He is a keeper of truth—a great elder in Ethiopia."
In the shadows, Avraham Shlush, her father's rugged bodyguard, stood with arms crossed, peering at the old man past a frown. Next to him Professor Zakkai stood with hands in pockets, leaning against the wall. The archaeologist had a one-track mind and, as of yet, this meeting clearly wasn't on it.
They were here because her father, David Ben Solomon, had been told that the old Falasha priest had information critical to the Temple Mount, and any information critical to the Temple Mount was, in one way or another, lifeblood to the leader of the Temple Mount Advocates.
"Forgive me, Rabbi," Solomon said, using the respectful title. "But I have been told many things before. I'm growing tired of stories."
The Falasha priest didn't move. His jaw was covered in a ragged gray beard. A tan tunic badly in need of a good scrub wrapped his frail body. The bright red beads around his neck and the shiny golden cane in his hand stood in contrast to everything else about him. But then the Falasha Jews, better known as the Black Jews of Ethiopia, had always been an enigma. A throwback to ancient Judaism. Unlike other Jews scattered to the four corners, the Falasha were the only living Jews who still practiced blood sacrifice among other ancient Jewish customs. Very few historians could agree on how Judaism first made its way into Ethiopia, but it had appeared suddenly, remarkably intact. In the remote Falasha villages of Ethiopia, Judaism had remained virtually unchanged for at least a thousand years. Perhaps two thousand or longer. Like a fly frozen in amber.
The old priest looked as though he had just pried himself out of that amber and made his way back to Jerusalem to find God like so many of his countrymen. Perhaps to find the Messiah.
Rebecca blinked in the dim light. But the Messiah isn't here, is he, Rabbi? You have come back to a bankrupt nation which refuses to make room for God, much less the Messiah.
Her father spoke again, his voice gentle now. "I beg your forgiveness, Rabbi." He regarded the old Jew with amusement now. "Thirty years ago I would have spared no effort to hear your story. But I've given my life to the fruitless pursuit of rebuilding the Temple and these days I find myself wrestling more with doubt than dancing with hope. Surely you understand."
Her father stood tall, dressed in black slacks and a white shirt. He'd always favored casual clothes, and his latest obsession in archaeology suited it well, Rebecca thought. His hair was white and his firm jaw line clean shaven.
"I don't doubt the prophecies," he continued. "You'll have a hard time finding a Jew with as much passion to see the prophecies of the Temple's rebuilding and the Messiah's coming fulfilled. These will happen, in my lifetime if I'm so fortunate. However, I am beginning to doubt that mere talk will have much bearing on the prophecies. Stories feed the mind, but they don't remove the Muslim soldiers who guard the Temple Mount."
"I, too, believe in the prophecies," the priest said in a soft, scratchy voice. He spoke perfect Hebrew now. "I, too, have decided that the Messiah will come soon. I, too, believe that he will come only when we rebuild his Temple. But unlike you, I believe my story will quicken that coming."
The old Falasha Jew pushed himself to his feet and tapped his cane on the stone floor. "Perhaps I misjudged you."
Her father turned his back on the priest and looked out to the Temple Mount, framed by the rock window. Three hundred meters past the Jewish Quarter, the Dome of the Rock glinted in the rising moon's light.
"Sit, Rabbi," he said. "For heaven's sake sit and tell us your story."
The priest stopped and stood still.
Rebecca saved him. "Please, Rabbi. My father means only good. We wouldn't have invited you if we didn't have the greatest respect for you and your story."
The blind man turned to her. "Rebecca. The beautiful, celebrated hero. Will you kill me if I do not tell my story?" He grinned.
Professor Zakkai now wore an amused grin. Beside him, Avraham still frowned. Her father stared out the window, unmoving. The priest seated himself again. "So now you insist?"
"Yes, we insist," Rebecca said, unable to hold her smile. "Tell us, what does an old Falasha rabbi know that could possibly speed the Messiah's coming?"
"Do you know who I am?"
Solomon didn't respond, so Rebecca did. "You are Raphael Hadane, a Falasha Jew from Ethiopia."
The priest turned his head towards Solomon and then back to Rebecca, as if deciding whether he wanted to continue engaging a woman rather than the great David Ben Solomon.
"There are many kinds of Falasha Jews in Ethiopia. Some hardly know what it means to be Jewish. Do you know from where in Ethiopia I come?"
"I am from a small island in Lake Tana. Tana Kirkos. Do you know this island?"
"It's known for its priests. According to the Ethiopian legends in the Kebra Nagast it was the place to which the Ark of the Covenant was taken," Rebecca said.
The priest waved a hand. "The Kebra Nagast is full of inconsistencies and silly stories. But the Falasha Jews from Tana Kirkos are not."
Rebecca glanced at Professor Zakkai who had stepped forward. They had talked of the legend before, but its likelihood was practically zero. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claimed that the Queen of Sheba had visited King Solomon from Ethiopia and conceived a son born in Ethiopia after her departure. The son, Menelik, later returned and stole the Ark of the Covenant which he returned to his mother's palace in Axum, northern Ethiopia. If this was the old man's tale, her father's skepticism would be justified. The notion that a foreigner could have stolen the Jews' most holy relic without even a notation in the historical biblical record was absurd.
"I know that you are looking for the Ark," the old priest, Hadane, said.
David Ben Solomon turned from the window. "Yes, we are. It's something we'd rather not broadcast."
"Do you know what would happen if the Ark was discovered?"
"A war would happen," Solomon said. Silence held them for a moment. "More importantly, Israel would be forced to rebuild the Temple to house it. Our faith would demand it."
The old man nodded. "And that would prepare the way for the Messiah." Their breathing sounded inordinately loud in the stillness. "I once heard you say that if Israel hadn't given the Temple Mount back to the Muslims after the six-day war, the Messiah would have come in 1967. Do you still believe that?"
"Yes," Solomon said. "I was there."
The old man had gotten her father's attention now. Very few knew that the Temple Mount Advocates had shifted their emphasis from protests and legal actions to an all-out effort to discover the Ark.
"It's written in prophecy," Solomon continued. "The Messiah will come to the Temple. So there must be a Temple for him to come to. How do you know about our efforts to find the Ark?"
"It is my business to know about the Ark," the priest said. "It was my father's business to know about the Ark, and his father's."
"We have researched the claims of Ethiopia and concluded that—"
"You have wasted your time. You have not spoken to me. And if it was not for your daughter, Rebecca, you would have lost your chance tonight. I suggest you listen, David Ben Solomon."
Rebecca caught her father's side glance and raised an amused brow. Not too many men spoke to Solomon so directly.
The priest drew a deep breath through his nostrils. "The Tabotat—the Ark of the Covenant—in which rests the very presence of God, was brought to Jerusalem by King David 1,006 years before...how do you say it in Hebrew?"
Dr. Zakkai spoke for the first time. "1006 b.c.e."
"Yes. 1006 b.c.e. His son, Solomon, built the Temple as the resting place for the Ark. This he did in 955..."
"b.c.e.," Zakkai filled in.
"Yes. 955 and 1006. You probably believe, as do most Jews, that the Ark was taken by the Babylonians in the year 586, four hundred years later, when they destroyed the Temple. But that is your first mistake."
The Falasha priest drew a hand across his lips, wiping some saliva away. "In truth, it was removed from the Temple during the reign of Manasseh by a group of priests in 650 b.c.e."
"No Jewish priest would have ever removed the Ark from the holy place without returning it," Dr. Zakkai said with a slight smile. "Not by choice. It is inconceivable."
"Yes, it is inconceivable. Unless it was the only option. You will recall that Manasseh defiled the temple by placing an image of Asherah in the most holy place. What priest do you know that would allow a pagan idol to stand next to the Ark in the holy place?"
"The Ark was taken out, but only for a short time," Dr. Zakkai said.
"The idols were not destroyed until many years later. Why does your record not tell us what happened to the Ark during this time? There is no definitive record of the Ark being placed back in the holy place. It simply disappears from your history."
"Yes, but King Josiah removed Asherah and ordered—"
"Josiah ordered the Ark be returned, but there is no record of it being returned." The old Falasha priest's suddenly strong voice belied his frail stature.
"The Ark never was returned. The priests, fearing that it might be defiled again, kept it hidden. It was a dangerous time. Their decision was justified when the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians a short time later. But the Ark was not there. It had been taken already."
"Is this possible?" David Ben Solomon asked Dr. Zakkai.
"Unlikely. And even if a group of priests had taken the Ark, they would've left a record of it. They certainly wouldn't have taken the Ark beyond the borders of..." He turned to the old man. "Where do you say they took it?"
"Israel was no longer safe. The priests took it south, down the Nile, to Aswan in Egypt."
"Has it never puzzled you that very shortly after Manasseh's reign a Jewish temple was built in Aswan, on the island of Elephantine? The only temple outside of Israel ever constructed with the exact dimensions of Solomon's Temple?"
Zakkai hesitated. "Yes. It is...strange."
"Yes, strange. Unless you know why it existed. It was built by the priests for the same purpose as the only other temple like it in history—to hold the Ark. Jews in Israel ceased blood sacrifice at this time. But not at the temple at Aswan. There the priests continued in the ways of the old law, without compromise. Another coincidence your scholars are pressed to explained."
"I've never heard that," Rebecca said, glancing at the professor. There was no scholar as well versed in Jewish history as Dr. Zakkai, and in her two years with the man, he'd never spoken of the temple at Aswan.
The old man looked at her with blind eyes. "If you had spent as much time with books as you have with a gun, you might have."
Her reputation as a soldier had obviously made an impression on the priest. In many Jewish minds Rebecca Solomon, daughter of David Ben Solomon, was at twenty-five nearly as much a national hero as Ariel Sharon. Not that she had won any wars, like Sharon had, but in the covert war with the Hamas and other PLO groups, she had made her mark. Assassinating a second in command to Arafat tended to make a statement. Doing it twice left a permanent mark.
Rebecca felt divided over her reputation. On one hand, satisfied that she'd personally extracted revenge for her mother's and sister's deaths. On the other hand, sickened by the bloodshed. Underneath her skin she wasn't that sort of person. She was simply a woman who wanted to discover love and life without the terror that had always stalked her.
"A large Jewish community grew up around the temple in Aswan," Hadane continued. "Two hundred years later the temple was destroyed in war and the Jews vanished from the region. Many wonder where they went. I'll tell you. They traveled further down the Nile to Lake Tana in Ethiopia and built a simple tabernacle in which they placed the Ark of the Covenant. The caretakers on the island were my ancestors. We have carefully guarded this secret for two thousand years. And to this day we are the only Jews who still practice blood sacrifice."
"If you have the Ark, why would you hide it?" Rebecca asked. "Why not just bring it back?"
"Did I say I have it? We have guarded the knowledge, not the Ark. And if the Ark's location were known, how many would cross oceans to defile it?"
"So, according to your story, where is the Ark?"
"Today? Yes, I will come to that. For many centuries the Ark remained in obscurity on the remote island. If you go today, you will see many signs of its history. Relics which date back to Solomon's day: candlesticks, incense bowls—only recently have they come into focus among archaeologists. But the Ark was removed once again in 1200...how do you say it?"
"c.e.," Zakkai said.
"Thank you. You know of the Crusades. The Knights Templar besieged and took over Jerusalem in 1099 c.e. For nearly a hundred years the knights lived on the Temple Mount, rarely leaving it. Do you know what they were doing up there?"
"They were digging," Zakkai said.
"Yes. They were looking for the Ark. Their tunnels are still under the Mount today, but the Muslims won't let you explore them. They are sealed."
The room grew still. In reality, Rebecca and Zakkai had examined the Temple Mount in far more detail than anyone knew. Modern imaging technology was proving itself in their hands. If the Israeli authorities found out, it would be prison. If the Palestinians found out, it would be riots and bloodshed at the least. Either way the explorations hadn't yielded anything of value. Not yet.
"It's not my business if you want to crawl around under the Mount," the priest said. "But you won't find what you're loo...
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