Monday, February 25, 2008

Two Ancient Mysteries

A pair of puzzling stories in the news today:

- The Epoch Times reports that a series of books in an unknown language have been found in a Chinese region "straddling the borders of Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou Province, and Chongqing City." The area is inhabited by the Tujia, an ethnic minority group who have their own spoken language but no known written language. Zhou Yongle, who has found several of the books, said that local experts have been unable to determine what language the books are written in. He added "If we could unravel the mystery of these undecipherable books discovered along the Wu River, and if we could prove they are words used by the Tujia, that would be a great discovery for the Tujia culture. Then the history of ethnic minorities would be revised." (h/t Shelf:Life)

- And in Time, David Van Biema writes that author Tudor Parfitt is about to publish a book which claims that a fourteenth-century replacement version of the Ark of the Covenant is currently sitting on a "dusty bottom shelf in a museum in Harare, Zimbabwe." Parfitt's book, The Lost Ark of the Covenant: Solving the 2,500 Year Mystery of the Fabled Biblical Ark (HarperOne), will be accompanied by a History Channel documentary scheduled to air on 2 March. Parfitt claims that the Lemba, a Southern African clan, have an oral tradition of an object known as the "ngoma lungundu. The ngoma, according to the Lemba, was near-divine, used to store ritual objects, and borne on poles inserted into rings. It was too holy to touch the ground or to be touched by non-priests, and it emitted a 'Fire of God' that killed enemies and, occasionally, Lemba."

Parfitt says he found an object in the Harare Museum of Human Science which resembles the ngoma lungundu: "an old drum with an uncharacteristic burnt-black bottom hole ('As if it had been used like a cannon,' Parfitt notes), the remains of carrying rings on its corners; and a raised relief of crossed reeds that Parfitt thinks reflects an Old Testament detail." He claims that this drum is a later replica of the original Ark ("Lemba legend has it that the original ngoma destroyed itself some 400 years ago and had to be rebuilt on its own 'ruins'"), but concludes "There can be little doubt that what I found is the last thing on earth in direct descent from the Ark of Moses."

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