How a group of aristocratic Englishmen with close connections to Winston Churchill went in search of the Ark of the Covenant

Raiders of the Hidden Ark

In 1911 newspapers in the US, UK and around the world reported on an explosive story following riots and disorder in Jerusalem:

  • ‘Have Englishmen Found the Ark of the Covenant?’ – New York Times 7th May 1911
  • ‘Englishmen Are Said To Have Looted the Sacred Mosque at Jerusalem’ – Chicago Tribune 4th May 1911
  • ‘A Treasure Hunt in Jerusalem. British Explorers’ Alleged Sacrilege’ – The Guardian 4th May 1911

The largest funders of the expedition were the Wilson family into which Winston Churchill’s aunt Lady Sarah had married. One of those who was in Jerusalem and helped cause the uproar was Gordon Wilson, Lady Sarah’s husband. A few years before he had spent five months travelling with Winston through Africa when Churchill was a minister in the Colonial Office. Gordon had brought into the affair by his brother Clarence, who later lived at 105 Mount Street where Winston lived for several years before his marriage to Clemmie.

Many of the members of the expedition, including Gordon and Clarence had fought in the Boer War where Churchill first made his reputation. Lady Sarah was also famous for her exploits in the war; they were both famous war correspondents and both captured by the Boers. 

The Parker expedition was named after the Hon. Montagu Parker, later 5th Earl of Morley who Winston also knew. Many years later he would hold an election rally at Saltram House near Plymouth the ancestral home of the Earls of Morley.

The full story of the expedition which is told in full for the first time in English includes a deadly curse, bribery, betrayal, gun-running, riots, madness, bankruptcy and more. It sounds unbelievable; Downton Abbey meets Indiana Jones meets Dan Brown. But the Parker expedition is real. Rudyard Kipling on hearing an account from a participant wrote: ‘Talk of fiction! Fiction isn’t in it’.

The author Lady Selina Hastings wrote, ‘This is the story of a remarkable adventure, exciting, harrowing, beautifully written and thoroughly researched. Graham Addison displays not only an acute understanding of period and location but also of the levels of society in which his fascinatingly complex characters were part. His account of this extraordinary undertaking, and for many its tragic aftermath, is a truly impressive undertaking.’ 

The expedition started in 1908, when a Finnish scholar convinced a group of young Englishmen from wealthy and titled families he had uncovered secret cyphers in the Bible showing where the Ark was hidden. They were educated at Eton, had fought in elite units of the British military and socialised with European royalty and rich Americans. One had thwarted an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria when he was a schoolboy. Another had taken part in the infamous Jameson Raid which helped trigger the Boer War. Most of the funding came from the family of one of the richest men to have ever lived in Australia. They headed for Jerusalem on a private yacht to dig for the Ark. With them were a Swiss psychic, a Finnish socialist poet, and a Swedish captain who had experienced the darkest heart of colonial madness in the Belgian Congo.

The Parker expedition unwittingly ‘scattered sparks in the religious tinder-heap’ that is Jerusalem. Its impact still has echoes today.

The New York Times was one of the first US newspapers to cover the incident and its aftermath. On 4th May 1911, the paper carried a report headlined ‘Fears Diggers Took Ark of Covenant’. Three days later, they ran a double-page spread headlined ‘Have Englishmen Found the Ark of the Covenant?’ and a sub-heading of:

‘A Mysterious Expedition, Apparently Not Composed of Archaeologists, Hunts Strange Treasure Under the Mosque of Omar, Sets the Moslems in a Ferment, and May Cause Diplomatic Incident’

The mystery surrounding the Ark of the Covenant’s location is one of the world’s greatest and most enduring. One of the Bible’s most sacred and powerful objects has not been seen for over 2,500 years. The missing Ark has inspired many quests and even a famous film.

Raiders of the Hidden Ark tells how the Parker expedition believed that they had solved the puzzle of where the Ark was hidden. The secret cyphers which the expedition was based on said it was hidden in tunnels just outside Jerusalem. 

The cyphers also said that the Ark was protected in many ways to stop individuals accessing it. The Ark was protected by deadly radioactive radium and boobytraps. It was also protected by a deadly curse.  This was not a curse like Tutenkhamen’s which was invented by a newspaper after the event.  The Finnish biblical scholar Juvelius informed the expedition members that any person who attempted to disclose the secret chamber containing the Ark would be cursed ‘sixty and six fold’. Raiders of the Hidden Ark reveals for the first time the fate of those who went on the expedition. 

It was often not a happy one. Within a few years, one was mad, three were dead, two were bankrupt, one divorced and another deported.

4.5 Original Shaft Autumn Foliage
1 Dome of Rock master-pnp-matpc-06200-06204u

Buy the book

Available in paperback, hardback and ebook

Published by Edgcumbe Press

Paperback Large