There is a magnetic draw to the Middle East, where history is so powerful that people completely lose themselves. It is the home of three of the worlds largest monotheistic religions, all born of a single father, reading from a common book. And I love a good book. Immersing myself in the fiction and wrapping myself in the prose.
The Torah is comprised of the five books of Moses, the Old Testament contains these same chapters and Islam builds on these origins, referring to Christians and Jews as people of the book and telling of Moses in the Qur’an. The story is bigger than any one single book and the chapters I found myself wrapped up in are those of Moses.
I flipped pages up and down the Nile, thumbing thru the tombs, lingering in the temples. It is an adventure story of double identity along the banks of the desert river. An orphaned boy sent adrift in a peasant’s basket to be raised in a pharaoh’s court, from pauper to prince, then back again, as a young man re-identifying with his people, driven to murderer, and forced into exile a fugitive.
In the Sinai we drank beer and dove the reefs for two weeks along the Red Sea, a hundred kilometers from Mount Sinai, where in exile Moses found love by the well, purpose through a burning bush, and guidance in the ten commandments. Along the way we met Mary and Jesus, two Californians studying in France, with whom we climbed the mountain and drank beer. Sure, its a different story, but you can’t deny the profound irony of it.
Entering Jordan we traveled the last verses. His brother, Aaron, was laid to rest in Petra and he himself by Mount Nebo, from where he first saw his peoples Holy Land. Refreshed from a swim in the Dead Sea, we also looked out from atop Mount Nebo, over the valley of Jericho, the Jordan River, and on to Jerusalem and the Holy Land which Moses would never know, as it was divine will that he never set foot in the promised land.
These may have been Moses’s chapters, but the story is not so simply contained. It is just a footprint for a much larger mystery. Hidden away in the north of Ethiopia in a simple church’s dark interior, is said to rest the Ark of the Covenant, brought to Ethiopia by King Solomon’s lineage thru Ethiopia’s Queen of Sheba. It is guarded by one man, for life, seeing no other visitors but him on one day a year. Or perhaps it was the Knights Templar who found and moved it from David’s Temple in Jerusalem. It is these questions that are best left to scholars like Dan Brown and Indiana Jones. Or, just maybe the two brave Nastansky women who raid tombs professionally, if you know how to find them and are willing to pay the price.