Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Seventh Cataract

The Mystery of the Lost Ark: Part 11

As they set sail for uncharted sanctuary in a flotilla of thirty vessels, a tale from a Nubian witch doctor reverberated in their minds.  “You will encounter a storm with perpetual longevity.  Though skies be bright and clear, the rain and thunder are unrelenting.  This area is marked by a shimmering rainbow that hovers in the sky like a bird of prey, poised to devour intruders in one fell swoop.  Beware!  There is no passage beyond this point.  You have reached the seventh cataract.  This is where the waters, from the river with seven mouths, drop off the edge of the earth.”

Negotiating the six, white water cataracts of the Nile proved extremely treacherous.  Seamen went ashore and pulled the boats through the rapids by rope.  More often than not, the current was so strong that it took several crews to pull one boat through the water.  Hananiah developed a system whereby he stationed groups of sailors at each of the difficult intervals along the river so that each group could familiarize themselves with the peculiarities of their stretch of water.  They successfully overcame the rapids with nary a seaman lost to the swirling eddies or the crocodiles lurking beneath the frothing, greenish brown waters.

Above the sixth cataract, the river divided into two channels, one flowing due south and the other in a southeasterly direction.  The fleet sailed southeast until the river about-faced and they were navigating on a northwesterly course.  Then, without warning, they were peppered by a continuous spray of water for a full kilometre before reaching the gargantuan seventh cataract.  As the smooth, rolling river was broken by the foamy, white water cascading over the gorge, a rainbow danced in the smoky mist to the clamour of monkeys and whistles of exotic birds, barely audible above the peal of thunder created by the deluge. 

The imposing phenom plunged 150 feet into the bubbling white water below.  With a breadth that spanned 1,300 feet, the voyagers anticipated a long and gruelling portage.

They rowed their boats ashore.  While two Levites unloaded the Ark of the Covenant, the remaining sailors unloaded the cargo.  Then, Hananiah dispatched his scouts.  Their mission was to locate a passage around the gorge.

The vessels were dismantled so that their pieces could be carried upriver along with the Ark and the supplies.  They would be reassembled above the gorge.

A few hours later, the scouts returned with a favourable report.  They discovered a trail around the cataract.  Where the jungle was dense, they could cut through the bush with machetes.  Other than the taunting laughter from a pack of scavenging hyenas, there were no signs of any predators.

After an exhausting portage, they reached the crest of the falls.  The vessels were reassembled and the cargo, including the Ark, was placed onboard.  Then, they set sail for an undetermined location above the seventh cataract.  Twenty miles later, they arrived at Lake Tana, the mysterious source of the Blue Nile.  That remote body of water, surrounded by jungle, was unknown to the Persians and even eluded the ancient Greeks and Romans.

As they panned the pristine waters of Lake Tana, they discovered 37 uninhabited islands.  It seemed appropriate to choose another island refuge for the Ark.  Hence, in 473 BC, the isle of Tana Cherkos, located in present day Ethiopia, became the new resting place for the Ark. 

Hananiah and his followers erected a tent on the island as a sanctuary for the Ark.  At the same time, an altar was built by the Levites beside the entrance to the tent.  After consecrating the altar, the priests sacrificed an unblemished lamb as a burnt offering to the Lord.  Then a cloud covered the tent and the majestic glory of the Lord filled the sanctuary.  Hananiah and his followers were unable to enter the tent because of the cloud and the glory of the Lord which dwelt within it.  And the cloud of the Lord was over the tent by day and there was a pillar of fire in the sanctuary by night in the sight of all the Jews on Tana Cherkos.  The Ark remained on the island until the fourth century AD.

Now Providence intervened to preserve the Jewish race.  Esther relented and approached Xerxes on behalf of all Jews throughout the empire.  The golden sceptre was extended to her and she revealed her ethnic origin as well as Haman’s treachery.  Ironically, Haman was hanged from the same gallows he prepared for Mordecai.  A counter-decree was issued by Mordecai, in the name of the king, allowing Jews everywhere to assemble and defend themselves, to destroy, kill, and annihilate their foes, and to plunder the possessions and treasures of their enemies. 

Like other pockets of Jews throughout the Persian Empire, the Elephantine Jews, who remained in the land of Syene, were successful in their defence against the enemies of their race.


  1. In ancient times, the Nile was reputed to have had seven mouths emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.

  2. The Seventh Cataract refers to the Blue Nile Falls known locally as Tis Isat which is translated Smoke of Fire. The falls throws up a continuous mist that sprays onlookers with water droplets up to a kilometre away. It produces rainbows that shift and shimmer across the gorge and a lush rainforest inhabited by a myriad of monkeys & multi-coloured birds.

  3. There is archaeological evidence of a tabernacle & altars on Tana Cherkos.

  4. In 411 BC, some 60 years later, the Elephantine temple was destroyed by followers of the ram god, Khnum, because the Jewish practice of sacrificing sheep was considered an insult to their god. Reference: Elephantine scrolls published by Arthur Cowley (#33).