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Back to the Beginning Part 2

Aired December 21, 2014 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


NARRATOR: Tonight on BACK TO THE BEGINNING, did the Exodus really happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Moses is there. His back is against the Red Sea.

NARRATOR: What happened to the Ark of the Covenant?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: Can we see the Ark of the Covenant?

NARRATOR: And will the end of days start right here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Soon, the world as we know it will come to an end.

NARRATOR: Come along as we continue our epic journey around the world and across time.

AMANPOUR: My gosh.

NARRATOR: As a war correspondent who has seen everything that tears us apart --

AMANPOUR: Christiane Amanpour in Israel.

NARRATOR: Searches for what unites us.

AMANPOUR: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have so much in common.

NARRATOR: With Christiane Amanpour. The danger is real and so are the discoveries.

AMANPOUR: Our guide is carrying a gun. Look at this, guys. Is this cool or what?

NARRATOR: As we trace the saga, spanning generations of greed, envy, love, betrayal, and forgiveness.

BACK TO THE BEGINNING WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR.

AMANPOUR: We're thrilled to have you join us on a great adventure, a trip across the ancient world, as we plumb the secrets and the mysteries of the stories of the Bible.

Hello, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour. And those stories from Genesis to Jesus, still incredibly today have the power to comfort us and to guide us, to cause us to go to war, and also to make peace. Today, Jews, Christians, and Muslims revere the same tortured, often

brave, always fallible heroes that stride across the pages of this book.

As our journey continued, we headed east into the Sinai Desert, following the trail of yet another complicated biblical hero. Moses. Wanted for murdering an Egyptian slave driver who was beating up an Israelite worker.

The Bible says that Moses traveled this way to flee the pharaoh's death sentence.

So we're whizzing through this desert at top speed because of the potential danger.

The tension was growing in Egypt as people waited for the results of their first democratic presidential election. In the political turmoil, authorities were losing control of this remote bandit ridden region.

There are Bedouins around here who have been attacking vehicles as they go through this part of the Sinai during this time of political confusion in Egypt. Our guide has put on a head scarf to try to blend in a little bit more and he's also carrying a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait, you have a gun, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the last time someone was kidnapped?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday night, that --

AMANPOUR: OK, are you nervous, kids? OK, so why are we stopping?

Suddenly our driver pulled over in the middle of nowhere to have a chat with a local Bedouin. It seems out here in the desert everyone knows one another and gossip travels fast.

What does he say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told me, the road now it's OK. And don't worry. And if anything happens, contact us and move on to finish everything. Don't worry.

AMANPOUR: All right, we're safe?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes. We are safe.

AMANPOUR: So with our peace of mind restored, we arrived at St. Katherine's Monastery. Tucked into the mountains of the same remote region where the Bible said Moses had finally stopped running. A place called Midian.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When people come here, they're astonished at how harsh and stark everything is.

AMANPOUR: We are welcomed by Father Justin, a Greek orthodox priest and a Texan by birth. He is the caretaker of the monastery.

You must have had so many pilgrims visiting here. What is it you think they take away?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They become aware that you have to be away from the distractions and the routines of modern life to really become aware of God's presence.

AMANPOUR: According to the Bible and the Quran, which names his the Prophet Musa this is where Moses married a local girl, had a few children, and became a shepherd. A seemingly simple existence for the man who would go on to lead the exodus. But as the Bible tells it, his time as a shepherd was the perfect preparation for what was to come.

MUSTAFA ABU SWAY, AL-QUDS UNIVERSITY, JERUSALEM: Every single prophet was a shepherd at one point. Being a shepherd softens the heart of the prophet. Prepares him for being a shepherd at the local community. Not only shepherd of cattle.

AMANPOUR: Meanwhile, far away on the banks of the River Nile, the Bible says that Moses' brethren, the Israelites, were still enslaved by the pharaoh, building his grand palaces and temples. After many years of suffering, the Bible says, they were fed up and began to groan and cry out to their god.

JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER, AUTHOR, NEW AMERICAN HAGADDAH: You know, Jews have been at the forefront of almost every social justice movement of the 20th century. When you look at, you know, the civil rights marches, there were very off Jews in the front row and second row. And I think that there's a straight line from that groaning in the story of the Exodus to that. The idea that we speak up.

AMANPOUR: It seems God heard their cries. The Bible says that Moses, who was living in peace and quiet, then got the surprise of his life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything is peachy keen until one day he notices a bush that seems to be on fire, and yet it's not consumed. And from that bush comes the voice of God.

AMANPOUR: And according to tradition, that miraculous bush is still right here today.

There's the burning bush. And what is the structure around it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That had to be enclosed when the area was engulfed with pilgrims.

AMANPOUR: And people would come and, what, tried to take bits away?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Like a relic. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This one, it's sort of pruned where a person could

reach.

(LAUGHTER)

AMANPOUR: Father Justin tells us that St. Catherine's, one of the oldest monasteries in the world, has been protecting the bush from relic-hungry pilgrims for more than 15 centuries.

Are you convinced that this is the burning bush?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe that the first Christians who came here picked up this living tradition that this is place where God revealed himself in such an extraordinary way.

AMANPOUR: According to the Bible, it was at that very moment that God first revealed his name. Yahweh. In Hebrew, it means, "I am who I am."

RABBI BURT VISOTZKY, THE JEWISH THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Basically Moses is given the mission. Go down -- shall we sing it? Go down, Moses. Go down and tell pharaoh to let my people go.

FOER: You know, Moses is very reluctant when God signals to him that he has to be the leader of the Jews. And his first response is effectively I don't want to be or I wouldn't be good at it.

BRUCE FEILER, AUTHOR, WALKING THE BIBLE: He's an unsure leader. Don't pick me, God. How many of us -- you know, if some finger came out of the sky and said you, we would say no, not me, not me.

AMANPOUR: But it turns out there was another figure in ancient Egypt who didn't hesitate to give everything up to follow the path of who he believed was the one and only true god. Far away from the ancient royal capitals of Luxor and Karnak, archaeologists have discovered the remains of the lost city of Amanah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quite a deserty space. But Akhenaten seems (INAUDIBLE).

AMANPOUR: Akhenaten was the pharaoh who built this city's revolutionary ideas about just one god shook ancient Egypt to its core.

How are you? I'm Christiane.

RAWYA ISMAIL, EGYPTOLOGIST: Rawya. Hello.

AMANPOUR: That's a nice name, Rawya.

ISMAIL: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: What does it mean?

ISMAIL: It's a classic and Arabic name meaning the story teller.

AMANPOUR: You're aptly named for us.

Rawya Ismail is an Egyptologist from Cairo who spent years studying the ruins of Amanah. She says that when Akhenaten he gave up the comfort of his palaces along the fertile Nile Delta and moved to this desolate place, it was an act of devotion to his one god.

Why did he come here? What kind of an outlier was he?

ISMAIL: The idea was to find a place that was never been used by any other gods. To be virgin, as what he called it. So he chose this place.

AMANPOUR: At first glance, we couldn't see much. But then a caretaker arrived to open a padlocked door and led us into one of the most beautiful tombs that we had seen so far. Even thousands of years later, the walls are still covered with Akhenaten radical message of monotheism.

ISMAIL: The main idea is the sun and the rays of the Aten.

AMANPOUR: And the influence, though, is the one god.

ISMAIL: Yes, yes, yes. That's the main idea is that the one god is responsible for everything. He looks after us. Above everything, he looks after us. Underneath, and he looks after us. In the resurrection.

AMANPOUR: In another tomb at the site, Rawya shows us an inscription of the famous hymn. "To the God Aten." The hymn is surprisingly similar to Psalm 104 from the Old Testament of the Bible. A psalm that's often attributed to King David.

Connections lead you to believe certain things about Moses.

ISMAIL: As an archaeologist, maybe not. I'm as a Muslim woman, I believe he existed from Quran because these type of words can never be manmade. No matter what you call this power. Whatever, it's one at the end.

AMANPOUR: And in all these religious traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Moses finally answered God's call and headed home to face down the pharaoh.

NARRATOR: Coming up, just minutes from now, snakes and hail and clouds of locusts. We go in search of the story behind the 10 plagues and the pharaoh who messed with Moses.

Our journey around the world and across time continues when BACK TO THE BEGINNING WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NARRATOR: And now, snakes, storm clouds, and swarms of bugs. And who was the pharaoh who messed with Moses? As BACK TO THE BEGINNING WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR continues.

AMANPOUR: In the Bible story of the decades in the desert, Moses obeyed god's order to go back to Egypt.

VISOTZKY: And so Moses goes back to the Egypt in which he grew up to the court where he learned and became a young man. And confronts pharaoh, surely someone he knew as a young man to say here I am, I'm not the Egyptian you thought I am, I too am an Israelite, and I'm asking for my people to be released.

AMANPOUR: To convince the pharaoh God gave Moses the power to perform what the Bible refers to as signs and wonder.

FOER: It's not the case that he goes to pharaoh and says let my people go and pharaoh says --

AMANPOUR: OK.

FOER: OK.

AMANPOUR: The most famous of these powers was the ability to turn his staff into a snake. In the ancient world, stories of snakes and magic were common.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A magician takes a little image of wax, which can be held in the hand of a crocodile, and as soon as he throws it on the ground, it becomes a real crocodile, until the magician grabs the crocodile by the tail, and once again, it reverts to its small size in his palm.

AMANPOUR: These magicians were men of high status back in ancient Egypt. It's a tradition that continues to this day.

Yikes.

(LAUGHTER)

Back in Luxor, we met Mohamed. He comes from a long line of snake charmers. His snakes, on the other hand, not so charming.

Oh, my goodness, there's something -- oh, he's pooped. Gross snake. Do you know the story of Moses, Mohamed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The one that stick turned into a snake, this was from God. God made that happen.

AMANPOUR: Right. So can you turn the snake into a stick?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He says he doesn't have the special powers.

AMANPOUR: You don't have special powers?

(LAUGHTER)

You can't do it. It only comes from God? Moses was a prophet.

Moses gave his brother Aaron the job of impressing the pharaoh.

FOER: He throws down his staff, it becomes a serpent. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when the magicians of Egypt attempted to do

the same thing, they succeeded. But Moses' rod had the advantage. He swallowed them all up.

FOER: The magicians effectively laugh at him. And the magicians say this is -- yes, this is a little piece of trickery. Forget about it.

AMANPOUR: Unimpressed, pharaoh still refused to let the Israelites go. It was at this point that God unleashed a series of disasters, known as the "Ten Plagues."

FOER: These are absolutely horrible. You know, as horrible as anything -- as anything you can imagine.

AMANPOUR: And every spring, Jews commemorate the exodus story in the Passover Seder, they remember the 10 plagues by placing on each plate a drop of wine for every plague.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hail, gnats, and flies, and things of that sort.

FOER: Wild beasts. Plague. Boils. Darkness. Which is supposedly not only a darkness that was the absence of light but a darkness that was too thick to pass. It was so dark that you literally couldn't even walk through it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It would look like a short series of natural disasters. Most of the people sort of understood in terms of their gods and their religion.

VISOTZKY: Can we account for the plagues naturally? Probably. Is that the point of the story? Certainly not. In the space of a year, these 10 disasters destroyed Egypt. And that's the point. It's a miracle. Miracles don't beg natural descriptions. Miracles are miracles. They are when God intervenes in the order of nature.

AMANPOUR: Then God told Moses to prepare the people for the coming of the 10th and worst plague, the killing of all the first born.

FOER: Moses instructed the Jews to sacrifice a lamb and to paint its blood on their door so that the angel of death would know who was Jewish and who wasn't. This is where the term Passover comes from.

AMANPOUR: And pass over that house.

FOER: Right. Right.

AMANPOUR: The Seder is a time when Jews are encouraged to ask questions, especially the children.

How do you wrestle with that? What does it mean?

FOER: Well, I think there are a lot of ways to wrestle with it. You can wrestle with the political ramifications. You know, freedom never comes easily. It has never historically come easy. Wars never end easily. People do not obtain rights easily. But it says in Atoma that when we divorce justice from mercy, that is pure evil. So it was unquestionably just to free slaves. And it's unquestionably

right to be merciful. But it certainly seems in the 10th plague, like mercy has been divorced from justice.

Whatever we think about the Egyptian enslavers, we must believe that some of them were good people. Some of them were at least indifferent. And we know that the infants were innocent.

AMANPOUR: The Bible says that on that night the angel of death swept through Egypt. Even the pharaoh lost his own son and he quickly sent for Moses.

FOER: Through all the first nine, it was possible for the pharaoh to say this was not enough. And say I'm not ready to free the Jews yet. It's hard to imagine that the Egyptians themselves weren't saying --

AMANPOUR: Enough already.

FOER: Enough already. Especially because these palaces weren't being built for them, but for the pharaoh. But at the killing of the first born, which included the pharaoh's son, that the pharaoh finally said enough.

AMANPOUR: And the Bible says the pharaoh told Moses, "Take your people and go."

NARRATOR: Coming up, did the Red Sea really part? And what was the root of the exodus? Wait until you see what we discovered on our journey, when BACK TO THE BEGINNING WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NARRATOR: And now we followed the route of the Exodus. Did Moses really fought for Red Sea to escape the pharaoh's army as BACK INTO THE BEGINNING WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR continues.

AMANPOUR: The story of the exodus begins here on the banks of the River Nile. A mighty pharaoh has been humbled and he allows Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The bible is talking about a massive mobilization of people.

DONALD REDFORD, THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY: The figure is given of 600,000 weapon-bearing males. If you add in the old men, women, and children, this will give you approaching two million people.

AMANPOUR: Our exodus is just a bit smaller. My son Darius and I, along with our team, train board a train at Luxor Station.

Here we are. Number one. We are going to find and follow the biblical route into the Sinai.

But the route, the number of people, in fact the exodus itself, has left no archaeological trace. Nor any written record other than the biblical account. VISOTZKY: There is virtually no evidence, as the Torah says, that

600,000 Jewish males with their wives and children and elders left Egypt in the exodus. Those are big numbers. You'd think someone would notice.

AMANPOUR: The Bible tells us the pharaoh had just lost his son and many of his people to the plagues, the wrath of God, and now, with the Israelites about to flee, the pharaoh was also going to lose a vital work force.

REDFORD: With crushing results for the economy of the country and also for the political structure.

AMANPOUR: And so the Bible says pharaoh has a change of heart. Instead of letting the Israelites go, he musters his army and pursues them.

VISOTZKY: And they wind up suddenly in a very, very bad situation. In front of them is the Red Sea. Behind them is pharaoh's army.

FOER: And Moses says have you brought us this far only to abandon us?

REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS, ABYSSINIAN BAPTIST CHURCH OF NEW YORK CITY: Moses is there, his back is against the Red Sea. He doesn't know what to do. So the faith of our people rooted in that tradition and those stories says you may think that there are insurmountable obstacles before you. Oh no, but there is a god somewhere who is going to make things right. And God gives him instruction.

VISOTZKY: And God says, why are you shouting to me? Go. And Moses lifts his hand, lifts the rod. And the sea splits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Behold his mighty hand.

AMANPOUR: The most famous image, of course, comes courtesy of Hollywood in "The Ten Commandments" starring Charlton Heston as Moses.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible doesn't tell us exactly where this took place. And as we tried to follow the route, we came across several possibilities. First, we traveled under the Suez Canal through a tunnel and then across the Gulf of Aqaba on a ferry. And the holiday destination of Sharm el-Sheikh, we dipped our toes in the Red Sea itself.

One of the most dramatic moments of the Exodus story could have taken place right here. That would have been the parting of the Red Sea, of course. Only today, it's a Middle Eastern gold coast full of beach resorts and diving holidays, and the waters look decidedly less ominous.

But today's Red Sea may not be the place. The original Hebrew bible refers to it as Yam Suph, roughly translated as the sea of reeds. And that leads some scholars to suggest the story might be describing more of a marsh.

REDFORD: Or the lagoon of swamp grasses or something like that, which puts you in mind of a fairly shallow body of water.

AMANPOUR: Somehow a swamp crossing doesn't quite measure up to Hollywood's "The Ten Commandments."

VISOTZKY: The Israelites passed through the sea on dry land and the water was like a wall on their right and on their left.

SAMARA SHAW, STUDYING EXODUS: And the Egyptians are coming on their chariots and coming in, they're trying to get through that patch, and God stopped their chariot wheels, so the sea came crashing upon them and they all drowned on the command of Moses' staff.

AMANPOUR: 12-year-old Samara Shaw has been studying this story as she prepares for her bat mitzvah. And it's also the story that Jews commemorate every year during the Passover Seder.

SHAW: These words have so much meaning, and this song in particular is really symbolizing our freedom, because this is the song that they sing once they were free.

BUTTS: People of African descent were singing these spirituals based on the story of Moses. Wickedness while it may reign, Satan's cause may seem to gain. All but there is a god who rules above, with a hand of power and a heart of love. And if I'm right, he'll fight my battles.

AMANPOUR: The story of the Exodus is, of course, timeless, as dramatically relevant today as it ever was because freedom is a song that continues to be sung by those who have it and those who still struggle for it.

FOER: What we say at the end of the Seder is "next year in Jerusalem." Jerusalem is more than a place. You know, Jerusalem is an ideal. Jerusalem is an ideal place where there are no slaves. Where everybody has freedom.

AMANPOUR: Does that mean the Exodus continues? We never leave Egypt, so to speak?

FOER: Or even if we're lucky enough to have left Egypt, has everybody left Egypt? I mean, one of the great ironies, actually, celebrating the Seder now our thoughts are off with Egyptians, you know, and their struggles.

FEILER: When they were marching in Tahrir Square, what was great was it was freedom that was born in the soil that had come back to the soil. What the Moses story stands for is that the power is with the powerless.

BUTTS: We had no guns. We hardly had a vote. We had no money. The only power that we had was the moral high ground. And God.

NARRATOR: Coming up just minutes from now, "The Ten Commandments." What really happened on that mountain top? And what do you find when you climb Sinai today?

Follow the amazing journey when BACK TO BEGINNING WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR" returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NARRATOR: What is it like to stand where Moses is said to have received the "10 Commandments" as BACK TO THE BEGINNING WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR" continues.

AMANPOUR: Out of the darkness of slavery, freedom. Moses and the Israelites cross into the Sinai desert.

Step number one on to the top of Moses' Sinai.

With flashlights in hand, my son Darius and I along with our team got up before dawn to join dozens of tourists and pilgrims to climb to the mountain top and see the place where the Bible says God gave Moses the 10 commandments. Mount Sinai is no leisurely hike.

I don't want to talk, I just want to climb.

Two hours into our climb, we were getting tired. Darius thought a camel might be a nice break.

But it's not as easy as it looks.

You feel like you're going to topple over the edge?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

AMANPOUR: As we regrouped in the dark and remote mountain range, it wasn't hard to imagine how the Israelites waiting for Moses to return got nervous.

VISOTZKY: Moses is up on the mountain 40 days, 40 nights. The Israelites down at the foot of the mountain terrified that he is gone.

AMANPOUR: Alone, the Bible says the Israelites began to doubt the one God and took comfort in a familiar bad habit.

VISOTZKY: At the very moment that Moses is sealing the deal with God, that's when they build the golden calf.

AMANPOUR: When Moses came down from the mountain with the commandments, he was shocked to find they had abandoned all self- control, drinking, carousing, and worse. Worshipping a false idol.

VISOTZKY: He's furious. God's furious. Moses smashes the tablet. Ultimately everybody shapes up and Moses goes back up the mountain for a second shot at it.

AMANPOUR: We've made it to the top of Mount Sinai, the sun has risen, and we're amongst pilgrims from all over the world. And perhaps the sheer physical effort of getting up here --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty rough.

AMANPOUR: -- adds to the spirituality. The view is out of this world. And it seems fitting that this is the

first and only place the Bible says man ever came face-to-face with God.

No matter what your faith, what happened here, this part of the Exodus story, this part of Moses' story, has affected all of us for millennia.

"The Ten Commandments" tell us not to kill, not to steal, not to lie. They tell us to worship and love God completely, to honor a day of rest, and to honor our mother and father. They have left an indelible mark on our moral code and our civil law. And in a sense, they're an early unifying response to the chaos and cruelty of the world, a declaration that with freedom comes responsibility.

FEILER: It's why the Statue of Liberty, which was modeled on Moses, OK, the tablet's in her arms, the rays of light on her head, both of which come from the moment in which Moses comes down Mount Sinai with "The Ten Commandments."

AMANPOUR: But like many stories in the Bible, things weren't so straightforward.

AMY-JILL LEVINE, AUTHOR, THE MEANING OF THE BIBLE: The story most people know is that Moses got "Ten Commandments" on two tablets on Mount Sinai. There are a whole lot more than ten commandments. Traditionally 613.

AMANPOUR: Many of these laws must have had some meaning during the time of Moses, even if they seem puzzling to us today.

VISOTZKY: If you're wearing a fabric, you are not allowed to mix that fabric wool and linen together. If you ask the rabbis why, the answer is I don't know. God commanded it.

AMANPOUR: God also commanded Moses to build a portable temple for the tablets called the Ark of the Covenant.

ERIC CLINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: The Bible tells us the dimensions of the Ark of the Covenant and exactly what it looks like, it's a box, it's got long handles, supposed to have cherubim or angels sort of on the top.

AMANPOUR: Archaeologists have found evidence that boxes such as these were common in biblical times, suggesting that the ark and its contents may have actually existed. And the ark would have come in handy because it was a long time before Moses and his people had a permanent place to settle. According to the Bible, the Israelites were constantly on the move, spending 40 arduous years wandering in the desert.

VISOTZKY: For 40 years in the wilderness, the Jews just bitched at each other constantly. It is a nonstop rant. We are human. We complain. We fetch. The Israelites actually had the temerity to say maybe it would have been better to stay in Egypt. Can you imagine?

AMANPOUR: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Mount Leopold.

AMANPOUR: Thank you. Nice early morning to see the Promised Land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is indeed. Moses, I'm not sure, is it really morning or evening but --

(LAUGHTER)

AMANPOUR: We met Father Fabian overlooking the place that Moses has spent his whole life searching for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is the last moment of the life of Moses. When he's standing here looking out, he's completed his mission.

AMANPOUR: But Moses would never cross into the promised land. After years of carefully following God's orders, risking it all on faith, he was denied his goal because of one mistake.

As God had done so many times before, he gave Moses some complicated orders to follow. He told him to speak to a rock to bring forth water. Instead, Moses smacked the rock with a stick. The water came, but God was angry. And he delivered an unspeakably harsh punishment.

For not listening, God told Moses that though he had led his people here, they would go to the Promised Land without him.

It strikes me that this must have been such a disappointment for him. That was his life's work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He knows that this is the end of his journey. He's delighted because he's finished. He's 120.

AMANPOUR: The Bible says Moses did the only thing he could. He reassured his people.

FOER: I told the story to my son and he was listening to it, and he started to get, you know, weepy. It's very -- it actually is quite an emotional story. If you think about all the things that this person went through and then he can't enter the Promised Land. So my son --

(LAUGHTER)

I'm telling it to him and he starts to get weepy.

AMANPOUR: How'd you comfort him?

FOER: I said we're here to tell the story. You know, that's the comfort, actually. There's certain stories in the canon of storytelling like Greek myths that just seemed to capture our imagination over time. It's hard to imagine a future in which they're not told.

AMANPOUR: Indeed, the story of Moses at the Mount Nebo continues to echo powerfully even in our own time. It is the story of a leader who's taken his people as far as he's able to go and who leaves them with the only thing that will sustain them. Faith and the justice of their cause.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I see God working in the 20th century.

AMANPOUR: Martin Luther King who's been called the American Moses gave this speech the night before he was assassinated.

KING: Like anybody I would like to live a long life.

AMANPOUR: Martin Luther King saying that just before he died as if it was a premonition. I mean, you must have thought of that a lot.

BUTTS: Of course I've thought of that a lot. And I thought that he understood that his transition was at hand. He understood that it might even be a violent transition.

KING: And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.

NARRATOR: Next, from Jericho to Jerusalem, David and Goliath, King Solomon and the queen of Sheba. What happened to the Ark of the Covenant? And is the staging ground for the armies of the apocalypse?

When BACK TO THE BEGINNING WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NARRATOR: Tonight an amazing journey around the world and across the centuries in search of David and Goliath. The lost ark of the covenant.

CLINE: The ark became a weapon of mass destruction.

NARRATOR: The real Armageddon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are in the end times.

NARRATOR: As we investigate the mysteries behind the stories of the Bible.

If these stones could talk, what would they tell us? And can a war correspondent who has seen all that tears us apart --

AMANPOUR: Christiane Amanpour in Israel.

NARRATOR: -- discover what it is that can bring us together?

BACK TO THE BEGINNING WITH CHRISTIAN AMANPOUR continues.

AMANPOUR: Driving through the region today known as the West Bank, the heart in biblical times, it's hard to believe that this was the Promised Land that Moses tried for so long to reach but never did. Until an unexpected patch of green comes into view signaling our arrival into the biblical of Palms, Jericho.

CLINE: Jericho is one of the most interesting cities in the ancient (INAUDIBLE). There's a spring there that's still gushing out hundreds of gallons of water per minute. It's always been a beautiful place to live. This oasis in what is now the middle of the desert.

AMANPOUR: It's believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Traces of 23 distinct civilizations have been found in a small archaeological part on the outskirts of town. But what draws pilgrims from around the world is actually the biblical account of how one of these ancient civilizations may have disappeared.

Flying over the sprawling modern day Jericho, we can just see the footprint of ancient Jericho where the Bible tells us Joshua led his people, the Israelites, in their first conquest of land in the Promised Land.

The Bible tells us that before his death of Mount Nebo, with guidance from God, Moses chose a man named Joshua to lead the Israelites on the last leg of their journey.

CLINE: And so we have this real transition, the handing over of from one generation to the next. Where Moses and his generation have been wandering. It's the story of wondering for 40 years. Joshua was more action packed. It's where they come in and they take over.

AMANPOUR: As told in the Book of Joshua, the conquest of Canaan has all the trappings of a summer blockbuster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sounds like a movie. It's an action-packed scene.

AMANPOUR: With the Ark of the Covenant leading the way, Joshua crossed the River Jordan with his army.

CLINE: And sure this is an elite fighting force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The conquest is Jericho it is one in which God is clearly in the role of a divine warrior.

CLINE: The Bible tells us that Joshua conquered Jericho by walking around the city seven times.

AMANPOUR: The whole time carrying the mystical Ark of the Covenant which the Bible describes as having special powers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God at that moment causes the walls to crumble and to fall down. And it's at that moment that you just get this image of them just rushing in on the city and flooding in and taking it over for better or for worse. However you view that kind of image. Whether that's one of excitement and action or that's one of, hey, this is war. And war can be ugly.

AMANPOUR: In this war, the Bible makes clear that no prisoner should be taken alive. Every man, woman, and child should be slaughtered. And according to the Bible, this bloody battle was just the first stop on Joshua's campaign. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, according to the Book of Joshua, the

Israelite troops invaded en masse from Jordan and in the period probably in a few months conquered the whole land of Canaan, expelled or slaughtered the Canaanites, divided up the whole land among the 12 tribes then Joshua would give a sermon at the end and it's all over.

AMANPOUR: Jericho is a highlight now on most Holy Land tours. The pilgrims are drawn here by the violent version of how the Israelites came into the promised land. But it's unlikely that this is actually how it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People forget that there are two versions of the so-called conquest of Canaan in the Hebrew Bible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The book of Joshua suggests a blitzkrieg. It's a form of mass colonialism, massive slaughter. It's horrible. And then we have the story of judges (ph), a gradual infiltration into the sparsely populated hill country. Do we want the blitzkrieg model, or the gradual settlement model?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is what do we believe? What do we think happened?

AMANPOUR: The archaeology does lend some support to the less dramatic and gentler account.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of all the years when Jericho was inhabited, the one period where we wanted it to be inhabited so Joshua can attack it, there's nobody living there. It's empty. There's no wall for Joshua to knock down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To put it bluntly, the book of Joshua is almost all fictitious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, there's some battles. Yes, there's some killing. But overall they're coming in and they're living side by side with some of the Canaanites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This sounds radical, but when I talk to most people, they're relieved. The genocide that is God's will, Yahweh's will never happened.

AMANPOUR: For some, the story told in the book of Joshua presents a troubling picture of a violent God. But others draw a sense of mission from the very same story. A few days after we visited Jericho, our team was invited to the graduation ceremony for Jonathan Friedland (ph) and his elite unit of the Israeli Defense Force cadets.

JONATHAN FRIEDLAND (ph), ISRAELIT MILITARY: Just like Joshua and his troops came to Israel and had their battles here and were able to live here, I'm just continuing it just like my brother did it and my father did it and my grandfather did it. It goes back all the way to the Bible days.

AMANPOUR: They had marched 175 kilometers overnight. A journey that ended here in the disputed Golan Heights along the Syrian border. The cadets' families joined them for the final stretch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joshua used a sword to conquer from Jericho. Nobody picked up their bags and said, dear, Joshua, God promised you. Here it is.

AMANPOUR: Historians trying to piece together the truth think the meaning of the story is less clear cut.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the problems we've got is that it's very difficult to tell an Israelite from a Canaanite.

AMANPOUR: Eric Cline thinks it's possible that modern DNA testing will show that present-day Palestinians and Jews, who are locked in a modern struggle of biblical proportions, might go back to the same ancient tribe.

ERIC CLINE, AUTHOR: If it turns out the Israelites and the Canaanites are one in the same, not only would you have to throw out a lost (ph) biblical story, but you might find out the Palestinians and the Israelis are actually related. They're either cousins or brothers. What does that do to modern politics? Everything is wrapped up in one big gargantuan mess.

ANNOUNCER: Up next, lies, sex, and murder. It's all part of the story of the famous King David. But did he really slay Goliath? When BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christian Amanpour returns.

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ANNUONCER: And now the story of David and Goliath, the lust, lies, and bravery of the beloved biblical king as BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour continues.

AMANPOUR: The landscape of this region seems unchanged from how it probably looked thousands of years ago. In fact, it's a landscape that's baked into the stories of the Bible. And so many of them involve stones. There are rocks all over the place. One of the most famous stories is about a stone and a slingshot. How the boy David faced off against the great giant Goliath. The same David who the bible says grew up to be the king who built the city of Jerusalem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: David is one of the most fascinating characters in world literature. He looks almost perfect.

AMANPOUR: David is the Bible's first real hero.

SIMON SEBAG MONTEFIORE, AUTHOR: David was a very talented man who could sing, who could fight, who could lead.

AMY-JILL LEVINE, AUTHOR, THE MEANING OF THE BIBLE: He's a poet. He's a musician. We're told that he's absolutely gorgeous to look at. And God loves him.

AMANPOUR: And he's been portrayed by some of Hollywood's biggest stars in movies such as "David and Bathsheba" and "King David."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Respect what is ours and we shall keep faith with you.

AMANPOUR: David was ancient Israel's greatest king. He is also one of Islam's earliest prophets. And Christians believe Jesus is directly descended from David. And yet this hero was a deeply flawed man.

ESTHER HAMORI, UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: David was kind of a bastard. There are some texts in which we can see so clearly that David is a problematic character.

LEVINE: He's running a protection racket. He's got bodies piling up all over the place. He's strategically marrying women in different parts of the lands to consolidate his run for the throne.

AMANPOUR: That wasn't how it all started. The first time we meet David in the Bible, he's an innocent young shepherd boy with that stone in his hand. He was the only one from his tribe brave enough to face Goliath, the most fearsome fighter from a rival tribe, the Philistines, whom the Bible describes as over ten feet tall.

ERIC CLINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: We don't have any proof that David actually ever fought Goliath, and yet it does to a certain extent make sense. We know that the Philistines were there. We know the Israelites are there. We know they're banging heads against each other.

AMANPOUR: And it is written that David felled the giant with only a slingshot. And we all think of it as the teeny little pea that brought down the giant.

MONTEFIORE: The slingshot at the time was in fact rather like the sniper rifle of today. These could be huge stones that could be propelled at incredible velocity. The could go straight through armor, a handheld bazooka that can actually stop a tank.

AMANPOUR: And today from Tiananmen Square to Tahrir Square, the story is invoked when the most unlikely heroes stand up to forces that seem certain to crush them.

MUSTAFA ABU SWAY, AL-QUDS UNIVERSITY, JERUSALEM: Prophet David does win against Goliath, it's not only about him but the underprivileged, the underdog, the weak. Rendered victorious ultimately.

AMANPOUR: According to the Bible, David's triumphs continued. He recaptured the Arc of the Covenant from the Philistines. It had held the Ten Commandments. And he brought together the warring tribes of the 12 sons of Jacob to form a nation.

Even today, the flag of modern Israel, founded 3,000 years after his reign, bears the symbol known as the star of David. And Jerusalem is the place he chose as his capitol, making it not only a holy city but a political one too. There is evidence that King David really lived. Just 20 years ago in northern Israel, archaeologists discovered a kind of ancient royal archive called a stela.

WILLIAM DEVER, LYCOMING COLELGE: And it mentions a house, or dynasty, of David. The reading is clear. It also mentions an entity, a state- like entity called Israel.

AMANPOUR: It may seem like a small thing, but it's an important discovery. It makes David the earliest biblical figure whom we can confirm actually existed. But the stela doesn't confirm some of the more scandalous details of David's life.

REVEREND CALVIN BUTTS, ABYSSINIAN BAPTIST CHURCH: David, he was a guy who was the king. Oh, he had it all. He could have anything he wanted. He had the absolute loyalty of his soldiers. He was on top and then he goes out, breaks a moral covenant with God.

MONTEFIORE: David was on his roof in Jerusalem and he saw this beautiful woman bathing on the roof. And he said who's that woman. They said that's Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite.

FATHER DAVID HEUHAUS, SEMINARIAN: His eye was the beginning of the problem. His eye that makes him forget everything he's heard in terms of God's commandments.

HAMORI: He says, she's hot, and I want that. Bring me that. And his henchman go bring him Bathsheba.

HEUHAUS: So that eye leads him to the act of adultery. And when the woman says I am pregnant, he goes deeper and deeper into the darkness.

AMANPOUR: And here's where the Bible becomes a little like "Pulp Fiction." King David tried to cover his tracks by getting Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, drunk.

HAMORI: In the hopes that Uriah will immediately bed his wife and be none the wiser. All does not go according to plan. David has Uriah killed, and then brings Bathsheba to live with him.

AMANPOUR: The intimate details of David's personal life are unlike anything else found in the bible.

MONTEFIORE: And that suggests that some of the text is extremely ancient and may be based on an actual memoir. Because the betrayal of David is so real.

AMANPOUR: It's a familiar story. The sometimes reckless sense of entitlement that comes with power. It's known today as the Bathsheba syndrome.

ROBERT B. CHISHOLM, JR., DALLAS THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: A lot of people think of that as a story about sexual lust. It kind of is, but it's a story about power. And how power corrupts. And, wow, that's all over our world today.

AMANPOUR: But this Bible story is also a cautionary tale.

LEVINE: David's sins impact his children and his grandchildren all the way down.

HAMORI: David's sons have grown up learning how to deal with women from their father. Two of David's sons grow up to be rapists. AMANPOUR: And, indeed, David did suffer the consequences of his

actions.

KAREN ARMSTRONG, AUTHOR, A HISTORY OF GOD: The child he's conceived with Bathsheba dies. And he mourns and mourns again. You get the old attractive lovely David again.

LEVINE: We have to look at David in both ways. He rose to the heights of power, and he sunk to the depths of depravity, and yet he comes back. He repents.

AMANPOUR: And the Bible tells us that God never stops loving David. He forgives the sins of this imperfect hero. David was given a second chance. A second child with Bathsheba. A son named Solomon.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, today it's the most contested spiritual site on Earth. But is it also Where King Solomon put the Arc of the Covenant? Our amazing journey continues when BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour returns.

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ANNOUNCER: And now, for centuries everyone has searched for its treasures. From knights templar to modern adventurers, but what do we really know about King Solomon's temple. BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour continues.

AMANPOUR: On our journey through the lands of the Bible, we found ourselves lingering in the old city of Jerusalem. Here in this place that is so sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It is easy to go back to around 970 B.C., when the Bible says the famous King Solomon reigned.

MONTEFIORE: Solomon became in a sense the very ideal of the oriental emperor as a magnificent king.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Under David and Solomon, the Israelites were able to amalgamate into a pretty powerful kingdom.

AMANPOUR: Solomon seemed determined not to repeat the mistakes of his father, King David, and his brothers whose lust and pride wreaked havoc on their kingdom.

DEVER: Solomon becomes the greatest king because he's of the Davidic dynasty and yet he has none of the faults, none of the sins of David.

ARMSTRONG: Solomon is known as the man of peace.

AMANPOUR: And a man of wisdom. Instead of killing his enemies, Solomon, we're told, married many of them, including a pharaoh's daughter. In other instances, he disarmed them with his wit and wisdom. Like the fiercely beautiful Ethiopian queen of Sheba.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The queen of Sheba went to see a prophet, Solomon.

AMANPOUR: In the bible the queen of Sheba is drawn to Jerusalem for an audience with Solomon after hearing of his great wisdom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He treated her as an equal, and an equal politician. He was not surprised by the fact that she is a queen and that she rules a nation.

AMANPOUR: According to Ethiopian tradition, during their meeting, Solomon and Sheba became lovers and the Ethiopian royal family descends from their union.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When the Qur'an gives you this example of such a powerful female ruler, this inspires me. This tells me that I have a place in the world of politics.

AMANPOUR: And while it's possible that Solomon's wisdom may have attracted those seeking his council, so too would the temple he's said to have built.

MONTEFIORE: Solomon's temple was an astonishing building.

AMANPOUR: In the bible, pages and pages are devoted to describing the temple.

ARMSTRONG: Solomon's temple, as far as we can tell, was built as a replica of the garden of Eden when human beings and gods lived close by one another.

AMANPOUR: And through the ages, people imagined what it might have looked like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very common human yearning to feel that God is here among us. And that in this abode we have built that is where God dwells with us on earth.

AMANPOUR: And the Bible says that Solomon placed the Arc of the Covenant at the center of the temple in the most sacred spot. But it said that the temple was destroyed when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem around 600 B.C. And ever since then, this is where many people believe that the great temple once stood. A mountain top in the center of the walled old city. It is a story place layered with spiritual meaning and now dominated by the golden dome and a Muslim mosque. But just a short walk away outside the walls, a picture is emerging of the ancient and humble beginnings of Jerusalem which the Bible says was founded by Solomon's father, David.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The city of David was a rather small settlement, hardly to be termed as a city. Most probably unfortified, but it was here somewhere.

AMANPOUR: We met Doran Ben Ami (ph) an Israeli archaeologist who leads a team digging for evidence of the original city which would have been existed around 1,000 B.C. And it's got an interesting name. At least colloquially, we're calling it the parking lot dig.

DORAN BEN AMI (ph), ARCHAEOLOGIST: Yes. It's hard to believe, but five years ago cars used to park right above our heads here. And once we decided to go beneath the asphalt, immediately the early remains of Jerusalem began to appear.

AMANPOUR: How much do we know about Solomon's temple, the first temple?

BEN AMI: Actually, we know nothing. If not a biblical account, we had absolutely no proof about the building itself.

AMANPOUR: But they say they're getting closer.

BEN AMI: We know that from the ninth century on, just a little after the time of Solomon, most of the things that are told in the bible are historically correct. Most of them. But we are still left with a huge, large question mark regarding the time of David and Solomon.

AMANPOUR: One day maybe you'll find out.

BEN AMI: Or not. This is also an answer.

AMANPOUR: Today Jews pray at the only wall that remains of the second temple that was built later, and also destroyed. The idea of the first temple was so powerful, that for thousands of years people of different faiths have considered that same spot sacred.

BEN AMI: Even Muslims decided to build their sacred building on the same spot on the same hill.

AMANPOUR: Even though evidence of the temple or the man himself hasn't been found, most scholars believe there was a Solomon.

DEVER: But not the larger than life Solomon in the Hebrew bible did not exist. He did not rule a vast kingdom. He did not build a huge capital city in Jerusalem. He was not a nationally or internationally known figure.

AMANPOUR: Even though the wisdom of Solomon is legendary, it turns out like his father he had flaws too.

LEVINE: His government is inflated. He runs it according to (INAUDIBLE), according to forced labor. He's marrying and marrying hundreds of wives and hundreds of concubines who, as the Bible say, took his heart astray.

AMANPOUR: The wives he took to enhance ties with foreign kingdoms turned him to their idols and eventually corrupted his own relationship with God. And the story of Solomon's downfall is an interesting window into the religious practices of the early Israelites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People worshipped many gods. You could pick them up. You could see them. You could pray to them and expect that they would have effect.

AMANPOUR: This wasn't the Judaism that we know today. Archaeologists have found evidence that the Israelites worshipped idols before David, and until the time of Jesus. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are those who say, I suspect somewhat

metaphorically, that we still worship false idols whether it's money or fame or a big house or the right fashion. Just the right pair of shoes. All of these could also be false idols.

AMANPOUR: So it seems that despite Solomon's best efforts, he, too, was a disappointment. And before he died, as a punishment, God told him the kingdom he loved would be no more.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, what do we know about the Arc of the Covenant? And why have so many thought they could find it? We head deep under the city of Jerusalem. It's a journey to find the Arc of the Covenant when BACK TO THE BEGINNING with Christiane Amanpour continues.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): Even today the truth behind so many Biblical stories that took place here in Jerusalem is still captivatingly elusive. That's in part because so many answers may be buried underneath what today is the living, breathing city.

It's notoriously difficult to dig under the old city of Jerusalem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very difficult because it is very sensitive. We are talking about holy places of the three main monotheistic religions.

AMANPOUR: It's so politically charged.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is so politically charged.

AMANPOUR: Anaat Shimoni Cohen (ph) is a Biblical scholar and a tour guide. She took us to one of the only places where archaeologists, pilgrims and tourists can explore beneath this storied city.

Discovered by accident in the 19th century when an archaeologist was walking his dog, this massive network of caves and tunnels is known as Solomon's Quarries.

Anaat, is this a natural cave?

ANAAT SHIMONI COHEN, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR: No, not at all.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The quarry once provided building materials for some of the greatest construction projects in the city.

So what is this great big gaping hole here?

COHEN: Actually what you see here is the shape of cut of a big stone that they used in the second temple.

We can see today the western wall.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The secretive freemasons even believed the stones mined here were used to build something much older.

COHEN: They seeking Solomon, the first builders. Actually King Solomon is the founding father.

AMANPOUR: Of the freemasons.

COHEN: The freemasons believe they even took from this quarries stones to Solomon's temple.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And that temple was the last known resting place for the mysterious ark of the covenant.

ERIC CLINE, AUTHOR: The 10th century B.C. Is the last time anybody actually really sees it according to the Biblical tradition. There are other stories and these all are related to the Babylonian destruction of the city in 586 B.C. That maybe somebody's spirited the ark out of the city just ahead of the destruction.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Many believed these underground tunnels were used to secretly transport the ark out of Jerusalem when the city was under siege. And when the Babylonian invaders took detailed inventory of the treasures they plundered, something was missing.

COHEN: When the Babylonians took all the treasures from Jerusalem, It was not in the list anymore.

AMANPOUR: The ark.

COHEN: Yes. The ark was not on the list.

CLINE: There are all kinds of possibilities as to where it ended up.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): So we went in search of it. One famous story suggests the ark was taken from Jerusalem to Egypt hundreds of years before the Babylonian siege began.

CLINE: That's where Indiana Jones goes and looks for it.

We're told that Sheshach (ph) of the Bible, an Egyptian pharaoh, that he may have attacked Jerusalem just after the time of Solomon. And there is one theory that he took away the ark of the covenant. This is where we get the Indiana Jones theory.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Archeologists find the evidence of that underwhelming and believe the ark is no more likely to be buried in the sands of Tanis than locked away in a government warehouse.

Strangely enough, our search for the ark also brought us back to Jerusalem, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place Christians believe Jesus was crucified.

AMANPOUR: Hello. Very nice to see you in this beautiful, beautiful spot.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): We meet an Ethiopian orthodox priest named Abba Samuel (ph), who surprisingly told us that he knows exactly where the ark is. His evidence goes back to that affair between King Solomon and the queen of Sheba.

AMANPOUR: Queen of Sheba's son with King Solomon took the ark of the covenant, Moses' commandments.

And so where do you think they are?

ABBA SAMUEL, ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST: City of Axim.

AMANPOUR: Axim in your country in Ethiopia?

SAMUEL: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it's there really?

SAMUEL: Yes.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): He's positive it's inside this chapel in the heart of Axim in Ethiopia, although he's never seen it and no one is allowed inside, except for one monk known as the guardian, who is entrusted with the lifelong duty of safeguarding the ark.

Scholars do believe there is an ark inside, but that it's only a replica from the Middle Ages.

And down in the caves below Jerusalem, we consider another possibility. The ark never left but was instead hidden away in this undergrowth labyrinth.

AMANPOUR: So you think it remained in Jerusalem?

COHEN: Yes. Now we know from the Bible and other things. One of the kings put it somewhere in the tunnels.

AMANPOUR: A tunnel like this?

COHEN: Nobody knows.

AMANPOUR: Is there any evidence of this ark?

COHEN: No evidence. No evidence at all. Only many stories around.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): If only these walls could speak. They do, however, appear almost to weep. And their tears are said to tell a powerful story about the destruction of Jerusalem.

COHEN: The name of this corner is (INAUDIBLE).

AMANPOUR: The tears of the king.

COHEN: Yes, the tears of the king. Hezekiah was beloved king of Judea.

AMANPOUR: Tears for the destruction of the temple.

COHEN: Yes. Destruction of the nation. This was the end of the first temple period.

AMANPOUR: Do we think these tears, this mineral spring has been running since then? COHEN: Well, I think it's running since many, many years. For sure

it's more than 2,000 years old.

AMANPOUR: And it's really interesting. Because, look there are people here. There are people all over the place. It's still a living, breathing place.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Which allows the people who visit to connect with their spiritual heritage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's important for us to touch the history of this place. And to feel this energy. It makes us cleaner.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE).

AMANPOUR: Pure?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pure.

In our souls.

AMANPOUR: In your soul. Right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): A profound revelation for these Christian pilgrims and one often shared by Muslims, Jews and even those who come to visit for reasons other than faith.

AMANPOUR: Believers and nonbelievers come here. What do you think about them? Do you think they --

(CROSSTALK)

COHEN: Well, if somebody feels the energy of the place, you don't have to be a believer in a certain kind of traditional certain kind of belief. But to touch the stone and feel the energy, I think that in the end of the day, yes, it has something. Took something from this Holy Spirit back with them.

AMANPOUR: A little belief.

COHEN: A little belief, yes. I don't know how long it will last, but I think a little bit, yes.

AMANPOUR: Are people trying to be detectives? Are they trying to uncover something?

COHEN: Well, some people prefer to leave it as it is. And some people I know still look and wants to find the ark of the covenant. I don't know if somebody will find it. And I don't know what remains after more than 2,500 years.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): What was once a container for Moses and a weapon for Joshua and even an earthly home for God in Solomon's time is now something much more than that. The idea of the ark and the search for it excites and inspires so many to explore the mysteries of our past and the meaning of the stories that live on today.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): With the death of Solomon, the Bible says the kingdom of Israel began to unravel. It ushered in a period of nearly constant war for the Israelites and it was during this time that voices arose in the land starting to talk about the end times, what today is called Armageddon.

AMANPOUR: And now I'm about to enter Armageddon.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Believe it or not, the name refers to an actual place about a three-hour drive north of Jerusalem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's amazing to be here, because according to the Bible we're now living in the last days.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Armageddon is the Greek name for this ancient city. In Hebrew it's called Megiddo. Many Christians believe this vast plateau will be the staging ground where the armies of the righteous and the wicked gather for the final showdown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So the world as we know it will come to an end and that we'll live in a paradise Earth where we won't have to die or get sick.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But while some focus on what they believe might happen here at Megiddo, the site itself gives us a nearly unprecedented glimpse back to some of the battles of Biblical times and helps us understand where those modern ideas of Armageddon came from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So for me, Megiddo is the key for understanding the history of this country.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Our guide here is Israel Finklestein, a renowned Israeli archeologist who's directed the excavations at Megiddo for 20 years.

AMANPOUR: So perched on top here you can see from all sides that it's such a strategic vantage point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It controls the most important highway of antiquity in the ancient areas between Egypt and Mesopotamia.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): This stunning hilltop in northern Israel was once a city larger than ancient Jerusalem and hotly contested. These young eager students laboring in the summer heat unearth history every day. This is a burial site from nearly 4,000 years ago.

AMANPOUR: So is that one skeleton?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are actual multiple skeletons here.

AMANPOUR: And these massive jugs. That's so remarkably intact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. This is the last meal or meal for eternity for the dead person.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Megiddo was fought over by all of the great empires of the region, the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Egyptians.

AMANPOUR: It's very deep here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And also the amazing accumulation of layers.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And each victor would build on top of their vanquished foe. Providing Finkelstein and his crew with an abundance of evidence from 1,200 to 700 B.C.

AMANPOUR: So we've got, what, about 500 years?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five hundred years.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The turbulent period of King David and King Solomon as well as their heirs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In these 500 years there are four major destruction layers of Megiddo because of big wars.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The wars brought turmoil. Think of America in the 1960s and at times like these, amid the unrest and confusion, there are always a few distinctive voices that capture the mood of the moment. The people who played that role in ancient Israel are known to us now as the Biblical prophets.

RABBI BURT VISOTZKY, AUTHOR: The prophet is the one who calls us to do what is right at a time that it's so easy to do what is wrong.

KAREN ARMSTRONG, AUTHOR: And the Hebrew prophets cry aloud against their own people, against their own rulers, against their own aristocracy for their unjust dealings with the people.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But they also offered hope. The prophet Isaiah comforts the king of Judah, predicting the birth of a child called Immanuel, which literally means "God is with us."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what he says is when that kid is still young enough to be eating baby food, the enemies you're worried about will be gone. They'll be conquered.

AMY-JILL LEVINE, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: A couple of centuries later, the gospel of Matthew picks up that prophecy in Isaiah.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But it's unlikely that Isaiah intended his prophecies to hold such meaning even centuries later, much less in our own day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People didn't write down and pass on the stories of their families and their people in order for a bunch of Americans a couple thousand years later to learn about their own world.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But prophets also spoke of a day when the Lord would make a new covenant. The temple would be rebuilt and the land would be ruled by a figure who came to be referred to as the Messiah, God's anointed one.

AMANPOUR: This is a cemetery outside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. In fact, this is a valley filled with cemeteries, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. All lying side by side in death. Because they all believe that the words of the prophets will be fulfilled. That the Messiah will come to this very valley and they all want to be first in line when he raises the righteous from the dead.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The valley called the Kidron is the final scene of that final fiery battle between good and evil. Accompanied by a mass resurrection of souls who will be gathered into God's army.

And half a world away in Kansas City, Missouri, we went to meet some American Christians who are ready to enlist now.

So our search has brought us to a strip mall in the Bible Belt to a building that's called IHOP, which frankly most Americans would associate with pancakes.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But they're not focused on breakfast at this IHOP. This is the International House of Prayer.

AMANPOUR: Where are we right now as far as you're concerned? Have the end times, end days started?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I think we're in the early stages of that story coming to a crescendo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jesus is coming back to the Earth. And he's coming back to the Earth to establish his kingdom on the Earth.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Since 1999, 24 hours a day there's been a nonstop prayer service here.

Mike Bickel, the founder of IHOP, told us it's modeled on around the clock musical worship service from the Biblical story of King David.

AMANPOUR: So you're literally taking something from the Bible, and enacting it here today, from the Old Testament? Sounds a little bit odd.

MIKE BICKEL, FOUNDER, IHOP: It is odd. I tell people when they ask me what do I do, I go it's really strange. But it's really exciting.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Bickel's ministry now boasts over 2,000 members and counting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I was about 13, I actually found IHOP on the Internet and I met him and we've been -- dated and got married in July. We just love being here together.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): In fact, prayer gatherings like IHOP have been popping up all over the United States and across the world.

AMANPOUR: Are you a prophet?

BICKEL: No, no. I'm a --

AMANPOUR: Does God speak to you?

BICKEL: Yes, God speaks to me, but I think that God speaks to everybody who has a relationship with Him. I reserve the word prophet, I use that very, very sparingly. Because that means Old Testament stature. That's pretty intense.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): So for now Bickel and the IHOP faithful continue to spread the gospel every minute of every hour of every day while they wait.

BICKEL: Will I see it in my lifetime? I don't know. I don't even care really. I just want to do my part in my generation. But I might.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But they are a controversial ministry both at home and abroad. And critics say they prey on vulnerable people with words that were never intended to be used in this way. But at the very least, they are living proof that the words of the prophets themselves remain as controversial as they were in their own day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining us. We set off on our adventure to discover whether the Biblical stories could bring us together. Could unite and heal instead of just divide and harm. And in the stories of Abraham and the patriarchs we found our answer.

Thank you for coming along with me on this extraordinary journey back to the beginning. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Good night, from Jerusalem.

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