Meanwhile, I’m sure most of you have heard about the bizarre new fringe claim that has a vaguely anti-Muslim and xenophobic cast to it. The claim involves the so-called Ark of Gabriel, a doomsday device that believers allege that the archangel Gabriel gave to Muhammad. According to the story, which has no trace in the literary record before the end of last year, Muhammad hid the weapon beneath the Grand Mosque in Mecca, where it was to be kept safe until Judgment Day. When the Saudis rediscovered the box last year, they informed the Russian Orthodox Church and Vladimir Putin, who took control of the box and removed it to Antarctica. According to conspiracy theorists, the crane collapse that killed 107 people at the Grand Mosque last year and the 4,000 people who died in a stampede at the same site a few weeks later were “really” caused by the Ark’s “plasma emissions.”
This prompted more recent speculation that the Russians have taken the Ark to the Nazis’ Antarctic UFO bases.
It should be obvious that the supposed Ark of Gabriel is modeled on fringe history claims about the electrical death rays writers like Erich von Däniken and Graham Hancock asserted came out of the Ark of the Covenant, or, more likely, the supposed nuclear power, UFO energy, and sonic vibrations attributed to it on Ancient Aliens.
While the facts of the claim are ridiculous on the surface, the underlying theme is quite clear: Americans need to fear Muslims and Russians unleashing unprecedented power against us, and even God himself has turned against America for being insufficiently strong and great.
Despite claims that there is an “ancient” manuscript that the Vatican (those evil Catholics!) gave to the Orthodox Church to serve as an operating manual, there is not a shred of testimony that the Ark of Gabriel is anything more than a conspiracy theorist’s fever dream. Strangely, though, if any of the intrepid “investigators” who claim to know so much about the plasma weapon had put a little more effort into research, they might have created a better documented hoax.
There is actually a tradition of angelic secrets associated with the Grand Mosque, and it goes back to medieval times. In the Akhbar al-zaman, composed sometime around 1000 CE and reporting traditional material at least several centuries earlier, Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic) didn’t just speak to Muhammad but came down to Earth after the Fall of Adam and revealed to Adam 21 pages of divine wisdom. Adam’s body was allegedly buried near Mecca in the Cave of Treasures, taken from Jewish lore, and which was filled with gold and other valuables. The book goes on to say that Adam’s son Seth received 27 more pages of divine wisdom, and that he was ordered to build the first Kaaba, which Abraham restored after the Flood.
These pages were supplemented with further revelations, but according to the text, the book they comprised, the Book of Secrets, was never again read after the translation of Enoch and the death of the seventy Watchers (nuqabā’), here euhemerized into leaders of the Sethites, a faint echo of the older legend from the Book of Enoch on which this version is ultimately based. The pages of wisdom drop out of the story during the Flood, but we know from Jewish and Christian sources that the common belief in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages is that one of Noah’s sons either carried the wisdom on the Ark or else buried it to uncover later; however, in these versions the book of wisdom is more frequently associated with the fallen angel Watchers and with evil than with Seth and goodness.
Granted, that’s not a plasma gun, but we can bring things a bit closer. According to Islamic lore, Gabriel also provided weapons to the prophets of Islam. To Adam some said he gave the first bow and arrow, and to Muhammad (or sometimes Ali) he is sometimes said to have given the wonder-blade Zulfqar. (Fun fact: A picture of that sword appeared on the standard of the Turkish admiral seized by the victorious Don John of Austria at the Battle of Lepanto, where ufologists allege a UFO sighting occurred.) This sword was said to possess near magical powers to smite any whom its blade touched, but would not kill an innocent man.
It looks like our current story about a plasma-emitting box under the Grand Mosque is a modern bit of fake lore constructed out of a few scraps of Islamic tradition (namely the close relationship to Gabriel), a good chunk of Ancient Aliens (the nuclear Ark claims), and a big dose of xenophobic panic.