What is the Ark of the Covenant?
The Ark of the Covenant, also known as the Ark of the Testimony or the Ark of God, is the Israelites’ most treasured artefact. It was a pure gold-covered wooden box with an exquisite lid known as the Mercy seat. The Book of Exodus describes the Ark as having the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. It also held Aaron’s rod and a container of manna, according to the New Testament Book of Hebrews.
Throughout history, many artefacts have both baffled and eluded the minds of men. From the Necronomicon to Excalibur, items with seemingly magical properties have occupied our imagination and even spurred on complex quests to find them.
While many mythical creatures have since earned their place in the realm of fantasy, many trinkets and tokens that might otherwise have joined them remain to be not only palpable curiosities but also tangible constructs that could very well be out there.
Many of these artefacts are fundamental in various belief systems and for that reason, interest and intrigue for these almost ethereal pieces have remained as consistent as they might’ve been some thousands of years ago.
Of course, one such item that piques the interest of many, both religious and atheist, is the Ark of the Covenant—a golden case so legendary and revered, that to this day, the search continues.
Introduction to the Ark of the Covenant
To many, the Ark of the Covenant is the bible’s most sacred object—an ornate, gilded case built some thousands of years ago by the Israelites to contain the stone tablets on which the ten commandments were written. But the function of the Ark of the Covenant was not just to house such sacred tablets, for biblical legends tell us that the ark itself was said to supply miracles.
As seen in the bible itself, we understand that the ark was said to have provided a safe route for the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt and through powers unknown, cleared the path of poisonous and dangerous animals.
We later see that the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and into the Promised Land and that this was facilitated by the arc, for when those who were carrying it stepped foot into the water, the river stopped flowing.
The Ark is also believed to have been responsible for the destruction of the city of Jericho, for it was Joshua and the Israelites who besieged the city with the Ark in toe, which subsequently led to the uncanny collapse of the city’s walls.
Other stories speak of how the Israelites would carry the Ark into battle with them and that it was the magic of the Ark that enabled them with powers to destroy their enemies.
In other accounts, the Ark cursed any who touched it – hence why it was often seen to be carried by two long wooden poles – and that if any was to lay a finger on it, or peek inside at its contents, they would be blinded, or worse, succumb to instant death.
Interestingly, in one biblical account, we see that the Israelites were once defeated by the Philistines and that the Philistines had captured the Ark. But after a short time, the Philistines began to suffer from several strange afflictions including diseases and unaccountable deaths.
With this, they deemed the Ark was cursed and swiftly returned it to the Israelites. But it wasn’t until the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in the year 587 BC, did we see the Ark appear to vanish from the face of the earth.
The Disappearance of the Ark of the Covenant
In the year 587 BC, the Ark of the Covenant was thought to have been stored in the First Temple of Jerusalem, but after the decimation of the temple and the ushering in of Babylonian dominance, whether the Ark was destroyed, looted or hidden—nobody appears to know.
Some might say that it seemed to have simply vanished. In this, we can certainly understand why it is regarded in the way that it is and why many to this day are eager to find out what exactly happened to it and where it might be now.
First Appearance of the Ark of the Covenant
Going by the bible, we understand that the ark first came about when the Israelites were camping in the Sinai Desert after the exodus from Egypt.
Debate is still ongoing as to what year the exodus might’ve taken place and some scholars even argue that such a mass exodus never actually took place from a historical standpoint.
In any case, two biblical stories detail the construction of the ark, one in the book of Exodus and one in the book of Deuteronomy.
By understanding both accounts, it may give us some insight as to where the Ark is now, or perhaps more reasonably, provide us with an explanation as to why no one has found it yet.
Ark of the Covenant in the Book of Exodus — The Creation of the Ark
In the book of Exodus, we learn that the biblical God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to build an ark out of wood and gold, where he gives some very precise instructions.
“Now they shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold moulding around it. You shall also cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet; two rings shall be on one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. And you shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it. You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you.” — (Exodus 25:10-16)
It was believed, as aforementioned, that the purpose of the ark was to house the stone tablets that detailed the ten commandments.
But in both Christian and Jewish traditions, the ark was also thought to have been a physical manifestation of the biblical God himself and that the ark represented both his supremacy and his power, hence why when the Israelites are seen to behold it, they are usually victorious and seen to demonstrate miracles by merely having it in their presence.
It would also surely explain why no one can find it, because, from a religious standpoint, if this was the physical representation of a supreme being, then its discovery would indeed be virtually impossible unless of course this being wanted to be found.
The bible continues to detail God’s instructions to Moses regarding building the Ark, saying,
“Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.” — (Exodus 25:17-22)
Here, we get a more explanation as to the function of the Ark, which as we can see serves as a meeting point between God and his followers—Moses, in particular.
In this, it might be said that the reason why the Ark was so hallowed and consecrated was that it functioned almost as a direct line to God, a place where those who followed him could, in essence, spawn him to be in his presence.
From there, it’s implied that one might have been able to seek counsel with God, receive blessing or healing or even just have a chat with the supreme being without having to rely on prayer.
Furthermore, we see that he tells Moses that it is here at the Ark that he will speak to him about the commandments, and it might be said that it is from this sacred artefact that God explains the rules by which man should live by.
With this understanding of the creation of the ark in the Exodus account, one might say that the reason why no one has found the Ark is that this biblical God has not selected another man like Moses to heed such wisdom and so, it remains hidden until such a fellow emerges.
Although, a counterpoint to this would be that the reason why the Ark hasn’t been found is that the ten commandments are the extent of the wisdom that the biblical God seeks to offer man and with this, the Ark has already served its purpose.
With this, it might be said that God would have taken the Ark out of the mortal plane and into the heavens—something that’s touched upon in the book of Revelations and could justify, at least from a biblical perspective, why the Ark has not been found on Earth.
As far as the Exodus account goes, we also see that the biblical God entrusts this work to a craftsman named Bezalel and that he empowers this man with the wisdom, skill and understanding to create the Ark in the first place. We are told,
‘Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also, I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent.”’ — (Exodus 31:1-7)
Here, we gain some insights as to what makes the Ark so special, besides the impressive materials used in its design. We learn that those responsible for constructing it have been given special, ‘God-given’ talents to complete the project and you might say that by acquiring these ‘powers’, if you will, the Ark becomes a one of a kind artefact, one that cannot be replicated ever again.
Some might say that the biblical God gave them these powers not only so that the Ark would establish a connection between the Israelites and himself, but also so that no one else would be able to duplicate the Ark.
Whilst there are certainly many replicas, there’s an idea that these pale in comparison to the original given that the original was essentially made vicariously by God, and that if one was to witness the original in all of its glory, they would surely know it was the original, for there could be no other antique like it.
Ark of the Covenant in the Book of Deuteronomy
In the second account of the Ark of the Covenant meanwhile, the Book of Deuteronomy tells us of a much more modest version of this sacred artefact.
We understand that at some point, the Israelites end up making an image of a metal calf and worshipping it instead of God. So enraged by this is Moses, that he takes two of the stone tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments and smashes them.
After some prayers to God for guidance, God answers Moses and instructs him to create new tablets to replace the ones he had destroyed in his rage. Moses tells us,
“At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the first two, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself. Then I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you smashed to pieces, and you shall put them in the ark.’
So I made an ark of acacia wood and cut out two tablets of stone like the first two, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. Then He wrote on the tablets, like the first writing, the Ten Commandments which the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the Lord gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain, and I put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and they are there, just as the Lord commanded me.” — (Deuteronomy 10:1-5)
Here, we see that the Ark is not a golden masterpiece that is constructed by men channelling the divine talent of the Lord. Instead, it is very humbly put together by Moses using acacia wood.
As we can see, the biblical God does not waste much time in this version by describing every minute detail of the Ark, nor does he suggest to Moses to use anything other than wood.
This is a much less grand Ark and whilst it does have the same primary function in housing the stone tablets of the commandments, it does not appear to be as visually striking, nor as popular. As far as representation goes, most people associate the Ark with the typical golden masterpiece but seldom do we see the modest work of Moses and this somewhat plain wooden Ark.
In this sense, one might say that if this was the true likeness of the Ark, then it might very well have been easily overlooked throughout history. Given that it was not built by divinely enhanced craftsmen as seen in Exodus, it might be said that Moses’ Ark was just simply not as eye-catching or stunning and instead, disappeared from history on the account that it had no monetary value having been made from wood.
It might also be suggested that during these times, there may have been more than one Ark floating about. The simple wooden box that Moses is seen to create may have been just one of many ‘sacred boxes’ that were used in various communities to worship God.
Whether or not these boxes had any other function, or whether they were used in the same capacity Moses did is not known for certain, though it’s possible that given their spiritual significance, their function may have been exaggerated over the years.
The Powers Attributed to the Ark of the Covenant
Stories of men going blind, succumbing to plagues or outright dying after touching the Ark may have been generated as a means to appropriate reverence upon both the Ark and God and after Israeli worship became centralised in Jerusalem, it’s possible that these accounts were all conflated into one big ‘super Ark’, that which became the golden Ark we know of today.
With this idea, the Ark would never be found because it did not exist and was instead an exaggerated amalgamation of several other less remarkable wooden Arks that were used in worship. But to simply deem it as fiction is arguably an oversimplification and doesn’t do justice to a trope that has fascinated people for generations.
Over the years, many ideas have sprung forth as to what might have happened to an antique that was not only highly revered but was also responsible for the destruction of cities and the crumbling of armies.
The History of Where the Ark of the Covenant had been
To understand these ideas, however, it might be useful to know where the Ark was taken after it had been constructed and ultimately, where its last known location was, according to the bible.
|1513||Made by Bezalel and his assistants using materials contributed by the Israelites. —Exodus 25: 1, 2; 37:1.|
|1512||Inaugurated by Moses along with the tabernacle and priesthood. —Exodus 40: 1-3, 9, 20, 21.|
|1512—After 1070||Moved to various locations. —Joshua 18:1; Judges 20:26, 27; 1 Samuel 1: 24; 3:3; 6: 11-14; 7: 1, 2.|
|After 1070||Brought to Jerusalem by King David. —2 Samuel 6: 12.|
|1026||Moved into Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. —1 Kings 8: 1, 6.|
|642||Returned to the temple by King Josiah. —2 Chronicles 35:3.|
|Before 607||Removed from the temple. It is not mentioned in the inventories of articles taken to Babylon when the temple was destroyed in 607 B.C.E. or of those articles later returned to Jerusalem. —2 Kings 25:13-17; Ezra 1: 7-11.|
|63||Declared to be missing by Roman General Pompey when he conquered Jerusalem and inspected the Most Holy of the temple.|
1512 BC to 1070 BC — Crossing the River Jordan
We understand that after its creation by Moses, regardless of which version, the Israelites carried it for 40 years, when they were wandering the desert. As we learned from Exodus, whenever the Israelites stopped to camp, the Ark was placed in a separate room in a sacred tent known as the Tabernacle.
After this, the Israelites were led by Joshua and onwards towards the Promised Land where they arrived at the River Jordan.
Now as previously mentioned, crossing this river would have been impossible, but there was no other way to reach the Promised Land except to go through it. We see here the Ark’s first real use by the Israelites and get a taste of the potential that this miraculous box had once possessed. The bible tells us,
“So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan, with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, and when those who were carrying the ark came up to the Jordan and the feet of the priests carrying the ark stepped down into the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), then the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So, the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.” — (Joshua 3:14-17)
The Walls of Jericho
Subsequently, the Ark is seen once more with Joshua when it is carried around the city of Jericho for six days, where it is preceded by armed men and seven priests blowing trumpets of ram’s horns.
We understand that on the seventh day, the priests sounding the seven trumpets let out a great shout and with this cry, the walls of Jericho crumbled, allowing Joshua and his army to infiltrate the city. We learn of this event through the biblical God’s words to Joshua, where we are given another glimpse of the Ark’s power.
The bible tells us,
‘Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. But the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have handed Jericho over to you, with its king and the valiant warriors. And you shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days. Also, seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight ahead.”
Whilst not explicitly stated, we see that the Ark most certainly played a somewhat ominous role as it was carried around the city of Jericho.
Nowhere in this chapter do we get an explanation as to what the Ark does, nor how it assists in the fall of Jericho’s walls. But one might say that in the same way God gave the craftsman the power to make the Ark in the first place, the Ark gave the priests the power to shout so loudly, that they reckoned the foundations of the city itself.
Joshua is seen to lament before the Ark in the events after the Israelite defeat at Ai in their first failed attempt to take the city.
The Ark in Bethel with the priest Phinehas
Beyond this, the Ark appears to have been taken to Bethel where it was cared for by the priest Phinehas, he who was the grandson of Aaron.
Here, we understand that the Ark in this setting was used in a consultary fashion, by which the Israelites would come to worship before attacking the Benjaminites at the Battle of Gibeah.
Through this, one might say that the Ark was certainly a comfort to the Israelites, perhaps linking back to the idea with Moses in Exodus that God would meet his followers here and give them relief in times of need.
It is then no wonder it was visited so frequently here at Bethel by Israelites before their battle with the Benjaminite, for they might have been seeking comfort and relief from fear before marching onto the battlefield.
The Ark in Shiloh with High Priest Eli
Much later, the Ark is seen at Shiloh, ten miles north of Bethel where it was maintained by Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of the High priest Eli.
The Ark Captured by the Philistine
Years later, the Israelites were seen to engage in battle against the Philistines but having lost a previous battle at Eben-Ezer, the Israelites decided to bring the Ark onto the battlefield with them.
Whilst the Philistines were wary of the Ark, given that they had likely heard the stories of its many wonders, they were still able to secure a victory and it might be said that God was disappointed with the Israelites and thus, had abandoned both them and the Ark.
With this, some might say that the Ark was no longer anything special and was, in fact, just simply a very expensive-looking box. There were no powers associated with it at this time and this is evident given that the Philistines were able to capture it and take it into their camp.
Despite having touched the Ark, no one appeared to go blind, and no one suffered from instant death… at least, not yet.
The Ark at Ashdod — Distress in Philistine
The Ark was said to have been taken to several places within the Philistine country, but at each place, it was brought to, it brought with it misfortune. One such place it was taken to was Ashdod and was placed inside the temple of the Philistine God Dagon.
The next morning, the statue of their god Dagon was found prostrate before the Ark. Upon being restored to its original position by the Philistines, they returned the next morning to find the statue of Dagon again prostrated, with its head and hands cut off.
It was said that after this, the Ark was removed, but the priests of Dagon dared never to set foot back in the temple again. But the biblical God was not done working through the Ark and the curse of the golden artefact was only just beginning.
We see that the people of Ashdod become infected with tumours and plagues of mice swarming over the land. When the Ark is then moved to the regions of Gath and Ekron, the residents there experienced more tumours and boils, until the Ark was sent back to Israel. We are told,
‘They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.’ — (1 Samuel 5:11)
Yet again, we see the devastation of the Ark and how it can bring about some terrible calamities. From tumours to boils, the Ark spares no one from its vengeance and appears to punish anyone by association, without showing much in the way of mercy.
It topples other gods such as Dagon and when it is shown resistance, it brutalizes the offender, cutting off its head and hands.
As we come to understand more of its potent and grievous nature, it makes me wonder whether finding such an item would be a good outcome at all, and how perhaps, some things are just better off lost.
The Ark back in Israel–Beth-Shemesh
When the Ark was returned to the Israelites, it was set up in Beth-Shemesh and the Beth-Shemites offered sacrifices and burnt offerings as they rejoiced the safe return of their beloved Ark. But out of curiosity, the men of Beth-Shemesh investigated the Ark and for that, seventy of them were immediately struck by the Lord.
After this tragedy, the Ark was taken to the house of Abinadab in Kirjath-jearim, whose son Eleazar was deemed righteous enough to keep it. For twenty years the Ark remained there, dormant.
It wasn’t until the times of David did, we see the king remove the Ark from Kirjath-jearim and once again bring it into the limelight of worship—where its resurgence was met with rejoicing.
After 1070 BC — Brought to Jerusalem by King David
David sought to bring the Ark to Zion, but one of the drivers of the cart named Uzzah placed his hand upon the Ark to steady it. There, Uzzah was struck dead by God for having laid his hand upon the sacred box.
Having seen Uzzah struck down so mercilessly, David moved the Ark to Gath instead of taking it to Zion as intended, because he was now scared to move the Ark any further. There, it remained in the land for another three months.
But eventually, David did have the Ark taken to Zion and there it was set up within a tent, where it was offered sacrifices. David would also use the tent as his place of worship and prayer. But after the conspiracy of David’s son Absalom, who threatened to overthrow his father through rebellion, David fled from Jerusalem with the Ark in toe, but would eventually order Zadok, the priest, to return it.
The Ark in King Solomon’s Possession
During his lifetime, David gave his son Solomon plans in which to build a grand temple—the first temple, if you will. This is later confirmed by God, and it is through God that Solomon creates the holy structure, sparing no expense as he does.
Within the temple, we are told that Solomon houses the Ark of the Covenant within a sanctuary and that the sanctuary was perhaps almost as richly designed as the Ark itself. We are told in the first book of Kings,
“He prepared the inner sanctuary within the temple to set the ark of the covenant of the Lord there. The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty wide and twenty high. He overlaid the inside with pure gold, and he also overlaid the altar of cedar. Solomon covered the inside of the temple with pure gold, and he extended gold chains across the front of the inner sanctuary, which was overlaid with gold. So, he overlaid the whole interior with gold. He also overlaid with gold the altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary.” — (1 Kings 6:19-21)
Amongst these features, Solomon also erected two statues of golden cherubim, those whose wings expanded around the Ark, almost like guards.
As can be seen, the characters of the bible certainly took the Ark of the Covenant very seriously, and the efforts to preserve its holiness were not lost on the generations after Moses.
With every character who comes into possession of the Ark, all appear to treat it as if it was God itself, or at least understand its power enough to not take any risks with it.
Solomon is a key example of this, for though he is instructed by God, he goes to extreme lengths to ensure that the Ark is not only safe but also housed in the best conditions he can muster.
Interestingly, the Book of Kings also confirms here in the following chapters that this was a suitable resting place for the Ark, at least at the time of writing. But it does imply that it was not kept there forever and that at some point, it was moved again.
Whilst it makes note of the golden Cherubim statues remaining in the sanctuary to this very day (or at least, at the time of writing), it does not make any note as to whether the Ark is still there. We are told,
“The priests brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its assigned place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, in the Most Holy Place, under the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim’s wings extended over the place where the ark sat; the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles. The poles were so long their ends were visible from the Holy Place in front of the inner sanctuary, but they could not be seen from beyond that point. They have remained there to this very day.” — (1 Kings 8:6-9)
Given the omission of the ark here in this section, it might lead one to believe that the Ark was either stolen, moved elsewhere or vanished by some divinity—though, the bible would surely have mentioned the latter if that was the case.
The Treatise of Vessels — The Ark of the Covenant in Hezekiah’s Possession
One idea from the non-canonical biblical book The Treatise of Vessels, we understand that King Hezekiah once moved the Ark and all the treasures that Solomon had secured out of the sanctuary and into a secure location.
We know that Hezekiah was known for his protection of Jerusalem against the Assyrian Empire and that he was seen to both reinforce the city’s walls and improve the city’s defences. With this in mind, it would not be so farfetched to assume that Hezekiah sought to protect the Ark from the Assyrians, for by now, word of the sacred case would have been common knowledge and perhaps even where it was stored may have become public knowledge too.
By moving it, Hezekiah may have been preparing for an event where the Assyrians conquered Jerusalem and the moving of the Ark was merely another contingency plan amongst his many others, those which included diverting the waters of the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam.
This is important to note because redirecting the waters from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, left besieging armies without access to the spring’s waters.
It’s understood that Hezekiah had an underground tunnel built that fed the Siloam pool, which replaced an older Canaanite construction, before sealing up the old outlet of the Gihon Spring.
The reason why I’m bringing this up is that since the tunnel’s construction, the ground has only partially been excavated. The west side of the Pool of Siloam however remains unexcavated, leading some to believe that Hezekiah had moved the contents of the sanctuary somewhere here, underground.
The Treatise of Vessels, rather interestingly, makes note of some potential locations in which Solomon’s treasures may have been hidden. It is proposed that various prophets and priests took it upon themselves to hide the artefacts, perhaps when things were looking bleak for the Israelites and that those in charge of hiding the artefacts made note of them on a bronze tablet—that which is also conveniently missing.
The locations mentioned include a spring named Kohel or Khal, which has pure water in a valley with a stopped gate. There is also a spring named Kotel, a spring named Zedekiah, and an unidentified cistern, somewhere on Mount Carmel. There are also mentions of various, unspecified locations in Babylon.
Some ideas also suggest that the prophets and priests in question had handed over the artefacts to the angels and that they were taken to heaven for safekeeping, in the wake of the Babylonian invasion.
Interestingly, the Treatise of Vessels mentions Babylon as being one of the potential places that the Ark may have been taken, given that when the Babylonians did invade Jerusalem and destroy Solomon’s Temple, they raided the sanctuary and took away the artefacts that was once collected by Solomon.
The Ark in the Book of Esdras (Ezra)
In the ancient Greek version of the Book of Ezra, known as the Book of Esdras, we understand that it was during the reign of Zedekiah that saw the downfall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon’s once great temple.
We understand that Zedekiah, despite hearing the words of the Lord from the prophet Jeremiah, decided to ignore them and proceeded to commit terrible sins.
Amongst this, we are told that this spurred on the leaders and even the priests to also transgress against the Lord and much wickedness and sacrilege was conducted by those living there.
After dismissing God’s continued warnings to rectify their ways, God sends the Chaldeans to purge Jerusalem, and with that, we are told that not only many were killed, but they took all the holy vessels, both great and small from the temples and carried them off to Babylon. We are told,
“The Chaldeans killed their young men with the sword around their holy temple, and did not spare young man or young woman, old man or child, for God gave them all into their hands. They took all the holy vessels of the Lord, great and small, the treasure chests of the Lord, and the royal stores, and carried them away to Babylon. They burned the house of the Lord, broke down the walls of Jerusalem, burned their towers with fire, and utterly destroyed all its glorious things.” — (1 Esdras 1:53-57)
Here, we see that God had damned those living in Jerusalem and had ultimately allowed the invaders to do as they pleased with them, for their continued transgressions and acts of sin now required punishment.
We see that all the holy vessels of the Lord, both great and small, were taken by the Chaldeans and whilst the Book of Esdras does not specifically mention the ark, it can be argued that the Ark was indeed amongst the contents and thus, was taken to Babylon.
Another idea however proposes that if the Ark was amongst the items taken into Babylon, it would have certainly been noted here given the holiness and infamy of the Ark.
To explain this omission, scholars propose that the Chaldeans had found the Ark of the Covenant in the sanctuary, but after having heard all the stories about it and how calamities had befallen the Philistines after they had taken it, they chose to leave it alone and took everything else instead.
It might also be said that they did not want to take any chances with it remaining in existence and that burning and destroying the temple was their effort to destroy the Ark and eliminate it as a future threat.
Beyond this, whether the Ark was taken into Babylon, destroyed by the Chaldeans or hidden as a last desperate attempt by the Israelites to preserve their sacred case, no one knows for certain what exactly happened to it.
The fact that it is not mentioned again in the Old Testament, nor discussed thereafter by many associated biblical texts is quite baffling and certainly drums up some intrigue as to how something so powerful could virtually drop off the face of the earth.
The Ark of the Covenant Within Ethiopia Legend
One of the more famous claims from recent times is a legend in Ethiopia, where it is said that the Ark had somehow made its way to the town of Aksum, where it now resides in the St Mary of Zion cathedral.
According to this account in Ethiopia’s 14th-century epic known as the Kebra Negast, the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon in Jerusalem in the 10th century before the common era and had a son with him named Menelik.
When Menelik was older, he returned to Jerusalem to meet his father and in the end, decided to return to Sheba to be with his mother. Insisting on giving his son an escort of a few men for the journey, Menelik left Jerusalem with new companions—those who were said to be Jewish scions.
But the scions were not pleased about being made to leave Jerusalem and so, it was believed they took with them a trinket for their efforts—none other than the Ark itself.
By the time Solomon realised it was missing, it was too late to go after them. So, it is said in this text that Menelik brought the Ark to the city of Aksum and having understood its potency, chose to hide it once more.
Since then, it was said to have been brought into the St Mary of Zion cathedral, though investigations into this claim have been thin, especially given that the authorities of the church have decreed that only one man—he who is known as the Guardian of the Ark, is allowed to lay eyes on it.
It is believed that this is a sole, virgin monk who can only leave the sacred grounds in death alone. Beyond this, attempts to study the authenticity of this claim have been denied.
The Ark of the Covenant within the Templar Legend
Amongst these claims, another more modern legend suggests that the Ark was hidden beneath the first temple in a warren of passages before it was destroyed. But as this has since become the site of Al Aqsa Compound, otherwise known as Temple Mount in Jerusalem and a sacred shrine in Islam, efforts to excavate the area are not currently possible.
On the subject of Temple Mount, it was also thought to be the headquarters of the Templar Order in the 12th century and that before Jerusalem was captured in 1187 by the sultan of Egypt Saladin, the Templars had conducted excavations of their own.
According to legend, the templars unearthed several treasures beneath the Temple Mount—none the least being the Ark of the Covenant.
Additionally, legends have it that amongst these treasures were the fabled Holy Grail, the Spear of Destiny and the very head of Jesus Christ. It is believed that whatever treasures the Templars found under the Temple Mount, were taken to their headquarters in Paris after their loss of Jerusalem in 1187.
When the Templar Order was disbanded in the year 1307, it was believed that many of these treasures were smuggled out of Paris and put on board a ship at the French port of La Rochelle.
It is believed that several Templar ships, including a treasure galleon, were seen leaving the port the day that the Templars were first outlawed, where they were rounded up, tortured and burned alive under the orders of King Philip IV.
These ships that left in quite a hurry were never seen again.
The Ark in the Book of Maccabees
Going by another non-canonical biblical book known as the Book of Maccabees, we are told that the Ark was hidden in a cave on Mount Nebo by the prophet Jeremiah and that this had taken place before the construction of Solomon’s temple.
We are told,
“Jeremiah, acting under divine guidance, commanded the Tent of the Lord’s Presence and the Covenant Box to follow him to the mountain where Moses had looked down on the land which God had promised our people. When Jeremiah got to the mountain, he found a huge cave and there he hid the Tent of the Lord’s Presence, the Covenant Box, and the altar of incense. Then he sealed up the entrance.” — (2 Maccabees 2:4-5)
In this, we gather that the Ark, described as the ‘Covenant Box’ was sealed somewhere in a cave on Mount Nebo before it had been stored in the Sanctuary of the Temple by Solomon. There it was deemed to be ‘unfindable’ on the account that God himself did not want anyone to find it, at least, not at that time.
This did not stop people from trying as the Book of Maccabees continues,
“Some of Jeremiah’s friends tried to follow him and mark the way, but they could not find the cave. When Jeremiah learned what they had done, he reprimanded them, saying, “No one must know about this place until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy. At that time, he will reveal where these things are hidden, and the dazzling light of his presence will be seen in the cloud, as it was in the time of Moses and on the occasion when Solomon prayed that the Temple might be dedicated in holy splendour.” — (2 Maccabees 2:6)
As can be gathered, Jeremiah’s friends could not find the cave despite having followed him, which by comparison would make anyone else finding the cave even more unlikely.
Furthermore, Jeremiah provides us with a prophecy telling his friends that only at the time that God has deemed it appropriate, will the Ark be revealed—that is, when God has gathered his people together again and shows them mercy. It is only at that time will he reveal the true location of the Ark of the Covenant, meaning that, from a religious perspective, no one is ever going to find the Ark until certain conditions that are out of our hands are met.
The Ark in the Book of Revelations
This is also corroborated by the Book of Revelations, where John tells us in his vision,
“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the Ark of his Covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and earthquake and a severe hailstorm.” — (Revelations 11:19)
With this idea, the Ark appears to be in heaven—which would warrant why no one on earth has found it, but that it also will not be seen again until God has decided.
This might link in with the ideas from the Treatise of Vessels, in which some scholars have proposed that the riches and artefacts in Solomon’s temple were handed off to the angels before the Chaldeans began their raid.
For many, given that the Ark is seen in Revelations to be in heaven, it is believed that it will not be revealed to us in a physical form again until the end times, where perhaps it may be instrumental in completing God’s plan.
In the end, though, no one can say for sure given that the Ark does indeed remain lost to all—except God, one would suppose.
The theories presented in this episode are literally that—theories, and thus I encourage you to draw your conclusions as to what happened to the Ark of the Covenant and where it might be now.
Why was the Ark of the Covenant Created?
It was believed, as aforementioned, that the purpose of the ark was to house the stone tablets that detailed the ten commandments. But in both Christian and Jewish traditions, the ark was also thought to have been a physical manifestation of the biblical God himself and that the ark represented both his supremacy and his power, hence why when the Israelites are seen to behold it, they are usually victorious and seen to demonstrate miracles by merely having it in their presence.
What was the Ark of the Covenant used for?
It serves as a meeting point between God and his followers—Moses, in particular. It functioned almost as a direct line to God, a place where those who followed him could, in essence, spawn him to be in his presence. It was also used to house the stone tablets that detailed the ten commandments.
Why Hasn’t the Ark of the Covenant Found?
From a religious standpoint, if the ark was the physical representation of a supreme being, then its discovery would indeed be virtually impossible unless of course, this being wanted to be found. Also, given that the Ark is seen in Revelations to be in heaven, it is believed that it will not be revealed to us in a physical form again until the end times, where perhaps it may be instrumental in completing God’s plan.
Art Credits: Warren D. Sarmiento, JW.ORG.