The Ark of the Covenant is one of the Bible’s holiest objects, and also one of its most intriguing archeological mysteries. Since its disappearance in 607 B.C speculation as to its whereabouts have been rampant; if the Ark is ever unearthed it would be the greatest archeological find — well, ever!
According to the Biblical account, the Ark was built at the command of God, in accord with Moses’ prophetic vision on Mount Sinai. Made of acacia wood, the ark measured two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits deep and high. If the Egyptian royal cubit was used as the standard, this would make the Ark 4.3′ x 2.6′ x 2.6′ – somewhat smaller than what we’ve come to imagine from watching Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The vessel was covered in pure gold leaf and surrounded by a rim of solid gold. Resting on top, also leafed in gold, was the so-called “mercy seat”, a lid with two statuettes of cherubs facing each other.
Alternate descriptions such as that in the Book of Deuteronomy describes the Ark as a simple wooden container with no mention of ornaments or gold. The Quran has a similar description of the Ark as a simple wooden box with holy relics inside it.
The Ultimate Weapon
Throughout their conquest of the holy land, the Jews were accompanied by the Ark – it was not only a sacred object, but if some text are to be believed, a formidable weapon as well. The Ark was carried by specially trained priests 2000 cubits in advance of the Israelites and according to one midrash, would clear the path for the nation by burning snakes, scorpions, and thorns with two jets of flame that shot from its underside.
This divine flamethrower also came in handy during the Israelites wars with Canaan, Emor and Midian – it was carried in advance of the army as a sort of divine standard, burning all who stood in its way.
When the Jews crossed into the land of Canaan, the Ark caused the waters of the Jordan River to miraculously split, allowing the army to cross. The most dramatic demonstration of the Arks power came when the Jews knocked down the walls of Jericho merely by blowing horns and circling them with the Ark.
When not in use, the Ark was always wrapped in a veil of blue cloth, and was carefully concealed, even from the eyes of the Levite priests who carried it. This was for good reason as many careless Israelites who got too close were fried by the Ark’s terrible power.
A great deal of research has attempted to explain the wonders that are attributed to the Ark in the Bible. One recent study suggests the possibility that the Ark represented man’s first harnessing of electricity. The historical accounts given of peoples’ sudden deaths from touching the Ark are consistent with death by a high voltage, lethal electrical charge.
Such a charge could have resulted from the constant exposure of the box to static electricity, which builds up quickly in a hot, dry climate like the Middle East.
The materials that the Ark was made of further support this theory: gold is one of the most powerful electrical conductors, and wood is an excellent insulator.
In his book Lost Secrets of the Sacred Ark, Laurence Gardner argues for the Ark as a gold-transmuting , anti-gravity machine.
The Ark Obsession
Through-out history scores of treasure hunters, archeologists and biblical scholars have been obsessed with finding the Ark of the Covenant – so, what’s so special about this little box?
It’s certainly not the monetary value that grips the imagination – the gold content of the Ark would be worth $100,000 at most – and not many serious scholars believe the Ark actually possesed mystical powers – contrary to what Raiders of the Lost Ark states there’s no evidence that Hitler sought the ark for military applications.
What makes the Ark so coveted today is what may lie inside of it… The Ten Commandments.
According to the Bible, two tablets of stone (or their fragments) constituting the “testimony” or evidence of God’s covenant with the people were kept within the Ark itself. Also in the Ark were the Rod of Aaron (Moses’ brother), and a golden pot of manna collected from the Israelites’ journey through the desert.
The Disappearing Ark
According to the Book of Samuel, the Ark was captured by the Philistines, but after seven months of hemorrhoids, mice and other plagues befell them, the Philistines returned the Ark to the Israelites and it was installed in the Holy of Holies in King Solomon’s Temple.
The Ark remained in the Temple until 607 B.C. when the Babylonians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar II invaded Jerusalem. The Temple of Solomon was destroyed in the attack and the Ark’s fate from that point onward remains a matter of amateur and scholarly speculation.
The Ark was nowhere to be found when the Israelites returned 70 years later to rebuild Jerusalem and It’s unlikely that the Babylonians took it, as their detailed lists of looted items made no mention of the Ark. So, what happened to it?
Where is the Ark of the Covenant?
Some of the literally hundreds of theories about the final resting place of the Ark are detailed below:
Beneath the Ruins of Solomon’s Temple
Some believe that King Solomon married into the Egyptian royal family to gain the Egyptians’ famed knowledge of sand hydraulic technology. King Solomon reportedly, when building the temple, put the Ark of the Covenant on a platform which could be lowered down into a tunnel system if the Temple were ever overrun.
Modern excavations near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem have found tunnels, but digging beneath the Temple Mount is somewhat restricted as the holiest Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock, sits in the location where the First Temple of Solomon once stood.
The Knights Templar
In 1096 AD, nearly 1700 years after the disappearance of the Ark, the Knights Templar established their headquarters in the captured Al Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount – which was constructed right over the ruins of the Temple of King Solomon.
According to legend, the Templars spent nine years excavating beneath the ruins of Soloman’s Temple, eventually finding a vast network of tunnels – and then, perhaps, the Ark of the Covenant.
When their order was decimated 200 years later most of their fabled treasure disappeared without a trace. Could the Ark have been among the lost Treasure of the Knights Templar?
Valley of Kings
Some ancient sources (such as the Mishnayot) state the hiding place of the ark to be a desolate valley under a hill – on its east side, forty stones deep. Today, it is believed by some that this refers to the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Some believe that what was found in Tutankhamun’s tomb are the described treasures, including the Ark of the Covenant.
According to some sources, Josiah, one of the final kings to reign in the First Temple period, learned of the impending invasion of the Babylonians and hid the Ark. Where he hid it is questionable but according to one midrash, he dug a hole under the wood storehouse on the Temple Mount and buried it there.
Another account says that King Solomon foresaw the eventual destruction of the Temple, and set aside a cave near the Dead Sea, in which Josiah eventually hid the Ark.
According to an Ethiopian royal chronicle called the Kebra Nagast, the Ark left Jerusalem much earlier than generally thought — in the days of King Solomon. The Ark was allegedly smuggled from the temple at the hands of Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
It went first to Egypt, eventually winding up in Ethiopia where it remained safe over the millennia – carefully hidden during wars and times of great unrest.
There are actually some carvings on the Cathedral of Chartres in France that may support this theory.
The Chapel of the Tablet
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church actually claims present-day possession of the Ark which they say is enshrined in a special treasury called The Chapel of the Tablet near the Church of Our Lady St. Mary of Zion in Axum, Ethiopia.
Most Western historians are skeptical of this claim.
Although the alleged Ark was once paraded before the town once each year, the object is now kept under constant guard in the treasury and only the “Guardian of the Ark” is allowed to see it.
Agreeing with ancient sources about a magnificent light emanating from the Ark, the History Channel in a 2008 special claimed that many of the Guardians have died untimely deaths, mostly due to the cataracts that have formed in their eyes.
The Lemba people, who have some Jewish descent, have a tradition that their ancestors carried the Ark calling it the Ngoma Lungundu or “voice of God”, south and hid it in a deep cave in Dumghe mountain, the spiritual home of the Lemba people. An article from Time Magazine called A Lead on The Lost Ark of the Covenant details this theory.