The historical account of the location of the Ark of the Covenant is fascinating just as it is intriguing. The Ark conjures up imaginations of magical spirits held tight inside a bottle, waiting to escape and devour God’s enemies!
At least this is what crosses the mind after watching Steven Spielberg’s movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Well, spirits aside, the ark is arguably the holiest and most sacred Jewish artifact to date. It is symbolic of God’s miraculous presence, faith, and power.
Here is what the Ark was capable of when it was in service:
- It was the Guardian Angel over Israelites after God rescued them from Egypt.
- It told them when to move and stop, as they trekked through the treacherous desert!
- The Ark helped clear the waters of River Jordan when the Israelites had to cross over to the Promised Land.
- The Ark broke down the walls of Jericho when it was moved around the city.
- It also famously led to the destruction, sickness, and death of Philistines and their gods who captured it at Eben-ezer.
All was good with the Ark except for one thing: It went missing in 587 BC, following the fall of the Kingdom of Judea to Babylonians.
Its location has been a mystery since then, and remains a mystery today in the 21st century!
Only stories and legends continue to be told, while it is waiting somewhere to be unveiled – probably by the Messiah.
But first things first, what are the contents inside the Ark?
Exactly what is inside the Ark of the Covenant?
Well, here is the story.
- During his visit and prayer on top of Mount Sinai, God commanded Moses to build an Ark to remind the Jews of his presence even as they wandered through the desert.
- Moses did what he was told.
- He used his best craftsmen to design a wooden chest made out of acacia, which they plated with pure gold.
- The ark, also called the Ark of God was housed inside the ‘Most Holy‘ compartment in a Tabernacle – also called the Mishkan, which means a portable sanctuary.
- The chest had two golden replicas of winged angels at the top and was hoisted using two poles, placed on either side.
- When it was completed the Ark was traditionally placed under a tent made of tachash skin (a unicorn skin).
- The contents of the ark included: two stone tablets of God’s commandments, Aaron’s rod, and the golden pot of manna. (Hebrews 9:4)
- The Ark was only carried around by Priests from the tribe of Levi, and no one was allowed to look inside it.
When it was finally complete and handed over to the people, the Ark became the holiest known object to the Jews.
So, what has been the location of the Ark over time & today?
The weirdest reference to the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant is told in the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
In the movie, the adventure super-hero Indiana Jones is hired by the US government to find the Ark before Germany’s Hitler. Hitler planned to use its supernatural powers to fight the world.
The Ark was reportedly buried somewhere in the lost city of Tanis in Egypt. (Of course the real Tanis city was never a lost city!)
As expected, Indiana Jones finds the Ark first, but somehow, Hitler’s men snatch it from him.
In the ensuing twist of events, the Germans get killed when they dare to open the chest to see what is hidden inside its sandy content.
Leaving Indiana Jones aside, what else do we know about the location of the Ark of the Covenant? Is it in the Old City of Jerusalem, or is it located across the Kidron valley on the Mount of Olives!
Time to find out:
- The city of Beth Shemesh
The most recent reference to the ark was in 2019 when archeologists unearthed a 3,100-year-old temple, near the city of Beth Shemesh. Here, they discovered a legendary stone slab.
The slab on top of two supporting stones is believed to be the table upon which the Ark of the Covenant was rested (1 Samuel 6:13-15).
Evidence points to the site being a shrine of worship, given its structure and the surrounding memorabilia. It is believed the structure was destroyed by Phillistians in the 12 century (BC), and the Holy place turned into an animal pen!
The only problem with the finding is that the Temple’s historical date is placed 100 years before the real Ark was built! Could the archeologists be wrong or was it a timing problem in the Bible?
Well, besides the timing mismatch, the Ark of the covenant which was meant to rest on top of the slab was also missing!
- St. Mary of Zion Cathedral
Another famous pointer explains how the Ark of God found its way to Ethiopia following the sacking of Jerusalem by Babylonians in 587 BC.
The story goes that Priests from the tribe of Levi got hold of the Ark before the city was desecrated and took it to Egypt. It was transferred to the town of Axum in Ethiopia a while later.
The Ark is reportedly residing next to St. Mary of Zion cathedral.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the authorities of the church do not allow anyone from the outside world to authenticate it. Only the monk guardian of the Chapel of the Ark has the right to watch over it.
One thing is for sure that an ark or look-alike ark does exist in the chapel. The big question is whether the present Ark in the chapel is authentic or not!
- The Ark beneath the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount
One other pointer places the Ark under the First Temple in Jerusalem, hidden in a myriad of underground pathways. These pathways comprise secret chambers only known to a few at the time.
According to Jewish writings, King Solomon was well aware the Temple would one day fall into the hands of the wrong people and therefore set up a secret chamber to have the Ark relocated – just in case.
And that is probably what happened:
A Rabbinic work from the 2nd-century also known as the Tosefta claims that King Josiah hid the Ark and its contents under the ground before the destruction of the temple.
Today, the site is however the home to the Dome of the Rock, and the Al Aqsa mosque. These are very holy sites for the Muslim faith.
Muslims believe Mohammed stood on this site before ascending into heaven. The Jewish legend also believes Abraham brought his son – Isaac to this site for sacrifice.
For now, it is illogical to dig beneath the dome and the mosque!
However, when the time comes and the site is excavated, we may probably find out for sure if the Ark is hidden underneath it.
- The Ark of the Covenant in Heaven!
Finally, the book of Revelation has this to say about the location of the Ark of the Covenant!
And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.Revelation 11:19