What happened to the Ark of the Covenant?

There are more than 200 references to the Ark in the Old Testament from the time of its construction by Moses until the time of Solomon after which it disappeared from Scripture.

The Ark of the Covenant was an object about a metre long by half a metre wide and high (i.e. approximately 4 by 2 by 2 feet), made of acacia wood and covered in pure gold. It was built under the instruction of Moses at about 1450 BC within a year or so of the Hebrews fleeing from Egypt. This sacred icon was to accompany the Hebrews in their 40 years pilgrimage through the desert. On top was a plate of gold surmounted by two golden cherubim one either side, facing each other. The Ark itself was carried by means of poles inserted through rings at the comers. (Exodus 25: 10 - 22) GNB P 86

Contained in the Ark were the stone tablets on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments and some other less clearly recorded items. I

It is written that between these two cherubim, God Himself dwelt. (Exodus 25:22). "I will meet you there and from between the wings of the cherubim will give you my Laws". It was the earthly Throne of God and therefore a very sacred possession of the ancient Hebrews. It was so holy that it could not be touched. Thus on completion and following consecration, it became the dwelling place for the "glory," or presence of YHWH, seated invisibly between the cherubim, and this presence was confirmed outside by a cloud resting upon the tabernacle by day and a pillar of flame by night GNB p 86

What was the Covenant? This is an agreement between two people or groups, but when used in the biblical sense the greater power demands loyalty and obligates itself to the protection of the lesser. "You saw what I the Lord, did to the Egyptians and how I carried you as an eagle carries her young on her wings, and brought you here to me. Now, if you obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own people. The whole earth is mine, but you will be my chosen people". (Exodus 19: 4 - 6) The terms of the Covenant are addresses in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 1 - 17) GNB P 80

A Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle was constructed to shelter the Ark, and was in turn surrounded by courtyards containing the necessary items for the offering of worship and sacrifices. The entire structure was made of heavily ornate materials, a pattern for the Temple to be built later in Jerusalem. (Exodus ch. 26, 36 - 40) 2 3 GNB P 87

Sacred tents were a common feature of nomadic life having a religious or mystical purpose. 4

The Israelites carried this structure, setting up the Tent wherever they camped during the forty years of wandering - and one Old Testament account lists forty such places in as many years. On breaking camp, the Tent was taken down, the sacred components of the Holy Place being entrusted to the priestly tribe, the Levites. (Numbers 10: 11 - 12, 17, 21) GNB P 140







The Book of Joshua describes the crossing of the Jordan when at last they entered the Promised Land. Here the priests held the Ark in the dry bed of the river while the Hebrews crossed over. (Joshua 3: 14-17,4:11) GNBp210


Next, there are the numerous perambulations of Jericho with the Ark and much blowing of trumpets before the walls came tumbling down. (Joshua 6) GNB p 212

It rested at Shiloh after reaching Canaan for most of the next several hundred years, Shiloh becoming the central sanctuary during the period of the Judges (11th & 12th centuries BC) and until David determined that a permanent home was necessary. He chose Jerusalem at a time before 950 B.C. (1 Samuel 1: 3) GNB p 268

From the time of Moses until Solomon, the Ark was the focus and an integral part of Jewish worship. The Ark was believed to possess great powers and was taken into battles.

On one such occasion it was captured by the Philistines (at about 1050 BC) in the battle at Ebenezer. Not a good thing however. An epidemic of bubonic plague broke out. The presence of the Ark must be responsible. The Ark was sent home to the Hebrews on a driverless cart with golden models of the bubonic tumours and of the mice which carried the disease. (1 Sam. 4, 5, - 7,9, 11).5 GNB p 269,270

Shiloh was soon after destroyed, and the site is to day the location of Nablus, a scene of Israeli-Palestine dispute.

The Ark was next concealed in Kiriath-Jearim where it remained for some 20 years. (K - J 20km W of Jerusalem) (1 Sam. 7: 1) 6 GNB P 272

David built the king's palace, planned the temple but left its construction for his successor, Saul.

The First Temple in Jerusalem was built primarily to contain the Ark. And that is where it rested with the poles still in place (1 Kings 8: 1 - 8), in the Holy of Holies. Solomon presided over this event in 950 BC, an elaborate dedication ceremony. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter this room and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. 7 GNB p 343

It is important to distinguish between the Ark and the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting. The
~ Tabernacle, being a protective covering, no longer served any purpose once the Ark had
been installed in the Temple. 8

At the dedication Solomon prayed to the Lord; "Now I have built a majestic temple for you, a place for you to live for ever."

But neither the Temple nor the Ark were to be for ever!
 (I Kings 8: 13) GNB p 343

Philo, the Jewish philosopher, coming from a wealthy family in Egypt, writing in the First Century AD at Alexandria believed that the Ark of the Covenant represented the very essence of everything sacred to the Jewish religion, in reality the Abode of the Presence of God. 9





In about 587 BC the Babylonians, in the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, invaded Israel and destroyed the Temple, taking the tribe of Judah captive to Babylon. It is believed that at about this time the Ark vanished (2 Kings 25: 8 - 17) GNB P 398 (Jeremiah Ch. 52) GNB p 790 (similar narrative)

When the Jewish people were allowed to return in 538 BC, they were encouraged to take back all the treasures that had also been captured by the Persians. The Ark did not return with them, or at least we are not told it did. We can conclude that the Ark was removed
from the Temple or perhaps destroyed by the Babylonians. (Ezra Chs 3 - 6) GNB P 469 - 72 (the Temple)


The Second Temple built between 520 and 515 after the Return, was larger than the First and more extravagant, constructed under the patronage of Cyrus, king of Persia. This was time of Nehemiah and Ezra. It would only seem appropriate that the Jewish people would have retrieved the Ark and installed it in this new place of worship if it were available. (Nehemiah Ch.3 - 4) 10 GNB P 485 (the Walls)

What exactly happened to the Ark? No one is certain.

The Babylonians do not mention the Ark in their writings. Did they destroy it? Did they take it back to Babylon?

Whatever may have happened to the Ark, the rabbis who compiled the Babylonian Talmud 11 were certain that it never stood in the Second Temple.

Interest in the Ark continued to be the subject of legends in both the Jewish and Arab worlds. 12

Let us look at the various theories and claims made by people to know the whereabouts of, or claim to have seen the Lost Ark.


1. The first concerns the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah ( Jer. 31 :31) reveals God's word about the future of his people shortly before the Exile - The Lord says: "The time is coming when I will make a new covenant. I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my
people." This prophecy foresees religion as an experience of the heart without the external trappings of icons, ritual or embroidered vestments. GNB p 765 .

He was so confident of the future that he purchased a parcel of land and carefully stored the deeds that they be secure during the Captivity, to enable him or another to take possession of this land on return.

Jeremiah the prophet continues, "And when you have multiplied in the land, in those
days", says the Lord, "you shall no longer talk about my Covenant Box (no more say,
"The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord"). It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, nor will you have need of it; neither will you make another one. (Jeremiah 3: 15-16) GNB P 733

Ezekiel another prophet at a later time made no mention of the Ark in his vision of the
Temple in the New Jerusalem, only the dazzling light of the glory of the Lord. This was to
bring hope to the exiles whilst they awaited their return. (Ezekiel 40 - 48) Daniel and
Zechariah recorded for us their visions of heaven at the end of time but neither mentioned
the Ark. GNB p 840 - 851 



The Ark had served its purpose.

Jeremiah saw the continuum of the existence of Israel, not in temples but in the hearts of men

There is rumoured evidence to suggest that the Ark was hidden in a cave somewhere
before the Babylonian invasion. It was well known that there are underground caverns throughout the city of Jerusalem. These have been closed off in recent years to prevent
Jewish extremists from demolishing the Mosque, the Dome of the Rock which dominates the Temple Mount.

In the book 'Legends of Jerusalem' the author (Zev Vilnay) writes that King Solomon "contrived a place of concealment for the Ark, in the deep and tortuous caches" . This
could only have been a contingency plan. There were no threats to his kingdom at that time.

Further, this author writes of a later time, "Josiah hid the Holy Ark and all its appurtenances, in order to guard them against desecration at the hands of the enemy." At ~;; this time Babylon and Egypt were at war and Judah was caught between. 13
There is another account, at a later time, found in the non-canonical Second Book of
Maccabees. It tells of the prophet Jeremiah hiding the Ark after receiving news that the 'Z';,- Temple would be destroyed and continues" As for that place it shall be unknown until '"
God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. (2 Maccabees, 2:7) 14

The threat from Babylon was now real and Jerusalem was soon sacked, with the theft of anything valuable or of precious metal. 15

The quotations from Maccabees are prefaced by an introduction, that these are "letters
from Jews at Jerusalem to the Egyptian community concerning a new festival, the Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, commemorating the desecration of the Temple. These books make some significant theological statements. 16


2. Now to Ethiopia

There is a tradition among southern Ethiopians that some are descended from King
Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. They believe that a young man Menelik, the speculative son of Solomon and Sheba brought the Ark to Ethiopia, his mother's home. (1 Kings 10: 10, 13 - gifts given) GNB p 346

The tradition says that he came to the city of Axum, which place became a community of Ethiopian Jews later known as Falashas, claiming to be direct descendants of Menelik.
Most scholars however; believe that the Falashas came to Ethiopia in the early part of the First Century, AD., migrants from Southern Arabia inter-marrying with the Ethiopians. (Most of the Falashas have recently immigrated to Israel)

It is believed that these people had a Temple with an Ark 17

To further speculate, could these people have made a second Ark to install in their temple, to give it the status of the Jerusalem Temple?





3. In Egypt

There is a location on the Egyptian Nile known as Elephantine Island. Here there are the remains of a Jewish Temple said to have been built sometime between the reigns of King Solomon and King Josiah. There are letters, correspondence between the Jews on Elephantine and those in Jerusalem. After King Josiah's decree banning any sacrifice away from the Jerusalem Temple, this Temple would have lost its standing to that in Jerusalem. (2 Kings 23: 5,6,8 Bethel 15) GNB p 395

Sometime later this Temple was destroyed and an Egyptian temple built over it. Could this have been where the Ark was taken by Menelik and from whence the Falashas originated? Perhaps, and before this Temple was destroyed, the Falashas took the Ark to Ethiopia. Many believe so. This is the theory presented in Graham Hancock's book, "The Sign and the Seal"

This island, near the southern border of Egypt, is close to the site of the Aswan Dam. 18 A nearby town was, in the 5th Century BC a military colony where excavation has revealed papyri written in Aramaic with other artefacts. These infer the presence of a Temple with the meticulous celebration of the Passover. The language used in the letters is significant being Aramaic, the language of Palestine.

Jeremiah remarks on the presence of Jews in the southern parts of Egypt as well as in northern cities, perhaps relevant here (Jeremiah 44: 1) GNB p 777


4. Back to Ethiopia

In Ethiopia there is a ceremony called Timkat, which celebrates the Baptism of Christ. During this celebration, monks and members of the clergy carry objects called "Tabots", symbols of the Ark. Each Orthodox Church has a Tabot kept in a room representing the Holy of Holies. These rooms and Tabots are given the same esteem as the original Ark and Holy of Holies were given in the ancient Temple of Solomon.

It is said that sometimes during Timkat the real Ark is brought out and displayed. It is believed that during the rest of the year, this Ark sits in St. Mary's church in Axum, where a monk who takes his duties very conscientiously.

The following is a sketchy summary of an interview... ... The man is elderly, wizened, with poor sight, bearded and toothless. He is meticulous in identifying any foreigner who approaches, to be sure that there are no base motives behind the request to see this
religious treasure. He is confident that this relic is the true Ark, brought to Ethiopia by Menelik.

The final outcome of a lengthy interrogation goes like this:
We cannot risk the possibility that any harm might come to something so precious... Besides, even in a time of peace you would not be able to see it. It is my responsibility to wrap it entirely in thick cloths before it is carried in the processions...' 'Why do you wrap it?'
'To protect the laity from it.'
The interpreter was asked to clarify this last remark from the monk. Had he meant 'to protect it from the laity'? It was some time before the answer came. "To protect the laity from it. The Ark is powerful."





And the guardian's final claim is that he alone is permitted to see the Ark 19

The town of Aksum has been relatively isolated from outside influences, 2000k from
Cairo. Publicity surrounding the publication of Hancock's book "The Sign and the Seal"
has brought an influx of the curious, mystics, intellectuals, opportunists ... to seek out this holy relic. The local culture and their religious devotion, their belief in the authenticity of this revered icon have been compromised. 20

The people of Ethiopia still believe in the existence of this Ark 21


5. And returning to Jerusalem.

In 1982, Ron Wyatt, a real-life Indiana Jones, and biblical archaeologist and his companions were digging for the Ark in a cave believed to be Jeremiah's grotto beneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (The Spielberg movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark" has this character Indiana Jones in a fictional extravaganza ending with the discovery of the Ark). Wyatt sent a small boy who was helping him, into an opening they had dug. The boy apparently ran out of the cave frightened. He would not tell the others what he saw. Ron Wyatt enlarged the hole and crawled through. Wyatt says he saw a room filled with the furniture of King Solomon. And in the comer, were two golden cherubim. This was the Ark, or so he claims. Wyatt, upon seeing this passed out for almost an hour.

Attempts at photography were unsuccessful, the suspect object was always covered in golden haze, whilst the surroundings were depicted. It was made clear to him that if this discovery were made public it would cause a holy war of epic proportions. He desisted from his explorations

Also in 1982, (Rabbi Yehuda Getz) one of the Rabbis in charge of the Western Wall, was conducting a search in another old debris-filled tunnel running perpendicular to the
Western Wall and under the Temple Mount. The Rabbi believes he came close to finding the Ark that day, but had to cut the dig short when Muslims in the area found out what he was doing. To maintain peace in the area, the Rabbi says he stopped the dig and sealed the
tunnel. '




Thus we have the Biblical history of the Ark, the legends and speculations which have grown from it. Tantalising they are, but I submit quite conclusive. The Ark was the focus of the Hebrew faith while they travelled. Faith was centred in the temple from Solomon's time until fulfiled at Calvary. Within forty years, Herod's Great Temple was destroyed, leaving worship to be in spirit and in truth, God with us, God in us.

Had the Ark served its purpose? It was no longer a travelling companion and no sanctuary was needed. 22

If the Ark were now found, and authenticated, would there be any change to the expression of the Hebrew (and Christian) faith?






How should we understand the mystery of the Ark? Philo sees it as entirely mystical. Jeremiah spoke of the New Covenant, when all things will be made new. New Testament teaching supports this belief, that the "thou shalt nots" of the Law carried within the Ark are replaced by the New Commandments, of love for God and our neighbour. (Matthew 22: 37 - 39) GNB p 33

The Ark will remain as part of the history of our faith.

And yet there is more to say. The Book of Revelations (11: 19) has the last word - "The Seventh Trumpet sounds~ then there is a psalm of praise, and terror as we approach judgement and the end of time: ... ... God's temple in heaven was opened and the Covenant Ark was seen there." GNB p 314

Written by:      K E Goard Canberra ACT 2001
(reproduced herein by Omnes Sancti Sovereign Chapter no:193  by kind permission.


Reference and Sources

Harpers Bible Dictionary
Encyclopaedia Britannica
The Ark of the Covenant - Roderick Grierson & Stuart Monro-Hay

1 These may have been a jar containing a sample of the manna on which the Hebrews fed (Exodus 16: 33,34) and Aaron's Rod (Number 17: 10) - or these were kept outside in front as a reminder to the people of the tribulations of the Exodus
And other items - The Urim and Thummim - two tablets were held in the priest's Ephod at later times, these used for making "yes-no" decisions (1 Sam. 14: 41, 1 Kings 8:9, Ezra 2: 63) Contents again - Solomon's time 1 Kings 8: 9

2 The Ark was kept in the inner place, "The Holy of Holies" which opened into the larger outer room, or "Holy Place," containing the table on which the Bread of the Presence (shewbread) was placed, the altar of incense, and the seven-branched candelabra (menorah).

3 The elaborate description of the Tabernacle in Exodus is believed by some to be anachronistic,
for many scholars consider the narrative as having been written during or after the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BC) i.e., after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple).

4 A sacred tent was an essential element of ancient nomadic life. A quite legitimate analogy would be the Gubbah of the Arabs in pre-Islamic times, a small red leather tent carried on the back of a camel when moving camp. This contained two sacred stones used for religious divination and ceremonies, to be consulted by people seeking wisdom or guidance and to be carried into battle.

5 This episode may have inspired the carving of a four-wheeled cart carrying a representation of the Ark found in the lintel of a door in a Second or Third Century Synagogue in Capurnaum. There were a number of wheeled carts constructed under the direction of Solomon to carry the temple property in the courtyard.






6 But now to divert - a note about implements of war or for agriculture. Have you read these verses in 1 Samuel (Ch 13) - "There were no blacksmiths in Israel because the Philistines were determined to keep the Hebrews from making swords and spears. The Israelites had to go to the Philistine to get their ploughs, hoes, axes and sickles sharpened. So on the day of the battle none of the Israelite soldiers except Saul and his son had swords and spears". This suggests among other things that the populations of these various peoples were only of tribal proportions.

7 Solomon installed the Ark, and constructed large Cherubim of olive wood covered with gold, over- looking the Ark, looking toward the outer temple chambers. This may suggest that the cherubim had been lost from the top of the Ark (2 Chr 3:10 - 14, v5 and 1 Kings 7: 23 - 28)

8 The splendours of the temple had become legendary yet the main inner structure
measured only 30 metres in length. Materials and ornamentation were of the highest quality for the time and coupled with its cosmological and royal symbolism, the temple taught the absolute sovereignty of the Lord over the whole creation and especially over Israel.

9 The Ark of the Covenant - Grieson & Munro-Hay p 20.

10 Cyrus' Decree allowed the Hebrews to receive and gather up thousands of gold vessels including those taken from the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezra 1: 4b, 6 - 11)

11 The Talmud is a collection of Jewish religious literature, written between 250 - 500 AD serving as a commentary on the other books. It discusses Old Testament texts and history, philosophy, virtues, dietary rules and leading Jewish teachers to give a few examples.
There are two sets, the Palestinian and Babylonian, the latter being more fully edited and was in use into the era of Islam. Such Old Testament stories as are included have a considerable overlay of myth and legend
The above three books are a reference to the wisdom of the Jewish people

12 This following accounts concern the country near the future site of Mecca, located on the west coast of Saudi Arabia about half way along the Red Sea.
An encounter between the Israelites and Amalekites is long after the death of Solomon. The Israelites carried the Ark, were defeated and the Ark abandoned. The victors took the box and buried it in a dung heap outside a nearby town. A terrible plague struck the community, and in great fear the Ark was dug up and entrusted to a guardian until Jesus' time.
A similar story in an old writing was discovered in the 7th century, coming to light in a 7th Century AD, at the dawn of Islam, tells of the finding of an Ark in a burial cave. In both stories the names of the people involved is the same.

13 Also, during the reign of Josiah, a righteous king of Judah, the occasion was a Passover
Festival, a celebration. The Book of the Law, apparently lost for years, had been discovered in the Temple archives. The priests were now requested "to put the Ark into the Temple, to no longer carry it upon their shoulders, to then serve God and the people". They may have been carrying the Ark about the streets in processions, and likely to have been celebrating pagan, heathen rituals during the recent time of apostasy. 2 Chronicles35: 3 - 5)

14 Next, a diversion to explain a little about these Books of the Maccabees. The Firs! is devoted to the struggle between Hellenistic Culture and the exclusiveness of Judaism. Written between 100 and 60 BC it is a general history of the Maccabeen Revolt against the Greco-Syrian (Seleucid) rulers who profaned the temple.                                                                                          




This praises the family of the Maccabees for their role in establishing their family (the Hasmoleans) as the rulers, both religious and secular of Palestine. This book remains the primary source of the history of the Period.
The Second is a history also but concentrates on the above ugly episode, the offence to the temple and the faithful. Re-dedication of the sacred building was effected in 164 BC.

15 The following is a quotation:

"It was also in the writing that the prophet, having received an oracle, ordered that the tent and the ark should follow with him, and that he went out to the mountain which Moses had ascended and had seen the inheritance of God. And Jeremiah came and found a cave, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense, and he sealed up the entrance." -2 Maccabees, 2: 4-5

16 There is also in these books a contribution to theology, which you will agree explains why the Catholic Church includes these books in its Holy Canon, whilst the Anglicans and Protestants leave then aside. Repentance ensures that God will protect the Jews from their enemies; the righteous who perish in this defence can be assured of a resurrection; (7: 9 - 11, 12: 44, 14: 46) and are able to intercede in heaven on behalf of the living (15: 12). Sin offerings for the dead are also possible (12:39 - 45)


17 However, these scholars cannot explain why these Jews performed blood sacrifices outside the Temple, are unfamiliar with the writings of the Prophets and the Talmud, and do not celebrate Hanukkah or Purim. This would suggest that these Jews separated from the Jews in Israel before the reign of King Josiah who ruled during the mid 600s BC. abolished blood sacrifice outside the Temple (confirming the conviction that there could be only one Temple for all Israel.) It was also after that time when Hanukkah and Purim were instituted. It is also after this time that the writings of the Prophets and the writings of the rabbis (known as the Talmud) came into being.

This would suggest that the Falashas came to Ethiopia between the reign of King Solomon and the reign of King Josiah, sometime between 900-600 BC. And the Ethiopian tradition would be the correct one. However, there is one flaw in this theory, the city of Axum did not exist at this time.


18 North of the First Cataract, , the nearby small town is Syene.

19 The Ark of the Covenant - Grierson & Munro-Hay)

20 Aksum, also spelled AXUM, ancient town in northern Ethiopia. It lies at an elevation of about 7,000 feet (2,100 m), just west of Adwa.

Once the seat of the kingdom of Aksum, it is now a tourist town and religious centre best known for its antiquities. Tall granite obelisks, 126 in all, stand (or lie broken) in the central square. One measuring 110 feet (34 m), now fallen, is said to be the tallest obelisk ever erected. The obelisks range from nearly plain slabs to intricately inscribed pillars. Door and window-like shapes are carved into some of the pillars, giving them the appearance of slender buildings. The most recent of the obelisks announces the adoption of Christianity by a 4th-century king. At least 27 carved stone thrones have been unearthed in the overgrown ruins of the ancient palace.






Aksum has long been regarded a holy city for the Ethiopian Orthodox church. It forms the setting of the 14th-century work Kebra NeQast ("Glory of the Kings"), which relates the tradition of the transference of the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Aksum by King Menilek I, legendary son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Makeda). According to tradition, the Church of St. Mary of Zion contains the Ark of the Covenant. Over the centuries, however, the church has been destroyed and rebuilt several times; the present structure dates from the 17th century. Emperor Haile Selassie I built the new Church of St. Mary of Zion near the old one in 1965.
An airport, a hospital, a health centre, and a community centre serve the town. Pop. (1989 est.) 21,857.


21 Quoting from the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital Bulletin March 2001 (The Fistula Hospital) - "Our Medical Director and several staff have just returned from a medical trip to historical town of Axum where the Ark of the Covenant is believed to be kept in St Mary's Church"


22 The Israelites carried with them the belief that while the Ark was with them, while the Temple stood on the Holy Mount, they would be secure. Jeremiah and Ezekiel set this to rights showing the change from collective to personal responsibility for one's actions, "that each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge" (Jeremiah 31: 29 - 30, Ezekiel 18: 1 - 4)




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