Happened to the "Lost" Ark?
to the Bible, the Ark of the Covenant is how God spoke
to Moses and the Israelites. (Copyright
Lee Krystek, 2002)
In the popular motion picture, Raiders of the
Lost Ark, a tenacious archeologist fights Nazi's, corrupt
competitors, and snakes to obtain the "one true Ark of
the Covenant." The film is a classic fictional action-adventure,
but it left some of the audience asking these questions: What
is an Ark of a Covenant and does it have the powers pictured
in the movie? What really happened to it?
The story of the Ark starts in the Bible. In Exodus
25:10 after the Hebrews had left Egypt God gave instructions
to Moses regarding the building of the Ark:
Have them make a chest of acacia wood - two
and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit
and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and
out, and make a gold molding around it. Cast four gold rings
for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one
side and two rings on the other. Then make poles of acacia wood
and overlay them with gold. Insert the poles into the rings
on the sides of the chest to carry it. The poles are to remain
in the rings of the ark; they are not to be removed.
Nobody today exactly knows what tree "acacia"
wood was from (though some speculate it may have been cedar)
but the instructions clearly command that it be used to build
a box which in modern measurements would be 3 feet 9 inches
long and 2 feet 3 inches wide by 2 feet 3 inches deep. Poles
were slid through rings on each side of the ark so that it could
be carried from place to place by the priests. In a separate
passage instructions were given for the construction of the
lid of the ark known as the "mercy seat:"
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 and 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.
While Moses and the Israelites were camped during
their exodus from Egypt, the Ark was stored in the traveling
tabernacle they had constructed, in a section known as the "Holy
of Holies." It was there Moses and the Priests would go
to talk with God so that they could be given their instructions.
In the Bible God tells Moses:
There above the cover between the two cherubim
that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you
and give you all my commands for the Israelites.
Inside the box was storied some of the Israelites'
most sacred relics, including the remains of the original stone
tablets of the Ten Commandments.
After the Israelites finally settled in their
promised land, King David prepared to build a permanent temple
to God in Jerusalem. While the ark was being transported to
the site, an incident occurred that showed that God's instructions
concerning the Ark were not to be taken lightly.
According to scripture, the Ark was only to be
carried by Levities (a group of Hebrews set apart as temple
workers) using the poles. Instead, King David brought it to
Jerusalem on a cart drawn by oxen. According to First Chronicles
When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon,
Uzzah [who was driving the cart] reached out his hand to steady
the ark, because, the oxen stumbled. The Lord's anger burned
against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his
hand on the ark. So he died there before God.
Though mishandling the ark was dangerous, it also
seemed to be the focal point of several miracles that assisted
the Israelites in times of need. In Joshua 4 the Bible records
that when the priests who were carrying the ark stepped into
the Jordan River, it immediately stopped flowing, allowing the
Israelites to cross on dry land. Also whenever the ark was carried
into battle at God's command, the Israelites prevailed.
Did It Go?
So what happened to the incredibly important historical,
perhaps even supernatural, object? Nobody knows for sure.
Dome of the Rock now stands on the Temple Mount
where Solomon's Temple, which contained the Ark, once
King David's son, King Solomon, installed the
ark in the First Temple around 1000 BC. It probably stayed there
in the Holy of Holies for many years. In 586 B.C. the city was
attacked by the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar II. He sacked
the city and destroyed the Temple. Many of the sacred objects
that had been used in the Temple were taken to Babylon as spoils
of war. Though the list of items taken by Nebuchadnezzar is
extensive, it does not include the ark. This has lead many biblical
experts to suggest that the ark must have been taken out of
the Temple before the raid. Perhaps it was hidden in a secret
safe place by priests fearing Nebuchadnezzar's success in battle.
If it was hidden just before the Babylonian takeover,
where would it have been put? Some speculate that the famous
box may have never left the the city at all. The temple mount,
which still stands in Jerusalem today , is reportedly honeycombed
with caves and tunnels. Could it be deep in some cave under
the the ancient site of the temple?
Some conservative Jewish groups hope that someday
the Temple Mount, now occupied by Moslem structures, will be
the site of a third Hebrew Temple that will house a rediscovered
Ark. The Moslem The Dome of the Rock, a building which
protects the huge boulder which was likely the location of the
Holy of Holies in the ancient Hebrew temples (one expert has
even located a rectangular impression in the rock where he thinks
is where the ark once sat) is located exactly where any new
temple would be built. This has lead to friction between the
Jewish conservative groups and the Moslem authorities that currently
control the Mount.
In 1982 a secret excavation was carried out under
the edge of the Mount by the late Rabbi Yehuda Meir Getz. It
is rumored that the illegal dig was looking for the Ark of the
Covenant. It wasn't found and the dig came to a quick end when
Arabs on the Mount heard banging from a cistern under The
Dome of the Rock. Though Getz was convinced that the Ark
is in an underground chamber near where he was digging, it is
unlikely, given the presence of the Moslem temples on top of
the mount that further excavations will be permitted in the
we don't know where the ark is, can we at least tell
something about its powers? In 1999 author Richard Andrews,
in an article in the newspaper Daily Mail, speculated
that the ark worked as a giant capacitor which could
accumulate an electrical charge as it was carried through
the desert in the same way a car driven around on a
hot day can develop a static charge. Andrews thought
that if the Ark developed a powerful enough charge it
might explain why people were struck dead by touching
the Israelites had set out to construct a primitive
accumulator, they could hardly have picked a better
design than the Ark," Andrews was quoted as saying
in the article. Andrews later built a model of the ark.
When tested, it did accumulate a charge.
Andrews theory is interesting, it doesn't really explain
any of the other miracles attributed to the ark. For
those, perhaps the only explanation is divine intervention.
However, most experts doubt that the ark could
be hidden within the Temple Mount. King Herod rebuilt and reshaped
much of the Mount in the first century BC and if the ark was
there it most likely would have been found and restored to the
Others have suggested that the ark was taken out
of the city before the Babylonians got control and was hidden
in the countryside. Some ancient texts suggest this location
might be on the east bank of the Jordan near the biblical Mt.
Nebo. To some scholars it seems more likely that the ark might
be hidden on the Jordan's west bank, perhaps in one of the caves
along the Dead Sea near where the Dead Sea scrolls were found.
While these seem intriguing possibilities, we know from the
biblical account of Nebuchadnezzar's siege that nothing moved
in or out of the Jerusalem for 18 months and the people were
starving to death. It seems unlikely that the Hebrews could
have smuggled the Ark out during that period. If the Ark was
in the city when the siege started, than it is likely it was
there when it ended.
Could the Ark have left the city before
In 1992 a book entitled, The Sign and the Seal:
The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, Graham Hancock,
a British journalist, peruses a different theory about what
happened to the Ark. In the book Hancock explores stories from
Ethiopia that suggest the ark was brought there in ancient times.
Though there are several variations to the tale, the story suggests
that the ark was transported to Ethiopia by a man named Menelik.
According to Ethiopian tradition, Menelik was the son of King
Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. In this tradition Ethiopia is
ancient Sheba, though many scholars today identify that land
with modern Yemen.
Menelik, says Ethiopian royal chronicles, held
onto the ark for safekeeping. Over the centuries it was moved
from location to location, but now, suggests Hancock, it might
be sitting in the town of Axum at the St. Mary of Zion Chapel.
At that location there is a small sanctuary chapel there, only
40 foot square, where the ark is supposedly kept. Hancock visited
the site in 1991 and met with a man named Abba Welde Giorgis
who was described as "guardian of the ark." Giorgis's
duty is a great honor, but it does limit his social life. He
is not permitted to leave the sanctuary for the duration of
his lifetime appointment.
Giorgis indicated to Hancock that the ark was
there, but in accordance with the church's traditions, Hancock
was not permitted to see it, nor would Giorgis describe it to
him. Other reporters and writers visiting the church since then
have gotten similar answers to their questions. So if the ark
does rest in Axum, there is no independent proof of it.
Copyright Lee Krystek
2003. All Rights Reserved.