Where is the Lost Ark of the Covenant ?

Where is the Ark of the Covenant? In modern times, largely due to a certain blockbuster movie, the Ark
is often referred to as the Lost Ark of the Covenant. It is a very accurate description since the Ark has been 'lost' for approximately 2,500 years. Not only are we uncertain where the Ark is today, we aren't even certain exactly when it went missing, which makes the task of finding it far more difficult.
Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of The Covenant was constructed during the time of Moses while the people of Israel were wondering in the desert. The Ark was intended to hold the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments  which were given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. The Ark is also said to contain the golden pot filled with mana as well as Aaron's staff that budded.

"having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, Aaron's staff which budded, and the tablets of the covenant." - Hebrews 9:4

The Ark would be carried before the people and placed in the Tent of Meetings whenever they made camp. The Ark was a means of communicating with God, a method for Him to reveal His wishes and to give instructions to the people through Moses. Eventually, the Ark was placed in the temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem. It stayed there for a time before vanishing from the pages of the Bible. Its fate and current location are a mystery which many believe will never be solved. Some claim the Ark has been discovered, while others claim it was never truly lost at all. While we may never know what happened to the Ark, there are several very interesting, and some say credible theories on where the Ark was taken, and where it may still be waiting to be discovered.

(Mount Sinai is also known as Mount Horeb as well as Gabal Musa)

First let us look at the shape and building of the Ark. The Ark was first mentioned in the book of Exodus in chapter 25. God gives very specific instructions on the dimensions of the Ark and how it is to be constructed.

“Have them make an ark of acacia wood — two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.11 Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. 12 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. 13 Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. 15 The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. 16 Then put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.

17 “Make an atonement cover of pure gold — two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 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. 20 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. 21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. 22 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: 10–22)

 [A cubit is generally believed to be equal to 18 inches.]

 The last time the Ark is mentioned in the Bible is in 2 Chronicles. After this point no mention of the Ark’s location or use is ever mentioned. 

"He said to the Levites, who instructed all Israel and who had been consecrated to the Lord: Put the sacred ark in the temple that Solomon son of David king of Israel built. It is not to be carried about on your shoulders. Now serve the Lord your God and his people Israel. (2 Chronicles 35:3)

This passage was from the reign of King Josiah who was king in Judah from 640 to 609 B.C. It is unknown why the Ark had been removed from the Temple, but it had apparently been removed by the Levites at some point. It also cannot be confirmed the Levites complied with the King's request to return the Ark to the temple. 

[Levite - a member of the tribe of Levi - served as assistants to the priests in the worship services in the Temple.]

Ancient Map of World

There are numerous theories, legends and Hollywood tales about what happened to the ark. Here we will look at some of the more credible and substantial claims as to where the Ark was taken when it left the Temple, as well as some which are less credible. - It should be noted the possibilities listed here are in no particular order or rank.

1. The Ark of the Covenant is no longer in existence. In approximately 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded and conquered Israel. This led to what is known as the Babylonian Exile. In the account of the conquest of Nebuchadnezzar we are told of the temple being ransacked and its treasures destroyed and taken as plunder. Many scholars believe the Ark was destroyed, melted down for its gold, by the conquering Babylonians.

2. This theory is very closely related to the first. Some believe that rather than destroying the Ark of the Covenant, Nebuchadnezzar took the Ark back to Babylon. From that point there are many secondary theories on what happened to the Ark, but no definitive final location is specified.

3. Interest in the Ark was significantly elevated with the release of the Hollywood blockbuster “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. In that movie the hero, Indiana Jones, races against the evil Nazi forces to recover the Ark. The movie claims the Ark was taken to Egypt by Pharaoh Shishak after he invaded Israel around 926 B.C. The theory goes that Shishak took the Ark back to Egypt to the city of Tanis where is was hidden away in a secret chamber. Shishak did invade Israel but there is little evidence the Ark ever resided at Tanis. - This theory has no validity at all when the above account from 2 Chronicles is considered. If the Ark had been taken to Tanis, how could King Josiah instruct the Levites to return it to the Temple some 300 years later? Did the Egyptians return the Ark as had the Philistines as recorded in 1 Samuel? If so, the Bible makes no mention of it. Many scholars believe the Ark had been hidden safely away before Shishak invaded.

4. All the theories concerning the Ark do not come from Christian sources. The Shia Muslims claim the Ark of the Covenant is at the bottom of lake Tiberias, commonly known as the Sea of Galilee. It is believed the Ark will not be recovered from the lake until the end times. — “ the Ark will only be discovered after the rise of Mahdi, who will rule the Earth for a disputed time period prior to the Day of Judgement.”

5. There are two Jewish traditions involving King Josiah. The first tells of how King Josiah hid the Ark in a cave overlooking or near the Dead Sea. The fact the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves overlooking or near the Dead Sea makes this tradition very interesting. - The second tradition of King Josiah is that he hid the Ark in a secret location under the temple mount. Archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer discovered a cut-out section which was located directly below where the Ark would have been kept in the Temple. Ritmeyer believes the Ark was hidden here, or perhaps is hidden in another hidden location in the Temple Mount. 

6. Many say the Ark was never lost, only moved. According to Ethiopian tradition King Solomon had a son with the Queen of Sheba, and this son eventually took the Ark to Ethiopia where it remains today. The Ark, it is claimed, is safely kept in a modest chapel where only a single priest tends to it. This priest will serve in the chapel until his death when a new priest will take his place. No one else is allowed to see the Ark or even enter the temple. This theory has some credibility and has been told for many centuries by the Ethiopian church. It also has its doubters on several points. One of the main areas is the fact the Queen of Sheba is rarely associated with Ethiopia.

7. It is believed by many that Solomon, in all his wisdom, designed the Temple Mount with a series of secret passages and rooms. When the city of Jerusalem was invaded the Ark was taken to one of these secret rooms for safe keeping. The location was known only to the priests who sealed the Ark away. It is theorized these priests either did not survive to reveal the Ark’s locations, or they never felt it safe to remove the Ark during their lifetime. Excavation and exploration of the Temple Mount is limited due to both religious and political tensions in the area, so the possibility of unknown secret chambers remains a very real possibility.

8. One of the less well accepted theories is that when Titus defeated Jerusalem in 70 A.D. he had the Ark removed and taken back to Rome. On the Triumphant Arch of Titus you can clearly see a Menorah and other treasures taken from the Temple, but nothing resembling the Ark. It is also worth noting that historian Josephus who was a witness to the fall of Jerusalem makes no mention of the Ark being in the Temple in any of his writings. This leads many to believe the Ark had already been removed prior to Josephus’ lifetime.

9. There are also claims by arm-chair archaeologist Ron Wyatt that he discovered the Ark, but was unable to recover it, or take pictures. He claimed to have found the Ark in a cave located in the Garden Tomb of Jerusalem. Wyatt claims when he returned the entrance to cave had been sealed over with concrete and his discovery silenced by the Israeli government. It is unclear why he felt the Israeli government would conceal the discovery as the Ark would be an amazing find for the Jewish people. It should be noted that the Council of the Garden Tomb Association total refute Wyatt's claims to have found the Ark. Given the lack of evidence, and Wyatt's past claims of discoveries, this claim is given very little credibility.

10. While doubted by many, some archaeologist believe the Ark was removed from the Temple in Jerusalem and placed in an Egyptian Temple in the city of Djaharya in Israel. As mentioned, this theory has a great many detractors who claim the theory is riddled with errors and oversights. This theory was the subject of a documentary film by Mike Sanders released in 2006. Sanders is an amateur archaeologist who also claims to have located the Garden of Eden.

11. Many theories concerning the Ark have been connected to the ‘copper scroll’ found with the Dead Sea Scrolls. The copper scroll is believed by many to be a treasure map to a number of artifacts, one of which is the Ark of the Covenant. Vendyl Jones, a Noahide Scholar believed he had found the location of the Ark by his translation of the Copper Scroll. He believed the Ark was hidden in a cave near Qumran on the Dead Sea. Excavations were conducted, but thus far no evidence of the Ark has been discovered.

12. One legend tells us the Ark of the Covenant was taken to Ireland and buried on the Hill of Tara. This supposedly is where the Irish legend of the buried pot of gold at the end of the rainbow originated. The hill of Tara was actually excavated between the years of 1899 and 1902 by a group known as the British-Israelites, but they did not find the Ark. - Tara is the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland and the group had developed a theory the Ark had been buried there. Using ancient Irish mythology and literature they came to the conclusion the Ark was buried at Tara in the grave of an Egyptian Princess named Tea Tephi. They did not find the Ark, and very few people give their theory and serious consideration.

13. One of the more interesting theories concerning the Ark is that it was not destroyed, but it is no longer on the Earth. In the Book of Revelation, written by the Apostle John, we see the final mention of the Ark in the Bible. 

"And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder, and an earthquake, and a great hailstorm." - Revelation 11:19 

Some point to this passage to show the Ark was taken up to heaven, thus making it impossible to be found by man. Others say this was just a metaphor used by John. It must also be pointed out that the Ark of the covenant is said to have 'appeared' in heaven during the final days. Does this mean the Ark will remain on earth until that time? Thus indicating the Ark has not been destroyed or melted down, but it still intact?

14. One of the most credible theories concerning what happened to the Ark of the Covenant tells us the Ark was careful hidden in a cave in Mount Nebo. In 2 Maccabees  we are told of how the prophet Jeremiah removed the Ark from the temple and hide it in a cave. The book of Maccabees is not considered sacred scripture by many Christians but is a part of the Roman Catholic Bible. The book of Maccabees was included in all versions of the Bible prior to the Protestant reformation. The leaders of the Protestant church did not feel Maccabees was a sacred scripture and removed it, along with six other books from the Bible.

"We know from the records that Jeremiah the prophet instructed the people who were being taken into exile to hide some fire from the altar, as we have just mentioned. We also know that he taught them God’s Law and warned them not to be deceived by the ornamented gold and silver idols which they would see in the land of their exile. And then he urged them never to abandon the Law. 

These same records also tell us that 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. 

Some of Jeremiah’s friends tried to follow him and mark the way, but they could not find the cave. 7When 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 splendor. 

(2 Maccabee’s 2:1–8)

This clearly shows Jeremiah believed he had hidden the one true Ark and it would not be removed from its hiding place until such time as God allowed it. It is unclear if this time is in reference to the end times, or another point in history when God will chose to reveal himself. It must also be considered possible that the life of Jesus was this dazzling light and the Ark of the Covenant was no longer needed as a means of communicating with God. We now have the risen Christ to act as our mediator and the Ark of the Covenant now holds value only as a historical artifact, should its final hiding place ever be discovered.

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