The Ark of the Covenant has captivated the imagination of numerous theologians, historians, archaeologists and explorers. It holds special significance for the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and is mentioned in the texts as a sign for the believers. In popular culture, it has gained the status of a cult relic through the movie Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981). It remains arguably one of the most sacred and mysterious relic of our time.
What is the Ark of the Covenant?
The Ark of the covenant is believed to be a chest made out of wood, over layered with gold that carries the articles that were used by Moses (1391–1271 BCE) and Aaron. These articles include the two stone tablets, on which the Ten Commandments were carved.
The Bible (Book of Exodus) describes the size of the Ark as 2.5 cubits in length, 1.5 in breadth, and 1.5 in height. According to the New Testament (Letter to the Hebrews), the Ark also contains staff (rod) of Aaron, Jar of Manna (Mano –Salwa) and the first scroll of Torah written by Moses. Book of Exodus further reveals that the ark was made on the command of God on Mount Sinai.
What happened to the Ark?
In the Quran, there is a verse (Chapter 2:248) in which a Prophet (believed to be Samuel) tells the Israelites that the Ark (العهد تابوت ) that will be revealed to Talut (Saul 1082 BC–1010 BC ) is a testament to his right to the throne and will be a sign for the believers.
It is important to note here that through accounts by Ussher and Jerome, that date Moses to have been born much later ( 15 71 and 1592 BC respectively) compared to mentioned lifespan in rabbinical literature, there is nearly a 500 year gap between the two (Moses and Saul). This means that the location of the Ark remained unknown prior to the Saul’s accession to the throne.
From Saul, the Ark was passed on to David (RA) and from whom it was passed on to Prophet Solomon. It was Solomon who built a temple for the Ark and rested it in a special inner room named Kodesh Hakidashim (English. Holy of Holies).
The reign of Solomon ended in 931 BC. The ark remained in the temple for another 344 years till the Babylonian conquest in 587 BC. That was the time of the prophet Jeremiah, who had been tasked to warn the Israelites of an impending disaster that will be unleashed through invasion.
Where is the Ark of the Covenant?
In the conquest lead by Nebuchadnezzar, Jerusalem and the temple of Solomon was destroyed. The Ark since has disappeared and its whereabouts, to this day are unknown. It is believed that for its preservation, the ark was removed before the temple was destroyed.
There are multiple theories regarding where it may have been relocated. There have been numerous studies conducted and archaeological research carried out, by individuals as well as institutions. The results are varied. They point to its presence in Jerusalem, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Daharia in Palestine and even Aksum in Ethiopia.
An important point to mention here is that even when the Ark was present inside Solomon’s temple, it was not accessible to everyone. Only the most pious and penitent priest was able to visit the chambers where it rested. It is believed that the Ark was protected by divine powers and ordinary mortals with unpurified hearts were banished if they tried to access it with ill intentions.
Within the Judaic schools of thought, there is a strong belief that the ark is buried either in the tunnels underneath the temple mount or in the tunnels that run underneath the city of Jerusalam. Since the Jews have believed that the Ark would only reappear after the coming of the Messiah, it is mainly people of Christian faith who have looked for it down the years.
According to an article by Harun Yahya, the first recorded “Ark Excavations” on the Temple Mount were carried out by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. Among the Muslims, the Shia sect has remained more interested in the Ark.
This is because according to some traditions, that are not regarded as extremely authentic; the Mahdi (reformer that will appear near the end of times) will find the ark and unveil it as one of the signs of his dominion. The Mahdi holds special significance in the Shia creed as the twelfth and the last Imam (leaders) of the Muslims. According to one tradition, he will bring it forth from a place near Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee). While in other commentaries the mountains of Syria (Shaam) have been mentioned.
As the Ark both from Judaic and Islamic point of view is a relic that will only be unveiled by a leader (Messiah and Mahdi respectively) towards the end of times, there has been lesser interest in expediting its search. Nonetheless, the unveiling of the Ark will be significant to all major religions as a sign that affirms their belief.
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Further Reading: Time Travel in the Koran