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Has the Ark of the Covenant been destroyed or is it still among us?

Ark of the Covenant
Ark of the Covenant in the movies

Did the Ark of the Covenant really exist? According to the fragments of the Dead Sea manuscripts, Mosè received the order from God to build it.

Manuscripts are very difficult to read and interpret given their state of preservation, but the references to the Ark (litterally “the cupboard”) are numerous and confirm that in the Old Testament, already two thousand years ago (the rolls are dated between 150 BC and 70 AD), the Ark was believed to be a concrete object.

No other reference to the Ark of the Covenant

The strange thing is that outside the Old Testament there are no other references to this mystical object, a gold-covered treasure chest that contained the originals Tables of the Law and, at least initially, even a gold vase containing the manna and the rod of Aaron.

Anche da ricostruzioni fatte in questi anni è risultato perfettamente plausibile che utilizzando le tecniche di 5 mila anni fa l’artigiano israelita Bezaleel may have carved the acacia wooden boards of the Ark and melted the gold plates with which they would have been coated, as well as details like gold rings and cherubim (angels Metatron and Sandalphon) described by the Bible.

The latter could also have been inspired by the Egyptian and Sumerian sphinxes that the Jews might have known. Also the amount of gold needed, about 615 pounds, seems compatible with the availability of precious metal that the whole people of Israel could have at the time.

Ark of the Covenant
Replicas of the Ark during the processions (Living Nativity of Giulianova)

Is it possible that the Ark was built, but had mystical powers?

If the Ark can therefore have been materially built and have taken “artistic” from sacred representations of contemporary civilizations of the region, the doubt remains whether it was ever really created and if it had genuine devastating powers which it had according to legend.

It is handed down, in fact, that during some battles from it divine flashes of light sprang forth, of lightning bolts capable of incinerating whoever was affected, even if he had not respected the prohibition to approach it (a description that made us think of a laser weapon or a device of alien origin).

Small “arks” able to contain objects of worship were widespread throughout the Middle East of that era, as confirmed by a series of archaeological finds. No one, except the high priests, could see the arcs, once or twice a year, entering a room, the “sancta sanctorum”, whose access was forbidden to anyone else.

The peregrinations of the Ark of the Covenant over the centuries

In the case of the Ark of the Covenant, after the pilgrimage during the desert it was first guarded in the temple of Silo, then captured by Philistines before being returned and kept in Kiriat-Iearim, finally in the Temple of Solomon, in Jerusalem. At that point, however, the Ark disappears from history.

After a long siege by a Babylonian army in 586 BC Jerusalem falls and the temple was destroyed. However, the Ark is not mentioned in the list of sacred furnishings transported to Babylon, nor in that of the objects returned in 538 BC.

What had happened to the Ark? According to the Ethiopian tradition Menelik, son of Solomon eand of the queen of Saba (modern day Ethiopia), managed to steal it around the second half of the tenth century BC.

Ark of the Covenant
Replicas of the Ark during processions (Municipality of Sezze)

Is it possible that the Ark is in Axum?

Ethiopian Christians claim that it has been preserved at least since the seventeenth century in the Coptic Christian church of Axum, but apart from that the statement is not verifiable, since the temple is not accessible to any person except the custodian priest(who lives his entire life inside the chapel where the Ark would be kept without being able to have contact with the outside), would remain to be explained where the Ark has been for over 2 thousand years.

At least initially (for eight centuries) the Ark would have been on the island of Elephantine. Other clues lead to Lalibela, city built by the homonymous Ethiopian king in the Tigray mountains, in Ethiopia, on the model of Jerusalem, during only 24 years in the twelfth century after Christ.

For Orthodox Christians the ark has been in Ethiopia for three thousand years

Still Lalibela for the Ethiopian Christians it is the most sacred place ever, perhaps more than the church of Axum itself, and every beginning of the year, in the first twenty days of January, a crowd of pilgrims reaches Lalibela from all over the country to participate in the great Epiphany procession, during which “talbots” (replicas of the Ark present in every Ethiopian Christian church) are shown to pilgrims.

Nevertheless, there is no archaeological evidence of the existence of the original Ark of the Alliance and many experts believe that the artifact was simply destroyed at the end of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.

Yet in June 2009 the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abuna Paulos, publicly declared that Ethiopia was “the throne of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant has been in Ethiopia for three thousand years and is now still there and with God's will it will continue to be there”. Thus the legend of the Lost Ark remains more alive than ever.

Tags: Unsolved mysteries, Religions, Archaeology, history