Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant is described in the Hebrew Bible as a sacred container, wherein rested the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. The Ark was built at the command of God, in accord with Moses' prophetic vision on Mount Sinai (Exodus 25:9-10). Its primary function was for God to communicate with Moses, also to give detailed instructions about what was good and what was forbidden, "from between the two cherubim" on the Ark's cover (Exodus 25:22). The Ark and its sanctuary were "the beauty of Israel" (Lamentations 2:1). Rashi and some Midrashim suggest that there were two arks - a temporary one made by Moses, and a later one made by Bezalel (Hertz 1936).
During the journeys of the Israelites, the Ark was carried by the priests in advance of the people and their army or host (Numbers 4:5, 6; 10:33-36; Psalms 68:1; 132:8). When the Ark was borne by priests into the bed of the Jordan, the river was separated, opening a pathway for the whole of the host to pass over (Joshua 3:15, 16; 4:7, 10, 11, 17, 18). The Ark was moreover borne in the procession around Jericho (Josh. 6:4, 6, 8, 11, 12). When carried, the Ark was always wrapped in a veil, in tachash skins (the identity of this animal is uncertain), and a blue cloth, and was carefully concealed, even from the eyes of the Levites who carried it.
The Hebrew word aron is used in the Bible to designate any type of ark, chest or coffer, for any purpose (Genesis 50:26; 2 Kings 12:9, 10). The Ark of the Covenant is distinguished from all others by such titles as "Ark of God" (1 Samuel 3:3), "Ark of the Covenant" (Josh. 3:6; Hebrews 9:4), "Ark of the Testimony" (Ex. 25:22).
The Ark is referred to by several names in the Bible. The following is a list of common references to the Ark:
* The Ark
* The Ark of the Testimony
* The Ark of the Covenant
* The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord
* The Ark wherein is the Covenant of the Lord, which he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the Land of Egypt
* The Ark wherein is the Covenant of the Lord, that he made with the Children of Israel
* The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of all the Earth
* The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts, who dwelleth between the cherubim
* The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God
* The Ark of the Covenant of God
* The Ark of the Lord
* The Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the Earth
* The Ark of the Lord God
* The Ark of the Lord God of Israel
* The Ark of the Lord your God
* The Ark of God
* The Ark of our God
* The Ark of the God of Israel
* The Ark of God which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord of hosts who dwelleth between the cherubim
* The Ark of God, the Lord, who dwelleth between the cherubim, which is called the Name
* The Holy Ark
* The Ark of thy Gods strength
The Bible describes the Ark as made of acacia or shittah-tree wood. It was a cubit and a half broad and high, and two and a half cubits long (about 114 x 68 x 68 cm or 3.75 x 2.25 x 2.25 feet). The Ark was covered all over with the purest gold. Its upper surface or lid, the mercy seat, was surrounded with a rim of gold.
On each of the two sides were two gold rings, wherein were placed two wooden poles (with a decorative sheathing of gold), to allow the Ark to be carried (Num. 7:9; 10:21; 4:5,19, 20; 1 Kings 8:3, 6). Over the Ark, at the two extremities, were two cherubim, with their faces turned toward one another (Leviticus 16:2; Num. 7:89). Their outspread wings over the top of the Ark formed the throne of God, while the Ark itself was his footstool (Ex. 25:10-22; 37:1-9). The Ark was placed in the "Holy of Holies," so that one end of the carrying poles touched the veil separating the two compartments of the tabernacle (1 Kings 8:8).
According to the Bible, the two tablets of stone constituting the "testimony" or evidence of God's covenant with the people (Deuteronomy 31:26) were kept within the Ark itself. A golden jar containing some of the manna from the Israelites' trek in the wilderness, and the rod of Aaron that budded, were added to the contents of the Ark (Ex. 16:32-34; Heb. 9:4), but apparently were later removed at some point prior to the building of Solomon's temple, as the Tanakh states in I Kings 8:9 that there "was nothing in the Ark save the two tables of stone." While Heb. 9:4 states these items were placed "inside" the Ark, Ex. 16:33 & 34 and Nu. 17:10 use the expression "before" the Ark; some see a contradiction here, as the correct meaning of these phrases is open to interpretation. A Rabbinic tradition states that Moses also put the broken fragments of the first tablets of the Law into the Ark (Hertz 1936).
Even Aaron, brother of Moses and the High Priest, was forbidden to enter the place of the Ark apart from only once per year on a designated day, when he was to perform certain ceremonies there (Lev. 16). Moses was directed to consecrate the Ark, when completed, with the oil of holy ointment (Ex. 30:23-26); and he was also directed to have the Ark made by Bezaleel, son of Uri of the tribe of Judah, and by Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan (Ex. 31:2-7). These instructions Moses carried out, calling upon "every wisehearted" one among the people to assist in the work (Ex. 35:10-12). Bezaleel the artist made the Ark (Ex. 37:1); and Moses approved the work, put the testimony in the Ark, and installed it.
In Deut. 10:1-5, a different account of the making of the Ark is given. Moses is made to say that he constructed the Ark before going upon Mount Sinai to receive the second set of tablets. The charge of carrying the Ark and the rest of the holy implements was given to the family of Kohath (of the tribe of Levi). They, though, were not to touch any of the holy things that were still uncovered by Aaron (Num. 4:2-15).
The Ark of the Covenant mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy 10, is simply a recollection of the same events leading up to the actual construction of the same Ark mentioned in the book of Leviticus 37. Hence there is no real confusion, only less detail.
The Ark of the Covenant is mentioned in both the Bible and the Qur'an.
The only mention of the Ark in the books of the prophets is the reference to it by Jeremiah, who, speaking in the days of Josiah (Jer. 3:16), prophesies a future time when the Ark will no longer be needed because of the righteousness of the people. In the Psalms, the Ark is twice referred to. In Ps. 78:61 its capture by the Philistines is spoken of, and the Ark is called "the strength and glory of God"; and in Ps. 132:8, it is spoken of as "the ark of the strength of the Lord."
The Ark is mentioned in one passage in the deuterocanonical 2 Maccabees 2:4-10, which contains a reference to a document saying that the prophet Jeremiah, "being warned of God," took the Ark, and the tabernacle, and the altar of incense, and buried them in a cave on Mount Nebo (Deut 34:1), informing those of his followers who wished to find the place that it should remain unknown "until the time that God should gather His people again together, and receive them unto mercy." Hebrews 9:4 states that the Ark contained "the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant." Finally, in Revelation 11:19, the Ark is described as being in heaven, just before the woman clothed with the sun appears (Book of Revelation 12).
There is a brief mention of the Ark of the Covenant in Islamic literature. This mention is in the middle of the narrative of the choice of Saul to be king. The Qur'an states:
And (further) their Prophet said to them: "A Sign of his authority is that there shall come to you the Ark of the Covenant, with (an assurance) therein of security from your Lord, and the relics left by the family of Moses and the family of Aaron, carried by angels. In this is a Symbol for you if ye indeed have faith."
Various historical Islamic scholars have stated that the Ark may have held a chrysolite or ruby figure, with the head and tail of a she-cat and with two wings. Al-Tha'alibi, in "Qisas al-Anbiya" (The Stories of the Prophets), give an earlier and later history of the Ark.
According to a few Muslim scholars, the Ark of the Covenant does not have a religious basis in Islam, and Islam does not give it any special significance. Others believe that it will be found by Mahdi near the end of times. These Islamic scholars believe inside there will be relics left by the people of Moses and the people of Aaron. There might be the sceptres of Moses (eg., Nehushtan), Aaron's rod, Plates of the Torah, and Aaron's turban.
In the march from Sinai, and at the crossing of the Jordan, the Ark preceded the people, and was the signal for their advance (Num. 10:33; Josh. 3:3, 6). The Ark of the Covenant burned the thorns and other obstructions in the wilderness roads. According to tradition, sparks from between the two cherubim killed serpents and scorpions. (Canticles iii) During the crossing of the Jordan, the river grew dry as soon as the feet of the priests carrying the Ark touched its waters; and remained so until the priests -- with the Ark -- left the river, after the people had passed over (Josh. 3:15-17; 4:10, 11, 18). As memorials, twelve stones were taken from the Jordan at the place where the priests had stood (Josh. 4:1-9).
The Ark was carried into battle, such as in the Midian war (Num. 31). During the ceremonies preceding the capture of Jericho, the Ark was carried round the city in the daily procession, preceded by the armed men and by seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams' horns (Josh. 6:6-15). After the defeat at Ai, Joshua lamented before the Ark (Josh. 7:6-9). When Joshua read the Law to the people between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, they stood on each side of the Ark. The Ark was again set up by Joshua at Shiloh; but when the Israelites fought against Benjamin at Gibeah, they had the Ark with them, and consulted it after their defeat.
The Ark is next spoken of as being in the tabernacle at Shiloh during Samuel's apprenticeship (1 Sam. 3:3). After the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan, the Ark remained in the tabernacle at Gilgal for a season, then was removed to Shiloh until the time of Eli, between 300 and 400 years (Jeremiah 7:12), when it was carried into the field of battle, so as to secure, as they supposed, victory to the Hebrews; and it was taken by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:3-11), who sent it back after retaining it seven months (1 Sam. 5:7, 8) because of the events said to have transpired. After their first defeat at Eben-ezer, the Israelites had the Ark brought from Shiloh, and welcomed its coming with great rejoicing.
In the second battle, the Israelites were again defeated, and the Philistines captured the Ark (1 Sam. 4:3-5, 10, 11). The news of its capture was at once taken to Shiloh by a messenger "with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head." The old priest, Eli, fell dead when he heard it; and his daughter-in-law, bearing a son at the time the news of the capture of the Ark was received, named him Ichabod—explained as "Where is glory?" in reference to the loss of the Ark (1 Sam. 4:12-22).
The Philistines took the Ark to several places in their country, and at each place misfortune resulted to them (1 Sam. 5:1-6). At Ashdod it was placed in the temple of Dagon. The next morning Dagon was found prostrate, bowed down, before it; and on being restored to his place, he was on the following morning again found prostrate and broken. The people of Ashdod were smitten with boils; a plague of mice was sent over the land (1 Sam. 6:5). The affliction of boils was also visited upon the people of Gath and of Ekron, whither the Ark was successively removed (1 Sam. 5:8-12).
After the Ark had been among them seven months, the Philistines, on the advice of their diviners, returned it to the Israelites, accompanying its return with an offering consisting of golden images of the boils and mice wherewith they had been afflicted. The Ark was set in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite, and the Beth-shemites offered sacrifices and burnt offerings (1 Sam. 6:1-15). Out of curiosity the men of Beth-shemesh gazed at the Ark; and as a punishment over fifty thousand of them were smitten by the Lord (1 Sam. 6:19). The Bethshemites sent to Kirjath-jearim, or Baal-Judah, to have the Ark removed (1 Sam. 6:21); and it was taken to the house of Abinadab, whose son Eleazar was sanctified to keep it. Kirjath-jearim was the abode of the Ark for twenty years. Under Saul, the Ark was with the army before he first met the Philistines, but the king was too impatient to consult it before engaging in battle. In 1 Chronicles 13:3 it is stated that the people were not accustomed to consult the Ark in the days of Saul.
At the very beginning of his reign, David removed the Ark from Kirjath-jearim amid great rejoicing. On the way to Zion, Uzzah, one of the drivers of the cart whereon the Ark was carried, put out his hand to steady the Ark, and was smitten by the Lord for touching it. David, in fear, carried the Ark aside into the house of Obed-edom the Gittite, instead of carrying it on to Zion, and here it stayed three months (2 Sam. 6:1-11; 1 Chron. 13:1-13).
On hearing that the Lord had blessed Obed-edom because of the presence of the Ark in his house, David had the Ark brought to Zion by the Levites, while he himself, "girded with a linen ephod," "danced before the Lord with all his might" — a performance that caused him to be despised and scornfully rebuked by Saul's daughter Michal (2 Sam. 6:12-16, 20-22; 1 Chron. 15). This unjustified derision on her part resulted in the permanent loss of her fertility. In Zion, David put the Ark in the tabernacle he had prepared for it, offered sacrifices, distributed food, and blessed the people and his own household (2 Sam. 6:17-20; 1 Chron. 16:1-3; 2 Chron. 1:4).
Levites were appointed to minister before the Ark (1 Chron. 16:4). David's plan of building a temple for the Ark was stopped at the advice of God (2 Sam. 7:1-17; 1 Chron. 17:1-15; 28:2, 3). The Ark was with the army during the siege of Rabbah (2 Sam. 11:11); and when David fled from Jerusalem at the time of Absalom's conspiracy, the Ark was carried along with him until he ordered Zadok the priest to return it to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15:24-29).
When Abiathar was dismissed from the priesthood by Solomon for having taken part in Adonijah's conspiracy against David, his life was spared because he had formerly borne the Ark (1 Kings 2:26). It was afterwards placed by Solomon in the temple (1 Kings 8:6-9). Solomon worshiped before the Ark after his dream in which the Lord promised him wisdom (1 Kings 3:15). In Solomon's Temple, a Holy of Holies was prepared to receive the Ark (1 Kings 6:19); and when the Temple was dedicated, the Ark -- containing nothing but the two Mosaic tables of stone -- was placed therein. When the priests emerged from the holy place after placing the Ark there, the Temple was filled with a cloud, "for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord" (1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron. 5:13, 14).
When Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter, he caused her to dwell in a house outside Zion, as Zion was consecrated because of its containing the Ark (2 Chron. 8:11). King Josiah had the Ark put into the Temple (2 Chron. 35:3), whence it appears to have again been removed by one of his successors.
When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and plundered the temple, the Ark entered the domain of legend. Many historians suppose that the ark was probably taken away by Nebuchadnezzar and destroyed. The absence of the ark from the Second Temple was acknowledged. To Roman Catholics, typologically, the Ark appears in the New Testament as Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Like the Ark, Mary goes to Judea and remains for three months (Luke 1:56). Upon her return, Elizabeth asks "How is it that the Mother of my Lord comes to me?" (Luke 1:43) This is a repeat of David's "How can the ark of the Lord come to me?" (2 Sam. 6:9) Finally, like David danced in the presence of the Ark (2 Sam. 6:14), the baby John the Baptist (son of Elizabeth) dances in the presence of Mary (Luke 1:41).
In contrast to the general consensus of historians (that supposes that the Ark was taken away and destroyed), variant traditions about the ultimate fate of the Ark include the intentional concealing of the Ark under the Temple Mount, the removal of the Ark from Jerusalem in advance of the Babylonians (this variant usually ends up with the Ark in Ethiopia), the removal of the Ark by the Ethiopian prince Menelik I (purported son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba), removal by Jewish priests during the reign of Manasseh of Judah, possibly taken to a Jewish temple on Elephantine in Egypt, and the miraculous removal of the Ark by divine intervention (Cf. 2 Chronicles).
Some believe that the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle of the Lord was hidden. This is referenced by four separate sources (except from the previous mentioned in 2 Maccabees):
1. the Mishnayot of Rabbi Hertz
2. the Marble Tablets of Beirut
3. the Copper Scroll
4. the ancient Ben Ezra Synagogue sacred texts.
The Mishnayot introduction included ancient records that Rabbi Hertz called the "Mishnayot". Hertz used the term "Mishnayot", since the text of the Mishnayot is missing from the Mishnah (Mishna), which is the first section of the Talmud, a collection of ancient Rabbinic writings including also the Gemara, "the summary", and containing the Jewish religious law.
The "missing" Mishnaic text in the Mishnayot is called the Massakhet Keilim, written in twelve chapters. Each chapter of the Mishnayot describes vessels which were hidden under the direction of Jeremiah the Prophet by five holy men (Shimor HaLevi, Chizkiah, Tzidkiyahu, Haggai the Prophet and Zechariah the Prophet), seven years prior to the destruction of Solomon's First Temple, because the dangers of Babylonian conquest were imminent. The Mishnayot describing this hiding was then written in Babylon during the Babylonian Captivity.
The first chapter of the Mishnayot describes the vessels that were hidden - including the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle of the Lord, i.e. the Mishkan, the Tablets of Moses, the altar (with cherubim) for the daily and seasonal sacrifices (the ushebtis), the Menorah (candelabra), the Qalal (copper urn) containing the Ashes of the Red Heifer (ashes from a red cow sacrificed under Moses, necessary for ritual purification of the priests), and numerous vessels of the Kohanim (priests).
The second chapter of the Mishnayot states that a list of these treasures was inscribed upon a copper tablet. This is the Copper Scroll found at Qumran.
In 1952 two large marble tablets were found in the basement of a museum in Beirut, stating they were the words of Shimor HaLevi, the servant of HaShem, and the writing on the tablets is the entire missing text of "Massakhet Keilim" (Mishnayot) including reference to the Copper Scroll.
The first of the Dead Sea Scrolls was discovered in 1947, and the famed Copper Scroll - made of pure copper - was found at Qumran in 1952. The Copper Scroll is an inventory - written in Hebrew - of treasures, thought by some to be from Solomon's First Temple, hidden before the destruction of that temple by the Babylonians and treasures which have not been seen since.
The Copper Scroll states that a silver [or alabaster?] chest, the vestments of the Cohen Gadol (Hebrew High Priest), gold and silver in great quantities, the Tabernacle of the Lord (perhaps the Mishkan) and many treasures were hidden in a desolate valley - under a hill - on its east side, forty stones deep. The Mishkan was a "portable" Temple for the Ark of the Covenant. The writings in the Copper Scroll were confirmed 40 years later in the 1990s through an ancient text found in the introduction to Emeq HaMelekh ("Valley of the King(s)") -- a book published in 1648 in Amsterdam, Holland, by Rabbi Naftali Hertz Ben Ya’acov Elchanon (Rabbi Hertz).
Work in the 1990s showed that in 1896, almost one hundred years previous, Solomon Schechter at Cambridge University in England had acquired 100,000 pages of ancient Hebrew texts from the Genizah (repository for aged sacred Jewish texts) of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt. A copy of the "Tosefta" (supplement to the Mishnah) was found in these texts, included among the text on Keilim (vessels). This "Tosefta" is the same text as cited by Rabbi Hertz as his source for the Mishnayot.
In 1989, the late Ron Wyatt claimed to have broken into a chamber while digging underground beneath Mount Moriah, also known as The Temple Mount. He claimed to have seen the ark and taken photographs. All photos came out blurry (leading to skepticism of the claim). According to Wyatt the excavations were closed off (because of private property concerns) and, to the extent of knowledge, no one has seen the ark since. Ron Wyatt was widely seen in the Biblical archaeology community as an attention seeker, often announcing he had found Biblically important objects with little or no hard evidence to back up his claims.
Vendyl Jones claimed to have found the entrance to the chamber in the cave of the Column - Qumran. Here, he stated, is where the Ark was hidden prior to the destruction of the First Temple. Arutz Sheva quoted Jones stating he would reveal the ark on Tisha B'Av (August 14, 2005), the anniversary of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. However, this did not occur. On Jones' website he states that he was misquoted and actually said it would be appropriate if he discovered the ark on Tisha B'Av. Jones is waiting for funding to explore the cave.
Modern excavations near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem have found tunnels, but digging beneath the Temple Mount is somewhat restricted. One of the most important Islamic shrines, the Dome of the Rock, sits in the location where the First Temple of Solomon once stood.
Some sources suggest that during the reign of King Manasseh (2 Chron 33) the Ark was smuggled from the temple by way of the Well of Souls and taken to Egypt, eventually ending up in Ethiopia. There are some carvings on the Cathedral of Chartres that may refer to this. This theory was dramatized by George Lucas, Philip Kaufman and Lawrence Kasdan in their story and screenplay for the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was directed by Steven Spielberg.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Axum, Ethiopia is the only one in the world which still claims to possess the Ark of the Covenant. According to the Kebra Nagast, after Menelik I had come to Jerusalem to visit his father, King Solomon, his father had given him a copy of the Ark, and had commanded the first-born sons of the elders of his kingdom to travel back to Ethiopia to settle there. However, these Israelites did not want to live away from the presence of the Ark, so they switched the copy with the original and smuggled the Ark out of the country; Menelik only learned that the original was with his group during the journey home. Not only did Solomon lose the object to his son by the Queen of Sheba but the divine favor that went with it.
Although it was once paraded before the town once each year, the object is now kept under constant guard in a "treasury" near the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, and only the head priest of the church is allowed to view it. Most Western historians are skeptical of this claim.
Andis Kaulins claims that the hiding place of the ark, said specifically by ancient sources (such as the Mishnayot), to be
"a desolate valley under a hill - on its east side, forty stones deep".
Today, it is believed by some that this refers to the Tomb of Tutankhamun (east side of the Valley of Kings, ca. forty stones deep). Some believe that what was found there are the described treasures, including the Mishkan and the Ark of the Covenant.
 Modern Interpretation
Researchers have noted that, in a dry climate, a box lined with gold could carry an electric charge, similar to the action of a Leyden Jar. This would parallel the common religious practice of concealing technological advances in devices designed to provide spectacle, such as Hero of Alexandria's use of a steam engine to open temple doors.
* The Ark of the Covenant was the focus of the highly popular 1981 adventure film Raiders of the Lost Ark. The plot suggests that Adolf Hitler, deeply interested in supernatural power and the occult, wants to acquire the Ark in order to rule the world. The Ark's location in the movie is Tanis, Egypt. Intrepid archaeologist Indiana Jones opposes the Nazis and succeeds in keeping it from them. The Ark is shown to be extremely powerful and dangerous to those who do not understand it. It is last seen being boxed up and stored in a vast U.S. government warehouse - presumably never to be seen again. It is, however, mentioned in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade humorously.
* A first season episode of the television series Xena: Warrior Princess uses the Ark as a plot device. In "The Royal Couple of Thieves", Xena recruits the King Of Thieves to assist her in stealing the Ark from a profiteering warlord. Xena returns it to its rightful people.
* The Ark is "seen again" (after the events of Raiders) in Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. It is in the giant warehouse where Wayne Szalinski's (Rick Moranis) shrink ray is held. It is seen in its crate when he finds his shrink ray.
* The time-travel card game Chrononauts includes a card called Lost Ark of the Covenant which players can symbolically acquire from the year 587 BC.
* In the TNT movie The Librarian: Quest for the Spear a young man named Flynn Carsen becomes the new Librarian and discovers that many treasures including the Ark are hidden in a secret chamber miles below the surface of the earth.
* In the Tomb Raider games Lara Croft had discovered the Ark in an unseen adventure.
* In the videogame Bloodrayne, it is inside a wooden crate inside a Nazi stronghold.