Who stole the Ark of the Covenant?

[Decision 1/2012; last updated on May 15, 2012]

Suddenly she was standing in front of me: Only a pane of glass separated me from the Ark of the Covenant! Unfortunately, it was only a replica that I photographed through the window of the souvenir shop at the Meggido archaeological site in northern Israel. I was so surprised that I didn't even ask for the price.

But where is the real Ark of the Covenant? It disappeared from the scene over 2,500 years ago and has been lost ever since. There are serious, legendary, fictional and sarcastic assumptions about where it might have gone: In the basement of Hypo Real Estate (1), in a secret CIA warehouse, in a church in Ethiopia, Scotland or France, inside Mount Nebo or the Temple Mount. Or in the cellar of a certain Professor Hirtemann, who keeps homemade strawberry jam in it (2) ...

The search for the Ark of the Covenant became particularly popular with the film "Indiana Jones - Raiders of the Lost Ark". In an Egyptian grave, the adventurer discovers the greatest of all treasures, which then falls into the hands of the National Socialists - but ultimately brings ruin. In the end, the CIA hides her in a secret warehouse. In the latest Indiana Jones film, "The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," the Ark of the Covenant can be seen briefly in a torn open box after a wild chase through this camp.

In a kit for the Indiana Jones series there is even a Lego Ark of the Covenant: five centimeters tall and consisting of 17 parts.

So much for fiction - but what are the facts?

In Exodus 25: 10–16, God commands the people of Israel through Moses: “Make an ark of acacia wood; The length shall be two and a half cubits, a cubit and a half breadth, and a cubit and a half height. You shall overlay it with fine gold inside and outside, and make a golden wreath around it. And pour four gold rings and put them on their four corners, so that there are two rings on one side and two on the other. And make staves of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and put them in the rings on the sides of the ark, to be carried with them. They should stay in the rings and not be pulled out. And you shall put in the ark the law that I will give you. "

Chapter 37 tells how it was made according to these instructions by the artisan Bezalel, including a mercy seat with two cherubim, from which God wanted to speak to the people (Exodus 25:22).

Both in the crossing of the Jordan and in the conquest of the city of Jericho, the bundleade, which was carried by the priests, played an important role (Joshua 3:17; 6,8). After the conquest of the land of Israel, the ark of the covenant was in different places: On Mount Ebal (Joshua 8:33), in Bethel (Judges 20:27) and in Shiloh (1 Samuel 3: 3).

Later she was brought to Eben-Eser to help in the fight against the Philistines. The people have meanwhile placed their trust in the ark of the covenant - no longer in the living God. This wrong path led to the fact that the Philistines not only succeeded in defeating the Israelite army, but also in kidnapping God's sanctuary (1 Samuel 4ff). Their presence, however, brought great misfortune to the conquerors. After seven months, they desperately returned the ark to the Israelites. From then on she stayed in Kirjat-Jearim until David became king, about 100 years.

David brought the ark to Jerusalem and danced before it with great enthusiasm. The holy shrine was doomed for the charioteer Usa: “And when they came to the threshing floor of Nachon, Usa grabbed hold of the ark of God, because the cattle slipped. Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Usa, and God struck him there, because he had stretched out his hand to the ark, and he died there by the ark of God ”(2 Samuel 6: 6-7)

David was horrified and brought the ark to a foreigner, the Gatiter Obed-Edom. It was only when he was blessed by this that the king brought her to the city of David.

While David's flight from Absolom, the priest Zadok brought the ark to him, but had it returned to its place (2 Samuel 15) - David trusted God, not the ark (verse 25).

Finally, the ark came for the dedication of Solomon's Temple in the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 8: 6), which from then on could only be entered by the high priest once a year - on the Day of Atonement. In the ark of the covenant were the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. According to Hebrews 9.4, "the golden jar with the bread from heaven and Aaron's staff" were also temporarily in it.

About 300 years later, King Josiah had the sacred chest brought back to the temple (2. Chr. 35,3), presumably it had been removed by his ungodly predecessors. And then the ark of the covenant becomes silent. Has she already had Josiah hidden because he foresaw the impending disaster - the imminent fall of Jerusalem?

Destroyed or Saved?

587 BC Jerusalem was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and the temple was destroyed. The enemy army dragged the Jews to Babylon and also looted the equipment of the temple. “And all the utensils in the house of God, great and small, the treasures in the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king and his superiors, he caused everything to be brought to Babylon. And they burned the house of God and tore down the wall of Jerusalem and burned down all of their castle towers with fire, so that all their precious objects were destroyed. "(2 Chr. 36,18-19, see also Jeremiah 52 and 2 Kings 25) Was the ark of the covenant among the treasures? Was it destroyed - or was it no longer in place before?

When returning from the Babylonian captivity, the temple inventory is also mentioned: "And king Cyrus gave up the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and brought into the house of his God" (Ezra 1,7). It follows a more precise list, but here too: an iron silence about the ark of the covenant.

After the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. A triumphal arch was built in honor of the general and Caesar Titus, the reliefs of which show the booty: the menorah, the seven-armed candlestick from the temple, is impressive. Next to it is the showbread table and two silver trumpets. No ark of the covenant. Where did she go

The ark of the Covenant has a special tradition in Ethiopia: in the city of Aksum, which is holy for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, once a year a box covered with silk scarves is carried through the city in a procession. According to the Ethiopian tradition "Kebra Negest", King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba had a son, Menelik, who is said to have stolen the Ark of the Covenant and replaced it with a forgery. This legend is hardly credible, the tradition only originated around the year 1300. In 1868 an Armenian named Dimotheus managed to take a look at the Ethiopian chest. According to his description, it has little in common with the biblical ark. It is doubtful whether a replica - especially its content - could have deceived the Israelite priests. By the way, there are similar stories from Zimbabwe and South Africa.

A tunnel under the Temple Mount

Particular attention in all speculations naturally goes to the Temple Mount - the biblical Mount Morija. Was the Ark of the Covenant hidden in an underground cave system before Nebuchadnezzar conquered it? The most exciting story takes place in 1911: An English nobleman by the name of Montagu Brownlow Parker, Earl of Morley, secretly wanted to dig a tunnel inside the Temple Mount because the Muslim Dome of the Rock made - and still does - official excavations impossible. After much adversity, Parker saw only one last daring chance to reach his goal: he bribed an Arab overseer and, with a few helpers, set out inside the Dome of the Rock to get into the underground tunnel system. But soon another Arab became aware of the strange noises coming from inside the sanctuary. Since he thought the intruders were evil spirits, he ran away headless before sounding the alarm. So Parker's team managed by a hair's breadth to leave the Dome of the Rock - and the country as quickly as possible via the port in Jaffa! It was speculated that the men found the Ark of the Covenant and took it with them - but this is very unlikely given the breakneck escape.

Charles Warren was not only a London police inspector who was on the trail of the serial killer "Jack the Ripper", but also a famous explorer of the Temple Mount. In 1867 he mapped the tunnel system of the Temple Mount and "probably saw more of the Jerusalem underground than any other person in modern times (3)". The political situation was a little less tense at the time, but he too had the vengeance of the Mohammedans in mind when he tampered with a stone slab to explore a shaft inside the Dome of the Rock. Meanwhile, two English ladies distracted the guard. He did not find any hidden temple treasures, but his maps of the tunnel system still form the basis of all research on the Temple Mount today.

The team from the ZDF series "Terra X" discovered a new trace: on infrared images taken by the helicopter, a dark line can be seen leading out of the side of the Dome of the Rock. But what does it mean? “In order to gain clarity, one would have to start the spade at this point. But for political and religious reasons, the Temple Mount is taboo for archaeologists. "(4)

Tobias Daniel Wabbel suspects in his new book "The Templar Treasure" that during the Crusades about 1000 years ago the Knights Templar found the ark of the covenant hiding inside the Temple Mount. They then brought them to Europe and finally hid them in the cathedral of Laon in northern France, where they are still buried today. But he cannot provide any proof of this.

Secret passage in Jordan

The Ark of the Covenant in a hiding place in Mount Morija - up to the time of the Crusades or even today? This is unlikely when you consider the massive renovation work King Herod carried out on the Temple Mount: The area of ​​the plateau was more than doubled, extensive earthworks would certainly have unearthed everything that was hidden somewhere. Then the destruction by the Romans and the construction of the Islamic sanctuaries in the 7th century - hardly to assume that a treasure would have remained hidden in any secret tunnel.

What is interesting, however, is a discovery by the archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer, who transferred the dimensions of the Solomonic Temple to the rock in the middle of the Muslim Dome of the Rock: the Ark of the Covenant could have stood exactly where a chiseled rectangle still visible today is. The hiding place of the Ark of the Covenant is not known, but at least the place where it was possibly placed at the time of the first temple.

Where else could the ark of the covenant be? In the 1920s, the American Antonia Frederick Futterer claimed that he had found a secret passage on Mount Nebo in Jordan that led to the Ark of the Covenant. He owed proof of this, as did his compatriot Tom Crotser in 1981, who did present photos, but with a gilded box that was obviously made recently.

The search on Mount Nebo is based on the apocryphal book of Maccabees. There it is said of Jeremiah that “he went out to the mountain which Moses had climbed, and from which he had seen the hereditary land of the Lord. When Jeremiah got there, he found a cave; in it he hid the tabernacle and the ark and the altar of incense and locked the entrance. "(2 Maccabees 2,5)

As a prophet on behalf of God, Jeremiah foretold the fall of Jerusalem. Perhaps with this knowledge he and some priests brought the ark to safety. The Bible indicates that the Babylonian conquerors first captured and eventually killed the priests (2 Kings 25). Did they want to find out where they were hiding? As God-fearing Jews, did they keep their secret until death?

Ultimately, two possibilities seem most likely: Either the ark was made in 587 BC. destroyed along with the temple by Nebuchadnezzar's soldiers. Or it was so well hidden by pious men that it has not yet been possible to find it.

Precisely in the biblical book of the prophet - and priest - Jeremiah it is said that "in those days one should no longer speak of the ark of the Lord, remember it or ask about it and no longer miss it; nor will it be made again. ”(Jeremiah 3:16) Jesus made the ark of the covenant dispensable because he created a direct connection to God. "But Christ came as a high priest of the goods to come through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that was not made with hands." (Hebrews 9:11) In Revelation 11 the ark of God is visible in the heavenly temple.

We don't need the ark. God came to us humans in Jesus. The ark was just an object that God chose to be his throne. Too often the Israelites had forgotten that the ark itself had no effect - God worked through it. But his work was and is not dependent on sacred objects or places.

Fantastics have speculated whether the Ark of the Covenant could have been an ancient battery and whether Usa died from an electrostatic discharge. But the magical power as in the Indiana Jones films did not exist. It was God's power alone that was shown through the ark. We have to seek God, not the ark of the covenant!

Of course, it would still be exciting for those interested in archeology to find it: how magnificent it must have been! What does a cherubim really look like? What letters did God himself use to engrave the Ten Commandments on the two stone tablets? The Ark of the Covenant is unlikely to be found - but the thought of it is breathtaking!

The cherubim

The cherubim appear for the first time after the fall: "And he drove the man out and put the cherubim with the flaming, flashing sword to guard the way to the tree of life" (Genesis 3 , 24). In addition to the ornamentation of the "mercy throne", which serves as the cover plate of the Ark of the Covenant, two five-meter-high specimens were placed in the temple and decorated the curtains of the Holy of Holies and the temple walls as motifs. She also mentions Ezekiel in his visions. The Old Testament does not specifically describe the appearance or characteristics of the cherubim. They are represented as winged beings with feet and hands. They had a close connection with God and held a superhuman position as a kind of angel. From archeology, winged beings, to which the cherubim representations could have resembled, are known from all over the Middle East: They were often part of mythology, art and architecture - for example as gatekeepers of Assyrian cities. Most scholars believe that the biblical authors were inspired by these winged beings. Conversely, one can also think about whether such unearthly beings were actually remembered by people from ancient encounters and whether they manifested themselves in various representations. If one proceeds from a biblical view of history, one must not conclude from a development from the belief in many gods to monotheism, but rather the other way around.

The terrible punishment on Usa

Usa had the best of intentions: the Ark of the Covenant might be threatening to tip off the wagon and fall on the pavement when the cattle slipped. Maybe it was wet or it was going uphill. The death penalty seems very harsh and David will have felt the same way. But the situation shows how seriously God takes his instructions and his holiness. The Ark of the Covenant should not have been transported on a wagon. The carrying bars were there so that the ark was carried by the priest. And not even the "sons of Kehat" (see Numbers 4:15) who were assigned to this service should not have "touched the sacred itself"! Was exuberance and joy the right way to bring the ark to Jerusalem? Perhaps more awe would have been appropriate.


(1) http://www.der-postillon.com/2011/10/legendares-bernsteinzimmer-in-keller.html

(2) http://www.hirtemann.de/theorien/bundeslade.htm, among the top 5 Google hits for "Ark of the Covenant"

(3) Georg Graffe: The hunt for the Ark of the Covenant, Terra-X anthology, p. 94

(4) ibid., P. 139