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Ark of the covenant

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The Ark of the Covenant (Hebrew: ארון הברית, Arōn HaBerīth) in the Old Testament of the Bible is the chest the Hebrews used to contain the tablets of the Law given by God to Moses. The Ark was the centerpiece of the Temple in Jerusalem, residing in the Holy of Holies, and seen just once a year by the high priest on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Biblical description

The Ark is first mentioned in Exodus, chapter 25:

10"They shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. 11"You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it. 12"You shall cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet, and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it. 13"You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14"You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. 15"The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it. 16"You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. 17"You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 18"You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19"Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. 20"The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. 21"You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. 22"There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel. Exodus 25:10-22

Essentially, the Ark was a box approximately 27 inches wide by 27 inches high by 36 inches long (Biblical: 1.5 x 1.5 x 2 cubits; a cubit = 18 inches); the "shittim wood" was determined to have been acacia. The lid of the box was solid gold and crowned by a pair of gold cherubim facing each other; the outspread wings of the cherubim formed the throne of God, while the Ark itself was His footstool.

The "staves" were gold rings on the corners, which enabled poles to be inserted when the Ark was carried by the Levites, who were the only Hebrew tribe authorized to do so. When traveling, the Ark was covered by a costly veil of blue cloth.

The Ark was also known by another name: "Ark of Testimony", the result of its containing the most important object in Hebrew life, the tablets of the Law (Exodus 40:18; Deuteronomy 10:5) given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, which were often referred to as the testimony. The tablets, as well as a pot of manna (Exodus 16:34), and Aaron's rod which had blossomed (Numbers 17:10) formed the contents of the Ark. Jewish tradition mentions that the first five books of the Torah written by Moses was also placed inside; however, according to 1 Kings 8:9, when the Ark was placed in the new Temple of Solomon, it contained only the tablets of the Law.


When the Ark was carried in the open, it was covered by a veil of badger skins, and a blue cloth, concealed even from the Levite priests who were assigned to carry it. When the Hebrews were at rest during the wanderings, the Ark was placed within the tabernacle, a tent-like structure erected as a place of worship, the Ark being placed within a segregated area inside called the “Holy of Holies”.

During the journeys of the Israelites the ark was carried by the priests in advance of the main body of the Hebrew host (Numbers 4:5, 4:6; 10:33-36; Psalms 68:1; 132:8), its power first being demonstrated when it was borne over the Jordan River, which separated into a pathway for the priests to cross (Joshua 3:15, 3:16; 4:7, 4:10, 4:11, 4:17, 4:18). It was borne in the procession round Jericho (Joshua 6:4, 6:6, 6:8, 6:11, 6:12) for seven days prior to the successful capture of that city.

Much has been said about the Ark’s power, that it was claimed to have been an early type of storage battery; indeed, warnings not to touch the Ark by anyone but the high priest were in force. One man (Uzzah) was killed by it after reaching out to steady it. The only enemy ever to capture the Ark in battle had to return it seven months later.

After the settlement of Israel in the Promised Land the ark remained in the tabernacle at Gilgal for a season, and then removed to Shiloh until the time of Eli, for about 300 years (Jeremiah 7:12). The Philistines captured it in 2883 AM ({{#show:Capture of the ark|?Began}}) and returned it seven months later ({{#show:Capture of the ark|?Ended}}) after God laid a plague on every Philistine city that harbored it. It remained then at Kirjath-jearim (1 Samuel 7:1-2) for twenty years until removed to the house of Obed-edom in Gath-rimmon for three months (2 Samuel 6:1-11) as a result of Uzzah’s transgression; when that period ended David removed it in a grand procession to Jerusalem, where it was kept till a place was prepared for it (2 Samuel 6:12-19). It was left to Solomon to build the First Temple where it was deposited (1 Kings 8:6-9). The last mention of the ark in Chronicles is 2 Chronicles 35:3-4, during the reign of Josiah, approximately 35 years before the destruction of Jerusalem.

When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and plundered the temple, the ark was probably taken away by Nebuchadnezzar and destroyed, as no trace of it is afterwards to be found. Jeremiah in the passage Jeremiah 3:16, which certainly was written after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, states that in the future new Jerusalem nobody will any more concern himself about the Ark of the Covenant, and no one will again build such a one. In the post-exilic Psalm 132:8 the Lord is petitioned to occupy together with the ark, the symbol of His omnipotent presence, also the sanctuary that has been erected for Him, the poet describing himself and those who sing this psalm as participants in the home-bringing of the ark by David. No further mention is made of the Ark of the Covenant in the Psalter or the prophetical books. The absence of the Ark from the Second Temple was considered a reason for its inferiority.

Current status

The Ark of the Covenant is the most sought-after religious object in history, involving the divinely-inspired, soul-seekers, the Knights Templars, archaeologists, historians, scholars, skeptics, and outright charlatans.


Several traditions exist as to the fate of the Ark after 587 BC. The first was written down in the book of 2nd Maccabees, apparently a copy of a letter written by the prophet Jeremiah:

The prophet, being warned by God, commanded that the tabernacle and the ark should accompany him, till he came forth to the mountain where Moses went up and saw the inheritance of God. And when Jeremias came thither he found a hollow cave and he carried in thither the tabernacle and the ark and the altar of incense, and so stopped the door. Then some of them that followed him, came up to mark the place; but they could not find it. And when Jeremias perceived it, he blamed them saying: the place shall be unknown, till God gather together the congregation of the people and receive them to mercy. And then the Lord will shew these things, and the majesty of the Lord shall appear, and there shall be a cloud as it was also shewed to Moses, and he shewed it when Solomon prayed that the place might be sanctified to the great God. (2 Maccabees 2:4-8)

According to tradition, Jeremiah was divinely warned of the Babylonian invasion, and taking the Ark he had it sealed up and hidden inside a mountain where no one could find it except during the last days; various accounts cite the location as being either Mt. Nebo in Jordan, or near the Temple Mount in a small grotto within Mt. Moriah. This in turn has led to several searches by professional and amateurs alike.


The Jeremiah's Grotto location has been the subject of several searches by Ron Wyatt (an amateur archaeologist). Jeremiah's Grotto is a small eroded hill where some believe Jesus was crucified (Golgotha). Wyatt claimed to have found the Ark there in 1982 after being divinely inspired. His search resulted in several photographs which he claimed was the Ark, albeit blurry.[1] However, Wyatt had also claimed a great many other important Biblical archaeology discoveries that led to severe criticism, most notably from Christian circles.[2]


According to another tradition, the Ark may have been removed by the Levites to keep it out of the hands of the idolatrous Israelite King Manasseh, who profaned the Temple by sacrificing to a pagan god (2 Kings 21). The tradition holds that the priests took the Ark with them east towards the Nile, where they erected an actual temple on the island of Elephantine (evidence confirms the existence of such a structure). Later on the Ark was again moved south to Ethiopia, where it resided on an island in Lake Tana for several centuries before being moved once more to Aksum, where it resides in a small chapel today.

Menelik I

A variant of this story was that the son of a union between the legendary Queen of Sheba and King Solomon had returned to Jerusalem as a young man. Menelik would stay for a short time, and either be given the Ark by his father or would steal it.


Tanis was an Egyptian city in the Nile delta region, and once the capital of Pharaoh Shoshenq I, claimed to have been the Biblical Shishak who raided Jerusalem and carried away much treasure. Belief in this theory has never been popular due to lack of supporting evidence; however, Tanis was intriguing enough to serve as a fictional location for one of today's most famous films: 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones, the hero of the film, is an archaeologist sent by the U.S. government to retrieve the Ark from its Tanis location before the Nazis can get to it.



  1. Ark of the Covenant, Accessed August 10, 2010.
  2. Noah's Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, and Ron Wyatt by by Linda Gunderson, Twin Cities Creation Science Association. Accessed August 10, 2010.