"And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies."
The Bible says that God inscribed the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets that he gave to Moses. To protect the tablets, and to let them be carried, a wooden chest decorated with exquisite gold ornaments was built. It was about three-and-a-half feet long, just over two feet wide, and had two poles attached through gold rings on its sides. There were two carved cherubim on top, and the chest’s lid was called the atonement cover or the ‘mercy seat’. The box accompanied Moses and the Israelites on their quest for the Promised Land, and brought them victory wherever they went. When they finally founded Jerusalem, King Solomon built the ‘Holy of Holies’, or First Temple, and housed the box there. This supremely holy chest is called the Ark of the Covenant.
No single item is involved in more legends of treasure, unexplained wealth and international intrigue than this great chest. Some legends say that the Ark was destroyed or captured by invading Egyptian forces around 925 BC, others say that the Babylonians stole it in 586 BC. The Jewish sect who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls may have buried the Ark in the Jordanian desert before they were overrun.
Likewise, it has been suggested that an early Christian group called the Cathars may have hidden it in an ancient church at Rennes-le-Château in France before they were destroyed by the Catholic Church. King Arthur has also been linked to the Ark’s history, whilst many researchers claim it was taken from the Holy Land by the Knights Templar. It is said that they may have hidden it at the pit on Oak Island, or even at a Scottish chapel in Rosslyn. Conspiracy theorists believe the descendants of the Knights Templar are the Freemasons, who now have the Ark under their control. In fact, many mysterious tales have incorporated aspects of involving the Ark of the Covenant.
Leen Ritmeyer is an archaeologist who has conducted tests on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and believes he has established the true position of the First Temple. He claims he has discovered a section cut out of the underlying rock that exactly matches the dimensions of the Ark. From this, Ritmeyer believes the Ark may be buried deep inside Temple Mount, but it seems impossible that excavations will be carried out in the area, particularly whilst it continues to be the site of violent political turmoil. Many other experts also believe the Ark remains in the Holy Land, and one, an American called Ron Wyatt, even claimed to have found the sacred chest in the Garden Tomb, in the north of the old city of Jerusalem.
Perhaps the most celebrated theory connecting the Ark with a real object revolves around western Africa. Ethiopiahas a legend that claims the Queen of Sheba was impregnated by King Solomon. The child, known as Menelik, meaning ‘the son of the wiseman’, travelled to Jerusalem when he was 20 to study in his father’s court. Within a year, Solomon’s priests had become jealous of the king’s son and said he must return to Sheba. Solomon accepted this but said that all first-born sons of other elders should accompany Menelik. One of these, Azarius, was the son of Zadok, the High Priest. It was Azarius who stole the Ark and took it to Africa. Menelik decided that their success must be divine will, and founded the ‘Second Jerusalem’ at Aksum in Ethiopia. Today, the ancient church of St Mary of Zion is said to house the Ark, which was traditionally brought out every January for the celebration known as Timkat.m
In recent years, due to the instability in the country, the Ark has been hidden away and cared for by a devoted guardian, who is the only man allowed to see the true nature of the box. Certainly, there is a lot to recommend this theory – for instance, Ethiopians are one of the few races that practise Christianity in Africa, and the national constitution ruled that the Ethiopian emperor is a direct descendant of Solomon. Ethiopians are confident of their role in the Ark’s heritage, but with so many legends vying to reveal the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, it is impossible to decide on one. Perhaps, as many religious groups believe, its presence will become known when the time is right.
The people of Zimbabwe also have claims that they hold the Ark of the Covenant. The Lemba people are thought to have Jewish ancestry and it is these ancestors that carried the Ark into the caves of the Dumghe Mountains, which is thought to be their most spiritual place. Tudor Parfitt, a professor, researched these claims and placed them into a documentary. He did say that he had seen the object and that it was treated just as the Ark would be in that it was regarded as the voice of their god, could not at any time touch the ground, was covered, and was to be carried on poles by their priests. While he does go into great detail in his documentary about the appearance of the object, he makes no mention of its valuable contents, which leaves it susceptible to heavy criticism.
Other places in the Middle East also lay claim to the Ark. One such claim states that it is either buried in Mt. Nebo or lies somewhere in the area around it, near Jordan’s east bank. It’s thought that Ark was placed here by Jeremiah after he was instructed to do so. There’s also said to be an altar of incense here and a tent, which were also ordered to be placed with the Ark. The book the Second Maccabees tells this story but some criticize it as it is a second-hand account. In the story, Jeremiah completely covered the entrance to the cave, and so neither the cave nor its contents have ever been found.
The infamous Ron Wyatt, who is a self-proclaimed archaeologist with no professional training or scholarly credentials but has claimed to have found many Biblical and ancient sites and ruins, has also claimed to have discovered the original Ark. He claims to have found it while on a dig underneath the Calvary Escarpment, and that he actually saw it and took photographs. He also claimed that he could dig no further due to excavation restrictions that were in place and all the photographs came out very blurry and hard to make out. People have widely discredited this claim due to his lack of any official background in the area and the fact that he has made false claims in the past. m
Vendyl Jones, who is a notable archaeologist, claims to have found the Ark in the place where it was hidden by the Levite priests who carried it out of the temple through the temples after Nebuchadnezzar’s attack. Jones says that they carried it to the Cave of the Column, which is located near Qumran. Jones also claims that he has found the entrance to this cave but that he wanted to wait to unveil the discovery until the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples, which he said would be August 14, 2005. When this did not happen, he claimed that he had been misquoted and that he actually wanted to discover the Ark on this day and is awaiting funding to do so.
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