Ark of the Covenant

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Made of acacia wood and clad in gold, the Ark of the Covenant was built to house and transport the tablets of the Law. It is renowned for its mysterious powers against the enemies of Israel. Fortean Picture Library.

Ark of the Covenant

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

When Moses received from God the Law delivered to the Israelites after their escape from Egypt, he was told to build an ark upon which the glory of God would rest.

"Ark" comes from the Greek word for chest. "Covenant" means contract or agreement. The ark became a constant reminder of God's contract with his chosen people.

It was a box about two and a half feet high and wide, and four and a half feet long. It was made of wood and covered with gold leaf. It was transported by means of two long poles and placed within the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary, in the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting during the forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. After the conquest of Canaan it was housed in the sanctuary at Shiloh,

and it was later brought by King David to the site of the future Temple at Jerusalem. This was the occasion that so inspired David that he "danced before the Lord," much to the disgust of his wife (see David, King).

When the Babylonians destroyed Solomon's Temple in 586 BCE, the ark disappeared. Although many have tried to locate it (including Indiana Jones in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark), its location has remained a mystery ever since. Some think it is hidden away in a temple in Ethiopia, brought there by the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Others believe it is hidden in the caves of Qumran or buried under the Temple Mount. Still others believe it destroyed.

Three symbolic objects were placed within the ark. Each recalled stories that, when taken together, represented the very essence of Judaism. (The stories are found in the biblical books Exodus and Numbers.)

The first object was the stone tablet containing the Ten Commandments. These represented God's law. But the people had broken God's law. While Moses was on Sinai receiving instructions that forbade the worship of idols, the people were down below dancing around a golden calf. The tablets would forever symbolize the people's rejection of God's law.

The second was a pot of manna. "Manna" literally means, "What is it?" When the people needed food in the desert, God told Moses to have them go outside and gather a daily supply of a light bread that would form with the dew each morning. Only one day's supply could be gathered because it would spoil if hoarded. The bread gathered on Friday would keep for an extra day so the people would not have to break the Sabbath commandment forbidding work on the seventh day. When the people went outside on the first morning to discover the miracle of God's provision, they saw the manna and said, "What is it?" The idea was to teach the people to trust in God's daily provision. But after the novelty wore off, the people complained, longing for "the leeks and onions of Egypt." So manna came to represent their rejection of God's provision.

The third item was "Aaron's rod that budded." Aaron, Moses' brother, had been selected by God to be High Priest. But the people wanted to elect their own leaders. They complained to Moses, who passed the word on to God. So Moses was told to have each tribe select a candidate for High Priest. Each would place his "rod," or walking staff, in the ground to be inspected during the next morning's convocation. The rod that "budded," or took root, would indicate God's choice. The implication was that God's leaders bear fruit.

Of course Aaron's rod produced a bud, and he went on to become the first High Priest of Israel. But the people would always be reminded that they had rejected God's leadership.

On the cover of the ark stood the Mercy Seat. Two carved angels, one on each side with their arched wings meeting in the middle, looked down at the ark's contents. There they saw rejection—rejection of God's law, God's provision, and God's leadership. That doesn't leave a lot more of God left to reject.

But on one day a year, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the High Priest sprinkled the blood of a sacrificial lamb on the Mercy Seat. On that day the angels would see not rejection but the blood of the innocent substitute, and the sins of the people would be atoned for.

Much speculation has arisen over the true meaning of the ark. Because the Bible makes a special point of saying Moses' face glowed when he came out from the visible presence of God, some have speculated it contained a source of light. It was said that at the ark Moses would hear the voice of God. This has sparked wild tales of it being a transmitter through which Moses was in contact with aliens from outer space, using details supplied from their blueprints to build the ark to their specifications. Because of the ark's supposed ability to inspire armies in war, and because at least one man is said to have died after he touched it without proper consecration, speculation arose as to its mystical or military powers.

The Ark of the Covenant is surrounded by mystery. Perhaps it still awaits discovery, resting in its 3,500-year-old hiding place. But its meaning to the Israelites was clear: the ark reminded them of their contract with the God who chose them to be a special people.

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It is said that an army that carries the Ark of the Covenant is invincible. The location of the Ark, however, has remained a mystery since the Jews hid it from the Babylonian army.Getty Images.

Ark of the Covenant

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In the sixteenth chapter of the book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament), God orders the Hebrews to create a chest to hold, among other things, the stone tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written. The Ark, also called the Ark of the Testimony and the Ark of the Testament, was to measure 2.5 cubits by 1.5 cubits by 1.5 cubits. It was to be made of wood of the shittah tree, a variety of acacia, and covered with gold. It had four gold rings through which poles were placed for carrying it. A gold rim with a crownlike appearance went around its upper edge. The top of the Ark was called the Mercy Seat, and it was the place of manifestation of God to his people.

Also made for the Ark were two angelic beings (cherubim), also of gold, all the more interesting as they seemed to contradict God’s admonitions against making graven images. These cherubim were to be placed on the top of the Mercy Seat. After its construction, Moses was said to have entered the tabernacle where he heard God speak to him from above the Mercy Seat and between the two cherubim (Numbers 7:89).

The finished pattern of the Ark had probably been suggested by some similar chests the Hebrews had seen in Egypt, examples of which can now be seen in museums. The whole of the Ark, complete with poles, Mercy Seat, and cherubim, was to be placed in the holiest part of the tabernacle, the building that originally served as the center of worship for the ancient Hebrews. No one entered the Holy of Holies except the high priest, once a year, as part of the rites of the Day of Atonement. After the building of Solomon’s temple, the Ark of the Covenant (and possibly other sacred objects) was placed within it. Prior to the Hebrews’ permanent settlement in Palestine, the Ark was carried before the people as they moved from place to place, especially during the years in the Sinai wilderness.

Over the years, the Ark was used as an ensign in times of battle, and its miraculous effects became legendary. Its most famous use came at the city of Jericho. As part of their conquest of the Holy Land, the Israelites besieged Jericho. As God had commanded Joshua, the Ark led a procession conducted on each of seven successive days. At the end of the seventh procession, the walls of the city crumbled as trumpets blasted and the people shouted. The Israelite army then was free to enter and take the city. (Joshua 6:6–21).

The Ark remained in the temple built by Solomon for many years. However, in 586, in the days of Jeremiah, as a Babylonian army under Nebuchadnezzar that was destined to loot the temple approached, the Ark was removed from the temple and hidden. It has not been seen since.

The sudden disappearance of the Ark made it an object of speculation over the centuries, and in the twentieth century, in the wake of the successes of archeology in uncovering so many ancient sites, the search for the Ark of the Covenant or at least further information on its fate has arisen. Those who engage in the search have to contend with a spectrum of theories, including some claims by individuals that they have actually discovered the Ark.

One prominent claimant to know about the Ark is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The church claims that Menelik, the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, was given the Ark by his father as a means of protecting it. Menelik brought the Ark to a place called Tana Kirkos in Ethiopia, where it stayed for a period before being moved to the Church of Saint Mary of Zion in Axum. It is now in the care of a single monk, the Atang or the Keeper of the Ark. The job of Atang is for life. That monk never leaves the church grounds, and he is the only person permitted to see the Ark (or whatever is hidden at the chapel). Among those who give credence to this claim is Graham Hancock, a writer of alternative histories, especially of the ancient world.

Meanwhile, archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer, who has conducted research in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount, claims to have found the location of the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple. The site has a place in the bedrock of approximately the same dimensions as the Ark, according to the biblical account. Ritmeyer has speculated that the Ark may be deep inside the Temple Mount.

However, many do not accept these claims. They search in the caves along the Dead Sea (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) or on Mount Nebo, located on the east side of the River Jordan, a site mentioned in the book of Maccabees, one of the books in the Apocrypha, a set of books that are accepted as part of the Bible by Roman Catholics but not by Jews or Protestants. Some Mormons have claimed that the Hebrews discussed in the Book of Mormon brought the Ark with them to the Americas.

In 1981 the search for the Ark reached a new plateau with the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a popular motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg and written by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. The movie picked up on another theory: that the Ark had been taken to Egypt. It also played upon beliefs that the Ark has paranormal powers that, in the movie, destroy the nefarious Nazis who try to gain possession of the Ark.

While never as popular a quest as searching for Noah’s Ark, the drive to discover the location of the Ark of the Covenant has been the subject of a variety of archeological excavations, some conducted by serious archeological teams (usually as part of a broader archeological program) and others by amateurs, often relic hunters. To date, no substantial evidence has been produced to accept one claim over the others, and until hard evidence is produced, the location of the Ark of the Covenant and even the fact of its existence remain pure speculation.


Boren, Kerry Ross, and Lisa Lee Boren. Following the Ark of the Covenant: The Story of the Most Sought-after Artifact in the World. Springville, UT: CFI Distribution, 2000.
Grierson, Roderick, and Stuart Munro-Hay. The Ark of the Covenant. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999.
Hancock, Graham. The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. New York: Crown, 1992.
Ritmeyer, Leen. “The Ark of the Covenant: Where It Stood in Solomon’s Temple.” Biblical Archaeology Review 22/1 (1996): 46–55, 70–73.
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An artist’s depiction of King David taking the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.

Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant that was given by God to the ancient Israelites contained great supernatural power that could annihilate entire armies and whole cities. Lost for centuries, the Ark, if found, could be used by its discoverer to conquer the earth.

As described in the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant served as the physical sign of God’s presence to the Israelites. The design of the ark was expressed by God and was then made into a material object by skilled craftsmen. They built a chest about three feet nine inches in length and two feet three inches in height, using acacia wood overlaid with the purest gold. The outside of the ark had a gold rim and four golden rings, one on each corner. Two poles made of acacia and covered with gold ran through the gold rings on either side; the poles were used to lift the ark and were never removed from the rings. The ark had a cover of gold on which two cherubim faced each other, each with wings spread.

The ark is believed to contain numerous sacred relics, including the tablets of stone bearing the Ten Commandments that Moses brought back from Mount Sinai; Aaron’s rod, a kind of rounded stick that miraculously grew leaves as a sign of God’s trust in Aaron, brother of Moses; and/or a specimen of manna, the mysterious food that had provided nourishment to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. Additionally, the ark possessed a supernatural power that awed and overwhelmed those who viewed it, and it served also as a means through which God communicated with the Israelites. The book of Genesis states that the commands of God would issue from a cloud between the ark’s two cherubim. Some researchers have suggested that the “god” of the ark was really a benevolent extraterrestrial, who imparted both a communications device and a weapon before leaving in a fiery blast in a spaceship.

The ark provided safe passage to the Israelites in their journey to the Promised Land. Its power was manifested several times when Israelite warriors brought it to sites of battle and used its influence to destroy and scatter the enemies of God and Israel. At the famous battle of Jericho the ark was carried by a procession around the walls of the city for seven days, after which the walls came crashing down and the Israelites won the battle.

After losing a series of battles with the Philistines, the Israelites brought the ark to a battle site, hoping to strike fear into the enemy. However, the Philistines won the battle and captured the ark. The Philistines viewed their seizing of the ark as a victory over the Israelites and their God—but several disasters fell upon them, including the rapid spread of a plague and an invasion of mice wherever the ark was placed. The Philistines placed the ark on a cart pulled by two cattle and sent it away from them.

When David became king of Israel and established Jerusalem as the holy center of the nation, he ordered the ark to be moved there. The ark was then housed at a nearby site outside the city, where it was the object of veneration for several months before the journey to Jerusalem was completed. David took the ark from Jerusalem only once—to inspire his army in its battle against the forces of his son, Absalom.

The ark was later placed in the grand new Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and only occasionally removed from the temple for battle. When Jerusalem was invaded and taken by the Babylonians led by King Nebuchadnezzar II, the whereabouts of the ark became a mystery and remain so to this day. Perhaps it was destroyed along with the city or, as suggested in Kings 4:25, taken to Babylon as one of the spoils of victory. Some biblical scholars theorize that those Israelites still faithful to God were forewarned about the fall of Jerusalem and moved the ark to safety. Jeremiah is said to have hid it in a cave on Mount Sinai, the mountain in Egypt where Moses first spoke with God. The Talmud, the ancient, authoritative history of the Hebrews, indicates that the ark was kept in a secret area of the Temple of Solomon and survived the destruction and pillaging of Jerusalem. The temple was rebuilt on its original foundation after the Babylon captivity of the defeated Jews.

According to one account, the illegitimate son of Solomon and Sheba stole the ark about 1000 B.C.E. and hid it in Aksum, Ethiopia, where it was guarded by a monk. Other stories have the ark being transported during a Hebrew migration to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) that preceded the Babylonian captivity. There, according to this version of the story, the ark remained on an island in Lake Tana. With the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world by 300 C.E., Abyssinia became largely Christian. Later, during the sixteenth century, fierce battles with invading Muslim armies caused much destruction in Abyssinia, including the razing of monasteries on Tana Kirkos, the island where the ark was believed to have been kept. A cathedral was built after the Muslim armies retreated, and there, according to popular legend, the ark remains safe.

Interest in the Ark of the Covenant has recurred through the centuries. In medieval times the Knights Templar supposedly came into possession of the ark. Some have theorized that Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian monastic order and mentor of the secret order of Knights Templar, may have been involved in building the magnificent Gothic cathedral that stands on the hill in the French town of Chartres. The Knights Templar, according to some theories, were sent on a crusade to the Holy Land by Bernard and discovered the remains of the Ark of the Covenant in the ruins of King Solomon’s temple. The knights returned to France with the priceless treasure in 1128, and Cistercian scholars managed to decipher some of the ark’s secrets regarding the principles of sacred geometry and the law of holy numbers, weights, and measures. Somehow, a Knight Templar or an enlightened scholar was able to employ architectural principles greatly in advance of the time. Those who visit the place today perpetuate the centuries-old claims that Chartres Cathedral has the power to transform individuals and to elevate them to a higher spiritual state.

The Spear of Destiny, also known as the Holy Lance, is in Christian tradition the spear that the Roman soldier Longinus thrust into the side of Jesus as he hung on the cross. The lance’s power, though perhaps not the equal of the ark’s, has been sought with almost equal fervor. Christian knights discovered the Holy Lance at Antioch during the First Crusade in 1098. The very sight of the sacred artifact so inspired the beleaguered Christian soldiers that they rallied and routed the Saracens from the city. From that time forth, according to legend, whoever claims the spear and solves its secret holds the destiny of the world in his hands, for good or evil.

There is an element of truth in Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which a Nazi expedition under the directive of the führer seeks such holy relics as the ark, the lance, and the Holy Grail to assure their victory in World War II. According to Trevor Ravenscroft in The Spear of Destiny, a nineteen-year-old Adolf Hitler was first led to the lance in 1908—and from the moment of his first encounter it became “the central pivot” in his life and the “very source of his ambitions to conquer the world.” Hitler found that as many as forty-five emperors, including Constantine, had owned the lance before the great Charlemagne had possessed it. Frederick the Great of Germany, who founded the Teutonic Knights on which Hitler allegedly based his SS, had also owned the Spear of Destiny at one time. Ravenscroft claims that Hitler would often visit the Weltliches Schatzkammer Museum (the Hapsburg Treasure House Museum) in Vienna, stare at the Holy Lance, and enter into a trance state in which he would view his future glory as the führer, the master of the Third Reich.

Thirty years later, on March 14, 1938, Hitler arrived in Vienna to oversee the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich. The führer also observed the transfer of the Hapsburg Crown Jewel collection, which included the Holy Lance, from Vienna to Nuremberg, the Nazi’s favorite city. With the Spear of Destiny now safely ensconced in Germany, Hitler declared that the war could begin in earnest. The lance would be well protected in the hall of Saint Katherine’s Church, where it had once rested for nearly four hundred years.

The Spear of Destiny fell into the hands of U.S. soldiers on April 30, 1945. A few hours after the Holy Lance passed from Nazi possession, Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker. Today, the Spear of Destiny stands again in the Hapsburg Treasure House Museum in Vienna.

But no one really knows where the Ark of the Covenant resides. In December 2000 Erling Haagensen and Henry Lincoln published their thesis that the ark and the Holy Grail were both hidden on the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm about 830 years ago.

In December 2001 Reverend John McLuckie found a wooden tablet representing the Ark of the Covenant in a cupboard in Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. McLuckie, who had lived in Ethiopia, recognized the artifact as sacred to Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians and arranged to have the tablet returned in a special ceremony in 2002.

Those who revere the ark and all that it represents pray that the powerful holy relic never falls into the wrong hands.

Ark of the Covenant

gilded wooden chest in which God’s presence dwelt when communicating with the people. [O.T.: Exodus 25:10]