Many people would have seen the 1981 film ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ staring Harrison Ford and the adventures of Indiana Jones, a teacher and archaeologist hired by the U.S government to find the lost ark of the covenant before the Nazis find it. There is a scene where the character Indian Jones is asked by the army to investigate what happened to the Lost ark of the covenant and the story where the ark was taken by the Egyptian Pharoah Shishqak to the city of Tanis before the city was consumed by a sand storm. I have always wondered how much truth there was to the story and on reading i found a story of a Ark of the Covenant being lost then found and lost again.
What is the Ark of the Covenant? The story of the Ark of the Covenant begins when, according to the Bible, Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt and goes back to Mount Sinai where he is given the ten commandments by God. According to Exodus 24 ‘ And the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them’. Now to carry the ten commandments, an Ark is constructed by the Hebrews. According to Exodus 31 that there were two men chosen by Moses to construct the Ark of the Covenant, Bezaleel and Aholiab as Exodus 38 tells us that ‘And Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the LORD commanded Moses. And with him was Aholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver, and a cunning workman, and an embroiderer in blue, and in purple, and in scarlet, and fine linen’.
What happened to the Ark of the Covenant? According to the Bible, the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishaq raids Jerusalem. The bible says that ‘It happened in the fifth year of King Rehoboam that Shishak the king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and he took the treasures of the house of Yahweh, and he took all the treasures of the king’s house’. Now from this passage we begin to think that the King of Egypt, Shishak, had taken the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem possibly back to Egypt or even to territory controlled by Egypt. But who was the Pharaoh Shishak? There was no Pharaoh named Shishak.
There are biblical scholars that believe that Shishak was really the Pharaoh Shoshenq I who ruled Egypt from 943-922 B.C. We know that Shoshenq I was the founder of the 22nd dynasty of Egyptian pharaoh’s that established the capital at Tanis.
Why do we believe it to be the pharaoh Shoshenq? To celebrate his victories, Shoshenq I built a great colonnaded forecourt to the temple of Amun in Karnak, which includes the Bubastite Portal – that depicts Sheshonq as he smites his enemies in Asia, who are bound in the depiction below him. The bible says that the invasion of Jerusaleum happened in the ‘fifth year of King Rehoboam’. We know that King Solomon died in 930 BC and that Judah was under the control of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. So if the invasion happened about 925 B.C, we know that Shoshenq I who ruled Egypt from 943-922 B.C – at the same time that Rehoboam ruled Judah.
But British amateur archaeologist Mike Sanders believes that Pharaoh Shishak of the Bible is really Pharaoh Ramesses III who ruled Egypt from 1187-1156 BC. We know that Ramesses III was a successful king who invaded Judah and received tribute from Judah which he built a temple dedicated to the God Amon to receive this tribute which was built near the village of Djaharya. British archaeologists as Edward Robinson and Mike Sanders believed that the Ark of the Covenant was in the village of Djaharya in Israel. However the problem with this theory of Ramesses III as the king that took the Ark of the Covenant is that we not only do not have any evidence to support this but also the dates do not match up with biblical accounts.
In the movie ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ it is claimed that the city of Tanis was consumed by a sand storm that lasted a year ‘wiped clean by the wrath of God…’. But this is not the truth about what happened to the city of Tanis. According to the National Geographic website, Tanis was a wealthy commercial center but when the pharaoh’s of the 25th dynasty seized power, they made the city of Memphis as their new capital, leaving Tanis to disappear and as the Nile river shifted away from Tanis, the city eventually was abandoned and forgotten. Could the Ark of the Covenant be in Tanis?
The problem with the idea that the Ark of the Covenant being in Tanis is that the bible again mentions the Ark of the Covenant. According to the bible, the King of Judah Josiah orders a Hebrew tribe called the Levites to “Put the holy ark in the house that Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, built. You need not carry it on your shoulders”. We know that Josiah was the King of Judah about 649–609 BC, so the Ark of the Covenant should be in Jerusalem? We know from the bible that Jerusalem is again invaded by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon (Modern Day Iraq) in 586 BC. Did Nebuchadnezzar take the Ark to Babylon? The last one to mention the Ark is the Prophet Jeremiah.
Many believe that the Ark of the Covenant still remains in Jerusalem. Before Nebuchadnezzar can take the Ark, Jeremiah the Prophet is commanded by God to take the Ark. According to Maccabees 2:4-8, God commanded Jeremiah, one of the major Hebrew prophets, to bring ‘the Tent of the Lord’s Presence and the Covenant Box to follow him to the mountain where Moses had looked down on the land…..When Jeremiah got to the mountain, he found a huge cave and there he hid the Tent of the Lord’s Presence, the Covenant Box, and the altar of incense. Then he sealed up the entrance’. Could the Ark be in Jeremiah’s Grotto, the place that Jeremiah was imprisoned by the babylonians, in Jerusalem?
Another theory is that God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to attack Judah because it had disobeyed God’s laws. According to the bible Manasseh, the King of Judah who ruled Judah from 687–642 B.C , was an evil king that had turned Judah away from God’s laws as the bible says that ‘He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites’. Many were offended by Manasseh and it is believed that some of the priests of Judah had left Judah for the island of Elephantine where a Hebrew temple is built. Why would a Hebrew temple be built in Egypt on the island of Elephantine? Evidence has been found on Elephantine island of a colony of jews that migrated from Israel and founded a colony on the island.
Or could the Ark of the Covenant be in the Ethiopian city of Aksum? The Smithsonian Institute wrote an interesting article in 2007 that Ethiopian Christians claimed that the ark rests in a chapel in the small town of Aksum. But how did the Ark get to Ethiopia? One legend has it that the Queen of Sheba, one of the first rulers of Ethiopia, traveled to Jerusalem to seek the wisdom of King Solomon. Its on her return home that Queen Sheba bore Solomon’s son, Menelik. Its believed that when Menelik went to visit his father that the Ark of the Covenant was stolen by some of Menelik’s nobles who then brought it back to Ethiopia where it was kept in the islands of Lake Tana for about four hundred years and finally taken to Axum, where it was kept safe for more than two thousand years.
But it is believed that in about 410 B.C that the Jewish temple on Elephantine Island was destroyed. We do not know the reasons. It is believed that the Ark being moved to the islands of Tana where it hidden before being taken to Axum in Ethiopia. The problem for historians is that the evidence for all of this is really circumstantial. The final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant is alleged to have been St. Mary’s of Zion Church at Axum. The story of the Ark being brought to Axum fits in with the legends about Queen Sheba and Menelik with the Ark coming to Ethiopia. But is it really there? Or was it ever there?
In November 2014, The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Mathias, announced that the Ark of Covenant, was stolen from the catacombs of the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. Its believed that the guards of the Ark were put to sleep through the use of high technology grenades that released a rare opium-based soporific gas. Its not like it was ever a secret that the Ark of the Covenant was there but how would thieves be able to get in and steal the Ark of the Covenant? Would not the power of God protect the Ark from being stolen? Or maybe the question should be was the Ark of the Covenant ever there?
The search for the Ark of the Covenant goes on……