SEARCH FOR THE ARK OF THE COVENANT ISRAEL, EGYPT, ETHIOPIA
EDITOR'S NOTE: While investigating possible locations of the Ark of the Covenant, the BASE research team has conducted expeditions to Ethiopia, Egypt, Israel and Rome. Although the subject is controversial and clouded with confusion, one emerging theory indicates that the Ark of the Covenant was transported out of ancient Israel and may be in Ethiopia today. As unusual as this may sound, the BASE team has uncovered compelling evidence that the Ark may well have been spirited up the Nile River to an eventual resting place in the remote highlands of ancient Kush--modern-day Ethiopia.
Although the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was the last known location of the Ark of the Covenant, its date of departure from the Temple is a topic of much debate. The last known reference alluding to the Ark's presence in the Temple dates from 701 B.C., when the Assyrian king Sennacherib surrounded Hezekiah's forces in Jerusalem. Isaiah 37:14-16 states, "And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. Then Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying: 'O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim . . .'" This reference to the presence of God's Shekinah Glory abiding above the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant, between the cherubim sculpted on the lid of the Ark, seems to confirm that the Ark was still located in the Holy of Holies in 701 B.C.
It appears that the villain in the drama of the Ark was the subsequent king, Manasseh, and that the Ark most probably was taken out of the Temple during his reign. Although the extent of Manasseh's evil does not allow a full description here, the Bible summarizes his deeds by noting that he did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed. He practiced wizardry and sorcery, placed pagan idols in the Holy of Holies, and shed innocent blood far and wide in the streets of Jerusalem. Our belief is that a pure Levitical priesthood, left over from the days of Hezekiah, would not have tolerated the degrading and polluting of the Temple containing the Ark of the Covenant. It is even possible that Manasseh would have ordered the Ark removed from the Temple before installing his own debased idols. Whatever the reason that the Ark was removed, it is interesting to note that just a short time after King Manasseh (687-642 B.C.), King Josiah (who brought great reform to the Jews) mentions the Ark's absence from the Temple. In 2 Chronicles 35:3 we read, "Then he said to the Levites who taught all Israel, who were holy to the Lord: 'Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the Son of David, king of Israel, built. It shall no longer be a burden on your shoulders.'" This not only appears to confirm that the Ark had been removed from the Temple, but also that the priests had been moving it somewhere in the manner prescribed by Levitical law. But if the Ark of the Covenant was removed from the Temple during the reign of Manasseh, to what location was it taken?
EGYPT (Aswan, Elephantine Island)
We have discovered historical evidence that, during the reign of Manasseh in Israel, a colony of Jews - including Levitical priests - migrated from Israel and founded a colony on Elephantine Island in Egypt. It is strongly possible, if not probable, that the Elephantine Jews were escaping the desecration and persecution of the wicked King Manasseh, and that they had the Ark of the Covenant with them. In our visit to Elephantine Island, we thoroughly investigated ruins of a replica Jewish temple that had been built by 650 B.C., which precisely matched the dimensions of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem. Of course, the practice of building temples outside of Jerusalem was strictly forbidden by Deuteronomic Law, so only the most dire of circumstances would have compelled a group of Jewish refugees to undertake such a project. Moreover, a temple replica would have been fruitless at that point in history without serving its primary function: as a resting place for the Ark of the Covenant.
A number of ancient documents (such as the Elephantine Papyri) seem to confirm the existence of a Jewish Temple at Elephantine. Egypt, or at least certain districts of Egypt, would have been a safe haven for Jewish refugees, as we see from King Neco's friendly appeal to Josiah in 2 Chronicles 35:20-21, less than a generation later. (It may even be that Josiah died trying to gain enough control over Egypt to reclaim the Ark). What's more, our scholarly contact in Egypt, Dr. Atif Hanna, curator of the Aswan Museum, has concluded, from his own investigation, that the Ark of the Covenant did indeed come to Elephantine Island during the reign of Manasseh in Israel, and that it was housed in the replica temple. However, Dr. Hanna has also determined that the replica temple was destroyed for unknown reasons - possibly the advance of a new, aggressive from of idol worship - in 410 B.C. That event, then, raises the question: Where would the Ark have been taken? Where might our search lead us next? At this point, all indicators pointed toward Ethiopia.
ETHIOPIA (Lake Tana)
Why take our search to Ethiopia? Firstly, for centuries of Ethiopian history, there has existed strong tradition and legend that the Ark of the Covenant did indeed find its final resting place in Ethiopia. But, even more importantly, the Bible and related sources are not silent on the subject of a direct connection between the Jews and Ethiopia. Josephus, Jewish historian to the Romans, cites a strong connection between Moses (during his princely upbringing in Egypt) and Ethiopia. In Book II, Chapter X of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus recounts an episode in which Moses, leading forces from Egypt, besieges the Ethiopian city of Saba, and subsequently receives an offer of marriage from the King's daughter, Tharbis. According to Josephus, Moses accepts and by consummating his marriage to the Ethiopian, wins the city for Egypt. Is this fable or fact? It's hard to say with certainty, but in Numbers 12:1 we find that ". . . Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian."
If such a marriage took place, it is easy to see that a line of Mosaic descendants in Ethiopia would provide an ideal place of refuge for the Ark. This would be especially true if its welcome had been revoked further down-river in Egypt, and if its return to Israel was not possible because of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587-586 B.C.
Our research on-site in Ethiopia led us to the shores of Lake Tana, a body of water 53 miles long and 41 miles wide, located on the headwaters of the Blue Nile. Isolated far out on the waters of Lake Tana is Tana Kirkos Island, considered by the Ethiopians to be a holy island, populated only by Ethiopian, Christian monks.
The monks of Tana Kirkos believe they are living on the island where the Ark of the covenant rested, and where Levitical-style blood sacrifices were performed until 338 A.D., when the nation of Ethiopia converted to Christianity.
The monks of Tana Kirkos escorted us to a high plateau where they showed us several large, moss-covered stones which they said had previously been used in sacrificial ceremonies when the Ark of the Covenant was on the island. They also told us that the rock surface on which we stood had been the location of a tabernacle-like tent that had housed and protected the Ark.
Intrigued that a tent had been on the rock surface, I excavated some loose topsoil and discovered four hand-carved socket holes, spaced to create a 13' by 13' square, oriented in a north-south/east-west configuration, apparently to emulate the original Holy of Holies.
The monks then asked me if I would care to see implements from Solomon's Temple. Intrigued by their statement, I waited expectantly while a monk approached a large mud-brick building, unlocked a heavy latch and lock (the only signs of modern society present on the island), entered and then emerged with four large, heavy artifacts. I first was shown two large metal forks, which they claimed were meat forks used for burnt offerings in Solomon's Temple. They were about 4-1/2 feet long and bore the ancient symbol of a budding almond flower on the top of each one.
Next the monks showed me a large, bronze bowl that was approximately 22" across and 2" deep. They referred to the bowl as a "gomer," and described it as a vessel in which priests placed animal blood during temple ritual, stirring the blood occasionally to keep it from coagulating. Finally, the monks showed me a metal stand, approximately 3' high, designed to hold the bronze bowl, though extreme age had caused the metal of the stand to fatigue and droop.
I asked the monks why these items remained on the island, and they told me that, in 338 A.D., King Ezana was converted to Christianity by a Syrian monk named Abba Salama. Since Christianity was then decreed the new religion of the country, blood sacrificial ceremonies were no longer used, and the implements were rendered obsolete.
My next question was key: If the implements of sacrifice were left with the monks, what happened to the Ark of the Covenant? I was told the Ark itself was taken to Axum, where today it is kept in absolute isolation at St. Mary's of Zion Church.
LOG BOOK ENTRY: ETHIOPIA (Axum)
We next journeyed to Axum, the purported resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, and made our way to St. Mary's of Zion Church. There I was introduced to a man referred to as "The Guardian of the Ark of the Covenant." This man, reportedly, lives his entire life inside a fenced-off area surrounding St. Mary's of Zion. He will not leave this fenced-off compound until he dies--when he will be replaced by the next Guardian of the Ark. In the chapel of the church, 30 robes from 30 previous guardians are on display - and every one of those 30 professed that the object they protected was the true Ark of the Covenant.
I was able to speak, through an interpreter, with the Guardian of the Ark, who told me that no other man besides himself could lay eyes on the Ark, that it was an absolutely holy object. He said that the world would not be allowed to pollute it by looking at it. He added that he and the villagers would protect the Ark with their lives, if necessary.
Interestingly, we were shown two silver trumpets that bore a remarkable similarity to the trumpets pictured on the arch of Titus in Rome, commemorating the Roman conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Trumpets like these were an essential part of the implements used in Temple worship.
Subsequent to this initial investigation, we located and interviewed two people who have claimed to have seen the object resting in St. Mary's of Zion. The first was a 105-year-old priest who once was the Administrator at St. Mary's of Zion. On two occasions, he said, when the Guardian of the Ark died and a new guardian was trained in the worship rituals, he was able to gaze upon the relic. He described it as a gold box with two winged angels on top.
In his detailed inventory of the treasury, he described the Ark as a gold box with two winged creatures on the top. He described 24 smaller angelic-type figures forming a molding around the top, with two green stones (not described in the Bible) at either end. Is this the Ark of the Covenant described in the Bible? At this juncture, we cannot say with certainty that it is, but neither can be say for certain that it isn't. What we have concluded is that St. Mary's of Zion church in Axum, Ethiopia, is the resting place either of an incredible replica of the biblical Ark of the Covenant, or, of the actual Ark of the Covenant itself.
A Final Note:
Is the Bible entirely silent on the subject of the Ark of the Covenant's current resting place, or of its existence between the present day and the eternal kingdom? Some argue that Scripture is, indeed, silent, and that the Ark is a moot point now that the Messiah has come, suffered and died for the whole world. Others, however, suggest that there may yet be a role for the Ark to play during a period of time following a real and triumphant victory by Messiah over the armed forces of the world system, before He institutes His eternal kingdom on a new earth.
In Isaiah 18, the prophet records a message from God concerning Ethiopia. It deals not only with Ethiopia's past, but also with the future of God's Messiah. Verses 3-4 read, "All inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth, when he [Messiah] lifts up a banner on the mountains, you see it; and when he blows a trumpet [of victory], you hear it. For so the Lord said to me, 'I will take My rest, and I will look from My dwelling place."
If this and the verses that follow describe Messiah's triumph over the armies of the world, what happens next is very interesting. Verse 7 reads: "In that time a present will be brought to the Lord of hosts from a people tall and smooth of skin [Ethiopians, according to verse 1] . . . to the place of the name of the Lord of hosts, to Mount Zion." What might the present be that is brought from Ethiopia to the "place of the name of the Lord" - to the Holy of Holies? Only the future will tell....
The research and site survey being investigated by the BASE Institute has strong potential. Is it the path of the Ark of the Covenant? The BASE Institute does not make the claim that we have found the Ark of the Covenant. We'll let you draw your own conclusions. In our opinion, it's a candidate. The research continues.