It is the subject of many books and films: the discovery of the golden Ark from the temple. For example, somewhere in the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Fantasy? Or is there some truth in it? Has the Ark disappeared or is it possible that the Ark is still hidden somewhere?
In Solomon's temple there was a golden Ark in the Holy of Holies. This Ark first stood in the tabernacle, and was later moved to the temple. In the Ark were the two stone tablets on which God Himself had written (cf. Ex. 25:16; 34:1,28; Deut. 10:1,2), a jar of manna (cf. Ex. 16: 32-34), and finally Aaron's rod that had blossomed (cf. Num. 17). Both last objects were in the Ark during the desert time, but not afterwards (1 Kings 8:9; 2 Chron. 5:10).
By the way, the Hebrew word we usually translate as “ark” means something like a “chest.” When we think of Noah's Ark, we should not imagine a streamlined ship as is often imagined, but rather a very large rectangular wooden box. And that is not illogical. After all, Noah's ark only had to float and had no propulsion in the form of sails or oars. Streamlining was therefore not necessary.
We know that the Babylonians destroyed Solomon's temple and took the temple treasures to Babylon. However, in the list of the temple treasures brought to Babylon (Jer. 52:17-23; 2 Kings 25:13-17), the Ark is missing. That's remarkable, because it probably means they didn't get a chance to capture the Ark. It is very unlikely that if the Ark had been taken, this would not be mentioned. After all, the Ark was the most important object in the entire temple.
If the exiles from Babylon are allowed to return to Jerusalem, the temple will be rebuilt. We call this the second temple. The Ark is also missing from the list of items that people take back (Ezra 1:7-11; 5:13-15). This temple was finally destroyed in 70 AD. destroyed by Titus. In honor of this victory, an arch of honor was built in Rome, which we can still admire there. The inside of this arch depicts the objects that Titus took from the temple. And again the Ark of the Covenant is missing.
The last mention of the Ark in the Bible is found in Jer. 3:16: “And when you increase in number at that time and populate this land again, no one will speak of the ark of the covenant of the LORD. It enters no one's mind, it is no longer mentioned or missed, and it is not recreated. What Jeremiah means is that a time will come when the Ark will no longer be needed because Jerusalem itself will be the throne of God. But Jeremiah's choice of words seems to indicate that at that moment the Ark is no longer there.
It is also known in Jewish traditions that the second temple did not have an Ark. The Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Yoma, 22b) records that the second temple lacked five things that had been present in Solomon's temple, namely the Ark, the sacred fire, the Shekinah (the presence of God), the Holy Spirit and the Urim and Thummim. The Urim and Thummim were objects placed on the breastplate of the High Priest. One could use it to consult the Lord. Possibly they were some kind of dice. According to the Mishnah (Tractate Mid., iii. 6), on the site of the Ark there stood a stone, the 'even shesia' (foundation stone). The High Priest placed the censer on this stone on the Day of Atonement. The historian Flavius Josephus also mentions this stone. According to him, the stone was three fingers wide (Flavius Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, v. 55).
Now the question remains: where has the Ark gone? There are two interesting traditions about this, one less plausible than the other. The first tradition says that the Ark is in Axum in Ethiopia. It's a spectacular story. According to Ethiopian history (the Kebra Negast), the queen of Sheba was called Makeda. She returned pregnant from her visit to Jerusalem and gave birth to a son in Ethiopia, whom she named David, after Solomon's father. This David was known under the name Menelik I - an originally Arabic name meaning 'Son of the Wise' - as the first king of Ethiopia. This story was also known to Flavius Josephus. The queen of Sheba was so impressed by Solomon's wisdom and wealth that she blessed his God, and Solomon gave her “all that she desired.” The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus interpreted this in the first century AD. as a sexual relationship. According to Ethiopian traditions in the Kebra Negast, Menelik, the son of Solomon and the queen of Sheba, took the Ark to Ethiopia after visiting his father at the age of 22. According to stories, the Ark of the Covenant is housed in the Cathedral of Our Holy Mary of Zion in Axum (Ethiopia). There are a number of salient points in this history. The last emperor of Ethiopia was Haile Selassie (until 1974). He considered himself the 111th descendant of Solomon. His title was: 'His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, Son of Heirloom of the seed of Solomon(n), the All Conquering Lion of the tribe of Jud(e)a, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Father of Africans from the dearly beloved Ethiopia, the motherland of the sons and daughters in the diaspora'. The history of the Queen of Sheba is one of the explanations for the presence of the Falasjas, a Jewish population group in northern Ethiopia that was evacuated to Israel in the mid-1980s. And another remarkable fact: until 1975, the flag of Ethiopia had the 'lion of Judah' as its symbol. It is generally thought that it is quite possible that the Queen of Sheba had a son by Solomon and that Haile Selassie was a descendant of this son. However, the story about the Ark being moved from Jerusalem to Axum is not very credible. Indeed, tradition in Axum points to the place where the Ark would be located, but why are there no reports of people seeing the Ark there? Or even simpler: why are there no photographic recordings of it? According to Ethiopian tradition, the chapel of the church of Axum contains a replica of the Ark, which is called the Tabot. Every year on Timkat, the celebration of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan by John, this replica is taken from the chapel and carried around on the head by a priest. This Tabot also played an important role in Ethiopia's struggle against the Italians at the end of the 19th century. Numerous photos from tourists make it clear that there is indeed a replica of the Ark of the Covenant in Axum. But that doesn't mean the original has to be there too.
There is a completely different tradition about the Ark. We find this in the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees (2 Macc. 2:1-8): The books not only state that the prophet Jeremiah commanded the exiles to take something from the fire, as has already been said, but also that he taught them and urged them not to forget the commandments of the Lord and not to be misled by the beautifully decorated gold and silver images that they would see. Among other admonitions, he urged them not to banish the doctrine from their hearts. Further, in the same scripture it is stated that the prophet, in obedience to a divine inspiration, sent for the tabernacle of the covenant and the ark, and carried them after him, as he ascended the mountain which Moses had ascended, to behold the inheritance of God. Once there, Jeremiah found a cavern in the rock; in it he placed the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense, and shut up the entrance. When some of his companions went there again to mark the way, they could no longer find the place. Jeremiah heard of their attempt and reproached them. He said: 'That place must remain unknown until God gathers His people together again and shows them His mercy. Then the Lord will bring all that out again; then the glory of the Lord will appear in a cloud, as it happened in the time of Moses and also in that of Solomon, when he prayed that the temple would be sanctified in a great way.” According to this tradition, the Ark is located in Mount Nebo. We find a somewhat similar tradition in the Midrash. This Jewish tradition holds that Solomon built a system of passageways and chambers beneath the Temple Mount because he foresaw that the Temple would one day be destroyed. A special room was built for the Ark. Josiah instructed the Levites to place the Ark, the original menorah and a few other objects in this secret room - about 40 years before the destruction of the temple. The text reads: “When Solomon built the Temple, he was aware that it would eventually be destroyed. Therefore, he built a chamber in which the Ark could be hidden beneath the temple complex in deep maze-like vaults. King Josiah commanded that the Ark be buried in the chamber that Solomon had built, as stated in 2 Chronicles 35:3 “And he said to the Levites who taught all Israel and were holy to the Lord, “Put the holy Ark in the room that Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, built. You no longer have to carry it on your shoulder. Now serve the Lord your God...” When he was buried, Aaron's rod, the jar of manna, and the anointing oil were buried with him. All these sacred objects did not return to the second Temple” (Yad Hilkhot Beit Ha-Behirah, 4:1).
It is striking that this text from Chronicles shows that the Ark was at least in a different place for some time. Otherwise Josiah would not have ordered the Ark to be brought out again. Josiah then instructs to hide the Ark again: 'You no longer need to carry it on your shoulder.' This is how Traktaak Yoma 52b also interprets this text. Yehuda Elitzur hypothesizes that Manasseh had storehouses constructed in catacombs beneath Jerusalem. During the reign of his father Hezekiah the city went through the eye of a needle, and he realized that next time Jerusalem might not be left alone. It was then Josiah who permanently stored the Ark in these catacombs.
The Temple Institute in Jerusalem claims to know the location of the Ark. This institute is preparing the construction of the third temple and has made numerous objects that will be used in this temple. But only a replica of the Ark was made; it is assumed that the original Ark will simply be found in time. During a recent attempt to launch an excavation toward the secret chamber, Muslims rioted and protests broke out, the institute said.
The question is whether these traditions are plausible. Scholars' opinions differ on this. The story about taking the Ark to Axum is very unlikely. If the Ark is actually there, why has no evidence of it been shown? On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the Ark was hidden in time before Solomon's temple was destroyed. There is approximately 150 years between the first threat (from the Assyrians) and the final destruction of Jerusalem (by the Babylonians). In addition, the fall of Jerusalem was announced at least 40 years in advance. All in all, enough time to take measures. But it is no longer possible to determine who had the underground storage spaces installed - Solomon, Manasseh or someone else. It seems likely that the Ark was secured during the time of the prophet Jeremiah and King Josiah.
There is a difference of opinion among theologians as to whether the Bible teaches that the temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt again. Given the current political situation in Israel, that seems unthinkable for the time being. In addition, it is remarkable to hear that there are Jews who are making all the preparations for the rebuilding of the temple. While as Christians we confess that the temple is no longer necessary. Would the Ark ever emerge again? In short, exciting questions that are not easy to answer.