The last historical reference to the ark was when King Josiah instructed the Levites to return it to the temple (2 Chron. 35:1-6). Nothing is said about why the ark had been removed, who moved it, where it had been taken, or if it actually was brought back.
Throughout the centuries, many different theories for what happened to the ark have been proposed. Here are a few of the main ones:
- Ethiopia – It has been suggested that after the queen of Sheba visited King Solomon in Jerusalem (1 Kings 10:1-13; 2 Chron. 9:1-12), Solomon married her–though Scripture says nothing about such a marriage. The ark was then smuggled into Ethiopia by Menelik, the alleged son of Solomon and the queen of Sheba. The ark is now supposedly located at St. Mary of Zion Orthodox Church in Axum, Ethiopia. However, no independent source has been allowed to view the ark to verify its authenticity,
- Egypt – One theory says that the ark was taken by Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt when he attacked Jerusalem in the tenth century BC. The Bible says that the pharoah carried off the temple treasures, but doesn’t specifically mention the ark (1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Chron. 12:9).
- Mount Nebo – In the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees, it’s said that the prophet Jeremiah received a revelation instructing him to take the ark to Mount Nebo (today in Jordan). Jeremiah then found a room in a cave on or near Mount Nebo in which he placed the ark and sealed the entrance. The ark’s exact location will be divinely revealed at an appointed time. While the accuracy of this account is certainly debated, Jeremiah was from a priestly family which would have provided him access to the ark, and he had prophesied that there would come a time when the ark would no longer be needed (Jer. 1:1, 3:16).
- Temple Mount – Some claim that priests hid the ark by burying it under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem sometime during the Babylonian siege of the city in the sixth century BC. However, the area is inaccessible today because this location is currently the site of the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine.
- Mount Gerizim – First-century historian, Josephus, mentions a Samaritan tradition that says the “sacred vessels” were hidden on Mount Gerizim (today in the West Bank). While the ark is not expressly mentioned, tradition holds that the ark was part of this collection.
- Babylon – When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and set fire to the temple in 586 BC, it’s believed they took the ark to Babylon (today in Iraq) where it disappeared or was destroyed (2 Kings 24:13; 2 Chron. 36:5-8). Curiously, the ark is not listed among the spoils (2 Kings 25:13-18; Jer. 52:17-23). (Though it would be surprising if they took the pots and shovels of the temple, but left behind a valuable item like the ark.) When the Israelites returned from exile, the list of items that were brought back to Judah makes no mention of the ark (Ezra 1:5-11).
It’s important to remember that even though the discovery of the ark would be an incredible historical and archaeological discovery, the ark itself has no supernatural powers. It was only God’s presence associated with the ark that gave it importance. According to the New Testament, God’s Spirit is now within every person who believes in his son Jesus Chris (Rom. 8:11).
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Inside the holiest of holy places in the tabernacle stood the Ark of the Covenant. This gold-covered box was Israel’s most sacred object and the one that most symbolized God’s presence. Its power and uniqueness has given rise to all sorts of curiosity, speculation, and mystery surrounding the ark. Even longtime students of the Bible still have questions about the ark.
This slimline pamphlet gives biblical answers to your questions about the Ark of the Covenant:
- Who built the ark and why?
- How big was the ark and what was inside it?
- What was the mercy seat for?
- What happened to the ark?
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- Provides biblical answers to common questions about the ark
- Includes a Bible time line of the ark
- Full-color illustrations and glossy coating
- Fits in most Bibles for handy reference
Discover why the ark was so important in Israel’s worship at the tabernacle and the temple. See how the ark reveals God’s love and holiness, and what that means for believers today.
Did you know?
- Three specific things were kept inside the ark.
- The ark is sometimes called the ark of the testimony.
- The ark was placed behind a heavy curtain in the temple.
- The ark’s mercy seat played a key role in Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
- Jeremiah prophesied about the ark.The apostle John saw the ark in a vision.
Pamphlet, 14 panels, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches, ISBN 9781628628579.