I sometimes joke with the members of my congregation that I have hundreds of questions I’m going to ask God when I get to heaven. Some of them are trivial things, stuff that really doesn’t matter. But some of them have to do with some of the enduring questions that pop up in the Bible. There are some puzzles that don’t have any easy answers.
The fate of the Ark of the Covenant is at the heart of one of those puzzles.
Ah, the Ark. A golden box of phenomenal power which is a great way to deal with Nazis if the seminal documentary on the subject (Raiders of the Lost Ark) is to be believed. In all seriousness, though, the Ark has an incredible presence in the early part of the Old Testament. God gave Moses specific instructions on how it should be constructed. It would eventually carry not only the stone tablets of the covenant, but also a jar of manna, Aaron’s budded staff, and a number of other sacred reminders from Israel’s history. It held the place of honor in the Tabernacle until it was captured by the Philistines. Once it was recovered, it spent some time at a guy named Abinadab’s house until David moved it into Jerusalem. Then, after Solomon built his Temple, the Ark was put into the Holy of Holies.
And then it disappears.
Seriously. The Ark goes into the Temple but we never learn what happens to it. It’s as if one of the holiest objects in history simply vanishes. While there are passing references to it in other parts of the Bible, it’s never definitively spotted again.
So what happened to it? Well, there are a number of theories:
- The Raiders of the Lost Ark theory. As far-fetched as Marcus Brody’s description of the Ark was in this classic movie, the movie may have struck on the Ark’s fate. Shortly after Solomon died, we’re told that Pharaoh Sheshonk I raided and plundered Jerusalem. Since the Bible specifically says that Shishak (as he’s called in this account) carried off “the treasures of the Temple,” it’s entirely possible that the Egyptians captured the Ark and took it back with them to Egypt.
- The Babylonian theory. Before the Babylonians destroyed the Temple, they plundered it and took a lot of the sacred relics. While the Ark isn’t explicitly mentioned in the list, it’s possible that it was taken away by the Babylonians, meaning that it wound up in Babylon.
- The destruction theory. Or it could be possible that the Ark was still inside the Temple when the Babylonians destroyed it. If that’s the case, then the Ark died with the building around it.
- The hidden theory. According to the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees, the prophet Jeremiah was warned by God to hide the Ark before the Babylonians destroyed the Temple.
- The Ethiopian theory. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims that they have possession of the Ark in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. According to this theory, when the Queen of Sheba came a-callin’ on King Solomon, he gave her everything she wanted, including a baby. Then Solomon sent the Ark to his son for safe keeping.
So which theory is right? I have no idea. Personally, my money is on #3, that the Ark was destroyed with the Temple, simply because if it had been captured by a foreign power, I’d think that the Bible would have recorded that. And while #4 is tempting, I just don’t buy it, since I don’t think that Jeremiah had a good enough relationship with any of the priests in his day to actually get his hands on the Ark.
So yeah, this is a question that bugs me. Whatever happened to the Ark? I know I won’t get an answer this side of eternity, and I’m okay with that.
But there’s another question regarding the Ark that we have to answer and that’s this: does it matter where the Ark wound up?
Well, that’s a different question, and it’s one we’ll look at next week.