When Moses returned from Mount Sinai to see the Israelites, he had with him the Ten Commandments. However, the Ten Commandments was not all that God had given to Moses on the mountain. He also received instructions on how to have his laborers construct the Ark of the Covenant. What happened to the Ark of the Covenant, and where is it today?

According to Scripture, we know the Ark of the Covenant was constructed and placed inside were the tablets of stone upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, Aaron’s staff, and a jar of manna.

“In it were the gold jar containing the manna, the staff of Aaron that had sprouted, and the tablets of the covenant.” – Hebrews 9:4

During the construction of Solomon’s Temple, the Holy of Holies was prepared inside to house the Ark. It remained there until one of King Josiah of Judah’s predecessors had it removed. The final mention of the Ark of the Covenants whereabouts in Scripture comes in the eighteenth year of King Josiah of Judah’s reign in 627 B.C., when he ordered the caretakers of the Ark of the Covenant to return it to the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

“He said to the Levites who were to instruct all Israel, and who were consecrated to the LORD: ‘Put the holy ark in the house built by Solomon, son of David, king of Israel. It shall no longer be a burden on your shoulders. Serve now the LORD, your God, and his people Israel.'” – 2 Chronicles 35:3

Forty years later, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon led his second Siege of Jerusalem. The Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and with it destroyed Solomon’s Temple. Neither the Book of Kings nor the Book of Chronicles mentions what became of the Ark following the Babylonian attack.

An ancient Greek apocryphal version of the biblical third Book of Ezra, 1 Esdras, suggests that Babylonians took away the vessels of the Ark of the Covenant, but does not mention taking away the Ark itself.

“And they took all the holy vessels of the Lord, both great and small, with the vessels of the ark of God, and the king’s treasures, and carried them away into Babylon.” – 1 Esdras 1:54

This account contradicts the actions of the prophet Jeremiah, who was said to have received a divine message just prior to the Babylonian invasion to take the Tabernacle and the Ark to Mount Nebo. There, he placed the two within a cave, sealed it, and said to those trying to find it that its location will only be revealed when God again gathers His people.

“When Jeremiah arrived there, he found a chamber in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense; then he sealed the entrance. ‘The place is to remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy.'” – 2 Maccabees 2:5,7

So where is the Ark of the Covenant today? Many theories have been put forth by archaeologists and by those claiming to have the real Ark in their possession. Some have claimed the Ark was buried underneath the Temple Mount, before Nebuchadnezzar’s men could find it. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church claims to house the real Ark in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum, a city in northern Ethiopia. An even more spurious claim was proposed by British Israelists that believe the Ark is buried underneath the Hill of Tara in Ireland, supposedly the origin of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow legend.

Unfortunately, the archaeologist community does not hold any of these theories in high esteem, and there’s no credible evidence to support their claims. In the end, the final location of the Ark remains known but only to God, and we may never find out what happened to the Ark until the Lord Himself returns.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. I thought that the Ark of the Covenant (Old Testament) was hidden not only because He ordained its protection but also because God was preparing His people for the eventual coming of Our Lord through Our Lady (who is the New Ark of the Covenant), as she carried the new Tabernacle, the new “Bread of Life”, the new Staff. The New Covenant was exemplified by the New Ark of the Covenant and the infinitely more profound Incarnation of Our Lord who goes before us, leading us as the original Ark was carried before the Israelites.

  2. About the ark, Jeremiah himself writes “They will no longer say ‘the ark of the covenant of the Lord!’ They will no longer think of it, or remember it, or miss it, or make another” (Jer 3:16). The author of Maccabees indicates that he is simply quoting an old document. What Jeremiah actually taught is found in the text I have quoted here. All this is in line with the understanding that he had about a new covenant. Unfortunately, for the Jews of the time of Jesus, the idea that something greater was coming was an idea they were unwilling to accept, though the new covenant was already foreseen by the prophets.

  3. Sorry, I thought the author of this piece (“Billy Ryan”) was a Catholic?

    Let’s set aside, for a moment, Mary’s role as the Ark of the New Covenant. Let’s focus only on the historical sacred box constructed of shittim/acacia wood overlaid with gold.

    According to 2 Maccabees (a book considered canonical by Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Copts, Thomasites…and, I thought, the Tewahedo?) the prophet Jeremiah hid the ark prior to the Babylonian invasion, in a cave. Ryan quotes this passage.

    Very well: Is this a historical-genre text? Or is it an allegorical/apocalyptic type of text? I see no evidence in the text that the author meant us to take it as the latter kind of text. But if it is the former, and if it is canonical, then a Catholic ought to say: “The original Ark is in a cave somewhere, placed there by Jeremiah; however, we don’t know exactly which cave.”

    Does Billy Ryan have a reason why he doesn’t take this view?

    Ryan also states that the apocryphal 1 Esdras 1:54 contradicts the account in 2 Maccabees…but it is hard to see why. 1 Esdras 1:54 references the Babylonians capturing the “vessels of” the Ark of God, but not the Tabernacle or the Ark itself. In 2 Maccabees Jeremiah relocates the Tabernacle and the Arc, but not the “vessels of” the Ark. So unless there is a reason to think that the “vessels of” the Ark of God means/includes the Tabernacle, specifically, there is no contradiction.

    But the Tabernacle is itself a famous historical item like the Ark and like its successor, the Temple. It is more likely that the Tabernacle would be mentioned separately from any other, more recently-constructed, “vessels.” (E.g. tables or carrying-poles or the covering-veil or lampstands or bowls/pitchers for pouring libations.)

    So where’s the contradiction? Why does Billy Ryan claim that there is one?

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