As Rosh Hashanah and the new year of 5778 approaches, most people tend to become more introspective and spiritually sensitive. What always seems to capture the minds and hearts of people from all backgrounds and cultures is the topic of the Temple in general, and the Ark of the Covenant in particular. The disappearance of the legendary Ark over 2700 years ago is an enigma that has given rise to much speculation by biblical archaeologists and explorers. There are many contradictory theories as to what really happened to this sacred artifact, and where it might be today. As such, I wrote a book (“The ARK Report”) based on 25 years of research on the Jewish perspective, where I quote primary sources from the Bible and the Talmud, with Midrashic and Haggadic references throughout. What I found is something compelling.
I found that the Ark was not “lost” as many assume. In fact, it has been situated in the same place for all this time. Reminiscent of that great Disney movie with Nicholas Cage, National Treasure, this particular priceless Jewish treasure is about 4 stories (15m) underneath the present-day surface of the Temple Mount, to the southwest of the Dome of the Rock.
Any biblical archaeologist worth his/her salt will tell you that there are over 45 known tunnels underneath the Temple Mount, with several entrances that may lead to this subterranean area. But before we go there, perhaps a brief history on the subject is in order first?
Despite what UNESCO and the PA believe, the legendary Herodian Temple that stood for 420 years at the center of Jerusalem had all the splendor and glory that one could imagine. Even by today’s standards. Our sages in the Talmud say that when the pilgrims made their way during the festivals to pray at the Temple, from afar the building looked to them like it was gleaming with moving waves as the sun refracted off the imported blue and white marble. Alas, the one item it did NOT contain was the most valuable man-made object ever, the Ark of the Covenant.
I get asked this often at the end of a lecture or presentation: Why didn’t the exiles that came back from the Babylonian destruction just find the Ark and put it where it belongs, i.e. – in the Holy of Holies of the Second Temple? Answer: The leaders of that generation, including Ezra the High Priest, tried to find it, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Talmud in fact states that there were 5 things that were in King Solomon’s Temple that were missing in the Second Temple, and yes, the Ark was one of them.
The fact is, approximately 35 years before the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC, King Josiah ordered that the Ark be brought into a special (what I call) “off-site” chamber that King Solomon had built as part of the original plan for the Temple as found in a special Temple scroll that was given to him by his father King David, and the prophets Samuel and Nathan (II Chronicles 35:3).
After happening upon an ancient Torah scroll of his ancestors, the righteous King Josiah foresaw that the Temple would be destroyed, and ordered the Ark’s placement into this secret chamber well before Jerusalem was even being threatened. Nobody knew that the Holy of Holies would be then be empty, except for the King himself, the High Priest at that time and some other priests that helped place it into the chamber below. It’s interesting to note that while hidden in this place, the Ark unfortunately wasn’t able to help the Jews win the war that destroyed Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar many years later. I mean, let’s face it, the Ark of God has a reputation as an indestructible war machine, having proven itself downing the great walls of Jericho, splitting the mighty Jordan River (or at least it was “mighty” back then), inflicting stomach diseases and plagues on the Philistines, etc.
So what about the other theories as to its whereabouts? What with all this hullabaloo about the Ark being in a church in Ethiopia? Every single television channel that deals with ancient treasures has some kind of documentary starring explorers going off to Ethiopia. After researching the matter though, my person view is that there really is something in that chapel, but not the authentic gold Ark that Betzallel made at the command of God containing the 2 Tablets of the 10 Commandments, etc. It would appear that this might be one of the duplicates that was made, as each Temple vessel had at least one duplicate in case the original contracted impurity. The fact that the Christian priests that guard it all seem to die younger than normal is also a sign, as we know that while the Israelites camped in the desert, the tribe of Levi was always the lowest in number in its male population, since the Ark consumed them and affected their longevity due to the Levites’ constant proximity to the Tabernacle, where it was housed. And no, it’s not in Tanis, Egypt or Tel Shiloh, where excavations were held in Israel this summer.
The Rambam (Maimonides) quotes the Talmud in a number of places that state that the Ark was buried “in its place” and for “generations after generations,” and “to this very day” (I Kings 8:8) in the warren of tunnels beneath the Temple Mount. In fact, directly beneath the Holy of Holies. According to the theory I developed, the site of the Temples were NOT where the Dome of the Rock currently stands today, but further to the southwest, as indicated previously above.
The truth is, barring an existential war with Israel, the only reason for fetching the Ark nowadays and bringing it out into the open (at great personal risk by the way), would be theoretically to (gingerly) place it into the Third Temple, which will presumably be somewhere on the Temple Mount in the future. Like in the famous movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, I don’t think the Ark itself would take well to being in a foreign environment, even if it was in a brand new Smithsonian Museum for Ancient History, or something of the sort.
Now, about those subterranean tunnel entrances. Even if one would theoretically obtain all the permits from the Israel Antiquities Authority, as well as the halachic permission from the Chief Rabbis of our day, it is simply too dangerous from a spiritual, as well as physical perspective to enter into these tunnels (which I mention in my book). The Ark seems to have this profound ability to sense who is around it, and if they have permission (as it were) to be there. And if not, the consequences are lethal! Why take the risk? After all, even Moses couldn’t enter the Tabernacle (that he himself built) to speak with God without permission.
Who is worthy today?
In a recent interview on Coast to Coast AM Radio, I answered a question that dealt with the supernatural properties of the Ark, and how the golden cherubim angels on top of the Ark cover would turn their faces towards each other or away from each other depending on if God was pleased with the Jews or not, at that time. It was a heavenly sign of favour or the opposite. The Midrash relates a story that when the Temple was temporarily broken into towards the end of the First Temple period, the Ark was briefly taken out of the Holy of Holies chamber and paraded around by the Midianites (present-day Jordan). They marvelled at how the angels, one male and one female embraced each other in a sensual, almost erotic fashion, and proclaimed in laughter and contempt: THIS is the most holy object of the Jews?!
Even as God was about to decree the destruction of Jerusalem and exile the Jews to Babylonia (Persia), He nevertheless wanted to show His divine love for His People. Similar to when a couple must part ways before a long journey and they are intimate that one last time, so too God is with Israel, and even to this day. Not sure if the angels are embracing right now, or even facing each other in that golden, underground chamber, but my bet is that they still are. One thing’s for-sure though: the deep connection between God and Israel is no enigma. It’s as strong as ever.
May we all be inscribed for an inspiring New Year – Amen!