The Ark of the Covenant was the greatest treasure in Solomon’s Temple, but when Jerusalem and the Temple fell, the Ark vanished from history. What happened to the Bible’s most sacred object?
Now two adventurers have travelled over three thousand kilometres following legends and clues from the Bible to discover the legacy of the lost Ark.
“We have this incredible passage in the Bible which tells us Pharaoh Shishak raided Solomon’s Temple,” said Paul Backholer, “and this begins the legend that he took the Hebrew Ark to Tanis, Egypt. When we entered the ruins of Tanis, the legend falls apart. There was plenty of gold and silver buried in these tombs, some of which may have once belonged to Solomon, but no biblical Ark.”
Inside Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb, famed archaeologist Howard Carter discovered a hoard from ancient Egypt, including a gold-plated box, similar to the Ark of the Covenant. Brothers Paul and Mathew Backholer entered this tomb and many others in Egypt, then studied the golden chest in the Egyptian Museum.
“King Tut’s golden chest reveals ancient Egyptians and consequently Moses, were familiar with such objects,” said Mathew Backholer. “In Egypt, we studied biblical clues of Jewish refugees taking sacred objects from ancient Israel, to their new temple on Elephantine Island, and a large hoard of letters proves their existence there.”
Ancient sources hint the Ark of the Covenant is lost forever, destroyed by the Babylonians, but claims have been made it was smuggled to Ethiopia, or locked in a chamber under Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
“The underground Rock Churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia felt like the perfect place to hide the Ark of the Covenant,” said Paul Backholer. “It thrilled us to explore these underground labyrinths, but the timeline of the Ethiopian claim to have taken possession the Ark is out of step with biblical history. The Prophet Jeremiah was conscious of its presence in Jerusalem centuries after it was allegedly in Ethiopia.”
At 4 a.m., Paul and Mathew joined Ethiopian priests dressed in ceremonial robes, as they marched around the sacred city of Aksum, holding a replica of the Ethiopian Ark of the Covenant. “It was a deeply moving time,” said Paul Backholer, “but the trail was cold and if the biblical Ark of the Covenant survived the Babylonian siege, it may still be buried under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel.”
You can follow the adventure in Paul Backholer’s book, The Ark of the Covenant, watch the four episodes on the DVD ByFaith – Quest for the Ark of the Covenant, or watch the streaming documentary, The Bible’s Lost Ark of the Covenant, Where Is It?