Where is the Ark of the Covenant? The location of one of the Bible’s most infamous ancient relics has befuddled archeologists, thrillseekers and biblical scavenger hunters for millennia. But now the US-based Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration Institute (BASE for short) thinks they might have a bead on its whereabouts: an Ethiopian church, where it is being closely guarded by an ancient monastic order.
First, some history. According to the Book of Exodus, the Ark of the Covenant was built by the Jews while they were wandering in the desert, en route to the Promised Land. It was conceived as an easily transportable resting place for God — a sign of His presence among the Israelites — until years later, when Solomon could build an actual temple. The ark was a gold-covered wood chest that contained the Ten Commandments, the staff of Moses’ brother Aaron and some of the mana that God showered the Hebrews with for their daily food. It was treated with great reverence, generally hidden from view and never touched by human hands. After the building of the temple, the Ark of the Covenant was housed within.
But the Bible has no record of what became of the Ark of the Covenant following the fall of Israel to the Babylonian empire in 587 BC. Some ancient texts say it was carried off to Babylon as a trophy, while others say some Hebrew escapees hid the Ark in nearby mountains. One popular American legend says it was captured by the Nazis before it melted their faces off. The truth is, nobody knows for sure.
And that’s still true, but BASE researchers say “What we have concluded is that St. Mary’s of Zion church in Axum, Ethiopia, is the resting place either of an incredible replica of the biblical Ark of the Covenant, or, of the actual Ark of the Covenant itself.”
The theory would be that a group of Jews sneaked the Ark away from the Babylonian conquerors and took it to Egypt, eventually fleeing up the Nile before arriving at the Ark’s current alleged resting place in Ethiopia. Monks at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in the city of Axum told BASE investigators that the Ark of the Covenant was hidden within, but would not let them see it (which, judging by the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, is for the best) and this is where things start to really sound like an old action yarn.
The researchers write:
‘I was able to speak, through an interpreter, with the Guardian of the Ark, who told me that no other man besides himself could lay eyes on the Ark, that it was an absolutely holy object. He said that the world would not be allowed to pollute it by looking at it. He added that he and the villagers would protect the Ark with their lives, if necessary.
The researchers did find two people who claimed to have seen the Ark. One was a 105-year-old priest who said that twice in his lifetime, a so-called “Guardian of the Ark” had passed away and a new, younger man had to be trained in the religious rituals of the mantle. On those occasions, the researchers say, the old priest saw the Ark and “he described it as a gold box with two winged angels on top.”
Well, that certainly checks out with the biblical description, although it also could just confirm that these guys have access to flannelgraph technology. Nevertheless, assuming the Ark wasn’t destroyed by the Babylonians, the Ark is somewhere. Ethiopia is as good a spot as any.