Saturday, July 7, 2012

What Happened to the Ark of the Covenant? Part 1

In response to my posts the last two days, a friend of mine asked me about the Ark of the Covenant:

My son keeps asking me about the fate of the ark. Sometime in the future I'd love to get your thoughts on that. Are there any sound theories regarding what happened to it? When does it last appear in the biblical record? Now suddenly I have Indiana Jones music going through my head....

So as an epilogue to our discussion of the Tabernacle, we'll tackle this issue.  What happened to the Ark of the Covenant?

My friend's first question was if there are any sound theories as to what happened to it.  Well, according to Dr. Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark was removed from the Temple and taken to Egypt when Pharaoh Shishak attacked Jerusalem during the time of Rehoboam (1 Kgs. 14:25-26; 2 Chr. 12:2-9).  That military campaign in itself is a fascinating topic which we'll discuss in a future post, but unfortunately Dr. Jones was not correct in his conclusion (despite the fact that he later discovers the Ark in the movie).  Shishak could not possibly have taken the Ark during that time because it is mentioned later in scripture as still being in the Temple (2 Chr. 35:3).  So much for Hollywood's theory.

Yet there are other theories out there.  Gary Byers, an associate of mine in the Near East Archaeological Society, wrote an article a few years back that summarizes many of them.  Most of his article is devoted to a critique of a particular (probably incorrect) theory, but toward the end of the article Byers provides "an interesting list of theories" that people have proposed over the years.  The list includes 21 theories (some of which are better than others) and the source on which each theory is based.

For example, 2 Maccabees (one of the books in the Apocrypha) states that Jeremiah hid the Ark on Mount Nebo:

The same document also states that the prophet [Jeremiah] commanded, with a solemn divine pronouncement, that the meeting tent and the chest containing the covenant should go with him. The documents reported that he went to the mountain that Moses ascended to see the inheritance that God promised.
When Jeremiah arrived, he discovered a cave where he deposited the meeting tent, the covenant chest, and the incense altar. He blocked up the opening. Some who had accompanied him went along to mark the way but couldn’t find it again. When Jeremiah found out, he rebuked them and said: “The place will remain unknown until God gathers the people together again and shows mercy. Then the Lord will disclose these things. The Lord’s glory will appear with the cloud, as they were revealed in the time of Moses and when Solomon prayed that the place might be made holy.” (2 Maccabees 2:4-8, CEB.)

Although there are some historical facts recorded in the book of 2 Maccabees, I'm not convinced that this is one of them.  To me, this account sounds more like a fanciful legend than an objective recounting of facts.

In my next post, we will answer my friend's second question: "When does it last appear in the biblical record?"  I will also examine what else the Bible has to say on the topic, and will explain my own personal theory about the fate of the Ark.  (Hint: It is one of the 21 theories the Byers lists.)  Until then, you can peruse Byers' list here.

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