Hebrew Bible

What Was the Ark of the Covenant?

You’ve probably heard of the legendary Ark of the Covenant – but what was it exactly, how does it tie into Jewish history, and what might have happened to it? Learn its fascinating history and lore with us here!

The Ark of the Covenant, a sacred and mysterious artifact, holds a significant place in Jewish history and our Biblical texts. It’s described in the Torah, and is associated with the Divine presence of God. Its historical background, construction, and current whereabouts have intrigued scholars, archaeologists, and believers for centuries!

Historical & Biblical Background
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An illustration of Biblical Priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant is first introduced in the Book of Exodus, where God instructs Moses to build a sacred chest to house the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Crafted from acacia wood and overlaid with gold, the ark symbolized the covenant between God and the Jews. Its design included two cherubim on the top lid, also called the "mercy seat," forming a throne for the Divine presence.

The Ark played a central role in the Israelites' journey, leading them through the wilderness and into the Promised Land - the Land of Israel. It also accompanied them into battles, symbolizing God's protection and guidance. The Ark of the Covenant eventually found its place in the Holy of Holies within the Tabernacle and later in Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, as an important piece of the Jews' worship.

Are you inspired by the story of the Ark of the Covenant? Check out our special Temple-themed gifts from Israel here to honor our Biblical history!

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Mysterious Disappearance & Search for Whereabouts
Ark of the Covenant  in Dramatic Sunlight

An artist's rendering of what the Ark of the Covenant is believed to have looked like

The fate of the Ark of the Covenant becomes a historical mystery after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, leading to the destruction of the First Temple. The Ark is not mentioned in the subsequent Biblical or historical accounts, leaving its whereabouts unknown.

Numerous individuals and organizations have sought to uncover the Ark's location over time, with theories ranging from hidden chambers in Jerusalem to remote regions in Africa. Various theories and speculations about its fate have circulated for centuries, ranging from claims of its relocation to Ethiopia, Egypt, or even buried beneath the Temple Mount.

According to Jewish tradition, as noted in the Book of Maccabees, the Ark was buried by the prophet Jeremiah in a cave before the Babylonian invasion along with several other artifacts such as the Tabernacle and Altar of Incense. It is believed that its location is supposed to be unknown until God decrees for it to be found again.

Some Jews believe that the Ark of the Covenant may be kept in Rome under one of its centuries-old basilicas. The second-century CE Judean rabbi Eliezer ben José had claimed to have seen the golden lid of the Ark in Rome. This is probably the last, concrete eyewitness account we have, but no evidence as to what may have happened to it since then.

No matter the Ark's whereabouts, it continues to capture the Jewish imagination to this day and is an important part of our history!

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