Is the Ark of the Covenant Really in Ethiopia?
Graham Hancock is
convinced that the ark of the covenant today rests in a
chapel at the Ethiopian city of Axum. He believes it was taken
from Jerusalem to Elephantine by priests about 650 B.C., in
the evil days of King Manasseh, that it stayed there in a
temple till about 400 B.C., when it was transported to
Ethiopia, and that it has remained there since, firstly
in a Jewish sanctuary at Tana Kirkos, then held by the
Ethiopian Church at Axum.
Hancock presents further
evidence for the ark being in Ethiopia by delving into
the past. He presents evidence for some of the Crusaders
having accompanied an exiled Ethiopian prince back to
Ethiopia in 1185 and seeking out the ark of the covenant.
He considers that stories of the ark in Ethiopia are the
origin of the holy grail stories of the Arthurian
legends. He presents evidence that the eighteenth-century
explorer, James Bruce, who discovered the sources of the
Nile, was motivated by a concealed desire to look for the
ark. All this adds to the case that there is something in
The belief that the ark is
held in Ethiopia is clearly widespread there. Evidence
for this is in the importance of the Timkat festival, referred
to above, in which a tabot, or replica of the ark, is paraded
before the people. These tabots are regarded as too holy
to be readily seen, but Graham Hancock managed to see some
in the British Museum's stores of material not on public display.
To his disappointment they were not in the shape of an oblong
chest, like the ark of the covenant; they were simply wooden
slabs with writing on them. At first this caused him to doubt
the whole story, but later he took the view that they
were replicas of the tablets of the Law which were put in
the ark. He remarked that only the tabot paraded before
the people at Axum was in the shape of a chest, an
indication that it is here that the ark is kept. But is
it really the ark of the covenant?
There is no doubt that an
object like the ark has been venerated in Ethiopia for
many centuries. There is a good case for saying that this
object was transported to Ethiopia by the Jews from Elephantine.
The weak point in the whole case is the argument that the
Jews at Elephantine built a temple to house the actual
ark of the covenant.
What is much more likely
to have been the case is that priests from Judah settled
at Elephantine and made their own ark as the centre of a
new temple and system of worship based on what they left
behind in Jerusalem. This would have been similar to what
was done by Jeroboam in the northern kingdom several centuries
before. When he made golden calves and set them at Dan
and Bethel he was, we believe, not setting up representations
of pagan gods, but a representation of the God of Israel
in the form of the ox-face of the cherubim, which was the face
traditionally associated with Ephraim, his own tribe. If
the priests of Elephantine had the true ark of the
covenant with them in their temple, then when the Jews
returned to the land from Babylon and rebuilt the temple
why did they not return with the ark, especially when the
time of persecution came which ended their stay at
Elephantine? If what they in fact had done was to set up their
own replica of the true ark they would have known that
this would not have been acceptable.
So we conclude that the
ark of the covenant is not to be found today in Ethiopia.
But does it exist somewhere else?
Next section: The Ark on Mount Nebo?