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The Ark of the Covenant



According to the Bible, the Ark of the Covenant was a wooden chest built to contain the two stone tablets of the Law (the 'Testimony' of the covenant) that God gave to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai. The detailed instructions for how it was made are recorded in
Exodus 25:10-22. It was to be one of three items of furniture for inside the tabernacle (a type of royal tent, made as a dwelling for God).

The box itself was about 1.1 metres long by 0.7 metres wide and 0.7 metres high. Made of 'shittim' (acacia) wood, it was overlaid with pure gold. Poles were attached to it to enable it to be carried. The ark had a cover (traditionally called a 'mercy seat', though it could equally be called an 'atonement cover') made of pure gold, which covered the whole area of the top surface.

At either end of this cover were figures of cherubim (cherubs, though not to be confused with the 'cherubs' of Victorian art). These faced each other, with their wings spread upwards. In the ancient Near Eastern world, cherubim were the traditional guardians of sacred and holy places. Thus cherub designs were also woven into the fabric of the curtains of the tabernacle, and the curtain that veiled the Most Holy Place in which the ark itself was kept. Compare also the two cherubs described in
1 Kings 6:23-27, which guarded the inner sanctuary of Solomon's lavish Temple. It is thought that these cherubim were similar in appearance to sphinxes, with human head, four-legged animal body, and wings.

The ark of the covenant was therefore not merely a container for the Testimony, but a seat guarded by cherubim. God declared to Moses, "And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel." (Exodus 25:22) Thus the ark became the very throne of God.

Evidently, the ark of the covenant was one of the most treasured and holy objects of ancient Israel. The Israelites carried it with them wherever they went during the period of their 'desert wanderings' and it was also seemingly employed as a terrifyingly powerful weapon of mass destruction in warfare and in the conquests for the Promised Land. Only once did it fall temporarily into enemy hands.

Later on, King Solomon built the Temple to house this precious relic. It was placed inside the Holy of Holies, as it had been in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle. This was a dark and mysterious place, which few people saw. However, a far greater mystery surrounds the ark's subsequent disappearance. After the time of Solomon, there are no references to it being in the Temple, and certainly by the time that the Temple was ransacked and destroyed in the fall of Jerusalem, there was no longer any sign of the ark, and indeed it might well have been removed long beforehand.

This has led to many legends and theories of how such a sacred and guarded object could have been so carelessly lost. One such legend, which has been inspirational to modern Rastafarians is recorded in an ancient Ethiopian text called the Kebra Negast ('The Glory of Kings'). In brief, this tale concerns how the ark of the covenant was stolen from the Temple by a son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who brought it to rest in Ethiopia, where it has remained to this day.

There have been a number of recent attempts made to prove or disprove this story. One of the most well-researched, interesting and intensely readable accounts is
Graham Hancock's best-selling book, 'The Sign and the Seal - A Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant', which also explores many related legends, including the mysteries surrounding the Holy Grail.



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