The Knights Templar & the Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant series (post #8)

To this point in our series on the possible locations of the Ark of the Covenant, we’ve looked at theories couched in the Biblical era. For today’s post, however, we move outside that realm and dive into subject matter that falls within a post-Bible era. Ready? Let’s go.

To get us started, here is a brief timeline for the history of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem:

  • Solomon’s workers complete Solomon’s Temple in 950 B.C.
  • Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army destroys Solomon’s Temple in 587 B.C.
  • The Jews complete a second Temple in 515 B.C. This Temple becomes known as Zerubbabel’s Temple in honor of the Jew who oversaw the project. It is built on the same site where Solomon’s Temple had stood and is laid out in the same basic pattern as Solomon’s Temple, but it isn’t nearly as grand or impressive as Solomon’s Temple had been. This is the Temple that stands in Jerusalem during the 400 years between the last page of the Old Testament and the opening page of the New Testament. All told, it exists even longer than Solomon’s Temple.
  • Following Rome’s conquering of Jerusalem, the Romans install Herod the Great as king over Judea in 38 B.C. Herod is a wicked man, but he loves buildings and architecture. He orders that Zerubbabel’s Temple be enlarged. His ultimate goal is to make it as impressive as Solomon’s had been, a project that will take several decades. Herod himself won’t even live to see its completion. The expanded Temple will become known as Herod’s Temple. This is the Temple in existence during the early life of Jesus.
  • In 70 A.D., the Roman general Titus lays siege to Jerusalem and destroys Herod’s Temple by burning it. There hasn’t been a Temple in Jerusalem since.

Here now is where we move outside the comfortable confines of scripture. The Roman empire eventually grew so large that it became impossible to govern effectively. Just getting messages from Rome, the capital city, to the empire’s outer regions took weeks. So, the radical decision was made to split the empire into two halves. The empire’s western half would remain based in Rome, while the eastern half would be based in Byzantium (which would eventually be renamed Constantinople). The city of Jerusalem fell under the realm of Byzantium (Constantinople).

Thus began a timeline of centuries in which Jerusalem was passed back and forth by a series of competing armies. Mind you that each conquest involved a major military endeavor involving thousands upon thousands of soldiers, not to mention untold bloodshed. The military timeline goes as follows:

  • In 614 A.D., the Persians capture control of Jerusalem from the Romans (Byzantines).
  • In 629 A.D., the Romans (Byzantines) recapture Jerusalem from the Persians.
  • In 638 A.D., the Muslim Caliph Omar I captures Jerusalem from the Romans (Byzantines) and declares the Temple Mount (the site of Solomon’s Temple, Zerubbabel’s Temple, and Herod’s Temple) a sacred place for Islam. Thus, Jerusalem becomes an Islamic city. The Muslims rule over the city for the next 461 years, and in 691 A.D. The Dome of the Rock, a sacred sanctuary for Islam, is built on the site of the Temple Mount.
  • In 1099 A.D., Pope Urban II launches The First Crusade, led by Godfrey of Bouilion, to regain control of Jerusalem from the Muslims. The Crusade proves successful and Jerusalem comes under the control of the Crusaders. The following year Baldwin I, the brother of Godfrey of Bouilion, is crowned king of Jerusalem, the city is declared “Christian,” and The Dome of the Rock is converted into a church named Templum Domini (Temple of the Lord).
  • In 1187 A.D., the Muslim leader Saladin captures Jerusalem from the Crusaders.

Believe me, the timeline doesn’t stop there, but that’s as far as I need to go to say what I need to say in this post. During the 87 or so years the first Crusaders held Jerusalem many groups of Christians from across Western Europe visited the city. These Christians needed to be guaranteed safe passage, and so sometime around 1118 A.D. a French knight named Hugues de Payens founded a military order established for this purpose. This order was originally called The Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon, but it became more famously known as The Knights Templar.

In 1129 A.D., The Knights Templar received the formal endorsement of the Catholic Church. This caused new recruits and a ton of money to begin pouring into the order from all across Europe. This allowed The Knights Templar to establish new chapters throughout Western Europe. In addition to being highly trained, fierce warriors, The Knights Templar set up a network of banks and became a major source for loans for European nobles. They also owned a large fleet of ships and actually bought the island of Cyprus.

But did they also do any excavating under The Dome of the Rock/The Temple Mount in Jerusalem? Well, that’s the story that some people tell. And as part of those excavations did they come into possession of The Ark of the Covenant? Well, again, that’s the story that some people tell. From there the story morphs into a dozen other stories, depending upon which one you believe, that have The Knights Templar hiding out the Ark. They hid it in Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel. They hid it in England’s Temple Herdewyke. They hid it in France’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres. They hid it at the bottom of an elaborate pit on Oak Island in Canada’s Nova Scotia. You get the idea.

Could any one of these stories actually be true? I suppose. I myself like to keep any open mind on such things. But does one of them have to be true? Nope. Every last one could be as nutty as a fruitcake. When everything is said and done, the major problem I have with any story in which The Knights Templar discover the Ark in Jerusalem and spirit it away to some secret location comes down to this: It involves three MAJOR presuppositions right out of the chute. They are:

  • Presupposition #1: Each story presupposes that the Ark somehow ended up hidden at some point under the Temple Mount. But this assumption itself raises so many questions. Had the Ark been hidden there since the Babylonian destruction of Solomon’s Temple? Had it never sat inside the Holy of Holies of Zerubbabel’s Temple or later on Herod’s Temple? (Did you know there is no Bible evidence of it ever being in either one?) Had it sat inside Zerubbabel’s Temple and Herod’s Temple but been hidden before Titus and his Roman army destroyed Herod’s Temple in 70 A.D.? So many question, so few answers.
  • Presupposition #2: Each story presupposes that The Knights Templar actually discovered the Ark and moved it somewhere. Obviously, even if they were trying to find it there’s no guarantee they did.
  • Presupposition #3: Each story presupposes that God would have allowed anyone other than the Levitical Kohathite priests of the Jewish priestly order to not only move the Ark from under the Temple Mount but actually transport it completely out of Israel and into a foreign land. Scripturally speaking, such a thing flies directly in the face of the Bible’s accounts of the Philistines trying to keep the Ark in Philistia (1 Samuel chapters 5 and 6) and David trying to move it into Jerusalem without using those priests (2 Samuel chapter 6). Each of those stories serves as proof positive that the Ark is a dangerous thing. I don’t care how fierce a warrior you are or how holy you think your cause is, you don’t just walk up to the Ark of the Covenant and start handling it.

And so, in conclusion, I just can’t run off too far with any theory involving The Knights Templar doing anything with the Ark of the Covenant. Certainly it’s all fodder for interesting books, movies, television programs, and internet sites. I get that. I myself have watched every episode and counting of the reality t.v. series “The Curse of Oak Island.” Furthermore, if those two brothers finally get to the bottom of that pit and actually retrieve the Ark of the Covenant from it, I’ll stand and applaud their discovery, no doubt about it. But I’m not really expecting that to happen. Even if it was The Knights Templar who buried something down there, my guess is that it’s not the Ark.

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