The Ark of the Covenant series (post #9)
The majority of Orthodox Jewish rabbis who currently live in Jerusalem do not stress themselves over the possible whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant. They don’t run around all over the globe chasing down every last theory for where the Ark might be. They don’t promote and fund archaeological digs here, there, and everywhere. They simply rest in their conviction that the Ark remains hidden in a cave underneath the Temple Mount, right where it has been for at least 2,000 years. More specifically, they say the cave is located directly under the spot where the Holy of Holies for Solomon’s Temple, Zerubbabel’s Temple, and Herod’s Temple stood. And by applying a concept of “vertical air space” they contend that the former site of the Holy of Holies sanctifies the ground beneath it.
Consider the following quote from Rabbi Chaim Richman:
Jews have an unbroken chain of recorded information, passed down from generation to generation, which indicates its (the Ark’s) exact location. There is a big fascination with finding the lost Ark, but nobody asked a Jew. We have known where it is for thousands of years. It could be reached if we excavated Temple Mount, but that area is controlled by Muslims.
Another Rabbi, Yehuda Getz, believes that in 1982 he came within forty feet of finding the cave where the Ark sits. He was leading a team in conducting a search in an old tunnel that ran perpendicular to the Western Wall, the last standing section of the retaining wall that once served as the perimeter for the entire Temple Mount site of Herod’s Temple. According to Rabbi Getz, he was systematically working his way through that tunnel, carefully clearing away centuries of debris as he progressed, making headway further and further back underneath the Temple Mount. He knew he had to be getting close to the spot directly underneath where the Temple’s Holy of Holies had once stood. But that’s when the Muslims discovered that diggings were taking place underneath The Dome of the Rock, the Muslim shrine built in 691 A.D. on the site of the former Jewish Temple. The Muslims quickly threatened a riot that would have torn the city of Jerusalem apart, and Rabbi Getz and his team stopped their digging and sealed up the entrance to the cave until this day.
As for when the Ark of the Covenant was placed in this cave, the majority opinion is that Solomon, in his God-given wisdom, knew his Temple would be destroyed even as he was having it built, and so he had special caves dug underneath it to hide the Ark and the other Temple artifacts from foreign invaders. Then, centuries later, it was King Josiah who actually had the Ark moved to the cave where it remains today.
The primary Jewish source for these traditions involving Solomon and Josiah is a revered 12th century Rabbi named Moses ben Maimon (commonly known as Maimonides), who died in 1204 A.D. Rabbi Maimonides was the head of the Jewish community in Egypt. In The Book of Temple Service 17, he states that Solomon originally prepared the hiding place and Josiah ended up being the one who used it as he had the Jewish priests take the Ark to it in the years leading up to the Babylonian destruction of the Temple.
To further bolster this tradition among Jews, there is a certain passage in the Jewish Mishnah. The Mishnah is the written collection of what is known as Jewish “oral law.” This “oral law” presumably goes all the way back to God giving Moses oral instructions that were not written down concerning how to carry out the particulars of the Torah (the written books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). This “oral law” was then passed down from Moses to Joshua and continued on down to the Jewish Rabbis until it was all finally committed to writing in approximately 200 A.D. In one passage of the Mishnah, it states:
“Once when a priest in the second Temple (Zerubbabel’s Temple)saw a block of pavement different from the other floor, he understood that in this place there was an entrance to an underground tunnel and he shared this with a friend. Before he could finish his sharing his life departed. Then they knew assuredly, this was the place where the Ark lay hidden.
Now, as for the validity of this whole theory, we can see that the theory, like so many others, has its strengths and weaknesses. Here are some of the strengths:
- We are talking about Jewish history here, and Jews know their own history better than anybody. They’ve been studying this stuff and debating it for centuries, and so it makes sense to give them some benefit of the doubt.
- It is beyond question that there are many caves underneath the Temple Mount. This fact is well known. Even more than that, many of these caves have remained sealed for centuries.
- It was God who gave Solomon his great wisdom, and so the idea that God would have forewarned him to build secret tunnels underneath the Temple to keep the Ark from being captured isn’t so crazy.
- The Biblical record does seem to indicate that the Babylonians didn’t take the Ark as part of their plundering of Solomon’s Temple. This must mean, then, that the Jews hid the Ark somewhere, and a cave underneath the Temple would make for a perfect place to hide it.
- The Bible does tell us that Josiah was a godly king. It also pointedly mentions the Ark being in the Temple during his reign (2 Chronicles 35:3). Perhaps, then, it isn’t a coincidence that the Ark is never mentioned again as being inside Solomon’s Temple, Zerubbabel’s Temple, or Herod’s Temple after Josiah’s death. In my opinion, this is the single strongest piece of evidence for the theory that Josiah hid the Ark in a cave underneath the Temple and it still sits there today.
Okay, now for the weaknesses of the theory:
- Jewish tradition, like any other man-scented tradition, can be wrong. There is an intellectual arrogance and aloofness to many Jewish rabbis, and it’s the same arrogance and aloofness that kept their forefathers (the Pharisees, Saduccees, and scribes) from embracing Jesus as their Messiah. We should never forget that Jewish rabbis are spiritually lost and, thus, have limited spiritual discernment no matter how much they claim to have.
- Jewish oral law can be wrong as well. Jesus Himself combated the oral law’s erroneous teachings in reference to Sabbath keeping, ceremonial hand washing, and various other subjects. Therefore, any teaching that comes out of the Mishnah should never be accepted without reservation.
- King Josiah died in 609 B.C. after a reign of 31 years. But the Babylonians didn’t destroy Solomon’s Temple until 587/586 B.C. That’s a difference of over 20 years. Are we to believe that the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple stood empty of the Ark of the Covenant for over 20 years as the Ark sat in a cave underneath the Temple? Certainly the Babylonian threat was looming against Judah even during Josiah’s reign, but was there any real need to panic and hide the Ark more than 20 years before the Babylonians would actually come to destroy the Temple? That doesn’t make much sense.
- Even if Josiah (or any of the kings of Judah who followed him) did hide the Ark anywhere to keep it from the Babylonians, why did it have to remain hidden? Why wasn’t it brought back out and placed in the freshly built Zerubbabel’s Temple when a remnant of the Jews returned from their Babylonian exile and rebooted everything about Jerusalem? Even today’s Jewish rabbis believe that the Ark never stood inside either Zerubbabel’s Temple or Herod’s Temple. If it was just sitting there in a cave waiting to be used again, why didn’t they retrieve it at some point? In my opinion, this is the single strongest piece of evidence against the validity of the whole theory.
So, in closing, where do I come down on all of this? Well, if you are just asking me, the theory that the Ark is still in Jerusalem sitting in a sealed cave underneath the Temple Mount is our best guess as to its current location (assuming it still exists at all). With that said, though, I wouldn’t bet a piece of bubble gum that it’s there. The reason I rate this theory ahead of the others has more to do with the inadequacies of the competing theories than the infallibility of this one. Maybe I’ll live long enough to see the Jews somehow get permission to thoroughly excavate underneath the Temple Mount. However, even if they do locate the Ark under there, would they bring it out if they didn’t have a Temple – complete with a Holy of Holies — in which to house it? The answer to that is probably no, which means that I don’t hold out a lot of hope for ever seeing the Ark of the Covenant revealed in my lifetime.