In my previous post, I wrote about the mystery behind the disappearance of the Jewish Ark of the Covenant, the most important piece of furniture in the Jewish Temple. The Ark was where the Presence of God sat in the Temple’s Holy of Holies.
I looked at he numerous theories on what happened to the Ark which just suddenly disappears.
In this post, I want to discuss one of the more interesting theories. There is an Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Axum, Ethiopia — St. Mary of Zion — that claims to have the Ark of the Covenant. Unfortunately, they won’t let anyone study it to independently verify if this is the Ark.
On May 12, 2008, Archaeologists from the University of Hamburg announced they found the palace of Queen of Sheba in Axum, Ethiopia. But in a strange twist, they also tied the discovery to the mysterious disappearance of the Jewish Ark of the Covenant.
According to the team, headed by Helmut Zeigert of the university’s archaeological institute, the palace, dated to 10 BC, was found underneath the remains of a structure built by a later Christian King.
Ethiopia has a long-established tradition of both Judaism and Christianity. Zeigert was trying to determine the religious history of Ethiopia particularly the origins of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and to pinpoint the arrival of Judaism in Ethiopia.
However, the story takes an interesting twist. Zeigert said they found an altar at the site extensively used for animal sacrifices evidenced by the bullock remains scattered around — which may suggest Jewish sacrifices. The site also had two columns which Zeigert believes originally housed the Jewish Ark of the Covenant.
If St. Mary of Zion has the Ark of the Covenant, how did it end up in Ethiopia?
There are two traditional explanations and both are tied to the Queen of Sheba who gained notoriety due to her encounter with King Solomon recorded in 1 Kings.
According to Ethiopian tradition, she converted to Judaism after her visit with Solomon — a distinct possibility. But tradition also states that she and Solomon married and had a son named Menelek.
She did have son, but whether Solomon is the father is uncertain.
The ark was either given to Sheba when she visited Solomon or Menelek returned to Israel later and smuggled the Ark of the Covenant out of Israel.
Based on their archaeological dig, Zeigert and his team concluded that after his mother died, Menelek left Judaism and converted the palace into a temple dedicated to the god Sirius indicated by numerous Sirius insignia at the site and the orientation of the temple towards the star Sirius.
“The results we have suggest that a Cult of Sothis [Greek name of the star Sirius] developed in Ethiopia with the arrival of Judaism and the Ark of the Covenant, and continued until 600 AD,” the team said in its news release.
Who was the Queen of Sheba?
According to the Biblical record, the Queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his wisdom and decided to visit the famous Jewish King (1 Kings 10:1-13, 2 Chronicles 9:1-12). The Bible does not mention her real name, only providing her title — the Queen of Sheba.
Now when the Queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with difficult questions. So she came to Jerusalem with a very large retinue, with camels carrying spices and very much gold and precious stones. When she came to Solomon, she spoke with him about all that was in her heart.” (1 Kings 10:1, 2 NASV)
Queens were a rarity in this day and the usage of the Hebrew word “malkan” (queen) in this passage to describe Sheba is the first time the Bible describes a woman as the head of state. Though we have references to queens prior, different Hebrew words were used and only in the context of a Royal mother or Royal wife.(3)
The Bible also mentions Shebaites, others from the land she governed in a number of passages.
In the book of Ezekiel, when the Prophet brought his word against Tyre, he spoke of traders from the land of Sheba who bartered the same goods as Queen of Sheba — spices, precious stones and gold (Ezekiel 27:22-24 see also Job 6:19; Psalm 72:10, 15; Isaiah 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20).
Many believe the Shebaites were originally part of a nomadic group today known as the Sabeans, some of who eventually settled between 12 BC and 10 BC in what is modern Ethiopia. (2)
The Assyrian records also spoke of Queens from this region, indicating though rare elsewhere, it was an accepted practice in Northern Africa.
As a trader, the Queen of Sheba received a number of goods in return from Solomon:
“King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desires which she requested, beside what he gave her according to his royal bounty…” (1 Kings 10:13 NASV)
Some conclude this is when Solomon gave Sheba the Ark of the Covenant because Solomon gave Sheba “all” she asked for.
But there is one problem with this theory, because the Ark of the Covenant is mentioned three hundred years later during the reign of King Josiah.
Nevertheless this verse leaves the impression Solomon was smitten by this exotic queen, as it subtly suggested he was taken to the cleaners in the trading.
The Queen also displayed a genuine interest in Jehovah, saying, “Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to set you upon the throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore he made you king to do justice and righteousness (v 9 NASV).
This sincere expression was even noted by Jesus who referring to Sheba’s visit said:
The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the Wisdom of Solomon; and behold something greater than Solomon is here. (Mathew 12: 42 NASV).
Ethiopia has a long-standing tradition of both Judaism and Christianity and we have seen how Judaism arrived but when did Christianity first make its appearance.
Acts 8:27 may provide the answer. In this verse, we have the interesting account of the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch by Philip. The eunuch was a court official of Queen Candace of Ethiopia, who was in Jerusalem to worship Jehovah. Many believe this conversion opened the door for Christianity in Ethiopia.
Ark in Ethiopia
The story of Solomon and Sheba marrying and having a son may be plausible.
We find the account of Sheba seeing Solomon in 1 Kings 10:1-13, and sixteen verses later in 1 Kings 11:1, the writer adds, “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian and Hittite.” Then two verses later, we are told Solomon had 700 wives.
With these sections so close together was the writer subtly suggesting that Sheba was one of Solomon’s many wives? Then, of course, there is that bit about Solomon giving the Queen the farm.
But is this proof of a royal marriage? Certainly, if the two did marry, Sheba did not remain part of Solomon’s harem, but returned to her palace located in present day Axum.
The biggest problem with this theory is that Solomon’s reign is dated between 971 BC and 931 BC and the Ark of the Covenant is mentioned 300 years later in Josiah’s day (620 BC — 2 Chronicles 35:3), well after Solomon, Sheba and even the son had died.
But we still have the issue of the church in Axum, Ethiopia claiming to have the Ark of the Covenant.
Could they really have it?
Well, the fact that no one has been allowed to independently verify the ark’s existence is suspicious. But if the church does have the Ark of the Covenant how do we explain it.
There are two possibilities.
At one point in Israel’s history, there was actually a second Jewish temple, besides the one in Jerusalem, existing at the same time in Egypt. The temple was built by a group of Jews on Elephantine Island found on the Nile River.
Some wonder if the Ethiopians have an Ark that was built for this second temple.
Secondly, we have the prophecy made by Jeremiah about the Ark of the Covenant. In this prophetic word, he said there would be a day the Ark of the Covenant would no longer be needed — a word some believe looked ahead to Christianity when believers became the Temple of God.
“It shall be in those days, when you are multiplied in the land, declares the Lord, ‘they will not say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord,’ And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again.” (Jeremiah 3:16 NASV)
But when Jeremiah says “nor will it be made again,” seems to imply the Ark had been rebuilt previous. And the one that disappeared in Jeremiah’s day was just a copy of the original Ark of the Covenant, perhaps the one given to the Queen of Sheba.
More in this series:
- German archaeologist on the trail of the Ark of the Covenant by Roger Boyes (The Times: May 13, 2008)
- Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, Charles Pfeiffer ed. (Moody Press: Chicago, Ill)
- For example, Psalm 45:9, the word translated Queen is the Hebrew word “shegal” which simply means the king’s wife.
- Where is the Ark of the Covenant? by Thomas McCall, Th.D. (www.levitt.com)
- The history of the ark (Wyatt Archaeological Research: www.wyattnewsletters.com)
- According to Thomas McCall, Rabbi’s Shlomo Goren and Yehuda Getz feel the Ark is hidden somewhere in a cave in the Temple Mound. They believe it has been there since the Jerusalem’s fall to Babylon. Based on their understanding of the Talmud, the two believe there is a cave directly below the Holy Holies. In 1982, Rabbi Getz said he was close to this underground chamber, but his excavations were stopped by the Muslims. McCall says, “There is a large and growing group of Orthodox Jewish adherents who believe that the Ark is in the cave below the Holy of Holies, and awaits the right time for it to be found.” — Where is the Ark of the Covenant by Thomas McCall, Th.d. (www.levitt.com)
The Ark of the Covenant altar found in Sheba’s palace (May 12, 2008: www.worldnetdaily.com)
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Great follow up, Dean. One of the traditions I had heard said that Menelek returned to Israel for a short time in his 20’s. Before he returned to Ethiopia, however, he requested to take the Ark with him. Solomon would not let him have the original, but agreed to build him an exact replica. Menelek, however, was not content with this and supposedly managed to switch out the two arks prior to his departure.
Of course, if this is the case, it still leaves the question of what happened to the ark that remained in Israel.
I have often heard the churches in Ethiopia have copies of the ark. If that’s true, why hasn’t anyone photographed or at least seen one of those copies? I would love to see one. If I did, I’m an artist and I could draw it for the rest of the world to see.
Thanks for your comment. Yes I have heard about the ark or a copy of it being in an Ethiopian church, but also heard that they will not allow anyone to look at it.
It would be interesting to see what they have.
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