Ark of the Covenant as depicted in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (Paramount Pictures)
Ark hunters and Bible enthusiasts are buzzing about a report that the Ark of the Covenant, the ancient container that holds the Ten Commandments, is expected to be unveiled in Rome today.
As WND reported, the patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia says he will announce to the world the unveiling of the Ark, which he says has been hidden away in a church in his country for millennia, according to the Italian news agency Adnkronos.
Abuna Pauolos, in Italy for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI this week, told the news agency, “Soon the world will be able to admire the Ark of the Covenant described in the Bible as the container of the tablets of the law that God delivered to Moses and the center of searches and studies for centuries.”
Abuna Pauolos, patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia
According to the Italian news agency, the announcement is expected to be made at 2 p.m. Italian time (8 a.m. Eastern) from the Hotel Aldrovandi in Rome. Pauolos will reportedly be accompanied by Prince Aklile Berhan Makonnen Haile Sellassie and Duke Amedeo D’Acosta.
“The Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia for many centuries,” said Pauolos. “As a patriarch I have seen it with my own eyes and only few highly qualified persons could do the same, until now.”
Bob Cornuke, biblical investigator, international explorer and best-selling author, has participated in more than 27 expeditions around the world searching for lost locations described in the Bible. A man some consider a real-life Indiana Jones, he has written a book titled “Relic Quest” about the Ark of the Covenant and participated in History Channel production called “Digging for Truth.”
Next week, Cornuke will travel to Ethiopia for the 13th time since he began his search for the Ark. He told WND he believes it is possible Ethiopia could have the real artifact.
“They either have the Ark of the Covenant or they have a replica that they have believed to be the Ark of the Covenant for 2,000 years,” he said.
Cornuke said, if it is genuine, there’s a plausible explanation of how the Ark may have come to the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Ethiopia.
“The Ark could have been taken out of the temple during the time of the atrocities of Manasseh,” he said. “We have kind of a bread crumb trail that appears to go to Egypt, and it stayed on an island there for a couple hundred years called Elephantine Island. The Ark then was transferred over to Lake Tana in Ethiopia where it stayed on Tana Qirqos Island for 800 years. Then it was taken to Axum, where it is enshrined in a temple today where they don’t let anybody see it.”
Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Ethiopia
Cornuke said he traveled to Tana Qirqos Island and lived with monks who remain there even today.
“They unlocked this big, four-inch thick wood door,” he said. “It opened up to a treasure room, and they showed me meat forks and bowls and things that they say are from Solomon’s temple. When the History Channel did this show, they said it was one of the largest viewed shows. People were fascinated.”
He said Ethiopians consider the Ark to be the ultimate holy object, and the church guards the suspected artifact from the “eyes and pollution of man.”
“In Ethiopia, their whole culture is centered around worshipping this object,” Cornuke said. “Could they have the actual Ark? I think I could make a case that they actually could.”
However, he said reports about Friday’s unveiling are somewhat perplexing because Ethiopia has traditionally shielded it from public view.
“That’s the surprise for me,” Cornuke said. “I have always thought that they would keep it under wraps.”
Sketch of Ark of the Covenant based on a description by the late explorer Ron Wyatt (wyattmuseum.com)
He explained that a special guardian lives inside the church and never leaves. Once a guardian is appointed, he stays until he dies and another man replaces him.
“We know for a fact that there have been 30 guardians in history who have never left that enclosure,” Cornuke said. “I know the guardian. When CNN and BBC went over there, he wouldn’t see anybody but me. So I went and talked to him, and he’s getting very aged. He told me they have the real Ark and he worships 13 hours a day in front of it. When he gets through, he is covered in sweat and he’s exhausted.”
He said he met a 105-year-old man who claimed to have seen the Ark 50 years ago when he was training a replacement guardian.
“It frightened him to death when he got a glimpse of it.”
Cornuke said he also met with the president of Ethiopia nearly nine years ago and had a one-on-one conversation with him in his palace. He asked if Ethiopia had the Ark of the Covenant.
According to Cornuke, the president responded: “Yes, we do. I am the president, and I know. It’s not a copy. It’s the real thing.”
Well-known author Grant Jeffrey
However, Grant Jeffrey, host of TBN’s Bible Prophecy Revealed and well-known author of “Armageddon: Appointment With Destiny,” does not believe claims that the Ark is in Ethiopia. He told WND he spoke extensively with Robert Thompson, former adviser to former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.
Jeffrey said Thompson told him the Ark of the Covenant had been taken to Ethiopia by Menelik, purported son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. When Menelik became emperor, he claims royal priests entrusted him with the Ark of the Covenant because King Solomon was slipping into apostasy. A replica was then left behind in Israel.
“The Ethiopian royal chronicles suggest that for 3,000 years, they had been guarding the ark, knowing that it had to go back to Israel eventually,” Jeffrey said.
He claims that after the Ethiopian civil war, Israel sent in a group of commandos from the tribe of Levi and the carried the Ark onto a plane and back to Israel in 1991.
“It is being held there secretly, waiting in the eyes of the religious leaders of Israel, for a supernatural signal from God to rebuild the temple,” he said. “They are not going to do it before that. When that happens, they will bring the Ark into that temple.”
But author and Bible teacher Chuck Missler, founder of Koinonia House, told WND the theory of Menelik obtaining the Ark is not biblical, though he believes there is a possibility that the Ethiopians may have the real deal.
“The fact that the Ethiopians may have been guarding the Ark of the Bible is very possible,” he said. “They cling to a belief that is clearly not biblical in terms of how the Ark got down there. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have it.”
Missler said there is no biblical basis for the Menelik account, and he believes there was a reason for that version of events.
“What everybody overlooks is that there’s a reason that particular story was cooked up in early times,” he said. “It was to give their kings Solomonic descent. There’s reason why they would try to sell that. But just because the official belief in how it got down there is not biblical, doesn’t mean they don’t have it.”
Tennessee historian and “Time is the Ally of Deceit” author Richard Rives, searched for the Ark and participated in excavations beneath Mount Moriah outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem. His group was trying to verify claims by relic hunter Ron Wyatt that he actually saw the Ark there several decades ago after tunneling through a small passageway.
David and Richard Rives at man-made wall that could conceal passageway to Ark (wyattmuseum.com).
While they found Roman ruins from the first century, Rives told WND they were unsuccessful in confirming Wyatt’s account. Nonetheless, Rives does not believe the story of Menelik obtaining the artifact or that Ethiopia ever had the real Ark.
“God’s presence was on the mercy seat. That was the throne of God,” he said.
If the account were accurate, Rives said God would have been dwelling on an Ark replica in Jerusalem.
“I just don’t believe they could have persuaded him to sit on a fake Ark of the Covenant,” he said.
Many theories exist about the ultimate fate of the Ark, including that it has been hidden in a still unknown location, it was destroyed by enemies of the Israelites, taken by Egyptian invaders to Egypt or removed by divine intervention.
The quest for the artifact received additional publicity in 1981 when actor Harrison Ford searched for it in Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Cornuke said Ethiopians claim their purported Ark is kept in a large stone sarcophagus lined in ornately hammered silver. The Ark itself is made of acacia wood and laminated with a thin veneer of gold. The mercy seat sits atop the Ark and is made of pure, hammered gold and includes two cherubim facing one another.
Whether the artifact is real or simply a copy, Cornuke said an unveiling might leave the world with more questions than answers.
“We have only typology to go on,” he said. “We could probably have some people analyze the wood samples and come up with some kind of dating protocol on it because it is acacia wood to see if that is it.”
Rives said a close inspection of the Ten Commandments would be necessary to ensure they are in accordance with true text and not later versions of the Ten Commandments.
Cornuke said experts would also need to determine whether the artifact itself fits biblical description and trace its path to Ethiopia.
“We are peeking behind the veil of history,” he said. “We’re taking a glimpse of an artifact that could be a very holy object.”