Ark of the Covenant

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The chest of the covenant is carried into the temple , from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry , miniature from 1412–1416 by the brothers of Limburg and Jean Colombe

The Ark of the Covenant or Federal Chest ( Hebrew אָרוֹן הָבְּרִית ʔārōn hābrīt , New Hebrew : Aron habrit ) was a sacred cult object of the Israelites , which was designed and manufactured according to the Torah according to divine instructions. According to the biblical description, it contained, among other things, the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments that Moses received from God . After the exodus from Egypt and during Israel's wandering in the desert and the so-called conquest of the land, the ark was a guarantee for God's presence among the people. To this day it is the symbol of God's covenant with the people of Israel (hence the name “Ark of the Covenant”). There is no archaeological evidence of their existence.

According to the biblical description ( Ex 25.10-22 EU ) it was a chest made of acacia wood covered with gold both  inside and out . It was provided with two carrying bars that were tucked into gold rings. According to biblical information, its dimensions were approximately 130 × 80 × 80 cm (L × W × H). The lid, the so-called reconciliation lid (Hebrew: kapporet ), could be removed. Two cherubim were enthroned on it, their wings spreading protectively against each other and over them. The glory of God ( Shechina ) appeared between the cherubim . The chest was only allowed to be touched by the most worthy and high priests. Every unauthorized contact was a sacrilege and, according to tradition, led to the instant death of the wrongdoer.

In synagogues today the Torah shrine , in which the Torah scrolls are kept, is called the “Holy Shrine” ( Hebrew אָרוֹן הקׄדֶשׁ ʔārōn haqodeš , New Hebrew : Aron hakodeš ). The Torah shrine stands on the front wall of the synagogue, which always faces Jerusalem .

Archaeological Findings

The existence of the Ark of the Covenant is documented biblically.

All previous reports about alleged finds of the Ark of the Covenant are based exclusively on oral statements. There are no concrete objects or other reliable information. According to popular scientific literature, European crusaders discovered tunnels in the Temple Mount during the conquest of Jerusalem . The ark is said to have been in it. There is no real evidence from the tradition of the Knights Templar and the Crusades. The actually existing tunnels were and are the subject of scientific archaeological interest. The history of research was burdened by several dubious undertakings. Montagu Brownlow Parker ( Earl of Morley ), for example, bribed a senior supervisor in 1911 in order to be able to carry out excavations below the dome of the rock at night . It was discovered before it reached the grotto under the mosque (see Parker's Expedition ). Today, archaeological research on the Temple Mount site is strictly prohibited by the Islamic authorities.

In the 1920s, the American Antonia Frederick Futterer claimed that he had found a secret passage in Mount Nebo in Jordan with a closure at its end that bore the hieroglyphic inscription “This is the golden ark of the covenant”. When this was to be checked, Futterer no longer found the inscription.

In 1981 the American Tom Crotser claimed to have found the Ark of the Covenant in Mount Nebo at the end of a corridor in a crypt . Instead of further investigation, he only took a few photos that only a few people were allowed to see. One of them was the archaeologist Siegfried A. Horn, who then reported that something could only be seen on two of the recordings, and that that was by no means ancient, but a modern product with partly machine-made decor. It is similar with dubious recordings by Ron Wyatt (1989) of Calvary .

Biblical tradition

First time and retention

The battle for Jericho
The conquest of Jericho ( Jean Fouquet , approx. 1452–1460)
The transfer of the ark by singing and dancing David ( 2 SamEU ) - 16th century, anonymous

According to the tradition of the Torah, the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments were first carried around in the ark and kept with it in a tent temple, the tabernacle , which could be dismantled . This was also carried on the hikes; later it was located in Silo, roughly in the middle of the land of Israel, in order to give the ark a permanent place.

The transfer of the ark to Mount Zion was carried out by King David and to the Temple in Jerusalem by Solomon on the Moriah Plateau , the Temple Mount . Correlation of still existing geodetic reference points such as the remains of the temple walls with modern temple reconstructions as well as the measurement of the rock surrounded by the Dome of the Rock by the British Montagu Brownlow Parker , 5th Earl of Morley (1878–1962), in 1911 suggest that this rock is identical is with the location of the ark. After King David's consolidation of political power , he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem to make the city a religious center ( 2 SamEU ). Michal had moved to Jerusalem with David, who soon after brought the ark to the new capital. The Ark of the Covenant then stood in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple , which the high priest was only allowed to enter once a year during the Day of Atonement ( Yom Kippur ) to pronounce the name of God and to ask for atonement for the people of Israel.

Loss, return and whereabouts of the ark

Around 1050 BC The Ark of the Covenant was conquered by the Philistines in the battle of Aphek ( Aphek ) ( 1 SamEU ). The Israelites camped at Eben-Eser. Abinadab was a simple farmer from the Levi tribe who kept the Ark of the Covenant in his house when the Philistines attacked the Israelites ( 1 Samuel ). According to the biblical representation ( 1 SamEU ) the Philistines brought the ark, which they had captured in a battle with the Israelites, via Ashkelon to Ashdod and placed it in the temple of their god Dagon . After causing inexplicable misfortunes and illnesses there, she was sent back to the Israelites via Gat and Ekron on an unmanned cart pulled by suckling cows ( 1 SamEU ). She came first to Beth Shemesh and then for many years to Kirjat-jearim to the house of Abinadab on the hill. Before she came to Jerusalem, she stood in the house of Obed-Edom for three months after the incident with Usa (2 Sam 7).

Nebuchadnezzar II conquered in 587/586 BC AD Jerusalem and deported part of the population into the Babylonian exile . This was accompanied by the looting of the Temple in Jerusalem. Since then - assuming their previous presence - large parts of the temple treasures, including the Ark of the Covenant, have been considered lost. It can be assumed that the ark was destroyed in this connection.

According to the second book of the Maccabees ( 2 Makk 2.5  EU ), the prophet Jeremiah, before Nebuchadnezzar's sacking, buried the ark together with the tabernacle and the altar of incense in a cave on Mount Nebo. This statement is based on older traditional writings:

"5. When they came to the mountain, where Moses had been and had seen the Lord's hereditary land (that is Mount Nebo), Jeremiah found a cave; in it he hid the hut and the ark and the altar of the smoke offering and sealed the hole. 6. But some who also went wanted to memorize the hole and draw it, but could not find it. 7. When Jeremiah heard of this, he rebuked her and said: No one shall find or know this place until the Lord will bring his people back together and be gracious to them ... "

- 2 Makk 2,5–7 


Appearance and size

Moses and Aaron in front of the covenant chest , painting by James Tissot (1900)

In the Bible there is a description of the ark in Ex 25.10–20  EU :

“Make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide and one and a half cubits high! Cover it inside and outside with pure gold and put a gold strip around it! Cast four gold rings for them and attach them to their four feet, two rings on one side and two rings on the other! Make poles out of acacia wood and overlay them with gold! Put the bars through the rings on the sides of the drawer so that you can carry the drawer with them. The poles are to remain in the rings of the ark; they shouldn't be pulled out. You are to put the covenant I am giving you in the ark.
Also make a top plate of pure gold two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. Make two kerubim out of
chased gold and work them out at the two ends of the cover plate! Make a kerub at one end and the other; on the top plate makes the kerubim at both ends! The Kerubim should spread their wings upwards, shield the cover plate with their wings and they should turn their faces towards one another; the faces of the Kerubim should be facing the cover plate. "

The exact length of the "Elle" at that time is not known; the dimensions of the drawer are estimated to be around 130 × 80 × 80 cm. The aspect ratio of 2.5: 1.5 (= 1 23 ≈ 1.667) is only just under 3 percent higher than the golden ratio (≈ 1.618).


According to the text of Ex 25.21  EU , the Ark of the Covenant was supposed to take up the “testimony” that God gave to Moses. According to 1 Kings 8.9  EU and Jewish tradition, this means the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments as a sign of the covenant between him and the people of Israel. According to Ex 16.33  EU , a Gomer Manna and according to Num 17.23  EU Aaron's greening stick were kept in front of the Ark in the Holy of Holies .

In the New Testament , however, in the Letter to the Hebrews ( Heb 9,4  EU ) it is asserted that with the jug with manna, Aaron's green staff and the federal tablets, all three objects were in the “ark of the covenant, which was entirely clad in gold” . This could be explained by the fact that after a certain time the jug with manna and Aaron's green stick were placed in the ark for safekeeping. Franz Delitzsch underpins this interpretation in his commentary on the letter to the Hebrews as follows: “... from the assiduous remark that at the time of Salom. Temple only (רק) the command plates were in the ark, one might rather conclude that there were other things in it from ancient times. "

In connection with considerations about the material design of the Yahweh cult in the First Temple of Jerusalem , the theologian Hugo Gressmann suspects a bull in the ark, as attested as a cult symbol of Yahweh in Bethel . Othmar Keel brings one or two holy stones into play as possible contents, which were later reinterpreted as the two stone tablets of the law, and Matthias Köckert interprets the ark as a transport base for the actual cult image.

References in religious scriptures

Tanach or Old Testament

Mention of the Ark of the Covenant in the Tanach or in the Old Testament :

  • The ark was made under the leadership of Moses ( Ex 25.10  EU and Ex 37.1  EU ) by Bezalel . At first it was used to keep the two tablets with the Ten Commandments. There is also a description of the Ark of the Covenant here.
  • In Num 17.25  EU it is reported that Aaron's staff was also kept in front of the ark.
  • In Jos 7 Joshua falls down in mournful prayer in front of the Ark of the Covenant on the occasion of Ai's defeat and then enters into a dialogue with God.
  • In Dtn 10.8  EU the ark is handed over to the sub- trunk Kohat of the tribe Levi , who is to carry it from now on (see also Num 7.9  EU ), whereby it must always be covered (Kohat is the sub- trunk to which Moses himself belonged) .
  • In 1 SamEU it is used as a sanctuary in the fight against the Philistines, it is supposed to support Israel in the fight. Nevertheless, the Philistines are successful and can steal the ark. In 1 Samuel 5 they are plagued by God and have to return the ark to the people of Israel.
  • In 2 SamEU the ark is brought to the city of David . Usa touched the Ark of the Covenant, otherwise it would have fallen from the wagon, and felt the wrath of God as he died. The reason is probably the violation of the commandment not to touch the ark (Num 4:15).
  • 1 Kings 8: 20–21  EU reports that King Solomon has the Ark of the Covenant brought to the Jerusalem temple thathe built.
  • In Jer 3,16  EU it is prophesied that - as soon as Jerusalem has become the center of the Jewish people - the ark will have no meaning and no second ark will be made.
  • The apocryphal books of Maccabees belong to the late writings of the Old Testament and are only contained in the Septuagint . Hence they are not part of the Jewish and Protestant Bible canons . In 2 Makk 2.5–7 EU , the ark of  the covenant is carried away by the prophet Jeremiah and some helpers and hidden in a cave on the mountain, “which Moses climbed to see the inheritance promised by God.” There it is said to be unrecognized stay "until God gathers his people again and is gracious to them again."

New Testament

Mention of the Ark of the Covenant in the New Testament :


In the Koran the term Sakīna is sometimes mentioned in connection with the Ark of the Covenant. It brings about divine presence and is, especially in the event of war, guarantor of divine influence.

  • In the Koran (sura 2,248) it says: “The sign of his rule is that you will be given a heart in which there is peace from your Lord and a legacy from the legacy of the family of Moses and Aaron - the angels will bear it. Certainly there is a sign in it for you if you are believers. "
  • Sura 9:26 reads: “Then Allah lowered His peace on His Messenger and on the believers and sent down hosts that you did not see and punished those who disbelieved. That is the reward of the unbelievers. "

African Federal Ark

The Ethiopian tabot

Chapel in Aksum , in which the Ethiopian ark is said to be located

According to the tradition of the Ethiopian Church , the Ark of the Covenant was stolen by the entourage of Menelik , the son of Solomon and Queen of Sheba , and replaced by a replica. According to this, the original ark is now in Aksum , the holy city of Ethiopia . This can be deduced from the Ethiopian national epic , the Kebra Negast from the 13th century , which the origin of the Ethiopian ruling house ruling from 1270 to 1974 from the connection between the local Makeda, i.e. H. the Queen of Sheba, and Solomon. The relic is said to be kept in a chapel next to the Church of Saint Mary of Zion , where it is constantly guarded by a monk. Once a year, as in the other churches in Ethiopia, a replica of the tabot is carried through the city during a procession. It is a box (tabot) wrapped in silk cloth, but its shape does not correspond to the biblical descriptions - whether there is the ark of the covenant underneath or just an empty box cannot be checked.

The Ethiopian Ark of the Covenant may only be viewed uncovered by the guard; not even the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is allowed to do so. In 1868 the Armenian Dimotheus managed to see and describe them. According to him, the Ethiopian Ark originated in India in the 14th century ; the inscription was old Ethiopian . In addition, the ark did not correspond to the description in the Bible.

Gerhard Rohlfs was received by Nebreid during his Abyssinia mission in Aksum . He explained that it was the real Ark of the Covenant, which was walled into the church wall. The nebreid showed Rohlfs a small silver capsule hanging from a blue silk cord that he pulled from his robe. According to his testament, it contained his will and instructions on how to get to the entrance of the chamber in which the Ark of the Covenant is located. Only Nebreid was allowed to see the ark , neither the Ecage nor the Abuna would ever see the ark .

There are dozens of “copies of the Ark of the Covenant” (also referred to as such) in Ethiopia; In addition, a tabot copy is also in the care of Archpriest Dr. Merawi Tebege in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Center in Cologne-Longerich . In addition, a tabot is kept in every Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which is supposed to be a copy of the mandatory tables. These tablets are consecrated to saints, angels or God himself and give the church in question its name.

The mune of the Kanem Empire

In the great Chad empire Kanem there was a national shrine called Mune until the beginning of the 13th century , which guaranteed peace in the state. According to the chronicler Ibn Furtu, it was about the ark of the covenant of King Saul , which, like the sakīna of the Koran, should also be considered a sanctuary for Muslims. Its destruction by Dunama II (1203-1242) under the sign of his policy of Islamization was a big mistake and led to many uprisings and ultimately to the expulsion of the ruling Sefuwa dynasty from Kanem, east of Lake Chad , and to their settlement in Bornu , west of the Lake Chad, guided. The later explanations give the impression that the Mune was previously the guarantor of the unity of the two ruling groups of the Kanem Empire, the Duguwa and the Sefuwa. Its destruction has evidently evoked conditions similar to civil war.

The Ngoma Lugundu of the Lemba (South Africa)

The Lemba , who settle in the border area of ​​South Africa and Zimbabwe, have a founding legend that a traveling sanctuary , the “drum of the ancestors” ( ngoma lugundu ), brought them from the north to their current homes . Various researchers see evidence of an ethnic togetherness between the Lemba and the Jews based on the characteristics of this drum: The drum was their symbol as a holy people, it was understood as a symbol of the presence of God, God spoke through the sound of the drum beats, God was dissatisfied with the sinful practices of his people, only the pious Lemba were saved from God's wrath, the drum contained the cult objects of their guardians, their noise made the enemy faint in case of war.

According to their own (oral) origin tradition, the Lemba come from Sena, which is localized by some researchers in Yemen. The Lemba consist of twelve clans, of which the Buba occupy the position of a priestly clan comparable to the Kohanim . Their manners and customs are considered Jewish by various researchers. According to detailed DNA analyzes, 52% of the men of the Buba clan are carriers of the Cohen Modal haplotype, a Y chromosome that distinguishes the members of the Jewish priestly clan of the Kohanim. Accordingly, an Israelite origin of the Lemba would be possible.

Transfer to Maria

In the more recent Catholic tradition the aspect of God's ark is transferred to Mary . Such a Marian title stands behind her invocation in the Lauretanian Litany of 1531. Accordingly, according to Rev 11:19  EU , the description of the revelation of the temple and ark , the image of Zion (of the temple / Temple Mount) was transferred to Jesus and daughter Zion to Mary.

The Ark of the Covenant in film, literature and music

The Ark of the Covenant is repeatedly the subject of para-scientific investigations and is also often a topic in fictional representations that work with speculations about its whereabouts. The following list gives just a few more important examples:

  • Para-scientific works attempted to explain the function and meaning of the ark technically, e.g. B. as a capacitor , which served as a communication device ( Erich von Däniken in memories of the future ), or as a radio device in pre-astronautics ( Robert Charroux ).
  • Steven Spielberg's adventure film Raiders of the Lost Ark raised awareness of the search for the meaning and function of the Ark of the Covenant. He lets Nazi archaeologists at Tanis after charging looking to their "infinite power" to use for military purposes, with the film's hero, Indiana Jones , it seeks to prevent. In the film everyone who watches the opening of the ark in a Nazi camp dies. In the end, the ark is packed in a wooden box between countless wooden boxes of the same type and placed in a huge US military warehouse.
  • Harry Mulisch assumes in his novel The Discovery of Heaven that the contents of the Ark of the Covenant were stolen from the temple in Jerusalem by the Roman Emperor Titus and brought to Rome. Centuries later, the boy Quinten Quist brings the tablets back to their original place in Jerusalem. There they are destroyed by divine power: God takes back his laws and thereby terminates his covenant with humanity.

There are also numerous other novels, films, series and computer games in which the Ark of the Covenant is sought and occasionally found.



Christian interpretations

African Federal Ark

  • Carl Bezold (Ed.): Kebra Negast. Munich 1909.
  • Dierk Lange: Ancient Kingdoms in West Africa. Dettelbach 2004 (English).
  • Stuart Munro-Hay: The Quest of the Ark of the Covenant , London 2005 (English).
  • Magdal le Roux: The Lemba. A Lost Tribe of Israel in Southern Africa? Pretoria 2003 (English).
  • John Twelve Hawks : Dark River. (English).

Web links

Commons : Ark of the Covenant  - collection of images
Wiktionary: Ark of the Covenant  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See Johannes Fiebag , Peter Fiebag: Die Ewigkeitsmaschine. Langen Müller 1998, ISBN 3-7844-2708-1 .
  2. Hugo Gressmann: The Ark of Yahweh and the Holy of Holies of the Temple of Solomon . Berlin 1920.
  3. Othmar Keel: Why there shouldn't have been an anthropomorphic cult image in the Jerusalem temple . In: Homo Pictor . De Gruyter, Berlin, Boston 2001, ISBN 978-3-11-095558-3 , pp. 244-282 , doi : 10.1515 / 9783110955583-015 .
  4. Matthias Köckert: From the cult image of Yahweh to the ban on images. Or: The benefit of the history of religion for theology . In: Journal for Theology and Church . tape 106 , no. 4 , 2009, ISSN  0044-3549 , p. 371 , doi : 10.1628 / 004435409789877960 .
  5. ^ Gerhard Rohlfs: My mission to Abyssinia - undertaken on the orders of Sr. Maj. The German Emperor in the winter of 1880/81. FA Brockhaus, Leipzig 1883, p. 308.
  6. Cf. Norbert Renz: The Ark of the Covenant as a radio device. AncientMail Verlag 2015, ISBN 978-3-95652-100-3 .