Possible Home of the Ark of the Covenant Exposed in Israel
Archaeologists in Israel may have uncovered a link to the lost Ark of the Covenant, which has been the subject of so many books and movies. They have possibly uncovered a temple with a stone where the shrine once rested. This structure could have immense implications for the authenticity of the Biblical story.
Israeli archaeologists were digging just outside the city of Beth Shemesh, near Jerusalem. They have been working on a site that dates back to the 12 th century BC and it is on a tell or mound. It seems likely to the researchers that one of the structures uncovered at this site was used as a temple. It is perfectly square, measuring 28 ft (8.5 m) by 28 ft, and it ‘opened onto a bamah, a platform used for religious ceremonies’ according to Haaretz.
View of the early Iron Age temple in Beth Shemesh. (Image: Dr. Zvi Lederman)
Inside the possible temple, they found two large round stones which appear to have had grooves or gutters cut into them. The Daily Mail states that the grooves on the stones mean they ‘may have been used for libations of wine or for creating sacred wine from olives’. Animal bones and fragments of pottery found here would indicate that the area was used for rituals. The Daily Mail quotes Professor Shlomo Bunimovitz who participated in the dig:
'When you look at the structure and its content, it's very clear that this not a standard domestic space but something special’.
Home of the Ark of the Covenant
Also found in the structure was a large stone resting on some smaller stones and it is very reminiscent of a table or a dolmen. The Jerusalem Post quotes Dr. Zvi Lederman, who led the excavation, as saying that “At the beginning we thought it was a massebah that had fallen over’. A massebah was a cultic stone used by Canaanites and other groups before the coming of the Israelites. This was something that the experts had not seen before and was an enigma. However, it is similar to the structure upon which ‘according to the First Book of Samuel, the Ark of the Covenant rested’ according to Haaretz.
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Stone table structure that has been found at Beit Shemesh . (Image: Dr. Zvi Lederman)
This could be a remarkable discovery if proven correct, because people have been searching for the Ark for centuries. It was a moveable shrine that was believed to hold the commandments smashed by Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai. It was the holiest relic the Hebrews possessed as it symbolized the covenant between them and Yahweh, but it was lost during the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 458 BC.
The Biblical account
The Bible states that the Ark was first placed in Siloah, near Jerusalem, after they had expelled the Canaanites from the Promised Land. It was captured by the Philistines during a battle but God chastised them with a plague and it was returned to the Israelites, who placed it in Beth Shemesh. Here it stayed for some years before being moved again before it was finally taken by King David to Jerusalem.
‘The transfer of the ark by the singing and dancing King David.’ ( Public Domain )
The description of the large stone upon which the Ark rested and the fact that it was placed in Beth Shemesh could be evidence that the archaeologists have unearthed the place where the shrine was once kept.
However, there are those who caution against this view. For example, in the Book of Samuel, the stone upon which the Ark rested was located outside a temple and not inside the sacred space.
Earlier traditions in the Bible
It is generally accepted that the Bible was written after the 12 th century BC and it provides us with the folk memories of the Hebrews. Haaretz quotes Bunimovitz, as saying that it is not easy to ‘figure out what people remembered and what was added later’. This means that while the table may not correspond directly to the Biblical description it does not mean that it was not used to hold the sacred Ark. Moreover, the table may have been used in Canaanite worship before the coming of the Israelites and the story that it was used to hold the Ark was a later addition. The Jerusalem Post quotes Avraham Faust, a professor of archaeology, as stating, ‘this find might support the theory that there are some very early traditions that made their way into the Bible’.
A desecration of the temple
During the excavation that led to the discovery of the temple, the archaeologists had to dig through a strange dark material. It was tested and it was shown to be 3000-year-old dung. ‘In the mid-12th century, the place was overrun by robbers and destroyed, leaving it covered in animal dung’ reports Legit. It appears that the temple was captured by possibly the Philistines, who used the temple as a stable, and leaving the sacred place in such a condition could have been a deliberate insult to their enemies.
Sadly, the discovery of the table probably will not provide any clues on the present location of the Ark of the Covenant, and the role of this stone structure and its connection with the Ark will remain very controversial. However, the find is very important as it offers an insight into the development of the Biblical tradition.
Top image: Stone table where the Ark of the Covenant may have once sat. Source: Dr. Zvi Lederman
By Ed Whelan