The Ark of the Covenant

by Staff

Answers to our most frequently asked questions.

Reader: What will the Ark of the Covenant contain ?

VJRI: According to the Torah, the two Tables of the Testimony were placed in the Ark by Moses (Ex. 25:16, Deut.10:2). These tables or lu'chote were made of pure sapphire. The sages believed that the sapphire brick mentioned in Exodus 24:10 was the same material from which the Tables of the Testimony were hewn. The Hebrew word for book, sefer is related to the word sapir for sapphire. In King Solomon's day, the Ark only contained these two tables (II Chron.5:10).

Some have believed that the Ark also contained a pot of manna. This may stem from a misunderstanding of the Hebrew text in Exodus 16:33-34. The actual translation reads "place the pot of manna before the Ark." Thanks to a Rabbinical text first published in 1648 called Emek Ha Melek, we can now corroborate our translation of the Copper Scroll. It reveals that among the treasures buried with the Ark is the rod and the pot of manna. Rashi held that there were TWO ARKS. The Ark containing the broken tablets was taken into battle the other remained within the Holy of Holies, in the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). This opinion is drawn from Deuteronomy 10:1-5 where Moses was told by Ha Shem to build a wooden ark to act as a repository for the second set of Torah stones.

Reader: What were the dimensions of the Ark?

VJRI: Exodus 25:10 tells us that it was two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide and one and a half cubits high. Opinions vary as to the length of a sacred cubit but in very general terms, it would translate to approximately four feet by two and half feet by two and a half feet.

Reader: Who was able to touch the Ark?

VJRI: The descendants of Kohath from the Tribe of Levi were given charge of the Ark (Num.3:31). But even they could not carry the Ark unless they were first cleansed by water purified with the Ashes of the Red Heifer. (Num. 8:6-7) Numerous Biblical illustrations and paintings portray an uncovered Ark being carried by the Priests. However, the Levites were commanded to conceal the Ark under thick blankets of animal skins while it was transported through the wilderness. (Num. 4:5-6).

During the time of King David, Uzzah was struck dead after touching the Ark as it was being transported on a wagon (2 Sam.6:7). It could have happened for any number of reasons. The Ark, after being stolen by the Philistines, was probably uncovered. It is possible that Uzzah may not have gone through the purification process. But the main reason can be found in Numbers 7:9. The Ark was never to be carried, in any fashion, except on the shoulders of the descendants of Kohath.

Reader: I thought the Ark was in Ethiopia or under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

VJRI: The Ethiopian legend is found in the Kebra Negast. The union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba produced a son known as Menelik. The birth occurred after the Queen's departure for her home. Hearing of his father's fame, the son went to see Solomon in Jerusalem. During this visit, the wisest man in the world somehow allowed his offspring to escape with the Ark. Not likely. Solomon had one of the region's best spy networks. He had vast armies and a navy. The King would have gone to war to retrieve the Ark. If there is anything to the legend, it may be that a replica was given to Menelik.

Three sources tell us that the Ark was still in Jerusalem, hundreds of years after Solomon. The Jewish Chronology known as Seder Ha Olam reveals that King Solomon finished the First Temple in the Jewish year 2932. II Chronicles, in Chapter 35 verse 3, states, “King Josiah said to the Levites, who instructed all Israel and who had been consecrated to the Lord: “Put the Ark in the Temple that Solomon had built. It is not to be carried about on your shoulders.” King Josiah ruled 350 after Solomon. Prior to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 3338, the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark. This account is found in II Maccabees. Rabbi Naftali Hertz' book Emek Ha Melek (published in 1648), reveals that five tzaddikim (righteous men) made an inventory of all of the sacred objects that were hidden by Jeremiah, seven years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 3331. They inscribed their inventory on a Copper Scroll. One of these objects was the Ark of the Covenant. Obviously, the Ark was still in Jewish hands. And this is 399 years after Solomon installed it in the First Temple. Remember, the Babylonians only carried off the objects that had been fashioned for the Third Temple by Solomon. They did not plunder the most sacred objects fashioned at Mount Sinai such as the Ark, the Breastplate of the High Priest and the Menorah , the Kalal containing the Ashes of the Red Cow and the Mishkan (Tabernacle). So, according to the Copper Scroll and Emek HaMelek (which is based on an addition to the Talmud known as a Tosefta ), the Ark is hidden in a "Cave with Two Columns, near the River of the Dome."

Reader: Was the Indiana Jones character based on Vendyl Jones?

VJRI: It may be hard to believe but Vendyl has no connection with the popular motion picture character. He has never received any money from the producers of the movie. And he's never asked.

Reader: There have been recent attempts to breed pure "red" cows for the proposed 3rd Temple in Jerusalem. Why do you need to find the ashes of previous ancient red heifers?


VJRI: The ritual of purification using the Ashes of the Red Heifer was different than a commandment. It was a decree that was to be followed without question--without explanation. Even the wisest of men, King Solomon admitted that he could not understand the workings of this mystery. As we have already stated, the priesthood cannot even come near the Ark without being first purified. For Temple worship to be restored, these ashes must be employed to make the water of purification. The Jewish sages tell us that only nine red cows have been sacrificed, including the first at Mount Sinai. The ashes of the first Red Cow are stored in a clay vessel, within a copper k’lal, hidden with the Temple Treasures.

For more information on the Red Heifer, please read Ashes for Beauty.