What happened to the Ark of the Covenant is a question that has fascinated  theologians, Bible students, and archeologists for centuries. In the eighteenth  year of his reign, King Josiah of Judah ordered the caretakers of the Ark of the  Covenant to return it to the temple in Jerusalem (2  Chronicles 35:1-6; cf. 2 Kings  23:21-23). That is the last time the ark’s location is mentioned in the  Scriptures. Forty years later, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captured Jerusalem  and raided the temple. Less than ten years after that, he returned, took what  was left in the temple, and then burnt it and the city to the ground. So what  happened to the ark? Was it taken by Nebuchadnezzar? Was it destroyed with the  city? Or was it removed and hidden safely away, as evidently happened when  Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt raided the temple during the reign of Solomon’s son  Rehoboam? (“Evidently” because, if Shishak had managed to take the Ark, why did  Josiah ask the Levites to return it? If the Ark was in Egypt—à la the plotline  of Raiders of the Lost Ark—the Levites would not have possessed it and  therefore could not have returned it.)

The non-canonical book of 2  Maccabees reports that just prior to the Babylonian invasion, Jeremiah,  “following a divine revelation, ordered that the tabernacle and the ark should  accompany him and…he went off to the mountain which Moses climbed to see God’s  inheritance [i.e., Mt. Nebo; cf. Deuteronomy 31:1-4]. When Jeremiah arrived there, he  found a room in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of  incense; then he blocked up the entrance” (2:4-5). However, “Some of those who  followed him came up intending to mark the path, but they could not find it.  When Jeremiah heard of this, he reproved them: ‘The place is to remain unknown  until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy. Then the Lord  will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord will be seen in the cloud,  just as it appeared in the time of Moses and when Solomon prayed that the Temple  might be gloriously sanctified’” (2:6-8). It is not known if this secondhand  (see 2:1) account is accurate; even if it is, we will not know until the Lord  comes back, as the account itself claims.

Other theories concerning the  whereabouts of the lost ark include Rabbis Shlomo Goren and Yehuda Getz’s claim  that it is hidden beneath the temple mount, having been buried there before  Nebuchadnezzar could steal it away. Unfortunately, the temple mount is now home  to the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic holy site, and the local Muslim community  refuses to allow it to be excavated. So we cannot know if Rabbis Goren and Getz  are correct.

Explorer Vendyl Jones, among others, believes that an  artifact found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the enigmatic “Copper Scroll” of  Qumran Cave 3, is actually a treasure map of sorts detailing the location of a  number of precious treasures taken from the temple before the Babylonians  arrived, among them the lost Ark of the Covenant. Whether or not this is true  remains to be seen, as no one has yet been able to locate all of the necessary  geographical landmarks listed on the scroll. Interestingly, some scholars  speculate that the Copper Scroll may actually be the record referred to in 2 Maccabees  2:1, 4, which  describes Jeremiah hiding the ark. While this is an interesting speculation, it  remains unsubstantiated.

Former East African correspondent for “The  Economist,” Graham Hancock, published a book in 1992 entitled The Sign and  the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, in which he argued  that the ark had been stowed away in Saint Mary of Zion’s Church in Aksum, an  ancient city of Ethiopia. Explorer Robert Cornuke of the B.A.S.E. Institute,  also believes the Ark may now reside in Aksum. However, no one has yet found it  there. Similarly, archaeologist Michael Sanders believes the ark is hidden away  in an ancient Egyptian temple in the Israeli village of Djaharya, but he has yet  to actually find it there.

A doubtful Irish tradition maintains that  the Ark is buried under the Hill of Tara in Ireland. Some scholars believe that  this is the source of the Irish “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” legend.  Even less believable are the claims of Ron Wyatt and Tom Crotser, Wyatt claiming  to actually have seen the lost Ark of the Covenant buried under Mt. Calvary and  Crotser claiming to have seen it on Mt. Pisgah near Mt. Nebo. Both of these men  are held in low esteem by the archaeological community, and neither has been  able to substantiate the wild claims with any evidence.

In the end, the  ark remains lost to all but God. Interesting theories like the ones presented  above continue to be offered, but the ark has yet to be found. The writer of 2  Maccabees may very well be right; we may not find out what happened to the lost  Ark of the Covenant until the Lord Himself returns.