Freemasons are exposed to many symbols and objects while progressing through the various degrees. Each symbol and object has been carefully selected in ancient times to be able to pass down the important messages inculcated in them from generation to generation. Some of these symbols and objects were important to a particular era, whereas others possess a huge significance even today.
One of the core objects which Freemasons in the York Rite are exposed to is The Ark. Even today, many legends and mysteries surround this powerful object. The ancient Hebrews regarded it as both the manifestation of God himself on Earth, but it was also a powerful weapon, so powerful it could strike men down, and as such it was carried into battle. It is said that The Ark rested in the Holies of Holies of King Solomon’s Temple, but this most revered of objects, disappeared 600 years before the birth of Christ. What is The Ark, and what role does it play in Freemasonry?
The Ark is commonly known as the Ark of the Convenant, and is mentioned in the Bible as such. When Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, he is also said to have received instructions to build an Ark capable of carrying them. It was made of Shittim wood (an incorruptible acacia), and measured two and a half cubits in length, a cubit and a half in breadth, and a cubit and a half in height (the length of a cubit varied, from the longest in ancient Egypt of 52.4 cm, to the shortest in Israel of 45 cm). The entire object was said to have been covered in gold, both from the inside, and on the outside. On the left and right side were placed rings, through which a rod could be passed when carrying the Ark from one place to another. On top were placed two Cherubim, representations of angelic beings, made of gold, looking towards each other, and spreading their wings so that the top of the Ark was covered, or protected by them. It was said that God manifested himself here, in between the two Cherubim, and not inside the Ark itself, as is commonly believed.
According to the Bible (Number 10; 33-36), whenever the ark set out, Moses said, "Rise up, O LORD! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you." Whenever it came to rest, he said, "Return, O LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel." The Ark was carried with the Hebrews as they wandered the Sinai, according to the Old Testament.
According to the Bible, God himself gave a description of the Ark (and the Tabernacle to house it) and ordered it built.
The Ark’s powers:
The Ark was also carried into battle. The Bible describes the Ark's power at the conquering of Jericho, when it was marched around the walls of Jericho seven times while rams' horns were used to announce its presence, and the city walls were blown over and Jericho was taken.
However, having The Ark did not necessarily spell success in every battle. In about 1050 B.C., the Philistines defeated the Hebrews in battle and captured the Ark, which they took back to their city of Ekron. However, when they placed it in their temple, the idol of their god Dagon, which was places nearby The Ark, was found the next morning with its head and hands missing. Then the Philistines themselves were afflicted with painful leprosy-like sores. Believing these to be a direct consequence of having take The Ark, it was returned to the Hebrews.
The Ark was then taken to Jerusalem by King David in around 1000 BC, and placed in the Holies of Holies of King Solomon’s temple by King Solomon in 957 BC. It remained there until 586 BC, when Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar II sacked the Temple and took all of its treasurer’s back to Babylon. The Ark, however, is not mentioned in any of the detailed scrolls detailing the items taken back to Babylon.
What did the Ark contain?
According to the Bible, Moses was commanded to put into the Ark, a golden vessel holding an pot of manna (Exodus 16), the rod of Aaron which had blossomed (Numbers 15), and the book of the Law written by Moses was placed "in the side of the Ark" (Deuteronomy 31).
Where did the Ark go to?
There are several theories as to what happened to the Ark after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Some of the main theories are:
1) It was hidden in a cave:
According to the non-canonical Book of Maccabees , Jeremiah hid the Ark on Mount Nebo, located on the East side of the Jordan River:
The prophet, being warned by God, commanded that the tabernacle and the ark should accompany him, till he came forth to the mountain where Moses went up and saw the inheritance of God. And when Jeremiah came thither he found a hollow cave and he carried in thither the tabernacle and the ark and the altar of incense, and so stopped the door. Then some of them that followed him, came up to mark the place; but they could not find it. And when Jeremiah perceived it, he blamed them saying: the place shall be unknown, till God gather together the congregation of the people and receive them to mercy. And then the Lord will shew these things, and the majesty of the Lord shall appear, and there shall be a cloud as it was also shewed to Moses, and he shewed it when Solomon prayed that the place might be sanctified to the great God. (II Mach., ii, 4-8)
Some scholars dispute the “divine authority” of such letters as they cannot be accurately dated, but it does offer one theory.
2) It was placed on the West side of the Jordan River:
Another theory says the Ark was not placed in a cave in Mt. Nebo, but in caves on the West side of the Jordan River, the same place where many important objects of the time have been found, including the Dead Seas Scrolls.
3) The Babylonian Army took it:
According to this theory, the Babylonian army, which according to Kings 25, carried away from the temple whatever brass, silver, and gold they could lay their hands upon, would undoubtedly not have forgotten to take the Ark with all its gold. On the other hand, the Babylonians, who kept an extensive record of all that they took, did not record the Ark in any record, nor was it included in any record when the captures treasurers were returned in the building of the Second Temple.
4) It was hidden just in time:
According to the Talmud, King Josiah hid the Ark “in a most secret place prepared by Solomon,” which many believe means that it is still somewhere under the Temple Mount. Supposedly the Ark is at the end of a long tunnel, carved out of the rock. This theory caused a media stir in 1981, when it was discovered that several leading Rabbis had cleared some tunnels and chambers beneath the Temple Mount after working at it for over 18 months. However, the Israeli government soon put an end to this practice soon after it was discovered. If this theory is true, the hiding place was too good, as the Ark is no longer mentioned in history. If it had been hidden, it would certainly have been taken from its hiding place when the dangers had subsided (unless those who hid it think even today that the time is not right for its return), and would have been used at the consecration ceremony of the Second temple in 538 BC.
5) It is housed in Ethiopia:
A fairly new but interesting theory, places the Ark in Ethiopia. This theory states that the son born between King Solomon and Queen Sheba, called Melenik, was born in Ethiopia but returned to Jerusalem when he was 20. He was greeted with great honors, but soon, the elders became jealous of him. They asked King Solomon to return him to Ethiopia, which King Solomon agreed to, on the condition that the first-born sons of all the elders accompany him. One of those accompanying him was Azarius, son of the then High Priest Zadok, and it was Azarius who is said to have smuggled The Ark out of Jerusalem just prior to the conquest by the Babylonians. Melenik is the founder of the royal house of Ethiopia. This theory places The Ark today in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion in Axum, Ethiopia. The Church is strictly guarded by Orthodox priests, who call The Ark “Tabot”, and no independent confirmation is available.
6) It will soon re-appear:
Apocalyptic Christians point out that there is no need to look for The Ark at all, for it will appear again in time. According to the New Testament, they say, the world eventually will see it once again. Revelation 11:19 states that after the seventh trumpet is sounded, "Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen The Ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm."
What was The Ark?
Although many still believe that The Ark is the manifestation of God on this Earth, others have brought out a different point of view. In the late 1990s, for example, author Richard Andrews, who had worked in his youth as a furniture builder, constructed a replica of The Ark, following the precise instructions given in the Bible. He and others now have a theory that explained how Aaron's sons might have been struck dead by merely touching the Ark as outlined in the Bible. The object's design, they note, essentially made it a giant capacitor, capable of storing electrical energy. "Gold is one of the best conductors of electricity there is, while wood is one of the best insulators," Andrews wrote in a 1999 article for the Daily Mail, a British newspaper. "If the Israelites had set out to construct a primitive accumulator, they could hardly have picked a better design than the Ark." Subsequent tests of Andrews' model at a college laboratory confirmed that his Ark could accumulate and release an electrical charge.
Locating the Original Temple Mount by L. Ritmeyer
The Ark, by Patrick Kiger (Discovery Communications Inc.)
The Sign and the Seal, by Graham Hancock