Mention the Ark of the Covenant and most people think of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the 1981 movie starring Harrison Ford. The real Ark of the Covenant, created concurrently with the other vessels of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), was placed in the Holy of Holies of the First Temple by King Solomon. The question of the present location of the Ark is debated by the sages. When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, was the Ark taken into captivity by the Babylonians or was it hidden?

There are those who maintain that “The Ark went into exile to Babylonia, as it was said: ‘… King Nebuchadnezzar sent and had brought…the precious vessels of the house of the Lord.(II Chronicles 36:10)’…[Others maintain]: The Ark was hidden [buried] in its own place, as it was said: ‘And the staves were so long that the ends of the staves were seen from the holy place…but they could not be seen without; and there they are unto this day’ (I Kings 8:8).” (Yoma 54a).

If the Ark was stolen by the Babylonians, then perhaps it is lost forever. If the Ark was hidden, the question is by whom, and where? “Who hid it?–[King] Josiah hid it. What was his reason for hiding it?–He saw the passage [in Deuteronomy 28:46]: ‘The Lord will bring you and your King…unto a nation that you have not known…and there shalt thou serve other gods, wood and stone.’ Therefore [King Josiah] hid it [under the Temple in a secret chamber], as it is said: ‘And [Josiah] said to the Levites, who taught all Israel, that were holy unto the Lord: Put the holy ark into the house [Temple]…There shall no more be a burden upon your shoulders now. Serve now the Lord your God and His people Israel’ (II Chronicles 35:3).” (Yoma 52b).

*The Holy of Holies in the Second Temple did not house the Ark of the Covenant.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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