The Not-So-Lost Ark of the Covenant

A fallen Stela facing the Saint Zion Maryam Church in Aksum, Ethiopia. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

ayele_author.jpg

Published: Monday, December 21, 2009

New York (TADIAS) – “We don’t have to prove it to anyone. [If] you want to believe, it’s your privilege. If you don’t want to believe, it’s your own privilege again.”

The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), offered the above response to Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of Harvard University when asked to provide ‘a piece of evidence’ for the Ark of the Covenant during an interview for a PBS documentary film in 2003 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Patriarch, in perhaps most memorable moment of the interview, reminded the learned professor from Harvard that the Ark and its meaning to Ethiopians, is a matter of faith and not proof.

The Ark of the Covenant, which registers close to three thousand years (one thousand years of amete alem or zemene bluei (Old Testament) and two thousand years of amete mehret or zemene hadis (New Testament)) of history, beginning with the period of Queen Makeda (also known as Queen of Sheba) of Aksum. The Ark has been established as a central tenet of Christianity in Ethiopia. It captures the true essence of faith to at least 40 million believers in the ancient-centered Ethiopia and the EOTC’s dioceses all over the world. Its people’s communication to Igziabher is mediated through this sacred prescribed relic. The purpose of this essay is to narrate a history of the Ark and its relevance from a perspective of Ethiopian history and culture.

The EOTC, according to Abuna Yesehaq teaches, “Igziahaber is one Creator, one Savior, and redeemer for all humankind.” It also teaches, based on the ecumenical council’s confessions that Jesus Christ was not in two natures but rather one. The two natures were one nature united without any degree of separation, thus, making Christ both perfect God and perfect person simultaneously.

According to Abba Gorgorios, the Ark or what Ethiopians call tabot is linked to the Old Testament and the freedom of the Hebrew Israelites. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt; he was accompanied by two tablets that were inscribed with asertu qalat which were given to him by the Amlak of Abraham, Yisahq and Yacob on Mount Sinai (debre sina). Moses was further instructed by Amlak to build a container (tabot) for the tablets or what Ethiopians call tsilat and a temple.

Abba Gorgorios described the tabot not only as a safe and secret station for the tsilat, but it is also a site of spiritual revelation, the revelation of Amlak’s limitless mercy. The tabot is like a throne and at the time of its coronation (negse), it is revealed spiritually to the faithful. Among the various Old Testament traditions Ethiopia decided to incorporate to its form of Christianity is the tradition of the Ark.

The Ark, which is brought out of its inner sanctum during important church festivals, is not a physical representation of Igziabher (God). The Ark is believed to carry the presence of God and Ethiopia is perhaps the first country in the world to accept the Old Testament faith. The Ark is an accepted tradition among the Oriental Churches. For instance, the Copts referred to it as Luhe. The Eastern Churches, on the other hand, do not embrace the Ark in their faith.

According to Sergew Hable Selassie, Abu Salih, the Armenian traveler and author, was the first foreigner who made a reference to the existence of the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia. He described the Ark in which are the two tables of stone, “inscribed by the finger of God with the Ten Commandments.”

The Ark of the Covenant may have been a source of mystery and curiosity for people like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., but for Ethiopian Christians, it is the rock of their faith. There have been countless conjectures regarding the Ark’s fate and final resting place, but the Ethiopian Christians locate the Ark or what they call Tabot at the center of their faith. While the rest of the world sees it, at best, as a source of inspiration to write mystery novels, construct countless theories or make adventurous films, “the Ethiopians believe that the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia from Jerusalem with the return of Menelik I after his famous visit with his father, the King Solomon.”

Writers such as Graham Hancock at present or James Bruce in the eighteenth century make their fortunes or earn their fame by dedicating or investing their lives to ‘discover’ the not-so-lost Ark of the Covenant or other ancient relics. To Ethiopians, Menelik I also brought the Kahinat of the Old Testament and many Old Testament books.

The EOTC is a member of the family of Orthodox churches, such as the Coptic, Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Indian, Russian and Serbian churches. “Together with the Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantine Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Churches were a single church for four centuries until they split apart at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE.” The EOTC has 32 dioceses in Ethiopia. It has also dioceses in Jerusalem, the Caribbean, South America, the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and several sites in the rest of Africa. The EOTC has 40 archbishops, 400 thousand clergy and 30, 000 parish churches.


Figure 2: The Faithful praying and waiting for tsebel (holy water) by the fence of the
Chapel where the Ark is kept. Across is another view of Saint Zion Maryam Church.
(Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

The story of the not-so-lost Ark of the Covenant is widely known, but only Ethiopians claim that they are its keepers. Legend has it that the Ark is endowed with enough power, if approached too closely or touched, to strike mortal beings dead. These aspects of the Ark has been extrapolated and exploited in movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark. Its power may have also encouraged the Ethiopians to always keep it under wrap. Not only that, at the core of the ecclesiastical, liturgical and doctrinal teachings and practices of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahado Church, the centrality of the Ark becomes quite evident.

The Ark is, in fact, the most sacred and defining symbol of the Church, which is one of the oldest churches in the world. Ethiopians wholeheartedly believe that the original Ark was brought to Ethiopia from Jerusalem by Menelik I, a creation of royal affairs between the Queen of Sheba of the Aksumites and King Solomon of the Israelites. Menelik I, according to Ethiopian tradition, was a consolidator of a new dynasty found by his mother, approximately 3,000 years ago.


Figure 3: The Chapel for the Ark of the Covenant. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

It is important to note that organized and orderly system of government did not begin with Queen of Sheba in Ethiopia. There were a series of rulers prior to the rise of the Queen. The Queen succeeded in elevating her empire to a global status by wisely adopting Judaism. The extent of her wisdom even becomes clearer when the rule of her son became irreversibly and forever linked to the great symbol: the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark, in the Ethiopian context, is a great source of tradition and continuity. With established rituals, the faithful maintain a sense of connection to Igziabher and through religious pilgrimage; they ensure the vitality of their religion.

I concede that the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon has several versions both within and without Ethiopia. For instance, the origination of the Queen’s Arabian name, Bilqis, is a derivative of a “vast and confused skein of traditions and tales.” The Queen is cited by some Arabian sources as having been born in Mareb, the capital of the Sabean Empire, and as being the successor of her father. The grand temple of the Mahram Bilqis in Mareb still bears her name, and according to local folklore, her spirit surrounds the temple and nearby dam.

In Hebrew traditions, the Old Testament refers to the Queen as “Queen of Sheba” and in the New Testament she is the “Queen of the South” or Azeb. The Ethiopians, on the other hand, not only they use these biblical names, but they have also added their own name, Negest Makeda.

In the Ethiopian text of the Kebra Nagast, an elaborate version that places the Queen at the center of the tale is rendered. The Ethiopian source distinguishes itself by devoting its focus on Makeda’s son Menelik I. In fact, the tradition of Menelik I belongs more to ancient Ethiopia than the Arabian Peninsula.

The Ark’s holy pedestal is in a chapel next to Saint Maryam Zion Church in Aksum, the holy city of Orthodox Christianity. Georgelas observes, “If most places draw guests inside for a transformative experience, Aksum’s unassuming chapel does the opposite. By shrouding itself and its holy treasure in mystery, it gains its power by remaining unseen – a sacred place that can’t be entered or directly experienced, only imagined and believed.” Georgelas is expressing the views of those who see the Ark and its ‘discovery’ as their potential source of glory. The Ethiopians never entertain such a view. However, keenly recognizing the undying interest of adventurers or enemies to wrest the Ark from them, they came up with a strategy of keeping it safe and secure.

The Ark is replicated thousands of times so that its presence within the faith and history of Ethiopia remains uninterrupted from one generation to another. The replication is also a strategy to secure the ever presence of the Ark by making it next to impossible to remove the Ark from the chapel. In addition, the Ark is guarded by a succession of monks who, once anointed, remained in the Chapel or the chapel grounds until they die. Their sole duties are to protect the Ark.


Figure 4: Celebrating the day of Saint Maryam in the month of September at Saint
Zion Maryam Church. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

Munro-Hay’s The Quest for the Ark of the Covenant documents and narrates the medieval history of Ethiopia, particularly the history of the monarchy, the church and the contending forces against these two major institutions both from within and without. Among the well-documented medieval history, a reader finds the attempt by the Catholic Church to destroy the Ethiopian Church during the rule of Emperor Susenyos quite fascinating. “On 11 December 1625, at Danquaz, an Emperor of Ethiopia, Susenyos, knelt before a Catholic Patriarch to offer obedience to the Roman Pontiff, Urban VII.” His short-lived conversion triggered a bloody civil war where millions of Ethiopians died. It is important to note, however, “In a dramatic and successful effort to preserve their most sacred relic, some priests fled with the Holy Tabot of Aksum, as the Catholic faith grew stronger.” Ethiopians also succeeded in restoring their faith thanks to the martyrdom of Takla Giorgis, the son-in-law of Susenyos and many others. In 1628, Takla Giorgis smashed the sacred ornaments of the Catholics placed in the Holy of Holies of the Aksum Church. After 11 years and six months stay in Digsa, the eastern highlands of Eritrea, the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Aksum.

Menelik I also began, as a result of his successful transfer of a holy relic and royal blood, the Solomonic line of dynastic rulers, who ruled Ethiopia until 1974. Emperor Haile Selassie was the last ruler to claim a line of this mythologized and enduring dynasty in Ethiopian history. The Ark is, therefore, at the center of both church and state formations and consolidations in Ethiopia. The two institutions not only functioned in tandem, but they have also played defining roles by delineating some of the cultural, political, social and economic parameters of Ethiopia.

The Ark became the basis for establishing the divine lineage of Ethiopian monarchy in addition to centering the faithful to a unique form of Christianity. The Ark as a central symbol of Christianity is exclusively an Ethiopian phenomena. The Ark is called Tabot in the Ethiopian languages and its sacredness is maintained by always keeping it wrapped and placed in the inner most circle or citadel, Qidist, of the Church. As a matter of faith, Ethiopians always insist that they possess the original Ark. The holy relic, however, has had a tremendous impact on both Judaism and Christianity. Despite intense controversies associated with the relic, particularly with regard to its existence, the established and regularly observed religious rituals of the Ark in Ethiopia, has assured undying interest in it throughout the world.

The remarkable marriage between the Old Testament and the construction of Ethiopian Orthodoxy is perhaps captured with the picture below. The fallen largest obelisk is shown together with Tsion Maryam Church in Aksum. According to oral traditions, the Ark of the Covenant’s supreme power sliced the obelisk out of the rock and set it into place.


Photo by Ayele Bekerie.

The Ethiopians’ assured insistence in possessing the Ark ought to be seen in the context of Biblical history and in their desire to see themselves within it. The Ark is tied to the histories of the Israelites and Ethiopians. While the tradition of the Israelites, as amply described in the Old Testament, settled with the story of the lost Ark, the Ethiopian tradition is constituted on the belief that the not-so-lost Ark is in Aksum.

According to Hoberman, The Ark suddenly disappeared in the sixth century BCE, perhaps at the time of the Babylonian invasion and destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonian army. The Ark was originally housed in a temple built by King Solomon in Jerusalem circa 970 – 930 BCE. Most biblical scholars also acknowledge that the Ark was originally built by Israelites. It was Moses, the prophetic leader of the Israelites, who placed the original stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, which he obtained from God atop Mount Sinai. The Ethiopians call the Ten Commandments asertu qalat.

The Ethiopian source for the Ark of the Covenant is the authoritative and the scared book, Kebra Nagast (Glory of Kings). This ancient book, in the main, narrates how the Ark was transferred from Jerusalem to Aksum and proclaimed as the most important symbol of the Church. Kebra Nagast vividly describes the journey of Makeda (Negesta Saba or the Queen of Sheba) to Jerusalem to ascertain King Solomon’s greatness and wisdom and in the process how Menelik was begotten. When the son came of age, “he went to visit his father, and on his return journey was accompanied by the first born sons of some Israelite nobles, who, unbeknown to Menelik, stole the Ark and carried it with them to Ethiopia.” Geogelas claims that the son of the high priest of Jerusalem, Azariah stole the Ark and Menelik only learned that the Ark had been stolen on his journey back to Ethiopia. Menelik still continued on his journey after hearing of the theft, and brought the Ark to Aksum.

The Ark, Hoberman writes, became the source of much elation, for it is the outward symbol of God’s holy presence. Ethiopians also see the relic’s ‘safe and secure’ presence in Aksum as legitimate heirs to the kings of Israel and Judah. The Ark marks the decision to switch from an indigenous religion to Judaism, which later became transformed, voluntarily and peacefully, into Ethiopian Christianity.

It is important to note that the switch from traditional religion to Judaism or the addition of Christianity to the belief system was voluntary. This method of religious adoption is instrumental in the creation and maintenance of indigenous traditions. There were no religious wars or invasions in the process. In fact, the conscious decision to incorporate these two monotheistic religions may have paved the way for creative adaptation and for the proliferation of literary and artistic traditions in Aksum and beyond. To the faithful, the Ark made Ethiopia “the second Zion; Aksum, the new Jerusalem.”

The continuity of a remarkable tradition becomes apparent nationally four times a year during Gena (the Feast of Nativity), Timqat (the Feast of the Glorious Baptism), Tinsaé (the Feast of the Holy Resurrection), and Mesqel (the Feast of the Illuminating Cross). The event that the Ark is magnified the most is on January 18th in conjunction with the celebration of Timkat or Epiphany. The replicas of the Ark or tabotat are brought out of the Churches and paraded through the streets in the presence of a sea of colorfully costumed and purely joyous believers throughout the country. An observer describes the ceremony as follows:

“On their heads the priests carried the tabotat, wrapped in ebony velvet embroidered in gold. Catching the sight of the scared bundle, hundreds of women in the crowd began ululating – making a singsong wail with their tongues – as many Ethiopian women do at moments of intense emotion.”

There are also special annual celebrations of the coronation of tabotat in revered sites, such as Geshen Mariam on September 21, Tsion Mariam on November 21, Qulubi Gabriel on December 19 (As an undergraduate student at the then Alemaya College and now Horemaya University, I affirmed my faith, which was passed on from my parents, by walking from Alemaya to Qulubi for the annual festival and spiritual ecstasy by attending yequlubi Gabriel tabot neges.), Abo Gebre Menfus Qedus on October 5, Gena or Christmas in Lalibela on December 29, Timkat or Epiphany in Gondar on January 11. It is very common for the faithful to make pilgrims at least once to all these sites.

I trust Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., will be willing to reconsider to revise his mode of thinking regarding the not-so-lost Ark. I am sure, if he makes another ‘wandering’ trip to what he correctly calls the holy land, he will not ask the Patriarch for a ‘piece of evidence.’ Rather he may deploy his creative talent to narrate the extraordinary achievement of Ethiopians who succeeded in weaving an ancient tradition of the Ark and its unseen power to their sense of identity, continuity and inter-nationality.

The Monarchy may have gone, but tabot is negus in Ethiopia. The Ethiopians, without a doubt, believe the original Ark is located in a chapel of St Mary of Zion Church in Aksum. The replica of the Arc is found in over 30, 000 churches throughout the country as well as in Europe, Asia and the Americas. The Ark is central to the religious belief of the Christian Ethiopians. The Ark’s centrality in Ethiopian Christianity is bound to persist for generations to come.

Hymns to not-so-lost of the Ark, hymns to the majestic shrine, hymns to the visible embodiment of the presence of Igziabher, for it signifies the hybridity of our expressive and visual signposts drawn from the ancestral past to integrate into our much diverse and broader present Ethiopian culture.

—–
Publisher’s Note: This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University. He is the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” Bekerie is also the creator of the African Writing System web site and a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “ONE HOUSE: The Battle of Adwa 1896-100 Years.” Bekerie’s most recent published work includes “The Idea of Ethiopia: Ancient Roots, Modern African Diaspora Thoughts,” in Power and Nationalism in Modern Africa, published by Carolina Academic Press in 2008 and “The Ancient African Past and Africana Studies” in the Journal of Black Studies in 2007.

36 Responses to “The Not-So-Lost Ark of the Covenant”


  1. 1 Kirubel Dubale Dec 21st, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Dear professor Ayele,

    Thank you for highlighting the importance of the Ark of the Covenant (tabot) and its centrality in our spiritual life. Of course, for researchers like Professor Henry Louis Gates, most of the story is based on legend and circumstantial evidence and there is not a single scientific evidence to prove or disprove the existence of the Ark at all, let alone its existence in Ethiopia. My questions to the Harvard professor is that: Why do we have to prove our faith scientifically? Gates wants to be the man who discovered the Ark of the Covenant (that will surely bring bigger news coverage than sharing beer with the President and a policeman at the White House). Is there any scientific proof , for example, to the existence of the Christian God that the Baptist, Catholics, Mormons, Lutherans, or any other religions worship?

    The most fascinating part for me is the fact that Ethiopians have always claimed to have the Ark ever since it was reported lost from Jerusalem.

    Kiru,
    Boston

  2. 2 Gabra Hana Dec 21st, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Thank you for providing this thoroughly interesting and informative piece.

    I especially liked the inclusion of a reference to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Junior!

  3. 3 Mel Thompson Dec 21st, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Hello Professor Ayele,

    I enjoyed your article. It is evident that you are free from the shackles of dogma and the unsubstantiated claims of religion by the objective manner in which you examine the need for faith rather than a literalist approach to the subject.

    My question is this, given the state of Africa— the abject poverty, the violence, lack of education, sky rocketing population and AIDS pandemic, and the fact that nearly all us adheres to some sort of religion, would we benefit from a more secular based cultural shift? To elaborate, if our beliefs inform our actions, and most us cling to an ancient set of beliefs and customs, how are we to focus on reality and rally our energies to push us into an enlightened and progressive future?

  4. 4 Meron Dec 21st, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    If indeed the Ark is proven to be in Ethiopia, can Israel claim it since it was taken from Jerusalem in the first place?

  5. 5 Kaleb Dec 22nd, 2009 at 3:51 am

    Thank you professor Ayele for your extraordinary detail about the ark of the covenant. As to Mr Gates, maybe the reason why he was harassed by the police is because he tried to mess with the Ark. Well again, if you believe in it it’s your privilege and if you don’t believe in it it’s your loss .

    JAH BLESS!!

  6. 6 Surafeal Dec 22nd, 2009 at 6:59 am

    Great article and enjoyed reading it. It is again time to reclaim the tabots looted during the unwarranted British assault on Mekdela.

  7. 7 Abebe Dec 22nd, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    I have two questions. Was the state religion in Axum Judaism before becoming Christian?

    The second question concerns the legend of King Salomon and the Queen of Sheba. If we believe what historians are telling us, by around 300 BC Axum was a small village and became a one of the world’s big powers only around the the third to the seventh century. If King Solomon was around 1000BC, how can we explain the difference of 700 years between the inception of Axum and the arrival of Menelik I and his escorts?

  8. 8 Mimi Dec 22nd, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Happy holidays to everyone at Tadias and Dr. Ayele! I have learned so much following this website in 2009. Thank you so much for your hard work and see you in 2010. On my way to Addis!!! Yeahaha!!!!

    Melkam ametbal everyone!!!

  9. 9 Ayele Bekerie Dec 25th, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Dear Respondents,

    I appreciate your thought provoking and informative comments and questions regarding one of Ethiopia’s religious traditions: The Ark of the Covenant. If I may start with Meron, it is important to remember that Ethiopians have established a tradition of replicating tabotat. The practice makes it absolutely difficult to lose the Ark again. Furthermore, The Ark is protected by millions of believers at all times.

    I find Mel’s question a bit too general. I think human dvelopment is wholistic, including both physical and spiritual growth. I do not see faith as a stumbling block to development. The absence of development or underdevelopment is a consequence of power abuse or the perpetuation of a system that piles privilege and resources to a few at the expenses of the majority. I concede that power abuse could have secular or religious cover.

    I want to remind Abebe that the historical narrative of the ancient Ethiopian past is based on less than 3% archaeological diggings. We need to carry out more field research to soundly document the chronology of Ethiopia’s long history. I just want you to take into consideration the pre_Aksumite civilizations, such as Damot and Yeha that correspond to the time period of King Solomon.

    Ayele

  10. 10 Anon Jan 1st, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    Experiencing something is a different thing from explaining it (through proof), totally different. So the Patriarch and the Professor completely miss each other. They can’t “relate” to each other.

    Most explanations are a trick to escape from experiencing. Ultimately, we create our world by experiencing it. However we say it is how it’s going to be.

  11. 11 Ayele Bekerie Jan 2nd, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    If I am not mistaken, Anon’s ‘the Professor’ is a reference to Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

  12. 12 brx Jan 2nd, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Professor Ayele, I would like to thank you for what you write. Please keep it coming. I am waiting for your next one.

    Brx

  13. 13 Anon Jan 3rd, 2010 at 2:55 am

    Yes, Professor Ayele, that is correct. Thank you for clarifying.

  14. 14 Temari Jan 3rd, 2010 at 3:00 am

    Dear Professor Ayele Bekerie,

    I also would like to express my appreciation for this and your several other fine articles published on Tadias Magazine. They are very educational and intellectually stimulating. It is also great that you take your time to interact with your readers. It’s like attending a free lecture by a Cornell Professor without having to do the assignments:-) I love the internet. Proliferation of education is a good thing!

    May the Tabot keep Ethiopia and the world safe for ever. Amen.

    Tatari Temari
    (Undergrad at a college much smaller in size than its name)

  15. 15 Jesu Jan 5th, 2010 at 4:35 am

    The truth is the holy Ark is indeed within the borders of Ethiopia, where also the Holy Priesthood still resides as it does also within a numerous select worldwide. Wisdom is to know that the time will come when G-d will once again look at His people and fulfill what has been written by the prophets. And He will once again choose Jerusalem and Judah and Ephraim and Benjamin. One mighty and strong in the spirit of Joshua and Elijah will have to arrive in Ethiopia and triumphantly take the Ark back to Jerusalem accompanied by thousands faithful. And once again will the Lord take His people in the desert and speak sweet words unto them and cleanse them and make a new covenant with them, He will cause them to dwell in tents again. You can see this current global atmosphere does not call for such things now, but soon all these things will be fulfilled in due course.

    Thank you
    Jesus Horowitz

  16. 16 Mahlet Jan 7th, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    I must say this is an interesting piece, but have you ever wondered if “our” church leaders are claiming that the arc is in Ethiopia not because it is there but to keep the peoples faith? I mean if it is there and they know the location of the Arc why not share it with the world and show this miraculous wonder? This is what keeps the Ethiopian people tied up and leave them with archaic mind set…I am a 19 years old agnostic, meaning i believe there is a god somewhere out there that keep its eyes on us, but but i refuse to let a hypocrite pope tell me that i have to believe in something that he holds sacred but doesn’t want to share it with us. Just think about it, is this a scheme that church concocted so it could keep its power over the people and even over the government of Ethiopia. So no i will not believe in this imaginary rock that i am not allowed to see, If you prove it i will believe.

  17. 17 Ras Antar Jan 9th, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Jesu,

    Ethiopia is the New Jerusalem as it is the oldest Jerusalem. Why would the Ark go back?

  18. 18 Mame Jan 12th, 2010 at 6:44 am

    Thank you Prof. Excellent story!

  19. 19 ken Jan 13th, 2010 at 10:49 am

    It is really a very interesting and detailed explanation….and i believe the professor has a lot more to tell us later….let me assume this is just an introduction.

  20. 20 Abebech Gemeda Jan 13th, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Dear Dr. Bekerie;

    {I do not believe that the “Ark” exits anywhere!} Many people tried to stress this fact but it seems Ethiopians do not want to face it. Pankhurst and other Ethiopian historians including Tamrat Taddesse and Lappiso Delebo {have written} about the “legendary” nature of this “Ark” story. {However} the time line of King Solomon and Queen Sheba do not coincide. There is about 800 years between the two. Besides, there was no Menelik I in our history, neither was Sheba an Ethiopian queen. Dr. Lappiso in his book “YeEthiopiawian Maninet...” has raised the issue broadly. By the way, {how is it possible} that God gave someone the {Ark} some thousands years ago? I mean if we the enlightened Ethiopians keep the tradition/history without raising questions, how {can we expect} the younger generation to be better than us? By the way, {there is also} no historical fact/data that Ethiopia ever accepted the Old Testament as religious text before New testament. Look at the Axum obelisk and its carvings.

  21. 21 Anon Jan 23rd, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Dear Abebech,

    The importance of something has very little to do with the thing and almost everything to do with how important you feel it is.

  22. 22 DJ Jan 23rd, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Dear Abebech,

    No, in fact it is to the contrary. Some people have a hard time accepting the fact that the Ark indeed may actually be in Ethiopia. All physical and circumstantial evidence suggest that it is more likely that the Ark is in Ethiopia than not. Please don’t confuse enlightenment with degrading or denying the rock of the faith of millions of Ethiopians, who have maintained, guarded and protected their religion for thousands of years. “We don’t have to prove it to anyone. [If] you want to believe, it’s your privilege. If you don’t want to believe, it’s your own privilege again.”

  23. 23 MT Jan 24th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Mahelet,
    your comments, especially, “This is what keeps the Ethiopian people tied up and leave them with archaic mind set…I am a 19 years old agnostic…” showed me that you are on the road to discovering the truth. Keep up the questions, but please do it in a respectful way, being an agnostic is your choice, in my view it’s a start to Abraham started questioning the existence of God too, and is now considered the father of faith in the one God. But when you are searching for truth, understand truth wants to find you as well, so this journey is not one way, but two. I am not equipped to teach you on the way to God, but I will tell you with out any shadow of doubt after many years of searching myself, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the depository of truth preserved from generations back to generations to come, till the time of this world is over. This might be considered ‘archaic’ but truth does not change, so it should not be held against people who follow the truth. The EOTCs confession of faith is the foundation of any human beings quest towards communion with God. It is not nationalistic though it has the name Ethiopian, it is the same confession confessed by 318 Orthodox fathers in Nicea in 324 AD.

    Thanks. And I pray you will take the journey seriously and taste that the Lord is good~!

  24. 24 Abebech Gemeda Jan 25th, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Annon and DJ above are talking about feeling and believing. Anyone is capable of feeling/believing anything he/she likes. However, what Annon and DJ failed to see is the historical aspects of this thing called “Ark”? I mean when I mentioned the historical fact that King Solomon lived about 800 years before Queen of Sheba, what is there to disagree with? What is there to “feel” about? Again, there is no such a thing as “Ark”. It is just a product of religious mind.

  25. 25 Ayele Bekerie Jan 26th, 2010 at 2:25 am

    Dear Abebech,

    First of all Saba is a name of a place and not a name of a person. The Bible makes a specific reference to Queen of Sheba or Saba. Saba as a place name is found both in northern Ethiopia and the Arabian Peninsula. Both Ethiopian and Hebrew sources narrate the meeting of the Queen of Sheba with King Solomon. The Ethiopian source, such as Kebre Negest, makes a reference to Ibne Hakim or Ibne Melek, the son of the wise or the son of the king and later corrupted into Menelik. As you pointed out, the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon is rooted in oral tradition, Jewish folklore and Ethiopian mythology.

    KIng Solomon’s rule, according to Richard Pankhurst (THE ETHIOPIANS, p. xiii), is cerca 974-932 BCE (Before the Common Era) and the historic kingdom of Da’amat and Saba, according to Stuart Munro-Hay (ETHIOPIA UNVEILED: INTERACTION BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, p.246), is cerca 800 BCE. Both dates are estimates and yet they are not 800 years apart. As I indicated in my previous comments, we have not carried out a great deal of archaeological research in Ethiopia nor do we have sufficient ‘historical evidence’ to discredit mythologies and oral traditions.

    Again our approach to faith is different as compared to historical investigation. The Ark of the Covenant or what Christian Ethiopians call tabotena tsilat are sacred and central symbols to deeply rooted faith. And faith, I like to argue, is important to life and living.

  26. 26 Abebech Gemeda Jan 26th, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Dear Dr. Bekerie;

    It seems that we are somewhat moving away from Axum, a city founded in the AD, while discussing a legend belonging to the BC. Dr. Pankhurst, in his conversation with Graham Hancock in the book The Sign And The Seal has stated that the Ark story do not fit chronologically.

    As to the Ethiopian Source, Kebre Negest, Dr. Lappiso has concluded that It was a 12th. Century creation of Ethiopian and Egyptian religious leaders who wanted to overthrow the Zagwe Dainasty in order to form a Davidic MoA Anbesa kingdom in Ethiopia.

    Why is our approach to faith “different”?

    Faith, uh? What is so special about faith?

  27. 27 Theodros Tadesse Jan 29th, 2010 at 7:16 am

    This is my pleasure to read the admirable writings of a driven and deeply committed scholar of Ethiopian history. I am reading it again and again!

    Thank You!

  28. 28 Hanna Jan 31st, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    I’m with Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. on this one. If you truly possess the ark, proof it. Can you imagine any people on earth that believe in God who would not be overjoyed to showed some historical evidence to substantiate their claims? Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, etc… All would jump at such an opportunity. The secrecy here seems more likely aimed towards hiding a deception; should ark story proof to be just fiction perhaps the concern is that it would severely shake peoples’ faith and the church’s hold over the people.

    The Priest’s “We don’t have to prove it to anyone. [If] you want to believe, it’s your privilege. If you don’t want to believe, it’s your own privilege again.” is a sad cop-out. If a foreign power decided to walk right in there and take whatever they find, there’d better be a good reason for them not to. His response to Gates is not going to persuade any rational person to respect the place as sacred because it contains the Ark; for rational people the burden of proof would fall on the person making this claim to prove the Ark is there.

    Not only is the Makeda legend full of enough inconsistencies to make belief in it tantamount to believing in fairies; but people should also stop and take some time to think about this logically. If Israel honestly believed Ethiopia had the Ark they’d either have taken it already, threatened to take it, or at least have demanded its immediate return (similar to how Ethiopians desired that Italy return the Obelisk taken from Axum). None of these things have happened.

    I do not say that people should not have faith, just that it be probabilistic faith based on the evidence and facts at hand. The question should be “what is most likely true based on the evidence”, and a person can have faith in that conclusion. Blind faith is not a virtue to be proud of, especially if it is held “in spite” of evidence to the contrary.

  29. 29 Anon Feb 11th, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Dear Abebech,

    Ones more, the importance of something has very little to do with the thing and almost everything to do with how important you feel it is. Notice this is a neutral statement. You get from it what you read into it.

    ALL things that exist, exist in the moment of now. While the concept of an Ark exists in the moment of now, the Ark may not.

    In life, things do not exist in either the past or future; they can only exist in the moment of now.

    The experience of the Ark isn’t in what we think, it’s in what we feel. And this feeling creates and shapes the Ethiopian society.

    And that’s what exists in the moment of now.

  30. 30 abebech gemeda Feb 16th, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Here are some conclusions and observations by the Ethiopian historian Lappiso Delebe:

    According the recent archeological disscoveries, up until 330 AD when Christianity was introduced by the Greeko-Romans, ancient Ethiopia, its people, government and religion was Awamawi. (p45)

    In that year, 330 AD, two Syrian exiles Fremnatos and Adosyos introduced Christianity into the Awamawi palace. Before that there is no evidence of ORIT (old testament) to have ever been worshiped in Ethiopia.(33)

    Basically, the sources of the complications and problems of Ethiopian history are the two books writen by the Alexanderian Coptic church, namely Fitha Negest and Kibre Negest. (p121)

    Kibre negest was writen by the Egyptian church officials and translated into Geez around the 14th century during Atse Amde Tsion reign.

    The Bible was for the first time translated into Geez in the city of Axum by the Greeko-Romans around 470-550AD.

    (See Dr. Lappiso Delebo’s book: YeEthiopiawinet Tarikawi Meseretoch ena Mesariawoch. Translations are mine)

  31. 31 Ayele Bekerie Feb 17th, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Dear Abebech,

    In the book you cited above, the author’s name is spelled Lapiso Delibo and NOT Lappiso Delebe (first line of your comment) or Lappiso Delebo (the last line) (see the Bibliography on p. 248).

    If your attempt is to question the introduction of Judaism and its rituals to Ethiopia by using the citations that you provided from Dr. Lapiso’s book, I am afraid that you have not presented a strong case. Your citation skipped those points that contradicted your argument. Here is what Dr. Lapiso wrote on p. 45:

    “Bezehe Yethiopia misrakawi yezewd seratena mengest sir new sositu melekotawena ahadawi yekiristina, yeoritina, yeslemena haimanotoch keMetshaf Qidusena keQidus Qura’an gar beselamawi mengid wede ager wist bemegbatena mengestawi yeminet, yetemertena yebahel tequamat, meseretochena mesariawoch bemhon balefut 1700 ametat wist yetesfafut.”

    Orit is a clear reference to the Old Testament and Judaism. You also skipped a critical reference to Judaism as well as to inscriptions in ancient Damaa’t, Saba, Ge’ez, and Greek languages in connection to your first citation (see pp. 44-45).

  32. 32 sebez Feb 27th, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Bob Cornuke made a documentary under the title The Search For The Ark Of The Covenant. I notice that one of the commentator- Grahm Hankok and the producer suspects that the Templers may have played a role in Lalibal’s construction. These people concluded that the cross in the ceiling of Laibala resembles the cross seen in the knight Templers. They assume, this can only happen because Templers were in Lalibala.

    If that is the case how come Templers who were so committed to Christianity never constructed churches that resemble Laibala in European lands? In Europe were there shortages of rocks that are similar to Lalibala’s rock that stop Templers from constructing Lalibala like churches? Or Europeans were not Christians enough to allow church construction? Taking these facts into account one can see Templers role in Lalibal’s construction to be weak or put under doubt.
    My strong argument against the claim by Grham Hankok and Bob Cornuke is not only based on the lack of Lalibala like churchs in Europe, but on the style of the cross seen in Templers and in the ceiling of Lalibela. So just because of the existed resembles between Lalibala’s cross and that of the Templers can we say Templers may have built Lalibala ?

    The answer is No; because, before Lalibela’s time that kind of cross seen in the ceiling of Lalibela also existed or carved at one of the tombs of Axume which was made by and for king Ezana who ruled at 3ad and who was just converted to Christianity- this is 900 years earlier than Lalibala. As a matter of history, we know that at 3 AD, there were no Templers anywhere on earth; then how that style of cross came to be in AXUME. Obeviously, the cross style that we see in the night Templers originally is not Templers’s at all. This very fact drop the inference that the Templers role in Lalibela’s construction based on cross resumblance.
    Obviously,the mistake risen from a hasty conclusion and knowledge inadequacy about Christianity in Ethiopia and the axumite kingdom led Bob Cornuke and Grham Hankok to take a wrong conclusion and mislead their viewers that is unfortunate.

    Any way, how the Templers’s cross and the cross in Lalbala came to have great similarity?
    The answer partly is this – from 3AD on ward and certainly at the 11th century Christian Ethiopians were required to travel to Eyersulam (Jerusalem) that was their obligation and a pilgrimage duty all Christians should obey to. At the 11th century Ethiopian travelers to Jerusalem met Templers and introduce that cross to the knight Templers. For this there is ancient writings suggesting Ethiopians knowledge about the Templers and there is also oral accounts on that regard. In fact, Ethiopians not only knew about Templers but about other European significants such as the Vikings. For example, there is record in Ethiopian ancient books referring Vikings but refering them in different name, in which for example, at 6 or,7th century a typical prayer of Ethiopians goes as “ O almighty God save us from the opened mouth of northern lions”. This was referring the savagery of Vikings and the very existance of vikings.

    Coming back to the film, the other clue that the commentators claim shows a link the Templers were played role in Lailable’s construction is the oral tradition and writings that Grham Hankok heard about. Whereby the Grham inferred that the oral tradition refer white people helped the construction of Lalibela.

    According to the written and oral accounts of Ethiopian source, in help building Laibala ancient Ethiopian records credited angles;and there is no mention of any race of people of any kind. For the record, there is no oral or written Ethiopians account that link Lalibla with white people. I do not know where he ( Grahm) got that information?

    Perhaps, he (Grham) may have misunderstood their (Ethiopian) account on that regard. Why I suspect that ( I mean the misunderstanding in Grham’s part), in Ethiopia angels said to be are like light and bright ; perhaps, if they are to be personified , expected to have bright colour. Hence, when Ethiopian monks spoke of this nature of angels Grahm Hankok may have had misunderstood the monks and the oral tradtion as if they were talking about white people. As a result, a false perception in Grham’s part, led him to think they( ethiopian mokns) were referring white people.

    Making film of that nature require one not jump to conclusion in simple resemblances. We all seek knowledge based on substance not by emotion; but the film maker unfortunately was driven by emotion. In addition, the film maker does know about Templers and their cross but does not know Axume in relation to that style cross seen in Lalibela. Although, I hate to politicize matters of this nature; however , it might have been puzzling for Grahm Hankok and Bob Cornuke to contemplate how a magnificent building like Lalibala could have been built by Africans. Perhaps, they are a bit trapped in the 18th century European mentality. When we see pyramids in Cambodia and in Inca south America, and when we see magnificent monuments in Easter islands and other places we should know that at different spots on the glob at different times civilization had once flourished independent of European influences but lived short. That was the case in Ethiopia as well.

  33. 33 David T. Hill May 5th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Ah, just had one question for Ayele Bekerie and that is what his opinion is concerning the rumor that the Ark of the Covenant was ‘sold’ to the Israelites back in the 80′s (for 42 Million Dollars) and returned to Israel.

    Would appreciate any comments you might have on this. Also, below, please find some of my own musings concerning the Ark of the Covenant.

    Sincerely,

    David T. Hill

    David Hill (3 Feb 2004) “The Arks of the Covenants”

    Concerning the Ark of the Covenant being in Ethiopea.

    I have heard of this before and actually read a book on the subject however, there is some information that everyone is missing.

    First off is the fact that, at the time of Moses,there were two legitimate Arks made for the two separate sets of Ten Commandments. Further, what that book pointed out was that, in the days of Solomon, a third Ark was made, susposedly, to give to the Queen of Sheba which is the one that susposedly resides in Ethiopia (there is enough circumstancial evidence to indicate that they definately have one of those three Arks). However, apparently, they switched the Arks and the real one that was in the temple, was taken by the Queens Escort and the copy was left in the Temple.

    It is this copy of the Ark (the third ark) that the Rabbi assuredly saw for a brief moment underneath the Temple in 1967, when they regained Jerusalem. He saw something covered with animal skins that could only have been one of these three arks.

    Another book has shown that, on a comparison of the accounts of the Building of the Temple and its destruction by the Babylonians, that there is a three foot difference in the Heighth of the two Pillars of the Temple, which led these archeologists to suspose that Solomon designed these two pillars to be Sand Hydraulics that, upon the invasion by the Babylonians, the Temple Priests activated and thus this copy of the Ark of the Covenant was lowered underneath the Temple, and then covered over by the Priests and that is where this Rabbi saw the Third Ark – underneath the Holy of Holies.

    The book itself concluded by saying that the most likely place for the Ark is in the Temple itself, somewhere in a secret chamber. But, they didn’t realize that it was not the original Ark.

    Now, the question is, which Ark does the Ethiopians have. The one with the original Ten Commandments that were broken by Moses and which represent the Lord Y’shua himself and his “breaking” for our sins. Or do they have the second Ark which contains the second (unbroken) set of Ten Commandments?

    It is highly unlikely that Benaiah or Nathan the Prophet would have allowed the original Ark of the Covenant to leave the Temple Complex regardless of how much they thought Solomon and the Nation were backsliding or regardless of how Saintly and worthy the Queen and her escort were.

    So, it seems apparent that, if they gave them one of the two originals that it was definately the second Ark that they allowed them to have. This would explain the significance of the Ark in Ethiopian History, unlike anything else could explain it.

    Now, as that book also pointed out, the last known reference to the original Ark of the Covenant, was during the days of Jeremiah. As a Prophet and a Priest and one who was filled with the Holy Spirit, he would have known the difference between the two Arks.

    And, with the silence of the Biblical Record, there is an account that comes to us from the Assyrian Histories that, when Jeremiah was taken, by force, into Egypt, that he took several of the Temple Instruments with him and “a mysterious box” (Artesen Sales). He subsequently got on a boat in Egypt and sailed to the British Isles with this Box and an escort which included the Royal Bloodline in the person of the Crown Princess, which apparently is the person refered to in the chapter in Jeremiah concerning the Branch who was planted in the British Isles and is where most of the Royal Lineage in Britain comes from, who trace their ancestry back to David through this woman.

    Now, with the Second Ark in the hands of the Ethiopians and the Copy in the Temple itself, lowered into the floor (probably by Jeremiah himself or upon his orders or recommendation), he himself took the original Ark of the Covenant with him.

    But, the mystery does not end there for, with the Royal daughter given to the escort for protection (to be wed to the then current King of Ireland), Jeremiah got on another boat with the mysterious box and sailed away to places unknown. Where they ended up is open to conjecture. But, one should keep one thing in mind as Berry Fell has proven (“America B.C.”).

    Transatlantic Ocean Travel was known in the days of Jeremiah…

    Editor’s Notes : May 5, 2010

    I really had an excellent post on the Two Tabernacles (with a break down of all the verses and the thought process involved) which came out after the post above and reconciled all the various information, but it is now, alas, lost in cyberspace, but if you trace out all the references in the Old Testament, with this knowledge, then it reconciles all the differences and makes perfect sense.

    Point is, because the offering of the Israelites was so generous Moses was able to build two complete sets of Tabernacle and Ark for the Two Sets of the Ten Commandments.

    The first set with the broken tablets and jar of Manna and Aaron’s Rod that budded, ended up in the High Place of Gibeah (probably Caleb left it in his City that he gave to the Priesthood and then Elud the first Judge of Isarel moved it with himself to Benjamin which was his tribe and the High Place of Gibeah) and was visited by both David (who left the Sword he took from Goliath there) and Solomon (just before he started the Temple and it is when Y’hava asked him what he wanted). This is the Ark that was ‘responcible’ for the seven year famine until the Gibeonites were avenged of Saul’s treachery.

    The second Tabernacle and Ark was placed in Shiloh in Ephraim from the begining of Israel’s take over of the Holy Land and this Ark was the most popular because it had been responcible for most of the miracles associated with it. This is the one that was lost to the Philistines and subsequently returned and inspected (to the tune of thousands dead) so that they knew what was in it and it was the one David ended up moving to Jerusalem and it was set up in the Temple.

    After this, the first Tabernacle and Ark Solomon gave away to the Queen of Sheba where it made its way to Ethiopia because he wanted to consolodate his rule and decided that having two Arks might be an impairment to this goal.

    Now, a third Ark was actually made around the time of Jeremiah who hid the Second one (which he subsequently took to Egypt with him when he was forced to leave Israel and, legend has it, he got on a boat with it and sailed to the British Isles where he took it onto another boat and was gone for a year or too and came back without the Ark) and placed the third in the Temple just before the Babylonian Invasion and this is the Ark that was seen by the Priest for a moment when Israel took Jerusalem in 1967.

    The significance of the first Ark being in Ethiopia is that, during the year 2008 I went on a tare for Ancient (Antediluvial) wisdom and knowledge and read a whole host of books on various subjects including on the Great Pyramid and, during the course of those studies, I determined that Ethiopia was known in the Antediluvial World as the Home of the Gods. There is actually a Hieroglyph (which actually means God – see Glyph following) for them and their land and it is composed of Three Flags standing for the Trinity so, in a sense, the Ark would just be returning home, in a manner of speaking and this gives reasoning and motivation for Y’hava to allow the Ark to depart from Israel in the first place.

    http://lh3.ggpht.com/_LxzM3av-nYo/S-Hq9N9xotI/AAAAAAAAAhA/cKSvgN-A1Nc/s128/GodGlyph.jpg

    Black Schist sarcophagus of Ankhnesneferibre
    Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, Thebes
    The British Museum, London, UK

  34. 34 Jason Walkins May 6th, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    The Ark is in Ethiopia. I have been to the country and to Tsion. There is no doubt in my mind that Ethiopians are the owners of the Ark. They have claimed to have it for many, many, many years. You can just feel it. They know they have it. That explains why Ethiopian people generally don’t really care much about what the rest of the world thinks about it.

    If you are a rich person, there is no reason to show off because you are aware of your wealth. You don’t have to open your bank account to some stranger to prove it. The stranger can speculate whatever he wants, or he can go jump in the Blue Nile if he chooses. As far as the rich person is concerned, he simply does not care about what the stranger thinks. After all, he is just a passer by and it is best to ignore him. In this analogy, of course, the rich person is Ethiopia and her wealth is Ark of the Covenant (Tabot).

    J. Walkins

  35. 35 David T. Hill May 7th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    I think that I have answered my own quesiton. It appears that Ethiopia has a history of Famine which most of us knew already, and that there is possibly another one on the way from what a couple of article on the net said.

    I mentioned above that the Ark that the Ethiopians were given was the one that was responcible for the drought and famine in Israel in the days of David and this, then, indicates that, in fact, Ethiopia still has the Ark of the Covenant.

    Now, the problem is that the Ark was supposed to be atoned once every year on Yom Kippur and this, assuredly, has not been done and thus, about once every generation the sins of the people or politicians gets to the point where judgment is poured out until atonement is achieved and then they are good for another 30 years or so.

    If we have reached that point again then there is a couple of options they could try. They could have the Guardian try and ask the Lord what the problem is and how to make reconciliation so that the famine can be stayed.

    The other – risky – option is for the Bishop of the Ethiopian Church to have communion at the Church were the Ark is and then, after Transubstanciation and before anyone takes communion, take the Chalice with the Blood into the Holy of Holies and anoint the Mercy in the same manner that the Levites would on the day of Atonement and then, in theory, the Ark would be reconciled with the House and people of Ethiopia – for the life time of that Bishop and then, when another Bishop is elected, he should go through the same proces once during his ministry (this is based on the Blood of Y’shua being greater then of the animal sacrifices, but still limited by the Priestly Office itself and thus, with the cities of refuge a person was stuck in the city until the High Priest died taking his sins with him to the grave, and a new High Priest was elected).

    Because the Levitical Priesthood was decommissioned at the time the High Priest ripped the Holy Robe at Y’shua’s trial, it is not possible to use that Priesthood (or the sacrifices including that of the Ashes of the Red Heifer) until such a time as the Lord re-commissions it and, therefore, Atonement must be performed by the Christian Church and the only sacrifice we offer is the Eucharist.

    It is my hope that someone will see to it that this information gets to the appropriate people so that something can be done about this situation before it gets any worse.

  1. 1 Russian Explorer Claims Unusual Access to the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia at Tadias Magazine Pingback on Aug 26th, 2010 at 9:35 pm
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