Hark! Where's the Bible Ark?
Ethiopia's Orthodox patriarch cops out on revealing plan for public viewing
Posted: June 26, 2009
The leader of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church today backed off on a much-anticipated announcement about the Ark of the Covenant -- the ancient container holding the Ten Commandment -- which he claims to have seen.
But no other evidence or, indeed, even any announcement, was made public today when word had been expected.
Ark hunters and Bible enthusiasts have been buzzing for two days on the report from the Italian news agency Adnkronos that Patriarch Abuna Pauolos, in Italy for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI this week, said, "Soon the world will be able to admire the Ark of the Covenant described in the Bible as the container of the tablets of the law that God delivered to Moses and the center of searches and studies for centuries."
He had suggested the possibility the artifact might be viewable in a planned museum.
"I repeat (the Ark of the Covenant) is in Ethiopia and nobody … knows for how much time. Only God knows," he said in the Adnkronos report available online.
The report said Pauolos reported the artifact "is described perfectly in the Bible" and is in good condition.
"The state of conservation is good because it is not made from man's hand, but is something that God has made," Pauolos said, according to the report.
The agency had reported an announcement would be made at the Hotel Aldrovandi in Rome, and a hotel spokeswoman told WND Pauolos had been in residence there, but no news conference or event was scheduled.
"The Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia for many centuries," said Pauolos in the report. "As a patriarch I have seen it with my own eyes and only few highly qualified persons could do the same, until now."
Bob Cornuke, biblical investigator, international explorer and best-selling author, has participated in more than 27 expeditions around the world searching for lost locations described in the Bible. A man some consider a real-life Indiana Jones, he has written a book titled "Relic Quest" about the Ark of the Covenant and participated in History Channel production called "Digging for Truth."
Next week, Cornuke will travel to Ethiopia for the 13th time since he began his search for the Ark. He told WND he believes it is possible Ethiopia could have the real artifact.
"They either have the Ark of the Covenant or they have a replica that they have believed to be the Ark of the Covenant for 2,000 years," he said.
Cornuke said, if it is genuine, there's a plausible explanation of how the Ark may have come to the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Ethiopia.
"The Ark could have been taken out of the temple during the time of the atrocities of Manasseh," he said. "We have kind of a bread crumb trail that appears to go to Egypt, and it stayed on an island there for a couple hundred years called Elephantine Island. The Ark then was transferred over to Lake Tana in Ethiopia where it stayed on Tana Qirqos Island for 800 years. Then it was taken to Axum, where it is enshrined in a temple today where they don't let anybody see it."
Cornuke said he traveled to Tana Qirqos Island and lived with monks who remain there even today.
"They unlocked this big, four-inch thick wood door," he said. "It opened up to a treasure room, and they showed me meat forks and bowls and things that they say are from Solomon's temple. When the History Channel did this show, they said it was one of the largest viewed shows. People were fascinated."
He said Ethiopians consider the Ark to be the ultimate holy object, and the church guards the suspected artifact from the "eyes and pollution of man."
"In Ethiopia, their whole culture is centered around worshipping this object," Cornuke said. "Could they have the actual Ark? I think I could make a case that they actually could."
But according to a statement delivered to WND by the webmaster for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, there is no chance that the religious leaders and people in the nation will give up their custody of what they believe is the Ark.
"I think Abba Pauolos must be out of his mind. … An (artifact) should not be shown or touched other than the clergies but to put it on display is a reckless comment let alone doing it," the statement said. "Not only the local clergies but the people of Ethiopia won't allow it and it is not going to happen."
The webmaster noted there were artifacts moved from Ethiopia to Britain over the years, and even those are not allowed to be displayed.
Pauolos in the Adnkronos report said any display would need the approval of the supreme court of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
A spokesman for a U.S. branch of the church, Mehereto Belete of Los Angeles, told WND he had been given no word of any major change in the status of the Ark.
"It is news for us just as it is for you," he said.
Cornuke explained that a special guardian lives inside the church which reportedly holds the Ark and never leaves. Once a guardian is appointed, he stays until he dies and another man replaces him.
"We know for a fact that there have been 30 guardians in history who have never left that enclosure," Cornuke said. "I know the guardian. When CNN and BBC went over there, he wouldn't see anybody but me. So I went and talked to him, and he's getting very aged. He told me they have the real Ark and he worships 13 hours a day in front of it. When he gets through, he is covered in sweat and he's exhausted."
He said he met a 105-year-old man who claimed to have seen the Ark 50 years ago when he was training a replacement guardian.
"It frightened him to death when he got a glimpse of it."
Cornuke said he also met with the president of Ethiopia nearly nine years ago and had a one-on-one conversation with him in his palace. He asked if Ethiopia had the Ark of the Covenant.
According to Cornuke, the president responded: "Yes, we do. I am the president, and I know. It's not a copy. It's the real thing."
Many theories exist about the ultimate fate of the Ark, including that it has been hidden in a still unknown location, it was destroyed by enemies of the Israelites, taken by Egyptian invaders to Egypt or removed by divine intervention.
The quest for the artifact received additional publicity in 1981 when actor Harrison Ford searched for it in Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
Cornuke said Ethiopians claim their purported Ark is kept in a large stone sarcophagus lined in ornately hammered silver. The Ark itself is made of acacia wood and laminated with a thin veneer of gold. The mercy seat sits atop the Ark and is made of pure, hammered gold and includes two cherubim facing one another.
Whether the artifact is real or simply a copy, Cornuke said an unveiling might leave the world with more questions than answers.
"We have only typology to go on," he said. "We could probably have some people analyze the wood samples and come up with some kind of dating protocol on it because it is acacia wood to see if that is it."
Rives said a close inspection of the Ten Commandments would be necessary to ensure they are in accordance with true text and not later versions of the Ten Commandments.
Cornuke said experts would also need to determine whether the artifact itself fits biblical description and trace its path to Ethiopia.
"We are peeking behind the veil of history," he said. "We're taking a glimpse of an artifact that could be a very holy object."