Is there any historical evidence that the Ark of the Covenant really existed? What physical or written evidence is there, excluding the scriptures?

Note: I am not discounting the writings of the Bible or Christianity. I am asking if there is any other writings without the pretense of Christian association that mentions the Ark or any other physical evidence.

  • 10
    Except the Bible for christians and a common sense for atheists? Given that the first temple really existed, I see no reason why should I doubt if there was some kind of box inside of it.
    – Matt
    Nov 7, 2015 at 11:38
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    You are asking for proof of something that many people might consider a fable of a single religion. Anyone of another religion may find it distasteful. You're asking for scientific proof of something that many view as only proven by faith. The other thing causing downvotes, is yes, you need to go into details. Someone not versed in religious teaching, and not familiar with Indiana Jones, might not even know what the Arc of the Covenant is.
    – CGCampbell
    Nov 7, 2015 at 16:48
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    @CGCampbell - there were several events that the Arc was referenced in. I don't think that all of the evidence that could be found around the Arc would be attributed to Christians or the Bible. That is why I left the question more open-ended. I am looking for references by communities/civilizations that wouldn't have had a stake in Christianity.
    – blankip
    Nov 7, 2015 at 16:54
  • 4
    If not for the arch of titus, people would dispute the menorah ever existed.
    – user6591
    Nov 8, 2015 at 18:22
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    Questions about the historicity of various religious artifacts are certainly on-topic. There are plenty of items spoken about in scriptures that have some support from secular history as actually having existed. The historicity of these items, of course, has nothing to do whether or not they actually had the powers or provenance claimed by scripture. You could ask what happened to L. Ron Hubbard's original E-Meter or ask whether Joseph Smith's supposed "seer stone" was an actual physical rock.
    – Robert Columbia
    Mar 30, 2017 at 2:34

3 Answers 3


Outside of the Bible (both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible) and related literature (such as commentaries, but not excluding historical accounts outside the Bible) there are some references.

Flavius Josephus makes numerous mention of it in Antiquities of the Jews (For examples, see Book 3 Chapter 6 Part 5, Book 5 Chapter 11, and Book 8 Chapter 4) and one mention is Wars of the Jews (see Book 5 Chapter 9 Part 4). In Antiquities of the Jews, he tells of a tradition that "sacred vessels" have been hidden in Mt Gerizzim by the Samaritans (see Book 18 Chapter 4 Part 1). Some believe one of the "sacred vessels" may include the Ark of the Covenant, but this most likely is inaccurate.

In Ethiopia there is a place where the Ark of the Covenant is claimed to be held. They have a person who spends their whole life guarding the place. He is the only one who is allowed to see the Ark.1 If an "Ark" wasn't there, I doubt he would still be guarding it.

In the second book of Maccabees, we are told the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.2 (The Books of Maccabees may or may not be considered biblical.)

More information concerning it can be found on Wikipedia.

  • 11
    It is debatable whether Maccabees and Josephus count as independent references. Both writers are Jewish and so are writing from a perspective of accepting the existence of the Ark because it is in the scriptures. Neither is claiming to have seen the Ark themselves, which would be a much stronger independent reference.
    – PhillS
    Mar 23, 2017 at 6:56
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    There are many claims for the resting place of the Ark, including one in Japan. Just because people believe in something, it doesn't make it a historical fact.
    – Greg
    Mar 26, 2017 at 10:01
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    @Greg very true, but why would someone waste their life protecting something that isn't there? The Ethiopian guard has access to the ark and knows whether or not the ark is there. However, it could be a fake and everyone - including the guard - believes it is the real thing. We may never know. Mar 29, 2017 at 13:09
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    @Greg He includes it not as an argument to prove it is the true ark (he specifically said "claimed to be held"), but as evidentiary in the sense that it shows that we have (admittedly fallible) testimony to an extant Ark. While far from proof, it is better than having no testimony to an extant Ark and no past non-religious account. He is simply presenting that data that we do have, even if it doesn't say much. Mar 29, 2017 at 14:42
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    @called2voyage The question is about the proof existence of the Ark. Repeatedly bringing up the Ethiopian case makes no sense, as it proves only that Copts believe in the Bible (which is kind of obvious). The multiple claims for the ark is much more proof that believers are eager to collect fake/mistaken items of unknown origin, bones, than that the item existed at the first place. Just because the Habsburgs had a horn of a unicorn, it is not the proof for the existence of the mythical animal, but a proof how unreliable those collections are.
    – Greg
    Mar 30, 2017 at 12:17



Since "Nope" is probably not a very good answer, let me explain.

There are numerous references to the ark of the covenant throughout the biblical literature. Its construction is described in laborious detail twice in the book of Exodus, it serves as the receptacle for the words of "this song" (understood by subsequent exegetes as the Pentateuch, or at least the book of Deuteronomy) at the end of Deuteronomy, it gets taken captive, redeemed, is venerated and placed in the new temple in Judges, Samuel and Kings, and then is presumably removed from the temple by the invading Babylonians... who never mention it in any of their archival records.

This literature is the only literature that mentions the ark. But note that there is not a single part of this literature that was authored with the intention that it be a part of a "bible", which means that the books of the bible can all be viewed as independent of one another. Not only that, but they are themselves a pastiche of multiple sources, which means that there are dozens of different texts right here that all testify to the existence of this thing (or to traditions concerning its one-time existence).

References to the ark in works like those of Josephus don't count, since he's getting all of his information from the biblical literature. In fact, references to the ark in any post-biblical literature don't count for that very reason, while references in extra-biblical literature contemporaneous with the Bible's composition don't exist.

Later religious traditions have come up with explanations as to what happened to it: that it was hidden away beneath the floor of the second temple, that it was spirited off to a far away land (read: Ethiopia), or that it was secreted somewhere in the foothills of Judea. These traditions are all bogus. There is no ark. And since it was made of gold, we can assume that if there ever had actually been an ark, it has long since been melted down and turned into something of more practical use.

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    An interesting scenario comes up from your second paragraph - if the Bible/Torah had been kept as separate books and not compiled into one, then we would only know the books as separate sources today, then would we not claim that we have a wide variety of contemporary sources that indicate that yes, it did exist at some time in history?
    – Smith
    Mar 30, 2017 at 2:37
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    @Smith perhaps, but there is also the issue that most, if not all, of the writers of the biblical books had a very similar bias. It would be similar to saying that yes, there are hundreds of sources claiming X, but all of those sources are different issues of The Watchtower magazine (an official publication of the Jehovah's Witnesses religion), so in reality there is not very much support. If a fact was mentioned in The Watchtower, but also could be found in The Lancet, The New York Times, and Knitting Quarterly, it would have much more support.
    – Robert Columbia
    Mar 30, 2017 at 2:44
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    Yes and no, @Smith! Depends on what you mean by "contemporary". Contemporary with the composition of those biblical texts, yes, but not necessarily contemporary with the time in which the ark is presumed to have existed. Note that much of this literature is thought to be exilic at the earliest (and probably in parts post-exilic), while some may even - depending whom you ask! - be as late as the Persian period.
    – Shimon bM
    Mar 30, 2017 at 2:44

All proof is non-religious, more or less by definition. Faith does not require proof.

As for the empirical evidence of the Ark's existence, no, nothing's been found to satisfy a sufficient number of historians, archeologists, theologists, etc. to be declared official.

  • 4
    This would be a good answer in the Philosophy SE but you have taken what I have asked and then twisted it to some meta meaning. If I asked an employee at a company to give me proof beyond their company about something you are saying the employee could also say "well now I am speaking as a human so there is your proof." ??? Also I am not asking for satisfying sufficient number of historians - I am asking for ANY.
    – blankip
    Nov 9, 2015 at 17:31
  • @blankip: No, that's incorrect. SCIENTIFICALLY speaking. nothing can be viewed as PROOF unless more than one person officially recognized as a dealer in proof, has agreed that that's what it is. EVIDENCE is a bit more lax. There are some claims and assertions, but they're not PROOF. You can find them in Wikipedia: one's in Ethiopia, another in Egypt: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ark_of_the_Covenant#Possible_locations
    – Ricky
    Nov 9, 2015 at 21:24
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    But I am not asking where it is. I understand there are 100s of places laying claim that they are the home of the Ark. I am asking do we have any evidence supporting there was an Ark beyond what is written in scripture. Not saying that not having evidence discredits there being an Ark - just asking.
    – blankip
    Nov 9, 2015 at 21:26
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    @blankip: You've got to be kidding me. "The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims to possess the Ark of the Covenant, or Tabot, in Axum. The object is currently kept under guard in a treasury near the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion." I'm not sure what it is you're looking for, and I have a sneaking suspicion that you aren't very clear on it either.
    – Ricky
    Nov 9, 2015 at 21:30
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    This does not attempt to answer the question.
    – Schwern
    Mar 29, 2017 at 18:09

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