Apparently, people have been digging around my holiday home…

A team of archaeologists from the University of Hamburg said they discovered the Queen of Sheba’s palace and an altar that may have once held the Ark of the Covenant in Axum, Ethiopia.

A Christian king built a new palace over the 10th-century B.C. structure, which probably didn’t survive for very long, the university said in a statement. The altar, oriented toward the star Sirius, has two columns and may have been where the Ark of the Covenant, the holiest treasure of early Judaism, was kept until the first temple was built in Axum, the researchers said.

“The special significance of this altar must have been handed down over centuries,” the statement said. “This is shown by the many sacrifices found around this spot.”

The Ark of the Covenant, featured in the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was kept in Jerusalem for centuries, according to the Old Testament. After Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians in the 6th century B.C., the ark’s fate isn’t documented in the Bible and it entered the realm of legend.

[. . .]

The Hamburg team led by Helmut Ziegert has for nine years been investigating the origins of the Ethiopian state and the Ethiopian orthodox church. The central purpose of the field trip was to find out how Judaism arrived in Ethiopia in the 10th century B.C., and to seek clues to the present location of the Ark of the Covenant, the university said.

[Read the full article here]

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  • The Queen of Sheba is also believed to have brought back a harp from David’s court, an ancient instrument still in use in Ethiopian sacred and secular music today. Variously termed the Abyssinian or Ethiopian harp, it seems to have survived essentially unchanged. Its foremost living master, Alemu Aga, has an album out in Buda Records’ Ethiopiques series, The Harp of King David. It’s deeply spiritual, mesmerizing music.

  • Interesting. This doesn’t mention that the Ethopians believe that they know exactly where the Ark is: in that church that’s “guarded” by a single solitary monk.

  • Tom, sounds interesting. As far as I know, there isn’t much harp music among current traditional Jewish musicians, but I’m not an expert there and will gladly be corrected.

    Carol, I left that bit out as it’s part of legend / folklore. If there actually were a church that hosted the Ark, I don’t have the slightest doubt it would get verified. So, folklore leaves room for speculation and exciting “what ifs”, but I’d be surprised to hear that the Ark had survived in any such public place during centuries of predominantly non-Jewish and non-Christian environments, civil wars etc. Though if the Ark were to be retrieved from some geniza or another, it would be interesting to know what would happen to it. Would archaeologists be permitted to access it? And in general, how does this story fare with the Babylonian conquest and the reported destruction of the Ark by Nebuchadenezzar? How do all the other legendary locations of the Ark fit into the story? Why would the Temple Priests give up on their holiest object to let it disappear to Ethiopia? Also, had it still been around at the time of the Roman conquest, why wasn’t it part of Titus’ loot? And then again, can we take the biblical description of the (original) Ark at face value? Slaves / Low-pay labourers were not likely to possess quantities of gold large enough to cover a box as the one described. As one of my exegesis professors once said, “People tend to imagine the Golden Calf as an enormous statue, but consider where those people had presumably just come from and how much gold they could actually have, and you’ll see that the Golden Calf cannot have been much more than a tiny figurine.” Also add the facilities they had at hand in the middle of the desert to actually produce such objects of cult, and it becomes clear that those reports are rather legendary than historically accurate (our concepts of accuracy are stronly shaped by a post-Enlightment Western society; this greatly clashes with Oriental narrative tradition where the validity of a point is emphasized by a story).

  • “how does this story fare with the Babylonian conquest and the reported destruction of the Ark by Nebuchadenezzar?”

    i never heard that b4 – where is this from? i had learned that King Josiah (Yoshiahu) had hidden the Ark from a foreboding sense of an imminent destruction. Josiah lived about 100 years b4 the actual destruction of the temple…

    “Also, had it still been around at the time of the Roman conquest, why wasn’t it part of Titus’ loot?”

    No – the Holy of Holies was empty during the entire existence of the 2nd temple (450 years) therefore there was nothing for Titus to take. The Ark disappeared b4 the destruction of the 1st temple.

  • Julie, the reference to Nebuchadnezzar can be found in history books. As for my mentioning the Romans, the premise for the Ark to be in Ethiopia (as one of several places legendarily hosting the Ark) would be that it still existed while there’s no reason whatsoever for it to have been moved there while there still was a Temple; at the very least it could – and certainly would – have been retrieved.