Buckle up Indiana Jones fans. The real world saga of the Ark of the Covenant explodes with the colorful confetti of conjecture, and is every bit as tantalizing as the movie itself. There are many who claim factual knowledge of its whereabouts, history and power –maybe you’ve snacked on some of these stories while surfing the History Channel. For my money, no Ark of the Covenant story scratches at the imagination quite like the one in Aksum, Ethiopia.
Aksum’s claim to possess the Ark of the Covenant is historically compelling – if not necessarily convincing. It burrows deep into ancient politics and shapes contemporary Ethiopian notions of identity. For the regional dynasty, the issue of keeping the Ark of the Covenant under lock and key was a bit like the “controversy” orbiting President Obama and his birth certificate today.
You see, possession of the Ark of the Covenant was tantamount to “historical proof” of a guy named Menelik’s royal origins. He couldn’t be King without the Ark. Or, so says the Book of the Glory of Kings (an Ethiopian text called the Kebra Nagst) which claims that the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon had a son named Menelik, and that Menelik smuggled the Ark from Solomon’s Temple, back in the day. For Menelik, it wasn’t the “birthers” that bugged, but the “Arkers” – those pesky folks questioning whether or not he really had the Ark of the Covenant were actually questioning the legitimacy of the Solomonid dynasty in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Of course, the analogy to Obama’s birth certificate falls a bit short here, admittedly, since no ancient text has yet been discovered which tells of laser beams or Power of God stuff issuing from the Prez’s proof of citizenry – but give it time. (Oh God, please let this one catch on. Pleeeeeze just for the sheer giggle factor.)
Anyhoo, this blog is supposed to be brought to you by the letter Z, so I’d better get to it.
Enter Zadok, the High Priest.
Z is for Zadok, the Jewish High Priest who – according to the Bible – anointed Solomon as King. Zadok was on the right side of history when
it came time to choose between loyally serving Solomon, or jumping ship to support Solomon’s big bro, a guy named Adonijah – the fourth son of the stone-wielding marksman, David.
As High Priest to King Solomon, Zadok was one of the privileged few permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, the chamber which housed the Ark of the Covenant during its time in Solomon’s Temple. (For those of you who haven’t heard this story before, the Holy of Holies is where God hung out for chit-chats with people of Higher Spiritual Stuff.) So when the Kebra Nagst starts talking about swiping the Ark of the Covenant from the most secure place on earth, it’s time to start looking more carefully at the person holding the keys. I’m looking at you, Zadok.
You see, Zadok sounds like one of those neglectful parents who leaves their keys to the Porsche sitting on the wet bar next to the bottle of Jim Beam before heading out of town on business. (Jim Beam? No relation.) Azarias, Zadok’s Temple-brat son, apparently goaded on by the Archangel Michael, swiped the keys to the Holy of Holies, snuck in after dad was all juiced up, packed up the Ark of the Covenant, and left a lame decoy in its place to buy them some time for the journey back to Aksum, which was undertaken in an airplane. Naturally. (No, I’m not making this stuff up – go read it yourself!)
Now before you go pouring the hate on the Kebra Nagst’s explanation of how the Ark got to Aksum, don’t forget to consider a few more fun points.
The Kebra Nagst was written in a language called Ge’ez and modern thinking is that the word which had previously been interpreted to refer to the Ark, may have instead been referring to the contents within the Ark – the Ten Commandments. (The word is tabot, or tabota, as I recall.) In fact, the earliest recorded version of the Kebra Nagst hails from the 4th century, and after the Kingdom of Aksum’s Christian conversion. In this version of the tale, besides the airplane thing, there’s the matter of the Ark being decorated with Christian symbols, which is odd, because
it was built in the time of Exodus. (If you’re still with me, but not quite into the whole “Bible thing,” Exodus comes right after Genesis, and waaayyyy before the New Testament, and the whole Jesus, and Christian cross symbology and whatnot.) This has given rise to speculation that perhaps the original Ark deteriorated with age, and the contents transferred to Ark 2.0, then Ark 3.0 etc. down through the ages.
Finally, Z is for Zadok, because it’s his ancestors who are said to guard the Ark of the Covenant. A tradition that would seem to go back to 900-something BC, and one that lives on in Aksum today. Ark or not, it’s a story to make Indiana Jones green with envy – and it’s totally bitchin’.