Interest in the ark of the covenant catapulted Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones into the forefront of American pop culture. Melting flesh and imploding bodies aside, mystery and drama have surrounded the ark since the Lord first said to Moses: "Have them make a chest of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high" (Exod. 25:10). The ark found the Israelites "a place to rest" as they wandered in the wilderness (Num. 10:33); it stopped the flow of the Jordan River when the Hebrews crossed into the Promised Land (Josh. 3:15 –16); the Israelites were routed when they recklessly took the ark into battle (1 Sam. 4); and the Philistines tried to be rid of it because of the scourge it brought to the towns that housed it. King David danced before it, and when Solomon brought it into the newly built temple, "the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple" (1 Kings 8:11).

What happened to the ark after Solomon gets sketchy. It is mentioned in the Old Testament only one other time, in 2 Chronicles 35:3, when the reforming king, Josiah—who lived hundreds of years after Solomon—orders that the ark be put back into the temple. Except for a reference in Hebrews, the only other mention of the ark is in Revelation after the seventh trumpet is sounded (11:19): "Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm."

Ethiopian Christians—specifically, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church—have staked their religious and cultural identity on their heritage as keepers of the ...

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