A longstanding religious legend in Ethiopia describes how the Ark of the Covenant was brought there 3,000 years ago by a man named Menelik, the son of the Queen of Sheba and Israel’s King Solomon.
A fascinating connection between Ethiopia and Jewish history is the belief that the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets of the Ten Commandments, may reside to this day in Ethiopia. While a Talmudic source relates that the ark – along with several other of the Temple’s sacred objects – was hidden just prior to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, numerous other theories exist as to its whereabouts.
A longstanding religious legend in Ethiopia describes how the Ark of the Covenant was brought there 3,000 years ago by a man named Menelik, who, according to the legend, was the son of the Queen of Sheba and Israel’s King Solomon. The legend states that the Queen of Sheba was from Ethiopia and that she traveled to Jerusalem, where she was seduced by King Solomon, giving birth to Menelik upon her return home. Menelik later traveled to Jerusalem and studied with his father before taking the ark and bringing it to Ethiopia, where, legend has it, it still resides in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Aksum, where only “The Guardian of the Ark of the Covenant” can view it.
Others maintain that a sect of Jews driven by King Manasseh from Israel took the ark with them and transported it to Egypt, from where they eventually sailed up the Nile to Ethiopia.
Researchers who journeyed to Aksum and made their way to Mary of Zion Church were purportedly introduced to a man referred to as the guardian of the ark. This man was said to live his entire life inside a fenced-off area surrounding the church and will not leave his post until he dies, at which time he will be replaced by the next guardian. In the chapel of the church, 30 robes from 30 previous guardians are on display – and every one of those 30 professed that the object they protected was the true Ark of the Covenant.
While others dispute and debunk this legend – claiming that, at most, the ark in the church is merely a replica of the real thing – it fits neatly with the claim by Ethiopia’s former emperor Haile Selassie that he was a direct descendant of Menelik. Selassie, who ruled Ethiopia from 1930-1974, called himself “the Lion of Judah,” the 225th king descended from King David, and prominently displayed a Lion of Judah motif on the country’s flag and currency.