Late last week Ancient Origins published one of the weirder claims it’s made in recent years. In a members-only article, travel agent Malcolm Hutton (writing as Calumy) claimed that the Ark of the Covenant is actually the pyramidion from atop Khufu’s pyramid and that it is currently hidden inside the Kaaba in Mecca. Aside from the obvious problem that the pyramidion can’t be the Ark if you expect either the Great Pyramid’s shape or the Exodus narrative to have any real meaning—both of them being incompatible with the other—it is at least a little interesting that there is a bit of a connection between the Kaaba and the Ark, albeit not anything like the one Ancient Origins assumes.
As should be obvious, the pyramidion from the Great Pyramid would have been pyramid shaped, like the only surviving examples from ancient Egypt. The original pyramidion has been missing for a very long time, but there is no indication in any ancient writings that it had been taken by the Jews. Pliny in his Natural History 36.17 confirms that the original pyramidion (if it had ever been in place) was already gone by the first century CE. Earlier authors, though, make no mention of this, so I imagine it is difficult to assume that the Jews took it in the era of the Exodus.
The Ark of the Covenant, as should also be obvious from the Biblical description, was box-shaped and decidedly not a pyramid. If you don’t want to believe that, then there isn’t much point in speculating about the Ark since you will be denying the Biblical narrative. That’s a great idea since it’s probably fiction anyway, but you can’t logically keep the Ark on the strength of the Bible while dumping its description.
Anyhow, Ancient Origins is interested in the idea that the “Ark” is multiple and exists in many locations. This isn’t relevant for us now.
There has long been a symbolic connection between the cube-shaped Kaaba in Mecca and the Ark of the Covenant. In Islamic legend, the Kaaba was a symbol of God’s covenant with humanity, just like the Ark. Islam holds that God revealed the Kaaba to Adam, that it served as a temple and sanctuary for Abraham (following Qur’an 2:126), and that the (fictitious) Egyptian pharaoh Tutis in the time of Abraham allegedly donated the finery that decorated the Kaaba.
The symbolic similarities helped to spark a legend among some Muslims that the Ark rested beneath the Kaaba, returning God to Mecca, the center of civilization. Some said that armor and swords used to guard the original Tabernacle had been recovered in Mecca just before Muhammad’s birth. Most directly, this was an outgrowth of a comparison popular in medieval Islam between the relics of Moses and Aaron (the rod and the tablets) in the Ark and the parallel relics of Muhammad housed in Mecca. There were also historical accounts of the Qarmatians finding Moses’s rod in the Kaaba, and lists of the biblical relics of the Israelites supposedly housed inside the temple. But the bigger push came from alternative types, starting with the Victorians. Writers like Albert Churchward made comparisons between the Ark the Kaaba based on astronomical ideas—that both the pyramidion and the Kaaba represented the vault of heaven and the undying pole stars. Naturally, comparisons were made between the meteorite in the Kaaba’s wall and fringe ideas that the Tables of the Law were actually meteor fragments kept in a gold box. This then connected to the pyramids because it was sometimes claimed (though, really, speculated) that the Great Pyramid’s pyramidion was a meteorite. Another connection, made famous by Charles Piazzi Smyth, claimed that Khufu’s sarcophagus in the Great Pyramid had the same cubic volume as the Ark, which later writers bastardized into the claim that it actually held the Ark, despite being a different shape and size than the Exodus measurements.
Anyway, in 1999 Roderick Grierson and Stuart Munro-Hay, drew on this to propose the most direct predecessor of today’s article. They argued that at some point—they don’t say when—the Israelites attacked Mecca, which had been the refuge of Abraham, and lost the Ark to the Jurhum (Gorrhamites) who in Islamic tradition then occupied Mecca, served as guardians of the Kaaba, and had intermarried with Abraham’s family. The authors claimed that the Ark remained in the Kaaba until 520 CE, when an Axumite king sacked Mecca and took the Ark to Ethiopia. However, while King Kaleb’s viceroy Abraha did try to push the Axumite kingdom north in Arabia toward Mecca, I am not aware of any evidence that Kaleb succeeded before the collapse of his power.
That this story is bullshit can be seen from the fact that Ancient Aliens star David Childress called it “rather farfetched” in his book Ark of God—and he believes space aliens use Egyptian pyramids and obelisks to shoot magic crystal energy to a network of satellites that beam it back down to Earth to spread via ley lines.
The long and short of it is that the article under consideration today is a degraded version of a long effort to link Jewish history to Islam, with more than a pinch of medieval Islamic efforts to turn ancient Egyptian history into a biblical morality play.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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