A massive 8th century BCE man-made platform discovered at a Catholic convent in central Israel may be an ancient shrine for the Ark of the Covenant, which is referred to three times in the Qur’an. In the Qur’an the actual Ark wherein the Covenant was found, is called ‘Tabut’ and the Covenant itself is called ‘Sakina’, [Shekinah in Hebrew], so it is also called Tabut Sakina (the Ark of the Covenant) in (al Baqarah, v.248) and Sakina simply in (at-Tawbah v. 26, v. 40) and (al-Fat-h, v.26).
The Qur’an states, “And their Prophet [Samuel] said to them [the Children of Israel]: “A Sign of his [Saul/Talut] authority is that there shall come to you the Ark (Tabut), and in it Sakina (a Covenant) with security from your Lord, and the relics left by the family of Moses and the family of Aaron, carried by angels. In this is a symbol for you if you indeed have faith”. (al Baqarah, v.248)
The remains of the monumental elevated site were unearthed on a hilltop long associated with the location of Biblical Kiriath-Jearim, which was the 20-year home of the Ark of the Covenant until it was taken by King David and paraded to Jerusalem.
Modern Kiryat Ye’arim is bordered by Abu Ghosh, an Israeli-Arab village six miles west of Jerusalem. Today, the hill is carved up by terraced slopes dotted with olive trees, which provide an evergreen relief to the stone construction of the old 1906 convent, slightly later hostel, and the 1924 Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant.
The archaeological dig is unusual because it is located on private Catholic church property under the protection of the French government. Today the site is occupied by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition.
Kiriath-Jearim is mentioned in several books of the Hebrew Bible, including a detailed story in the first book of Chronicles; in which King David jubilantly transports the ark to Jerusalem: “And David went up, with all of Israel, to Ba-allah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim, which belonged to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God… David and all the Israelites celebrated with all their might before God, playing songs, with harps, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets” (13:5-8)
Note that the Arabic name of the site, Deir el-ʿAzar, “a variation of ‘The Monastery of Eleazar,’ probably the name of a Byzantine monastery on that spot, named in honor of Eleazar, who as the second High Priest, succeeding his father Prophet Aaron after he died, and also performed the ritual of the cow, referred to in the Qur’an (al Baqarah, v.67-71). He was also a nephew of Prophet Moses.
The author of Tafsir Uthmani writes, “(The Ark of the Covenant, Tabut Sakina) contained some holy relics of Hazrat Musa and other Prophets. The Bani Israel (Children of Israel) put this box in the front line in times of war, and Allah gave them victory by its auspices.” (Tafsir Uthmani, Allama Shabbir Ahmad Uthmani, trans. Muhammad Ashfaq Ahmad. Bombay: Taj Publishers, 1992. Vol. 1, p.140)
As the author of Tafsir Uthmani wrote, this Ark contained the Covenant (Sakina), assurance of help from the unseen, in the form of Prophetic relics. The relics it (the Ark) contained were connected to Prophetic authority, which represented the Vicegerency of God on earth by His Prophets and Messengers.
At the dig’s conclusion in a few years, the sisters will be faced with the decision of whether to open the site to tourists or not. The nuns have been very accommodating, but as the discoveries mount, are increasingly concerned about their peace of mind.
Perhaps instead of a tourist site, it could become a joint Catholic/Islamic/Jewish Institute of Sakina-Shekinah peace, trust and assurance from the three combined Abrahamic religions; so that we may live up to God’s holy words: “Righteous is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but righteous is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, the Prophets; and gives wealth in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives Zakah; fulfilling their promise when they promise; and are patient in poverty, hardship and during battle. These are the ones who have been true, and it is these who are the righteous.” (al Baqarah, v.177)
As the Qur’an states: “‘Believers, be steadfast in the cause of God and bear witness with justice. Do not let your enmity for others turn you away from justice. Deal justly; that is nearer to being God-fearing.” (al-Ma’idah:8)
And as Prophet Isaiah states: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:23-5)
Rabbi Maller’s web site is www.rabbimaller.com. He blogs on the Times of Israel. His new book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles by Rabbi Maller previously published by Islamic websites) is now for sale ($15) on Amazon.