The World's Greatest Treasure Hunt

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In 1981, Indiana Jones made his big-screen debut re-igniting world-wide interest in history's most hunted relic: the Ark of the Covenant.

That same year, two real-life raiders went on their own search for the Ark. There were no Nazis and no snake pits - like the movie.

Just two renegade Rabbis on a mission. Their search came to an end in Jerusalem.

"God signed, like with a pen, the location where the Ark of the Covenant was located. You can see it today even, on the rock," said Gershon Salomon, Founder of Temple Mount Faithful.

Designed by God, created by Moses, and revered by the Israelites, from the Sinai Desert to the Temple of Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant was the place of meeting between God and man.

In 586 B.C., Israel was conquered by the Babylonians. The Temple was raided by Nebuchadnezzar's army and the Ark disappeared from the pages of history.

"What happened, why did this most dramatic instrument of God's glory and power in human history suddenly vanish?," questioned Joel Rosenberg, Author of Dead Heat.

"All what we know is legends," said Archaeologist Gabriel Barkay who believes the legends are what makes so many people interested in finding the Ark.

Those legends stretch all over the ancient world - starting with Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.

"The Ark of the Covenant was made of wood and it was gold plated. Such an amount of gold would be melted down at the time of war immediately after it was captured," Barkay told CBN.

When asked if he thought the Ark itself was destroyed at that time, Barkay told CBN that is what he believed.

Jewish writings say the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark on Mount Nebo in Jordan. Another legend claims it was smuggled to Ethiopia by the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

In Israel, most Rabbis agree that when it comes to the Ark all roads lead back to Jerusalem. They say the Ark never left the city. To them, the so-called "Lost Ark" was never really lost.

On June 7, 1967, Israeli troops recaptured Jerusalem in the Six-day War. The Western Wall was in Jewish hands and those hands were ready to dig.

Archaeologists exposed parts of the wall that had been buried for 2000 years. Not all of the digging was done legally. In 1981, two of Israel's highest-ranking Rabbis, Shlomo Goren and Yehuda Getz picked up their pick-axes and started chiseling their way under the Temple Mount.

"And he knew that at the end of the gate he will come to the secret room where the ark of covenant is located," said Salomon, who was also one of the paratroopers who liberated the Western Wall in 1967.

Salomon was there 14 years later the night Rabbi Getz opened a secret passage in the Wall and remembers their conversation.

"It was after midnight. And he called me and said to me, Gershon, come immediately, don't wait, your dream is going to be fulfilled. 'What happened?,' I told him. 'The Messiah came?' And he told me, 'He is coming almost.'"

What came next was a subterranean slugftest according to Salomon.

"Arab demonstrations, you know? The Israelis are coming to build their temple underneath the dome of the rock."

At the end of the day, the passage to the Temple Mount was permanently sealed by Israeli Police.

"No doubt, I tell you. No doubt, we needed just two days more to come to the place where the ark of the covenant is located," Salomon explained.

"The work was done without archaeological supervision and when I was the official archaeologist of Jerusalem, I decided to stop the work," said Archaeologist Dan Bahat, who directed the excavation of the Western Wall tunnels.

According to him, the search for the Ark stops with Jeremiah 3:16.

"Prophet Jeremiah says, there will come a day when the ark of the covenant will not be seen, nor will it be visited which means that somehow, he sees the days when it will not be there. In other words, this was a hint from God. Don't look for the Ark of the Covenant!"

Scholars may not agree on the fate of the Ark but many of them agree on one thing: it's discovery could set in motion another event that's been 2000 years in the making - the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple.

"Perhaps when it's time to build the third temple, the second temple treasures will be found. Why? Because in Ezra and Nehemiah the Bible indicated that when it was time to build the second temple, God restored the treasures from the first temple which of course have been carted off to Babylon," said Rosenberg.

"When it's time to build a third temple, the second temple's treasures would be found. Wouldn't that be dramatic?," he concluded.

"It is soon to come, I tell you, I promise you, and you check me. Test me. It will be in our lifetime," added Salomon.

*Originally aired March 31, 2008.

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Chris Mitchell

CBN News Mideast Bureau Chief

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