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The Bible’s Biggest Unsolved Mysteries

The Bible is a book of answers, as many of us have been taught. And, yeah, for millennia now, the Bible has served as a source of peace and comfort for those struggling.

That said, the Bible is not a dictionary, a text book or a manual. It’s an ancient library with many different authors, covering centuries of art, history, theology, prophecy and correspondence. That means that a lot of it exists in tension — something for us to wrestle with. If all you’re looking for is answers, that can be frustrating. But if you like a good story and want a book you can really engage with, even if it doesn’t check every box on your personal checklist, then the Bible definitely delivers.

There are plenty of mysteries in the Bible. Who were the Nephilim? What does “Selah” really mean? What do all of John’s visions on Patmos actually signify? And, well, here are a few more of our favorites.

Where Is the Ark of the Covenant?

The Raiders of the Lost Ark Mcguffin is actually a real mystery. The Israelites built the ark per God’s own specifications as a place to store their holiest objects, such as the Ten Commandments. After Solomon built a temple for God, the Ark was placed within for safe keeping. But then the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and it’s been missing ever since.

Theories as to where it ended up abound. One prominent one is that the Ark was safely smuggled out of Jerusalem and into Egypt by Solomon and Queen Sheba’s secret son well before the Babylonians attacked. From there, it may have moved to Ethiopia where, according to legend, it remains today. A monastery in Aksum claims that it actually has the Ark today but, just one slight hiccup, no one is allowed to see it. One monk is selected to spent his life in the Ark’s compound, praying over it until he dies and someone else picks up where he left off. So is the Ark actually in there? The only person who knows for sure is sitting there now, and won’t ever come out.

Read Paul Raffe’s fascinating investigation into the Aksum monastery here.

When Was Jesus Actually Born?

In a perfect world, Jesus’ birth year would be a straightforward Year Zero. But alas, this world is not perfect, which is why he was born in the first place.

The Bible has plenty of clues as to Jesus’ real birth year. The Bible says it took place during a Roman census mandated by Herod, and history tells us there was a census in Judea around 6 AD. Unfortunately, Herod had died around 10 years earlier, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact year. Most scholars believe sometime between 4 and 7 AD is the most likely range — which also puts the birth of Jesus around three years before both the appearance of Haley’s Comet and the convergence of Saturn and Jupiter. Either of those celestial marvels could have been the “star” that alerted the wisemen to the presence of Jesus.

Where is the Holy Grail?

The Holy Grail — the cup Jesus drank from at the Lost Supper — has always been a subject of fascination for the Church. However, its existence is a bit more speculative. It’s easy to see why the Ark of the Covenant might have bene preserved for millennia, but it’s less clear that anyone in Jerusalem would have thought to hold on to Jesus’ cup for safekeeping. Still, it’s the source of dozens of legends. If you’re familiar with your Indiana Jones, you know of the legend that the Knights Templar took the grail to the Holy Land. There’s currently one in Valencia, Spain that has been legitimized by its use by two different Popes. (Next time you’re in Spain, you can go check it out.)

But a new challenger approaches! In 2014, two historians identified a cup in León, Spain, as the true grail. It’s the right age, spent several centuries in Basilica of San Isidoro and appears to match our oldest written descriptions of what the grail looked like. And it’d just been sitting in a basement since the 1950s so, who knows for sure? No one. Just don’t drink from it if you’re not absolutely sure

Where Is Noah’s Ark?

“I don’t know of any expedition that ever went looking for the ark and didn’t find it.” That’s a quote from Paul Zimansky, an archaeologist who specializes in the Middle East. That speaks to just how rapid — and rash — these ark expeditions can be.

See Also

Many Christians believe the boat’s final resting place is in Turkey, hidden somewhere on the treacherous Mount Ararat. A quick Google search will show you any number of satellite images and 3D imaging that claims to show a suspiciously boat-like structure somewhere in Ararat’s many crevices and caverns. Feel free to believe any of them you like.

However, many biblical scholars believe Noah’s Ark is probably long gone. In the immediate aftermath of the flood, timber would have been in short supply and it’s easy to imagine Noah and his family chopping the ark up for firewood and lumber. But don’t worry. There’s always Williamston, Kentucky.

Who Wrote the Book of Hebrews?

For centuries, it was widely assumed that Paul wrote Hebrews, just as he wrote most of the New Testament epistles. However, more recent scholarship has cast severe doubt on that theory.

The writing style differs from Paul at key points, and mysterious author writes that “salvation had its beginning when it was spoken of by the Lord, and it was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” This would suggest a “second-generation” Christian, while Paul always referred to himself as an apostle of equal standing with the original twelve. The author also refers to Timothy as a “brother,” while Paul usually referred to him as a “son.” This makes Paul’s authorship pretty unlikely, though it seems clear that it was someone close to Paul. But who?

Some scholars suggest Luke, Barnabas or — Martin Luther’s pet theory — Apollos — all early leaders among the Early Church. One intriguing theory proposed by German biblical scholar Adolf Harnack is that Hebrews was actually co-authored by the influential husband and wife duo of Aquilla and Priscilla, with the bulk of writing done by Priscilla. It’s certainly possible, but as the author declined to sign the letter, we just don’t know.

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