Probing Question: Is the Ark of the Covenant real?

September 24, 2009 By Solmaz Barazesh
Probing Question: Is the Ark of the Covenant real?
Replica of the Ark of the Covenant in the Royal Arch Room of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Credit Ben Schumin

When you hear the words "Ark of the Covenant" what comes to mind? For some, Steven Spielberg’s film "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" provides the most vivid pop-culture reference to this mysterious sacred object.

The quest to find the real Ark has inspired generations of adventurers and Hollywood directors, but the trail has always gone cold.
Is the Ark of the Covenant real?

"Different people will give you different answers to that question," said Baruch Halpern, Penn State professor of ancient , classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, and religious studies. "The Ark is a regular feature in the Old Testament, making several appearances in the first five books of the . There are many consistent references to the Ark, and when you add it all up, it seems like the Ark was a real article."

According to scriptural accounts, Halpern said, the Ark is a box made from acacia wood, covered in gold and used as a container for the stone blocks bearing the Ten Commandments. Said to have been built at God’s command, the Ark is believed to measure about 4 feet by 2 feet by 2.5 feet and features gold rings on the two long sides that hold the wooden poles used to carry it.

The top surface of the Ark is decorated with two cherubim, or angels, who crouch facing each other with wings outstretched, forming a seat. Believers say God himself occupies that seat, while the Ark served as a footstool, Halpern said.

There are references in other ancient texts of similar "containers" used to transport sacred relics, and the image of God sitting on the wings of cherubim with his feet resting on the Ark below fits with depictions of ancient kings, he said.

"It’s also important to note that it wasn’t just the Ark being carried into battle. YHWH, the name accorded the god of Israel in much of the Bible and later literature, accompanies the Ark into battle, giving it miraculous power," Halpern said.

There are many references to the awesome power of the Ark, he said. Various Bible stories describe how, during the exodus of the Israelites, the power of the Ark parted the river Jordan to allowing the people to pass. During the siege of Jericho, the Ark was toted around the city walls in a seven day procession accompanied by seven priests sounding seven trumpets - and made the city walls come tumbling down. The ferocity of the Ark was so great that it had to be covered by a veil while being carried around, and could bring misfortune and tragedy on those who disrespected it.

Despite the powers it was said to possess, the Ark was eventually lost to the sands of time. The last Biblical mention of the Ark comes when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and plundered the temple where the Ark was stored, Halpern said. After this point, the fate of the Ark is the subject of much speculation.
One theory is that the Ark was captured by an Egyptian pharaoh, a tale that gave rise to the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie plot. Another possibility is that the Ark was hidden by priests under the Temple Mount for safekeeping, or spirited away to an unknown site before the Babylonians even arrived in Jerusalem. Other suggestions are that the Ark was removed by divine intervention, taken by an Ethiopian prince, or destroyed in battle.

"They’re all fantasy, and we’ll never really know which one is true," Halpern said. "Some theories seem more plausible than others. Was the Ark hidden from the Babylonians? Unlikely. Did the Babylonians take it? That theory is more probable."

Like Indiana Jones, some real-life scholar-adventurers are on the trail of the Ark, with one researcher claiming to have found the remnants of the Ark stored in a library in Zimbabwe. Could this be true?

In some ways, the story of the Ark is similar to other Judeo-Christian religious relics such as the Shroud of Turin and Noah’s Ark, Halpern said. "You have to remember why this scripture was written in the first place, and see the Ark’s symbolic power to people as a sacred object. If you try to over-explain it, you lose the power of the story."

Provided by Pennsylvania State University (news : web)

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3.6 / 5 (10) Sep 24, 2009
myth... next article! There wasn't even any real science involved in this article. Why it was posted I'll never know
Sep 24, 2009
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Sep 24, 2009
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4.2 / 5 (6) Sep 24, 2009
The Ark, a sacred Box, was a common religious artefact of the Middle Bronze for all the cultures of the Levant. Would be very odd if the Israelites didn't have one if they arose in the Middle Bronze - and very odd if they did have one and arose later.

Of course archeology is science. Typical 'atheist' arrogance to call it 'myth', even if much of the Tanakh is 'myth' and legend. But the job of historical research, via the scientific method, is disentangling the threads of historical fact, mythical tale-spinning and contemporaneous tendentious reportage. And the Ark is, as Baruch Halpern rightly emphasises, well-attested as a real object.
4.7 / 5 (9) Sep 24, 2009
When dealing with any topic of importance in the sciences the first thing a person should do is throw all Hollywood nonsense into the trash. Hollywood debases and insults everything and should never be invoked in any academic or scientific discussion. Other opinions may vary.
3.5 / 5 (4) Sep 24, 2009
"The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims to possess the Ark of the Covenant" (Wikipedia, under "ark of the covenant") The case made by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is surprisingly detailed and believable. If nothing else, it is fun research. However, if, as they claim, they will reveal the ark when the time is right, its discovery will be earth-shattering. Or at least it will shatter the claims of the higher critics who suggest that nothing of Jewish history is particularly valid prior to King Josiah.
1 / 5 (4) Sep 25, 2009
Could we ever come to believe there exists an inteligence greater than our own?
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 25, 2009
Could we ever come to believe there exists an intelligence greater than our own?

We should do that some day, as it does follow the natural order of things. Darwinian or otherwise. As an example the potentials within the intelligence of the cetaceans. Are they merely of a different type of intelligence?

Our internalization of manipulable digits as forming our own orientation and basis, and thus our forming of test protocols for testing their intelligence could be severely coloring any test regimen from it's very origins.

The idea of 'cognitive function' being solely and specifically a human orientation and polarization or the sole vector describing intelligence is patently absurd when viewed with clear eyes,and thus we may be dismissing the intelligence of the cetaceans as we don't even know how to test them, they being with differing foundations.

It is a difficult and complex question at best and curtailing human emotions in the musing is key.
4.3 / 5 (4) Sep 25, 2009
Since most ppl believe they know everything ,,,I'd say no! It just makes them lose their smugness at being the all-knowing.
Nice article, I enjoy religious history.
not rated yet Sep 25, 2009
Yes, more intelligence than our own, but GREATER goodness and truth than our own above all...
4 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2009
Sadly the picture depicts _our_ understanding of cherubim and not the historical one. Many archeological sites in the Middle East have cherubim guarding doors or passages. They are lions with wings and human heads.
3 / 5 (2) Sep 25, 2009
potentials within the intelligence of the cetaceans. Are they merely of a different type of intelligence?
Interesting. Perhaps the whales and porpoise are in shared mental communication with a cosmic super-intelligence? They've been tolerating humanity to now within their incomprehensible (to us) ethical system, but for how long?
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 25, 2009

Why didn't this article get posted in every science magazine from scientific american to 'Science' nad 'Nature' and posted on websites like this?

Why don't we talk about "The Bible Unearthed" even though it actually didn't bring up anything new to those who new about that stuff for decades before that books publishing?

Why don't we talk about 'The Jesus Puzzle' which oh by the way shows numerous passages throughout the new testament that Paul and others 'derived' jesus(his and their jesus, and not the Jeusus of the gospels which are silent on the quotes of Jesus in the gospels) from 'scripture'? I'm not sure that the old testament derives the ark of the covenant from 'scripture'; but, I do know that the ark of the covenant was a 'sign' from god as well as the covenant of god to everybody in the old testament; point is, (next entry to this thread)
2 / 5 (5) Sep 25, 2009
everything in the old testament seems to be a 'sign' from heaven; in other words; astrology. Why don't we talk about all the evidences that Jesus is just a sun god; jesus is the son/sun of god who goes through the twelves constellations(the twelve apostles); walks on water just like the sun, wears a halo just like the sun(solar eclipse)

I'll tell you why! Because America(and really the world will become in due time) is the Roman empire; each American school really, much less than just the universities, are the city of alexandria. That's clue enough to what I'm pointing at for anybody who's watched Carl Sagan's "Cosmos"(or read it).
5 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2009
bfast, the Eastern Orthodox Church claims to have pieces of the One True Cross. I just saw a video on NASA TV with prelaunch preparations for a launch to the ISS. A priest was there, gave the cosmonaut a silver cross containing a sliver.

I wasn't speaking to anyone at the time, but if I had been, I'd have been speechless.

The search for these illusive relics, it seems to me, doesn't contribute either to religion, or to science, or to archeology. If one day they are found, great. In the meantime the speculation that goes on is nothing better than tabloid sensationalism.
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 25, 2009
The ark would just be a box without the religious context. Therefore I submit that 'the ark' is not the artifact itself but the definition which gives it meaning. This definition can be considered as existing separate from the artifact in question; and as such, per the site guidelines, cannot therefore be discussed IMHumanO.
"Typical 'atheist' arrogance to call it 'myth'" -Religious discussion
"Could we ever come to believe there exists an inteligence greater than our own?" -Religious discussion
"Since most ppl believe they know everything" -Religious discussion
"I'm not sure that the old testament derives the ark of the covenant from 'scripture';" -Religious discussion
-Or maybe this is some kind of contest... In which case the comments above would have failed and this one would be the only one left. Its ok, otto is used to Victory.
3.3 / 5 (3) Sep 25, 2009
It would be funny -- at least to me -- if the ark was indeed preserved and intact -- inside of a hidden room in the sphinx, after all the sphix is in the shape of a cherubim.
not rated yet Sep 25, 2009
bfast, the Eastern Orthodox Church claims to have pieces of the One True Cross.
Reference? There are bits and pieces of the 'true cross' scattered throughout Xiandom ever since Constantines mom brought it back from Palestine; enough wood for many stout trees.
-Question is, whyd they cut it up?
Luckily the Spear which Pierced the Belly of Christ and So Confers the Power to Rule the World' is safe and intact in Austria.
4 / 5 (2) Sep 25, 2009
@el nose
Yah, I would like to see that box even at the risk of electricity thru the eyeballs. Egypt-wise, there are oddly many authentic obelisks plundered from the sandy ruins and erected in front of Xian churches around the world. There is one in front of St john Lateran in Rome (the popes personal church), and of course the one in Vatican square which has a fragment of the Cross on top. And repros- the Washington Monument. Why the pagan heretical symbolism in front of the holiest churches, unless to show the continuity between the Egyptian religion and the current one? One religion- one Empire.
not rated yet Sep 25, 2009
Yes, more intelligence than our own, but GREATER goodness and truth than our own above all...
If you think about 'goodness' after awhile you may come to the conclusion that it is a wholly relative phoenomenon in this world. The people who carried the ark into battle slaughtered and plundered without remourse because their god told them it was ok. And in truth this region was purportedly the source of the Sea People which threw the eastern Mediterranean into a dark age through their own rampaging, in search of food.

Overpopulation makes good and evil relative to you and your enemies. It makes the definition itself inevitable. Without overpop there would be no hell below us, above us only sky. It explains the ark and the proprietary gods behind it.
3 / 5 (2) Sep 25, 2009
This is more of an encyclopedia article that news.

If the rings for carrying it were gold the thing couldn't have been very heavy could it? How thin could they have made the wood? Would a gold alloy need to be very thick to support a big wooden box and stone tablets (not to mention the weight of God's feet and the angels supporting his backside)?
not rated yet Sep 25, 2009
Did anyone spot that the illustration didn't match the description? It says that the cherubims wings form a seat and that god sat on the wings and used the ark as a foot stool. So the wings should extend forwards (horizontally) as if the cherubims were reaching out to each other. I seem to remember egyptian figures in this pose.
Sep 26, 2009
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not rated yet Sep 26, 2009
Also since the original word in I Peter 2:24, seems to mean that Jesus was crucified on a "tree". The quantity described by Calvin, "...of fragments of the true cross were scattered among the Christian churches in his time, that they would load a large ship." Some wood is just wood, whether part of a box or post or whatnot.

I also read somewhere, and I dont have the reference, that the original menorah from the Davids Temple was burned because it was too big to move [-?] and turned out to be gold-coated lead. I dont think this was denigration either I remember thinking at the time that it seemed authentic, given as an example of superior workmanship being more valuable than the substance worked. I'll look-
not rated yet Sep 26, 2009
Sorry, the 2nd paragraph in my comment above was in reference to Seans comment "If the rings for carrying it were gold..."
Sep 26, 2009
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Sep 26, 2009
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Sep 28, 2009
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not rated yet Sep 28, 2009
The old testament stories do not have more or less historical weight than, say, the Iliad, another bronze-age story with a historical event intermingled with stories about divine entities. Of course there was some moveable box with various religious artefacts -it is just a large-scale version of amulets and other religiously charged icons. Of course it was looted by the Babylonians, along with any similar religious artefacts from other conquered nations in the region. It would either have been broken up for the gold and silver, or looted in turn by the Persians. If it survived that, it would have been looted again by Alexander's greek troops and the gold melted down to finance the endless wars between the various hellenistic rulers.
Sep 28, 2009
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not rated yet Sep 29, 2009
Of course there was some moveable box
There 'may' have been an original box or one fabricated to support the legend. But given the fact that exhaustive archeology has produced no evidence for Abraham, Moses, David, Saul, or Joshua, and much evidence against their existance as anything beyond bronze age tribal chieftans or myths(no record of that either only small hilltop villages and Goshen settlements) I wouldnt say 'of course' anything. There was however a walled city named Troy.
not rated yet Oct 02, 2009
as with all gold over time, it was melted by whoever owned it when they needed raw gold. if it wasn't melted, then it must have been lost or buried in a lost tomb, and is still waiting to be found.

the idea that someone has kept this treasure in its orginal form for thousands of years is bollocks. how many 3 thousand year old treasures of gold do we know of that are currently in existence, and of those, how many were actively kept , rather than buried or lost.
when you add up all the sunken gold treasureships, the tomba of egypt, the etc. etc...the answer is close to none. gold treasure is money, and money, if not lost, gets used, stolen and used, and in the case of gold, sometimes lost until found. you could bury 10 trillion dollars of 1 dollar bills and there'd be NO trace of it after a couple hundred years. bury one ounce of gold and it lasts....practically forever.

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