Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ark of the Covenant


    You shall hang the curtain under the clasps, and bring the ark of the covenant in there, within the curtain; and the curtain shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy.
    Bible: Hebrew, Exodus 26:33.

From the raised altar of a secret temple in South America to a haunted ceremonial mass, Indiana Jones lives life in constant, non-stop, globe-trotting escapades and Raiders of the Lost Ark is a movie filled with snakes, secrets and adventures. At the heart of the tale is the search for a biblical artifact and treasure called The Ark of the Covenant. Aside from the Hollywood panache, what makes the film electrifying is how closely it imitates the authentic search for the lost Ark.

History has it that the original Ark was where God manifested His presence on earth beginning in the days of Moses. The Ark is famous for its inexplicable powers. According to the Bible, when the Israelites carried the Ark into battle, it protected them supernaturally by conquering any enemies that came before them. Hence the reason why the Nazi's in Raiders of the Lost Ark were intent on taking it. As the story line goes the Nazis believe they would be invincible if they possessed the Ark and could control its mysterious powers. Naturally, as both the motion picture and the past would have it, things didn't quite work out for the Nazis.

    "But what of the Ark?" asks WorldNet Daily columnist Dr. Kelly Hollowell." It is believed to have disappeared with the destruction of the First Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in 586 B.C. The exact whereabouts of the Ark have remained a mystery ever since.

    One theory is that the Ark was taken from ancient Jerusalem by Prince Menelik of Ethiopia. Menelik was the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Menelik purportedly brought the Ark to his country for safekeeping where it currently remains housed in a church in Axum.

    Another theory is that the Ark was hidden in a secret chamber housed beneath Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The alleged secret chamber was created by either King Solomon, who built the First Temple, or a subsequent king before the temple was plundered by Nebuchadnezzar.

    One version of this theory suggests that in the early 12th century a group of nine Frenchmen known as the original Knights Templars (sic) excavated beneath the site of the old Temple of Jerusalem. They retrieved the true Ark of the Covenant and secreted it away.

    A second more popular version suggests the Ark is still located in a vault somewhere in the miles of tunnels carved beneath the city of Jerusalem. It is believed the location of the Ark will be revealed when the time is right for the Jewish Temple to be built for the third time. "

Many Christian theologians of the Old Testament agree that the Ark was probably captured when Jerusalem fell around 586 B.C.E, and nothing is known of its later history. They do hint about a later legend reporting that Jeremiah rescued it and hid it on Mount Nebo (2 Maccabees 2:4-8: but cf. Jeremiah 3:16) The English word ark translated two Hebrew words that differ from each other both in form and usage, though Septuagint employs one Greek word (kibötos) for both.

Tëbâ not only describes the papyrus basket in which Moses as an infant was left to float among the bulrushes of the Nile, but it is also used in the Bible solely to designate the vessel that God commanded Noah to build of gopher wood, a wood not mentioned elsewhere. 1 2 Meaning box or chest the tëbâ was to be big enough to hold one representative human family along with one pair of every species of animals. 3 A variation on this narration tell of seven pairs of clean animals, enough for the sacrifice after the Flood, and one pair of unclean animals. 4 These would ride out the deluge of the wrath of God. The description of Noah's Ark in Genesis 6 is difficult for even the most ardent scholar to understand. George A.F. Knight, retired professor and one co-author of The Oxford Companion to the Bible explains, "Its dimensions, roughly 140 m (450 ft) long, 22m (75 ft ) wide, and 12m (45 ft) high, make it literally a very large box. The ark had three decks and also naturally a door. An opening, about .5m (18in) high apparently ran all around the ark just below the roof and gave light and air to the vessel. There are certain points of resemblance," adds the professor, "but more of dissimilarity between Noah's ark and Utnapishtim's gigantic boat of the Gilgamesh flood story." As an interesting aside, Noah's Ark foretells baptism in Peter 3: 20-21.

Apart from the practice of designating a coffin and a chest for the gathering of alms, årôn is used to name the sacred box that is named variously as the Ark of God, the Ark of the Lord,, the Ark of the Covenant, and so on. The facts and figures about this Ark come from different sources and eras. Rectangular in form, the box or chest, says Professor Knight, "measured about 1 by .7 by .7 m (45 by 27 by 27 in), and made of acacia or shittim wood. "

Across the ages the Ark became more and more venerated because it represented the existence of the living God at one exact spot on earth because the God who dwelled "in the high and holy place" was also there at the ark in the middle of his people. Consequently, later generations embroidered their imagery of it in their way of life, observing it as covered with gold both inside and out; it could be transported on gilded poles that passed through rings on its side. 5 It was held to be so sacred that if an unauthorized person were to touch it, even by chance, this infringement would be punishable by death. 6

At one time the Ark only housed the two tablets of the law, but other traditions tell that it also contained Aaron's rod that budded and an urn made of gold that contained manna. 7 8 9

Other Biblical stories relate that the Ark experienced a variety of fortunes at different times in the history of Israel. During the wanderings through the wilderness it was carried by the sons of Levi; safeguarded by priests across the Jordan river; captured by the Philistines and brought to Jerusalem by David 10 11 12 13 14 15 Following a period of time in a tent like sanctuary, it was finally placed in the holiest chamber of Solomon's Temple.

There was a lid or cover on the Ark and its name is really a theological term kappôret which can be compared to kippër meaning "to purify or atone." No one really knows what the lid looked like. 16 In his German Bible Martin Luther describes it as the mercy seat because the Lord "sat" enthroned over it in mercy, present yet invisible at the wing tips of two cherubim who guarded the divine presence. George A. F. Knight summarizes, "So the ark represented for Israel the localized presence of God in judgment, mercy and love; and because it contained the Ten Commandments, it was a visible reminder that their life was to be lived in obedience to the expressed will of God. Since the Ten Commandments were incised on stone as to last for all time. Israel carried in her midst God's demands for total loyalty and obedience to himself and for the social justice and love of neighbor."

The quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant continues while the world waits with bated breath. To believers, the Ark is the legendary vessel holding the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments and the Bible includes hundreds of references of the Ark's power to topple mountains, level armies, and lay waste to cities then ceases to exist in recorded history after the building of the Temple of Solomon. What will the religious, political and scientific implications and consequences be if it is found? And where is the lost Ark of the Covenant that no one but Levites could have had possession of without being killed? How far could it have actually gone from its last known location in Jerusalem? Will there be a battle with Nazis and averted eyes when it's opened? And-- if opening the Ark brings down the wrath of God, what would happen if it was just x-rayed? So many questions!

Sources:

Hollowell, Kelly J.D., Ph.D. Ark of the Covenant's discovery imminent?:
WorldNet Daily
Accessed October 1, 2005.

Holy Bible (NRSV)

Oxford Companion to the Bible, Russell Fuller and Bruce Metzger, author; George A. F. Knoght, edited by Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p .55-56.

Picture Source

Waysman , Dvora . The Race For The Lost Ark :
The Jewish Press,:
Accessed October 1, 2005.

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