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Thread: What happened to the Ark of the Covenant?

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by T.G.G. Moogly View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    The Ark did not "give its people power" even in legend; in the Jewish mythos, it was said to be essentially the calling-card, the emblem, of YHWH, the Jewish God. As such, miraculous events and divine wrath have always been associated with it, and they always carried it into war. But He is and was not constrained by the box, He consented conditionally that His "Name" should dwell in it provided the customs and laws He laid on the Hebrew people were still observed. If they weren't, there was nothing stopping YHWH from withdrawing His name and all its powers from the Ark, City, and People of Judea, as indeed the Hebrew Scriptures record having happened at least twice. Once, when the Phillistines foolishly captured it in battle, and again at the time of the Babylonian captivity. Christians, of course, insist that the execution of Christ marked the final end of God's indwelling in Jerusalem, symbolized by the (alleged) tearing of the curtain that had once shielded the Holy of Holies from public view.
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    Few if any of us believe the Ark had supernatural powers. It might have had special natural powers, but this is not a focus of this thread. For our purpose the Ark was a wooden box significant to the religion of the Israelites which may or may not have been decorated with precious metals.

    In this view, we can assume that an Ark did exist; indeed some writers are concerned with the opposite problem: Were there two or more Arks which have been conflated to make the accounts confusing? Boxes with similar shape and purpose have been attested among Semites and Egyptians, most famously in the tomb of Tutankhamen, successor to the monotheist Akhenaton.

    Assuming Solomon's Temple existed and featured an inner room called the "Holy of Holies", should we not assume that something was placed in that special place? Not a magical device perhaps, nor a throne for a powerful alien named Yahweh but something, if only a wooden box containing a few revered writings or trinkets?

    And if such an inexpensive or interchangeable box went missing, couldn't one of the Kings or High Priests of Judaea have replaced it, perhaps decorating it with gold leaf? Just building the Temple was a big and very expensive project; we can assume the Temple was equipped with lavish furnishings. Here is a description I found on the 'Net:
    In the year 63 BCE, the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, in the process of conquering Israel and all the surrounding territories, entered the most sacred place in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. What he found shocked him. For this temple was different in one crucial respect from all other temples.

    Pompey's incursion was made upon what the Jews called their second temple. The original version of the first temple was supposed to have been a magnificent structure in Jerusalem constructed by Judah's King Solomon on land purchased by his father, King David. No archeological evidence - not one brick - has been found of anything remotely on that scale existing in what appears to have been at the time, the tenth century BCE, a tiny, sleepy kingdom. But by the reign of King Josiah, in the seventh century BCE, a central temple certainly existed in Jerusalem. It was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in 586 B.C. Construction on a new temple began with the return from exile in Babylon in 537 BCE.

    That was the second temple. The sacrifices and purity rituals that were at the center of the Jewish religion were performed in and around such a temple in Jerusalem for more than half a millennium. (Herod, beginning in 19 BCE, built a version that may truly have qualified as magnificent.) And it was into an incarnation of this second temple that Pompey, then perhaps the most powerful man on earth, intruded. "As victor he claimed the right to enter the temple," the Roman historian Tacitus explains. (Tacitus, the only source for this incident, is writing, alas, more than one hundred and sixty years after the fact.)

    The temple's inner sanctum - the Holy of Holies: Yahweh's sanctuary - was supposed to be entered by only one person, the high priest, on only one day a year: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Pompey forced his way in. And here, according to Tacitus, is what Pompey found:

    Nothing. "The sanctuary was empty."
    Deliberately leaving the inner sanctum empty would seem peculiar to me. Had an unimportant object gone missing, it could have been replaced. I think that an "irreplaceable" object had been lost — before the Second Temple was even built — and the Holy of Holies was left empty as a poignant reminder of that loss.

    So if Solomon did place an Ark in the Temple, when did it go missing?

    The most likely solution might be (c) It was confiscated by the 1st Pharaoh of the 22nd dynasty, who treated the "kingdoms" of Judaea etc. as vassals and chose to punish a disloyal king.
    that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem: And he took away the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house; he even took away all:
    What does the original Hebrew look like? "He even took away all"? Doesn't this resemble a euphemism for the mournful "Everything, even the Holiest of Holies."?

    If the Ark was taken away by Egyptians in the 9th century, what happened to it? Was it placed in a special hiding spot as in the Indiana Jones movie? Or was it simply burned or discarded after any precious metals were taken?


    Another likely solution that I will consider in a later post is (j): Priests of Yahweh removed the Ark at a time when King Manasses was desecrating the temple with icons of Yahweh's enemy Ba'al. Surely this would have been a logical action for those priests to take: Yahweh would not want to cohabit with the worshiping of foreign gods.

  3. Top | #23
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    The Ark was already missing in the time of King Josiah

    The Bible doesn't tell us when the Ark disappears — though presumably some of the top people in Jerusalem would have known! Was the loss of the Ark such a sad topic that they wanted to suppress any discussion of it? Did they leave us a clue in scripture?

    It wouldn't be the only time that the Bible's authors preferred to leave a cryptic clue. Genesis Chapter 46 contains a logic puzzle which, when solved, seems to reveal a fact the authors wanted to keep semi-secret: Joseph's wife Asenath was Joseph's own half-niece.

    I am drawn to the description of King Josiah's restoration of the First Temple. The account in 2 Chronicles goes into huge detail, e.g.
    Quote Originally Posted by 2 Chronicles 34:10-18
    And they put [the money] in the hand of the workmen that had the oversight of the house of the Lord, and they gave it to the workmen that wrought in the house of the Lord, to repair and amend the house: Even to the artificers and builders gave they it, to buy hewn stone, and timber for couplings, and to floor the houses which the kings of Judah had destroyed. And the men did the work faithfully: and the overseers of them were Jahath and Obadiah, the Levites, of the sons of Merari; and Zechariah and Meshullam, of the sons of the Kohathites, to set it forward; and other of the Levites, all that could skill of instruments of musick. Also they were over the bearers of burdens, and were overseers of all that wrought the work in any manner of service: and of the Levites there were scribes, and officers, and porters. And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan. And Shaphan carried the book to the king, and brought the king word back again, saying, All that was committed to thy servants, they do it. And they have gathered together the money that was found in the house of the Lord, and have delivered it into the hand of the overseers, and to the hand of the workmen. Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.
    This passage is full of redundancy, and unnecessary detail. Even the overseers of the construction get their one verse of fame, never mentioned again. Yet for the holiest object in the universe all we get is this cryptic mention
    Quote Originally Posted by 2 Chronicles 35:3
    And said unto the Levites that taught all Israel, which were holy unto the Lord, Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel did build; it shall not be a burden upon your shoulders: serve now the Lord your God, and his people Israel,
    ... with only deafening silence about whether the order was even obeyed. This strikes me as exactly what an author might write if he wanted to let us know the Ark was missing, but didn't want to say so explicitly. And, as we shall see, the disappearance of the Ark wouldn't be known to the King and most Judahites until the Levites were unable to obey the command to return it.

    The same story is written up in 2 Kings as well, where the Ark isn't mentioned at all. That account closes with
    Quote Originally Posted by 2 Kings 23:25-28
    And like unto [Josiah] was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him. Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal. And the Lord said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there. Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?
    Despite that Josiah was the most obedient of all Kings, Yahweh casts off his chosen city and the sacred house where his Name resided. Was he abandoning his Ark? Or abandoning the Temple and the whole City because the Ark wasn't there anymore?

    Another much-praised King was Hezekiah, father of Manasses the Heretic, and great-grandfather of Josiah. Was the Ark still in the Temple in Hezekiah's time? So it would seem, e.g.
    Quote Originally Posted by Isaiah 37:14-17
    And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed unto the Lord, saying, O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth. Incline thine ear, O Lord, and hear; open thine eyes, O Lord, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God.
    Yahweh certainly seems to still be where he belongs: in his house and "between the cherubims." And a few verses later we learn that Yahweh did indeed reply to King Hezekiah.

    Contrast this with King Josiah; he gets a message from Yahweh but not directly: it comes via Huldah the Prophetess. When Josiah tries to communicate with Yahweh in the Temple, he "stood by a pillar" rather than approaching the place "between the cherubims." And Yahweh doesn't answer. There's no mention of any cherubim. (These facts are the same in both the 2 Chronicles and the 2 Kings accounts, although 2 Chronicles doesn't mention the "pillar.")

    So, if we take all this on face value, the Ark went missing sometime between the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah. Obviously this tragedy happened in the time of King Manasses, the heretic who desecrated the Temple with icons of Ba'al and other foreign gods.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Be wary of looking around for "secret clues" and ancient conspiracies in Scripture; that way lies madness, and a path well-traveled.
    "Banish me from Eden when you will, but first let me eat of the tree of knowledge."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    Be wary of looking around for "secret clues" and ancient conspiracies in Scripture; that way lies madness, and a path well-traveled.
    Caution is appropriate, but there can still be much of interest in the Bible. I've already mentioned (#2) that Psalm 104 appears to be borrowed from the Hymn to Aten; surely that is a suggestive tidbit. (Are there other copies of that Hymn outside Egypt?)

    Genesis 46 contains apparent arithmetic errors, but if stripped of its verbosity would form an elegant logic puzzle! Find the missing descendant of Jacob. Perhaps it was just arithmetic bungling, but one can still appreciate the (inadvertant?) logic puzzle. Here's an example of how carefully that logic puzzle appears to be constructed:
    Quote Originally Posted by Genesis 46:26
    All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins, besides Jacob's sons' wives, all the souls were threescore and six
    Jacob's son's wives are excluded (redundant?) ... but not Joseph's wife Asenath: she did not "come with Jacob into Egypt": she was already there. If the writer felt the need to exclude the sons' wives, why did he do it in this subtotal, rather than the grand total? (Jacob had one daughter, Dinah. The Bible doesn't explicitly mention any children for her but tells us she was raped.)


    The idea that the Ark was taken away for safe-keeping in the time of Manasses makes sense to me. Why should we assume Pharaoh Shoshank I took it? The inner sanctuary where the Ark was held may have been hard to find, or its doors hard to open. Even if found, the Ark might have been a worthless-looking wooden box.

    And there is a recent archaeological discovery which fits this chronology and may tell us where the Levites took the Ark!
    I'll write about that when I have the energy to compose another long post.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Swammerdami View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    Be wary of looking around for "secret clues" and ancient conspiracies in Scripture; that way lies madness, and a path well-traveled.
    Caution is appropriate, but there can still be much of interest in the Bible. I've already mentioned (#2) that Psalm 104 appears to be borrowed from the Hymn to Aten; surely that is a suggestive tidbit. (Are there other copies of that Hymn outside Egypt?)

    Genesis 46 contains apparent arithmetic errors, but if stripped of its verbosity would form an elegant logic puzzle! Find the missing descendant of Jacob. Perhaps it was just arithmetic bungling, but one can still appreciate the (inadvertant?) logic puzzle. Here's an example of how carefully that logic puzzle appears to be constructed:
    Quote Originally Posted by Genesis 46:26
    All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins, besides Jacob's sons' wives, all the souls were threescore and six
    Jacob's son's wives are excluded (redundant?) ... but not Joseph's wife Asenath: she did not "come with Jacob into Egypt": she was already there. If the writer felt the need to exclude the sons' wives, why did he do it in this subtotal, rather than the grand total? (Jacob had one daughter, Dinah. The Bible doesn't explicitly mention any children for her but tells us she was raped.)


    The idea that the Ark was taken away for safe-keeping in the time of Manasses makes sense to me. Why should we assume Pharaoh Shoshank I took it? The inner sanctuary where the Ark was held may have been hard to find, or its doors hard to open. Even if found, the Ark might have been a worthless-looking wooden box.

    And there is a recent archaeological discovery which fits this chronology and may tell us where the Levites took the Ark!
    I'll write about that when I have the energy to compose another long post.
    There's a difference between noting literary influences and suposing ancient logic puzzles, though. I think people often make the mistake of treating the Scriptures as though they are and were always meant to be a sort of coded message to themselves in the present. The Bible isn't trying to tell you anything, at the end of the day; it was written in many different bursts in phases as you clearly know, and its original audiences are both unknown for the most part and also long dead.
    "Banish me from Eden when you will, but first let me eat of the tree of knowledge."

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    I misled when I labeled my inference a "cryptic clue."

    King Hezekiah visits "between the cherubim" and converses with God. King Josiah cannot do this. The inference is clear, not cryptic at all.

    The verse in 2 Chronicles would seem logical, had the Ark recently gone missing. If not, how do YOU read that mysteriously brief verse?

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    I am definitely no Biblical expert; many of you are probably more knowledgeable than I. I hope one of you picks up the burden and provides a complete list of Jewish Temples. Or at least double-check the following summary:

    (0) Ignore any shrines or tabernacles prior to the First Temple.

    (1) The First Temple, built as early as the 10th century BC, nominally by King Solomon. This Temple was expanded, eg. by Hezekiah, renovated by Josiah, and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

    (2) The Second Temple, built after Cyrus the Great released the Jews from bondage.
    (2a) Herod's Temple, although a major expansion of the 2nd Temple, is not listed separately.

    (3) "The Third Temple" -- a hypothetical future Temple in Jerusalem.

    (4) A Temple built at Elephantine, Egypt while the First Temple still stood.

    (5a, 5b, 5c) Ignore for now any conjectured shrines or tabernacles built after the Second Temple was built.

    Experts? Is this List correct and complete?

    ETA: Supporting an early construction of the Elephantine Temple:
    http://www.ancientsudan.org/articles...ephantine.html

    Most scholars support the suggestion that the Jews settled in Elephantine during the reign of Psammetichusis I. Out of three succeeding Judean kings, contemporary with Psammetichusis I, Manasseh is thought most likely to have been the Judean king who dispatched the Jewish troops that settled at Elephantine.

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