God and Science – Part IV

As you probably know, from following my God and Science Posts, a television program inspired this line of posts. The impetus behind the program was the question: Can science and mathematics prove the existence of God?

The premise fell apart during the 3rd portion of the program, which dealt with the Ark of the Covenant. Actually the segments were interwoven throughout and not presented linearly like I’ve done with the blog. However, when it came to the Ark, information on what the Ark was and where, if still in existence, the artifact might be, was presented alone, without science being involved, which left the conflict lacking. Those of you, who write, especially fiction authors, know that within the conflict the tension lives and, therefore, the seed of interest. Having admitted to the lack of that important element, I’ll continue.

The word Ark appears throughout the Bible, carrying different meanings. It seems the Ark of the Covenant, also known as the Ark of the Testimony, was designated with the Hebrew word arown, which means chest, or coffer. God commanded Moses to construct the Ark, giving detailed instructions, during the time that the Israelites were wandering the desert, while they were camped at Sinai. Following the instructions, Bezalel, who built the entire tabernacle – the portable Temple used while wandering the desert – constructed the Ark, a box approximately 4’ long and 2.5’ wide, from acaia wood, which was then covered, inside and out, with pure gold. Four gold rings were attached, through which two poles, also made of acacia wood and coated in gold, were inserted and used to carry the Ark. The kapporet, or propitiatory, which covered the Ark was also made of pure gold and adorned with two cherubim that faced each other with their wings spread so that they touched between them, forming the oracle, the holy part of the Ark where God spoke to Moses.

The Ark probably contained the original stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, which were broken by Moses, the second tablets, which remained intact, and possibly the staff of Aaron. However, the Ark had additional purposes. Not only did God use the Ark to communicate with Moses, bot also as an indicator of when he wanted the nation to travel, and when to stop, throughout the nation’s time in the desert. The Ark also accompanied the Israelites into battle, one of the most famous being Jericho, where the priests carried the Ark around the city for seven days. After that, when the trumpets were blown, the walls of the city crumbled, allowing the Israelites to occupy the Promised Land.

After the conquest, a tabernacle was erected in Shiloh where the Ark remained until the battles with the Philistines under the priesthood of Eli. During these battles, the Ark was taken by the Philistines and placed in the temple of their god, Dagon in the city of Ashdod. The next day, the Philistines found the idol of Dagon fallen on its face. They replaced the statue upright. However, the next day the idol was again found fallen and this time also decapitated. Not long after these events, the city of Ashdod was struck by a plague. The Philistines then moved the Ark to the city of Gath, and from there to Ekron where similar tragedy befell the inhabitants. Seven months later, the Philistines took the Ark back to the Israelites, leaving it in the city of Beit Shemesh. From Beit Shemesh, the Ark was transported to Kiryat Yearim, where it remained until King David took it to Jerusalem. David’s son, Solomon, built the First Temple where the Ark remained until the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian empire under the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar around 586 BC.

What happened to the Ark after the destruction of the First Temple is a mystery. It would seem likely that it was taken by the Babylonians. However, the Babylonians made detailed lists of things taken during the raid and the Ark was not listed. As to why they would not take it, serves another mystery. Perhaps they knew of what had happened to the Philistines. According to some sources, King Josiah, who ruled during the period, learned of the impending invasion and hid the Ark either in a hole dug on the Temple Mount, or a cave near the Dead Sea. In another interesting possibility, Ethiopian Christians claim the location of the Ark is no mystery because they know where it is: Hidden in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion in Axum, Ethiopia, and guarded by a monk known as “The Keeper of the Ark.” According to the Ethiopian’s, they acquired the Ark during the reign of King Solomon, when Solomon’s son, Menelik, whose mother was the Queen of Sheba, took it after a visit to Jerusalem.