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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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ARK . This word, from Lat. arca , ‘a chest,’ is the rendering of two Hebrew words, of which one ( tçbhâh , probably a loan-word) is applied both to the basket of bulrushes in which the infant Moses was exposed, and to the ark built by Noah (see Deluge). The other ( ’ÇŽrôn , the native word for box or chest, 2 Kings 12:10 f.), is used for a mummy-case or coffin ( Genesis 50:26 ), and in particular for the sacred ark of the Hebrews.

Ark of the Covenant

1 . Names of the ark . Apart from the simple designation ‘the ark’ found in all periods of Heb. literature, the names of the ark, more than twenty in number, fall into three groups, which are characteristic ( a ) of the oldest literary sources, viz. Samuel and the prophetical narratives of the Hexateuch; ( b ) of Deuteronomy and the writers influenced by Dt.; and ( c ) of the Priests’ Code and subsequent writings. In ( a ) we find chiefly ‘the ark of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ,’ doubtless the oldest name of all, and ‘the ark of God’; in ( b ) the characteristic title is ‘the ark of the covenant’ alone or with the additions ‘of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ,’ ‘of God,’ etc. a contraction for ‘the ark or chest containing the tables of the covenant’ ( Deuteronomy 9:9 ff.), and therefore practically ‘the ark of the Decalogue’; in ( c ) the same conception of the ark prevails (see below), but as the Decalogue is by P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] termed ‘the testimony,’ the ark becomes ‘the ark of the testimony.’ All other designations are expansions of one or other of the above.

2 . History of the ark . The oldest Pentateuch sources (J [Note: Jahwist.] , E [Note: Elohist.] ) are now silent as to the origin of the ark, but since the author of Deuteronomy 10:1-6 had one or both of these before him, it may be assumed that its construction was there also assigned to Moses in obedience to a Divine command. It certainly played an important part in the wanderings ( Numbers 10:33 ff; Numbers 14:44 ), and in the conquest of Canaan ( Joshua 3:3 ff; Joshua 6:6 f.), and finally found a resting-place in the temple of Shiloh under the care of a priestly family claiming descent from Moses ( 1 Samuel 3:3 ). After its capture by the Philistines and subsequent restoration, it remained at Kiriathjearim ( 1 Samuel 4:1 to 1 Samuel 7:1 ), until removed by David, first to the house of Obed-edom, and thereafter to a specially erected tent in his new capital ( 2 Samuel 6:10 ff.). Its final home was the inner sanctuary of the Temple of Solomon ( 1 Kings 8:1 ff.). Strangely enough, there is no further mention of the ark in the historical books. Whether it was among ‘the treasures of the house of the Lord’ carried off by Shishak ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 930), or whether it was still in its place in the days of Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 3:16 f.) and was ultimately destroyed by the soldiers of Nebuchadrezzar (587 b.c.), it is impossible to say. There was no ark in the Temples of Zerubbabel and Herod.

3 . The significance of the ark . In attempting a solution of this difficult problem, we must, as in the foregoing section, leave out of account the late theoretical conception of the ark to be found in the Priests’ Code (see Tabernacle), and confine our attention to the oldest sources. In these the ark a simple chest of acacia wood, according to Deuteronomy 10:3 is associated chiefly with the operations of war, in which it is the representative of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , the God of the armies of Israel. Its presence on the field of battle is the warrant of victory ( 1 Samuel 4:3 ff., cf. 2 Samuel 11:11 ), as its absence is the explanation of defeat ( Numbers 14:44 ). Its issue to and return from battle are those of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] Himself ( Numbers 10:35 f.). So closely, indeed, is the ark identified with the personal presence of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] in the oldest narratives (see, besides the above, 1Sa 6:20 , 2 Samuel 6:7 f., 2 Samuel 6:14 ), that one is tempted to identify it with that mysterious ‘presence’ of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] which, as a fuller manifestation of the Deity than even the ‘angel of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ,’ was Israel’s supreme guide in the wilderness wanderings ( Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:2 compared with Exodus 33:14 f., Deuteronomy 4:37 , and Isaiah 63:9 , where read ‘neither a messenger nor an angel, but his presence delivered them’). The ark was thus a substitute for that still more complete Presence (EV [Note: English Version.] ‘face’) which no man can see and live.

Under the prophetic teaching Israel gradually outgrew this naive and primitive, not to say fetish-like, conception, and in the 7th cent. we first find the ark spoken of as the receptacle for the tables of the Decalogue (Deuteronomy 10:2 ff.). Apart from other difficulties attending this tradition, it is quite inadequate to explain the extreme reverence and, to us, superstitious dread with which the ark is regarded in the narratives of Samuel. Hence many modern scholars are of opinion that the stone tables of the Deuteronomic tradition have taken the place of actual fetish stones, a view which it is impossible to reconcile with the lofty teaching of the founder of Israel’s religion.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ark'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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