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"The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions. An army which carries the Ark before it is invincible."
Marcus Brody[src]

The Ark of the Covenant or The Ark is a Biblical artifact. According to the Bible, the Ark was a wooden chest used by the ancient Hebrews to carry the Ten Commandments, the budded staff of Aaron, and a pot of manna.

Long sought by archaeologists and treasure-hunters, the Ark was rumored to possess great supernatural powers that caught the interest of Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler, who was willing to overlook its Jewish origins to take control of the relic's abilities.


"The Ark. If it is there at Tanis, then it is something that man was not meant to disturb. Death has always surrounded it. It is not of this Earth."
Sallah to Indiana Jones[src]

Around 1400 BC,[1] after the Ten Commandments were smashed by Moses, the pieces were collected in the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-gilded wooden chest constructed under instruction from God and carried before the Hebrews on their march towards the Promised Land.[2]

When the Hebrews settled in Canaan, they placed the Ark in the Temple of Solomon where it stayed until around 980 BC when the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak raided the Temple and took the Ark with him to the city of Tanis.[2] Following a series of dreams in which he was visited by Osiris urging him to hide it from the eyes of the sun god Amun-Ra, Shishak had the Ark placed inside the Well of the Souls. A Map Room was built so that only Ra could know the Ark's whereabouts but a year later the Israelites' God saw to it that Tanis itself was buried in a sandstorm and the Ark was lost to the passage of time.[3]

Adolf Hitler became interested in acquiring the Ark and its fabled powers in order to achieve world domination. In 1936, when US agents Colonel Musgrove and Major Eaton discovered Hitler's plan through an intercepted German communique sent from Cairo, they consulted Indiana Jones and his friend Marcus Brody about the artifact. Jones explained some of the history of the Ark to the government men, showing them a depiction of the Ark's destructive power after which Brody noted that any army which carried the Ark before it would be invincible. Eaton and Musgrove subsequently hired Jones to find the Ark before the Nazis. Although the archaeologist managed to acquire the Ark out from under the German expedition, it was later captured by Nazis nonetheless.[2]

Indiana Jones and Sallah find the Ark.

The Ark changed hands between Indy and the Nazis several times before the Nazis took the Ark to a secret island base near Crete. After René Emile Belloq performed a Hebrew ritual, the Ark was opened. Inside was sand, all that was left of the Ten Commandments. While Belloq looked upon the sand with an anguished expression on his face, a sudden screeching noise drew his attention. Moments later, a power surge from the Ark disabled all the lights, electronics and weapons in the vicinity, some blowing up in the soldiers' hands.[2]

Ghostly apparitions emerged from within and swarmed playfully about the Nazis before adopting a more sinister tone; the spirits transformed their appearances from angelic beings into monstrous abominations. Rooted to the spot with fear, the Nazis beheld a pillar of holy fire rising from the Ark and coalescing around Belloq before shooting bolts of fiery energy through the assembled soldiers, killing them.. The Ark then turned its full and terrible wrath onto Belloq and his cohorts: Colonel Herman Dietrich's head imploded, Major Arnold Ernst Toht's face melted off his skull and Belloq's head exploded. The Ark then swept their remains into the air to have their souls judged, then fire shot the cover into the sky before it fell back onto the Ark. The captured Indy, witnessing energy beginning to come out of the Ark, realized what was about to happen. Warning Marion Ravenwood, they closed their eyes and looked away from the Ark symbolically showing proper respect, and were spared from the wrath of God.[2]

Afterwards, instead of giving the Ark to the National Museum as agreed, the US government took possession of it. Though Jones and Brody were told by Major Eaton that it was to be studied by higher authorities, the relic was simply nailed inside a wooden crate numbered 9906753 and placed inside a gigantic warehouse among hundreds of similar crates.[2]

Two years after discovering the Ark, Jones later uncovered a wall painting depicting the Ark in some tunnels beneath the Biblioteca di San Barnaba in Venice. When Elsa Schneider asked what the image was, Jones confirmed that it was the Ark, mumbling that he was "Pretty sure..." given past encounters.[4]

The Ark in 1957.

Over two decades later, in 1957, Jones was taken to the warehouse when captured by Soviets looking for a different crate. The box containing the Ark was broken during the subsequent action brought about from his escape attempt.[5] Jones saw enough of the relic to recognize it, and realized that Hangar 51 had become the Ark's fate but continued with his getaway.[6] The archaeologist made a note in his journal that he had learned of the Ark's whereabouts and mused on the possibility of making a return trip as well as wondering what else could be in storage there.[7]

Behind the scenes[]

"Never touch it."
Indiana Jones to Sallah of the Ark[src]

The Ark of the Covenant appeared as the titular MacGuffin of Raiders of the Lost Ark.[2] While George Lucas conceived of the Indiana Jones character as a seeker of supernatural artifacts, it was Philip Kaufman's idea to use the Ark as a MacGuffin, influenced by an old dentist of his who was obsessed with the relic's powers.[8] The design of the prop Ark used in the film was based on artwork by the nineteenth century painter James Tissot. As of 2014, the actual prop resides in the art room of the Lucasfilm Ltd. archives at Skywalker Ranch.[9]

In the film, it goes unexplained how Indiana Jones knew not to touch the Ark or look upon its contents.[2] Campbell Black's novelization, however, provided an scene where Imam warns Indy and Sallah about the danger the Ark poses. As such, Indy later reminds Sallah to not touch the artifact upon uncovering it and instead instructs that it be carried out with a set of poles.[10]

During production of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, George Lucas had the idea for an episode entitled "Jerusalem, June 1909" which saw a nine-year-old Indiana Jones meeting Abner Ravenwood, who would have been searching the Ark of the Covenant on Temple Mount, Jerusalem, as a means to foreshadow the events of Raiders. The series was cancelled before the episode could be produced.[11]

For the development of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, director Steven Spielberg became determined to have the Ark of the Covenant make a cameo in the film as a callback to the franchise's earlier installments. Although a props team would normally have been expected to rebuild the Ark, it wasn't necessary for Crystal Skull as Lucas' archives had kept original prop from Raiders intact. As it was such a sought-after piece of memorabilia, guards were actually brought in to protect it.[8]


While the Ark is described in the Bible, some elements of the Ark were altered in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark. For example, Brody's statement that "the Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions" is only partially accurate (when it was captured by the Philistines it "laid waste" to their "region" via bubonic plague), though the Bible does state the Ark had supernatural powers. The Ark is reputed to have the second set of the Ten Commandments written in it, which are whole, not the first broken pair. Although a Rabbinic tradition states that Moses also put the broken fragments of the first tablets of the Law into the Ark.

The picture in which Jones and Brody show Musgrove and Eaton the Ark's destructive power might be another version of the Battle of Jericho. It is written in the Book of Joshua, a biblical story of how Israel had conquered Canaan, that for six days the Israelites had marched around the walls of Jericho once every day with their priests carrying the Ark, after which on the seventh day they marched around seven times.

The punishment of death upon Belloq and the Nazis for disturbing the Ark is inspired by a Bible reference in 1 Samuel 6:19 when seventy people of Beth-Shemesh were struck down because they looked into the Ark.

Also, the Bible relates a command by King Josiah of Judah in 2 Chronicles 35:3 for the Levites to "Put the sacred ark in the temple that Solomon built". Since King Josiah reigned from 640 - 609 BC, and the Bible mentions the Ark as being present in Jerusalem during his reign over three hundred years after Shishak's invasion, the Tanis theory is untenable.

The fate of the actual Ark, if the artifact does exist, continues to elude archaeologists. The city of Tanis is one of many locations where it is theorized the Ark may lie, although the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Ethiopia claims to have the true Ark safely kept in the Chapel of the Tablet. The Ark's guardian, and only he, is allowed to see it. Catholics also believe that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is the new Ark of the Covenant due to similarities between her and the actual Ark.



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