Interestingly, within the past week or so, I found links to rumors about the locations of both Biblical arks, Noah’s Ark and the Ark of the Covenant. I seem to recall that, when I first learned about these two arks, I didn’t know why the translation used the same word for both, when the latter wasn’t a boat. Except it kind of was, or at least a vessel used for conveying something.
I first learned about the recent Noah’s Ark rumor on Unreasonable Faith, and Slacktivist also addressed it. While the writers on the former site are atheists and the latter a Christian, they both came to the obvious answer to the question of whether the boat was actually found: no. This seems like yet another story where someone is trying to present a weird belief as something new and original, when in reality there have been craploads of intrepid literalists who have found pieces of wood on top of Mount Ararat and claimed they must be parts of the True Cross. No, sorry, that’s the OTHER wooden religious artifact that’s been supposedly found about 80,000 times. They think they must be parts of Noah’s Ark. The thing is, while some translations of the Bible say that the ship ended up on top of “Mount Ararat,” the more accurate translation is simply “the mountains of Ararat,” so I don’t exactly know why the one peak we now call Mount Ararat would be the place where they look. You wouldn’t look for Odysseus’ wooden horse in Troy, New York, would you? So even if the story is literally true (which it isn’t), these adventurers need to widen their search. In fact, Islamic tradition says that the mountain on which the ark ended up was Mount Judi, near the Turkish border with Syria and Iraq. That’s not to say that there isn’t anything in the Ararat tradition, though. Some scholars think that the story of Noah and other flood myths and in the area (the Mesopotamian Utnapishtim and the Greek Deucalion, for instance) were based on a flood of the Black Sea around 5600 BC. If someone had built a boat to escape the flooding, it’s not all that inconceivable that they would have ended up in the Ararat region (believed to correspond to the Iron Age Kingdom of Uratu). Then when the flood was mythologized and exaggerated into a worldwide deluge that covered the mountaintops, the resting place was moved from the Ararat area to a mountain around there. Mind you, it’s also likely that the size of the Ark was exaggerated (it would pretty much have to be; I’ve read that the typical length of a cubit means that the boat as described in Genesis would have been too large to remain seaworthy), and it’s not too likely to have been any bigger than any other boats made around the same time. But if you ARE going by a literal interpretation, be sure that your discovery is made of gopher wood! Too bad no one knows what that actually is.
I got the link for the story about the Ark of the Covenant from Drew, and this time it doesn’t refer to a recent discovery, but to a local Japanese legend. This relic is much more important to Biblical history than Noah’s Ark, and odds are it actually existed as well. The Bible gives absolutely no indication as to where the item might be, however, not even anything as general as “the mountains of Ararat.” The Ark was central to the worship of Yahweh from the time it was supposedly constructed under Moses’ instruction in the middle of the desert to the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians. The Ark is said to have parted the waters of the River Jordan (which, despite what you may have heard in song, is not deep and wide), and brought prosperity or ruin to various areas where it was kept. When the Philistines stole it, it caused them to break out in hemorrhoids. God killed people in Beth-shemesh just for looking at the thing, and Uzziah was struck down for trying to steady it. I have to wonder what would have happened if he’d allowed it to fall. Sounds like a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation to me. King Solomon placed it in his Temple to Yahweh, and that appears to have been its primary location until Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem, after which it isn’t even mentioned in the Bible. Did the Babylonians take it? While that seems likely, it is perhaps significant that Ezra 1 describes King Cyrus as returning the vessels and utensils from the First Temple that Nebuchadnezzar had taken. The Babylonians apparently kept these intact and separate (I’m imagining a storeroom in the Babylonian palace with boxes carefully labeled with the locations of the temples from which the contents were taken), so why not the Ark? Then again, the Babylonians might have seen more value in gold and silver utensils than in a box with cherubim on the top, so maybe they ended up destroying the relic. I don’t know whether they shared the idea that the Philistines had about being careful with holy items from other religions just in case. There is, however, a tradition that the priests hid the Ark before the Babylonian conquest, either beneath the Temple itself or in a cave somewhere else in the area. 2 Maccabees mentions the rumor that Jeremiah hid the item in Mount Nebo in modern-day Jordan, while others think it’s in a cave near the Dead Sea. Others claim that the Ark was smuggled off the Arabian Peninsula entirely, and ended up in Africa. I’m sure you know that Indiana Jones discovered the Ark in Egypt, only to have it end up in a government storage facility. While this was obviously fiction, Egypt is indeed thought to be one of the possible hiding places for the vessel. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church holds that Menelik, son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, stole it from Jerusalem during his father’s reign and took it back home to Ethiopia. In fact, the Church claims that they still have the Ark, but only the monk who keeps it is allowed to even look at it.
Sounds a little suspicious, especially considering that the earliest known references to the Ark having been stolen way back in the tenth century BC are from the seventeenth century AD. Besides, that leaves open the question of what the Ark that Solomon’s descendant Josiah returned to the Temple really was. As for the Japanese legend, it involves the Jews taking it along the Silk Road to the island of Shikoku, where it is now buried near the top of Mount Tsurugi.