ARK OF THE COVENANT, ARK OF TILE TESTIMONY, ARK OF XAIIWEII (or Jehovah), or ARK OF Goo. According to the data furnished in the Bible, this was one of the most important parts of the furniture of the tabernacle con structed in the Wilderness, and afterwards of the temple built by Solomon at Jerusalem. We have two descriptions of it in the Pentateuch, Exod. xxv. 10-22 and xxvii. 1-9, both passages belonging to the Priestly Document.
From these descriptions, it appears that the ark was a chest of shittim-wood (very generally supposed to be the wood of a species of acacia, but b:)'- some regarded as that of the wild olive), overlaid with gold within and without. two cubits and a half in length, one cubit and a half in breadth and in height. with a crown or raised border of gold round about. Within the ark was deposited the "testimony," consisting of "the two tables of the Law"—i.e.. the stone tab lets upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed (Exod. xl. 20). The golden lid of the ark was called the mercy-seat or propitia tory; above it were the cherubim (see CHERUB ) , made of the same piece of gold with it, and be tween them the place of the Sherhinah or mani festation of the Divine Presence. It should, however, be mentioned that neither in Deuteron omy nor in the Books of Kings are these figures of the cherubim mentioned. The ark had golden rings, through which passed staves of shittim wood. overlaid with gold, for carrying it in the journeyings of the Israelites, concerning which very particular rules were laid down (Num. iv.). While being carried from one place to another, it was covered first with a "covering of badgers' skins," and above this with a "cloth wholly of blue"; and when reposing in the taber nacle and temple it was put into the "most holy place," into which the high-priest alone was to enter upon the Day of Atonement. After the tabernacle had been set up at Shiloh, the ark was deposited there (•osh. xviii. 1). When Israel sustained defeat at the hands of the Phil istines at Ebenezer they sent to Shiloh for the ark (1 Sam. iv. 3-5). In the battle which fol lowed. the Philistines captured the ark; they carried it about to several places in their land, but in each place misfortune followed its ar rival, and at the advice of their diviners the Philistines returned the ark to Israel at Beth Shemesh, whence it was removed to Kirjath Jearim (I Sam. iv. 11-vii. 2) ; hence David re
moved it to .Jerusalem (2 Sam. vi. 1), and Solo mon assigned it a place in the Temple (1 Kings viii. 6). What finally became of the ark is un known; perhaps it was captured in Nebuchadnez zar's siege of Jerusalem. At any rate there was no ark in the Second Temple (•osephus. B. J.
v. 5. 5).
It is not easy. from the various accounts of, and references to, the ark in the Old Testament to obtain a clear idea of what the ark actually was, or wlmt was its age. From Egyptian and Babylonian sources, we know that it was cus tomary to carry the images of the gods about in portable shrines: and if. therefore. the Ark of the Covenant belongs to the oblest period of Hebrew history, it must have served as the abode of the Deity. suitable for a time when there was as yet no fixed sanctuary regarded as the seat of Yahweh. This view accords both with the state ment (Num. x. 35. 36) that the ark was car ried into battle (fo• among other nations it was customary to carry images and symbols of the gods into battle), and with the narrative in the Book of Samuel, from which it appears that where the ark rested, there Yahweh himself was supposed to have his abode for the time being. Whether, however, the description given of the ark in the Priestly Document applies to the earlier periods of Hebrew history is more than doubtful; it is probably a description of the ark as it appeared in the days of Solomon,and for which. as an ancient palladium to which the peo ple were attached, a place was found in the Temple. As to the original contents of the ark, it is now held by many critics that the Hebrews at one time had a stone as a symbol of their God, and that the traditional tables of stone belong to a later period. when the fetich was replaced by a symbol that accorded better with the more ad vanced religious conceptions.