[b-hebrew] Stone slab replacing the Ark of the Covenant

Brian Roberts formoria at carolina.rr.com
Tue Aug 2 10:37:41 EDT 2005

Interesting that you should bring this up, Alexander. There is reason to 
believe that this order to reinstall the Ark was not carried out.

Around 622 BCE, major renovations on the Temple of Solomon were 
undertaken. In the process, a scroll called "the Book of the Law" was 
found in the Temple (II Kings 22: 8-10).
It was brought before Josiah and read, and the king was so shocked to 
hear its contents that he tore his robes in penitence (II Kings 22: 11). 
He then made a proclamation to his High officials:
"Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah 
about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the 
LORD's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed 
the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that 
is written there concerning us" (II Kings 22: 13).
Josiah deserves a tremendous amount of credit for effectively ruling 
during a time of national reconstruction. Such periods of rethinking and 
reflection do not historically add glory to a monarch's name, as do 
those which are marked by military and political conquest. There was a 
lot of work to be done, with little to show for it, save the 
satisfaction of pleasing YAHWEH. Pleasing the deity was Josiah's motive 
for his whole program of religious cleansing, as evinced by the zeal 
with which he undertook his reforms.
Therefore, anything he could do to repair, rebuild, and sanctify the 
physical edifices which would bring such honor to YAHWEH would have been 
done with much flair and color, as is displayed in the Passover 
observation (II Chronicles 35: 1-19). The writer of Chronicles was so 
impressed by the celebration that he wrote that "The Passover had not 
been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; 
and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a Passover as 
did Josiah, with the priests, the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who 
were there with the people of Jerusalem" (II Chronicles 35: 18).
In the midst of the preparations for the grandest Passover celebration 
in several centuries, Josiah made this statement to the Levites:
"Put the sacred ark in the temple that Solomon son of David king of 
Israel built. It is not to be carried about on your shoulders. Now serve 
the LORD your God and his people Israel" (II Chronicles 35: 3).
The preparations of the sacrificial animals goes on (II Chronicles 35: 
5-7), with a total of thirty thousand goats and sheep being offered from 
the king's personal stock (II Chronicles 35: 7). There is no indication 
from the text that the Levites ever actually followed the king's orders 
to reinstall the Ark back in the debir of the Temple. The Passover 
celebration continues with the account of the actual service, where "The 
Passover lambs were slaughtered, and the priests sprinkled the blood 
handed to them, while the Levites skinned the animals" (II Chronicles 
35: 11). Great care was taken by the writer to tell exactly what was 
done in the rituals and how, yet the Ark is nowhere to be found. We can 
be forgiven for expecting to read of a grand procession leading to the 
Temple Precincts, similar to the one in David's time, when the king 
danced before the Ark during its conveyance to Jerusalem (II Samuel 6: 
Yet, there is none of that. In fact, the Ark is conspicuous in its 
absence from this most Holy celebration. Are we to assume, then, that 
the precious Ark, still important enough to warrant the attention of 
Josiah, was simply brought into the Temple through the back way? Or 
perhaps it was taken in at some wee hour that would not have been 
conducive to public spectacle?
Neither option is plausible. Josiah didn't treat other Temple objects 
with such casual regard. Take for example the aforementioned "Book of 
the Law" (II Kings 22: 8-13). It is important to take note of the 
tremendous value placed upon the document. A public reading was 
performed (II Kings 23: 1-3), and the covenant between Israel and YAHWEH 
was renewed (ibid).  The concept of covenant renewal stems from the 
original renewal dating back to Joshua's time, when the Covenant was 
renewed at Mount Ebal:

  Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of 
Israel, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites. 
He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses 
-an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it 
they offered to the LORD burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship 
offerings. There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua copied on 
stones the Law of Moses, which he had written. All Israel, aliens and 
citizens alike, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing 
on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the LORD, facing those who 
carried it - the priests, who were Levites. Half of the people stood in 
front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses 
the servant of the LORD had formerly commanded when he gave instructions 
to bless the people of Israel.
Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the Law - the blessings and the 
curses - just as it is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a 
word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the 
whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the 
aliens who lived among them (Joshua 8: 30- 35).

If the Ark had been in Judah in the time of King Josiah, then there 
would have been no logical reason why the people would have become so 
divorced from their religious traditions, because the Levites would have 
had access to the original tablets of the Law.
It is additionally possible that another copy of the Laws contained in 
the Book of the Law - that inscribed by Joshua - was contained inside 
the Ark itself, which would have made it possible to renew the covenant 
without the original book that Josiah discovered. Thus it would seem 
logical to expect an equal or greater ceremony accompanying the 
reinstallation of the Ark into the Temple. There is a formulaic lapse 
here as well. The usual biblical pattern upon the receipt of orders is 
for the writer to record the order, and then to record the carrying out 
of the order, to show the respect and obedience of God's people. Well, 
obedience would certainly not have been lacking on the part of Josiah. 
This lack of natural follow-up in the account of Josiah's reform actions 
regarding the Ark, as well as the complete lack of mention of the 
installation of the Ark back into the Temple, lead me to conclude that 
the Ark was not in Jerusalem during the time of Josiah; indeed, it is 
further likely that it had not been there for perhaps as long as two 
centuries prior, based on the like absence of the Ark from the Temple 
during Joash's cleansing and repairs (II Kings 12: 1-18).

So, then, that leaves us with your question about a stone slab, which 
may have been a simple platform upon which the Ark could have raised 
above the gaze of the High Priest, forcing him to direct his look upward 
in a move of humility and reverence to the deity. If anyone writes about 
this stone, it's not any of the canon texts. You're going to have to 
look elsewhere. I would suggest the later Rabbinic traditions.

On Tuesday, August 2, 2005, at 06:56  AM, Alexander Oldernes wrote:

> Maybe your expertise can help me with this question...
> I have read somewhere that when the curtain covering the entrance to the
> Most Holy was torn in two, in the first century CE, the Most Holy was
> exposed containing no Ark of the Covenant. In place of the Ark was a 
> stone
> slab upon which the high priest sprinkled the blood on the Day of 
> Atonement.
> I know the last mention of the Ark of the Covenant is in 2. Chronicles 
> 35:5,
> saying:
> He said to the Levites, who instructed all Israel and who had been
> consecrated to YHWH: "Put the sacred ark in the temple that Solomon son 
> of
> David king of Israel built. It is not to be carried about on your
> shoulders."
> This happened around 642 (?) BCE.
> And now the question...
> Do we know that the Ark of the Covenant was replaced by a stone slab?
> If so...
> Who writes about it?
> Do we know when this was done?
> Do we know what the stone slab looked like?
> ----
> Alexander Oldernes
> _______________________________________________
> b-hebrew mailing list
> b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
> http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/b-hebrew
Best Salaams,

R. Brian Roberts
Amateur Researcher in Biblical Archaeology

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