of bulrushes in which Pharaoh’s daughter found the infant Moses (Exodus ii. 3), and (2) of the great vessel or ship in which Noah took refuge during the flood (Genesis vi.-ix.).
Noah’s Ark.—According to the story in Genesis, Noah’s ark was large enough to contain his family and representatives of each kind of animal. Its dimensions are given as 300 cubits long, 50 cubits broad and 30 cubits high (cubit = 18-22 in.). It was made of “gopher” wood, which has been variously identified with cypress, pine and cedar. Before the days of the “higher criticism” and the rise of the modern scientific views as to the origin of species, there was much discussion among the learned, and many ingenious and curious theories were advanced, as to the number of the animals and the space necessary for their reception, with elaborate calculations as to the subdivisions of the ark and the quantities of food, &c., required to be stored. It may be interesting to recall the account given in the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1771), which contained a summary of some of these various views (substantially repeated up to the publication of the eighth edition, 1853). “Some have thought the dimensions of the ark as given by Moses too scanty ... and hence an argument has been drawn against the authority of the relation. To solve this difficulty many of the ancient Fathers and the modern critics have been put to miserable shifts. But Buteo and Kircher have proved geometrically that, taking the cubit of a foot and a half, the ark was abundantly sufficient for all the animals supposed to be lodged in it. Snellius computes the ark to have been above half an acre in area ... and Dr Arbuthnot computes it to have been 81,062 tuns ... if we come to a calculation the number of species of animals will be found much less than is generally imagined, not amounting to a hundred species of quadrupeds, nor to two hundred of birds.... Zoologists usually reckon but an hundred and seventy species in all.” The progress of the “higher criticism,” and the gradual surrender of attempts to square scientific facts with a literal interpretation of the Bible, are indicated in the shorter account given in the eighth edition, which concludes as follows:—“the insuperable difficulties connected with the belief that all the existing species of animals were provided for in the ark, are obviated by adopting the suggestion of Bishop Stillingfleet, approved by Matthew Poole, Pye Smith, le Clerc, Rossenmüller and others, that the deluge did not extend beyond the region of the earth then inhabited, and that only the animals of that region were preserved in the ark.” The first edition also gives an engraving of the ark (repeated in the editions up to the fifth), in shape like a long roofed box, floating on the waters; the animals are seen in separate stalls. By the time of the ninth edition (1875) precise details are no longer considered worthy of inclusion; and the age of scientific comparative mythology has been reached.
The Ark of the Law, in the Jewish synagogue, is a chest or cupboard containing the scrolls of the Torah (Pentateuch), and is placed against or in the wall in the direction of Jerusalem. It forms one of the most decorative features of the synagogue, and often takes an architectural design, with columns, arches and a dome. There is a fine example in the synagogue at Great St Helens, London.(X.)
Ark of the Covenant, Ark of the Revelation, Ark of the Testimony, are the full names of the sacred chest of acacia wood overlaid with gold which the Israelites took with them on their journey into Palestine. The Biblical narratives reveal traces of a considerable development in the traditions regarding this sacred object, and those which furnish the most complete detail are of post-exilic date when the original ark had been lost. The fuller titles of the ark originate in the belief that it contained the “covenant” (bĕrīth) or “testimony” (‘ēdūth), the technical terms for the Decalogue (q.v.); primarily, however, it would seem to have been called “the ark of Yahweh” (or “Elohim”), or simply “the ark.” The word itself (ārōn) designates an ordinary chest (cp. Gen. i. 26; 2 Kings xii. 10), and the (late) description of its appearance represents it as an oblong box 2½ cubits long, 1½ cubits in breadth and height (roughly 1.2 by .75 metres). It was lined within and without with gold, and through four golden rings were placed staves of acacia wood, by means of which it was carried. A slab of the same metal (the so-called “mercy-seat,” kappōreth, Gr. hilastērion) covered the top, and this was surmounted by two Cherubim (Ex. xxv. 10-22, xxxvii. 1-9). The latter, however, are not mentioned in earlier passages (Deut. x. 1, 3), and would naturally increase the weight of the ark, which, according to 2 Sam. xv. 29, could be carried by two men.
The ark was borne by the Levites (Deut. x. 8), and the latest narratives amplify the statement with a wealth of detail characteristic of the post-exilic interest in this order. (See Levites.) An interesting passage relating the commencement of an Israelite journey vividly illustrates the power of the sacred object. As the ark started, it was hailed with the cry, ”Arise, Yahweh, let thine enemies be scattered, let them that hate thee flee from before thee,” and when it came to rest, the cry again rang out, ”Return, O Yahweh, to the myriads of families of Israel” (Num. x. 33-36). This saying appears to imply a settled life in Canaan, but both affirm the warlike significance of Yahweh and the ark. Thus it is the permanent pledge of Yahweh’s gracious presence; it guides the people on their journey and leads them to victory. It is no mere receptacle, but a sacrosanct object as much to be feared as Yahweh himself. To presume to fight without it was to invite defeat, and on one notable occasion the Israelites attempted to attack their enemy north of Kadesh without its aid, and were defeated (Num. xiv. 44 sq.). There are many gaps in its history, and although at the crossing of the Jordan and at the fall of Jericho the ark figures prominently (Josh. iii. sq., vi. sq.), it is unaccountably missing in stories of greater national moment. Once it is found at Bethel (Judges xx. 27 sq.). It is met with again at Shiloh, where it is under the care of Eli and his sons, descendants of an ancient family of priests (1 Sam. ii. 28; cp. Josh. xviii. 1). After a great defeat of Israel by the Philistines it was brought into the field, but was captured by the enemy. The trophy was set up in the Philistine temple of Ashdod, but vindicated its superiority by overthrowing the god Dagon. A plague smote the city, and when it was removed to Ekron, pestilence followed in its wake. After taking counsel the Philistines placed the ark with a votive offering upon a new cart drawn by two cows. The beasts went of their own accord to Beth-shemesh, where it remained in the field of a certain Joshua. Again a disaster happened through some obscure cause, and seventy of the sons of Jeconiah were smitten (1 Sam. vi. 19, R.V., margin). Thence it was removed to the house of Abinadab of Kirjath-jearim, who consecrated his son to its service (1 Sam. iv.-vii. 1). For many years the ark remained untouched—apparently forgotten. Shiloh disappears from history; neither Saul nor even Samuel, whose youth had been spent with it, takes any further thought of it. After a remarkable period of obscurity, the ark enters suddenly into the history of David (2 Sam. vi.). Some time after the capture of Jerusalem the ark was brought from Baal-Judah, but at the threshing-floor of Nacon (an unintelligible name) Abinadab’s son Uzzah laid hands upon it and was struck down for his impiety. On this account the place is said to have received the name Perez-Uzzah (“breach of Uzzah”). It was taken into the house of Obed-edom the Gittite (i.e. of Gath), and brought a blessing upon his house during the three months that it remained there. Finally the king had it conveyed to the city of David, where a tent was prepared to shelter it. Once at Jerusalem, it seems to have lost its unique value as the token of Yahweh’s presence; its importance was apparently merged with that of the Temple which Solomon built. The foundation of the capital would pave the way for the belief that the national god had taken a permanent dwelling-place in the royal seat. The prophets themselves lay no weight upon the ark as the central point of Jerusalem’s holiness. The real Deuteronomic code does not mention it, and to Jeremiah (iii. 16) it was a thing of no consequence. Later, in the age of the priestly schools, the ark received much attention, although it must obviously be very doubtful how far a true recollection of its history has survived. But nowhere is any light thrown upon its fate. The invasion of Shishak, the