20 March 2010

The Ark of What?

From 4 March 2008.

Professor Tudor Parfitt, from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies says he has found the Ark of the Covenant. Now if this is true he has just made the greatest archaeological discovery of all time and would probably become a multimillionaire overnight as every producer on the planet would want to turn his story into the latest Hollywood blockbuster. But not so fast.

What he claims is the Ark is not the same item described in the Bible. There are many refrences in the Bible that give a good description of what the Ark looked like, its size and decorations. Of course Parfitt can't accept that the ancient Israelites could make a chest that size and cover it with gold, ignoring the fact that they just came out of Egypt which led the world in gold working at the time, built similar chests for holding religious objects, and that given the rich history the Jews had in Egypt (starting with Joseph being Vizier and Moses being Crown Prince until he was exiled) it is likely that one of the 600,000 of them knew how to work gold.

He also brings up the fact that since Egypt had no gold coin then the Israelites would have to steal "huge" gold ritual objects to turn into the covering for the Ark. Never mind the fact that gold is the most malleable of all known metals. In fact as one source puts it "A single ounce of gold can be beaten into a sheet measuring roughly 5 meters on a side. Thin sheets of gold, known as gold leaf, are primarily used in arts and crafts for gilding." If a single ounce of gold can be beaten into a sheet that big there is no need for a huge amount of gold to cover the inner and outer surface of the Ark. Just a little bit will go a long way.

Don't forget that almost every royal tomb had been broken into and the vast stores of gold had been stolen from them. Stolen gold was a readily available comodity in ancient Egypt, that is, unless you got caught. With 600,000 people I'm sure at least one of them could have gotten away with enough gold to coat the Ark.

Parfitt instead looks to a passage from Deuteronomy (10:1-5) that doesn't mention gold or cherubim or anything like that. It is very brief and very vague and in line with Biblical scholars and lay people throughout history Parfitt decided to put his words into the mouth of Moses and uses this passage to justify something that the Bible doesn't say: namely that the Ark was not an elabourate chest covered in gold and such but was a simple wooden drum. Yes, it was a drum, not a chest, a drum. He claims that it was brought down to Africa after the first temple was destroyed and taken to a tribe of people called the Lemba (who have been shown to possess DNA from the Temple priests). He claims the drum that was the Ark decayed over time and was remade again and again and now exists as a broken wooden object in the warehouse of a museum in the middle of a war zone called the Ngoma Lungundu. He even had a two hour History Channel documentary (now called just "History" and not "The History Channel," which seems incredibly arrogant) that was an extreme disappointment just like with Zheng He who didn't discover America before Lief Ericson.

What he is doing is not archaeology. It is Biblical revisionism and an excuse to get grant money to fund his pet trips to Africa so he can have a good time with his Lemba friends and laugh at all serious scholars of the Bible. Maybe I'm just too attached to the notion that the Ark of the Covenant has inspired too many people to be a heap of wood and that the writers of the Bible just invented some fictional bill of materials for its construction, but why would there be so many refrences to gold that are fake and only one refrence not mentioning gold being correct? Why would there be design specifications if there was not an actual object (you can argue that Noah's ark was a fabrication but a simple gold inlayed chest the size of a large suit case seems tiny enough to grant something of the sort was actually built)? Maybe I just want there to have been a real Ark of the Covenant too much to accept that every time the Bible says it was a chest for holding objects that it was talking about a stupid musical instrument that bares no resemblance to what is described in the text. Anyway, I still say Prof. Parfitt is wrong and is making a mockery of serious archaeology in what he is suggesting.

Some quotes from the above most link.

"What Parfitt found cannot be described as a wooden box, roughly 4 ft. x 2 ft. x 2.5 ft., gold-plated and carried on poles inserted into ring. In fact, it an old drum with an uncharacteristic burnt-black bottom hole, the remains of carrying rings on its corners; and a raised relief of crossed reeds that Parfitt thinks reflects an Old Testament detail."

"A splinter has carbon-dated the drum to 1350 AD, making it probably the oldest wooden relic in sub-Saharan Africa, but far too new to be the Ark of the Covenant. Undaunted, Professor Parfitt declares, 'There can be little doubt that what I found is the last thing on earth in direct descent from the Ark of Moses.'"

"OK, I watched it. The 'scholarship' was so bad, my eleven-year-old son was correcting the professor. This is pure sensationalism."

"The professor will make a lot of money and gain a lot of notoriety, but there is not a serious scholar in the world who will respect his 'discovery'."