Ark of the Covenant (in Film)

The mysterious ark was rarely glimpsed in early biblical epics. In The Ten Commandments (dir. Cecil B. DeMille, 1956), for example, the ark is mentioned in the dialogue but never shown. The ark makes two crucial appearances, however, in David and Bathsheba (dir. Henry King, 1951). The ark is seen being brought to Jerusalem with great celebration—until a soldier dies after touching the ark when the cart tips. At the film’s climax, with his kingship in crisis, David kneels before the ark and dramatically confesses his sin.

What catapulted the ark into popular consciousness, however, was not a biblical epic. Rather it was the ark’s role as the quest object in the action-adventure film Raiders of the Lost Ark (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1981). In 1936, Adolf Hitler desires the ark as a supernatural weapon for conquering the world. Archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), however, races to discover it first but then loses it to the Nazis. At the film’s climax, the Nazis open the ark, and beautiful ghostly spirits rise forth from inside it. The spirits transform into fiery angels of death, however, who destroy all the Nazis gazing upon them and reinstall the lid on top of the ark. The ark is last seen in a wooden crate being stored (and presumably lost again) in an immense American government warehouse. The movie kindled interest in the history of the actual artifact as revealed in television documentaries, such as Ancient Mysteries - Ark of the Covenant (dir. J. Charles Sterin, 1994), and a number of books and articles containing conflicting theories about the ark’s possible fate.

Copyright 2009 Mark D. Stucky.
Originally published as section VIII of the "Ark of the Covenant " entry in The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, Vol. 2 (Walter de Gruyter, 2009).

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