Tel Me More
Years ago, I took a cab to the airport in Tel Aviv, and the friendly driver kept pointing out archaeological/historical sites along the way. Which is to say, constantly.
Not far from Jerusalem, he pointed to the right, north, to a hill. It is the ancient site of Kiryat Ye’arim, the place where the ark of the covenant was brought back by the Philistines; this is recorded in 1 Samuel. In 2 Samuel, after the ark had been kept at the site for 20 years, King David brought it up to Jerusalem.
The site is also home to yet another Catholic monastery, which dot the Israeli landscape.
It is fascinating to note that the site is one of the few virtually untouched in Israel, a country where archaeological digs are more common than restaurants or gas stations.
(As a complete aside, nearby is the Arab town of Abu Ghosh, where a gas station with a giant statue of Elvis beckons customers.)
One of the excavators at the site, Tel Aviv University’s Israel Finkelstein, isn’t even sure the story is historically accurate, and that is both astonishing and dismaying. We live in a time in which Palestinians invent their own history, while certain Israelis deny their own.
In any event, the dig is to commence this summer, and of course will take some time. The biblical story goes that the Philistines were struck with a plague for keeping the ark, and so returned it on a wooden cart. This was in the time when the power of the Philistines was waning.
The ark itself is still lost to history, though many have speculated about its whereabouts. The biblical text goes silent about the ark’s location after the Babylonian invasion in 586 B.C. Some claim that the ark is housed in some subterranean chamber underneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. A couple people even claim to have seen it through an opening in a rock wall. I’d be skeptical of such claims, or of those that say the high priests who are preparing for the rebuilding of the Temple in our time know its location. We simply can’t prove these stories, and the honest truth is, we don’t know where the ark is or if it will be located again.
In the meantime, let’s anticipate the excavation in Israel and celebrate the fact that the events recorded in the Bible did in fact take place.