Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant (Hebrew: אָרוֹן הַבְּרִית‬, Modern Arōn Ha'brētTiberian ʾĀrôn Habbərîṯ), also known as the Ark of the Testimony, is a gold-covered wooden chest with lid cover described in the Book of Exodus as containing the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. According to various texts within the Hebrew Bible, it also contained Aaron's rod and a pot of manna.[1] Hebrews 9:4 describes: "The ark of the covenant [was] covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron's rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant."

The biblical account relates that, approximately one year after the Israelitesexodus from Egypt, the Ark was created according to the pattern given to Moses by God when the Israelites were encamped at the foot of biblical Mount Sinai. Thereafter, the gold-plated acaciachest was carried by its staves while en route by the Levites approximately 2,000 cubits (approximately 800 meters or 2,600 feet) in advance of the people when on the march or before the Israelite army, the host of fighting men.[2] When carried, the Ark was always hidden under a large veil made of skins and blue cloth, always carefully concealed, even from the eyes of the priests and the Levites who carried it. God was said to have spoken with Moses "from between the two cherubim" on the Ark's cover.[3] When at rest the tabernacle was set up and the holy Ark was placed under the veil of the covering, the staves of it crossing the middle side bars to hold it up off the ground.

According to the Book of Exodus, God instructed Moses on Mount Sinai during his 40-day stay upon the mountain within the thick cloud and darkness where God was[4][5] and he was shown the pattern for the tabernacle and furnishings of the Ark to be made of shittim wood to house the Tablets of Stone. Moses instructed Bezalel and Oholiab to construct the Ark.[6][7] In Deuteronomy, however, the Ark is said to have been built specifically by Moses himself without reference of Bezalel or Oholiab.[8]

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The Book of Exodus gives detailed instructions on how the Ark is to be constructed. It is to be 2½ cubits in length, 1½ in breadth, and 1½ in height (approximately 131×79×79 cm or 52×31×31 in). Then it is to be gilded entirely with gold, and a crown or molding of gold is to be put around it. Four rings of gold are to be attached to its four corners, two on each side—and through these rings staves of shittim-wood overlaid with gold for carrying the Ark are to be inserted; and these are not to be removed.[9] A golden lid, the kapporet (traditionally "mercy seat" in Christian translations) which is covered with 2 golden cherubim, is to be placed above the Ark. Missing from the account are instructions concerning the thickness of the mercy seat and details about the cherubim other than that the cover be beaten out the ends of the Ark and that they form the space where God will appear. The Ark is finally to be placed under the veil of the covering.

The biblical account continues that, after its creation by Moses, the Ark was carried by the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the desert. Whenever the Israelites camped, the Ark was placed in a separate room in a sacred tent, called the Tabernacle.

When the Israelites, led by Joshua toward the Promised Land, arrived at the banks of the Jordan river, the Ark was carried in the lead preceding the people and was the signal for their advance.[10][11] During the crossing, the river grew dry as soon as the feet of the priests carrying the Ark touched its waters, and remained so until the priests—with the Ark—left the river after the people had passed over.[12][13][14][15] As memorials, twelve stones were taken from the Jordan at the place where the priests had stood.[16]

In the Battle of Jericho, the Ark was carried round the city once a day for seven days, preceded by the armed men and seven priests sounding seven trumpets of rams' horns.[17] On the seventh day, the seven priests sounding the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Ark compassed the city seven times and, with a great shout, Jericho's wall fell down flat and the people took the city.[18] After the defeat at Ai, Joshua lamented before the Ark.[19] When Joshua read the Law to the people between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, they stood on each side of the Ark. We next hear of the Ark in Bethel where it was being cared for by the priest Phineas the grandson of Aaron (where 'Bethel' is translated 'the House of God' in the King James Version).[20] According to this verse it was consulted by the people of Israel when they were planning to attack the Benjaminites at the battle of Gibeah. Later, however, the Ark was kept at Shiloh, another religious centre some 16 km north of Bethel, at the time of the prophet Samuel's apprenticeship,[21] where it was cared for by Hophni and Phinehas, two sons of Eli.[22]

At the beginning of his reign over the United Monarchy, King David removed the Ark from Kirjath-jearim amid great rejoicing. On the way to ZionUzzah, one of the drivers of the cart that carried the Ark, put out his hand to steady the Ark, and was struck dead by God for touching it. The place was subsequently named "Perez-Uzzah", literally "Outburst Against Uzzah",[33] as a result. David, in fear, carried the Ark aside into the house of Obed-edom the Gittite, instead of carrying it on to Zion, and there it stayed three months.[34][35]

On hearing that God had blessed Obed-edom because of the presence of the Ark in his house, David had the Ark brought to Zion by the Levites, while he himself, "girded with a linen ephod ... danced before the Lord with all his might" and in the sight of all the public gathered in Jerusalem - a performance that caused him to be scornfully rebuked by his first wife, Saul's daughter Michal.[36][37][38] In Zion, David put the Ark in the tabernacle he had prepared for it, offered sacrifices, distributed food, and blessed the people and his own household.[39][40][41]

The Levites were appointed to minister before the Ark.[42] David's plan of building a temple for the Ark was stopped at the advice of God.[43][44][45][46]The Ark was with the army during the siege of Rabbah;[47] and when David fled from Jerusalem at the time of Absalom's conspiracy, the Ark was carried along with him until he ordered Zadok the priest to return it to Jerusalem.[48]

The Ark carried into the Temple from the early 15th century Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

When Abiathar was dismissed from the priesthood by King Solomon for having taken part in Adonijah's conspiracyagainst David, his life was spared because he had formerly borne the Ark.[49] Solomon worshipped before the Ark after his dream in which God promised him wisdom.[50]

During the construction of Solomon's Temple, a special inner room, named Kodesh Hakodashim (Eng. Holy of Holies), was prepared to receive and house the Ark;[51] and when the Temple was dedicated, the Ark—containing the original tablets of the Ten Commandments—was placed therein.[52] When the priests emerged from the holy place after placing the Ark there, the Temple was filled with a cloud, "for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord".[53][54][55]

When Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter, he caused her to dwell in a house outside Zion, as Zion was consecrated because of its containing the Ark.[56] King Josiah also had the Ark returned to the Temple,[57] from which it appears to have been removed by one of his predecessors (cf. 2 Chron. 33-34 and 2 Kings 21-23).

Yom HaAliyah (Aliyah Day) (Hebrew: יום העלייה‎) is an Israeli national holiday celebrated annually on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan to commemorate the Israelites crossing the Jordan River into the Land of Israel while carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

The Bezalel Style

 Bezalel , panoramic view c. 1913
from Bezalel catalogue

From the very beginnings of the Bezalel enterprise, there was a conscious effort to create a new and unique "Hebrew" style of art. Bezalel students and artisans sought inspiration in the native flora and fauna, notably the palm tree and the camel. They referenced archeological treasures, replicating Judean coins in filigree pieces and utilizing ancient mosaic floor designs in the carpet workshop. Traditional Jewish symbols such as the six-pointed Star of David and the seven-branched menorah were especially popular, as were architectural icons of the Holy Land. Biblical heroes, "exotic" Jewish ethnic types, modern halutzim (pioneers), and Zionist luminaries were also common subjects. Perhaps the most innovative "Hebrew" artistic creation of the Bezalel School was the decorative use of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Influenced both by Art Nouveau European typography and Islamic calligraphy, Hebrew letters served as a distinct decorative motif found on nearly every object created at Bezalel.

Bible with Bezalel Binding

This elaborate silver binding is the work of the two most renowned artists of the Bezalel School, Ze'ev Raban and Meir Gur-Arie. In addition to teaching at Bezalel, the two founded the Industrial Art Studio in 1923, which continued to operate after the closing of the school in 1929.

Three ivory medallions are set into the binding. On the front cover is an ivory plaque of the Tablets of the Law, guarded by the cherubim, here depicted as winged lions. On the back cover, four winged creatures, representing Ezekiel's vision of the Chariot of God, encircle an ivory roundel that portrays Jews praying at the Western Wall, the last standing remnant of the Temple. On the spine, a vertical plaque bears the Hebrew word TaNaKH, the acronym for TorahNevi'im, and Ketuvim (Pentateuch, Prophets, and Writings), the three sections of the Hebrew Bible.

Solomon's Temple

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According to the Hebrew BibleSolomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, was the Holy Temple (Hebrew: בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ‎‎: Beit HaMikdash) in ancient Jerusalem before its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE and its subsequent replacement with the Second Temple in the 6th century BCE.

The Hebrew Bible states that the temple was constructed under Solomon, king of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah and that during the Kingdom of Judah, the temple was dedicated to Yahweh, and is said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant. Jewish historian Josephus says that "the temple was burnt four hundred and seventy years, six months, and ten days after it was built",[1] although rabbinic sources state that the First Temple stood for 410 years and, based on the 2nd-century work Seder Olam Rabbah, place construction in 832 BCE and destruction in 422 BCE, 165 years later than secular estimates.

Israeli Art

Part of what makes the art scene in Israel so unique is that the country blends so many varying influences from all over the Jewish world.

BY MJL STAFF

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Though the modern State of Israel has officially been independent only since 1948, its unique blend of dynamic arts and different cultural traditions has been around for some time longer. Part of what makes the art scene in Israel so unique is that the country blends so many varying influences from all over the Jewish world. In the case of folk arts, for example, a wide range of crafts can be found flourishing–from Yemenite-style jewelry making to the embroidery and other needle crafts of the Eastern European Jews. Over the last half-century, as artisans have mixed and mingled and learned from one another, a certain “Israeli” style of folk art has emerged, reflecting all of the cultures who make up the modern state.

In the fine arts, there has also been a desire to create an “Israeli” art. From the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when significant numbers of Jews began fleeing Europe and settling in the Land of Israel with Zionistic dreams, the fine arts have occupied a prominent place in Israeli life. Artist Boris Schatz came to Jerusalem in order to establish the Bezalel School–named for the Biblical figure chosen by God to create the first tabernacle. A university-level academy known today as the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, the flourishing of the school typifies the country’s support of its artists.

Unlike the United States, where the virtue of public art continues to be debated, the Israeli government makes clear its support of visual artists and their contributions to society. In Israel, the role of public art helps to express and define the concerns of a common, yet diverse, culture. In a country that struggles daily to protect its inhabitants, art is considered to be a necessity, rather than a luxury. Perhaps it is the distinct Israeli-style “live for today” philosophy that makes the appreciation of art more vivid than in other, “safer” countries.

Not that Israel’s artists have always had an easy time defining themselves in relation to the rest of the art world. Early Israeli painters like Nahum Gutman tried to create a unique “Hebrew” style of art–capturing the excitement of establishing a Zionist state–while maintaining his influences from Modern European art. Other great Israeli artists such as Reuven Rubin had to leave Israel for periods of their life in order to receive the recognition that they desired; Rubin’s first major exhibit was held in the United States, thanks to his friend, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

Not all successful Israeli artists have portrayed Jewish or Zionist themes in their work. One of Israel’s best-known artists, for example, Yaacov Agam, is known for his unique expression of optical art. Indeed, as life in Israel became more established, the diversity of Israeli artists increased. As Israeli artists became accepted into the international art scene, their work took on the various styles and aesthetic approaches reflected in the wider art world.

Just as the politics of two Israelis can be as far apart on the spectrum as imaginable, so are the political ideologies of its artists, whose works might include everything from anti-war statements to paintings of national pride. Israeli art has matured to express the range of opinions and emotions circling in Israeli life; therefore, there is no one style, ideology or medium that defines an Israeli artist today.

But what each Israeli artist has in common is that they are fortunate to come from a culture that values the work of artists and continues to support creation of the arts as an integral part of its unique social fabric.

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