Monday, October 26, 2015

Tudor Parfitt And The Lost Ark

I never was particularly interested in the Ark of the Covenant until a few years ago when I became aware of the work of Tudor Parfitt. Because he has investigated the Ark, Parfitt is sometimes called "the British Indiana Jones."

Indiana Jones himself did not succeed in making me interested in the Ark. Friends dragged me with them to movie theaters to see several different Indiana Jones movies, which is a bit of a coincidence, because friends are not constantly dragging me with them to see movies, and it was a different group of friends in the case of each of the movies. And I didn't like any of the Indiana Jones movies at all, except for Kate Capshaw in the second one. I'd watch Kate Capshaw in anything. Other than her, the Indiana Jones movies are a huge snore to me.

Parfitt's work interests me, but I have no idea what to make of it or of him. He's interesting. Is he a serious scholar? I really don't know. He claims that he has found the lost Ark, or rather, 1 of 2 Arks. He cites sources which say that there was 1 Ark covered in gold which was kept in the Holy of Holies. This is the Ark most of us think of, I believe. It's the one covered in gold, which was kept in the Holy of Holies. Parfitt says that there's another one, which is much more simply made, a modest wooden carving, which may have served as a drum and that this one was rescued from destruction by the Lemba tribe of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique and Malawi, as Lemba tradition states. Parfitt says that an artifact he found in storage in a warehouse in Zimbabwe is this Ark.

I have no idea what to think of this. On the one hand the story of Parfitt's alleged discovery sort of sounds like stories of discoveries of bones of Bigfoot, and of the Grail in Wisconson. On the other hand, Parfitt doesn't speak or write like a moron or a charlatan.

There's one issue I have with Parfitt's work: his reasons for rejecting the claim that the Ark is now in a chapel in the Ethiopian town of Aksum seem rather insubstantial to me. Ethiopian Christians claim in Aksum, in a sort of Holy of Holies, is the Ark of the Covenant. Whatever they are keeping in this holy place, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church allows only 1 person to see it, a monk specially chosen for the task of watching over the Ark, succeeded by another monk when he dies. No one else is alllowed to see the Ark, and the monk isn't allowed to describe it to anyone else. Rather frustrating from the point of view of archaeology, but there it is.

Parfitt rejects the Ethiopian claim because 1) the story of how the Ark came to be in that chapel goes back to the 10th century BC: a companion of Menelik, Ethiopian son of Solomon and Bathsheba, is said to have brought the Ark from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, while Parfitt sees no reason to believe that the Ark left Jerusalem before the destruction of the First Temple by Babylonian troops under Nebuchadnezzar II in the 6th century BC, and that it may have remained in Jerusalem until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in AD 70, or longer. And 2) the earliest written record of the story of Solomon and Bathsheba and Menelik and Menelik's companion who brought the Ark to Ethiopia, dates from the 14th century AD.

I myself don't know whether to believe that any version of the Ark or Arks survives at all, nor am I the first place you should look for the best guesses as to where it (or they) might be. But to me, neither of Parfitt's objections objections suffices to make it impossible that what is hidden in that chapel in Aksum, visible only to one monk at a time, could be the Ark which resided in the Holy of Holys in the Temple in Jerusalem. I agree with Parfitt that there's no reason to believe that the Ark left Jerusalem before the Babylonian invasion. But as to 1), I fail to see how it is impossible that the legend of the Ark being brought to Ethiopia by Menelik's companion could be an embellishment of a later, true story of the Ark leaving Jerusalem, in the 6th century BC or the 1st century AD, or even later, and eventually arriving in Aksum.

As to 2), I have no difficulty in imagining how people who kept such secrecy around an object that they allow only 1 person at a time to see it, and do not allow that person to talk about the object with anyone else, might also tend to discourage written accounts of that object, so that the oldest such written account known to us might date from the 14th century -- after a long, long period of oral transmission, during which details such as the story of the Ark coming to Ethiopia in the time of Solomon and Bathsheba, might quite naturally accrue to whatever the true story might be.

I agree with Parfitt that the story of the Ark coming to Ethiopia in the 10th century BC is easily debunked. But I don't see how he has debunked the story that what is hidden in that chapel is the Ark.

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