Biblical Studies Ark of the Covenant
Raanan Eichler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0245


The ark of the covenant was, according to the Hebrew Bible (Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “Biblical Canon”), a portable wooden chest that occupied a central position in ancient Israelite worship. The various biblical passages pertaining to the ark indicate that it was thought by their authors to contain the documentation of a covenant (Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “Covenant”) between the Israelites and their Deity YHWH (Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “God, Ancient Israel”), to mark that Deity’s presence, and to have been located in the holiest part of the wilderness tabernacle (Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “Temples and Sanctuaries”) and later of Solomon’s temple (Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “Temples and Sanctuaries”) in Jerusalem.

General Treatments

Due to its importance in the biblical literature and in later traditions, the ark has received many detailed treatments in encyclopedias and encyclopedic dictionaries, the most useful and recent of which are Zobel 1974, Seow 1992, Grintz and Freedman 2007, and George, et al. 2009. Eichler 2015 is a book-length study that focuses on the form and function of the ark but contains a long introductory chapter that deals with other aspects.

  • Eichler, Raanan. “The Ark and the Cherubim.” PhD diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2015.

    Chapter 1 discusses the ark’s uniqueness, the biblical contexts in which it is mentioned, its status, its designations, and the word “ark” (aron) itself. Chapters 2–3 discuss its form, and chapter 4 its function. Chapters 6–10 discuss its lid (kapporet) and accompanying statues of cherubim.

  • George, Mark K., Günter Stemberger, Christopher Rowland, et al. “Ark of the Covenant.” In Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. Vol. 1. Edited by Hans-Josef Klauck, et al., 744–767. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009.

    George discusses the ark’s names, form, history, parallels, and symbolism. The other authors provide a detailed account of the ark’s reception in Judaism, the New Testament, Christianity, Islam, literature, visual arts, and film. Available online by subscription.

  • Grintz, Yehoshua M., and Harry Freedman. “Ark of the Covenant.” In Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2d ed. Vol. 2. Edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 466–469. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.

    Grintz briefly discusses the names, form, and history of the ark in the Bible. Freedman presents some ideas pertaining to the ark that are expressed in Talmudic Jewish literature. Available online by subscription.

  • Seow, C. L. “Ark of the Covenant.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 1. Edited by David N. Freedman, 386–393. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    Detailed entry with sections on the ark’s designations, Near Eastern parallels, history, theology, and New Testament references.

  • Zobel, Hans-Jürgen. “’arôn.” In Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Vol. 1. Edited by G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren. Translated by John T. Willis, 363–374. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974.

    Detailed entry with short sections discussing the etymology and meaning of the word “ark” (aron) itself and its secular occurrences in the Hebrew Bible, followed by a long section discussing its form, Near Eastern parallels, origin, religious significance, function, and history.

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