Solomon’s Treasures and the Ark of the Covenant … Really?

Several readers have sent me articles about the new “discovery” about the hiding of the ark of the covenant and other treasures from Solomon’s temple. Here are some samples:

King Solomon’s treasures revealed: Newly translated Hebrew text lists legendary riches – including the Ark of the Covenant

Fate of the ark of the Covenant Revealed in Hebrew Text

This is no big deal, and even the archae-porn peddlers have been reasonably restrained.  But if you’re interested in Old Testament pseudepigrapha, which I am, it’s pretty cool. It’s also old news, at least for those of us in the guild. Back in November at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting, the Eerdmans table was proudly displaying copies of a new compilation that included the text these articles speak of:

Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, ed. James Davila, Richard Bauckham, and Alexander Panayotov, with James H. Charlesworth.

The second article linked to above is from the Live Science site. It includes comments from an interview with James Davila, one of the editors of the new volume.

The ancient Hebrew text that is the source of the excitement is, to quote Davila, “just a collection of legends.” In other words, this is not a smoking gun source from the Solomonic era that would provide factual information on where the ark was put.

Aside from editorial duties, Davila is the scholar responsible for the translation and discussion (pp. 393-409) of this text in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Some web articles refer to the Hebrew text as Emek Halachah. More accurately, that term is the title to a book in which is found the oldest confirmed example of the Hebrew text that Davila calls “The Treatise of the Vessels” (Massakhet Kelim).

According to Davila’s discussion, books containing versions of the Hebrew manuscript range in date from 1602-1876. The book was first published in 1648. As to the Hebrew text itself, Davila notes that the date and provenance of the text “are very uncertain” (p. 396). He continues:

“[The text] shows awareness in a general way of Talmudic and earlier traditions but I have not been able to identify clear knowledge of any sources later than the Talmud. . . . Given our current knowledge, we can say nothing more than that the Treatise of the Vessels must have been composed sometime between late antiquity and the seventeenth century” (pp. 396-397).

That’s obviously quote a span of time. But the important point is that the earliest guess is about 1500 years after biblical chronology has Solomon, and roughly 1000 years after the temple’s destruction.

So don’t get too excited.

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  • Dave Lewis

    It’s amazing to me how many ancient documents there are that haven’t yet been translated. I enjoy reading scholar’s opinions concerning the significance of these documents. I’m currently reading Gabriele Boccaccini – Beyond the Essene Hypothesis – The Parting of the Ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism. It’s interesting how a relatively minor character in the Hebrew Bible became a major character in three extrabiblical books.

  • haibane13

    What would it mean if someone discovered the Ark itself.

    • mheiser

      It would mean that there would be a datable artifact that could conceivably help with the dating of the biblical material about the ark.

      • aeneas

        Nonsense. It would mean that an “army that carries the ark before it is invincible.” ?

        • mheiser

          Funny!