The Ark at Edfu

Don Knebel traveled with BAS to Egypt in 2007; subsequently Jordan and many other places in the world.   In 2015 he wrote “Flushed with Curiosity; 101 Travel Tales with a Twist”,  all of which were spearheaded by his travels.  Don says “I have tried to find stories in the places we visit that exhibit not only our common humanity but the traditions and religious beliefs that both unite and divide us”.  Don has graciously agreed to let us include some excerpts on our blog. They have been lightly edited.

People have long speculated about the fate of the Ark of the Covenant the Bible says the Israelites carried during their Exodus from Egypt.  Although of no help on that question, a well-preserved Egyptian temple may provide clues about the origins of that famous box.

The Temple of Edfu was built by the Greek rulers of Egypt beginning in the third century B.C. to honor Horus, the falcon god of the sky. Following the model of much earlier temples, a small statue of Horus resided in a niche in the temple’s Holy of Holies, accessible only by the pharaoh and the high priest.  Priests occasionally transported the god statue away from the temple in an ark (box) resting in a miniature boat carried on two poles.   A replica of the ark now displayed in the Holy of Holies is based on a wall relief showing the ark with its poles sitting on a pedestal in a boat floating on the Nile.  Two bird-like creatures face each other above the ark, their wings extending over the seat on which Horus sat.

Temple Wall at Edfu

Temple Wall at Edfu
Photo by Don Knebel

So what does Edfu’s ark of Horus have to do with the Ark of the Covenant?   According to the Bible, the Ark of the Covenant, enthroning the invisible Jewish God, was carried on two poles attached by rings to the base.  The Ark incorporated two “cherubim” facing each other, their wings extending over the “mercy seat” from which God spoke.  When the Israelites built their Temple in Jerusalem, they ensconced the Ark in its Holy of Holies, which the Jewish High Priest entered once each year.  Jewish soldiers carried God in the Ark as they went to battle the Philistines.

The Temple of Edfu was built following the Exodus. So the ark of Horus might have drawn on descriptions of the Ark of the Covenant.  The striking resemblances could be coincidental.  However, temples erected before the Exodus contain similar, less-well-preserved, images of arks transporting Egyptian gods.  It seems likely that the Israelites, as they left Egypt, carried their invisible God in an ark similar to the ones with which they were familiar.

Flushed with Curiosity; 101 Travel Tales with a Twist

Flushed With Curiosity
From the author’s website:

For years, Don Knebel, an Indianapolis attorney, law professor, speaker and civic leader, has traveled with his wife Jen to interact with the world’s people and learn about their customs and their religions. The idea for this book came when he discovered that not all people find western bathroom plumbing an improvement. From that exposure of his cultural bias, he began looking in the places he visits for stories and pictures reflecting our common humanity and the beliefs and traditions that both divide and unite us. Some of the stories describe people we can never forget. A few are about bodies that end up in more than one place. Some of the stories are quirky, some are inspirational and some contradict common assumptions. All help show our connections to each other and only one is about toilets. The 101 stories are arranged in roughly chronological order, providing a quick and fascinating tour through the 10,000-year history of western and near eastern civilization. If you plan to travel, this book can suggest where to go. If you don’t plan to travel, this book can tell you what you’ll miss.

Related content in Bible History Daily:

Medinet Habu: Philistines in Egypt

Biblical History at Karnak Temple


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