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Ark of the Covenant


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Personal note from the artist:

Through out art history many illustrations and interpretations of the ark have been made. This image was made in order to satisfy my personal curiosity of what the Ark of the Covenant may have looked like.

In order to lend a degree of authenticity to my efforts my approach to illustrating the Ark was to use the artistic tools, iconography and imagery available to artisans who had received their training in Egypt during the 13th century BCE.

This premise was used because I reasoned the artisans who built the Ark for Moses would have been trained in Egypt in their craft prior to their departure from Egypt during the Exodus and that the artistic tools and language they would have used would be the ones they had learned in Egypt while learning their craft. Therefore this interpretation of the ark is made entirely from iconography that existed in Egypt on or before 1250 BCE.

The conclusion that the artisans were trained in Egypt is based on my own life experience in crafting art objects the hands on abilities to conceptualize and build an art object are deffinately acquired and not inspired skills.

Exodus 31 Verses 1-11

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: "See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship. And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all who are gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you:

"The tabernacle of meeting, the ark of the Testimony and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furniture of the tabernacle; the table and its utensils, the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base; the garments of ministry, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests, and the anointing oil and sweet incense for the holy place. According to all that I have commanded you they shall do."

This page and the associated pages are presented to share the circumstances under which I undertook this task and the information I used to make this image. You may not agree with what is presented however please understand that I undertook this project for my personal edification. This is truly a work in progress because I have yet to close the book on the project.

Text and images are copyright protected
For permission to reproduce please contact:
Comstock Sculpture Studio Email: 
Copyright 2000 by Comstock Sculpture Studio
Online Edition Copyright  2001 by Chester Comstock

This Concept is a Work in Progress to be reproduced as a life sized sculpture in which the Ark ( rectangular container) will be 46 7/8" X 28 1/4"

List of Recommended Reading
Ark of the Covenant On the

In December of 1998, an official of a church in Denver Colorado ask me to do an interpretation of the Ark of the Covenant, as I thought it might have looked. After receiving this request my objective and focus became to come up with what I considered to be an authentic illustration of the Ark of the Covenant.

My research basically consisted of finding as many illustrations of the ark as possible and to see what props Hollywood had come up with during the making of films about the Exodus. One of the really fun parts of doing this research was to review films that had been made about this period in history. My Blockbuster account was in constant use for several months while I reviewed as many movies as they had in stock about the Exodus Period. By the way the movie " The Ten Commandments" which you might think would have an Ark in it never shows the Ark among the Hebrews.

During my research, I found a great many illustrations of the Ark but clearly the most prevalent tendency was for the artist to use artistic conventions and standards from their own geographic local and historic time frame and not those of Egypt in the period 1220 BCE which is the chronological time frame judged by some scholars to be the approximate date of the Exodus.

Although I felt challenged by the task, I felt particularly well prepared for this assignment. I had been studying Middle Eastern art and antiquities as an avocation associated with my art career for about eight years before talking to the Pastor at the church. In addition to having a basic knowledge of art History one of my primary areas of interest before getting this assignment had been to focus in my Bible Studies on the chronological comparison of historic Egypt with the biblical accounts of the patriarchs of the Hebrews during the historic period of the Jewish sojourn.

SEE: "Timelines and Events of the Hebrew Sojourn"

Once challenged to come up with a likeness of the Ark I had a strong personal interest in determining what the appearance of the ark might have been. In order to handle this project I spent another six months of study focusing on determining the language and iconography used in Egypt during the approximate historic time frame of the Exodus with the objective of illustrating the Ark of the Covenant in an authentic way. After doing this added research and after looking at other artists concepts of the Ark I had failed to find any illustrations of the Ark that passed my critical review and I realized that I was applying a logic train that went something like this:

Ark of the Covenant Illustration done using
13th century BC Egyptian Iconography

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Illustration done in Cinema 4D


The Hebrews having lived in Egypt for over two hundred and fifty years and having just left Egypt would have been influenced conceptually in their thinking and art by what they had seen and heard in Egypt, particularly Moses.

The ark is said to have been built shortly after the Exodus occurred, therefore the craftsmen who were commissioned to build the Ark would have learned their craft in Egypt. With both of these considerations in mind I reasoned it is highly likely the conventions and imagery used to build the Ark would have been totally consistent with conventions used in Egyptian art on or before 1220 BCE. I reasoned that if I wanted to know what the Ark would have looked like I should apply only the conventions of Egyptian art from the historic time of the Exodus to the illustration of the ark and I reasoned that an illustration of the Ark using these standards of iconography and morphology would be consistent with its use and meaning within the Hebrew culture.

So the basis for for finding out what the likely appearance of the Ark was became " use the Iconography that existed in Egypt on or before the historic date of the Exodus to do my illustration."

With this standard being the criteria for creating my illustration the next step was to learn the conventions in use within Egypt at this historic time frame and to strictly discipline myself to use these and only these conventions in the creation of my illustrations and prototypes of the Ark. I have been criticized for making the ark look Egyptian however, the artisans that made the ark would have learned their craft in the Egyptian craft guilds that existed in Egypt and I reasoned those are the only set of artistic tools they would have had to create the Ark.

There is little need to speculate about what the guilds were like at the time of the Exodus, there are Middle Egyptian tomb paintings that clearly illustrate the activities in the craft guilds. The nobleman who ran the guilds for commerce used these illustrations to decorate their tombs as a way of saying"This is who I am, the man who organized and ran the craft guilds for the king."

The Biblical account of the patriarch Joseph tells us he was vizier in Egypt during the middle kingdom period. It is noteworthy that these tombs illustrate the duties performed by an Egyptian official in a similar position.

Craftsmen Guild Building Golden Shrines illustrated in tomb of Rekhmire,
Rekhmire was 'Governor of the Town' (Thebes) and 'Vizier' during
the reigns of Tuthmose III (1479-1425bce)
and Amenhotep II (1427-1393bce)of Dynasty XVIII.

Although you may not agree with my thesis, The illustration of the Ark, on these pages, is the full development of the concept of how the Ark may have been illustrated by an artist using the conventions of Egyptian art in the historic period of 1220 BCE. The second consideration I have in my favor was the fact that I had trained for thirty five years to create sculptural art and have some instincts about how readily an artist can switch styles based on inspiration alone. It would be fare to compare my initial illustration to a modern blueprint made in preparation for the crafting of the art object. I have often received from clients a fully illustrated blueprint of an art object that they have wanted to have built.

The image below is offered to illustrate my analysis of how most artists have approached the illustration of the Ark for their particular culture and society. For a brief comparison of what is known in art history today as to what was know in a previous era see below the 17 Century Biblical Illumination of 1 Samuel 5:1-7 done by french neo-classical artist Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665). This Biblical illumination is of the story of the the Philistines stealing the Ark and taking it to their coastal cities of Ashdod, Askelon and Gaza.

Poussin was considered to be an academian of his time however based on what is known today about the history of Hebrew and Egyptian Art this illustration does not demonstrate much of an understanding of 12 century BCE art but instead uses the neo-classical style preferred by the French Aristocracy of the 17th century. It is therefore the neo-classical style that dominates this illustration. The neo-classical style has its artistic roots in Roman and Greek art and the Italian Renaissance which is a world removed from 12th century BCE Egypt and the time of the Exodus.

"The Ark Of Ashdod" 16th Century French Neo-classical Biblical Illumination

"The Ark Of Ashdod" 17th Century French Neo-classical
Biblical Illumination of 1 Samuel 5:1-7
By Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

About Egyptian Art of the 12 century BCE:

It is a characteristic of Egyptian art that nothing in the compositions was left to chance. Within Egyptian illustration, every gesture, symbol and glyph has a very specific meaning and the meaning of the whole is often enhanced significantly depending on the additive nature of its parts. As I built this illustration I couldn't help but marvel at the cumulative significance and consistency the Egyptian symbols had with literary and scriptural references to the Ark.

It is characteristic of Egyptian iconography within an illustration to be read as if it were part of a text. The way the iconography is read and applied to an illustration creates its own meaning. These subtleties are rooted in the fact that the Classical Egyptian language was written in Hieroglyphics. The phonetic aspects of Hieroglyphs and their meaning often were directly derived from pictographs and iconography, making the language replete with double meaning and pun. The ancient Egyptian language was very conservative in its evolution throughout its history and remained the instrument of the scribes and the ruling classes. It was not until much later in history at approximately the time of the creation of the Phoenician Alphabet and its derivatives languages that words were written entirely phonetically and with no pictorial references.

At this point in time after the evolution of language away from the formal Hieroglyphic texts it appears that written language become more egalitarian in its general use and application, however the majority of the populous in any given culture remained illiterate.

In order to understand the approximate chronology of events relating to the Hebrew sojourn look at the "Timelines and Events of the Hebrew Sojourn" superimposed on a Historic Chronology of The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt"

The evolution and blending of Biblical chronologies and historic chronologies remains one of the hot topics for research and development within the scientific and religious communities. Unfortunately often these disciplines are at odds with one another in coming to logical conclusions concerning the most obvious and needed corrections. Fortunately as an artist I can take and blend the best of both worlds and not feel like I have somehow compromised my integrity.

Many questions about the origins of the earliest scriptures arose as a result of this inquiry which are still unresolved. The most interesting of these questions came from doing a critical analysis of the time frame and locations of the development of written languages.

One of the most interesting questions was in what language did Moses record the Pentateuch? Most historical evidence points to the fact that Hebrew was developed as a written language in the seventh century BCE, balancing this fact with the fact that Moses is credited with writing the Pentanteuch during the Wilderness experience becomes problematic. I had to conclude that he may have written his inspirations in an Egyptian script that was later translated and recorded into Hebrew by other scribes.

Other questions arose from examining the chronology of events and the comparative analysis of known events in the histories of Egyptian and Aegean Cultures during the time frame of the Exodus and occupation of Canaan.

The results of some of these studies done during my analysis are featured in other articles within this web site and others will be published in the future.

See Links to other related research:


Scale model of Ark of the Covenant

Model of the concept to be built as a full sized replica of the
Ark of the Covenant

Some of the meanings conveyed within the Egyptian iconography as applied to the illustration of the Ark are:

  • The primordial waters:

    In Graham Hancock's book "The Sign and the Seal" he mentions the metaphorical comparison of the Ark to the Virgin Mary. This comparison is a traditional metaphor that is extremely well developed in the Roman Catholic liturgy. In a sense a woman's amniotic fluids can be compared to the primordial waters of creation. In fact, universally life still comes forth from this source throughout nature. For Christians the metaphor becomes that through Mary the living word came forth from the womb as the Ark was a vessel for the word of God.

  • Lotus Flowers, Water Lily:

    Life, healing and resurrection.

  • Palace or Royal Dwelling:

    Traditionally Ark was God's dwelling place among the Hebrews. During my research it was interesting to note this decorative border is used extensively in the Tutankhamen burial shrines.

  • Throne Glyph:

    The throne of God, a place of Judgment and meeting place with God. This symbol could also represent graphically the Mercy seat.

  • The figures in a gesture of worship and adoration:

  • Proportions of the Golden Mean:

    5 parts wide to 3 parts high and wide.

    Although the discovery of the Golden mean is often credited to the Greeks. These proportions are found consistently throughout Egyptian art and were considered sacred. The story of Moses (1250 BCE) being instructed by God to make the Ark according to these proportions is not the first record of these proportions being considered sacred. By example and historic record the use of these propotions in sacred objects predates the constuction of the pyramids of Giza. For example there are various stone sacophogous which predate the pyramids of Giza that were bulit according to these proportions. Examples are commonplace if you look for them.

    More specifcially these proportions are found in the construction of the funerary shrines in Tutankhamen's tomb. It is interesting to note that the artifacts in this tomb were created fully 200 years before the Exodus occurred. It is evident these proportions were clearly recognized and used consistently by the Egyptians in their sacred furnishings, shrines and temples long before the time of Moses. Although the best evidence of this is shown in the Tutankhamen shrines in their entirety I'm sure the proportions were canonized as sacred within Egyptian art long before the time of Tutankhamen.

    As an example of the use of these proportions as sacred, they were later used as the primary dimensions in the Greek design of the Temple of Dendera built during the rule of Egypt by the Ptolemy's .

    These proportions have remained an important standard in art and architecture. You may want to do a study on the use of Golden mean it art and composition.

  • Spiritual Gateway:

    The grove of sycamore trees representing a gateway, in this context it is a spiritual gateway.

  • Clenched Fist:

    Signifying the feminine aspect of creation.

  • Hand held in position signifying worship:

    Wings of Cherubim held in the symbolic gesture of protection and safety. These figures represent Cherubim as the heavenly worshipers and messengers of God.
  • The priests carrying wear belts with trailers made of snake skins:

    These belts are symbolic of the conquering of mans lower nature, very much in the tradition of St. George slaying the Dragon, one of my favorite Christian Icons.

  • One of the most important characteristics of classical Egyptian art was the principle of stacking used in creating their compositions. When understood and applied to reading the imagery within the illustration this principle allows you to look at the entire composition as a landscape. I realize that this compositional principle is a bit abstract so I will attempt a brief explanation. Because of the general lack of the use of perspective in Egyptian art the artists worked with other artistic conventions to translate concepts. Stacking was a convention that was used instead of perspective to convey spatial concepts. In the case of this composition using the principle of stacking allowed the composition to be looked at as a landscape in sculptural form.

  • The Ark is symbolically a vessel or vehicle, an Ark of transport to carry God's law, which can be likened to the belly of a boat used as a ceremonial shrine. This convention was commonly used in Egypt, and boats were one of the most common forms of transportation used for spiritual ceremonies in Egypt.

  • The Ark was the central object of focus for worship, sacrifice and judgment for the Hebrews in this historic time frame from 1220BCE until the time of its disappearance in 586 BCE. See the old Testament book of Jeremiah

Many people have speculated that the Ark magically functioned as a transmitter-receiver. At the very least it was point of contact between God and the Hebrew priesthood. Which is a spiritual power supply only the initiated would have fully understood.

The next step was to apply these conventions to my illustration and to strictly discipline myself to use these and only these conventions in the prototype of the Ark. The line drawing of the Ark, on these pages, is the result and my concept of how the Ark may have been created by an artist using the conventions of Egyptian art in the historic period of 1220 BCE. When viewing this concept remember that in the development of Egyptian classical art nothing was left to chance and artists were trained to employ conventional standards.

Within Egyptian illustration, every gesture, symbol and glyph has a very specific meaning and the meaning of the whole is often enhanced significantly depending on the additive nature of its parts. The better the artist the more meaning could be rendered to a topic or illustration. As I built this illustration I couldn't help but marvel at the cumulative significance and consistency the Egyptian symbology had with the meaning assigned to the Ark within literary and scriptural references to the Ark.

Coner Detail Ark Of the Covenant
Corner Detail from working Model

I am currently transcribing my line drawings into three-dimensional models of 1/5 and 1/10 scales. The actual dimensions of the model are 1/5 scale 10" x 6" x 6" inches and 1/10 scale 5" x 3" x 3" inches. I am creating the models because I feel the models would have some appeal to Christians, Hebrews and definitely Egyptians both in Israel and Egypt. I stand half done with the models having the cherubim yet to complete. It may not be possible to find the actual Historic Arc, but I have satisfied to a large extent any curiosity that I had of what its likely appearance of the arc may have been.

If you think you would like to participate financially in the creation of a full-scale replica of this concept contact me and I will explain the procedure.

Chester Comstock

For further information about the Ark of the Covenant: Timelines and Events of the Hebrew Sojourn superimposed on a Historic Chronology of The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt

A selection of information collected about the Ark compiled by Gerald N. Shapiro


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