Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Porzig, Peter, Die Lade Jahwes im Alten Testament und in den Texten vom Toten Meer (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009). Pp. xi + 354. Cloth. US$ 139.00. ISBN 987–3–110–21292–1.

Porzig's book, based on his doctoral thesis, investigates the ark of YHWH: Using an explicitly diachronic approach (p. v) the author follows diligently every reference to ’arôn in the Old Testament and the texts of Qumran.

Following the order of biblical books in the Tanakh, he begins with the first mention of ’arôn in Gen 50:26, where the term stands for a container with Joseph's bones. Porzig argues that the writers and redactors of this and related passages were intentionally leaving an identification of Joseph's coffin and the sacred object open.

Chapter 2 examines the ark in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, concluding that the ark was nowhere part of a first text layer and only later Priestly redactors employed the ark as a transportable representation of the Holy (p. 40). An even later development—so Porzig—is the idea of ’arôn ha‘edût; in which the ark merely functions as a container.

In chapter 3 the author focuses on Deuteronomy and Joshua. He argues that the core of Deuteronomy did not know of the ark, so one cannot speak of a “Deuteronomic,” but rather only of a “Deuteronomistic” (p. 53) notion of the ark (e.g., Deut 10:1–5). After a very thorough analysis of Joshua 3–4, Joshua 6, and Joshua 7–8 Porzig concludes that most likely the ark is found only in additions to the earliest layers in Joshua 1–12* and 24* (p. 98).

After briefly discussing in chapter 4 the single mention of the ark in Judges, Porzig investigates passages about the ark in the books of Samuel and Kings in his fifth and longest chapter. Analyzing carefully 1 Samuel 1–3, he identifies possible connections with the following chapters where the ark plays an important role. Porzig examines Leonhard Rost's thesis about the so-called “Ark narrative” and concludes that even though the texts are later interconnected, there was no original continuous work as Rost supposes. Porzig locates the earliest layer of 1 Samuel 4–6 in 1 Samuel 4* (p. 155), to which the account of the triumphal travel of the ark through the country of the Philistines was secondarily added (p. 156). The coherence of the passages sometimes labelled the “Ark narrative” (1 Sam 4-7:1; 2 Sam 6), is secondary and there is no reason to assume an original continuous narrative (p. 156). He also notes that MT 1 Sam 14:18, which contains a reference to the ark, cannot be used to support an oracular function of the ark (p. 160). After a profound textual-critical analysis of 2 Sam 6 Porzig concludes that the original core of the chapter is to be found in vv. 5, 13–14, 17–19 and was only later arranged as a cultic procession (p. 171).

A relatively long chapter is devoted to 1 Kings 6–8. Porzig reconstructs the core of 1 Kings 8 as a few verses that report Solomon calling together the elders of Israel followed by their bringing the ark up from the city of David. In addition to its questionable historicity, several observations in the text suggest that the account of the construction of the temple and the narrative of the transport of the ark were originally neither historically nor literary a unit. (p. 211).

Chapter 6 addresses the Latter Prophets in which the ark is mentioned only once (Jer 3:16), also in a text that cannot be used for any historic reconstruction (p. 226).

Porzig begins his investigation of the Psalms in chapter 7 by referring briefly to earlier research that assumed the use of Psalms in certain religious festivities related to the ark. He then analyses the only psalm where the ark is actually mentioned, Ps 132. He sees it as an example of a late postexilic understanding of the ark as a representation of YHWH's presence on Zion, closely connected with the election of David. Chapter 8 turns to Chronicles, where the ark is generally interpreted along the lines of other passages. It is always subordianted to the Levitical cult and the Chronicler's very positive image of David. (p. 254).

In chapter 9 Porzig analyses the eight possible references to the ark in nonbiblical texts from Qumran. These texts do not show any particular interest in the ark and interpret it similarly to the biblical authors or in one case, continue the tradition of the ark as a container for the law (p. 294).

In his epilogue Porzig returns to the first reference to an ark in Genesis (Joseph's “coffin”) and considers the possible content of the ark. He not only focuses on inner-biblical ideas but also mentions different theses based on comparisons from surrounding cultures and concludes that there is much interest in this question, though it is not possible to find convincing answers (p. 285).

In his last chapter Porzig summarizes his position on the compositional history of the ark texts and offers a possible development of the different ark traditions. He sees the loss of the ark (1 Samuel 4) as the historical crystallization point from which the ark then took on various meanings and functions. Through its introduction into the Pentateuch the ark became rooted in the Mosaic salvation history and as a result found space in the Jerusalem temple. Its function as a representation of YHWH's presence, however, can be only post-Deuteronomistic. Even later is the addition of the kapporet, which makes the ark an important connective element between the founding of Israel and later times.

There was probably no official cult around the ark in the First Temple, and it is unlikely that this object was still present in the Second Temple. The ark was important for postexilic theologians because only a transportable holy object could be the place of any legitimate cult before the building of the temple. This supported the function of the ark as the place of YHWH's presence and made its relocation into the temple logical and necessary.

Porzig's book is logically structured and therefore easy to read. Short summaries at the end of the chapters (done consistently only in the first three chapters) give the reader a good overview; several excurses point out questions that are—or have repeatedly been—objects of research in relation to the ark.

He consistently uses a diachronic approach and is sensitive to methodological issues. As the objective of his study suggests, Porzig faithfully looks at the broader context of the passages in question as well. His results—as he himself is aware of (p. vi)—are not indisputable, but are still based on sound arguments.

An ample bibliography containing newer works in the field and a practical index of references make Porzig's book a useful aid for both studying individual passages related to the ark and obtaining a comprehensive overview.

Yvonne Szedlàk-Michel, University of Bern, Switzerland