Ark of the Covenant: Journals, photos and more 15Jan10

Here’s an extract from my journals whilst investigating the Ark of the Covenant… exploring the role of belief and how it influences our understanding of history… Also lots more videos, photos, interactive map of our journeys, and more from the investigation on the Discovery Website.

Click on to read the Journal from the Ark

Field Dispatch: Ark of the Covenant: Believe it or not?
Historical documents record the existence of the Ark of the Covenant as a chest that housed the 10 commandments, given by God to Moses. Fortunately there were only 10 commandments, otherwise Moses would have needed a bigger box. That aside, did it really exist and did it really house the power of God inside? Of course, I have absolutely no idea. The historic and archeological records are wholly inconclusive, but is that the point?

If you believe in the Ark of the Covenant, then the Ark exists and vice versa. If you believe the Ark is missing, then you probably believe that when it’s found, it will bring strength to the weak and the oppressed will be free. And in my book, that conclusion is pretty good thing to believe in. Amen to that. I like happy endings. But isn’t that really a bit of a cop-out?

Belief remains at the core of so many great historical mysteries, but it may also supply an all too easy “get-out-jail-free” or “one-size fits all” generic super-conclusion to many of the historical riddles we question in this series. Yes, we can look at the historical, geological and archeological records to inform our opinion, but at some point, we’re still left projecting into the unknown – often based on belief, or even faith.

But what role does belief play in influencing our understanding of history? Well obviously a lot, but it’s one of those questions that I’ve never thought to ask until starting to make this series. So what is belief and where did it come from? Well it’s clearly way above my pay-grade and brain-station to have anything meaningful to contribute on the subject, but I like the question and hopefully hopefully someone reading this will have some intelligent thoughts to contribute and challenge.

Recent archeological discoveries gives credible evidence that religious practices have occurred for the last 300,000 to 500,000 years. Today, the vast majority of the world believes in something (less than 0.005% are atheists, I think) while religious subscription is declining in Europe, it is rising in America, Africa and Asia. As we continue to push out the frontiers of our knowledge to the point when we’re even trying to replicate the conditions of the Big Bang, why do the majority continue to want and need to believe in something mysterious?
Strip back the layers and complexity of modern religious thought, structure and practice and maybe there are clues to be found in the building blocks of belief. Prayer, ritual, meditation, music, art, history (oral and written) and ancestral and cultural traditions all help us understand the origins, evolution, the role and importance of belief systems in identity and society. Belief systems have traditionally helped us explain our existence and form the basis of how we see the world around us, often providing a guide to how we relate to our world. Time and again it is a leap of faith to explain the inexplicable and at times of fear, the belief structure can provides protection, consolation and even understanding. But with the benefits of modern science, is all religion and belief as Richard Dawkins claims, delusional? If so, is there a place for delusion? And how does that understanding, help us deal with religious extremism?

Is human morality defined by our modern religions or did it grow out of primate sociality, and evolved through our tribal ancestry? These are questions that I do not know the answers to, but they are questions I feel I should ask if I want to learn about our past, and leave my minds open to enjoy the magical possibility that we might just not have all the answers.

Read this journal on the Discovery site

12 Responses to “Ark of the Covenant: Journals, photos and more”

  1. amanda Says:

    Hi Olly,
    first i would like to say i thought the show was great, top notch!! but as i was reading this entry i thought about it and personally i dont think we will ever figure it out. Where does belief anf faith come from? I think it comes from a place inside of us, somewhere unexplainable.The part of us that wants answers when something goes wrong in our lives, the part of us that feels they can no longer hold on. Being somewhat of an Agnostic/buddhist raised Catholic i definitely believe in something, not nesscarily a god, but an entity that guides us and gives us holy advice, like serentipity. I think the main thing to remember is that out of all the major religions in this world they all have i one thing in common. Faith, and hope for the better. I cant say that will help you understand, but maybe it did!
    Have fun in Cali, i love it there!!
    — Amanda ;)

  2. Samantha Says:

    I watched the show and it was great. I even got my niece to watch it. Very interesting extract from your journal, Olly. It really makes you think. Sorry, I have no answers for you. There are so many religions out there. I didn’t go to church as a child. My dad was raised pentacost and my mom was raised babtist. My husband was raised catholic. For a few months last year I attended a babtist church. I’ve been reading up on a lot of different religions. I don’t agree with a lot of what some believe, but that brings up the questions…Why do I not believe what they believe and What if I’m wrong and they are right? I don’t think any of us have the right answers. We all just believe differently and I think belief comes from within yourself. If it feels right to you then it’s right. (I guess). lol

    Lookin forward to the next show! I hope your having lots of fun.


  3. Samantha Says:

    I just read about some of the pictrues that you took. Great pictures. But oh my goodness Olly! It worries me to think of your lungs bleeding. I can see that you got well, but I’m so sorry to hear that you were so sick (and puking in the water doesn’t sound like fun). The things you go through just to make a show makes you more like Indiana Jones than you think. Very difficult shows to make. Please keep yourself healthy.


  4. Carmen Says:

    Well, I’ve wanted to comment both on the show and your blog for several days now, but quite honestly, didn’t really think I had much of anything important to add, so I just kept quiet. But, this morning I was looking through about 50+ photos of all the destruction, devastation, grief and pure hell that the people in Haiti are enduring at the moment. Bodies, bodies, bodies everywhere. And I came upon a picture of a patient being treated at a makeshift, outdoor clinic. About 5 or 6 people were standing nearby praying. Some with arms outstretched to the Heavens, others with heads bowed and hands in prayer, but all with the most sincere earnestness and grief, and pleading looks of desperation on their faces. Begging God. Beseeching God, to please help. And I guess it kind of hit me… We all really want to be taken care of. Someone to help pull us through hard times. To guide us. To let us know if we are doing things the right way. To keep us safe. To tell us that everything will be OK, and then make it so. It’s why a good parent is priceless and mourned forever once they’re gone. It’s actually, probably, even why we marry… Thinking that we’ll have all those things in, and be all those things to, a spouse. A support system.
    So amidst all that destruction and death, there is still hope. Hope that there is more to this life than what we see around us and the hardships we are experiencing. We have to remember, that most of us reading this have pretty “cushy” lives. (If your power has ever gone out for a day or so, you’ll know what pansies we become, and how quickly!!) But even we have moments and times of true and real desperation. So now imagine the lives of the vast majority of the people on this planet… Not so cushy. (Olly, I’m sure you’ve seen more of this than any of us can imagine.) Spiritual belief almost becomes a need. A coping mechanism.
    Couple all that with the fact that there is much out there that is, even to this day, still unexplainable and mysterious that we need a good explanation for and that now science is telling us that the vast majority of us are “pre-wired” for belief in God or a higher power. It seems we are almost destined to be believers. (Or, at least the vast majority us.)
    And then, there is religion… Which, if you ask me, is a bit of a separate category. The way I see it, spirituality is your personal relationship with God, a higher power, or whatever word/name one choses to use. There are many paths to God. Religion, on the other hand, requires followers to conform to a certain set of beliefs. For me, it takes the personal relationship away and tells me how and what I am supposed to believe, even if I can’t muster that belief. But I know many, if not most, find the ritual and the dogmas asserted by their churches to be a comfort and a blessing. And, as long as this harms no one, that is a good thing.


  5. admin Says:

    thank you for your thoughts and support…Sorry i’ve been rubbish and not had time to reply yet – but I will – as I always do… just may take a few more days! thanks again and sorry! xolly

  6. Tan Says:

    Hi, Olly
    Sorry for not be able to give you the answer to your question of belief. I absolutely had no idea where it come from, or how I came to belief in certain thing. I guess one must have to belief in something, it a kind of mechanism for the survival, I guess. Without belief in something than you have no hope, and when you have no hope, what would you life be? Just as those people in Haiti right now, I bet they do belief and still have hope. I guess belief and hope + faith all go together as one I knows my do. Anyhow, just want to let you know I love the show. Just one question about the underground tunnel, could it be possible that there are others tunnel that could be use in order to move the Ark of the Covenant out of the city? I know they show you that one tunnel but could it be more tunnels somewhere around there that they did know about because it collapsed within the last thousand or two thousand years ago. Take care and best wish, Tan.

  7. K. Mercer Says:

    Any adventure/exploration involving religion is fascinating to me. Thus, why I particularly enjoyed this episode. My favorite part? The priest ushering you back several times from the replica Ark. Couldn’t help but giggle and roll my eyes. I too would have wanted to bully past him!
    Great show. Keep up the good work.

  8. Kasumi-Subjective Insanity Says:

    What is Belief?-it’s when you intuitively know-when your mind, heart, and soul can actually make the distinction between reality vs. the imaginary. Though one might say-but how do you know your “belief” is real? I truly believe-pun intended-that each person in order to believe that something is true and that it exist-has to of had a personal experience with whatever that subject of the belief in question is about. A confirmation if you will, which can happen in many different ways, but it is usually coined or taylored to the individual themself. Meaning that each unique person acquires the experiences(sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels, senses) the action, epiphany, of something inquestion and then it internally becomes a belief. Yes some beliefs are strangely inherited by some people and this throws my hypothesis to the wind. But in my own case and beliefs-I will not believe in anything supernatural or unknown unless I’ve actually had an experience to qualify my belief. So w/that bable the only other thing I wanted to say-that I feel once an action or experience has happened-this is the epiphany that spurs a belief or facts that your belief exist-then of course these things are usually random precision-ha if you will-so they dont happen all the time making them subjects of scrutiny and the common questions of debate. To conclude-I fell you have an experience-which leads to facts-which leads to a belief in something unknown to you specifically before this point in time-which then leads to FAITH-which then leads to prayer-which leads to a personal relationship with God-which leads to your prayers getting answered-which leads you back to #1. Then it starts all over. I do not by any means believe in the order of randomness-our world is too magnificent and detailed-I respect and admire your fascination for all the mysterys our little planet holds. Keep rockin-but always take time to stop and gaze once in a while at all the beauty. Sorry for the tangit! Ciao-K

  9. Questions Says:

    Great show Olly!
    I was having trouble believing that any of the legends were legit, especially the Ethiopia theory. Then when the priest pulled out the breastplate, I got chills. Why else would anyone have the breastplate, except for the ark? My mind is still blown away almost two months later!

    Most people that I know want to believe in something, but often tailor their worldview to their own experience or what they would want. Many tailor to what they want in order to justify a lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed to, but the structure is the same where their humanity is the center of the belief structure, and their ‘god’ or ‘entity’ is designed in their image and operates according to their rules. This leads to subjective belief structures, relative morality, or, as the church labels it, universalism. All of these structures have the same flaw: if anyone can believe anything and still end up in eternity, nirvana, heaven, etc., what would be the point in believing in anything? If all end up the same, why believe anything at all? After all, the worldview that would be designed would cause a person to act in a such and such a way, which would in turn lead to some form of religion or dogmatism. All demand some level of conformity.

    In a belief structure where there are no rules, there is still a truth claim. The truth claim is that there are no rules, and therefore those who follow a belief structure that has rules are wrong. If one says, ‘there is no way to know what is really true,’ they are under the presumption that their own statement is true, and have thus contradicted themselves. If what is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me, what if my truth says that your truth is a lie, is mine still true? There is, therefore, no such thing as a relative morality or subjective belief system.

    So, the questions are centered around these 4 ideas:
    1) Does God exist? Who/What is God? Answering this leads to an infinite number of implications as to how one lives.
    2) What does it mean to be human? Again, infinite implications.
    3) What is good/evil? Are these dependent upon who defines them? And if so, who does define them?
    4) What is good/evil? How do we deal with good/evil? Are humans inherently good? Are humans inherently evil? How do we correct evil to make it good?

    Do the answers to any of these 4 have serious implications in any of the others? If so, do they contradict? In other words, does the way you live your life reflect what you say you believe, or do you live in contradiction to these principles?

    There are 5 more aspects that could be discussed here, but these 4 are just a sample of the essentials.

    Much love from a fellow historian!

  10. Michelle Says:

    Belief in the supernatural started off as an explaination for things people didn’t understand. It still serves that purpose for many. For some it is a cop-out from accepting reality. People don’t want to accept that there is only this one life. They don’t want to accept that this life is unfair, they want to know that evil will be punished and the good will be rewarded. My pov is based on being raised Catholic and now I’m one of those rare atheists. So basically there are two choices, accept that life can be cruel and unfair or believe there is some masterplan by some meddling superbeing and all will be equalized in the end.

  11. Graham Says:

    An interesting thought – which could be extended to ask whether or not science is in itself merely a variant on a religion with regards to its belief factor. Contemporary scientists are investigating into the possibility of there being theoretical particles and the possible benefits they could used for if they do exist, the existence of which would account for various current holes in theories, but in essence its still a belief that drives them, its still faith that keeps them working on their projects to potential huge gains for humanity. Does it make it any different that there are indicators under the laws of physics for this, as opposed to scriptures of religion?
    But this has always been the same – read about old remedies and you find them based purely on faith or (by modern standards) very shaky logic, but the results can be seen. For example, willow bark was used to make a tea to cure people with the ague as, on sympathetic principles, the essence of the shaking tree will negate the shakes caused by the ague … which works as the natural compound for aspirin is found in willow bark but that understanding was much later in its discovery. For years people have wrapped cuts in cobwebs to help them heal, but it wasn’t till the 20th century that webs were found to have antiseptic, analgesic and coagulating abilities. Obviously with these examples there was anecdotal evidence to it working to support the belief, which can be said of some current scientific theories – but is that any different from a belief held by a religious premise to explain something which, while it may have the reasoning and understanding wrong, is still true in effect? Just because we haven’t found scientific proof to prove or disprove the existence of an afterlife or ghosts, doesn’t mean that a belief in them is ill-placed.
    But as to where faith and belief come from? That will probably still be debated long after the truth behind whether or not god is real.
    Is that a problem? Personally I’d say not in most cases. Most people’s faith and belief provides them with security and re-assurance during times of doubt and need, or allows them to have a sense of community and direction.
    Where faith has become twisted into a means to justify someone’s own selfish or destruction actions (extremist groups for example) – that’s where the problem lies

  12. catherine Says:

    Olly, I am a christian and have studied the Bible for years. You can not approach the Spiritual in a carnal frame of mind. There will never be any answers. Truly, if the Ark is in the Temple you found, you will never be able to see it. It is the seat God Himself sat on in the Holy of Holies. Only one person could enter that area, and only once a year. He had to be spiritually clean or he would have died when he entered. No human hands could touch the Ark. It was a Holy object, and no human being would survive touching it without dying. To posess the Ark would cause catastrophic circumstances in the world today. There is too much greed and lack of understanding about it. It is best left where God hid it. It’s His anyway. How could a mere human presume to be able to control such Holiness and power. I did enjoy your show. It was wonderful seeing all of the artifacts you found. But leave God’s Holy Mercy Seat alone. God bless.

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