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Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant

by Brant Pitre April 10, 2019 0 Comments

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All right, so Jesus is the New Adam and Mary is the New Eve.  What about the Ark of the Covenant? Well, if you look at the New Testament, it very clearly depicts Jesus as the New Manna from heaven.  That’s John chapter 6. I deal with that in my book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, right.  Jesus describes himself as the bread that has come down from heaven. Now, if you’re a first century Jew and you know that about Christ, then the question that follows is, well if Jesus is the new manna, then where is the new ark? Because every Jew would've known that when the manna came down, they put it in a golden jar and then they put it in the Ark of the Covenant, right. So, in order to see how Mary fulfills that prophecy of the new ark, we’ve got to go back to the Old Testament and look at the Ark of the Covenant there.

Now, when it comes to the ark, it’s helpful that there was a movie about the ark - Raiders of the Lost Ark —  so, even if you haven’t read the book you’ve seen the movie… oh that joke’s getting too old… okay won’t do it again. All right…Raiders of the Lost Ark… no, actually this is really important for me because when I was a kid, I was too young to see the Raiders of the Lost Ark when it came out in the theater, but I did get a read along record book - the little records that would come along — they had all these pictures of Professor Indiana Jones and the Bible.  And, I remember this one picture from the record book — which I still own — of Indiana Jones pointing at a picture of the Old Testament — it’s an image of the Israelites carrying the Ark of the Covenant into battle. Because whenever they brought the ark into battle they would defeat their enemies. They were unstoppable, and whenever they didn't bring it they would be defeated.  And, of course in the movie that's why the Nazis want the ark.  Because it’s so powerful, right.  I can’t help but wonder if that had any influence on me becoming a Bible professor.  Because, Indiana Jones is a professor - I’m just throwing that out there — he’s a professor!

Anyway, so in the ark in the Old Testament — the Ark of the Covenant — is this powerful object, and it’s powerful because it is the dwelling place of God on earth. The Lord comes down, dwells in the ark with his people then moves with them throughout the desert in the Book of Exodus. So, when you look at Exodus 25-40 you’re going to see some elements of the Ark of the Covenant that are really important for understanding Mary's identity in the New Testament.  Here are a few of them: First, I’ve already mentioned, it's the dwelling place of God on earth. Second, it's a sacred container, okay. So, it was a box made of acacia wood that was covered in gold — with two golden statues of angels on top of it —  and the Israelites put certain things it.  They put three things in particular: first, manna from heaven, I already mentioned that. Second, they put the two tablets of the 10 Commandments in the ark, and then third, they put the staff of Aaron that miraculously budded to show his tribe was the Priestly tribe chosen by God — they put the staff of Aaron in the ark and the carried it about with those three sacred objects.

Most people know that but there are some other elements that are interesting that are easy to miss. Number three, the ark was also described as holy and as having been made of incorruptible wood.  Really interesting.  It was made of this special wood — I already mentioned, it’s called acacia wood — which is very hard, very durable and just does not rot, okay. And, so when you wanted to make something sacred you would use acacia wood, cause was really hard and it didn't corrupt, okay. You don’t use like cheap pine, okay — it just rots like the fence I made a few years back.  I paid big money for it and two years — rotten.  I need an acacia wood fence — that would only cost like $100k. No, incorruptible wood. Fourth, the ark is covered in gold.  Why was it covered in gold? Why didn’t they just give the gold to the poor Israelites — you know people complain, “Why do you have all this gold in your churches?”  Because that’s how God likes it evidently.   Right? He commands them to cover the ark with gold because gold is a symbol of divinity.  And, it's a sign that in the ark, God is with us on earth.  We are like entering into heaven on earth. Whenever you see gold, it's a symbol of heaven on earth; it’s a symbol of purity; it's a symbol of holiness, the absolute holiness of the ark — which, if you look in the book of Kings, it was so holy that if any mere man would touch it, right, he could be struck dead.  Holiness is good, but it’s dangerous.  It’s like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia.  No, it’s true, right? He's a good lion, but he’s not tame.  And, that’s how God is in the Old Testament.  He’s good but he’s dangerous; he’s not tame; he’s powerful; he’s mysterious.

One other element of the ark that’s really interesting that I just discovered in working on this book [Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary], is that whenever they took the ark out, it wasn't just gold. They would cover it in a cloth, and the cloth was blue. So, if you think “Ark of the Covenant,” you think blue and gold.  Well, isn't that interest.  I went to the University of Notre Dame… what were the colors?  Blue and gold.   All right, so Numbers chapter 4, verse 7: Blue and gold.

And, then finally, an most importantly, the reason the ark was the dwelling place of God is because when they completed it, God comes down from heaven in the Book of Exodus in chapter 40, and his glory cloud — the shekinah —of his glory — the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud — comes down upon the ark, so that the Lord might dwell there.  Exodus 40 verse 17 and 18 actually says this — I’ve given you a quote: 
[Moses] brought the ark into the tabernacle… Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” That’s why the ark’s special.  Because God dwells in the ark with his people.  And, so, after this happens what do they do?  They head on over to the promised land. They cross the river Jordan. They bring the ark — the ark is the first thing to go across the river Jordan with 12 priests — they carry it across,  water’s part, [and] bring the ark into the promised land. And, then it moves around a bit during the period of Joshua and the Judges until David takes the Ark of the Covenant and brings it up to Jerusalem so that he can give a permanent sanctuary, a permanent place of worship for God's people to encounter him, eventually in the Temple of Solomon in second Samuel chapter 6 and first Kings chapter 8.

So, that’s about a thousand years before Christ. Unfortunately though, if you fast-forward to the sixth century BC something devastating happens to the people of Israel and to the Ark of the Covenant.  The Babylonians come in to the land of Israel; they conquer the Judeans — they conquer the Southerners —  they burn the city of Jerusalem to the ground; they destroy the Temple and in the process of all that, what happens? The ark is lost.  And, in fact Josephus tells us this —  he was a first century Jewish historian — by the time Jesus was alive in the first century AD, everybody knew that if you went into the Holy of Holies, guess what was in it. Nothing!  It’s empty. It’s just a pitch black room. The priest was supposed to go into the Holy of Holies once a year and pour the blood of atonement on the ark, on the Mercy Seat that covered the ark. But, they can’t do that when Jesus was alive, because there is no ark.  It’s gone. 

Now, of course, this led to all kinds of theories about what happened to the ark. This is why the title of the movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark, right — because it’s lost, right.  And, so you have all kinds of speculation about what happened to the ark, you know, some people think that the Babylonians took it, although book of Kings does not list it among the implements that they took from Jerusalem when they destroyed it. Other people suggest, ah, that it’s been found and that it’s in this monastery in Ethiopia — you’ve watched these documentaries, I know you’ve seen this stuff on the Discovery Channel, the History channel, right. They make you sit through two hours of “Where is the ark?”  And, then you get to the end and it’s like “Oh, it’s in a sanctuary that’s protected by these monks and we can’t get in — sorry.”  And so you’re like, “Okay, man why did I just waste all this time?” No one can verify or falsify if it’s the ark.  And, then there are all kinds of other theories as well.

What’s interesting about this is as Catholics we don't need to actually wonder. We actually know what happened the ark, because our Bible tells us. In the Catholic Old Testament, in the second book of Maccabees, we have the most ancient account of what happened to the Ark of the Covenant in second Maccabees chapter 2. Now, most Protestant Christians aren’t familiar with this ancient tradition because it’s only in the Catholic Old Testament. And, most Catholics aren’t familiar with this ancient Jewish tradition because it's in the Catholic Old Testament.  So, nobody knows about it.  But it’s very important.  Okay.

So, second Maccabees chapter 2, it tells us this: It tells us that Jeremiah the prophet, who was alive during the destruction of the Temple, took the ark — he was a priest — and he hid it in Mount Nebo, which is east of the Jordan River where Moses went up and saw the promised land before he died. Not Mount Sinai, Mount Nebo. So this is what it says — quote, “
[Jeremiah] ordered that the tent and the ark should follow with him, and he went out to the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God. And Jeremiah came and found a cave, and he brought there the ark…, and he sealed up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up to mark the way, but could not find it. When Jeremiah learned of it, he… declared: “The place,” meaning the location of the ark, “shall be unknown until… the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear...” — Second Maccabees chapter 2 verse 4-8.

What does that mean, “the cloud”? He’s not talking about a thunderstorm here. He's talking about the glory cloud from the Old Testament, because in the book of Ezekiel it tells us that before the Temple was destroyed the glory cloud departed from the ark and departed from the Temple and they heard a voice — we shall depart hence — like, in another words, we’re leaving.  Meaning that the angelic presence that was there with the ark and the divine presence took off and then the Temple was destroyed. So, what Jeremiah is saying is, “You're not going to know where the ark is until the cloud that overshadowed the ark comes back down again from heaven.”

All right, now with all that in mind — now that you got your Jewish CCD, catechism — all got it down — now go to the New Testament and read the account of the Annunciation to Mary.  And you’re going to see something very very important.  And, it’s this: that in the Gospel of Luke, Mary is depicted as fulfilling the role of the Ark of the Covenant in the New Testament.  She is the ark, so to speak, of the new covenant.  And, you can see this whenever the angel says to her — and this is in Luke chapter 1 verse 35 — the angel Gabriel comes to her and says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Luke chapter 1 verse 35. Now, if you look at that little chart that I’ve given you there, Luke uses a very distinctive Greek verb to describe the Holy Spirit and the power of God overshadowing Mary. The Greek word there is episkiazo. It's just used a couple times in the Old Testament, and it’s used with reference to the glory cloud overshadowing the ark. So, in Exodus 40 verse 35, the glory cloud — epeskiazen — it overshadows the tabernacle with the ark in it, and the same thing happens in Luke chapter 1 verse 35.  The Holy Spirit — episkiasei —overshadows the Virgin Mary. And, even Protestant commentators on Luke, who know the Old Testament well and who have looked at this have said it appears here that Mary is being depicted as the new Ark of the Covenant.  In other words, her body is the new dwelling place of God on earth.

Now, it doesn't stop there — if I had more time I could actually show you how it isn't just the Annunciation; it’s is also the Visitation to Elizabeth. So, in the book — [Jesus and the] Jewish Roots of Mary, on page 58 —  I take you through more parallels. This is just one.  There are about five parallels between Mary and the ark in the Old Testament and New Testament in the Visitation to Mary [correction: Elizabeth]. So, in the Old Testament 2Samuel 6, David “arose and went” to the hill country of Judah just like Mary “arose and went” to the hill country of Elizabeth living in Judah. And, David says in second Samuel six, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” and in the New Testament Elizabeth says, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” right.  In the Old Testament, David “leaps” before the ark, and he “shouts” with a loud voice.  And, although we miss this in Luke chapter 1 it says that not only does John the Baptist “leap” in Elizabeth’s womb, but Elizabeth cries out “with a loud shout”: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  She doesn’t just quietly say it; she shouts it; she exclaims it; she’s filled with the Holy Spirit. And, then finally the ark remains in the house of Obed-Edom for “three months” and then Luke says something weird. He doesn't say, “Mary stayed with Elizabeth until John was born.” He says Mary stayed in the house of Elizabeth for “three months.” Now, why does he do that?  Well, again, Catholic and non-Catholic scholars have recognized it’s because he's drawing out the parallels between the ark coming up to Jerusalem and Mary coming up to the house of Elizabeth.  Because she is the new Ark of the Covenant.

Now, if you have any doubts about that, you can just fast forward to the Book of Revelation and there's one more connection between Mary and the ark. It's in Revelation 12, again, the image of the woman clothed with the sun, but it’s in the immediate preceding verse in Revelation 11:19. Most of us miss this because the chapter is divided, but there aren’t any chapter divisions in the original Greek.  In fact, there aren’t even any periods and sentence divisions.  It’s just letters running a line, right. So, in the original vision scholars recognize there’s a parallel being drawn here.  Look what it says — Revelation 11:19, John says, “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple…” Now pause right there.  If you’re a first century Jew, you’ve been waiting for the ark to show up for almost 6 centuries, since the time of Jeremiah.  Everybody is waiting, “When is the Ark going to come back? Where is it going to be?”  So, when John has this vision, this is a big deal. And, far from being in Mt. Nebo across the Jordan, where is the ark? It is in heaven, right. And, no sooner does the Temple in heaven open — because the ark is in the Holy of Holies, right — the doors open and John sees into it — than he also sees another sign in heaven, what? A woman, clothed with the sun. And, the two verbs that John use here parallel one another, and scholars have pointed out that he appears to be describing — and he does this elsewhere in the book —  like overlapping symbols.  Two ways of looking at the same thing: the ark and the woman, right. The place where God dwells, Mary the Mother of the Messiah.

Alright, so what?  So Mary is the New Ark.  Big deal.  She’s just an ordinary woman, right?  Well, not really.  There’s a little more to it than that.  What the implications of Mary being the new ark? Well, first of all, it should just tell us about the holiness of Mary.  Sometimes people get bothered because we call her “Holy Mary, Mother of God.”  Well, she is the new Ark of the covenant; I'm sorry, she’s holy.  Like, by definition, ok.  Her body is consecrated; it's set apart to be the dwelling place of God. Now, I don’t have time to get into this tonight — I have a whole chapter in the book [Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary] on the perpetual virginity of Mary.  And, this is something that not just Protestant Christians but lots of Catholic I’ve met really struggle with the Catholic doctrine that Mary remained a virgin her entire life — that she didn't have any other children and that her and St. Joseph never had marital relations.  And, people will ask, you know, “What's the big deal?  I mean, if they were married, why would she remain a virgin within marriage?”  That’s a good… “Is there something wrong with sex?  I mean doesn't God say, ‘Be fruitful and multiply?’ — those are the first words out of his mouth in Genesis. So, obviously marital relations are good, there’s nothing wrong with them, so why does Mary remain a virgin?”  I have a whole chapter that deals with that, and the brothers of Jesus —  and all that stuff.  But for now I just want to throw one little point: If St. Joseph even had the slightest clue that the Holy Spirit in the incarnation overshadowed Mary like the glory cloud overshadowed the ark, then he also would have had a very lively awareness of the sanctity and the holiness of Mary as well, right.

Remember, in the Old Testament, if you're not a consecrated priest you can’t even touch the ark, right, because it's so powerful; it’s so holy; it’s set apart for God. Anyway, we can maybe talk about that in the question-and-answer session if you want a little bit more. But, I just want you to think about that. So, the holiness of Mary.

Second, it's her body that's holy because her body is the dwelling place of God. So, in the Old Testament what was in the ark? It was the 10 Commandments; it was the manna; it was a cell phone and, uh… no, that was not in the Old Testament, alright.  And, they won't be in heaven either, right. No cell phones.  A good reason to try to get to heaven — no cell phones, alright.  Where was I?

Ok, so what was in the ark? The ten commandments, the manna from heaven, and then the staff of Aaron.  So, if Mary's the new ark what is it that’s in her body? The Word made flesh, the bread of life, and the eternal priest of God, the true priest, Jesus Christ. That's who she is; that’s the role she plays. And then finally, Mary’s identity as the new ark is crucial for understanding her bodily assumption into heaven. Because if Jesus is the new Moses who has inaugurated a new Exodus, and who brings us into the heavenly promised land — the heavenly temple like Hebrews says —  then where does the new ark belong? Where does it go?  It goes in the heavenly Holy of Holies, and not just Mary’s soul because it wasn’t Mary’s soul that’s the ark.  It's her what? It’s her body.

So, it's fitting that if she’s the ark that at the end of her life her body would be taken up into the heavenly temple to be with God.  And, Pope Benedict XVI actually said this in his homily on the Assumption of Mary, August 15, 2011 — you don’t have to listen to me. The Holy Father said — “If Mary is the new ark, it makes sense that her body would not experience corruption, but would be brought up into the heavenly Holy of Holies.” Remember, the ark was made of incorruptible wood, and so was the body of Our Lady.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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