There’s a scene at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that’s always bugged me a little. No, not the one where the crate containing the Ark is being hidden away in that huge warehouse (along with all the other crates containing things the Government wants to keep from us – the cancer cures, evidence of alien life, super-efficient energy technology, etc.), but the one just before that where Indiana slams the government agents at whose bequest he recovered the Ark:
Indiana: Fools. Bureaucratic fools!
Marion: What’d they say?
Indiana: They don’t know what they’ve got there.
Dr. Jones, the dedicated archaeologist that he is, wants the Ark to be studied and analyzed so that all its secrets can be learned. He suspects, with good reason, that the inept bureaucrats in the government will either botch the study or worse, bury it again.
Maj. Eaton: We have top men working on it right now.
Maj. Eaton: Top… men.
But I really think that the government really does know what it’s doing, and hiding the Ark away like they did is most likely the best option.
At the beginning of the movie, Indiana is contacted by a pair of agents looking for his help in figuring out what the Nazis were talking about in a message they intercepted. He realizes that they are looking for the Ark, and has to explain what it is:
Indiana: That’s exactly what the Nazis are looking for.
Major Eaton: Now what does this Ark look like?
Indiana: Uh… there’s a picture of it right here.
[opens a book on the table]
Indiana: That’s it.
[they all look at an illustration of the Hebrews devastating their enemy with the Ark]
Major Eaton: Good God!
Brody: Yes, that’s just what the Hebrews thought.
Colonel Musgrove: [pointing to a beam of light] Uh, now what’s that supposed to be coming out of there?
Indiana: Lightning. Fire. Power of God or something.
Major Eaton: I’m beginning to understand Hitler’s interest in this.
Brody: Oh, yes. The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions. An army which carries the Ark before it… is invincible.
Brody’s being a bit overdramatic; but the Ark is described in the Old Testament as having a nice assortment of powers. It holds back the Jordan River so the Israelites can cross, it helps them win some battles (essentially it’s a combination luck charm and battle standard), it brings plagues and disasters to the Philistines when they capture it, and it kills people who mess with it. The Israelites also “consult” with it a lot in times of crisis. As described in the movie, it’s a radio for talking with God 1.
It’s an immensely powerful artifact.
And Dr. Jones wants it to be in a lab somewhere, being poked and prodded by people who probably don’t really understand what they’ve got? And given that the movie is set in the 1930s, they’re probably not even Jewish 2…
In addition, it’s probably clear to the Nazis that the Americans have the Ark. They were working with an American, after all, and Indiana didn’t make any effort at concealing his identity. Given all the soldiers he personally killed, the Nazis have a score to settle with him, too. It’s pretty sure that Nazi agents are still going to be poking around looking for it at whatever universities are home to experts in Biblical archaeology. Does Indiana really think that’s a safe and secure place for it, especially since he’s seen at first hand just how much effort the Nazis were willing to spend – including killing for it – on its recovery?
Indiana also knows exactly what the Ark can do to those “unworthy” of working with it. Heck, the Bible even tells of one guy getting killed for the simple act of touching it to keep it from falling off a cart 3! Even though he didn’t personally see it, he has to know that nothing good happened to those Nazis that opened it up. They didn’t all suddenly decide to go swimming and drown…
And even if you don’t consider it to be a divine object, it’s still an extremely valuable historical artifact. People are going to want to get their hands on it. And what are you going to do with it when you’re done studying it? Put it in a museum?
Sorry, Dr. Jones, but I’ve got to side with the government on this one. The Ark is too dangerous to be kept out in the open. Better to stash it away in a secure warehouse somewhere. Then, if you absolutely need to, you can get it – but no one else can.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom doesn’t have much for me to talk about. And the less said about the Crystal Skull, the better. But I do have a few things to say about The Last Crusade. Stay tuned!
1. For the non-religious, the Ark seems to be just a reliquary for various items of importance to the Israelis from their wanderings in the desert. The pieces of the Ten Commandment panels (that Moses smashed in anger), a pot of the manna that kept them from starving, etc.
2. Given the anti-Semitism in the U.S. at the time, with people like Fr. Charles Coughlin leading the way, I really, really, really doubt there would be any top-notch Jewish archaeologists in the U.S. for the government to call on. Or ones they’d even think of calling on.
3. As described in 1 Chronicles, Chapter 13.