Dear Straight Dope:
I am writing in response to the Mailbag article on the Ark of the Covenant. In your answer, you said, "the Ark housed the tablets with the original Ten Commandments … nothing else." However, all my years of Sunday School must have done me some good because I remember something about a jar of manna in the Ark. So, I looked it up, and sure enough, Exodus 16:33-34 says Moses told Aaron to get a container and put two quarts of manna in it and to keep it in a sacred place from generation to generation. Aaron did this, just as the Lord had instructed Moses, and eventually it was kept in the Ark in the Tabernacle. Then, I looked up the verse you quoted, I Kings 8:9 and, behold, you were right too. So, my question now is, what happened to the jar of manna?
SDStaff CKDexterHaven replies:
You have to read these things more carefully, Jamie.
In Exodus 16:33-34, Moses instructs Aaron to place the jar of manna “before the Lord, to be kept throughout the ages.” Aaron follows instructions, and places the jar “before the Pact, to be kept.” The Hebrew is very clear–the preposition is “before” (L-P-N-Y) not “in” (B-) … and you are correct that this is shorthand for “before the Ark that contains the Pact.” The Pact is the covenant, the Ten Commandments. So the jar of manna was put in front of the Ark, not in it.
Similarly, after the revolt of Korah, in Numbers 17:19-25, Aaron’s rod is placed “before the Pact”–same Hebrew.
So there’s no contradiction here. The Ark was kept (eventually) in the center room of the Tabernacle, later the Temple. The only thing IN the Ark were the two Tablets, as per Kings and Chronicles … and the jar of manna and Aaron’s rod were put next to (in front of) the Ark. What happened to them? Unknown; they’re not mentioned again. Best guess would be that they got lost somewhere during the time of Judges (say, 1200 to 1000 BC) when the Ark and Tabernacle roamed around the land, before David thought of bringing it to Jerusalem.
But as long as you brought it up, I’d like to remind you that the manna lasted only one day; by the next morning, “it became infested with maggots and stank.” (Exodus 16:20) … so I suspect that the jar of manna wasn’t real attractive a few days after Aaron scooped it up. Maybe Moses changed his mind about keeping it around.
As an interesting aside, the word translated as “jar” (Hebrew: Ts-N-Ts-N-T) is unique, no one knows what kind of vessel it means. The Septuagint (Greek translation) renders it “stamnos” (jar for storing wine); but Jeremiah 32:14 suggests earthen jars were used to store things “to last a long time.” Sealed with wax, this type of jar was an effective (and common) way to store valuables. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the caves at Qumran (say, around 50 BC – 50 AD) were preserved in such earthenware jars.
So, who knows? Maybe that jar of manna is still somewhere around to be found. But more likely not.
Send questions to Cecil via email@example.com.
STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.