Wednesday, October 23, 2019

In Israel, the new adventurers of the Lost Ark

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Posted today at 01:30

Even as old as thirty centuries, some objects continue to emit a strange radiance. Terrifying, in the case of the Ark of the Covenant: is the opening of this mythical chest not deemed to cause the death of those who risk it?

Readers of the Bible know it, but also the fans of Steven Spielberg and his Adventurers of the Lost Ark (nineteen eighty one). Adapting for a large audience one of the most mysterious episodes of the Old Testament, the filmmaker has made this box, disappeared since the beginning of time, the heart of a disheveled adventure.

However, in August, the Coll├Ęge de France and Tel Aviv University began their second excavation campaign on the Israeli site of Kiriath-Jearim, where the Ark was stored several centuries before our era. In other words, this research raises curiosity, but also some concerns, in a country where archeology can be an ideological and political weapon.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also In Jerusalem, sifting rubble becomes a highly political enterprise

Every square centimeter contains vestiges

When one arrives from Jerusalem, a hot city of tension, Kiriath-Jearim is like a little paradise. As if, on this perched terrace, the sounds of the outside suddenly seemed out of place. The "holy city", however, is not far – only 12 km to the southeast. Moreover, we see it very well since Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant, a Catholic church erected on the summit of Mount Deir el-Azar, one of the highest in the area.

French nuns settled there at the beginning of the XXe century, overlooking the Muslim and Christian village of Abu Gosh. Their monastery and the pilgrim's house attached to it draw a U of blond stones among cypresses, oleanders and palms. On a clear day, looking west, you can see to the Mediterranean.

But it is rather towards the depths that the volunteer excavators, mostly students, turn to. Every morning in August, at dawn, about thirty of them emerged from the silence to join one of the three open pits on the edge of the monastery, on the edge of the olive groves.

Armed with scrapers and brushes, they dug for hours this earth of which each square centimeter contains vestiges, as if the whole hill was only a tangle of relics. Just look anywhere on the surface to pick up a shard of something, a crumb of the past.

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