Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest adventure movies of all time. I was inspired to rewatch Raiders after Love Your Movies post reminded me of all the great things about it. Raiders is full of memorable action setpieces from the temple escape, the basket game in Cairo, the fight at the airstrip, and memorable supporting characters like Marion and Major Toht, witty dialog and an unforgettable score.
Raiders is also full of history, Biblical and occult references which others have no doubt analyzed, but it’s the raiders’ approach to archaeology that is worth exploring. In a bar in Cairo, Belloq an archaeologist assisting the Nazis, seeks to persuade Indy to help out with the search for the Ark:
Belloq: You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.
Indiana: Now you’re getting nasty.
The religion of archaeology in Raiders wonders primarily in the discovery of artifacts from times and places long forgotten. Belloq remarks about his watch, that even though it is only worth $10, if he buries it today, in 1000 years someone will dig it up as a priceless artifact.
But Indy and Belloq seek objects much more significant than clocks: religious artifacts. The Nazis seek the Ark of the Covenant believing it wields great power and can help them in their pursuit of world domination. Indy tends to see such things as treasures to be hunted and stored in museums or at least in his personal collection.
And perhaps this is what Belloq means that they have both fallen. When Belloq says “History!”, he reminds Indy of his fallen-ness, persuading Indy to relent from destroying the Ark, and tempting him to be a part of the history that is his obsession.
The wonder surrounding certain objects like the Ark in Raiders initially appears to reside within the object itself. We see a similar response to archaeological finds such as the Shroud of Turin in which the wonder ends at the object, and not in the one whose face (is purported to have) left the imprints on it. And similarly, in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy uses the cup without reference to the one who, according to the movie, provided it.
Events in Raiders, though, are consistent with Biblical ideas about the ark in that there were bad consequences for those who should not have possessed the ark:
The Philistines took the Ark to several places in their country, and at each place misfortune befell them (1 Sam. 5:1-6). At Ashdod it was placed in the temple of Dagon. The next morning Dagon was found prostrate, bowed down, before it; and on being restored to his place, he was on the following morning again found prostrate and broken. The people of Ashdod were smitten with hemorrhoids; a plague of rats was sent over the land (1 Sam. 6:5). The affliction of boils was also visited upon the people of Gath and of Ekron, whither the Ark was successively removed (1 Sam. 5:8-12).
The ark itself, though, doesn’t rend these judgements, but rather the One who gave the ark (and who owns it). And we see this distinction in Raiders in the spectacular conclusion, even if the raiders primary interest is the object itself.
In the Old Testament, God chose to reveal himself to Moses on a mountain, in tents, and then in the temple system, but he is by no means constrained by those locations, or warehouses for that matter. God created the universe, including the materials from which an ark is made. Then in the New Testament, we meet Jesus, the Word of God tabernacling with us in human form (see John 1). Then as the Holy Spirit is poured out, following the death and resurrection of Jesus, God comes to people and begins to act in and through them. The evidence of God’s power is not in spectacular acts of judgement but in spectacular acts of love, joy, peace and patience (Galatians 5:22-25, Ephesians 2:8-10). And it all begins with events that happened in real history, recorded by eyewitnesses and passed down through generations.
In the end, Indy doesn’t save the world from the Nazis. God does. Indy is smart enough to know that no-one can see God and live (Exodus 33:20). But if you really want to get a glimpse of God’s judgement, the Bible says look to Jesus on the cross. If you want to see how much God loves, the Bible says look to Jesus on the cross. For there, Jesus bears the punishment which our sins deserve. All of us. Nazi or not.