In part 2 of this series, we talked about the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. Here we stroll into more ambiguous territory and attempt to find connections in places where they are not explicit. We focus on typological reference to the Ark. This part of the study is based on modern scholarship rather than on Biblical or Patristic sources. It’s far from certain, but still worthy of discussion. As mentioned at the beginning of this series, the Ark is often connected typologically to the virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the Ark of the New Covenant.
While the typology of the Ark is not directly mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, there exist several possible allusions that are worth discussing. A midrashic approach, exemplified by Fr. René Laurentin, attempts to find an intentional anamnesis embedded in Luke’s infancy narrative, intended to connect it with the Old Testament theme of God being present in the bosom of his people. First emerging in Exodus 33:3 and 34:9, it is developed throughout the Old Testament narrative, which progressively establishes the Ark as the epicenter of God’s presence in Israel.1
Fr. René finds numerous interesting textual parallels between Luke’s language and Ark-related imagery in the Old Testament. For instance, when God takes up residence in Israel, his glory overshadows the tabernacle (Exodus 40:35) just as the power of God overshadows the Holy Virgin as described by Gabriel during the Annunciation (Luke 1:35). In another case he compares David’s transfer of the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:2-11) with Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem in the womb of his mother (Luke 1:33-44).2
Fr. René surmises that Luke identified the events portrayed in his infancy narrative with the eschatological fulfillment of this theme as proclaimed by the Prophet Zephaniah. In this prophecy, the Daughter of Zion is thought to be the Holy Virgin and it is here that the typology of both the Ark and the Daughter of Zion converge, as we see God present in the bosom of His people:3
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Cry aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Be glad and rejoice with your whole heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing (Zephaniah 3:14, 17).
A less ambiguous example is the Visitation narrative found in Luke 1:39-44. Elizabeth exclaims, “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me” (Luke 1:43)? This parallels David’s question, “In what possible way can the ark of the Lord come with me” (2 Samuel 6:9)? Similarly, Mary remains in the house of Elizabeth for three months just as the Ark remained in the house of Obededom for three months.4
Many in the Roman Catholic church find a connection between the Ark described at the end of chapter eleven of Revelation and the woman described in the beginning of chapter twelve. Chapter divisions were not present at the time of writing, so the two figures would have been seen tightly juxtaposed by earlier readers. Most of the Holy Fathers see this woman as a figure of the Church, but Cardinal John Henry Newman does not believe this precludes the woman from representing the Theotokos. He explains,
Now I do not deny of course that under the image of the Woman, the Church is signified; but what I would maintain is this, that the Holy Apostle would not have spoken of the Church under this particular image unless there had existed a Blessed Virgin Mary who was exalted on high and the object of veneration of all the faithful.5
In part 4, we’ll take a brief interlude from the topic at hand and discuss typology and why it matters.
1 François Bovon, Luke the Theologian: Fifty-five Years of Research (1950-2005), (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2005), p. 182-185.
4 Michael O’Carroll, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, <Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers 2000>, p. 50.
5 Cardinal John Henry Newman, Modern History Sourcebook: John Henry Newman On the Blessed Virgin Mary, <15 March 2016>.