Biblical Archaeology Review 34:3, May/June 2008

Did Captured Ark Afflict Philistines with E.D.?

By Aren M. Maeir

I’ve always been troubled by the Philistine hemorrhoids. The Hebrew word is ‘opalim (Mylpe). That was supposedly their affliction when they captured the Ark of the Covenant and placed it before a statue of their god Dagon.

The story is told about the Ark (sometimes called the Ark of God) when it was resting at Shiloh, cared for by Eli the priest, before it was ultimately brought to Jerusalem by King David. The Israelites had engaged their enemies the Philistines in battle at Ebenezer.a The battle went badly for the Israelites, and Eli’s sons allowed the Ark to be brought from Shiloh to the battlefield at Ebenezer as a paladin in the hope that this would turn the tide of battle. Instead, the Philistines captured the Ark (1Samuel 5–6).

The Philistines took the Ark to Ashdod and placed it before a statue of Dagon in the Philistine temple. The next day, the Philistines found Dagon toppled, lying on the ground. They set him back up, but the same thing happened the next day. The text goes on to tell us that “the hand of the Lord was heavy on the Ashdodites.” The Lord afflicted them with “hemorrhoids” (‘opalim).

The Philistines then took the Ark to Gath, another city of the Philistine pentapolis. This time the men of Gath were afflicted with “hemorrhoids.”

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