The Holy of Holies: 
On the Constituents of Emptiness 

Mitchell Stephens     Professor of Journalism     New York University

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DCM says:

Why should it be so strange that the ark was missing? Wasn’t everything valuable (including a gold-plated ark) supposed to have been carried off to Babylon in the 6th century BCE? And although I don’t really know this history well, I thought that the Greeks under Alexander had their go at the temple as well? Something about a statue of Zeus installed for some time in the Holy of Holies? In any case, even had the ark been present, the contents of manna and stone tablets, ground into a powder or still whole, would hardly have proved the miraculous truth nature of the Mosaic history. Are you trying to make a comment about the nature of miracles and religious beliefs here as an historical evaluator or are you trying to imply what might have been Pompey’s thoughts as he confronted the “emptiness” that was so unusual to his own conceptions about what temples were for and how gods should be represented and religious rites practiced?

David Sewell says:

Lucretius lived during the first century BCE and had what we might call a fairly “modern” view of the distinction between the supernatural and the natural. In his view material causes were sufficient to explain the nature of the world we experience.

James says:

Supernatural is a category that implies a division of the world into the natural and something else. Would anyone in the Roman Empire during the first century BCE have accepted such a division? Moreover, would they have accepted that gods did not usually provide proof of their existence. Roman emperors were said to perform miracles as was Jesus. These were not relegated to the hazy past.

mitch says:

Perhaps this is the difference between the world of the “seen” and the world of the “unseen.”

Arthur S. Hayes says:

Somewhere in the Sunday New York Times, if memory serves, is an article about cognitive dissonance. Maybe in the book review? At any rate, it said that the theory explained how religious believers went on believing even after the end-of-the world date passed without salvation from God in a spaceship or calamity. Seems that theory is helpful in explaining why unconfirmed supernatural beliefs don’t necessarily drive believers to disbelief. Often, it seems, they just go to another religion that seems more powerful.
–A. S. Hayes

Noah SD says:

God definitely becomes less material in Judaism, but I don’t think you can really view this as a retreat towards atheism. It seems more like a bolstering of defenses against a mounting lack of evidence.

And God isn’t exactly getting less powerful. In many ways, his abstraction makes him much more powerful than the very physical, near-human gods of Greece and Rome.