the dimensions and approximate weight of the Ark of the Covenant

By | 12 June 2012

Quoting from a reliable source, the Ark was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold.

Also, the depiction here is highly likely to be wrong, especially since the rings are said to be on the feet!

It was 2.5 cubits long, 1.5 cubits wide and high. Above the chest was the Mercy Seat, upon which were a pair of cherubim shrouding the ark.

There were four cast gold rings on the feet, in which were placed gold-overlaid acacia carrying poles.

Converting from cubits to feet, using 18″ per cubit, the chest portion of the Ark was 3.75′ (45″) by 2.25′ (27″) by 2.25′ (27″). For sake of argument, I am going to presume the boards were 2″ thick. Acacia has a good density, at roughly 650kg per m3, or about 40.6lbs per ft3, or about .373 oz per in3. 3.75*2.25*4 (if the Mercy Seat was actually gold overlay on acacia) + 2.25*2.25*2 is a total of 43.875, or 43 7/8 ft2 of acacia boards (the 4 sides, bottom, and mercy seat area). That is a total of about 25 pounds of wood (rounding) for the Ark proper.

I am going to presume a 1/32″ layer of gold within and without for the overlay. There is no set of dimensions given for its thickness in the Bible, so I’m giving a generous guess. Gold is roughly 11.16 ounces per cubic inch. Given the above dimensions, there are approximately 87.75 ft2 of gold to be applied to the chest. At 1/32″ all around, that is approximately 395 in3 of gold needed, or about 275 pounds. Perhaps this thickness estimate is wrong, but it is a starting point.

The cherubim are described as being of hammered gold. I don’t know if they were to be solid or not, but I will guess if they are roughly cylindrical, and about4″ in diameter and 18″ long, they would weigh 158 pounds each. That has to be a wildly-off guess, so let’s say they were each 1/3 that size, or about 52 pounds each.

Now we need the cast rings on the feet. Let’s say the poles are two inches in diameter, plus their gold overlay, so the rings need to be about 2.5″ ID. Maybe they were 3.5″ OD and 5″ long. That would give a total weight of gold needed for each ring of nearly 40 pounds. That seems too high, but as a rough guess it’s a starting point.

This gives a total weight of the materials of the Ark, using the above assumptions, of about 565 pounds. The estimates of the weight of the cherubim and gold overlay may be off by as much as a factor of two – but 565 pounds is still quite maneuverable by four men using poles. Also, it is plausibly light enough to be “steadied” by a man seeing it totter on a cart.

Also inside the Ark were the Tables of the Law, an urn of mana, and Aaron’s rod which budded. I would guess their total weight at under 50 pounds.

This would give a maximum plausible weight of the Ark of the Covenant at approximately 615 pounds, or roughly 160 pounds per man on the poles.

Using half the gold, and thinner boards, the total weight of the Ark, including its sacred contents, would be closer to 330 pounds, or about 85 pounds per man.

What a sight the Ark must have been!

As an interesting sidebar, acacia wood is aromatic, and has been used in forms as preservatives and pharmaceuticals for thousands of years. Additionally, the branches are thorny on most varieties.

0 thoughts on “the dimensions and approximate weight of the Ark of the Covenant

  1. mike anderson

    hi ,I don’t think you allowed enough size for the cherubin ,but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how heavy it is because it could be conveyed by god power do you think

    1. warren Post author

      mike – I don’t think it would be “conveyed by god power”, since the Levites were instructed to carry it on poles

  2. Rob

    well I don’t know about the article anyway because MY Bible says it was made of Gold NOT wood overlaid with gold. God spelled out everything about every piece in the Tabernacle so to try to change is just as bad as trying to use the NIV.

    1. warren Post author

      Then your bible is in error – every reliable translation describes the Ark of the Covenant as being made of wood overlaid with gold

  3. Tim

    Warren: thanks for your work on this. Generally I agree with your assessment, but I have one thing to add: what about the curtain and the other coverings? The curtain would have been 15′ x 15′ and made of woven material (Ex 26:31-33). That was to be draped over the ark then covered with the hides of some kind of animal, then covered with a blue cloth (Num 4:4-6). How much weight would that add? Also, the folding of the curtain alone would have been a intricate affair so it didn’t drag on the ground.

  4. Hermana

    Hi Warren,

    thank you VERY much for this excellent bit of research – it was very helpful! Don’t know if i’m missing it, but the Scriptures say the atonement cover of the ark had to be solid gold (Exodus 25:17). Did you calculate that? Two questions: How thick do you estimate that cover to have been, and how heavy?

    1. warren Post author

      Please reread my post – because I address your questions in it

  5. Richard Tankersley

    Thank you for your efforts to make this understandable. I think you answered my question with your weighted rings. My concern was how the rings would be attached and if gold would be tough enough to handle the weight. I notice too in the bible that sometimes the scripture says pure gold and other times just gold. Any thoughts about that?

  6. Rich

    Actually, it was God who carried the Ark. We know this from the Talmud.

    1. warren Post author

      Acutally… that’s not true – Levites carried it on poles

  7. Jerry

    Interesting topic. I calculated it myself and came up with roughly 1000 pounds.
    Wood 205#
    Moulding 208#
    Rings 64#
    Mercy seat 154#
    Cheribims 359#
    Gold leaf to cover box and poles comes to about 23 grams
    What people fail to consider is the length of the poles.
    “The poles were so long that the ends of the poles of the ark could be seen in front of the inner sanctuary, but they could not be seen outside; and they are there to this day.”
    They would have been long enough for twelve priests to shoulder the ark. One to represent each of the tribes.

    1. warren Post author

      How do you get those weights?
      Why gold leaf, instead of something more substantial (and durable)?

  8. Jimmie Howard

    Thank you for providing your estimation concerning the weight of the Ark of the Covenant. Since we have no idea about the length of the staves, I guess we will never know, in this lifetime, how many Levites actually carried the Ark at the same time. My guess would be a total of twelve. One for each of the Tribes of Israel.