ARK OF THE COVENANT(Hebrew, , etc.: for the complete list of names of the Ark, see below).
- Dimensions and Construction.
- —Biblical Data:
- Sanctity and Consecration.
- A Movable Sanctuary.
- Captured by the Philistines.
- In the Days of David.
- In Solomon's Temple.
- —In Rabbinical Literature:
- A Vanguard in the Desert.
- Its Ultimate Fate.
- Tabut, Sakinah, and Remnant.
- —In Mohammedan Literature:
- Composition of "Remnant."
- History of the Ark.
- Earlier Form of Legend.
- —Critical View:
The first mention of the Ark in the Bible is in Ex. xxv. 10 et seq., where Moses on Mount Sinai is told to have an Ark of shittim-wood made for the Commandments which are about to be delivered. Minute directions are given for the plan of the Ark. It is to be 2½ cubits in length, 1½ in breadth, and 1½ in height. It is to be overlaid within and without with gold, and a crown or molding of gold is to be put around it. Four rings of gold are to be put into its corners—two on each side—and through these rings staves of shittim-wood overlaid with gold for carrying the Ark are to be inserted; and these are not to be removed. A golden cover (Hebr. ; A. V., "mercy-seat"), adorned with golden cherubim, is to be placed above the Ark; and from here the Lord says He will speak to Moses (Ex. xxv. 10-22). The Ark is to be placed behind a veil, a full description of which is given (ib. xxvi. 31-33).
Even Aaron was forbidden to enter this place of the Ark too often; and he was enjoined to perform certain ceremonies when entering there (Lev. xvi. 2 et seq.). Moses was directed to consecrate the Ark, when completed, with the oil of holy ointment (Ex. xxx. 23-26); and he was also directed to have the Ark made by Bezaleel, the son of Uri of the tribe of Judah, and by Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan (ib. xxxi. 2-7). These instructions Moses carried out, calling upon "every wisehearted" one among the people to assist in the work (ib. xxxv. 10-12). Bezaleel made the Ark (ib. xxxvii. 1); and Moses approved the work (ib. xxxix. 43), put the testimony in the Ark, and installed it (ib. xl. 20, 21).
In Deut. x. 1-5 a rather different account of the making of the Ark is given. Moses is made to say that he constructed the Ark before going upon Mount Sinai to receive the second set of tables. The charge of carrying the Ark and the rest of the holy utensils was given to the family of Kohath, of the tribe of Levi; but they were not to touch any of the holy things until after the latter had been covered by Aaron (Num. iv. 2-15).A Movable Sanctuary.
In the march from Sinai, and at the crossing of the Jordan, the Ark preceded the people and was the signal for their advance (Num. x. 33; Josh. iii. 3, 6). During the crossing of the Jordan the river grew dry as soon as the feet of the priests carrying the Ark touched its waters, and remained so until the priests, with the Ark, left the river, after the people had passed over (Josh. iii. 15-17; iv. 10, 11, 18). As memorials, twelve stones were taken from the Jordan at the place where the priests had stood (ib. iv. 1-9). During the ceremonies preceding the capture of Jericho, the Ark was carried round the city in the daily procession, preceded by the armed men and by seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams' horns (ib. vi. 6-15). After the defeat at Ai, Joshua lamented before the Ark (ib. vii. 6-9). When Joshua read the Law to the people between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, they stood on each side of the Ark (ib. viii. 33). The Ark was set up by Joshua at Shiloh (ib. xviii. 1); but when the Israelites fought against Benjamin at Gibeah, they had the Ark with them, and consulted it after their defeat (Judges xx. 27).Captured by the Philistines.
The Ark is next spoken of as being in the Temple at Shiloh during Samuel's apprenticeship (I Sam. iii. 3). After their first defeat at Eben-ezer, the Israelites had the Ark brought from Shiloh, and welcomed its coming with great rejoicing. In the second battle the Israelites were again defeated, and the Philistines captured the Ark (ib. iv. 3-5, 10, 11). The news of its capture was at once taken to Shiloh by a messenger "with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head." The old priest, Eli, fell dead when he heard it; and his daughter-in-law, bearing a son at the time the news of the capture of the Ark was received, named him Ichabod—explained as "Where is glory?" in reference to the loss of the Ark (ib. iv. 12-22).
The Philistines took the Ark to several places in their country, and at each place misfortune resulted to them (ib. v. 1-6). At Ashdod it was placed in the temple of Dagon. The next morning Dagon was found prostrate before it; and on being restored to his place, he was on the following morning againfound prostrate and broken. The people of Ashdod were smitten with boils (Hebr. , A. V. "emrods"—that is, hemorrhoids); and a plague of mice was sent over the land (ib. vi. 5; the Septuagint, v. 6). The affliction of boils was also visited upon the people of Gath and of Ekron, whither the Ark was successively removed (ib. v. 8-12). After the Ark had been among them seven months, the Philistines, on the advice of their diviners, returned it to the Israelites, accompanying its return with an offering consisting of golden images of the boils and mice with which they had been afflicted. The Ark was put down in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite, and the Beth-shemites offered sacrifices and burnt offerings (ib. vi. 1-15). Out of curiosity the men of Beth-shemesh gazed at [A. V. "looked into"] the Ark; and as a punishment over fifty thousand of them were smitten by the Lord (ib. 19). The Bethshemites sent to Kirjath-jearim, or Baal-Judah, to have the Ark removed (ib. 21); and it was taken thither to the house of Abinadab, whose son Eleazar was sanctified to keep it (ib. vii. 1). Kirjath-jearim was the abode of the Ark for twenty years (ib. 2). Under Saul the Ark was with the army before he first met the Philistines, but the king was too impatient to consult it before engaging in the battle (ib. xiv. 18, 19). In I Chron. xiii. 3 it is stated that the people were not accustomed to consult the Ark in the days of Saul.In the Days of David.
At the very beginning of his reign David removed the Ark from Kirjath-jearim amid great rejoicing. On the way to Zion, Uzzah, one of the drivers of the cart on which the Ark was carried, put out his hand to steady the Ark, and was smitten by the Lord for touching it. David in fear carried the Ark aside into the house of Obed-edom the Gittite, instead of carrying it on to Zion, and here it stayed three months (II Sam. vi. 1-11; I Chron. xiii. 1-13). On hearing that the Lord had blessed Obed-edom because of the presence of the Ark in his house, David had the Ark brought to Zion by the Levites, while he himself, "girded with a linen ephod," "danced before the Lord with all his might"—a performance for which he was despised and rebuked by Saul's daughter Michal (II Sam. vi. 12-16, 20-22; I Chron. xv.). In Zion he put the Ark in the tabernacle he had prepared for it, offered sacrifices, distributed food, and blessed the people and his own household (II Sam. vi. 17-20; I Chron. xvi. 1-3; II Chron. i. 4). Levites were appointed to minister before the Ark (I Chron. xvi. 4). David's plan of building a temple for the Ark was stopped at the advice of God (II Sam. vii. 1-17; I Chron. xvii. 1-15; xxviii. 2, 3). The Ark was with the army during the siege of Rabbah (II Sam. xi. 11); and when David fled from Jerusalem at the time of Absalom's conspiracy, the Ark was carried along with him until he ordered Zadok the priest to return it to Jerusalem (II Sam. xv. 24-29).In Solomon's Temple.
When Abiathar was dismissed from the priesthood by Solomon for having taken part in Adonijah's conspiracy against David, his life was spared because he had formerly borne the Ark (I Kings ii. 26). Solomon worshiped before the Ark after the dream in which the Lord promised him wisdom (ib. iii. 15). In Solomon's Temple a Holy of Holies (Hebr. , A. V., "oracle") was prepared to receive the Ark (ib. vi. 19); and when the Temple was dedicated, the Ark, containing nothing but the two Mosaic tables of stone, was placed therein (ib. viii. 1-9; II Chron. v. 1-10). When the priests came out of the holy place after placing the Ark there, the Temple was filled by a cloud, "for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord" (I Kings viii. 10-11; II Chron. v. 13, 14). When Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter, he caused her to dwell in a house outside Zion, as Zion was consecrated because of its containing the Ark (II Chron. viii. 11). King Josiah had the Ark put into the Temple (II Chron. xxxv. 3), from which it appears that it had again been removed by some predecessor.
The only mention of the Ark in the Prophets is the reference to it by Jeremiah, who, speaking in the days of Josiah (Jer. iii. 16), prophesies a time when the Ark will no longer be needed because of the righteousness of the people.
In the Psalms the Ark is twice referred to. In Ps. lxxviii. 61 its capture by the Philistines is spoken of, and the Ark is called "the strength and glory of God"; and in Ps. cxxxii. 8, it is spoken of as "the ark of the strength of the Lord." The Ark is mentioned in only one passage in the Apocrypha (II Macc. ii. 4-10), which contains a legend to the effect that the prophet Jeremiah, "being warned of God," took the Ark, and the tabernacle, and the altar of incense, and buried them in a cave on Mount Sinai, informing those of his followers who wished to find the place that it should remain unknown "until the time that God should gather His people again together, and receive them unto mercy."
The Ark is called by several names in the Bible, as follows:
- I. "The ark" (): Ex. xxv. 14 et al.; Lev. xvi. 2; Num. iii. 31 et al.; Deut. x. 2 et al.; Josh. iii. 15 et al.; I Sam. vi. 13 et al.; II Sam. vi. 4 et al.; I Kings viii. 3 et al.; I Chron. vi. 16 et al.; II Chron. v. 4 et al.
- II. "The ark of the testimony" (1. ): Ex. xxxi. 7; (2. ): Ex. xxv. 22 et al.; Num. iv. 5 et al.; Josh. iv. 16.
- III.a "The ark of the covenant" (1. ): Josh. iii. 6 et al.; (2. ): Josh. iii. 14.b "The ark of the covenant of the Lord" [Yhwh]; compare IV. a (1. ): Num. x. 33 et al.; Deut. x. 8 et al.; Josh. iv. 7 et al.; I Sam. iv. 3 et al.; I Kings iii. 15 et al.; I Chron. xv. 25 et al.; II Chron. v. 2 et al.; Jer. iii. 16; (2. ): Josh. iii. 17.c "The ark wherein is the covenant of the Lord, which he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt" ( ): 1 Kings viii. 21.d "The ark wherein is the covenant of the Lord, that he made with the children of Israel" ( ): II Chron. vi. 11.e "The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth"; compare IV. b (): Josh. iii. 11.f "The ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts [or Yhwh of hosts], who dwelleth between the cherubim"; compare IV. i, j (): I Sam. iv. 4.g "The ark of the covenant of the Lord [or Yhwh] your God"; compare IV. c, e (): Deut. xxxi. 26; Josh. iii. 3).h "The ark of the covenant of God"; compare IV. f, g (): Judges xx. 27; I Sam. iv. 4; II Sam. xv. 24; I Chron. xvi. 6.
- IV.a "The ark of the Lord [Yhwh]"; compare III. b ( ): Josh. iv. 11 et al.; I Sam. iv. 6 et al.; II Sam. vi. 9 et al.; I Chron. xv. 3 et al.; II Chron. viii. 11.b "The ark of the Lord [Yhwh], the Lord of all the earth"; compare III. e (): Josh. iii. 13.c "The ark of the Lord God [or Yhwh]"; compare III. g (): I Kings ii. 26.d "The ark of the Lord [or Yhwh] God of Israel" ( ): I Chron. xv. 12 et al.e "The ark of the Lord [or Yhwh] your God"; compare III. g (): Josh. iv. 5.f "The ark of God"; compare III. h (1. ): I. Sam. iii. 3 et al.; (2. ): I Sam. iv. 13 et al.; II Sam. vi. 3 et al.; I Chron. xiii. 5 et al.; II Chron. i. 4.g "The ark of our God"; compare III. h (): I. Chron. xiii. 3.h "The ark of the God of Israel" (): I Sam. v. 8 et al.i "The ark of God which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord [or Yhwh] of hosts who dwelleth between the cherubim"; compare III. f ( ): II Sam. vi. 2, R. V.j "The ark of God, the Lord [or Yhwh], who dwelleth between the cherubim, which is called the Name" [literal translation]; compare III. f ( ): I Chron. xiii. 6.
- V. "The holy ark" (): II Chron. xxxv. 3.
- VI. "The ark of thy [God's] strength" (): Ps. cxxxii. 8; II Chron. vi. 41.
Different names for the Ark predominate in different books, as follows: In Exodus, Nos. I. and II. 2; in Numbers, Nos. II. 2 and III. b, 1; in Deuteronomy, No. III. b, 1; in Joshua, Nos. IV. a and III. a, 1; in I Samuel, Nos. IV. a and f, 2; in II Samuel, Nos. IV. a and f, 2; in I Kings, Nos. I. and III. b, 1; in I Chronicles, Nos. I. and III. b, 1; and in II Chronicles, Nos. I. and III. b, 1.
The Ark, by reason of its prominence in the Bible, forms an important subject of discussion by the Rabbis, a great many sayings relating to it being found throughout the Talmud and the Midrashim. They discuss the dimensions, position, material, contents, miraculous powers, final disposition, and various incidents directly or indirectly connected with the Ark. Such discussions at times embody popular legends, and are also of interest as reflecting the poetical spirit which animated many of the rabbis.
Thus it is related (B. B. 99a) that the available space in the Holy of Holies was not in the least diminished by the Ark and the cherubim—that is to say, that through the working of a miracle the Ark and the cherubim transcended the limitations of space. With regard to the position of the Ark in the Holy of Holies, there is the following picturesque saying in TanḦuma, Ḳedoshim, x.:
"Palestine is the center of the world, Jerusalem the center of Palestine, the Temple the center of Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies the center of the Temple, the Ark the center of the Holy of Holies; and in front of the Ark was a stone called , the foundation stone of the world."
In Yoma 72b, and Yer. Sheḳ. vi. 49d, it is recorded that Bezaleel made three arks which he put inside of one another. The outside and inside ones were made of gold, and measured respectively ten cubits and a fraction and eight cubits, while the middle one was of wood and measured nine cubits. Again, according to one opinion (Yer. Sheḳ. vi. 49c), there were two arks travelling with the Israelites in the wilderness. One contained the Law, in addition to the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the other the tables of stone which Moses had broken. The one that contained the Law was placed in the "tent of meeting"; the other, containing the broken tables, accompanied the Israelites in their various excursions, and sometimes appeared on the battle-field. According to still another view, (l.c.), there was only one Ark, and it contained both the Law and the broken tables (Ber. 8b; B. B. 14b). R. Johanan in the name of Simon ben YoḦai, basing his opinion on the repetition of the word "name" () in II Sam. vi. 2, maintains that the Ark contained the Ineffable Name and all other epithets of God (B. B. l.c.; Num. R. iv. 20). Marching in the vanguard of the Israelites, the Ark leveled the hills before them (Ber. 54b; see Arnon). It carried the priests, who in turn were to carry it in the passage of the Jordan (Soṭah 35a). When King David had the Ark brought from the house of Abinadab and carried upon a new cart, the two sons of the latter, driving the cart, were tossed by an invisible agency into the air and flung to the ground again and again, until Ahitophel explained to David that this was owing to the transgression of the Law, which enjoined upon the sons of Kohath to carry the Ark upon their shoulders (Num. vii. 9; Yer. Sanh. x. 29a). When the Philistines despatched the Ark upon a cart drawn by two milch-kine without a driver, the kine not only took the Ark straightway to Beth-shemesh (I Sam. vi. 8-12), but they also sang a song (taking "wayishsharnah," v. 12, "and they took the straight way," as derived from shirah, "a song"). According to R. Meïr, their song was the verse, "I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously" (Ex. xv. 1); according to R. Johanan, "Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name" (Ps. cv. 1); others suggest Ps. xciii., xcvii., xcviii., xcix., or cvi.; but R. Isaac NappaḦa has a tradition, preserved in Tanna debe Eliyahu, xi. (compare 'Ab. Zarah 24b), that they sang the following processional hymn:
"Rise, O rise, thou acacia chest! Move along, move along in thy great beauty! Skilfully wrought with thy golden adornments! Highly revered in the sanctuary's recesses! O'ershadowed between the twin Cherubim!"
A Vanguard in the Desert.
"When Solomon brought the Ark into the Temple, all the golden trees that were in the Temple were filled with moisture and produced abundant fruit, to the great profit and enjoyment of the priestly gild; until King Manasseh put an image of an idol in the Temple, which resulted in the departure of the Divine Presence and the drying up of the fruit" (Tan., Terumah, xi.; also with slight variations, Yoma 39b).
The Ark was not merely a receptacle for the Law; it was a protection against the enemies of the Israelites, and cleared the roads in the wilderness for them. Two sparks, tradition relates, came out from between the two cherubim, which killed all serpents and scorpions, and burned the thorns, the smoke of which as it curled upward sent a sweet fragrance throughout the world, and the nations of the earth exclaimed in wonder and admiration (Cant. iii. 6), "What is this that cometh up from the wilderness like pillars of smoke?" (Tan., Wayaḳhel, vii.)Its Ultimate Fate.
Opinions are divided as to what finally became of the Ark when the Temple was destroyed. Some, basing their views on II Chron. xxxvi. 10, and Isa. xxxix. 6, declare (Yoma 53b) that it was taken toBabylonia, while according to others (ib.) it was not taken into captivity, but was hidden away in the Temple, in the apartment where the wood for fuel was kept; and it is related that a certain priest, while doing his work in that apartment, noticed that some of the stones in the paved floor projected above the others. He no sooner began to tell the story to a fellow-priest than he expired. That was regarded as a sure sign that the Ark had been buried in that place (Yer. Sheḳ. vi. 49c). Another tradition records that it was King Josiah who hid the Ark and other sacred vessels, for fear that if they were taken to Babylonia they would never be brought back (ib.).
"Why was a distance of 2,000 cubits always maintained between the Ark and the people? In order that when the march was stopped upon each Sabbath day, all the people might travel as far as the Ark to offer their prayers" (Num. R. ii. 9). "One son of Obed-edom betokens by his name, 'Peulthai, for God blessed him' (I Chron. xxvi. 5), the blessing brought upon his father's house; he honored the Ark by placing a new candle before it every morning and evening" (Num. R. iv. 20.).
Ark is used figuratively for a teacher of the Law in a farewell address; "If Obed-edom was blessed greatly for keeping the Ark in his house, how much more should he be blessed who shows hospitality to students of the Law?" (Ber. 63b.)
In the Koran the Ark of the Covenant and Moses' ark of bulrushes are both indicated by the one word "tabut," which term certainly comes from the Hebrew "tebah," through the Jewish-Aramaic "tebuta." The reference in the Koran to the Ark of the Covenant occurs in the middle of the story of the choice of Saul to be king. There the people demand a sign that God has chosen him, and the narrative continues (ii. 249): "and their prophet said unto them, 'Lo, the sign of his kingship will be that the ark [tabut] will come unto you with a "Sakinah" in it from your Lord, and with a remnant of that which the family of Moses and the family of Aaron left—angels bearing it. Lo, in that is verily a sign for you if ye are believers!'" Baidawi (ad loc.) explains "tabut" as derived from the root tub (return), and as thus meaning a chest to which a thing taken from it was sure to return. It was the chest in which the Law (Taurat) was kept, and was about three cubits by two, and made of gilded box-wood. "Sakinah," he says, means "rest," "tranquillity"; and it came to the Israelites in the coming of the Ark to them, or it was the Taurat itself, brought in the Ark and calming them by its presence (see Shekinah). Moses was wont to make it go on before in battle, and it would steady the Israelites and prevent them fleeing.Composition of "Remnant."
Others said that there was in the Ark a figure of chrysolite or ruby with the head and tail of a shecat and with two wings. It would utter a moaning sound, and the Ark would rush toward the enemy with the Israelites following it. When it stayed, they stood and were at ease, and victory came. By the "remnant" in it is meant the fragments of the broken tables, the staff and clothes of Moses, and the turban of Aaron. After Moses died, God took it up to Himself, and the angels now brought it down again. But others said that it remained with the prophets that succeeded Moses, and that they gained victories by means of it until they acted corruptly and the unbelievers took it from them. So it remained in the country of Goliath until God made Saul king. He then brought calamity upon the Philistines and destroyed five cities. Perceiving that this was through the Ark, they placed it on two bulls, and the angels led it to Saul.History of the Ark.
Al-Tha'labi, in his "Ḳisas al-Anbiyya" (p. 150 of ed. of Cairo, A. H. 1314), gives details as to the earlier and later history of the Ark. He brings it into connection with the important Moslem doctrine of the Light of Mohammed, the first of all created things, for the sake of which God created the worlds. The Ark was sent down by God from paradise with Adam when he fell. In it, cut out of a ruby, were figures of all the prophets that were to come, especially of Mohammed and his first four califs and immediate followers. At the death of Adam it passed to Seth, and so down to Abraham. From Abraham, Ishmael received it as the eldest of his sons. It passed then to Ishmael's son, Kedar, but was claimed from him by Jacob. Kedar refused to relinquish it, but was divinely commanded to give it up, as it must remain in the line of the prophets of God, which was now that of Israel. On the other hand, the Light of Mohammed, which shone on the forehead of every lineal ancestor of his, remained in the Arab line of Kedar. So the Ark passed down to Moses. How and when it was lost, the Moslem historians do not state. According to Ibn 'Abbas, a cousin of Mohammed and the founder of Koranic exegesis, it, with the rod of Moses, is now lying in the Lake of Tiberias, and will be brought forth at the last day.Earlier Form of Legend.
The story of the image with the cat's head and tail is traced back to Wahb ibn Munabbih, who was of Jewish birth. It has probably some Midrashic origin. What is apparently an earlier form of this latter legend is given in the "Hhamis" of Al-Diyarbakri (i. 24 et seq.; compare ed. of Cairo, 1302). In it the chest with images of the prophets is not connected with the Ark of the Covenant. The chest, called also tabut, which had been given to Adam as above stated, was in the possession of the emperor Heraclius, and was shown by him to ambassadors from Abu Bakr, the first calif. It had been brought from the extreme West (Maghreb) by Alexander, and so had passed to the Roman emperors.
A classification of the passages in which the Ark is mentioned (compare Seyring, in Stade's "Zeitschrift," xi. 115), shows that in the older sources (J., E., and Samuel) the Ark is called simply "the ark," "the ark of
As the Egyptians, Babylonians, and other nations had similar structures for carrying their idols about (compare Wilkinson, "Ancient Egyptians," iii. 289; Delitzsch, "Handwörterbuch," under "elippu"; and "Isaiah," in "S. B. O. T." p. 78), critical scholars hold that the Ark was in the earliest time a kind of movable sanctuary (see Wellhausen, "Prolegomena," 5th ed., p. 46, note; Stade, "Gesch." i. 457; Nowack, "Archäologie," ii. 3; Benzinger, "Archäologie," 367; Winckler, "Gesch. Israels," i. 70; Couard, in Stade's "Zeitschrift," xii. 53; and Guthe, "Geschichte des Volkes Israel," p. 31). As the corresponding shrines of other nations contained idols, so late tradition has it that the Ark contained the tables of the Decalogue (I Kings viii. 9, 21). As the two versions of the Decalogue, that of E. in Ex. xx., and that of J. in Ex. xxxiv., differ so radically, critics hold also that there could have been no authoritative version of the Commandments deposited in the Ark, but believe that it contained an aerolite or sacred stone—similar to the sacred stone of the Kaaba at Mecca—which was regarded as a fetish. The fact that in J. (the Judean source) the Ark is not prominent, Yhwh being consistently represented as dwelling at Sinai while his angel goes before Israel (Ex. xxxiii. 2), and that in E. (the Ephraimitic source) the Ark plays a conspicuous part, led Wellhausen and Stade to believe that it was originally the movable sanctuary of the Joseph tribes, from whom, after the union of the tribes, it was adopted by the nation. This view has been generally adopted by other critics (see references above).
In the historical books the Ark plays no part after the time of Solomon, when it was placed in the Temple. Couard believes that it was carried from Jerusalem in the days of Rehoboam by the Egyptian king Shishak (Stade's "Zeitschrift," xii. 84). That would adequately explain its disappearance from history. While the Ark figures in Deuteronomy and in the priestly legislation, there is, as Couard points out, no evidence that it was actually in existence as an object in the cult at the time that those codes were combined; it appears to represent merely an ideal in the minds of the compilers.
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