So How Tall is the Staff of Ra?

Yaacov Apelbaum - 3 Amah

We were going over some Indiana Jones trivia during dinner recently and one of the questions that came up had to do with the length of an item that appeared in the Raiders of the Lost Ark called the “Head of the Staff of Ra”.  The discussion must have triggered some long lost memory because I suddenly remembered that in the movie, that object—which is a sort of a medallion—had an inscription on it.

Hoping that there was a quick way to figure out the math, I searched online for the phrase “head of the staff of Ra” and got an image of the original prop used in the movie. Sure enough, both sides had a clear and legible engraving in none other than ancient Hebrew script (also known as Paleo-Hebrew).

Yaacov Apelbaum - Headpiece to the staff of Ra

Transliterations and translations of the inscriptions are as follows:

Obverse Side

Reverse Side

vamh aht mel kds kbd yhvh vhmskn

tt amh qmtw

ואמה אחת מעל קדש כבוד ה’ והמישכן

תת אמה קומתו

And one amah above holy to honor G-d and the Tabernacle

TT amah is its height

As soon as I translated the text, I realized that it had some glaring stylistic and contextual problems. First, the writer chose the word for “add” to be מעל which usually means ‘above’ or from’ as in Kings 1:20:41:
וַיְמַהֵר–וַיָּסַר אֶת-הָאֲפֵר,מעל עֵינָיו; וַיַּכֵּר אֹתוֹ מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, כִּי מֵהַנְּבִיאִים הוּא
And he hastened, and took the headband away FROM his eyes; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets.
The proper form should have been a word based on the root יסף. Second, the form of קדש כבוד is never used together in reference to holy offerings. The form should have been קדש ל’ה as in Exodus28:36:
וְעָשִׂיתָ צִּיץ, זָהָב טָהוֹר; וּפִתַּחְתָּ עָלָיו פִּתּוּחֵי חֹתָם, קֹדֶשׁ לַ’ה
And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it, like the engravings of a signet: HOLY TO THE G-D.
Also, from the paleography its clear that the author mixed several glyph styles when creating the inscription. As can be seen from the table below, the word “TT amah” uses letters Yaacov Apelbaum - Staff of Ra Text that are a mixture of 9th and 10th century BCE glyph styles. It should have been written using the 6th century BCE style. The reason for this is that the Temple of Salomon where the Ark of the Covenant was kept was built between 950-850 BCE and was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians. If the medallion is a record of the secret location of the Ark, it should have been written in an alphabet style from the period of the temple destruction not its construction.
Yaacov Apelbaum - Early Hebrew Alphabet
Paleo Hebrew alphabet styles from the 13th century BCE to 6th century BCE
Beyond the script issues, the inscription itself has contextual and artistic problems. For example, the candelabra (Menorah) at the top of the medallion has only six branches, instead of the seven stipulated in Exodus 25:31-40 and shown on a slew of ancient Menorah depictions on coins, lamps, jewelry, mosaics, tombstones, monuments, and inscriptions:
Yaacov Apelbaum -Seven branch Menorah
It is conceivable that the artistic team deliberately avoided the accurate portrayal of the menorah and the correct sentence structure and vocabulary on the inscription because of the prohibition in Exodus 20:7 “You shalt not take the name of the Lord thy G-d in vain” and Exodus 20:19-21 (see Avodah Zarah 43a reference at bottom of this post) to reproduce the actual menorah, but this could also have been just an oversight.
The other obvious problems with the inscription’s content are:
Problem 1 – The movie script doesn’t jibe with the text in terms of translation
Problem 2 – The staff height measurement units used are inconsistent
Problem 3 – The seared imprint on Major Toht’s right hand is the obverse side of the inscription

Problem 1

When Imam translates the text for Indy (see script below), he says: “This is a warning not to disturb the Ark of the Covenant”, yet that warning doesn’t exist in the inscription. It’s also a puzzle why Indy can’t translate it himself considering that he is a professor of archeology who graduated from the University of Chicago with a major in linguistics. Also, contrary to Imam’s claim that Indy should “…take back one kadam to honor the Hebrew G-d whose Ark this is”, the obverse inscription clearly calls for exactly the opposite: to ADD one amah to the base value.

Problem 2
Imam further states that the base height of the staff is six kadam and according the Salah’s calculation, this is about 72” (it’s actually 69”). The problem with this calculation is that we don’t know where Imam is getting the 6 kadam figure from. The inscription uses the term amah on both sides of the medallion. Interestingly, Egypt abandoned the use of the kadam in favor of the metric system in 1891, 45 years before the timeframe of the scene in the movie. Technically, then, Imam should not even be using the term.

Assuming that the reverse side of the medallion is the form found in Kings 1:6:2 and it is following the formula ‘amount x cubit’:

וְהַבַּיִת, אֲשֶׁר בָּנָה הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה לַ’ה–שִׁשִּׁים-אַמָּה אָרְכּוֹ, וְעֶשְׂרִים רָחְבּוֹ; וּשְׁלֹשִׁים אַמָּה, קוֹמָתוֹ
”And the house which king Solomon built for G-d, the length thereof was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof twenty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits.”

than the height for the staff should be indicated in the first two letters of the word  HeMemAlephTawTaw(Hebrew is read from right to left). In Hebrew, each letter of the alphabet has an associated numeric value and the value of X (or ת value in post sixth century BCE Hebrew typography) is 400. So XX could be read as 400+400=800 amah or 472 feet. Even if we read the first two letters XX as the spelling of the letter Teth Teth which equals 9, it would make the staff about 13 feet. This doesn’t make any sense as we can see clearly from the movie that the staff is about 7 foot tall.

Length Measurements Used
Amah [aka cubit) = 48 cm. (18 in.)
Kadam = 29 cm. (11.5 in.)

So in the case of problem 2, either there is a special way to read the XX value as 69” or the value in the inscription is wrong and should have been written as HeMemAlephDaleth, i.e. 4 amah.

Problem 3
The seared imprint on Major Toht’s right hand is actually the obverse side of the inscription. This means that contrary to Indy’s statement, Belloq had no way of getting the base staff height because the reference is located on the reverse side. On the other hand, if Belloq managed to get the base height somehow, he than had all of the missing information to construct the right height staff and in fact his staff was not too long.

Yaacov Apelbaum Major Arnold Ernst Toht-

So how long is the staff or Ra? It’s impossible to tell using the inscription. One thing is for sure, just like in anything else in life, G-d is in the details. Creating a plausible fiction that relies on an actual ancient language, epigraphy, biblical scholarship, historical facts, and math, and then wrapping the whole thing up in a dramatic screenplay seems to be just too complex of an undertaking. To paraphrase Mark Twain “It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense”.

Movie Script
Imam: Come, come, look. Look here… look. Sit down. Come, sit down.
Indy:   What is it?
Imam: This is a warning not to disturb the Ark of the Covenant.
Indy: What about the height of the staff, though? Did Belloq get it off of here?
Imam: Yes. It is here. This was the old way,
this mean six kadam high.
Sallah: About 72 inches.
Imam: Wait! And take back one kadam to honor the Hebrew God whose Ark this is
Indy: You said their headpiece only had markings on one side. Are you absolutely sure?
Indy: Belloq’s staff is too long. They’re digging in the wrong place.
Indy and Sallah: They’re digging in the wrong place!!

Yaacov Apelbaum - ROLA Script

Sources and References
Avodah Zarah 43a

כדתניא לא יעשה אדם בית תבנית היכל אכסדרה תבנית אולם חצר תבנית עזרה שולחן תבנית שולחן מנורה תבנית מנורה אבל הוא עושה של ה’ ושל ו’ ושל ח’ ושל ז’ לא יעשה אפילו של שאר מיני מתכות

As it is taught in a baraita: A person may not construct a house in the exact image of the Sanctuary, nor a portico in the exact image of the Entrance Hall of the Sanctuary, nor a courtyard corresponding to the Temple courtyard, nor a table corresponding to the Table in the Temple, nor a candelabrum corresponding to the Candelabrum in the Temple. But one may fashion a candelabrum of five or of six or of eight lamps. And one may not fashion a candelabrum of seven lamps even if he constructs it from other kinds of metal rather than gold, as in extenuating circumstances the Candelabrum in the Temple may be fashioned from other metals.

רבי יוסי בר יהודה אומר אף של עץ לא יעשה כדרך שעשו בית חשמונאי

The baraita continues: Rabbi Yosei bar Yehuda says: One may not fashion a candelabrum of wood either, in the manner that the kings of the Hasmonean monarchy fashioned it. When they first purified the Temple they had to fashion the Candelabrum out of wood as no other material was available. Since a wooden candelabrum is fit for the Temple, it is prohibited to fashion one of this kind for oneself.

© Copyright 2017 Yaacov Apelbaum, All Rights Reserved.

11 thoughts on “So How Tall is the Staff of Ra?

  1. Dear Yaakov,

    You’ve assembled an extraordinary body of work here, and it is disappointing that it has not received more widespread dissemination and recognition.

    May I reference and point back to parts of this in my own research (and assembly of research) into the affair that has come to be known as Spygate? I cannot promise great exposure, just great appreciation from me at minimum.

    I’ve been hospitalized for quite some time, so my website is far from current. But I’ve been gathering info and trying to keep track of the players, events, and backgrounds — and your work here on the Steele dossier is astoundingly thorough.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle


  2. It’s very extensive work and a lot of it quite good. The information processing and web searches including images is impressive to someone like me unfamiliar with this type of analysis.

    Few crits:

    *Still not clear to me how the 5 people with Mary at the White House are connected. They are not deep in the network that you show for the dossier. Some of the associations (Clinton campaign) are awfully general too. It seems possible to me that multiple projects were discussed and that most the group was non dossier.

    *The redaction $$ length just constrains the maximum amount. It does not guarantee 5 figures (consider…would you say all the blacked out names were also equal length?).

    *I don’t see the dossier work as that extensive that it needed 12-25 man years of work. Look how much content you generated here.

    Question: how did you get the various emails? Shared with you by recipients?


    • Comments in-line

      *Still not clear to me how the 5 people with Mary at the White House are connected. They are not deep in the network that you show for the dossier. Some of the associations (Clinton campaign) are awfully general too. It seems possible to me that multiple projects were discussed and that most the group was non-dossier.
      (YA:1) There are many types of linkages that could be investigated including the relationships between the visitors and the projects each was working on. Due to time constraints the already overwhelming amount of detail, my objective was just answering the question of “was Jacoby’s visit to the WH that day for business or pleasure?”

      I also think that it is reasonable to conclude that this was some form of a task force meeting.

      *The redaction $$ length just constrains the maximum amount. It does not guarantee 5 figures (consider…would you say all the blacked out names were also equal length?).
      (YA:1) It does because the reduction length seems to be governed by the longest string of digits (including the decimals). So we can say for certain that at least one of the three payments (records 86, 87, 88) was at least 5 digits long.

      *I don’t see the dossier work as that extensive that it needed 12-25 man years of work. Look how much content you generated here.
      (YA:1) We know from Glen Simpson’s testimony that the project took about 9 months to complete. We also know that it was active well into 2017. So this gives us about 12 months of rev up, research, collection, analysis, publication, distribution, PR, activity. As far as the headcount, here is a list of participants/contributors. This list doesn’t include the second level directs (researchers, staff, etc.) working for Fusion GPS and Orbis in the US and UK, or legions of the dossier pimps/madams in the MSM.

      1. Neil King Jr.
      2. Shailagh Murray
      3. homas Catan
      4. Chris Steele
      5. Chris Burrows
      6. Sir Andrew Wood
      7. Luke Harding
      8. Sir Richard Dearlove
      9. Stefan Halper
      10. Jonathan Clarke
      11. Edward Baumgartner
      12. Nellie Hauke Ohr
      13. Bruce Genesoke Ohr
      14. Jonathan Winer
      15. Robert Otto
      16. David Kramer
      17. Strobe Talbott
      18. Cody Shearer
      19. Sidney Blumenthal
      20. Victoria Nuland
      21. Alexandra Chalupa
      22. Natalia Budaeva
      23. Melanne Verveer
      24. Iryna Mazur
      25. Ilya Zaslavskiy
      26. the team at Perkns-Coie


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