Princeton University Press/Art Resource, NY

RETURN TO SENDER. The captured Ark ended up causing the Philistines far more harm than good. The Ark toppled the statue of the Philistine god Dagon, before whom it was set, and plagued the Philistines with mice and a mysterious affliction known as ‘opalim, traditionally taken to be a vulgarity for hemorrhoids or tumors. The Philistines finally rid themselves of the menace by returning the Ark to the Israelites along with five golden mice and five golden ‘opalim (1 Samuel 6). A third-century C.E. fresco from the Dura Europos synagogue in Syria shows the Ark being carried back to the Israelites by a team of oxen.

It is difficult to imagine a golden hemorrhoid. What were these ‘opalim that crippled the Philistines, which were then offered in gold to placate the Israelite God?