For the longest time I didn't get what the idea was with the Nazis going after the Ark of the Covenant. What on earth made the persecutors of the Jews think that the God of the Jews would be on their side, and why even bother?? It didn't seem satisfactory somehow just to pass it off as them seeing it in a purely talismanic way. Then I realized: of course! Hitler was always convinced that God was on his side in real life: what more fitting way would he have found as a genocide for the Hebrew people than to have them be slaughtered by their own ark? Only that's what ended up happening to them instead! — Ziggy Zag
One could argue that most, if not all, fanatics start from the belief that (Insert Deity Here) is on their side, logic be damned.
Alternately, the Nazis thought the Ark was a powerful supernatural artifact of some mythical Aryan super-race, which the Hebrews had stolen long ago and then claimed to have crafted in honor of their patron deity.
That explanation seems quite reasonable. In real life, a number of the leading Nazis dabbled in the occult, and Hitler claimed Jesus was an Aryan, despite the plain Biblical description of Jesus' Jewish heritage.
The most likely reason why they'd do that is because, like a lot of Christians, they regarded the Ark of the Covenant as a Christian relic and not a Judaic one. This is seriously simplifying things, but, Christianity traditionally recognizes its historical origins as a Judaic sect; the difference is that Christians follow Jesus Christ, their believed "last prophet & messiah", whilst Jews do not follow Jesus, as they do not believe he was the messiah that their religion has them expecting. Thusly, in the eyes of Christians, the Jews are heretics who broke faith with God by refusing to accept Jesus's coming and manipulating the Romans into torturing and murdering Jesus. This is something that has fueled a long tradition of anti-Semitism from Christiansnote fun fact: Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant Reformation? Was a raging anti-Semite, whose opinions on the Jews were several times quoted by Hitler himself.. With this in mind, it's perfectly logical that Nazis would believe they could use the Ark, even despite their actions like the Holocaust. It's the same reason that their soldiers went into battle with belt-buckles emblazoned with "Gott mitt us"note "God [is] with us": they sincerely believed they were not acting in any way contrary to Christian belief.
The staff they used was six kadans tall - which, according to Indy, is roughly 72 inches - minus one kadan, which comes out to 60 inches. When Indy uses the staff to find the location of the Ark, it towers over him, which, given Indy's height, would make it well over seven feet tall. Perhaps they realized a kadan is longer than a foot, and found a correct sized staff.
How does Indy know not to look in the Ark? Because it says so in The Bible: 1 Samuel 6:19 to be exact. Obviously Indy did his homework better than Belloq, because he knew he had to close his eyes to be spared by the Ark's power. This isn't too surprising really once you consider Belloq's entire archeological method consisted of follow Indiana Jones and steal the shit he finds.
This is doubly brilliant when you remember his line to the Army Intelligence types at the beginning, "didn't you guys ever go to Sunday school?" Yep, "expert on the occult" though he is, that really was all the background you needed to handle the Ark.
Belloq was dressed up like an ancient Hebrew priest, which suggests he had read the relevant scripture; he just thought he could fool God by playing the part.
It seems more like Belloq thought it was just "say the magic word and it will work". He does claim the Ark can do things that have never been mentioned anywhere, so it seems unlikely he's done the actual reading.
Indy also reminds his students the importance of research.
Also note that Raiders chronologically comes after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. He may tell Marcus that he doesn't believe in "superstitious nonsense" but he has seen the power of the Sankara Stones himself when he evoked Shiva, the benevolent Hindu god. He isn't willing to believe the stories of the Ark are real but he knows from experience there's still a possibility. That's why he doesn't blow it up with a bazooka when he has the chance. When they open it and all the lamps blow out Indy realizes the power of the Ark is real and the only way to survive is from those instructions in the Bible.
Another point to consider: for anyone not aware of the prohibition against looking in the Ark, it's rather significant that the Nazis didn't get killed as soon as they opened the Ark and looked inside. It could be theorized that God was just waiting to drop the hammer, misleading them into thinking nothing would happen until... On the other hand, what happened after it was opened and they found only dust inside? Toht and the other Nazis began laughing. Mocking the Lord and His holy relic. So while looking inside may have been the actual divine law that was broken (note the first thing that happened was the destruction of the camera equipment, so that nothing which happened, or was in the Ark, could be seen), this contempt toward God could also have been the final straw.
Belloq mentions that he thinks the Nazis are after the Ark because any army that carried it into battle was always victorious. In the Bible, every time the army (God's chosen people included!) carried the Ark into battle without God's specific direction to do so, they were SOUNDLY trounced and usually lost the Ark as well.
Possibly Belloq knew damned well that the Ark wouldn't help the Nazis: he just pretended it'd be the ultimate weapon so they'd fund his expedition to find the single biggest prize in archaeology. Deep down, he might not have expected it to have any supernatural powers at all.
As Rifftrax pointed out, "It probably helps to believe in God and not be evil...", which the Nazis certainly were.
Although it mostly shown God's wrath, there was a blink if you miss moment, when it was all over. Indy and Marion are now free from being tied up with Indy holding up what was left of the burned rope, after seeing if Marion was ok they both look at the Ark with it giving off some kind of gentle glow. God took the time out of his wrath to free two people that respected him enough not to look into the ark.
Indy grumbles about the US government's rote bureaucratic dismissal of the Ark at the end of the film, but considering the thing's power, stuffing it in a crate and burying it in a secret warehouse might actually be one of the more sensible courses of action.
Related to the above, that whole "Top. Men." discussion and Indy being ticked off at the government afterward is a case of mistaken assumptions and the two talking past each other. The Army Intelligence guy assumes that Indy wants them to poke around in the Ark for no reason other than curiosity, (which Army Intelligence is no rush to do after Indy's report) so he says the top men line to appease Indy and Marcus and get them out of his hair. Indy is actually assuming that if the government does poke around in the Ark they'll screw it up the same way Belloq did. While he'd probably be outraged from an archeologist's perspective about how the Ark is just locked in a crate and hidden, from a human perspective he'd probably be relieved to know that they're not trying to screw around with it.
Indy's father was a quiet, bookish type who alienated Indy's mother while their son was young — so where does Indy's reckless daring come from? In Raiders, Marion drinks Belloq under the table, then pulls a dinner knife to escape his tent, willing to flee a Nazi camp in the desert without even shoes — a textbook Indy Ploy, suggesting both learned this from her father, Abner.
When the Ark of the Covenant gets opened and they find nothing but dust in it (at first), people probably wondered what on earth is dust doing inside the Ark. Some think that it was the Ten Commandments Tablets, long since disintegrated over the millennia. However, the dust may actually be the remains of every poor fool who was destroyed by the Ark's terrifying power! It's not a stretch, when you consider what happened to the bad guys at the end...
This movie took place during the year, Hitler hosted the Olympics. While it's not likely to happen since we seen what the Ark could do, fridge horror kicks in when you realize that Germany isn't the only country at risk of the Ark's wrath. Had Hitler taken possession of the Ark, he probably would try to use it to kill the competitors that visited from all over the world as a means of intimidation.
Doubtful, since Word of God says he would not have opened the Ark and instead would use it for propaganda, declaring war immediately after its arrival.
The junior novel also mentions that the expedition to the temple at the beginning took place after the Olympics. Also, the Nazis did win over a South African athlete to their side during that year, who acted as a spy in the war.
Highly unlikely. What one has to bear in mind is that before WW2 at least, the Nazis seem to have made it a priority to put up a show of outward respectability. Few of the things that the Nazis had brought to the table in the time leading up to 1936 (and which the rest of the world were aware of) would have been seen as truly and universally reprehensible to all outside observers at first. Antisemitism, for example, lost its respectability only after the horrors of the Holocaust became known; even such a lauded figure as Henry Ford was a fanatical antisemite - Hitler openly admired him and used his writings on the subject as a source of inspiration. Racial supremacy, euthanasia etc - all these concepts existed and were seen as relatively uncontroversial in the West long before the Nazis came on the scene, what they did was simply to take them to their horrific extremes.