Rene Belloq, Indy's evil French counterpart and the guy who convinces the Nazis to "test" the Ark before delivering it to Hitler, evidently knew enough about the artifact to wear the right ceremonial garb and speak the correct Hebrew words to get it open, but he forgot one important detail: don't freaking look inside or you'll be killed.
Why would Belloq know that part, you ask? Mainly because it's right there in the Bible. According to the King James translation: "And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter."
"Ohhh, so THAT's what 'smote' mea --"
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. Presumably Hitler himself would have known how to use the Ark, too, since he was the one who first learned about it and who sent the Nazis to Egypt to fetch it. Meanwhile, it looks like Belloq sort of skimmed through the instructions and called it a day.
In the end it all comes down to Belloq being s****y at his job, which isn't really that much of a surprise considering that his entire archeological method consisted of "following Indiana Jones and stealing the s**t he finds."
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