Tabernacle

The Tabernacle (Hebrew: מִשְׁכַּן‎‎, mishkan, “residence” or “dwelling place”), according to the Hebrew Bible, was the portable earthly meeting place of God with the children of Israel from the time of the Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the land of Canaan. Built of woven layers of curtains along with 48 standing boards clad with polished gold and held in place by 5 bars per side with the middle bar shooting through from end to end and other items made from the gold, silver, brass, furs, jewels, and other valuable materials taken out of Egypt at God’s orders, and according to specifications revealed by Yahweh (God) to Moses at Mount Sinai, it was transported  by the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness and their conquest of the Promised Land. Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem superseded it as the dwelling-place of God some 300 years later.

The main source for the account of the construction of the Tabernacle is the biblical Book of Exodus, specifically Exodus 25–31 and 35–40. It describes an inner shrine, the Holy of Holies, which housed the Ark of the Covenant, which in turn was under the veil of the covering suspended by four pillars and an outer chamber (the “Holy Place”), containing beaten gold made into what is generally described as a lamp-stand or candlestick featuring a central shaft incorporating four almond-shaped bowls and six branches, each holding three bowls shaped like almonds and blossoms, 22 in all. It was standing diagonally, partially covering a table for showbread and with its seven oil lamps over against it to give light along with the altar of incense.

This description is generally identified as part of the Priestly source (“P”), written in the sixth or fifth century BCE. However whilst the first Priestly source takes the form of instructions, the second is largely a repetition of the first in the past tense, i.e., it describes the execution of the instructions. Many scholars contend that it is of a far later date than the time of Moses, and that the description reflects the structure of Solomon’s Temple, while some hold that the description derives from memories of a real pre-monarchic shrine, perhaps the sanctuary at Shiloh. Traditional scholars contend that it describes an actual tabernacle used in the time of Moses and thereafter. According to historical criticism, an earlier, pre-exilic source, the Elohist (“E”), describes the Tabernacle as a simple tent-sanctuary.

The English word “tabernacle” is derived from the Latin tabernāculum meaning “tent” or “hut”, which in ancient Roman religion was a ritual structure. Other uses of this word include nautical usage, referring to a mast step, which by its arrangement of boards allows the mast to be raised and lowered, and textiles industry usage, referring to a similar wooden bar scaffold used for holding a large rug while weaving.

The word sanctuary is also used for the biblical tabernacle, as is the phrase “tent of meeting”. The Hebrew word mishkan implies “dwell”, “rest”, or “to live in”, that dwelt within this divinely ordained structure.

Historical criticism has identified two accounts of the tabernacle in Exodus, a briefer Elohist account and a longer Priestly one. Traditional scholars believe the briefer account describes a different structure, perhaps Moses’ personal tent. The Hebrew nouns in the two accounts differ, one is most commonly translated as “tent of meeting,” while the other is usually translated as “tabernacle.”

refers to “the Tabernacle of the congregation”, which was set up outside of camp with the “cloudy pillar” visible at its door. The people directed their worship toward this center. Historical criticism attributes this description to the Elohist source (E), which is believed to have been written about 850 BCE or later.

The more detailed description of a tabernacle, located in Exodus chapters 25–27 and Exodus chapters 35–40, refers to an inner shrine (the most holy place) housing the ark and an outer chamber (holy place), with a six-branch seven-lamp menorah (lampstand), table for showbread, and altar of incense. It is an enclosure containing the sacrificial altar and bronze laver for the priests to wash surrounded these chambers. This description is identified by historical criticism as part of the Priestly source (P), written in the 6th or 5th century BCE.

Some scholars believe the description is of a far later date than Moses’ time, and that it reflects the structure of the Temple of Solomon; others hold that the passage describes a real pre-monarchic shrine, perhaps the sanctuary at Shiloh, while traditional scholars contend that it describes an actual tabernacle used in the time of Moses and thereafter.This view is based on Exodus 36, 37, 38 and 39 that describe in full detail how the actual construction of the Tabernacle took place during the time of Moses.

The detailed outlines for the tabernacle and its priests are enumerated in the Book of Exodus:

In Exodus 31, the main builder, architect and maker of the priestly vestments is specified as Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur of the tribe of Judah, who was assisted by Oholiab and a number of skilled artisans.

There is a strict set of rules to be followed for the carriage of the Tabernacle laid out in the Hebrew Bible. For example: “You must put the Levites in charge of the Tabernacle of the Covenant, along with its furnishings and equipment. They must carry the Tabernacle and its equipment as you travel, and they must care for it and camp around it. Whenever the Tabernacle is moved, the Levites will take it down and set it up again. Anyone else who goes too near the Tabernacle will be executed

 

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