TABERNACLE (Heb. ’ōhel, mô‘ēdh, tent of meeting, mishkān, dwelling, Gr. skēnē, tent). The religious vitality of the Hebrews and the resilience of their social and political organization in the time of Joshua would indicate that the period of the wilderness wanderings was the truly creative era from which all that was best in subsequent Israelite history and religion took its rise. Under the dynamic spiritual leadership of Moses the children of Israel came to worship a cosmic deity whose vitality contrasted sharply with the capricious, decadent gods of ancient Near Eastern religion. The God of Sinai revealed himself as a supremely moral being whose leadership extended over the whole earth. He was the only true God, and he desired to enter into a special spiritual relationship with Israel as a means of his self-expression in the world.

Since this relationship demanded the undivided worship of the Israelites, it was of supreme importance for a ritual tradition to be established in the wilderness so that Israel could engage in regular spiritual communion with God. The nomadic nature of the sojourn in the Sinai Peninsula precluded the building of a permanent shrine for worship. The only alternative was a portable sanctuary that would embody all that was necessary for the worship of the Lord under nomadic conditions and could also serve as a prototype of a subsequent permanent building.

Such tent-shrines were by no means unknown in the ancient world. An early writer (c. 700 b.c.) spoke of a primitive Phoenician structure that was apparently placed on a cart and pulled by oxen. In pre-Islamic times the qubbah or miniature red leather tent with a dome-shaped top was used for carrying the idols and cultic objects of the tribe. Some qubbahs were large enough to erect on the ground, while others were smaller and were mounted on the backs of camels. Such tents were credited with the power of guiding the tribe in its journeys, and in time of war were particu- larly valuable for the degree of protection they afforded. The qubbah possessed an innate sanctity that was only slightly inferior to that of the sacred cultic objects it housed. It was used as a rallying point, a place of worship, and a locale for the giving of oracles. Since the majority of tents in antiquity were dark in color, the fact that the sacred shrine was a conspicuous red (cf. Exod.25.5) indicates a religious tradition that reaches back to remote antiquity. Other forms of portable tent-shrines have been preserved on bas-reliefs, notably one from the time of Ramses II (c. 1301-1234 b.c.) that shows the tent of the divine king placed in the center of the Egyptian military camp. Another from the Roman period at Palmyra in Syria depicts a small domed tent erected on the back of a camel.

At Sinai Moses was given a divine revelation concerning the nature, construction, and furnishings of the tabernacle (Exod.25.40). The work was carried out by Bezaleel, Oholiab, and their workmen; and when the task was accomplished, the tent was covered by a cloud and was filled with the divine glory (Exod.40.34).

Within this open court the various types of sacrificial offerings were presented and the public acts of worship took place. Near the center was situated the great altar of burnt offering made from acacia wood overlaid with bronze (Exod.27.1-Exod.27.8). This alter measured nearly eight feet (two and one-half m.) square and about five feet (one and one-half m.) in height. Its corner projections were known as the “horns” of the altar. The various sacrificial implements associated with this altar were also made of bronze. A fire that had been miraculously kindled burned continuously on the altar and was tended by the priests (Lev.6.12; Lev.9.24). Almost in the center of the court was the bronze laver, used by the priests for ritual ablutions (Exod.30.17-Exod.30.21).

To the west end of the enclosure, parallel to the long walls, stood the tabernacle itself. A rectangular structure about forty-five feet by fifteen feet (fourteen by five m.), it was divided into two parts, a Holy Place and a Most Holy Place. The basic constructional material was acacia wood, easily obtainable in the Sinai Peninsula, fashioned into forty-eight “boards” some fifteen feet (five m.) in height and a little over two feet (one-half m.) in width, overlaid with gold. The Hebrew word qerashim (board kjv, nasb; frame jb, mlb, niv, rsv; plank neb) is found on a Canaanite tablet describing the “throne room” (i.e., a trellis pavilion) of the deity El. When the vertical arms (yadhoth) were joined to the acacia frames, the same general effect would be produced. The resulting structure would be light in weight yet sufficiently sturdy for ritual purposes. The base of the trellis was set in a silver fixture, and the whole was held together by horizontal bars at the top, middle, and bottom.

The completed tabernacle was divided into two compartments by a curtain on which cherubim were embroidered in red, purple, and blue, and which was suspended on four acacia supports. The outermost of these two areas was known as the Holy Place and was about thirty feet by fifteen feet (nine by five m.) in area. The innermost part of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place was fifteen feet (five m.) square. The entrance to the tabernacle was screened by embroidered curtains supported by five acacia pillars overlaid with gold.

The wooden framework of the tabernacle was adorned by ten linen curtains (Exod.26.1-Exod.26.7) that were embroidered and decorated with figures of cherubim. It measured about forty feet (twelve and one-half m.) in length and six feet (two m.) in width, being joined in groups of five to make two large curtains. These were then fastened together by means of loops and golden clasps (kjv “taches”) to form one long curtain sixty feet (eighteen m.) long and forty-two feet (thirteen m.) wide. This was draped over the tabernacle proper in such a way that the embroidery was visible from the inside only through the apertures of the trellis work. Three protective coverings were placed over these curtains. The first was made of goat’s hair and measured forty-five feet (fourteen m.) long and six feet (two m.) wide; the second consisted of red-dyed rams’ hides, while the third was made of tahash leather (kjv “badger’s skins,” niv “hides of sea cows”). Much speculation has centered on the latter term, and it appears to be connected etymologically with an early Egyptian word tj-h-s, used technically of treating or processing leather. Thus the Hebrew would imply a specially finished covering of leather.

The information furnished in Exodus makes it difficult to decide whether the tabernacle proper had a flat, somewhat sagging drapery roof, or one that was tentlike in shape with a ridgepole and a sloping roof. Present-day models of the tabernacle vary in their interpretation of this question. Historically speaking, if the influence of the desert tent was predominant, there may well have been some peak or apex to the structure. If, however, the tabernacle had anything in common with the design of contemporary Phoenician shrines, it probably had a flat roof.

Exodus 25:10-40 describes the furniture of the sanctuary. The Holy Place, or outer chamber of the tabernacle, contained a table for the bread of the Presence (kjv “shewbread”), a small acacia-wood structure overlaid with gold, measuring three feet (one m.) in length, eighteen inches (forty-six cm.) in breadth and a little over two feet (one-half m.) in height. According to Lev.24.5-Lev.24.9, twelve cakes were placed on this table along with dishes, incense bowls, and pitchers of gold. The bread was renewed each week and was placed in two heaps on the table. Nearby stood the elaborately wrought menorah or seven-branched lampstand of pure gold. A carefully executed floral motif was a feature of its design, and associated with the lampstand were gold wick trimmers and trays (kjv “snuffers”). The furnishings of the Holy Place were completed by the addition of a gold-covered altar of incense, about eighteen inches (forty-six cm.) square and three feet (one m.) in height. Like the great bronze altar, it had projections on each corner, and like the table of the bread of the Presence, it had golden rings and gold-covered staves to enable it to be moved readily.

The furniture of the innermost shrine, the Most Holy Place, consisted only of the ark of the covenant. This was a small, boxlike structure of acacia wood, whose length was just under four feet (one and one-fourth m.), while the breadth and height were slightly above two feet (one-half m.). It was covered on the inside and outside with sheet gold and had golden rings and staves like the table of the bread of the Presence and the altar of incense. The lid of the ark, the “mercy seat,” was covered with solid gold. On each end was a golden cherub whose wings stretched toward the center of the lid. The precise appearance of the cherubim is a matter of some uncertainty, but in the OT they were generally represented as winged creatures having feet and hands. Some ivory panels unearthed at Samaria depict a composite figure having a human face, a four-legged animal body, and two elaborate, conspicuous wings.

The ark was the meeting place of God and his people through Moses, and contained the tablets of the law (Exod.25.16, Exod.25.22). According to Heb.9.4 a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod were also placed in the ark. An elaborately worked veil separated the Most Holy Place from the outer compartment of the tabernacle, and when the Israelites journeyed from place to place, the sacred ark was secluded from view by being wrapped in this curtain. Consequently the ark was normally seen only by the high priest, and that on very special ceremonial occasions.

According to Exod.40.2, Exod.40.17 the tabernacle was set up at Sinai at the beginning of the second year, fourteen days before the Passover celebration of the first anniversary of the Exodus. When the structure was dismantled during the wanderings, the ark and the the two altars were carried by the sons of Kohath, a Levite. The remainder of the tabernacle was transported in six covered wagons drawn by two oxen (Num.7.3ff.).

For over thirty-five years during the wilderness period the tabernacle stood at Kadesh, during which time the ordinary sacrifices were apparently not offered consistently (cf. Amos.5.25). Apart from the comment that the ark preceded the Israelites when they were on the march (Num.10.33-Num.10.36), little is said of the tabernacle during the sojourn in the Sinai Peninsula.

Under Joshua the first site of the tabernacle in Canaan was probably at Gilgal (Josh.4.19), though this is not directly mentioned. Probably an early location was at Shechem, where the desert covenant was renewed (Josh.8.30-Josh.8.35). During Joshua’s lifetime, the tabernacle was settled in Shiloh, in Ephraimite territory, to avoid disputes and jealousy on the part of the tribes. Perhaps the degree of permanence associated with this site led to the designation of the structure by the term “temple” (1Sam.1.9; 1Sam.3.3). This may indicate that the fabric of the original tabernacle had become worn out and that it had been replaced by a more substantial building. Whatever may have been the case, Shiloh was the central sanctuary until the ark was captured by the victorious Philistines after the battle of Ebenezer (c. 1050 b.c.).

The subsequent history of the tabernacle is somewhat obscure. Saul established it at Nob, close to his home in Gibeah; but after he massacred the priests there (1Sam.22.11ff.), the tabernacle was transferred to Gibeon (1Chr.16.39; 1Chr.21.29), perhaps by Saul himself.

When David wished to institute tabernacle religion in his capital city of Jerusalem, he prepared a place for the ark and pitched a tent in the tradition of the Gibeon tabernacle (2Sam.6.17ff.). The ark was brought from Kiriath Jearim and subsequently lodged in the Davidic tabernacle with due ceremony. This act climaxed David’s plan to give the security and legitimacy of religious sanction to his newly established monarchy. The altar of the tabernacle at Gibeon was used for sacrificial worship until the time of Solomon, when both it and the Davidic tabernacle were superseded by the building of the temple. The new edifice incorporated all that remained of earlier tabernacle worship (1Kgs.8.4) and at that point the history of the tabernacle terminated.

Some of the archaic technical terms associated with the tabernacle call for comment. The designation ’ōhĕl mō‘ēdh (Exod.33.7 et al.) or “tent of meeting” was first applied to a structure that antedated the tabernacle proper. It was pitched outside the camp, and Joshua was its sole attendant (Exod.33.11) in the absence of a formal priesthood. It was a place of revelation, where the people met with God. The word mō‘ēdh has been discovered in an Egyptian document dated c. 1100 b.c. referring to an assembly of the citizens of Byblus. The term occurs again in Isa.14.13, where the reference is to the assembly of the gods in the remote northern regions, a popular theme in pagan Canaanite writings. The “tent of meeting” or “tabernacle of the congregation” referred to in Exod.33.1-Exod.33.23 is apparently an interim structure, based on the pattern of a simple desert shrine. It combined political and social functions with the religious revelations given by God to his covenant assembly.

The word mishkan, commonly used to designate the tabernacle, is related to the ordinary Canaanite word for “dwelling place” and meant originally a tent, thus reflecting the nomadic background of tabernacle worship. A related verb, shakhan (kjv “dwell”), is used of God’s being “tabernacled” with his people (Exod.25.8; Exod.29.45; et al.). This usage is found in a number of ancient Semitic writings and means “to encamp.” The sense is that of God revealing himself on earth in the midst of his chosen people. This is clearly distinguished from the use of the verb yashav, “to dwell,” “to inhabit,” which is only used of God as dwelling in heaven. This subtle distinction was noted by the apostle John when he recorded that the word became flesh (i.e., a body) and dwelt (eskēnōsen, literally, was “tabernacled”) among us (John.1.14). The doctrine of the shekinah glory, which developed in the intertestamental period, was also related to the words shakhan and mishkan, denoting a local manifestation of divine glory.

Bibliography: F. H. White, Christ in the Tabernacle, 1875; D. W. Gooding, The Account of the Tabernacle, 1959; A. Jacob, God’s Tent, 1961; A. H. Hillyard, The Tabernacle in the Wilderness, 1965; U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, 1967; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1970, pp. 430ff.——RKH

TABERNACLE. A transliteration of the Lat. tabernaculum, meaning a tent either with or without a wooden framework. The Gr. equivalent is σκηνή, G5008.


A number of words and phrases are employed in connection with the Tabernacle.

3) מִשְׁכָּ֥ן, “dwelling place” or “dwelling,” the place where God disclosed Himself to His people and dwelt among them. The root is “to dwell.” Exodus 25:9 uses the word to speak of the entire shrine; in 26:1 it is limited practically to the holy of holies. The LXX tr. is σκηνή, G5008, about 106 times and σκήνωμα, G5013, about 17 times. The Vul. renders it tabernaculum.

4) מִשְׁכַּ֣ן הָעֵדֻ֔ת, “the tabernacle of the testimony” also occurs (Exod 38:21). Also, but more seldom, we have אֹ֖הֶל הָעֵדֻ֑ת, “the tent of the testimony” (Num 9:15 ASV). LXX renders it ἡ σκηνή του̂ μαρτυρίον with a probable reference to the tables of the law. The Vul. employs tabernaculum testimonii except in Numbers 10:11 where tabernaculum foederis, “the tabernacle of the covenant,” occurs.

5) The general term מִקְדָּ֑שׁ, “holy place,” “sanctuary,” appears in Exodus 25:8 and Leviticus 10:17ff. The renderings in the LXX are ἁγίασμα, ἁγιατήριον, ἡγίασμενον, and τὰ ἁγια. The Vul. employs sanctuarium. The root is the verb “to be separate, holy.”

OT references

Plan of the Tabernacle

Altars preceded sanctuaries in Israel (Gen 12:7, 8). Monotheism underlay the Tabernacle, and the later temples were modeled after it. The ground plan of the Tabernacle is sufficiently clear, although there are various opinions concerning the details. It is customarily held that the shape of the structure was oblong with a flat roof and ornate coverings that hung down at each side and at the back. Another opinion is that the Tabernacle had a sloping roof.

The outer court contained the altar of burnt offering and the bronze laver. The Tabernacle structure consisted of two divisions: the holy place and the holy of holies, or the most holy place. In the former stood the table of showbread on the N (the structure was oriented toward the E); the golden lampstand on the S; the golden altar of incense on the W against the veil leading to the most holy place. The innermost compartment held the Ark of the covenant, in which were deposited the two tables of the law, the pot of manna, and the rod of Aaron that budded. Its covering, a lid of pure gold, was the mercy seat, or propitiatory, overshadowed by two angelic figures called cherubim. At the mercy seat God met with His people in their need on the basis of shed blood.

Traditional view

The conservative position holds that the Tabernacle was made by Moses in the wilderness. It was constructed according to the pattern shown to him on the mount. It was to be the center of worship for the tribes of Israel in their wilderness travels. Centuries later, the Temple of Solomon was modeled after the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle, although primarily a provisional and temporary sanctuary for the journey from Sinai to Pal., nonetheless continued in use long after the settlement in Canaan.

The higher critical view maintains that the Tabernacle had only an ideal, not a historical, existence; that it was a product of priestly imagination in exilic or postexilic times. It was a miniature built on the model of the Solomonic Temple. The claim that it was constructed in the wilderness was put forth only to give sanction to the newly written “Priestly Code” (PC), or Levitical ritual, still preserved in the books of the Pentateuch. The details of the Tabernacle in PC (Exod 25-31; 36-40; Num 2:2, 17; 5:1-4; 14:44) are said to conflict with those given in E (the Elohist in Exod 33:7-11) as to the character and location of the structure.

The Tabernacle in Exodus and Numbers (PC)

Materials and furniture.

The Tabernacle was made from the voluntary gifts of Israel. Materials are listed in Exodus 25:3ff.; 35:4ff.: gold, silver, bronze; blue, purple, scarlet material, fine twined linen; goats’ hair, dyed rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for lamps, spices for the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for the ephod and the breastpiece. The three metals of ancient times—bronze, silver, and gold—are used in meaningful gradation from the outer court to the most holy place. The most artistic use of the metals is found in the cherubim and the golden lampstand. The wood used throughout the structure was shittim or acacia wood, known for its durability. The material employed was linen, also fine twined linen, dyed blue, purple, and scarlet (25:4). The yarn was spun by women in charge of the weaving (35:25, 35); the work included both embroidery and tapestry.


The framework of the Tabernacle (Exod 26:15-37; 36:20-38) was made of forty-eight wooden frames, 15 ft. high by 27 in. wide with three vertical arms joined by three cross pieces. These were placed in wooden supports and over them were hung two large curtains. Over all were spread three covers. The framework was constructed of uprights of acacia wood, making three sides of the oblong structure. The front was closed by an embroidered screen (26:36, 37). The boards, forty-eight in number, were overlaid with gold. The construction was divided into two compartments separated by a veil, hung from four pillars overlaid with gold and set in sockets of silver. The veil, like the covering of the Tabernacle, was woven with blue, purple, and scarlet, with figures of cherubim. The holy place was 30 ft. long by 15 ft. broad; the most holy place was 15 ft. square. It has been suggested that the Tabernacle proper was tent-like in shape with a ridge pole and a sloping roof.


The coverings of the Tabernacle are described in Exodus 26:1-14 and 36:8, 9. The wooden framework of the Tabernacle had three coverings: the total covering of the Tabernacle itself, the covering of goats’ hair, and the covering of rams’ and goatskins spread over the entire structure. The first covering was made of ten curtains of fine twined linen woven with blue, purple, and scarlet, with figures of cherubim. The second covering was of eleven curtains of goats’ hair. The top covering was made of rams’ skins dyed red and goatskins.

Court of the Tabernacle.

The description of the court is found in Exodus 27:9-18 and 38:9-20. The court of the Tabernacle was a rectangle on an E to W plan, 100 cubits (c. 150 ft.) long and 50 cubits wide. To the W was the Tabernacle proper and to the E, the altar. The court was screened off from the camp by five white curtains five cubits high. It was an enclosure of 150 ft. in length and 75 ft. in breadth, with curtains of fine twined linen supported on bronze pillars and attached by silver hooks. In the court stood the altar of burnt offering and the laver, the latter being set between the altar and the Tabernacle proper (30:17-21). The entrance to the court was from the eastern side through a “gate” or “screen” with its hangings.

b. Laver. The laver is described in Exodus 30:17-21, and 38:8. It was for the exclusive use of the priests as they ministered in the ritual of the Tabernacle. They neglected this provision at the peril of their lives (Exod 30:20, 21). Made of bronze, the laver had a base, evidently for the washing of the feet of the priests. Some scholars believe that the base was a part of the laver proper, whereas others with greater probability maintain that the base was a separate vessel from the laver itself. The record indicates that the bronze was contributed by the ministering women who were engaged in work about the Tabernacle (38:8).

Sanctuary proper.

The curtains were held in place by forty-eight acacia frames. These frames consisted of two arms connected at the top, center, and bottom by cross rungs with two silver bases for each frame. The silver bases formed an unbroken foundation around the Tabernacle. The frames were also held together by five bars. The frames and bars were gold-plated. The front of the structure was enclosed by curtains. (Exod 26:22-25 is difficult. It may speak of a pair of frames joined at each corner of the W or rear of the framework, sloping upward and inward from their bases to a point under the top bar.) The screen was the entrance to the holy place. The veil separated the holy of holies (the most holy place) from the holy place. The veil was made of variegated material with embroidered cherubim, draped over four pillars of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, supported by four silver bases. The screen was of the same material as the screen at the entrance to the outer court (27:16). It was suspended from golden hooks on five pillars of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, supported by bronze bases.

a. Holy place. The outer compartment or holy place, contained three pieces of furniture: (1) the table of showbread, (2) the golden lampstand, and (3) the golden altar of incense. The table was set on the N side of the holy place (40:22); the lampstand on the S side (40:24); and the altar of incense on the W side before the veil. The table was made of acacia wood covered with fine gold and ornamented with a gold molding. Rings and poles were made for carrying. A number of accessories were made for the table: gold plates to hold the loaves, dishes for the frankincense (Lev 24:7), and golden vessels for wine offerings. On this table were placed two piles of twelve loaves or cakes, changed each week (24:5-9). The dishes, spoons, and bowls were all of pure gold.

On the S side of the holy place stood the golden seven-branched lampstand. It was the most ornate of all the furniture. Of pure gold it had a central shaft (Exod 25:32-35) from which were made six golden branches, three on either side. All was adorned with almonds and flowers. All stands supported a lamp which gave continuous (others say only nightly) illumination (27:20; Lev 24:2, 3; 1 Sam 3:3). Accessories of the lampstand, such as snuffers, snuff dishes, and oil vessels, were all of gold. The lampstand was made of a talent of pure gold (Exod 25:38).

b. Holy of holies. The smallest of all the parts of the sanctuary was the holy of holies, yet it was the most significant because of the ritual that was carried out there on the Day of Atonement, and because of the reiterated declaration that God Himself dwelt in the Tabernacle in the holiest of all, a dwelling represented by the Shekinah cloud over the innermost sanctuary.

Construction and consecration of the Tabernacle.

Moving the Tabernacle.

The Ark went before Israel in the crossing of the Jordan. They set up the Tabernacle at Shiloh, and the land was divided among the tribes there (Josh 18:1; 19:51). Only the Ark is mentioned, although the assumption is that the tent of meeting was present also (1 Sam 2:22). After the destruction of Shiloh, the Ark was placed in the home of Abinadab at Kiriath-jearim. The account in 1 Samuel 22:18, 19 implies the existence of a sanctuary (cf. ch. 21).

Historical references to the Tabernacle

The Tabernacle was erected at Sinai in the second year after the Exodus, two weeks before the Passover (Exod 40:2, 17). When the congregation journeyed, the Ark was covered with the veil (Num 4:5). The Ark and the two altars were carried by the sons of Kohath, a descendant of Levi, under the supervision of the high priest (3:31, 32; 4:15). The rest of the disassembled structure was carried in six covered wagons, given by a prince (Num 7:7), each drawn by two oxen. Others must have been used for the heavier materials. Before Israel departed from Sinai, the Tabernacle had been erected for fifty days (10:11).

The journey of Israel took them from Horeb in Arabia to Kadesh-barnea in the Negev of Judah. Of the forty years spent marching to Canaan, almost thirty-eight were spent at Kadesh. The Tabernacle remained here through those years apart from one year spent going S to the Red Sea. During all these years the customary sacrifices were not offered (Amos 5:25). Few events of those years are recorded and little is stated concerning the Tabernacle except that the Ark headed the march (Num 10:33-36). Because history deals mainly with the unusual, the daily occurrences of the life of the people are not alluded to.

During the period of the judges, Israel repeatedly fell into apostasy, and the Tabernacle services must have been performed in a formal, heartless manner, if at all. When war erupted with the Philistines in Samuel’s time, the people decided to bring the Ark of the covenant from Shiloh (1 Sam 4:1ff.). The outcome was tragic: the Philistines captured the Ark and routed Israel. Doubtless, Shiloh fell at this time at the hands of the Philistines (cf. Ps 78:60ff.; Jer 7:12). The Tabernacle appears to have remained in Israel, for it is later mentioned at Nob.

After the death of Eli and his sons it appears that Samuel presided over the religious exercises of the nation. He offered burnt and peace offerings. After the Ark was restored by the Philistines, it remained at Kiriath-jearim (1 Sam 7:1, 2). Gilgal, Bethel, Mizpah, and Ramah were places of administration of justice, and gained religious associations as well.

The next reference to the Tabernacle is at Nob with Ahimelech as high priest (21:1ff.). After Saul had all the priests of Nob slain except Abiathar (22:11ff.), it was removed to Gibeon (1 Chron 16:39; 21:29).

After David captured Jebus and built himself a palace, he prepared a place for the Ark of God and a tent on Zion (2 Sam 6:17ff.; 1 Chron 16:1). David pitched a tent for the Ark, which he had brought to Jerusalem. This seems to have been a new tent for the arrival of the Ark to his capital (2 Sam 7:2; 1 Chron 17:1). Burnt offerings and peace offerings were presented there. The Ark was brought from Kiriath-jearim and delivered to the priests (2 Sam 6:1ff.). When Uzzah was struck dead for his indiscretion in connection with the Ark, the Ark remained for three months at the home of Obed-edom, a Levite. Then with great solemnity it was transferred to David’s Tabernacle. There is evidence of the continuous presence of the tent (2 Sam 7:6).

With David’s removal of the Ark to Jerusalem there were both a Tabernacle with its altar at Gibeon and one with the Ark in Jerusalem, both soon to be replaced by the Temple. The Gibeon altar was in use to Solomon’s time. Notice also the occurrence of a reference to the “tent of meeting” in 1 Kings 8:4. After Solomon’s Temple was built, the tent of meeting with all its equipment was transferred with the Ark into the Temple (8:4). Of all the materials of the Tabernacle, it is held, only the Ark remained the same in the Temple. The last references, then, in the history of Israel to the Tabernacle concern the time when it with its sacred vessels were transported to Jerusalem, where from all indications they were kept as sacred relics in the Temple (ibid). Thus the Tabernacle disappeared from history.

Critical view

The critical view of the Tabernacle, referred to briefly earlier in this treatment, is complex indeed compared with the accounts already discussed. One position of the critical camp is that the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exod 25-30; 35-40) was always an ideal, never a real structure. It is argued that the elaborate symbolism of the Tabernacle could not have been reproduced in its entirety in any of the temples that were actually constructed in Israel. It is pointed out that the earthly Tabernacle was said to be built from a heavenly pattern delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai (25:40).

Many older critics considered the Tabernacle as only a projection backward of the Temple into Israel’s nomadic past; this was supposedly a product of the late priestly source (P or PC) without a shred of historical foundation. In all fairness it must be pointed out that more recent critical studies have admitted that this judgment was a far too sweeping and radical treatment of the Biblical data. In fact, the Wellhausen school explained the Tabernacle of Exodus 25ff. as a postexilic representation based on Solomon’s Temple. The claim was that the Tabernacle was a copy, but not the model or prototype, of the Temple of Solomon (cf. Wisd Sol 9:8). The order would be: the shadowy original in the tent (Exod 33:7-11), then Solomon’s Temple, then Ezekiel’s ideal representation, and finally the Tabernacle of Exodus 25. It should be added that some modern scholars view Ezekiel’s “ideal” reconstruction as actually prophetic, eschatological, and Messianic.

The weight of modern OT scholarship is opposed to the historicity of the Tabernacle treated in Exodus and Numbers (P). Some of the general arguments lodged against the historicity of the Tabernacle are that an unorganized body of Heb. slaves could never have accomplished the feat involved in constructing the Tabernacle with its demands for a high degree of artistic skill; that even Solomon in his reign had to hire skilled artists from Phoenicia for the Temple. Moreover, the highly organized priestly ministry with its elaborate ritual is out of keeping with the simple appointments indicated for the tent of meeting. Furthermore, the most cogent argument advanced against the historicity of the Tabernacle (in P) is the silence of the preexilic historical writers with reference to it. The claim is made that no genuine passage of history in that long period so much as hints of the existence of a Tabernacle with ministering priests and Levites. When references occur in the Chronicler (1 Chron 16:39; 21:29) and the psalmists, it is laid to the activity of editors and glossators who inserted references where they thought the Tabernacle should have been (1 Kings 3:2ff.; 2 Chron 1:3).

Other objections to the historicity of the Tabernacle have not been lacking. The Tabernacle must be the creation of the imagination, it is argued, because the author has so poorly thought out the details of the structure. Moreover, the fundamental question has been posed as to whether such a structure was capable of standing at all. As a matter of architecture, the Tabernacle is pronounced an utter impossibility (Benzinger, EB IV, 4872). Furthermore, it is asserted that E knows nothing of a Tabernacle of this kind. That source speaks only of a tent that excludes the possibility of the Tabernacle in P (cf. Exod 33:7ff). It is felt that this simple tent-sanctuary involves none of the difficulties of the Tabernacle in P. The tent of E is not a place of sacrifice (as the Tabernacle is in P), but a place of oracle, more like the portable sanctuaries of the heathen Sem. peoples of the time. (Note the denial of the uniqueness of the faith of Israel, which is the distinguishing feature of the OT.)

To elaborate further on the historical argument, historical tradition from the settlement in the land to the building of Solomon’s Temple is said to reveal no knowledge of any Tabernacle. Passages that do mention or imply the existence of the Tabernacle are treated with suspicion and are rejected. The conclusion is then drawn that the Tabernacle of P is just the Temple of Solomon read back into earlier days by a vivid priestly fancy. Simply stated, it was not the Temple that was built on the pattern of the Tabernacle, but the Tabernacle was constructed for the worship of Israel from the prototype of the Temple. A general observation is in order: one of the characteristic features of the critical school is the tenet that development always proceeds from the simple to the complex. Why is this principle departed from at this point when the Tabernacle and Temple are discussed?

The historicity of the Tabernacle

The historicity of the Tabernacle is of vital significance for the entire validity of the Scriptures. The main contentions of those who deny the historicity of the Tabernacle will be presented, and then will be followed by specific refutations.

Critical opinion claims that if Solomon’s Temple had been patterned after the Mosaic Tabernacle, the writers of Kings and Chronicles would have stated this fact. This position overlooks 1 Kings 8:4 and 2 Chronicles 5:5. It is argued that these passages refer to “the tent of meeting” and not the Mosaic Tabernacle of Exodus 25. However, in P the Mosaic Tabernacle has the same name (Exod 27:21). What logic requires that the authors of Kings and Chronicles state explicitly that the Solomonic Temple was modeled after the Mosaic Tabernacle?

Much is made of the argument from silence. Arguments from silence are notoriously precarious. The only way a silence of the historical books can be made out is to delete all such reference passages relative to the Mosaic Tabernacle as the work of a late redactor who allegedly inserted them to support his view that the Mosaic Tabernacle originated in the wilderness. No external evidence has been produced by any critic to sustain this position. If the evidence of the OT is heeded, it reveals a number of clear evidences.

Secondly, the sanctuary at Nob was the Mosaic Tabernacle (1 Sam 21:1-6). It had a high priest and eighty-five ordinary priests, a priest’s ephod, and a table of showbread. The eating of the showbread was under the same ceremonial regulations as indicated for the Mosaic Tabernacle (Lev 15:18). The Urim and Thummim were used by the priest to determine God’s will as in the Tabernacle arrangement. These are particulars that relate to the Tabernacle and to no other institution among Israel.

Thirdly, the reference to the Mosaic Tabernacle at Gibeon precedes the building of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:4; 2 Chron 1:3; 5:3). It is stated that the Ark of the covenant, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels of the tent were solemnly brought into the Temple Solomon had built.

Critics claim the Mosaic Tabernacle could not have been made as Exodus describes it, because (1) the time was too short; (2) the Israelites were not qualified or artistically capable; and (3) they did not have sufficient materials for such a splendid building as the Mosaic Tabernacle. The argument as to time is amply answered by the fact that 600,000 able men for nine months could well have accomplished, with their wives and children, all that was needed for so circumscribed a structure. The objection as to their artistic ability is untenable in the light of the fact that in over 400 years they could well have learned something of the mechanical arts for which Egypt was justly famous. Furthermore, who can disprove that some of the famous works of Egypt of those days were not done by Israelite slave labor? The argument as to scantiness of material is refuted by the considerations that Israel had some preparation for their wilderness journey, that the amount of material involved is not in excess of what other ancient oriental peoples possessed, that a large part of what they needed could have come from what the Egyptians gave them to leave their land and from the spoils of the war with Amalek, and that a number of the materials required for the construction were available in the wilderness.

The Biblical account is said to have certain internal marks that reveal its unhistorical character. (1) It states the Tabernacle was made on a model supernaturally shown to Moses. (2) It continually refers to geographical locations of the Tabernacle when no previous instructions had indicated any such order. (3) The bronze altar was made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze where a fire would burn constantly. (4) The Tabernacle is pictured, not as a temporary shelter for the Ark on the march, but as the only authorized sanctuary for the tribes of Israel before the time of Solomon. (5) The description of the Tabernacle found in P, “priestly code” (Exod 25-31; 36-40; Num 2:2, 17; 5:1-4; 14:44) is said to conflict with E (Exod 33:7-11) as to character and location.

In refutation of the first objection, it must be affirmed that there is no inherent impossibility that God should reveal the pattern of the Tabernacle to Moses in the mount (Exod 25:40; Heb 8:5). Is the Temple of Solomon unhistorical because David said that the pattern of it given to Solomon had been revealed to him (David) by God (1 Chron 28:19)? Moreover, Ezekiel claimed that the Temple he described was seen by him in a vision. Here it is a matter of one’s theology and the possibility of supernatural revelation.

The second objection is indeed difficult to comprehend, because it argues against the obvious. The Tabernacle had to be oriented in some way, and the most natural would be according to the four points of the compass. Moreover, there was no conscious imitation of the Solomonic Temple, because the account in Kings and Chronicles makes no reference to the four quarters of the earth. 1 Kings 7:25 does not demand that the sides of the Temple were so positioned.

The third argument assumes more than is stated. The text does not claim that a large fire constantly burned on an altar of wood. A reading of Exodus 27:1-8 and 38:1-7 shows that the altar proper, where the fire burned and consumed the sacrifices, was the earth- (or stone-) filled hollow (Exod 20:24f.) which the wooden and bronze frame enclosed.

The fourth contention is in exact conformity with a natural reading of Exodus, namely, the Tabernacle was meant to be the authorized sanctuary for the tribes before Solomon’s day. It is true that on occasion altars were built for sacrifice at locations other than the Tabernacle, e.g., by Gideon at Ophrah and by Samuel at Ramah (Judg 6:24-27; 1 Sam 7:17), but this is inadequate to prove that the Tabernacle was not the central sanctuary. By the same reasoning, Jerusalem could be shown not to be the central sanctuary because of the altar on Mount Ebal (Deut 27:5). Actually, the Tabernacle was the central sanctuary, but the original legislation of Exodus 20:24 had never been rescinded. It was still permissible to offer sacrifice wherever the Lord revealed Himself to His people. Because local shrines existed at the same time as the Tabernacle does not warrant the conclusion that the Tabernacle was never constructed.

The fifth objection is adequately answered by the observation that the description of the Tabernacle in P differs from the description of the tent in E, because two different structures are in view: one the Tabernacle proper (P) and the other the preliminary tent built by Moses. This explanation accounts for the variations in character and location of the two.

Perhaps the strongest proof advanced for the nonhistoricity of the Tabernacle is the alleged ignorance of the pre-exilic prophets concerning the Levitical system. Critics cite Amos in the 8th cent. b.c. (5:25, 26) and Jeremiah in the 7th cent. b.c. (7:21-23) as teaching that no sacrificial Tabernacle ritual was ever enunciated in the wilderness.

Against the critical contention based on the words of Amos and Jeremiah, it can be stated as remarkable that former interpreters did not so understand the words of these prophets. Moreover, it can be easily shown that critics are far from agreement on this interpretation. Amos 5:21, 22 would be meaningless unless God had accepted their sacrifices at one time and would do so no longer when the worship was heartless, and idolatry was indulged in at the same time (Num 16:18).

Finally, if the Lord had never commanded sacrifices for Israel, how did God order Jeremiah to pronounce a curse on the people of Jerusalem for transgressing the Lord’s covenant that He had made with their fathers in the wilderness, and that enjoined sacrifices to Him and not to idols (Jer 11:1-5)? If God had desired only obedience to moral law without sacrifice, then where was the need for the Temple? God had accepted the Temple as His house. All idolatrous sacrifices were proscribed, not only because they were wrong in themselves, but because they displaced the true sacrificial worship of the Lord. Jeremiah certainly knew God had commanded sacrifices in Exodus 20:24, 25.

The NT references to the Tabernacle at least imply that the sacred writers were agreed on the historicity of the Mosaic Tabernacle. Such citations were Peter’s words on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17:4; Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33), Stephen’s statement to the council (Acts 7:44), the references in Hebrews (chs. 8; 9), and the voice from heaven (Rev 21:3).

Problems related to the tent of meeting and the Tabernacle

Because the position of Wellhausen is being re-examined from many vantage points and is being drastically re-evaluated, the account of Exodus 25 is being reassessed. Why, for instance, could not the Tabernacle of Exodus 25 be an imitation of the tent in Exodus 33 rather than a copying of the Solomonic Temple? Why could not Solomon have built on the basis of a previous Israelite model even though he utilized Phoen. artistic ability?

Upon further study the problems are not so formidable as first considered in the heat of an avid hypercriticism. Even the argument from silence is inconclusive. Exodus 33:7 is to be understood in the light of God’s great displeasure at the making of the golden calf. He temporarily withdrew His presence from them (33:1, 3, 4-6—this was Moses’ way of showing Israel that they were denied the Lord’s presence in the camp).

Much of the difficulty in the critical position stems from the fact that it has tried to equate the tent of meeting and the Tabernacle, and then has complained of the resultant discrepancies. Allow the tent to be one structure and the Tabernacle another, and all will be seen to be harmonious. Regarding the vagueness of instructions, surely sufficient instructions were given to permit the workmen to build the structure, for Exodus 35-40 is occupied with the manner in which the instructions of God were carried out to the letter. Where specific instructions were absent, the skill of the artisans, fortified with specific and stated endowment from the Spirit of God, was adequate for the needs of the task. The specific details of the building would have taken into account the weight of the curtains on the frame. Engineering authorities have confirmed that such a structure was eminently feasible and workable. As has been shown already, the silence of the historical texts can be made out only if pivotal passages are denied validity and then deleted.

The fact that the verbs in Exodus 33 are in the customary tense only reveals that this situation obtained temporarily for a limited time. It is quite probable that when the older generation, who were not to enter the land, died off, the Ark and the Tabernacle were moved into the midst of the camp. Differences in location of the tent and Tabernacle are explicable and contradictions are more apparent than actual. Furthermore, those who claim the tent of meeting was Moses’ personal tent cannot expect their statement to be taken seriously, when the subject under discussion involves the worship of an entire nation, numbering over two million, with a ministering priesthood in the thousands of persons.

Theologically, the Tabernacle cannot be eliminated from the history of Israel in the wilderness. The presence of the Lord with them was the unifying factor in all their national traditions, repeatedly referred to in later books of the OT. They could not be without foundation in fact. They can be and are traceable to the Mosaic era, where Israel’s laws and sacrificial system began also.

The order seems to have been: (1) the tent outside the camp because of the sin of the golden calf worship (Exod 32); (2) the Tabernacle itself (Exod 25:9); (3) next, the more permanent sanctuary at Shiloh, because the perishable materials (fabrics) of the Tabernacle in the wilderness needed replacing. (4) With the destruction of the Shiloh sanctuary the Ark was moved from Philistia to Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem, apparently with remnants of the furniture. (5) Then there was the tent that David made for the Ark (2 Sam 6:17). This passage indicates a holy of holies for the Ark. It has been suggested that this tent was the model for the Tabernacle (traditionally assigned to Moses) and not the Solomonic Temple. Davies’ observation is indeed perceptive: “The newer view [a tendency to date various Pentateuchal documents to pre-monarchy and early monarchy times], in suggesting the days of David, points to an actual revival of covenant theology [such revivals were rather seen in Hezekiah’s and Josiah’s reigns] in the Davidic kingship (2 Sam 7; Pss 72; 89), and to the revival of Mosaic themes in ark and tabernacle and presence” (IDB, IV, 506).

The Tabernacle in the NT

Paul refers to “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5), and to Christ as offering Himself as a sacrifice to God (Eph 5:2). All synoptists underscore the rendering of the Temple veil (Matt 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45), which the Hebrews writer indicates opened the way into the holiest of all (9:8; 10:19, 20).

The significance of the Tabernacle

The Tabernacle with its priests and their ministry was foundational to the religious life of Israel. The basic concept was that which underlay the theocracy itself: the Lord dwelling in visible glory in His sanctuary among His people (Exod 25:8). Even if the Tabernacle had no historical validity, which it assuredly had, it still may have value for the readers because of its embodiment of important religious and spiritual concepts. It reveals (1) the necessary conditions upon which Israel could maintain fellowship in covenant relationship with the Lord; (2) the dominant truth of the presence of God in the midst of His people (29:25), a dwelling that must conform in every detail with His divine character, i.e., His unity and holiness. One God requires one sanctuary; the holy God demands a holy people (Lev 19:2); (3) the perfection and harmony of the Lord’s character seen in the aesthetics of the Tabernacle’s architecture, the gradations in metals and materials, the degrees of sanctity exhibited in the court, the holy place, and the holiest, and the measurements of the Tabernacle, e.g., 3, 4, 7, 10 with their fractions and multiples dominating and pervading every detail of furniture and material.

The Tabernacle was the first sanctuary reared for the Lord at His command, and was rendered glorious and effective by His actual indwelling. The dwelling of God with man is the dominant theme of the symphony of the Tabernacle, all pointing to the future eternal communion with God. The Ark of the covenant with the propitiatory was the symbol of God’s meeting with His people on the basis of atonement (Rom 3:25). The showbread spoke of God’s sustenance of spiritual life; the lampstand represented Israel as God’s channel of light (Zech 4); the incense was a symbol of prayer (Rev 5:8; 8:3, 4). The Tabernacle was the authorized place of worship. It was the foundation of the theocracy. The mercy seat was the earthly seat of God’s glory, where He met with His people for His glory and their blessing. The Tabernacle foreshadowed the time when God’s kingdom would be fully realized and established on earth. Note the progress in the self-revelation of God to His people: first, His presence in the Tabernacle; second, the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ; third, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers; and fourth and last, the descent of the New Jerusalem to the glorified earth. See Ark of the Covenant.


IDB, IV, 498-506; HDB, IV, 653-668; ISBE, V, 2887-2898; EB, IV, 4861-4875; Jew Enc, XI, 653-656; J. Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1878), 17-51; J. Strong, The Tabernacle of Israel in the Desert (1888); T. Whitelaw, Old Testament Critics (1903); W. S. Caldecott, The Tabernacle: Its History and Structure (1904); E. C. Bissell, The Pentateuch: Its Origin and Structure (1906); W. G. Morehead, Studies in the Mosaic Institutions (3rd ed. 1909), 31-90; J. Orr, Problem of the Old Testament (1926), 165-180; D. W. Gooding, The Account of the Tabernacle (1959); M. L. G. Guillebaud, “Tent over the Tabernacle,” EQ, 31:90-96 (April 59); M. Haran, “Nature of the אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד in Pentateuchal Sources,” JSS 5:50-65 (Jan. 60); A. Jacob, God’s Tent (1961); M. Haran, “Shiloh and Jerusalem; the Origin of the Priestly Tradition in the Pentateuch,” JBL, 81:14-24 (March 62); A. H. Hillyard, The Tabernacle in the Wilderness or The Reality of God in the Physical World (1965); V. W. Rabe, “Israelite Opposition to the Temple,” CBQ, 29:228-233 (April, 1967); J. Blenkinsopp, “Kiriath-jearim and the Ark,” JBL, 88:143-156 (June, 1969).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

kort, sank’~-tu-a-ri: By "court" (chatser) is meant a clear space enclosed by curtains or walls, or surrounded by buildings. It was always an uncovered enclosure, but might have within its area one or more edifices.

1. The Tabernacle:

The first occurrence of the word is in Ex 27:9, where it is commanded to "make the court of the tabernacle." The dimensions for this follow in the directions for the length of the linen curtains which were to enclose it. From these we learn that the perimeter of the court was 300 cubits, and that it consisted of two squares, each 75 ft., lying East and West of one another. In the westerly square stood the tabernacle, while in that to the East was the altar of burnt offering. This was the worshipper’s square, and every Hebrew who passed through the entrance gate had immediate access to the altar (compare W. Robertson Smith, note on Ex 20:26, Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, 435). The admission to this scene of the national solemnities was by the great east gate described in Ex 27:13-16 (see East Gate).

2. Solomon’s Temple:

The fundamental conception out of which grew the resolve to build a temple for the worship of Yahweh was that the new structure was to be an enlarged duplicate in stone of the tent of meeting (see Temple). The doubling in size of the holy chambers was accompanied by a doubling of the enclosed area upon which the holy house was to stand. Hitherto a rectangular oblong figure of 150 ft. in length and 75 ft. in breadth had sufficed for the needs of the people in their worship. Now an area of 300 ft. in length and 150 ft. in breadth was enclosed within heavy stone walls, making, as before, two squares, each of 150 ft. This was that "court of the priests" spoken of in 2Ch 4:9, known to its builders as "the inner court" (1Ki 6:36; compare Jer 36:10). Its walls consisted of "three courses of hewn stone, and a course of cedar beams" (1Ki 6:36), into which some read the meaning of colonnades. Its two divisions may have been marked by some fence. The innermost division, accessible only to the priests, was the site of the new temple. In the easterly division stood the altar of sacrifice; into this the Hebrew laity had access for worship at the altar. Later incidental allusions imply the existence of "chambers" in the court, and also the accessibility of the laity (compare Jer 35:4; 36:10; Eze 8:16).

3. The Great Court:

In distinction from this "inner" court a second or "outer" court was built by Solomon, spoken of by the Chronicler as "the great court" (2Ch 4:9). Its doors were overlaid with brass (bronze). Wide difference of opinion obtains as to the relation of this outer court to the inner court just described, and to the rest of the Solomonic buildings-- particularly to "the great court" of "the house of the forest of Lebanon" of 1Ki 7:9,10. Some identify the two, others separate them. Did this court, with its brass-covered gates, extend still farther to the East than the temple "inner" court, with, however, the same breadth as the latter? Or was it, as Keil thinks, a much larger enclosure, surrounding the whole temple area, extending perhaps 150 cubits eastward in front of the priests’ court (compare Keil, Biblical Archaeology, I, 171, English translation)? Yet more radical is the view, adopted by many modern authorities, which regards "the great court" as a vast enclosure surrounding the temple and the whole complex of buildings described in 1Ki 7:1-12 (see the plan, after Stade, in G. A. Smith’s Jerusalem, II, 59). In the absence of conclusive data the question must be left undetermined.

4. Ezekiel’s Temple:

In Ezekiel’s plan of the temple yet to be built, the lines of the temple courts as he had known them in Jerusalem are followed. Two squares enclosed in stone walling, each of 150 ft., lie North and South of one another, and bear the distinctive names, "the inner court" and "the outer court" (Eze 8:16; 10:5).

5. Temple of Herod:

In the Herodian temple the old nomenclature gives place to a new set of terms. The extensive enclosure known later as "the court of the Gentiles" does not appear under that name in the New Testament or in Josephus What we have in the tract Middoth of the Mishna and in Josephus is the mention of two courts, the "court of the priests" and "the court of Israel" (Middoth, ii.6; v. 1; Josephus, BJ, V, v, 6). The data in regard to both are difficult and conflicting. In Middoth they appear as long narrow strips of 11 cubits in breadth extending at right angles to the temple and the altar across the enclosure--the "court of Israel" being railed off from the "court of the priests" on the East; the latter extending backward as far as the altar, which has a distinct measurement. The design was to prevent the too near approach of the lay Israelite to the altar. Josephus makes the 11 cubits of the "court of Israel" extend round the whole "court of the priests, " inclusive of altar and temple (see Temple; and compare G. A. Smith, Jerusalem, II, 506- 9, with the reconstruction of Waterhouse in Sacred Sites of the Gospels, 111 ff). For the "women’s court," see Treasury.

Many expressions in the Psalms show how great was the attachment of the devout-minded Hebrew in all ages to those courts of the Lord’s house where he was accustomed to worship (e.g. Ps 65:4; 84:2; 92:13; 96:8; 100:4; 116:19). The courts were the scene of many historical events in the Old Testament and New Testament, and of much of the earthly ministry of Jesus. There was enacted the scene described in the parable of the Pharisee and Publican (Lu 18:10-14).

W. Shaw Caldecott

Additional Material

(’ohel mo`edh "tent of meeting," mishkan, "dwelling"; skene):



1. Earlier "Tent of Meeting"

2. A Stage in Revelation

3. The Tabernacle Proper


1. The Enclosure or Court

2. Structure, Divisions and Furniture of the Tabernacle

(1) Coverings of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:1-14; 36:8-19)

(a) Tabernacle Covering Proper

(b) Tent Covering

(c) Protective Covering

(2) Framework and Divisions of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:15-37; 36:20-38)

Arrangement of Coverings

(3) Furniture of the Sanctuary

(a) The Table of Shewbread

(b) The Candlestick (Lampstand)

(c) The Altar of Incense


1. Removal from Sinai

2. Sojourn at Kadesh

3. Settlement in Canaan

4. Destruction of Shiloh

5. Delocalization of Worship

6. Nob and Gibeon

7. Restoration of the Ark

8. The Two Tabernacles


1. New Testament References

2. God’s Dwelling with Man

3. Symbolism of Furniture


I. Introductory.

Altars sacred to Yahweh were earlier than sacred buildings. Abraham built such detached altars at the Terebinth of Moreh (Ge 12:6,7), and again between Beth-el and Ai (Ge 12:8). Though he built altars in more places than one, his conception of God was already monotheistic. The "Judge of all the earth" (Ge 18:25) was no tribal deity. This monotheistic ideal was embodied and proclaimed in the tabernacle and in the subsequent temples of which the tabernacle was the prototype.

1. Earlier "Tent of Meeting":

2. A Stage in Revelation:

No doubt this localization of the shrine of Yahweh afforded occasion for a possible misconception of Yahweh as a tribal Deity. We must remember that here and throughout we have to do with the education of a people whose instincts and surroundings were by no means monotheistic. It was necessary that their education should begin with some sort of concession to existing ideas. They were not yet, nor for long afterward, capable of the conception of a God who dwelleth not in temples made with hands. So an altar and a tent were given them; but in the fact that this habitation of God was not fixed to one spot, but was removed from place to place in the nomad life of the Israelites, they had a persistent education leading them away from the idea of local and tribal deities.

3. The Tabernacle Proper:

The tabernacle proper is that of which the account is given in Ex 25-27; 30-31; 35-40, with additional details in Nu 3:25 ff; 4:4 ff; 7:1 ff. The central idea of the structure is given in the words, "Make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (Ex 25:8). It was the dwelling-place of the holy Yahweh in the midst of His people; also the place of His "meeting" with them (Ex 25:22). The first of these ideas is expressed in the name mishkan; the second in the name ’ohel mo`edh (it is a puzzling fact for the critics that in Ex 25-27:19 only mishkan is used; in Exodus 28-31 only ’ohel mo`edh; in other sections the names intermingle). The tabernacle was built as became such a structure, according to the "pattern" shown to Moses in the mount (25:9,40; 26:30; compare Ac 7:44; Heb 8:2,5). The modern critical school regards this whole description of the tabernacle as an "ideal" construction--a projection backward by post-exilian imagination of the ideas and dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, the measurements of the latter being throughout halved. Against this violent assumption, however, many things speak. See below under B.

II. Structure.

The ground plan of the Mosaic tabernacle (with its divisions, courts, furniture, etc.) can be made out with reasonable certainty. As respects the actual construction, knotty problems remain, in regard to which the most diverse opinions prevail. Doubt rests also on the precise measurement by cubits (see Cubit; for a special theory, see W. S. Caldecott, The Tabernacle; Its History and Structure). For simplification the cubit is taken in this article as roughly equivalent to 18 inches.

A first weighty question relates to the shape of the tabernacle. The conventional and still customary conception (Keil, Bahr, A. R. S. Kennedy in HDB, etc.) represents it as an oblong, flat-roofed structure, the rich coverings, over the top, hanging down on either side and at the back--not unlike, to use a figure sometimes employed, a huge coffin with a pall thrown over it. Nothing could be less like a "tent," and the difficulty at once presents itself of how, in such a structure, "sagging" of the roof was to be prevented. Mr. J. Fergusson, in his article "Temple" in Smith’s DB, accordingly, advanced the other conception that the structure was essentially that of a tent, with ridge-pole, sloping roof, and other appurtenances of such an erection. He plausibly, though not with entire success, sought to show how this construction answered accurately to the measurements and other requirements of the text (e.g. the mention of "pins of the tabernacle," Ex 35:18). With slight modification this view here commends itself as having most in its favor.

To avoid the difficulty of the ordinary view, that the coverings, hanging down outside the framework, are unseen from within, except on the roof, it has sometimes been argued that the tapestry covering hung down, not outside, but inside the tabernacle (Keil, Bahr, etc.). It is generally felt that this arrangement is inadmissible. A newer and more ingenious theory is that propounded by A. R. S. Kennedy in his article "Tabernacle" in HDB. It is that the "boards" constituting the framework of the tabernacle were, not solid planks, but really open "frames," through which the finely wrought covering could be seen from within. There is much that is fascinating in this theory, if the initial assumption of the flat roof is granted, but it cannot be regarded as being yet satisfactorily made out. Professor Kennedy argues from the excessive weight of the solid "boards." It might be replied: In a purely "ideal" structure such as he supposes this to be, what does the weight matter? The "boards," however, need not have been so thick or heavy as he represents.

In the more minute details of construction yet greater diversity of opinion obtains, and imagination is often allowed a freedom of exercise incompatible with the sober descriptions of the text.

1. The Enclosure or Court:

2. Structure, Divisions and Furniture of the Tabernacle:

In the inner of the two squares of the court was reared the tabernacle--a rectangular oblong structure, 30 cubits (45 ft.) long and 10 cubits (15 ft.) broad, divided into two parts, a holy and a most holy (Ex 26:33). Attention has to be given here

(1) to the coverings of the tabernacle,

(2) to its framework and divisions, and

(3) to its furniture.

(1) Coverings of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:1-14; 36:8-19).

The wooden framework of the tabernacle to be afterward described had 3 coverings--one, the immediate covering of the tabernacle or "dwelling," called by the same name, mishkan (Ex 26:1,6); a second, the tent" covering of goats’ hair; and a third, a protective covering of rams’ and seal- (or porpoise-) skins, cast over the whole.

(a) Tabernacle Covering Proper:

The covering of the tabernacle proper (Ex 26:1-6) consisted of 10 curtains (yeri`oth, literally, "breadth") of fine twined linen, beautifully-woven with blue, and purple, and scarlet, and with figures of cherubim. The 10 curtains, each 28 cubits long and 4 cubits broad, were joined together in sets of 5 to form 2 large curtains, which again were fastened by 50 loops and clasps (the King James Version "taches") of gold, so as to make a single great curtain 40 cubits (60 ft.) long, and 28 cubits (42 ft.) broad.

(b) Tent Covering:

The "tent" covering (Ex 26:7-13) was formed by 11 curtains of goats hair, the length in this case being 30 cubits, and the breadth 4 cubits. These were joined in sets of 5 and 6 curtains, and as before the two divisions were coupled by 50 loops and clasps (this time of bronze), into one great curtain of 44 cubits (66 ft.) in length and 30 cubits (45 ft.) in breadth--an excess of 4 cubits in length and 2 in breadth over the fine tabernacle curtain.

(c) Protective Covering:

Finally, for purposes of protection, coverings were ordered to be made (Ex 26:14) for the "tent" of rams’ skins dyed red, and of seal-skins or porpoise-skins (English Versions of the Bible, "badgers’ skins"). The arrangement of the coverings is considered below.

(2) Framework and Division of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:15-37; 36:20-38)

Arrangement of Coverings:

Preference has already been expressed for Mr. Fergusson’s idea that the tabernacle was not flat-roofed, the curtains being cast over it like drapery, but was tentlike in shape, with ridge-pole, and a sloping roof, raising the total height to 15 cubits. Passing over the ridge pole, and descending at an angle, 14 cubits on either side, the inner curtain would extend 5 cubits beyond the walls of the tabernacle, making an awning of that width North and South, while the goats’-hair covering above it, 2 cubits wider, would hang below it a cubit on either side. The whole would be held in position by ropes secured by bronze tent-pins to the ground (Ex 27:19; 38:31). The scheme has obvious advantages in that it preserves the idea of a "tent," conforms to the principal measurements, removes the difficulty of "sagging" on the (flat) roof, and permits of the golden boards, bars and rings, on the outside, and of the finely wrought tapestry, on the inside, being seen (Professor Kennedy provides for the latter by his "frames," through which the curtain would be visible). On the other hand, it is not to be concealed that the construction proposed presents several serious difficulties. The silence of the text about a ridge-pole, supporting pillars, and other requisites of Mr. Fergusson’s scheme (his suggestion that "the middle bar" of Ex 26:28 may be the ridge-pole is quite untenable), may be got over by assuming that these parts are taken for granted as understood in tent-construction. But this does not apply to other adjustments, especially those connected with the back and front of the tabernacle. It was seen above that the inner covering was 40 cubits in length, while the tabernacle-structure was 30 cubits. How is this excess of 10 cubits in the tapestry-covering dealt with? Mr. Fergusson, dividing equally, supposes a porch of 5 cubits at the front, and a space of 5 cubits also behind, with hypothetical pillars. The text, however, is explicit that the veil dividing the holy from the most holy place was hung "under the clasps" (Ex 26:33), i.e. on this hypothesis, midway in the structure, or 15 cubits from either end. Either, then,

(1) the idea must be abandoned that the holy place was twice the length of the Holy of Holies (20 X 10; it is to be observed that the text does not state the proportions, which are inferred from those of Solomon’s Temple), or

(2) Mr. Fergusson’s arrangement must be given up, and the division of the curtain be moved back 5 cubits, depriving him of his curtain for the porch, and leaving 10 cubits to be disposed of in the rear. Another difficulty is connected with the porch itself. No clear indication of such a porch is given in the text, while the 5 pillars "for the screen" (Ex 26:37) are most naturally taken to be, like the latter, at the immediate entrance of the tabernacle. Mr. Fergusson, on the other hand, finds it necessary to separate pillars and screen, and to place the pillars 5 cubits farther in front. He is right, however, in saying that the 5th pillar naturally suggests a ridge-pole; in his favor also is the fact that the extra breadth of the overlying tentcovering was to hang down, 2 cubits at the front, and 2 cubits at the back of the tabernacle (Ex 26:9,12). It is possible that there was a special disposition of the inner curtain--that belonging peculiarly to the "dwelling"--"according to which its "clasps" lay above the "veil" of the Holy of Holies (20 cubits from the entrance), and its hinder folds closed the aperture at the rear which otherwise would have admitted light into the secrecy of the shrine. But constructions of this kind must ever remain more or less conjectural.

The measurements in the above reckoning are internal. Dr. Kennedy disputes this, but the analogy of the temple is against his view.

(3) Furniture of the Sanctuary

The furniture of the sanctuary is described in Ex 25:10-40 (ark, table of shewbread, candlestick); 30:1-10 (altar of incense); compare Exodus 37 for making. In the innermost shrine, the Holy of Holies, the sole object was the ark of the covenant, overlaid within and without with pure gold, with its molding and rings of gold, its staves overlaid with gold passed through the rings, and its lid or covering of solid gold--the propitiatory or mercy-seat--at either end of which, of one piece with it. (25:19; 37:8), stood cherubim, with wings outstretched over the mercy-seat and with faces turned toward it (for details see Ark of the Covenant; Mercy-seat; CHERUBIM). This was the meeting-place of Yahweh and His people through Moses (25:22). The ark contained only the two tables of stone, hence its name "the ark of the testimony" (25:16,22). It is not always realized how small an object the ark was--only 2 1/2 cubits (3 ft. 9 in.) long, 1 1/2 cubits (2 ft. 3 in.) broad, and the same (1 1/2 cubits) high.

The furniture of the outer chamber of the tabernacle consisted of

(a) the table of shewbread;

(b) the golden candlestick:

(c) the altar of incense, or golden altar.

These were placed, the table of shewbread on the north side (Ex 40:22), the candlestick on the south side (Ex 40:24), and the altar of incense in front of the veil, in the holy place.

(a) The Table of Shewbread:

The table of shewbread was a small table of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, with a golden rim round the top, gold rings at the corners of its 4 feet, staves for the rings, and a "border" (at middle?) joining the legs, holding them together. Its dimensions were 2 cubits (3 ft.) long, 1 cubit (18 inches) broad, and 1 1/2 cubits (2 ft. 3 inches) high. On it were placed 12 cakes, renewed each week, in 2 piles (compare Le 24:5-9), together with dishes (for the bread), spoons (incense cups), flagons and bowls (for drink offerings), all of pure gold.

See Table of Shewbread.

(b) The Candlestick:

The candlestick or lampstand was the article on which most adornment was lavished. It was of pure gold, and consisted of a central stem (in Ex 25:32-35 this specially receives the name "candlestick"), with 3 curved branches on either side, all elegantly wrought with cups of almond blossom, knops, and flowers (lilies?)--3 of this series to each branch and 4 to the central stem. Upon the 6 branches and the central stem were 7 lamps from which the light issued. Connected with the candlestick were snuffers and snuff-dishes for the wicks--all of gold. The candlestick was formed from a talent of pure gold (Ex 25:38).

See Candlestick.

(c) The Altar of Incense:

The description of the altar of incense occurs (Ex 30:1-10) for some unexplained reason or displacement out of the place where it might be expected, but this is no reason for throwing doubt (with some) upon its existence. It was a small altar, overlaid with gold, a cubit (18 in.) square, and 2 cubits (3 ft.) high, with 4 horns. On it was burned sweet-smelling incense. It had the usual golden rim, golden rings, and gold-covered staves.

See Altar of Incense.

III. History.

1. Removal from Sinai:

We may fix 1220 BC as the approximate date of the introduction of the tabernacle. It was set up at Sinai on the 1st day of the 1st month of the 2nd year (Ex 40:2,17), i.e. 14 days before the celebration of the Passover on the first anniversary of the exodus (see Chronology of the Old Testament, sec. VII, VIII). When the people resumed their journey, the ark was wrapped in the veil which had served to isolate the most holy place (Nu 4:5). This and the two altars were carried upon the shoulders of the children of Kohath, a descendant of Levi, and were removed under the personal supervision of the high priest (Nu 3:31,32; 4:15). The rest of the dismembered structure was carried in six covered wagons, offered by the prince, each drawn by two oxen (Nu 7). Doubtless others were provided for the heavier materials (compare Keil). Before leaving Sinai the brazen altar had been dedicated, and utensils of gold and silver had been presented for use at the services. The tabernacle had been standing at Sinai during 50 days (Nu 10:11).

2. Sojourn at Kadesh:

The journey lay along the "great and terrible wilderness" between Horeb in the heart of Arabia and Kadesh-barnea in the Negeb of Judah; of the 40 years occupied in the journey to Canaan, nearly 38 were spent at Kadesh, a fact not always clearly recognized. The tabernacle stood here during 37 years (one year being occupied in a punitive journey southward to the shore of the Red Sea). During this whole time the ordinary sacrifices were not offered (Am 5:25), though it is possible that the appropriate seasons were nevertheless marked in more than merely chronological fashion. Few incidents are recorded as to these years, and little mention is made of the tabernacle throughout the whole journey except that the ark of the covenant preceded the host when on the march (Nu 10:33-36). It is the unusual that is recorded; the daily aspect of the tabernacle and the part it played in the life of the people were among the things recurrent and familiar.

3. Settlement in Canaan:

4. Destruction of Shiloh:

During the period of the Judges the nation lost the fervor of its earlier years and was in imminent danger of apostasy. The daily services of the tabernacle were doubtless observed after a perfunctory manner, but they seem to have had little effect upon the people, either to soften their manners or raise their morals. In the early days of Samuel war broke out afresh with the Philistines. At a council of war the unprecedented proposal was made to fetch the ark of the covenant from Shiloh (1Sa 4:1 ). Accompanied by the two sons of Eli--Hophni and Phinehas--it arrived in the camp and was welcomed by a shout which was heard in the hostile camp. It was no longer Yahweh but the material ark that was the hope of Israel, so low had the people fallen. Eli himself, at that time high priest, must at least have acquiesced in this superstition. It ended in disaster. The ark was taken by the Philistines, its two guardians were slain, and Israel was helpless before its enemies. Though the Hebrew historians are silent about what followed, it is certain that Shiloh itself fell into the hands of the Philistines. The very destruction of it accounts for the silence of the historians, for it would have been at the central sanctuary there, the center and home of what literary culture there was in Israel during this stormy period, that chronicles of events would be kept. Ps 78:60 ff no doubt has reference to this overthrow, and it is referred to in Jer 7:12. The tabernacle itself does not seem to have been taken by the Philistines, as it is met with later at Nob.

5. Delocalization of Worship:

For lack of a high priest of character, Samuel himself seems now to have become the head of religious worship. It is possible that the tabernacle may have been again removed to Gilgal, as it was there that Samuel appointed Saul to meet him in order to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings. The ark, however, restored by the Philistines, remained at Kiriath-jearim (1Sa 7:1,2), while courts for ceremonial, civil, and criminal administration were held, not only at Gilgal, but at other places, as Beth-el, Mizpah and Ramah (1Sa 7:15-17), places which acquired a quasi-ecclesiastical sanctity. This delocalization of the sanctuary was no doubt revolutionary, but it is partly explained by the fact that even in the tabernacle there was now no ark before which to burn incense. Of the half-dozen places bearing the name of Ramah, this, which was Samuel’s home, was the one near to Hebron, where to this day the foundations of what may have been Samuel’s sacred enclosure may be seen at the modern Ramet-el-Khalil.

6. Nob and Gibeon:

We next hear of the tabernacle at Nob, with Ahimelech, a tool of Saul (probably the Ahijah of 1Sa 14:3), as high priest (1Sa 21:1 ). This Nob was 4 miles to the North of Jerusalem and was more-over a high place, 30 ft. higher than Zion. It does not follow that the tabernacle was placed at the top of the hill. Here it remained a few years, till after the massacre by Saul of all the priests at Nob save one, Abiathar (1Sa 22:11 ). Subsequently, possibly by Saul himself, it was removed to Gibeon (1Ch 16:39; 21:29). Gibeon was 6 miles from Jerusalem, and 7 from Beth-el, and may have been chosen for its strategic advantage as well as for the fact that it was already inhabited by priests, and was Saul’s ancestral city.

7. Restoration of the Ark:

This removal by Saul, if he was the author of it, was recognized afterward by David as a thing done, with which he did not think it wise to interfere (of 1Ch 16:40). On his capturing the fortress of Jebus (later Jerusalem), and building himself a "house" there, David prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent on Zion in imitation of the tabernacle at Gibeon (2Sa 6:17 ff; 1Ch 16:1). He must also have provided an altar, for we read of burnt offerings and peace offerings being made there. Meanwhile the ark had been brought from Kiriath-jearim, where it had lain so long; it was restored in the presence of a concourse of people representing the whole nation, the soldiery and civilians delivering it to the priests (2Sa 6:1 ). On this journey Uzzah was smitten for touching the ark. Arrived near Jerusalem, the ark was carried into the house of Obed-edom, a Levite, and remained there for 3 months. At the end of this time it was carried into David’s tabernacle with all fitting solemnity and honor.

8. The Two Tabernacles:

Hence, it was that there were now two tabernacles, the original one with its altar at Gibeon, and the new one with the original ark in Jerusalem, both under the protection of the king. Both, however, were soon to be superseded by the building of a temple. The altar at Gibeon continued in use till the time of Solomon. Of all the actual material of the tabernacle, the ark alone remained unchanged in the temple. The tabernacle itself, with its sacred vessels, was brought up to Jerusalem, and was preserved, apparently, as a sacred relic in the temple (1Ki 8:4). Thus, after a history of more than 200 years, the tabernacle ceases to appear in history.

IV. Symbolism.

Though the tabernacle was historically the predecessor of the later temples, as a matter of fact, the veil was the only item actually retained throughout the series of temples. Nevertheless it is the tabernacle rather than the temple which has provided a substructure for much New Testament teaching. All the well-known allusions of the writer to the Hebrews, e.g. in chapters 9 and 10, are to the tabernacle, rather than to any later temple.

1. New Testament References:

2. God’s Dwelling with Man:

The suggestion which underlies all such New Testament references is not only that Christ, in His human manifestation, was both tabernacle and priest, altar and sacrifice, but also, and still more, that God ever has His dwelling among men, veiled no doubt from the unbelieving and insincere, but always manifest and accessible to the faithful and devout. As we have a great high priest who is now passed into the heavens, there to appear in our behalf in the true tabernacle, so we ourselves have permission and encouragement to enter into the holiest place of all on earth by the blood of the everlasting covenant. Of the hopes embodied in these two planes of thought, the earthly tabernacle was the symbol, and contained the prospect and foretaste of the higher communion. It is this which has given the tabernacle such an abiding hold on the imagination and veneration of the Christian church in all lands and languages.

3. Symbolism of Furniture:

The symbolism of the various parts of the tabernacle furniture is tolerably obvious, and is considered under the different headings. The ark of the covenant with its propitiatory was the symbol of God’s gracious meeting with His people on the ground of atonement (compare Ro 3:25; see Ark of the Covenant). The twelve cakes of shewbread denote the twelve tribes of Israel, and their presentation is at once an act of gratitude for that which is the support of life, and, symbolically, a dedication of the life thus supported; the candlestick speaks to the calling of Israel to be a people of light (compare Jesus in Mt 5:14-16); the rising incense symbolizes the act of prayer (compare Re 5:8; 8:3).


See the articles on "Tabernacle" and "Temple" in Smith’s DB, HDB, EB, The Temple BD, etc.; also the commentaries. on Exodus (the Speaker’s Pulpit Commentary, Keil’s, Lange’s, etc.); Bahr, Symbolik d. Mosaischen Cult; Keil, Archaeology, I, 98 ff (English translation); Westcott, essay on "The General Significance of the Tabernacle," in his Hebrews; Brown, The Tabernacle (1899); W. S. Caldecott, The Tabernacle: Its History and Structure. See the articles in this Encyclopedia on the special parts of the tabernacle.

See also TEMPLE.

W. Shaw Caldecott




1. Not Stated, That the Temple Was Constructed after the Pattern of the Tabernacle

2. No Trace of the Tabernacle in Pre-Solomonic Times

3. The Tabernacle Could Not Have Been Built as Exodus Describes

4. Biblical Account Contains Marks of Its Unhistorical Character

5. Pre-exilic Prophets Knew Nothing of Levitical System of Which the Tabernacle Was Said to Be the Center.


I. Conservative and Critical Views.

The conservative view of Scripture finds:

(1) that the tabernacle was constructed by Moses in the wilderness of Sinai;

(2) that it was fashioned according to a pattern shown to him in the Mount;

(3) that it was designed to be and was the center of sacrificial worship for the tribes in the wilderness; and

(4) that centuries later the Solomonic Temple was constructed after it as a model.

However, the critical (higher) view of Scripture says:

(1) that the tabernacle never existed except on paper;

(2) that it was a pure creation of priestly imagination sketched after or during the exile;

(3) that it was meant to be a miniature sanctuary on the model of Solomon’s Temple;

(4) that it was represented as having been built in the wilderness for the purpose of legitimizing the newly-published Priestly Code (P) or Levitical ritual still preserved in the middle books of the Pentateuch; and

(5) that the description of the tabernacle furnished in the Priestly Code (P) (Ex 25-31; 36-40; Nu 2:2,17; 5:1-4; 14:44) conflicts with that given in the Elohist (E) (Ex 33:7-11), both as to its character and its location.

The principal grounds on which it is proposed to set aside the conservative viewpoint and put in its place the critical theory are these:

II. Arguments in Support of the Critical Theory Examined.

(1) It is nowhere stated that Solomon’s Temple was constructed after the pattern of the Mosaic tabernacle; hence, it is reasonable to infer that the Mosaic tabernacle had no existence when or before the Solomonic Temple was built.

(2) No trace of the Mosaic tabernacle can be found in the pre-Solomonic period, from which it is clear that no such tabernacle existed.

(3) The Mosaic tabernacle could not have been produced as Exodus describes, and, accordingly, the story must be relegated to the limbo of romance.

(4) The Biblical account of the Mosaic tabernacle bears internal marks of its completely unhistorical character.

(5) The pre-exilic prophets knew nothing of the Levitical system of which the Mosaic tabernacle was the center, and hence, the whole story must be set down as a sacred legend.

These assertions demand examination:

1. Not Stated, That the Temple Was Constructed after the Pattern of the Tabernacle:

It is urged that nowhere is it stated that Solomon’s Temple was fashioned after the pattern of the Mosaic tabernacle. Wellhausen thinks (GI, chapter i, 3, p. 44) that, had it been so, the narrators in Kings and Chronicles would have said so. "At least," he writes, "one would have expected that in the report concerning the building of the new sanctuary, casual mention would have been made of the old." And so there was--in 1Ki 8:4 and 2Ch 5:5. Of course, it is contended that "the tent of meeting" referred to in these passages was not the Mosaic tabernacle of Ex 25, but simply a provisional shelter for the ark--though in P the Mosaic tabernacle bears the same designation (Ex 27:21). Conceding, however, for the sake of argument, that the tent of the historical books was not the Mosaic tabernacle of Exodus, and that this is nowhere spoken of as the model on which Solomon’s Temple was constructed, does it necessarily follow that because the narrators in Kings and Chronicles did not expressly state that Solomon’s Temple was built after the pattern of the Mosaic tabernacle, therefore the Mosaic tabernacle had no existence when the narrators wrote? If it does, then the same logic will demonstrate the non-existence of Solomon’s Temple before the exile, because when the writer of P was describing the Mosaic tabernacle he made no mention whatever about its being a miniature copy of Solomon’s Temple. A reductio ad absurdum like this disposes of the first of the five pillars upon which the new theory rests.

2. No Trace of the Tabernacle in Pre-Solomonic Times

It is alleged that no trace of the Mosaic tabernacle can be found in pre-Solomonic times. On the principle that silence about a person, thing or event does not prove the non-existence of the person or thing or the non-occurrence of the event, this 2nd argument might fairly be laid aside as irrelevant. Yet it will be more satisfactory to ask, if the assertion be true, why no trace of the tabernacle can be detected in the historical books in pre-Solomonic times. The answer is, that of course it is true, if the historical books be first "doctored," i.e. gone over and dressed to suit theory, by removing from them every passage, sentence, clause and word that seems to indicate, presuppose or imply the existence of the tabernacle, and such passage, sentence, clause and word assigned to a late R who inserted it into the original text to give color to his theory, and support to his fiction that the Mosaic tabernacle and its services originated in the wilderness. Could this theory be established on independent grounds, i.e. by evidence derived from other historical documents, without tampering with the sacred narrative, something might be said for its plausibility. But every scholar knows that not a particle of evidence has ever been, or is likely ever to be, adduced in its support beyond what critics themselves manufacture in the way described. That they do find traces of the Mosaic tabernacle in the historical books, they unconsciously and unintentionally allow by their efforts to explain such traces away, which moreover they can only do by denouncing these traces as spurious and subjecting them to a sort of surgical operation in order to excise them from the body of the text. But these so-called spurious traces are either true or they are not true. If they are true, whoever inserted them, then they attest the existence of the tabernacle, first at Shiloh, and afterward at Nob, later at Gibeon, and finally at Jerusalem; if they are not true, then some other things in the narrative must be written down as imagination, as, e.g. the conquest of the land, and its division among the tribes, the story of the altar on the East of Jordan, the ministry of the youthful Samuel at Shiloh, and of Ahimelech at Nob.

(1) The Mosaic Tabernacle at Shiloh.

(b) that even if it was not a solid structure but a tent, it could be left at any moment without the ark, in which case it could not have been the Mosaic tabernacle of which the ark was an "inseparable companion"; while

(c) if it was the ancient "dwelling" of Yahweh, it could not have been made the dormitory of Samuel.


(a) while it need not be denied that the Shiloh sanctuary possessed posts and doors--Jer 7:12 seems to admit that it was a structure which might be laid in ruins--yet this does not warrant the conclusion that the Mosaic tabernacle had no existence in Shiloh. It is surely not impossible or even improbable that, when the tabernacle had obtained a permanent location at Shiloh, and that for nearly 400 years (compare above under A, III, 1, 8 and see CHRONOLOGY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, VII, VIII), during the course of these centuries a porch with posts and doors may have been erected before the curtain that formed the entrance to the holy place, or that strong buildings may have been put up around it as houses for the priests and Levites, as treasure-chambers, and such like--thus causing it to present the appearance of a palace or house with the tabernacle proper in its interior. Then

(b) as to the impossibility of the ark being taken from the tabernacle, as was done when it was captured by the Philistines, there is no doubt that there were occasions when it was not only legitimate, but expressly commanded to separate the ark from the tabernacle, though the war with the Philistines was not one. In Nu 10:33, it is distinctly stated that the ark, by itself, went before the people when they marched through the wilderness; and there is ground for thinking that during the Benjamite war the ark was with divine sanction temporarily removed from Shiloh to Beth-el (Jud 20:26,27) and, when the campaign closed, brought back again to Shiloh (Jud 21:12).

(c) As for the notion that the Shiloh sanctuary could not have been the Mosaic tabernacle because Samuel is said to have slept in it beside the ark of God, it should be enough to reply that the narrative does not say or imply that Samuel had converted either the holy place or the most holy into a private bedchamber, but merely that he lay down to sleep "in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was," doubtless "in the court where cells were built for the priests and Levites to live in when serving at the sanctuary" (Keil). But even if it did mean that the youthful Samuel actually slept in the Holy of Holies, one fails to see how an abuse like that may not have occurred in a time so degenerate as that of Eli, or how, if it did, it would necessarily prove that the Shiloh shrine was not the Mosaic tabernacle.

(2) The Mosaic Tabernacle at Nob.

That the sanctuary at Nob (1Sa 21:1-6) was the Mosaic tabernacle may be inferred from the following circumstances:

(a) that it had a high priest with 85 ordinary priests, a priest’s ephod, and a table of shewbread;

(b) that the eating of the shewbread was conditioned by the same law of ceremonial purity as prevailed in connection with the Mosaic tabernacle (Le 15:18); and

(c) that the Urim was employed there by the priest to ascertain the divine will--all of which circumstances pertained to the Mosaic tabernacle and to no other institution known among the Hebrews.

If the statement (1Ch 13:3) that the ark was not inquired at in the days of Saul calls for explanation, that explanation is obviously this, that during Saul’s reign the ark was dissociated from the tabernacle, being lodged in the house of Abinadab at Kiriath-jearim, and was accordingly in large measure forgotten. The statement (1Sa 14:18) that Saul in his war with the Philistines commanded Ahijah, Eli’s great-grandson, who was "the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, wearing an ephod" (1Sa 14:3) to fetch up the ark--if 1Sa 14:18 should not rather be read according to the Septuagint, "Bring hither the ephod"--can only signify that on this particular occasion it was fetched from Kiriath-jearim at the end of 20 years and afterward returned thither. This, however, is not a likely supposition; and for the Septuagint reading it can be said that the phrase "Bring hither" was never used in connection with the ark; that the ark was never employed for ascertaining the Divine Will, but the ephod was; and that the Hebrew text in 1Sa 14:18 seems corrupt, the last clause reading "for the ark of God was at that day and the sons of Israel," which is not extremely intelligible.

(3) The Mosaic Tabernacle at Gibeon.

The last mention of the Mosaic tabernacle occurs in connection with the building of Solomon’s Temple (1Ki 8:4; 2Ch 1:3; 5:3), when it is stated that the ark of the covenant and the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent were solemnly fetched up into the house which Solomon had built. That what is here called the tabernacle of the congregation, or the tent of meeting, was not the Mosaic tabernacle has been maintained on the following grounds:

(a) that had it been so, David, when he fetched up the ark from Obed-edom’s house, would not have pitched for it a tent in the city of David, but would have lodged it in Gibeon;

(b) that had the Gibeon shrine been the Mosaic tabernacle it would not have been called as it is in Kings, "a great high place";

(c) that had the Gibeon shrine been the Mosaic tabernacle, Solomon would not have required to cast new vessels for his Temple, as he is reported to have done; and

(d) that had the Gibeon shrine been the Mosaic tabernacle the brazen altar would not have been left behind at Gibeon but would also have been conveyed to Mt. Moriah.


(a) if it was foolish and wrong for David not to lodge the ark in Gibeon, that would not make it certain that the Mosaic tabernacle was not at Gibeon. That it was either foolish or wrong, however, is not clear. David may have reckoned that if the house of Obed-edom had derived special blessing from the presence of the ark in it for three months, possibly it would be for the benefit of his (David’s) house and kingdom to have the ark permanently in his capital. And in addition, David may have remembered that God had determined to choose out a place for His ark, and in answer to prayer David may have been directed to fetch the ark to Jerusalem. As good a supposition this, at any rate, as that of the critics.

(b) That the Gibeon shrine should have been styled "the great high place" (1Ki 3:4) is hardly astonishing, when one calls to mind that it was the central sanctuary, as being the seat of the Mosaic tabernacle with its brazen altar. And may not the designation "high place," or bamah, have been affixed to it just because, through want of its altar, it had dwindled down into a mere shadow of the true sanctuary and become similar to the other "high places" or bamoth?

(c) The casting of new vessels for Solomon’s Temple needs no other explanation than this, that the new house was at least twice as spacious as the old, and that in any case it was fitting that the new house should have new furniture.

(d) That the brazen altar would not have been left behind at Gibeon when the Mosaic tabernacle was removed, may be met by the demand for proof that it was actually left behind. That it was left behind is a pure conjecture. That it was transplanted to Jerusalem and along with the other tabernacle utensils laid up in a side chamber of the temple is as likely an assumption as any other (see 1Ki 8:4).

3. The Tabernacle Could Not Have Been Built as Exodus Describes

It is maintained that the Mosaic tabernacle could not have been produced as Exodus describes:

(1) that the time was too short,

(2) that the Israelites were too little qualified, and

(3) that the materials at their disposal were too scanty for the construction of so splendid a building as the Mosaic tabernacle.


(1) does any intelligent person believe that 9 months was too short a time for 600,000 able-bodied men, to say nothing of their women and children, to build a wooden house 30 cubits long, 10 high and 10 broad, with not as many articles in it as a well-to-do artisan’s kitchen oftentimes contains?

(2) Is it at all likely that they were so ill-qualified for the work as the objection asserts? The notion that the Israelites were a horde of savages or simply a tribe of wandering nomads does not accord with fact. They had been bond-men, it is true, in the land of Ham; but they and their fathers had lived there for 400 years; and it is simply incredible, as even Knobel puts it, that they should not have learnt something of the mechanical articles One would rather be disposed to hold that they must have had among them at the date of the Exodus a considerable number of skilled artisans. At least, archaeology has shown that if the escaped bondsmen knew nothing of the arts and sciences, it was not because their quondam masters had not been able to instruct them. The monuments offer silent witness that every art required by the manufacturers existed at the moment in Egypt, as e.g. the arts of metal-working, wood-carving, leather-making, weaving and spinning. And surely no one will contend that the magnificent works of art, the temples and tombs, palaces and pyramids, that are the world’s wonder today, were the production always and exclusively of native Egyptian and never of Hebrew thought and labor! Nor

(3) is the reasoning good, that whatever the Israelites might have been able to do in Egypt where abundant materials lay to hand, they were little likely to excel in handicrafts of any sort in a wilderness where such materials were wanting.

Even Knobel could reply to this, that as the Israelites when they escaped from Egypt were not a horde of savages, so neither were they a tribe of beggars; that they had not entered on their expedition in the wilderness without preparation, or without taking with them their most valuable articles; that the quantities of gold, silver and precious stones employed in the building of the tabernacle were but trifles in comparison with other quantities of the same that have been found in possession of ancient oriental peoples; that a large portion of what was contributed had probably been obtained by despoiling the Egyptians before escaping from their toils and plundering the Amalekites whom they soon after defeated at Rephidim, and who, in all likelihood, at least if one may judge from the subsequent example of the Midianites, had come to the field of war bedecked with jewels and gold; and that the acacia wood, the linen, the blue, the purple and the scarlet, with the goats’ skins, rams’ skins, and seal skins might all have been found and prepared in the wilderness (compare Kurtz, Geschichte des alten Bundes, II, section 53). In short, so decisively has this argument, derived from the supposed deficiency of culture and resources on the part of the Israelites, been disposed of by writers of by no means too conservative pro-clivities, that one feels surprised to find it called up again by Benzinger in Encyclopedia Biblica to do duty in support of the unhistorical character of the tabernacle narrative in Exodus.

4. Biblical Account Contains Marks of Its Unhistorical Character

The Biblical account of the Mosaic tabernacle, it is further contended, bears internal marks of its completely unhistorical character, as e.g.

(1) that it represents the tabernacle as having been constructed on a model which had been supernaturally shown to Moses;

(2) that it habitually speaks of the south, north, and west sides of the tabernacle although no preceding order had been issued that the tent should be so placed;

(3) that the brazen altar is described as made of timber overlaid with brass, upon which a huge fire constantly burned;

(4) that, the tabernacle is depicted, not as a mere provisional shelter for the ark upon the march, but "as the only legitimate sanctuary for the church of the twelve tribes before Solomon"; and

(5) that the description of the tabernacle furnished in P (Ex 25-31; 36-40; Nu 2:2,17; 5:1-4; 14:44) conflicts with that given in E (Ex 33:7-11), both as to its character and its location.


(1) why should the story of the tabernacle be a fiction, because Moses is reported to have made it according to a pattern showed to him in the Mount (Ex 25:40 (Hebrew 8:5))? No person says that the Temple of Solomon was a fiction, because David claimed that the pattern of it given to Solomon had been communicated to him (David) by divine inspiration (1Ch 28:19). Every critic also knows that Ezekiel wrote the book that goes by his name. Yet Ezekiel asserts that the temple described by him was beheld by him in a vision. Unless therefore the supernatural is ruled out of history altogether, it is open to reply that God could just as easily have revealed to Moses the pattern of the tabernacle as He afterward exhibited to Ezekiel the model of his temple. And even if God showed nothing to either one prophet or the other, the fact that Moses says he saw the pattern of the tabernacle no more proves that he did not write the account of it, than Ezekiel’s stating that he beheld the model of his temple attests that Ezekiel never penned the description of it. The same argument that proves Moses did not write about the tabernacle also proves that Ezekiel could not have written about the vision-temple. Should it be urged that as Ezekiel’s temple was purely visionary so also was Moses’ tabernacle, the argument comes with small consistency and less force from those who say that Ezekiel’s vision-temple was the model of a real temple that should afterward be built; since if Ezekiel’s vision-temple was (or should have been, according to the critics) converted into a material sanctuary, no valid reason can be adduced why Moses’ vision-tabernacle should not also have been translated into an actual building.

(2) How the fact that the tabernacle had three sides, south, north and west, shows it could not have been fashioned by Moses, is one of those mysteries which takes a critical mind to understand. One naturally presumes that the tabernacle must have been located somewhere and oriented somehow; and, if it had four sides, would assuredly suit as well to set them toward the four quarters of heaven as in any other way. But in so depicting the tabernacle, say the critics, the fiction writers who invented the story were actuated by a deep-laid design to make the Mosaic tabernacle look like the Temple of Solomon. Quite a harmless design, if it was really entertained! But the Books of Kings and Chronicles will be searched in vain for any indication that the Temple foundations were set to the four quarters of heaven. It is true that the 12 oxen who supported the molten sea in Solomon’s Temple were so placed--4 looking to the North, 4 to the South, 4 to the East, and 4 to the West (1Ki 7:25); but this does not necessarily warrant the inference that the sides of the Temple were so placed. Hence, on the well-known principle of modern criticism, that when a thing is not mentioned by a writer the thing does not exist, seeing that nothing is recorded about how the temple was placed, ought it not to be concluded that the whole story about the Temple is a myth?

(3) As to the absurdity of representing a large fire as constantly burning upon a wooden altar overlaid with a thin plate of brass, this would certainly have been all that the critics say--a fatal objection to receiving the story of the tabernacle as true. But if the story was invented, surely the inventor might have given Moses and his two skilled artisans, Bezalel and Oholiab, some credit for common sense, and not have made them do, or propose to do, anything so stupid as to try to keep a large fire burning upon an altar of wood. This certainly they did not do. An examination of Ex 27:1-8; 38:1-7 makes it clear that the altar proper upon which "the strong fire" burned was the earth or stone-filled (Ex 20:24 f) hollow which the wooden and brass frame enclosed.

(4) The fourth note of fancy--what Wellhausen calls "the chief matter"--that the tabernacle was designed for a central sanctuary to the church of the Twelve Tribes before the days of Solomon, but never really served in this capacity--is partly true and partly untrue. That it was meant to be a central sanctuary, until Yahweh should select for Himself a place of permanent habitation, which He did in the days of Solomon, is exactly the impression a candid reader derives from Exodus, and it is gratifying to learn from so competent a critic as Wellhausen that this impression is correct. But that it really never served as a central sanctuary, it is impossible to admit, after having traced its existence from the days of Joshua onward to those of Solomon. That occasionally altars were erected and sacrifices offered at other places than the tabernacle--as by Gideon at Ophrah (Jud 6:24-27) and by Samuel at Ramah (1Sa 7:17)--is no proof that the tabernacle was not the central sanctuary. If it is, then by parity of reasoning the altar in Mt. Ebal (De 27:5) should prove that Jerusalem was not intended as a central sanctuary. But, if alongside of the Temple in Jerusalem, an altar in Ebal could be commanded, then also alongside of the tabernacle it might be legitimate to erect an altar and offer sacrifice for special needs. And exactly this is what was done. While the tabernacle was appointed for a central sanctuary the earlier legislation was not revoked: "An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt-offerings, and thy peace-offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in every place where I record my name I will come unto thee and I will bless thee" (Ex 20:24). It was still legitimate to offer sacrifice in any spot where Yahweh was pleased to manifest Himself to His people. And even though it had not been, the existence of local shrines alongside of the tabernacle would no more warrant the conclusion that the tabernacle was never built than the failure of the Christian church to keep the Golden Rule would certify that the Sermon on the Mount was never preached.

(5) With regard to the supposed want of harmony between the two descriptions of the tabernacle in P and E, much depends on whether the structures referred to in these documents were the same or different.

(a) If different, i.e. if the tent in E (Ex 33:7-11) was Moses’ tent (Kurtz, Keil, Kalisch, Ewald and others), or a preliminary tent erected by Moses (Havernick, Lange; Kennedy, and section A (I, 1), above), or possessed by the people from their forefathers (von Gerlach, Benzinger in EB), no reason can be found why the two descriptions should not have varied as to both the character of the tent and its location. The tent in E, which according to the supposition was purely provisional, a temporary sanctuary, may well have been a simple structure and pitched outside the camp; while the tent in P could just as easily have been an elaborate fabric with an ark, a priesthood and a complex sacrificial ritual and located in the midst of the camp. In this case no ground can arise for suggesting that they were contradictory of one another, or that P’s tent was a fiction, a paper-tabernacle, while E’s tent was a reality and the only tabernacle that ever existed in Israel. But

(b) if on the other hand the tent in E was the same as the tent in P (Calvin, Mead in Lange, Konig, Eerdmans, Valeton and others), then the question may arise whether or not any contradiction existed between them, and, if such contradiction did exist, whether this justifies the inference that P’s tent was unhistorical, i.e. never took shape except in the writer’s imagination.

That the tent in E was not P’s Mosaic tabernacle has been argued on the following grounds:

(a) that the Mosaic tabernacle (assuming it to have been a reality and not a fiction) was not yet made; so that E’s tent must have been either the tent of Moses or a provisional tent;

(b) that nothing is said about a body of priests and Levites with an ark and a sacrificial ritual in connection with E’s tent, but only of a non-Levitical attendant Joshua, and

(c) that it was situated outside the camp, whereas P’s tabernacle is always represented as in the midst of the camp.

The first of these grounds largely disappears when Ex 33:7 is read as in the Revised Version: "Now Moses used to take the tent and to pitch it without the camp." The verbs, being in the imperfect, point to Moses’ practice (Driver, Introduction and Hebrew Tenses; compare Ewald, Syntax, 348), which again may refer either to the past or to the future, either to what Moses was in the habit of doing with his own or the preliminary tent, or what he was to do with the tent about to be constructed. Which interpretation is the right one must be determined by the prior question which tent is intended. Against the idea of E’s tent being Moses’ private domicile stands the difficulty of seeing why it was not called his tent instead of the tent, and why Moses should be represented as never going into it except to hold communion with Yahweh. If it was a provisional tent, struck up by Moses, why was no mention of its construction made? And if it was a sort of national heirloom come down from the forefathers of Israel, why does the narrative contain not the slightest intimation of any such thing?

On the other hand if E’s tent was the same as P’s, the narrative does not require to be broken up; and Ex 33:7-11 quite naturally falls into its place as an explanation of how the promises of 33:3 and 5 were carried out (see infra).

The second supposed proof that E’s tent was not P’s but an earlier one, namely, that P’s had a body of priests and Levites, an ark and a complex ritual, while E’s had only Joshua as attendant and made no mention of ark, priests or sacrifices, loses force, unless it can be shown that there was absolute necessity that in this paragraph a full description of the tabernacle should be given. But obviously no such necessity existed, the object of the writer having been as above explained. Driver, after Wellhausen (GJ, 387), conjectures that in E’s original document Ex 33:7-11 may have been preceded "by an account of the construction of the Tent of Meeting and of the ark," and that "when the narrative was combined with that of P this part of it (being superfluous by the side of Exodus 25-35) was probably omitted." As this however is only a conjecture, it is of no more (probably of less) value than the opinion that Exodus 25-35 including 33:7-11 proceeded from the same pen. The important contribution to the interpretation of the passage is that the absence from the paragraph relating to E’s tent of the ark, priests and sacrifices is no valid proof that E’s tent was not the Mosaic tabernacle.

The third argument against their identity is their different location--E’s outside and P’s inside the camp. But it may be argued (a) that the translation in the Revised Version (British and American) distinctly relieves this difficulty. For if Moses used to take and pitch the tabernacle outside the camp, the natural implication is that the tabernacle was often, perhaps usually, inside the camp, as in the Priestly Code (P), and only from time to time pitched outside the camp, when Yahweh was displeased with the people (Eerdmans, Valeton). Or (2) that "outside the camp" may signify away, at an equal distance from all the four camps ("over against the tent of meeting"--in the King James Version "far off," after Jos 3:4--were the various tribes with their standards, i.e. the four camps, to be pitched; Nu 2:2); so that the tabernacle might easily be in the midst of all the camps and yet "outside" and "far off" from each camp separately, thus requiring every individual who sought the Lord to go out from his camp unto the tabernacle. Nu 11:26-30 may perhaps shed light upon the question. There it is stated that "there remained two men in the camp (who) had not gone out with Moses unto the Tent," and that Moses and the elders after leaving the tent, "gat (them) into the camp." Either the tent at this time was in the center of the square, around which the four camps were stationed, or it was outside. If it was outside, then the first of the foregoing explanations will hold good; if it was inside the camp, then the second suggestion must be adopted, namely, that while the camps were round about the tabernacle, the tabernacle was outside each camp. "Although the tabernacle stood in the midst of the camp, yet it was practically separated from the tents of the tribes by an open space and by the encampment of the Levites" (Pulpit Commentary, in the place cited.; compare Keil, in the place cited.). When one calls to mind that the tabernacle was separated from each side of the square probably, as in Jos 3:4, by 2,000 cubits (at 19-25 inches each = about 3/4 of a mile), one has small difficulty in understanding how the tabernacle could be both outside the several camps and inside them all; how the two promises in Ex 33 (the King James Version)--"I will not go up in the midst of thee" (33:3) and "I will come up into the midst of thee" (33:5)--might be fulfilled; how Moses and the elders could go out from the camp (i.e. their several camps) to the tabernacle and after leaving the tabernacle return to the camp (i.e. their several camps); and how no insuperable difficulty in the shape of an insoluble contradiction exists between E’s account and P’s account.

5. Pre-exilic Prophets Knew Nothing of Levitical System of Which the Tabernacle Was Said to Be the Center.

That the pre-exilic prophets knew nothing about the Levitical system of which the tabernacle was the center is regarded as perhaps the strongest proof that the tabernacle had no existence in the wilderness and indeed never existed at all except on paper. The assertion about the ignorance of the pre-exilic prophets as to the sacrificial system of the Priestly Code has been so often made that it has come to be a "commonplace" and "stock-phrase" of modern criticism. In particular, Amos in the 8th century BC (5:25,26) and Jeremiah in the 7th century BC (7:21-23) are quoted as having publicly taught that no such sacrificial ritual as the tabernacle implied had been promulgated in the wilderness. But, if these prophets were aware that the Levitical Law had not been given by Moses, one would like to know,

(1) how this interpretation of their language had been so long in being discovered;

(2) how the critics themselves are not unanimous in accepting this interpretation--which they are not;

(3) how Amos could represent Yahweh as saying "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Yea, though ye offer me your burnt-offerings and meal-offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts" (5:21,22), if Yahweh had never accepted and never enjoined them;

(4) how Jeremiah could have been a party to putting forward Deuteronomy as a work of Moses if he knew that Yahweh had never commanded sacrifices to be offered, which Deuteronomy does; and

(5) how Jeremiah could have blamed Judah for committing spiritual adultery if Yahweh had never ordered the people to offer sacrifice.

In reply to

(1) it will scarcely do to answer that all previous interpreters of Amos and Jeremiah had failed to read the prophets’ words as they stand (Am 5:25,26; Jer 7:22), because the question would then arise why the middle books of the Pentateuch should not also be read as they stand, as e.g. when they say, "The Lord spake unto Moses," and again "These (the legislative contents of the middle books) are the commandments, which Yahweh commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai" (Le 27:34). As for

(2) it is conveniently forgotten that Bohlen (Introduction to Genesis, I, 277) admitted that some of the Pentateuch "might possibly have originated in the time of Moses," and when quoting Jer 7:22 never dreamed of putting forward an explanation different from the orthodox rendering of the same, and certainly did not cite it as a proof that the Law had no existence prior to the exile; that De Wette in his Einleitung (261, 262, 8th edition) stated that "the holy laws and institutions of theocratic people had for their author Moses, who in giving them stood under divine guidance"; that Knobel (Die Bucher Ex und Lev, xxii) explicitly declared that Moses must be regarded not only as the liberator and founder of his people, but also the originator of the peculiar Israelite constitution and lawgiving, at least in its fundamental elements; that Ewald (Die Propheten, II, 123) regarded Jer 7:22 as making no announcement about the origin of the sacrificial cult; and that Bleek (Introduction to the Old Testament) forgot to read the modern critical interpretation into the words of Amos and Jeremiah for the simple reason that to have done so would have stultified his well-known view that many of the laws of the middle books of the Pentateuch are of Mosaic origin. Nor is the difficulty

(3) removed by holding that, if prior to the days of Amos Yahweh did accept the burnt offerings and meal offerings of Israel, these were not sacrifices that had been appointed in the wilderness, because Yahweh Himself appears to intimate (Am 5:25,26) that no such sacrifices or offerings had been made during the whole 40 years’ wandering. Had this been the case, it is not easy to see why the post-exilic authors of the Priestly Code should have asserted the contrary, should have represented sacrifices as having been offered in the wilderness, as they have done (see Nu 16; 18). The obvious import of Yahweh’s language is either that the sacrificial worship which He had commanded had been largely neglected by the people, or that it had been so heartless and formal that it was no true worship at all--their real worship being given to their idols--and that as certainly as the idolaters in the wilderness were excluded from Canaan, so the idolaters in Amos’ day, unless they repented, would be carried away into exile. As to

(4) Jeremiah’s action in putting forward or helping to put forward Deuteronomy as a work of Moses when he knew that it represented Yahweh as having commanded sacrifices to be offered both in the wilderness and in Canaan (De 12:6,11,13), and must have been aware as well that J-E had represented Yahweh as commanding sacrifice at Sinai (Ex 20:24,25), no explanation can be offered that will clear the prophet from the charge of duplicity and insincerity, or prevent his classification with the very men who were a grief of mind to him and against whom a large part of his life was spent in contending, namely, the prophets that prophesied lies in the name of God. Nor does it mend matters to suggest (Cheyne) that when Jeremiah perceived that Deuteronomy, though floated into publicity under high patronage, did not take hold, he changed his mind, because in the first place if Jeremiah did so, he should, like an honest man, have washed his hands clear of Deuteronomy, which he did not; and in the second place, because had he done so he could not have been "the iron pillar and brazen wall" which Yahweh had intended him to be and indeed had promised to make him against the princes, priests and people of the land (1:18). And, still further,

(5) it passes comprehension how, if Yahweh never commanded His people to offer sacrifice to Him, Jeremiah could have represented Yahweh as enjoining him to pronounce a curse upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem because they transgressed the words of Yahweh’s covenant, which He had made with their fathers in the day when He brought them out of the land of Egypt, by running after other gods to serve them, setting up altars and burning incense unto Baal and even working lewdness in Yahweh’s house (Jer 11:1-15). It is urged in answer to this, that the offense complained of was not that the men of Judah did not offer sacrifices to Yahweh, but that they offered them to Baal and polluted His temple with heathen rites--that what Yahweh demanded from His worshippers was not the offering of sacrifice, but obedience to the moral law conjoined with abstinence from idolatry. But in that case, what was the use of a temple at all? And why should Yahweh speak of it as "mine house," if sacrifices were not required to be offered in it (compare on this Kittel, The Scientific Study of the Old Testament, 218)? Why idolatrous sacrifices were denounced was not merely because they were wrong in themselves, but also because they had supplanted the true sacrificial worship of Yahweh. As already stated, it is not easy to perceive how Jeremiah could have said that Yahweh had never commanded sacrifices to be offered to Him, when he (Jeremiah) must have known that the Book of the Covenant in J-E (Ex 20:24,25) represented Yahweh as expressly enjoining them. Had Jeremiah not read the Book of the Covenant with sufficient care? This is hardly likely in so earnest a prophet. Or will it be lawful to suggest that Jeremiah knew the Book of the Covenant to be a fiction and the assumption of divine authority for its enactments to be merely a rhetorical device? In this case his words might be true; only one cannot help regretting that he did not distinctly state that in his judgment the Book of the Covenant was a fraud.

It may now be added in confirmation of the preceding, that the various references to a tabernacle in the New Testament appear at least to imply that in the 1st Christian century the historicity of the Mosaic tabernacle was generally accepted. These references are Peter’s exclamation on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:4; Mr 9:5; Lu 9:33); Stephen’s statement in the council (Ac 7:44); the affirmations in Hebrews (chapters 8; 9); and the voice which John heard out of heaven (Re 21:3). It may be admitted that taken separately or unitedly these utterances do not amount to a conclusive demonstration that the tabernacle actually existed in the wilderness; but read in the light of Old Testament aeclarations that such a tabernacle did exist, they have the force of a confirmation. If the language of Peter and that of John may fairly enough be regarded as figurative, even then their symbolism suggests, as its basis, what Stephen and the writer to the He affirm to have been a fact, namely, that their "fathers had the tabernacle .... in the wilderness," and that, under the first covenant, "there was a tabernacle prepared."


I, critical: De Wette, Beitrage; von Bohlen, Genesis; Georg, Judische Feste; Reuss, Geschichte der heiligen Schriften des AT; Graf, de Templo Silonensi; Kuenen, The Religion of Israel; Wellhausen, Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels; HDB and EB, articles "Tabernacle," II, conservative: Bredenkamp, Gesetz und Propheten; Kurtz, Geschichte des alten Bundes; Havernick, Einleitung; Hengstenberg, Egypt and the Books of Moses; Riehm, Handworterbuch, and Herzog, RE (ed 1; edition 3 is "critical"), articles "Stiftshutte"; Baxter, Sanctuary and Sacrifice; Bissell, The Pentateuch: Its Origin and Structure; Orr, The Problem of the Old Testament; Whitelaw, Old Testament Critics.