Tabernacle, B




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.


Topical Bible outline for "Tabernacle."

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.

See a list of verses on TABERNACLE in the Bible.

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 25:1-40 through Ex 31:1-18; 36:1-38 through Ex 40:1-38; 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:

See the definition of tabernacle in the KJV Dictionary

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.

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

(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 25:1-40, 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.

That the structure at Shiloh (1Sa 1:3,9,19,24; 2:11-12; 3:3) was the Mosaic tabernacle everything recorded about it shows. It contained the ark of God, called also the ark of the covenant of God and the ark of the covenant of Yahweh, or more fully the ark of the covenant of Yahweh of Hosts, names, especially the last, which for the ark associated with the tabernacle were not unknown in the period of the wandering. It had likewise a priesthood and a sacrificial worship of three parts--offering sacrifice (in the forecourt), burning incense (in the holy place), and wearing an ephod (in the Holy of Holies)--which at least bore a close resemblance to the cult of the tabernacle, and in point of fact claimed to have been handed down from Aaron. Then Elkanah's pious custom of going up yearly from Ramathaim-zophim to Shiloh to worship and to sacrifice unto Yahweh of Hosts suggests that in his day Shiloh was regarded as the central high place and that the law of the three yearly feasts (Ex 23:14; Le 23:1-18; De 16:16) was not unknown, though perhaps only partially observed; while the statement about "the women who did service at the door of the tent of meeting" as clearly points back to the similar female institution in connection with the tabernacle (Ex 38:8). To these considerations it is objected (a) that the Shiloh sanctuary was not the Mosaic tabernacle, which was a portable tent, but a solid structure with posts and doors, and (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. But (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 (Jg 20:26-27) and, when the campaign closed, brought back again to Shiloh (Jg 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 1Sa 20:1-42 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.

But (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. But (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 25:1-40 through Ex 31:1-18; 36:1-38 through Ex 40:1-38; 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.

But (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 (Heb 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 (Jg 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 Ex 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 Ex 25:1-40 through Ex 35:1-35) was probably omitted." As this however is only a conjecture, it is of no more (probably of less) value than the opinion that Ex 25:1-40 through Ex 35:1-35 including Ex 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 through Nu 30:1-16 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 Jos 2:1-24,000 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 33:1-23 (the King James Version)--"I will not go up in the midst of thee" (Ex 33:3) and "I will come up into the midst of thee" (Ex 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 16:1-50; 18:1-32). 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 (Ex 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.

T. Whitelaw

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