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Tabernacle, The also known as “Tent of Meeting, The” DonnellyLewis, Brian


The Tabernacle (Heb. mishkan), also referred to as the Tent of Meeting (Heb. ’ohel mo‘ed), was an ancient cultic tent dedicated to the worship of Yahweh described in the Hebrew Bible. According to the biblical text, the Tabernacle facilitated the worship of Yahweh during the Israelite sojourn from Egypt down to the early monarchic period in the southern Levant. As a movable cultic tent, the Tabernacle is said to have been brought by the Israelites from Mt. Sinai, where Israel’s patron god Yahweh commanded its construction, through the ‘wilderness wanderings,’ into modern Israel/Palestine via the crossing of the Jordan River, until it finally came to rest at Shiloh (modern Tel Shiloh/Khirbet Seilun). Prior to the narration of its journey, the Tabernacle’s construction is described in detail in the book of Exodus (25-31 and 35-40). Based on this text, the dimensions of the Tabernacle are estimated to be about 30 cubits in length and 10 cubits in width. The rectangular Tabernacle tent was the central piece of a much larger sacred complex enclosed by a perimeter fence measuring about 100 cubits in length and 50 cubits in width. In the fenced courtyard area of the complex stood a sacrificial altar and a large basin for ritual washing, with the entrance to the Tabernacle nearby. The Tabernacle consisted of two rooms, an entrance room which housed the menorah (a seven branched lamp), the table of showbread, and the incense altar. The entrance room was separated from the innermost room, called the Holy of Holies, by a decorated veil. Inside the Holy of Holies stood the ark of the covenant, and in the biblical tradition, the Holy of Holies was the dwelling place of the glory of Yahweh. In spite of its important in the biblical narrative, many modern scholars view the Tabernacle as an invented or imagined cultic space rather than a real historical cultic tent. This is due, in part, to the elaborate and expensive materials needed for its construction, as described in the book of Exodus. In this view, the Tabernacle represents a fictionalized or idealized cultic space which has been retrojected into antiquity by much later group of writers during or after the Judean’s exile to Babylonia. There are many others, however, who argue for the historicity, however limited, of a cultic tent structure like the Tabernacle within the cultus of ancient Israel. In this view, the descriptions in Exodus may represent later embellishments, but the existence of analogous cultic tents from Near Eastern religious traditions, both contemporary to and predating the biblical tradition, suggests that the biblical Tabernacle is based on a historical reality. But whether real or imagined, the Tabernacle as presented in the Hebrew Bible represents the primary cultic site for the sacrificial cult of Yahweh prior to the construction of the Solomonic temple in Jerusalem.

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