TABERNACLE (Lat. tabernaculum, "tent"; taberna, "hut"; the word renders the Heb. mishkan), the portable sanctuary constructed by the Children of Israel in the wilderness at the command of God. (The word has no connection with the Festival of Tabernacles – Sukkot – which should correctly be called the Festival of Booths.)
The Bible designates the Tabernacle by a variety of Hebrew terms, each of which is significant in that it either describes the structure of the shrine or depicts its function. Primarily the names may be divided into two groups, one connected with the term mishkan and the other with the designation ʾohel, as follows:
(a) Mishkan ("Dwelling," i.e., God's Dwelling Place among Israel; e.g., Ex. 25:9).
(b) Mishkan yhwh ("The Dwelling of the Lord"; e.g., Lev. 17:4).
(c) Mishkan ha-ʿEdut ("The Dwelling Place of the Testimony," i.e., of the Tablets of the Covenant, inscribed with the Decalogue; e.g., Ex. 38:21).
(d) ʾOhel Moʿed ("Tent of Meeting," i.e., where the Lord meets with – reveals Himself to – man; e.g., Ex. 28:43). This designation is very common, occurring about 150 times.
(e) The terms are combined in Mishkan ʾOhel Moʿed ("Dwelling Place of the Tent"; e.g., Ex. 39:32). It should be noted that ʾohel and mishkan are synonyms in Hebrew (e.g., Num. 16:26, 27) and also in Ugaritic, and that in both literatures these designations continued to be applied to sanctuaries that were no longer mere tents. In the Bible these words sometimes occur as poetic expressions for residences that are permanent structures (e.g., Isa. 54:2; Jer. 30:18). With reference to the sanctuary, mishkan and ʾohel are used both in a general sense – to denote the entire structure of the Tabernacle – and in a restricted connotation, the former signifying the beautiful inner ceiling of the shrine, and the latter the covering of goats' hair immediately above this.
(f) Finally, the Tabernacle is also called Miqdash ("Sanctuary"; e.g., Ex. 25:8) and ha-Qodesh ("The Holy Place"; e.g., Ex. 28:29). The innermost sanctuary is known as the Qodesh ha-Qodashim, "The Most Holy Place" or "The Holy of Holies."
The main source for the account of the construction of the Tabernacle consists of two groups of verses: Exodus 25–31 and 35–40. Both groups are ascribed by the documentary hypothesis to p, but whereas the first takes the form of instructions, the second is largely a repetition of the first in the past tense, i.e., it describes the execution of the instructions. The order of the contents, however, is more systematic in the later chapters, and the Septuagint shows considerable divergences here from the Masoretic Text. There are additional references to the components of the Tabernacle and its furniture in Numbers 3:25ff. and 4:4ff. in relation to the duties of the levites (cf. also 7:1ff.). The Temple built by Solomon (i Kings 6ff.) and that envisioned by Ezekiel (Ezek. 40ff.) provide interesting parallels and differences. Post-biblical sources, which nevertheless shed valuable light on the traditional conception of the Tabernacle structure, are to be found in Philo (ii Mos. 91), in Josephus (Ant., 3:122ff.), and especially in the Baraita de-Melekhet ha-Mishkan (third century c.e.).
The Tabernacle, its equipment, and the priestly vestments were made of a great variety of materials, which were voluntarily contributed by the people (Ex. 25:2ff.; 35:4ff.). These comprised gold (fine and ordinary), silver, bronze (an alloy of copper and tin), and acacia wood; violet (tekhelet), purple, and scarlet stuff; ordinary linen and fine twisted linen; goats' hair, tanned rams' skins, and goatskins; oil (for lighting and for anointing); spices (for the incense and for the anointing oil); and precious stones (for the ephod and the breastpiece). The value of the materials was in direct proportion to the degree of sanctity of the Tabernacle component or furniture for which it was used. In this way the conception of graduated holiness was preserved in every aspect of the shrine.
The Tabernacle Proper
The structure of the sanctuary (Ex. 26 and 36) was marked by a certain dichotomy – it was in part a tent and in part a wooden enclosure. Its appearance was that of a flat booth. It was comprised of ten curtains of violet, purple, and scarlet fabric with in woven ("embroidered") figures of cherubim; each curtain measured 28 cubits (a cubit is about 1½ feet by 4.) They were joined (i.e., sewn) together, forming two sets of five curtains each. To one edge of each set (on the long side) were attached 50 loops of violet thread, and the two sets were connected by 50 gold clasps.
The curtains were supported by 20 qerashim of acacia wood on the north side, 20 on the south, and eight on the west (rear) wall. Each qeresh was ten cubits high and 1½ wide, and gold-plated. The thickness is not stated, but is variously estimated by the authorities as four figures (c. 3 inches), ½ cubit, and 1 cubit. The older view regarded the supports as solid boards, but such an assumption would make the structure unwieldy. Most exegetes now accept the view of A.R.S. Kennedy that qeresh denotes a light, open frame, consisting of two side arms joined together at the top, the middle, and the foot by cross rungs, with two tenons projecting below. Such frames would have the additional advantage of permitting the beautiful curtaining to be seen from the interior. Each frame was fitted, by means of the tenons, into two silver bases. Thus on three sides (north, south, and west) the frames formed a continuous framework and the bases provided an unbroken silver foundation. The fourth, or east, side, had no frames; it served as the entrance and was closed by a screen. The frames were further strengthened on each side by five bars of acacia overlaid with gold, which passed through gold rings; one bar ran across the whole length of the side, and above it were two bars of half this length, matched by two similar bars below it. It also appears (the instruction in Ex. 26:22–25 is obscure) that two frames were fastened to each corner on the west side, which served as buttresses. In all there were 48 frames and 100 bases.
The curtains were placed lengthwise across the frames, forming a roof over the sanctuary and providing an excess of nine cubits on the north and south sides (9 × 10 × 9 cubits) and completely covering the rear end to the ground (since the shrine runs 30 cubits long and the curtaining 40). It seems that the extremities of the curtains were fastened at each end by clasps or loops to pegs affixed to the frames.
Over the curtaining was spread a "tent" formed of 11 curtains of goats' hair, each measuring 4 × 11 cubits. These were made into two sets of five and six curtains respectively, fastened together by 50 loops (perhaps of goats' hair) and bronze clasps. On the east side the first curtain was doubled and suspended over the front of the Tabernacle; along the three other sides, this covering reached to the ground. Alternatively there were 12 cubits hanging down, like the train of a dress, on the west side and the overlap in front was tucked under the curtaining (see U. Cassuto, in bibl., 353). On top of this entire structure were spread, for protection from the weather, two more coverings (Ex. 26:14), one of rams' skins dyed red and the other of skins of *taḥash ("dugong" or "dolphin"; the exact meaning is in doubt). Possibly, in view of Exodus 40:19, one covering composed of both kinds of skins is intended.
Veil (Ex. 26:31ff.)
The sanctuary was divided into two unequal parts by means of the veil (or veil of the screen), which was a beautiful portiere, "skillfully worked," made of the same fabric as the curtains. It hung from golden clasps and was draped over four acacia pillars overlaid with gold and set in silver bases. This partition was placed 20 cubits from the entrance of the Dwelling exactly underneath the clasps that joined the two sets of curtains together. This inner room, a perfect cube of ten cubits, was called the "Holy of Holies" or the "Most Holy Place," while the outer room, measuring 10 × 20 cubits, was known as the "Holy Place." In Solomon's Temple the two compartments, designated respectively devir (the inmost sanctum) and hekhal (the outer sanctuary), were twice the size of the rooms in the Tabernacle, but in the same proportion of one to two.
Screen (Ex. 26:36–37)
The eastern end of the Tabernacle was closed by "a screen for the door of the tent." It was made of less costly material than the veil, the fabric being embroidered but not with cherubim; it was suspended from golden hooks on five pillars of gold-plated acacia set in bronze bases. The fabric and the bases were like those of the court screen.
The sanctuary was surrounded by a rectangular enclosure, measuring 100 cubits from east to west and 50 cubits from north to south (a double square of 50 cubits each); it was called "the court of the Tabernacle" (Ex. 27:9). The area was screened by five white curtains "of fine twined linen" five cubits high, hung on 60 acacia pillars fixed into bases of bronze five cubits apart. Each pillar had a silver fillet at the top and the curtains were attached to the pillars by means of silver hooks. Added rigidity was given to the pillar by cords and bronze pegs. The curtains on the north and south sides were 100 cubits long, that on the west was 50 cubits long, while the east side had two short curtains 15 cubits long, suspended from three pillars, which extended from the corners toward the center. This left an opening of 20 cubits in the middle, which was closed by a screen of fine linen embroidered in colors and hanging from four pillars.
The perimeter of the court was 300 cubits and its pillars numbered 60. It was obviously intended that the pillars should be five cubits apart. Since the corner pillars served both adjacent sides, the number of pillars represents no problem; although the pillar at each corner helped to uphold a curtain on each side it was to be counted only once in the total (see Cassuto, in bibl., 366–7). The baraita, however, solves the problem by assuming the pillars to be placed in the middle of each length of curtain of five cubits.
The exact position of the Tabernacle within the court is not stated. The generally accepted view is that it was situated in the western square, its entrance being 50 cubits from the door of the court in the east, while on the north and south sides there was a space of 20 cubits between the Dwelling and the court curtains. This view is supported by rabbinic tradition (Baraita de-Melekhet ha-Mishkan, 5) and by Philo (ii Mos. 91).
The Torah describes the furniture before it depicts the structure of the shrine, because the "vessels" were considered the more important; the Tabernacle and court merely housed them. The Ark of the Covenant, which was the most sacred object, was kept in the Holy of Holies (Ex. 25:10ff.). It was an oblong chest of acacia wood 2½ × 1½ × 1½ cubits, overlaid within and without with pure gold. It had a gold molding running around its sides, and was provided with gold rings at the four corners (probably attached to the short sides, so that the Ark faced the way the camp was journeying) to receive the bearing poles. Within the Ark were placed the Tablets of the Decalogue ("testimony"), and in front of it were put, in the course of time, a pot of manna (Ex. 16:33ff.) and Aaron's rod (Num. 17:25).
On the Ark rested a slab of gold (2½ × 1½ cubits) called the "propitiatory" or "mercy seat" (kapporet), from the opposite ends of which – and "of one piece with it" – rose two figures of cherubim made of beaten work of fine gold. The faces of the cherubim were turned toward the mercy seat, while their wings arched overhead, thus covering the propitiatory. The cherubim represented the *Throne of God (cf. i Sam. 4:4; ii Sam. 6:2; and see Cassuto, in bibl., 333). In the "Holy Place," on the north side, was placed the "table of the Presence" (Ex. 25:23ff.; Num. 4:7). It was made of acacia overlaid with pure gold. Its top measured 2 × 1 cubits, and it was 1½ cubits high. The legs were connected by a rail or frame one handbreadth wide, to which were attached four gold rings to receive the staves used for carrying the table. Its accessories included plates for the loaves of the Presence, bread (or shewbread), cups for incense (Lev. 24:7), and large and small vessels (flagons and bowls) such as were used for libations.
Although the table bears a resemblance to that used in idolatrous temples for offering food to the gods, there was a vital difference. The bread of the Presence was eaten by the priests each week (Lev. 24:9) and the various vessels remained empty. The offerings to God were reserved for the altar, where they were consumed by fire. The table and its equipment were only a symbol: the Tabernacle was the House of the Lord.
The lampstand (*Menorah; Ex. 25:31–40) stood on the south side of the Holy Place facing the table. It was made "of beaten work" from a talent of pure gold, and consisted of a central shaft (resting on a tripod or feet) from which branched out, at different heights, six arms (three on each side), which curved outward and upward and became level with the top of the shaft. The arms and the shaft formed stands for seven lamps (not apparently of gold). The stem and arms were decorated at intervals with ornamentations resembling almond blossoms (comprising the knob and the flower). The lamps were placed in the seven "cups shaped like almond blossoms" that formed the ends of the shaft and branches and were so arranged that the flames should illuminate the front side of the lampstand, i.e., the side facing the table. Snuffers and snuff dishes, as well as oil vessels (Num. 4:9), were provided and only the purest oil might be used (Ex. 27:20; Lev. 24: 1–4). The lamps were intended to give perpetual light (Ex. 27:20; Lev. 24:2), or were kindled each night only (Lev. 24:3; i Sam. 3:3).
The altar of incense (Ex. 30:1–5; 37:25–28), placed in front of the veil, was made of acacia overlaid with pure gold, and was one cubit long and wide and two cubits high. It had a gold molding, horns, rings, and bearing poles. Incense was offered on it perpetually, night and morning, and an annual atonement was carried on its horns. The description of this altar here, and not in Exodus 25, is considered by many exegetes out of place, but is justified by Cassuto (in bibl., 390). It is not mentioned in Leviticus 16, despite the reference to the Day of Atonement service in Exodus 30:10, and it is not included in the account of Solomon's Temple in i Kings 6ff., or in that envisaged by Ezekiel (Ezek. 40ff.). Hence many modern scholars consider the passage a late addition (but note the references in i Chron. 28:18; ii Chron. 4:19). The altar (Ex. 27:1–8), or the altar of burnt offering (Ex. 30:28), or the bronze altar (Ex. 38:30) was a hollow chest of acacia overlaid with bronze, measuring five cubits in length and width and three cubits in height. It had horns at the corners and halfway down a ledge (Lev. 9:22); below the ledge was a grating on all sides against which the sacrificial blood was dashed. To facilitate its transport it was provided with bronze rings and bronze-plated poles. Its equipment included pots, shovels, bases, fleshhooks, and fire pans (Ex. 27: 1–8; 38: 1–7). It stood at the center of the court, its position in the eastern square corresponding to that of the Ark in the western square. To take hold of its horns was believed to afford asylum (i Kings 1:50–51). It is claimed by many exegetes that the altar as described here – a hollow box covered, it is assumed, by a thin metal top – could not have survived a single day. Moreover, its form appears to contradict the injunction in Exodus 20:24–25 [22–23] calling for an earthen or stone altar. Cassuto (in bibl., 362), however, points out that no top is mentioned and suggests that the chest was filled with earth or stones. Between the altar and the sanctuary a laver was placed (Ex. 30:17–21), which consisted of a bronze bowl resting on a bronze base. It was made of "the mirrors of the women who performed tasks" (Ex. 38:8). The antiquity of this reference is evidenced by the fact that there is no reference to these servingwomen after the destruction of Shiloh (i Sam. 2:22). Its purpose was to provide water for the ritual ablutions of the priests.
The Tabernacle Completed and in Use
The chief architect of the sanctuary and its furniture was *Bezalel, who was assisted by Oholiab and a number of skilled artisans (Ex. 31:2ff.; 35:30ff.). They also made the priestly vestments (Ex. 28). On the first of the first month in the second year of the Exodus the entire structure was erected by Moses (Ex. 40:17), and as soon as the task was completed, the cloud of the Lord covered the Tent of Meeting (Ex. 40:34). The consecration of the Tabernacle and the dedication of the priests by Moses are described in Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8–10. Once the Tabernacle was erected, it occupied a central position, physically and spiritually, in the midst of Israel. It stood in the center of the camp. On three sides (north, west, and south) resided the levite clans, while Moses and Aaron and his sons occupied the east side. Further away the 12 tribes were stationed, three on each side of the quadrilateral. The priests performed the sacrificial and other ritual services of the sanctuary; the levites (8,580; see Num. 4:48) were in charge of the components of the shrine when it was dismantled for each journey. During the stationary periods the cloud rested on the tent; the lifting of the cloud indicated that it was time for the camp to move (Ex. 40:36–38). A blast from the silver trumpets gave the signal to strike camp (Num. 10:1ff.). The holy furniture was carefully wrapped by the priests, special care being given to the Ark, and the levites – Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites – attended to the transport of the sanctuary and its sacred articles in accordance with their respective schedules (Num. 4:4–33). On the march six tribes preceded the levites and six formed the rear (Num. 2:17; cf. 10:17ff.). The functions of the Tabernacle may be divided into three categories:
(a) It was the dwelling place of the Lord among the Israelites (Ex. 25:8). The Children of Israel were compelled by force of circumstances to depart from the holy mountain, where the Lord had revealed Himself; nevertheless He continued to dwell in their midst, a fact of which the sanctuary was the visible symbol.
(b) It was the center of Israel's cultus in all its major aspects. Here sacrifices – both regular and occasional – and incense were offered up; here the lamp and the shewbread played their role; here the ritual of the great Day of Atonement, the one day in the year when the high priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, was carried out. It was even the venue of the ordeal of sotah (wife suspected of faithlessness; see Num. 5:16, 17).
(c) It was the place where the Divine *Presence was revealed and where the cloud of the Lord manifested itself – over the propitiatory (Lev. 16:2), or over the Tent of Meeting (Ex. 40:34), or at the entrance to the tent (Num. 16:19). It was here that God spoke with Moses (Ex. 25:22).
Exegetical and Historical Problems
The biblical account of the Tabernacle and its history bristles with difficulties. Some of these have already been mentioned; but many more remain. Bible critics stress that the specifications of both the Tabernacle and its furniture are often obscure and full of omissions. For example, the shape of the cherubim, the nature of the qerashim and their thickness, the material of the lamps, and the size of the outer coverings are unknown. It is still a moot question whether the measurements are external or internal. Exegetes cannot understand how the great weight of the curtains could be borne by the wooden supports, or how the clan of Merari, who had but four wagons for the task, could transport more than four tons of silver (Ex. 38:24), hundreds of feet of curtaining, and 300 bronze bases. It is doubted whether the Israelites possessed the requisite skills in the wilderness period; they certainly needed Phoenician help for Solomon's Temple (i Kings 7:13–14, 40–45). The quantities of material required and their costliness seem beyond the means of a wandering people recently freed from bondage. Even the suitability of the form of the Tabernacle service for desert conditions is queried. Although the Tabernacle plays an important role in the desert, there is relatively little heard about it after the settlement in Canaan. Hence the authenticity of the scriptural account is questioned.
Against these arguments it should be noted that the biblical text does not purport to be a detailed blueprint. This is clearly indicated by the recurring phrase "according to the manner of it that you were shown on the mountain." Many specifications were omitted because they were already well known; others were probably not considered essential. As regards the materials and skills, it should be borne in mind that the Israelites left Egypt with considerable spoil (Ex. 12:35–36), that much could be purchased from passing caravan merchants, and that in Egypt the Hebrews must have been forced to learn, in connection with their building operations, quite a number of handicrafts. It is also noteworthy that the Tabernacle specifications exhibit various archaic features consonant with a desert origin. Thus the structure was essentially a tent; the red rams' skins find a parallel in the pre-Islamic qubbah (tent of red leather); the wood was acacia (not cedar, as in the Temple), which could be obtained in the wilderness. The frames recall the trelliswork in El's throne room mentioned in Ugaritic literature, while the cube shape of the Holy of Holies may display Egyptian influence. It is also possible that the three degrees of access to the Tabernacle correspond to the three limits of approach to Sinai (Ex. 19:17; 20:21 ; 24: 1–2).
But the crux of the criticism relates to the tent mentioned in Exodus 33:7–11, likewise called the Tent of Meeting, which appears to be of a wholly different character from that of the Tabernacle depicted in the so-called Presence. It is portrayed as an ordinary tent, to which the verb naṭa ("to pitch") is applied. It is sited outside the camp. No cultic services or appurtenances are mentioned in connection with it, and instead of priests or levites Joshua is in constant attendance. It was visited by all who sought the Lord, and the pillar of cloud descended at the door of the tent (not within it), where the Lord spoke with Moses. This divine revelation appears to be of an occasional, not of a regular, character. The verbal forms occurring in the passage are regarded by most commentators as frequentative; Cassuto (in bibl., 430), however, discerns a poetic usage here insofar as the initial verbs are concerned. These verses are ascribed to e or ej, and certain scholars claim that three other texts (Num. 11:16–30; 12:4–13; Deut. 31:14–15), which refer to the Tent of Meeting, have the same essential characteristics; hence they all belong to E and present a concept of the Tabernacle that diverges radically from that of p.
Numerous solutions of the problems have been proposed, some highly fanciful and all necessarily conjectural. An old tradition, found in the Septuagint and supported by medieval Jewish commentators like Rashi, A. Ibn Ezra, and others, regards the tent of Exodus 33:7 as Moses' own dwelling (cf. Ex. 18:7; and see Cassuto, in bibl., 429ff.). It was erected beyond the camp, because the latter had been defiled by the worship of the golden calf, and it was used as an oracle only until the Tabernacle was complete. In modern times J. Wellhausen and his followers advanced the extreme view that the Tabernacle of p is completely unhistorical and is merely a fictional portrayal composed in the post-Exilic period and based on the Temple structure, only smaller and with such adjustments as the wilderness was conceived to require. The tent of E contains a minute nucleus of historical tradition and probably reflects the existence of a wrapped Ark in the early era of Israel's history. Another exegetical school suggests the theory that the Ark originally belonged to the northern tribes and that the tent, outside the camp, served the southern tribes as a place of revelation. It was David who put the Ark in the tent (ii Sam. 6:17), thus uniting the tribes. Subsequently the tent came to be regarded as the shrine of the Ark and the dwelling place of the Lord; the designation ʾOhel Moʿed finally became Mishkan ʾOhel Moʿed ("Dwelling Place of the Tent of Meeting"). Other scholars are of the opinion that both tents existed at the same time, the tent outside the camp serving as the locale for divine revelation and the tent inside the camp being the Lord's dwelling place; or that the phenomenon of revelation occurred in both sanctuaries, but it had a prophetic, occasional character in the tent outside the camp, where it took place outside the tent (ʾOhel Moʿed), while in the Dwelling (Mishkan) within the camp the theophany was a regular occurrence inside the sanctuary. There is also the view that there was actually only one tent, but the shrine was placed outside the camp in peacetime and inside, for protection, in an emergency; or that one school of tradition objected to the conception of God's Presence within the camp and another did not. Finally the theory has been put forward that there existed two traditions with regard to the Tabernacle. One emanated from the northern prophetic circles (hence the reference to Joshua) and conceived the Tabernacle to be an ordinary tent (situated outside the camp) where prophetic revelations were periodically vouch-safed. This tradition avoided the use of the term mishkan and made no reference to cultic services within it. The other view derived from a southern priestly source, which included the aspects found in the passages attributed to p. This tradition ascribed to the wilderness Tabernacle some of the developments introduced into David's shrine.
Ingenious as these conjectures are, it must be admitted that no completely satisfactory solution has yet been found. In the references to the Tabernacle in the post-settlement era the precise character of the sanctuary still remains in doubt. It was erected – perhaps as an amphictyonic tentshrine – at Shiloh, where the priest Eleazar and Joshua divided the land among the tribes by lot at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (Josh. 18:1; 19:51). In i Samuel 2:22, in Psalm 78:60 (destruction of Shiloh), and in ii Samuel 7:6 it is still a tent. But in i Samuel 1:7 it is called "House of the Lord," while in verse 9 it is termed hekhal ("temple") and reference is made to its doorposts. After the destruction of Shiloh, the Ark is no longer mentioned with the Tabernacle; but there is evidence that the tent was continuously in existence from the Exodus to David's time (ii Sam. 7:6). The Ark was captured and taken to Philistia; then to Kiriath-Jearim; and finally to Jerusalem. David apparently provided a new tent for the Ark (ii Sam. 6:17; i Chron. 16:1; 17:1). It is thought that the expression "in its place" (ii Sam. 6:17) implied that the tent had a Holy of Holies, and from i Kings 1:39, 50, and 2:28 is to be inferred that it contained anointing oil and a horned altar. It has even been suggested that possibly ii Samuel 7:18 implies that there was a veil to the Ark. The Tabernacle and Ark were undoubtedly moved to various sites in the Land of Israel (ii Sam. 7:6; cf. i Chron. 21:29; ii Chron. 1:3–6) until they were finally housed, together with the furniture, in the Temple at Jerusalem (i Kings 8:4). From time to time various renovations had to be made to the Tabernacle on account of decay, and at certain stages additions and improvements may have been effected. Nevertheless it was still regarded as the old wilderness shrine and retained its original designations.
The Theology of the Tabernacle
Unaffected by the exegetical and historical problems arising from the description of the Tabernacle ascribed to p and to e, and irrespective of the solutions proposed, is the question of the shrine's symbolism. The sanctuary is the embodiment of Israel's concept of holiness; all the minutiae of the specifications conjoin to illustrate how "the holy nation" and "the kingdom of priests" can serve the One Holy God "in the beauty of holiness."
The Creator of the universe also dwells among men. The problem of reconciling divine transcendentalism with immanence is a challenge to the conceptual reasoning of the philosopher; to the Israelite it was an intuitively accepted truth inherent in the mystery of faith. To God all things were possible (cf. Gen. 18:14; Num. 11:23; Jer. 32:17, 27). The way of holiness, leading to the Divine Presence, was graduated. Man must not approach holy things suddenly or irreverently (cf. Num. 4:19–20; ii Sam. 6:6–7); nor could this be done by everyone or at all times (Lev. 10:1–2; 16:17). This truth is symbolically inculcated in various ways: first, by the position of the sanctuary. Within the great family of nations Israel was "a treasured people," the Lord's priests; within the framework of the 12 tribes – the camp – the priests and levites occupied the central position; the Tabernacle stood in the midst of the tribe of Levi. But the gradation did not end there. The court was the outer enclosure of the sacred structure. Within it stood the shrine, which was in turn divided into two compartments – the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (or Most Holy Place). The Divine Presence rested on the throne of the cherubim in the Holy of Holies (similar concepts were symbolically expressed in Solomon's Temple and in the sanctuary visualized by Ezekiel).
The relativity of holiness was further pointed up by the materials. Fine or pure gold was used for the Ark, the propitiatory, the table of the Presence and its vessels; for the lampstand and its accessories; for the altar of incense; and for the high priest's garments. Ordinary gold was employed for the moldings, the rings, and the staves of the Ark, of the table, and of the incense altar; for the hooks of the curtains; for the frames and bars; for the pillars of the veil and screen; and for other parts of the high priest's vestments. Silver was reserved for the bases of the frames, for the pillars of the veil, and for moldings in the court. Finally there was bronze, of which metal the altar of burnt offering and its utensils, the bases of the court, and the laves were made. The same principle applied to the embroidered stuff and linen.
The theme of gradation was continued in respect of the three divisions of the people. The Israelites could enter the court only; the priests could serve in the Holy Place; the high priest alone could enter the Holy of Holies but once a year – on the Day of Atonement. Certain symbols are self-explanatory. The light of the lampstand, the purifying purpose of the laves, and the fragrance of the incense easily suggest their significance. The polarity between God and man is shown by contrast: the propitiatory, part of God's throne, is of pure gold; the altar, which receives the offerings of the people, is of bronze. No less important is the fact that the materials were voluntary contributions (Ex. 25:2). All parts of the sacred structure were a gift of the human spirit. Symmetry and symbolism are also manifest in many of the dimensions and ratios of the Tabernacle: the Holy Place was twice the size of the Holy of Holies, which was a perfect cube of ten cubits; the court was 100 cubits long and 50 cubits wide. The oft-recurring numbers of seven and ten (and their multiples and fractions) indicate completeness and perfection. Thus the Tabernacle proclaims that the divine design is perfect and that sanctity and size are in inverse proportion.
The sacrificial service, which was the central function of the cultus, embraced both regular and occasional offerings, expiatory as well as freewill sacrifices of thanksgiving and devotion. Man's relationship to God has many aspects; these were reflected in multi-faceted oblations and rites. The sacrificial cult, it should also be noted, was equalitarian: Heaven accepted the poor man's cereal offering on a par with the rich man's animal oblation. In seeking to bridge the gulf between the human and the divine, the cherubim were of particular significance: they symbolized the celestial beings that formed the heavenly throne of the Lord. The earthly sanctuary mirrored the heavenly domain (cf. Yal. Ps. 713). The concept found its highest expression in theophany and prophetic revelation in the sanctuary precincts. Such experiences were independent of ritual and priestly lineage, and in a sense contradicted the underlying idea of the complex cultic system. Ultimately God communicated with man not via the altar and ceremonial but directly. In M. Buber's terminology, it was an "I-Thou" relationship. This is essentially the thought of Exodus 29:42–45, which defines the Tabernacle's purpose. Sanctuary and ritual, priests and laity, merge in hallowed communion with God. He is not only the God of Genesis – of Creation – but the God of the Exodus – of history.
In the Aggadah
Moses was mystified by God's command to build a tabernacle since it seemingly contradicted the omnipresence of God. Various justifications are given: God could not part with the Torah, and therefore He commanded that a house be constructed for Him wherein He could on occasion visit with the Torah; the Tabernacle was a sign to the world that God had forgiven the Children of Israel for the sin of the golden calf and that He would not abandon them even if they sinned; He expressed His love for the physical world by descending to dwell among those who are below; God wanted to be with His children (Ex. R. 33, 34). Lastly, the Tabernacle in no way confined God to only a single site. It is comparable with a cave by the sea which is constantly filled by seawater although the sea is not diminished thereby: so the Divine Presence in the world is not diminished by its filling the Tabernacle (pdrk 4). The structure of the Tabernacle symbolically resembles the heavenly abode, and the order of its construction corresponds to the order of the world's creation (Ex. R. 35:6; 34:2; Num. R. 12:13). The Israelites, who had previously answered the summons to fetch gold for the golden calf, now zealously responded to Moses' appeal for contributions for the Tabernacle. They were not content simply to donate objects from their houses and treasures, but forcibly snatched ornaments from their wives and children. In this way they thought they were atoning for their previous sin (Mid. Lek. Tov to Ex. 35:22). They brought all the material necessary for the construction in two mornings (Ex. R. 41:2). The women were also eager to participate and were especially active in producing the woolen hangings. They spun the fabric while it was still upon the goats (Shab. 74b, 99a).
After Bezalel had finished the construction, the edifice could not be erected by the elders or Bezalel and Oholiab. The people grumbled against Moses for this failure, denying that its construction had been commanded by God. Moses finally put his hand on the Tabernacle and it immediately stood erect (Tanḥ. B., Ex. 1:33). Before the building of the Tabernacle, the voice of God would strike Moses' ear as though through a tube. The people recognized only through Moses' reddened face that he was receiving a revelation. With the consecration of the sanctuary, however, Moses was first beckoned to the sanctuary by a sweet, pleasant, and melodious voice, and only in the sanctuary did he actually hear the divine message (Num. R. 12:4). After its erection, prophecy departed from the heathen nations of the world, Balaam alone being permitted to prophesy because his prophecy was for the good of Israel (Lev. R. 1:12).
J. Wellhausen, Die Composition des Hexateuchs (1899), 134–52; E. Sellin, in: bwant, 13 (1913), 168–92; R. Hartmann, in: zaw, 37 (1917/18), 209–44; M. Loehr, in: olz, 29 (1926), 6–8; G. von Rad, Die Priesterschrift im Hexateuch (1934), 57–83, 214–22; L. Rost, in: bwant, 76 (1938), 35; idem, in: J. Hermann (ed.), Festschrift F. Baumgaertel (1959), 158–65; Y. Kaufmann, Toledot, index, S.V. Ohel Mo'ed; J. Morgenstern, in: huca, 17 (1942/43), 153–265; 18 (1943/44), 1–52; F.M. Cross, in: ba, 10 (1947), 45–68; Noth, Ueberlief, 262–7; Noth, Hist Isr; A. Kuschke, in: zaw, 63 (1951), 74–105; M. Haran, in: Tarbiz, 25 (1956), 11–20; idem, in: Sefer Geiger (1959), 215–21; idem, in: Sefer Tur-Sinai (1960), 27–42; idem, in: jss, 5 (1960), 50–65; idem, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 8 (1961), 272–302; idem, in: Sefer… Y. Kaufmann (1961), 20–42 (Heb.); idem, in: Tarbiz, 31 (1962), 317–25; idem, in: jbl, 81 (1962), 14–24; idem, in: Sefer… Segal (1965), 33–41; idem, in: huca, 36 (1965), 191–226; W. Beyerlin, Herkunft und Geschichte der aeltesten Sinaitraditionen (1961), 129–37; R. de Vaux, in: Memorial A. Gelin (1961), 55–70; S.E. Loewenstamm, in: iej, 12 (1962), 162–3; B.A. Levine, in: jaos, 85 (1965), 307–18; H. Schmidt, in: zaw, 75 (1963), 91–92; B. Gemser, in: jss, 8 (1963), 110. in the aggadah: Aptowitzer, in: Tarbiz, 2 (1930/31), 137–53, 257–87; Ginzberg, Legends, index; M. Levin, Melekhet ha-Mishkan (1968).
An ornamented receptacle for liturgical vessels containing consecrated Bread reserved for the Communion of the sick, for communion services and for adoration.
Historically, the place and manner of the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament have differed at various periods and in different places. Sometimes it was reserved in the church, sometimes elsewhere (e.g., in the sacristy); in some churches, in a fixed mural ambry or in a "Sacrament house," in others, in a movable vessel (casket, tower, pyx, or dove) placed near the altar or hanging
above it. Only in the 16th century did a tabernacle placed on the main altar begin to be the normal manner of reservation, prescribed often by local law, and then by the general prescription of the Roman Ritual of 1614. Not until 1863, by decree of the Congregation of Rites, was the placement of the tabernacle on the principal altar made mandatory, all other ways of reservation forbidden.
Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there is to be only one tabernacle in a church or oratory (CIC 938 §1), which should be "situated in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer" (CIC 938 §2). The rationale for the placement of the tabernacle, if possible, in an area distinct from the place of Eucharistic celebration was first articulated in the Instruction on Eucharistic Worship (Eucharisticum mysterium ) of the Congregation of Rites (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 59  539–573, dated 25 May 1967): "In the celebration of Mass the modes by which Christ is present in his Church become successively clearer: first he appears present in the very body of the faithful assembled in his name; then in his Word, when Scripture is read and explained; next, in the person of the minister; lastly, in a special manner under the eucharistic species [see Sacrosanctum Concilium 7]. From the viewpoint of sign, therefore, it is in better accord with the nature of liturgical celebration that the eucharistic presence of Christ not be at the altar where Mass is celebrated, since this presence is the result of the consecration and must appear to be such…" (55). The tabernacle itself "is to be immovable, made of solid and opaque material, and locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is avoided as much as possible" (CIC 938 §3).
Bibliography: j. b. o'connell, Church Building and Furnishing (Notre Dame, IN 1955). p. l. anson, Churches: Their Plan and Furnishing (Milwaukee 1948). h. e. collins, The Church Edifice and Its Appointments (Westminster, Md. 1953). a. bugnini, "Commentarium super decretum De Forma et Usu Tabernaculi, June 1, 1957," Ephemerides litugicae 71 (1957) 442–445. h. von meurers, "Altar und Tabernakel," Litergisches Jahrbuch 3 (1953) 10–28.
[j. b. o'connell/
f. r. mcmanus/eds.]
tab·er·nac·le / ˈtabərˌnakəl/ • n. 1. (in biblical use) a fixed or movable habitation, typically of light construction. ∎ a tent used as a sanctuary for the Ark of the Covenant by the Israelites during the Exodus and until the building of the Temple. 2. a meeting place for worship used by some Protestants or Mormons. 3. an ornamented receptacle or cabinet in which a pyx or ciborium containing the reserved sacrament may be placed in Catholic churches, usually on or above an altar. ∎ archaic a canopied niche or recess in the wall of a church. 4. a partly open socket or double post on a sailboat's deck into which a mast is fixed, with a pivot near the top so that the mast can be lowered. DERIVATIVES: tab·er·nac·led adj. ORIGIN: Middle English: via French from Latin tabernaculum ‘tent,’ diminutive of taberna ‘hut, tavern.’
Tabernacle (tăb´ərnăk´əl), in the Bible, the portable holy place of the Hebrews during their desert wanderings. It was a tent, like the portable tent-shrines used by ancient Semites, set up in each camp; eventually it housed the Ark of the Covenant (see ark, 2). In the Book of Numbers, the Tabernacle is referred to as the "Tent of Meeting" when it functioned as the place for divine revelation to Moses. The Tabernacle rested in Shiloh before it was finally placed in Jerusalem. David kept the Ark of the Covenant inside it. During Solomon's reign, the Tabernacle was replaced by the Temple as a sign that God had given his people rest from their wandering. The term is also applied to the small receptacle, used in the Roman Catholic Church, in which the Host in the ciborium is reserved on the altar.
1. Portable shrine, originally a curtained tent, containing the Jewish Ark of the Covenant.
2. Cupboard with doors containing the consecrated Host on an altar.
4. Any canopied niche containing an image.
5. Shrine or canopied tomb.
6. Baldacchino or ciborium.
7. Place of worship distinguished from a church, e.g. meeting-house, especially one with no architectural pretensions, for Nonconformist Protestants.
In Christianity the word was originally applied to a variety of canopied structures in a church building, but most usually refers to an ornamental receptacle or cupboard for the reserved sacrament.
From the late 15th century, the term has also been used to denote an ornamented receptacle or cabinet in which a pyx containing the reserved sacrament may be placed in Catholic churches, usually on or above an altar.
Feast of Tabernacles another name for succoth.