Tent of Meeting

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The center of worship, sign of God's presence, place for receiving oracles, and palladium during the desert journey of the Israelites. In the earlier elohist source the tent is called ōhel môēd (tent of meeting), whereas the Priestly Code (P) source (see priestly writers, pen tateuchal) prefers miškān (dwelling), though the former term is found here also. The Elohist account pictures it as located outside the camp, as an oracle tent to which God descends from time to time to "meet" Moses, in order to communicate with him (Ex 33.711; Nm 11.2430; 12.110); no further description of it is given in this source. The priestly account presents it as a large tent (45 by 15 feet) formed by stretching successive layers of fine linen, red-dyed rams' skins, and taaš skins (possibly fine treated leather) over an elaborate wooden frame; the ground plan was similar to that of the Temple Solomon would later erect [see temples (in the bible)], with a larger "Holy Place" and a smaller "holy of ho lies." Like the Temple, it housed the ark of the cove nant, and other cult objects (altar of incense, table for the showbread, and golden lampstand) later placed in the Temple are found in it. It was located in the center of the camp and, like the Temple, was enclosed within an outer court (Ex 26.127.19; 36.138.40; Nm 2.134). Since the priestly description of the tent is so closely conformed to many details of the later Temple (except for the prefabricated construction and the dimensionsjust half of those of the Temple), earlier critics had suggested that the tent never existed except as an imaginative and idealized form of the Temple retrojected into the ambit of the desert by priestly imagination. Today, however, there is evidence that some elements of the description are ancient (frame of acacia wood, red leather covering, etc.); portable tents housing the tribal idols were known among ancient Semitic nomads and were even one of the most important motifs of their religions. Yet undoubtedly the description has been somewhat accommodated to the later Temple. F. Cross has suggested that the immediate source utilized by the priestly writers was a description of the tent erected by David for the ark (2 Sm 6.17), which could very well have preserved elements of the desert tent while also manifesting Canaanite influence.

Little is known of the tent after the Israelites reached the Plains of Moab, where the last certain reference to it is found (Nm 25.6). Later references to it are found (e.g., Jos 18.1; 1 Sm 2.22; 2 Chr 1.3), but these seem to be late conjectures, for the structure that housed the ark at silo was called a temple (Heb. hêkāl ) and was, therefore, a substantial building (1 Sm 1.7; 3.3).

The theological and spiritual import of the tent is great, for it was the external manifestation of God's abiding presence in the midst of His people. This concept is developed in Jewish speculation on the shekinah and finds its climax in the incarnation.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by l. hartman (New York, 1963) 241314. r. devaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, tr. j. mchugh (New York 1961) 294297. f. m. cross, jr., "The Priestly Tabernacle," The Biblical Archeologist 10 (New Haven 1947) 4568; The Biblical Archeologist Reader, ed. g. e. wright and d. n. freedman (Chicago 1961) 201228. j. morgenstern, The Ark, the Ephod, and the Tent of Meeting (Cincinnati 1945).

[j. e. steinmueller/eds.]