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For other uses, see Tabernacle (disambiguation).

The Tabernacle (Hebrew: משכן‎, mishkan, "residence" or "dwelling place"), according to the Hebrew Bible, was the portable dwelling place for the divine presence from the time of the Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the land of Canaan. Built to specifications revealed by God (Yahweh) to Moses at Mount Sinai, it accompanied the Israelites on their wanderings in the wilderness and their conquest of the Promised Land. The First Temple in Jerusalem superseded it as the dwelling-place of God. There is no mention of the Tabernacle in the Tanakh after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians in 587 BCE.

The fullest description of the Tabernacle describes an inner shrine (named Holy of Holies) housing the Ark of the Covenant and an outer chamber (Holy Place) with a golden lampstand, table for showbread, and altar of incense.[1] This description is generally identified as part of the Priestly source (P),[1] written in the 6th or 5th century BCE. Many scholars contend that it is of a far later date than Moses, and that the description reflects the structure of the Temple of Solomon, while some hold that the description derives from memories of a real pre-monarchic shrine, perhaps the sanctuary at Shiloh.[1] Traditional scholars contend that it describes an actual tabernacle used in the time of Moses and thereafter.[2] According to historical criticism an earlier, pre-exilic source (E) describes the Tabernacle as a simple tent-sanctuary.[1]


The English word "tabernacle" is derived from the Latin tabernāculum meaning "tent" or "hut", which in ancient Roman religion was a ritual structure.[3]

The word sanctuary is also used for the Biblical tabernacle, as well as the phrase the "tent of meeting". The Hebrew word mishkan implies "dwell", "rest", or "to live in", referring to the "[In-dwelling] Presence of God", the shekhinah, based on the same Hebrew root word as mishkan), that dwelt within this divinely ordained structure.[4][5]

Dugong hypothesis

The 19th-century naturalist Eduard Rüppell equated the Arabic word "tucash" (dugong) with "tahash" (tabernacle). From this he deduced that the Tabernacle was covered with hides from the dugong or sea cow, and designated the animal "Halicore tabernaculi".[6] Modern academic opinion considers this reading of "tahash" uncertain.[7]


The commandments for construction of the Tabernacle are taken from the words in the Book of Exodus when God says to Moses: "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the furniture thereof, even so shall ye make it."[8]

Historical criticism has identified two accounts of the tabernacle in Exodus, a briefer account and a longer one. Traditional scholars believe the briefer account describes a different structure, perhaps Moses's personal tent.[4] The Hebrew nouns in the two accounts are different, one being most commonly translated as "tent of meeting," while the other is usually translated as "tabernacle".

Elohist account

Priestly account

The more detailed description of a tabernacle is in written in the 6th or 5th century BCE.

Some scholars believe the description is of a far later date than Moses, and that it reflects the structure of the Temple of Solomon; others hold that the passage describes a real pre-monarchic shrine, perhaps the sanctuary at Shiloh,[1] while traditional scholars contend that it describes an actual tabernacle used in the time of Moses and thereafter.[4] This view is based on Exodus 36, 37, 38 and 39 that describe in full detail how the actual construction of the Tabernacle took place during the time of Moses.[10]

The detailed outlines for the tabernacle and its priests are enumerated in the Book of Exodus:

  • Exodus 25: Materials needed, the Ark, the table for 12 showbread, the Menorah.
  • Exodus 26: The tabernacle, the beams, partitions.
  • Exodus 27: The copper altar, the enclosure, oil.
  • ephod garment, ring settings, the breastplate, robe, head-plate, tunic, turban, sashes, pants.
  • Exodus 29: Consecration of priests and altar.
  • Exodus 30: Incense altar, washstand, anointing oil, incense.


In chapter 31 [11] the main builder and architects are specified:

"God spoke to Moses, saying: I have selected Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, by name. I have filled him with a divine spirit, with wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and with all types of craftsmanship. He will be able to devise plans as well as work in gold, silver and copper, cut stones to be set, carve wood, and do other work. I have also given him Oholiab son of Achisamakh of the tribe of Dan. I have placed wisdom in the heart of every naturally talented person. They will thus make all that I have ordered, the Communion Tent, the Ark of the Covenant, the ark cover to go on it, all the utensils for the tent, the table and its utensils, the pure menorah and all its utensils, the incense altar, the sacrificial altar and all its utensils, the washstand and its base, the packing cloths, the sacred vestments for Aaron the priest, the vestments that his sons wear to serve, the anointing oil, and the incense for the sanctuary. They will thus do all that I command." (Exodus 31:1-11)


There was a set of strict rules to be followed for the Tabernacle set on the Old Testament. For example: "For the LORD had said to Moses, 'Exempt the tribe of Levi from the census; do not include them when you count the rest of the Israelites. You must put the Levites in charge of the Tabernacle of the Covenant, along with its furnishings and equipment. They must carry the Tabernacle and its equipment as you travel, and they must care for it and camp around it. Whenever the Tabernacle is moved, the Levites will take it down and set it up again. Anyone else who goes too near the Tabernacle will be executed.'" (Numbers 1:48-51 NLT),


The Tabernacle during the Exodus, the wandering in the desert and the conquest of Canaan was a portable tent draped with colorful curtains called a "tent of meeting".[12] It had a rectangular, perimeter fence of fabric, poles and staked cords. This rectangle was always erected when the Israelite tribes would camp, oriented to the east. In the center of this enclosure was a rectangular sanctuary draped with goat-hair curtains, with the roof made from rams' skins.[13] Over the rams' skins was placed a covering of "tachash skins", a term of uncertain meaning which has been variously translated as blue processed skins,[14][15] badger skins,[16] dolphin skin,[17] beaded skins, etc.[18][19] According to Encyclopaedia Judaica, "The AV and JPS translation badger has no basis in fact."[20]

"and great was the surprise of those who viewed these curtains at a distance, for they seemed not at all to differ from the color of the sky" —Josephus (c. 94 CE)[21]

Inside, the enclosure was divided into two areas, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place.[22] These two areas were separated by a curtain or veil. Inside the first area were three pieces of furniture: a seven-branched oil lampstand on the left (south), a table for twelve loaves of show bread on the right (north) and the Altar of Incense (west), straight ahead before the dividing curtain.

Beyond this curtain was the cube-shaped inner room known as the "Holy of Holies") or (Kodesh Hakodashim). This area housed the Ark of the Covenant (aron habrit),Deuteronomy 10:1-5.)


Twice a day, a priest would stand in front of the golden prayer altar and burn fragrant incense (Exodus 30:7-10). Other procedures were also carried out in the Tabernacle:

  • The Daily Holocaust: Leviticus 6:8-30
  • Guilt Offerings and Peace Offerings: Leviticus 7
  • Ceremony of Ordination: Leviticus 8
  • Octave of Ordination: Leviticus 9
  • Wine forbidden to Priests in the Tabernacle: Leviticus 10:8-15
  • Day of Atonement: Leviticus 16
  • Sacrifice only at the Tabernacle: Leviticus 17
  • Ordeal for suspected adulteresses: Numbers 5:11-29
  • Dedication of Numbers 6:1-21
  • Preparation of Ashes of a Red Heifer for Water of Purification: Numbers 19

Subsequent history

During the conquest of Numbers 1:52-2:34 "...they shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side.")

After the conquest and

The subsequent history of the structure is separate from that of the Ark of the Covenant. After the Ark was captured by the 2 Chronicles 1:2-6, 13)

The Ark was eventually brought to Jerusalem, where it was placed "inside the tent David had pitched for it" (1 Kings 8:4)

There is no mention of the Tabernacle in the Tanakh after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians in c. 587 BCE.

Relationship to the golden calf

Some rabbis have commented on the proximity of the narrative of the Tabernacle with that of the episode known as the sin of the

Blueprint for synagogues

Synagogue construction over the last two thousand years has followed the outlines of the original Tabernacle.[28][29] Every synagogue has at its front an ark, aron kodesh, containing the Torah scrolls, comparable to the Ark of the Covenant which contained the tablets with Ten Commandments. This is the holiest spot in a synagogue, equivalent to the Holy of Holies.

There is also usually a constantly lighted lamp,

New Testament references

The Tabernacle is mentioned several times in the Hebrews 8:5).

See also


External links

  • Precise reconstruction of the Tabernacle
  • Full color, 3d, printable model of the tabernacle
  • A study of the Tabernacle
  • The offerings of the Tabernacle
  • Jewish Encyclopedia article
  • Symbolic Tabernacle
  • 3D Model of the Tabernacle and all internal components.

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