Friday, March 25, 2011

Dimensions of The Court of The Tabernacle Article (Exodus 27 and Exodus 38)

Here is a little formal article that I wrote about the Courtyard of the Mishkan. Just like with the Corner Boards, I recommend that you check it out, as well as this dedicated page and this section of my blog  for the most complete information on this subject.


Dimensions of The Court of The Tabernacle

by Aleksandr Sigalov


Chapters 27 and 38 of the Book of Exodus, among other things, describe the so-called Court of the Tabernacle [ḥăṣar hammišəkān], that surrounded the Tent of Appointment[’ōhel mwō‘ēḏ], the copper Laver[kîywōr] and the Altar of Burnt Offering[mizəbēḥa]. The Court was essentially a rectangular fence-like structure, that consisted of number of fabric sheets that were spread between equidistantly spaced wooden pillars.

Just like the corner boards of the framework of the Tent of Appointment, the dimensions of the Court of the Tabernacle have been subject to very long debate between Biblical scholars, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. And even though many theories have been proposed that tried to identify and put all of the elements of the Court together, up to this day no satisfactory solution had been found.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to describe and compare every proposed theory within the scope of this article. Luckily this is not needed, as all of them rely on an incorrect reading of the original text, primarily from the verses of Exod 27.18, Exod 38.11 and Exod 38.13, and thus all of them, in their very essence, are fundamentally wrong.

Let's begin by recounting these problematic verses[1]:

The length of the court is a hundred by the cubit, and the breadth fifty by fifty, and the height five cubits, of twined linen, and their sockets are brass (Exod 27.18)
and at the north side, a hundred by the cubit, their pillars are twenty, and their sockets of brass twenty; the pegs of the pillars and their fillets are silver; (Exod 38.11)

and at the east side eastward fifty cubits (Exod 38.13)

It seems clear from aforementioned verses, that the dimensions of the Court were 100 cubits along the length and 50 cubits along its width. Unfortunately, if you would now try to satisfy the rest of the description by positioning 20 Pillars along Court's North[2] and South sides[3], 10 Pillars along its West side[4] and 3 + 3 + 4 Pillars along its East Side (Gate Side)[5] you will see that this is simply impossible.

For detailed technical description of the problems that arise from such measurements of the Court, you can refer to the traditional commentaries such as Babylonian Talmud[6], Baraita [7] and Rashi[8]. Or to more modern, such as Soncino[9], Cassuto[10], Driver[11], and many others.

But if the dimensions of the Court were not 100x50 cubits, what were they ?

In order to figure it out, here is the table that lists all verses of Exod 27 an Exod 38 for each side of the Court that will help to greatly simplify comparison and understanding of the text:
Verse
Original Text [YLT 1862]
Verse
Original Text [YLT 1862]
South Side
Exod 27.9
And thou hast made the court of the tabernacle: for the south side southward, hangings for the court of twined linen, a hundred by the cubit [is] the length for the one side,
Exod 38.9
And he maketh the court; at the south side southward, the hangings of the court of twined linen, a hundred by the cubit,
North SideExod 27.11
and so for the north side in length, hangings of a hundred [cubits] in length, and its twenty pillars and their twenty sockets [are] of brass, the pegs of the pillars and their fillets [are] of silver.
Exod 38.11
and at the north side, a hundred by the cubit, their pillars [are] twenty, and their sockets of brass twenty; the pegs of the pillars and their fillets [are] silver;
West Side Exod 27.12
And [for] the breadth of the court at the west side [are] hangings of fifty cubits, their pillars ten, and their sockets ten.
Exod 38.12
and at the west side [are] hangings, fifty by the cubit; their pillars [are] ten, and their sockets ten; the pegs of the pillars and their fillets [are] silver;
East SideExod 27.13
And [for] the breadth of the court at the east side, eastward, [are] fifty cubits.
Exod 38.13
and at the east side eastward fifty cubits.


East Side - 1st flankExod 27.14
And the hangings at the side [are] fifteen cubits, their pillars three, and their sockets three.
Exod 38.14
The hangings on the side [are] fifteen cubits, their pillars three, and their sockets three,
East Side - 2nd flankExod 27.15
And at the second side [are] hangings fifteen [cubits], their pillars three, and their sockets three.
Exod 38.15
and at the second side at the gate of the court, on this and on that, [are] hangings, fifteen cubits, their pillars three, and their sockets three;
East Side - Gate
Exod 27.16
And for the gate of the court a covering of twenty cubits, blue, and purple, and scarlet, and twined linen, work of an embroiderer; their pillars four, their sockets four.
Exod 38.18
And the covering of the gate of the court [is] the work of an embroiderer, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and twined linen; and twenty cubits [is] the length, and the height with the breadth five cubits, over-against the hangings of the court;
Summary
Exod 27.18
The length of the court [is] a hundred by the cubit, and the breadth fifty by fifty, and the height five cubits, of twined linen, and their sockets [are] brass,
Not Specified
Not Specified

But in order to make the meaning of the original text even more apparent, here is another, filtered, table that shows extracted information for each of the sides of the Court:
Verse
Part Measured
Value
Units of Measure
Verse
Part Measured
Value
Units of Measure
South Side
Exod 27.9
Hangings
100
CubitsExod 38.9
Hangings
100
Cubits
North SideExod 27.11
Hangings
100
Not SpecifiedExod 38.11
Not Specified
100
Cubits
West Side Exod 27.12
Hangings
50
CubitsExod 38.12
Hangings
50
Cubits
East SideExod 27.13
Not Specified
50
CubitsExod 38.13
Not Specified
50
Cubits
East Side - 1st flankExod 27.14
Hangings
15
CubitsExod 38.14
Hangings
15
Cubits
East Side - 2nd flankExod 27.15
Hangings
15
Not SpecifiedExod 38.15
Hangings
15
Cubits
East Side - GateExod 27.16
Hangings
20
CubitsExod 38.18
Hangings
20, 5x5
Cubits
SummaryExod 27.18
Hangings
100, 50x50, 5
CubitsNot Specified
Not Specified
Not Specified
Not Specified

As you can clearly see from this table, all measurements of the Court of the Tabernacle are performed in "cubits of hangings", not in "cubits of length/width" !

This means, that the correct overall dimensions of the Court were larger than 100x50 cubits, namely - 120x60 cubits[12].

Therefore, the translation of the problematic verses of Exod 27.18, Exod 38.11 and Exod 38.13 should clearly reflect the correct meaning of the original text and be changed as follows:

Original:

The length of the court is a hundred by the cubit, and the breadth fifty by fifty, and the height five cubits, of twined linen, and their sockets are brass (Exod 27.18)

Changed:

The length of the court is a hundred by the cubit [of twined linen], and the breadth fifty by fifty [cubits of twined linen], and the height -  five cubits of twined linen; and their sockets are brass (Exod 27.18)
Original:

and at the north side, a hundred by the cubit, their pillars are twenty, and their sockets of brass twenty; the pegs of the pillars and their fillets are silver; (Exod 38.11)
Changed:

and at the north side, a hundred by the cubit [of twined linen], their pillars are twenty, and their sockets of brass twenty; the pegs of the pillars and their fillets are silver; (Exod 38.11)

Original:

and at the east side eastward fifty cubits (Exod 38.13)

Changed:


and at the east side eastward fifty cubits [of twined linen] (Exod 38.13)

The translation of the other verses must also be reviewed and fine-tuned accordingly, depending on the language of the translation, to reflect the correct meaning of the original text and proper units of measure of the parts of the Court of the Tabernacle.



NOTES

1. I'm using 1862 Young's Literal Translation throughout the article because I consider it the most  accurate English translation of the original masoretic hebrew text, although use of any other  translation  will yield the same results.

2. Exod 27.11 and Exod 38.11, YLT 1862

3. Exod 27.10 and Exod 38.10, YLT 1862

4. Exod 27.12 and Exod 38.12, YLT 1862

5. Exod 27.14-16, Exod 38.14-15 and Exod 38.19, YLT 1862

6. Babylonian Talmud, Sefer Moed, Tractate Eiruvin 23b and 2a-4b, any edition.

7. Robert S. Kirschner, Baraita de-melekhet ha-mishkan: a critical edition with introduction and translation, (West Orange, NJ: Hebrew Union College Press, 1992), 229-231

8. Commentary of Rashi on verses of Exodus 27:9-19 and Exodus 38:9-20, any edition

9. Abraham Cohen, The Soncino Chumash: the Five books of Moses, with Haphtaroth, (Hindhead, UK: Socino Press, 1947), 584-585

10. Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Skokie, IL: Varda Books, 2005), 365-368, 467-468

11. Rev. S.R. Driver, The Book of Exodus, (Skokie, IL: Varda Books, 2002),  293-295, 391-392

12. According to my calculations and most traditional opinions, each Pillar of the Court was 1 cubit wide. By equidistantly positioning the Pillars around the perimeter, the total measurements of the Court would be 100 cubits of Hangings + 20 cubits of Pillars = 120 cubits along its North and South sides (length) and 50 cubits of Hangings + 10 cubits of Pillars = 60 cubits along its West and East sides (width). Total perimeter of the Court Hangings would be equal to 100+50+100+50=300 cubits, and the total perimeter of the Court itself would be equal to 120+60+120+60=360 cubits.

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