Friday, April 30, 2010

Exodus 27:12 - The dimensions and layout of the West Side of the Courtyard of The Mishkan

Now we move on to the West Side of the Courtyard of the Mishkan. Lets' take a look:

Exodus 27:12
12 And for the breadth of the court on the west side shall be hangings of fifty cubits: their pillars ten, and their sockets ten.

12 ‏וְרֹ֤חַב הֶֽחָצֵר֙ לִפְאַת־יָ֔ם קְלָעִ֖ים חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים אַמָּ֑ה עַמֻּדֵיהֶ֣ם עֲשָׂרָ֔ה וְאַדְנֵיהֶ֖ם עֲשָׂרָֽה׃

As you can see, the West Side of the Courtyard was half the length of the North and South Side of the Court. There were only fifty(50) cubits of Hangings and only ten(10) Pillars: basically half the amount of parts that were required for the North and South Sides.

If you will look carefully on the image below, you may notice that there appears to be a total of eleven(11) Pillars on the West Side of the Court. Fortunately, this should not be a concern here and here is why:

The construction of the West Side of the Courtyard would also have to begin with the Corner Pillar(the North West Pillar, in this case). But because there was already a Pillar in the South West corner that belonged to the South Side of the Court, the total number of Pillars that actually(physically) constituted the West Side of the Court was equal to ten(10), and not (11).

As the description also states, the West Side of the Courtyard had ten(10) Pillars(counting from the North West Corner Pillar) and fifty(50) cubits of fabric for its Hangings. Therefore, the total length of the West Side of the Court was the sum of length of the ten(10) Pillars of 1 cubit in diameter(or width) and ten(10) sheets of fabric 5x5 cubits each, totaling 10*5=50 cubits in length.
By completing the calculations, we would get: (10sheets of linen*5cubits long)+10pillars*1 cubit long=50+10=60 cubits long. (NOT 50 cubits!!!)

In order to better illustrate the layout of the Pillars of the Courtyard of the Tabernacle, I have created this diagram which, I hope, will help you to understand the concept.

As you can see, all sides of the Courtyard were arranged in the "looping" or "snake" pattern, where each Corner Pillar of each of the Sides of the Court also served as the last mounting point for the Hangings of the adjacent side.

In fact, most misconceptions about the layout of the Pillars of the Courtyard of the Mishkan come from an extremely well known problem, colloquially known as the "Fence Post Error". There is a very nice article by Robert K. Moniot, that you might want to check out.

In his article, Mr. Moniot references an explanation of the concept of this problem, that comes from the works of the well known Roman  architect(or rather, an engineer) - Marcus Vitruvius Pollio and his very famous work "De architectura" (aka The Ten Books on Architecture):
In the aræostylos(*type of the temple*) it is only necessary to preserve, in a peripteral building, twice the number of intercolumniations on the flanks that there are in front, so that the length may be twice the breadth. Those who use twice the number of columns for the length, appear to err, because they thus make one intercolumniation more than should be used.
(You can find a complete English translation of the Book from Latin on this website, that was most graciously made available by William P. Thayer.)
Mr. Moniot further writes, that:
In this section of the book Vitruvius is describing the best way to space the columns around a temple. The passage quoted here is addressing how to construct a temple whose length is twice its breadth. If the columns are equally spaced, the solution is to subtract one from the number of columns along the breadth (giving the number of intercolumniations), double that, and add one to yield the number of columns along the length.
If we were to apply this solution to the Courtyard of the Mishkan, it would be correct. In other words, since we have total of 11 Pillars on the West Side of the Court(or along the width), by subtracting 1 from 11, we would get 10 spaces(or intercolumniations) between the Pillars. By multiplying number of spaces between the Pillars by 2 and adding 1, we would get 10*2=20+1=21 Pillars total along the length! Exactly what you can see on my images above.

I will make a more detailed post that deals with this problem later on, as there is a bit more to it than just the layout of the Pillars.

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