Wednesday, June 15, 2011

For Some Reason Even Some of the Best Scholars Don't Understand What the Word 'Tabernacle' Means

In 70 CE the Jewish temple was destroyed by Roman armies but for some reason the Jews stopped observing all the laws given by Moses with respect to sacrifices. The situation is taken for granted by most people. Yet the reality is that nothing in the Torah suggests the sanctity of temple worship. The Israelites were commanded to manufacture a tabernacle (= mishkan) for God to dwell there. The bottom line is that Jews of the Common Era chose to abandon the law of sacrifices or were commanded by some worldly authority to do so. There was nothing obvious about the way history turned out.

I have written about this many times at my blog but for now I just want to remind my readers that there were native Palestinian traditions that saw the destruction of 'houses of worship' as a sign that God wanted the Israelites to return to the desert tabernacle model.

What is more important for us to see is that the Christian use of the term 'tabernacle' to mean things associated with the altar has completely contaminated our understanding of the commandment given to Moses "Be sure that you make everything (associated with the tabernacle) according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain." (Exodus 25:40) God isn't just talking about the things in the Holy of Holies but the whole original tent structure.

What was Moses shown on the mountain? All our earliest sources are consistent in saying it was the pattern of the universe (of course understood to mean 'our solar system'). Philo, Josephus and many Midrashim spell out this idea. Buber compares the literary verses in the Bible, describing the Creation in the book of Genesis chapter 1, and the verses describing the building of the Tabernacle in the book of Exodus and says that the parallels are amazing. Tishby sees an allegorical and mythical interpretation of the Tabernacle and the Temple in terms of cosmic and divine powers. The Tabernacle, the Temple, the sacred vessels, the priests, and the whole sacrificial process are taken out of their literal context and seen as cosmic or supernatural phenomena, or else as symbols and indications of an existence beyond the actual physical area of human worship.

This was certainly known to Clement of Alexandria and it is why he speaks of 'seven circuits' lying outside of the adyton (= the shrine of the Church of Alexandria). The place where Christians assembled in Alexandria was not only a replica desert tabernacle but moreover a structure which retained the original understanding of it as a replica of the cosmos itself. The physicality of the space lent itself to the heretical interpretation of souls ascending through seven circuits to the highest heavens as they 'went to church.' In other words, there was a mystical underpinning associated even with entering the building and seating yourself in the pews so to speak.

My guess is that the assembly on earth was consciously modeled on the assembly of angels in heaven around the enthroned Father too.

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