Friday, February 09, 2007

The Tent of Meeting

After my last post, I got to thinking about the diagram I had put up, of the Tabernacle. My problem is the “Tent of Meeting;” I’ve done the diagram as if the entire structure, including the Outer Court, and the Holy Place and Most Holy Place, are all part of something called the “Tabernacle,” whereas the little structure inside, holding the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, is called the “Tent of Meeting.”

But then I started rethinking it, and second-guessing myself. Is that really the case? Or is the phrase “Tent of Meeting” simply another name for the “Tabernacle?” (In which case, there isn’t really a name for that inner structure, that I’ve been able to find. Although it’s quite possible that it was mentioned in Exodus, and I just missed it, since I wasn’t trying to draw a diagram, at the time…)

I happened to be at church, last night, and ran into my pastor, and asked him about it. “When the Bible refers to the ‘Tent of Meeting,’ is it referring to the entire Tabernacle, or is it just referring to the inner structure? Is ‘Tent of Meeting’ just another word for ‘Tabernacle,’ or is it something different?” He didn’t know, off the top of his head, and he felt bad about it. (As an aside, I didn’t think it was anything he needed to feel bad about; why would anyone possibly need to know this information? (Unless that person were blogging about it, of course.) But he said something like “you don’t know the people I hang around with.” Must be a pastor thing…) (That’s one of the reasons I love my pastor; he knows his Bible, and has a gift for preaching, but he’s also got a good sense of humour.)

Anyway, he presented me with some photocopied pages out of a book, going into great, mind-numbing detail, about the Tabernacle. I started reading it, and immediately realized two things:
  1. The terminology was different; not everyone is using the terms “Tabernacle” and “Tent of Meeting” the same ways.
  2. It wasn’t answering the same question I was asking; it was concerned about whether there really was a Tabernacle, at all. Plus some confusion, because Moses had had a place called the “Tent of Meeting,” in the book of Exodus, where he used to meet with the LORD before the Tabernacle was ever built, and apparently that caused some people some confusion.
With regards to terminology, I’m reading from the New International Version (NIV), and they may be translating those passages a bit differently. For example, let’s look at Leviticus 16:23–24, in a few different translations. I’m adding my own emphasis in two places:

Then Aaron is to go into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. He shall bathe himself with water in a holy place and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. (New International Version)

Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there. He shall bathe his body with water in a holy place and put on his clothes, and come forth and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. (New American Standard Bible)

And Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there: And he shall wash his flesh with water in the holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt offering, and the burnt offering of the people, and make an atonement for himself, and for the people. (King James Version)

Then Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of meeting, shall take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the Holy Place, and shall leave them there. And he shall wash his body with water in a holy place, put on his garments, come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people. (New King James Version)

Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people.

First of all, that first piece that I’ve italicized: three translations call it the “Tent of Meeting,” (with different capitalization, although I’m not too worried about that); one calls it the “tabernacle of the congregation,” and one calls it the “tabernacle of meeting.” So right away, I’m going to run into terminology problems, because different commentators are probably using different translations, and therefore different terminologies.

(I think I read somewhere that the King James Version, which translates it as “tabernacle of the congregation,” is a bad translation, because people didn’t actually congregate there. But that’s an aside.)

And there’s a reason that I italicized the second piece, as well. In the NIV, it says that Aaron is to go into the “Tent of Meeting,” take off his priestly garments, and then “come out” and offer sacrifices. That would indicate, to me, that it means that the Tent of Meeting is the inner structure, which Aaron would then come out of, to offer sacrifices at the altar, in the Outer Court. But then I look at the other translations, and some of them don’t say “come out,” they say “come forth.” My theory still works; if the Tent of Meeting is the inner structure, and Aaron was to come out of that structure and offer sacrifices in the Outer Court, it still makes grammatical sense to say “come forth”—it’s just not a slam dunk. If all of the translations had said “come out,” I could say “Aha! There! That proves that it’s the inner structure.”

All of this to say that my diagram from the last entry may not be correct. As I keep going through the Old Testament, if I have to make changes to it, I will. The book of Numbers will go into a lot of detail about the Tabernacle again, so that will give me another chance to look at things. It may very well be that “Tabernacle” and “Tent of Meeting” are two different terms for the same thing. I still think, for now, that the “Tent of Meeting” is actually the inner structure, but I’m keeping an open mind, as I continue to read.
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