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Gary A. Anderson





The Date of the Tabernacle’s Completion and Consecration





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Gary A. Anderson





The Date of the Tabernacle’s Completion and Consecration








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The Date of the Tabernacle’s Completion and Consecration

The Tabernacle is completed on the first of Nisan (Exodus 40) and is consecrated eight days later (Leviticus 9). And yet, the Book of Chronicles, Biblical Antiquities, and the Rabbis read these accounts as describing the same event. Indeed, the Torah’s final editor may have understood the texts as a continuous narrative, but chose to emphasize different themes of the Tabernacle by separating them.


The Date of the Tabernacle’s Completion and Consecration

A panel from the Sepphoris synagogue mosaic floor, 5th c., depicting Aaron, newly ordained, performing the daily sacrifices. Courtesy of the Sepphoris Expedition, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Drawing: Pnina Arad.

The Torah’s Tabernacle narrative begins with instructions regarding its construction, its vessels, and the priestly vestments (Exod 25–31). The text continues—after a narrative interruption that includes the golden calf (Exod 32–34)[1]—by describing the actual construction (Exod 35–39). Exodus concludes with YHWH’s entrance into the newly assembled structure on the first of the first month of the Israelites’ second year in the wilderness:

שׁמות מ:יז וַיְהִי בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן בַּשָּׁנָה הַשֵּׁנִית בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הוּקַם הַמִּשְׁכָּן. מ:לג ...וַיְכַל מֹשֶׁה אֶת הַמְּלָאכָה. מ:לד וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן אֶת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּכְבוֹד יְ־הוָה מָלֵא אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן.
Exod 40:17 In the first month of the second year, on the first of the month, the Tabernacle was set up…. 40:33 …When Moses had finished the work, 40:34 the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of YHWH filled the Tabernacle.

At this point, once YHWH is already occupying the Tabernacle, the Torah continues with the laws of sacrifices (Lev 1–7). In Leviticus 8, it returns to the consecration of the Tabernacle, which begins with the ordination of the priests/kohanim, as commanded in Exodus 29:

ויקרא ח:לה וּפֶתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד תֵּשְׁבוּ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת מִשְׁמֶרֶת יְ־הוָה וְלֹא תָמוּתוּ כִּי כֵן צֻוֵּיתִי.
Lev 8:35 You shall remain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, day and night for seven days, keeping YHWH’S charge—that you may not die—for so I have been commanded.

On the eighth day (בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי, Lev 9:1), Aaron offers his first set of sacrifices as the new high priest, and the Tabernacle is consecrated with YHWH accepting the offering:

ויקרא ט:כג וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיֵּצְאוּ וַיְבָרֲכוּ אֶת הָעָם וַיֵּרָא כְבוֹד יְ־הוָה אֶל כָּל הָעָם. ט:כד וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְ־הוָה וַתֹּאכַל עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֶת הָעֹלָה וְאֶת הַחֲלָבִים וַיַּרְא כָּל הָעָם וַיָּרֹנּוּ וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם.
Lev 9:23 Moses and Aaron then went inside the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the Glory of YHWH appeared to all the people. 9:24 Fire came forth from before YHWH and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces.

The implication of the text here is that the Glory of YHWH,[2] which appears after Moses and Aaron leave the tent, wasn’t there before. And yet, Exodus 40 states that once Moses completed the building of the Tent of Meeting, the Glory descended upon it, and that Moses was no longer able to enter, because of the presence of YHWH’s Glory. How are we to understand the relationship between these two events?[3]

YHWH’s Glory Descends: Once or Twice?

The implication of the order of events presented in the Torah is that the Tabernacle is completed on the first of Nisan, followed by the seven-day ordination of the priests (Lev 8), which is followed by the consecration of the Tabernacle itself (Lev 9) on the eighth of Nisan. This would imply that the cloud vacated the Tabernacle sometime before the ceremony, allowing Moses and Aaron to enter, and then it returned. The events of Exodus 40 and Leviticus 9, according to this, are separated by a week.

This, indeed, is how the account unfolds in Josephus’ retelling of it in Antiquities (3:201–207).[4] In contrast, the book of Chronicles (5th/4th cent. B.C.E.) appears to see both accounts as part of the same event. This is implied in how Chronicles retells Solomon’s dedication of the First Temple.

The Chronicler’s Reading of Exodus 40 and Leviticus 9

The book of Kings, the source text for Chronicles, has Exodus 40 in mind when it relates the story of the First Temple’s inauguration, presenting the Temple as the legitimate successor of the wilderness Tabernacle.[5] The dependence of Kings on Exodus is evident from looking at the description of the divine cloud that they share. According to Exodus, once the divine cloud descended, Moses could not enter the Tabernacle:

שמות מ:לה וְלֹא יָכֹל מֹשֶׁה לָבוֹא אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד כִּי שָׁכַן עָלָיו הֶעָנָן וּכְבוֹד יְ־הוָה מָלֵא אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן.
Exod 40:35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Glory of YHWH filled the Tabernacle.

YHWH’s arrival in Kings similarly drives the priests from the Temple:

מלכים א ח:י וַיְהִי בְּצֵאת הַכֹּהֲנִים מִן הַקֹּדֶשׁ וְהֶעָנָן מָלֵא אֶת בֵּית יְ־הוָה. ח:יא וְלֹא יָכְלוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים לַעֲמֹד לְשָׁרֵת מִפְּנֵי הֶעָנָן כִּי מָלֵא כְבוֹד יְ־הוָה אֶת בֵּית יְ־הוָה.
1 Kgs 8:10 The priests came out of the sanctuary—for the cloud had filled the House of YHWH 8:11 and the priests were not able to remain and perform the service because of the cloud, for the Glory of YHWH filled the House of YHWH.

Later in this chapter, the text describes the sacrifices offered as part of the dedication ceremony.[6] In that sense, the end of the chapter could be seen as parallel to Leviticus 9, but this would be incorrect. 1 Kings 8 has no literary features reminiscent of Leviticus 9, and most significantly, King Solomon and the people bring the sacrifices, a sharp contrast to Leviticus 9, which focuses on the newly inaugurated priests.

In Chronicles’ retelling, however, the conclusion of this first sacrificial liturgy is described in terms that are drawn from both Exodus 40:34–35 (blue) and Leviticus 9:23–24 (red), both quoted above. This implies that the Chronicler saw both chapters as describing the same event:

דברי הימים ב ז:א וּכְכַלּוֹת שְׁלֹמֹה לְהִתְפַּלֵּל וְהָאֵשׁ יָרְדָה מֵהַשָּׁמַיִם וַתֹּאכַל הָעֹלָה וְהַזְּבָחִים וּכְבוֹד יְ־הוָה מָלֵא אֶת הַבָּיִת. ז:ב וְלֹא יָכְלוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים לָבוֹא אֶל בֵּית יְ־הוָה כִּי מָלֵא כְבוֹד יְ־הוָה אֶת בֵּית יְ־הוָה. ז:ג וְכֹל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רֹאִים בְּרֶדֶת הָאֵשׁ וּכְבוֹד יְ־הוָה עַל הַבָּיִת וַיִּכְרְעוּ אַפַּיִם אַרְצָה עַל הָרִצְפָה וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ וְהוֹדוֹת לַי־הוָה כִּי טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ.
2 Chr 7:1 When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of YHWH filled the temple. 7:2 The priests could not enter the house of YHWH, because the glory of YHWH filled YHWH’s house. 7:3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of YHWH on the temple, they bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and worshiped and gave thanks to YHWH, “For He is good, for His steadfast love is eternal.”

While Chronicles rewrites its source texts—Temple replaces Tabernacle, kneeling and bowing replaces falling, giving thanks replaces shouting—it is essentially a pastiche, built from the passages in Exodus 40 and Leviticus 9. By writing this way, Chronicles implies that Solomon’s ritual followed in the footsteps of Moses. At the same time, it demonstrates that it understands Exodus 40 and Leviticus 9 to be describing the same event.[7]

Completion and Same Day Ordination of the Tabernacle: Biblical Antiquities

That Exodus 40 and Leviticus 9 relate the same event also underlies the retelling of the account of the building of the Tabernacle, in Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical Antiquities [BA] (1st cent. C.E.). Here, the completion of the Tabernacle, the ordination of the priests, and the descent of the cloud all happen on the same day:

BA 13:1a And Moses hastened and did everything that God had commanded him. 13:1b And he went down and made the tent of meeting and its vessels… (=Exod 35–39)[8] 13:1d And the oil for anointing priests as well as the priests themselves he consecrated. (=Lev 8) 13:1e And when all this was done, the cloud covered them all (=Exod 40:34–35). 13:2 Then Moses called to the LORD, and God spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “This is the law of the altar...” (=Lev 1:1 ff).

The implication of this presentation is that immediately following the completion of the Tabernacle’s construction, the priests were inaugurated, and only then did God’s Glory, in the form of a cloud, descend upon the tent and begin to enunciate the laws. He too is putting Leviticus 1ff after the inauguration of the Tabernacle in Leviticus 8–9.

Entering the Tabernacle: The Cloud Problem

Why does Biblical Antiquities move the ordination of the priests to before the cloud’s descent? As we will see below, the story of the assemblage of the Tabernacle (Exod 40) is intertwined with that of the initiation of sacrifice (Lev 8-9). It could be that the author of the Biblical Antiquities was sensitive to that fact and in his retelling made that subtle biblical point more obvious.

We could also hypothesize that this author was trying to solve a narrative contradiction: As noted above, once the cloud covering descends on the Tabernacle in Exodus 40, Moses can no longer enter the tent. And yet, the sons of Aaron are inside the Tent of Meeting for the entire week of their ordination:

ויקרא ח:לג וּמִפֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֹא תֵצְאוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים עַד יוֹם מְלֹאת יְמֵי מִלֻּאֵיכֶם כִּי שִׁבְעַת יָמִים יְמַלֵּא אֶת יֶדְכֶם.
Lev 8:33 You shall not go outside the entrance of the Tent of Meeting for seven days, until the day that your period of ordination is completed. For your ordination will require seven days.

According to the solution in Biblical Antiquities, likely also reflected in Chronicles’s reading, there is no one week break between the cloud covering the Tent of Meeting in Exodus 40 and the descent of YHWH’s Glory in Leviticus 9; it is the same event. Therefore, it must be, that Aaron and his sons began their consecration a week earlier, and only after that did the cloud descend.

But this leads to the problem of when Moses ordains the priests and how they could spend seven days in the Tent of Meeting if it wasn’t yet completed. Biblical Antiquities does not take up this question, but a rabbinic tradition, which appears in several sources, does.

The Tabernacle Is Completed on the 23rd of Adar: The Rabbinic Chronology

The Seder Olam (“The Order of World Events”), an early rabbinic text that offers an overview of history from creation to the Tannaitic period, says that the process of consecrating the priests ended on the first of Nisan (ch. 7, Milikovsky ed.):

אימתי התחילו ימי המילואים? בעשרים ושלשה באדר. ובאחד בניסן שלמו ימי המילואים.
When did the days of ordination begin? On the 23rd of Adar. On the 1st of Nisan, the ordination was finished.

If the Tabernacle was available for the priests’ use, beginning on the 23rd of Adar, how is it that Exodus 40 states that the Tabernacle was only completed on the 1st of Nisan? The text goes on to explain that Moses built and then took apart the Tabernacle every day for a week:

כל שבעת ימי המילואים היה משה מעמיד את המשכן בכל בקר ובקר ומקריב עליו קורבנותיו ומפרקו ובשמיני העמידו ולא פרקו.
All seven days of ordination, Moses would set up the Tabernacle, and each and every morning, he would offer the sacrifices in it and then take it down. On the eighth day, he set it up and did not take it down.[9]

Accordingly, the sons of Aaron only stayed in the Tabernacle during the day, ostensibly sleeping in their own tents at night.[10]

The Completion of the Second Temple on the 23rd of Adar: Ezra and Esdras

That the Tabernacle was completed on the 23rd of Adar, not the first of Nisan, was also likely inspired by the dedication ceremony for the Second Temple as described in the book of Ezra. After the Persians permitted the Judean exiles to return from Babylon to Judea, the returnees rebuilt the Temple, completing it in 515 B.C.E.:

עזרא ו:טו וְשֵׁיצִיא בַּיְתָה דְנָה עַד יוֹם [עשרין ו]תְּלָתָה לִירַח אֲדָר דִּי הִיא שְׁנַת שֵׁת לְמַלְכוּת דָּרְיָוֶשׁ מַלְכָּא.
Ezra 6:15 And this house was finished on the [twenty-]third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of King Darius.

While the Aramaic text here reads the third of Adar, the parallel text in 1 Esdras—an alternative version of Ezra preserved in Greek—reads 23rd of Adar.[11] Thus, notes Hugh Williamson, Regius Professor (Emeritus) of Hebrew at the University of Oxford, 23rd was likely the original reading in Ezra 6:15,[12] “Since Adar was the last month of the year, a week’s dedication celebration would then lead neatly to the new year festivities as the start of the resumed temple services,”[13] which is how Williamson understands the Temple-dedication ceremony that is described next in the chapter.[14]

Williamson’s argument, based on how religious rituals work in the ancient Near East, was preceded half a century earlier by Julian Morgenstern (1881–1977), former president of HUC, who tied his similar observation back to the chronology of the Tabernacle Narrative:

[The text of] Ezra 6:15 undoubtedly employed a calendar which set the New Year’s Day upon [1 Nisan]. For…the 3rd of Adar, a day without any significance whatsoever, we should read, with 1 Esdras 7:5…the 23rd.

This would imply that the rejoicing of the Jewish community of Palestine and its celebration of the dedication of the Temple, rebuilt during the reign, and with the permission and support, of Darius, the Persian king, began upon the 23rd of Adar, continued for the traditional seven festal days, Adar 23–29, the last seven days of the month and likewise the last seven days of the year, and reached its climax upon the eighth day, the first of Nisan….

Plainly, the pattern for this dating of the Temple dedication was the account of the dedication of the tabernacle in the wilderness of Exod 40:1ff.[15]

The contemporary Ezra-Nehemiah scholar, Lisbeth Fried, accepts the emendation for this same reason. Noting that the rabbinic reading of the Tabernacle consecration also suggests that the structure was completed on the 23rd, followed by the ordination of the priests and then a long ceremony lasting until Passover, she argues that the same is likely the case here.[16]

The Reshuffling of the Narrative

At first blush, the assumption that Exodus 40 and Leviticus 9 describe the same event seems to go against the narrative grain, but given the strong support it has in traditional reading, is it possible to understand it in light of the present canonical form of the Biblical text?[17]

To answer this question, we need to look more closely at the structure of Exodus 40. On a first reading the logic of the chapter would appear to be clear: the first half of the chapter outlines what commands Moses must follow to assemble the Tabernacle (vv. 1–15), while the second half describes the actual assemblage (vv. 18–33), culminating in the divine presence entering the building (vv. 34–35). But, the parallelism is incomplete, since not all the things YHWH commands Moses to do in the first half are fulfilled in the second half.

The commands in the first part of the chapter can be subdivided into two parts: First, YHWH explains how to set up the objects inside and outside the Tabernacle (vv. 3–8) and then how to anoint both those objects and the priests who serve them (vv. 9–15). But the second half of the chapter (vv. 18–33) is quite odd: Moses assembles the Tabernacle but he does not anoint it! The commands found in vv. 9–15 go unfulfilled. We have to wait for Leviticus 8 in order to see them carried out. Yet Exodus 40:16 tells us explicitly that Moses did all that the Lord had commanded him.

Thus, Exodus 40:16 anticipates what will take place several chapters forward, in Leviticus 8. It would not require a great logical leap to infer that the theophany at the end of Exodus 40 is meant to have occurred after the anointing of the Tabernacle and priests, as described in Leviticus 8, and that the ceremony of the first sacrifices, that ends with the descent of the cloud, is indeed retelling in different words the same event as that described in Exodus 40.[18] In sum, the final editor of the Torah has chosen to interlock the rituals of Exod 40 and Lev 8 in such a way that they could be read as one continuous narrative.

The Thematic Arrangement of the Text

If the events of Leviticus 8–9 were meant to have taken place at the same time as Exodus 40, why are they separated by so many chapters? Menahem Haran and Baruch Katz have suggested that the presentation of events in the Pentateuch is driven just as much by literary theme as it is by chronological order. Broadly speaking, the book of Exodus puts its emphasis on the structure of the Tabernacle building (chs. 25–31, 35–40),[19] Leviticus focuses on its altar (chs. 1–10), while Numbers attends to its role in guiding Israel to the promised land (chs. 1–9).

This thematic presentation of the material respects the chronological unfolding of the story. In order for there to be an altar where God can be served, there must be a Tabernacle wherein he can dwell. And in order for the deity to guide Israel in the wilderness, there must be priestly and Levitical hands to oversee the porterage of the Tabernacle. Yet elements within these three thematic categories can also upset the strict rules that govern chronological progression.[20]

The thematic manner of presentation allows our author to give each dimension of the Tabernacle independent development. The Tabernacle structure, as a result, is not simply a vehicle for enacting cultic law nor a spot that provides the platform for sacrifice. Rather, the building and the theology of divine presence that it represents, is a good unto itself.

Bringing the Tabernacle erection to a full stop long before the priests are ordained, Jeffrey Tigay suggests, “allow[s] the reader to contemplate the phenomenon of God dwelling on earth with a symbol of his presence in full view of the Israelites.”[21] Only when the reader understands the Tabernacle as the site of God’s indwelling does the narrator turn to its role in sacrificial service.

By separating the ordination of the priesthood from the dedication of the Tabernacle itself, the biblical author grants an independent significance to each and prevents the reader from reducing the significance of the building to simply the site for liturgical activity.[22] The textual independence granted to Exodus 40 invites the reader to focus his or her attention on the glory of the structure itself. As one later reader put it, “we cannot meet God Himself,” but we can “contemplate…where He dwells.”[23]


March 3, 2022


Last Updated

July 17, 2024


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Prof. Gary A. Anderson is Hesburgh Professor of Catholic Thought at Notre Dame University's Department of Theology. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University, and is the author of Sin: A History (Yale, 2009), Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition (Yale 2013), Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis (Baker, 2017), and most recently, That I May Dwell Among Them: Incarnation and Atonement in the Tabernacle Narrative (Eerdmans, 2023).