USED IN THE TABERNACLE

A major problem when reconstructing the Tabernacle, is that of the units of length and weight employed by the designer. For this handicraft the Bible reports only four units, one for the lengths, that is the cubit, and three for the weights, that is the “kikkar” (always translated as “talent”), the “shekel” and finally the “gerah”, which value was one twentieth of the shekel.

The Tabernacle was 100 cubits long and 50 large, and the same dimensions, 50 x 100, had the courtyards in front of it, for a total of 200 x 50 cubits. The heights: 10 cubits the Tabernacle, 5 the curtains surrounding the courtyards. The indications given by Bible do not allow doubts on this point and the all structure appears to be perfectly proportioned with these measures.

The cubit is given different lengths in the literature, from 44 cm for Moses’ cubit to 52,5 cm for Ezekiel’s. The last is called “cubit of the temple” and its length coincides with that of the Egyptian “royal cubit”, the unit used in the pyramids.

Even adopting the shortest measure, 44 cm, the tabernacle’s size appears to be excessively large for a tent that had to be raised in the desert and transported along very rough trails, and was out of proportion for the use it was designed to. Especially the height, 10 cubits at the center, that is at least 4,5 meters, and 5 cubits at the edge, that is 2,20 meters, do not have any justification. Besides, a tent as high as that couldn’t possibly stand the strong winds of the desert.

Also unjustified was the height of the curtains surrounding the courtyards (2,2 meters), which only function was to delimit
its perimeter, not to hide what was going on inside. And absolutely out of proportion are the 1,5
meters (3 cubits) of the altar for the holocausts, upon which the victims of the sacrifices
were burnt; operation almost impossible for a priest of normal stature, unless there was a huge scaffold
aside, which is not mentioned in the narrative. Besides, an object of that size could not be transported by shoulders.

Finally, the huge quantity of materials necessary to make an artifact of that size was an absurd waste, and their weight so out of proportion as to make almost impossible the transport along the desert’s tracks, with the means described in
Numbers 7, 1-6 (six wagons pulled by two oxen).

From Exodus description there is no mean of knowing the real value of Moses’ cubit. A value around 30 cm appears to be by far more likely than 44. Besides this is the order of magnitude found by my brother Claudio in the roman forum of the Libyan town of Leptis Magna: there is a plate with the length of different types of cubit, which evidently were the reference for the customers of the local market. One of them measured about 30 cm (see following picture), exactly what fitted the Tabernacle’s design.

*Lengths of the cubit in the Roman forum of Leptis Magna (Libya)
*

It was, however, a unit
much more recent with respect to Moses’ epoch; besides all the scholarly sources indicate
for the biblical cubit a length of 44 cm or more. So the uncertainty remained until we could verify the exact measures of the Tabernacle from its very imprint on the ground at Har Karkom (see following:* the
imprint on the ground *)

*The back side of the Tabernacle’s imprint on the ground
is exactly 14,60 meters wide (50 Moses’ cubits)*

The precise value of the cubit, used by Moses to make the Tabernacle and all the objects related to it, was of 29,20 cm, because the short side of the tent, which according to Exodus was 50 cubits wide, measured exactly 14,60 meters; the same order of magnitude of the cubit engraved on the plate of Leptis Magna.

With this value, the all structure of the Tabernacle and all the objects related to it happen to have dimensions realistic and suitable to the scope they were designed for.

In Exodus 25, 25 and 37, 12
the unit of length of the “hand breadth”, i.e the palm, is introduced *
(25 And thou shalt make unto it a border of an hand breadth round about, and thou shalt make a
golden crown to the border thereof round about *), certainly a submultiple of the cubit. The cubit in Leptis Magna forum is divided in four parts, so we can reasonably presume that Moses cubit was divided in the same way. The palm, therefore, had a span of about 7,5 cm, that is the span of
a hand’s palm at the base of the four fingers.

Definitive confirmation that the design of the Tabernacle reported by Exodus is related to a real object is provided by calculating the weights of every single item and by evaluating if they were realistic and compatible with the constraints of their handling and transport.

In Exodus 38, 24-31 there is a list
of all the metals employed, gold, silver and copper, with the precise weight of each of them.

The units Moses used were the "shekel", equal to 20 "gerahs", and the "kikkar" (often translated as "talent"). Also the term used for the half shekel, “bekah”, is reported.24 All the gold that was occupied for the work in all the work of the holy place, even the gold of the offering, was twenty and nine talents, and seven hundred and thirty shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary.

25 And the silver of them that were numbered of the congregation was an hundred talents, and a thousand seven hundred and threescore and fifteen shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary:

26 A bekah for every man, that is, half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one that went to be numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty men.

27 And of the hundred talents of silver were cast the sockets of the sanctuary, and the sockets of the vail; an hundred sockets of the hundred talents, a talent for a socket.

28 And of the thousand seven hundred seventy and five shekels he made hooks for the pillars, and overlaid their chapiters, and filleted them.

29 And the brass of the offering was seventy talents, and two thousand and four hundred shekels.

30 And therewith he made the sockets to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the brasen altar, and the brasen grate for it, and all the vessels of the altar,

31 And the sockets of the court round about, and the sockets of the court gate, and all the pins of the tabernacle, and all the pins of the court round about.

According to Ex.38.26 *(26 A bekah for every man, that is, half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one that went to be numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty men.) *, it would seem that the kikkar was equal to 3,000 shekels, that is, a weight between 28 and 34 kilograms, if we put the
weight of the shekel between 11,4 and 14 grams. This is, in fact, the value attributed to that unit
by the majority of scholars.

At this value the quantity of metals used in the construction of the Tabernacle was out of all proportion and would not have been transportable by the means at their disposal; for example, the quantity of silver necessary to cast the 96 basis put underneath the 48 stanchions of the Tabernacle would have weighed more than 3 tons; really absurd.

For sure there is a huge error in the interpretation of that verse. It is to be noted that in all the other passages of the Bible in which the "kikkar" is mentioned, it clearly indicates a weight at least ten times lighter.

For example, in 2 Sam. 12, 30 and 1 Cro. 20, 2 there
is written that * David took the crown of their king from off his head, and found it to weigh a talent of gold, and there were precious stones in it; and it was set upon David's head.*
A crown of 30 kilograms? Impossible!

In the New Testament (Matt.18,24) a "talent" contains 6,000 "dinars", where the dinar is a unit of measure that corresponds to the gerah. It seems reasonable to presume, therefore, that 1 "kikkar" corresponds to 6,000 "gerahs", equal to 300 "shekels", that is, a weight between 2,8 and 3,4 kilograms.

With this value the quantities of gold, silver and copper used in the Tabernacle are respectively of 90÷107, 300÷360 and 210÷265 kg, for a total weight of 600÷730 kg; quite reasonable.

Once established the real value of the units of length and weight reported in Exodus we are able to determine fairly approximately the quantity and weight of the materials used in the construction of the Tabernacle. They had to be compatible with the means that the Jews had at their disposition for handling and transporting of them.

In the picture all the elements that are listed in Exodus can be seen with their dimensions

- 10 embroidered sheets of 28 x 4 cubits = 1,120 sq. cubits (95,5 sq. meters)

- 8 sheets of 30 x 5 cubits for the outer Courtyard = 1,200 sq. cubits (123,5 sq. meters)

- embroidered curtain for the Most Holy Place: (probably) 50 x 5 = 250 sq. cubits (20,6 sq.meters)

- embroidered curtain for the Tabernacle entrance: (probable) 40 x 5 = 200 sq. cubits (17 sq.m.)

- embroidered curtain for the outer Courtyard entrance: 20 x 5 = 100 sq. cubits. (7 sq.m.)

A total of 2,870 sq. cubits, equal to about 245 sq. meters, of which 140 were embroidered.

11 curtains measuring 30 x 4 cubits = 1320 sq.cubits (112 sq.m.)

interwoven with ram's wool for the cover

The total area to be covered was of 5,000 sq. cubits (about 425 sq. meters). We have to take in account the sloping of the cover on the sides and the back, plus the 1 cubit that was pending free on the sides, to which the curtains of the wall were hanged. We can evaluate the total extension of the cover to be about 5,300 sq. cubits (about 450 sq.m.).

It is not possible to know how this large sheet was tailored. It was certainly made by several curtains joined together.

To keep the tabernacle firmly tight to the ground, several strips of leather, of an animal named “takash” , were stretched across the cover and anchored with stays and wooden pegs to the ground. From the imprint of the Tabernacle, it seems that there was a strip every ten cubits, then probably ten strips in total.

Each strip could be at the most 1 cubit wide and 55 long. Therefore the total amount of takash leather employed was no more than 550 sq. cubits (about 50 sq.m.)

and how the leather strips were put across

by means of different types of stays

The following items were made of “shittim” (acacia) wood:

- 48 supporting stanchions, each made up by two beams 3 meters highand with a section of 5-6 cm, joined together by at least 4 cross-pieces with the same section. Total width about 30 cm.

- 15 crossbars. Their lenght could be of 3 meters, with a section of 5-6 cm.

- 64 posts for the curtains of the courtyard. Probably about 1,5 meters high with a diameter of 5-6 cm.

- 5 pillars at the entrance of the Tabernacle, 3 meters high and a diameter of 10-15 cm

- the Ark, the tables and the altar for the holocaust were made with plain planks.

The total amount of wood employed for the stanchions and the crossbars can be evaluated in no more than 1 cubic meter, while 0,6 to 0,7 cubic meters were enough to make all the other items, staves for the transport comprised. Since the specific weight of seasoned acacia wood varies from 0.58 to 0.86, the total weight of the wood comes somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 kilograms.

Total amount of gold used: 29 kikkars and 730 shekels (Ex.38,24) divided as follows:

- 150 shekels for each stanchion 48x150 = 7,200 shs

- 100 shekels for each pillar at the entrance of the Tabernacle 5x100 = 500 shs

- 75 shekels for each post for the veil of the Most Holy Place 4x 75 = 300 shs

- 40 shekels for each crossbar 15x 40 = 600 shs

- 1 kikkar for the seven-branched candlestick 300 sh

- 1 kikkar for ark of the covenant 300 shs

- shekels for table of offerings 150 shs

- shekels for incense table 80 shs

The total number of shekels is 9,430 for a weight between 107 and 132 kilograms ).

Total used: 100 kikkars and 1,775 shekels (Ex.38,27) divided as follows:

- 1 kikkar for each stanchion base 96x1=96 ks = 28,800 shs

- 1 kikkar for base of the posts of the Most Holy Place 4x1= 4 ks = 1,200 shs

- 25 shekels for each of the posts of the courtyard 60 x 25 = 1,500 shs

- 275 shekels for other purposes 275 shs

The total number of shekels is 31,775, for a weight between 360 and 440 kilograms.

Total used: 70 kikkars and 2,400 shekels (Ex.38,29), divided as follows:

-1 kikkar for each base of courtyard posts 60 kikkars = 18,000 shs

- 2 kikkars for each of posts at entrance 10 kikkars = 3,000 shs

- 3 kikkars for the washbasin = 900 shs

- 2 kikkars for the gridiron = 600 shs

- 1 kikkar for overlaing the altar = 300 shs

- 2 kikkars for the utensils and accessories = 600 shs.

The total number of shekels is 23,400, for a weight between 265 and 325 kilograms.