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A modern-day reconstruction of the Tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant before the Temple was built in Jerusalem

A model of the Tabernacle housing the Ark of the Covenant

The Tabernacle of the ancient Israelites could be moved from place to place with ease. It could also be set up and dismantled quickly. 

This suited to the needs of a nomadic people, since it meant that Yahweh could be with his people wherever they were, even when they were in exile or in the desert.

The plan of the Tabernacle was similar to the layout of tribal tents: 

  • a public section at the front 
  • a rear section to which access was limited.

There were therefore graded zones of holiness.  

The central focus of the Tabernacle was the area allocated to the Ark of the Covenant. Only a high priest such as Aaron could enter this area.

The presence of the Tabernacle meant that the tribal camp was holy, and protected by the presence of Yahweh. Beyond was the desert, and chaos.

In the early stages of their history the Israelites were not, strictly speaking, monotheists. They believed that other gods existed and had power, but that their God outranked and outgunned all the others.

Later on they developed the idea that there was only one God, and that this God had chosen them as his special people. 

A plan of the Tabernacle and surrounding area, showing location of sacred areas and objects 


Compare the lay-out of the Tabernacle (above) with the floor-plan of the Temple built by Herod the Great (below), and it becomes apparent that the design of later temples in Jerusalem was based on the original Tabernacle.


A plan of the Temple of Herod the Great, which duplicated the layout of the original Tabernacle, and of the Temple built by King Solomon


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