Which Came First?

For the truth is, that the tabernacle is the copy, not the prototype, of the temple at Jerusalem.  The  resemblance of the two is indeed unmistakable, but it is not said in 1Kings vi. that Solomon made use of the old pattern and ordered his Tyrian workmen to follow it.  (Wellhausen, Prolegomena)

Although Wellhausen accepted that a tent sanctuary may have existed before the temple, he argues that the description of the tabernacle in Exodus is nothing more than a pious fiction.  But the evidence points in the opposite direction.  The description of the temple in the Bible relies upon information found already in the description of the tabernacle and not vice versa.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. Only the two inner rooms of the temple are included in its measurements.  The porch (vestibule) and side chambers (a three tiered side structure called the yaso) are not included.  It stands to reason that the general layout of the temple is based on a two room structure (ie. the tabernacle) to which the vestibule and side chambers were additions.
  2. The overall proportions of the temple are very close to those of the tabernacle, and may have been exactly the same depending on how the corner frames of the tabernacle fit together.  It is reasonable to assume that Solomon’s temple was twice the length and twice the width of the tabernacle but was three times its height.  Despite the extra height of Solomon’s temple, the inner sanctuary (dbîr) was 20 x 20 x 20 cubits.  These cubic proportions match that of the ‘holy of holies’ in the tabernacle.   It seems that the cube was important enough that a 10 cubit space was left above the inner sanctuary of Solomon’s temple or the inner sanctuary was raised by 10 cubits.  The likely reason for this is that Solomon’s temple wished to maintain certain ideal proportions (the cubic proportions of the inner sanctuary) while taking liberty with others (such as the height of the building).  If the cube is the ideal proportion for the inner sanctuary, then it is more likely that the temple gets its proportions from the tabernacle and not vice versa.
  3. Unlike the tabernacle, there is no indication in the account of the building of the temple that it was made according to a divinely revealed pattern.   The reason for this is most likely because the account in Kings assumes that its readers know that the pattern for the sanctuary was already given in the Sinai theophany.  Thus, the construction of the temple follows an already established tradition.
  4. When considered alone, the description of Solomon’s temple has gaping holes in it.  For example, it goes into great detail about the pillars that stood in the porch of the temple, the cherubim that stood in the inner sanctuary, the bronze sea and stands, but it gives no description of the altar, the ark of the covenant, the tables, the incense altar, or the menorahs.  The detailed parts of the description are limited to those items that are not already described in the tabernacle pericope.   It is reasonable to conclude that the temple description relies on the elaborate description of the tabernacle found in the last chapters of Exodus.

While the description of the tabernacle and that of the temple agree in broad outline, there are numerous differences in the details of the descriptions that indicate that they have their genesis in very different contexts.    Evidence for this assertion may be found in the choice of decorative motifs, the placement of the brazen altar, the proportions of the court, the number, names and order of the gates.  The tabernacle lacks features central to the descriptions of Solomon’s temple, Ezekiel’s temple and the Temple Scroll and vice versa.  All of this suggests that the description of the tabernacle does not lie on a literary continuum somewhere between Solomon’s temple and  Ezekiel’s eschatological temple but rather predates the description of Solomon’s temple.

A more detailed presentation is found here

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