Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 clearly stand as a unit. Not only do all of its chapters use the same vocabulary and expressions, but their content is also the same. Exodus 25-31 details instructions for the constructing of the Tent of Meeting and all its components: the Tabernacle, the ark, the table and menorah, the altar, the incense altar, and the garments for the high priest, Aaron. Exodus 35-40 passes over the same material in the same detailed manner except now these things are actually constructed, ending in the erection of the Tabernacle on the New Year.
Thus originally the content of Exodus 35 immediately followed chapter 31. This Priestly material has now been cut in half and the JE material of Exodus 32-34 has been inserted between chapters 31 and 35—thus creating our present contradictions.
The two panels of Priestly material (Ex 25-31 & Ex 35-40) that now encase the Golden Calf story (Ex 32) create some amusing tensions and contradictions with the Elohist’s Golden Calf story (#157). The first contradiction that we will look at has to do with the people’s gold jewelry. While the Priestly narrative calls upon the people to make a lavish contribution in gold, silver, and other precious material for the construction of the Tabernacle, the Elohist account instead uses it for the fabrication of the Golden Calf.
And all the people took off the gold rings that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he took them from their hand and fashioned it with a stylus and made it into a molten calf. (Ex 32:3-4)
Yet as the redacted text now stands, while this Elohist story is going on below the mountain, where the people hand over their gold to Aaron in order to fabricate the golden calf, up on the mountain, the Priestly material has already assigned their gold for the construction of the Tabernacle and its components.
And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel that they should take a donation for me… gold and silver and bronze and blue and purple and scarlet and linen and goats’ hair and rams’ skins dyed red and leather skins and acacia wood, oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the incense fragrances, and onyx stones.” (Ex 25:1-7)
Even setting aside the question where did these desert-wandering ex-slaves obtain this lavish material, we must also note the is a highly exaggerated and anachronistic account. A list of the raw materials mentioned throughout these chapters betrays the date of its composition and its narrative setting—former slaves wandering in the desert of Sinai.
Here is a complete list of the raw materials stipulated: gold, silver, and bronze, acacia wood, blue, purple, and scarlet linen, goat’s hair, ram’s skin dyed red, oil and assorted spices, myrrh, cinnamon, reed, cassia, and a variety of stones: onyx, carnelian, topaz, emerald, ruby, sapphire, diamond, jacinth, agate, amethyst, beryl, and jasper.
This is a complete fabrication!
Concerning the gold, we are informed that the gold was used to fashion: the ark of acacia wood was platted with gold; its poles platted with gold; two cherubs of hammered gold (in contradiction to the golden calf (see #159)); various rings of gold; a menorah of solid hammered gold; gold clasps; gold platted rods; gold hooks; gold chains; and a gold platted incense altar.
Moreover, at the end of the construction of these cultic components a tally is given on its costs: of gold, 29 talents (Ex 38:24). One talent is roughly equivalent to 75 pounds, so this amounts to 2,175 pounds of gold! That’s 34,800 ounces, and at today’s market value of $1,400 per ounce, that’s roughly $48 million dollars worth of gold! And that’s just the gold!
They also used 100 talents of silver and 70 talents of bronze.
This staggering, and certainly fabricated amount was used to display the opulence and glory of the Tabernacle—Yahweh’s house. Even if the going rate for gold 2,500 years ago was considerably less than today’s inflated market value, it still does not dissuade us from the fact that the whole narrative is an anachronism. It relates, in idealistic terms, the luxuriant description and construction of the Tabernacle of the second temple in the 6th century BC. This cultic institution was then retrojected into the archaic past to legitimate the Aaronid sacrificial cult of the 6th century BC. These items represent, in idealistic and hyperbolic terms, the imagined material and wealth of the Israel of the 6th and 5th centuries BC.