#164. Is the Tent of Meeting in the camp OR outside the camp? (Ex 25:8; Num 1:50-2:32 vs Ex 33:7-11)
#165. When is the Tent of Meeting constructed: on the New Year of the second year from the Exodus OR sometime before that? (Ex 40 vs Ex 33:7)


Et voilà! — More contradictions that resulted from the stitching together of the Elohist text of Exodus 32-33 and the Priestly literature of Exodus 25-31 & 33-40. Honestly, this is not magic. I did not contrive these contradictions. Rather, competing priestly guilds and scribal schools of ancient Israel did, with their different views and beliefs. Not my fault either that readers living centuries later, for reasons endemic to their own historical circumstances, stitched the texts of these competing scribal and priestly guilds together, and then readers living still centuries later, ignorant of this whole affair, labeled these competing and contradictory texts “the Book.” Nor is it my fault that modern readers—ignorant too of this so-called Book’s textual history, who wrote its 70 plus texts, why, when, to whom, prompted by what historical circumstances, and why were they collected together, by whom, when, and for what purpose, etc.—were and are coerced by powerful external, and authoritative, forces into believing that these competing texts are, err is, a Book, nay a “holy” book even—hand delivered by the god of this wonderful and beautiful cosmos itself.

Somebody sure pulled the wool over their eyes though. Twas not I. I am simply a messenger, trying to bring light on to the situation, dispel our culture’s ignorance, and in turn defend the views and beliefs of these competing, once independent, authors and the texts they wrote from later “readers” who co-opted these texts for their own purposes—abused, misused, mishandled, misunderstood, misread, appropriated, and reappropriated ad infinitum by every Tom, Dick, and Jane who has walked the planet over the last two millennia! Phew! That’s along time for ignorance about our culture’s most cherished Book, err texts, to have prevailed.  But I suppose that’s just because education is not something we cherish in this culture. The human species is an impoverished soul, measuring success in economic and monetary terms. Where’s the species that wishes to measure success, progress, indeed our own species, by intellectual and spiritual growth, achievements, progress? Oh, yes, some good’ol Christians killed them off, so they could build their empire of hypocrisy, power, and mo’e money. That’s right, an economic-run-for-the-money-as-fast-as-you-can society built by a bunch of rhetorical lip-smacking, hypocritical Bible-thumpers that have chosen to defend their own cherished beliefs, views, values, and let’s-run-for-the-money pursuits by perverting the very beliefs, views, and ideas of authors long dead. Their own god, forged from their own hands, could not persuade them from their ignorance and error.

Oh, how I miss the good old days. A deity like Yahweh would not have tolerated such insolence. Nope. Smite them all, by plague, consuming fire, wild bears, the opening up of the earth—all Yahweh’s delight: “So Yahweh will have satisfaction over you to make you perish and to destroy you!” (Deut 28:63). Oh, the world could really use a god like Yahweh today. I say, burn them all Mr. Yahweh. Cleanse the world of its insolence, and ignorance, and incurable idolatry.

OK, that’s out of my system now. To the texts then….

Curious is the mention of the Tent of Meeting in Exodus 33:7 when according to this so-called “Book”—nota bene: it was later readers (tens of centuries later) who claimed these texts as a book NOT their authors!—it hadn’t even been constructed yet! That doesn’t happen until Exodus 40. As astute readers of the “Bible” have long recognized (long—i.e., 3 centuries ago!), these two texts come from two different textual traditions.

The description of the Tent of Meeting in the older Elohist source is without all the pomp and circumstance one finds in the Priestly literature—a whole 13 chapters devoted to the detailed description of the Tent of Meeting, its components, and its conctruction. For the Elohist, the Tent of Meeting was not that important. For the Priestly writer, it was not only the center of its whole cultic legislation spearheaded by the Aaronid priesthood, but it was also the abode of Yahweh! Furthermore, the Tent of Meeting resided in the middle of the camp. As such, strict ritual and ethical legislation was demanded in order to maintain the holiness and purity necessitated in the camp by Yahweh’s dwelling there in their midst (see #151). This is not the case for the Elohist.

Also in the Priestly literature, since the Tent of Meeting was holy, consecrated, belonging to Yahweh, only Yahweh’s consecrated priests could touch the Tent of Meeting and its components, only the Aaronids that is. Not even Moses was allowed to touch the Holy of Holies. When the Tent of Meeting was carried, its components had to be disassembled first and wrapped in cloth by the Aaronids before the Levites could then carry it to the next destination (Num 3-4).

Finally, seeing how important the Tent of Meeting was to this priestly guild, obviously its erection and inauguration was portrayed with much pomp and circumstance (Ex 40; Lev 8-9). It was erected on the New Year. So it could not have existed in Exodus 33, and moreover not have existed outside the camp, which according to the Priestly literature was a place of impurity.

No, rather these are two contradictory sources each with their own unique depiction, or lack thereof, of the Tent of Meeting.

10 thoughts on “#164. Is the Tent of Meeting in the camp OR outside the camp? (Ex 25:8; Num 1:50-2:32 vs Ex 33:7-11)
#165. When is the Tent of Meeting constructed: on the New Year of the second year from the Exodus OR sometime before that? (Ex 40 vs Ex 33:7)

  1. I have never seen this before. I did not put together that scripture in Exodus that having the tabernacle outside of the camp would make it unclean. What do you say about contradictory texts that, according to Richard Elliott Friedman, both come from the same source? In some of your posts you have contradictory scriptures that both come from P, for example. I just wanted your thought on this. I am loving your website. You are inspiring me to study more- I read Friedman’s work on the bible sources, and am reading Karel Van Der Toorn’s book on the scribal culture that produced these texts. I can’t read enough. I am a believer that much of what we have of the O.T. was collected in some primal form pre-exile. These texts were probably redacted after the exile as well. I would love anything you have relating to your opinion of the timing of these texts. What evidence do we have that these are pre or post exile manuscripts? Do you have a hard set opinion on this?

    Keep up the good work!

  2. i think there were to tents one for Moses to go think ex 33 then the tent in ex 40. But that still doesn’t save the issues, child molestation, modern slavery, ethnic cleansing, etc.. So we haven’t passed Sodom yet? No judgement today? Oh yeah God is long suffering… So God would swallow up Korah Num 16 or kill Ananias Acts 4 but nothing today? Hmmm I applaud you not because i agree with your scripture use but because you are helping me. A modern Christian would not really own anything, His door would be open to everyone and be a constant helper. After about a week of people eating your food and sitting on your couch you would change your tune. I was reading a story about Reggie Lewis (ex Celtic) He was giving away free turkeys for Thanksgiving, One lady while getting a free turkey said she had 5 kids and needed another turkey, Reggie said only one per family. As a Christian isn’t he supposed to give her another turkey? Some people couldn’t even get a free turkey from Reggie. Shouldn’t that lady share her turkey with them.

    1. Corey,

      I’ll keep my reply focused on your comment regarding the tent and what the texts themselves claim. As with all attempts to “harmonize” the Bible’s discrepancies and contradictory traditions by imposing reader-oriented interpretive frameworks, here too: the textual traditions and more so the beliefs of the authors who wrote these texts do not lend themselves to supporting the idea of 2 tents, as you propose. Rather the Priestly writers embarked upon a whole re-conceptualization of the Tent of Meeting and its purpose. In the earlier Elohist tradition, the Tent stands outside of the encampment and is nothing short of an oraculum where Moses speaks with Yahweh (Ex 33:7-11; Num 11:16). In other words, there is no cultic significance assigned to the Tent of Meeting in this earlier tradition.

      The 6th century Priestly writers were to change all this. The Tent of Meeting is now redrafted as the central most important cultic institution of Israelite religion. It is mentioned more than 100 times in the Priestly source alone, while nothing is said of it in Deuteronomy [D] and only a couple of times in E.

      But more problematic concerning the hypothesis that there were 2 tents, one of which stood outside the encampment where Moses went to converse with Yahweh is that not only is such a (second) Tent never acknowledged in the Priestly texts, but assigning the holy Tent and more so Yahweh’s visitations to the outside of the camp would have been anathema to the Aaronid priestly guild. The encampment itself was defined in terms of purity, holiness, and sacredness and the laws delineated in this corpus of literature were there not only to keep the Israelites and the land where Yahweh’s house dwelt, the Tent of Meeting, pure and sacred, but to regulate all impurities, uncleanliness, and profanities to the outside of the encampment (see #175, #183, #185, etc.). That would place this alleged second Tent and Yahweh himself in the space outside of the encampment viewed as unclean and profane space by these Aaronid priestly writers. You would then in effect assign Yahweh to the same space occupied by impure menstruating women, lepers, those with bodily emissions, those who have eaten unclean foods, those who have become contaminated by coming into contact with a corpse, and the sacrificial remains of the ashes of sin-offerings. In short, your whole hypothesis of 2 tents fails to take into consideration what the texts themselves say and do not say, and more so fail to take into account what the authors of these texts themselves believed. Outside the camp was strictly a space for impurities, uncleanliness, and unholiness. That is why the Priestly writers, in redrafting the earlier Elohist tradition, reformulated the terms of the Tent of Meeting and regulated its position as not only inside the encampment but at its center.

      So the space outside of the encampment in the Priestly tradition was deemed impure and profane. It would not have been remotely conceivable as a place where Yahweh was to be found or meet with Moses—i.e., with the menstruating women, lepers, those contaminated by coming into contact with corpses, etc. Rather we are dealing with two completely different, and competing textual traditions each with their marked ideological differences.

      Pertaining to you rant against modern Christianity, perhaps fueled by my own above, it is true that there is a huge difference between Christianity and what a Christian is per these ancient texts and how this is defined, or rather ideologically and hypocritically reproduced in today’s culture. I suppose we’ll spend more time on this from a textual perspective when we get to looking at the contradictions in the New Testament.

  3. Great rant Dr Steven!! I was/am surprised by it,but quite pleasantly.
    “Oh, the world could really use a god like Yahweh today.”So true but the modern day Yahweh’s hands are tied; so he can’t stop murderers,rapists,terrorists,etc., since he gave them freewill.Yet this same Yahweh is said to still be able to strike down anyone who dares speak against his ministers!
    It’s amazing how Yahweh has changed so much but somehow still remains his same old rhetorical self.

  4. That’s a good point — we like to think that we’re in a more enlightened time period than ever before, but taking hypocrisy and ignorance into account, perhaps it’s only our ideals that sound enlightened.

  5. Heh, this is quite the polemic. Not that I can find much to disagree with per se, but it’s true that it falls a bit short of your normal, academic tone of voice. Also, campaigns of misinformation and history redaction predate Christians by some millennia, so I’d say it’s kind of a general, human “will to power” thing.

    1. True. I guess there are few things that I am able to tolerate much anymore. For example, if one is going to call themselves a Christian, if society is going to label itself as Christian, than they ought to live as a Christian according to these 2,000 year old texts—which any astute and reasonable individual is well aware of, is impossible considering our modern worldview, values (or lack thereof), beliefs, worldly pursuits etc. I’ve just grown tired of the hypocrisy and ignorance, but as you make clear these things pre-date Christianity.

  6. A vision for your material: Pick about 100 of the best contradictions ( the ones that really illustrate the inner workings of the authors and audience) and make a 2 hour documentary. It would need to move fast and I would create a footer section at the bottom of the screen for referencing only. That way the viewer could pause the screen and research the material at that moment. You could then make an appeal to the younger generation who are less likely to run into Wellhausen at their local Copperfield’s book store. This is important information.

    Question: What author, book, or website can shed the best light on the historicity of Paul of Tarsus? I need to wrap this up for my own knowledge.


  7. If you could condense paragraph one and two into 8-10 words you might be able to reach someone before you lose their attention. Seriously, you’re fighting the good fight and I, for one, appreciate what you are doing!

    1. Thanks Jay. Yea, I sort of went off on a rant there which really isn’t the style for this blog—actually intended to illicit some response. Normally I try to stick with the text, objectively. Indeed, I often reread some of my earlier posts, and just wish I had said what I did more concisely. People don’t read much anymore these days.

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