MISKAN AND 'OHEL MO'ED: ETYMOLOGY, LEXICAL
DEFINITIONS, AND EXTRA-BIBLICAL USAGE1
RALPH E. HENDRIX
Miskan and 'ohel mo'ed are names for the cultic dwelling place
of YHWH described in Exod 25-40. This, the first of three studies on
miskan and o'hel mo'ed, will consider the etymologies of the terms,
their lexical definitions, and parallel terms found in non-Semitic
languages. Particular attention will be given to their usage in
Ugaritic and their translation or interpretation in the LXX. The
intention of this paper is to form some notion of the basic meaning
of these terms/phrases as a foundation for a second study which
focuses on their usages as witnessed within the text of Exod 25-40.
A third study will present the literary structure of Exod 25-40, which
these terms help to form.
1. The Etymology and Lexical Definition of Miskan.
Miskan is a nominal form of skn, a verb which has the meaning
of "self-submission" (once), "settle," "rest," "stop," "1ive in,"
"inhabit," "sojourn," "dwell" (in its qal form); "let/make to
live/dwell" (in the piel); "settle, "let/make to live/dwell" (in the
hiphil).2 Its Assyrian cognate is sakanu ("set," "lay," "deposit") which
yields the nominal form maskanu ("place," "dwelling place").3
1The author wishes to express appreciation to J. Bjomar Storfjell, Richard M.
Davidson, David Merling, and Randall W. Younker, members of the faculty of the
Adventist Theological Seminary,
in overseeing the preparation of this and related studies.
Testament (Grand Rapids, 1971), 369-370; F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs,
eds., The New Brown, Driver and Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old
Testament (BDB) (Grand Rapids, 1981), 1014-1016; L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner,
in Veteris Testimenti Libros (KB) (
Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English (New York, 1987), 391.
3BDB, 1014. See also A. L. Oppenheim and E. Reiner, eds., The Assyrian
214 RALPH E. HENDRIX:
The Hebrew noun miskan is generally understood to mean
dwelling place," the identity of which is determined by the context
in which the
term is found.4 In addition,
for "home," "tomb," and "(central) sanctuary."5 J. O. Lewis suggests
is "rooted in the nomadic past of
'to pitch a tent.'"6 He distinguishes skn from ysb, noting that the
latter is the normal term used for "dwelling in houses," from a basic
meaning "to sit down."7 That is, skn refers to a nonsedentary
dwelling place (Lewis suggests a tent) while ysb refers to a sedentary
dwelling place (e.g., a house). Thus, one may arrive at the
preliminary conclusion that the verb skn refers generally to some
form of nonsedentary dwelling, perhaps "camping" in modern
parlance, and that the noun miskan therefore refers to the place of
that activity: a nonsedentary "dwelling-place," a "camp," or perhaps
a "camp site." The emphasis of miskan is therefore on the nature of
the camp--its nonsedentary nature.
Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, volume 10, part I
(Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 1977), 369-373, where the following basic definitions
for maskanu are given: "1. threshing floor, empty lot, 2. small agricultural settlement,
3. emplacement, (normal) location, site (of a building), base (of a statue), stand (for a
pot), residence, position, 4. tent, canopy; 5. fetter (for a slave), 6. pledge given as
security, and 7. sanctuary (?)." Definition #4 indicates a broader meaning than simply
"tent" or "canopy" (372). An appropriate interpretation may be "camp," as suggested
by at least two of the seven examples given.
4BDB, 1015; J. J. Davis, Moses
and the Gods of
(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 254.
5Holladay lists these primary texts: Num 16:24; Isa 22:16; Lev 15:31; and notes
the meaning as "(central) sanctuary (74 of 130 times), tabernacle Exod 25:9" (219).
for people "dwelling" was ysb, and was never used of YHWH except when referring
to His "throne" or "to enthrone" (F. M. Cross, Jr., "The Tabernacle," BA 110 :
67). M. Haran ("The Divine Presence in the Israelite Cult and the Cultic Institutions,"
Bib 50 : 259) concurs with a differentiated use of skn and ysb in the
deuteronomic writings where skn speaks of "God's presence in a chosen place," but
ysb refers to "his staying in heaven." For various uses of these two roots, see M. H.
Ark of the Covenant from Conquest to Kingship (
and Reformed Pub.
MISKAN AND 'OHEL MO'ED 215
Especially important is the fact that no particular object is
inherently associated (etymologically) with the term, which may
apply either to a living being or an inanimate object. The breadth of
the meaning of miskan must be taken into account in determining its
use in context. To understand the meaning of miskan, one must ask:
"Dwelling place of what or of whom?" The answer must be found in
the context. In practice, the answer is subject to interpretation
flavored by theological and hermeneutical presuppositions.
As a case in point, considerable discussion has been generated
concerning how miskan relates to the dwelling place of YHWH as
described in the biblical text. R. Friedman defines miskan as the
"inner fabric" over which is the "outer fabric" (‘ohel), both
comprising a "single structure."8 F. M. Cross defines skn "to
encamp" or "to tent"; therefore, he suggests that miskan originally
meant "tent" and later came to mean "the" tent par excellence.9 On
the basis of Ras Shamra evidence, G. E. Wright defines miskan as
"tent-dwelling."10 G. H. Davies takes a broader view, defining
miskan as "tabernacle, dwelling, dwelling-place, habitation, abode,
encampment"; however, he allows that the term may refer to the
"shrine as a whole" (Exod 25:9) or "virtually the holy of holies"
(Exod 26:1).11 Here then is provided the prevalent scope of
definition: as specific as the "inner fabric" within the tent, yet as
broad as "abode" or "encampment."
To add confusion, miskan is often translated "tabernacle," which
in turn, is derived from the Latin Vulgate's tabernaculum, meaning
8R. E. Friedman argues that the Mosaic construction was just the right size to
fit into the
mo'ed) idea is clearly at odds with their relationship described in Exod 26:7 (see
below, in the main text).
10G. E. Wright, "The
Significance of the
11G. H. Davies, "Tabernacle," in IDB, 1962 ed., 4:498. The breadth of this
definition is not justified in Exod 25-40. Certainly Exod 26:1 is not only the "holy of
holies," as Davies suggests. The larger context of which Exod 26:1 is a part (Exod
26:1-37; especially v. 33) includes both haqqodes ("the holy") and qodes haqodasim ("the
holy of holies"). In Exod 26:1, miskan refers to the two-compartment unit
216 RALPH E. HENDRIX:
"tent."12 Since there is a completely different Hebrew word for
"tent" ('ohel), this use of tabernaculum is problematic. Inappropriate
translation conveys a notion of synonymity, not evident in the
Hebrew, but adopted in modern theology. If the two terms are
identical, the meaning of phrases like Exod 26:7, "tent over the
tabernacle" (NIV), might remain obscure. However, as the Hebrew
for that verse is le 'ohel 'al hammiskan, "to/for [the] tent on/over the
dwelling place," the distinction is apparent. While it is certainly true
that the furniture within the miskan suggests a habitation or a
dwelling, the term itself is not synonymous with "tent."13
The trend of scholarly definition of miskan is correct; however,
as a broad term, it has often recieved too narrow a definition. Miskan
almost always is automatically taken to mean "The dwelling of God"
or even redefined as "sanctuary," "tabernacle," or "temple," without
regard for the actual terminology. It would be safer to state that
miskan connotes a special type of habitation; the term indicates the
presence of the dweller while emphasizing the temporary nature of
the dwelling place. In anthropological terms, this is a matter of
sedentary or nonsedentary habitation.
If the dwelling place itself is nonsedentary, the dweller may be
seen as nonsedentary as well.14 This choice of nonsedentary
terminology may reflect the inculturalization of YHWH's commands
in Exod 25-40, since the people to whom YHWH uttered the
command to build the miskan were, as the biblical record shows,
nonsedentary. A command to build a permanent, sedentary dwelling
(such as the later Solomonic hekal, "temple" or "palace") might well
12See modern English
translations: JB, KJV,
13For a description of the furniture in terms of a habitation, see F. B. Holbrook,
"The Israelite Sanctuary," in The Sanctuary and the Atonement, eds. A. V. Wallenkampf
and W. R. Lesher (Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1981),
23; Cf. V. Hurowitz, "The Priestly Account of Building the Tabernacle," JAOS 105
(1985): 28; cf.
14Holbrook, 23. That the earthly dwelling is "movable" does not mean the
spiritual counterpart is also movable, much less does it describe the heavenly Dweller.
To draw extended theological conclusions from the choice of terminology about the
nature of the spiritual analogue may unfairly overlook the inculturalization of
YHWH's commands in Exod 25-40. This choice of terminology may indicate less
about YHWH's heavenly mobility than about His mode of communication with finite
MISKAN AND 'OHEL MO'ED 217
have been incomprehensible or even reprehensible, given the
circumstances of the earlier period. The writer called the dwelling
place by a term which was immediately understandable within his
cultural framework. Miskan, it seems, calls to mind a nonsedentary
type of dwelling place: the "camp," not particularly a structure itself,
but a place where an object or a being abides.
2. The Etymology and Lexical Definition of 'Ohel Mo'ed
The genitival construct 'ohel mo'ed is often translated "tent of
meeting" in modern versions.15 The Hebrew word 'ohel means
"tent."16 Variations of the word are found in Aramaic ('ahala'),
Phoenician ('h1), Ugaritic ('hl), and Egyptian ['(a)har(u)].17 The
Assyrian cognate is alu.18 The Vulgate translates both 'ohel and
miskan as tabernaculum (occasionally, tentorium), obscuring the
discrete meaning of the Hebrew terms.19 The term mo'ed is a
nominal form of the verb y'd: "designate," "appear," "come,"
"gather," "summon," "reveal oneself." Its basic meaning is
"appointed time/place/ sign," "meeting place," "place of assembly,"
or "to meet by appointment."20 The word occurs in Ugaritic
(mo'idu) and Egyptian (mw'd).21
15NIV, RSV, KJV = "tent of the congregation".
l6Holladay, 5-6. Cf. KB, 17; Klien,9; BDB, 13-14; J. P. Lewis, "'Ohel," Theological
Wordbook of the Old Testament, 1980 ed., 1:15;
17Klien disallows a connection between the Hebrew 'hl and the Arabic 'hl (p. 9).
See Cross, 59-60; K. Koch, "'hl," TDOT, 1:123; Davies, 4:499.
18BDB, 13. Oppenheim and Reiner indicate that alu had four basic meanings:
"1. city; 2. city as a social organization; 3. village, manor, estate; 4. fort, military strong
point" (Assyrian Dictionary, volume 1, part I, 379). In each case, alu refers in some
respect to either a sedentary dwelling or sedentary dweller (ibid., 379-390). This may
indicate a sedentarized origin for the nonsedentary Hebrew 'ohel.
in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature, Harvard Semitic Monographs, no. 24
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), 174-175; BDB, 417; and Lewis, 1:15.
21MuIlen, 117, 129; J. A.
Wilson, "The Assembly of a
218 RALPH E. HENDRIX:
Combining the two words, the phrase 'ohel mo'ed carries the
notion "tent of the place of meeting/assembly/appointment," or
perhaps more interpretively: "tent where YHWH reveals Himself."
Brichto calls this the "Tent of Encounter" or "rendezvous."22 This
tent was the place of appointed gathering, known more by the event
associated with it (meeting, gathering, or assembly) than by its
physical character (hides over a wooden frame). In the YHWHistic
cult, it was perceived to be the location of the ultimate cult event.
With 'ohel ma'ed, the focus is on the event: "meeting/assembly/
appointment/revelation." This is quite distinct from miskan, which
focuses on the place rather than the event.
3. Parallel Terms in Ugaritic Sources
The Ugaritic language provides a lexical cross-reference for
Semitic-language documents written in the Middle Bronze in
(IIC) /Late Bronze I time frame.23 Useful for this study are cognates
for miskan and 'ohel mo'ed which appear in the Ugaritic corpus,
especially instances in which the terms are found in close literary
22H. C. Brichto, "The Worship of the Golden Calf: A literary Analysis of a Fable
on Idolatry," HUCA 54 (1983): 23.
23For a brief account of the discovery of the Ugaritic materials, see P. C. Craigie,
7-25; and A.
Curtis, Cities of the Biblical World:
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985), 18-33. See H. O. Thompson, Biblical Archaeology
(New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1987), xxv. Stratum 1.3 at Ras Shamra (ca.
1365-1185 B.C.E.) is the latest occupation of Ugaritic civilization on a site
continually occupied since Neolithic Stratum V.C, ca. 6500 B. C. E. (Curtis, 41). The
'Aqhat and Keret epics, in which our words are found, are dated "between the seventeenth
and fifteenth centuries B.C" (Mullen, 2). See also J. Gray, The KRT Text in the Literature
Shamra: A Social Myth of Ancient
The Egyptian equivalent for 'ohel mo'ed (mw'd) is also found in the Tale of
Wen-Amon (ca. 1100 B.CB.), referring to a city "assembly," and in a document from
two documents, see Cross, 65; R. J. Clifford, "The Tent of El and The Israelite Tent of
CBQ 33 (1971): 225; and H. Goedicke, The
Report of Wenamun (
MISKAN AND 'OHEL MO'ED 219
The verb form skn occurs sixteen times in Ugaritic literature;
its noun form (msknt) appears twice.24 The paucity of occurrences
of msknt makes definition problematic. Both occurrences of the noun
are plural and both seem to refer to the multitudinous gods' private
"dwelling places," not a meeting chamber or council place.25 The
Ugaritic equivalent of mo'ed is limited to a single occurrence of the
phrase puhru mo'idu meaning "the gathered assembly."26 An
equivalent to the Hebrew phrase 'ohel mo'ed does not appear in
The equivalent term for 'ohel (Ugaritic, 'hl) does occur and is
especially important for this study in that the term occurs in
association with msknt in each of its two occurrences.27 Two lines
of the Keret epic read:
ti'tayu 'iluma la-'ahalihum,
daru 'ili la-miskanatihum.28
Mullen provides the following translation, noting the
association of la-'ahalihum and la-miskanatihum:
The gods proceed to their tents
The assembly of 'El to their dwellings.29
24Por a list of occurrences of skn, see R. E. Whitaker, A Concordance of the Ugaritic
Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), 594. For the occurrences of
msknt see p. 436.
25This study follows the numbering system of A. Herdner, Corpus des Tablettes
en Cuneiformes Alphabitiques Descouvertes a Ras Shamra-Ugarit de 1929 a 1939 (CTA),
Mission de Ras Shamra, 10, 2 vols. (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1963), quoted
in Curtis, 80, 82. The specific references are to CTA 17.V.33 and CTA 15.111.19; cf.
Whitaker, 436. See also S. Segert, A Basic Grammar of the Ugaritic Language: With
Selected Texts and Glossary (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), 193; also
C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Manual (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1955), 327.
26Mullen, 117, 129 (CTA 2.1.14,15,16-17.20,31). Also Clifford, 224-225. See I.
Lexical Relation Between
(New York: Shelton College, 1952), 75. For a note on 'hl, see ibid., 37.
27Whitaker, 436, reads: tity. ilm.l ah1 hm. / dr il.l msknt hm ... The word 'hl [cf.
ahl] occurs in CTA 17.V.32; CTA 15.111.18; CTA 19.1V.214; CTA 19.1V.222; CTA
19.IV.212; ibid., 9. Msknt occurs in CTA 17.V.32 and CTA 15.10.19; ibid., 436.
28CT A 15.111.18-19.
29Ibid. Mullen states that there is "here the parallelism of 'ahalihum and
miskanatum, thus equating the tent with the tabernacle structure (note 42). The same
220 RALPH E. HENDRIX:
Here 'ahalihum ("their tents") is poetically associated with
miskanatihum (“their dwelling places"). However, there is no
equivalent Ugaritic phrase for 'ohel mo'ed. The lack of an exact
parallel demands an interpretive step by the reader. The terms are
associated in the Ugaritic, but perhaps not in the same way as they
are in the Hebrew. One would expect identical phrases if the
Ugaritic and the Hebrew were synonymous or identical. In fact, the
narrative speaks of a plural number of gods going to their plural
tents. This is quite unlike the context of Exod 25-40 (and of the
whole MT which allows no plurality of true gods). In line 19, the
"assembly" is going to a plural number of "dwellings." The tents are
not "tents of assembly," or of "meeting," or of "appointment," or of
"revelation." They are simply personal tents, private tents, not a
The word msknt also appears in the Ugaritic Aqhat epic:
h.tb'.ktr. l ahl,
H. Ginsberg provides the following translation:
Kothar departs for/from his tent,
Hayyin departs for / from his tabernacle.31
Although "tabernacle" is a poor translation for msknt (better
would be "dwelling" or "dwelling place"), the terms 'hl and msknt
clearly associate linguistically, in poetic parallelism. This parallelism,
however, does not necessarily imply synonymity. The absence of the
equivalent for the Hebrew 'ohel mo'ed limits this passage's possibility
of clarifying the Hebrew text. Thus, an in-depth analysis of this
Ugaritic text is unnecessary for the current study.
parallelism is common in Hebrew literature (cf. Num 24:5; Isa 54:2; Jer 30:18; etc,
where 'ohel and miskan are in parallel)." Mullen accepts that the miskan "may be
equated with" the 'ohel, a conclusion accepted without critical evaluation (pp. 168-175,
passim) and therefore misunderstands the term as used in the Hebrew text. Poetic
parallelism should not be confused with synonymity, either in the Hebrew text or in
the Ugaritic material, especially since there is a difference in actual terminology ('ohel
mo'ed compared with the Ugaritic 'hl) and a perceived contextual connotative nuance.
30CTA 17.V.31-33; Whitaker, 436.
31H. L. Ginsberg, "Ugaritic Myths, Epics, and Legends," in ANET, 151. See his
n. 19 for the "for/from" alternative reading.
MISKAN AND 'OHEL MO'ED 221
Summarizing: the Ugaritic literature witnesses two instances of
msknt, both times in close connection with 'hl. While clearly in
poetic association, the words need not be synonymous. So, little
additional definition from Ugaritic sources is added to the definition
of miskan and 'ohel mo'ed already obtained from Hebrew (by way of
lexica and word studies). No occurrence of "tent of assembly" ('hl
m'd) is witnessed in Ugaritic materials currently available. In short,
the Ugaritic evidence shows a similarity in basic meaning between
the two terms (that is, both are places to inhabit), but does not offer
additional insight in regard to the nuance of their definitions.
The Ugaritic language makes no clear distinction in meaning
between the words msknt and 'hl, whereas the Hebrew clearly does.
The reason for this may be related to cultural factors. The texts
quoted above are normally dated in the Middle Bronze III (IIC)/Late
between the 17th and 15th centuries B.C., when
already an urban center. The chapters in Exodus, according to
traditional views on the authorship of the book and the internal
of the book, deal with the late 15th century.
at the time a pastoral and nonsedentary people who became
sedentarized much later. Given these divergent cultural conditions,
it is possible that msknt and 'hl did not convey the
nonsedentary / sedentary differentiation simply because of cultural
constraints.32 Furthermore, it is possible that the miskan and 'ohel
mo'ed phraseology typical of contemporary Late Bronze Semitic
cultures may have been redefined when adopted into the terminolo-
gy of the YHWHistic religion. Terms commonly used by
surrounding peoples, who had a pantheon of gods, were
inadequate-without redefinition-to convey the appropriate theo-
logical meaning within the YHWH cult.
4. Parallel Terms in the Septuagint
This work is concerned primarily with the contextual use of
miskan and 'ohel mo'ed in Exod 25-40 of the Hebrew. The way these
32"The reality of a period of Israelite nonsedentary pastoralism is currently the
subject of discussion within the archaeological community. The issues are multiple
and complex, but some scholars contend for some sort of nonsedentary pastoralism
Finkelstein, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement (
Exploration Society, 1988).
222 RALPH E. HENDRIX:
words are translated in the LXX is surveyed in a search for further
information. Miskan is translated exclusively by skene, while the
common translation for 'ohel mo'ed is skene tou martyriou.33 Hence,
both miskan and 'ohel (in the phrase 'ohel mo'ed) are translated by the
same word skene. W. Bauer defines skene as "tent" or "booth."34 J.
Thayer agrees with this definition--"tent" or "tabernacle"--and adds
that skn is used "chiefly for 'ohel [in the LXX and] often also for
miskan."35 Bauer notes the use of skene for both miskan and 'ohel in
his definition of he skene tou martyriou, "the tabernacle or Tent of
Like the English and Latin translations, the LXX shows little
differentiation in its choice of terms for miskan and 'ohel mo'ed.37 As
a significant or textual tradition, the LXX witnesses to an
understanding of the Pentateuch which postdates its writings by
many centuries. That both miskan and 'ohel mo'ed are translated most
often by skene may be attributed to several causes, one of which is
a diluted perception of their connotational nuance. That is, by the
time of the LXX, the two terms had come to mean virtually the same
5. Summary and Conclusions
The noun miskan (derived from the verb skn) means "dwelling,
place." It concerns a "place" or "site" (similar to the modem word
"camp"), and carries connotations of transience. It should not be
33A. Rahlfs, Septuaginta (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1949).
34W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early
Christian Literature, trans. W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, 2d ed. rev. and aug. by F. W.
Gingrich and F. W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 754.
35J. H. Thayer, A Greek-English
Lexicon of the New Testament (
Book Company, 1886), 577.
37The argument could be made that miskan and 'ohel mo'ed are synonymous, and
therefore the single Greek term is adequate for both. The analysis of the use of these
terms in Exod 25-40 clearly shows the terms to be similar but not synonymous (see
note 2, above). For a more comprehensive view of the occurrences of skene in Exod
G. Morrish, ed., A Concordance of the Septuagint (
Publishing House, 1976), 222-223.
MISKAN AND 'OHEL MO'ED 223
limited to a specific form of "dwelling" (particularly not the English
"tent" or Latin tabernaculum), as this leads to confusion with 'ohel.
The phrase 'ohel mo'ed is a genitival construct meaning "tent of
assembly" or "encounter." It was the name of the structure in which
the Divine and human met, emphasizing the event rather than the
Parallel terms found in the Ugaritic literature provide no
additional information beyond that already known from the Hebrew.
In fact, the Ugaritic literature offers only limited insight because the
word 'hl does not appear in genitival construction with mo'ed or its
equivalent. Furthermore, the differentiation between the
nonsedentary and sedentary meanings of the words in Hebrew
appears to have been lost.38 As was noted, the reason for this could
The LXX, by translating both miskan and 'ohel by skene, obscures
the meaning of the Hebrew terms. It would seem that by the time
the LXX was translated, the words were understood as synonyms.
Again, the cultural setting of a sedentary and urban people would
have assisted in eroding the differences. The Vulgate, likewise, fails
to distinguish between the two.
Two future articles on miskan and 'ohel mo'ed will complete the
study of the meaning of the words. The first will deal with the usage
of the terms in Exod 25-40. The second will present an overview of
the literary structure of those chapters. This introductory study has
shown scholarly insensitivity to the connotational nuance of the
words. The next two studies will reveal the pitfalls resulting from
38This suggestion, made to the author by David Merling, finds support in
Mullen (170), who recognizes "that the deities were pictured as tent dwellers, even
highly urbanized culture of
misses the significance of this for interpreting the Hebrew text (see Whitaker, 436).
The vital point is that a nonsedentary (tent-dwelling) culture is being described by a
sedentary (urbanized) writer, thus potentially giving rise to the blurred terminological
nuance posited above.
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