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THE USE OF MISKAN AND
'OHEL MO'ED IN EXODUS 25-40
RALPH E. HENDRIX
The previous study1 in this series on miskan and 'ohel mo'ed in
Exod 25-40 concluded that miskan means "dwelling place," that it
concerns a "place" or "site" (similar to the modem noun "camp"),
and that it carries connotations of transience. It should not be
limited to a specific form or kind of "dwelling" (particularly not
what is implied by the English word "tent" and by the Latin
tabernaculum), since such a usage leads to confusion with 'ohel.
Regarding the phrase 'ohel mo'ed we found that it is a genitival
construct which means "tent of assembly" or "tent of encounter,"
that this was the name of the structure in which the Divine and the
human met, and that the term emphasizes the event rather than the
The previous study further revealed that Ugaritic parallels to
these two Hebrew terms provide no additional helpful information
beyond what is already known from the Hebrew itself, except
possibly that the Hebrew differentiation between nonsedentary and
sedentary connotations of the words seems to be lost in the
Ugaritic. I suggested that the reason for this difference in usage
the fact that
the literature we examined was written (MB III [II C) to LB I),
book of Exodus.
1Ralph E. Hendrix, "Miskan and 'Ohel Mo'ed: Etymology, Lexical Definitions,
and Extra-biblical Usage," AUSS 29/3 (1991):213-224. The author here wishes to
express appreciation to J. Bjonar Storfjell, Richard M. Davidson, and Randall W.
Younker, members of the faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological
this and related studies.
4 RALPH E. HENDRIX:
Finally, we found that by translating both miskan (dwelling
place) and 'ohel (tent) as skene (tent), the LXX has obscured the
difference between the two Hebrew terms, as does the Vulgate in
its use of tabernaculum. I suggested that perhaps the two terms
were considered to be synonyms by the time of the translation of
the LXX, and that if so, this may be another example of
sedentarization obscuring the terms.
Building upon this initial etymological analysis, subsequent
study of the MT of Exod 25-40 has revealed that the expressions
miskan and 'ohel mo'ed are discrete and specific; they are not
interchangeable. The term selected in each case depends on the
literary context in which the term appears. Miskan is the biblical
writer's expression of choice when the construction or assembling
of the dwelling place is the subject, while 'ohel mo'ed is the
expression of choice when the context is cultic. Thus the habitation
may properly be called the "
phrase which conveys both aspects of this duality.
Both past and contemporary structural analyses of Exod 25-40
lack sensitivity to the distinctions between miskan and 'ohel mo'ed.2
This may be due to the application of an external methodology
2Brevard S. Childs, Introduction
to the Old Testament as Scripture (
Fortress Press), 73, d. 100; John I. Durham, Exodus, Word Biblical Commentary,
vol. 3 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 353, 371 (for examples of scholarly analyses,
see pp. 350-499); and George V. Pixley, On Exodus: A Liberation Perspective, trans.
Robert R. Barr (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987), xvii. On terminological
insensitivity, see (chronologically): Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of
Charles Black, 1885), 44; Baruch A. Levine, "The Descriptive Tabernacle Texts of the
Pentateuch," JAOS 85 (1965): 307-318; U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of
Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 2, Tyndale Old Testament
Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 52; Charles L. Feinberg,
"Tabernacle," Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 5:572-573; P. J. Kearney, "Creation and Liturgy:
Redaction of Ex 25-40," ZAW 89 (1977): 386; Joe O. Lewis, "The
Tent," RevExp 74 (1977): 537; Victor (Avigdor) Hurowitz, 'The Priestly Account of
Building the Tabernacle," JAOS 105 (1985): 22; John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of
195; W. Johnstone, Exodus, Old Testament Guides
Press, 1990), passim; Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation: A Bible
Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991), esp.
Nahum M. Sarna, The
JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus (
Publication Society, 1991), esp. 49, 158, 176.
USE OF MISKAN AND 'OHEL MO'ED 5
rather than making use of a literary-structural analysis.3 Under
these circumstances, a terminologically sensitive analysis of Exod
25-40 is timely. The present study is an endeavor to fill this
vacuum for Exod 25-40. A third (and concluding) article will
present an overview of the literary structure of Exod 25-40, through
which this terminological pattern weaves.4
1. Occurrences of the Terms
Miskan and 'ohel (most often in the phrase 'ohel mo'ed) are
names of YHWH's habitation which the text of Exod 25-40
indicates Moses was commanded to construct, equip, and
ceremonially prepare for service. Other appellative expressions for
this habitation either do not occur in chapters 25-40 or occur only
once, whereas miskan and 'ohel occur in reference to the habitation
some fifty-eight times each.5 The present study will be limited to
the contextual usage of these two denominatives.
3By "external methodology" is meant the type popularized by Julius
Wellhausen in his Prolegomena, and summarized by Edgar Krentz, The Historical-
Critical Method (Philadelphia: Forcress Press, 1975),55-61. This method has mutated
through time (see Douglas A. Knight, "The Pentateuch," in The Bible and Its Modern
Interpreters, ed. Douglas A. Knight and Gene M. Tucker
19851, 265-287), but still retains at least one essential Wellhausian theme: namely, the
nature of the
truth is, that the tabernacle is the copy, not the prototype, of the temple in
"Introduction to the Book of Exodus," IB (New York: Abingdon Press, 1952) 1:845;
idem, "Exegesis of the Book of Exodus," IB (New York: Abingdon Press, 1952),
1:1027; James Muilenberg, "The
History of the Religion of
Buttrick (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 308-309; Martin Noth, Exodus: A
Commentary, crans. J. S. Bowden (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 211; Jack
P. Lewis, "Mo'ed," Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris,
Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:389;
4Ralph E. Hendrix, "A Literary-Structural Overview of Exod 25-40," AUSS
5All statistical data are derived from Gerhard Usowsky and Leonhard Rost,
Konkordanz zum Hebraischen Alten Testament (Stuttgart Wurttembergische
Bibelanstalt, 1958). Hekal (palace, temple) does not occur in Exod 25-40. Miqdas (holy
precinct), and Bayit (house) in reference to the divine dwelling, each occurs only
once, in Exod 25:8 and 34:26 respectively.
6 RALPH E. HENDRIX:
The word miskan (dwelling place) occurs 139 times in the OT.
Of these occurrences, 104 (74.8%) are found in the Pentateuch as
follows: fifty-eight (55.8%) in Exodus, four (3.9%) in Leviticus, and
forty-two (40.4%) in Numbers, with none in Genesis and
Deuteronomy. Every occurrence of miskan in Exodus (41.7% of all
OT occurrences) are found in Exod 25-40.
The word 'ohel (tent) occurs 344 times in the OT. In the
Pentateuch it is found 214 times in one or another of the
expressions 'ohel (tent), 'ohel mo'ed (tent of meeting), 'ohel
hamiskan (tent over the dwelling place), and 'ohel ha'edut (tent of the
testimony). It is used in the Pentateuch to refer to a personal tent
forty-seven times (13.7%), with all twenty-three occurrences in
Genesis (6.7%) being of this nature. It occurs forty-four times in
Leviticus, forty-three (97.7%) of which are in the phrase 'ohel mo'ed.
In Numbers, it occurs seventy-six times, of which fifty-six (73.7%)
are in the phrase 'ohel mo'ed. Deuteronomy has nine occurrences,
four times (45.4%) either in the phrase 'ohel mo'ed or with this
phrase as its antecedent.
In Exodus 'ohel without an antecedent appears four times
(6.5%). It occurs in the phrase 'ohel mo'ed thirty-four times, plus
three more times with 'ohel mo'ed as its antecedent, for a total of
thirty-seven occurrences (59.7% of its Exodus occurrences). It is
found in the phrase 'ohel al-hamiskan two times, but with twelve
more occurrences with 'ohel in reference to 'ohel al-hamiskan, for a
total of fourteen times (22.5% of the total Exodus occurrences). In
Exod 33 it is found seven times as the 'ohel of Moses (11.3% of the
Exodus occurrences). 'Ohel ha'edut (tent of the testimony) does not
occur in Exodus. Thus, in one form or another 'ohel occurs a total
of sixty-two times in Exod 25-40 (29.1% of its OT occurrences).
There are fifty-eight times in Exod 25-40 wherein some form of
'ohel refers to the habitation of YHWH, the most common being
thirty-four occurrences in the phrase 'ohel mo'ed.
The Patterning of the Occurrences
A sequential listing of the occurrences of miskan and 'ohel
mo'ed in Exod 25-40 reveals a terminological pattern.6 The data in
6This is S. Bar-Efrat's "verbal level," as suggested in "Some Observations on
the Analysis of Structure in Biblical Narrative," VT 30 (1980): 157.
USE OF MISKAN AND 'OHEL MO'ED 7
the Table on page 8 (derived from Lisowsky and Rost)7 make it
apparent that the use of miskan continues uninterrupted (nineteen
times) from Exod 25:9 through 27:19. Then in Exod 27:20, the
beginning of a second terminological unit is evidenced by an
abrupt shift to 'ohel mo'ed, a term which continues through to Exod
33:7 (seventeen occurrences in all).8 In Exod 35:1-39:43 we find a
third termi-nological unit, one that is "predominantly miskan." In it,
miskan occurs twenty-two times while 'ohel mo'ed occurs five times.
Finally, a fourth terminological unit constitutes a "mixed" miskan
and 'ohel mo'ed passage encompassing Exod 40:1-38. Here miskan
occurs seventeen times and 'ohel mo'ed twelve times.
The terminological structure of miskan and 'ohel mo'ed in Exod
25-40 consists therefore of four compositional units: miskan only,
'ohel mo'ed only, predominantly miskan, and mixed miskan and 'ohel
mo'ed expressions. Why is this so?
2. Explanations and Solutions
Among the scholarly analyses noted, only that of G. V. Pixley
acknowledges a terminological aspect of the text. He does so,
however, only once and without explanation.9 I suggest that it is
the literary context in which each of these expressions is used that
provides the key to understanding the terminological structure. A
broad study of the literary structure of Exod 25-40 will be
presented in a forthcoming article; however, the overview that will
be given therein is not necessary in order for us to analyze here the
contextual usages of miskan and 'ohel mo'ed.10
"Miskan Only" Terminological Unit
(Exod 25:9-27:19) I
Miskan (occurring nineteen times) is the only term used to
name the habitation of YHWH in the text of Exod 25:9-27:19. This
7Lisowsky and Rost, 30-33, 873-874.
9See specific references in
Pixley, 199, and Sarna, 176, regarding the shift from miskan to 'ohel mo'ed in Exod
10This article is scheduled for publication in the next issue of AUSS.
8 RALPH E. HENDRIX:
Occurrences of Miskan and 'Ohel Mo'ed in Exodus 25-40
Miskan 'Ohel Mo'ed Miskan 'Ohel Mo'ed
"Miskan Only" "Predominantly Miskan"
:6 :18 35:21
"'Ohel Mo'ed Only. Mixed Terminology
27:21 40:2 :2
29:4 :6 :6
:18 :22 :22
:20 :24 :24
31:7 :29 :29
USE OF MISKAN AND 'OHEL MO'ED 9
passage is part of a slightly larger section (Exod 25:1-27:19), the
content of which consists of commands for constructing the
dwelling: its size, pattern, and materials. This section also details
the physical arrangements of the dwelling: an ark (throne), a table
(for eating), a lampstand (for light), an audience chamber and
private compartment, an altar (kitchen), and a courtyard (public
area). All of these elements were common to dwellings in general,
and thus the writer's use of miskan is not surprising.
"'Ohel Mo'ed Only" Terminological Unit
In Exod 27:20, there is a change of context which witnesses an
abrupt shift in denominatives. Exod 27:21 contains the first instance
of the use of the term 'ohel mo'ed. This phrase, which occurs
seventeen times, is used exclusively for the divine habitation in
Whereas the literary context of miskan was about construction,
the literary context of 'ohel mo'ed appears to involve the function of
the cult of YHWH. Exod 27:20-21 concerns the cultic function and
use of oil in the liturgy. Exod 28:1-43 concerns the priests, their
garments (ephod, breastpiece, robe, turban, tunic, and under-
garments), along with the time and manner of their function in the
cult. Exod 29:1-46 describes the process of consecrating and
dressing the priests. It also speaks of offerings (sin, burnt, and
wave); ordination; and the continuous, "daily" burnt offering. Exod
30:1-10 concerns the incense altar: its placement, use, and
perpetuity, but these verses do not give evidence of either name for
YHWH's habitation. Exod 30:11-31:18 concerns atonement money,
the priests' wash basin, the anointing oil, incense, the providential
provision of craftsmen, and the sabbath(s). Where an expression
naming the habitation of YHWH is found in each of these literary
subsections of Exod 27:20-33:7, the term is exclusively 'ohel mo'ed.
In this cult-functional context, the biblical writer chose 'ohel mo'ed
rather than the previously used miskan.
Because of the cult-functional use of 'ohel mo'ed, this phrase
continues into the four narratives of Exod 32-34. It occurs twice in
Exod 33:7, in the narrative of the Theophany in Moses' Tent. In the
preceding narrative about the Golden Calf and in the subsequent
two narratives about the Theophany on the Mountain and the
Episode of the Second Tablets, the phrase does not occur. Thus,
although the phrase is used only twice, and this in conjunction
10 RALPH E. HENDRIX:
with only the second narrative, all four narratives are apparently
cultic and may be considered as being in a cult-functional context.
Predominantly Miskan Terminological Unit
The suggested term-context association seen in the first two
terminological units appears straightforward. Individual expres-
sions are used in clearly definable literary contexts. However, the
two mixed terminological units found in Exod 35:1-39:43 and 40:1-
38 provide both a challenge to, and vindication of, the term-context
relationship suggested in this study. We find within the literary
structure of Exod 35:1-39:43 that miskan occurs twenty-two times,
while 'ohel mo'ed occurs five times. For convenience, it is designated
as a "predominantly miskan" terminological unit.
Exod 35:1-36:7 relates to the construction of the equipment of
the habitation (which explains the presence miskan), but it also
includes the mention of the cult function (hence the presence of
‘ohel mo’ed in Exod 35:21). Miskan is used three times in the
construction context; 'ohel mo'ed occurs once, in a cult-function
Exod 36:8-38:20 is an "assembly" passage which parallels the
"command" passage in Exod 25:8-31:18. It primarily concerns
construction. Thus the writer uses miskan, except in Exod 38:8,
where the concern is cult-functional (necessitating the use of 'ohel
mo'ed). Miskan is used thirteen times, in construction contexts; and
'ohel ma'ed is used once, in a cult-function context.
Exod 38:21-31 concerns the metal used in constructing
components of the habitation. Here miskan occurs three times in
construction contexts, and 'ohel mo'ed occurs once in the context of
the bronze altar. This is the altar of burnt offering (the incense altar
was gold) and may be considered as cult-functional.
Finally, Exod 39:1-43, the "assembly" parallel to the Exod 28:1-
43 "command" section, concerns the priestly garments, ephod,
stones, breastpiece, robe, tunic, and plate/turban. Here, however,
the emphasis is not on the cultic function of this equipment, but on
Apparent exceptions to this construction context are Exod
39:32 and 39:40, where both miskan and 'ohel mo'ed are found in the
same literary phrase. The two verses are worded in the Hebrew in
such a way as to be rendered in English as "the dwelling place of
USE OF MISKAN AND 'OHEL MO'ED 11
the Tent of Assembly."11 Here the context is still construction:
namely, the construction of the dwelling place of the Tent of
Meeting. Up to this point, miskan has been used solely in reference
besides YHWH's, so too can miskan simply mean a "dwelling
place." Here it is consistent with the previous differentiation of
terms for miskan to mean "dwelling place" as a reference to the
dwelling place of the 'ohel mo'ed.
The Combined Miskan and 'Ohel Mo'ed Context
The fourth unit, Exod 40:1-38, exemplifies the combined miskan
and 'ohel mo'ed context. Here miskan occurs seventeen times and
'ohel mo'ed twelve times. The terminological distinction is much
more narrow (as an "assembly" context might require); however,
the same constructional and cult-functional usages are detectable.
Exod 40:1-8 concerns the assembling of the whole Cult-
Dwelling from component parts. Although the cult articles are
mentioned, this is in the context of construction. Hence miskan
twice as the "dwelling place" of the Tent of Meeting (in genitival
construct). 'Ohel mo'ed occurs alone only in Exod 40:7, in the
context of the placement of the priests' wash basin--clearly a cultic
object that pertains to cult-function.
Exod 40:9-16 concerns the command to anoint the miskan, its
furnishings, the altar of burnt offerings and its utensils, and the
wash basin and stand, as well as the priests. That this is clearly
cult-functional (as the term "anoint" suggests) is verified by the
presence of 'ohel mo'ed. Here the command to anoint the miskan
may seem troublesome unless one allows for its generic meaning
"dwelling place." The apparent problem is resolved, however, if
one reads miskan as the "dwelling place" of the Tent of Assembly,
as the "
Exod 40:17-33 concerns the placement of certain objects. Miskan
is the primary term of the passage where it refers to the Dwelling
11My translation. Exod 39:32 is simply a genitival construct wherein miskan is
in the construct state and 'ohel mo'ed is its genitive: "dwelling place of the Tent of
Assembly." Exod 39:40 is not a genitival construct, but 'ohel mo'ed is preceded by the
dative prefix le, which may carry the genitival idea "of" and therefore retains the
same meaning and translation in Exod 39:40 as in Exod 39:32.
12 RALPH E. HENDRIX:
Place of YHWH (v. 17) and the typical dwelling furniture therein
(vv. 18-21). In vv. 22-24, a very close association of miskan and 'ohel
is witnessed; however, this is not in actual or effective genitival
construct as before, but rather in a literary association with
theological import: YHWH's dwelling furniture (table and
lampstand) are placed in the structure that is called by its cult-
functional name! This suggests that the act of placing the furniture
was considered by the biblical writer to be cultic, not
constructional. In other words, there is more to the placing of this
particular furniture than merely mimicking what is done with
household furniture. The text, in mid-sentence, explicitly unites the
constructional and cult-functional aspects of the Cult-Dwelling:
YHWH both dwells and conducts cultic placement of furniture in
a single physical structure. Thus there is one Structure with two
In v. 29, the same genitival construct relationship is witnessed
as before: "the dwelling place of the Tent of Meeting," a
construction context. In vv. 30-32, straightforward cult-functional
contexts (concerning the washing of the priests) use 'ohel mo'ed
without difficulty for the reader. Finally, in v. 33, the writer
switches back to miskan in the constructional context of putting up
the curtain around the courtyard.
Exod 40:34-38, the final passage of Exod 25-40, exhibits the
closest literary relationship between miskan and 'ohel mo'ed found
in this study up to this point. Here the subject is the indwelling of
YHWH in the Cult-Dwelling. As one might expect in the light of
YHWH's roles, the indwelling occurs simultaneously in the miskan
and the 'ohel mo'ed, since both are dual aspects of one single
physical entity. The terms remain connotatively distinct while
referring to the same physical Structure. The Glory of YHWH
resides inside the miskan, while the Cloud hovers above the
entrance of the 'ohel mo'ed.
3. Summary and Conclusions
Four terminological units occur within the basic literary
structure of Exod 25-40. This terminological "axis" has generally
been overlooked by scholars, resulting in an insensitivity to the
discrete and separate connotations of miskan and 'ohel mo'ed. By
tracing the terms along the terminological axis through the literary
structure, this study has suggested that miskan is used in
constructional contexts, primarily associated with commands to
USE OF MISKAN AND 'OHEL MO'ED 13
secondarily in its generic sense as simply "dwelling place." The
phrase 'ohel mo'ed appears in literary contexts where the cultic
function of the habitation is the concern.
This relationship between the context and the precise term that
is used suggests intentionality: i.e., particular terms are used in
particular contexts. Specifically, what is suggested by the usage is
that the biblical writer wished to associate miskan with construction
contexts and 'ohel mo'ed with liturgical, cult-functional contexts.
When writing about the command to construct a dwelling and to
establish the cult, the writer could easily use the discrete terms
separately. The writer dealt first with one subject (construction),
and used an appropriately "constructional" name for the structure.
In dealing with the second subject (cult-function), the writer used
a totally distinct, but equally appropriate expression. We must
realize that the writer was distinguishing dual, yet discrete, aspects
of a single physical reality.
When describing the assembly process, these discrete
denominatives are used in close association, but not necessarily
synonymously. Even though the two terms occur at times in a
single paragraph or sentence, it is always with discrete conno-
tations. This is evident in the two terminological units where
miskan and 'ohel mo'ed occur separately, and it is discernibly
consistent in the latter two terminological units, where, in tightly-
worded texts, the terms are in close association.
Thus, in all contexts within Exod 25-40 the biblical writer has
masterfully controlled the use of miskan and 'ohel mo'ed in order to
clarify the dual nature of YHWH's habitation. That habitation was
to be understood as a transient dwelling place, such as was
consistent with the dwelling places of nomadic peoples; therefore
the choice of miskan. But yet, that habitation also had the
continuing function of fostering the cultic relationship, and this
aspect was best expressed by the choice of 'ohel mo'ed.
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