Monday, January 29, 2007

Covering the Ark

An interesting comment was left a few days ago by Jason from North Carolina, on the 'Day of Atonement' post. Jason pointed out that, in Numbers 4:1-15 the Ark of the Covenant along with the other items of furniture in the Tabernacle were always covered while in transit.

I have drawn the Ark uncovered while in transit at least twice that I can think of! This highlights another problem that Bible illustrators face. We tend to only read the portion of scripture that we're about to illustrate. Numbers 4 is one of those passages that sets a precedent for all the verses that follow concerning the Ark.
Just about every Bible artist I know has missed this one! The fact is, the only time we should show the Ark uncovered, is when it's in the Holy of Holies.

I'm slowly redoing all of our earlier Bible stories in the new (more detailed) style. So, when I redo both the 'Crossing of the Jordan' and 'The walls of Jericho' stories, the ark will be well and truly covered! Thanks Jason.
Another interesting question is, what was the Ark of the Covenant actually covered with?

Badger skins or Dugong hides?
When I was reading the verses above, (in the amplified Bible), I was very surprised to read that the Ark was covered with 'porpoise or dolphin skins'! (not badger skins). On further inspection, I noticed that the amplified Bible also records that the Tabernacle itself was covered with dolphin or porpoise skins! If you're as confused as I was, then you might find the excert below, (from netbible.org), enlightening.

The word 'Badger' is found in Ex. 25:5; 26:14; 35:7, 23; 36:19; 39:34; Num. 4:6, etc. The tabernacle was covered with badgers' skins; the shoes of women were also made of them (Ezek. 16:10). Our translators seem to have been misled by the similarity in sound of the Hebrew tachash_ and the Latin _taxus, "a badger." The revisers have correctly substituted "seal skins." The Arabs of the Sinaitic peninsula apply the name tucash to the seals and dugongs which are common in the Red Sea, and the skins of which are largely used as leather and for sandals. Though the badger is common in Palestine, and might occur in the wilderness, its small hide would have been useless as a tent covering. The dugong, (pictured above), very plentiful in the shallow waters on the shores of the Red Sea, is a marine animal from 12 to 30 feet long, something between a whale and a seal, never leaving the water, but very easily caught. It grazes on seaweed, and is known by naturalists as Halicore tabernaculi.
(Source: http://netbible.org)


I have only ever seen the covering of the Tabernacle depicted in illustrations, (and on models), as consisting of brown fur. If Dugong hides were used, the covering would have been a bluish-grey in color, and almost leather like. If anyone has any other comments on this, we'd like to hear them!
(Dugong image: www.euratlas.com)

Related posts:
The Day of Atonement
The contents of the Ark

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32 Comments:

At 9:42 pm, Blogger The White Man said...

I have considerable problems with all the options mentioned so far. It just doesn't make sense to me that God would prescribe a covering for all his holy articles that was made from an unclean animal.

Obviously, though, what was needed was the skin of a very large animal. For this purpose, and due to research into medieval Jewish manuscripts, I'm most inclined to interpret this animal as "giraffe."

In case you haven't been keeping up with kosher news, giraffes are clean animals. And they are very common in the upper reaches of the Nile.

And their huge ides are just the thing for covering large objects.

 
At 1:00 am, Blogger Bible artist said...

What is equally puzzling is that the blue dye that was used for dying the tzitzit is also thought to come from a non-kosher mollusk! As you will know this blue dye was also used in the high priests garments and the veil in the tabernacle.

I was looking at giraffe's in the flesh only last week when I took my grandson to visit the zoo. Although the kosher argument is a good point, I'm not convinced that they would have been chosen for the size of their hides. Although giraffes are huge, (in height at least), you wouldn't get much hide from their legs or neck, which only leaves their torso which I would imagine is similar in size to a large cow.

They would have made a very colorful covering though!

 
At 10:14 pm, Blogger The White Man said...

Mollusks were probably listed as unclean because of the way they feed, which would make their meat unsafe to eat.

A dye extract, however, would be a whole different issue; just as many dyes which would be toxic to eat are just fine for coloring clothing.

I disagree that there isn't much hide on a giraffe. The necks would provide long trapezoidal strips that could be sewn together in top-to-bottom formation to form a large tarpaulin.

 
At 8:36 pm, Blogger Bible artist said...

I'm afraid that my knowledge of skinning animals is limited-!! In fact, cutting the bread crumbs off a fish finger is probably the closest I've got! So I'm 'out of my depth' when it comes to discussing the sewing together of trapezoidal strips from the neck of a giraffe-!!

There's been a lot of interest in the Giraffe recently since it was officially announced (only last month) to be kosher! I would be interested to know if the 'giraffe theory' has been around for a while, or has been sparked by the recent wave of interest?
I have read a brief article based on the theory that the Hebrew word Tachash may have referred to the giraffe, (see www.zootorah.com), which is interesting.

The 'Ask Moses' team state that the ark and Tabernacle were covered with "Goat skins", and also skins from the "Tachash" which in their opinion "is an animal that only existed then" (in Old Testament times). According to Rashi's commentary the Tachash is a "kosher, multi-colored, one horned desert animal which came into existence to be used to build the Tabernacle and ceased to exist afterward".

The currently popular "Dugong' theory came about because of the similarity between the word Tachash and the Arabic word Tukhas which means Dugong! It's interesting that, even though the dugong is not kosher, the 'Jewish Publication Society translation' translates Tachash as dolphin or sea cow! (dugong).

 
At 10:12 pm, Blogger The White Man said...

I'm not an expert on semitic languages, so this is a bit tentative, but I am able to read the dictionary both in Arabic and Hebrew. I looked up the alleged Arabic word 'tukhas' and didn't find it listed anywhere(there are at least 4 ways it could be transliterated back into Arabic). I checked the English-Arabic dictionary and found 'sea cow' and 'seal' translated as 'buqrah' and 'fuqmah' respectively. Porpoise was 'khunzir al bahr' or 'sea pig'.

So 'tukhas' must be a colloquial term at best. One thing I've learned about Arabic animal names is that they are seldom of semitic origin.

 
At 7:07 am, Blogger Bible artist said...

My source for the Arabic word 'tukhas' was Wikipedia which some academics don't always consider reliable!

 
At 8:02 pm, Blogger The White Man said...

I don't doubt that there is a word something like "tukhas" that is used by Gulf Arabs for large sea mammals; however, I have reasons to doubt its Semitic origin or relevance to ancient Hebrew. I would find it a prime candidate for the category of false cognate, as I would the Egyptian word.

I don't know that it means "giraffe" either, but that, in my opinion, is just as viable an option linguistically, plus we have history on our side.

 
At 10:04 am, Anonymous William H said...

Giraffa camelopardalis is not native to Egypt or Israel, as far as we know. It ranges as far north as the southern Sudan/Ethiopia. At least in modern times. (Who knows about the past, though. Western Asia used to have lions and bears and some places, tigers! The Asian leopard is barely holding on.) The hide would have to be some kind of animal they could hunt.
Lev 11:10-11 says to detest sea/stream critters if no fins, no scales. Perhaps the dugong, with it's finlike tail and limbs, is close enough?

 
At 5:27 pm, Blogger The White Man said...

Obviously the giraffe's range was much larger back in antiquity. Pictographs of giraffes can be found throughout the Nile valley in what is now the Sahara desert. It didn't have to be native to Goshen, just close enough to the Nile to allow easy trade with the downstream population centers.

No way dugongs were clean: no scales. But there may be something to the idea that the word had changed meanings between Exodus and Ezekiel, and by his time, the Sahara having cut off knowledge of the giraffe, the name was assigned to sea cows on the basis of their hides, which were reminiscent of the giraffe's in size.

As an example of this happening in modern times, what Americans call a moose is still known as an elk in Europe, but the word 'elk' has been assigned to a different animal altogether in North America. Similar things happened to 'robin', 'polecat', and 'corn'.

 
At 3:23 pm, Blogger LyndsayB said...

I was just reading Exodus today, and came accross the part about covering the Tabernacle with the hide from a "sea cow" or "dugong" neither of which had I ever heard of. So I decided to Google it. I'm glad to have found this blog! Though, now I am slightly more confused than I was previously!! I guess I will need to do some more research, as well as asking God for some guidance on my questions!

 
At 6:38 pm, Blogger LyndsayB said...

I thought I would add an after thought as well.. I know that this post is several years old, but it is new to me!! I decided to look it up in other versions, Some said badger, some said sea cow, some said fine leather, or just leather, or porpoise skin, or goatskin, while another said violet coloured skins.. When I looked it up in the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) they called it sealskins. Seals are a land creature as well.. Are they then clean? Not trying to rile up a dicussion, but this is very interesting to me!! :D

 
At 10:16 pm, Blogger Bible artist said...

Thanks for that Lyndsay! It is a very interesting subject.
Because I have to draw these items I need to decide which way to go after reading all the information that I can find. It's difficult though when the experts don't agree either! As you've pointed out, this post raises more questions that it answers! If you find out any more info let me know.

I'll pop over to your blog when I get a minute!
Thanks again.

 
At 10:37 pm, Blogger The White Man said...

No, Lyndsay, seals are not clean; they are predators. To be clean, and animal EITHER has to split the hoof and chew cud, OR have fins and scales and swim, OR have six legs and hop around on the ground, except when it's flying.

 
At 10:41 pm, Blogger The White Man said...

Some said badger, some said sea cow, some said fine leather, or just leather, or porpoise skin, or goatskin, while another said violet coloured skins..

These are all different words in known Semitic languages similar to "tachash" that scholars have hypothesized as carrying its true meaning. "Violet" is the reading of the Greek and Latin OT's, and no one has any idea where they got that one from. Apparently they didn't have any better of an idea than we do.

 
At 10:57 pm, Blogger Bible artist said...

Thanks for that White Man!

 
At 5:25 am, Blogger LyndsayB said...

I can't imagine trying to draw this, not really knowing what exactly it should look like.

As far as the other "stuff" goes.. I have wondered through out this research of my own, if this animal, is not an animal that we have ever seen. It could have been an animal around for just a small amount of time. Or has not roamed this Earth for centuries. Therefore our language would not have a proper translation for it. I know that when I meet Jesus face to face, he can tell me all about it! Whether it is an unknown animal, a badger, a giraffe, leather, or an animal similar to a "dugong." Though, knowing that, doesn't curb my curiosity in the least!

 
At 6:25 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello. Love the article/ Interesting thing to note however though is that in the Hebrew in the verses mentioned the word used is Tachash (Tet, chet, shin) from right to left. So this might help alleviate some of the confusion. Also while in modern Hebrew this translates as porpoise or dolphin the more accurate biblical translation would be the "dugong" which is a cousin to the manitee.
As far as the kosher issue, please try to remember that Biblically speaking unclean animals is in reference to food and not to use of, (except for pig which we are not even to touch the flesh if it is dead). So as far as using the hides of a sea cow (or badger for that matter also a non-kosher animal) there is no issue.

 
At 9:48 am, Blogger Bible artist said...

Thanks anonymous! That's a really helpful guide. One of the problems on this blog is that we are often discussing Jewish traditions from a non-jewish perspective which is never easy!

 
At 7:24 pm, Blogger The White Man said...

1. There is no linguistic relationship between the modern Hebrew word 'Tachash' and the ancient one. 'Tachash' was assigned the meaning of 'porpoise or dolphin' in Modern Hebrew because that is what Hebrew linguists thought its meaning was. The original meaning had long since become obscure before the creation of modern Hebrew (which only shares about 5-10% of its vocabulary with ancient Hebrew).

2. You may have a point about the kosher issue. But as ubiquitous as donkeys were, I don't read about any use of donkey hides. Not even firstborn donkeys that were dedicated to the Lord seem to have been put to any holy use--they just had their necks broken.

3. Current Jewish custom is of limited use in determining the Tabernacle cultus, as the latter has been out of use far longer than it was in use. In Jesus' time the tabernacle was already ancient history. At least the Temple was still functioning, but he still berated the Pharisees for all the baggage they had already attached to the Torah.

These are all good ideas, but we will probably have to wait for the definitive answer.

 
At 4:03 pm, Blogger LyndsayB said...

Thank you for that perspective Anonymous! Although I had read this article a couple of months ago, I have still been curious about it.

 
At 3:57 pm, Anonymous KitSkene said...

I've been reading through Exodus in the NASB and have been wondering about this. Knowing that seals and sea cows were common in the area it seems logical that something like the skin of a seal would be used as a covering. Because they do not live solely in water but are primarily aquatic their skins would make fairly decent waterproofing for the tabernacle.

 
At 8:35 pm, Blogger The White Man said...

KitSkene,
Seals only come out of the water to reproduce. Sea cows don't even come out for that. Another difference is that seals are covered with fur, while sea cows have hairless skin.

However, I don't think their skin would be any more or less waterproof than any other leather.

 
At 11:16 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this blog is old but I thought I would be able to shed some light on the matter. I grew up learning the talmud, and we were always led to believe the tachash was a kosher, multi-colored, one horned desert animal. Which means it had to chew its cud and have split hooves (like a cow, goat or giraffe), have a singular horn in the middle of his forehead (like a unicorn) and whos skin was an array of colors(like a rainbow-type girrafe). So we were led to understand the tachash was some sort of multi-colored girrafe/unicorn combo. Hope this helps your understanding of the verse! Good luck drawing it!

 
At 11:52 am, Blogger Bible artist said...

Thanks anonymous - that would tie in with what it says in Rashi's commentary. Thanks for your comment.

 
At 12:59 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're saying the hide of a giraffe is the size of a cows? Have you not seen either of these animals before? C'mon man.

 
At 5:46 pm, Blogger The White Man said...

Yes, I have seen both. Look up the average weight of a 3-year old bull giraffe, subtract the neck, and you will be pretty close to the average weight of a 3-year old beef bull.

 
At 1:03 am, Anonymous suppressedbylewis said...

The kosher aspect is largely irrelevant.

The dugong might have been symbolic of the Genesis 1 sea creature, tiamat, which God then places under the feet of His bride in Ezekiel 16.10. Satan's hide becomes her heel leather(!), lest 'she bruise her foot against a stone' (Matthew 4.6, Genesis 3.15). A triumphant image of the crushing defeat of Satan (Romans 16.20). That is probably the symbolic reason for the Ark (God's footstool or heel-rester) requiring this kind of sea-leather protection.

 
At 12:44 pm, Blogger Abe Mathew said...

The kosher aspect is largely irrelevant, I think too. The outer covering, be it of badger skin or otherwise, needed to be stitched together. So was the second covering of goat skin. Both showed the humanity of Christ - the outer, from human perspective, described in Is. 53, where there is no beauty and the inner from divine perspective showing his sinless nature. Regardless of what skin it was, many skins would have to be stitched together to make the outer covering, which would not have been a goodly sight- indeed the savior whose visage was so marred.

 
At 4:06 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also believe the animal to be "unicorn" in nature--mentioned more than once in scripture--possibly created for this singular purpose

 
At 11:43 am, Blogger Hugo Costa said...


I guys,

Check the dolphins and whales page at
http://skaphandrus.com
a comprehensive catalogue of marine species to sea lovers.

 
At 2:24 pm, Blogger Nicholas said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 5:31 pm, Blogger Nicholas said...

there is a little confusion surrounding what specific kinds of skins covered the Tabernacle(e.g. was it badger skin, dolphin, seal or goat?), but consider this symbolic association:

both Elijah the prophet and John the baptist wore garments of animal hair, along with leather belts around their waists. but the specific type of animal hair that Elijah wore was not specified—perhaps the source varied, or simply did not matter symbolically.

the Tabernacle did not only represent the body(outer court), soul(holy place) and Spirit(Holy of Holies) of Jesus, but also currently symbolizes the body of every born again believer. if you are born again, you are—in that sense—a tabernacle, or a holy dwelling place of God.

 

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