The Jewish Feasts: Part 13, Yom Kippur Factoids

Cross section of Herod’s Temple, looking south. ©2012 Bristol Works, Inc. Rose Publishing Inc.

Interesting Facts and Misconceptions:

Where is the Ark of the Covenant now?

Based primarily on research done by Dr. Randall Price (Searching for the Ark of the Covenant and The Lost Ark and the Last Days: In Search of Temple Treasures) I believe that the Ark is in a cave beneath the Temple Mount. It was accessible and possibly seen after the 1967 “6-Day War” prior to the sealing of Warren’s Gate by the Jordanian Waqf.

When was the Ark ever in Herod’s Temple?

Never! Leviticus 16 describes God’s commandments for Yom Kippur in the Tabernacle. These were followed with appropriate modifications in the days of Solomon’s Temple, but when that Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the Ark disappeared. Old Jewish traditions hold that Jeremiah hid it somewhere before the destruction.

How did Yom Kippur work without an Ark?

The problem was bigger than that: not only was the Ark gone, but as prophesied in Ezekiel 9 and 10, so was God’s Sh’khinah (Divine Presence), and even the two large cherubim statues were missing. There was nothing in there except haShetiya, the Foundation Stone on which the Ark sat. What was sprinkled with blood? Just the stone. There is, to this day, a shallow niche carved into the stone that is the exact dimension, location and orientation to have supported the Ark, so that is where the High Priest’s attention was focused.

How did it work with no Temple at all?

Some Jewish congregations still attempt to offer a blood sacrifice by wringing the neck of a chicken, but this is a minority practice. In the late 1st century, rabbis decided that the Temple ritual could be replaced by Tefilah (prayer), Teshuva (repentance), and Tzedakah (charity). Those are all good things, surely, but one might say, “Why not just accept your own Messiah?” What about the interval of the Babylonian Captivity, when there was also no Temple? I would ask you to remember that salvation was never a result of sacrifice! Sacrifice was a response of faith in a gracious God!

How did the High Priest accomplish so much in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur if he could enter only once a year?

It is not true that the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies only once a year. He went only on Yom Kippur, but on that day he went in four times: (1) He entered to lay coals from the altar, and to burn incense. (2) He entered again to sprinkle the bull’s blood for his own atonement. (3) He entered yet again to sprinkle the goat’s blood for the people’s atonement. (4) Finally, he entered to remove the spent coals at the close of the ceremony.

Given the unrighteousness of many High Priests, how many were struck dead entering the Holy of Holies?

None, as far a we know. But righteousness was not required, or none would have survived; only “ritual cleanness” kept them alive. There was a long process that was required to achieve this ceremonial virtue. It began four days earlier, and involved many washings, immersions, and changes of attire. Part of this procedure was Biblical, part was traditional.

Was a rope really tied to the High Priest’s leg so that he could be pulled out if his attendants quit hearing the tinkling of his bells and pomegranates?

Pure myth! To begin with, there were no bells and pomegranates, because Scripture required him to enter in pure white linens, with no decoration. In the second place, during the key moments of his entry, no other humans were allowed into even the inner Temple courts, let along into the Temple itself. Thirdly, it would have been impossible to pull him through the veil in any case. It was not one veil, it was actually two very heavy veils stretching from side to side and ceiling to floor, with no space on any side. There was a space of one cubit separating the two veils. The outer one was pinned to the left doorpost and the inner to the right doorpost so that they might never reveal what lay beyond. When entering the Holy of Holies, the Priest would pass below the pin on the left side of the outer curtain, walk between the curtains, pass beneath the pin on the right side of the inner curtain, and then walk beside that curtain until he reached the Ark. To exit, he reversed the route. It is impossible for me to conceive of a rope with a body attached being pulled through that circuitous route. Nor would this have been needed; see below regarding cleaning of the Holy of Holies.

Are the scarlet thread stories true?

I have heard two versions. One holds that a scarlet thread was attached to the wall beside the outer veil. If by the next day the thread was found to have turned snow white, then God had accepted the sacrifice. Otherwise, the sacrifice had been rejected and Israel’s sins were unforgiven. The continuation of this story holds that after Jesus’ crucifixion, and up to the AD 70 destruction of the Temple, the thread never changed color. This isn’t absurd on its face, like the rope theory, but if it were true, we would find volumes of lamentations over those 40 years of rejection. This would be known as the greatest national calamity ever to strike Israel. I think even more so than the Temples’ destruction. The second version is the same, except that the thread was attached to a horn of the Scapegoat. I reject this version as well. I think that this one is probably a corruption of a story in rabbinical literature which records that a scarlet strand of some sort was tied across both horns of the goat and used to secure a heavy rock so that the sure-footed goat would be pulled over the cliff to its destruction.

How far out of the Temple was the goat taken?

According to rabbinical sources, 90 ris. After five separate unit conversions, I worked this out to about 7 miles. Watchers were stationed at key locations between Temple and cliff so that successful completion of the goat’s assassination could be signaled back by means of flags, and the next steps of the ceremony begun.

Would the Ark with its poles even have fit into the Holy of Holies?

Very astute question! We know the dimensions of the room, of the Ark, and even of the poles. Yet almost every depiction of these things shows the Ark oriented with its poles parallel to the veil, which cannot be! In reality, the Ark went in like a car into a garage. And on either side of it stood a very large statue of a stylized cherub.

How was the Holy of Holies kept clean, or did it never get dirty?

Of course, it got dirty! Hundreds of years of dust bunnies, charcoal dust, incense smoke, insects, and mouse droppings, not to mention hundreds of years of bullock and goat blood! And, potentially, dead High Priests. Before you ask, no, the High Priest didn’t do the cleaning. Above the Holy of Holies was a “drop ceiling” consisting of wooden rectangular tiles set into a framework. Referring to the attached diagram, there was a large chamber over the Holy of Holies, and the ceiling below could be accessed from there. Workmen could, after suitable cleansing, be lowered on ropes to work using tools with long handles. The rules prevented them from touching anything in the room with their own bodies, nor were they allowed to dally or “sight-see”.

Table of Contents: The Jewish Feasts
Start of Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 1, Chapter Introduction
Previous in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 12, Atonement
Next in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 14, Tabernacles

Author: Ron Thompson

Retired President of R. L Thompson Engineering, Inc.

2 thoughts on “The Jewish Feasts: Part 13, Yom Kippur Factoids”

    1. Since I’m not an academic, historical or scientific writer, I mostly avoid getting hung up on citations. I’m guessing I probably read this in Leen Ritmeyers’ The Quest. It has been a few years since I wrote this.

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