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Home > Weekly Columns > Aramaic Thoughts > Archives >
Article for February 20, 2009

Aramaic Thoughts Archives
First available on February 20, 2009

The Peshitta of the Old Testament - Part 13


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Author Bio
Dr. Shaw was born and raised in New Mexico. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico in 1977, the M. Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1980, and the Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1981, with an emphasis in biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament and Targumic Aramaic, as well as Ugaritic).

He did two year of doctoral-level course work in Semitic languages (Akkadian, Arabic, Ethiopic, Middle Egyptian, and Syriac) at Duke University. He received the Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation at Bob Jones University in 2005.

Since 1991, he has taught Hebrew and Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a school which serves primarily the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where he holds the rank of Associate Professor.


Some comments on the material in Exodus 25-31. These chapters contain the instructions for the building of the tabernacle and its furnishings. Much of this material is repeated almost verbatim in chs 35-39. Chapter 24 gives the account of the establishment of the covenant and concludes with what is essentially a Sabbath statement in verse 16, “The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day he called to Moses from the cloud.” The section 25-31 also concludes with a statement regarding the Sabbath, in 31:12-17. After the episode of the golden calf in chs 32-34, the account of the building of the tabernacle begins with a reiteration of the Sabbath command in 35:1-3. Thus the whole section ties Israelite worship in with the Sabbath observance.

The order of the instructions is also interesting. It works from the inside out, beginning with the furniture of the tabernacle and moving to the tent itself. The Ark of the Covenant is the first item described which was the sole piece of furniture in the Holy of Holies. Then the table for the bread of the presence, and the golden lampstand are described. These two pieces of furniture were found in the Holy Place, just outside the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Then the tent of the tabernacle itself is described. This tent enclosed the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. This is followed by a description of the altar of burnt offering and the hangings surrounding (or defining) the courtyard. These were outside the tabernacle proper. The hangings defined the outer perimeter of the tabernacle complex.

From this point the instructions move to the composition of the lampstand oil, then to the priestly garments. It then moves on to the instructions for the consecration of the priests and the instructions for the daily offerings. The account concludes with a seemingly disparate grouping of items: the incense altar (inside the Holy Place), the atonement money gathered from the people, the bronze basin (inside the tabernacle courtyard, and used for the washing of the priests), the anointing oil (used to anoint both things and persons), and finally the incense to be burned on the incense altar.

David Dorsey, in his The Literary Structure of the Old Testament suggests the following purpose in the arrangement of this material. The items from the ark to the courtyard constitute the building of the tabernacle itself. This moves through the brief description of the maintenance of lamps (27:20-21) to the center of the concern—the priestly garments and the dedication of the priests. The account then moves back out through the daily sacrifices (29:38-46) to the instruction concerning items necessary for the maintenance of the tabernacle. In short, the focus is on holy persons (the priests) functioning on a regular basis in a holy place (the tabernacle). The primary duty of those holy persons is to keep two fires continually burning—the lamp representing God shining upon his people, and the sacrifices, representing the atoning work that enables the relationship between a holy God and a sinful people to continue unabated.

It should be noted that the identification of many of the materials used in the tabernacle is largely traditional. Thus, some of the identifications are not entirely certain. This accounts in part for some of the variation among translations.

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