Posted by: chuckbumgardner | April 6, 2010

The Thickness of the Temple Veil

I recently was asked about a reference in a book which refers to the veil of the temple being torn in two (Mt 27:51; Mk 15:38; Lk 23:45), and notes that the veil was four inches thick.  Now, I had heard that measurement before, and to my recollection the veil was said to be as thick as a man’s hand.  This was “common knowledge” as I recalled, and I assumed that the description of the thickness was a biblical reference.

Herod’s temple, however, does not find detailed description in Scripture; the description of the veil in the tabernacle gives no comment on its thickness; and the brief reference to the veil in Solomon’s temple (2Chr 3:14) does not speak to the matter.

None of the 15-20 commentaries on the synoptics in my library so much as mentioned the thickness of the veil in commenting on its being torn in two, nor does the more focused treatment of Marinus de Jonge, “Matthew 27:51 in Early Christian Exegesis,” Harvard Theological Review 79 (1986): 67-79.  In a Ryrie Study Bible, however, I discovered this note at Ex 26:31-35: “Josephus reported that the veil was 4 inches thick, was renewed every year, and that horses tied to each side could not pull it apart.  It barred all but the High Priest from the presence of God, but when it was torn in two at the death of Jesus of Nazareth (see Mark 15:38), access to God was made available to all who come through him.”  (Even at face value, this is an enigmatic note, in that Exodus 26 describes the Tabernacle, and the veil that was torn in two was part of Herod’s Temple.  Ryrie’s representation of “the veil” certainly implies that the veil that Exodus describes is the veil that Josephus describes, which is to be identified with the veil that was torn in two.)

Ryrie’s description sent me to Josephus.  Since Ryrie did not give a specific reference in Josephus, I searched in an online version for references to “veil,” but although Josephus does speak of the temple veil, his description does not address its thickness:

before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures. (Wars 5.5.4)

There are other descriptions of the Temple veil in Josephus, but none of them that I examined spoke to the thickness of the veil, a finding confirmed here.

A web search for information led me to Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.  In this work, Edersheim states

The Veils before the Most Holy Place were 40 cubits (60 feet) long, and 20 (30 feet) wide, of the thickness of the palm of the hand, and wrought in 72 squares, which were joined together; and these Veils were so heavy, that, in the exaggerated language of the time, it needed 300 priests to manipulate each.  If the Veil was at all such as is described in the Talmud, it could not have been rent in twain by a mere earthquake or the fall of the lintel, although its composition in squares fastened together might explain, how the rent might be as described in the Gospel. (online reference)

Edersheim does not specifically document the statement about the veil’s thickness, but in the context refers to Talmudic sources.  Continuing searches brought up Maurice Henry Harris, Hebraic Literature: Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala (M. Walter Dunne, 1901).  In this work, we find:

Three hundred priests were told off [sic; the idea is that they were designated] to draw the veil (of the Temple) aside; for it is taught that Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel declared in the name of Rabbi Shimon the Sagan (or high priest’s substitute), that the thickness of the veil was a handbreadth. It was woven of seventy-two cords, and each cord consisted of twenty-four strands. It was forty cubits long and twenty wide. Eighty-two myriads of damsels worked at it, and two such veils were made every year. When it became soiled, it took three hundred priests to immerse and cleanse it.     Chullin (Harris, pp. 195-96)

This quotation references a passage from the Mishnah, the early codification of Judaism’s “oral law” — explanations of the Torah.  Here is the passage from Herbert Danby’s translation of the Mishnah:

Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel says in the name of R. Simeon son of the Prefect: The veil was one handbreadth thick and was woven on [a loom having] seventy-two rods, and over each rod were twenty-four threads.  Its length was forty cubits and its breadth twenty cubits; it was made by eighty-two young girls, and they used to make two in every year; and three hundred priests immersed it. (p. 161, bracketed material is part of the original quote, not my addition.)

I found rabbinic commentary on this passage in Jacob ben Solomon, Agadat En Yaakov, pp. 207-208.  Here is recorded rabbinic commentary on the use of hyberbolic language by “the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the sages.”  A quote from the Mishnah is given to demonstrate hyperbolic language in “the sages,” Deut 1:28 is referenced for “the Pentateuch,” and 1 Kings 1:40 is quoted for “the Prophets.”  After these examples of hyperbolic language, the text continues with further examples in “the sages,”

R. Isaac said, “In three places did the Rabbis use a hyperbolic language.  They are: In connection with the ash-pile [in the altar], in connection with the vine, and in connection with the veil [of the Temple].  As to the ash-pile it was stated above; as to the vine, we find in the following Mishna: There was a golden vine at the entrance of the Temple, trailing on crystals, on which people, who donated fruit or grape clusters would suspend on it.   R. Elazar b. Zadok said: “It happened once that three hundred priests were summoned to clear [the vine of such offerings.]  The veil refers to the following Mishna:  Rabban Simon  b. Gamaliel says in the name of R. Simon, the High-priest’s substitute, “The thickness of the veil [of the Temple] was a hand-breadth.  It was woven of seventy-two cords, each cord consisting of twenty-four strands.  Its length was forty cubits, by twenty in width.  It was made by eighty-two myriads of damsels, and two such veils were made every year.  It took three hundred priests to immerse and cleanse it [if it becomes unclean].” (p. 208, bracketed material is part of the original quote, not my addition.)

Now, I am no student of rabbinic literature.  I believe, however, that the above quotation would  be classified as haggadic midrash, a sort of homiletical interpretation. (Wikipedia: ‘Aggadah).

In sum, the statement that the Temple veil was as thick as a man’s hand is found originally in rabbinic literature (the Mishnah), not Scripture. Later rabbinic commentary tags this description as hyperbolic language.  Given the context of the original statement, as well as the uncertainty of rabbinic traditions, it is unwise for us to state in an unqualified fashion that the veil was as thick as a man’s hand.  It would be more accurate to say something like, “Early Jewish tradition stated that the Temple veil was as thick as a man’s hand, although this might be an exaggeration.”

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Responses

  1. Edersheim would be a likely source for Christian authors to have read. Most would not have read the rabbinic sources directly. I wonder if Gill might be another source since his commentaries reflect significant interaction with rabbinic sources. I checked on Matthew 27:51 (in e-sword). Here are his comments:
    from top to bottom; and which was no less than forty cubits in length, which was the height of the holy of holies in the second temple; and which made the rent the more astonishing. The account the Jews give of the vail, is this (w):

    “R. Simeon ben Gamaliel said, on account of R. Simeon, the son of the Sagan, the thickness of the vail is an hand’s breadth, and it is woven of seventy two threads, and every thread has twenty four threads in it: it is forty cubits long, and twenty broad, and is made of eighty two myriads; (which is either the number of the threads in it, or the sum of the golden pence it cost. Some copies read, is made by eighty two virgins (x);) two are made every year; and three hundred priests wash it.

    The sources Gill cites are:
    (w) Misn. Shekalim, c. 8. sect. 5. Shernot Rabba, sect. 50. fol. 144. 2. Bernidbar Rabba, sect. 4. fol. 183. 2. (x) Vid. Bartenora & Yom. Tob. in ib.

  2. Drake, that is an outstanding reference. I really should have thought of checking Gill!

    I find it interesting that Gill, along with everyone else I’ve read that quotes the section you gave, does not note that it is clearly set forth as an example of hyperbolic language. The closest I’ve found to someone saying that is when Edersheim says “in the exaggerated language of the time.” Edersheim qualifies only part of the quotation with these words, however; he sets forth as factual the statements of the size of the veil — including its being a handsbreath thick. In the original context, however, it is not clear at all to me which of the statements are supposed to use hyperbolic language, and I suspect that the statement as to the veil’s thickness is indeed one such statement.

    ____
    And a year later…I’m editing this comment. Turns out the original statement of the veil as being as thick as a man’s hand is stated straightforwardly and factually in the Mishnah. It is only later rabbinic commentary that suggests the statement in the Mishnah was an exaggeration.

  3. I am glad that you did research on this, dad!

  4. There were two curtains, evangelicals generally assume that it was the veil to the holy of holies that was rent but the curtain referred to in Josephus is the one that the Centurion could have seen and the rending of this curtain would symbolically have let the outsiders, the gentiles into the inner court.

  5. [...] The Thickness of the Temple Veil April 2010 4 comments 4 [...]

  6. thanx helpful in teaching saints.

  7. Celia, you are correct in noting the ongoing debate as to which veil is referenced, and your point regarding the centurion is well-taken. Further support of the “outer curtain” view is found in the fascinating little essay by David Ulansey, “The Heavenly Veil Torn: Mark’s Cosmic ‘Inclusio,'” JBL 110 (1991): 123-25.

  8. The veil was torn from top to bottom. This signifies the heavens being joined to the earth. Man now has unlimited access to God. Hallelujah!

  9. I’m just glad to know that God has opened the doors of heaven to sinful men such as i.

  10. Wonderful teaching here. I heard/read somewhere that it was many(?) virgins worked on this veil. Is there any info you would expose about this(how it was made)?

  11. I have been able to find this on biblios.com, http://gill.biblecommenter.com/matthew/27.htm
    concentrating on Gill’s. I am now wonder how to access the sources. I tried googling them, but only to return to the same site I listed above.

  12. Terri, “damsels” in the above quotations would be equivalent to “maidens” or “virgins”. In the present day, we tend to use “virgin” in a technical sense, but if I understand correctly, there used to be a greater semantic equivalence between the idea of a woman being a virgin technically speaking, and the idea of a woman being unmarried. (I’m not so naive as to think that this was always the case in actuality, but it was the cultural expectation. It is a commentary on the degradation of our culture that it is no longer the cultural expectation.) That is, it used to be that “virgin” and “unmarried woman” (who was assumed to be a virgin) were at some level synonymous, and “damsel” in the above quotes is by definition “unmarried woman” (as is “maiden” in other places).

    As to accessing the sources, the titles in the post (such as “Hebraic Literature: Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala”) are links that should connect you to electronic copies of the sources.

  13. Note that according to Scripture, and to other sources too, the veil was torn from top to bottom. This inicates a divine action, since physically if a strong person, stronger even than Samson for instance, were actually able to tear the veil, it would be from bottom to top. So the direction is not just spiritually significant, it shows a physically significant act.

    David

  14. Very interesting topic.

    I appreciate the commentary on the thickness of the veil. I think sometimes we get caught up in the physicality of certain things and do not see the obvious. While there may have been some hyperbole involved in the Hebrew references, I still believe the veil was of substantial construction. Its height and width alone would indicate that it had to have been constructed sturdy enough to bear up under its own weight.

    There are a couple of issues which I am curious about though.

    Why is reference made to the Centurion “seeing” the temple curtain rent in two? Did he actually see this occur? I don’t see anything written to support this assumption. Mark’s statement in 15:38 is declarative: “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” 15:39 is a specific commentary on the Centurion’s observation of Christ’s death.

    The other issue concerns where the actual location of Golgotha is. If it were, as most believe, to the west of the temple, could the Centurion actually have seen the veil, or would the view have been blocked by the city wall / temple itself? Traditionally, walled cities were built higher up then the surounding areas to provide the “high” ground when it came to defense. The city walls would have provided a significant obstacle towards having a clear view of the temple itself, let alone the outer veil, especially if one were standing near the crucifix. The same applies if you believe in Gordon’s Garden Tomb location which would have been blocked by the Roman fortress on the northwestern side of the city.

    In my [very humble] take on this passage, the reaction by the Centurion would have been in direct relation to the visibile things occuring immediately around him, i.e. darkness over the city, earthquake, tombs opening, and Jesus’ comments prior to his death.

    Any input regarding this would be appreciated.

  15. Andrew, thank you. You’ve caught me making an unchecked assumption. You are correct in noting that the Scripture does not indicate that the centurion saw the torn veil. The closest it comes to doing so is in Matthew 27, when the tearing of the veil heads up a list of unusual occurrences in vv. 51-53. Following this list of events, Matthew reports that “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!'” In theory, “what took place” could include the rending of the veil referenced in v. 51. This is unlikely, though, due to the reason you mentioned (inability to see the veil from the site of the crucifixion).

  16. Glad that I could bring a different thought to the conversation.

    • Excellent research!
      In writing after the fact, after Jesus’s death, I think Matthew was writing not only observations but also things he learned of such as the wrenting of the veil possibly from the Holy Spirit or one of the deciples accounts. Someone who was working in or near the Temple who might have observed this shocking event and run out to tell the people what had happened. I am sure that it was an event passed arround between the Rabbi’s and the ladies who were employed to make a replacement. I wonder if the wrenting of the veil appears in the history of the Jews?

  17. What would be a fabric around today that would be comparable to the temple curtain? Would it have been a cotton type of fabric?

  18. I agree with you Andrew . I apologise if I am doubling up here. I rushed too fast to make my comment and did not fully read yours before I wrote the words below. I can only hope it might help you to know that someone has similar thoughts on this subject to you.
    I find in Word of GOD three descriptions of when the temple veil was torn and the response of the Centurion. I quote first from the Book of Mark, (KJV)
    Mar 15:37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.
    Mar 15:38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the
    bottom.
    Mar 15:39 And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.
    As I see it, it was the sight of JESUS crying out that caused the Centurion (who was by the Cross) to say, “Truly this man was the SON of GOD.”

    Matthew says: –
    Mat 27:50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up
    the ghost.
    Mat 27:51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the
    top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
    Mat 27:52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints
    which slept arose,
    Mat 27:53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into
    the holy city, and appeared unto many.
    Mat 27:54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching
    Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared
    greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
    Likewise as I see it, it was the sight of JESUS crying out, the earthquake and the rocks rent that caused the Centurion, (…and they that were with him, watching JESUS), to say “Truly this man was the SON of GOD.”

    Luke says: –
    Luk 23:45 And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.
    Luk 23:46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
    Luk 23:47 Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.
    There are two assumptions we could make here about what the Centurion saw was done a). that he was near the cross and “…saw what was done…” referred to the darkened sun and JESUS last words and the death of HIS earthly body, or b). that the Centurion saw the Veil torn – However if he was at/in the Temple would he have heard JESUS cry out? Although I admit that Jesus’ cry was loud.
    You could chose one or the other, (or maybe they refer to two different Centurions), unfortunately it is not clear but Mark and Matthew definitely refer to the Centurion beside the cross. I find it hard though to think that one Centurion saw all things at the same time.

  19. Alister, when it comes right down to it, I think Andrew is right in suggesting that the centurion did not see the veil being torn. You suggest that it could be one (i.e., the centurion “saw” Jesus’ death) or the other (the centurion “saw” the veil torn), but Luke’s account doesn’t directly connect the centurion’s statement with the tearing of the veil — Jesus’ last words and his death are closer in context.

  20. I agree completely with you Chuck, and with Andrew (as I mentioned at the start of my dialogue). I am sorry if you misunderstood me.
    My comments I guess were in reply to suggestions earlier on where it was mentioned that there were two curtains, and that the outer one is … ‘the one that the Centurion could have seen’.
    The point I was trying to make was, (just as you have mentioned about Matthew and Mark), that the centurion in
    Luk 23:47 “Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man”,
    is the same man spoken about by Matthew and Mark.

    Concerning which Veil was torn may I refer to Hebrews 10:19 – 20
    Heb 10:19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
    Heb 10:20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
    (This is the KJV – other BIBLE versions refer to ‘the holiest’ as ‘the sanctuary’, the ‘Most Holy Place’, the ‘holy of holies’, etc.
    To me this indicates that it was the Inner Veil (to the Sanctuary/the Holiest of Holies), that was torn. What do you think?

    There is also a suggestion that the the Veil was symbolic of JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF e.g.
    John 14:6 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”.
    I can expand on this in the future if you would like!

  21. [...] God to man), not the other way around, symbolizing that it was an act of God, not of any man.  See http://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/the-thickness-of-the-temple-veil/ for a good discussion of the [...]

  22. I don’t know if this blog has finished but I thought I would leave it here in it is of any interest to anyone reading this in the future, (I have posted it on the ‘: ‘The Greatest Moment « Not as it Looks’.
    I apologise I am doing too much by posting it here.
    I would be interested in your comments to the following: –
    Through the Veil
    1. Curtain/Veil in the Jerusalem temple in front of the Sanctuary, (the HOLY of HOLIES).
    a. It separated the Holy of Holies (earthly dwelling place of God’s presence) from the rest of the temple where men performed their priestly duties. Hebrews 9:2-7
    b. The Curtain was – 60 feet high, 30 feet wide and a man’s hands breadth (approximately 4 inches) thick. A horse on each side could not pull it apart.
    2. Some Theologians say the veil was Symbolic of CHRIST HIMSELF…(John 14:6 “I AM the WAY THE TRUTH and the LIFE, nobody comes to the FATHER but by ME).
    3. Only the High Priest was allowed into the HOLY of HOLIES. He entered once a year to perform his priestly duties and only after he had sacrificed a sin offering, and thoroughly washed himself symbolically clean from sin. For anyone else entering in it was death.
    4. When JESUS’ Human Body died, as depicted by Mark 15: 37& 38: –
    “Mar 15:37 With a loud cry Jesus breathed his last.
    Mar 15:38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (NIV)
    5. The veil was torn by an act of GOD. The flesh on JESUS’ human Body, was torn and broken from flogging by men. (HIS human body died but HIS SPIRIT (unbroken) was set free to return to GOD in HEAVEN.)
    6. Heaven is now GOD’s Sanctuary. When Jesus died, the veil was torn, and God no longer needed a place on earth.
    Acts 17:24 “ The God who made the world and all things in it, is the Lord of
    heaven and earth, and does not live in temples made with hands.”
    7. In the Spiritual – receiving JESUS sacrifice has washed us clean by his BLOOD, (not the blood of an animal), and by the Water of HIS WORD, (Eph 5:26 …that He might sanctify it (the church), cleansing it by the washing of the water in the Word).
    8. HE now comes to take us with HIM, through the ‘veil’ of HIS BODY and into GOD’S KINGDOM.
    Heb 4:14 “We have a we have a Great High Priest, who is passed into
    Heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith of our confession.”
    Paul sums it up nicely in Hebrews 10:19 – 22
    Heb 10:19 Having therefore brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
    Heb 10:20 By a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
    Heb 10:21 And having an high priest over the house of God;
    Heb 10:22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

  23. i am learning and enjoying truely guys…….just keep it up…praying for you all

  24. Hebrews 9:12 “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” In understanding this particular piece of scripture, it would seem to make it quite clear that the “holy place” is not that of just the room before the Holy of Holies. Christ wouldn’t have entered into the holy place once [He wouldn't need to enter twice, because He had no sin for which to atone] with blood without going in the the room containing the Ark of the Covenant to make propitiation for our sins. Although modern bent is toward the premise that the veil torn was that of the first veil, i.e., the veil separating the courtyard from the Holy Place, it should be evident here that the second veil was the one actually torn from top to bottom. If not, why then would Hebrews 10:19 make the statement of being able to enter into “the holiest?”

  25. I thank-you Cyril for your encouraging words. It is a blessing to give and receive encouragement especially to and from our brothers in CHRIST.
    Thank-you for pointing out Hebrews 9:12, Paul. It makes me think also, what would be the significance of having access through a torn veil into a human area, i.e. the Holy Place where men, (priests), perform sacrifices.
    Alternately a torn veil that had shielded GOD’S PRESENCE on earth from all but one member of mankind, (the high priest), has profound and monumental implications that go beyond this world. They are hidden to those who do not receive and believe in CHRIST JESUS and have not GOD’S enlightenment through HIS HOLY SPIRIT, and are a veil/barrier to Everlasting Life. For those who receive JESUS, HE is the WAY the TRUTH and the LIFE to the FATHER. To HIS children, Eternal Peace not death now lies beyond that veil.
    (I hope I haven’t over expressed myself and made this too confusing).

  26. This is a most wonderful blog. Heathly conversation to make us idg deeper, while doing so in humble adoration. G-d’s blessings to you all in the name of the Lord Jesus.

  27. So what did the Jews do when it was torn in two? Just put one of the extra ones up?

    • Now that’s a good question. As I recall, the veil was sort of quilted, so maybe it tore along a “seam” and they were able to sew it back up!

    • Good reply!

  28. “quilted” . What gave you this impression? ,its certainly an interesting one, and seems to make sense(i wondered if it was felted,it was the only way i could think of making material so thick, i forgot about quilting). This question of veil thickness has just been raised in the bible study group i attend, and although i know its the symbology which is most important ,knowing the details adds to realising the powerfull forces involved, and what it meant/means.
    Your friend in Christ :)

    • Hi, Leeanne,

      Notice Edersheim’s language: “wrought in 72 squares, which were joined together.” That doesn’t necessarily match up with the other descriptions; Harris says it consisted of 72 cords, and Danby’s translation indicates he thinks the language ought to be understood as involving a loom with 72 rods. So there is obviously a translation issue involved, and I’m afraid I’m not qualified to adjudicate it.

      • Thankyou for your reply, i guess it’s just one of the things that will have to be left to speculation, :)

  29. This is just a comment on the actual construction of the curtain.

    There are two basic kinds of fibers, plant and animal. Plant fibers are cellulose and animal fibers are protein. Protein fibers have scales which grab on to each other but cellulose fibres don’t have scales so cannot behave this way. If the curtain was made of a felted technique then it would be made of an animal fiber, like from a sheep or a goat. If the curtain was made from a plant fiber, then weaving and quilting techniques could be used.

    Examining the initial construction of the temple, as recorded in Exodus, the curtain separating the Holy place from the Most Holy Place in the temple was made from linen according to Exodus 26:31. I am definitely assuming that Jewish traditions would keep the construction of this curtain from the exact same fiber, even if they replaced the curtain because it was explicitly told how it should be made. (other parts of the temple were made of goat hair according to this same chapter of Exodus).

    Exodus 26:31 “Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker. 32 Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases. 33 Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the covenant law behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.

    Thus we can rule out felting as the technique for creating the curtain. It must be some woven technique, or perhaps a combination of weaving and quilting. The next step would be to work from the translated text to see what a fabric would look like if it was made with 72 cords or made on a loom with 72 rods. I don’t have knowledge in this area to add more to the discussion.

    • How thick is the veil? (Moses’ tabernacle)
      Exo 26:31 And thou shalt make a vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work: with cherubims shall it be made:
      Exo 26:32 And thou shalt hang it upon four pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold: their hooks shall be of gold, upon the four sockets of silver.
      Exo 26:33 And thou shalt hang up the vail under the taches, that thou mayest bring in thither within the vail the ark of the testimony: and the vail shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.

      I came across a comment that the veil was between 18-24 inches thick, another said 4 inches and yet another 5 inches. According to the comments on this website none of these could really be substantiated. It was a comment on a comment on a comment of a rabbi. I tried to get to an answer, because in the end what we say must at least make sense too. It must also show that the ‘preacher’ knows what he is talking about, that he is not parrot-talking (and that happens so often). Is it what the Word says?
      From a practical point:
      The measurement of this veil was 10x10ft. Consider that there were four pillars between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, and that the veil was to be hooked on the pillars with hooks made of gold. (Gold is a relatively soft metal.) A curtain of 18-24 inches thick would be so unpractical and heavy that it would bend the hooks, how would such a thick thing it be folded or rolled up or transported, even with 300 priests available???? Even a curtain of 4-5 inches thick would be equally difficult to manage.
      An ordinary 10 x10 ft. tapestry type woven carpet with a thick pile of 1 cm thick is not only very heavy but does not let any light through and must be carried by more than two people. Considering the measurements it is very unlikely that it could be anywhere that thick, not even 4 inches. They would have needed a very special and sophisticated weaving apparatus to make this veil.
      The Word does not say that this veil was woven in squares either and then sewn together. Exo 26:31 “And thou shalt make a vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work: with cherubims shall it be made:”

      And then…our God is a Spirit, He could supernaturally have caused this veil to separate the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place.
      This is perhaps not an academically researched answer, but just a common sense one.

  30. I just found this blog today (01/07/2013) so, it is still serving a purpose. Thank you!

  31. Liz asked: – 1 ‘So what did the Jews do with it when it was torn in two?

    By ‘when’ may I assume that you meant ‘after’ also?

    I am not a fan of Josephus, (in fact rather sceptical of his sayings)? However I thought that I would check and see what he had to say about this, so I quote from Josephus’ Account of the Passion by Peter E. Chojnowski, Ph.D. : –
    ….This text clearly identifies the Death of Christ as being the point in time when the curtain of the Temple was rent “from the top to the bottom.” We, also, have the singular fact presented that the curtain of the Temple, after being rent at the time of the Passion, was left hanging for a considerable period of time. Such would be quite an odd fact to make up if one were looking to skew the text in any way.

    2. Just put one of the extra ones up?

    For this I quote Gill’s comment by R. Simeon ben Gamaliel the son of the Sagan. The thickness of the vail is an hand’s breadth, and it is woven of seventy two threads, and every thread has twenty four threads in it: it is forty cubits long, and twenty broad, and is made of eighty two myriads; (which is either the number of the threads in it, or the sum of the golden pence it cost). Some copies read, is made by eighty two virgins (x);) two are made every year; and three hundred priests wash/manoeuvre it.
    If true it would seem that there were was another available to be put up.

    Thank-you for your comments and quotes on the quilted form of the veil, Chuck, they certainly help make it sound feasible in the physical.
    Whatever it was like I guess we can only speculate and in doing so whether we hit upon the actual form of it I don’t know. However I feel what is most important is the Spiritual meaning it implies.

    I am greatly enjoying this blog – thank-you Chuck and everybody who is/have taken part in it.

  32. One thing no one used was the Bible itself! Exodus 26:1 Moreover you shall make the Tabernacle with 10 Curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with Cherubim (not necessarily angels) of cunning work you shall make them. 26:2 The length of One curtain is 28 cubits-(or 42 feet), and the width of One curtain 4 cubits-(or 6 feet): and every one of the Curtains shall have One measure.
    (each curtain had the same measurement)
    26:3 The 5 Curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and the other 5 curtains coupled together one to another.
    So if the room was 20 feet wide on the inside *remember the Cherubim’s wings that touched to the walls? So 5 Curtains expanded across the room being 42 feet wide in a 30 foot space, making them wrinkled somewhat, with the other 5 exactly behind the first set, setting the same way. Each curtain may have been about 4 inches thick making both about 8 inches thick, PLUS they were squished from 42 feet smashed up to 20 feet, and two curtains thick, it would have to make them close to 2-4 feet thick.
    Now in the Temple those curtains were probably the same but in a 30 foot width, making it about 1-foot or maybe even up to 2-foot thick being smashed up, and so the priest would have to intertwined his way into the Holy of Holies because of the wrinkles and the thickness of the curtain, that’s how it could stand an earthquake. But when YAHVEH splits something- BAM! It’s split! Split from top to bottom.
    Great job on digging into others writings, but remember one must use what the Bible has to shows us, which is the truth, the older rabbis may have been smart, but that’s one reason our Messiah Yeshua-(Jesus) came to set them straight on their interpretation of HIS word. Matt.5:17. I used Exodus to figure out from cubit (18in) to feet, then you see the size of the Tabernacles.
    Believe me my fellow servants, I don’t know everything and I’m not trying here to say I do, but with what the Bible tells us we can figure very close to it, but for sure we know it was over 4 inches thick.
    Me blessed my friends, Messianic Rabbi Tom Barnes

    • The description in Exodus 26:1-6 you mention seem to be the curtains that form the outer “walls” of the Tabernacle, whereas the veil is not discussed until 26:31-35.

  33. With such thickness and weight given it’s height, and requiring hundreds of helpers to manage during replacement or washing, how did one presumably elderly High Priest, manage to enter the Holy of Holies through this veil. I realize not many confronted this task, and only yearly, but it seems to me, to be a very difficult task at best, especially since no one else was permitted entry or even to offer assistance for fear of death.

    Secondly, is there any validity regarding any attachment to the High Priest, such as a cord to extract him if something went wrong. Remember also, the High Priest’s need to take along a sacrifice with him as atonement. This container of some sort presents yet another difficulty for entry. I presume again, entry was through the side, or corner and not through underneath. Once again, would protocol dictate the left of right side for entry, and would some type of burning lamp be taken along, yet another obstacle, with heavy weight pushing against you, with both hands filled?

    Lastly, if replacements were a standard yearly process, that would expose the inside of the Holy of Holies to people. How could this be done, and who would do it, and were there any scriptural allowances for this to happen?

    Excellent blog, learned a great deal. Blessings. Ken Oden

    • The Levitical temple priests were no older than 50 years.
      Numbers 8:24-25

      King James Version (KJV)

      24 This is it that belongeth unto the Levites: from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to wait upon the service of the tabernacle of the congregation:

      25 And from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service thereof, and shall serve no more:

  34. Great questions, Ken.

    To my knowledge, the “rope around the ankle” is a legend. I link to related material at http://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/the-rope-around-the-high-priests-ankle/.

    I had not given a bit of thought to the potential difficulty of getting through the veil. I assume that if the high priest did have difficulty entering, other priests could stand to the side and pull the curtain to one side in order to help the high priest enter. They would not be inside the holy of holies in so doing.

    And what sort of “replacements” are you speaking of? I’m not clear on that.

  35. Sorry, I was referring to the veil being replaced as needed, due to soiling or just time deterioration, or even just being washed. This would expose the entire inside of the Holy of Holies, with no covering of the entrance. Might they have placed a temporary curtain in it’s place during repair, washing or replacement with brand new curtain? Just curious!
    Regards, Ken

  36. I have heard that the priest sewed the veil up again . Is there any information on this as being true

    • I have heard the same thing myself and this very question arose this morning as I was studying the Word.

  37. As I’m preparing for Easter and the ministry of the word, I wondered what the thickness of the temple was and it lead me to this great dialogue. Thanks to all of you who took time to share your learning’s.
    I gleaned a lot form each post.
    May the Holy Spirit bring a spirit of revelation (Eph.1:17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.) to all of us as we study the scriptures to greater proclaim the truth of the gospel until He comes.

  38. My search for information on the thickness of the veil led me here. Many thanks to all who have contributed to this informative and enlightening discussion.

  39. Thanks a lot for the great explanation of the thickness of the veil in the temple. It gives me a new view on the miracle which took place in the temple. Thanks to all who took time to share their knowledge.

  40. Thanks for all the meticulous research!

  41. Very interesting comments here. Thanks to all the contributors. For years I have wondered (and asked at numerous Jewish and Christian sites) if there is any mention in rabbinic literature about the reaction of the High Priest and/or the Sanhedrin to the veil splitting in two. You would think their astonishment and awe would be recorded somewhere in all of their commentaries. After all, the High Priest still had to perform the rituals on the Day of Atonement all by himself for 40 years yet. Josephus records the Jews seeing and hearing many strange things before the destruction of Jerusalem.
    It seems the priests just kept the torn veil all hush-hush during that whole long period. Wouldn’t you think a lot of common folk heard the noise it made and began to ask questions just out of curiosity? But maybe not – no one thought to ask Lazarus “how was it being dead and then resurrected?”

    As far as yearly curtains being handmade, are there not regulations found in any rabbinic writings as to proper cleaning of the old, and storing of all those extra curtains? How dirty would that curtain get if only used once a year? The silence regarding this issue is quite strange to me. We can read about the meticulous procedures the scribes used for copying manuscripts but nothing about the proper handling of the sacred curtain?

    And finally, the significance of the torn veil is always treated as if every gentile was just yearning for the day to come when God would give them access to a relationship with Him. Not one person knew what it meant on the day it happened! For sure the High Priest was clueless just as millions today are – even after 2000 years of preaching about it. Everytime I study any topic from the Bible I end up with dozens of questions but never a definitive answer.

    Take the baptism of Jesus for instance. You could say He was
    1. just practicing the old Jewish custom of ritual purification in a mikveh
    2. “fulfilling all righteousness” by being washed since He was now the right
    age of 30 to function as a priest
    3. submitting to John’s baptism so John would know for sure Who He was
    4. making Himself manifest to Israel as the Messiah
    5. showing an example of humility and obedience for us to imitate
    6. using baptism to begin His public ministry
    7. in need of baptism so the Holy Spirit could imbue Him with wisdom
    8. giving sinners access to God’s righteousness by “fulfilling all righteousness
    9. predicting His death, burial and resurrection through water baptism
    10.choosing to submit to John so John could pass the mantel on to Him

    I can go on and on but the one thing we can’t say about His baptism is He didn’t do it for the remission of His own sins. All of the above can’t be right yet none of them seem wrong but shouldn’t God’s Word pinpoint with accuracy what things precisely mean instead of men having to guess what God wants us to believe about a subject? That’s why there are so many denominations. Men accept what seems right in their mind and reject the rest. That torn veil, though. Why isn’t there a shred of historical reference to it?

    • Ann , you made a number of suggestions about JESUS baptism. If I may add another that I had often seen in this, maybe for you ponder on: –
      1. Was it JESUS making a statement, or, was it GOD the FATHER declaring to mankind that JESUS is the promised Messiah;
      2. and not only that but it is a good demonstration of the TRINITY of GOD: –
      a) GOD the Father: the Voice – “….this is MY beloved SON, in whom I am well pleased; hear, [listen to], y e him” Mat_3:17
      b) GOD the SON: “GOD with us….” Mat_1:23 or “The Father and I are one.” John_10:30
      c) GOD the HOLY SPIRIT: “….the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him….” Mat_3:16

  42. My question is one that i have asked many times but no solid answers were presented. how exactly did the priest get behind the veil since he had the censor in one hand, and the blood in the other? did he walk to the side, through the middle or under it.

  43. Aniph, although only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, perhaps other priests pulled the veil back from the other side without themselves entering.

    • The veil was draped in a fold so that the High Priest could enter on one side (the right ) and in front of him was still more veil. He had to walk to his left to the end of the veil, turn right through a slit before the Holy of Holies was visible. This prevented anyone else from accidentally peering into the Place he out not.

  44. Why do you say the thickness of a man’s hand is 4″? The Breadth of a Man’s Hand would be 4″, but the thickness 1/2″ … Still, 30′ across and 60′ High that’s a lot of cloth!

  45. There seems a bit of discrepancy between the measurements of a hand’s breath between Commentaries. I quote four below: –
    Barnes: ‘The palm or hand-breadth seems to have a little exceeded three inches.’
    Gill: ‘and a hand’s breadth were three inches’.
    Gill: ‘1 Kings 7:26 And it was an hand breadth thick,…. or four fingers, as in Jer_52:21. ’
    Clarke: ‘and was a hand breadth or four inches’
    Henry: ‘and that was a hand-breadth (that it, four inches).’
    My own hand’s breadth is approximately 4 inches.

  46. I am in a bible study class and this subject has come up in it. This has been very interesting to read, and I would just like to know the answer to this question. If the tearing of the veil was to signify a few things, no need for more sacrifices, God coming to dwell with us, etc…. what do Jews believe to be the reason for this? If they don’t believe in Jesus what explanation do they give? I also understand that Jews believe God to be “all Spirit”, never able to take on the human form, thus, Jesus could not be the Son of God. Please know I am new in my walk with Christ, and whatever I read or study I have a tendency to over analyze. With this being so significant to those who believe, surely this has some significance to them. Right?

    • Hi Cyni Brattan my name is John Pettit , and I agree that the Jews would have a hard time explaining that rent veil . It also points to the fact that the way to God is now open and thatJesus is the only way the truth and the life . I trust that you have come that way. It is nice to hear that you are a new beliver . it seems that you have found a good Church and I pray that you read your bible every day. God will speak to you through his word , and you are quite capable of listening to Him so be patient and He will reveal himself to you. Keep going to church , and enjoy Good Christain fellowship

      • I do not know of any Rabbinic writings that address the veil’s tearing either. But the Rabbis do not shy from difficult things to explain. It is noted by the Sages that 40 years prior to the destruction of Herod’s/Ezra’s Temple the great doors of the Temple opened of their own accord. This would have been no small thing as these were understood as the famed Nikanor gates that nearly everyone entered the Temple by into the court of the Women. (It was not actually the court for women)
        It was understood as a ‘sign’ missed by the people of that day. And we know the Temple was destroyed exactly 40 years after the death of our Lord, the Mesiah in 70 a.d.. 40 is the number of repentance in Hebrew gamatria (which I understand is difficult for most believers to discuss, but Hebrew letters are in fact numbers) and the inference is that that generation was granted 40 years to repent of the act of rejecting the Messiah.
        So either these two events coincided, which is probable,or the doors have been misinterpreted as the veil, which seems unlikely in light of the comment of Josephus noted by someone here already.
        Also regarding the belief that God is Spirit, it is both the belief of Judaism and Christianity that He is exactly that. It is not foreign to Judaism that the Spirit of God inhabits flesh, but perhaps more the reaction to an ill understanding of just how that concept worked itself out in the form of our Lord. The Shema, known by most every Jew, provides the real stumbling block in ‘Adonai echad’, oneness or unity, and forms the basis of the rejection of the Christian Trinity of which our Lord is considered the third Person of.
        Until He comes.

  47. Hi, Cyni,

    Good question. I don’t believe we have any extrabiblical record of the veil tearing (anyone reading this, I’d be very happy to be corrected!). I’d guess that there are some that would argue that the lack of extrabiblical record indicates it didn’t really happen, but that someone made up the story (perhaps one of the gospel writers), and the (other) gospel writers incorporated the story.

    But I do believe it really happened, regardless of the lack of extrabiblical evidence, simply because Scripture says it did.

    Can’t remember where I’ve read it, but some have pointed to Acts 6:7–“And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith”–and suggested that the torn veil was at least partly responsible for the large influx of priests into the church. That’s an interesting idea, but in the end, it’s conjecture.

    Now, as to the Jews’ rejection of Jesus. Thousands of Jews, of course, did NOT reject Jesus–indeed, everyone that we know of in the church was Jewish until Cornelius in Acts 10. Other Jews, no doubt, were looking for a political Messiah, and didn’t find what they were looking for in Jesus. And the gospels show us that Jesus said a number of things that indicated his equality with the Father (see John 8:50-59, e.g.), and for strict monotheists, this would have been difficult to swallow. Because claiming to be equal with God was tantamount to blasphemy, many Jews no doubt dismissed Jesus’s claims to Messiahship as fraudulent.

    But how did the Jews explain the torn veil in particular? To my knowledge, we just don’t know.

    • I was involved in the Ashkenazi Messianic Jewish community for 20 years, and I echo and extend what Chuck says. Not just that only two writers of the Bible were gentile (Job and Dr Luke), but that many Jewish people today accept that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah, and that includes accepting that haShem, God the Father, tore the temple veil in two. Although the majority of the Jewish people rejected who Messiah was, this is by no means all Jews. Many Messianic Jews will not accept the term “Christian” because it was applied to gentiles when it was ‘invented’, and it was a derogatory comment. That does not make them any less part of the Body of Messiah.

      So far as the explanation of the tearing of the veil by non-Messianic Jews is concerned, just like with believers there are various ideas, and lots of “no comments”

      Nearly always, when you see the term “Jews believe…” or “do” or “are” something, the statement is wrong because ‘Jews’ are so varied. It would be better to say “Many Jewish people …” or even, when well established, “Most Jewish people…”

      • Thanks, David. I might add that even in biblical times, there was quite a variety among the Jewish people, so much that scholars like Jacob Neusner speak of “Judaisms” in the time of Jesus. We see some of this reflected in Scripture in the Pharisees vs. Sadducees. Bringing that to our question about the temple veil, we might hypothesize that different groups/sects might have proposed different explanations (e.g., more or less supernatural) in keeping with their distinctive beliefs.

  48. I have searched in so many places and cannot find the answer to this question. During the times of Moses and Salomon’s temple, how was the blood that was sprinkled on a daily basis on the veil that separated the holy of holies cleaned? Removing it to wash it would leave an open view to the most sacred place. Please enlighten me and provide me reading sources.

    • Hi, Sandra,

      What passages are you thinking of when you say that the blood was sprinkled on a daily basis on the veil?

      • Leviticus 4:4-6 mentions that the priest had to sprinkle the blood on the veil 7 times if the congregation or the priest sinned. I assumed 7 meant daily, and that’s where I made the mistake of saying “on a daily basis”. But I am still curious, what happened to this blood- stained veil? was it replaced? burned? washed? I apologize for my misunderstanding. Thank you! Sandra

    • I’m lousy at Hebrew, but English translations don’t seem to indicate that the blood was sprinkled directly ON the veil. E.g., “and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the Lord IN FRONT OF the veil of the sanctuary.” Would that answer your question, or are there other references that speak more directly to the blood actually coming in contact with the veil?

  49. Concerning extrabiblical records of the veil.
    Though not a great fan of Josephus I thought I would check and see what he had to say about this. I quote from: – Josephus’ Account of the Passion by Peter E. Chojnowski, Ph.D. http://www.freestatevoice.com.au/spiritual/item/250-pilate%E2%80%99s-silver-josephus%E2%80%99-account-of-the-passion-by-peter-e-chojnowski-phd
    Josephus writes that, “This curtain [of the Temple] was before this generation entire, because the people were pious; but now it was grievous to see, for it was suddenly rent from the top to the bottom, when they through bribery delivered to death the benefactor of men and him who from his actions was no man.

    We, also, have the singular fact presented that the curtain of the Temple, after being rent at the time of the Passion, was left hanging for a considerable period of time. Such would be quite an odd fact to make up if one were looking to skew the text in any way.
    The Works of Josephus, trans. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), p. Ix

    (Someone else may know more about Josephus writings than I – I’d be glad to hear more about the accuracy of them, and him).

  50. Very encouraging to see this discussion. There is value in this on another level. The sages, as noted here, comment on the thickness of the veil for perhaps another reason. The veil serves to shield us from the Presence of Hashem. It is for our benefit that it existed. We are also told that the chasm separating Sheol from Gan Eden, Paradise, is precisely this distance as well. Yet it is a distance too great to transgress, as Abraham tells the rich man in Sheol . A mere handbreadth separates life from death, flesh from spirit, heaven from hell. For this reason Moses was concealed in the cleft by the very Hand of our God as was spoken; “and I will cover My palm over you during My passing. And I will remove My palm and you shall see My back, but My face cannot be seen.”
    So then, If the handbreadth of the Temple was rent from above, perhaps it was to see the passing of the Presence of Hashem.
    Interesting that the moment the Son of God departs this world, the handbreadth is removed. And with that the declaration, “you will not see my face again until I hear you say ‘Baruch haba B’shem Adonai’.
    Until He comes.

  51. Interesting perspective you bring there to the situation, Chris.
    Some suggestions I have come across concerning the veil is that it is a representation JESUS CHRIST, (“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the FATHER but by me.” John 14:6)
    When the veil was rent: –
    a. Man now had access to the presence of GOD, (as mentioned a number of times above), which on earth was the Holiest of Holies behind the veil.
    b. GOD no longer needed to be present on earth for priests to bring sin offerings to. JESUS is our Lamb, (the sin offering for all people who receive HIM), and our High Priest and advocate to our Heavenly FATHER whose Presence is now in HIS Kingdom in Heaven.
    c. Now JESUS is the Spiritual Veil Who prevents access to the FATHER from those who deny HIM, but is the access to GOD’s Heavenly Kingdom for those who believe that by HIS torn Body, (flesh), and His death on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins for all men we are children of God for whom JESUS has prepared a room in HIS FATHER’S House. Hebrews 10: 16 – 20

    • Alister,
      I like this strand of thought and will certainly think about it a bit.
      But some immediate concerns emerge.
      a. Yes, we do have access to God, but we always did. We do not enter the Holy of Holies to ‘access’ God any more than the High Priest did. He entered to offer atonement. We do not do that, our Master did, just as the other priests did on behalf of God’s people, so I do not see any change in access. We access our Father now on this earth by prayer, they did also. The common factor here is that both ‘they and ‘we’, are covered equally under the fulfillment of that atonement. The ‘picture’ has been made perfect in our High Priest. I think the point of no man entering the Holy of Holies rests on the issue of that atonement, the Most Acceptable Sacrifice that the annual offering pointed man toward.
      b. Did God ever need to be present on earth to accept from man’s hand? Offerings were not new to the Temple periods. Righteous Abel offered outside of the sacrificial system long before. It’s difficult for me to associate the word need with our Father.
      c.I like this idea, but having some difficulty with the whole of the thought. He is, as you stated, the Lamb. He is the High Priest. But in the veil I’m not understanding how this translates. The veil did not prevent access, for a man entered each year. Perhaps the Cherubim who guard the gates of Gan Eden might. Still, the idea has created something of an itch in the back of my mind.
      Thanks.

      • Thank-you for your comments Chris, there is plenty to chew on there.
        I am no scholar and certainly not perfect but I do enjoy studying and investigating a deeper understanding of GOD’S Word.
        I can’t answer all you have you have given here for us to think about but I hope I can help a bit. I feel I have made my comments to long in the past, and have given a fairly brief outline to my train of thought above. It would take me to long to try to answer what you have asked and will look into it more in the future, however I would like to hear your thoughts as to what I try to put across. Maybe together we might be able to work out something more comprehensible.
        When I say ‘man’ I have meant ‘Mankind’, and ‘we’ or ‘us’ generally as believers in our JESUS CHRIST and Salvation through His Blood spilt upon the Cross.
        The main thing I had been trying to do was to compare differences between the Jewish form of religious requirements to please GOD, (the necessity for ‘Man’ being able to reach GOD, only by following the law to the letter), and how GOD receives those who believe their sins are forgiven through JESUS death on the cross as we confess our sins. He is our redeemer and our atonement is through JESUS, HIS sacrifice of HIS Life and Blood spilt upon that cross (for all people who believe in Him and Salvation in HIM). We are purified by HIS cleansing Blood.
        The Hebrews had to carry out a ritual sin offering for forgiveness.

        a. As I see it the Tabernacle, and especially the Ark, represented, (to the Israelites of old, and the Jews), the very Presence of GOD among HIS people. Later when Solomon built the first Temple he built a special place/room which was known as the Holy of Holies. As you known in front of it was an enormous Curtain, the Veil. Yes there was access beyond the veil, but only one person according to Jewish law was ‘allowed’ behind that veil, only once a year and only after he had ritually purified himself by washing himself completely in Holy Water, (which had been specially sanctified). Yes just as you say GOD was present amongst them as HE is with us today. My conjecture is that it was
        proof to them that HE was with them and they were HIS people. (I might add that most of the other religions in those days had a special temple for their god although their gods were made of wood, stone or some earthly construction).
        a. Since CHRIST’S Glorious sacrifice and resurrection we know GOD’S presence around us and within us, and to us we think of HIS Kingdom, (Heaven), in the Spiritual Realm, as compared the Jews who needed to know/see a physical Temple that contained a Most Holy Place with special symbols to give them assurance, and to show that GOD was with them.
        b. Concerning access – before JESUS time I assume access was around the side of the curtain and only by the High Priest as mentioned above. After the veil was torn what was behind could be viewed by anyone, (usually only the other priests), who might come into the Holy Place, (i.e. where the priests performed their Daily Rituals). I doubt that any one did go through that gap but the possibility was there.

        I am sorry that I am inclined to get a bit long-winded, but I hope this helps a little. I am interested to know what you make of this and any further concerns and/or suggestions you might have on this. (I will try to follow up on the other things you have mentioned in the future).

  52. I have often wondered how the High Priest was able to enter the Most Holy place by drawing aside the heavy curtail while carrying blood. This would seem that the Holy Place would have then been explosed.
    Someone has suggested that the veil somehow overlapped, something like a maise enabling the High Priest to enter without touching it. If that was so it could account for the suggested differences in the thickness of the veil .
    Someone on your site suggested that he may have entered at the side which could be a possibility.
    I would like to hear your take on this and thanks for all the good material.

  53. Alister,

    I think that perhaps 2000 years of a dominant gentile doctrine has skewed our thoughts enough that we have difficulty with these things. None of us escape it, for it has been the lot we received from our forefathers. Connections between what is old and what is new are superficially taught to us and we are generally satisfied with the milk and never crave the meat.
    Further, we are ignorant of the languages (Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew) from which these things are founded upon. We can know these things and are the richer in our faith for them.
    That is why I said earlier how I appreciate these chats. It is meat.
    The text is living. It cannot be divorced from the larger concepts and precepts of the whole of the text. So when we say that we now enter the Holy of holies, we must give the precedent for it. Nothing is new, but rather a perfecting picture of the old. The old does not disappear either, but is absorbed into the new.
    So if we are told that we can be confident that we now enter the Holy of Holies by His blood, then we can deduce that the other bloods of the past priests are now of no effect. But this does not negate that they were acceptable previously, because they looked forward in faith to the sacrifice of our Master. And we know they were acceptable. We could as well deduce just how we will enter by looking at how the priests entered; by virtue of the High priest, but not physically themselves. So how is the text reconciled?
    The atonement offering was a complete covering for Israel. If it was accepted by God, then Israel was accepted also, if only until the next Yom Kippur. We know our atonement is once for all time because His offering was acceptable to God in perpetuity. By that we enter into the Holy of Holies in the Heavenlies, but as I said, access does not change for us or those who preceded us.
    Regarding differences, again we must see the picture as being perfected. It is a misconception to say that the Jewish people had to carry out ritual sin offerings for forgiveness. The Yom Kippur sacrifice was the correction for the errors of the previous year. God gave the halacha, the way of walking, but they must perform it in faith. Did not that same God give us a way of walking? Must we perform it to the letter of love to be acceptable to Him? No. We strive in the same faith with those who came before us offering sacrifices. We both look for our deliverance from the same Messiah, the same blood.
    Regarding both yours and Earl’s comment that the Holy of Holies was exposed I can only say that there is something we are missing here. If the Tabernacle was made visible, we must deduce that God was no longer there or the death toll from those who looked on would not escape the authors of history. No such event is recorded. What is recorded is in the Pauline letters and Acts, where we see that the disciples did not neglect the Temple Worship and further at Shovout, Pentacost, 50 days later the Spirit was poured out from the upper room, generally understood as the upper room of the Temple court. The Greek word used does not indicate a tearing, as in tearing a robe,but a breach, which would seem to support Alister’s notion that we now have access beyond the veil. The breach (Hebrew; Peretz) is a messianic term but I still struggle with this. I just do not know.
    Perhaps our God would do us a kindness and open our eyes.

    • Thank-you Chris, As I mentioned before I find your perspective very interesting.
      May I ask and I hope you do not find me rude – and if so please don’t bother to answer – do you have (physical) Jewish ancestry at all? I merely seek it as an honour to you. Please forgive me if this inappropriate!
      Yes, knowledge of the Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew give a great depth of meaning, as does also knowledge of the Jewish culture in those days. They are things I would like to more about them.
      I fully agree with you concerning your paragraph concerning the living text. Otherwise why would JESUS have said in Mat_5:17 ThinkG3543 notG3361 thatG3754 I am comeG2064 to destroyG2647 theG3588 law,G3551 orG2228 theG3588 prophets:G4396 I am notG3756 comeG2064 to destroy,G2647 butG235 to fulfil.G4137
      Joh_15:25 ButG235 this cometh to pass, thatG2443 theG3588 wordG3056 might be fulfilledG4137 that is writtenG1125 inG1722 theirG846 law,G3551 They hatedG3404 meG3165 without a cause.G143
      Yes the act of sacrifice and the blood of sin offerings of an innocent third party was given by and acceptable to GOD. It is a necessary part for the explanation of how we receive forgiveness and Salvation through JESUS death upon that Cross. They and other former sacrifices live on through CHRIST. I take it that you know the story of the scarlet, (or crimson), thread that flows through the Bible showing different sacrifices and how they relate to JESUS’ death; starting in the garden of Eden when the LORD GOD made coats of skins, and clothed Adam & Eve’s Nakedness . Can we assume those skins came from an animal, an innocent third party as CHRIST was for us. And so the story goes on through other sacrifices throughout the Bible.
      Concerning the entry for us beyond the ‘veil’ to GOD’S Kingdom the true Holiest of Holies may I suggest Hebrews 10, especially :15 – 22 and in particular :19 & 20.
      To build my knowledge can please explain to me/us the meaning of the Yom Kippur?
      Looking forward to seeing your further comments.

  54. I am a nurse and have no difficulty moving through curtains with my hands full, using my elbows to move the curtains aside. what I want to know is why were two curtains made each year, & what happened to the curtain/veil that was taken down

  55. Elaine,
    The passing through the veil was not as base as you might suppose. But regarding the disposal of things connected to the Holy, it would be buried, as is the veil of the Torah is to this day. Regarding two curtains, do you mean why were there two? Or why were they made each year?

  56. Alister,
    Here are two sources which might help us in this. Daniel Gurtner in his dissertation on the Veil tearing from a Christian perspective, and most interesting is Tim Hegg’s short essay found on Torahperspective.com
    Until He comes.
    Chris

  57. Here are two more articles that may throw some light on these perplexing passages about the Torn Veil:

    http://www.freestatevoice.com.au/spiritual/item/250-pilate’s-silver-josephus’-account-of-the-passion-by-peter-e-chojnowski-phd

    The author has discovered an Old Slavonic rendition of “The Jewish Wars” by Josephus that has information about the Passion and the Torn Veil that I have never read before.

    http://www.mysterium.com/veil.html

    This article covers the connection between the Baptism of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry and the Cross at the end of His ministry and how the curtain, which was weaved to display a panorama of the heavens, is a metaphor for some spiritual truths.

    Enjoy.

  58. The second, Ulansey’s, article is very interesting. I would wonder if there is not a chiasm inserted within those heavenly tearings as well. There is a deeper connection underlying this also. It is understood that the tower of Bavel contained ‘the heavens as it’s top’, which the sages noted to be the celestial map which outlined the coming of Moshiac ; these very ‘days of Peretz, the beach,or the Greek equivalent here, those of our Master 2 thousand years ago. It cannot escape us that this was Herod’s Temple, which was no renovation, but a complete removal and replacement of Zerubabel’s. I wonder…

  59. I have found an excellent book called “With Jesus in His Sanctuary” by Leslie Hardinge. He says the temple veil taken down each Day of Atonement was burned. He also quotes a Rabbi Eliezer Bern Jose who saw the temple veil captured by Titus and taken to Rome. Leslie also states in page 510, that the High Priest used his elbows to open the veil and gain entrance to the Most Holy Place in the Day of Atonement

  60. I’ve had that question about the temple veil for a long time. Thanks for all the superb work helping in defining the who, what, when, where, and how to all this. Everyone elses comments were helpful as well.

  61. Hi Chris, if you are still there. I was looking through my commentaries and came across the words Yom Kippur. Am I right in saying they mean Atonement or the Day of Atonement?

    • Hi Alister,
      Yes. Yom is day in Hebrew. Kippur is atonement. It is the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar. It is the pinnacle of the fall feasts.

  62. Greetings Chris,

    Although Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year, it is not the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, that would be Shabbat. Shabbat (the Sabbath from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) is considered as first amongst all holy days. It is true that Sabbath is not considered a ‘Yom Tov’ (literally ‘good day’) so the holiest Yom Tov is Yom Kippur. Another way to describe it is the holiest yom kadosh gadol, or high holiday.

    I forget which Jewish Sage stressed this, but the reasoning is that this was a holy day (holiday) specifically written by the finger of haShem (God). – the fourth commandment. The aseret hadevarim or ‘ ten words’ / ‘ten writings’ / ‘ten utterances, of God contains only the weekly Shabbat (Sabbath), not the Yom Tov shabbatim. This means that the most important holy day is the one directly written by God’s finger.

    You are correct that it is the pinnacle of the fall feasts.

    Baruch haShem

    David (the Gentle Knight)

    • David,
      You are right, my brother. I stand corrected indeed, for it is Shabbat that stands apart among the days. I should have said ‘of the moedim’.
      Thank you.
      Chris

      • David,
        Before I stand corrected twice on one Shabbos, I do realize that Shabbos is called moed. I think i will remain silent today.
        Until Shilo comes.

      • Hi Chris,
        Sorry this is so late. I hope you are you will still be around for future conversations. I value your input and knowledge and wisdom, and the perspectives we have had in the past.
        As I mentioned earlier I am especially interested in finding more of the culture(s) at the time of Christ, the connections between the Old and New Testaments and the language where it pertains to these. The smaller details of the language do not concern me.
        I have checked up on Yom Kipper. Wikipedia calls it the Sabbath of Sabbaths. What interests me is that while the people were fervently praying for forgiveness and atonement. JESUS had died for the forgiveness of all who turn to HIM and their atonement with the FATHER. That we might be set free from the chains of death to be received into GOD’s Kingdom even as JESUS arose from the dead and ascended into Heaven

      • Well Alister,

        This is one of the reasons we don’t eat meat at Passover any more – the meal is either poultry or fish. Jesus had already died as the supreme and final sacrifice, so to eat a ‘sacrificial animal’ at a Passover celebration would be similar to saying that the sacrifice Jesus made was not enough and we need to continue the sacrifice. I will be hosting a congregational Passover Seder on the 17th, and this is one of the explanations I will give.

        Baruch haShem

        David (the Gentle Knight)

  63. Actually Chris I don’t know if you’ve noticed but whether moedim includes Shabbat, or not is debated. {I note the Ashkenazi / Sephardic / Chassidic differences in pronunciation of ‘Sabbath’ between us}. I think that Scripture indicates Shabbat as a moed (appointed festival)’ and most scholars accept that it is, and it is the first of the 12 tractates from the second order of Mishna, but some would take it that Shabbat is more special even than an ‘appointed festival’ since it was created during the week of Creation, and existed thousands of years before Jews were ‘invented’.

    I think that most if not all scholars acknowledge that whatever the ‘moed’ status of Shabbat, it is indeed different to other ‘appointed festivals’ is several ways. Please Chris, you don’t need to be concerned about this rather more minor ‘correction’, if indeed it is an error.

    Baruch haShem

    David (the Gentle Knight)

  64. My concern has not been with the veils thickness than on wha followed after it got torn-was it retained or removed?

    • Hi Danford
      I can only offer a fairly unconfirmed answer from Josephus – a roman who was supposedly living around the time of CHRIST.
      Concerning extra biblical records of the veil.
      Though not a great fan of Josephus I thought I would check and see what he had to say about this. I quote from: – Josephus’ Account of the Passion by Peter E. Chojnowski, Ph.D. http://www.freestatevoice.com.au/spiritual/item/250-pilate%E2%80%99s-silver-josephus%E2%80%99-account-of-the-passion-by-peter-e-chojnowski-phd

      Josephus writes that, “This curtain [of the Temple] was before this generation entire, because the people were pious; but now it was grievous to see, for it was suddenly rent from the top to the bottom, when they through bribery delivered to death the benefactor of men and him who from his actions was no man.
      We, also, have the singular fact presented that the curtain of the Temple, after being rent at the time of the Passion, was left hanging for a considerable period of time. Such would be quite an odd fact to make up if one were looking to skew the text in any way.
      The Works of Josephus, trans. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), p. Ix

      (Someone else may know more about Josephus writings than I – I’d be glad to hear more about the accuracy of them, and him. Until then I remain somewhat skeptical of him and his writings).

  65. I admit I haven’t read all the posts so this may have been referred to before. Knowing the difficulty of understanding ancient Hebrew and Greek through the culture of the western mindset it puzzles me that the width or breadth mentions is always assumed to be across the palm. My first impression when I read this is not across the palm but what we would call the depth of the hand. This would make the thickness closer to an inch or less.

    As an experienced quilter and embroiderer I can understand the one inch thickness much more than four inches. There are several reasons for this. One is simply the size of the needle being pushed through that much material. The text does not refer to quilting but to embroidery. In order for the weight of the veil not to tear on its own the linen may have been quilted but wool was often used as a filler. Scripture says not to use animal and plant fibers in the same garment so I doubt they would have quilted with wool filler.

    I have no basis other than my knowledge of needlework but my guess is that they used a linen woven from rather thick strands of flax thread. This would have been a sturdy fabric which could then be embroidered as specified. My thinking is they covered the linen base with the background color with fine stitches to hide the roughness of the weave. This would add more to the thickness, especially since they most likely covered both sides of the fabric. Then the embroidered elements would be stitched on. They might have layered these also and done both sides of the veil so the back was like the front. The thread would also be a thick weave. Embroidery floss today is what I would call thick thread. Go and see some at a shop. Modern floss can be divided into different strands. The thicker the strand the more each strand covers in one stitch. Each stitch would make the fabric thicker and denser.

    To me it’s very conceivable that rather than measuring across the hand the width was measured what we would call through the hand. It makes sense from a sewing point of view.

  66. Spectacular discussion and scholarship here… thanks to all

  67. Thank you for your insights and respectful manner of interaction. I have been as blessed by the tone as the content.

  68. […] For an explanation of the Temple veil and the significance and timing of it being torn in two see:http://www.gotquestions.org/temple-veil-torn.htmlhttp://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/10/11/contradictions-temple-veil-torn-in-twohttp://the-tabernacle-place.com/articles/what_is_the_tabernacle/tabernacle_holy_of_holieshttp://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/the-thickness-of-the-temple-veil/ […]

  69. I see it like this the vail was tore by God it doesn’t make any diffreance how thick it was it could.have been as thick and the earth God could have torn it but as to why…the priest tore their clothes earlier and said that Jesus blasmamened they torn their robes just as God tore the vail it tells me that the act of crusifing Jesus the son of God was blasmamy God tore his worldly garment the vail

    • Good point Joel. I, too, believe there is a connection between Caiaphas rending his garments when Jesus confirms He is the Son of God in the trial of the Sanhedrin and the rending of the temple veil. I also see some importance of the roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus’s garment, but not rending it. Pilate did not want to kill Jesus(rend his garment, so to speak). Jesus’s inner garment was of one piece(perfect/holy). They decided instead to cast lots for it, much like Pilate did when he passed off the responsibility of the crucifixion to the Jewish crowd by offering to free Him. This is a sinful act, yet distinctly different than that of the Jews, who killed Jesus. God the Father rent his clothes(veil) as a testimony of his mourning, anger, and disgust at the rejection of His Son.

      Anyway, there is a lot of symbolism in the topic of clothing/coverings that goes straight back to the Adam and Eve. Jesus has, by his sacrifice, a humiliating ‘derobing’, both physically and in every sense of the word symbolically, clothed us all with a covering for our every aspect of our sin. We no longer need to be ashamed like Adam and Eve. We have fellowship with Him and our bodies are now sufficient housing for the Holy Spirit, the new temple. God’s temple was no longer the place of God’s presence as signified by God’s rending of the veil and destruction in 70 AD. No sacrificies any more. The sacrifices are no longer needed after the true sacrifice and efficacy of Jesus’s crucifixion.

  70. I love one dimensional thinking! The solution to all of this is right in Scripture IF you see Scripture as 1) Divinely Inspired, 2) Inerrant and 3) Perfect!

    Hebrews 9 makes it clear that there were two veils on the interior of the “Naos” (Dwelling Place) which was the physical temple and not visible from Golgotha by the way. It was both the veil’s of the “Naos” which were torn! And here is the proof…

    In Matthew, Jesus breaths his last (dies) and then the veil is torn followed by an earth quake which Mark agrees with. However, Luke tells us that the sun was darkened, the veil was torn and then Jesus died. By this, (if we truly believe that all Scripture is perfect and divinely inspired) we can conclude that the following took place: the sun was darkened, the first veil was torn, Jesus then breaths his last and dies. Then the second veil is then torn which is followed by an earthquake. In this view, the Holy Spirit has the order perfect and correct! AS far as the reason for this… let me just say… Your BODY is the TEMPLE (Naos) of the Holy Spirit… and here is where the reason lies… God was showing us something wonderful about Salvation!

  71. I’m doing research for a blog on what was revealed behind the rent veil. I read all your references and couldn’t find anything except this:
    The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem 5.5.5 (book 5, chapter 5, par
    “But the inmost part of the temple of all was of twenty cubits. This was also separated from the outer part by a veil.
    In this there was nothing at all. It was inaccessible and inviolable, and not to be seen by any and was called the Holy of Holies.”
    I’ve read countless articles and blogs on the rent veil, to no avail. My conclusion is that the second temple had nothing in the Holy of Holies behind the curtain, the Ark having been stolen or destroyed at the Babilonian invasion and burning of the Solomonic temple. The implications are fascinating in that the priests were then protecting a Godless temple, an empty religion devoid of His presence. I believe this to be the case, but do not want to make this kind of statement without foundation – other than circumstantial.
    Here is one statement that would support my thesis:
    “Sacrifice was the predominant mode of divine service in the Temple until it was destroyed by the Babylonians some four hundred years later, in 586 BCE. Seventy years later, after the story of Purim, a number of Jews returned to Israel – led by the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah – and the Second Temple was built on the same site. Sacrifices to God were once again resumed. During the first century B.C.E., Herod, the Roman appointed head of Judea, made substantial modifications to the Temple and the surrounding mountain, enlargening and expanding the Temple. The Second Temple, however, met the same fate as the first and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., following the failure of the Great Revolt.

    As glorious and elaborate as the Temple was, its most important room contained almost no furniture at all. Known as the Holy of Holies (Kodesh Kodashim), it housed the two tablets of the Ten Commandments inside the Ark of Covenant. Unfortunately, the tablets disappeared when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and, therefore, during the Second Temple era the Holy of Holies was reduced to small, entirely bare room.”

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/The_Temple.html>

    Can anyone comment?

  72. (This comment is not directly in reply to Franco’s.)

    I’ve found a very helpful article that readers of this post and the ensuing discussion in comments would probably enjoy: Daniel M. Gurtner, “The Veil of the Temple in Legend and History,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49.1 (2006): 97-114. The article is available online here. Note Gurtner addresses the thickness of the veil on p. 106.


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