Archie Rand

The desert tabernacle. A golden menorah, a horned altar for burnt sacrifices and a laver for ritual washing surround the Tabernacle in New York artist Archie Rand’s painting “Pikudei,” meaning “Records.” The Hebrew term “pikudei” introduces the weekly Torah reading that lists the “records of the Tabernacle” (Exodus 38:21–40:38), that is, the design and precious materials—gold, silver, copper, linen and ram skins dyed brown and red—of the Tabernacle and its furnishings. A billowy cloud, denoting “the presence of the Lord” (Exodus 40:34), floats above the Tabernacle; in the foreground rise the pillar of cloud that directed the Israelites by day, and the pillar of fire that led them by night, as they made their way from Egypt to Canaan (Exodus 40:35–38).

In Exodus, God gives Moses detailed instructions on how to build the Tabernacle—the portable sanctuary in the center of the Israelite camp in the wilderness: “Let [the Israelites] make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. Exactly as I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings—so shall you make it” (Exodus 25:8–9). Much of P is devoted to this description of the Tabernacle and the sacrifices and rituals that took place there. For P, these religious ceremonies assure a permanent divine presence within Israel.

Describing the Tabernacle as an idealized forerunner of the Jerusalem Temple, P projects elements of later Temple worship onto the Tabernacle. While tradition attributes the Pentateuch to Moses, P’s portrayal of the Tabernacle could not have been written before Solomon built his Temple in about 950 C.E.