Photo by the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

ON THE COVER: Flames burst from the peak of Mt. Sinai as the cloud of God descends, in this illumination from the seventh-century Ashburnham Pentateuch. At top left, Moses ascends the mountain with his hands reaching out toward God, who peers above the white cloud. In the center, Moses, standing behind a stone altar, presents the two Tablets of the Law to the Israelites. At bottom stands the desert Tabernacle, the gilded acacia-wood structure that the Israelites built as a dwelling place for God. To the left of the elaborate tent stand Moses’ successor Joshua and brother Aaron; at lower right, Aaron appears with his sons Nadab and Abihu. Colorful curtains protect the innermost chamber of the Tabernacle, the holy of holies.

The Exodus description of the fabulous portable shrine has led many scholars to view the text as a complete fiction created at a late date. But as Kenneth Kitchen and Michael Homan point out in “The Desert Tabernacle,” and “The Divine Warrior,” the biblical description may actually reflect historical practices in the Near East.