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We have been told that it was custom for priests to have a rope tied on to them before they entered the tent where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, just in case something happened to them while they were in there so they could be pulled out. Is this true? What is the origin of this tradition?

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview of what this site is about, please take the Site Tour. About your question, there is nothing in the Bible stating this. However, if you wanted to ask this question over on Judaism.SE, perhaps someone there could give you an answer based on oral and written traditions. I would suggest first doing a quick search of that site to make sure no one has already asked this question. – Lee Woofenden Nov 9 '15 at 8:42
  • I've heard this rope idea before too. It's a pretty popular historical rumor. – LCIII Nov 9 '15 at 13:54
  • @curiousdanni. Check the edit you made original or origin? – Kris Nov 9 '15 at 15:15
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because, as worded, this is purely a question on Jewish tradition. As such it probably belongs on Mi Yodeya, not here. – ThaddeusB Nov 9 '15 at 15:52
  • @ThaddeusB It's a tradition which is definitely alive and well in Christianity. I was actually surprised to find out, briefly looking into it tonight, that it's completely baseless! I feel like I've heard it dozens of times. – curiousdannii Nov 9 '15 at 16:30
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Constable quotes Youngblood in this regard, here [Youngblood, Ronald F. Exodus. Everyman’s Bible Commentary series. Chicago: Moody Press, 1983, p.128]The "popular Jewish interpretation" regarding the rope may or may not have any validity--the thought being that if the priest were to stop moving about for a long time, the bells would be silent and the silence would indicate the priest fainted or even died as a punishment by the LORD for having done something impious. The Levites could then drag the priest out of the holy place.

Even the purpose of the bells which were attached to the priestly robes may not have been to signal the Levites that all was well with the priest who was in the holy place to minister before the LORD. As Youngblood suggests, however, the purpose of the bells could just as easily have been an aural reminder to the priest and his attendants that something sacred was being enacted in the holy place, and they should not minister carelessly or impiously. From Exodus 28:

[The bells] shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and his tinkling [sound] shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the LORD, so that he will not die (v.35).

One thing is certain: The protocols attached to the worship of the LORD came directly from God to Moses. The protocols were therefore God's, not man's. To take them lightly or to enact them carelessly was tantamount to holding God in contempt by impugning his character and his commands.

The LORD wanted and rightly expected his servants to hold him in the highest esteem. Anything less than that would be an insult to his matchlessly holy character. Frequent reminders of these concepts, such as the tinkling of bells attached to priestly vestments, served to keep the Levites and priests on their toes and in the right frame of mind as they ministered before the LORD God on behalf of Israel.

  • I'm having trouble finding the reference to Youngblood. From your link, I clicked on Constable's notes and didn't see it. I assume it's Ronald Youngblood. I will see if I can find a direct link to Constable's notes (which I'm not familiar with). – disciple Nov 9 '15 at 14:43
  • @disciple: Once at bible.org, search for Exodus 28:34. On the right hand side of the page, click on "NOTES." Then click on Constable. On his commentary on the passage are numbered footnotes. Click on the appropriate footnote number and an abbreviated citation appears. If you want further details, the bibliography of all the citations is found at the end of the book. Don – rhetorician Nov 9 '15 at 15:55
  • Ok, I was just hoping for a simpler reference. I found Constable's site and a pdf. I will see if bible.org has url extensions that will open directly to constable's, also it might be good to give the Youngblood reference in full, i.e. r y, title quoted in constable. – disciple Nov 9 '15 at 17:15
  • @disciple: I edited my answer to give a fuller citation. Is it what you had in mind? Don – rhetorician Nov 9 '15 at 19:29
  • Yes, that gives the ultimate reference to the Youngblood book, which is desirable. It's still confusing to a viewer first seeing it. Maybe the quoted material should be included as a quote in the answer? Sometimes you just can't make a silk purse out of a pig's ear. I saw a problem, but don't really see how best to make it simple. Definitely a good answer, it has my vote. – disciple Nov 9 '15 at 20:48
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At first I thought definitely yes because I recalled hearing the same thing there were bells on the garment so that a priest In the holy compartment could hear that the high priest was moving about doing his duties on atonement day in the most holy part. If there was an extended time with no bells tinkling they would pull the rope around the high priest to remove his dead or incapacitated body out of the most holy.

However it seems that was not true. Nowhere in the Bible or any other Jewish or Christian writings is the rope mentioned at all. And the ephod and bells garment was taken off and the high priest bathed and put on different special garments with no bells before going into most holy once a year on atonement day. (Leviticus 16:4)

Edit: I asked about this on the Judaism site the answer there also debunks the rope theory.

A well referenced work on this is found here:Did the high priest enter the Holy of Holies with a rope around his ankle?.

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Spurgeon who wrote circa 1850 knew of the tradition, but not it's source. He said this about the tradition.

I cannot tell whether it is true, but I have read that there is a tradition among the Jews, that a rope was fastened to the high priest's foot that they might draw out his corpse in case he died before the Lord. -Spurgeon-

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