Tabernacle of Exodus as a Work of Art: An Aesthetic of Monotheism

Author: Schmidt, Maurice
This book is the first work that establishes the ancient Israelite Tabernacle as a seminal work of art. It brings together the seemingly divergent worlds of biblical symbolism and art history. While all acknowledge that Western art was often inspired by biblical story and poetry, the modern study of art presupposes that Western religious art originates only from Greco-Roman civilizations. This book contains four color photographs.


“The Tabernacle is long overdue for a sympathetic, speculative and wide-ranging exploration of the sort that Professor Schmidt provides here. Whether or not it existed precisely as described in Exodus some thirty-two hundred years ago, generations of believers have acted as if it did, along with their architects and builders. For this reason alone, it deserves respectful attention. But this book offers something more provocative than a monograph. It suggests that the Tabernacle, its sequence of spaces, its proportional modules, and even its details, have been a central force on the making of Western art and architecture, and that its influence remains active to the present.” – Prof. Michael J. Lewis, Williams College

“. . . draw[s] an indelible link between the art and architecture of ancient Judaism and its continuing effects on worship and belief not only in Judaism, but also critically within Christianity and Islam. In this era of struggle between the Abrahamic religions, Mr. Schmidt provides a touchstone of understanding and commonality. Do not take this book lightly, for it carries within it a pathway to a new and creative potential for Ecumenical dialogue and reconciliation.” – The Reverend Robert G. Trache, The Episcopal Church of Saint Mark the Evangelist, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Author’s Foreword
Preface by Michael J. Lewis, PhD
Part I
The Tabernacle’s Creation and Its Vocabulary of Forms

1. In the Shadow of the Divine: Monotheism’s First Work of Art
A. The Aesthetic in Judaism
B. Tzniut – Hiddeness/Modesty versus Visible Power
C. Origins, Structures, and Purpose
D. The Tabernacle Structures
E. Entrance Screen of the Outer Court
F. Geometry: The Compass of Divine Navigation
G. Death Cult Eliminated
H. The Shape of the Holy: The Square, The Square and a Half,
and the Double Square
I. The Shape of the Holy: Geometry as the Metaphorical Bond
to Eternity
J. Divine Proportion: The Golden Section Relationships in the

2. How Works of Art Work: Covenantal Color, Sacred Forms
and Holy Spaces
A. Mona Lisa
B. BathSheba
C. Architecture: Teacher of the Ancients
D. Measured by Hand, Made by Hand

3. The Ascent of the Moral-Spiritual Aesthetic in Civilization
A. The Sublime, the Majestic, the Glorious, and the Holy
B. Exoskeleton versus Internal Skeleton: A Comparison between Classical and Non-classical music
C. The Primitive Versus the Classical
D. Thought and Knowledge
E. The Attributes of Idols: Singularity, Wholeness, Frontality
F. Moses and Aaron, Prophets and Artisans
G. God Speaks Through Art

4. When Gods were Equal, Men were Not: Israel as a Classical
A. Life in Ancient Israel: The Biblical Vision
B. Conceived In Liberty: The Birthday of Israelite Civilization
C. Civilization without an Aristocratic Ruling Class
D. “Is Not the Good also Beautiful” -Plato
E. Art in Ancient Civilization

Part II
The Tabernacle Structure, Vessels, and Meaning

5. The Shape of the Holy: The Moral Dimension of Geometry Salt the Crystal Form of Eternity
A. The Tablets of Testimony Placed in the Ark of the Covenant Materials used for the Tablets of Testimony
B. The Moral Dimension of Geometry
C. The Builder’s Code
D. Square and Cube: the Father of Forms
E. The Shape of Eternity
F. Egypt's Human Proportion: The Tabernacle's Moral Order
G. The Golden Section Rectangle
H. The Expressive Use of Forms
I. The Modern Equivalents of the Ancient Forms
J. Crystalline Formations
K. The Chambered Nautilus

6. The Fleeting Colors of Eternity
A. Color as Covenant: A Biblical Theory
B. The Covenantal Colors: Blue, Purple, and Scarlet
C. Entering the Tabernacle: The Light and Reflection Inside
the Holy Place
D. The Geometry of the Curtains: Their Transmission of
Colored Light
E. Color and Light Inside and Outside the Tabernacle
F. Robes Color as Nobility

7. The Seven-Branched Lamp: the Menorah of Ancient Israel and Its Covenantal Significance
A. The Menorah: An Example of the Working of an Israelite
B. Mirror Images of Covenant
C. Forms of the Lamp
D. The Tripod Base
E. Summary of Covenants Embodied in the Lamp
F. Motifs, Materials, and Workmanship
G. Hammered versus Cast Metal
H. Polishing by the Hammer: Finish and Effect

8. The Laver, the Altars, and the Table of Showbread
A. The Laver
B. The Outer Altar of Offering and the Inner Altar of Incense
C. Symbolic and Aesthetic Relationships
D. The Table of Showbread
E. Measurement of the Un-measured: The Two Tiers of the Table of Showbread
F. Separated Parts: The Ramp of the Altar of Offering and the
Two Tiers of the Table of Showbread
G. The Tiers of Showbread: The Second Split Square of Covenant
H. The Table of Showbread’s Significance and Symbolism
9. Curtains of Heaven, Boxes of Remembrance: The Tabernacle’s
Influence on Personal Ritual and Symbols
A. The Judaic Significance of the Tzitzit
B. Tefillin: Sacred Contents in Sacred Forms
C. Shape and Ritual Become Covenant and Journey
D. The Metric of the Divine Metaphor
E. Binding and Praying: The Tefillin Ritual’s Sacred and
Metaphysical Journey

10. Meaning in the Tabernacle Ritual of Disassembly and Portage
A. Rearing up and Taking down of the Tabernacle: The Meaning of the Ceremonies of Assembly and Disassembly
B. The Godlike Elements
C. The Dismantling and Portage of the Tabernacle
D. Colors

11. Ancient Art and Architecture from a Human Dimension
A. Differences of Practical Application of a Similar Canon by Egypt and Greece
B. Sculpture: The Squared Block
C. The Feminine Modesty of the Tabernacle and its Vessels
D. Israel, the Bride of God: The Sexual Symbolism of the
E. How Works of Art Create Their Effect
F. Additional Meaning of the Tabernacle's Existence and the Unity
It Gives to Jewish Biblical Writing

Part III
The Tabernacle’s Influence on Other Monotheistic Religious

12. Tabernacle to Temple to Synagogue: The Three Structures of Ancient Israel
A. The Tabernacle
B. The Temple of Solomon
C. Introduction to the Synagogue
D. The Synagogue Today
E. Echoes and Evocations: Differences and Commonalities
F. West Becomes East: A Comparison of the Tabernacle and
Solomon’s Temple
G. East to West
H. Solomon’s Temple
I. The Synagogue Structure

13. The Tabernacle of Israel Enters Christianity
A. An Irony of History: The Similarity in Origin of Israel’s
Second Temple and the Second St. Peter’s Basilica
B. The Holy Versus the Imperial
C. Overlay and Deviation: The Cross Enters the Tabernacle
D. Geometric Resemblances: The Solomonic Splendor of the
First St. Peter's
E. Transformations: Imperial Majesty Replaces
Heavenly Dominion
F. From Jerusalem to Rome: From Herod I to Pope Paul V,
A Strange Convergence
G. Urbi Et Orbi: From Sacred Square to Public Square

14. The Architecture of Islam: The Third Scriptural Religion
A. The Mosque: Islam’s Tent of Meeting
B. Origins of Mosque Design: Geometry in Asymmetric Garments

15. The Journey Recalled
A. The Journey of the High Priest: A Convergence of Geometry
and Light
B. Shadows and Echoes

16. Final Thoughts

A. The Institutional and Governmental Underpinnings of Israel
as Given in the Torah
B. The Menorah as a Mystical Object
A. Arched Branch versus Diagonal Branch Conceptions
C. Placement of Objects in the Tabernacle
A. The Laver
B. Placement of the Table, the Menorah and the Golden Altar
C. Ark, Altar, Lamp, and Table: Spatial-Symbolic Relationships
in the Tent of Meeting.
D. The Offset Square of the Tent of Meeting

D. Tefillin: Boxes of Remembrance
A. Origin of Shape and Color: Why Two Tefillin instead of One?
E. Robed in Majesty, Clothed in Light: The Talit and Tzitzit
A. The Rope Bearer
B. For the Specifically Jewish Elements of Tzitzit
C. Notes: Tzitzit- Music
F. Disputing the Existence of the Tabernacle
G. The Sephardic Synagogue