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 Did the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies with a rope around his ankle?

John Hoole January 23, 2005


It has been said that because the High Priest could be killed by God in the Holy of Holies if not properly prepared according to the precise instruction of God, a rope was routinely tied around his ankle. Then, if he dropped dead, his body could be dragged out, since no other person could enter the Holy of Holies.

There have been several versions of this story, such as having the rope tied around the waist. However, nowhere in Scripture is this described. Those who have researched this, from both Jews and Christians, are calling this an old legend.

They have tried to locate the original source, but what they have come up with is that this it didn't start until 600 to 700 years after Christ. This would be long after the last temple was standing.

HOW WOULD PEOPLE KNOW THE HIGH PRIEST HAD DIED?

Exodus 28:31-35 NIV

31 "Make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth,
32 with an opening for the head in its center. There shall be a woven edge like a collar around this opening, so that it will not tear.
33 Make pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them.
34 The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe.
35 Aaron must wear it when he ministers. The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the LORD and when he comes out, so that he will not die.

This has been interpreted as meaning that someone must listen outside the Holy of Holies for the bells. And as long as the priests outside could hear the bells tinkling, they would know the High Priest was still alive. Then if the sound would cease, those outside could tug on the rope to verify that he was still conscious or not.

This tradition is noted in Zondervan's NIV Study Bible, 1985 in their margin notes.

Dr. W.E. Nunnally, a professor of Hebrew and early Judaism, has reported:

"The rope on the high priest legend is just that - a legend. It has obscure beginnings in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible…"

The Biblical Studies Foundation - loosely associated with Dallas Theological Seminary has similarly studied this legend - with similar results.

Joseph Good of Hatikvah Ministries points out that the bells were attached to a robe of blue cloth, worn under the ephod whereas the priest wore only the linen tunic, sash, turban and undergarments to enter the Holy of Holies. In other words, the High Priest did not wear the bells when he entered the Holy of Holies.

Leviticus 16:2-4 NIV

2 The LORD said to Moses: "Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
3 "This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on.

When the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, he was to wear a set of special linen garments. Did you notices earlier when we read from Exodus 28:31-35 that, in verse 35, it said he wears the blue robe with bell when entering the Holy Place Look at it again.

Exodus 28:35 NIV

35 Aaron must wear it [the blue ephod with the bells] when he ministers. The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the LORD and when he comes out, so that he will not die.

Dr. W.E. Nunnally mentions not only that this legend is not biblical, but it also cannot be found in:

o The apocryphal books,

o The writings of the historian Josephus,

o The Dead Sea Scrolls,

o The Pseudepigrapha (see below),

o The Jewish Talmud,

o The Jewish Mishna, or any other Jewish source.

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Pseudepigrapha

Books written mostly between 200 B.B. and 200 A.D.

o The Life of Adam and Eve

o The Book of the Jubilees

o The Letters of Aristeas

o Martyrdom of Isaiah

o Psalms of Solomon

o Revelation of Esdras

o The Testament of Abraham

o The Testament of Job

o The Apocalypse of Baruch

   
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