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Bible Encyclopedias
Debir, the

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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That part of the Tabernacle and of the Temple which was regarded as possessing the utmost degree of holiness (or inaccessibility), and into which none but the see HIGH PRIEST—and he only once during the year, on the Day of Atonement—was permitted to enter (ATONEMENT, DAY OF).

A similarly high degree of holiness was ascribed to the following: the altar (Exodus 29:37; A. V. "most holy"); the incense-altar (ib. 30:10); all the implements of the sanctuary (ib. 30:29; Numbers 4:4,19); the things reserved for the priests ("minḥah"; Leviticus 2:3,10; 6:10; 10:12; Numbers 18:9; Ezra 42:13); the sin-offering (Leviticus 6:18,22; 10:17); the guilt-offering (Leviticus 7:1,6; 31:14); the offering of the leper (because it belongs to the priests; Leviticus 14:13); and the showbread (Leviticus 24:9). The designation "most holy" is applied also to the work of Aaron and his sons (1 Chronicles 6:49).

In the Tabernacle and the Temple.

The inner room or cell of the sanctuary, termed also the "miḳdash ha-ḳodesh" (Leviticus 16:33; A. V. "the holy sanctuary"), is known as the "Holy of Holies" par excellence. As such it comprised that smaller western part of the Tabernacle, the "mishkan," which was divided off from the remainder of the meeting-tent by a curtain or veil suspended from four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold and having sockets of silver (Exodus 26:32, 36:36, R. V.). This curtain was woven in four colors: white, blue, scarlet, and purple, and was made of byssus, e., linen. The cell was cubelike in shape, being 10 ells high, 10 ells long, and 10 ells broad. It contained the ARK OF THE COVENANT (Exodus 26:34; comp. Josephus, "Ant." 3:6, §§ 4, 5).

In Solomon's Temple the Holy of Holies formed a part of the house of Yhwh (1 Kings 6:1 et seq.), which was 60 cubits in length, 20 cubits in breadth, 30 cubits in height, and built of stone (Josephus, "Ant." 8:3, § 2: "white marble"), and was divided into two sections by a partition of cedar-wood with a door covered by a costly curtain (Josephus, c. § 3; 2 Chronicles 3:14). The section farthest from the entrance, designated also as the "debir" (the "oracle" "the most holy place," 1 Kings 6:5, R. V. margin), was 20 cubits high and presented the shape of a cube. The stone of this inner or hinder part, like the outer room, was completely hidden with cedar boards carved with knops or gourds and open flowers and then covered with pure gold. This room must have been without light. In it was placed the Ark (ib. 6:18,19).

In the Second Temple, details of the construction of which are not preserved in the Biblical documents (Ezra 6:3 mentions dimensions), the Holy of Holies was curtained off (I. Macc. 1:22, 4:51). It was empty, except for a stone three fingers in breadth on which the high priest deposited the censer (Josephus, "B. J." 5:55; Yoma 5:2). In Ezekiel's ideal Temple the Holy of Holies measured 20 cubits in length and the same in breadth (Ezekiel 41:4). Ezekiel (ib. 21, 23) calls this inner section simply (R. V. "sanctuary"), in contrast to the "hekal" (= "temple").

In the Herodian Temple.

In the Herodian Temple the Holy of Holies was not divided off from the rest of the hekal by a wall, but two curtains, a cubit apart, partitioned the inner chamber from the outer room. These curtains were richly wrought. (Sheḳ. 8:5), and were so arranged that in order to enter the high priest had to lift them diagonally at the sides; the outer opening was at the south end, the inner at the north (Yoma 5:1). The length of the Holy of Holies was 20 cubits. Above both the inner and the outer rooms was an upper chamber, constructed to enable builders to make the necessary repairs. A trap-door was above the Holy of Holies, and through this the workmen were lowered in boxes, to guard against profanation (lit. "feasting their eyes"). In this upper chamber the location of the two rooms underneath was marked off (Mid. 4:5).

According to Maimonides ("Yad," Bet ha-Beḥirah, 4:1; see Yoma 23a), in the Holy of Holies of theTabernacle was a stone on which the Ark rested; before it was placed the flask of manna and Aaron's staff. Solomon made a depression in order that these objects might, if necessary, be hidden therein, which was done by Josiah (comp. Hor. 12a; Ker. 5b; Yoma 21a, 52a).

—Critical View:

It is generally contended that the Tabernacle represents a later priestly reconstruction patterned after the Solomonic and Ezekiel's ideal Temples (see Graf, "Die Geschichtl. Bücher des Alten Testaments," Leipsic, 1868; Popper, "Der Biblische Bericht über die Stiftshütte"). The account of Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 6) is also very much involved, and probably represents various sources. The legislation in P is based partly on actual practise, partly on theoretical insistences anticipated to a certain extent in Ezekiel, gradually realized in the Second (Zerubbabel's) Temple and fully recognized as authoritative in the Maccabean-Herodian-Mishnaic Temple. According to Büchler ("Die Priester und der Cultus," Vienna, 1895), during the last period of the Temple's existence certain concessions were made with latitude for "laymen." On the one hand, the use of the term "Ḳodesh ha-Ḳodashim" as a synonym for, or a later explanation of, "debir" (="oracle"), and the application of the same designation to all the things that were accessible only to the priests, and, on the other, the uncertainty of the use of the double phrase in Ezekiel (see above; Smend, Commentary on Ezekiel 61; Bleek, "Einleitung," 4th ed., p. 234), indicate a gradual evolution of the notion that certain places and things partook of a higher degree of holiness than others. The analysis of the various passages shows that "Ḳodesh," originally designating "property of or reserved for Yhwh," only gradually came to admit of different degrees. In distinction from all tithes which are holy those belonging to the priests are further designated as "miḳdash" (Numbers 18:29; comp. ib. 8:32).

Applied to locality, this distinction in degrees is noticeable first in Ezekiel. His idea of the ascending scale of holiness is apparent in his designation of the Temple territory as "Holy of Holies" in comparison with the surrounding Levitical land (Ezekiel 43:12, 48:12). This notion pervades the Priestly Code and is determinative of the later Jewish conception, which ascribes to the land of Israel, the city of Jerusalem, the different courts and buildings of the Temple, in a fixed but ascending scale, different degrees of sanctity (Sanh. 2a, 16a; Sheb. 14a; "Yad," c. ).

  • Saalschütz, Archäologie der Hebräer. 2:318;
  • Haneberg, Die Religiösen Altertämer, Munich, 1869;
  • Bähr, Symbolik des Mosaischen Cultus, 2d ed.,;
  • Wellhausen, Prolegomena zur Gesch. Israels;
  • Josephus, B. J. 5:5;
  • Winer, B. R.;
  • Spiess, Das Jerusalem des Josephus, 1881;
  • De Vogä, Le Temple de Jérusalem, Paris, 1864;
  • Hildesheimer, Die Beschreibung des Herod, Tempels, etc., Berlin, 1876;
  • Baudissin, Studien zur Semitischen Religionsgesch. , Leipsic, 1878.
E. G. H.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Debir, the'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​d/debir-the.html. 1901.
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