Monday, February 1, 2010

Did the high priest enter the Holy of Holies with a rope around his ankle?

Our Wednesday Night Study in Revelation raised a question about the High Priest having to wrap a rope around his ankle to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The story says that if the high priest did not have all of his personal sins dealt with, he would die in the temple and have to be drug out by the rope. I have heard the story a hundred times and have repeated it a dozen times, but after some investigation of its origins I have discovered it to be an urban legend that has no Biblical basis. The following is some of the research I have found:

You may have heard this story before. It has been said that that because the high priest could be killed by God in Holy of Holies if not properly prepared according to Divine instructions, a rope was routinely tied around his ankle. Then, if he dropped dead, his body could be dragged out. Various versions of this claim have been repeated in Christian and Jewish circles.

As yet, we have not located the original source, but apparently it originated long after the last Jewish Temple was gone. The biblical and historical evidence indicates that there was no rope, at least not in any common use.

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 Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna, or any other Jewish source. It just is not there.”

A Messianic Jewish Fellowship points out the potential difficulty of dragging a dead priest out of the Holy of Holies:

“You could only drag out the priest if he died in the Holy place. The way the curtains of the temple were designed, the priest could not have been dragged out of the HOLY of HOLIES. The veil was made using many layers of cloth. The thickness was over three feet. The curtains overlapped and made a small maze through which the priest walked…"

Well, I admit my own guilt in passing along this story as historical in my preaching. This evidence goes to show how there are a lot of stories we have heard that are not truly biblical. If only we could get more excited about what the Bible actually says than in what it does not say.

May God help us all to know His word more faithfully, and may our desire to read it increase!

- Bro. Dave


Joseph I. Lauer said...

The source for the rope (or chain) is the medieval Zohar, Parashat Acharei Mot (67a) and Parashat Emor (102a).
See the article "What’s the Truth About ... the Kohen Gadol’s Rope?" by Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky at
See also Todd Bolen's Bible Places blog posting at
Joseph I. Lauer
Brooklyn, New York

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Flavio Lugo said...

Great insight Joseph. Thank you.