Where's the Rope for high priests?

Question

I want to know the truth about a rope that was tied on a high priest's leg/ankle when they entered the tabernacle. Was this rope so they could be removed if they died inside the tabernacle/temple?

Answer

Thanks for your question.

In 1984, the Wendy’s food chain introduced a new slogan for its restaurants. Some of you may remember it — “Where’s the Beef?” One version of the commercial included three elderly ladies at the "Home of the Big Bun." As two of them examined a huge fluffy hamburger bun, the third woman lifted the top of the bun and comically uncovered a very small hamburger patty, exclaiming, “Where’s the Beef?” It was a hilariously popular commercial.

Similarly, when we examine what’s inside Scripture regarding your question, we will exclaim, “Where’s the Rope?” To begin with, a rope isn’t part of the high priest’s clothing that is described in Scripture (Exod. 28:4-5). In a brief search I also found no reference to a rope in the Mishnah, Talmud or Midrash, Josephus, Edersheim, Encyclopedia Judaica, the Apocrypha, and Dead Sea Scrolls, or the Pseudepigrapha.

However, the story of a rope may have originated in the Zohar, the chief text of the Jewish Kabbalah which first appeared around the 13th century. This text originated in Spain (not Israel). It contained many false doctrines such as Gnosticism, mysticism and reincarnation. Within the Zohar there are two versions of the story (eg. Emor 102a and Acharei Mot 67a), and these even seem to conflict with one another — rope vs chain, feet vs leg, crimson strap vs no mention of a crimson strap.

In Leviticus 10:1-2, Nadab and Abihu, two sons of Aaron, died when they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord in the tabernacle. But in Leviticus 10:3-7 the sons of Uzziel (Mishael and Elzaphan) were instructed to "come near" to retrieve the bodies. They didn't use a rope, and in this case, a rope most likely wouldn't have survived the fire coming out from God (Lev. 10:2). [1] Instead, God gave his specific instruction through Moses at the time for removing the dead priests. This said, you can see there really was no need for a rope if a high priest died within the Holy of holies or anywhere in the tabernacle or temple.

Footnote

[1] In Leviticus 10:2, the word “consumed” (Heb. akal) means consumed or devoured. It is used similarly in Leviticus 16:25; Judges 9:15; 1 Kings 18:38; 2 Kings 1:10, 12, 14; 2 Chronicles 7:1.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).