She is standing in the Court of Women, looking in vain for her husband. The thousands of people milling around make it impossible to see him. She has her infant daughter nestled against her chest in a sling. She rests her hand on the head of her three year old son who clings to her leg. The smells of unwashed bodies, blood, animals and their waste fill her lungs. In addition there is smoke from numerous torches that have been burning for several hours.
They had come to the Temple in the morning hoping to have their lamb sacrificed soon after the priests began the ritual sacrifice of the Passover lambs. Her husband had taken the lamb into the Court of Israel. Just as they started at noon darkness had fallen. A darkness not caused by clouds. It was an unearthly darkness. The torches seemed to shed less light than normal. The ritual for each family was taking longer because of it.
Now, three hours later, the sky began to lighten. Slowly at first, then the brightness chased the darkness from all corners of the Temple. Everyone seemed to breath a collective sigh of relief, but too soon. The earth began to shake. The tremors increasing with every second. The noise of the earthquake built as people began screaming and shoving to get away from stones falling from shaking pillars.
She knows there are too many panicking people to get through. She picks her son up resting him on her hip. Carrying both children is heavy but she don’t want him trampled.
A loud sound directs her eyes to the Holy of Holies. She sees the veil covering the entrance tearing, as if by unseen hands, from the top to the bottom. How can this be? It takes 300 priests to carry the veil as it is replaced each year for a clean one. It now hangs in two pieces.
A stiff gust of wind makes the veil flutter. One side catches on something keeping it from closing. Now all can see the emptiness of the room that used to be hidden behind the veil.
This scene could have been written for my recently released novel Seeing The Life. The story revolves around the life of Christ, but though he is the focal point of the characters, we see his life from the view of people living at the time.
During my research I became interested in the veil covering the Holy of Holies. It was 60 feet high and 20 or 30 feet long. Woven of linen in 72 panels which were sewn together. The Ryrie Study Bible claims Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, said the veil was four inches thick. Josephus describes the veil but does not mention the width (War 5.5.4).
Many contend the veil was four inches thick, stating it was the breadth of the hand. Being aware of the difficulty in understanding ancient Hebrew and Greek through the culture of the western mindset, it puzzles me that the width or breadth is always assumed to be across the palm. My first impression when I read this is not across the palm, but what we would call the depth or thickness of the hand. This would make the thickness closer to an inch or less.
As an experienced quilter and embroiderer I can understand a one inch thickness much more than four inches. There are several reasons for this. One is simply the size of the needle being pushed through so much material. In ancient times, bone or ivory needles would have been used. These would have more drag as it goes through the fabric than our metal needles of today. The diameter of a needle which could pierce and go through a four inch thickness would be more than anyone could do. Upholstery needles of today do not normally go through that much fabric especially being pulled by hand.
The veil was woven linen embroidered with blue, scarlet, and purple threads. We think of linen fabric as thin. In ancient times linen was woven into lightweight as well as heavier fabrics. To carry the weight of the veil, the linen base would have been woven from heavier thread creating a thicker, courser fabric. This sturdy fabric would then be embroidered as specified.
They may have covered the linen base with the background color with fine stitches to hide the roughness of the weave. This would add more to the thickness, especially since they, most likely, covered both sides of the fabric. Then the embroidered elements would be stitched on. These might have been layered also and on both sides of the veil so the back was identical to the front. The thread would also be a thick strand. The thicker the strand, the more each strand covers in one stitch. Each stitch, layer upon layer, would make the fabric thicker and denser.
The veil covering the Holy of Holies dated back to the time of Moses when the Lord gave the instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle. The arc of the covenent was within the Holy of Holies separated from the people by the veil. Only the high priest could enter to offer the sacrifice for the people of Israel. This happened once a year on the Day of Attonement at Yom Kipper. If the sacrifice was accepted the High Priest remained alive. If not God struck him dead.
The veil separated God from the people. It represented the separation which occured when Adam disobeyed God by eating from the tree of knowledge. This broken relationship was represented by the veil hiding the presence of God in the Holy of Holies. No longer could man approach and fellowship with God. Instead, only the high priest entered to offer the sin sacrificial offering on the Day of Attonement.
Jesus’ death was the ultimate sin sacrifice. He died once paying the price for each person’s sin if the person accepts the offering Jesus provided. At the moment of his death the veil tore. The separation of God from his creation was no longer needed.
Whatever the thickness of the veil, tearing such a heavy drapery from top to bottom could never have been done by human hands. Those in the Temple that day witnessed death of Jesus as he paid the price for all man’s sin. No more would access to God be limited to one priest one day a year. Now we can boldly approach with nothing blocking our way.
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