Round Houses - New and Old
Once I discovered that the Tabernacle courtyard was circular, my mind jumped back to my experience as a snowboard instructor at Granite Peak Ski Resort. Halfway through our lessons, we took our students inside a temporary building to give them a chance to warm up with a cup of hot cocoa. With the building being so cozy and spacious inside, I was surprised to learn that this temporary building was merely a tent. Sipping my hot chocolate, I came to appreciate the building's simple and ROUND construction. At the resort, this special round tent was usually referred to as “The Yurt”.
Granite Peak Ski School "Yurt" - Inside and Outside
While my first personal introduction to a round tent (except maybe Native American tipis) was the ski school's yurt, I learned that round tents or "yurts" were hardly an American invention.
The Yurt: Timeless Tents and Nomadic Engineering Marvels
As tents, yurts are not only efficient in their use of materials, but they are stable, wind resistant, and also easy to heat and ventilate. Given their advantages over other tent shapes, they have been part of nomadic cultures for thousands of years. They are also referred to as "Gerts" or "Gers" as well (the Y and the G sounds have morphed between cultures, depending upon the regional language). In Hebrew, the word "ger" or גר actually means "sojourner". Could it be a mistake that the same Hebrew word for "sojourn" was the same word to describe mobile tents in other ancient cultures - in which they sojourned? Surely, this could hardly be coincidence, particularly as God promised that he would "sojourn" among the people of Israel after they made their Tabernacle.
Mongolian Yurt (1)
Furthermore, in addition to the "ger" or sojourning connections, it is of note that yurt-like structures continue to be used to this very day for temples or religious purposes, as depicted in the Buddhist monastery below:
Buddhist "Yurt" Monastery (2)
As Israel left Egypt during the time of the Exodus, the Israelites traveled through the parcels of land joining Europe, Asia, and Africa. Just prior to this Exodus, Egypt was the superpower of the ancient world. Surely, those living in Egypt would have been aware of a variety of "tent technologies", especially given the number of mobile merchants bringing riches to their borders via trade routes. Alternatively, as Israel wandered the wilderness, other nearby nations were sure to have witnessed Israel's tent designs, perhaps adopting their "ger" designs for themselves.
Stationary and Circular Ancient Architecture
As suggested above, these "Round House" designs don't seem to be limited to eastern nomads. Engineer and inventor Bruce Bedlam believes that England's Stonehenge megalithic remains to have been used as a large structure of some sort. Bruce muses, "Given the level of intelligence of the people who built Stonehenge, is it conceivable that they would be prepared to stand in the rain?" His artistic rendering of Stonehenge as a building structure is shown below:
Bruce Bedlam's Stonehenge Building Concept (3)
Bruce proposes a similar explanation for another English site known as "Woodhenge", which features strange circular remains that also seem to be conducive to forming a building's foundation.
Circular Pillar Arrangement at "Woodhenge" Site, ~2 miles from Stonehenge (4)
Clearly, the builders of the ancient world were not people bound by backwards technologies, crippled by remedial skills or intelect, or limited by our imaginations. Of course, it may be speculative to propose a pre-Exodus origin of yurts or circular structures. Nevertheless, the traditional rectangular models as depicted in artwork (as shown below) and described in English Bible translations should be subject to serious scrutiny.
Artist's Depiction of Exodus Tabernacle (5)
When comparing the Exodus Tabernacle to other ancient wonders of the world, it would hardly be fair to commit its design to craftsmanship and rectangular building standards of Europe's dark ages. Ironically, the artists understood that ancient tents were also made round, as the above figure conveys (see round dwellings shown in the background setting beyond the Tabernacle model).
Tabernacle Hardware Rearragement
Regardless of culture or creed, nobody reasonable would reject simple design objectives that have been applied to tent making throughout the world. As mobile structures, tents need to be lightweight to be transported, and as a result, a tent maker's goal is to figure out a way to span a flexible covering over the simplest of frames while employing the fewest parts. Unnecessary weight and bulk are contrary to the very lifestyle - and perhaps in some cases the very survival - of nomadic people.
Recognizing these simple and irrefutable principles, I reexamined the Exodus texts that describe the Tabernacle hardware and courtyard. By taking the same parts listed in the Hebrew Bible, I was able to decipher plans for a much larger and more sophisticated structure. Instead of arriving at a bizarre rectangular structure like the one above - and unfamiliar to nomadic peoples, I discovered a tent of grandeur that is majestically conveyed in Bible texts.
Project Betzalel Tabernacle Model (by Author)
The simple rearrangement of hardware produced an enormous structure that has roughly 17x more floor space as depicted in the image below, which is superimposed over the traditional rectangular model.
Round Temples - Nothing New under the Sun
Solomon is credited as saying, "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Mankind's earliest invention is often thought to be the wheel. Should we assume that the ancients were not capable of applying the same round shape to other everyday structures? From studying the Scriptures, an English Architect named Henry Sulley came to apply this round-structure principle in his 1887 sketch of Ezekiel's future temple. While this case does not address Exodus particulars, it is, nevertheless, another example of a viable and alternate interpretation using a round foundation.
Henry Sully's Round Temple ol Ezekiel (1887)
Go to next page: Who/What is Betzalel?
4. Image by Grolltech, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en