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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(usually and properly אֹהֶל, 6hel, so called from glittering [Gesenius] or being round [Fü rst], σκηνή; both occasionally "tabernacle;" elsewhere

מַשְׁכָּן, mishkcn, a. dwelling [Song of Solomon 1:8], the regular term for "tabernacle;" סֻכָּה, sukkah [2 Samuel 11:11], a "booth;" or קֻבָּה, kubbdh', a dome like pavilion, only in Numbers 2:8), a movable habitation, made of curtains extended upon poles. (See TABERNACLE).

Among the leading characteristics of the nomad races, those two have always been numbered whose origin has been ascribed to Jabal the son of Lamech (Genesis 4:20), viz. to be tent-dwellers (ישֵׁב אֹהֶל, comp. Genesis 25:27; σκηνίτης, Pliny, 6:32, 35) and keepers of cattle. Accordingly the patriarchal fathers of the Israelites were dwellers in tents, and their descendants proceeded at once from tents to houses. We therefore read but little of huts, among them, and never as the fixed habitations of any people with whom they were conversant. By huts we understand small dwellings, made of the green or dry branches of trees intertwined, and sometimes plastered with mud. In Scripture they are called booths. Such were made by Jacob to shelter his cattle during the first winter of his return from Mesopotamia (Genesis 33:17). In after-times we more frequently read of them as being erected in vine-yards and orchards to shelter the man who guarded the ripened produce (Job 27:18; Isaiah 1, 8; Isaiah 24:20). It was one of the Mosaical institutions that during the Feast of Tabernacles the people should live for a week in huts made of green boughs (Leviticus 23:42). In observing the directions of the law respecting the Feast of Tabernacles, the Rabbinical writers laid down as a distinction between the ordinary tent and the booth, sukkah, that the latter must in no case be covered by a cloth, but be restricted to boughs of trees as its shelter (Sukkah, 1, 3). In hot weather the Arabs of Mesopotamia often strike their tents and betake themselves to sheds of reeds and grass on the bank of the river (Layard, Nineveh, 2, 215; Burckhardt, Notes on Bed. 1, 37, 46; Volney, Travels, 1, 398).

In Egypt the Hebrews, for the most part, left off tent life, and lived in houses during their bondage; but on their deliverance, and during their protracted sojourn in the wilderness, tent life was again resumed by the nation (Exodus 16:16; Joshua 7:24), and continued for some time even after their settlement in the Holy Land (22, 8). Hence the phraseology of tent life remained among the people long after it had ceased to be their normal condition (1 Kings 12:16). Here we may observe that tent life is not peculiar to nomads only, for we find settled clans, occupied in agricultural pursuits, still dwell in tents, and such, probably, was the case in Palestine in all ages. The family of Heber the Kenite was apparently of this class (Judges 4:11-22), and even the patriarchs seem partly to have adopted that mode of life. Isaac not only "had possession of flocks and possession of herds," but also he " sowed in the land, and received in the same year a hundredfold" (Genesis 26:12). It was not until the return into. Canaan from Egypt that the Hebrews became inhabitants of cities, and it may be remarked that the tradition of tent-usage survived for many years later in the tabernacle of Shiloh, which consisted, as many Arab tents still consist, of a walled enclosure covered with curtains (Mishna, Zebachim, 14:6; Stanley, Sinai and Palest. p. 233).

The Midianites, the Philistines, the Syrians, the descendants of Ham, the Hagarites, and Cushanites are mentioned in Scripture as living in tents. But the people most remarkable for this unsettled and wandering mode of life are the Arabs, who, from the time of Ishmael to the present day, have continued the custom of dwelling in tents. Amid the revolutions which have transferred kingdoms from one possessor to another, these wandering tribes still dwell, unsubdued and wild as was their progenitor. This kind of dwelling is not, however, confined to the Arabs, but is used throughout the continent of Asia. In one of the tents shown in Assyrian sculptures a man is represented arranging a couch for sleeping on, in another persons are sitting conversing, and in others cooking utensils and the process of cooking are shown. In the smaller one (on next page), a man is watching a caldron on what appears to be a fire between some stones. Among tent- dwellers of the present day must be reckoned

(1) the great Mongol and Tartar hordes of Central Asia, whose tent- dwellings are sometimes of gigantic dimensions, and who exhibit more contrivance both in the dwellings themselves and in their method of transporting them from place to place than is the case with the Arab races (Horace, Carm. 3, 24, 10; Marco Polo, Trav. [ed. Bohn], p. 128,135, 211; Gibbon, ch. 26 [vol. 3, p. 298, ed. Smith]);

(2) as above observed, the Bedawin Arab tribes, who inhabit tents which are probably constructed on the same plan as those which were the dwelling-places of Abraham and of Jacob (Hebrews 11:9).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Tent'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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