This double-page ‘map’ of the Tabernacle is found right at the start of the Codex Amiatinus (fols 2v–3), the oldest surviving Latin Bible in one volume. It was written before 716 CE at the Northumbrian twin monasteries of Monkwearmouth–Jarrow. Each of the 1030 leaves measures 50 x 34 cm, and the Codex is 18 cm thick.
The illumination closely follows the blueprint God gave in Exodus: we see a portable tent-like structure, with its framework of acacia wood, housed within a courtyard enclosed by a draped colonnade (Exodus 26; 27:9).
Exodus 30 tells us that within this precinct, and in front of the Tabernacle’s entrance, were to be a large bronze laver for ablutions, and an altar for burnt offerings. Inside the Tabernacle, the sanctuary housed the seven-branched candelabra, the table of showbread, and, before the curtain veiling the Ark of the Covenant, the golden altar of incense.
The recreation of these details in the Codex’s illumination is in many respects very precise—except when it comes to the proportions of the altar of incense. In God’s instruction to Moses, that altar’s height was to be twice the length of its sides (v.2), yet the dimensions in this illumination are akin to those of common near-eastern incense burners—and include a label mentioning an alternative ‘learned’ word for incense, ‘thym(iama)’. Perhaps one of these burners had travelled to Northumbria, together with the incense that we know the monks possessed and used (Farmer 1965: 203). Similarly, the menorah and the curvaceous laver echo actual known models. The monks may have encountered them among the luxury goods imported to adorn their monasteries—Bede tells of ‘countless valuable gifts’ brought back by Benedict for his communities on his fifth journey to Rome (Farmer 1965: 194).
These objects made tangible connections with far-away lands and with the history of salvation.
Farmer, D. H. (ed.). 1965. The Age of Bede (London: Penguin)
30 “You shall make an altar to burn incense upon; of acacia wood shall you make it. 2A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth; it shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height; its horns shall be of one piece with it. 3And you shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and its sides round about and its horns; and you shall make for it a molding of gold round about. 4And two golden rings shall you make for it; under its molding on two opposite sides of it shall you make them, and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. 5You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 6And you shall put it before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with you. 7And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, 8and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations. 9You shall offer no unholy incense thereon, nor burnt offering, nor cereal offering; and you shall pour no libation thereon. 10Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year; with the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations; it is most holy to the Lord.”
11 The Lord said to Moses, 12“When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. 13Each who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. 14Every one who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord’s offering. 15The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord’s offering to make atonement for yourselves. 16And you shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tent of meeting; that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for yourselves.”
17 The Lord said to Moses, 18“You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base of bronze, for washing. And you shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, 19with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. 20When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering by fire to the Lord, they shall wash with water, lest they die. 21They shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die: it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his descendants throughout their generations.”
22 Moreover, the Lord said to Moses, 23“Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, two hundred and fifty, and of aromatic cane two hundred and fifty, 24and of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin; 25and you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; a holy anointing oil it shall be. 26And you shall anoint with it the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, 27and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, 28and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the laver and its base; 29you shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them will become holy. 30And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. 31And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32It shall not be poured upon the bodies of ordinary men, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an outsider shall be cut off from his people.’ ”
34 And the Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), 35and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; 36and you shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy. 37And the incense which you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves; it shall be for you holy to the Lord. 38Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”