Thursday, April 03, 2003

No Strings Attached

E-Mail and Urban Legends

Here is the text of an e-mail I received this week:

> > > >Pepsi has a new "patriotic" can coming out with pictures of the
> > > >State Bldg. and the Pledge of Allegiance on them. But Pepsi forgot
> > > >little words on the pledge, "Under God." Pepsi said they did not want
> to
> > > >offend
> > > >anyone. If this is true then we do not want to offend anyone at the
> Pepsi
> > > >corporate office. If we do not buy any Pepsi product then they will
> > > >be offended by our monies. Our money after all does have the words
> > > >God We Trust" on it. Please pass this word to everyone you know. Tell
> > your
> > > >family, tell your neighbors--let your voices be heard. We want the
> words
> > > >"under God" to be read by every person who buys a can.

I have left in all the >>> characters so that you get an idea how many times it had been forwarded. Like a growing tree, I can imagine how this e-mail is working its way through the world.

I have a motto: All e-mail chains are guilty until proven innocent. Within 5 minutes and with the help of google, I discovered documentation for another urban legend. The longest lived urban legend in the e-mail circuit seems to be "Petition 2493" which purports that the FCC is about to ban all religious broadcasting. This one originated over 25 years ago when it had to spread by phone, fax, and the postal service. It does not help the spread of the gospel for Christians to be hammering the government and businesses on baseless rumors that will not go away. This is especially true in these days of search engines where fact finding is easy and painless. Find the facts and then either send the e-mail on or notify the sender to be more careful. I have NEVER found an e-mail that I could send forward.

Maybe the Oldest Legend Yet

However, this post is not about e-mail. It is about a high priests, the day of atonement, bells, and rope. The legend goes back for centuries and no one has found its origin yet. I have heard the tale from countless pulpits and from well respected teachers. It goes like this:

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest will enter the Holy Place bringing blood to make atonement for the people. He wears a garment that has bells on it and the other priests tie a rope around his ankle. The high priest enters the temple and all the other priests listen for the sound of the bells. If the bells were ever to stop, they would pull the presumably dead high priest out by the rope.

Since I had never taught this matter myself, I had never had the chance find a primary source. It never occurred to me to question it until I got an e-mail suggesting that the picture was a bit absurd. "What if the priest fell dead behind the mercy seat?" the note asked suggesting that hauling out a dead man, without knowing how or where he died, could topple everything inside.

Tracking this one down proved interesting. First google: high priest "day of atonement" bells rope. The search yielded pages of hits. They all had the distinction of being of Gentile or Messianic Jewish. There were no distinctly Jewish references. So I converted the terms to have a distinctly Jewish flavor: "cohen hagadol" "yom kippur" bells rope. It returned one hit, of Gentile origin, that claimed that many high priests had died between the death of Jesus and the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

What followed was a search for the actual traditions among the Jews. Eventually, I found a solid clue that spoke of the difference between the High Priest's everyday garments and what he wore on Yom Kippur. The clue was easily verified using the Scriptures.

The Everyday Clothes of the Priest

And you are to make the robe of the ephod completely blue. And there is to be an opening in its top in the center of it. There is to be an edge all around the opening of it, the work of a weaver, like the opening of a collar, so that it cannot be torn. And you are to make pomegranates of blue and of purple and of scarlet all around its hem; and bells of gold between them all around. The pattern is to be a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around the hem of the robe. And the robe is to be on Aaron as he ministers, and his sound will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the Lord and when he leaves, so that he does not die. (Exodus 28:31-35, The Net Bible)

According to this passage, Aaron was to wear a blue ephod when he entered the Holy Place (not the Holy of Holies). This garment does have bells and the bells are there so that he does not die. It is a different thing to have bells to tell the world you're alive and having bells keeping you alive.

The Clothes for Yom Kippur

On the Day of Atonement, Aaron did not seem to wear this ephod, but rather had special linen garments.

and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother that he must not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil-canopy in front of the atonement plate that is on the ark so that he may not die, for I will appear in the cloud over the atonement plate. In this way Aaron is to enter into the holy place—with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He must put on a holy linen tunic, linen leggings are to cover his body, and he is to wrap himself with a linen sash and wrap his head with a linen turban. They are holy garments, so he must bathe his body in water and put them on. (Leviticus 16:2-4)

This passage puts the legend to rest. It would seem that when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, he did not wear the ephod or the bells. If there are no bells to jingle, there is no need for the rope either. The passage not only puts the issue to rest, but puts to shame its spread and continuance. How much more do we spout off in ignorance?

I then followed this notion up with some orthodox and Hasidic Jewish web sites and found the purpose of the simple white clothes on the Day of Atonement. It was that the High Priest come before the Mercy Seat completely un-adorned. On that day, the high priest held no special status.

You might say that Yom Kippur, like our salvation, comes with no strings attached.

Friday: The Legend of 173880 Days


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