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Tabernacle Toilets? (Leviticus 8)

Leviticus 8 tells us that during the ordination ceremony, Aaron and his four sons had to stay inside the entrance of the tent of meeting for seven days, upon fear of death (8:33, 35). This raises the natural question: where, then, did the priests-to-be take care of business?

            We’ve already seen from Leviticus 6:16 that the priests were required to eat certain parts of the sacrificial meal “in a holy place.  In the court of the tent of meeting they shall eat it” (all Scripture ESV).  This points to the likelihood that the priests had some sort of “picnic” area within the Tabernacle courtyard to eat the priestly food, even though that kind of furniture is unmentioned in the Tabernacle design in Exodus.

            In addition, Aaron and his sons are all given baths in Leviticus 8 (by Moses!).  This also takes place at the entrance to the tent of meeting (8:4).  Does this mean there were also some sort of washroom facilities within the Tabernacle courtyard?

            And where did the priests go to the bathroom during the seven-day ordination ceremony? Clearly, they were not allowed outside the courtyard area. But Exodus gives no specific detail on a toilet inside the courtyard.

            One prominent scholar, Jacob Milgrom, believes there were not only “picnic” tables and a place to bathe, but also toilet facilities within the courtyard (Leviticus 1-16, 535-36).  He points to the phrase “in a holy place” to indicate there were “not holy” places within the courtyard, places like a bathroom for the priests. These facilities may have been temporary, only for the ordination ceremony. The priests would do their business, then another Levitical servant would take the waste outside of the courtyard to be disposed of properly. In this way, neither Tabernacle nor ordained priest would be defiled.

            Of course, the Bible just simply doesn’t say this. But we have to assume that some provisions were allowable for the priests during this seven-day ceremony, and perhaps porta-potties were the best way to meet that need!

Bonus: Command-Fulfillment Between Exodus and Leviticus

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