Pondering God’s Blueprints

According to the Old Greek translation of Exodus 26:24, God is one who appreciates symmetry and balance, and I find this comforting. In this section of Exodus, God is giving instructions on how to build the tabernacle, and this verse speaks of how the top of certain pillars are to be laid out.

The Hebrew of this verse is obscure:

וְיִהְיוּ תֹאֲמִים מִלְּמַטָּה וְיַחְדָּו יִהְיוּ תַמִּים עַל־רֹאשׁוֹ אֶל־הַטַּבַּעַת הָאֶחָת כֵּן יִהְיֶה לִשְׁנֵיהֶם לִשְׁנֵי הַמִּקְצֹעֹת יִהְיוּ׃

Nahum Sarna comments:

This verse has not been satisfactorily interpreted. (JPS Commentary, p. 170)

William Propp comments:

Our efforts to comprehend the text are thwarted both by our ignorance of Hebrew architectural terminology and by the author’s punning diction … (Anchor Yale Bible Commentary, p.414)

The punning he speaks of is the first and last bold words above: tōʾămı̂m … tammı̂m, twin-like … whole.

The Septuagint is much more clear:

καὶ ἔσται ἐξ ἴσου κάτωθεν· κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ ἔσονται ἴσοι ἐκ τῶν κεφαλίδων εἰς σύμβλησιν μίαν· οὕτως ποιήσεις ἀμφοτέραις, ταῖς δυσὶν γωνίαις ἔστωσαν.

Here, the instructions speak of the corners of the pillars being the same (ἴσος) or even, and that’s what struck a cord with me. Though Sarna recognizes the difficulty of the Hebrew, as quoted above, he concludes similarly to the Septuagint,

It apparently means that the corner buttresses are to be perfectly aligned and secured at both top and bottom. (JPS Commentary, p. 170)

Robert Alter renders it “And they shall match …” (The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, volume 1, p. 321).

Why is such an odd passage intriguing to me on a beautiful Saturday afternoon? Well, if you are one of those people who seems to care about symmetry and balance and matching a little more than those around whom you live and move — maybe you are sometimes halfway jokingly called OCD — it’s nice to see a similar concern on the pages of scripture. The Old Testment is a strange place, and any bits of familiarity should be appreciated.