Q: #501. Was a rope tied around the ankle of the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies?
By: Steve Shirley
A: I have heard this over and over through the years. Several weeks ago, it was brought up again by someone in my Bible study. While I have not believed this to be true, I had never spent time studying it. I have now, so let's go.
From what I can find, there is no credible source which says that a rope was tied around the ankle (or waist) of the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies (once a year) on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). It is not mentioned in the Bible. It is also not mentioned in any Jewish writings. Some believe it was mentioned in the Talmud, but every Jewish scholar I have read on this subject says it is not mentioned there, nor anywhere else. The great Jewish historian Josephus did not mention it. It is not mentioned in any Apocryphal books.
So where did this belief come from?? From what I can tell, it comes from a 13th century commentary called the "Zohar." This writing also teaches such things as astrology, reincarnation, gnosticism, and other wacky stuff. It is also a part of the occultic "Kabbalah" belief system. There is a sentence contained in the "Zohar" which says, "... A chain was tied to the feet of the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies, so that if he dies there they will take him out, since it is forbidden to enter there." Obviously, this is not a source that we want to rely on for credible Biblical information. Apart from the Zohar, this belief is not mentioned anywhere else that I can find.
In addition to a total lack of credible evidence for this belief, I would also submit that it actually "contradicts" the Bible. If you have spent any time in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, you know how "totally" detail oriented God was about the way He wanted things done. (This is why many people have a hard time reading through the book of Leviticus.) What the High Priest was to do on the Day of Atonement was no different. This is found in Leviticus Chapter 16. God said exactly what was to be taken into the Holy of Holies, and how the High Priest was to dress ("linen" everything: tunic, trousers, sash, and turban: Lev 16:4,23). Nothing else was to be taken into the Holy of Holies. God's instructions were to be followed to the letter! Failure to follow God's instructions could result in the High Priest being killed by God (Lev 16:2)(Ex 28:35)(Ex 30:20-21)(Lev 8:35)(Lev 10:7).
Sooo, what if a "rope" or "chain" (unpurified) was taken in when God didn't authorize it? I submit that the very thing that they were worried about, the High Priest being killed for not following God's instructions to the letter, would become a reality if the High Priest took a "rope or chain" into the Holy of Holies without God's permission. Yes?
***Note: It should also be noted that no man was allowed to be in the Tabernacle while the High Priest was carrying out God's instructions for the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:17). Therefore, how would they even be able to pull him out with a rope if he died?
Well then, what would they do if the High Priest "did" die in the Holy of Holies? I would answer this in two parts. First, the Bible never mentions a High Priest dying in the Holy of Holies. But, if it was going to happen, wouldn't God (in His omniscience) have known it was going to happen, and made provision for it? In His attention to detail, wouldn't God have given instructions for what to do if the High Priest died in the Holy of Holies? I submit that He knew this would never happen, which is why He never gave instructions for it.
Secondly, I think it is safe to say that even if the High Priest did die in the Holy of Holies, God would not have left a dead body in the Holy of Holies indefinitely. He would have made a way to have it removed (or maybe He would have removed it Himself).
Believing this myth is fairly harmless, but this is my small part to keep it from spreading.