Numbers 3-4 B

I’m not going to pretend I didn’t fall down an internet hole over the extensive use of porpoise (tachash) skin, so here’s me officially making it the topic of today’s chapters discussion.

I’m a big fan of eating kosher, because of how the LORD directed Israel to eat dumb animals that were very easily killed humanely, with a sneaky slit of the throat. Many “unclean” animals are too smart to kill humanely.

Porpoises for example! A very smart animal! They are not kosher, so why would the LORD support “the porpoise industry”, and use the skin of an unclean animal cover the Most Holy articles in the sanctuary–including the arc!

Thanks, Internet, for rewarding my curiosity with the validation that it was the right question.

Earliest translations, including the Septuagint, and other writings of Josephus (Antiquities 3:102) imply that this word tachash refers to a dye from a purple plant (hyacinths), presumably used on a sheep or goat hide. Something kosher and accessible in the 1400s BC Sinai desert.

Hyacinths are native to the Eastern Mediterranean, and the wild stock, unlike our modern cultivars, is rarely red or white, but ranges in color from violet blue to bluish purple. “Hyacinth blue” was a well-known ancient dye made, not from the flower, but from a substance extracted from molluscs, and which was processed to produce the same color.

Now doesn’t a kosher-sheep/goat skin, dyed to a royal purple color make more sense to cover the Most Holy articles than porpoise skins? I think so!

There’s also another (fun?) theory that it refers to a–now extinct–kosher animal known to that region at the time. A unicorn perhaps?

In any case, it wasn’t until the 19th century that translators began postulating about it being a sea animal, based on an Arabic adjacent translation of the word.

Aren’t you titillated? I do love some good old fashioned research! I also think it’s important to dig into translation histories whenever something doesn’t add up, or appears inconsistent with something the LORD is typically consistent about.

So here’s some food for thought to anyone who was worried by the copious amount of porpoise skin usage. If it didn’t cross your mind, that’s fine too. Just smile about how most our misunderstandings about God are man-made and often a little research can help us out.


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