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MS_Opp_2_fol_207r copy.jp2

Rashi's Diagram of the Holy Land

One of the most difficult tasks for interpreters of biblical texts has been to try to imagine and reconstruct the restored Temple which is envisioned in Ezekiel 40–48. One early instance of medieval imaginings of the Temple, based on Ezekiel’s descriptions, is the work of the Jewish scholar Rashi (1040–1105). Writing to a group of rabbis in Auxerre, France on the matter, Rashi hinted tantalizingly that, ‘concerning the northern outer chambers, about not being able to understand where they began to the north-west and how much they extended to the east ... I cannot add anything to what I explained in my commentary, but I shall draw a plan of them and send it to him.’ The images hinted to by Rashi’s letter have, like the Jerusalem Temple, been lost for several centuries. What has survived instead, in a number of thirteenth and fourteenth century CE manuscripts of Rashi’s commentaries, are his diagrammatic interpretations of the description of the Holy Land given in Ezekiel 45 and Ezekiel 48. The version here, inked some two hundred years after Rashi’s death, is an illustration for his commentary on Ezekiel 48. In it we can see the prophet’s proposed division of the Holy Land, with the land to be portioned off to God—the sanctuary—in the centre. Moving outward from this holiest space are the territories of the twelve Israelite tribes, beginning with the Levites who served in the Temple.