Leviticus 11:10-12 says all the creatures of the streams or seas that do not have fins or scales should be detested. You must also detest even their carcasses.

I understand why shellfish are considered unclean since they normally feed off the bottom as scavengers. The shellfish used for its dye of the colors in and for the tabernacle were taken from Helix ianthina of Linnaeus. It is not a bottom dweller and is a carnivore. Eats what floats on the top.

Why did God allow something He deems as detestable to be used in the Tabernacle?

1 Answer 1


Although Leviticus 11 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+11&version=NKJV does tell us what was forbidden to be eaten by the ancient people of Israel, Scripture seems to permit the usage of some of the by-products of these very things in the liturgy of the chosen people. That said, it has to be noted that the interpretation of various elements is still an open question. Perhaps God was making an exception here due to the fact the these items were not being taken internally?

We see in the Holy Incense, Moses included onycha in its composition. Now onycha can be interpreted as a form of mussel shell, but even this is not known for sure. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus%2030:34-38

It seems that, for anything relating to the liturgy in the temple, God wanted his chosen people to spare no expense to His honor. For the temple, gold, silver and bronze were incorporated into its construction, as well as other precocious materials. http://www.bible-history. com/tabernacle/TAB4Preparing_for_the_Tabernacle.htm

As for cloth used in the temple, it may even be possible that byssus cloth was employed in the temple. This is an extremely expensive sea silk fabric that was made from the Great Mediterranean Pen shell (Pinna nobilis). There are over 40 references of a biblical use of byssus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_silk https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_silk

"The threads of the fabric’s history are difficult to trace, beginning with the fact that the word byssus itself once referred to any precious textile. The Old Testament reportedly includes 45 mentions, but some of them, judging from the context, almost certainly refer to linen, cotton, or regular silk. The same is true for the cloth that Egyptians used to wrap mummies, which scholars have translated as “byssus." But it’s hard to be sure which byssus they’re talking about: sea silk, or another precious textile? The silken filaments that compose the pen shell’s beard are also called byssus, adding to the confusion." http://mentalfloss.com/article/69654/untangling-secrets-sea-silk-ancient-mediterraneans-elusive-luxury-textile

This same "precious" reason seems to apply in the procuring of dyes used in the vestments for the priests and for the temple. The dye for tyrian purple, which is made from mussels, was so expensive that it was reserved for royalty and the very wealthy. Thus I conclude that the reason why the ancient Hebrews used shells for dyeing cloth was that God wanted no expense to be omitted in His honor.

  • You dance around the conclusion. That they were said to be detestable only in the context of consumption, as food. You did a great job narrowing it down though. How could any of God's "good" creation be detestable in and of itself?
    – Joshua
    Feb 22, 2016 at 3:40
  • Thank you so much for your time and study on this question. One thing I am still struggling with though... Leviticus 11:11 says "And since you are to detest them, you must not eat their meat AND YOU MUST DETEST THEIR CARCASSES. Would this not also include touching them?
    – Grace
    Feb 22, 2016 at 22:13
  • @Grace I hope Ken gets back to you but I would say that a carcass it's usually an already dead body. So if they are dead and washed up, don't touch. But if you capture and kill them fresh, it's OK. Even then, worst case, if it made them unclean it was only a temporary condition. Going into a Gentiles home would have the same effect. Such as the priests avoiding going in with Jesus into Pilates home say it's so they can eat the Passover. I believe there is a period of time and some ceremonial washings involved in losing the unclean status. Would need to research that more.
    – Joshua
    Feb 25, 2016 at 16:12
  • Something else I have thought about this... The instructions of how to build the Tabernacle and with what were given soon after the Exodus. I believe this is before God had stated what was clean and unclean........
    – Grace
    Feb 26, 2016 at 20:55

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