Did the High Priest Wear a Rope on their ankle?
You may have heard this story before.
It has been said that that because the high priest could be killed by God in Holy of Holies if not properly prepared according to Divine instructions, a rope was routinely tied around his ankle. Then, if he dropped dead, his body could be dragged out. Various versions of this claim have been repeated in Christian and Jewish circles.
As yet, we have not located the original source, but apparently it originated long after the last Jewish Temple was gone. The biblical and historical evidence indicates that there was no rope, at least not in any common use.
Dr. W.E. Nunnally, a professor of Hebrew and early Judaism, has reported:
“The rope on the high priest legend is just that: a legend. It has obscure beginnings in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna, or any other Jewish source. It just is not there.”
The Biblical Studies Foundation (loosely associated with Dallas Theological Seminary), similarly reports that their research has put the “the rope around the ankle-or-waist-or-maybe-the-leg” legend “to rest.” They also point out that Aaron was to wear a blue ephod with bells on its hem (Exodus 28:31-35), when he entered the Holy Place (not the Holy of Holies) (Leviticus 16:2-4). When he enters the Holy of Holies, he washes and wears special linen garments, not the ephod with bells. “If there are no bells to jingle, there is no need for the rope either.”
A Messianic Jewish Fellowship points out the potential difficulty of dragging a dead priest out of the Holy of Holies:
“You could only drag out the priest if he died in the Holy place. The way the curtains of the temple were designed, the priest could not have been dragged out of the HOLY of HOLIES. The veil was made using many layers of cloth. The thickness was over three feet. The curtains overlapped and made a small maze through which the priest walked…”