Did you ever hear the one about . . . .

The idea that the high priest would tie a rope around his ankle before entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur so that his body could be pulled out if he went down while performing his duties? (It’s a myth).

What about the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna) being a perpetually burning trash dump? (It’s a myth too).

Someone asked David McCullough about his perspective on writing history. He said, “ . . . there’s no need ever to trick things up, to sugar this or that, or use dramatic devices to make it interesting. You just try as best you can to make it as interesting as it actually was.”[1] In a sense, this is the role of good expository homiletics. The task of the preacher is to get out of the way and let the people hear God speaking in the narrative. Having done all the necessary spadework, “This message should be clear and easy to follow, while remaining faithful to the biblical author’s progression of ideas.”[2]


[1] Diane Osen, ed., The Book that Changed My Life: Interviews with National Book Award Winners and Finalists (New York: The Modern Library, 2002), 106-07. I am indebted to Matthew Waymeyer for calling my attention to this particular quote (personal communication, Oct 18, 2009).

[2] Donald R. Sunukjian, “Sticking to the Plot: The Developmental Flow of the Big Idea Sermon,” in The Big Idea of Biblical Preaching: Connecting to People, eds. Keith Willhite and Scott M. Gibson (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 111.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Scott Christensen on April 7, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I used to combine the rope idea with what Exod. 28:31-35 says about bells at the hem of the priest’s robe. If the bells stopped ringing, the priest must be dead so the rope tied around him would be used to pull him out. It made for good dramatics.

    I stopped referring to the rope idea when I started doing more serious research and could never find anything credible to confirm it. This history now sheds more light on the matter. Thanks.

  2. Many pastors rely on research from respected pastors and theologians. When the big dogs get it wrong it goes far and wide.

    In a smaller world the same is true for us local church preachers (those of us who serve in smaller churches w/o any books in print, etc). Our people will likely take what we share with them Sunday AM and teach it to others. 2 Tim 2:15

  3. Shows the value of research. I heard the rope thing from a pastor – so believed it! He probably heard from another, etc. Crazy how these things just become part of ‘what we know’ and we don’t question it!

  4. If these sorts of details are not in the NT itself then we have no business stating them as fact or integral to the meaning of the text. Furthermore, as a general rule of thumb, if Josephus doesn’t talk about it and then Alfred Edersheim doesn’t mention it, you can probably rest assure that it never happened (as far as Jewish custom) though they can both be wrong and overstated at times.

  5. Posted by Caleb Kolstad on April 9, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Good post

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