Holy of Holies

Holy of Holies

The Holy of Holies is a term in the Hebrew Bible which referred to the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem which could be entered only by the High Priest on Yom Kippur.

Contemporary Judaism and certain branches of Christianity, including the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well as the Latter Day Saints, continue to have a tradition of a Holy of Holies which they regard as a most sacred site.


The Kadosh Hakadashim, Hebrew: (Biblical: hbrqofhbrholamhbrdalethbrsegolhbrshin. hbrhehbrpatahhbrqqofhbrhqamazhbrdalethbrqamazhbrshin.hbrhiriqmhbrmems "unicode|Qṓḏeš HaqQŏḏāšîm"), "Holy of Holies", the most sacred site in traditional Judaism, is the inner sanctuary within the Tabernacle and Temple in Jerusalem when Solomon's Temple and the Second Temple were standing. Traditional Judaism regards the location where the inner sanctuary was originally located, on the Temple Mount in Mount Moriah, as retaining some or all of its original sanctity for use in a future Third Temple. The exact location of the Kadosh Hakadashim is a subject of dispute.

The "Kadosh Hakadashim" was located in the westernmost end of the Temple building, being a perfect cube: 10 cubits by 10 cubits, by 10 cubits. The inside was in total darkness and contained the Ark of the Covenant, gilded inside and out, in which were placed the Tablets of the Covenant, the Rod of Aaron and a pot of manna. The Ark was covered with a gilded lid known as the "mercy seat" for the Divine Presence. When the Temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity, the Ark was no longer present in the Holy of Holies; instead, a portion of the floor was raised slightly to indicate the place where it had stood. Josephus records that Pompey profaned the Temple by entering the Holy of Holies.

The Holy of Holies was hidden by a veil, and no one was permitted to enter except the High Priest, and even he could only enter once a year on Yom Kippur, to offer the blood of sacrifice and incense before the mercy seat.

Hebrew idiom

The construction "Holy of Holies" is a literal translation of a Hebrew idiom which is intended to express a superlative. Similar constructions are found elsewhere:
*servant of servants (Gen 9:25)
*Holy of Holies (Ex 26:33)
*Sabbath of sabbaths (Ex 31:15)
*Heaven of heavens (Deut 10:14)
*God of gods (Deut 10:17)
*Lord of lords (Deut 10:17)
*Vanity of vanities (Eccl 1:2)
*Song of songs (Song of Solomon 1:1)
*Prince of princes (Dan. 8:25)

Most Holy Place

In the King James Version of the Bible, "Holy of Holies" is always translated as "Most Holy Place". This is in keeping with the intention of the Hebrew idiom to express the utmost degree of holiness.

The King James Version of the Bible has been in existence for nearly four hundred years. For most of that time, it was a primary reference in much of the English speaking world for information about Judaism. Thus, the name "Most Holy Place" is used to refer to the "Holy of Holies" in many English documents.

Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church has received the Tradition of the Holy of Holies in the Temple area. The Holy Table (altar) in an Orthodox temple is in a restricted area behind the iconostasis (icon screen). The entire area behind the iconostasis is known as the "Altar" or the "Holy Place", and corresponds directly to the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple.

The iconostasis is usually punctuated by three doors, the middle one being the Holy Doors or Royal Doors (sometimes, in very small chapels, there will only be one side door). There will also be a veil behind the Holy Doors, usually embroided with the symbol of the Cherubim or a cross. Only Orthodox clergy or those who have permission to do so may enter the holy space behind the iconostasis. Persons below the rank of deacon may enter only if there exist the other doors besides the Royal Doors. Bishops, priests and deacons are allowed to enter the Royal Doors, but only at specific times during the services; and they alone may stand in front of the Holy Table, or touch it. All others are forbidden to touch the Holy Table and must walk round behind it when serving. At the churching of Orthodox children when they are 40 days old, if a male child has been baptized he will be brought inside the Sanctuary by the priest; the female child is instead placed in front of the icon of the Theotokos on the iconostasis.

Anyone lower in rank than a deacon must receive a blessing from the priest before he enters the Holy Place. Historically the only exception to the rule of non clerical males being forbidden to stand before the Holy Table have been the Russian Tsars on the day of their coronation. After his anointing, the new Tsar would be escorted through the Holy Doors to a small table set near the Holy Table (Altar), and there he would be given Holy Communion by the Metropolitan of Moscow in the same manner as priests. For the most part, women are forbidden to enter the sanctuary, with the exception of elderly nuns who may be blessed to assist the priest during services, and an abbess in her own monastery, who is free to enter at any time. No one, male or female, should enter the sanctuary without good reason.

The name in Greek for the Sanctuary is the "Ieron Vema" (see Bemah), in Russian it is called "Svatiy Oltar".

Ethiopian Orthodox Church

A cognate term in Ge'ez is found in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church: "Qidduse Qiddusan", referring to the innermost sanctuary of an Orthodox Christian church building, where only clergy may enter.

Latter-day Saints

The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) contains a Holy of Holies wherein the Church's President—acting as the Presiding High Priest—enters to fulfill the relationship between the High Priest of Israel and God in accordance with the LDS interpretation of the Book of Exodus (sourcetext|source=Bible|version=King James|book=Exodus|chapter=25|verse=22) and modern revelation.

Non Religious Use of the term

The expression 'Holy of Holies' has also been used in non-religious descriptions of any place that is regarded with a special veneration. This can include exclusive clubs or places where only those with the right credentials will be allowed in - though it can also be used humorously as well of just about anywhere.

ee also

* Foundation Stone
* Honden
* Most Holy Place
* Solomon's Temple
* Sanctum Sanctorum
* Pompey

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Holy of holies — Holy Ho ly, a. [Compar. {Holier}; superl. {Holiest}.] [OE. holi, hali, AS. h[=a]lig, fr. h[ae]l health, salvation, happiness, fr. h[=a]l whole, well; akin to OS. h?lag, D. & G. heilig, OHG. heilac, Dan. hellig, Sw. helig, Icel. heilagr. See… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • holy of holies — n [singular] 1.) humorous a special place where only a few people are allowed to go 2.) the Holy of Holies the most holy part of a Jewish temple …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • holy of holies — ► NOUN 1) historical the inner chamber of the sanctuary in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. 2) a place regarded as most sacred or special …   English terms dictionary

  • holy of holies — n. [transl. of Heb qōdesh haqadōshim] 1. the innermost part of the Jewish tabernacle and Temple, where the ark of the covenant was kept 2. any most sacred place …   English World dictionary

  • holy of holies — 1. a place of special sacredness. 2. the innermost chamber of the Biblical tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem, in which the ark of the covenant was kept. 3. Eastern Ch. the bema. [1350 1400; ME, trans. of LL sanctum sanctorum (Vulgate), trans …   Universalium

  • holy of holies — [[t]ho͟ʊli əv ho͟ʊliz[/t]] N SING A holy of holies is a place that is so sacred that only particular people are allowed to enter; often used in informal English to refer humorously to a place where only a few special people can go. ...the holy of …   English dictionary

  • Holy of Holies — noun a) The most sacred place within a sacred building. The holy of holies, a cubical space of ten cubits on the side, was separated from the larger antechamber by four columns, which were also covered with gold and stood upon silver sockets;… …   Wiktionary

  • holy of holies —    1. the vagina    The kind of tasteless pun which a libertine like Frank Harris would relish:     I want to see the Holy of Holies, the shrine of my idolatry. (F. Harris, 1925)    2. a lavatory    Again a tasteless double pun on what should be… …   How not to say what you mean: A dictionary of euphemisms

  • holy of holies — noun 1. (sometimes upper case) the inner and smaller chamber of the Jewish tabernacle and temple entered only by the high priest and but once a year. 2. a place of special sacredness. 3. (often ironic) a cherished place: *here in the sweet… …  

  • holy of holies —    This term refers to the innermost part of the Temple in Jerusalem, which was the repository for the Ark of the Covenant; only the high priest was permitted to enter the holy of holies and then only once a year …   Glossary of theological terms

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