Temple Hygiene

CODEX Entry 1540: Temple Hygiene


The extensive washing, use of antiseptics, and even hair removal, were a core part of temple protocol for millennia. This was particularly relevant in the inner sanctum, when serving food to the god, for example with Yahweh in the Tabernacle and Temple of Solomon¹. Later called the Sanctum sanctorum in Christian churches, Holy of Holies in the synagogue, or Garbhagriha in Hindu temples. Passing through the temple veil without authority meant instant death². Hence the profound significance of Jesus tearing it in two. Virginity was a prerequisite to join god’s harem and priests would make rigorous inspections. Their bodies were soaked in myrrh and their guards would carry frankinsence incense, both characterized by their strong antiviral and antibacterial effect.

Unleavened bread, wine, and roasted lamb or fowl would be presented to the god for food, with clear cooking instructions³. This is often confused with the separate Blood Ritual occurring in the main hall at ‘the altar by the door’4 or ‘in front of the veil’5. Those handling the food would be the High Priests, the most senior religious leaders. In the case of Yahweh, this was Aaron and his sons. The room and all utensils had to be thoroughly washed in antiseptic oils seven times before the arrival of the god. Here special clothes and head gear were used, which could not leave the Sanctum. The High Priest who served the food would also wear the Urim and Thummim, translated as ‘light and innocence’, which were strapped to his chest. This item is not clearly understood.

Any errors in following the hygiene procedures were punishable by death. Aaron saw his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, eviscerated by Yahweh for using the incorrect incense6. Clothes worn inside by the priests would only be worn a few times, then burned. High priests could not attend funerals and were banned from the temple if they had been in contact with anyone sick in the past 21 days.

The Levites, responsible for the Tabernacle, and later, The Temple of Solomon, were required to shave all body hair7.

Before entering the temple of Baal or Marduk, all worshippers were required to wash their body with water three times. This practise has survived in modern times with orthodox Jew’s Netilat Yadayim, the ritual washing of hands three times before prayer, and Mikvah. Also, the Wudu in islam, and numerous other cleansing rituals across the world, echo the practise. Ancient Christian churches were built with a large fountain in the courtyard. This remained prevalent in older monasteries with large wash basins in a hexagonal cloister at the chapel entrance8. The Sacristy continues the tradition of no clothes being allowed to enter or leave the Inner Sanctum.




¹ Lev. 8:1-13; Lev. 11; Lev. 13; Lev. 16:4-23; Lev. 21;
² Lev. 16
³ Num. 28:1-31; Lev. 2
4 Lev. 1:5
5 Lev.4:17
6 Lev. 10
7 Num. 8:6
8 Thoronet Abbey