The Taḥash (legendary animal)

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The Taḥash[1] is a legendary animal[2][3] discussed in the Mishnah, Gemara, and Talmud.[4] According to these sources, the Taḥash existed in the time of Moses but was afterward hidden, or ceased to exist.[4][5] It is said that God created the animal Taḥash exclusively for the needs of the Tabernacle.[2][6]
"The taḥash of Moses' day was a separate species and sages could not decide whether they were beasts or domestic animals, and it had one horn on its forehead, and it came to Moses' hand [providentially] just for the occasion." (Shab. 28b) [4]

Description

According to a traditional teaching,[7] the Tachash was most probably a clean animal,[8] with a multicolored skin.[2][3] Some sages (Tannaim) speculated that it was identical with the keresh, a legendary unicorn.[9] It is said to have been so enormous that out of one tachash skin a seamless tent-curtain could be made, thirty cubits long and four cubits wide[2][9][10] (45 ft. x 6 ft; 13.716 m x 1.8288 m).[11] Midrash Tanchuma 6 relates the discussion between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Nechemiah, in which R. Yehudah stated that taḥash was a huge kosher (ritually pure) animal in the desert, with one horn in its forehead, and a hide of six colors, from which the Israelites under Moses made the curtains of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). "They captured one of them and from its skin made a covering for the ark." R. Nechemiah responded that taḥash was a miraculous beast that was hidden away after it was used in the Mishkan. He proposed that it was necessary to create such a beast because it is written that the curtains of the Mishkan were 30 cubits long, and he asked, "What animal hides are 30 cubits long?" He concluded that the Taḥash was a momentary miracle that was hidden away soon after it happened. Rabbi Abun said, "It was called a unicorn"[12][13] Rabbi Meir gave a more detailed description of its appearance and coloring, including some of the marks of a clean animal, a multicolored skin, and a horn-like protrusion on its forehead: "Now since he says that it had one horn in its forehead, it follows that it was clean."[4] According to some sages the Tachash was most probably a clean wild beast rather than a domestic animal, and they support the opinion that all wild animals that have sharp pointed hoofs, and have horns forked, or have horns rounded, notched (the notches running together), and pointed, are clean.[14] Some sages speculated that the word תחשׁ taḥash was taken from חש ḥish, "fleet", suggesting that the Tachash could have been a species of swift antelope.[3] According to the rabbinical sources,[9] the Tachash was a distinctly separate species of animal[15] which disappeared as soon as the demands of the Tabernacle for skins for the outer covering had been fulfilled.[2][4][12][13]
"This was a species of animal that existed only for a [short] time." —Rashi's commentary (Exodus 25:5).[3][16]

Speculation

Tahash animal

Many animal species have been proposed as the identity of the Tachash, both clean and unclean.[17] The Encyclopaedia Judaica article TAḤASH states that all such proposals are purely conjectural, and the true identity of the Tachash of the Tanakh remains unknown—and that the translation badger has no basis in fact.[3]

Rav Kook (1865–1935) acknowledged that the rabbis in the Talmud were uncertain if the Techash was a clean or an unclean animal.[4][18] He speculated that it might be possible for God to command the use of skins of an unclean animal for the tabernacle in the desert as a symbolic teaching about the inclusive wholeness of all creation.

Others support the opinions of Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Joseph that the Techash was a clean animal.
"It would involve a great inconsistency, that the ark of the covenant, which was considered so holy, that no human hand could touch it with impunity, except the hands of those who had been consecrated to God, that it should constantly be covered with the skins of unclean animals... Therefore the coverings of purple, or blue, which our translators have called 'of badgers' skins', were of a material that was accounted pure, and could not impart any impurity to those who prepared them, or to those whose office it was to adjust them amidst the vicissitudes of the camp of Israel."
—John Grigg Hewlett, D.D. (1860) Bible difficulties explained. pp. 160–161 —book in the public domain[19][20]

Tahash color

The most ancient sources before the time of the Tannaim all interpreted the Hebrew term ערת תחשׁים 'orot taḥashim as colored skins, colored leather.

William Smith's entry for (Smith's Bible Dictionary) "Badger skins" says the ancient versions seem nearly all agreed that "tahash" denotes not an animal, but a color, either black or [midnight] blue.[21]

John Gill's commentary (Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible) on Exodus 25 says the Septuagint version calls the "tahash skins" hyacinth or blue skins, according to which they seem to be ramskins dyed blue, and so Josephus seems to have understood it, Antiquities 3:6:1 and 3:6:4.[22][23][24]

Adam Clarke's commentary (Clarke's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible) on Exodus 25 says that the "badgers' skins" 'orot tachashim are rather violet-colored skins. He says on verse 5 that Samuel Bochart (1663) has exhausted the subject and seems to have proved that no kind of animal is here intended, but a color.[25] The Septuagint and Vulgate have skins dyed a violet color; the Syriac, azure; the Arabic, black; the Coptic, violet; the modern Persic, rams-skins, etc. He says the color contended for by Bochart is the hysginus, which is a very deep blue.[26]

According to Encyclopaedia Judaica TAḤASH, Rabbi Judah haNasi interpreted taḥash as altinon (Greek, ἁληδινον aledinon), seemingly purple.[13]

The most recent 21st century Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant translations of taḥash favor the earliest historical interpretations of ערת תחשׁים skins taḥash as being the most likely original meaning of taḥash: a kind of dark-colored leather or skin; dark, almost black, indigo, purple, violet, azure, blue, "beaded" skins.[27]

One horn ("uni-corn")

Rabbi Natan Slifkin discusses the Tachash in his book Sacred Monsters.
"...there is another fascinating potential unicorn mentioned in the Torah. This is the tachash, whose skin was used as a cover for the Tabernacle." (p. 55)
"Regarding the tachash, there were opinions amongst the Sages that it was indeed a unicorn." (p. 79)[12][13]
Sacred Monsters, Chapter One: Unicorns of Different Colors ("The Tachash" pp. 55–79)

Controversy

The legendary Taḥash is an enormous unknown one-horned desert animal of six colors whose single hide could be made into a finished seamless tent-curtain 30 cubits long and 4 cubits broad, 45 feet by 6 feet, 13.716 meters by 1.8288 meters (one cubit = 18 inches = 0.4572 meters). A species of animal whose finished skins measured 30 cubits long 4 cubits broad would be the largest creature ever to walk the earth and possibly the second largest that ever existed, second only to the blue whale. To date there are no animals known to science, present or prehistoric, that are anywhere near that size. Given what is known of the physical maximum material load-bearing limit of bone structures, leg bones would have shattered under the weight of such an enormous beast. According to zoologists the maximum possible size for land mammals had been reached with the extinct species of hornless giant rhinoceros Paraceratherium, weight estimated in the range of 15 to 20 tonnes (33,000 to 44,000 lb) at maximum, and as low as 11 tonnes (24,000 lb) on average, height estimated as 6 m (20 ft) at the shoulders, length of neck estimated at 2 to 2.5 m (6.6 to 8.2 ft) long, maximum length of animal nose to rump 28.87 feet, 8.8 meters, 19.24794 cubits, less than two-thirds the length of one finished tachash curtain.[28][29]

An awareness of ancient folklore having roots in prehistorical reality may have reasonably suggested to the Tannaim the actual existence of such an enormous beast, created by God.[30][31] Possible sightings and capture of what may have been a giant one-horned Eurasian rhinoceros have been preserved in legends.[32] The animal has anciently been called a "deer-like" beast with one big horn, a "big bull" with one horn on its head, and a giant "unicorn" with five colors. A modern description of Elasmotherium, an ancient extinct one-horned rhinoceros with long legs adapted for galloping, comparable in size to the woolly mammoth 9 to 11 feet high at the shoulder, with a large, thick horn on its forehead, is strikingly similar to rabbinical descriptions of the taḥash.[33] However, the enormous rhinoceros Elasmotherium was not big enough to be the taḥash, measuring only about 10 cubits nose to tail, 15–16 feet, one-third the length of a taḥash skin of 30 cubits (45 feet), and it is supposed to have become extinct over 10,000 years ago.[34][35]


Jewish tradition dismisses any proposal or suggestion that Taḥashim could have been sighted since the time of Moses. According to the Talmud and Rashi's commentary, the enormous one-horned Taḥash ceased to exist after the Tabernacle was completed and it has not been seen since that time, ca. 1400–1300 B.C. according to the dating of the Seder Olam Rabbah.[2][9][10][36]
"...the beast was hidden away, [so no one knows what it is any more]." Shabbat 2:3.[37][38]

References

  1. תחשׁ Taḥash singular form–also transliterated taaš, Tahash, Tachash, Techash;
    תחשׁים Taḥashim plural form–also transliterated taaš'm, Tahashim, Tachashim, Techashim.
    The Hebrew term ערת תחשׁים 'orot tahashim / uwr't tahashim means "skins tachashim", "skins of tachashes", "tachash skins".
    The word ערת 'orot / uwr't (plural) means "skins".
    The word עור 'or / uwr (singular) means "skin".
    The Hebrew term עור תחשׁ uwr tachash / 'or tachash means "skin tachash", "skin of tachash", "tachash skin".
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Ginzberg, Rabbi Louis. The Legends of the Jews: Translated brom the German Manuscript by Paul Radin. Volume III: Bible Times and Characters from the Exodus to the Death of Moses: The Altarparagraph beginning "The materials employed for the constructions of the Tabernacle...".
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed.–access. –Article TAḤASH —select Click here to access Encyclopedia Judaica then select Table of Contents select [Choose a volume] click it, and from the drop down menu select Som-Tn, click it, and return to [Choose a volume] which shows Som-Tn click it, and from the drop down menu select Tabriz-Talmudclick it, and select Taḥash 19:435 and click the 19:435 the article will appearTAḤASH (Heb. תַּחַשׁ ) —bjeindy.org
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo'ed, Tractate Shabbath. Folio 28a PARTb (Shab. 28ab) —halakhah.com
  5. The tachash was hidden, but it cannot be classed as a cryptid.
    See Eberhart, George M., Mysterious Creatures: Creating A Cryptozoological Encyclopedia. 2005 Journal of Scientific Exploration. Vol 19, No. 1, pages 103–113. He argues "lack of controversy" as a basis for exclusion of any creature from classification as a cryptid: "Someone needs to observe a mystery animal and someone also needs to discredit the sighting. Cryptozoologists function as interventionists between witnesses and skeptical scientists."
    Rashi's commentary on Terumah-Exodus-Chapter 25 תחשׁים says, "This was a species of animal that existed only for a [short] time." (The existence of the Taḥash is not "falsifiable".)
  6. See Exodus 25:1–26:14 "tahash",Exodus 35:4-36:19 "tahash",Exodus 39:32-43 "tahash".
  7. Traditional sources:
  8. Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo'ed, Tractate Shabbath. Folio 28a (Shab. 28a)
    "Said Rabbi Adda ben Ahabah: His question relates to the tahash which was in the days of Moses—was it unclean or clean? Rabbi Joseph observed, What question is this to him? We Learnt it! For the sacred work none but the skin of a clean animal was declared fit."
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Three sources:
  10. 10.0 10.1 Shabbath 28ab; Midrash Tanchuma 6
  11. Length: Cubit = 18 inches = 0.4572 meters × 30 = 540 inches ÷ 12 = 45 ft; Width: Cubit = 18 inches = 0.4572 meters × 4 = 72 inches ÷ 12 = 6 ft. Metric conversion: 13.716 meters long × 1.8288 meters wide. Compare the size of the Tachash with the largest known organisms on earth, the blue whale, the African bush elephant and the known pre-history species of giant rhinoceros Paraceratherium.
    The blue whale averages 98 feet in length, 29.807 meters, 65.3333 cubits, 1 cubit = 18 inches. For illustrated image of size-comparison of the blue whale to average human, click here
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Midrash Tanchuma – Yelammedenu: An English Translation of Genesis and Exodus by Samuel A. Berman (1966). Chapter 6. This is the offering...and ram's skins dyed red, and seal skins (Exodus 25:3). page 524. ISBN 978-9881254006.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Yerushalmi (The Jerusalem Talmud), Shabbat 2:3. —The Talmud of the Land of Israel, Volume 11: Shabbat, ed. by Jacob Neusner, 1991. page 98. ISBN 978-0226576190, University of Chicago Press. 513 pages ISBN 978-0226576701.
  14. Chullin 59b.
  15. "a distinctly separate species of animal"—An example of biological monospecificity based on anecdotal evidence.
  16. Rashi's commentary: Terumah-Exodus-Chapter 25 (verse 5).
  17. Natan Slifkin (2007) Sacred Monsters: Mysterious and Mythological Creatures of Scripture, Midrash and Talmud, Chapter One: Unicorns of Different Colors.
    Aryeh Kaplan (1993) The Living Torah and Nach Trumah-Exodus-Chapter 25:5 footnote blue processed skins: ermine, badger, ganet, colorful one-horned keresh, rhinoceros, wild ram, antelope, okapi, giraffe, narwhal, sea cow, dugong, seal, goat.
  18. Rav Kook, Menachem Mendel Schneerson "The Rebbe" (Ḥasidic Judaism)—Terumah: Tachash Skins in the Tabernacle, Rabbi Chaim Morrison
  19. Hewlett, John Grigg, D.D. (1860) Bible difficulties explained, London: Henry J. Tresidder, 17, Ave Maria Lane; Edinburgh: Elliot; Glasgow: Glass & Duncan; Dublin: P. Dixon Hardy. pages 159–163. ISBN 978-0559757136
  20. Compare Leviticus 11.
    The KJV translation of ערת תחשׁים 'orot tahashim is "badgers' skins", but as Dr. Hewlett points out (pages 159–161), the holiness code of Leviticus 11:24-28 says (KJV):
    24 And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even.
    25 And whosoever beareth ought of the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.
    26 The carcases of every beast which divideth the hoof, and is not clovenfooted, nor cheweth the cud, are unclean unto you: every one that toucheth them shall be unclean.
    27 And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you: whoso toucheth their carcase shall be unclean until the even.
    28 And he that beareth the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: they are unclean unto you.
    See Rashi's commentary on Vayikra-Leviticus-Chapter 5:2, 5, 13 –v.2 "Or if a person touches [anything unclean]: And after [consequently acquiring] this uncleanness, he eats holy things [namely sacrifices], or he enters the Sanctuary, [each of which] constitutes a sin which, if committed willfully, incurs the penalty of excision. Thus it is explained in Tractate Shevuoth (7a)."
    See Soncino Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Tractate Shevuoth, Folio 7ascroll down to Folio 7a. "penalty of Kareth" (excision). This penalty of "excision" כָּרַת karath/kareth means to be "cut off/cut down" —see Leviticus 7:20, 25, 27; 17:4, 9-10, 14; 18:29; 19:8; 20:3, 5-6, 17-18; 22:3; 23:29; Numbers 9:13; 15:30-31; 19:13, 20.
  21. Smith's Bible Dictionary (1893) "Badger skins".
  22. Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible (1746–63) commentary on Exodus 25.
  23. See Antiquities of the Jews, Book Three, Chapter Six (Ant. 3:6:1—3:6:4).
    Text online at biblestudytools.com and at sacred-texts.com. (scroll down to Chapter 3)
  24. See Aryeh Kaplan (1993) The Living Torah and Nach Trumah-Exodus-Chapter 25:5 footnote blue processed skins: Ant. 3:6:1, 3:6:4
  25. Bochart, Samuel B. (1663) Hierozoicon: Sive Bipartitum Opus Animalibus Sacrae Scripturae, De Avibus, Serpentibus, Insectis, Aquaticus & Fabulosis Animalibus 2:387. (Latin text: "Hierozoicon [Great Book of Life]: A Two-Part Work on Animals of Sacred Scripture, Birds, Snakes, Insects, Aquatic creatures, and Fabulous Animals")
  26. Clarke's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible (1831) commentary on Exodus 25.
  27. Multiple sources:
    • See Anchor Bible Series: Anchor Bible Dictionary "TAHASH"; The Anchor Bible, Exodus 19-40, Volume 2A: Professor William H. C. Propp (1998-2006), page 374. While taking תחשׁ taḥaš as a seeming cognate of Akkadian dusu - tuhsia (yellow-orange, red, brown leather), Hurrian tusiwe, Sumerian DUH.SI.A, Professor Propp is rather persuaded a better rendering of the Hebrew ערת תחשׁים is "blue beaded skins", from the tour-de-force demonstration of Dr. Stephanie Dalley, 2000, Journal of Semitic Studies 45:1-19 "Faience and Beadwork, Hebrew tahas, Akkadian dusu" —(sheep? ram?) skins or leather.
    • The New American Bible, Revised Edition NABRE (2012) HarperOne ISBN 978-0062084736 "tahash". —The NABRE (2006) version Exodus 25:5 footnote reads "25:5 Tahash. perhaps a kind of specially finished skin or leather. The Greek and Latin versions took it for the color hyacinth." The NABRE text, however, translates וערת תחשׁים and ערת תחשׁים as tahash skins in Exodus 25, 26, 35, 36, 39, as does The New American Bible NAB 1970 version; but it translates עור תחשׁ as yellow-orange skin in Numbers 4, which the NAB 1970 version translated as "violet skins"; and it translates תחשׁ as leather sandals in Ezekiel 16, which the NAB 1970 version translated as "sandals of fine leather". The interpretation and rendering of עור תחשׁ as "yellow-orange skin" (Numbers 4) in a published translation of the biblical text, taking תחשׁ taḥaš as a seeming cognate of Akkadian dusu - tuhsia "goat/sheep leather [dyed and tanned the color of dušu-stone (yellow-orange to red, brown)]", Hurrian tusiwe, Sumerian DUH.SI.A (BDB תחשׁ p. 1065; William H. C. Propp, 2006, page 374), currently represents a minority opinion, a substantially significant but relatively lesser opinion, among biblical authorities, who tend toward the more generic interpretation "fine leather" in every occurance of the forms of תחשׁ tahash.
  28. Prothero, Donald R. (2013). Rhinoceros Giants: The Palaeobiology of Indricotheres. Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-00819-0.
  29. For illustrated image of size-comparison of Paraceratherium to average human, click here.
  30. Compare the behemoth Job 40:15-24. The behemoth "big beast" has been variously identified as an elephant, a hippopotamus, and a water buffalo, with the hippopotamus the most likely. —Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (2003), "Behemoth", page 183; "Hippopotamus", page 766. ISBN 978-0805428360.
  31. Daniel 4:32; Book of Wisdom 11:17-20; Luke 1:37.
  32. Five sources:
    • Russell, James R. (2009). "From Zoroastrian Cosmology and Armenian heresiology to the Russian novel"
    • Allison, Christine; Joristen-Pruschke, Anke; Wendtland, Antje. From Daēnā to Dîn: Religion, Kultur und Sprache in der iranischen Welt; Festschrift für Philip Kezenbroek, zum 60. Geburstag. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. pp. 141–208.
    • Glavin, Terry (2007). The Sixth Extinction (First U.S. ed.) New York: Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press). pp. 129–130.
    • Sinor, Denis (1960) Sur les noms altaiques de la licorne Denis Sinor. Cambridge. Wiener Zeitschrift für der Kunde des Morgenlandes (in French) (56): 168–176. —Rhino Resource Center: The World's Largest Rhino Information Website.
    • Ibn Faḍlān, Ahmad; Frye, Richard N. (October 2005). Ibn Fadlan's Journey to Russia: A Tenth-century Traveller from Baghdad to the Volga River, translated by Richard Nelson Frye, 2005. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-55876-366-1.
  33. For image of restored appearance of Elasmotherium, click here.
  34. For illustrated image of size-comparison of Elasmotherium to average human, click here.
  35. Three sources:
    • Titov, V.V., Tesakov, A.S. editors, Quaternary stratigraphy and paleontology of the Southern Russia: connections between Europe, Africa and Asia: Abstracts of the International INQUA-SEQS Conference (June 21–26, 2010) Rostov-on-Don, publisher Russian Academy of Science. Baigusheva, Vera, Titov, Vadim, Pleistocene Large Mammal Associations of the Sea of Azov and Adjacent Regions, (pages 24–27)
    • V.V. Titov, V.V., Tesakov, A.S. editors, Quaternary stratigraphy and paleontology of the Southern Russia: connections between Europe, Africa and Asia: Abstracts of the International INQUA-SEQS Conference (June 21–26, 2010) Rostov-on-Don, publisher Russian Academy of Science. Kosintsev, Pavel Relict Mammal Species of the Middle Pleistocene in Late Pleistocene Fauna of the Western Siberia South, (pages 78–79)
    • Hagstrum, J. T., Firestone, R. B., West, A., article, "Beringian Megafaunal Extinctions at ~37 ka B.P.: Do Micrometeorites Embedded in Fossil Tusks and Skulls Indicate an Extraterrestial Precursor to the Younger Dryas Event?", journal American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2009, abstract #PP31D-1385, 2009, publisher, The Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System, volume 31, pages 1385
  36. See Seder Olam – Revisited סדר עולם - חדש
  37. Rabbi Eleazar ben Rabbi Yose citing Rabbi Abbahu in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Laqish in the name of Rabbi Meir as authority
    Jerusalem Talmud: Shabbat 2:3 (page 98)
  38. A unique phenomenon which occurs only once cannot be a subject of scientific research or historical investigation, as by its very nature it is not falsifiable but offers anecdotal evidence only.

See also

Badger skins (Bible)