Let’s go back to the Mishnah, Middot 3.6, where it says, “The Kior (laver) stood between the porch and the altar, towards the south (remember that). The porch and the altar was 22 cubits and there were twelve steps there.” The way this is worded sounds like the kior was where most everyone puts it. However, when you put Kelim 1.6-9 with it and Exo 30. 17-21, you cannot approach this area until you have washed your hands and feet. If you do, the Temple guards are going to come and get you.
So, placing the kior in the traditional spots that you see on most illustrations will not work. The key to all this is the term, “towards the south” in Middot 3.6. The Temple Scroll, part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in Josephus, help explain this problem. The kior was in another place, and we will discuss that later. In the Mishkan, the laver was called the Kior. In the First Temple period it was called “the Sea” and in the Second Temple it was called the Kior again. Of course, the Kior in the Mishkan will be smaller than in the Temple.
We are going to attempt to answer several questions. First, how do we solve the problem of water left overnight in a bronze vessel? Second, what was the Muchni? Third, where was the Kior and how does it relate to the phrase “towards the south?” Lastly, where did the water come from?
As we have said before, Exo 25-40 is set up in a chiastic style. Exo 25-31 gives instruction for the Mishkan. Exo 32 is a central issue dealing with the Golden Calf. Exo 33-40 deals with the execution of Exo 25-31. So, as we can see, Exo 32 is the pivotal point in this structure. We are getting close enough to that to keep our eyes on it.
We have learned from Exo 30.17 that God told the people to build a “laver” of bronze. In the First Temple it is called “Ha Yam” (the Sea). In the Second Temple it went back to the Kior. But, they are one in the same. Inside the Tempe building, it will be equivalent to the Mishkan, with the exception of the porch. In the Temple building, everything is made of gold. On the Porch (Ulam), you had a silver table on the right side of the door where the new bread would be placed for the Table on the Sabbath. This bread would be taken in during the Mussaf (additional) service (Num 28.9-10). Then it is taken into the Sanctuary (Heichal) and placed on the Shulchan Lechem Ha Pannim (Bread of the Faces), which was a golden table.
On the other side (right side as you walked out of the Heichal) there was a table of gold. The old bread that was taken of the table of bread was placed on that table because the bread cannot go down in kedusha once it had ascended onto the golden table. Outside, we have the Bronze Altar, and we have the Kior of brass, and pans and other brass utensils. But once in the Sanctuary building, everything was gold.
Now, let’s go to Gen 3.1, where we are going to pick up a word. We have the word “serpent” there and in Hebrew it is “nachash.” The word for brass is “nechoshet.” Now, we have the story of the Bronze Serpent in Num 21.8-9. God tells Moses to make a “fiery serpent.” That word “fiery” is “saraph” meaning “burning one” and this alludes to the righteousness of God. They were to put the “saraph” on a standard and to lift it up for the people to see. The word for standard is “nes” and it is a term for the Messiah (Isa 11.10, 13.2, 18.3).
Poisonous serpents were biting the people and so when this standard was lifted up, if the people looked to it, they would not die because of the serpent’s bite. The word for serpent there is “nachash” and this relates back to Gen 3. So, God saw the “saraph” (burning one) on a pole, which is a type of angel (Seraphim). When the people looked, they saw a “nachash” (serpent), something that was cursed hanging on a pole. In the case of Yeshua on the cross, when God looked he saw a saraph, a sent one (angel). When the people looked, they saw someone cursed. And yet, if you look to him you will live from the bite of the serpent. This is what Yeshua told Nicodemus in John 3.14. He was telling him to “look upon me when I am crucified. People will say that I am cursed, but I am the sent one, the saraph, from God. Look to me Nicodemus.”
We have other allusions to this in Exo 4.1-8 when Moses is given two signs. Moses is told to take the staff and throw it to the ground. It became a “nachash” (serpent). Moses fled from it (Exo 4.1-5). Then the Lord tells him to “grasp it by the tail.” That is not where you pick up a serpent. Moses did it by faith, and it became a staff again. The staff is a picture for the Messiah, but it becomes a nachash (one cursed), or a “bronze serpent” (Num 21). He grasped it by faith.
There is a second sign in Exo 4.8. God told Moses to put his hand (clean) into his bosom. He did it, and then the Lord told him to take it out. When he did, his hand was leprous (unclean). Then he told him to do it again, and when he did, his leprous hand (unclean) was restored (clean). The message of the second sign is this. That which was clean became unclean, and that which was unclean became clean. That is the message of the Messiah. Now, bronze is the metal of judgment. Our sins must be judged.
The bronze Kior deals with washing, but it also deals with judgment. We must judge ourselves and was with the “water of the Word of God” which is the Torah (Eph 5.26). The kior was only for the kohanim (priests). When you went to the slaughtering area, lay Israelites did not wash at the kior. Where everyone places the kior will not work. You cannot go into that area without washing your hands and your feet (Tosefta, Kelim 1.6). The key to all this is the phrase “towards the south” in Middot 3.6 because we obviously have a problem.
The answer is found in what is called the Temple Scroll, which is a part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A man named Yigael Yadin translated it. Yadin is a legendary Israeli archaeologist who helped obtain the dead Sea Scrolls. One scroll was missing, and Yadin knew where it was. When Bethlehem was liberated, Yadin drove ahead of the army and went into the house where he knew it was and grabbed it.
In The Temple Scroll it talks about the “Beit Kior” or “House of the Kior.” It had a room of lockers and it matches the description in the Mishnah where they stored the priestly garments. This text answers the problem of how one could go to the kior if it is placed in an area you can’t go into. The Mishnah says the kior is between the porch and the altar. This eould be between the wedtrrn side of the porch to the eastern side of the altar, everything in between. This alse extended southward and northward. At the corners of the Azarah there were buildings that had gates on the east side of the building. If a gate or building opens up onto a court, it had the sanctity of that court, with one exception. The Nicanor Gate does not.
You cannot go into the Azarah “proper” unless you have washed at the kior. In Beit Avtinas (southeastern building), the kior was in the northwest corner of that building, between the porch and the altar as the area in between extended south. The priests came in with their course and were examined by the Sanhedrin, and you were ruled eligible to serve or not. If eligible, they had to go into another room where they took off their street clothes, and placed them in the lockers. Then they have an assistant (probably a Levite) who helps them dress in their priestly garments. Then they will wash their hands and their feet. Then they can go into the Azarah. Everything comes down to kedusha. So, the middle court encompasses the four buildings, around the front to the other side and to the back of the sanctuary. Then the Azarah proper was the inner court.
Now, let’s look at what is called in our English Bibles the “oxen” in the Yam in the First Temple. 2 Chr 4 has a description of the kior and it will be called the Sea, or Yam. It is described as a mikvah for the kohanim, and it was used for washings (see our article on “Tevilah (immersion) and Rachatz (washing) on this site, in particular Part 3 for more information on this concept). A detailed description of it is given in 2 Chr 7.23-37.
In 1 Kings 7.24-25 it says it had gourds surrounding it and “twelve oxen”, with three facing north, south, east and west. The word for “oxen” is “pekar” and it is used in modern Hebrew for “plumbing fixtures.” Some believe that water for the Yam (Sea) was pumped into it, and the water came trough the feet of the “oxen.” This word is not seen as “oxen” but like our word for “sawhorse.” It doesn’t look like a horse, and these “oxen” did not have an image of an animal on it. It carried the same idea as a sawhorse. They were hollow and water was pumped into them. Solomon also had ten bronze wheeled lavers (1 Kings 7.27-39; 2 Chr 4.6). They were for washing the korbanot.
In Part 41, we will pick up here and begin to talk about the water system in the Temple.