Bible Question:

In the Old Testament times when a priest entered the Holy of Holies, was a rope tied to him in case he died so that he could be pulled out?

Bible Answer:

The Holy of Holies (also called the Holy Place, Ex. 28:35) was the most sacred room within the Tabernacle or the Temple. The High Priest was allowed to enter this room only once a year on the Day of Atonement. When He entered, he had to wear the clothes that God specified in Exodus 28. If he did not, he would die. Nothing is said in the Old Testament about a priest having a rope tied around his ankle or waist. However, we do know that bells, blue and purple pomegranates, and scarlet material were attached to the bottom of the High Priest’s garment.

You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around . . . (NASB) Ex. 28:33

They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around on the hem of the robe, alternating a bell and a pomegranate all around on the hem of the robe for the service, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. (NASB) Ex. 39:25-26

As long the bells could be heard, others would know that he was still alive and that he had been accepted by God.

A reference to a rope being attached to the ankle or leg of a priest has not been found in the Bible, Josephus, Philo, or in the writings of the church fathers. But our Jewish friends state that this was the ancient practice. Here is a quote from a Jewish rabbi,

According to the account of our rabbis preserved in the Talmud, the High Priest wore a rope around his waist as he made his way – absolutely alone – into the holy of holies. The rope he wore served a very practical purpose. Because, in the event that the High Priest said or did something wrong, it was generally believed that he would be struck dead for his offense. Yes, right then and there. As only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, the rope enabled his assistants to safely pull the corpse of the High priest out of the inner-sanctum in the event of mishap. (

The absence of a historical reference in some significant documents is not proof that the High Priest did not have a rope tied around his ankle in later times. Not everything is recorded in books and parchments. The printing press, CD burners, tape recorders, and typewriters have not always existed in mass quantities.


The High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement to make an animal sacrifice for the sins of the Jewish nation. He had to do this year after year because the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away a person’s sins forever (Heb. 10:2-4). But Jesus, who is our great High Priest, made it possible for our sins to be taken away forever when He died on the cross. Now our sins can be forgiven when we believe in Him.