Tent (usually and properly אֹהֶל, 6hel, so called from glittering [Gesenius] or being round [Fürst], σκηνή; both occasionally "tabernacle;" elsewhere מַשׁכָּן, mishkcn, a. dwelling [Song of Solomon 1:8], the regular term for "tabernacle;" סֻכָּה, sukkah [2Sa 11:11], a "booth;" or קֻבָּה, kubbdh', a dome like pavilion, only in Nu 2:8), a movable habitation, made of curtains extended upon poles. SEE TABERNACLE.
Among the leading characteristics of the nomad races, those two have always been numbered whose origin has been ascribed to Jabal the son of Lamech (Ge 4:20), viz. to be tent-dwellers (ישֵׁב אֹהֶל, comp. Ge 25:27; σκηνίτης, Pliny, 6:32, 35) and keepers of cattle. Accordingly the patriarchal fathers of the Israelites were dwellers in tents, and their descendants proceeded at once from tents to houses. We therefore read but little of huts, among them, and never as the fixed habitations of any people with whom they were conversant. By huts we understand small dwellings, made of the green or dry branches of trees intertwined, and sometimes plastered with mud. In Scripture they are called booths. Such were made by Jacob to shelter his cattle during the first winter of his return from Mesopotamia (Ge 33:17). In after-times we more frequently read of them as being erected in vine-yards and orchards to shelter the man who guarded the ripened produce (Job 27:18; Isa 1; Isa 8; Isa 24:20). It was one of the Mosaical institutions that during the Feast of Tabernacles the people should live for a week in huts made of green boughs (Le 23:42). In observing the directions of the law respecting the Feast of Tabernacles, the Rabbinical writers laid down as a distinction between the ordinary tent and the booth, sukkah, that the latter must in no case be covered by a cloth, but be restricted to boughs of trees as its shelter (Sukkah, 1, 3). In hot weather the Arabs of Mesopotamia often strike their tents and betake themselves to sheds of reeds and grass on the bank of the river (Layard, Nineveh, 2, 215; Burckhardt, Notes on Bed. 1, 37, 46; Volney, Travels, 1, 398).
In Egypt the Hebrews, for the most part, left off tent life, and lived in houses during their bondage; but on their deliverance, and during their protracted sojourn in the wilderness, tent life was again resumed by the nation (Ex 16:16; Jos 7:24), and continued for some time even after their settlement in the Holy Land (22, 8). Hence the phraseology of tent life remained among the people long after it had ceased to be their normal condition (1Ki 12:16). Here we may observe that tent life is not peculiar to nomads only, for we find settled clans, occupied in agricultural pursuits, still dwell in tents, and such, probably, was the case in Palestine in all ages. The family of Heber the Kenite was apparently of this class (Jg 4:11-22), and even the patriarchs seem partly to have adopted that mode of life. Isaac not only "had possession of flocks 'and possession of herds," but also he "sowed in the land, and received in the same year a hundredfold" (Ge 26:12). It was not until the return into. Canaan from Egypt that the Hebrews became inhabitants of cities, and it may be remarked that the tradition of tent-usage survived for many years later in the tabernacle of Shiloh, which consisted, as many Arab tents still consist, of a walled enclosure covered with curtains (Mishna, Zebachim, 14:6; Stanley, Sinai and Palest. p. 233).
The Midianites, the Philistines, the Syrians, the descendants of Ham, the Hagarites, and Cushanites are mentioned in Scripture as living in tents. But the people most remarkable for this unsettled and wandering mode of life are the Arabs, who, from the time of Ishmael to the present day, have continued the custom of dwelling in tents. Amid the revolutions which have transferred kingdoms from one possessor to another, these wandering tribes still dwell, unsubdued and wild as was their progenitor. This kind of dwelling is not, however, confined to the Arabs, but is used throughout the continent of Asia. In one of the tents shown in Assyrian sculptures a man is represented arranging a couch for sleeping on, in another persons are sitting conversing, and in others cooking utensils and the process of cooking are shown. In the smaller one (on next page), a man is watching a caldron on what appears to be a fire between some stones. Among tent- dwellers of the present day must be reckoned
(1) the great Mongol and Tartar hordes of Central Asia, whose tent- dwellings are sometimes of gigantic dimensions, and who exhibit more contrivance both in the dwellings themselves and in their method of transporting them from place to place than is the case with the Arab races (Horace, Carm. 3, 24, 10; Marco Polo, Trav. [ed. Bohn], p. 128,135, 211; Gibbon, ch. 26 [vol. 3, p. 298, ed. Smith]);
(2) as above observed, the Bedawin Arab tribes, who inhabit tents which are probably constructed on the same plan as those which were the dwelling-places of Abraham and of Jacob (Heb 11:9).
The first tents were undoubtedly covered with skins, of which there are traces in the Pentateuch (Ex 26:14); but nearly all the tents mentioned in Scripture were doubtless of goats'-hair, spun and woven by the women (Ex 35:26; Ex 36:14), such as are now, in Western Asia, used by all who dwell in tents. Tents of linen were, and still are, only used occasionally for holiday or traveling purposes by those who do not habitually live in them. Some modern tents are constructed, of most costly materials, and are very beautiful. Chardin mentions that a late king of Persia had one made which cost upwards of two millions sterling. It was called the "golden house," because gold glittered everywhere about it (see Pict. Bible, note on Song 5:1). A tent or pavilion on a magnificent scale, constructed for Ptolemy Philadelphus at Alexandria, is described by Athenaeus (Exodus 5, 196 sq.). This class of tents is furnished with Turkey carpets for the floor and cushions to recline upon, according to the wealth of the owner, though the inside arrangements vary among different clans and tribes. Those who are too poor to afford themselves a proper tent merely hang a piece of cloth from a tree to give them shelter.
An Arab tent is called beit, "house;" its covering Consists of stuff, about three quarters of a yard broad, made of black goats'-hair (Song of Solomon i, 5; Shaw, Travels, p. 220), laid parallel with the tent's length. This. is sufficient to resist the heaviest rain. The tent-poles, called amud, or columns, are usually nine in number placed in three groups, but many tents have only one pole, others two or three. The ropes which hold the tent in its place are fastened, not to the tent-cover itself, but to loops consisting of a leathern thong tied to the ends of a stick, round which is twisted a piece- of old cloth, which is itself sewed to the tent-cover. The ends of the tent- ropes are fastened to short sticks or pins, called wed or watedy which are driven into the ground with a chakij, or mallet. Of the same kind was the יָתֵד, nail (q.v.), and the מִקֶּבֶת, hammer (q.v.), which Jael used (Jg 4:21). Round the back and sides of the tents runs a piece of stuff removable at pleasure to admit air. The tent is divided into two apartments, separated by. a carpet partition drawn across the middle of the tent and fastened to the three middle posts. The men's apartment is usually on the right side on entering, and the women's on the left; but this usage varies in different tribes, and in the Mesopotamian tribes the contrary is the rule. Of the three side posts on the men's side, the first and third are called yed (hand), and the one in the middle is rather higher than the other two. Hooks are attached to these posts for hanging various articles (Ge 18:10; Jg 13:6; Niebuhr, Voyage, 1, 187; Layard, Nin. and Bab. p. 261). SEE PILLAR. In the men's apartment the ground is usually covered with carpets or mats, and the wheat sacks and camel bags are heaped up in it around the middle post like a pyramid, at the base of which, or towards the back of the tent, are arranged the camel pack-saddles, against which the men recline as they sit on the ground. The women's apartment is less neat, being encumbered with all the lumber of the tent, the water and butter skins, and the culinary utensils. The part of the tent appropriated to the women is called harem; and no stranger is permitted to enter it, unless introduced. Hence, perhaps, Sisera's hope of greater security in the harem of Jael, SEE HOSPITALITY. "The tents are arranged in a sort of square; they are made of black hair-cloth, not large; and are mostly open at one end' and on the sides, the latter: being turned-up. The tents form the common rendezvous of men, women, children, calves, lambs, and kids" (Robinson, Researches, 1, 485). Few Arabs have more than one tent, unless the family be augmented by the families of a son or a deceased brother, or in case the wives disagree, when the master pitches a tent for one of them adjoining his own. An encampment is generally arranged in the form of an enclosure, within which the cattle are driven at night, and the center of which is occupied by the tent or tents of the emir or sheik. If he is a person of much consequence, he may have three or four tents, for himself, his wives, his servants, and strangers, respectively. The first two are of the most importance, and we know that Abraham's wife had a separate tent (Ge 24:67). It is more usual, however, for one very large tent to be divided into two or more apartments by curtains. The holy tabernacle was on this model (Ex 26:31-37). The individual tents of Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah may thus have been either separate tents or apartments in the principal tent in each case (Ge 31:33). When the pasture near an encampment is exhausted, the tents are taken down, packed on camels, and removed (Isa 38:12; Ge 26:17,22,25). The beauty of an Arab encampment is noticed by Shaw (Travels, p. 221; see Nu 24:5). In choosing places for encampment, Arabs prefer the neighborhood of trees, for the sake of the shade and coolness which they afford (Ge 18:4,8; Niebuhr, loc. cit.). Some tribes have their tents constructed so as to house their flocks at night. Grant describes such a one among the Hertush Kurds: "Our tent was about forty feet long and eighteen or twenty wide, one side left quite open, while a wall of reeds formed the other sides… The ample roof of black hair-cloth was supported by a number of; small poles, and secured with cords and wooden pins driven into the earth. About, one fourth of the tent was fenced off with a wicker trellis for the lambs of the flock, which are kept there during the night" (Nestoians, p. 93). The manufacture of tents formed a regular and lucrative trade (σκηνοποιός), at which Paul occasionally labored, especially in connection with Aquila, at Corinth (Ac 18:3. SEE PAUL.
A feature of Oriental life so characteristic as the tent could not fail to suggest many striking metaphors to the Biblical writers, and accordingly the Hebrew has special terms for pitching (נָטָה or חָנָה) and striking (הֶעַתַּיק) a tent. The tent erected and its cords stretched out' are often figuratively alluded to in the Scriptures. Thus Isaiah represents God as the one "that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a teint to dwell in" (Isa 40:22). He also says, in speaking of the glorious prosperity of the Church and the need of enlargement, "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations;" spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes" (Isa 54:2; see also 33:20). It is a work of some effort to pitch a tent properly, especially a large one, requiring the united efforts of willing hands. Hence the pathetic language of Jeremiah in mourning over the desolations of God's people: "My tabernacle is spoiled, and all my cords are broken; my children are gone forth of me, and they are not; there is none to stretch forth my tent any more and to set up my curtains" (Jer 10:20). "These tents are rapidly struck and removed from place to place, so that the eye which to-day rests on a large encampment active with life may to-morrow behold nothing but a wilderness. Thus Isaiah says, "Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent" (Isa 38:12). The facility with which tents are taken- down and the frailty of their material are beautifully alluded to by Paul in 2Co 5:1 (see also 2Pe 1:13-14). — See Hackett, Illustr. of Script. p. 33-40; Van Lennep, Bible Lands, ch. 3; Rhodes, Tent-life from the Earliest Times (Lond. 1858); Conder, Tent-work in Palest. 2, 275 sq.