Mercy seat

Mercy seat

According to the Bible, the mercy seat (Hebrew: כפורת, Kaporet ; "atonement piece") was an object which rested upon the Ark of the Covenant, and was connected with the rituals of Yom Kippur; the term also appears in the Pauline Epistles, and has a significance in Christian theology. The phrase mercy seat is not a translation of the Hebrew term kapporeth, which appears in its place in the Masoretic text, nor of the Greek term hilasterion, which takes the same place in the Septuagint, but instead is the translation by William Tyndale of the German term Gnadenstuhl, from the same narrative position in the Luther Bible; Gnadenstuhl literally means seat of grace, in the sense of location of grace.

Though kapporeth is probably derived from kaphar, which is often considered to mean cover, the literal meaning of kaphar is wipe out, implying that kapporeth means thing of wiping out/thing of cleansing;[1] the cognate Arabic term kaffarat (also generally taken to mean cover, but from which the word kafir also derives) is used in modern legal contexts to refer to any mechanism of rectifying illegality (ranging from rectifying the failure to fast during Ramadan to the rectification of murder), for example the freeing of slaves after the slave has suffered shocking circumstances could be considered as a kaffarat.[2] Similarly hilasterion etymologically means thing for propitiation, with Hesychius writing that a synonym of hilasterion was thing for catharsis, while the Vulgate translates it as propitiatorium.[3] Thus it is unclear whether the kapporeth was the lid of the Ark, or merely sat on top of the Ark, possibly with the Ark having a cover beneath it.[4]


In the Hebrew Bible

According to the Biblical account, the mercy seat was manufactured from pure gold, and was the same width and breadth as the Ark beneath it – 2.5 cubits long, and 1.5 cubits wide; the Ark and mercy seat were, according to this passage, kept inside the Holy of Holiesthe Temple's innermost sanctuary, the Sanctum Sanctorum, which was separated from the remainder of the temple by a thick curtain (parochet), because the ark and mercy seat were associated with the presence of Yahweh. The account also states that two golden statues of cherubim were placed at each end of the mercy seat, facing one another and the mercy seat, with their wings spread in order to enclose the mercy seat;[5] according to the Books of Samuel, these cherubim together formed a seat for Yahweh.[6] Although a literal interpretation of the Book of Exodus would conclude that the mercy seat, along with the remainder of the Ark, was constructed according to the commands of Yahweh at the time of Moses, textual scholars regard the passages referring to its construction as originating from the priestly source, which they date to the 7th Century BCE.[7]

According to the Biblical directions, the Holy of Holies could only be entered at Yom Kippur, and even then could only be entered by the Jewish High Priest, who was covenanted to do so in order to sprinkle the blood[8] of a sacrificial bull onto the mercy seat, as an atonement for himself and his family, the other priests, the Tabernacle, and the people of Israel; the directions specify that incense was first burnt in the Holy of Holies so that a cloud rose up and appeared above the mercy seat. Biblical scholars regard this ritual as an evolution from the simpler sin offering for the first day of the seventh month, given in the book of Ezekiel;[9][10] though the masoretic text renders this as the seventh day of the month, the Septuagint has ... first day of the seventh month, and scholars think that the sin offering on this day exchanged days with Rosh Hashanah, which in Ezekiel's day appears to have been celebrated on the tenth of the month.[10][11]

In the Pauline Epistles

Though the term mercy seat usually appears as the English translation for the Greek term hilasterion in the Epistle to the Hebrews, most translations are usually inconsistent as they instead generally translate hilasterion as propitiation where it occurs in the Epistle to the Romans. The Epistle to the Hebrews recounts the description of the Ark, Holy of Holies, and mercy seat, and then goes on to portray the role of the mercy seat during Yom Kippur as a prefiguration of the Passion of Christ, which it argues was a greater atonement, and formed a New Covenant;[12] the text continues by stating that the Yom Kippur ritual was merely a shadow of things to come,[13] which in Christian theology is often taken as meaning that the ritual became obsolete once Jesus had died.[14] The Epistle to the Romans states that Jesus was sent by God as a propitiation,[15] while, perhaps in a reflection on Ezekiel's atonement ceremony, the Second Epistle to the Corinthians argues that Jesus had become a sin offering.[16]

Cultural references

  • The term "mercy seat" can refer to misericords (literally translating as mercy), the small ledges in medieval European church pews, which offered relief while standing through long prayers.
  • Teen Mania Ministries presented a stage drama based on judgement and redeption offered at the Mercy seat during their 2005 Acquire the Fire tour
  • Hymnist John Newton, writer of Amazing Grace wrote the hymn Approach, my Soul, the Mercy Seat. Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes named his 1987 gospel side project The Mercy Seat.
  • Nick Cave wrote the song The Mercy Seat for his 1988 Tender Prey album; his 'signature tune', it has been performed at nearly every concert since 1988. The song tells the story of a condemned man facing death on the electric chair seeking redemption in the afterlife. This song was later covered by Johnny Cash on his album, American III: Solitary Man. The American electro-industrial band Stromkern had also covered this song in 1997 on their album Flicker Like a Candle.
  • Alternative rock band Ultra Vivid Scene also had a song entitled "The Mercy Seat".
  • Neil LaBute wrote his 2002 play The Mercy Seat based on an urban myth of a man who escaped the September 11 attacks because he was seeing his mistress and contemplates running off with her. The play starred Liev Schreiber and Sigourney Weaver and was both commercially and critically successful.
  • The song 123 by the Indigo Girls mentions the term "mercy seat."
  • Anders Manga's 2006 album Welcome to the Horror Show features a track called "The Mercy Seat."
  • Karen Wheaton has a song called "Mercy Seat" on her 1997 album I'm Still Here. This song has also been covered by other contemporary Christian musicians. In addition, the song is a prime example of both Wheaton's neo-gospel style of music and of her theological outlook in terms of lyrics making direct references to markers of salvation in the Bible.
  • Cass Mccombs has a song called You saved my life and the lyrics goes "my fate's mercy seat, Sought blood to gulp and flesh to eat" it's in his 2009 album Catacombs
  • AA Bondy mentions the Mercy Seat in his 2008 Daytrotter version of the song, "The Mightiest of Guns": "... and the people dragging crosses down the street, see 'em put a child upon the mercy seat."


  1. ^ Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  2. ^ ibid
  3. ^ ibid
  4. ^ ibid
  5. ^ Exodus 25:18-21
  6. ^ 1 Samuel 4:4
  7. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who wrote the Bible?
  8. ^ Refer etymology of blessing; see also Blessing.
  9. ^ Ezekiel 45:18-20
  10. ^ a b Jewish Encyclopedia, Day of Atonement
  11. ^ Ezekiel 40:1
  12. ^ Hebrews 9:3-15
  13. ^ Hebrews 10:1
  14. ^ This is the whole thrust of Hebrews ch 10, but is especially clearly stated in v11-12
  15. ^ Romans 3:25
  16. ^ 2 Corinthians 5:21; many translations render this as sin rather than a sin offering
  • Butler, Trent. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. 2003.- articles on "Ark of the Covenant.", "Day of Atonement.", "High Priest.", "Holy of Holies.", and "Mercy Seat."
  • Dutch, Steve. "Legacy of the Ancient World". Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences. 21 September 1999. Accessed 10 November 2006.
  • Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume I (Genesis to Deuteronomy). Printed 1706-1721. Christian Classic Ethereal Library. Accessed 12 November 2006.
  • Holy Bible, The. King James Version. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.
  • Jordan, David. "Ancient Metallurgy". Jordan: Ancient Metallurgy. 26 September 2006. David K. Jordan: Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, UCSD. Accessed 10 November 2006.
  • Noblit, Jeff. "Reformation Has Come, Part XII." First Baptist Church, Muscle Shoals, AL. Accessed 24 September 2006.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Mercy seat — Mercy Mer cy (m[ e]r s[y^]), n.; pl. {Mercies}. [OE. merci, F. merci, L. merces, mercedis, hire, pay, reward, LL., equiv. to misericordia pity, mercy. L. merces is probably akin to merere to deserve, acquire. See {Merit}, and cf. {Amerce}.] 1.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • mercy seat — n. [transl. (by TYNDALE William, 1530) of Ger gnadenstuhl, transl. (by LUTHER Martin) of Gr(Ec) hilastērion (< Gr hilasia, propitiation: for IE base see SILLY), transl. (in LXX) of Heb kappōreth] Bible the gold covering on the ark of the… …   English World dictionary

  • Mercy-seat —    (Heb. kapporeth, a covering; LXX. and N.T., hilasterion; Vulg., propitiatorium), the covering or lid of the ark of the covenant (q.v.). It was of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, or perhaps rather a plate of solid gold, 2 1/2 cubits long and 1 …   Easton's Bible Dictionary

  • mercy seat — noun 1. the throne of God • Hypernyms: ↑throne 2. the golden covering of the ark of the covenant • Hypernyms: ↑covering * * * noun Etymology: from mercy seat, gold covering over the ark of the covenant in the Bible (Exod 25:17); translation of… …   Useful english dictionary

  • mercy-seat — merˈcy seat noun 1. The seat or place of mercy 2. The covering of the Jewish Ark of the Covenant 3. The throne of God • • • Main Entry: ↑mercy …   Useful english dictionary

  • mercy seat — 1. Bible. a. the gold covering on the ark of the covenant, regarded as the resting place of God. Ex. 25:17 22. b. the throne of God. 2. South Midland and Southern U.S. See mourner s bench. [1520 30] * * * …   Universalium

  • mercy-seat — A cover on top of the Ark [[➝ ark]], described by the Priestly [[➝ Priestly narrative]] source as the throne of God, where he is seated in a cloud (Lev. 16:2) and where blood was sprinkled by the high priest on the Day of Atonement [[➝ Atonement …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • mercy seat — noun 1》 the golden covering placed on the Ark of the Covenant. 2》 the throne of God in heaven …   English new terms dictionary

  • mercy-seat — n. 1. Propitiatory. 2. Throne of God …   New dictionary of synonyms

  • mercy seat —  Каппорет …   Вестминстерский словарь теологических терминов