BEZALEL (A. V., Bezaleel).
In Ex. xxxi. 1-6, the chief architect of the Tabernacle. Elsewhere in the Bible the name occurs only in the genealogical lists of the Book of Chronicles, but according to cuneiform inscriptions a variant form of the same, "Ẓil-BêI," was borne by a king of Gaza who was a contemporary of Hezekiah and Manasseh. Apparently it means "in the shadow [protection] of El." Bezalel is described in the genealogical lists as the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah (I Chron. ii. 18, 19, 20, 50). He was said to be highly gifted as a workman, showing great skill and originality in engraving precious metals and stones and in wood-carving. He was also a master-workman, having many apprentices under him whom he instructed in the arts (Ex. xxxv. 30-35). According to the narrative in Exodus, he was definitely called and endowed to direct the construction of the tent of meeting and its sacred furniture, and also to prepare the priests' garments and the oil and incense required for the service.
The rabbinical tradition relates that when God determined to appoint Bezalel architect of the desert Tabernacle, He asked Moses whether the choice were agreeable to him, and received the reply: "Lord, if he is acceptable to Thee, surely he must be so to me!" At God's command, however, the choice was referred to the people for approval and was indorsed by them. Moses thereupon commanded Bezalel to set about making the Tabernacle, the holy Ark, and the sacred utensils. It is to be noted, however, that Moses mentioned these in somewhat inverted order, putting the Tabernacle last (compare Ex. xxv. 10, xxvi. 1 et seq., with Ex. xxxi. 1-10). Bezalel sagely suggested to him that men usually build the house first and afterward provide the furnishings; but that, inasmuch as Moses had ordered the Tabernacle to be built last, there was probably some mistake and God's command must have run differently. Moses was so pleased with this acuteness that he complimented Bezalel by saying that, true to his name, he must have dwelt "in the very shadow of God" (Hebr., "beẓel El"). Compare also Philo, "Leg. Alleg." iii. 31.
Bezalel possessed such great wisdom that he could combine those letters of the alphabet with which heaven and earth were created; this being the meaning of the statement (Ex. xxxi. 3): "I have filled him . . . with wisdom and knowledge," which were the implements by means of which God created the world, as stated in Prov. iii. 19, 20 (Ber. 55a). By virtue of his profound wisdom, Bezalel succeeded in erecting a sanctuary which seemed a fit abiding-place for God, who is so exalted in time and space (Ex. R. xxxiv. 1; Num. R. xii. 3; Midr. Teh. xci.). The candlestick of the sanctuary was of so complicated a nature that Moses could not comprehend it, although God twice showed him a heavenly model; but when he described it to Bezalel, the latter understood immediately, and made it at once; whereupon Moses expressed his admiration for the quick wisdom of Bezalel, saying again that he must have been "in the shadow of God" (Hebr., "beẓel El") when the heavenly models were shown him (Num. R. xv. 10; compare Ex. R. 1. 2; Ber. l.c.). Bezalel is said to have been only thirteen years of age when he accomplished his great work (Sanh. 69b); he owed his wisdom to the merits of pious parents; his grandfather being Hur and his grandmother Miriam, he was thus a grand-nephew of Moses (Ex. R. xlviii. 3, 4). Compare