Hanukkah Yes, but what About Kislev 24?

Tomorrow night, Sunday, December 6th, begins the festival of Dedication, more popularly known as Hanukkah–the festival of Lights. This special Jewish festival that non-Jews often mistakenly think of as the “Jewish Christmas,” has its origins in the revolt of the Maccabees against the infamous Greco-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV (aka Epiphanes) in 167 BCE.

You can find the colorful and bloody story in 1 Maccabees 1-4, a book included in Catholic Bibles but referred to by Protestants as part of the “Apocrypha.” If you don’t have a copy around it is readily available on-line at apocrypha.org and is well worth reading. The festival itself, which lasts eight days, is a celebration of the “cleansing” and rededication of the Jewish Temple in 165 BCE when the forces lead by the family of Judas Maccabee (“the Hammer”) recaptured Jerusalem and removed the pagan altar and other “abominations” that Antiochus had instituted in an effort to stamp out worship of the Jewish God Yehovah (see 1 Macc. 4:59).

In the time of Jesus we are told in the Gospel of John that Jesus went up to the Temple during this festival the last winter of his life (John 10:22). The date for this “Dedication” was Kislev 25 or the 25th day of the 9th month on the Jewish lunar calendar.

People often ask, having heard of the Jewish festivals such as Passover, Rosh HaShanah, and Yom Kippur–is Hanukkah ever mentioned in the Hebrew Bible–in other words is it a “Biblical” festival. These answer is yes and no, depending on how one looks at Kislev 24–the day before Hanukkah. Let me explain.

What is altogether fascinating is a much earlier and little known biblical reference to a different but very related date–Kislev 24 on the Jewish calendar–which begins this evening, Saturday, December 5th, at sundown. This, of course, is one day before the Hanukkah celebration, but the reference can be precisely dated to 520 BCE–over 350 years before the Maccabean victory. I refer here to the book of the Prophet Haggai.

Haggai comes to us from the 2nd year of the Persian King Darius, late summer, August, 520 BCE. It is one of the most precisely dated books in the Hebrew Bible, much like its sister Zechariah, and its twin Malachi. The three go together, like peas in the pod, both coming from that crucial time of the “restoration” of Judah to the Land following the Babylonian captivity. Collectively they are our last words of the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible–and thus for Jews and others who consider the Tanakh Scripture–the last inspired words of Yehovah. Indeed, it is possible that Haggai is the unnamed author of the book called Malachi, which means in Hebrew “My Messenger,” since in Haggai 1:12, the Prophet is identified as the “messenger of Yehovah.”

Both Haggai and Zechariah address their contemporary situation, as one would expect, and are concerned that the Temple be rebuilt and the city-state of Judea be restored to limited sovereignty after the Babylonian destruction in 586 BCE.  However, if read carefully, both clearly understand that this restoration of Judah is only a preliminary, even symbolic step, to a coming great restoration of Judah and all Israel–including the so-called “Lost Tribes.”

Even though there is a Priest (Joshua), and a Governor (Zerubbabel) of the Davidic line, there is no anointing of the BRANCH figure of whom both Isaiah and Jeremiah had spoken. One way of putting this is to say that Haggai and Zechariah are working in the tall shadow of Jeremiah (see especially chapters 30-31), and they know, from his clear and powerful prophecies, that the final days have not come with this tiny little beachhead return of a portion of Judah to the land. But they do believe that this return of Judah is a “sign” of things to come, and a guarantee that the Plan of Yehovah, to fill the earth with justice and righteousness, through Abraham’s seed, is not to fall to the ground.

And that leads us to the curious and fascinating references to the 24th day of the 9th month–or Kislev 24 as that month came to be called.

The book of Haggai is sequential; it takes you through the last months of the year 520 BCE. It begins with the Rosh Chodesh of the 6th month (August), takes you through the 21st day of the 7th month (2:1), which is the last day of Sukkoth (October), and then into December–with the 24th day of the 9th month. Haggai’s third and fourth messages come on this very day. It is a short book, and if you skim it through you will see the building sequence.

The precise date Kislev 24 is mentioned four times in the second chapter, verses 10, 15, 18 and 20. Twice it is emphasized that “from this day forward I will bless you,” and twice Haggai gets a special Word from Yehovah, on this very day. You have to read the whole chapter to get the context, but the message is basically that Yehovah will “shake the heavens and the earth and all nations” overthrowing their power, after which He will anoint the chosen one of the line of David (symbolized in that day by Zerubbabel), and essentially make Jerusalem the new world capital. This entire prophetic agenda to which Haggai alludes is laid out in great detail in the pre-Exilic Prophets, see particularly Isaiah 2:1-4; Jeremiah 3:14-18; 23:5-8; Micah 5:2-5).

This message is addressed to the two “Messiahs,” the Priest and the “King” or Governor, Joshua and Zerubbabel, respectively (2:4-5). They become “signifiers” of things to come. They are not the final anointed ones, and Zechariah picks this up in his visions, especially chapters 4 and 6. These symbolic figures, as well as the promised presence of the Holy Spirit (see 2:5 and Zech 4:6), are the guarantee that Yehovah will bring about these promises.

Notice, Zechariah begins getting his visions and messages in the 8th month of that same year (Zech 1:1), or mid-November. He has EIGHT night visions, they are all quite difficult to follow, but prophetically important in forecasting the redemptive future. There is much more detail in Zechariah, but the two, Haggai and Zechariah, should be read in tandem, as one explains the other.

Note carefully,  Kislev 24 is not specifically mentioned in Zechariah, but it is alluded to in chapter 4:8-10. It is the famous “day of small things,” that one might be led to “despise,” because after all, this tiny little remnant of Judah, beginning to lay the foundation of a nondescript temple, under the mighty thumb of the Persian empire, was hardly even worthy of the name of a city-state, much less a world kingdom, and yet had hopes and dreams and promises of world dominion–and the rulership of its promised “Messiahs.” These were the expectations that fueled the apocalyptic hopes of both the Dead Sea community and the followers of Jesus and John the Baptist, see my previous blog post, “Waiting for Two Messiahs,” here.

Chapters 7-14 of Zechariah, which the author receives two years later, are quite different. They are straightforward and fairly plain, laying out, likely in some sequential order, both the preliminary events, and the detailed climax, of the “time of the end.”

So, what about Kislev 24?

In the time of Haggai and Zechariah, it was the day marked for the promise that the redemption would ultimately come about, “not by power, nor by might, but by the Spirit of Yehovah”–but in its time (Zech 4:6). But in the time of the Maccabees, when Syrian ruler Antiochus IV unleashed his great persecution against the Jews of Judea/Palestine, it was on Kislev 24 that the enemy was defeated and the Temple freed from its desecration. That is why the festival of Chanukah is celebrated beginning at sundown, at the end of Kislev 24. In other words, it is not so much Hanukkah that is important, as its marker date: Kislev 24. I seriously doubt that either the author of 1 Maccabees or the Maccabees themselves were attempting to correlate their victory over Antiochus by some obscure date in the Prophet Haggai. There is no indication that such is the case and nothing is said in the texts of the Maccabees about Kislev 24. But in looking back on things it does in fact turn out that the victory began, “from this day forward,” on Kislev 24.

Fast forward to Sunday, December 9, 1917. General Allenby, leading the British forces (remember Lawrence of Arabia), liberated Jerusalem for the first time in centuries from Turkish/Muslim rule. By the morning of December 9th Turkish forces had fled the city and the governor Izzat Pasha fled in a horse drawn carriage borrowed from the American Colony hotel–leaving behind a note of surrender. The date on the Jewish calendar–you guessed it: Kislev 24. That evening the Jewish soldiers in the British army celebrated Hanukkah and went to the Western Wall in openness and freedom. Allenby’s triumphal entry, captured in the photo above, was two days later, on December 11th. Prior to that date, and during the many centuries of Ottoman/Turkish rule, the Jews were only allowed to approach their “Wailing Wall” on Fridays before the Sabbath, even though they were the majority of the city of Jerusalem. It is doubtful that Allenby was aware, during the heat of the battle, of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah but we can be certain that he knew nothing of Kislev 24–this obscure date in the book of Haggai.

What to make of these strange patterns of events around Kislev 24, a date specified by Haggai in 520 BCE, I leave to my readers, but as preparations for Hanukkah begin tomorrow, take a look at Haggai 2:10-21 as a fascinating precursor to events in the 2nd Temple period and in our own times.

The Best Bible on the Market

The marvelous JPS 2011 Oxford Leather Jewish Study Bible—which I highly recommend, is for sale today, Cyber Monday, through Christianbook.com for $27.99—regular price $79.99—that is 65% off! Here is the link:

http://www.christianbook.com/jewish-featuring-tanakh-bonded-leather-black/9781598568608/pd/568608

JPS Study Bible

Back in 2014 I purchased this Bible—and have used it extensively ever since. At that time I wrote this blog post: “My Bible Buying Days Are Over: The Best Bible on the Market.”  I repost it here:

From the lovely, elegant, and scholarly 1985 JPS translation, to the unparalleled Oxford maps, the extensive scholarly, well-balanced notes (including academic as well as rabbinic perspectives), the s, tables, and charts in the back, with additional maps and charts splashed on the pages throughout, printed on high quality “Bible” paper and with attractive single column layout. This Bible is it!

I could not count the many editions of the Bible I have owned since age 17 when my parents gave me a fine Oxford Leather-bound copy of the King James Version with those wonderful maps. I still have that Bible. Since then I have bought many many more–too many to count. I am not just talking about buying Bibles in order to have all the major translations–that I have done as well. I am thinking here of personal study Bibles–that I purchased because I wanted to finally settle on a single edition and make it my own–for personal study and meditation. I have seldom stayed with one more than a year or two, until another would catch my fancy, or I would change my mind about how to mark the one I was using and begin over again. The joke in our household if any package arrives with my name on it is, “Dad has probably bought another Bible”–and this time he “swears” that this is the one. I will actually admit to “sneaking” new Bibles into the house knowing no one would notice the difference since I have had so many over the years.

Up until about 1986 the Bibles I bought were usually Christian ones–with the New Testament and often as not the Apocrypha. One of my favorites is the older Oxford RSV with Apocrypha–leather bound of course. I used that one for years and I have several hardcover editions of the same that I have worn out in 30 years of teaching. Since around 1986 I have owned just about every “Jewish Bible” on the market–from the old JPS (1917), various editions of the Koren Jerusalem Bible in several editions, the new JPS (1985), the Stone Tanakh, to numerous editions of the Torah and other portions of the Hebrew Bible whether by Kaplan, Fox, Alter, or Friedman.

What I wanted to report here is that I have finally, at long last, found the ultimate English edition of the Hebrew Bible–the leather-bound Jewish Study Bible (JPS Tanakh) published by Oxford University Press. I am taking a stand here–this will be my last personal Bible–that is how pleased I am with it. From the lovely, elegant, and scholarly 1985 JPS translation, to the unparalleled Oxford maps, the extensive scholarly, well-balanced notes (including academic as well as rabbinic perspectives), the s, tables, and charts in the back, with additional maps and charts splashed on the pages throughout, printed on high quality “Bible” paper and with attractive single column layout. There is simply nothing like it–and it comes in a leather edition that is published, ironically, by Christian Book Distributors–not Oxford or JPS directly. Apparently there is enough interest in the Hebrew Bible and a Jewish translation among DBD customers who are of course overwhelmingly Christian. The retail price is $79.99 but it is on sale in a lovely boxed edition for around $30.00. I also want to give credit to my friend and colleague Ross Nichols who first put me on to both this Bible and the CBD edition at this amazing price.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 5.44.26 PMI know my family, friends, and others who know me will scoff–but I am taking an official stand here–my Bible buying days are over. I can’t imagine a personal study Bible that could ever meet or surpass this one. If you want a Christian Bible there are many choices, both translation and study editions–but for the O.T. (i.e., The Original Testament)–this is it–and it is hard to believe the price. I have to admit–when I ordered a copy I was skeptical that it would turn out to be some kind of “cheap” knock-off edition but it is fully up to Oxford quality. You can “look” inside the hardcover edition on Amazon if you want to browse a bit before buying but I am certain you will not be disappointed if you are looking for an academic study Bible that will stand the test of time.

A Wedding in Cana–Whose and Where?

There is a very intriguing story, unique to the Gospel of John, about a wedding attended by Jesus and his disciples at the Galilean village of Cana (John 2:1–11). Within the Gospel of John the story functions in a theological and even allegorical manner—it is the “first” of seven signs, the “water into wine” story, but that is not to say it lacks any historical foundation.

CanaWedding

The story is part of an earlier written narrative that scholars call the “Signs Source,” now embedded in the Gospel of John much like the Q source is embedded in Matthew and Luke. Many scholars consider the Signs Source to be our most primitive gospel narrative, earlier than, and independent from, the Gospel of Mark. Most readers of John’s gospel concentrate on the long “red letter” speeches and dialogues of Jesus with the lofty language about him as the “Son” sent from heaven, in cosmic struggle with “the Jews” who are cast in a pejorative light. Such elements are apparently a much later theological overlay, as they are absent from this primitive narrative source. The work, at least according to this “Signs Source,” was originally written to promote the simple affirmation that Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed King of the line of David, and to explain how his death was part of the plan of God. This narrative source is written in a completely different style from the later material now in John’s gospel. It moves along from scene to scene with vivid details and in gripping narrative flow.

Read more here.

Did Joseph Build the Great Pyramid at Gizeh?

Dr. Ben Carson has made lots of controversial headlines this week with his assertion, that turns out to be quite common in certain Adventist/Fundamentalist Christian circles, that the biblical Joseph in fact built the Great Pyramid of Cheops–the one that appears on the back of our U.S. dollar bill as the “Great Seal” of our nation.

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Although this assertion comes as a shock to the press and is repudiated by all Egyptologists, it has some broader background that is worth exploring–see Ana Marie Cox’s very intelligent post in the Daily Beast here. I remember hearing this theory here and there in Christian evangelical circles growing up in the 1960s as a teenager.  The assertion that Joseph was the engineering genius (with God’s help of course!) behind the mysterious construction of the oldest pyramids–and that they were used for grain storage, is still floating around after 50 years, see the purported evidence here. The late Dr. Herman Hoeh, self-educated “historian” and biblical scholar, wrote an article in the Plain Truth magazine in 1964 titled “Who Built the Great Pyramid?” that is available on-line here. He asserts that not only Joseph was involved, but the biblical figure of “Job” was in fact Cheops, the non-Egyptian king who ruled Egypt in the 18th century BCE. If you read through Dr. Hoeh’s article you can see how naive readers would be taken in by his presumed knowledge of history while all mainstream historians and archaeologists, lacking biblical faith, are thus deluded and can’t see the truth.

This is the “closed” scientific world that Dr. Carson and millions of fundamentalist Christians live in and within that bubble everything makes sense. I would so so far as to guess that Dr. Carson seems himself as a kind of “new Joseph,” who, “with God on his side,” has risen from rags to the highest office in the land in order to save a people from destruction. That is why he repeatedly says if God wills that he become the President then it will happen–not by power, nor by might, but by God’s Spirit.

Kheops-PyramidWhat the mainstream “progressive secularist” media, as Carson labels it, fails to realize is that such ideas are quite common among mainstream Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian circles–connected to theories about how biblical archaeology confirms the Bible’s historical reliability. Dr. Carson’s assertion at the 1998 Andrews University graduation ceremony speaks for itself and is totally within the parameters of the commonly held views of history, archaeology, and biblical “literalism.” Listen to Dr. Carson’s address here–only snippets have been picked up by the press but the entire “sermon” sheds more light on Dr. Carson and his candidacy than anything I have seen about the current controversy.

Can Human Brain Consciousness be Replicated?

Robert Kuhn, an old friend, colleague, and producer of the amazing PBS program “Closer to Truth,” (see my own contributions here) has just published a most provocative piece at LiveScience titled: “The Singularity, Virtual Immortality and the Trouble with Consciousness.” Will science replicate the human brain and thus produce the phenomenon we all experience our conscious “inner-self,”–what Plato and Freud called the “Ego”?

According to techno-futurists, the exponential development of technology in general and artificial intelligence (“AI”) in particular — including the complete digital replication of human brains — will radically transform humanity via two revolutions. The first is the “singularity,” when artificial intelligence will redesign itself recursively and progressively, such that AI will become vastly more powerful than human intelligence (“superstrong AI”). The second revolution will be “virtual immortality,” when the fullness of our mental selves can be uploaded perfectly to nonbiological media (such as silicon chips), and our mental selves will live on beyond the demise of our fleshy, physical bodies.

AI singularity and virtual immortality would mark a startling, transhuman world that techno-futurists envision as inevitable and perhaps just over the horizon. They do not question whether their vision can be actualized; they only debate when will it occur, with estimates ranging from 10 to 100 years. [Artificial Intelligence: Friendly or Frightening?]

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Kuhn, who has his Ph.D. in brain science has his doubts, but takes us through all the various views with clips and interviews from the best and the brightest in the field of the physiology and psychology of the human brain. A fascinating read.

I surely have no expertise in this field but I remain convinced that any such replication, however precise and infinitely complex, would remain as “dumb” as a more sophisticated version of Siri on my iPhone. More is more, but more is not consciousness. 

On the other hand I think the idea of a “non-physical” component or aspect of the brain is perhaps a category mistake. Why denigrate the so-called “physical” to the four forces of physics as they are currently conceived—electromagnetic, magnetism, and strong and weak nuclear—when there might be “other” aspects of reality, whether one wants to use the term physical or not, being manifest through the 3 lb human brain. Many have argued that brain size (100 billion neurons for us humans) relative to body-rate is what seems to distinguish us from other creatures on the planet–but such is not the case, see “The Four Biggest Myths About the Human Brain.”

I am not thinking so much here of the proverbial human “soul,” conceived as a non-physical “entity” somehow inserted by the Divine into our physical world. This view is in fact based on a mistranslation–and thus a misunderstanding–of Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (KJV). The problem is twofold here. First, the term in Hebrew, “breath of life”  (נשמת חיים) is not some mysterious non-physical component–but simply a reference to air-breathing creatures–human or otherwise (see Genesis 7:15 where it is used for land animals in general). Second, the term translated “living soul” (נפש חיה) has absolutely nothing to do with any idea of an immortal soul–it simply means any air breathing creature (see Genesis 1:30).

On the mind/body problem, in terms of this article, I would favor some version of 2 & 3 with openness to 4. I do think we have to distinguish between “consciousness” more generically (“being aware of an outside world”) and a unique sense of “self,” or the Ego. I am pretty sure my dog lacks the latter. With it goes the ability, of course, to think in time, and about time, and thus to contemplate the future and to act by “choice,” with anticipation of outcomes—and thus ethics. This of course goes way beyond “instincts” or learning patterns (i.e. don’t touch a hot plate). Another factor of course is the body itself as mental states are also bodily and can hardly be separated therefrom—hearing music, seeing colors, sensing smells, sexual feelings, various kinds of emotions, including love, kinship, happiness, sadness, well being, et al. I wonder how any computer that “replicates” the structure of the brain would function without a “body,” since the two are one and the same system—impossible to separate out.

I loved the film Ex Machina as much as anyone but I nonetheless think we still have a lot to learn about the proverbial “mind body problem,” and philosophers from antiquity to the present have laid out most of the parameters of the arguments. Read much more on this and related topics at the “Closer to Truth” homepage–five minutes of browsing and you will be hooked!

10th Anniversary “Jesus Dynasty” Tour to Israel Announced

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The Launch of The Jesus Dynasty in April 2006

I am officially announcing today a special 10th Anniversary “Experiencing the Jesus Dynasty” tour to Israel in 2016. The dates are March 4-13. As many will remember, The Jesus Dynasty was published in April 2006 and became an New York Times best-seller, now translated into over 20 languages.

TaborTour

“Experiencing the Jesus Dynasty” is a tour like no other tour. There are places and sites that are included on nearly every other Holy Land tour that we will not visit. On the other hand we will see and experience the ancient Land of Israel in ways no other tour includes. Our emphasis will be on newly discovered archaeological sites that shed light on our understanding of the historical Jesus and allow us to read our gospels sources in
refreshing new ways. Those who have been to Israel with me before will quickly recognize from the itinerary that this tour shaped with a different perspective than those I have done in the past–so we welcome “repeat” travelers!

The emphasis of this tour is historical rather than theological and like The Jesus Dynasty, it will appeal to Christians, Jews, and those of no particular religious persuasion who simply want to have a better understanding of the historical figure of Jesus in his own time and place.

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This tour is limited to only 45 participants in order to allow a maximum of personal
interaction with one another and with me. Each person will receive a copy of The Jesus Dynasty personally inscribed with a dedication noting the special occasion of this
tour.

Participants will also take part in a rare private evening “Conversation” with Simcha
Jacobovici, Emmy-award winning Israeli filmmaker, hearing firsthand the latest updates
on the Talpiot tombs in Jerusalem and the James ossuary.

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The full itinerary, pricing options, registration forms, and other details are linked here. Arrangements are being organized via Blossoming Rose, as in the past, but with a completely different line-up of hotels and bus tour services shaped to our needs. I suspect from the positive response I got when I mentioned the possibility of this tour a few months ago that this one will fill up quickly.

John Schütz, Revered Scholar of Paul, has Died

I just heard via Jack Sasson the sad news of Prof. John Howard Schütz’s passing. John was professor Emeritus in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was severely brain damaged in a bicycle accident in 1985, at the prime of his career.  He received his MA and PhD at Yale Divinity School and spent a year in Germany in the late 1950s as a Fulbright Scholar. He also spent a sabbatical year at Oxford University at Jesus College in 1972-73.  After that, he published his first book, Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority, which was initially published by Cambridge and subsequently by Westminster John Knox Press. He was in the process of writing a second major scholarly book when he had his accident. John’s scholarly contributions before his accident were many and he was one of the most insightful and brilliant scholars I have ever known. His emphasis on the social world of Paul was one that informed the scholarship of so many of us in the 1970s through the “Social World of Early Christianity” SBL sessions inspired by Wayne Meeks, Abraham Malherbe, and others.

John Schutz

I  first knew of John Schütz as a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the 1970s through his book Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority that was a very important influence on my own work on Paul, subsequently published as my dissertation, Things Unutterable (University Press of America, 1986). I first met John face-to-face in 1985 after moving to the College of William and Mary as a young visiting Assistant Professor of New Testament. I regularly attended an informal South East regional group we called SCRAM (Study of the Culture and Religion of the Ancient Mediterranean) that would meet at various locations once or twice a year–Chapel Hill, William and Mary, Duke, etc. It was a wonderful group with the likes of Robert Wilken, Tom McCollough, Dale Martin, Tom Finn, Bart Ehrman, David Halperin, Robert Gregg, Elizabeth Clark, and many others sharing recent research and socializing together. When I took the position here at UNC Charlotte I continued to be a committed part of the SCRAM gatherings. The group sadly and gradually faded out and John’s accident was a huge blow to all of us.

Schutz

Just after I published my latest book Paul and Jesus in 2012 I had an email from John’s daughter, Amy Kelso, who is an attorney with UNC Charlotte. She had read about the book and thought her father might enjoy reading it. I shipped her an inscribed copy and she gave it to him that Christmas. Amy told me at the time that John’s short term memory was gone but remarkably, his long term-memory remained and she thought he would enjoy reading my book in “spurts.” John spent his last years in a retirement community with his wife who remained his sole caregiver these many decades.

I am sad to learn of John’s passing. All who knew him will understand the great respect and affection I had for him as a human being and an amazing scholar.

Fabulous Coverage of our Mt Zion Dig!

I will be posting information on our 2016 Mt Zion dig season this weekend–yes the months are passing and it is almost that time. Here is some fabulous coverage in the latest issue of the UNC Charlotte magazine linked here. You can click on the images below but they are only screenshots. For a higher resolution follow the link and click to pp. 14-17 for the whole spread full-screen.

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