Q: How Many Pagan Gods Were Born of Virgins (or even born) on December 25th? A: Zero

Of the charges leveled in order to undermine Christianity and the historical Yeshua ben Yosef aka Jesus Christ, one of the easiest to debunk is the idea that heathen religions are full of examples of this or that false god being born of a virgin on December 25th. Widespread among atheist detractors, these charges have spawned endless memes over the years – especially since 2007 when the first Zeitgeist documentary was released. Sadly, the claims are so flimsy that even a basic Wikipedia search can tear them to shreds (and you know how I feel about doing research with Wikipedia…) – and yet, they largely go unchallenged. So here is my challenge to those claims, as they are being used to create a false impression that the Jewish Messiah is a myth – and create unfounded arguments among believers. Links to other related articles are in bold blue.

Disclaimer: I do not celebrate Christmas, nor do I approve of it. Because of some unfortunate circumstances in the first few centuries of Christianity, Christmas came to replace the Biblical Feast of Tabernacles aka “Sukkot” which occurs during modern September/October sometime prior to 200CE. It is my firm belief that Sukkot was the day referred to be John as when “the Word became flesh and Tabernacled among us.” (John 1.14) My family celebrates the birth of Messiah then, and not in December, which was chosen because of an interesting theory among the Church Fathers about the conception and death of Messiah occurring on the exact same day – Passover – hence, forty weeks later giving rise to a date of birth of either December 25th or January 6th (both of which are still observed) depending on when they decided to place Passover.

So this post is not in any way in defense of Christmas, which I never defend, but instead a plea to clean up our online witness by not sharing memes and teachings based on atheist propaganda (although I do firmly stand against the charge that Jeremiah was speaking against Christmas trees in Jer 10). Promotion of the Feasts should be just that – we should teach the Feasts! I am currently writing two curriculum books within the Context for Kids series designed to teach what the Feasts looked like for an 11-year-old Yeshua/Jesus and 12-year-old John the Baptist in first-century Galilee and Judea.

(NOTE: I will not publish comments unrelated to the topic at hand, which is specifically December 25th being the birthdate of a plethora of pagan gods. I understand this is a very emotional and agenda-driven topic for a lot of folks, and many ministries have staked their reputation on this information but this isn’t about anything except what can be proven historically. There is nothing personal about this. Of course, I never publish comments from people who come to the table with cheap shots, emotional arguments, and wild accusations about uninformed opinions about my “true intentions” instead of factual data delivered respectfully.)

This blogpost is going to be a classic example of how lies on colorful memes generally go unchallenged (because people have to pass an honesty test before Adobe will allow them to use Photoshop, right?) – even when it is incredibly easy to do so. This one clearly states “if he actually lived” and so I would hope that no believer would ever pass this particular one along, but I have seen these same charges passed around by believers on too many occasions to ignore it. I hate to say this, but some believers and ministries regurgitate such claims without investigation if it suits their agendas, and others outright make up lies – like Reverend Alexander Hislop in the 1850’s during the Protestant/Catholic PR wars where no expense was spared in undermining the warring Christian factions (Hislop’s book, The Two Babylons, in particular, was racially based in order to offend white British Protestants, attributing the origins of Catholicism to a deformed black man who dared to marry a beautiful white woman). I myself propagated some of these lies in the past – consider this part of my ongoing mea culpa. I want my witness to be worth something – God doesn’t need me to pass on revoltingly racist urban legends in order to promote His Word. The truth is all He has ever needed to propagate His Kingdom.

Now, first of all, I want to talk about the Roman Calendar. Every single ancient culture had their own separate Calendar – Egypt’s year began and ended with the inundation of the Nile in the summer, Babylonian years ended and began in the Spring in the months of Adar/Nisan during their bizarre twelve day Akitu festival in honor of Marduk, the Athenian calendar (Greek, but there were a lot of different Greek calendars) began and ended in the late summer, the classical Hindu calendar begins in the Spring, and beginning in 45 BCE, the Julian calendar began in January – a gross departure from how things had been handled previously. Before 45 BCE, the Roman calendar was historically a mess, with months from March to December (304 day year)  separated by a long random winter made longer or shorter at the whim of legislators who might like to extend or prematurely cut off the administration of a certain ruler. I say this to illustrate that the specific dating of anything to the Julian (and by obvious extension, the modern Gregorian) calendar before 45BCE is purely wishful thinking. Equating dates between one culture and another until just before the time of Messiah is nigh impossible, except in the cases of recorded astrological phenomena. Hence, in historical volumes of this era, we see things narrowed down to a few years or, if we are fortunate, a couple of months within a given year.

Our second problem: Until the deification of Julius Caesar in 42 BCE, almost no one cared about when anyone was born ( the notable exception being Egypt). People cared about knowing when great deeds happened, and when great men died; they didn’t give a fig for anyone’s birthday unless it was associated with some great astronomical or historical event – otherwise, it didn’t warrant a mention. With the advent of the Imperial Cult, the birthdays of the Ceasars became public celebrations – but this was very new in the time of Messiah. It was so new, in fact, that scholars are fairly certain that Herod Antipas was not celebrating his birthday in Matt 14, but instead his regnal anniversary (after all, the day he came to the throne was more important than being born – no honor in being born, but becoming King? Oh yeah.) Besides Horus and Osiris – in the link provided above – not a single one of the birthdates claimed in memes like the one above, are actually recorded – and for the overwhelming majority, aren’t even commemorated.

Horus and Osiris – now this meme claims they were born on the same day – but, in fact, they were born on the first and third epagomenal days of the Egyptian Calendar as I explained in the previous link (not considered part of the year, but extra days outside of time). In the version of mythology where they were brothers, their mother had been cursed with an inability to have children on any day of the year but, through some fancy finagling, managed to get five extra days inserted at the time of the inundation of the Nile, during the summer. So not only weren’t they born on the same day, they were both born in the summer. As for the 3000 BC date – that is pure fiction. Egyptian records claim that the Pharaohs themselves went back much farther than that. As for the charge that either one of them were born of a virgin – that strikes out as well. In the most well known of Horus/Osiris mythology (the myths with no birthday mentioned at all), Horus’s parents were married, which generally discourages virginity and Isis was never portrayed as a virgin.

Attis of Phrygia – no birthday found anywhere. He castrated himself and wore a funny hat, and his priests castrated themselves as well. I think the only reason he was chosen for this list is because his mother was impregnated by an almond – which I suppose could be equated with a virgin birth.  He was also one of the “dying gods” whose departure from the world marked the death of vegetation over the winter months.

Krishna – this one is popularly on such lists because somehow Krishna sounds enough like Christ that they want him included. However, the non-pagan origins of Christos in Greek Jewish writings, including the Septuagint version of the Scriptures (3rd century BCE), is well established. Krishna’s birthday is actually celebrated on Janamashtami, in the Hindu month of Shraavana (August/September on our calendar). So this one is just flat out manufactured when there is perfectly good information already out there, as was the case with Horus and Osiris. Like Horus, Krishna’s parents were also married – no virgins here. The date of 1400 BCE is problematic as I am unaware of any mentions of this god before the first millennium BCE.

Zoroaster – now this guy, Zarathustra, was actually a real historical figure – a Persian prophet. No one knows when the heck this guy was actually born – sometime between the mid-second and mid-first millennium BCE. His parents were, again, married, sexually active – and both human. He was never worshiped (Ahura Mazda was the diety he preached) but founded the religion of Zoroastrianism. His birthday is now commemorated on the sixth day after the Persian New Year, and falls on March 26th or 28th each year on a holiday known as Khordad Sal. He is venerated as a prophet.

Mithra of Persia – (as opposed to Roman Mithras) – I am just going to link this article by the undisputed Mithra/Mithras expert Roger Beck – but no birthday, and he sprang to life fully adult from a rock (although I have no reason the doubt the rock’s virginity). I also wrote about Mithras and the problems with Mithras speculation here. Another related scholarly article is here about the related Sol Invictus.

Heracles – (original name of Hercules) – this dude’s mom was definitely not a virgin – she unknowingly had relations with Zeus, who was disguised as her husband. The Greeks celebrated the date of his death as Heracleia, in late July/early August, but not his birth. Remember that, until Ceasar, birthdates were largely irrelevant and would only be mentioned with respect to signs in the sky or other great events, but not referenced with dates. The 800 BCE date on this one is bizarre – Herodotus claimed that Heracles lived 900 years before his own era, so roughly 1300 BCE.

Dionysus – worshipped beginning in the second millennium BCE by the Mycenians and better known by his later Roman name of Bacchus. Herodotus dates his mortal mother Semele’s life at around 2000 BCE.  She had an affair with Zeus, knowing he was Zeus – so not a virgin either. But this is only one of the legends, in others the mother of Dionysus was Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. Like the Egyptians, the Greeks sometimes had regional origin stories. The weird thing about the date on this meme is that it is 186 BCE – the year that the Roman Senate prohibited the festival of Bacchanalia. So they used a legitimate date tied to Dionysus, but utterly misrepresented it.

Tammuz – I wrote an extensive blog on the very misrepresented Tammuz here, so I won’t go into great detail on this one. But 400 BCE? Ezekiel 8 has Tammuz being worshiped in the Temple, which was destroyed in 586 BCE – how on earth could he be born two hundred years later? And how could a Babylonian god who had a summer month named after him have his birthday celebrated on a calendar date that didn’t exist yet, by a still backward nation? Rome wasn’t even founded until 753 BCE, and at this point, Babylon and Rome were, for all intents and purposes, as far away as two countries could get while still being considered part of the known world. Yes, even mighty Rome was once a pathetic little backwater nation.

Adonis – born 200 BCE? I have seen an aryballos from the fifth century BCE with Adonis pictured on it, so again, I have no idea where this date comes from or why there would be a claim that the Greeks would be celebrating one of their gods’ birthdays according to the Roman calendar. There are many Adonis origin stories, most notably that which involved the incestuous union between his mother and grandfather, but none of them list a birth date. The only festival in his honor was Adonia, celebrated by women in the spring or summer (greatly disputed), commemorating his death. Again, they focused on how great men/demigods died.

Hermes – again – 400 BCE. How can we take seriously the claim that an ancient Greek god was only 400 years older than Messiah? In the 8th century BCE, Homer included Hermes in the Iliad. No birthdate is ever associated with him – but the Hermea festival was celebrated in his honor during the month of Hermaios (in poleis that had that month, not all did) – the timing of which varies according to the ancient regional calendars (as I mentioned previously, each region had its own separate calendar until the creation of the Thessalian calendar during the Roman era).

Prometheus – “born at the beginning of mankind” – in Greek legend he was the Titan who actually made mankind out of clay. That this birth supposedly happened on December 25th is undocumented and unsubstantiated historically. His parents were married and he was only one of their four children so, again, not a virgin birth either even though some memes make that claim. Not only wasn’t his mom a virgin, but she was also seeing Helios on the side.

Finally – I don’t know of a single scholar who thinks Yeshua was born in June, and especially not sure why the 16th – now, in 2008 some astronomers made that claim, but it is hardly worthy of claims to scholarly consensus. And the last line equates BCE with CE – I just can’t even believe that someone would equate “Before Common Era” with “Common Era.” It’s like equating yesterday and tomorrow.

There are other accusations floated around with this December 25th myth that are just as baseless- Nimrod, Buddha, etc. – but I didn’t want to post memes from actual ministries so as to not humiliate them – I wanted to go to the source, and the source of all this is atheism. Sadly, believers have been spreading atheist propaganda in order to undermine Christmas at any cost, and so are unknowingly spreading what amounts to anti-missionary literature, undermining faith in the Jewish Messiah, instead of simply teaching the Biblical Feasts of the Lord. As a result, knowledge of the Feasts, even among those who try to keep them, is abysmal. Hey, I used to do this too – but then I started legitimately studying ancient Near Eastern and first-century world history, religion and culture. The stuff I was repeating had no correlations with the copious amounts of archaeological evidence at our disposal. In fact, over the past 150 years, our knowledge of the ancient world has exploded. It is our responsibility to study before we teach, and especially when those teachings include accusations of idolatry – a death penalty offense in the Bible. In the Bible, anyone who falsely witnessed against their neighbor with regards to a death penalty offense would themselves face the death penalty. We cannot accuse people of idolatry when we have no solid proof, or even remotely plausible theories. I trust God, His Messiah, His Word, and the integrity of His Feasts – I don’t need to lift propaganda from discredited sources. I take God’s laws very seriously.

Deuteronomy 19 15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days.18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 20 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

 

 

 




Social Media Bullying: Is Saying God and Lord Acceptable?

You’re quite fortunate if you run in social media circles within the Hebrew Roots/Messianic movement or other denominations of Christianity and haven’t had a run in with people who are quick to tell you why this or that is pagan, sinful, or just plain wrong. One of the most popular areas in which newcomers are attacked is in the usage of the honorific titles of Lord and God, which are used as English language equivalents to the Hebrew words, Adonai and Elohim. And I am not referring to people who simply prefer to pronounce the Tetragrammaton, I am talking about the people who go out bent on conquering, making it a salvation issue.

Now, it’s one thing when seasoned veterans get bombarded with this stuff – but the folks preaching this, often very unkindly and with threats of damnation, do not pay the slightest bit of attention to whether someone has been a believer one hour, or fifty years, or whether they are thirteen years old, or eighty years old. Truly the great evil of social media religious preaching is that we do not have a relationship with the people we are approaching, and therefore have no idea if we even should approach them. We lack the wisdom to know if we are instructing them or confusing them, or even damaging them. I don’t want this to happen to anyone’s kid and so after years of pondering this, I am finally setting it down in writing.

So, let’s look at the use of honorifics in the Bible – and we will use a specific example from my own social media wall a couple of weeks ago. I was talking about it being the anniversary of coming to an understanding of Torah being for today, and I praised “Adonai.” This was the response I got from someone who I had never heard from before:

“Well, I guess you are still waiting for Him to ask you what His proper name is! His name is not Adonai or Lord or God but…”

FYI, I removed His Name from the quote because the sarcastic and ignorant nature of the comment brought His Name to shame. I literally felt embarrassed for my King. Of course, I know the Name, the four letter Tetragrammaton – it was silly, arrogant, and undiscerning to presume otherwise, just because I chose to use a formal title that means “My Lord” or “My Master.”

Before I start, I want to give a little bit of an example of how the usage of intimate Names compares with the usage of honorifics when addressing someone with whom we are not social equals:

Your Majesty,

I applaud your Highness on your recent speech to parliament. It was a privilege to hear the wisdom of your Grace addressing the legislature. Long live the Queen!

Okay, that letter was respectful, right? Let’s try it again without the honorifics, but still speaking with nothing but kindness:

Elizabeth Windsor,

I applaud you, Elizabeth, on your recent speech to Parliament. Liz, it was a privilege to hear your wisdom as you addressed the Legislature. I hope you live forever.

Notice that I said nothing uncomplimentary in either letter. But the tone was different – in the first, I was speaking to someone socially way above me and in the second I was either speaking as a peer, a buddy, or a cheeky little monkey. Probably her Majesty would see my impertinence as a qualification for the latter lol. The point is, did I dishonor her in any way by referring to her with honorifics instead of her actual name? Certainly not, if anything, I elevated her – and that is exactly what happens when an honorific title is used instead of the Tetragrammaton or its short form Yah.

So, is there cause to rebuke anyone for using a respectful title? What do we see in the Scriptures? In the Hebrew, and the Greek, do we see the use of titles or only the use of the Name? (I will note here that I have no beef with anyone who pronounces the Name – we see it used all throughout Scripture as well – just not exclusively).

Let’s look specifically at Adonai – first used by Abraham in Genesis 15:2 directly to God, and God doesn’t get the slightest big offended and say, “Why aren’t you calling me by my Name? Do you want the pagans to think you are talking about someone else?” Nope – why would God take offense to a man submitting himself as a servant? It was a fitting and appropriate thing to do. The prophets thought so too – as Adonai is used 434 times to describe God as Lord and Master.

How about El/Elohim? El is a word that is the Hebrew equivalent of the English God (which came from the Germanic Gott, and is not to be confused with the pagan deity Gad or the Tribe of Gad in the Bible – there is no link between Semitic and Germanic languages – we can’t rightly say that the languages were divided at Babel and also say that they are still all related) and shows up within the monikers El Elyon (Most High God) nineteen times in the Psalms, El Olam (Everlasting God) and the more commonly known El Shaddai (commonly rendered Almighty God) throughout Genesis.  Elohim is a generic word meaning mighty one or god, and refers to both the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and various false gods, angels, civic leaders, judges, etc.

Elohim itself is used over 2600 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and has a lot of different meanings – one of which is a title of the Supreme God. Although I could go into more detail on this, suffice it to say that it is used exclusively for God in Genesis 1-4.

One of the really interesting aspects of the charge that it is a sin to use titles or that it is somehow disrespectful, besides the fact that just about every Biblical figure of note uses them when speaking of/to God, is that we also have the testimony of Yeshua/Jesus and the Apostles, none of which ever utter the Tetragrammaton – even though there was one in Greek that we have archaeological evidence of. In English, the first-century Greek version of the Tetragrammaton would be rendered Iawe (ee-ah-way), and here is a link to another blog post with the information on that.

So are we to accuse Yeshua of sinning, or of not knowing the Name, or of being disrespectful, or any one of these accusations we see commonly flying around? May it never be! Not only did Yeshua never sin, but He always did the will of His Father. If He said the Name, it would be recorded for us. What we do see is Theos, Kyrios, and Pater – the Greek equivalents of God, Lord/Master, and Father. Abba (Aramaic for Father) is used only once by Yeshua (Mark 14:36) and twice by Paul (Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6).

The case for using only a pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton YHVH, yod-hey-vav-hey, or the short form Yah is therefore without merit and would require one to ignore both the Hebrew and Greek canonical text, as well as the Septuagint (LXX), Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigraphic writings, as well as all other Jewish writings through the Millenia. This is really a non-doctrine if someone is trying to enforce it – it has to be strong-armed because it has no Scriptural merit excepting for an out of context reading of verses which promote the proclaiming of the Name – which is problematic to read exclusively as referring to a personal name because the word shem (name) also means reputation/renown. In the ancient Near Eastern world, everything was about honor/reputation/renown – in fact, we still equate a man’s “good name” as being equal to his reputation, not a collection of expressed syllables.

So should we be concerned about the Name of God? Absolutely – and I am talking about His reputation here. Speaking syllables is easy, anyone can do it according to their theory of how it was pronounced – but if we speak those syllables with our bad character backing it up, we are dragging that name through the manure we are wallowing in. No, we must take care that our character is superlative, that we go from glory to glory, becoming more and more like Yeshua, the express image of God and our example in all things.




Pomegranates, the Star of David and Shavuot (aka Pentecost)

whole-and-sliced-pomegranatesThis weekend I will be celebrating my sixth Feast of Shavuot, and I am very blessed to be spending it with a family of Messianic Jews who just happen to be some of the foremost Temple experts alive today. Am I excited? You have no idea! Okay, I just started crying, darnit. So even though I have left adult ministry, I will be making exceptions now and then to speak about important issues – this time I want to talk about one of the seven species that are traditionally eaten during Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) because they are very representative of God’s blessings and the lives we are commanded to live. The traditions of the Feasts, I have come to find, are very much focused on (1) praising God through Scripture and Song, (2) honoring Him by recalling the glory of His Temple and those things which were done in order to worship Him there as an entire Nation, and (3) honoring Him by praising the blessings of the Land of Promise. Pomegranates definitely fall into all three categories – from the pomegranate imagery in the Song of Solomon,  to the remembrance of the adornment of the Temple and High Priestly garments with pomegranates and with the traditional eating of pomegranate during the Feasts. (I am blessed to be the one bringing pomegranate to the celebration this weekend)

Generally, if one wants to know what a certain symbol means, listen to the people who used it and if they happened to write the Bible, check that out as well. Oftentimes the reasons are straightforward, simple, right out in the open and self-evident.

If the golden altar [the layer] on which was only of the thickness of a denar lasted for many years and the fire had no power over it, how much more would that be the case with the transgressors in Israel who are as full of good deeds as a pomegranate [with seed], as it is said in Scripture: Thy temples are like a pomegranate, and R. Simeon b. Lakish remarked, `Read not, `Thy temples` but `Thy empty ones` [signifying] that even the worthless among you are as full of good deeds as a pomegranate [with seed]`. Eruvin 2.1-3

This commentary on the Song of Solomon might seem a bit confusing because it is written in what I like to call “ivy tower intellectual” but the jist of it is that as the altar of incense, which was called the golden altar even though it was only gold plated, was regarded as if it was composed of solid gold. In the same way, even though all of Israel is not doing righteousness, the Nation is like that altar, gilded and holy because God has set the people apart through Covenant. Israel, even counting the transgressors, is still filled with the “good deeds” of the Torah, like the pomegranate which is filled with seeds able to bring forth life and goodness.

Why does the Song of Solomon speak of pomegranates? Because the Song of Solomon is filled with Temple imagery – and Temple imagery is filled with Gan Eden (Garden in Eden) symbolism. Gan Eden was where man lived in harmony with God, and so the Temple was made to resemble God’s Garden. We know from II Chron 28:19 that David received all of the revelation of how to build and adorn the Temple from God, by the Spirit and in writing – if only we still had that document it would be glorious.

“All this he made clear to me in writing from the hand of the Lord, all the work to be done according to the plan.”

I Kings 7, II Kings 25, II Chron 3 and 4 contains descriptions of the use of pomegranates in the adornment of the Temple (as does Jeremiah 52:22-23). Solomon did all of the work according to the plan, the tavnit, given to him by his father David.

In Exodus 28, we first see reference to the pomegranates embroidered into the hem of the high priest:

 31-35 “You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. It shall have an opening for the head in the middle of it, with a woven binding around the opening, like the opening in a garment, so that it may not tear. On its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them, a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe. And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.

pomegranate sceptreOne of the most striking and beautiful artifacts ever uncovered is the probable top of the scepter carried by the High Priest, which dates to the 13th or 14th century BCE – to the time of the Exodus. Although once called a forgery, it has now been verified as authentic [1]. It carries the inscription “Holy to the Priest of the House of God” in Paleo Hebrew. It is representative of a pomegranate in an early stage of growth.

We see this scepter alluded to in Numbers 24:17.

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.

Yeshua, our High Priest in the Heavenlies, is that star who now bears the pomegranate scepter in the Heavenly Temple.

So why pomegranates? Well, pomegranates are one of the seven species listed in Deuteronomy 8:8, one of the seven agricultural blessings of the Promised Land. Each one of these species has a special place in Biblical symbolism, for example, the bowing over of wheat at the harvest represents humility, and I hardly need to mention the constant references to grapes and wine in Scripture! But pomegranates are a unique fruit, as anyone who has eaten one knows. It is chock full of seeds – and in ancient writings is symbolic of good deeds or in New Testament language, good fruit. When Paul was speaking of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, there is little doubt that he was referencing the pomegranate.

 22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

The blessings, or lack thereof, in Scripture are also tied to the fecundity (fruitfulness, or fertility) of pomegranates.

pom flowerJoel 1:12 The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes. Pomegranate, palm, and apple, all the trees of the field are dried up, and gladness dries up from the children of man.

Haggai 2:19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”

Interestingly, the Haggai verse was specifically spoken as a blessing to the people because on that day they had finally laid the foundation for the new Temple building as per God’s command in Haggai 1:7-11.

pom necklacePomegranates, unlike the Menorah, were visible to the non-priestly Israelites and was therefore associated with the glory of God’s Temple far more than the Menorah, which they were never able to look at. Nowadays, that imagery is stylistically represented in the Star of David, the Magen David, the symbol of Israel, by a people fervently hoping for the Messiah to return – it is also a symbol of faith that one day the pomegranate would again be seen by all Israelites, once more adorning a Temple upon Mt Moriah, on the Temple Mount. (pendant can be purchased here, since I used their pic it’s only fair I let you know where you can buy one)

 

[1]http://web.archive.org/web/20100115025132/http://www.bib-arch.org:80/news/news-ivory-pomegranate.asp

 




Most Abused Verses (and Memes) in the New Testament Pt 3: The Blind Leading the Blind

blindHave you seen the memes calling anyone who disagrees with the person who made the meme blind? Or accusing them of leading blind people around? There are a lot of them – but who were the blind Pharisees in context? Well, lemme tell ya, it’s a funny story.

Matt 15:14 “Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

First, the context of the story – Yeshua had just rebuked the Pharisees because some of them were more concerned with external washings which were not commanded, than with the correction of their internal character flaws. Is washing bad? Heck no, it kept the Jews alive during the Black Plague – in fact they were so healthy that they got accused of starting it all through witchcraft just to kill off the Gentiles. I will say though, that you would not want to stand downwind from their accusers – European non-Jews almost never bathed. #bathingisagoodthing

Now the washings wouldn’t normally have been a problem (in fact, given a choice of who to hang around with, I choose people who like to wash their hands and feet as opposed to those who don’t), but they were symbolic of a bigger issue – righteousness that is merely superficial in nature.

And here we come to the crux of the issue – what made one a blind guide?  Protestants say that the Catholics are the blind guides (and vice versa), many Hebrew Roots people say that everyone is a blind guide (except for themselves) who does not accept Torah – but is that an accurate assessment? Did Yeshua simply introduce a foreign concept or did it mean something to that first century audience? Well of course it meant something, we just have to find out the answer from their own writings (always the best way to learn context – learn it from the people themselves) – and here it is from Sotah 22b of the B Talmud:

Our Rabbis have taught: There are seven types of Pharisees: the shikmi Pharisee, the nikpi Pharisee, the kizai Pharisee, the ‘pestle’ Pharisee, the Pharisee [who constantly exclaims] ‘What is my duty that I may perform it?’, the Pharisee from love [of God] and the Pharisee from fear. The shikmi Pharisee — he is one who performs the action of Shechem.4  The nikpi Pharisee — he is one who knocks his feet together.5  The kizai Pharisee — R. Nahman b. Isaac said: He is one who makes his blood to flow against walls.6  The ‘pestle’ Pharisee — Rabbah b. Shila said: [His head] is bowed like [a pestle in] a mortar. The Pharisee [who constantly exclaims] ‘What is my duty that I may perform it?’ — but that is a virtue! — Nay, what he says is, ‘What further duty is for me that I may perform it?’7  The Pharisee from love and the Pharisee from fear — Abaye and Raba said to the tanna [who was reciting this passage], Do not mention ‘the Pharisee from love8  and the Pharisee from fear’; for Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: A man should always engage himself in Torah and the commandments even though it be not for their own sake,9  because from [engaging in them] not for their own sake, he will come [to engage in them] for their own sake. R. Nahman b. Isaac said: What is hidden is hidden, and what is revealed is revealed; the Great Tribunal will exact punishment from those who rub themselves against the walls.10

King Jannai11  said to his wife’, ‘Fear not the Pharisees and the non-Pharisees but the hypocrites who ape the Pharisees; because their deeds are the deeds of Zimri12  but they expect a reward like Phineas’.13

Now each of the five unrighteous Pharisees had a different reason they were called unrighteous. Specifically turn your attention to the “kizai” Pharisee – why does his blood flow against walls? Because he has blinded himself by covering his eyes and “in his anxiety to avoid looking upon a woman he dashes his face against the wall.” (click on reference 6 above for this explanation) The blind Pharisee wasn’t really blind – he was simply a man with no self-restraint and he was unable to look at a beautiful woman. He covered his eyes and thus did not have to face his sinful nature and overcome his evil inclination. Kizai means “bloody-browed.” In effect, he was cleaning the outside of the vessel while leaving the insides filthy.

External washings, when used as a substitute for internal refining, are just a charade, like covering one’s eyes to avoid being lustful. They were teaching others to do likewise, making them “blind guides.” The Rabbis wisely called such men unrighteous and lumped them among the five unrighteous kinds of Pharisees – like those who made sure that people saw their good works or who walked with exaggerated holiness, and not among the two righteous kinds of Pharisees who loved and feared God (of whom Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimithea and Gamaliel would most certainly qualify).

It is, of course, very tempting to point to those with a lack (or supposed lack) of knowledge or revelation and call them blind – but this verse is clearly talking about character. After all, the Pharisees He was talking about not only knew the Torah but were keeping it – this this can’t be about a lack of knowledge. So, are we blind guides ourselves? Are we going through the motions according to our own best judgment while criticizing others who are doing the exact same thing? Would someone further along the path have a right to look back at us and call us blind? If we are more concerned with looking righteous than with being conformed to the character of Yeshua, then we are nothing but blind guides ourselves. If we simply call people without knowledge blind, then do I get to call people who don’t know what I know blind? Do my teachers get to call me blind? In that case – are we not all headed for the ditch?

As with many verses, this wasn’t spoken in a vacuum and we can’t just say, “Well, that’s not what it means to me.” It doesn’t remotely matter what it means to us – it matters what it meant to the audience. And that audience would have snickered, thinking of an honored yet unrighteous Pharisee walking past a woman with his eyes covered, with all of his buddies following him as they topple shamefully into a ditch together.

This is just one of many cases where you can’t interpret Scripture by googling what the Urban Dictionary has to say.

#contextmatters

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 15:14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.




WWIE? (What Would Ishtar Eat?) Baking Cakes for the Queen of Heaven: Jeremiah 7 in Context Part 2

iishtdr001p1

So, this is not what I was studying. I was looking into Molech worship from the vantage point of Emperor Cult and cult prostitution in the light of this week’s Torah Portion – and then I stumbled upon this by accident. And it was way too cool not to dig into, explore and share.

“Oh Istar, merciful goddess, I have come to visit you. I have prepared for you an offering, pure milk, a pure cake baked in ashes (kamanu tumri), I stood up for you a vessel for libations, hear me and act favorably towards me.” – A hymn of Ishtar (there have been many different hymns preserved), quoted in Ackerman

What is Kamanu tumri? It is a thin unleavened loaf of fine flour baked in ashes – literally called an “ash cake” (as opposed to bread made in a formal oven, tumru bread is made on the go, in haste). In fact it is still made by Arabs to this day. (1) What is a pure cake? I believe that calling it a “pure cake” would probably be a reflection of the fact that it hasn’t had time to become leavened.

Not immediately a game changer until you look at Jeremiah 7:18

The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes (kawwanim) for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. (2)

Kawwanim is a loan word derived from the Akkadian kamanu (3) and the only other place we see it in scripture is Jer 44:19

And the women said, “Indeed we will go on making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her; do you think that we made cakes for her, marked with her image, and poured out libations to her without our husbands’ being involved?” (4)

In context, Jeremiah 44 concerns the return of the Jews to the worship of the Queen of Heaven as they feel they had been cursed since abandoning her. Going back to the first quotation from the Hymn of Ishtar, the entire reason the hymnist was offering milk, cakes and wine was in order to be heard and blessed.

ishtar owl

Look at that unique phrase in Jer 44:19 – marked with her image – l’ha’asibah. The only other place we see this in scripture is when Job is speaking of being fashioned by God’s own hands in Job 10:8. So we have unleavened, thin, fine flour cakes either fashioned in the image of Ishtar or bearing her mark. Her “mark” or fashioned shape, as we know from the plentiful archaeological finds (including her entire Temple excavated in Ninevah and a great many tablets giving us an incredible wealth of knowledge about her cult – heck, we even know that her priests were cross-dressers!), would have been one of four possible things – the eight pointed star, the lion, the owl, or perhaps they were fashioned in the shape of her body in some way as she was a unique sort of fertility goddess without being a mother goddess (goddess of the storehouse and of prostitutes, go figure – kinda like having a day job and a night job).

So what would Ishtar eat? Thin, fine flour, unleavened cakes fashioned or stamped with her sign – paired with a nice glass of Chianti. (well okay, probably not Chianti)

Does this mean that unleavened bread is somehow pagan? Or wine poured out on the altar? Of course not – no more so than the meat, leavened bread, honey, salt, milk and other foods. Unleavened bread is simply bread made without waiting for the leavening process, which in ancient times was a long and complicated process.

In the end, a pagan offering requires a pagan target and pagan intent. Form and function working together for the specific purpose of drawing near to another deity. Nothing offered to pagan gods was, in and of itself, pagan – but shaping or stamping a flat unleavened cake with the image of Ishtar and then purposefuly offering it up to her? Yeah that’s pagan. Context and intent change everything – and they especially change how we read and interpret the Bible.

(1) Barrows, E. P., The Manners and Customs of the Jews: pg 99; also Luzac’s Semitic Texts and Translation Series, Vol. 15, The Devils and Evil Spirits in Babylonia, p 19

(2) The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Je 7:18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

(3) Ackerman, Susan, “And the Women Knead Dough: The Worship of the Queen of Heaven in Sixth Century Judah” in Bach, Alice, Women in the Hebrew Bible (1999) pp 21-32

(4) The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Je 44:19). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

 

 




“So What About Christmas and Easter?” – From my rewrite of The Bridge: Crossing Over Into the Fullness of Covenant Life

The_Bridge_Cover_for_KindleA plea for civility and clear heads – it seems that no matter how clearly or politely or lovingly I present this material, emotions run high. People get defensive, they put words in my mouth and they misrepresent not only what I am saying – but also my reasons for saying it as they freely speculate on my motivations. I am a really straightforward person and my motivations are to correct MY error. I am not insulting anyone, or disparaging anyone’s character – I am setting the record straight about what I was teaching and about what happened when I actually dug deep into history and archaeology. This is not a subject that should drive people apart, or result in slander or the undermining of someone’s character. There should be no untouchable subjects if we are to truly call ourselves Bereans and if we are going to continually strive to represent the Gospel honestly – not only when preaching the Gospel, but in everything else we teach and do. If we cannot love one another and deal with each other with integrity, then we have a problem greater than Church holidays.

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I rewrote The Bridge, as you might know, because of one paragraph in one chapter and then one thing led to another and all of a sudden it was 20,000 words longer. I had written in a few very popular urban legends that I found were without merit concerning the advent (no pun intended) of Christmas and Easter. I had assumed that the people who taught me had researched it, which was ridiculous because I didn’t research it and why should I expect from them what I hadn’t done myself? We all placed our trust in the people who went before us – a common human thing to do. After proving through massive archaeological evidence that there never was an Ishtar Sunday and that her cult never practiced human sacrifice (really, almost no one did in antiquity, come to find out and Rome formally outlawed it in 97 BCE), and that she was never associated with eggs or rabbits – I was forced to re-examine everything. So, after spending massive hours and a lot of money on learning about actual ANE paganism, I had to remove the book from the market and get rid of the urban legends that largely originated during the European Catholic-Protestant wars. I have to be honest – I couldn’t sleep because it had me so upset. First, I will give you an excerpt from the chapter about Sabbath, then one from the section on Sukkot and following those is the chapter that was responsible for the rewrite in the first place. I apologize for not doing my homework – for not being a true Berean. I apologize for doing what was easy instead of what was right, and I am really sorry for not just sticking with promoting the Feasts and the Sabbath – because they are enough.

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(Sidebar: something happened in the fourth century that was incredibly tragic. Between the Councils of Nicaea in 325 CE and Constantinople in 381 CE, Rome did what Rome always did best – they formally legislated, and clearly controlled through that legislation, what it meant to be a Christian and what it meant to be a Jew because for a long time everyone was meeting in the synagogues on Sabbath and Christianity was considered a valid expression of Judaism. Rome defined both religions – and we still live with under those definitions without even knowing why. You could not keep any of the Torah and remain a Christian, and you could no longer accept Yeshua as Messiah and remain a Jew. Church Fathers Jerome and Augustine both wrote during this time, voicing their approval for the marginalizing of all those who were still ‘in between’ – living like Jews while worshiping Yeshua.)[1]

[1] Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ is an excellent treatise on this subject

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Do you want to know why Christmas was first celebrated? I know the rumors but let me give it to you straight – I want you to imagine the Believers in Yeshua, separated from their Jewish brothers by an increasing legal and emotional abyss, wanting to celebrate and honor not living and dead Roman Emperors (as Roman law required) but instead their Messiah in a way that was perfectly culturally acceptable in the Roman Empire. Instead of honoring Imperial Cult birthdays (Augustus was known as the Savior of the World in the Roman Empire) they wanted to honor Yeshua, the true Savior of the World. So they, without any knowledge of the importance of the Feasts and having lost all Hebraic understanding of what they were reading, really miscalculated. They came up with December 25th   based solely upon the theory that Yeshua was conceived and died on the same day (Passover), which was a shame because God had already instituted a Feast that recognized the birth of Yeshua – the Feast of Sukkot (some people believe He was born on Passover). They created an illegitimate holiday because they had been stripped of the real celebration through Roman law. As with so many things, they had great intentions, but it was tragically unnecessary.

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Remember I told you about Deuteronomy 12:32, forbidding us to add and subtract from God’s Laws like the Pharisees did?  Well, we’ve done it too, or at least we’ve inherited what others did and lived by it much like the Orthodox Jews of today inherited many of the same laws of the Pharisees.  I look at what they do, not with contempt but with the realization that they inherited things just the same as we did, and they haven’t ditched their traditions any more than Christians have.

In fact, right now I want to make something very clear.  I do not have anything but positive feelings about Jews and Christians, and I have to give credit where credit is due.  Observant Jews care more deeply about obeying God than anyone on earth, there is a zealousness that I deeply admire and it touches my heart.  Their dedication to family is simply amazing, and their passion for the Scriptures is incredible. Everything I have shared with you about the Feasts was possible only because they never abandoned God.

Do you want to know why the Jews survived the Black Death that devastated Christians throughout the world?  Christians were not washing their hands in those days (or bathing), but the Jews were.  I mean that seriously.  (The American Indians were very upset about it when colonists started to arrive from Europe. They were clean people and the Europeans were not.) It became so evident that Jews were not dying of plague that people began accusing the Jews of witchcraft – of actually starting the plague through sorcery!  It was their laws, however, far in excess of what was written that we follow as good hygiene practices today (I have to add, however, that this was not done for hygiene purposes but for holiness).  So it is a good idea to wash hands, but as far as anyone calling ritual hand washing an actual commandment of God, that is not Biblical.  For the record, they were not simply washing their hands, but they also recited a prayer as they did it, and had to do it according to a specific ritual which is also practiced today.  Here is the prayer:

“Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Thy commandments and has commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.”

Now there is no commandment to do this in Scripture, so this can only be justified as a commandment of the Oral Torah. We see something very similar with the prayer spoken while lighting the Sabbath candles. Is lighting candles before the Sabbath terrible? Of course not, but it also isn’t a Biblical commandment.

How about Christianity?  There are more people being cared for around the world because of everyday Christians than I could write about in a thousand books – orphanages built and maintained, sex slaves rescued from the streets, hospitals built, abused women and children sheltered, drug addicts counseled. The list of good works just goes on and on – the weightier matters of Torah, all done in the name of Jesus. And right now as I am writing this, I weep for my brothers and sisters and their children in the Middle East and Africa who are daily being slaughtered by ISIS for refusing to deny our Master Yeshua, whether they call Him Jesus, Isa, Yesu, or any other variation.

Each faith sadly also has a legacy of adding to the commandments of God their own traditions and judging people based on them.  Each faith added and subtracted as they saw fit.

Christmas and Easter are on the top of that list for Christians.  The verses preceding Deut 12:32 are very sobering verses indeed.  And I ask you to consider them carefully, because Christmas is a tradition, not a commandment of God, and Easter is a tradition, not a commandment of God – just like ritual hand washing.  We should never judge, nor hate another person based on their nonconformance to our traditions because if we do, we will do violence to one another (even if it is only in our hearts) as some of the Pharisee leaders plotted to do violence to Yeshua because He challenged the traditions that they enforced as authoritative laws.

Deut 12:28-32 Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee forever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord thy God.

When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land;

Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.

Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.

What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

First verse, He reiterates that His commandments are forever.  Then He warned the Israelites not to find out about anything related to the heathen worship of the nations they were going to destroy and do it in order to worship Him.  He called every single unique thing they did for their gods an abomination.  It’s His absolute harshest word for the things He hates.  Then He says, in a nutshell, that His Laws are good as they are and have no need to be added to or subtracted from.

(Note: everything legitimate about the worship of our King was also practiced by heathens and so we cannot say that everything they did for their gods was inherently evil – many of their practices boiled down to cultural expressions of honor like the anointing of the feet of a king or god with perfumed oil. What we do not dare do is take something directly from pagan practices that is not in the Scriptures and ‘reclaim’ it for God.)

Passover is enough

Unleavened Bread is enough

First Fruits is enough

Shavuot is enough

Yom Teruah is enough

Sukkot is enough

Shemini Atzeret is enough.

Easter replaced the Spring Feasts and so we lost sight of God’s prophetic plan and calendar, leaving us blind and unable to explain or even truly understand what Yeshua did and fulfilled.  It left us unable to explain to our Jewish brothers and sisters why Yeshua is not an idolater and a blasphemer, but instead their Messiah.

Christmas replaced the Fall Feasts, and so we became blind there as well to what He will do and fulfill.  The end will largely come upon the Church like a thief because we have not been aware of the times and seasons.

I am not going to rehash what you can find on the internet, some of which is true but so much of which is unsubstantiated and falsified that it takes too much precious time for the average person to sort out the lies from the facts. We have inherited holidays that are full of European traditions, some of questionable origin. The world celebrates these holidays in the same manner as Christians do, and each year more and more Bible believing Christians are giving them up. I can’t remember the last time I saw the world trying to celebrate any of the Biblical Feasts, which is a sobering reality check – the world never wants to participate in anything that is actually holy.

To me, knowing the history of the fourth century CE – that Rome forcibly legislated the removal of Christians out of the synagogues and Torah keepers out of the assemblies of Messiah – Christians celebrating Christmas and Easter seem very much like children celebrating the consequences of having a broken home. Without the Christians, the Jews lost their Messiah and without the Jews, the Christians lost their inheritance. It’s like a child celebrating the absence of a parent who wasn’t even a bad parent. Christmas and Easter happened because of a broken home, and that grieves me – it doesn’t make me want to celebrate. At one point all believers in Yeshua were called Nazarene Jews, for hundreds of years – Rome robbed us of a stable home life.

I understand not wanting to abandon those holidays because of the memories associated with them and because of the fear of family disapproval.  Yes, it will happen, people won’t understand – and they will judge you for not keeping their traditions, but that is what they are – traditions.  When we judge people by traditions and value the traditions more than we value the truth, we become like the people who conspired to kill Yeshua.

Traditions blind.  Whereas people do not get angry if you break a commandment, they will get angry if you question their tradition because to break a tradition is to challenge someone’s life choices, while to break a commandment is to challenge God.  People will take it personally, and this is why we have to choose whom we will serve.  I speak from heartache and experience on this.

No one is telling you to ditch your memories or to feel guilty about having enjoyed precious hours as a family, just to put those memories into proper perspective. It was always difficult for everyone coming into Covenant to leave some aspects of their cultures behind in order to follow YHVH exclusively, in fact it was so difficult that when Moses delayed in coming back down from the mountain, the people demanded that Aaron, Moses’ own brother, make them a golden calf that they could worship – as they had undoubtedly learned in Egypt.  And this is what Aaron did –

Ex 32:4-5  And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.

It wasn’t just that Aaron made something attached to that abominable Egyptian heathenism, but He set up a feast on a day never commanded and said it was too, in the Hebrew, YHVH.  YHVH was so angry that He threatened to kill them all, saying that they had corrupted themselves.  This was a very serious betrayal, an act of National treason. considering what YHVH had done for them.

But isn’t that what Christmas is?  When we detach ourselves from the emotional aspects of the holiday, from our fond memories, didn’t our forefathers simply announce their own ‘feast to YHVH’ while ignoring His Feasts – and all because Moses, or in this case the Laws of God, were  no longer there for them?

I can’t force you to give up those holidays.  I can’t even force you to want to give them up.  I do ask you very bluntly, what does YHVH deserve from us in terms of loyalty?  Is it to keep His Feasts His way, or to do things our way and expect Him to approve?  Do we truly honor Him when we do what we want when we want?  The Scriptures, from front to back, say no.




Nation of Priests IV: The Initiation of a Nation

mysterionSo on Sunday I was preparing for Context for Kids Episode #19, Terumah, when I saw something in the text that I hadn’t seen before. Of course, that’s how it goes when you study Ancient Near Eastern context. A bit of random context will pop into your mind in an unexpected place. It changed what I decided to teach, and then a sinus infection popped up and now I am trying to get rid of my sniffles so that I can record without grossing everyone out.

Greco-Roman times saw the rise in popularity (but not the origins) of what were called “mystery” religions, Mithraism being the most famous, but there were many other non-exclusive voluntary mystery associations in the ancient world (meaning they didn’t compete with each other, you could belong to none, one or many). They were, more than anything, simply clubs designed for the purpose of keeping this or that deity happy and the cosmos, therefore, functioning better. We get our word “mystery” from the Greek “mysterion” – not simply meaning something that we do not know, like the identity of the murderer in an Agatha Christie novel, but instead a divine secret or relationship that one is initiated into and therefore available only to initiates. We see it used twenty-seven times in the First Century Writings, as well as twenty-five times in the late date LXX (Septuagint) books – Daniel, Enoch, Sirach, and the other wisdom and apocryphal books that came to be within the 500 – 600 years before Messiah when Babylonian and Assyrian influences were at their peak and which were then translated into Greek in the few centuries before Messiah.

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, (1)

Here we see Paul very clearly using mystery religion language – something that would have been very familiar to his audience, but then he does something interesting, he shares it with them as though they were all elite initiates. He is telling them something that is a mysterion, in an open letter, something that would probably never have occurred in an actual mysterion.

Of course, all Ancient Near Eastern religions were, to some extent, mysterious. Laymen simply did not know what went on within the cult of the major Temples. Priests were initiated into esoteric knowledge and a special relationship which was quite easy to keep a secret because so very few people were literate – as was the case in Egypt. In many ANE cultures (Mesopotamia and Syria in particular), even kings were illiterate (2) and therefore relied on the integrity of their priests and scribes (not to be confused with first century Jewish scribes). Kings didn’t necessarily need to read, evidently! They had people for that! They could write down their secrets and it didn’t even matter in those days because, first, they kept them within the Temples where no one else could get to them and second, almost no one could read. Fortunately, in the ANE, they often recorded them on baked tablets which have been uncovered and have given us volumes of information within the last 100 to 150 years – completely changing what we thought we knew and relegating much “common knowledge” to the status of urban legends. It’s an exciting time to be alive and studying such things.

So what made the Hebrew religion different? Why did I write this under the heading of “A Nation of Priests?” Very simply put, initiates to a mystery religion were privy to knowledge that normal people couldn’t and didn’t know. Not only does one, in a mystery cult, have to be initiated into the mystery, but they often have to be initiated into greater mysteries at higher levels. Mormonism and Masonry are two excellent examples of modern mysterion. They won’t tell outsiders much of anything, and the knowledge that the higher ups have is not the same as what they are teaching newcomers.

Judaism, on the other hand, as well as Christianity, are decidedly not mysterion religions. Well, of course there are some aberrant cults under the umbrella of Judeo-Christian religion but in general you can learn everything you want about them from the outside. There are no mysterion, no divine secrets for initiates. In Romans 11, Paul is speaking in metaphoric language – comparing the believers to mysterion insiders because as we see in the Torah – God had Moses spell out the details of what would be going on within the Tabernacle to everyone. Unlike every other religion on earth at that time, the knowledge of the workings of the Temple were not reserved for the literal priests – in that way, everyone in the nation was treated as though they were priests and privy to what would be esoteric knowledge in other cultures.

Do you see now why it was a commandment for Torah to be read, out loud, once every seven years to everyone? NO SECRETS.

The Israelites knew that God wasn’t actually eating the sacrifice or the showbread as pagan gods were thought to do – because He told them exactly what was happening. They knew there was no idol in the Holy of Holies because He told them so. They knew there were no secret incantations because they were told what the priests were in there doing – and the priests did the majority of their work in full view of the people. The workings of the Tabernacle/Temple were not shrouded in mystery – God was treating the nation like priests in allowing them the knowledge of the inner workings of His Divine Palace, the Tabernacle.

Because of this, there are thousands of books about YHVH, His worship, His Tabernacle/Temple and His Word and we are left with almost nothing concrete about the Mithras cult. YHVH doesn’t play around with initiation into mysterion – you can know what you are getting into when you enter into covenant with Him. You don’t keep going up in levels and all of a sudden discover something horrible. This isn’t the induction into a frat house where they blindfold you and humiliate you – as they did in the Mithras cult.

“For other initiatory rites we depend primarily on the fresco scenes in the mithraeum at S. Maria Capua Vetere. These depict usually a triad of figures: the initiates, small, naked, humiliated; and two initiators, one behind and the other in front of the initiates, manipulating the instruments of initiations.” (3)

Through the Scriptures, we can know more information about YHVH than we could adequately explore in a lifetime. But in a mysterion like Mithraism, we are limited to external references by non-cult members to their worshiping in caves or rooms decorated to look like caves, we know that they had no bishops or centralized authority but were simply local groups, we know that Roman Mithras sprang full grown from a rock that served as his mother, we know he killed a bull, we know that he dressed like a Persian even though he had almost nothing else in common with the Persian Mithras, and we know that he ate said bull with Sol, the Sun God (despite the fact that he was also presumably Sol himself ) while sitting on the hide of the bull. (3) We know his festival was celebrated in October. (4) The problem is that, unlike the Bible, which spelled things out for the benefit of the layman, giving him a sort of honorary priestly status, we have no existing writings from any person who was a Mithraicist about Mithraism. Either they never survived or people took this mysterion thing pretty seriously – mysterion is for insiders, not outsiders! What we think we know, is just that, we think we know it. We can look at artwork and excavated Mithraeum (meeting places) and make educated assumptions. We can look at the very few inscriptions and see that this or that person was an initiate. This informational vacuum has resulted in a great many modern myths having sprung up.

What happened in the Mithras cave stayed in the Mithras cave.

What happened in the Temple, on the other hand, was completely above-board and knowable to anyone. God didn’t want there to be any mistaking His worship for any of the mysterion, He wanted it known exactly what was going on with no room for whisperings of secret rituals. He wanted people thousands of years later to still have access to that information.

This is a really quick article on some of the aspects of the Mithraic mysterion by Roger Beck, who is probably the world’s most balanced expert. Although I disagree with him in his assessment of the meaning of Judaic sacrifice as well as “Christian” baptism (which of course isn’t Christian at all but Jewish) his emphasis is on Roman studies and that is where he needs to be evaluated and considered an expert. He is very methodical. I encourage you to take a look at the other links I have provided below, the Mithraism article in particular is incredibly well documented and can give some direction on deeper study with some legitimate sources. Beck has also written a book about Mithraism – The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire: Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun. It is very scholarly, not an easy read but the articles I have provided below are very good. Mystery religions are a valuable study in showing us how different the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is than the other gods in the Ancient Near East and First Century.

(1) The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 11:25–26). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

(2) Amanda H Podany, Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East, p 71

(3) Roger Beck, Mithraism

(4) Stephen Hijmans, Usener’s Christmas: A Contribution to the Modern Construct of Late Antique Solar Syncretism




“This is the beginning of months for you:” Egyptian Calendars, the birthdays of the gods, and why Goshen was the “best of the Land.”

sphinxEx 12:2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.

Slaves don’t live by their own timetable, and after over eighty years in slavery (we know they were enslaved during the reigns of two Pharaohs but we are not told when the actual slavery started), they once again had to be set straight – this article will show you the reason for the confusion. 

In preparation for teaching Exodus, I reviewed all my Egyptian books because it was very much Egyptian religion (the first mention in scripture of anything is important and Egypt is where we have the first mention of heathen priests, magicians and our first real exposure to false religion) that infected Israel during their sojourning. Like I always say, “Aaron didn’t figure out how to make a golden calf out of his own imagination, that took a specific skillset.” He had seen something that was generally only seen within the confines of a Temple or in a public processional and on top of that, he actually made one – but we’ll talk about that in a few weeks.

Egyptian literature is full of interesting and funny stories like this one about the birth of the “big five” gods and goddesses that also gives us an insight into the Ancient Near Eastern mindset of what gods (unlike YHVH) were like and this one provides a window for the ancient calendar system as well. I enjoy studying this because we see in these stories, oftentimes, the reasons for the plagues on Egypt.

Osiris, Horus, Seth, Isis and Nephthys were born during the last five days of the Egyptian year (called epagomenals) but their year is unlike the Hebrew year which starts in the Spring, or the late era Roman year which started in January (beginning in about 45/46 BCE). Egyptian years are tied into the inundation (flooding) of the Nile, which begins in late June – and is today celebrated in August at the culmination. You know, in the ancient world you really don’t find the birthdays of any gods pointed out, Egypt seems to be rather unique and only seems to be mentioned as a way of “correcting” the calendar by acknowledging that 360 days was’t truly a solar year. In fact, I have found birthdays of gods to be singularly unimportant (and unmentioned) until we get to Imperial Cult, when the deified Emperor’s birthday became a holiday. Up until then, the focus was on their lives and their birth would only be mentioned in relationship to the circumstances around it, not related to the dates which were hard to pin down with any accuracy. It was the legend around the birth, and not the date, that was mentionable because calendars worldwide were a total mess until 45 BCE (before then, Roman months alternated between having either 29 or 31 days, ugh) and we cannot accurately tie ancient events to a Roman calendar system that wasn’t even set in stone until then. In fact, the Roman year for a long time only had ten months with the entire winter kinda left out in the cold, so to speak. Hence in Egypt we have rare birthdays of gods pinpointed to the last five days of the Egyptian year. That’s why we see ancient events narrowed down to a year and a season within that year, as best as possible, but even that can sometimes be debatable. The Bible, of course, will sometimes name a date on the Hebrew calendar which then still cannot be absolutely lined up with a Roman calendar date that was not yet in existence.

The Egyptian calendar was 360 days long, with three ten day weeks in a month, and only three seasons, beginning with the inundation (flooding) of the Nile – the time when all the silt was washed down from Upper (southern) Egypt into Lower (northern) Egypt and most significantly, into the Land of Goshen – making it the fertile “best of the Land” – the ideal place for YHVH to place the Israelites. Remember that everyone had to sell their land to Pharaoh in order to pay for food during the last years of the famine but that would not have extended to Joseph’s family because they received their provisions for free. Can you imagine the animosity towards his family once a Pharaoh came to power who did not know Joseph and all these foreigners were landowners and the native-born Egyptians were tenant farmers??

Anyway, I digress, again. So the Egyptians had a dilemma – they had a 12 month calendar with 30 days each month but that left them with a problem at the end of their calendar year at the arrival of the inundation – the beginning of new life in Egypt. So they developed a mythology about the goddess Nut who was cursed with the inability to give birth during all 360 days of the year by her grandfather Re (after having given birth already to the sun, stars and planets). After playing dice with Thoth, she won five more days and was able to bear children during those days, evading her grandfather’s curse – as they were not considered actual days of the year. Egyptian legalism! During this time she gave birth to Osiris, Horus, Seth, Isis and Nephthys – the “big five” in Egypt.

(Note: Horus started out as the brother of Osiris and Isis and in later years became identified as their son – in this type of early period mythology he is called Horus the Elder)

People often ask me about my source material for Egyptology, so I am going to try and list all the useful books I have on it. Egypt, as I was explaining in yesterday’s Context for Kids video, is where Israel was born – during the hundreds of years they spent there, Egypt became their cultural context and it caused a lot of problems in the wilderness. They had to relearn everything and become an entirely new people – and one of their chief problems was a continual turning back to Egypt. For my Context for Kids parents who are reading this – exercise great caution in simply handing over any Egyptian book to your kids. Egyptian mythology is filled with the abominations spoken of in Leviticus 18 – pretty much all of them.

This specific myth, I took out of Barbara Watterson’s The Gods of Ancient Egypt but you can find it in practically any Egyptian book. I like to recommend this book to people because it is a very easy read – and considering it was written by a PhD Egyptologist that is rare. PhDs generally don’t write the language I call “normal people” but instead write to impress other scholars.

Information on the actual epagomenal days – Anthony Spalinger, Some Remarks on the Epagomenal Days in Ancient Egypt, Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 54, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 33-47

Donald B Redford, The Ancient Gods Speak is what I have been reading lately. The information I have been teaching lately about the Egyptian priestly/magician class, the mummification of Jacob and Joseph, and such have been coming from this book. He compiled articles from the best of the best of Egyptian experts from all over the world, in their respective specialties – which is always helpful because no one knows everything and it is nice to hear from the people who really know their stuff in the one area. 

John D Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament. Dr Currid has been the Project Director for Bethsaida Excavations Project in Israel for almost 20 years.

Anthony S Mercatante, Who’s Who in Egyptian Mythology – this was my first Egypt book, very readable but not very detailed

Sir Wallis Budge, Egyptian Religion – One of the first books on Egyptology and okay but we have learned a lot since 1899. Never use him as your sole source of information, make sure that modern research backs him up because there were many misconceptions in his time.

Richard H Wilkinson, Reading Egyptian Art – this has been more useful than I first imagined. I originally bought this book because Rico Cortes recommended it for it’s description of the Djed column, the backbone of Osiris that I believe was the Column of Fire that terrified the Egyptians in the wilderness because it would have been seen as a harbinger of death for Pharaoh. But I found better information on this in Redford.

Also, Wilkinson’s The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt.

Ogden Goelet, The Egyptian Book of the Dead – huge and gorgeous book about Egyptian afterlife beliefs, which are vital to understanding the mindset of the Egyptians and especially the Pharaohs.

The Anchor Bible Dictionary

Karel Van der Toorn, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible – can’t even begin to tell you how much I respect this author, one of the best minds on the subject of ANE religion as it pertains to the Bible. His Nimrod research is amazing, well documented, and does not at all line up with what is being taught in the online urban legends of religious evolution.

Sir J Gardiner Wilkinson Manners and Customs of the Egyptians Vol 1, 2 and 3 (it’s an older book – available for online download at archive.org) – originally printed in 1836 and is probably most well known as having been misrepresented by another author in an age where checking references was a lot harder than it is now.

Douglas J Brewer and Emily Teeter, Egypt and the Egyptians – Brewer spent 18 years in the field in Egypt and is a professor of anthropology, Teeter is research associate and curator of ancient Egyptian and Nubian antiquities at the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago.

I have some other books, and I hope I haven’t forgotten any good ones as my book shelf is in disarray at the moment, but mostly I wouldn’t want you to waste your time or money on a lot of them.




Who would actually say “Jesus is accursed” in Corinth? Was Yahweh *really* the name of a pagan god? Of course not!

Abraxas,_Nordisk_familjebokDisclaimer: I don’t pronounce the Name “Yahweh” so I have no agenda here of justifying myself as being right. I am not going to throw the Name Yahweh under the bus just because I don’t use it either – that or any other belief. I have to actually be able to prove something is wrong to justify discrediting it – or else I am left with no credibility or integrity whatsoever. As I uncover Biblical context, I present what I find and Gnosticism pops up quite a bit in the Epistles so I checked it out.

Someone sent me a meme, months ago, with a rather serious charge that tied into something that I had previously studied on and since it ties in with an important piece of Corinthian context, I wanted to add it into what I was already planning to teach. Corinth was a hodge-podge of a mess of just the worst problems in Greco-Roman society. I encourage you to check out my previous blogs on the geography, teacher/disciple relationship problems, and lawsuit controversies as well as my teaching on head coverings in Corinthian context.

So, what’s the skinny here? Some Greco-Roman “magical” Abraxus amulets were found with one of the Greek forms of the four letter Hebrew Tetragrammaton (there are actually quite a few since it doesn’t directly translate into Greek sounds) on it. Should this be shocking and is it a magic bullet against “Yahweh?” Of course not – it is simply a logical extension of the Jewish Gnosticism that was practiced by Jews in the first century – even those Jews who accepted Yeshua as Messiah (as well as by converted gentiles). When Jews mixed magic rituals with the true faith, what name would one expect them to use? They certainly wouldn’t make one up – after all, they were performing these rituals as part of their observance of “Judaism” – an exceptionally twisted form, I might add. Magic papyri have been unearthed with many Greek forms of the Tetragrammaton, including (1) “Iaoouee,” “Iaoue,” “Iabe,”; (2) “Iao,” “Iaho,” “Iae”; (3) “Aia”; (4) “Ia.” (Source) Not only are forms of the Tetragrammaton used in these magical Abraxus amulets and papyri, but also the names of the patriarchs as well as archangels – Iao, Eloai, Adonai, Sabaoth, Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Onoel, Ananoel, Raphael, etc. Jewish forms were not the only ones placed on these amulets, mind you – everyone was fair game, including the Persian, Egyptian and of course Greek deities and none of them were serpentine war chickens either. If Yahweh was actually equated with a serpentine war chicken, then so was the Persian Mithras* (god of truth and justice, cattle, harvest and water), the Greek Venus (goddess of love and sexuality), and the Egyptian gods Thoth (god of knowledge and literacy) and Anubis (embalming god, protector of dead) as well as many others – as you can see, there really wasn’t a common theme in who got put on the amulet.

It’s absolutely no different than what we see in I Corinthians 12:2-3 –

You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

where we see a situation where the Name of Messiah is being spoken in conjunction with curses, as well as with pagan practices. It sounds strange because it seems as though Paul is stating that it is impossible for someone who is not saved and filled with the Holy Spirit to say that Yeshua is Lord – but we all know that isn’t true! What’s impossible, is for someone to perform quite another act with the blessings and authority of the Holy Spirit.

Bruce W Winter suggests (based on LXX scholarship into language usage throughout the Deuteronomy curses pg 175) that the phrase is not “curse Jesus (Yeshua)” but instead “Jesus curse!” In fact, in Corinth alone, 27 curse tablets have been unearthed – calling on the pronunciation of a deity’s name in order to induce them to curse (or counter-curse) one’s enemies. This was an ancient practice among pagans and becoming believers evidently did little (if anything) to change this belief.

Here is an example of this thought process in action from a Coptic Christian curse tablet (and it sounds frightening in the way it presumptuously orders God around):

“Any person, every one., who adjures bad things upon me and every one who calls my name evil, and those who curse me…. God WILL perform MY judgment against them all… You SHALL bring all of them down… The cherubim, the seraphim, the ten thousand angels and archangels SHALL appeal to the God of Heaven and Earth and He SHALL perform MY judgment against everyone who opposes me. Anyone who curses me, You MUST bring down and abandon him to demons. Yes true, beloved savior.”

Dang. #gotagrudge?

I ask you, how can someone call Yeshua Lord and then boss Him around demanding that He curse their enemies? That isn’t the Holy Spirit they are calling on to enact those curses, no sirree bob. That being said, I once had a social media contact who bragged about cursing her grandma to death in Yeshua’s Name (she was a Pentecostal who was claiming to keep Torah but evidently forgot all the parts in there about loving folks and honoring parents). Couldn’t hit that block button fast enough.

Not only do papyri contain these curses, but so do graves (kept grave robbers at bay… mostly). Cursing was a huge part of the ancient world of magic, it was very much cultural and accepted. As with anything, just because divine names were co-opted by pagans – well, it doesn’t make the Name itself pagan – if anything, it lends legitimacy to that Name. Why would Jews NOT use the Name of God in their gnostic magic rituals if they indeed believed that was the Name of power? Why would early Christians not use the name of Yeshua in curse tablets if they held a belief in the power of that Name? Like everything, it all ties into what things meant to them and of course, in magic rituals it was 100% about pronunciation and ritual. To perform a curse, one needed a tablet with the formula, and to perform magic rituals, one would want an amulet. In pagan magic rituals, pronunciation = power = authority. You would go with the real thing, or you’d go home.

yehwehNow as for the specific charges listed on this meme (which I edited to remove the name of the ministry who made it – I do not attack ministries so please do not do so in the comments) –

Is the anguiped (abraxas) is a chicken-snake war god – the answer is absolutely not. I can’t find a shred of real evidence anywhere. This is the big problem with simply looking at an amulet, or anything ‘pagan,’ and making assumptions. Yes, the Greek Tetragrammaton is on a pagan amulet, but so are many other names in the same exact format – it is only if we ignore that, that we can even begin to equate Iao with a chicken god – I hope you get that we actually have to ignore the overwhelming cultural and visual evidence (which I will get to in a bit here) in order to argue this point. Context sorts out the bad information from the good. In the same way, a little bit of medical knowledge can lead us to think we are dying, but in the larger context, we realize that our bodies are sometimes actually operating within normal parameters.

Iaoue wasn’t some late date Gnostic construct that was created by Gnostics to describe anything – it was simply a reflection of their recognition of a Name of power – and yes, people that wrote Gnostic documents used those names. Of course, they would!

On the surface, we might see a serpentine war chicken – but what did the ancient Corinthians see? They saw a representation of powers through symbolism. A rooster’s head meant something to them – namely vigilance (crowing) and foresight (they stand taller than other birds and discern morning before there is any light in the sky – unfortunately). The flail is seen commonly in antiquity as the symbol of power and authority. The shield is not a weapon of war but of protection, defense, and wisdom. Serpents are routinely associated with knowledge, cleverness, and guile – but this is not a serpentine war chicken, this is a man with the head of a cock, carrying the flail of divine authority, the shield of wisdom – and from the waist down he has some pretty messed up snake legs. This all meant something specific to them – it was the Greco-Roman way to be figurative in their displays of divinity, not necessarily accurate. Gnosticism was about esoteric knowledge, and the abraxas motifs fit right in. Hellenism was about promoting concepts, and as it was focused on wisdom and perfection it was as infectious as the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

As for the name of that thing – Abraxas? Scholars admit that all they have are guesses as to what it actually means.

As with anything, we need to be deeply familiar with the things that we teach others. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than with those who ‘teach’ about ancient paganism without intensive studying – how things appear to us are generally 180 degrees off from what it really was to them. I liken it to a person with some aches going onto the internet and learning that they are dying, only to go to the ER and find out that they were simply a bit dehydrated. A little bit of knowledge is the devil’s playground – so if we really want to understand, we need to do the hard research – which generally takes a lot of time, dedication, a willingness to accept that people have not always thought the thoughts that we think now, and in my experience, it takes money as well because the real experts generally don’t give their knowledge away for free (and the book publishers wouldn’t allow them to anyway).

*Note: this is Persian Mithras – for an interesting scholarly article on the Roman Mithras by Roger Beck, Professor Emeritus, U. Toronto, a recognized scholar in Mithraism, click here and he is the author of The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire which I have been perusing through. His writings explore the evidence that we actually have in existence of both Persian and Roman Mithras (sadly very little except iconography and inscriptions, no written records of beliefs – that’s the problem with mystery religions, they purposefully kept them mysterious, go figure, they weren’t very accommodating to future historians) and the difficulties of saying exactly what they believed or what they did in spite of the legends that have popped up




Pagan or Cultural?

paganOne of the more frustrating aspects of teaching Biblical context is dealing with those who misunderstand the difference between cultural expressions of respect, and pagan worship so I want to talk about it today. It’s really an incredibly important distinction to make because of all the memes and posts I see about “paganism” out there on the internet, it is the third-most common factor among them (the first, of course, being the passing on of unsubstantiated claims- but that’s the common denominator in the posting of almost everything on social media, from political attacks to outright spoof stories from parody sites, and second would be the lack of understanding between the idea of actual “pagan” worship involving literal graven images and the symbols (click the link for yesterday’s amazing archaeological announcement related to this subject) that at one time or another have been associated with the cultures who worshiped false gods).

So how do we know what qualifies as “pagan” (Note: I do not agree with the usage of this term as it doesn’t mean “pertaining to the worship of false gods” as it is commonly used – but simply means the member of a non-mainstream religious group and by that definition Muslims are not pagans – however I will use it for clarity sake)?

A commonly misappropriated verse of scripture is Deut 12:29-31

29 “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

God has certainly told us how He desires to be worshiped, but there are things that are *unique* to the worship of other gods that we are not to do for Him. Child sacrifice would be at the top of that list, along with ritual prostitution, sacrificing inappropriate animals, women priestesses and for that matter the taking of priests from anywhere other than a specified bloodline (which the Romans violated), choosing kings from the inappropriate bloodline, having sacred groves, making altars outside of the designated place, making idols and serving them (they literally did serve them, the Temple staff would bathe, feed and put their idols to bed in their temple ‘home away from cosmic home’) – that sort of thing.

However, there are things done for God that are also done on behalf of other gods – animal sacrifice (goats, sheep and cattle), offering up prayers and petitions, swearing oaths in His Name, bowing and prostrating oneself, building a temple, having sacred furniture and holy offices, burning incense, and lighting lamps, singing hymns, and doing good works to His oppressed and vulnerable ones, as well as general acts of obedience.

Throughout the Ancient Near Eastern and First Century world, we see common methods of rendering honor – and the concept of rendering honor is important because there are going to be standard ways by which all gods are going to be honored. Pagans would have recognized the same legitimate ways of rendering honor, whether it was to man or gods, that Israelites would have. There are things that you did to honor God and men, and things you did to shame them. If the ways of honoring the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were entirely unique to His worship – then they would not have been honoring Him in the eyes of the Nations, who looked at their actions and said, “Wow, these guys really know how to honor their god, He must be a mighty god indeed!” Instead, they would have been like, “What the heck are they doing? Is that barbeque? Those idiots are waving sheaves of barley like madmen and what is that smell? Some weird perfume – are they smoking in that little tent?”

So I did a social media post the other day because of something I noticed about the way that Dagan, the Philistine god of agriculture and death (those two concepts were often tied together in the ANE, even Yeshua said that a seed ‘dies’ in the ground – it isn’t scientifically accurate but it is what they thought because they weren’t scientific minded but spiritual minded – Yeshua spoke to them according to what they could understand, He did not come to teach science but instead God’s truth) was honored through the intermediary of his idol in Mari. His priests would take perfumed oil and bathe his feet and I immediately saw the honor that they were rendering to that god – and yes, honor rendered to Dagan is idolatry, of course – and made the connection to what Mary did to Yeshua’s feet right after He raised her brother from the dead. She was rendering that same cultural honor – bathing the feet in ‘ointment’ which was a spikenard oil. Some folks got a bit upset because they mistook her rendering honor to Yeshua for doing something inherently pagan – but why should we consider rendering honor in and of itself necessarily pagan in nature? Why do we not simply accept it for what it was? We know from Scripture that to wash someone’s feet was to render them honor, and so to oil and perfume them was an even greater honor. Mary was treating Yeshua like a King and like the Son of God, but if we have it in our heads that every sort of way to give honor is pagan we will end up chasing our tails. Chasing “paganism” has become an epidemic, and the fruit of it is generally over-reaching skepticism and contempt – people become obsessed with rooting it out, and with being offended over any possible instance of it but often without really studying it out and really looking into the ancient mindset (which was nothing like our own – it was NOT possible to commit idolatry accidentally, it took effort and intent).

There is absolutely nothing that I or anyone can legitimately do for YHVH that was not also done for other gods – because honor is honor, and there were legitimate ways to give honor in the ancient world. We have lost sight of this and so we tend to cry pagan when we see some expressions of respect. It really did bother me before I learned to make this distinction, and throughout the Word we see YHVH referred to by epithets that were specifically used to describe other gods. Were those epithets pagan in nature – as in when YHVH was called the Rider on the clouds in Psalm 104 (that was also the designation for Ba’al)? Are compliments inherently pagan in nature, or are they cultural? There are very frankly things done to other gods that YHVH loves to have done for Himself, when, where and how He specified it be done. There are things that are done to worship Him that are not found in the Torah but instead found in the Psalms – cultural expressions of adoration that didn’t need to be written in the Torah because everyone knew how to honor a god – that’s why He went to great lengths to specifically tell them which ways to exclude. Now sometimes we do need to learn precisely what was meant by those prohibitions or else we will sort of expand them to include anything that sort of sounds equivalent to our modern sensibilities and start whacking people on social media because of the way something sounds in English. Jeremiah 10 is the most prominent example (especially if one limits themselves to a few verses out of context) – if one hasn’t studied ancient idolatry and the actual manufacture of the big city idols of Mesopotamia, it is easy to decide it means something else entirely. The problem is, where do we stop – and how do we tell other people not to inject modern meanings into scripture if we ourselves are doing it? How do we dare eat cheeseburgers when there are those who say that “Do not boil a kid in it’s mother’s milk,” prohibits it, but only outside of the ANE idolatrous context of the Canaanite ritual? We cannot criticize Mishnaic rulings out of one side of our mouths while doing it ourselves with our own creative spiritual applications.

You know, it really is okay to just admit that we don’t understand how they thought and lived and what things meant to them. What’s not okay is to presume that everything written to an ancient, spiritual, communal, nomadic people living in a henotheistic reality is going to make sense to a modern, scientific, individualistic, settled audience living with a monotheistic worldview. What’s really not fair is to read the Scriptures in English according to our modern mindsets and to assume that the vast differences in culture don’t seriously influence the integrity of what we think we are seeing written. We need to be really humble, and to make sure we know what we teach before we hold people accountable to our interpretations of Scripture. After all, how would our interpretations be superior to those 1000 years ago? 1500 years ago? The ways people think and the things they do have changed radically – so why are our interpretations based on our modern culture better than those of what was “modern” in the middle ages? Unless we are taking into account what we have now that they didn’t, archaeological context, we really can’t!

Now, before someone nails me to the wall (as has been done recently) – no one who knows me seriously thinks that I approve of Christmas or Easter, or celebrate them, or even want to. We have legitimate Feasts that we are commanded to keep with God forever as His children and they are enough for me. Christmas and Easter are both traditions (of questionable European origins) that I want no part of and there is no real way to honor God by ignoring His chosen celebrations and creating new ones. That wouldn’t fly in our own homes and it isn’t going to work in His Household. But we have to be careful when using words like pagan and idolatrous because they mean really precise things – like grace, holiness, covenant and a whole host of other things that are often cultural and very specific in nature but which we have been taught to spiritualise away. The Mishnah actually has a great write-up on what constitutes idolatry in Tractate Sanhedrin and let me tell you they were dead serious about idolatry (Kehati has a great commentary on it)! When we do not know what things mean, we can make them mean whatever it is that we want them to mean and hold people to standards that are misinformed and oftentimes unreasonable.

I have noticed that this time of year, many believers get completely derailed by hunting down paganism and oftentimes post things that are inflammatory, untrue and unfruitful all mixed in with things that are true – and then people make decisions to stop doing things they love for the wrong reason, which means that in their heart they never really stopped. That was me ten years ago – I gave up Christmas and Easter because people told me they were bad (and gave me illegitimate reasons why) but they never replaced them with anything. You want to know why I really gave them up after starting to celebrate them again years later? The Feasts of the Lord – once I discovered them I didn’t want the counterfeits and now I would never dream of going back. We should want people to keep the Feasts so that we can honor God in the ways that He has commanded, in the ways that teach us and our children about the Messiah, but it is really easy to get sidetracked away from that and to just focus on Christmas and Easter instead – to be more against Christmas and Easter than we are for God and His Feasts. People get trapped in the mode of being “against” what they hate and they forget how to be “for” what we are called to love, and then they slip back into the same trap we were in before we found Torah. A lot of us, when we came to Torah, got angry when folks wouldn’t listen to ‘reason’ – they wanted to defend their beliefs and would believe anything that they read in support of what they believed, no matter how much proof we would supply. Then when we latch onto something we want to believe that might not be true, oftentimes we do the exact same thing – we will argue with anyone or anything, no matter how much proof someone might offer that we could be mistaken. We really don’t change much – even though we would like to think we do. The deal is – when we have an emotional need to believe something, whether it is rooted in fear, or hatred or pride, or just the jealous protection of beloved memories – we are blinded and there is only one cure for it. We need to realize it and ask to have sight – and we need to keep asking and never stop. Not only that, but when we are passionate about something, we need to stop and examine if it is a holy passion, or one rooted in flesh – God is generally the only one who knows for sure.

Have a wonderful week.