Kefa’s Vision in Acts 10: A Genre-Sensitive Analysis

acts 10 visionDid HaShem really mean for Kefa (Peter) to eat monkeys, vultures, and venomous cobras when He showed him the vision of Acts 10?  There is a phenomenon in Scripture that evades many who understand that passage as an abrogation of Torah (esp. of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) and the Prophets (e.g. Isaiah 66:17). It is a literary device which has precedent apart from that passage (as well as within it).  That phenomenon is the Hebraic convention of describing persons as animals (food animals or non-food animals) or even as edible plant products to illustrate a point, i.e. a special class of metaphor.  Scripture bears examples of both.

It should not really strike us as unthinkable that people could be compared with food or animals, as we do the same thing in English. [1]  We can also find Messiah Yeshua Himself calling certain of the Pharisees “vipers” (Matthew 23:33) and referring to those who are hostile to His Truth as “dogs” and “swine” (Matthew 7:6).  He also uses two clean animals, i.e. goats and sheep, in order to categorize persons in the eschatological framework of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 25:31-46).  In this judgment oracle, the goats are consigned to everlasting punishment and the sheep to everlasting life (v. 46).

image source: Dr. Oded Lipschits, Tel Aviv University

image source: Dr. Oded Lipschits, Tel Aviv University (op. cit.)

This is not solely a convention of the B’rit Chadashah (apostolic Testament), however.  We find this same phenomenon in the poetic constructions of Yirmeyahu’s report at 24:1-10 of his canonical work (see summary statement in graphic at right).  Figs are generally a food item, but the statement in Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 24 attests to the success of the Babylonian strategy to exile only the social, religious, military, and economic “elites” from Judah, in order to deprive them of certain essential skill sets (2 Kings 24:15-16).  All totaled, about 10,000 were removed to exile of a population of approximately ten times that number. [2]

This same type of metaphor appears in Acts 10:9-35.  Those who take this passage as a “blanket permission” (pun intended) to eat pigs, lizards, and rats have to divorce verses 9-15 from the fuller context in order to arrive at that conclusion.  Reading to the end of the pericope, however, brings the reader to Shim’on Kefa (Peter)’s realization of the actual meaning of the vision of the treif (unclean) animals on the sheet.  Verses 17 and 18 tells us that it has yet to be explained:

“Kefa was still puzzling over the meaning of the vision he had seen when the men Cornelius had sent, having inquired for Shim’on’s house. stood at the gate and called out to ask if Shim’on was staying there.” (CJB)

Reading on, we find that the meaning is covered quite clearly in vv. 28, 34-35:

“He [Kefa] said to them, ‘You are well aware that for a man who is a Jew to have close association with someone who belongs to another people, or to come and visit him, is something that just isn’t done.  But God has shown me not to call any person common or unclean’….  Then Kefa addressed them: ‘I now understand that God does not play favorites, but that whoever fears him and does what is right [Torah] is acceptable to him, no matter what people he belongs to.”  (CJB)

canned possumKefa realized and articulated plainly that the vision was not about eating poisonous or otherwise unclean animals at all; it was about Gentile-inclusivity.  “Stop treating as unclean what God has made clean” (v. 15) refers to Gentile converts to the faith, not to creamed possum in coon fat gravy… or any other animal which was not intended for human consumption.  Dr. Friedman notes,

“He did not, according to the text, draw the conclusion that he should stop eating kosher food….  We can be thankful that the book of Acts interprets his vision for us in the continuation of the text.  Acts 10:28 describes Shim’on’s conclusion of the message of the vision….” [3]

Visions, like any other prophetic oracle, must be interpreted according to their genre.  In the exegetical methodology prescribed by Willem VanGemeren, the first and foremost point is this: “Be sensitive to the prophetic imagery.” [4] To interpret a passage divorced from its genre is just as ghastly an error as to sever it from its context.

Leviticus 19.34When proper hermeneutical principles and exegetical processes are applied, it cannot be interpreted any other way than that Kefa’s vision was a message advocating equal treatment for Jew and Gentile alike in the Body of Messiah, a message with Torah roots just as deep as they can get, both with regard to one Torah Standard for Jew and Gentile alike (cp. Exodus 12:49; Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:16, 29; see also Matthew 5:17-19; 7:21-23; 1 John chapters 2-3) and regarding equality of treatment for both alike (Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:19; see also Ezekiel 47:22; Galatians 3:28).

References & Notes

  1. Michiel Korthals, “Food as a Source and Target of Metaphors: Inclusion and Exclusion of Foodstuffs and Persons through Metaphors,” Confgurations  16 (2008): 77–92.  [read online]
  2. Oded Lipschits, “Course Lecture 3.5: Babylonian Arrangements in Judah after Jehoiachim’s Deportation,” The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem (Tel Aviv, Israel: Tel Aviv University, Fall 2014).
  3. David Friedman, They Loved the Torah: What Yeshua’s First Followers ReallyThought about the Law (Baltimore: Lederer, 2001), 62-64.
  4. Willem A. VanGemeren, “Oracles of Salvation,” in D. Brent Sandy & Ronald L. Giese, Jr (eds), Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting the Literary Genres of the Old Testament (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 146.

On the Use of Secular References in Scripture

Many years ago, when my faith was yet “new,” I was shocked to learn that there are numerous quotes in Scripture (and/or allusions) from pagan and other secular writings.  I embarked on a study at that time into the context in which these secular sources are cited in the Holy Writings, and I reproduce the findings thereof here.

References to Historical Records

Numbers 21:14 refers to the Book of the Wars of YHWH, an apparently ancient work (pre-15th Century BCE) no longer available and not referenced in any other extant work but the Torah.  What seems to be a community conduct code is mentioned at 1 Samuel 10:25, i.e. Book of Statutes (aka 3 Samuel).

There is also reference to two royal annals which have disappeared from modern access: Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (1 Kings 14:19; 14:29; 16:20; & often in Kings).  These seem to be records from the time of Jeroboam and Rehoboam.  The Annals of King David (1 Chronicles 27:24) and the Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41) are also cited lost works.

2 Chronicles speaks of the Book of Shemaiah and The Annals of the Prophet Iddo (9:29; 12:15; 13:22), neither of these currently extant.

Uncertain References

There are several references in Scripture to works which may be unknown, or may actually be ancient monikers for portions of the Scriptures themselves.

  • Acts of Samuel the Seer, possibly 1 & 2 Samuel (ref. at 1 Chron 29:29)
  • Prophecy of Ahijah, possibly 1 Kings 14:2–18 (ref. at 2 Chron 9:29)
  • Book of Jehu, possibly 1 Kings 16:1–7 (ref. at 2 Chron 20:34)
  • Vision of Isaiah, possibly the canonical Book of Isaiah (2 Chron 32:32)

matthew 5:43-45Another uncertain reference is found in Matthew 5:43, where Messiah Yeshua seems to quote some work (certainly not, as we tend to understand its meaning, a reflection of Scripture nor Talmud) which advocated an attitude of “hate your enemy.”  Hatred for one’s enemies, per the usual definition, is a precept foreign to Pharisaic Judaism (under the umbrella of which Messianic Judaism falls, per Yeshua in Matthew 23:1-3), adherents of which mourn the death of enemies (Pessikta K 189a; Job 31:29-30) and forbids seeking revenge (Leviticus 19:18; Proverbs 20:22; 24:29) or even “abhoring” (hating) one’s enemy (Deuteronomy 23:8).

Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, for he is thy brother; thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land” (JPS 1917).

Many have insisted that this is a reference to DSM 1:3f from the Dead Sea Scrolls, considered by most to be an Essene product, which indicates that members should properly harbor hatred toward all enemies of that community, i.e “sons of darkness.”

Rabbi and scholar Pinchas Lapide, however, questions whether that document is the true source behind the reference.   He suggests, “In Jesus’ time the Qumran sect [Yachad] was too young, too distant, and too small to be presumed to have been a norm — or antinorm — in Galilee.” [1]  It is becoming more widely recognized among scholars that the alleged Qumran connection is untenable.  Lapide suggests, instead, a possible connection with Deuteronomy 21:15, where “hated” simply means “loved less than” (ibid., 86).  It may possibly connect to Malachi 1:2-3 as well, where the verb “hated” is better rendered “have not enter into covenant with.”

Pseudepigraphal References

There was a popular genre of fiction en vogue from about the 2nd Century BCE to about the 8th Century CE (though waning the last few centuries of that epoch) called pseudepigrapha.  characterized by the attribution of the name of a well-known figure from the past to one’s work in order to explore what that person might have said on a subject he or she had never addressed. [2]  Pseudepigraphy (false attribution) was a literary device that was well understood by the audience, and in most cases no deception was intended by it (though modern audiences can tend to be confused by the device).  Some pseudepigraphal works, however, clearly overlap with the “propaganda” genre and are intended to deceive, e.g. the agenda-driven Letter of Aristeas (written to spread the fabricated “story” of the creation of the Septuagint).

Popular examples of this fictional genre of writing include the Book of Jasher (referenced at Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18) [3] and the Book of Enoch (i.e. 1 Enoch, alluded to in 2 Peter and Jude).  Both of these contain passages that blatantly contradict Scripture (e.g. 1 Enoch 10:1 reporting that Enoch was instructed to go speak to Noach when he had been raptured 69 years before Noach’s birth).  But, the original audience knew they were reading fiction and thus did not hold it to the standard of Scripture, just as we do not expect theological inerrancy out of a religious-themed novel like The Chosen (Chaim Potok) or The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkein).  Likewise, no one reads Jewish author Yudl Rosenberg’s novel and comes away believing “golems” are anything but fictitious creatures invented for entertainment. [4]

Other Pseudepigraphical works referenced in Scripture include Assumption of Moses (Jude 9), Life of Adam and Eve (2 Corinthians 11:14; 12:2), and Martyrdom of Isaiah (Hebrews 11:37), as well as (probably) the Book of Gad the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29).

Writings from Pagan Cultures

The previously mentioned works are at least Jewish, but what do we do with quotations from or allusion to works that are clearly pagan?  Esther and Nehemiah make mention of a Persian document titled the Chronicles of King Ahasueras (Esther 2:23; 6:1; 10:2; Nehemiah 12:23).



More problematic is that Sha’ul (Paul) quotes from Menander’s Thais (1 Corinthians 15:33 — “Bad company corrupts good character”), Epimenides’s De Oraculis (Titus 1:12–13), and Aratus’s Phaenomena (Acts 17:28) — all three of which are pagan penmen.  Menander was a comedy-playwright (3rd-4th Century BCE), Aratus was a poet and astrologer (3rd-4th Century BCE), and Epimenides (referenced as “the Cretans’ own prophet”) was, besides being a pagan seer, also a reknowned Greek philosopher (6th-7th Century BCE).  Aratus wrote the line “For in you we live and move and have our being” for the chief god of the Greek pantheon, which Paul acknowledges with the qualifier, “some of your poets among you have said….”


It is not necessarily an endorsement for canonicity for a Biblical writer to reference a non-canonical work.  It is more an indictment of the audience missing an important truth that “even this secular work recognizes” (the thrust of the citation).  We would certainly not claim that Paul is declaring the writings of Epimenides or Menander to be Scripture by quoting or alluding to them any more than we would say that Pastor Joe quoting from C. S. Lewis is declaring The Chronicles of Narnia to be Scripture.  There is an illustrative use of these texts that we should be careful not to mistake for wholesale endorsement or advocacy of canonization.  The important thing to remember is that these works are not being endorsed wholesale by the authors and Author of Scripture, and thus should not be used a lens for interpreting Scripture.  While they may, perhaps, provide historical-cultural background, they are not (for good reasons) inspired Scripture and should not be exalted as such.

Notes and References

  1. Pinchas E. Lapide, “And I Say to You,” (Orbis Books, 1986; online:, 85.
  2. Michael E. Stone, “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” Jewish Virtual Library (online:; S.v. ψευδεπίγραφος, Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon(online:  Nota bene: Though some parts of Stone’s article are flawed, his definition of pseudepigrapha (comprising the 3rd paragraph) is accurate and in agreement with Liddell & Scott (as indicated here) and with responsible 2nd Temple scholarship in general.
  4. A criticism was made recently of the present author that “to call any Jewish book fiction is anti-Semitic.”  I would answer that charge with a question.  Does this mean that no Jew is ever permitted to write a work of fiction, or that everything any Jew ever writes (Sigmund Freud, Woody Allen, etc.) must be regarded as inerrant or else the person recognizing that, for example, Yudl Rosenberg’s “golems” are fictitious is a Nazi?  If a Jew writes a fiction piece, intending it to be fiction, it is not “anti-Semitic” to place it in the genre the author intended it to be under, and it does not “weaken Judaism” for a Jew to write in a fiction genre.

On this Rock… ܐܒܢܝܗ ܠܥܕܬܝ

upon this rockThere has been at least a thousand years of debate over the meaning of Yeshua’s response to the Petrine Confession (Matthew 16:13-20).

First, a history of interpretation is in order.  In Catholic thought, it is Peter himself who is the rock, and the institution built upon that rock is the Roman Church.  Eastern Orthodoxy offers a similar understanding, but insists that the institution built upon Peter is the Orthodox Church.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProtestantism has argued from at least as far back as the Reformation that the rock is not Peter the person, but rather his statement that Yeshua is the Messiah and Son of the Living G-d (Matthew 16:16).  This position expands the institution beyond one particular denomination and identifies the “ἐκκλησία” as the Universal Body of Believers.

Biblicists have maintained that given the practice of the Septuagint (LXX) translators to render the Hebrew words קָהָל and קְהִלָּה with the Greek ἐκκλησία, a more faithful translation of the latter would be to anchor it to the historical understanding of the Hebrew terms as meaning “Israel,” i.e. an entity which had been in existence long before Matthew 16 was penned… centuries before.  As Koine Greek does not have verbal tense, the future tense does not need to be assumed in the verb, and it can properly be read as an ongoing action begun at some moment in the distant past.

Possibly giving weight to this understanding, besides the sheer linguistic sense that it makes, is the rabbinical midrash suggesting that Avraham had been told by HaShem:

“You are the rock upon which I will build the universe.”

Dwight Pryor conveyed the above statement at a conference of the Center for Jewish-Christian Studies in Jerusalem.  These positions all have their proponents and adherents… but today, another angle (new to me, but apparently in the air for over 20 years now) was pointed out to me.  Dr. Roy Blizzard posted the following statement with regard to Yeshua’s debated oracle:

“… you all need to keep on mind that this statement was made in HEBREW…NOT Greek. In Hebrew it is Kahal…or congregation, however…after the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls many scholars in Israel believe it was Edah, which means witnessing body. It could have been either but I tend to lean toward Edah…from lehaid, to witness or to tell.” (italics added)

Khabouris Matthew 16Upon reading this, I turned immediately to a codex reportedly copied from a manuscript dated to 165 CE, i.e. the Khabouris Codex.  What I found there aligns with Dr. Blizzard’s statement.  The word so often translated “church” is actually the Aramaic equivalent to עֵדָה (edah) — ܥܕܬܝ.  It is important to note that this word is also translated by the Greek ἐκκλησία in LXX.

The preceding verb, generally rendered “I will build…,” appears in a language which does not have verbal tense (it is verbal-aspect-intensive), so all it communicates is imperfectiveness (incomplete action, or even ongoing action).  Besides the futuristic rendering, other possible understandings of the imperfect aspect expressed in the form ܐܒܢܝܗ would be “I am building” or “I have been building.”  Given this insight, we might better translate Yeshua’s response:

“I also say to you that you are Kefa, and upon this rock[-solid statement], I have been building my Body of Witnesses….”

This shift does not move us a great distance from the Protestant reading, but it does remove the problematic word “church” (derived from the Latin “circus”).

The appeal of this rendering is that it is Gentile-inclusive without being anti-Semitic, maintaining the Bible’s incontrovertible Israel-centricity in affirming the same understanding of the Olive Tree held by the Apostle Sha’ul (Paul).  The confirmation found in the Peshitta (Khabouris Codex), an ancient witness, establishes that this view could not be deemed a wretched NDU (new doctrinal understanding).  It seems to dodge all the usual bullets and harmonize the text in view with the Whole Counsel of Scripture.  Baruch HaShem!

Parashat Bereshit Studies

Garden Temple

The following course handout is a brief introduction to the view posited by archaeologist Ernest L. Martin with regard to the probability that the structure of the Garden (and greater Eden) was a representation and reflection of the Heavenly Temple, and that Adam and Even were installed (placed) into it as priests with the duty to “labor in the Torah and to keep its commandments.”  The popularity of this view has moved far beyond Dr. Martin, and though popularized in large part by him, did not originate with him.  His charts are used simply because he has charts (and most other proponents do not).  The footnote on the handout below indicates a fairly ancient presentation of the view in Targum Neophyti, generally thought to be a product of the 1st or 2nd Century CE [1], though some place it as late as the 4th. [2]

Click images below to pull up PDF versions for printing or easier reading.
(all documents attached to this page are copyright 2011 by Brian Tice)

Garden Temple pdfNephilim

At the tail end of this week’s parashah, we encounter an obscure word: “nephilim.” [3]  This word occurs only three times in the canon of Scripture — once at Bereshit/Genesis 6:4 and twice in B’midbar/Numbers 13:33 (with two different spellings in the latter passage).  This word has been a cause for confusion and contention for many centuries, but it need not be.

The two different spellings for the word are best explained as a defective (incomplete) spelling and a maley (plene) spelling, since both are encountered in the same verse in B’midbar and are obviously both referring to the same class of people.  It is helpful, linguistically, that we have both spellings, in terms of identification of the shoresh (root).  Though it has been claimed, principally by James Strong, that the shoresh of nephilim (נְפִילִים ,נְפִלִים) is naphal (נָפַל), the forms found as substantivals in Genesis and Numbers cannot be found in any conjugation patterns known to occur in a I-nun Hebrew verb, and thus it is grammatically impossible for נָפַל to be the shoresh.

To be a substantival derivative of a verbal root, a participial form would have to be in view (which is what Strong claims in his interpretation of “fallen ones”).  The Hebrew plural participial forms for I-nun verbs, however, include neither of the forms נְפִלִים and נְפִילִים as possibilities.  The masculine plural passive forms required for the rendering of “fallen ones” (across the various binyanim) would be naphulim (Gp-stem), niphalim (N-stem), nuphalim (Hp-stem).  None of these matches the forms encountered in Bereshit/Genesis 6 or B’midbar 13. [4]  Koutoupis, in agreement with my own analysis, asserts, “…with an understanding of biblical Hebrew, it is physically impossible for naphal to ever form nephilim…. Understanding Hebrew grammar, naphal can never be its root.” [5]  The roots palalpala’, and palah (in the niphal stem) have also been proposed, but the same conjugation issues found in attempting to use naphash equally plague those three roots.  None of the paradigms allow for any of them to produce a derivative in the form nephilim.

Qumran Cave 4

Qumran Cave 4

It is, however, very easy to get from the Aramaic noun נְפִיל (untimely birth, not viable, something outside of G-d’s design) to the plural noun we find in these passages (נְפִילִים) by changing the Aramaic plural ending to the Hebrew one.  In fact, in the Aramaic text of the Genesis Apocryphon from the Qumran cache, we find the word spelled just as we find it in the maley form in Numbers 13:33, but with the Aramaic ending. [6]  It is not an absurd jump to allow for an Aramaic word to occur in the Torah, since we have other words already well-established as being loanwords throughout the Torah — most from Egyptian, admittedly, but we do encounter a clearly Aramaic term in the Hebrew text of Genesis 31:47, i.e. the place-name יְגַ֖ר שָׂהֲדוּתָ֑א (Yegar Sahadutha; i.e. “stone-pile of testimony”), which is the much simpler גַּלְעֵֽד in Hebrew. [7]

The reading of nephilim  as fallen angels (which is the agenda behind Strong’s insistence upon the shoresh being נָפַל) fails on every level.  The p’shat (simple) reading of Genesis 6:4 even tells us that the nephilim are not fallen angels.  It does not matter how “sons of G-d” is interpreted, the nephilim are a different group of people (or beings depending on your interpretation).  Even if one understands the “sons of G-d” to be fallen from heaven, the nephilim (their offspring) are not.  They are born on earth. [8]  Other issues with this “demon-spawn” view are listed on page 1 of the summary sheet found provided below.  Girdlestone’s contribution to the confusion is his assertion that nephilim is a hiphil (H) participle from naphal, suggesting a meaning of  “those that cause others to fall down.”  The obvious problem with his theory is that the hiphil form would actually be manphilim, not nephilim.

An actual substantival participle that would (and does) derive from naphal (נָפַל) is indeed attested in Scripture, but absolutely not in the context of “giants,” “demon-spawn,” or “alien-human hybrids.”  The participle nophelim (נֹפְלִים) occurs in Ezekiel 32:27, where (of course) human beings are in view [9], i.e., “… the mighty men who fall from among the circumcised [Gentiles] and are gone down to Sheol with their weapons….”  Were that verb in view, this would be a form that would convey the meaning sought by naphal-proponents.

Most attempts to make the nephilim into demon-spawn rely on the pseudepigraphical book of 1 Enoch (generally simply called Enoch in the commentaries and journals).  It must first be understood what genre of literature Enoch is.  Pseudepigrapha is a genre popular from the 2nd century BCE to the 8th Century CE characterized by the attribution of the name of a well-known figure from the past to one’s work in order to explore what that person might have said on a subject he or she had never addressed. [10]  Pseudepigraphy (false attribution) was a literary device that was well understood by the audience, and in most cases no deception was intended by it (though modern audiences can tend to be confused by the device).  Some pseudepigraphic works, however, clearly overlap with the “propaganda” genre and are intended to deceive, e.g. the agenda-driven Letter of Aristeas (written to spread the fabricated “story” of the creation of the Septuagint).  The now-popular Book of Jasher is likewise classified as a pseudepigraphon. [11]

Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel

Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel

Medieval discussions of the nephilim and “sons of G-d” primarily held that human subjects were in view.  Rabbi Don Yitzchak ben Yehuda Abarbanel insisted on this in the 15th Century. [12]  The principal deviant from this view is the Kabbalistic (Jewish mysticism) text the Zohar (1:58a).  Dr. Kaiser’s observation in regard to the Greek translations is that of the several variant Septuagints, only one (the Alexandrian recension) inserts “angels” into its translation of the text.  Rahlf’s authoritative critical edition shows that the rest do not. [13]  Bernard Bamberger, regarding the fallen angel interpretation, asserts, “As this dualistic myth does not appear in the apocalypses of Baruch and Esdras nor in the aggadah of the talmudic period, it was apparently rejected as incompatible with Jewish monotheism.” [14]  His non-Enochian view (Believer-pagan intermarriage) reflects what was dominant in the Jewish commentaries until after the release of Milton’s fictional novel Paradise Lost resurrected the Vulgate-influenced “giants” reading in 1667.

If the nephilim were giants, as the Vulgate and translations dependent upon it insist, certainly that rendering would have emerged before the 5th Century CE, but Jerome’s Vulgate (which famously translated the light which shone from Moshe’s face as “horns,” inspiring Michelangelo’s goat-horned Moses) is the first work to suggest such a reading.  That Latin work is not even consistent in its treatment of the word, translating it twice by gigantes (giants) and in the other occurrence by monstra (monsters).  If “giants” were the correct understanding, why did it take almost 2000 years for that reading to emerge (1400 BCE to 405 CE)? 

Attempts to date Enoch prior to the inception of the pseudepigrapha genre, such as the claim of postmodern Norwegian author Helge Steinar Kvanvig that the text was written in Babylon in the 6th Century BCE (three centuries before pseudepigrapha were in vogue) [15], are disingenuous and deprecated.  The discoverer of the oldest fragments of Enoch, Józef Milik, dated them to only 150-200 BCE. [16]  It should be remembered when analyzing any claim regarding the date of a text that dating a document is much like any other exegetical task in that the exegete brings with him or her certain presuppositions which often “bend” the data toward an expected result.  This is just as true in assigning a date to an archaeological element as it is in assigning a meaning to a Biblical text.  It is a phenomenon called “archaeological bias.” [17]

Since the genre is a speculative approach, guessing at what a famous figure what have to say on a matter, it is generally categorized under the meta-genre of fiction.  Pseudepigraphical works are not included in the Jewish canon, nor in the Christian canon, but these do not comprise all the non-canonical writings of the time period.  Australian scholar of Armenian studies Michael E. Stone lists examples of writings from this genre in his Jewish Virtual Library article. [18]

LXX (Septuagint) is also cited in arguments for the “fallen ones” rendering.  It should not escape our attention, though, the tendency of LXX, observed by Perlitt, to translate (especially in the Torah portions) in a quite unorthodox and deprecated manner reliant on „historisierenden Notizen des Alten Testaments mit weitgehend mythologisch in sensu stricto,“ i.e., the pollution of historical events recorded in Scripture with influence from mythological non-canonical texts.  The same source concludes „Kurzum: die Frage nach den Riesen im Alten Testament fände auf dem Wege über die griechische oder lateinische Konkordanz nur falsche Antworten,“ i.e., that the conclusion that “giants” are in view (a claim that often runs in tandem with the “fallen angel” assertion) cannot be legitimately deduced from the Hebrew text before us, or even from the Greek, as problematic as it is in its own way, but only from Jerome’s flawed Latin of the Vulgate (completed in 405 CE, nearly 2000 years after the Torah was written). [19]

The phrase from Bereshit 6:4 which is even messier to sort out is “sons of G-d” (בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים).  Most conservative scholars, however, stand in agreement that it is not a reference to promiscuous angels. [20]  Though this has been interpreted a number of ways, it is not as difficult to parse as one might suspect.  The term occurs in several passages throughout the Scriptures (both testaments), always in discussions about human beings.  A chart is provided on page 2 of the summary sheet below.

The ancientest understanding in Judaism is that the “sons of G-d” in Bereshit/Genesis 6:4 are believers (the usual meaning of the term), and the daughters of men” are pagans, and that it is the intermarriage between the two that leads to the moral corruption described in Bereshit/Genesi 6:5.  Other explanations have been bandied about, but this is the one with the greatest Scriptural support.  This is evidenced in the Bible’s use of the term בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים and its Aramaic equivalent always in where the subject is human beings (never angels or demons).  See the handouts below covering the Nephilim discussion, esp. the table on page 2.

Rabbi Shim'on bar Yochai

Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai

A slight variation on this is found among the oldest commentaries covering Bereshit, a 3rd Century BCE text titled 4Q417 (also called 4QInstruction or מוסר למבין), which informs its readers of “sons of Seth,” i.e. righteous human descendants of the Biblical figure, who “rebelled against G-d” by intermarrying with daughters of Cain.  In fact, despite the Ethiopic insistence that 1 Enoch is Scripture, the Amharic Ethiopian Orthodox Bible also presents as fact the Sethian view of the בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים (“sons of G-d”). [21]  Though it is not logically necessary, as a mandate of Scripture, for someone who is righteous to be descended from Seth rather than Cain, that seems to be among the earliest Jewish understandings. [22]  Tannaitic Sage Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai (Rashbi) taught in the 2nd Century CE, “… from Seth were born and descended all the generations of the just; from Cain were born and descended all the generations of the wicked,” and he famously and publicly cursed anyone who dared interpret the phrase בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים as anything non-human. [23]  This is the same sage who was a student of Rabbi Aqiba, father of Rabbi Eleazer bar Shim’on, and is credited with sparking and leading the revival of Torah learning following the Bar Kokhba Revolt. [24]  The table on page 2 below illustrates the reason for Rabbi Rashbi’s insistence on the בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים being human beings rather than angels or demons.

Another interpretive option is presented in the Targumim.  Onqelos, Neophyti, Symmachus, and the Samaritan all insist that the “sons of G-d” are men of the noble class.  Dr. John H. Walton is the most vocal proponent of this view in modern scholarship (see page 3 of handout below for this view).  The present author, however, finds the Enochian and alien views untenable, and prefers the position that forbidden intermarriage between Believers and pagan women is in view over the “nobility” understanding.  The present author’s view does not depend on righteous being descended from Seth, necessarily, nor on the pagan wives being from Cain, but finds the Hebrew of the text to indicate merely that Believers with pagan wives are indicated.

Below are summary sheets which provides some tables and bullet-point lists for quick reference.  Pages 1-2 are a single PDF (click page 1), and page 3 is separate (click that page to access the corresponding PDF).

Nephilim Study pdf

Nephilim Study pdf p2

More Recent Views (Nephilim)Nota bene:  The reference on page 2 (above) to Marcus Jastrow’s tome, though dated, is still the most comprehensive Aramaic lexicon available for less than $100.  It is used here not for the Rabbinical literature (which is admittedly late), but rather for Rabbi Dr. Jastrow’s attention to works from much earlier time frames than that of his immediate focus in the preparation of his work.  It is this diachronic approach which gives this lexicon value beyond the time period specifically covered by its title.  Cross-reference to Sokoloff’s several Aramaic tools uncovered no different data than found in Jastrow.  The late Dr. Jastrow was a highly-esteemed rabbi and professor at Maimonides College, and his dictionary is still widely held in high regard.

Notes & References

  1. Said to be 1st Century by Alejandro Díez Macho, Neophyti 1: Targum Palestinense MS de la Biblioteca Vaticana, Vol. 1: Genesis: Edición Príncipe, Inroducción General y Versión Castellana (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1968); but in Gabriele Boccaccini, “Targum Neofiti as a Proto-Rabbinic Document: A Systemic Analysis,” The Aramaic Bible: Targums in their Historical Context (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 254-263, a 2nd Century date is argued.
  2. Martin McNamara, Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis (The Aramaic Bible, Vol. 1A; Collegeville, Minn.: Michael Glazier, 1992).
  3. This text derives from lecture notes from a collegiate “Tanakh Exegesis” course taught by the present author in Fall 2011 (nota bene: this summary should not be taken as an exhaustive transcript of the course lecture, as such a product would amount to roughly 40 typed pages of text, i.e. an unfeasible amount for this medium… thus more interested readers should consult the works footnoted and/or take the present author’s “Tanakh Survey” course at IMTI).
  4. Duane A. Garrett & Jason S. DeRouchie, A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), Appendix 8; Allen P. Ross, Introducing Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 549; Choon-Leong Seow, A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (rev. ed.; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 346-47.
  5. Petros Koutoupis, The Nephilim: Their Origin and Evolution (Edinburgh: Graham Hancock, 2007).
  6. Florentino Garcia Martinez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition Vol. 1:Q1-4Q273 – Vol II: 4Q274-11Q31 (DVD; Logos Bible Software, 2010), Genesis Apocryphon.
  7. Miles Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Aramaic (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011), 165n1.
  8. Michael S. Heiser, The Meaning of the Word Nephilim: Fact vs. Fantasy (n.d.).  Nota bene: Though the present author disagrees with Heiser’s final conclusion, his analysis raises some important linguistic considerations.
  9. Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 21-37 (The Anchor Bible 22A; New York, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1997), 665.
  10. Michael E. Stone, “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” Jewish Virtual Library (online:; S.v. ψευδεπίγραφος, Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon (online:  Nota bene: Though some parts of this article are flawed, Stone’s definition of pseudepigrapha (comprising the 3rd paragraph) is accurate and in agreement with Liddell & Scott (as indicated here) and with responsible 2nd Temple scholarship in general.
  12. Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abarbanel, Quaest iv; Comm. in Pent. fol. 31.
  13. Walter Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 106-07.
  14. Bernard J. Bamberger, Fallen Angels: Soldiers of Satan’s Realm (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1952), 3-59.
  15. Helge Steinar Kvanvig, “Roots of Apocalyptic: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and the Son of Man;in Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament 61 (Neukirchener: Neukirchen-Vuyn, 1988).
  16. Józef T. Milik (with Matthew Black). The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976).
  17. Scott T. Carroll, Course lectures, HIS-491: Coptic Language and Early Egyptian Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Cornerstone University, Fall 2008).
  18. Michael E. Stone, “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” Jewish Virtual Library (online:  Nota bene: Though flawed in his dating of the text (agreeing with Kvanvig; cp. fn. 8), Stone is correct in classifying 1 Enoch as belonging in the pseudepigraphal genre.
  19. Lothar Perlitt, „Riesen im Alten Testament,“ in Forschungen zum Alten Testament 8 (Tübingen, 1994), 205-246.
  20. Sven Fockner, (Jun 2008), “Reopening the discussion: another contextual look at the sons of God,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32(4): 454; John Walton, Genesis, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan , 2001), 296; Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Word Biblical Commentary 1; Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987), 139, 143; et al.
  21. Ethiopian Orthodox Bible (2001); cp. H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis 1 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Wartburg Press, 1942), 250.
  22. Ibid.; 4Q417 (4QInstruction); Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai in Archie Wright, The Origin of Evil Spirits, (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 64.
  23. Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai, Pirqei de Rabbi Eleazer, 22.
  24. Ronald L. Eisenberg, Essential Figures in the Talmud (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), 227ff; citing Yev. 62b.

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)

(prepared for “Torah Foundations of our Faith” on Hebrew Nation Radio) [1]

yom kippurYom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is the traditional anniversary of Moshe appealing to HaShem for the forgiveness of Israel after the Golden Calf debacle. It is the one day a year that the sins of the nation (in a pre-Yeshua world) can be brought to HaShem by the High Priest for mass repentance and blanket forgiveness. It abrogates the sins of the past year.

I think it is interesting that the root of the word “kippur” (atonement) is first found in Scripture in the Flood account.  When the ark is coated with pitch both inside and out, that word pitch is kafor, and it comes from the same khaf-pey-resh root at the Kippur in Yom Kippur.   In both contexts, it refers to something that holds back G-d’s judgment from His people… whether in the form of the waters in the Noachian Deluge, or in the form of punishment for sin in the instance of Yom Kippur. [2]

Interestingly, “Nuchama,” in the Aramaic of the Peshitta, is used for the Resurrection. “Noach,” pronounced “Nuch” in Aramaic, thus corresponds to the meaning “resurrected,” i.e. the ultimate reward of faith in Yeshua.


cohen hagadol yom kippurThe High Priest did not wear his usual priestly vestments into the Holy of Holies. It has been suggested that the gold on the usual garment might remind HaShem of the golden calf incident  – not the thought we want to have between us and HaShem when seeking His forgiveness! The special Yom Kippur garment is white – representing purity. Just as Moshe ascended the Mount alone to ask HaShem’s forgiveness for Israel after the golden calf, so also the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies alone when HE seeks HaShem’s forgiveness for whatever sins Israel has committed since the previous year’s Yom Kippur. It is taught that Yom Kippur was the date of Moshe’s appeal to HaShem, and that is why Israel was given a special Divine audience on that particular day each year.

For one week prior to Yom Kippur, the High Priest must be sequestered from his family (just as a groom is sequestered from his bride for a full week before a Jewish wedding). He then had to immerse himself in ritual baptism before entering the Temple and wash his hands and feet an additional five times before entering the Temple to ensure his purity. There were five times this process would take place throughout the day – before each encounter with HaShem. This is because encountering HaShem would remind the priest of his failure to live completely holy, and he would re-immerse himself again in order to wash off any contaminating thought that may have entered his mind, making him unworthy of approaching his holy G-d.

The High Priest makes a sin offering (qorban chattat) of a flawless bull and confess his own sins and those of his household, and the sins of the rest of the priests. The bull must be his own, not purchased with “public funds.” After atoning for the priesthood’s sins, he can then offer a goat as a sacrifice for the sins of the nation.

He also symbolically lays the sins of the nation on the azazel goat – a second goat which is released into the desert to carry off the sins of the people. Some less reliable translations mistranslate this “scapegoat,” but it is not wrongly blamed for sin, as that translation would imply; it is an innocent animal which is given the honor of carrying off the sins of others. There is never any question that the goat is innocent; that is known by all. Animals do not have free will, and thus cannot be guilty of sin.

Note that the original command was NOT to send it over a cliff or in any other way to cause its death (as was the later practice); it was to be released into the desert alive (Leviticus 16:10). The rabbis of the Maccabbean era (about 186 BCE) wondered what would happen if the azazel wandered back into the camp, and so they ordered that it be run off a cliff – in violation of the instruction given by HaShem in the Torah.

A brief excursus on the term azazel would be appropriate here, as it has been interpreted in a variety of ways.  So, let’s venture down that path.  There are goat-demons mentioned in Torah (Wayyiqra 17:7)… which leads to an interpretation, bolstered by Enochian sci-fi, that the azazel is a goat-demon, like a sartyr of Greek mythology. It is important to bear in mind that the books of Enoch were never Scripture — not for the Jews and not the Gentile councils.  They represented the popular fiction of the day… like “Left Behind” or “Narnia.” This is the favorite reading of the SDA cult and the heretic Origen (“Contra Celsum,” vi. 43).  But, it is a fanciful reading and finds itself at disharmony with the p’shat (plain) reading of the Biblical witness.

The “antetype of Messiah” reading is popular in some circles as well.  This understanding is not found in any pre-Chrisitan commentaries, not showing up until Cyril of Alexandria, an Egyptian “church father.”  An early witness for this reading comes from the Coptic (Egyptian) text of the Disciple’s Prayer, ca. late 3rd or early 4th Century CE, when it makes its way into a Bible translation.  The Coptic reads, in some manuscripts, “kannenobe non evol” — which translates literally, “and carry our sins far away from us” — a deliberate wording intended to echo the azazel goat image of Yom Kippur.

In contrast to these supernatural interpretations, we find a tradition that is actually — may wonders never cease — rooted in a Jewish cutlural-historical context.  The interpretation of the term azazel referring to a certain cliff comes from the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Yoma 67b; Sifra, Aḥare, ii. 2 & Targum Yer. Lev. xiv. 10… but these are admittedly late, since the original practice was to loose that goat (Wayyiqra 16:8-10).  Running it over a cliff would not come into play until many centuries later (prior to the first century, but well after Moshe’s generation), and it is absolutely not commanded in Torah.

Nachmanides understood the term “azazel” (עֲזָאזֵל) as a personification of sin… but not an actual demonic entity; and his teacher Maimonides (known as the Ramban) saw it as merely symbolic.  These views are more harmonious with the plain reading of the text.

La’azazel” is most likely intended to be read “for absolute removal,” given the immediate context, as this finds the closest correspondence to Wayyiqra 16:8-10.  This is the understanding that comes most closely in line with the p’shat reading of that passage.  In Jewish hermeneutics, the p’shat must undergird the remez, ‘drash, and sod.  None of these can conflict with the p’shat, or plain sense of the text… lest it all become nonsense.  Rabbi Berkowitz just stated the other day, and I agree with his analysis: that this second “goat [is] used as a proxy, upon which ‘sins’ were placed, and the goat then taken away. Much like Taschlich just the other day, just a physical demonstration of what Hashem does with our sins. Don’t build it into some stone to trip over, it’s not.”


is dressed a little differently from one sect of Judaism to the next.  Reform Jews wear a white shroud with no pockets on Yom Kippur as a reminder that we cannot carry our sins with us into heaven. This often inspires people to attempt to reconcile with HaShem as well as their fellow imagebearers… which, of course, is the traditional activity associated with the Yomim Nora’im (Days of Awe), in the midst of which we currently find ourselves situated.  Our status as imagebearers, in part, requires us to take part in “tikkun olam” (repairing this sinsick world), and that begins with repairing our broken relationships with each other and with HaShem.  This feature transcends sect and can be seen in virtually all of Jewish practice.

Elie WieselFrom our current position squarely in the midst of a season called the Days of Awe (or in Hebrew, the Yorim Nora’im).  Listen to the words of this prayer for the Days of Awe written by Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel. [3]


Master of the Universe, let us make up. It is time. How long can we go on being angry?

More than 50 years have passed since the nightmare was lifted. Many things, good and less good, have since happened to those who survived it. They learned to build on ruins. Family life was recreated. Children were born, friendships struck. They learned to have faith in their surroundings, even in their fellow men and women. Gratitude has replaced bitterness in their hearts. No one is as capable of thankfulness as they are. Thankful to anyone willing to hear their tales and become their ally in the battle against apathy and forgetfulness. For them every moment is a grace.

…They no longer look at every passer-by with suspicion. Nor do they see a dagger in every hand.

Does this mean that the wounds in their soul have healed? They will never heal. As long as a spark of the flames of Auschwitz and Treblinka glows in their memory, so long will my joy be incomplete.

What about my faith in You, Master of the Universe?

I now realise I never lost it, not even over there, during the darkest hours of my life. I don’t know why I kept on whispering my daily prayers, and those ones reserved for the Sabbath, and for the holidays, but I did recite them, often with my father and, on Rosh Hashanah eve, with hundreds of inmates at Auschwitz. Was it because the prayers remained a link to the vanished world of my childhood?

But my faith was no longer pure. How could it be? It was filled with anguish rather than fervour, with perplexity more than piety. In the kingdom of eternal night, on the Days of Awe, which are the Days of Judgment, my traditional prayers were directed to you as well as against you, Master of the Universe. What hurt me more: your absence or your silence?

In my testimony I have written harsh words, burning words about Your role in our tragedy. I would not repeat them today. But I felt them then. I felt them in every cell of my being. Why did you allow if not enable the killer day after day, night after night to torment, kill and annihilate tens of thousands of Jewish children? Why were they abandoned by Your Creation? These thoughts were in no way destined to diminish the guilt of the guilty. Their established culpability is irrelevant to my “problem” with You, Master of the Universe. In my childhood I did not expect much from human beings. But I expected everything from You.

Where were You, God of Kindness, in Auschwitz? What was going on in heaven, at the celestial tribunal, while Your children were marked for humiliation, isolation and death only because they were Jewish?

These questions have been haunting me for more than five decades. You have vocal defenders, You know. Many theological answers were given me, such as: G-d is G-d. He alone knows what He is doing. One has no right to question Him or His ways.” Or: “Auschwitz was a punishment for European Jewry’s sins of assimilation and/or Zionism.” And: “Isn’t Israel the solution? Without Auschwitz, there would have been no Israel.”

I reject all these answers. Auschwitz must and will forever remain a question mark only: it can be conceived neither with G-d nor without G-d. At one point, I began wondering whether I was not unfair with you. After all, Auschwitz was not something that came down ready-made from heaven. It was conceived by men, implemented by men, staffed by men. And their aim was to destroy not only us but… You as well. Ought we not to think of Your pain, too? Watching Your children suffer at the hands of your other children, haven’t You also suffered?

As we Jews now enter the High Holidays again, preparing ourselves to pray for a year of peace and happiness for our people and all people, let us make up, Master of the Universe. In spite of everything that happened? Yes, in spite. Let us make up: for the child in me, it is unbearable to be divorced from you so long.

So ends his prayer.

Forgiveness is something we are called to administer regardless of whether or not our offenders have asked for it.  It is, I think, more for us, really, than for the offender.  I was assaulted 10 years ago… stabbed, beaten, and left for dead.  I had forgiven my assailants before I even left the hospital… but the police officers who saw me laying there bleeding in the 7-11 parking lot… looked right at me… and turned the other way, who thought it was more important to get donuts and coffee than to attend to a crime victim… it took much longer to forgive them.  I hate to admit it… but it took me nearly seven years to forgive their crimes of indifference… or maybe it was a hate crime on their part.  But, whatever it was… it festered within me and eroded away at me for way too long.  It certainly was not on par with what Elie Wiesel had to forgive… but I can testify after the fact that letting go of it brought me a sense of shalom, that was more freeing than I could have imagined.  I didn’t know what worship was until I had forgiven those police officers who had been derelict in their civic duty, leaving me to bleed out and die.

mishlachOne of the Hebrew words for freedom is mishlach.  At its root is the word shalach (to cast off).  When we cast off our grudges and vendettas… that is when we truly become free, in mind, body, and soul, to worship with our whole being, as we are commanded to in the Shema.

Sometimes it takes a power-purge to make sure all of our being can focus on HaShem.  To help us accomplish that purge, we generally fast all day (sunset to sunset) on Yom Kippur, and we perform a litany of special prayers. [Note that Jews do not typically pray spontaneously all that much in public worship; we tend to pray more prescribed prayers.  And, Yom Kippur is no exception.]  Paul Billerbeck and Hermann Strack, in their Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, written over a century ago, presented an argument that at least bears acknowledgement, though it is not a widely popular  one.  They assert, based on this week’s haftarah portion (Isaiah 57:14-58:14), that blood sacrifices after 30 CE would constitute a rejection of Yeshua’s sacrifice.  It was understood at least as far back as the 3rd Century that the traditional food-fast is itself a blood sacrifice in that it reduces the white blood-cell count.  They suggest that Isaiah 58 coming after Isaiah 53 makes the Isaiah 58 fast the definition bearing upon Believers following the Execution Stake illustrated 5 chapters earlier, i.e. that we are to fast not from food… but from selfish deeds by doing acts of tzedekah for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the infirmed rather than abstaining from food.  Now, this is admittedly a minority position, but one which does actually find some backing in the Babylonian Talmud.  I’ll leave it you to consider whether that view warrants consideration.


HaShem’s role in Yom Kippur is primarily to accept the sacrifice on behalf of His people and forgive their sins… but historically, He has also provided a visible sign of His acceptance of the Yom Kippur sacrifice, as we find in the Talmud’s recounting of the “Miracle of the Crimson Strip.”

isaiah 1.18This miracle is linked to Israel confessing its sins and ceremonially placing this nation’s sin upon the azazel goat. The sin was then removed by this goat’s death. It specifically concerns the crimson strip or cloth tied to the azazel goat before it is led outside of the gates and, by this point, driven off a high cliff. A portion of this red cloth was also removed from the goat and tied to the Temple door. Each year the red cloth on the Temple door turned from crimson to white as if to signify the atonement of another Yom Kippur was found acceptable to HaShem. This happened without fail every year, for about 200 years in a row. Sin was represented by the red color of the cloth (the color of blood). But the cloth remained crimson that is, Israel’s sins were not being pardoned and “made white.” As God told Israel through Isaiah the prophet:  ”Come, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as [white] wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

The Miracle of the Crimson Strip suddenly stopped occurring in 30 CE. This annual event, which had  happened for over 200 years until 30 CE had ceased, and the cloth was now remaining crimson each year and would continue to up to the time of the Temple’s destruction. This undoubtedly caused much stir and consternation among the Jews. But, unlike Temple sacrifices or the Yom Kippur events (as detailed above) where sin is only covered over for a time, the Messianic sacrifice comes with the promise of forgiveness of sins through grace given by God to those who accept a personal relationship with Messiah.

tractate yomaThis is essentially a one-time event for each person’s lifetime and not a continual series of annual observances and animal sacrifices. The mechanism providing forgiveness of sin changed in 30 CE. The Babylonian Talmud records, “Our rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [‘For HaShem’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the western most light shine; and the doors of the Heykal [Temple] would open by themselves” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma 39b). The Jerusalem Talmud gives the same report.

Notice from that Talmudic passage that the Crimson Strip miracle was replaced with three new ones:

The Miracle of the Lots

The first of these miracles concerns a random choosing of the “lot” which was cast on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The lot chosen determined which of two goats would be “for the Lord” and which goat would be the “azazel” or “scapegoat.” During the two hundred years before 30 CE, when the High Priest picked one of two stones, again this selection was governed by chance, and each year the priest would select a black stone as often as a white stone. But forty years in a row, beginning in 30 CE, the High Priest always picked the black stone! The odds against this happening are astronomical (2 to the 40th power). In other words, the chances of this occurring are approximately 5,479,548,800 to 1.

The lot for azazel, the black stone, contrary to all the laws of chance, came up 40 years in a row from 30 to 70 CE! This was considered a dire event and signified something had fundamentally changed in this Yom Kippur ritual. This casting of lots is also accompanied by yet another miracle.

The Miracle of the Temple Menorah

On that same Yom Kippur, the most important lamp of the seven-branched Menorah in the Temple went out, and would not shine. Every night for 40 years (over 12,500 nights in a row) the main lamp of the Temple lampstand (menorah) went out of its own accord no matter what attempts and precautions the priests took to safeguard against this event!

The Miracle of the Temple Doors

The Temple doors swung open every night of their own accord. This occurred for forty years, beginning in 30 CE. The leading Jewish authority of that time, Yohanan ben Zakkai, declared that this was a sign of impending doom, that the Temple itself would be destroyed.

Sota 6:3 of the Jerusalem Talmud states:

“Said Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai to the Temple, ‘O Temple, why do you frighten us? We know that you will end up destroyed. For it has been said, ‘Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars'” (referencing Zechariah 11:1).

Yohanan Ben Zakkai was the leader of the Jewish community during the time following the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, when the Jewish government was transferred to Yavneh, some thirty miles west of Yerushalayim.  The Temple was no longer just a place for High Priests alone, but the doors swung open for all to enter the Lord’s house of worship.  A change in the sin-atonement economy had taken place, a change admitted to even by the Jewish rabbis. HaShem was, it seemed, no longer accepting the Yom Kippur sacrifice.

They continued to make their annual sacrifice every year until the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE, but the same signs of apparent non-acceptance were there year after year. Of course, we know what that change was. The Jewish Messiah Yeshua’s undeserved (and thus sacrificial) execution had taken place about 5 months earlier at Passover, which that year corresponded to April 5th. The ultimate Sacrifice of Messiah had been made and was accepted by HaShem.  This is not to say that the mandated sacrifices were now abrogated, but they were now reduced from a covering to a symbolic act, a tangible reminder of the consequences of sin.  I believe that this is also the function they will serve in the Millennial Kingdom.


Since there is no longer any holy altar, Yom Kippur can no longer be observed as it was during the Temple era. The rabbis knew, however, that it did not cease to be observed after the destruction of the first Temple and thus followed the Bible in continuing to observe it as it was between the first Temple era and the second. The sacrifices were replaced with specific prayers and acts of “tzedekah” (righteousness or charity). [Note that the Ethiopian Falasha (Beta Israel) and the Samaritans have their own Temples and (despite debate over the legitimacy of those Temples) still practice the full sacrificial system, but for all other Jews, these substitutions are made.]

slichotEvery night at midnight for 40 days preceding Yom Kippur, prayers asking for forgiveness are offered.  These are called “slichot” prayers.  A righteous person’s own sufferings (tzaakah) are also considered a substitute for purposes of atonement. In ancient times, righteous Jews would inflict upon themselves 39 malkot, or “stripes.”  This was the Jewish corporal punishment for any sin in the days between the two Temples and even had some carryover into Second Temple Judaism. The Apostle Sha’ul received this punishment at least five times.

Study of the Torah is another tradition (and for many Jews, study of the Talmud as well).  The day preceding Yom Kippur, there is a large feast in preparation of the following day’s fast. On Yom Kippur, just as during Temple times, every Israelite over age 12 is required to fast except for the dangerously ill. The fast opens with a somber prayer of forgiveness called the Kol Nidre (all vows). It expresses a deep consciousness of our inability to keep in full our vows, promises, and obligations to HaShem. It recognizes that no matter how conscientious we are, we are always “on the debit side” in our relationship to HaShem.


Many who recognize that the Messiah has already made the ultimate atoning sacrifice observe Yom Kippur a bit differently.  Messiah’s sacrifice covered all original sin, and all deliberate sins of anyone who accepts His sacrifice… but we still need to repent; we still need to observe a time of mourning over our having sinned against HaShem, and a time of seeking haShem.  For those that truly desire to obey Him , it is an opportunity to observe a time appointed by HaShem for a specific interaction with Him.

Despite the limited amount of debate about whether or not Believers should fast, to which I referred earlier with the Billerbeck & Strack teaching, Messianic Judaism, for the most part, views fasting as a way to sensitize our spirits to the Will of HaShem.  Fasting, it is asserted, expresses our humble desire to draw closer to HaShem. It is a picture of the coming time of reconciliation with our holy G-d.  Denying ourselves food is also considered a tangible reminder of our dependence on HaShem for everything. It helps us remember how temporary and fragile our physical existence in our present bodies is. By the end of the fast, the stomach is testifying to that fact, and our pridefulness is broken so that we can approach HaShem in a state of humility.

Many will also pray for the salvation of Israel on Yom Kippur, since Romans 10:1 says our deepest desire and prayer to HaShem should be for Israel’s salvation. During the last hour of sunlight, we sing the Neilah service ending it with the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The Shema affirms that HaShem is the sole sovereign over our lives and over the entire universe, and is a pledge to dedicate our lives wholly to serving Him. “Hear, O Israel, HaShem is our G-d; HaShem is One. And you shall love HaShem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (translation from the Hebrew Masoretic Text).

At sunset, we break our fast with challah bread and wine, rejoicing over HaShem’s plan of salvation. Some congregations partake of unleavened bread in place of challah to tie this in with the Nizkor.  The evening ends as do all the feasts – with the exclamation ‘Lashana Haba biYerushalayim‘ (Next year in Jerusalem!) followed, of course, by a shofar blast.

binding of the adversaryYom Kippur is not just about abrogating past sins, however.  It also has a forward-looking aspect.  Most sects of Judaism believe that the Adversary is bound each year on Yom Kippur, preventing him from tempting HaShem’s people on this one day a year. Acts 27:9 reports that “sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was over,” referring to the Day of Atonement (suggesting that The Adversary was no longer bound at that point).

Yom Kippur pictures the removal of the primary cause of sin – i.e. the Adversary and his demons (Revelation 20:1-3). The Adversary is the great deceiver who influences humankind to disobey HaShem, but his days of negative influence are numbered. Just before the inception of the Millennial Kingdom, The Adversary will be bound again, unable to interfere with humanity for a thousand years. Complete global reconciliation with HaShem will be possible again for the first time since the Rebellion of Adam, because there will be no tempter. Without temptation, there is no occasion for sin. After Har-Megiddo (the final battle between good and evil), a defeated Adversary will be forever locked away, along with his demons, in the lake of fire. This is something that every member of the Judaeo-Christian faith should see as a cause for celebration! Thanks to the death and resurrection of OUR High Priest, Messiah Yeshua (Hebrews 9:11-12)… Yom Kippur is a day which ultimately means Freedom.  It is, as it has always been, along with all the other moedim, an appointed time of the Mighty One of Israel for every worshipper…. not just for Jews, but for the grafted-in wild branches as well.

Notes & References

  1. Archived at: (original broadcast: 29 Sep 2014).
  2. Michael Lohrberg, teaching delivered at Adat Eytz Chayim Congregation (Comstock Park, Mich., 2010).
  3. Elie Wiesel, “A Prayer for the Days of Awe” (2 Oct 1997).

Yom Teruah (Day of the Shofar Blast)

Prepared for Torah Foundations of the Faith

shofarRosh Hashana is coming up.  At the close of Wednesday, i.e. sunset, we transition from 5774 to 5775.  But wait… doesn’t the Bible say the year is to start in the Spring?  In Aviv/Nissan?

It does say that.  The first of Aviv/Nissan is the start of the religious year, commemorating the birth of the Jewish nation upon our deliverance from Egypt in 1446/7 BCE.  In fact, Torah tells us to mark the beginning of the year from that spring date.

Exodus 12:2 (Schocken Bible translation*):

“Let this New-Moon be for you a beginning of New-Moons,

the beginning-one let it be for you of the New-Moons of the year.”

Deuteronomy 16:1 echoes the same instruction.

So… where do we get off marking the transition from one year to the next in the fall then?  Tradition of man maybe?  The convocation is found in Scripture as well, though not designated as the new year.  We first encounter it right where we would expect to find a Torah feast… Wayyiqra (or Leviticus), chapter 23.  But, it isn’t called Rosh Hashanah in our Bibles.  It’s called Yom Teruah, which means “Day of Shouting” or “Day of Shofar Blasts.”  The word “teruah” actually refers to a specific pattern played on the shofar… similar to how the military would use bugle calls.

Wayyiqra/Leviticus 23:23-25 (SBT):

“YHWH spoke to Moshe, saying,
‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying:
On the seventh New-Moon, on (day) one of the New Moon,
you are to have Sabbath-ceasing, a reminder by (horn-)blasting,
a proclamation of holiness.
Any-kind of servile work you are not to do;
you are to bring-near a fire-offering to YHWH.

B/midbar/Numbers 29:1-6 expand on the offering details:

And in the seventh New-Moon, on (day) one of the New-Moon,
a proclamation of holiness there is to be for you,
any-kind of servile work you are not to do.
A day of (horn-)blasts it is for you.
You are to sacrifice an offering-up, as a soothing savor for YHWH:
one bull, a young of the herd,
lambs a year in age seven, wholly-sound,
and their grain-gift, flour mixed with oil:
three tenth-measures per bull,
two tenth-measures per ram,
one tenth-measure per (each) one lamb,
for the seven lambs,
and one hairy goat for a hattat-offering, to effect-purgation for you,
aside from the New-Moon offering-up and its grain-gift,
and the regular offer-up and its grain-gift
and their poured-offerings, according to their regulation,
as a soothing savor, fire-offering for YHWH.

Note that this is the only moed that begins on a new moon.  We’re not told why… just an observation.  A few things are actually left unexplained if we handicap ourselves with a strict Sola Scriptura approach.  This Yom haZikuron (commemoration day) seems left open for interpretation to some degree, since we are not told what it commemorates.  At least not in the Scripture itself… but the Talmud does have some suggestions.  Yom Teruah is considered the “civil new year,” i.e. the birthdate of civilization.  It is said that on day seven, HaShem completed His creation and breathed life into the nostrils of Adam… and Adam’s first full day was the first day of the seventh month of our present calendar — Tishrei… so this would mark the first Sabbath.

On the Biblical calendar, we count the 6 days of Creation as Year 1… a short year, but a very significant one.  Day Seven of the Creation week is day 1 of year 2.  Year 5774 is where we currently are in that calendation, and 5775 will be upon us Wednesday night at sunset… or by Biblical reckoning, as soon as we nightbreak into Thursday.

Tradition dictates that we are to be within earshot of a shofar on Yom Teruah.  A minimum of one hundred blasts of the shofar are to be sounded during the course of Yom Teruah. There are four different types of shofar notes: tekiah, a three-second sustained note; shevarim, three one-second notes rising in tone, teruah, a series of nine short, staccato notes extending over a period of about three seconds; and tekiah gedolah (literally “big tekiah”), the final blast in a set, which lasts as long as the player can hold the note (ten seconds minimum). The Bible gives no specific reason for this practice.

This is a two day celebration.  The shofar blasts are meant to inspire fear and move the hearer to teshuvah (repentance).  The use of the ram’s horn shofar is also reminiscent of the Aqedat Yitzchak, when HaShem provided the substitutionary sacrifice, i.e. the ram to be slain in his place.  In fact, that passage, Genesis 21:1-22:24, is a traditional reading for this moed.

Yom Teruah is also the “launch party” for the Yomim Noraim (Days of Awe), a period of cheshbon ha nefesh (self-examination).  The first ten days of the civil year are spent restoring civilization by righting any wrongs we have committed against others over the past year and forgiving any wrongs committed against us, a process called mechillah… in preparation for Yom Kippur. Thus, Yom Teruah is really focused on Teshuvah.  An associated ritual is the tashlich tradition.  The word tashlich, meaning “cast off,” comes from the phrase from Micah 7:19:

“Yashuv yerachameinu yikbosh ngawonoteinu w’tashlich bimtzulot yam kol-hatotam.”

He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

In keeping with this verse, we symbolically cast all our sins into some flowing body of water, such as a stream or river.  This is done on the first day of Yom Teruah, generally in the afternoon.

On the second day, it is traditional to recite the Shehechiyanu prayer, taken from Berachot 54a, Pesakhim 7b, Sukkah 46a, etc., Babylonian Talmud.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam she-hecḥiyanu ve’qi’eh’manu ve’higiy’anu laz’man hazeh.  

Blessed are You, O L-rd Our G-d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

This ties into a food tradition.  Of course, we can’t speak of a moed and not make some mention of food!  Passover has the seder elements,Chanukah has its latkes and jelly donuts, and Yom Teruah has its food traditions as well.  Where the Shehechianu prayer connects to that is in the second day tradition.  A “new fruit” is traditional for the second day of Yom Teruah.  The new fruit is usually a pomegranate, due to the tradition that it has 613 seeds (one for each of the mitzvot of the Torah).

On both days, apples and honey are eaten to symbolize the sweetness of the emerging new year… the new civil year that is.  We’re already halfway through the religious year at this point… but the apples and honey are a tradition all the same.  Other honey-based sweets are popular additions as well, including honey cake, pollen sticks, and tayglach (a Jewish honey-nut pastry).  A “new fruit” is traditional for the second day of Yom Teruah.  The new fruit is usually a pomegranate, due to the tradition that it has 613 seeds (one for each of the mitzvot of the Torah).  There is also an adaptation to the challah.  Instead of the normal oblong braid, Yom Teruah challah is fashioned into a circular coil.

I couldn’t call myself a Messianic if I were to neglect the Messianic significance.  I believe the Fall feast sequence to relate to future fulfillment events, corresponding with the second coming of Messiah.  The sound of the shofar is always bad news for haSatan.  This sound marks the beginning of his end.  The sequence starts with Yom Teruah, slightly overlapping with the start of the Yomim Noraim, then Yom Kippur, and finally Sukkot.  Yom Teruah has been said to relate to the trumpet blast of the Rapture in some circles, but I have to push back on that a little.  I don’t see the rapture being illustrated by Yom Teruah.  I do see a “catching up” (harvest of the wheat) in Scripture (post-sorrows/pre-wrath), but I don’t see this particular feast depicting it.  What I do see there is a call to repentance, as teshuvah is what immediately follows the shofar blasts with the Yomim Noraim.  Are we to think that repentance is unnecessary for believers?

I see the Yomim Noraim as making preparations for Yom Kippur, or the “great and terrible Day of the L-rd.”  The Day of the L-rd is great for those whose names are inscribed in the Book of Life… but terrible for those whose names are not found there.  We who make those preparations are like the 5 virgins who had adequate oil, while those who fail to make preparations are like the 5 who ran out.  And then, after the judgment of Yom Kippur, we have Yeshua coming to permanently tabernacle among us with Sukkot.  So, the shofar tells us to get our house in order… and tells haSatan that his house is coming down.

On the subject of the new year… these two new years dates — Aviv/Nissan 1 and Tishrei 1 — are not the only ones we find in Judaism.  The others, however, are extra-Tanakhical… i.e. we don’t find them in our Hebrew Bibles.

  • 1st of Elul: The second “new year” is on the 1st of Elul, the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar which usually falls in the late summer (August). According to the Mishnah this was the new year for animal tithes. It was used to determine the start date for the animal tithe to the priestly class in ancient Israel, similar to how we use April 15th in the US as tax day. Generally this new year is no longer observed, although the month of Elul does mark the beginning of preparations for Yom Teruah.
  • 15th of Shvat, aka Tu B’Shvat: considered the new year for trees, usually falling between January and February. According to the Torah fruits cannot be consumed from trees less than three years old, Tu B’Shvat was used as the starting date for determining the age of the trees.

Where do these come from?  The main textual origin for the four new years comes from the Talmud Bavli Mishnah, Seder Moed, Tractate Rosh Hashanah 1:1.

On the first of Nisan, the new year for the kings and for the festivals;
On the first of Elul, the new year for the tithing of animals;
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon say, in the first of Tishrei.
On the first of Tishrei, the new year for years,
for the Sabbatical years and for the Jubilee years and for the planting and for the vegetables.
On the first of Shevat, the new year for the trees, these are the words of the House of Shammai;
The House of Hillel says, on the fifteenth thereof.

These last two are considered minor, but are celebrated by most Jews.

Also on the topic of New Year’s… let me just cover one more.  Yes, a fifth New Year’s date.  This one is called in Israel Yom Sylvester.  You might not recognize the name, but this is actually the one with which every American (and every European) is probably most familiar.  It is a day of particular disgust, however, for Jews.

There is a rather ugly chapter of history wherein on a particular calendar date, every locatable Jew would be rounded up and forced to attend a proselytization sermon.  The year was 1577, and the perpetrator was Pope Gregory XIII. The date for the decreed Jew round-up was December 25.  The Jews of Rome were then given until January 1 to announce their acceptance of the Catholic faith, and any who failed to make such a profession were executed on January 1, which on the Gregorian calendar marked Messiah’s circumcision day.

In 1581, Pope Gregory decreed that any Jews who had not converted by January 1, 1577 and had somehow escaped execution should have all of their sacred writings confiscated and those resisting, which numbered in the thousands, were to be executed on January 1, 1582.

Also on that same date, Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the Julian calendar was sufficiently flawed enough to warrant the need for a new calendar system and ordered a new calendar restoring the old Roman Jewish Slaughter Festival (January 1), now also the anniversary of his mass slaughter of unconverted Jews from the 1577 massacre, as the date for New Year’s Day, effective in 1582 throughout the domain of the Catholicized world.

The Jewish name for that date takes us back to a man called Sylvester I, the Roman church patriarch under Constantine (whose office was still at that time co-equal in authority with the other six Orthodox patriarchs).  In 325 CE, preceding the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester authored a decree banning any of the at least 18 bishops who were ethnically Hebrew from attending the so called “ecumenical” (but actually Gentile-supremacist) council.  During the course of that council, Sylvester presented and passed numerous vicious anti-Jewish measures, which became binding upon the entire western church.  He had previously decreed that all Jews be expelled and banished from holy Jerusalem.  When Sylvester was canonized as a saint by the Roman patriarchate, December 31 (his burial date) was designated “St. Sylvester’s Day.”  This is the festival date for the evening leading up to the slaughter celebration… a day which honors and celebrates a rabid anti-Semite’s successes in limiting Jewish influences on Constantinian “orthodoxy.”

We can trace this back even further than 325.  There was pre-Yeshua massacre of Jews that occurred on January 1st as well.  On that date in 46 BCE, Julius Caesar conducted a mass slaughter of Jews in the Galilee region in order to honor the Roman deity from whom that month derives its name.  It was this Roman “god of door and gates” whom Julius Caesar credited for opening the gates allowing his mass slaughter of Galilean Jews to be successful.  Eyewitness accounts report that the streets of Galilee flowed with the blood of Jews that day.  This Roman celebration which ensued took the form of an orgy, i.e. a celebration of wanton hedonism… not too unlike the modern practice.  :-/

In 1066, William the Conqueror saw fit to move the date of the British New Year’s celebration from the long-established March 25th date to make it coincide with the old Roman Jewish Slaughter Festival, January 1.  So the triad of December 25, December 31, and January 1 are celebrations of proto-holocausts.

This particular New Year’s date is one that most Jews choose not to celebrate.  Can you imagine why?  Early Messianics (both Jewish and Gentile) refused to participate in this morbid celebration and continued to follow the Biblical command that the religious New Year be recognized in Spring, on the 1st of Aviv/Nissan, and that the civil New Year (marking the birth of civilization at the first Sabbath of the Creation Week) be recognized in Fall (Yom Teruah).

Certainly we can all see and agree that it is much more laudable to celebrate the birth of civilization than to celebrate the events associated with January 1st.  Finish your introspection, get ready to mend your relationships, and rejoice that our first full day on this earth was a Sabbath, designated for mutual rest… for us and our G-d to be in community together.

Thank you for tuning in, and – in anticipation of Yom Teruah – allow me to bid you all an early Chag Sameach, Shalom, uBrachot! And L’shana tovah tiqvateivu v’ tehatemu! May you all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.


*Schocken Bible translation (abbreviated SBT) = Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses (The Schocken Bible; New York: Schocken Books, 1995; orig. 1983).

Academic Services available for Fall….

100_3011I have earned accredited degrees in Bible, Ancient Languages, Youth Ministry, and College Teaching & Learning (with emphasis on Classical Hebrew Andragogy), and I have additional study in Music and Modern Languages (Spanish, German, and Russian).  I offer a number of academic services, both online and in one-on-one or small group settings (in Grand Rapids, MI), related to those fields.  Most services can be adapted to either format.

Homeschool Curriculum/Courses ($20/hour per student)

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  • Accredited College Courses: If you are interested in taking for-credit college courses (degree-seeking or non), contact IMTI about enrollment in Fall courses.  The courses I am teaching this term are: APOL-102 Messianic Apologetics, BIB-105 Survey of the Tanakh, and LAN-301 Biblical Aramaic I. There are several excellent courses available from other professors as well.

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