The “Four Blood Moons” Nonsense: Why It Means Absolutely Nothing

Segments of the evangelical Christian and so-called “messianic” Jewish worlds are getting all stirred up by the “Four Blood Moons” nonsense being peddled by John Hagee in his latest bestselling book by that name–which he ripped off from Mark Blitz of “El Shaddai Ministries.” Given Hagee’s notoriety the idea has gone “viral” among these various groups. Hagee has even recently appeared on FOX News with, you guessed it, Lauren Green, who seems to buy into his nonsense after checking it with “NASA” herself. Since I will be viewed by some as the skeptical academic “historian” I won’t bother to offer my own refutation but pass along here the critique of Chris White, a Christian believer with an interest in Bible Prophecy (“Bible Prophecy Talk), who thoroughly “debunks” the whole theory and tells you what its advocates either don’t know or are not telling you–with web links to the articles he cites and further documentation.

13th Annual Davis Lectures Tonight: Last Days of Jesus

I am giving the 13th Annual Davis Lectures at Grace Baptist Church in Statesville, NC tonight and tomorrow night–Sun & Mon at 7:00pm. My topic is “The Last Days of Jesus: How Texts and Archaeological Discoveries Shed New Light on our Understanding.” Grace Baptist is an exceptional group in their desire to explore new questions and engage in serious dialogue on matters of faith. My lectures will include the very latest discoveries, including new evaluations of our understanding of Roman crucifixion, excavations at Mt Zion and their relationship to Jesus’ enemies, and Jewish burial customs.

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 5.24.33 PM

The program is free, and open to the public. 719 Club Drive (off Salisbury Rd, exit 49B from I-77)

I hope to see some of you there.

Two Hairy Goats and Yom Kippur

One of the strangest ceremonies of ancient Judaism was that carried out on Yom Kippur with the “two hairy goats.” The ritual is described in Leviticus 16 in full detail.

TwoHairyGoats

Two male goats were selected for Yom Kippur, one is “for YHVH” and the other “for removal,” (or “for Azazel–see below). Both are said to be “for a sin offering” and both make “atonement” or covering for transgressions (v. 5).

One is slain and the other is sent away into the wilderness. What has been confusing to many is that both goats are spoken of as somehow providing “atonement,” or better translated “covering.” So why the difference? Why two goats, essentially identical, rather than one?

One common interpretation makes the two goats positive and negative, and it is the case that Azazel in ancient Jewish texts (1 Enoch, etc.) is the name for an “angel” who opposes YHVH. But if one is negative and one positive, how can both provide “covering”? But the literal reading of designation of the “live goat” is that it is for “removal,” which is what the LXX/Septuagint (3rd century BCE Greek translation of Hebrew) has.

In looking more closely at the text one notices that the first goat, the one that is “for YHVH,” that is slain, makes “covering for the Holy Place because of the uncleanness of the people and because of their transgressions, all their sins” (v. 16). In other word, the blood of that goat is to cleanse the Tabernacle that has become unclean because of the sins of the people, NOT to remove the sins of the people per se.

In contrast, the sins of the people themselves are put on the head of the live goat. That goat is not killed, yet that goat too is spoken as a “sin offering” (v.5), ,making atonement/covering (v. 10), and that goat “bears all their iniquities” into a remote area.

This distinction might be an important one in trying to understand the meanings intended in this ancient ceremony. Early Christians were able to find in the slain goat, given Paul’s interpretation of the death of Jesus by crucifixion, a symbol of “Christ” dying for the forgiveness of the sins of the people. The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews elaborates this point in great detail (Hebrews 9). But there seems to be no reference in the text to the blood of the slain goat related to the forgiveness of the sins of the people. The second goat, the one sent away into the desert, is not dealt with at all in the interpretation given in Hebrews, and yet in the biblical text of Leviticus that goat is clearly the “sin bearer.”

The Christian overlay to this text is perhaps an obstacle to reading it with new eyes. One often hears a quotation from the New Testament book of Hebrews that asserts: “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” Clearly such is not the case as this example of the “live goat” makes clear.

The goat that really “bears the sins” is the one sent away, into the desert (v. 22). All the sins and iniquities and transgressions are put on the head of this live goat and he is send away to Azazel. The sending away of this living goat effects the removal of the sins of the people. What this implies then is that in this ancient ceremony the ultimate “covering” of sins that comes on Yom Kippur is not by shedding of blood but by casting far away, away from the camp of the living to the desert places where Azazel and the demons dwell.

This means that the main image of “atonement” or covering on this day is not that of an animal slain for the forgiveness of sins, but the removal of sins from the land of the living. The rabbis seem to pick up on this in arranging the Haftarah readings for Yom Kippur. There are the special supplementary readings from the Prophets. First, the story of Jonah is read, which is a story of an entire city being saved from destruction because of repentance from sin. Then Micah 7:18-20 is read, where sins are cast away into the depths of the sea.

Being “washed in the blood of the lamb” has become a more appealing cultural image to our minds than “washed in the blood of the hairy goat,” but it seems that neither image, in connection to the removal or “atonement” of sins, is related to the Day of Atonement or Covering.

Who Was Gedaliah and Why Remember His Murder after 2500 Years?

Ross Nichols has a fascinating article on Gedaliah–a biblical figure whose name would register with very few people today outside of observant Jewish circles. Today marks one of the four “minor” fast days of Judaism, called “the fast of Gedaliah,” commemorating the murder of Gedaliah in the days of Jeremiah following the Babylonian invasion of Judah and the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple in the 6th century BCE. These four fast days (sunrise to sunset) are all associated with the disasters before, during, and after the great Destruction, and they are alluded to in Zechariah 8:18-19. What is particularly fascinating about Gedaliah, which Ross explores in his article, is the connection between him and his family (especially his father and grandfather) with Jeremiah and his priestly family–reaching back to the days of King Josiah when the “book of the Torah” was discovered. Nice Sunday afternoon reading…here is the link to Ross’s article.

Destroying Jerusalem