Hey, who’s got two thumbs and only one ovary? Yeah, I just got back from a long hospital stay after surgery, which was initially terrifying, what with being in a foreign country, but afterwards, when I was recovering, it was boring as heck.
Unfortunately I didn’t have my copy of the Bible with me or else I might have been able to partly keep up on this. As a result, real life has slowed down my process again. Fortunately, I don’t have much to do this week, since I still can’t walk very well, limiting me to the apartment. Even afterwards, my job has said I’m probably going to be taking it easy. So hopefully I can be well into Numbers before this month is over.
Chapter 23 is about holy days. It’s not a comprehensive list of the festivals of modern Judaism by any means. Days like Purim, Tish B’Av, and Hanukkah are all added later for other events.
The most important holy day is the weekly Sabbath. Lots of other polytheistic religions tend to have far more festival days than Judaism, but it’s easy to forget that one out of every seven days in Judaism is a holy day, giving it more holy days, more days off work, more days dedicated completely to God, than probably any other religious tradition in the world.
The rest are more conventional holy days: Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the 7 days after Passover), the Offering of First Fruits, Festival of Weeks (Shavuot), the Festival of the Trumpet (Rosh Hashanah), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the Festival of Booths (Sukkot).Since the Offering of the First Fruits isn’t fixed (it would depend on the harvest for that year), neither is the Festival of Weeks/Shavuot. In tradition it eventually was fixed to Passover.
In Christianity, the Feast of Weeks is called by its Greek name, “Pentecost,” which made me realize how some of these had been replaced by Christian holidays. A number of Christian holidays were set to replace European holidays. Christmas replaces the birth of the Sol Invictus, All Saints’ Day replaces Samhain, and so forth. My church here in Japan has a graveside service every year at O-Bon, the Japanese festival where everyone cleans their family grave and prays to/for them.
But two of our biggest holidays replace Jewish ones. Holy Week is Passover, Pentecost is Shavuot.
Fascinating, however, that we didn’t replace the Day of Atonement.
Now, part of that is because, looking at Hebrews and some others, it seems the early church considered Jesus’ personal sacrifice to replace the need for the priest to make a sin offering every year. We’re atoned through God in Jesus, we don’t need another day in autumn to do it every year.
Some Christian traditions have gone even further to consider Jesus’ sacrifice a corollary to the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. He’s the final atonement sacrifice, there need be no other. Whether that’s interpteted as a blood atonement or a scapegoat atonement doesn’t matter; Jesus replaces the Day of Atonement.
Then why didn’t he die on the Day of Atonement? Why did he die at Passover?
Whether you’re one of those people who believe that the gospel writers jimmied the account to make his death day more significant (I’m not) or whether you believe Jesus knew he was going to get himself killed and chose when he wanted it to happen (I am), it seems significant that he died at Passover. In fact, John goes against the events of the Synoptic gospels and places Jesus’ death right before Passover so that he’s slaughtered on the day that the Passover lamb is slaughtered, rather than the day after.
Jesus isn’t the lamb or the goat in the Day of Atonement, he’s the Passover lamb. He’s the lamb whose blood marks us as people of God and has Death pass us by, who is eaten as a celebration of our freedom and as a reminder of the great liberation God has worked for us.
If that’s the case, then is Jesus’ death about appeasing God and cancelling out sin? Or is it about freedom from death and slavery? Obviously sin plays a part in that – Paul calls us “enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6) – but it seems to be about more than a simple ledger account and a blood-payment.
The Japanese: irimugi “parched wheat or barley,” hikiwari mugi “wheat groats” (v 14), kariiozai “festival of temporary hermitages” (v 34), natsumeyashi “date tree,” shigeru “to be in full leaf,” kawayanagi “riverside willow, rosegold pussy willow” (v 40).
Kariiozai was one of those words that I had to look up the elements in order to understand what the heck the meaning was. Unfortunately none of my dictionaries include the Japanese for minor Jewish holidays. Sai was the character of festival, easy enough, kari for temporary. But io is iori, a kind hermitage or retreat, generally a thatched hut, associated with Buddhism. I guess the idea with this translation choice was that Shavuot is a similar act of going into a simple dwelling of religious observance.