Friday, August 4, 2017

‘Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations’ - Lesson 2 Draft

LESSON 2: Feast of Weeks

חג השבועות (Chag ha-Shavuot, Feast of Weeks)
CELEBRATED: Fifty days (seven weeks and a day) after First Fruits, in Sivan
PURPOSE: Commemorates God’s gift of the Torah, and is associated with the wheat harvest.
LEGISLATED: Lev. 23:15-21; Num. 28:26-31; Deut. 16:9-12 & 16-17
NOTE: The second holy convocation came in the summer. Seven weeks and a day after the Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, all the Israelite men congregated to sacrifice again. This was חג השבועות (Chag ha-Shavuot, Feast of Weeks) in Hebrew, and Πεντηκοστή (Pentēkostē, “fiftieth [day]”) in Greek. This time the bread was required to be baked with leaven, and the first fruits of the wheat harvest were offered to the Lord. As a feast, there were the same prohibitions associated with the seven-day spring feast.
          The festival had another name: חג מתן תורה (Chag Mattan Torah, Feast of the Giving of the Torah). It was known as the anniversary of when Yahweh gave His laws to the Israelite people. Their identity was closely linked to this religious code, which set them apart from all the other nations of the world (Leviticus 20:22-26). Even today, archeologists distinguish between Jewish and Canaanite sites based on whether or not they find pig remains, show how important following these laws were to the ancient Israelites.
          The association with the summer wheat harvest led to the Feast of Weeks coming to be known as the “Feast of First Fruit” (Exodus 34:22). As Passover’s popularity surpassed that of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the accompanying Feast of First Fruit, associated with the spring barley harvest, disappeared from the Jewish calendars. As a result, Christians are often unaware of the significance of the day on which Christ rose from the dead.

PENTACOST REIMAGINED
CITATION: Acts 1-2
OBSERVANCE: The resurrected Jesus appeared to His followers and promised they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, through Whom He had commanded them. After Jesus’ ascension, His 120 disciples waited for the promise to be fulfilled. Mentioned are the twelve apostles, including Judas Iscariot’s replacement Matthias; Jesus’ brothers; Jesus’ mother Mary; and other female followers, probably including Mary Magdala, Mary of Bethany, her sister Martha, Joanna, Salome, and the four daughters of Philip “the evangelist.” By tradition, those present included all of the men sent out by Jesus earlier, later known as the “Seventy Elders” (Luke 10:1-20).
          Jesus’ disciples waited until the day of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and gave them the ability to speak in foreign languages. This caught the attention of the masses that had come to Jerusalem to celebrate. Simon bar-Jonah, called Peter, took the opportunity to enlighten them as to what had taken place. The prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled before their very eyes. They had rejected and killed their Messiah, the Christ. Now that He was made Lord, they needed to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. Many people were skeptical of his message, but many believed and were saved. As the assembly of new disciples grew, their works through the Holy Spirit continued with more miraculous signs and healings.
REINTERPRETATION: During the Feast of Weeks, the gift of the Torah was replaced with the gift of God’s Spirit, enabling those called “Christians” to transform the lives of others. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit clearly set Jesus Christ’s followers apart from those around them. This new identifying factor distinguished them from the followers of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-7), and it forced them to put racial prejudice behind them and accept non-Jewish persons into their assembly (Acts 10:44-48).

Food for Thought
  • In what ways does the giving of the Holy Spirit mirror the giving of the Mosaic Law?
  • Is Christian identity linked to the Holy Spirit the way Jewish identity is linked to the Mosaic Law?
  • What distinguishes “gifts of the Spirit” from natural abilities Christians may have?
Further Study
The Book of Ruth is often read during Shavuot. The wheat harvest figures prominently in the story about the Moabitess who leaves her people to live with her mother-in-law among the tribe of Judah. Ruth has been interpreted by both Jews and Christians alike as an example of how racially inclusive God’s law could be. In addition, Jewish tradition dates the birth and death of King David, who descended from Boaz and Ruth, to the festival.

Note: This draft lesson was presented at the women’s Bible study meeting held on Saturday, July 1, 2017 at Alhambra Church of Christ (Alhambra, California).

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

‘Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations’ - Lesson 1 Draft

LESSON 1: Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of First Fruit

פסח (Pesach, Passover)
CELEBRATED: 14th of Abib/Aviv (now Nisan)
PURPOSE: Commemorates God striking down the first born in Egypt, and is associated with the barley harvest.
LEGISLATED: Exodus 12, particularly vv.7-13; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 28:16; Deuteronomy 16:1-8
NOTE: The meal was eaten at dusk. It consisted of פסח‎ קרבן (Korban Pesakh, “sacrifice of Passover”), also known as the Paschal Lamb, whose blood initially served as a substitute for that of the first born son of the household. The lamb was roasted on a spit. The feast included unleavened flatbread called מצה‎ (matzah); bitter herbs called מרור (maror), generally interpreted to be horseradish and romaine lettuce; and multiple cups of grape wine. It became a tradition to interpret each element of the feast in light of the Exodus story, infusing the dinner with memories of slavery and freedom.
NOTE: This is often called a “memorial” rather than a “feast” because of its purpose (e.g., commemorating suffering, rather than expressing joy) and because it does not carry the same prohibitions as feast days do (e.g., people can work, buying and selling are allowed, criminals can be executed, it can be kept among the Egyptians). The meal was eaten at dusk, and then the following morning, it served as the Day of Preparation for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
NOTE: During the first century, and possibly as far back as the Babylonian exile, Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread were often confused, especially among Jews of the diaspora (i.e., Hellenized Jews living outside of Judea). Under Rabbinic Judaism, the successor to ancient Pharisees, the two completely merged, creating a seven or eight-day Passover. More traditional branches of Judaism and Samaritanism (the religion of the descendants of the northern tribes) still keep the feasts in the old manner.

חג המצות (Chag ha-Matzot, Feast of Unleavened Bread)
CELEBRATED: 15th-21st of Abib/Aviv (now Nisan)
PURPOSE: Commemorates God’s relationship with the purified nation of Israel, and is associated with the barley harvest.
LEGISLATED: Exodus 12:14-20; Leviticus 23:6-8; Numbers 28:17-25; Deuteronomy 16:3-8 & 16-17
NOTE: This was a seven-day festival with prescribed Sabbaths (days of rest) that had to be observed in addition to the regular Sabbath on the seventh day of each week. The Israelites cleaned out all of the חמץ (chametz, “leavening,” i.e., yeast) in their homes, signifying their purification. The holy convocation, or gathering of the people, necessitated a pilgrimage to a common site, which later became Jerusalem and the temple. As a feast, there were prohibitions against engaging in normal work, buying and selling, and executing criminals.

חג הביכורים (Chag ha-Bikurim, Feast of First Fruit)
CELEBRATED: First day of the week following the Sabbath that follows Passover, in Abib/Aviv (now the 15th of Nisan)
PURPOSE: Part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, associated with the barley harvest.
LEGISLATED: Leviticus 23:9-14; Numbers 28:26-31
NOTE: The Israelites were instructed to present the priests with a special offering, the “first fruit” of the (barley) harvest, and make a special lamb sacrifice to God.

PASSSOVER REIMAGINED
CITATIONS: Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-39, John 13:1-17:26, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
OBSERVANCE: Before His arrest, Jesus celebrated Passover in Jerusalem. However, rather than remembering the events of the Exodus, He told His disciples to remember Him. The bread broken symbolized Jesus’ soon-to-be lifeless body; the wine poured symbolized Jesus’ blood that would be spilled.
REINTERPRETATION: In light of His sacrifice in their stead, Christians soon saw Jesus as the ultimate Passover Lamb. (See John 1:29 & 36, Acts 8:32, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19, Book of Revelation.)

FIRST FRUIT REIMAGINED
CITATIONS: Matthew 17-18, Mark 15-16, Luke 23-24, John 19-20
OBSERVANCE: Jesus Christ was tried and crucified on the Day of Preparation and taken down from the cross to be buried before dusk, when the Feast of Unleavened Bread began. He remained in the tomb during the Sabbath. (The years 31 and 33 were unusual in that each had a “Double Sabbath,” where the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread fell on the regular seventh day of the week.) Then He rose on the day after the Sabbath, known as the Day or Feast of First Fruit.
REINTERPRETATION: In light of His resurrection, Christians soon saw Jesus as the new First Fruit offering to God. (See John 20:17, 1 Corinthians 15:20.)

Food for Thought
  • Did Jesus impose a new meaning on Passover, or did He reveal its true meaning?
  • Is there a contradiction between the Synoptic interpretation of the Passover meal (i.e., Christ as the bread and wine) and the Johannine/Pauline interpretation (i.e., Christ as the sacrificial lamb)?
Further Study
Song of Songs, or Canticle of Canticles, is often read during Passover or the Sabbath following it. A poem associated with the court of King Solomon of Israel, it celebrates the erotic relationship between two lovers. Jews have often interpreted it as an allegory: God in relationship with His people, the assembly of the nation of Israel. It is no surprise then that Christians have reinterpreted it in a similar manner: God in relationship with His people, the assembly of believers in Jesus Christ.

Note: This draft lesson was presented at the women’s Bible study meeting held on Saturday, June 3, 2017 at Alhambra Church of Christ (Alhambra, California).

Saturday, June 24, 2017

“Not Just Jane” (Book Review)

How many people – especially women – enjoy fame in their day, but are soon forgotten after their deaths? You only need to scan a list of Academy Award winners to realize that it doesn’t take long for fame to die out, even for many who are really gifted. So true for the authoresses featured in Shelley DeWees’ Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature (Harper Perennial, 2016).

Wanting to make the world aware that there’s more to the English literature than some Jane Austin mixed with a little Charlotte Bronte, DeWees introduces her readers to seven famous women almost no one has ever heard of: Charlotte Turner Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Mary Robinson, Catherine Crowe, Sara Coleridge, Dinah Mulock Craik, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. (Before reading the book, I was only vaguely familiar with two of them, and my husband a different two for different reasons.)

These authors had sad, often tragic, lives and struggled to make a living in what was truly a man’s world. More importantly, they once made strong contributions to Britain’s literary scene, yet won’t be found on today’s high school reading lists. DeWees might change that, however. She peeks into each woman’s backstory, showing how their work shaped their lives and vice versa. From poetry to short stories, from major works of fiction to political and social commentaries, these writers left a lasting impression, even if it generally goes unnoticed or unrecognized. DeWess is right. They deserve our consideration today.