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.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Introduction to ‘Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations’ (Bible Study)

The three pilgrimage feasts: There were other feasts celebrated by the Bronze and Iron Age Israelites of the Old Testament and the first century Jews of the New Testament, but these three held special significance. In the Torah, God commanded every Israelite male to congregate together and offer sacrifices in commemoration of important events in the nation’s early history. After King David conquered Jerusalem and King Solomon built the temple, millions of people journeyed to these sites three times a year to fulfill their religious obligations.

In the spring, it was the seven-day חג המצות (Chag ha-Matzot) or Feast of Unleavened Bread, linked with חג הפסח (Chag ha-Pesach) or Feast of Passover and חג הביכורים (Chag ha-Bikurim) or Feast of First Fruit. In the summer, it was the חג השבועות (Chag ha-Shavuot) or Feast of Weeks. In the autumn, it was the seven-day חג חסוכות (Chag ha-Sukkot) or Feast of Booths, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of the Ingathering, marking the conclusion of the Jewish calendar year.

Each feast had its rituals and its traditions, developing over time, that the people meticulously followed. Yet when an itinerant preacher called Jesus of Nazareth stood up in the temple during the Feast of Booths, He challenged their faithfulness, arguing that they did not obey, or even properly understand, the instructions that had been handed down to them.

Later, when celebrating Passover with His disciples, He challenged their understanding of the symbolism behind the dining table, infusing Himself where the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt had been. Then, after bring crucified right before the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, He rose from the dead on the day of First Fruit, breathing new meaning into the centuries-old festival.

Glorified by God the Father, Jesus, recognized by his followers as the promised Messiah, ascended into heaven. However, on earth there was one more festival waiting to be reinterpreted. 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.

When reading the Gospel accounts, it is important for Christians to understand allusions to the Old Testament found in the New Testament. Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations: The Pilgrimage Feasts in the New Testament offers an opportunity to learn how the knowledge of Jesus Christ brought about different meanings to the Jewish pilgrimage festivals. This study was inspired by Songs for the Road: The Psalms of Ascent published by She Reads Truth, but all of the material is original, cultivated from various Jewish and Christian sources on the feasts. Each lesson includes discussions questions suitable for either group study or personal devotionals. Additional readings can be found in מגילות‎ חמש (Chamesh Megillot) or the Five Scrolls, which are each traditionally read during a feast.

After years of studying this subject, it is a joy for me to finally be able to share what I have learned. I hope that you find Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations both informative and edifying. Thank you.

Jennifer Vaughn-Estrada

Note: This women’s Bible study will begin on Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 10 a.m. and meet monthly at Alhambra Church of Christ (Alhambra, California). Feel free to join us if you’re in the area.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Intro to ‘Songs for the Road: The Psalms of Ascent’ by She Reads Truth (Bible Study)

Recently I learned about She Reads Truth, a Christian organization that provides Bible studies online, through an Android app, and also in printed form from their online shop. What I found attractive was the apparent seriousness of their studies while still being devotional in focus and filled with feminine flair. (Of course, the He Reads Truth versions, while being similar in content, have a more masculine, no-frills look.)

While I like the accessibility and community of the online app, I found it difficult to read. So I decided to give a printed version a try. Over the next three weeks, I plan to follow the study Songs for the Road: The Psalms of Ascent by She Reads Truth and blog my thoughts on the lessons and activities. The readings are the set of Psalms 120-134, associated with the three pilgrimage feasts that God ordered the Israelites to observe. After completing the course, I will then give a critical review. I hope the study lives up to its beautiful appearance when it comes to content. We shall see.