From:  Bible Authority and the Role of Silence                               Return to Home        

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three:

Objections to “Silence Prohibits:” 

Jesus Observing Purim and Hanukah

 

 

 

            It was only within 2015-2016 that I came across any line of argumentation that seemed to strike a major blow at our analysis that “divine silence prohibits.”  The problem if we accept any of these arguments is that it creates a fundamental contradiction in the scriptures for the scriptures showing that “divine silence prohibits” still exist.  How do we reconcile the two fundamentally inconsistent scenarios that

                        Silence prohibits and

                        Silence does not prohibit?

            There are three options:

1.      The Bible blatantly contradicts on the subject.

2.      Since the argument for the first approach is the proverbial “mile wide and a mile deep,” then the other evidence indicates God’s willingness to tolerate rare exceptions.  The emphasis here would be on “rare” and “exception” since there is simply too much silence = prohibition evidence to regard that as anything other than the norm.

3.      The “permissive approach” reading of the counter-arguments contain a serious misreading of the actual evidence.       

Our judgment is that the last is the most reasonable evidence and the second option the far less probable explanation.  If we are even having a discussion on Bible authority “the Bible blatantly contradicts” is an inherently improbable/impossible answer.   

For the reasons just spelled out, the following was not part of the original manuscript and represents entirely new evidence.  This chapter represents far better my current style of writing.  Hopefully it will present the available evidence--pro and con—just as effectively . . . though with a bit different “sound” to it than the previous materials that were strongly rooted in my earlier studies.   

As someone I stumbled across in the research made reference—unfortunately I did not think I would be using his material before I got far beyond his internet entry—it should be noted that our principle that “silence prohibits” often carries a slightly different connotation as well.  He simply stated it as equivalent but I think an important distinction and overlap still remains and that they are better described as two sides of the same coin.  What I refer to is this:   

When God has revealed that “such and such” was to be done, He is specifying that that is okay.  When we do something that is in no way stated or inherent or reasonably implied by that authorization, it is not so much that we are violating the “prohibition of silence” as we are defying and ignoring what is authorized and insisting upon substituting something different and unauthorized.  It is violating His silence but a blatant rejection and defying of what is authorized as well.  Therefore, surely, making the offense even worse!      

 

 

 

1.  Why Then Did Jesus Observe

the Unauthorized Feast of Purim?

 

 

            The Divinely ordained framework of feasts.  In Deuteronomy 23:2 we read the Lord’s instruction to Moses:  Say to the people of Israel, The appointed feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, my appointed feasts, are these.”  In the remainder of the chapter seven are listed:

 

1.      Feast of Passover (23:4-5).

2.      Feast of Unleavened Bread (23:6-8).

3.      Feast of First Fruits (23:9-14).

4.      Festival of Weeks (23:15-22).

5.      Festival of Trumpets (23:23-25).

6.      Day of Atonement (23:26-32).

7.      Festival of Booths (23:33-43).      

 

Perhaps to make sure that this was where the list ends, the chapter concludes with the observation, “Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed feasts of the Lord” (23:44).

The Old Testament makes plain that however desirable attendance at all seven was, only three were absolutely obligatory:

 

“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me.  15 You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread; as I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt.  None shall appear before me empty-handed.  16 You shall keep the feast of harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field.  You shall keep the feast of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. 17 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God.  (Exodus 23)

16 Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place which he will choose:  at the feast of unleavened bread, at the feast of weeks, and at the feast of booths.  They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed; 17 every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord  your God which he has given you.  (Deuteronomy 16)

 

            In more modern terminology:  Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles.

            By the reasoning we have presented, this was the scriptural pattern.  Barring Divine revelation, no one had the right to add more to the pattern.  Since “silence prohibits,” to do so would be not only unwise, but outright sinful.

            Why then do we read of additional festivals being observed and, of core importance, even Jesus Himself participating in them?—the very Individual we have argued embraced the concept of “silence prohibiting!’

 

Now, dealing with this problem in regard to Purim in particular:  In the modern synagogue the book of Esther is read on this feast day.  Outside the synagogue, for the Jewish family, it is a family party day in which one dresses up as one of the modern or ancient “good guys” or as one of those doomed to destruction “bad guys” (Haman from Esther or one of the modern anti-Semites that killed Jews).  In the ancient world, some rabbis went so far as to teach that it was the one day of the year it was okay to get drunk on . . . so unrestrained was the rejoicing to be.  So we have a combination of joyous customs in a partying context designed to remember that many centuries earlier an ultra-dangerous foe came close to annihilating the Jewish people--but that they had managed to escape it.

            This kind of joyous occasion is exactly that intended at its creation:  And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday” (Esther 8:17), which led to the establishment of it as an ongoing one (Esther 9):

           

20 And Mor′decai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasu-erus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending choice portions to one another and gifts to the poor.  23 So the Jews undertook to do as they had begun, and as Mor′decai had written to them.

26 Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur.  And therefore, because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had befallen them, 27 the Jews ordained and took it upon themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year, 28 that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.

 

            Queen Esther, in turn, sent out orders as “queen” (9:29), that the people were to observe it as well (9:30-31).   

            This regal and communal decision certainly locked it firmly into Jewish practice.  But was it inspired as well?  Jewish rabbinic opinion was united that Mordecai was a prophet; some even believed he was identical with the Biblical writer Malachi.  In a similar manner rabbinic literature looked upon Esther as a prophetess.  If either of these assumptions is true then Purim had direct divine sanction and our whole discussion would seem to be pointless.

            In most situations I would be inclined to dismiss both the prophet and prophetess interpretations, but Esther is, religiously, a very strange book:  The word “God” is not even mentioned!  Clearly the writer was working under an extreme limitation as to what—in his environment—could be safely or wisely be said.  Hence the idea that such claims would simply be assumed (due to the leadership position of Mordecai and the regal position of Esther) would be far from outrageous.  But not exactly proven either! 

            Yet Mordecai on some basis thought he had the right to bind this on all future generations.  If this doesn’t imply he regarded himself as inspired, wouldn’t we have to dismiss him as an egomaniac?  (Not a very good interpretive option, is it?)

           

            Assuming that the Hebrew text as we have it is correct—see more of that further below--that still leaves the question of why God is omitted.  We have already mentioned reasonable grounds to argue that the assumption of inspired authority is conveyed by the book, but there certainly are those who suspect God is omitted because the authors did not believe God had anything to do with what happened.  One radical Jewish scholar (an Associate Professor at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College) argues of the authors:[1]

 

Perhaps they were Judean Jews who were critical of Jews who had chosen to remain living in the Diaspora.  If so, they might have been asserting that God is absent in the story and that the rescue of the Jews was the result of precarious coincidence, not divine providence. . . .  In this topsy-turvy Diaspora world, God does not act in history on behalf of the Jews.  Yes, the Jews win in the end.  However, that victory is dependent on a sequence of unlikely coincidences.  The book cautions that Diaspora history is controlled by coincidence and caprice, not by the clear and reliable will of God. 

 

            This leaves, however, a tremendous difficulty:  Pious God-centered Jews write a literally godless book about the Diaspora Jews that establishes the propriety and precedent for a major festival they themselves observe!  The “godless” show the “godly” the propriety of following a festival.  The repugnant show the righteous the festival they themselves jubilantly embrace—even though it totally originated without even the assumption of Divine endorsement?  Am I the only one who sees a huge psychological impossibility inherent in this position?  

            Of course, these observations assume that the Judeans observed the festival as well.  But let us assume that they did not anywhere close to the time the book was so cynically written.  Then are we to somehow assume that as time passed by that the Judeans forgot that it was written sarcastically and a Divine role was never intended in the first place?  But, mysteriously, out of nowhere, it magically appears in the minds of the pious and the religious leaders?  And they enthusiastically embrace it!  This does not seem to inspire confidence either.

 

            A positive explanation for the omission of the Divine Name is suggested by Jeffrey Kranz:[2]

 

·         There are no direct words from God.  Most books of the Old Testament mention prophets, who speak on God’s behalf; neither of these stories, however, include any spokesperson for God.

·         There are no overt miracles.  When God does something completely out of the ordinary, the Bible credits him for it.  But Esther is a story of human action, and Song of Solomon focuses on human love.  [RW:  In determining if God is mentioned in the Song of Solomon, it depends upon which of two different ways the ending of 8:6 is rendered into English.]    

 

            Mark Vincent effectively argues that the presence and intervention of God is an obligatory inference because if the book is historically accurate there is simply too much coincidence for it to all have been by pure unmitigated chance.  March Vincent.[3]  This could be tied in with our argument that the very fact that Mordecai believes he has the authority to establish a perpetual holiday for the Jews argues that he considered himself supernaturally authorized.  That all these “coincidences” broke just right, would that not argue he had good grounds for doing so?   

            We could go on far further and discuss other arguments for why God’s name is not explicitly mentioned, but these representative examples should be adequate for our case because--I would be less than candid if I did not concede the point--that we seem unlikely to find anything that will take us much further.  To provide further evidence that God was acting throughout the book, yes.  To provide further evidence that God endorsed Purim, no.  But, again, doesn’t the first point provide powerful evidence for the second?

 

            So far we have been arguing from the standard, accepted Hebrew text.  The picture gets more complicated when we argue from the Septuagint/Greek text.  There both the name of God and the idea of the overtly miraculous become obvious.  These are included in what is commonly called the “Additions to Esther.” 

Jerome lumped these sections together at the end of the book as chapters 10:1-16:24.  He clearly felt there was enough evidence to include them but not enough to place them in the main body of the texts.  The Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition places these materials at what would be their logical narrative points in the Hebrew, preserving both the original chapter and verse numbers and printing it in italics to make it visually distinct from the rest of the text. 

The St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint (SAAS; 2008) is published as the Old Testament of the Orthodox Study Bible and also puts the “Additions” as in their perceived appropriate places but integrate the numbering system with the now traditional English divisions, marking all the added material with the same number as the Hebrew translated text uses but adding the lower case additions of letters of the alphabet.  Hence we have numbering like 1:1a, 1b, 1c, etc.  (This is not totally consistent:  The Hebrew language 5:1-2 in the RSVCE and NKJV becomes 5:1-13 in the SAAS and 15:1-16 [yes, chapter 15], in the RSVCE.)

The first insert is of special interest.  It refers to how Mordecai “had a dream” (1:1a).  The people “cried out to God” because of the danger faced in the dream (1:1h).  “Mordecai, who had seen this vision and what God was planning to do awoke.  He kept it in his heart and wished to ponder it until night” (1:1k, l, SAAS).  If accepted as genuine, this certainly establishes Mordecai as the recipient of Divine revelation.  Equally relevant to our present topic:  At the end of the book, would he so enthusiastically embrace the idea of an ongoing Purim celebration unless he was convinced that God favored the idea? 

After Haman’s plot is successfully thwarted and the villain hung, “the great King Artaxerxes” sends out a letter to his many provinces (8:12b).  It warned that no action against the Jews was to be taken and that Haman had proved himself not only a threat to the Jewish people but to the throne itself (8:12l) and his exposure had saved both.  Then we have this fascinating comment;

 

Therefore, post a copy of this document publicly in every place, making it known that the Jews are to follow their own customs; and join in supporting them, so that on the day set for their destruction, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month Adar, they may defend themselves against those who would attack them.  For God, who holds power over all things, has made this a day of gladness for them instead of a day of the destruction of a chosen race.  Therefore, celebrate this outstanding day among your named feasts with all rejoicing, so that both now and in the future it may be deliverance for us and for the well-inclined Persians; and for those who plot destruction against us, a remembrance of destruction (8:12r-8:12t, SAAS).   

 

            If these words have a strong historical root, there still seems to be some type of textual confusion in the transmission:  8:12t is worded strangely--it shifts from being a decree of the ruler to wording implying that a Jew is doing the writing--but then promptly shifts back in 12u to a wording clearly addressed to the Persian officials.  (Either that or it is a sign of hasty composition and the rush to get the correspondence out.)  The joining of Jewish and national self-interest is intriguing, though:  At the very least, if anything close to this was actually sent, one can easily imagine Jews observing the memorial for similar patriotic reasons as well as their own specific religious ones.

 

            Not only is God’s name invoked within the new segments, His name is also mentioned on multiple occasions within what the Hebrew language tradition preserves.  These the RSVCE decline to include.  For comparison sake, these are the three occasions I found where God is mentioned outside the major segments found only in the Greek:

 

2:20 RSVCE:  Now Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mor′decai had charged her; for Esther obeyed Mor′decai just as when she was brought up by him. 

SAAS:  Now Esther had not revealed her heritage, just as Mordecai commanded her when she was with him, which is to fear God and keep His commandments, and Esther did not change her manner of life.    

 

6:1  RSVCE:  On that night the king could not sleep; and he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king.

SAAS:  But the Lord made it difficult for the king to sleep that night, and the king commanded his servant to bring in the written records of notable events.     

 

6:13  RSVCE:  And Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had befallen him. Then his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, “If Mor′decai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him.”  [This seems to require one of two implications:  that “the Jewish people” are so powerful and influential—highly unlikely—that doom is virtually inevitable . . . or that inserted by the Septuagint below.]            

SAAS:  And Haman related these events to his wife Zeresh and his friends.  Then his friends and wife said to him “If Mordecai, before whom you are beginning to fall, if of the Jewish race, you will not be able to defend against him, for the living God is with him. 

 

            These may be useful in establishing that “God” is mentioned in the text, but none of them invoke God’s name specifically in regard to Mordecai’s declaration of the ongoing yearly feast of Purim.  Indeed, would that not be the place where one would most expect a mention of God?

            Hence our consideration of the “Greek additions” has proved, I hope, interesting, but it hasn’t really advanced the question any further than the arguments we have studied previously.

 

Now, as to the New Testament.  The proof text that Jesus observed the holiday comes from the words introducing Jesus healing the blind man at the pool of Siloam:  After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 5:1).  You will note that the Biblical text, however, conspicuously does not mention which festival it was.  There are others to be chosen from as well! 

There is a historical argument worthy of consideration in favor of the Purim identity suggested for the feast, however:  “The feast of John 5 fell on a Sabbath (5:9). The only feast day to fall on a Sabbath between A.D. 25 and A.D. 35 was Purim of A.D. 28 (Faulstich 1986).”[4]  Assuming that Jesus had about a three year ministry, if He died in 33, then the 28 date is far too early.  Assuming a 30 A.D. date is a different story.

 

Accepting the 30 A.D. crucifixion date, there still remains more than one problem.  Purim was a one day festival.  Why go all the way to Jerusalem for it?  After all, it was never a Jerusalem specific event.  From the very first it was celebrated wherever one was.  It did not require anything that had to be done in Jerusalem only--like animal sacrifices or worship in the Temple.

Furthermore, the identification is based on the assumption that the Sabbath discussed occurred the day of the feast rather than His remaining in the city till the next Sabbath was completed--which, under the most extreme circumstance, could never envolve more than six days, could it?  Whatever the exact number of days He remained, the length of the journey from Galilee would argue you made it a "special occasion" and stayed a few days longer if at all possible.

Or arrived a day or two early for that matter.  Travel by foot and potential variable weather and travel conditions meant that factoring in an early arrival would make perfect sense no matter whether one stayed long afterwards or not.

We know that He had just been in Galilee because we are told that in John 4:43 and 4:47.  This period included a visit to Cana (4:46).  The chapter closes with Him still in Galilee (4:54).  So he traveled all the way down to Jerusalem for this latest feast in chapter 5.  Should we assume that He would immediately rush back to Galilee or might we just as easily assume that He would linger a day—even a few days—in Jerusalem and its vicinity, even including a Sabbath? 

The action would be quite logical especially since this was at a point at which no matter how outwardly receptive the Galilean locals had acted (cf. “the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast,” 4:45), the grim reality was that inwardly they generally were not affected in the way His actions should produced (cf. “a prophet has no honor in his own country,” 4:44).  In this context might He not willingly and happily remain a few additional days in Jerusalem--including however soon the next Sabbath might be?  So though the dating argument is intriguing, it does seem to fall short of being as conclusive as one might like.     

 

In defense of a Purim time event being referred to it would also be useful to also cite the National Sunday School Teacher for 1875.[5]  This source argues that the date must be Purim and not Passover:  For one thing, only a chapter later (6:4) we read that “the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.”  In other words in two chapters we would have two different Passovers referred to.  Not impossible, but unexpected. 

That aspect he does not explicitly introduced though that argument any reader would almost automatically deduce from what he does have to say.  The other “time factor” noted is John 4:35:  “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!’   It is argued that the words “were spoken in December” and four more months—though they don’t explicitly say it—would bring you to Passover.  

I never was very good at math, but as I count the few numbers envolved, this still doesn’t seem to work out.  Purim occurs about a month prior to the Passover.  In 2015-2016 Hanukah began December 7th, Purim was March 24th, the Passover began on April 23rd.  The barley harvest was brought in at the time of the Passover.  So using this calendar four months prior to the March 24th date for Purim would push us back to mid-November.  To my mind, the next festival after mid-November sure looks like Hanukah, but in this case it is widely asserted that it is Purim.  The commentator does not present or imply an explanation of why he prefers the choice of Purim or why he places John 4:35 in December rather than November.  

(How the Jewish calendar “translates” into the modern calendar dating system will vary from year to year, of course, and presumably the difference might be attributed to that.  One computer source says the date can vary from March 22 to [rarely] as late as April 25th.  Most often it is near our Easter holiday.) 

He adds, at the conclusion of his comments, the observation that we should not necessarily read too much of significance into his presence at Purim:[6]

 

It has been wondered why Jesus should go to Jerusalem to attend such a feast.  But it seems to have escaped the eyes of many that it is not said that He went up to Jerusalem for this purpose.  The fact of the festival and the fact of his going up are chronicled together because of their synchronous occurrence, and because their dates were more often fixed by reference to some such festival than by reference to the month.  

 

            In closing, perhaps it would be useful to remember that Jesus’ final visit to Jerusalem envolved celebrating the Passover.  After His partaking of it, we read of His arrest and the vicious ramming through of His conviction in order to get Him executed before the Sabbath occurred.  In Luke 23:50-54 we read of the arrangements to bury the body and how “that day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near” (verse 54), i.e., was about to begin.

            In John 5 Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for a feast (verse 1).  If he tarried afterwards could that not, similarly, be the time for a “Sabbath” as well? 

 

And then there is the oddity that the name of the occasion should have been omitted.  John has no hesitation in mentioning that He was present at the time of “the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem” (John 10:22-23), i.e., Hanukah.  Why would he avoid explicit mention of Purim as well?

Various efforts have been made to explain this.  Some have argued that the omission of the name of Purim in John 5:1 was in fitting with the festival’s origin:  The Spirit of God intentionally left out the name of the feast because the Lord's name was deliberately left out of the Book of Esther.”[7] 

The omission of a feast’s name is equated with leaving out the name of God when the feast is in a very Jew friendly environment and the original story in a very non-Jew friendly setting?  I find it hard to see how we get from one point to another.  I suspect that one would be far more credible to simply argue that a festival does not have to be “name identified” for it to be a certain festival.

Surely at least equally credible would be the scenario that the name of the feast is not mentioned because it is always honorable to worship God even when it occurs during a festival arguably unauthorized by God.  But there would be a profound difference between worshipping on that day as on any other day and doing so because it was that particular day.  This explanation would be fully consistent with our silence = prohibition scenario.  

(In our culture, think of the profound difference between “worshipping on Christmas” because it is Christmas versus because it is Sunday/the first day of the week.  We would be worshipping because it is the ordained day for worship, not because it is the time an unmentioned and scripturally unauthorized religious holiday is observed.)

Likewise He could have been at the feast because other people were there to celebrate Purim and he was there because they were there and during such a joyous occasion they might be more receptive to his upbeat message of coming redemption.  In other words He was there because of the crowds and not because of the specific event being observed.  That also would be equally compatible with what we have argued. 

Gordon Franz, however, is convinced that Jesus was consciously observing the book of Esther’s command to give gifts on that day during the Feast:[8] 

 

The Lord Jesus took advantage of the Feast of Purim to teach His disciples about Himself and to fulfill the commandment to give gifts to the poor [by healing the afflicted].  John tells us that by the Sheep Pools is a place called Bethesda.  The word “Bethesda” is made up of two Hebrew words, “beit” and “hesed,” meaning “house of mercy.”  The two words give the distinct impression that there was a “house” or temple where merciful acts were carried out.  Archaeological excavations in the area of the St. Anne's Church north of the Temple Mount have demonstrated that there was a healing shrine to the Greek god of healing, Asclepius (Jeremias 1966; Benoit 1968:48-57; Wilkinson 1978:95-97; Franz 1989). . . .

In the account in John 5, there is a confrontation between deities. Who really is God?  Is it Asclepius or the Lord Jesus Christ?  The Lord Jesus won this confrontation “hands down.”  He did not need a shrine to heal this man.  He did not need an “angel” (probably a demonic being, Matt. 25:41; II Cor. 11:13-15; Rev. 19:20) or the superstition of the "stirring of the water" (John 5:4).  All He did was speak the word and the man was healed. 

 

Jesus was obeying the command to give gifts on Purim by performing the healing.  And He was motivated in His multitude of other healings by what then?  Love.  Compassion.  Concern.  The well being of the sick and injured.  Why in the world would the motive be any different here?

And he would have us believe that there was a major pagan healing site “in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate” (John 5:1) and that there was “a great multitude” there seeking healing (5:2).  “A great multitude” (surely of Jews!) seeking healing at a pagan religious site in the holy city.  Does anyone really believe that?  Or is he simply arguing that there was a parallel Jewish healing site there because there was a pagan one as well?  Is that any more probable?  Or that Jesus would even have intentionally been there at all if it had been?  (Some are clearly convinced that it is not likely "a Jewish site at all, but rather a Greek Asclepion-affiliated facility.")[9]

The healing was promptly noted by pious Jews who challenged the healed man carrying his pallet/bed.  He explained his healing and was instructed to point out who the alleged healer was.  “But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place” (5:13). 

So these pious, observant Jews are also inside a pagan cult site in Jerusalem and on the Sabbath day at that and don’t have a “hissy fit” at the other Jews for their presence and impiety?    I don’t believe it for a second.  Do you?  (Shall I even mention that the popularity of a blatantly pagan site would surely have been regarded as a hundred times worse a transgression than pallet carrying--and been denounced even more vigorously?)

In his zeal to elaborate on the day’s healing, I fear the commentator has fallen into little short of delusion.  

 

Purim was ordained as a time of rejoicing and not as a time of worship (though obviously the two could easily become overlapped).  Whatever specifically religious observances later became attached, none was required or mentioned in the book of Esther.  The closest modern parallel we non-Jews have to it, would be the non-religious elements of the Christmas season--a time for gift giving and joy.  Others like to compare it to Thanksgiving, but the gift giving would suggest a greater analogy to Christmas.  

The observance became the occasion, as we noticed, for the reading of the book of Esther in the synagogue.  That kind of “Purim synagogue observance” required no authority in the first place since what texts were read was a matter of choosing which Scripture to read.  It was a matter of doing what was already authorized, worshipping God and reading Scripture.  It might be called “Purim synagogue observance” but isn’t it really little or no more than a regular synagogue service and, since Purim is the time, that particular text chosen rather than something else? 

(However we might well challenge the permitting the “joyful interruptions” of noisemaking that are accepted to accompany the reading in the modern service.  That we would challenge in regard to the reading of any passage and not just this one and not just on this one particular day.  A general rule of decorum and respect would seem to be violated.) 

And the particular prayer/blessings that were chosen for Purim?  What were they but ones that could with equal propriety have been given any other day?  

And since Jerusalem (with its Temple) was the center of Jewish worship, where more appropriate to go for that day than one of the many synagogues in Jerusalem?    

In short no “silence of scriptures” situation actually existed.

             

            As precedent for Christmas religious observance?  We have argued that one can separate Purim’s joy, celebration, and gift giving and think of it as a kind of patriotic memorial day--separate from its strict religious observance.  And the way it is pictured in Esther, the celebratory aspects are stressed as the core of the observance.  Yet one can reasonably argue that, even so, it is inherently impossible to celebrate these elements from that of religious thanksgiving and joy--for God’s implicit intervention for His people. 

            In other words, in “real life” can the “secular/celebratory” be fully and completely separated from the religious aspects of Purim?  Our modern parallel would be Christmas—begun as a strictly religious activity . . . and Purim was never more than partly that).  Many who oppose the celebration of man invented religious holidays enjoy an easy—or sometimes uneasy—enjoyment of the celebratory and family aspects of the occasion with minimal attention to any religious ones.  (Though I confess I notice a creeping tolerance even of those since the beginning of the 21st century.) 

            Even though a “rigid break” between them would certainly not have been sought or desired by Mordecai, in all fairness it does seem that there would be grounds to make such a distinction.

            On the other hand, one can easily see how this can be reversed as well:  If Jesus observed the possibly humanly invented festival of Purim and the unquestionably humanly invented festival of Hanukah (see below), what would be wrong with Christians observing Christmas both in a religious sense as well as in its secular celebratory sense?  After all, these festivals had both aspects.  A website that specializes in rebutting Jehovah Witness theology invokes Purim to do exactly that.  Under the heading “Are God’s people allowed to add their own celebrations?” they write:[10]

 

Is there any Biblical precedent for God's people to have the freedom to chose their own holiday in order to celebrate God's gift of life sent in the person of God's Son?  The book of Esther reveals the answer.  God's people were faced with complete annihilation shortly after Esther became Queen. . . . [After the tragedy was averted] The Jews instituted their own holy day or holiday calling it "Purim". " . . .  Esther 9:19-31.  

What was meant for evil was turned around as a victorious celebration for the Jews!  Nowhere did Jehovah ever condemn the Jews for creating the celebration of Purim.  

Neither did Jesus condemn the celebration when he was here on earth.  And Purim is still celebrated even to this day.  In the same way Christians have the freedom to chose to celebrate the marvelous gift of God's Son.     

 

             This difficulty can be avoided, however, if one argues that implicit throughout the book is that God is acting and that when Mordecai establishes the holiday he does so with the approval of God Himself.  If it was strictly on his own initiative, however, the fall back to the celebratory versus religious nature of the feast might or might not work--depending upon whether one regards the distinction as both justified and feasible.    

 

What we have done is trace the evidence—weak and stronger both—in favor of an identification of John 5:9 with the feast of Purim and trace out the possible repercussions if it is valid.  However, the subject can hardly be left until we also consider. . . . 

 

The case against John 5:9 being Purim.  Although this is far less often encountered, we can hardly present the case in favor of the interpretation without the case against it as well.  These efforts do not seem common today so we’ll quote two older works.  First of all J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton.  The Fourfold Gospel or Harmony of the Gospels:[11]

 

1 After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. [Though every feast in the Jewish calendar has found some one to advocate its claim to be this unnamed feast, yet the vast majority of commentators choose either the feast of Purim, which came in March, or the Passover, which came in April. Older commentators pretty unanimously regarded it as the Passover, while the later school favor the feast of Purim. 

John 4:35 locates Jesus in Samaria in December, and John 6:4 finds him on the shores of Galilee just before a Passover.  If, then, this was the feast of Purim, the Passover of John 6:4 was the second in Jesus' ministry, and that ministry lasted but two years and a fraction.  But if the feast here mentioned was a Passover, then the one at John 6:4 would be the third Passover, and the ministry of Jesus lasted three years and a fraction.  Since, then, the length of Jesus' ministry is largely to be determined by what the feast was, it becomes important for us to fix the feast, if possible.

That it was not Purim the following arguments may be urged.

1.  Purim was not a Mosaic feast, but one established by human laws; hence Jesus would not be likely to observe it.  True, we find him at the feast of Dedication, which was also of human origin, but he did not "go up" to attend it; he appears to have attended because he was already in Jerusalem (John 10:22).

2.  Here the pregnant juxtaposition of "feast" and "went up" indicates that Jesus was drawn to Jerusalem by this feast, but Purim was celebrated by the Jews everywhere, and did not require that any one should go to Jerusalem, as did the three great festivals--Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.

3.  It was kept in a boisterous, riotous manner, and was therefore not such a feast as Jesus would honor.  

4. It came early in the year, when the weather was too rigorous and inclement for sick people to frequent porticos.

5. It did not include a Sabbath Day.  [RW:  For the opposite argument, see above.]

6. As Purim was just a month before the Passover, Jesus would hardly have returned to Galilee before the Passover (John 6:4) unless He intended to miss the Passover, which He would hardly do for the sake of attending Purim in Jerusalem.

Those contending that it was not the Passover, present several arguments, which we note and answer as follows:

1.  Since John gives the name of other Passovers, he would have named this also, had it been one.  But the conclusion is inferential, and not logical; and the answer is to be twofold: first, perhaps John did give the name by prefixing the article to it, and calling it "the feast," for being the oldest--older than the law and the Sabbath--and most important of all feasts, it was rightly called by pre-eminence "the feast."  Since the Sinaitic manuscript gives the article, and calls it "the feast," the manuscript authority for and against this reading is pretty evenly balanced.

Second, if John did not name it, there is probably this reason for his silence.  Where he names the feast elsewhere it is thought that the incidents narrated take color from, or have some references to, the particular festal occasion which is named; but here there is no such local color, and failure to name the feast prevents mistaken attempts to find such local color.

2.  Again it is objected that if this is a different Passover from John 6:4, then John skips a year in the life of Jesus.  He probably does so skip, and this is not strange when the supplemental nature of his Gospel is considered.

In favor of its being the Passover we submit two points:

1.  Daniel seems to forecast the ministry of the Messiah as lasting one-half of a week of years (Daniel 9:27).

2.  It fits better in the chronological arrangement, for in the next scene we find the disciples plucking grain, and the Sabbath question is still at full heat.  But the harvest season opens with the Passover.

 

            The two commentators make a case worthy of careful consideration.  Even independent of the argumentation of McGarvey and Pendleton, however, the limitations we’ve already examined argue the need for great caution in embracing the scenario that Jesus observed Purim.  And even if He did, what are the proper conclusions to flow from it?

 

            Nor are they the only ones reluctant to embrace Purim as rooted in the text.  R. C. H. Lenski, a well respected Lutheran commentator of the World War Two era had this to say in his commentary on the gospel of John:[12]

 

Commentators, from the ancient fathers onward, are hopelessly divided as to what festival of the Jews John here refers to.  The codices are about equally divided between the reading “a festival of the Jews” (without the Greek article) and “the festival of the Jews (with the article, although inner reasons would speak for the former reading.

Jesus had left Judea in December (4:35) for the reason stated in 4:1-3.  First there came the feast of Purim in March; next the Passover in April; fifty days later the Jewish Pentecost; in October the Feast of Tabernacles.

Purim we may dismiss in short order, since this festival had no connection with the Temple nor with any service there.  The book of Esther was read only in the local synagogues, no work was done, and the time was spent in eating and in drinking, often to excess.  Having left Judea as indicated, Jesus would not return there so soon, and surely not for the observance of a festival that compelled nobody to go to Jerusalem. 

So much is certain:  The feast we seek to determine must be sought between the Passover of 2:12, when Jesus cleansed the Temple, and the Passover of 6:4, during which Jesus remained in Galilee.  With Purim out of consideration, the choice narrows down to one of the three pilgrim feasts:  Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles.

  

            After making this very effective argument, he rejects the suggestion of McGarvey and Pendleton that Passover is under consideration, arguing that whether one reads “a” or “the” feast John writes too “indefinitely” to pin it down to that particular Feast; if he had had it in mind he far more likely would have come out and directly said it.  Lenski's personal feeling is that the Feast of Tabernacles is under consideration.[13]

 

            One final resource that provides something relevant is that of William Hendriksen, also writing on the fourth gospel.  Firstly, he reinforces the argument that it is inherently improbable that Purim could even be under discussion:  “Purim was not a pilgrim feast.  It was celebrated in the local synagogues where for that occasion the book of Esther was read amid great joy.”[14]

            The second remark relevant to our study is that if the definite article describing the feast is accepted as valid that still doesn’t limit us to only one in particular (page 189):[15]

 

Of these three the term feast of the Jews (5:1) is used elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel to indicate either Passover (6:4) or feast of Tabernacles (7:2).  In both [later] cases, moreover, the original has the definite article preceding the noun feast.  Accordingly, the omission of that article here in 5:1 according to the best textual evidence, does not decide the question either way. 

We conclude, therefore, by stating as our opinion that this unnamed feast a. was one of the three pilgrim feasts; b. must be dated in the year 28 A.D.; and c. was, in all probability, either Passover or feast of Tabernacles (without ruling out the possibility that it was Pentecost).

In favor of the Passover two additional arguments are sometimes presented:  1.  this is supported by the tradition of Irenaeus, and 2. this was the only feast which the Israelites were required to attend.  However, the evidence is not entirely conclusive.

          

 

 

 

 

 

2. 

Why Did Jesus Observe the

Unauthorized Festival of Hanukah?

 

 

 

In John 10 we read:  “(22) It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; (23) it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.”

            Antiochus (IV), known as Antiochus Epiphanes (“God Manifest”) had not only been a foe of Israel but a bitter and vicious one at that.  He took the “Epiphanes” so seriously that some enemies nicknamed him Antiochus Epimames (“The Madman”).  Replacing the high priest with one who supported his policy of hyper-hellenization, he  suppressed circumcision, and seized resources from the Temple to fund his war with Egypt.  He even replaced the divine altar with one dedicated to Zeus.  If that weren’t extreme enough, he proceeded to offer pigs on the altar!

With the success of the insurrection and Antiochus’ death, the Jews faced a Jewish Temple with part in ruins . . . bushes growing in the courtyards . . . burnt gateway entrances . . . and undertook the emotionally wrenching task of cleaning up the (literally) filthy mess that had been left behind.  (For a powerful description see Maccabees 4:36-51.)

Then came the rededication of the Temple in 165 B.C. (probably in December):

 

52 Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year, 53 they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built.  54 At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. 

55 All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them.  56 So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise.  57 They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and furnished them with doors.  58 There was very great gladness among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was removed.

 

            Technically there was no Divine command to do this, but from the practical standpoint, what else could they do?  It had been defiled and there was the quite natural desire to once again stress both its support and its uniqueness and sanctity.

            If it had been a one time action, it would be easy to dismiss the whole question of its propriety as irrelevant to our question of a continuing festival for it would have been exactly that and nothing more—a one time act.  Even if we could somehow force ourselves to see some wrong in it, it was like David’s eating of the showbread that he wasn’t supposed to eat . . . a one-time, non-repeated behavior. 

            It can hardly be overstressed that after the national trauma the land had been through and the terrible abuse of the Temple, that a period of widespread rejoicing was psychologically inevitable at the Temple reopening for Jehovah worship.  The only question was how organized it would be and for how long it would occur.  Hence the role of the leadership was not so much creating a time of festivity, but regulating how long and what would be envolved in it.  Would the celebration somehow become wrong because of this oversight?

 

            The problem though is what came next—it became a regular, annual event:  59 Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.”  An annual event that Jesus Himself participated in (John 10).

            By what authority was this done?

            If we were to accept First Maccabees as canonical—as does the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Russian, etc.)—then we might have no problem.  As inspired scripture how could it view the festival as acceptable to God unless it really were?

            On the other hand, it is arguable that the book does not regard itself as inspired.   1 Maccabees 4:45b-46 speaks of how they tore down the altar, 46 and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them.”  That could be read as a prophet would someday arise to provide the information or that one currently alive would eventually--shortly?--be available to tell them.  

            9:27, however, decisively rules out there being any currently alive:  Thus there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.” 

            How soon would there be another one?  The only hint we seem to have is in 19:41.  There the expression “for ever” is used either in an accommodative sense (i.e., through him and his descendents as well) or as an indefinite period to ultimately cease in his own lifetime:  And the Jews and their priests decided that Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise.”  

            To interpret all three texts consistently, the idea does seem unavoidable that there was no prophet to write scripture available and that the arising of such a person was regarded as a dream and hope to be fulfilled at some point in the indefinite future.  Hence one has nothing to claim that the book was regarded by its author as inspired nor any reason for us to do either.  Therefore the origin of a ongoing Hanukah celebration can not be argued as scripturally established on the basis of the inspired book in which it was written because it wasn’t inspired.

            One could argue that the acceptability of the festival was established on the basis that it was recorded in a historically reliable work.  Even approached that way, there is nothing to argue that the ones who established it regarded themselves as inspired.  The book is reliable, in other words, in regard to what it says but that does nothing to really demonstrate that God approved of the celebration being ongoing.

            Which leads us to our current controversy:  Jesus participated in it.  Again, what happened to “silence prohibiting” since Jesus participated?

            The ambiguities surrounding Purim and whether Jesus even observed it in Jerusalem at all are not available.  So what do with this text?              

 

            There are some options worth considering.  Whether one chooses to embrace them or not must hinge on the degree of their probability in your mind.  But one thing is certain:  there must be some way to reconcile the many passages that teach that divine silence is divine prohibition and these examples that seem to contradict that premise.  And trying to dismiss either out of hand—without a reasonable rationale for doing so—would turn the inerrant pages of scripture into one that suffers fundamental and basic contradictions.  I’m not willing to let that happen.  Are you?

 

            One way to justify Jesus’ participation in the humanly invented feast is to emphasize that it is always right to rejoice when there is reason to do so and the repurification of the Temple was surely one of the greatest ones in Hebrew history.  The Methodist commentator Joseph Benson (writing in the late 1700s) justified Jesus’ action on this grounds in his Commentary remarks on the verse:

 

This festival, which, according to the meaning of the Greek term, might be more properly called “the feast of renovation,” was instituted by Judas Maccabæus (1 Macc. 4:59) in memory of their pulling down the altar of burnt-offerings, which had been profaned by the Pagans, and building a new one, dedicated to the true God, and of their purifying the temple from the pollutions and idolatries of Antiochus Epiphanes.  “This restoration of the worship of God was a very joyful event to every religious Israelite; and being considered as a new dedication of the temple, great regard was paid to the festival instituted in remembrance of it.  See Josephus Antiquities. 

Accordingly, though it was of human institution, our Lord did not scruple being present at it.  The Jews celebrated this feast for eight days successively, beginning on the 25th of Casleu.  But the latter half of that month falling in with the first half of our December, it was winter, and commonly bad weather at this feast.  Wherefore, to avoid the inclemency of the season, Jesus walked in Solomon’s portico.”

 

            For an individual to do so makes absolute sense.  On the other hand does it remain so when it is done because a religious hierarchy has decided it should be observed independent of being Divinely told to do so?  That does seem much more “antsy,” does it not?  Though one might legitimately point to the fact of the thin line between “religious edict” and “personal preference” probably being minimal—if not non-existent—in the case of an event this important in Jewish history.  (Potential rebuttal:  Wouldn’t that also argue for the propriety of the observance of “Christmas” as a Christian holiday?)   

 

            Others would argue that the observance was proper because legitimate and lawful religious/political authority established it.  The Protestant scholar J. Fawcett makes that exact argument in an entry in that old and voluminous Biblical Illustrator on this text:

 

 

The lawfulness of national and ecclesiastical festivals

J. Fawcett, M. A.

 

There was nothing in this institution against which the most correctly informed conscience could object, and it was enjoined by the lawful authorities; Jesus therefore would submit to an ordinance of man for the Lord's sake; and not only so, but He would willingly encourage this feast of dedication as a solemn acknowledgment of Divine mercies.

On exactly the same footing stand several of the observances of our Church.  The fifth of November, for instance, is observed as a memorial of a like deliverance from the machinations of those, who, after the example of Antiochus, would burn the Scriptures, and those who were found to possess them; and even our Christmas, and Lent, and Good Friday, and Easter, and Whitsuntide, rest on the same foundation.  They were appointed by man, and are supported by the authority of the Church; a higher authority they do not claim: but who that feels as a Protestant and as a Christian, and regards the example of Christ, would refuse to comply with them?

 

            Note that what would cause us to be defensive (the observance of Christmas and other “Christian” holidays) he happily cites as modern applications of this precedent.  Although I grasp his argument, I don’t believe it is mere unwillingness to accept it that drives me to point out that if God was implicitly acting in the events that made the Jewish victory (and rededication of the Temple possible), that provides vastly more authority for it than Christian holidays conjured up on our own.  Where is the hand of God?  Where is the miraculous?  All we have is the well meaning but uninspired hand of man!  

            The most meaningful parallel he suggests is how the Anglican church in his day celebrated on November 5tha memorial of a like deliverance from the machinations of those, who, after the example of Antiochus, would burn the Scriptures.”  I doubt that many of my readers would have the slightest idea what that holiday is.     

 

            Another way to explain Jesus’ behavior is that Hanukah was a religious celebration but also a patriotic one—a manifestation of joy that the Jewish people could both be independent and once again worship as God wanted them to do without hindrance and persecution.  One could indeed rejoice in the latter without impropriety, couldn’t they?  And what more appropriate day to do so, than the one set apart of remember the rededication of the Temple to its holy purposes—which was only made possible by the military victories? 

The two walked in hand.  To celebrate one automatically carried the connotation of celebrating the other as well.  Whatever others were doing religiously, one could surely honor those nationalistic aspects--independently, if you insisted.  (Or vice versa.) 

For what it is worth, some Jewish writers argue that it was originally primarily a celebration of a military victory and the religious element only became dominant at some point in the rabbinic age.  As one Jewish author worded it:  “The Hanukkah commemoration, a clearly nationalistic holiday, a holiday that was more political than spiritual, was muted within the rabbinic liturgical calendar.’[16]

In other words the rabbis ultimately reversed the emphasis and virtually exiled from their thinking any but the religious aspect.  Since this process of gaining a dominance for the religious aspect would have begun only while Jesus was alive (or not all that much before), it would be quite possible for what we have suggested to have been at work. 

But would Jesus have thought in "nationalistic" terms?  At least in a vague sense, of course:  After all, He was born to be a king--however much it would differ from what the world expects and He would even die in order to gain the regal triumph.  So for Him to be encouraged by the against-incredible-odds saga of the Maccabees would hardly be surprising--or even His remembering it with a certain affection.

Of course this line of reasoning hinges upon a strongly nationalistic element being present in the celebration from the very beginning.  If we accept their evaluation of the evidence of course.  On this point I do not claim to have the expertise or depth of study to have a firm opinion.  On the other hand, can any of us imagine the nationalistic element not being a major one when the festival was begun?  On grounds of the historical origin of the celebration--as part of the Jewish victory--the interlocking does seem inescapable.

 

Yet--once again--we have to add "but on the other hands" . . . .  In the first place, even if Jesus was there, in part, because of its nationalistic element, it is impossible to imagine that He could possibly have ignored its religious aspects either.  After all, He came as a spiritual Redeemer and not a revolutionary Liberator.  Hence His active embracing of the religious aspects still seems unavoidable. 

If He regarded it as a vain religious innovation, would He not have denounced it as such like other religious traditions that were contrary to God's will?  Indeed would He have been present even in a "mixed purpose" celebration?

But to add yet another "on the other hand" . . . this is true unless His presence in the city was coincidental and/or this was the only time that He was in the city at that time.  (Which is all we can prove.)      

 

Another way to approach Jesus "observance" of the holiday is to note that this is the only time we know that He attended this particular Feast.  Perhaps He did so regularly or perhaps He did not.  We can’t prove either.  Flipping this argument over, however, it is also true that this is the only time that we are (allegedly) one hundred percent certain that He did so.

But if this was the sole time, then we could reasonably argue that His presence was purely coincidental or that His presence might well be explained because it fit so well with the teaching He intended to give.  Hence one might presume that to do so was the reason for His attendance at this particular event in the first place.  In other words, if you will, the Feast was far more the “excuse” for His presence while teaching specially relevant to the occasion was the underlying reason.              

            Gordon Franz wasn’t setting out to make our point, but he does present an interesting case that the teaching Jesus gave upon that occasion was especially appropriate to the Feast—making credible our argument that the purposed teaching was the real reason He was present at all:[17]

 

The Lord Jesus observed the celebration of Hanukkah in the Temple during the winter of AD 29 (John 10:22–39).  Just prior to this account in John 10, the Apostle John gives two “illustrations” (10:6) of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (10:1–5 and 10:7–10) and records Jesus’ interpretation of these parables (10:11–18).  The Jewish reader would immediately pick up the messianic connotation of this discourse.  The Davidic Messiah would be a Shepherd (Ezekiel 34).

As Jesus walked thorough Solomon’s porch on the east side of the Temple enclosure, some Jews approached Him and asked Him point-blank, “Are you the Messiah?” (10:24).  Jesus had to be careful how He answered that question.  During the festival, throngs of Jews, caught up in the nationalistic fever, were visiting Jerusalem.  The word “Messiah” might spark off riots because of its heavy nationalistic and political overtones.

. . . If Jesus had answered the question “yes,” the Roman authorities would have arrested Him on the spot for insurrection.  Jesus does, however, answer the question in the affirmative, but not directly.  When He answers, He is careful not to use the contemporary term and understanding.  After pointing out the security that a believer in the Lord Jesus has because of faith in Him, He says, “I and My Father are one!” (10:30).

That statement had heavy religious overtones for the festival which they were presently celebrating.  Those gathered on the Temple Mount recalled the events nearly 200 years before on the very mount where Antiochus IV, a mere man, proclaimed himself to be god.  Jesus, God manifest in human flesh, made the same claim—but His claim was true.

The Jews picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy because, in their thinking, He was a man who made Himself out to be God (10:31–33).  Jesus declared that He was the fulfillment of Hanukkah by saying the Father “sanctified” the Son of God and sent Him into the world (10:34–36).  The Father was in Him and He in the Father (10:38).  If the Greek word “sanctified” were translated into Hebrew, it would be “dedication” or Hanukkah. . . .

The Apostle John selected “signs” (miracles) and events when he penned his gospel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to convey two purposes (20:30-31).  The first was to present the deity of the Lord Jesus.  John skillfully selects the Hanukkah event because of the festival impact on the crowd.  In contrast to the arrogant and blasphemous statement by Antiochus IV, Jesus truly is God manifest in human flesh.

 

            Frankly, I think my argument is improbable but not impossible.  On the other hand, Gordon Franz's argument that contemporaries would have taken the feast with a very strong nationalistic element strikes me as quite logical.  It allowed one to be both religiously observant and politely annoy the Roman occupiers at the same time.  They both knew full well the political aspects of what was being celebrated--the religious aspects providing sufficient protection against its suppression.

 

             In light of our inability to pen down whether Jesus' presence in the city was purely coincidental and never repeated, His presence at the time of the celebration of Hanukkah still does raise the question of the observance of popular but equivalent (i.e., scripturally unauthorized) “Christian” festivals.  For that matter, even of Hanukkah itself.  The latter may sound silly and “over the top,” but it has unquestionably seen suggested upon occasion.

            One over zealous commentator at what is usually a political affairs site, has argued that since Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, Christians should as well.  They print it under the sub-head of “Exclusive: Joseph Farah explains why Christ's followers should observe biblical festival.”  You see it’s Biblically authorized because it is mentioned in the New Testament:  ‘I have even heard Christians say Hanukkah is an extra-biblical festival – and not mentioned in the Bible.  Next time you hear that, just point to John 10:22-23.  I say, if it was worth Yeshua’s attention, it is worth mine.”  And since He also observed the Passover and other Jewish festivals I assume we should be observing all of those as well? On that he is wisely silent.[18] 
            Others argue that whether one celebrates the occasion or not, it provides plenty of precedent for establishing the Christian equivalent—which he argues is Christmas:[19]

 

Hanukkah is a powerful story of God interceding on behalf of His people and showing His faithful loving kindness. . . .  Jewish followers of Jesus see Hanukkah as time to celebrate another gift of God to our people (and the whole world!)--Jesus the Jewish Messiah.  During Hanukkah we celebrate how God provided light in the Temple for eight nights. 

However, how appropriate it is to also remember the Light of the World, through whom we have the Light of Life (John 8:12).  If God had not intervened during the first Hanukkah [to save the Jewish people from extermination], a Jewish virgin would not have given birth to a child who would be raised as a Jew to fulfill God's will for His life – to be the atonement for our sins.  Hanukkah is a demonstration of God's unfolding plan of redemption, which Christians and some Jews celebrate at Christmas.    

 

            Since Christians are not under the Jewish system—which was nailed to the cross—the precedent for Hanukkah observance seems non-existent.  Indeed it would have to somehow overcome the rebuke Paul gave in Galatians 4:10-11:  "You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years!  I am afraid I have labored over you in vain."

            This rebuke targeted Jewish holidays in particular.  If there was no conceptual "spill over" to reject Christian ones as well, the yearly observance of Christ’s birth would have been quite natural--as the author above suggests, as a kind of "Christian Hanukkah."  Of course if that seems a reasonable practice and deduction today, surely it would have been in the first century as well.  Yet we have zero evidence of New Testament age Christians observing such a festival.  If the “parallel” is actually sufficient to justify the innovation, wouldn’t they have seized upon it?     

 

            Jeremy Myers also uses the observance of Hanukkah as precedent for the creation of “Christian” holidays:[20]

 

It seems that though Hanukkah is not a biblical holiday, Jesus still fulfilled it, that He took the symbolism and significance of this holiday and pointed it to Himself.

Which raises the question, if Jesus could do this with a non-biblical Jewish holiday, can He also do this with non-biblical non-Jewish holidays? How about, for example, the ancient holiday to the fertility sex-goddess Ishtar?  Or maybe some of the ancient celebration about Mithras?  Or maybe the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia which takes place at this time of year?

Yes, I believe Jesus can (and does) take these holidays and point them to Himself. It is called redemption. Just as He redeems humanity, Jesus also redeems the things that make us human. Along with redeeming humanity, Jesus redeems the things in our culture and calendars that make life meaningful and enjoyable.

 

            If you follow the first links he provides online, the “non-biblical non-Jewish holidays” are identified—in their Christianized form--as Christmas and Easter.  The other links go into the pagan roots of Easter and Christmas in more detail.  To him they are spiritual cries of ancient pagans for a redemption this earth can not provide and which are embodied in the Lord.  Hence the propriety of “Christianizing” them. 

            Oddly the mentality that sees such a mind frame as desirable is not manifested in the New Testament—or sure they would have had a similar deep “insight” and “perceptivity.”  Somehow I find it utterly improbable that inspired prophets and apostles saw no need to establish such holidays if it were really desirable.  After all, didn’t they have a thousand fold better understanding of what is spiritually desirable than uninspired religious leaders a few centuries later?  Or did erring mortals correct an omission made by inspired leaders?  Somehow I think not!

           

            That brings us back, once again, to our question:  Did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah?  He certainly was there at that time, but was he in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival?  A negative answer, of course, would raise the question of why else would He be there?  Even so an unidentified commentator who goes under the tag “for the love of truth” provides a rambling but cumulatively fascinating case against Jesus being there for celebratory purposes:[21]

 

My question is:  Would Jesus be concerned about going to the temple knowing that:

King Herod was appointed by Rome, and was an Edomite brought into Judaism through a forced conversion, was not from the lineage of King David, and therefore probably not a valid King by the standard prescribed in the Torah. . . .

The priesthood and the scribes/teachers were probably not valid according to Torah, or at the very least questionable due to the fact that the Maccabees had instituted their own priestly system in place.  They also usurped the throne of David, which God had proclaimed as an eternal kingship by anointing themselves as king.

John the Baptist (a Levite) knew.  He declined to serve in the priesthood (his father was Zacharias, Luke 1:5), and instead chose to prepare the way in the wilderness, and then offered them stern correction when the Pharisees and Sadducees appeared there where he was Baptizing people for the REMISSION OF SINS (unheard of). . . .

[Summary:  The religious leaders had perverted themselves from role models into self-serving leaders:  Matthew 23:2-15.]

                        The house of prayer had become a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13). . . .

            Jesus knew that after His crucifixion, the veil would be torn by an unseen hand (God) and that the acceptance of sacrifice would now cease, even according to Jewish writings. . . .

Would Jesus be celebrating with the same Pharisees and Sadducees and others who were plotting to kill Him when He was there as it is written ([in] John 10:22-40). 

           

 

            Although I find this quite interesting does it not implicitly argue—equally emphatically—that Jesus would never have attended any of the feasts in the Temple?  Period.  One could try to salvage the situation by arguing that the factors were especially relevant due to the nature of this festival in particular—i.e., celebrating, in effect, a new kingship system with a new priestly system, both strewn of their proper roots.  But, to a lesser blatant extent, those would still be present at the other festivals as well.  And their character faults and the coming end of the Mosaical system was just as certain in regard to them as to Hanukkah in particular. 

            More interesting is the critique that later Hannukah customs did not exist and therefore for whatever reason Jesus was in Jerusalem, He was certainly not giving sanction to them.  The author effectively argues that there would have been an absurdity factor if Jesus had been at the specific spot in the Temple where the events take place if He was actually present to celebrate the holiday in any form:[22]    

 

It should be noted that Jesus was on Solomon’s porch, a place where gentiles congregated (outer court).  The Temple built by Solomon did not have a court of the Gentiles.  The great court/porch referred to in 2 Chronicles was for the Israelites to worship God, and surrounded the inner court.  This is not the same porch that is mentioned in John 10.

When Jesus was in Solomon’s Porch as written in John 10, He was not there to celebrate the Feast of Dedication, but was walking in the court of the Gentiles that was built by Herod.  It was built so that non-Jews could access a view of the Temple without defiling the Temple  proper, which had signs warning of imminent death if the area was entered by any non-Jewish person.

Solomon’s Porch was also where the money changers set up shop, as well as where they kept the animals and birds that were sold for sacrifices.  This is where the tables were that Jesus overthrew when He chased the money changers from the temple. 

Chanukkah was a celebration of the Jews (Maccabees) kicking the tar out of the Greeks.  Does anyone think that Jesus went to celebrate this with the gentiles whose ancestors were defeated?  This would be like going into the deep south and asking the people there to celebrate the defeat of their ancestors in the civil war.  He probably went there to teach, and to reach the gentiles who would hear. . . .

As a recap then, there is no Biblical proof that Jesus “celebrated” Chanukkah.  He was at the temple in the court of the Gentiles for a time debating with the Pharisees, and then He left.

 

            Although open to all Gentiles, the outer court would be far more likely to be dominated by merchants and those non-circumcised Gentiles who respected and reverenced the Torah.  Even though they could go no further, they could go this far.  Even though it was “their ancestors” who the Maccabees had defeated, would the biological linkage to the losers have mattered half as much as their spiritual one to the winners?    

            “He probably went there to teach and to reach the gentiles who would hear.”  Pious and well meant sentiments, but totally improbable.  Jesus never cultivated a Gentile audience and explained it to one Gentile in this manner:  I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).  He landed up healing her daughter nonetheless, due to her wisdom and insight in responding to him (15:25-28)—but He still did not take time to give her a spiritual or moral lecture.  And we are to assume that on this occasion, He suddenly decided to do so?  Surely the odds are minimal!

            Furthermore, the only teaching recorded on this occasion is to the Jews and not to the Gentiles (John 10:22-39)!    

            I find no problem with the scenario that whenever Jesus was in Jerusalem He taught.  I do have severe difficulty in understanding why He would have been in Jerusalem if there were no festival going on.  It could happen but the festival is explicitly mentioned in this case.  What is there to tie the incident in with any other reason?

 

            Separating the issue from Gentiles in particular to any human being one might make progress.  John Calvin in his Commentary on this text writes:  Christ appeared in the temple at that time, according to custom, that his preaching might yield more abundant fruit amidst a large assembly of men.”  In other words, there would be a “guaranteed crowd” present.  He, however, argues this as a simple fact rather than as a reason He would be there in spite of the holiday’s human origins.

           

            The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on our text makes an intriguing comment that could easily be used to argue that the Hannukah reference is not meant to show that Jesus was observing the festival but simply that He had now returned to the city after a period away from it:  This feast might be celebrated anywhere, and the pointed insertion of ‘at Jerusalem’ seems to suggest that in the interval between John 10:21 and John 10:22 Christ had been away from the city.” 

            That He “just happened” (so to speak) to return to Jerusalem at that exact moment seems a lesser possibility compared to the much more likely one that He had returned to the city to be there at the time of that particular festival--though the question of whether to observe it or because it would provide a large teaching audience would still need to be answered. 

            Similarly Chrysostom’s remark that “at this feast Christ also was present, for henceforth He continually abode in Judea, because the Passion was nigh.”  If his reading of the chronology be accurate, the question would remain why be in Jerusalem at this time rather than some other place in the region unless it was because the Festival was being held? 

            Though fully celebratable in other places, the Temple was the place being honored.  Would not being in the city with the new Temple be the logical place to be so long as it was practical?  One might counterbalance this, perhaps, by arguing that it was simply easier to be there than to explain why He was omitting Jerusalem entirely when His remaining work was going to be exclusively in the same geographic division of Palestine.

           

            More powerful that Jesus was not in the city specifically to show respect for the well observed feast is the remark on the text found in the International Critical Commentary:  It was not a matter of obligation to attend at Jerusalem for the Feast of τὰ ἐνκαίνια, which might be observed elsewhere; and Jesus is not represented by John as ‘going up’ to Jerusalem for it.  It happened that the season of the Dedication came on while He was there, and, as John notes, it was winter.”  Implying that this was not the best time to be traveling around much anyway.  You normally preferred to limit the distance.  Being in Judaea, you tried to limit your travel to that area.    

The language of “going up” to Jerusalem is, indeed, what we would expect if He had been traveling from Galilee to the Festival rather from a shorter and nearer distance.  But would the language still be used if, as we’ve noticed it repeatedly speculated, that He was already in Judea?  Perhaps but I'm rather inclined to doubt the probability.    

 

            Another way of asserting that Jesus’ presence in the city has no provable linkage with any actual observance of Hannukah is provided in the commentary by William Kelly of the Plymouth Brethren (1821-1906):   

 

We are many of us familiar with the effort to sustain tradition and human authority in Divine things by such a passage as the opening of verse 22.  But it is really futile.  For here we learn nothing of our Lord's participation in any observances of men, whatever they may have been, but of His being then in Jerusalem, winter as it was, and walking in Solomon's porch, when the Jews came round, and kept saying to Him, “Till when (or, How long) dost Thou excite our soul (or keep it in suspense)?”  Wretched and guilty as their unbelief was, the Jews drew no such inference from His presence then and there. They were uneasy, in spite of their opposition to Him.  “If Thou art the Christ, tell us openly.”  [This and all other commentaries not otherwise identified as to source in this section come from the commentary part of biblehub.com.] 

 

            If I “read between the lines” correctly, his point is that Jesus’ Jewish enemies recognized that He was there to teach—probably something they would not like—rather than to observe the festival.  Although this is true as far as it goes, it is easy to suspect that it did not take many Jerusalem visits before they came to the self-satisfying and egocentric conclusion that anytime Jesus was in Jerusalem He was far more likely to be there to “aggravate them” than to worship as part of any Feast.

            Whether He was “observing” Hanukah or not, it was the time for a significant crowd to be present and that gave Him opportunity to teach more than a normal size crowd and for them to carry back to their home towns further word of this strange “Nazarene” who so upset the religious leadership.  The occasion “gave him a crowd”—a larger one than normal worship days in the Temple would, assembled from a geographically wider part of the country. 

            So one can easily understand His presence regardless of whether He was there to celebrate the occasion.  But would not His lack of participation become a major source of interest and outright contention if it had been absolute non-participation?  In other words, it is far easier to imagine that observance of the feast was of minimal interest to Him rather than His totally ignoring it. 

            Hence that He inevitably participated at least to a token degree seems an irresistible conclusion.  But at what point does minimal participation remove this as precedent for our own participation in scripturally unauthorized religious holidays?

      

 

 

 



[1] Elsie R. Stern.  “Where is God in Esther?”  Part of the Bible Odyssey website, sponsored by the Society of Biblical Literature.”  At:  https://www.bibleodyssey.org/ en/people/related-articles/where-is-god-in-esther.aspx.  (Accessed:  August 2016.)

 

[2] Jeffrey Kranz.  “The Two Books of the Bible That Do Not Mention God.”  Part of the Overview Bible website.  At:  http://overviewbible.com/the-2-books-of-the-bible-that-dont-mention-god/.  (Accessed:  August 2016.)

 

[3] “The Riddle of the Book of Esther:  Where is God?”  Part of the Christadelphian Tidings website.  March 2004.  At:  http://www.tidings.org/2004/03/esther-10-the-riddle-of-the-book-of-esther-where-is-god/.  (Accessed:  August 2016.)

 

[4] Gordon Franz.  “Jesus Celebrated Purim.”  March 2003.  At:  http://www.ldolphin. org/jpurim.html.  (Accessed:  August 2016.)

 

[5] National Sunday School Teacher for 1875 (Chicago:  Adams, Blackmer & Lyon Publishing Company, 1875), page 317.

 

[6] Ibid., page 318.

 

[7] Gordon Franz.  “Jesus Celebrated Purim.”  March 2003.  At:  http://www.ldolphin. org/jpurim.html.  (Accessed:  August 2016.)

 

[8] Ibid.

 

[9] Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg.  "The Pool of Bethesda As a Healing Center of Asclepius."  December 1, 2014.  At:  http://jewishstudies.eteacherbiblical.com/bethesda-pool-jerusalem-shrine-asclepius/.  (Accessed:  July 2017.)

  

[10] [Anonymous.]  “What Biblical Precedent Do Christians Have To Celebrate the First Coming of Christ?”  Part of the M&M Outreach Ministries website.  At:  http://www. jwinfoline.com/Documents/Christmas/ what_precedent_ for_christmas.htm.  (Accessed:  August 2016.)

 

[11] Cincinnati, Ohio:  Standard, 1914, pages 191-192.  Part of the Christians Classics Ethereal Library.  At:  http://www.ccel.org/m/mcgarvey/ffg/FFG037.HTM.  (Accessed:  August 2016.)

 

[12] R. C. Lenski.  Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis, Minnesota:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), pages 358-359.

 

[13] Ibid., page 360.

 

[14] William Hendriksen.  Exposition of the Gospel to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker Book House, 1953), page 189.

 

[15] Ibid.

 

[16] David Shasha.  Notes on Hanukkah:  The Maccabees and Zionism’s ‘invented traditions.’   December 1, 2010.  At:  http://mondoweiss.net/2010/12/notes-on-hanukkah-the-maccabees-and-zionisms-invented-traditions/.  (Accessed:  June 2016.)

 

[17] Gordon Franz.  “Hanukkah:  The Festival of Light.”  Bible and Spade, Fall 2007 issue.  As reproduced at: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/ 11/17/Jesus-Celebrates-Hanukkah!.aspx#Article.  (Accessed:  May 2016.)  Also found at:  http://www. ldolphin.org/hanukkah.html.

 

[18] Joseph Farah.  “Why Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah.”  Part of the World Net Daily website.  At:  http://www.wnd.com/2010/12/236333/.  (Accessed:  August 2016.)

 

[19] Anonymous.  “Did Jesus Celebrate Christmas or Hannukah?”  Part of the Chosen Peoples Ministries website.  At:  http://chosenpeople.com/main/index.php/holidays-and-festivals/875-did-jesus-celebrate-christmas-or-hanukkah.  (Accessed: August 2016.)

 

[20] Jeremy Myers.  “Did Jesus Fulfill Hanukkah?”  Part of the Redeeming God website.  At:  https://redeeminggod.com/did-jesus-fulfill-hanukkah/.  (Accessed:  August 2016.)

 

[21] Anonymous.  “Did Jesus Celebrate Hanukkah (Chanukkah)?  December 8, 2008.  Part of the For the Love of Truth website.  At:  https://fortheloveoftruth.wordpress. com/2008/12/08/did-jesus-celebrate-hanukkah-chanukkah/.  (Accessed:  August 2016.)

 

[22] Ibid.