Saturday, 29 September 2007

Sukkoth Thoughts

Yes it's Sukkoth (sue-coat), a.k.a. the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. Not that anyone in the post-WCG tradition constructs booths from branches, or even sets up a bunk bed in the garden shed, but that's another issue.

This afternoon I listened to a stimulating address which included some provocative references to Tabernacles/Sukkoth. Lest anyone fear that I've de-apostasized (to perhaps coin a new term) and am presently holed up in a motel, attending some obscure COG sect services, hanging on every precious word, I hasten to add that I was sitting in a pew at the very Anglican neo-Gothic St Matthew-in-the-City in central Auckland.

Again, please don't leap to conclusions. Anglicanism is a far stranger fish, in my opinion, than anything that came out of the COG tradition. Stained glass, brass eagles, silly clothes... each to their own. I was there to listen to retired American bishop John Shelby Spong talk about the Jewish Jesus.

Spong is the embodiment of evil to many fundamentalists, which constitutes a glowing recommendation in my opinion. He also has the unnerving gift of talking in everyday language, which is a rare skill among conformist clergypersons.

Among other things today, the bishop put the case for rethinking the time of Jesus death in Jerusalem. The gospels all agree that it was at the Passover, but then again, maybe not.

For one thing there is that "Palm Sunday" procession. Wrong time of year for leafy branches. There was however just such a tradition associated with - you guessed it - the Feast of Tabernacles (Psalm 118:27, Bind the festal procession with branches...) Indeed, you can read the famous phrase used in the New Testament (Blessed is the one who comes in the name of Lord - John 12:13) right there in that same psalm (118), which was read at Sukkoth (verse 26).

Psalm 118 is a Tabernacles psalm? Somehow I don't remember that bit of information coming out when I did the Feast of non-Booths thing with WCG.

Then there's the fig tree that was cursed. There are no figs on the trees in the Passover season, but Jesus in a fit of pique curses the plant anyway, and we get the impression that he was a jerk. The tree was just doing what fig trees do (or don't do) around March.

Figs are on the trees at Tabernacles.

To catch the full discussion you can read it in chapter 14 of Jesus for the Non-Religious. It's part of a wider discussion that is well worth reading.


Anonymous said...

[reformatted for readability]


I noted your comments about the fig tree and thought I would add something here that my father pointed out in his book "Secrets of Golgotha" talking about the location of Christ's Crucifixion.

In fact, a man named Ed Blizzard, who knew my father some 20 years ago, pointed out to him the issue of the fig tree and Christ cursing it and the whole symbolic teaching found in that section of the Gospel record. Hope you find it interesting. Certainly, for those interested in the issue of Christ's crucifixion, they might want to get a copy of the book I referenced earlier. It is available via the website.

"If the almond tree was figuratively associated with the Tree of Life, what was the other significant tree in the Garden of Eden -- the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? While many different types of trees have been guessed (the pomegranate, date, grape and even the apple), the only tree mentioned in the context of Genesis describing the "fall" is the fig. It is to be noted that as soon as Adam and Eve knew they had sinned, they sewed fig leaves together to hide their shame. It is well documented among the Jews that this was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

"What was the tree of which Adam and Eve ate? Rabbi Yosi says: It was the fig tree...the fig whereof he ate the fruit opened its doors and took him in" (Midrash, Bereshith Raba, 15,7).

"The fig leaf which brought remorse to the world" (ibid., 19,11).

"The tree of which the first man ate...Rabbi Nehemiah says: It was the fig, the thing wherewith they were spoilt, yet were they redressed by it. As it is said: And they stitched a fig-leaf' (Bernhot 40a, and see Sanhedrin 70a).

In the non-canonical Book of Adam and Eve (20:5) it says: "I sought a leaf to cover up my nakedness and found none, for, when I ate, the leaves withered off every tree in my plot except for the fig, and from it I took leaves and it made me a girdle, even from the tree of which I ate."

Thus the fig tree was believed to represent the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Some might ask at this juncture: What difference does it make? Granted, it may seem like an exercise in futility and unnecessary speculation. But this would be a mistake. The fact is, the symbol of the fig tree as being the "evil" tree in the Garden of Eden, figures in a prominent episode that occurred during the week just before Christ was crucified. Once the symbolic meaning of the fig tree is recognized, then this special event can make a great deal of doctrinal sense in regard to the role that Christ played in expelling "sin" from the world. I am talking about
the time when he saw a fig tree on the Mount of Olives as he was approaching Jerusalem, and he cursed it. Before that day was over that particular fig tree was withered up and completely dead. This has a remarkable figurative meaning to it.

What happened to that fig tree four days before Christ's crucifixion has a real bearing on the symbolism of the crucifixion itself. This can be shown because we now know that Christ was executed on the Mount of Olives. The interesting thing is, the cursing of the fig tree and the
impaling of Christ to another tree (not a short distance away) has a remarkable parallel theme to events that occurred in the Garden of Eden with our first parents. Let us see how this is shown.

Four days before his crucifix/on, Christ left Bethany and started walking towards Jerusalem. When he was near the summit of the Mount of Olives, he noticed on the side of the road a fig tree. He went over to it and finding no figs on its branches (but the tree was covered with leaves), he cursed that fig tree and said: "Let no man eat fruit from you henceforth forever. And his disciples heard it" (Mark 11:14).

The cursing of that particular fig tree has baffled men ever since. The truth is, even Mark said that "it was not the season of figs" (verse 13). Indeed, it went further than that. It was not even the time for fig trees to have leaves! It has puzzled people for generations why Christ was so upset with a fig tree that by nature should not have had figs or leaves!

It is certain that the whole event was a miracle from start to finish. To produce a sign of this nature must have involved a great deal of symbolic importance. If it were not of major significance then the event makes little sense and certainly there would be little relevance for its occurrence.

But it does have symbolic meaning? The fact that the fig tree had leaves was in itself a miracle because leaves would not have naturally been on the fig tree for at least a month later. Also, there should not have been any figs on the tree. Since the tree was located on a main thoroughfare into Jerusalem and with the heavy population around the city at that Passover season, it is not to be imagined that Christ expected to find a few dried figs of last year's crop on the branches. The tree would surely have been stripped clean of its fruit. Christ must have known that he would not find any figs on this unusual fig tree. The truth is, however, the lack of figs and the abundance of leaves were important factors in a miraculous occurrence. In this scene we are provided with a most important symbolic teaching by
Christ with his actions.

Note that the next day after Christ's cursing, the disciples found it withered (Mark 11: 20,22; Matt. 19:19,20). What was significant about this? It meant that the type of tree that Adam and Eve first ate which brought sin and death to them (and in an extended sense to all humanity) was now withered and dead. Tradition had it that the only tree under Adam's care in the Garden of Eden that did not shed its leaves after our first parents took of the fruit was the fig tree. It was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But with Christ's miracle on the Mount of Olives, it meant that symbolic tree was now withered and dead. It signified that no longer would that symbolic tree be in the midst of humanity to encourage mankind to sin in the manner of our first parents. But there is even more teaching. It meant that when Christ went to that miraculous tree looking for some figs to eat (like Eve did), Christ could not find any whatsoever! This signified that there was not going to be a repetition of what Eve (and later Adam) did in regard to the fig tree that they partook of. One fig tree was the instrument to bring "sin" into the world, but the Son of God could not find any figs on his fig tree (the miraculous tree on the Mount of Olives that was typical of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). Christ cursed that symbolic tree at the top of Olivet so that no man would eat of it again. And to complete his victory over sin, four days later Christ was going to be sacrificed for the sins of the world just a few yards away from this withered and dead tree.

What Christ was doing in the last week of his life on earth was acting out a symbolic victory over all the factors in the Garden of Eden around which our first parents failed. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was now withered and dead and the Tree of Life a short distance away (probably an almond for the symbol to be carried out fully) became the very tree on which Christ was crucified."
(taken from pgs 258-260 - Secrets of Gologtha)

Happy Tabernacles

Samuel Martin
Jerusalem Israel

Douglas Becker said...

Yes it's Sukkoth (sue-coat), a.k.a. the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. Not that anyone in the post-WCG tradition constructs booths from branches

Au contraire mon ami. Note this obscure pronouncement from an even more obscure cultmeister across the pond [where he is stuck because he doesn't have any money any more]:

"By now you will all be at the Feast except for the ones too old or infirm to attend. We try to make it possible for you all to have a pleasant and comfortable Feast no matter where you are. We are meant to dwell in booths and to make booths of palm fronds and branches during the Feast season. Wherever we are we should make such a booth for the Feast to remind us of this requirement and to inform the young."

It should be noted in passing that everything that defined the Radio Church of God in the Sixties as being unique and created a barrier to those traditional, has now been pretty much accepted into the mainstream, and, while not practiced, the preachments and practices are now at least "interesting" and viewed by most as being good in the sense that if you do anything religious, it is a good thing, in a generalized unfocused acceptance of people's beliefs.

Beyond that, yes, it is a bit strange to curse a tree because it doesn't have any fruit on it in a season it doesn't even have leaves. A manic moment?

But it may validate those south of the Equator after all. It would have been fall then there. And it is spring now for the fall Festival. That should set almost anyone on their head.

There is something to be said about "with men these things are impossible", but we try to make them work anyway.

Anonymous said...

It's obvious from scripture that God hates figs.

"For it was not the season for figs" is the author's way of telling the reader this was really a misplaced event that really happened in the Fall, as in "Let him who reads, understand."

While well meaning, Dr. Martin always took a too literal approach in endeavoring to explain Biblical events.

With all due respect, the cursing of the fig tree comes before the upsetting of the tables at the temple. The lesson is that just as fig trees that bear no fruit have a right to exist, a temple that bears no fruit has no right to exist.

It has nothing to do with Adam and Eve or OT trees.

Anonymous said...

The Gospels can't even agree on whether the tree whithered on the spot or the next day.

Mark has Jesus curse the tree before going TO the Temple and Matthew has him curse it after he comes back FROM the temple event.

Bible writers believed that events prophesied in Scripture would be fulfilled with the coming of Jesus, so they had Jesus' disappointment with the fig tree be a metaphorical parable of his disappointment with Israel. The prophecy on which the writers based the fig-tree cursing incident is found in Jeremiah:

"I will take away their harvest, declares the LORD. There will be no grapes on the vine. There will be no figs on the tree, and their leaves will wither. What I have given them will be taken from them." (Jeremiah 8:13 NIV)

The message from these accounts is, just as Jeremiah predicted, Israel's vine is not yet ready to bear fruit.

Anonymous said...

hmmmmm, well so much for inerrancy of telling the story. I could at least remember if I wrecked the car before I went to Walmart or after.

Anonymous said...

No matter how you pick it, the fig tree was the innocent bystander in all this. Leave it to religion to curse the innocent.

        AMERICAN KABUKI said...

Gavin wrote, quoting Spong (who I like).... ««Among other things today, the bishop put the case for rethinking the time of Jesus death in Jerusalem. The gospels all agree that it was at the Passover, but then again, maybe not.

For one thing there is that "Palm Sunday" procession. Wrong time of year for leafy branches.»»

Am I missing something obvious Gavin?

Since when did Palm leaves have a season? They're evergreens. They also have branches but not in the usual tree sense.

Last I remembered I don't recall people driving down Hollywood Blvd to admire the fall colors.

Perhaps its just my lack of †faith† during this period of my apostasy?

Anonymous said...

Of course Jesus never existed , which makes the Gospel of Mark the greatest hoax in history. Think about it, the greatest hoax in history !

Gavin said...

Good question BB. Here's where those Gospel writers get tricky. Mark, the first off the block, doesn't say anything about palm branches at all, he calls them "leafy branches" (Mk 11:8). By the time the guy who wrote John got around to it, all Mark's difficult bits had been fixed up, rewritten or redeveloped (oh dear, no virgin birth story? Tell Luke to get right on it!) Leafy branches? Problem. How 'bout palm fronts? Yup, that'll do nicely.

Anonymous said...

When Odysseus entered the city of the Phaeacians he saw a fig tree bearing fruit out of season. Whoops!

How ironic the new WCG magazine is called ODYSSEY. Talk about getting back to roots !

Anonymous said...

uh oh...Minimalist has "the secret" Great site!

Neotherm said...

When one engages in literalist interpretations, having to do with the botany of the fig tree, the larger point is missed. One can hearken to such ideas as small, edible, green, early figs or figs from last year still on the tree and dried to properly place this in the Passover season. But why?

The information is explicitly given to us that this was not the season for figs. This should lead us to wonder what the real meaning of this event was. Obviously, it is not what it appears to be on the surface. Piecing a few scriptures together, the reader can see what the point is and will understand that the fig tree event was intended as an illustration.

It is odd that Spong engages, when convenient, in a kind of Biblical literalism worthy of any fundamentalist.

-- Neo

Anonymous said...

Hello Gavin,

I've found this discussion about the fig tree and palm fronds quite interesting. This is just another example of what we don't know for sure about that society back then (anymore than that jokester GTA understood that "dove's dung" was referring to chick peas).

And I've also been reminding Armstrongites for almost a decade now that Motel 6 is NOT a "booth." And for those who willingly strain at the cocktail shrimp, but swallow the hotel room deception, they cannot "appeal" to some Jesus for this, ahem, justification for not doing as clearly instructed to do in Lev. 23:42.

Such a Jesus, as I continue to find:

- has no proof of any existence

- never wrote down a single thing (until we come to the Book of Rev -- hmmmmmm?)

- cannot even be accurately quoted by the four gospel writers, who were supposedly under the direct influence of the holy spirit.

In short, it's all a load of Cods wallop, as promulgated by the Type Two & Three religionists among us.

Every man does that which is right in his own eyes -- and all the time.
- Stinger 1:1

Anonymous said...

"And for those who willingly strain at the cocktail shrimp, but swallow the hotel room deception..."

That's priceless!!

Of course, the answer would be that you can't comprehend the "spirit of the law" versus the "letter of the law." Jebus revealed the spiritual intent behind the law which now allows God's True People to eat out on the Sabbath and stay in a condo during the FOT. Sadly, you just can't grasp that. (Of course, none of this is Biblical, but who cares!)


Anonymous said...

"It is odd that Spong engages, when convenient, in a kind of Biblical literalism worthy of any fundamentalist."

Just as Armstrongites engage, when convenient, in a kind of Biblical liberalism worthy of Spong himself, when it comes to The Law.


Anonymous said...

Seems deserted around here.

Is it just me, or does it feel like Harry Potter at Hogwarts during Christmas break when everyone else has gone home??

Oh, the Feast.


Anonymous said...

As has been pointed out before, the Feast is for all seasons. Just wait several millenmia. Because there is no Sanhedrin, the Jews can't fix their crummy calendar which keeps sliding the Feast further and further until folks will be keeping the Feast at Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then Valentine's day, followed by the Spring Passover time [which will by then be kept in the fall] then summer time, convenient for vacations and then finally just after Labor Day again.

Of course, as humanity spreads to other galaxies and star systems, the problem will be seriously compounded. We'd love to see the Feast transfer requests.

Then again, the problem may be fixed permanently in the next 20 years....

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the post and comment about fig tree.

:Not that anyone in the post-WCG tradition constructs booths from branches"

We do-- lots of people do. See my blog for more.

        AMERICAN KABUKI said...

Gaving Replied: ...Leafy branches? Problem. How 'bout palm fronts? Yup, that'll do nicely.

Ahhh...gotcha now. Usually you're vastly more coherent than Thiel (like that's hard). I lost the chain of thought on that bit of trivia. Thanks for stitchin' it back together.

As a kid I kinda wondered about that. Ever seen a Mexican fan palm? They have teeth along the branches like a logger's bucksaw.
I assume the middle east didn't have those, or Jesus would have cut his feet to shreds (or was he riding a donkey at that point...I forget).

But let's assume they just had date palms....I've seen kids get nasty pokes in the scalp from the tips of those things, they're sharp as thorns. Jesus would have got his shins poked from those too.

A crowd waving palm fronds is a crowd wanting to poke somebody's eye out. In the movies they have these nice lacey queen and king palms...yeah...the actor's guild probably required it for safety! In theory that climate could grow a coconut palm, but you don't find coconuts in Israeli dig sites.

But then given relative unpopularity of the Roman occupation in Judea, maybe there was a method to the madness. If the centurions got little out of hand...whack them with a date palm frond!

Ouch, lo avete colpito nel mio occhio! "Sorry mate, me and the lads wuz just worshiping the Lord of Lords!"

Anonymous said...

Bamboo Bends said:

"They have teeth along the branches like a logger's bucksaw.
I assume the middle east didn't have those, or Jesus would have cut his feet to shreds (or was he riding a donkey at that point...I forget)."

Actually it depends.

Matthew bases this fictional story on a misunderstood story in Scripture. In that story, the prophet speaks of a king riding a donkey--a colt (a young male donkey), the foal of a donkey:

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zechariah 9:9 NASB)

Obviously, Zechariah didn’t mean that the king was riding a donkey and a colt; he was merely telling us that the donkey was a colt foal (young son) of a donkey.

Unfortunately for Matthew, he thinks the prophet meant that there were TWO animals: a donkey, AND a colt, instead of just a donkey which was a young colt. Thus,

Matthew INVENTS a story in which Jesus sends his disciples to fetch an ass and a colt, so that Jesus might ride on them into Jerusalem. The other gospel writers weren't so foolish. Here is the evidence.

Matthew: Jesus Sent for an Ass and a Colt

"And …then sent Jesus two disciples, Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me… All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, AND a colt the foal of an ass." (Matthew 21:1-5)

Kinda difficult to ride both at the same time, but not for Matthew to imagine evidently.

Mark, Luke, and John, understood Zechariah; according to them, Jesus sent his disciples after only one animal. Mark and Luke call the animal a "colt," and John calls it an "ass," and all three versions are compatible with the "prophecy" in Zechariah, wherein the animal is described as a donkey which is a colt.

Mark: Jesus Sent for a Colt

"And …he sendeth forth two of his disciples, And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him…And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him." (Mark 11:1-7)

Luke: Jesus Sent for a Colt

"Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. …35 And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon." (Luke 19:30-35)

John: Jesus Sent for an Ass

"And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt." (John 12: 14-15)

The conclusion is inescapable: Matthew thought Zechariah was referring to two animals, but it is obvious that Zechariah was referring to just one animal.

I know..sorry you said anything! :)

Anonymous said...

Having read John Spong, I do have to say he has learned the art of selling books by repeating in each book what he explained in the last of a different title.

Anonymous said...

For Paul:

Ah yes, ye old appeal to the "spirit" of the law. ;-)

I usually run into this excuse with people who just don't want to go by the letter of the law, e.g. build a booth for the (hint, hint) Feast of Booths. Somehow the "spirit" has told them that Motel 6 is a ready substitution. And their womenfolk are not even required to be there! So, it can be anything goes with the fair sex. They can have it both ways, as usual.

When you look at all the exemptions, excuses and just plain wafflings the old Worldweird Church employed in the name of convenience it's a wonder we had any coherent doctrine at all. But, as I've been saying for a long time, every man (and woman) does that which is right in their own eyes -- and all the time, 24/7. And Worldweird was proof positive of that, not to mention her 400+ daughter whores, each going their own separate way.

Unknown said...

Regarding the comment "For one thing there is that "Palm Sunday" procession. Wrong time of year for leafy branches."

Aside from the above comment that Palm trees are evergreens, there is also the matter that there were three harvest seasons per year, of which Passover was one of them. So clearly a lengthy amount of growing time occurred prior to Passover. Plenty of time for new growth, even for an evergreen.

        AMERICAN KABUKI said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


I, too, heard John Spong,but on our own National Radio,756AM,30/9/07,1700 hrs, talking to Maureen Garring.

I did not agree with his interpretation of many of the issues discussed,but nevertheless,he is rivetting material, and of course,very clear in his delivery.

And, this man does hold a belief in God,as he himself has said.This makes for extremely interesting theology.


Douglas Becker said...

Seven thousand did not bow their knees to Baal. And perhaps this Last Great
Day, we can celebrate with Christians not associated with Armstrongism, keeping
the Feast of Tabernacles: Just watch
the Days of Elijah -- a
joyous celebration.

Anonymous said...

For any who wish to listen to Bishop John Spong being interviewed on Radio NZ,you can access archives using the following:

Audio from Previous Programmes
Spiritual Outlook For 30 September (duration: 27′38″)
Maureen Garing talks with controversial bishop and moral activist, John Shelby Spong.

Spiritual Outlook
with Maureen Garing
Sundays at 5pm
A seasonal interview-based programme on spiritual topics of wide ranging interest, alternating with Touchstone.

Audio from Previous Programmes

Spiritual Outlook for 23 September 2007 (duration: 23′22″)
Maureen Garing talks to Keith Carley. an Old Testament scholar, about the spiritual aspects of climate change.

Spiritual Outlook for 16 September 2007 (duration: 25′21″)
Mark Brown tells Maureen Garing about the virtual church he has established in the computer-accessed world known as Second Life.

Spiritual Outlook for 9 September 2007 (duration: 25′11″)
Rabbi Johanna Hershenson talks with Maureen Garing about the Jewish High Holidays season which begins with the celebration of Jewish New Year, closely followed by the day of Atonement and the festival of Booths.

Spiritual Outlook for 2 September 2007 (duration: 23′00″)
Maureen Garing talks with Bernie Prior who runs courses to help people reach self-realisation.

Spiritual Outlook for 26 August 2007 (duration: 23′34″)
Maureen Garing talks to Abdullah Drury a New Zealander who converted to Islam.

Quite a selection of religious speakers for the interested.