Chanukkah and Advent

For reasons I’ve outlined before, I’m convinced that Chanukkah is the correct timing for the Annunciation. So whilst there is no compulsion for Christians to celebrate Jewish festivals, it’s not wrong to do so and it might actually be worthwhile if we use that opportunity to see how God used all of Scripture and his first Elect, Israel, to speak of Jesus.

So that said, here’s the best off the web to celebrate the festival of the miracle of the candles. And as John so perfectly puts it,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
(John 1:1-5 ESV)

The hymn Ma’oz Tzur is sung during Chanukkah and it recalls the many ways YHWH has saved his people.

My refuge my rock of salvation! ‘Tis pleasant to sing to your praises.
Let our house of prayer be restored. And there we will offer You our thanks.
When You will have utterly silenced The loud-mouthed foe.
Then we will celebrate with song and psalm the altar’s dedication.

My soul was sated with misery, My strength was spent with grief.
They embittered my life with hardship, When enslaved under the rule of Egypt.
But God with his mighty power Brought out His treasured people;
While Pharaoh’s host and followers Sank like a stone into the deep.

He brought me to His holy abode; Even there, I found no rest.
The oppressor came and exiled me, Because I served strange gods,
and drank poisonous wine. Yet scarcely had I gone into exile,
When Babylon fell and Zerubabel took charge; Within seventy years I was saved.

The Agagite, son of Hammedatha, Plotted to cut down the lofty fir tree;
But is proved a snare to him, And his insolence was silenced.
You raised the head of the Benjamite, But the enemy’s name You blotted out.
His numerous sonsand his household You hanged upon the gallows.

The Greeks gathered against me, in days of the Hasmoneans.
They broke down the walls of my towers, And defiled all the oils.
But from the last remaining flask A miracle was wrought for the Jews.
Therefore the sages of the day ordained These eight for songs of praise.

O bare Your holy arm, And hasten the time of salvation.
Wreak vengeance upon the wicked nation , On behalf of your faithful servants.
For deliverance has too long been delayed; And the evil days are endless.
O thrust the enemy into the shadows of death, And set up for us the seven Shepherds.

The final line is a reference to Micah 5:5, and it should be obvious to any Christian reading the whole of the chapter who Micah is referring to. The seven shepherds and eight princes are not literal men but rather symbolic of the nature of Messiah (see here for an example of this interpretation). The whole hymn is full of messianic and soteriological imagery – the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt, the giving of a promised land, the way that YHWH continues to return to his people despite their rejection of him culminating in the great promise of Micah 5 of the coming forth from Bethlehem of the ruler of Israel who is of old, of ancient days.

Gosh, it’s almost as if someone planned it…

There you go. Now, if you don’t mind, Pooh Bear and I have some spinning to do. Nes Gadol Haya Sham (a great miracle happened there), and what a great precursor to the greatest miracle of all that happened, which we celebrate in just a few nights’ time.

25 Comments on “Chanukkah and Advent

  1. Christians to celebrate Jewish festivals, it’s not wrong to do so 

     Yes, it is. The Christ-analogy-bingo OT reading strategies are bad enough, but for assorted goyim to dress up and pretend to be Jewish, especially given 2millenia of Christian anti-semitism that lead ultimately to the road at Aushwitz, is , at best, in deplorably bad taste.  Where is the proof text that says, although the Church does not require circumcision, picking-and-choosing some other bits of Judaism to observe is perfectly ok? 
      Oy, as they say, Gevalt. 

    • I have a problem with that (pretending to be Jewish – we are not), but I have no issue with marking key moments for the people of God. Chanukkah is a prophetic moment of the coming of Messiah and it is not inappropriate for Christians to light Chanukkah lights and look forward to the Annunciation and the Nativity (for the reasons outlined above).

      Christ our Passover Lamb is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast,
      Not with the old yeast of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

      And yes, I recognise that refers to Pesach, but the principle is that it is not wrong to celebrate the Jewish festivals, but from a Christian perspective.

      •  No, Channukah celebrates the miracle that occurred when The Macabbees rededicated the Temple for Jewish worship . We have Advent to commemorate the wait for the coming of the Messiah. You are perfectly free to adopt a reductive Christ-analogy-bingo approach to the Jewish scriptures (although, in passing, I imagine that some would say that such strategies are in themselves problematic), there is absolutely no need to twist the meaning of particular holidays, when the Church calendar already does the job. If Channukah is what faithful Jews used to observe the *wait for* The Messiah, what possible sense does it make to react it two thousands years after the Incarnation, Birth and Resurrection of the Messiah, and the later establishment of a Church with its *own* rites and calendar? 
         As for evangelicals, I don’t know many liberals or highchurchmen who are into this fake Jewish ritual nonsense. It is a recent evangelical ‘innovation’. I will say that those who rely on Wesley Owen type books are liable to misunderstand Judaism, evidenced by the fact that Philip Yancey via CS Lewis’ claim that Judaism lacks a notion of grace (!) is still taken seriously. And of course relying on the NT for knowledge about Judaism has its problems too, given that it predated the Talmud. 

        • So why do both Luke and John lift from the Chanukkah and Sukkot liturgies if not to imply that they are precursors for the Nativity? You’re not engaging with the substantive evidence, rather you’re just repeating your objection to my position because you don’t like it.

          •  This has nothing to do with ‘like’ in an aesthetic sense. You yourself have said that the Old Testament is ‘about’ Jesus. Conceding this presupposition, does that not mean that it’s highly probable that all such references might therefore be woven into the text as a matter of course, making it not-terribly-helpful to interpret *every* reference to blood, or stars, or crowns, or thorns with “this is about Jesus!”. If the whole text is about Jesus then you’re not really saying anything useful about the *unique* meaning of the passage, are you? See also the Micha “exegis” (!). It’s the equivalent of starting with the answer to a crossword puzzle and going back to get the letters to fit. “Let’s see what in the OT we can symbolically link to Jesus!” brain-storming is not, to me, a serious or useful reading strategy. And, again, the whole text can be “about” Jesus and still have subsequent layer of meanings quite different from “count the symbols!” Da Vinci code inanities. 

             And “precursors” are exactly that. If Jesus is the answer to a hithereto-cloaked semantic riddle than continuing to ‘observe’ a reiteration of such riddles when we are in a new dispensation makes little sense. 

            • Right, so then what is Micah 5:5 about then? Who are the shepherds and princes? You see, you have a convenient habit of rejecting any explanation that doesn’t fit your paradigm whilst not being able to offer any alternative explanation.

              •  But the explanation you refer to is high-symbolic, i.e. 7 and 8 are holy numbers, which means (symbols by definition being overarching) it could apply to all sorts of things (upturn in Israel’s fortunes, etc). 
                Rabbinical tradition does actually name the 7 and 8 (and the Messiah is *one of* the latter). Looking dispassionately, it’s not like you can prove the former reading over the latter via the text itself, which is in itself indicative of the problems of “High” readings of abstract meanings.  The language suggests it is symbolic of something. That does not necessarily justify retrospectively using Jesus Christ to plug the gaps (not least as does it not beg the question of why “7 and 8” numerology was used instead of a , y’know, self-evidently clear ‘reference’?)

                 If the text had said “6 and 3”  someone could still have come up with a ‘convincing’ explanation as to why they were ‘references’ to Jesus (‘God rested on the seventh day, making the sixth day the culmination of His work, just like…’) (‘3 clearly points to the Trinity, an idea that would have been unpalatable to a monotheistic Jew, hence the numerological veiling’). That hardly points towards a usefully ‘objective’ reading strategy.  If you agree that “the number 8 is clearly a reference to Jesus” then I think that you’d have to be honest and say that such a ‘strategy’ could replace 8 with pretty much any number and come to the same conclusion.

                  •  Prevaricating?! I gave TWO answers! Assuming you need another (is this a game show? ;-)) here’s #3 : I don’t know. And neither do you. Given that all texts have ambiguities, that’s hardly an unconscionable state of affairs, and certainly compares favourably to the “if it sounds symbolic, it must be a reference to Jesus!” approach (amusing tho to hear exponents of the “one plain meaning available to all” ideological team claim that a reference to shepherds and princes must mean something other than, er, actual shepherds and princes. I think yours is indicative of a (I freely concede) historically popular but ultimately overly reductive school of interpretative Christian thought. It’s perfectly possible to believe, as I of course do, that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah without having to gild the lily by twisting every vague OT passage into a prophecy (historically, this has also had the ugly subtext of “look how obviously Jesus is the Messiah! Those Jews must be really dumb for not accepting this”. Please appreciate here that I am not of course saying that such subtext is a *necessary* feature of such an interpretative approach) 

                     Example. Let’s say “princes” (and, unlike yourself, I know no Hebrew) is quite deliberately chosen and is a word other than “King”. If the passage *had* used “King” would the methodology you advocate still have read it as a vague symbolic prediction of Christ? Of course. Does that not rather suggest that it might be overly amorphous and not terribly useful?  I mean ,seriously, 7+8= Jesus Christ? You might as well or do the Kabbalah. 

                    • They weren’t real answers. You didn’t ever tell us what the 7 and 8 actually meant. You just danced around the issue without ever coming to a definitive conclusion.

                      And here’s the thing – the passage doesn’t talk about kings, it talks about princes, so why are we making critiques based on “kings”. And furthermore, who said anything about adding numbers together? You have an alarming tendency to not engage with what someone has actually written, but rather to conflate it with obvious wackiness that isn’t actually your opponent’s position in order to create a straw-man to beat down on.

                      So let’s come back to the issue. You’ve said “oh it could be this or it could be that”. Instead of that, can you not just for once be a bit more definitive and actually make a definitive stump for one answer?

                      I found a nice cheap copy of Judenhass on eBay – ’tis now ordered.

                    •   Real answers?

                       #1 was the established Jewish one (with the 7 and 8 being specific figures, including the Messiah and David) supported by the Talmud and therefore centuries of the best rabbinical minds.  You might disagree with it, but I’d call it at least a possible interpretation. #2 was that the 7 and 8 are indeed symbolic prophecies but for something that has *still* to happen for Israel. 

                       And the interpretation you cite is hardly robust and authoritative ; it does at least start with “I believe that” which warrants bolding. And the numerology is absurd, 7 is the perfect, holy number and 8 is used because it is the perfect number plus one and so even better! (!) That being so, should 9 be used because it is the perfect number plus TWO? How can 7 be the “perfect, holy” number if 8 is – in symbolic terms – its superior? At least in Maaseh Merkavah or Kabbalah there would be a systematic understanding of numerology, not this twisting-it-to-fit. 

                       I was only “adding numbers together” in the sense that the IMAGERY added together is being presented as referring to Christ. Yes? The point on Kings is not a straw men. It was a serious point : if your interpreting *any* regal image as a Christ-prediction irrespective of the word uses then aren’t you being dangerously over-vague? For example, the link you cite ends with :
                      I believe that this verse teaches that God will provide for the leadership of His people through men He will rise up adequate to meet any challenge that the enemy puts in the way 

                      A Jew, who does not accept Christ, could agree 100% with that interpretation (taking the passage to refer to specific leaders throughout periods of hardship and counting out the relevant numbers). 

                       I accept that, if one is sitting an exam, it’s better to offer SOME answers rather than none. But I certainly do NOT accept that “I don’t know” and pointing out textual complexities and ambiguities are an inferior response to the kind of approach you advocate here.  In a logical sense, not being able to think of a reading other than x hardly means that x is accurate. 

                    •  I’ll check out Goldhagen after Christmas (am revising for exams tho….you don’t have any connection with the Ould (1995) who created the Process View of Systems Thinking do you? ;-))

                       This is the website for Judenhass if anyone else is curious:

                       More broadly, I would agree that is accurate to regard racial and other forms of anti-semitism as still *primarily* expressions of the same prejudice. Correct me if I’m wrong, but do you see the 19th c on German racial prejudice against Jews as being a clear shift in the kind that existed before it? I would, in contrast, agree with the consensus that the Holocaust was a culmination of antisemitism that, for all the differences between different expressions of it, is best thought of a consistent, deplorable strain of popular thought that had hold for centuries. Would the German *racial* antisemism really have caught on if it did not have the popular and prevalent acceptance of ‘religious’ antisemitism as ground to grow in? 

      •  You’ll note that I quite pointedly said  
         Christian anti-semitism 
        – NOT “evangelical anti-semitism” : you know and I know that antisemitism was, within Christendom and the Church, the rule rather than the exception for centuries, and, as an Anglican, I consider it proper that the Archbishop of Canterbury issues relevant statements for Holocaust memorial day. See also the apologies made by recent popes for the actions of some “sons and daughters of the church”.  Pretending like there was not a clear link between (e.g.) the blood libel and popular acceptance of antisemism that made The Final Solution possible is both ahistorical nonsense and a damn site more “offensive” than anything I’ve ever said, anywhere.

        • I refuse to accept that. The pogroms of Nazi Germany were based upon a racial view that had nothing to do with (and indeed rejected) any Biblical understanding of Anthropology.

          And I think if every time someone points out the way that the Old Testament foretells of Jesus in so many aspects you just start ranting about “Christ-analogy-bingo”, you really are missing the point of Scripture. It is a revelation of the atoning work of Christ on the cross and all things point to that moment. Just read the blog post I linked to from four years ago and you’ll see that the use of the Chanukkah and Sukkot liturgy in Luke and John is remarkable. This is the true “tradition” of the Church, of God’s people, which sees the hand of YHWH at work throughout all time pointing to his Son.

          The miracle of the eight days of light is not just a theological dead end in Israel’s participation in the saving works of God. Rather, it is a precursor to the Annunciation of the Light of the World. On that basis, it is not incorrect for Christians to mark Chanukkah, not as Jews but as Christians. It’s not pretending to be Jewish and neither is it ignoring injustices of the past. It’s simply acknowledging the revelation of God to his whole Elect people through time.

          •  Peter, I’ll come back to the other points later, but your first paragraph is astonishing. Understand that we are here talking about history; i.e the actual facts of particular things that happened, not speculation on motivation. 

             Do you really deny that *centuries of antisemitism* *made possible* the Shoah and that the Church had a very large part to play in such demonisation? Seriously?  What respectable historian would really argue…what, that the German people were en masse able to demonise the Jewish people WITHOUT centuries of pre-existing contextual prejudice? 
             Again, this is something that Christians leaders from Popes down have – eventually – had to apologise and seek forgiveness because it is simply a question of historical fact. The Nazis did not spring up in a vacuum. 

            • Daniel Goldhagen’s “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” shows very clearly how the German anti-semitism from the late 1800s up to 1945 was not based upon any “Biblical” arguments but rather racial criteria separate from religious reasons.

              That the church through the centuries condoned and sometimes actively participated in a religiously based anti-Semitism is undoubted, but the fact that Jews who converted were often treated as equals to other Christians demonstrates that it was a religious, not a racial persecution. This is to be clearly distinguished from the racial anti-Semitism which was to be found in Central Europe from the late nineteenth century.

              I suggest that you want to do some proper reading on the subject before making assumptions about the reasons behind the Shoah, especially the gross fallacious assumption that the racial anti-Semitism displayed in Nazi Germany had its Genesis primarily in religious persecution of centuries previous.

              •  Tell you what, I’ll read that if you’ll read Judenhass (and, to head that straw man off at the pass, no, I don’t base my knowledge on these issues “on” “comics”) Did, for what its worth, study the Shoah at uni as part of course on Judaism (aside from which I’m wary of the temptation of christians to believe historical explanations – i.e. get-out-of-jail free cards – that they *wish* to be true) 

                 “made possible” is not synonymous with “based on”. How many Jews do you think would think that “religious” anti-semitism ought to be carefully differentiated from the other kind? You’d agree that a culture in which antisemitism is accepted makes it easier for antisemitism to thrive? (that’s nearly a tautology). Why should the german anti-semitism of 1800-1945 be considered in a vacuum? How plausible is it that its growth really owed nothing to cultural norms and discourse that dates back *centuries*.  Was such german antisemitism *really* not made easier by popular acceptance of the Blood Libel?  As for your middle-point: forced conversions to Judaism, which the church was prone to, *are* antisemitic. Comparing favourably to Nazi *racial* prejudice *might* be true, in so far as it goes, but it’s not exactly a shining credential. 

                • Judenhass?

                  Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

                  You can get a copy of Goldhagen by using that link.

                  I’m not trying to provide any apology for pre-Nazi anti-semitism. What I am saying is that it is a cultural observation that the nature of late 19th Century to 1945 German anti-Semitism had a fundamentally different starting point. You just have to read the anti-Semites of the late C19 and early C20 to see that – they make the issue one of race in a way that was simply not the case previously, as evidenced by the fact that conversion (forced or otherwise) often removed one from the hands of prior anti-semitism. Jews before Nazi Germany were able to become Christians and remove themselves from persecution. Under the Nuremberg Laws they were incapable of being German and removing themselves as targets.

  2. I sometimes think that if Peter posted that 2+2=4, or that kittens are cute, people would come on here and argue fiercely that 2+2 was in fact 94, but cruel conservatives have been hiding the truth all along, and that kittens in fact teamed up with Evangelical Christians to perpetrate 9/11.

    •  And I sometimes think that if Peter posted that 2+2=5, or that kittens are dogs, and a “liberal” disagreed with him, that there would soon be a plethora of wingnut conservatives arguing that Peter is an innocent victim of teh evil agenda ;-).

       For the record, if a “liberal” said something about Judaism that was demonstrably untrue, and a “conservative” corrected him, I would of course acknowledge that, irrespective of my ideological team.  Peter posted an interpretation of a verse by a Mr Mike Scott, whose “credentials” apparently include graduating from the “Bear Valley School of Preaching in 1977” (not exactly Harvard, eh?). And the point about the number 8 is demonstrably ludicrous. I, on the other hand, referred to the traditional Talmudic interpretation, which is to say the collected opinions of centuries of the finest rabbinical minds. Now, of course, it’s perfectly possible that they could be wrong and Mr Scott could be right, but it’s hilariously skewed to give uncritical credence to a evangelical-with-a-website but to regard other ‘readings’ as lacking in either logic or authority.

       Doubtless you’ll respond by pointing out what a troll I am, but that , even if true, tells us precisely nothing about the issues *above* and which I have engaged with at length.

       Merry Christmas! :-) 

      • The problem with the Talmudic interpretation is that you have to jettison either it OR the Christian understanding of Micah 5:1-4. If the first four verses ARE about Jesus, why is the fifth not, especially given the prophecy flows as a coherent whole. That’s the question you need to ask yourself – what is Micah 5:5 about in a manner that fits with what Micah 5:1-4 is about.

        •  But I didn’t concede that the first four verses necessarily *are* about Jesus (aside from the sense, c.f. elaboration above, that the whole OT is about Jesus)! petitio principii. 

           I’d also note that, even if one did concede that the prediction is about Jesus, the reading you cite doesn’t tell us anything useful. Why SPECIFICALLY is that number being used? It is certainly tempting to just say “it’s about Jesus” but I’d argue that the numerological twisting required (7 is perfect, and 8 is even perfect-er indeed!) , even if *theoretically* hermeneutically justifiable, hardly gleams us much *specific* meaning.  

          • If you don’t think Micah 5:1-4 is about Jesus then you’re not a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word.

            As for 7 and 8, we’re not doing kaballah rubbish here. 7 is used again and again in Scripture to indicate perfection. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus has 6 sets of 7 forebears culminating in Jesus as the whole 7th set of 7 generations. The use of 7 in apocalyptic occurs frequently, most notably in John’s Revelation where it is a clear symbol of completeness. Seven churches, seven seals, seven candle stands, seven angels, seven trumpets, seven vials, seven persons, seven dooms etc.

            The number eight (Sh’moneh) can literally be translated as “to make fat” or “to super abound”. It’s not that the number is associated with abundance, it’s that the word itself means such a thing. Hence, the eight days of light from the original menorah in the temple after the Maccabean cleansing. It is also clearly linked to resurrection (eight people in the Ark, the eight day of a sabbath to sabbath cycle being the day of resurrection, circumcision on the eighth day, the firstborn given to YHWH on the eighth day (Ex 22:29-30), David as the eighth son of Jesse anointed as king, Pentecost as the eighth day of the 7th week following passover, the feast of tabernacles (recording YHWH’s provision of abundance in the desert) having a final great eighth day.

            So we have seven shepherds (the perfect shepherd) and eight princes (the abundant, resurrecting prince).

            Who might that be?

            •  Serious question (shall cover other points after consulting the Jewish bits of my library; it’s not *all* Woody Allen ;-)…) : I can see “abundant” but why “resurrecting”? And why princes and not King? (Again, serious questions; I still think Freemasonry is pretty cool, so I have no problem with symbolic imagery – as long as it’s indeed internally consistent and not just utilised for inappropriately ‘wishful readings’) 

               And why, if 8 is abundant and *resurrecting* do the ‘shepherds’ ‘just’ get a 7?  Also, does emphasising these numbers in this way not potentially raise questions: i.e. surely David is reported as the eight son of Jesse because the bible is a trustworthy historical record?  Also, the passages before refer to the Assyrian empire. That indeed fell, as predicted, but quite a few centuries *before* the birth of Our Lord. So, if you’re claiming that your interpretation of 5 is the only logical one from verses 1 to 4, why the Assyrian reference? I will of course concede that it’s entirely possible that this reference is ‘meant’ to be read symbolically, but I’d ask what textual justification you have for choosing such a reading strategy (I hope you’ll agree – being protestant! – that simply saying ‘this is what the church has believed since year x’ is ultimately not a ‘proof’) 


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