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BIBLICAL TRADITIONS

BIBLICAL TRADITIONS

ATONEMENT, DAY OF / YOM KIPPUR

Jesus appeared to his disciples after the successful offering of himself as the Lamb of God similar to the return of the high priest from the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:34). On the Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement each year, the high priest used to go into the holy of holies and sprinkle the mercy seat with the blood of a bull for the purification of the priests and the blood of a goat for the forgiveness of sins of all Israelites. Jesus, the Lamb of God, had sacrificed himself as the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins of all who turn to him in faith. Thus, peace was established and Jesus was communicating that to the world through his apostles.

BETROTHAL

According to the Jewish custom, betrothal was the first part of marriage when the bridegroom and bride make a binding agreement. Then the society considered both as husband and wife. However, they could not live together like married couples until their official wedding within a year. People considered any infidelity in between the betrothal and the wedding as adultery that deserved severe punishment.

BETROTHAL AND JESUS

Jesus had established a new covenant with his apostles at the last supper. It was like a wedding betrothal of the Jews. Jesus the groom had made the betrothal with his bride the church through the apostles who were the pillars of the church. According to the Jewish wedding custom, groom or his father had to pay a dowry (mohar) to the bride’s family. For example, before the wedding of Isaac, Abraham’s servant “brought out objects of silver and gold and clothing and presented them to Rebekah; he also gave costly presents to her brother and mother.” (Genesis 24:53). Jacob labored for Laban seven years each, to marry his daughters Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29:15-30). The dowry that Jesus paid was the sacrifice of his life as ransom for the redemption of his followers (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45). Once the engagement was made, the groom would depart to his father’s house and prepare a space there for the couple. Then at an unexpected day, the groom would come to receive the bride who would be eagerly waiting for the return of her husband for the marital union. Likewise, Jesus was bidding farewell to his dearly beloved church promising that he would prepare a place for them in the Father’s mansion for their full communion with him. After preparing the dwelling in heaven, Jesus would return in glory to take the church to his dwelling place. However, the church should remain undefiled and faithful to her groom.

BIRTHDAYS OF SAINTS

The date of death or martyrdom is celebrated as the feast day of saints remembering their passage from world’s militant church to the triumphant church in heaven. It is the celebration of their birth into everlasting happiness in heaven. Though earthly birthdays are not celebrated after the death of a saint, there are exceptions in the case of Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. Mary’s nativity is celebrated on September 8 because she was born free of original sin. The church celebrates the birthday of John the Baptist on 24th of June, six months prior to Christmas. The exception of celebrating the birthday of John is because he was filled with the Holy Spirit while he was in the womb of his mother (Luke 1:15, 1:40-44).

BREAD OF PRESENCE / SHOWBREAD

The bread of presence or Showbread was a foreshadow of the Holy Eucharist in the tabernacles in our churches. This consisted of 12 loaves of unleavened bread representing the 12 tribes of Israel, made of fine flour arranged in two piles on a table made of acacia wood and covered with pure gold. It was known as “the bread of presence” because it was placed in the Holy place at the presence of the Lord in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple of Jerusalem. This bread was kept always on the table and replaced on every sabbath day. When removed for replacement, the bread was eaten only by Aaron and his sons in a holy place (Lev. 24:5-9). It is believed that Jesus pointed to this bread of the presence and declared, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35).

CHILDBIRTH, PURIFICATION OFFERING AFTER

God had commanded to offer a yearling lamb as a burnt offering and a pigeon or a turtledove as a purification offering on the 40th day after giving birth to a male child (Lev. 12:6). If the mother could not afford a lamb, she could substitute the lamb with a turtledove or a pigeon (Lev. 12:8). Since Joseph and Mary were coming from Bethlehem and Joseph was out of work, they could not afford to buy a lamb. So they had to join other poor couples in offering only birds.

CIRCUMCISION

Blood covenant was a binding contract and was common among the people in the middle east in the ancient times. The scar of circumcision was an identifying outward evidence of the covenant. God established circumcision as a symbol of covenant between God and Abraham. The act of circumcision was called the bris, which means “covenant.” According to the God’s covenant with Abraham, “Throughout the ages, every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised, including house born slaves and those acquired with money from any foreigner who is not of your descendants.” (Gen 17:12). So, the practice of circumcision was continued from the time of Abraham among the Jews and it was a sign of covenant relationship with God.

In his covenant with Abraham, God’s demand from Abraham and his descendants was their faithfulness to God obeying his commandments. From God’s part, there were three promises:

1. Land - Israel shall own Canaan, the promised land.

2. Seed – A great nation will emerge from the descendants of Abraham.

3. Blessing – Salvation offered to all the world through the seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:18). That seed is Jesus.

Circumcision became the sign of incorporating into the people of Israel and becoming a covenant person with God. Just as a wedding ring reminds of marriage covenant with a person’s spouse, male circumcision of Israel was a reminder of their permanent commitment and covenantal union with God. Female circumcision was not allowed for the Israelites. The women were incorporated into the body of Israel and the covenant relation with God through their wedding to a circumcised Israelite.

However, Moses reminded Israelites that a physical circumcision should lead to the circumcision of heart. Love of God with whole heart and whole being was insisted as part of covenant relationship through circumcision (Deut. 30:6). “Circumcise therefore the foreskins of your hearts, and be stiff-necked no longer.” (Deut. 10: 16).

Besides the covenantal scar of circumcision on the eighth day, Jesus also made the bloody scars on his hand and feet and the spear of his heart. Thus, he had even the physical circumcision of the heart.

Physical circumcision is not a requirement in the new covenant established by Jesus because his salvation is not just for Abraham’s descendants, but is open for all believers in Jesus. Every Christian is called to circumcise his or her heart by being faithful to God according to the teachings of Jesus.

The circumcision is a symbol of the covenant between God and Abraham. The name for the act of circumcision is bris, which means “covenant.” God commanded Israelites, “When he is eight days old, every male among you will be circumcised, generation after generation; including the slaves born in your household or bought from a foreigner as slaves. Whether born in your household or bought as slaves, they must be circumcised. So my covenant will be written in your flesh as an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, will be cut off from his people for having broken my covenant” (Gen 17:12-14). The Jews continued circumcision from the time of Abraham, and it remained as a sign of their covenant with God.

CIRCUMCISION, DAY OF

Number eight, according to the Biblical numerology stands for recreation. God completed creation of the universe including a day of rest in seven days. So, eighth day means a new beginning. The covenant with Abraham through circumcision was also a new beginning of salvation. So, circumcision, that signals the beginning of the child’s covenant with God and initiation into Israel, was supposed to be performed on the eighth day. The importance of the eighth day is clear from that fact that even if the eighth day was a Sabbath when work was prohibited, circumcision was performed on that day as an exception.

The selection of eighth day for circumcision regardless of Sabbath observance was the decision from God. One reason is that the newborn baby will live a complete week inclusive of a Sabbath. Hence the baby experiences the “holiness” of a Sabbath. Then he can enter the covenant with God and thus join the community of the Jewish people.

One reason for selecting the eighth day for circumcision was that the newborn baby will live a complete week inclusive of a Sabbath. Hence the baby experienced the “holiness” of a Sabbath. Then he could make the covenant with God and thus join the Israelite community. The medical science found out that the eighth day after birth is the best day for blood clotting and so it is a suitable time for circumcision. Blood clotting depends on platelets, prothrombin, and vitamin K. Prothrombin levels and vitamin K are at their peak

CIRCUMCISION, PLACE OF

The Israelites could perform the circumcision either in the synagogue or at home. In John’s case, the priests and relatives came to do it at home. Otherwise, Elizabeth could not be present for the ritual. According to the Mosaic Law, the mother was unclean for seven days if she gave birth to a boy. The parents should arrange the child’s circumcision on the eighth day. “Then she shall wait for thirty-three days to be purified of her bleeding. She shall not touch anything that is consecrated nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed” (Lev 12:4). Since Elizabeth could not enter the synagogue for 40 days after John’s birth, the performers and the participants of circumcision came to Zechariah’s house to carry out the ritual.

EIGHTH DAY, A DAY OF SANCTIFICATION

Eighth day was also considered as a day of sanctification. after seven days of purification. A male child, along with his mother was considered unclean for seven days. Then he was circumcised on the eighth day (Leviticus 12:2,3). “Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. That will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Levi. 17:11). Animals were considered unacceptable for sacrifices until the eighth day after their birth. “The Lord said to Moses: When an ox or a lamb or a goat is born, it shall remain with its mother for seven days; only from the eighth day onward will it be acceptable, to be offered as an oblation to the Lord (Levi. 22:26-27). The reason for uncleanness of animals was not because they were born in sin like descendants of Adam and Eve, but because they were offered in the temple in the place of the first-born children. 

People who were unclean through leprosy or any defilement had to observe seven days of purification. On the eighth day, they were accepted as clean (Leviticus 14:8-10; Leviticus 15:13,14; Numbers 6:9,10). The purification of the altar, vessels to be used in the holy place, and the priests, took seven days. Their purity was established only on the eighth day (Ezekiel 43:26, 27). Thus, seven days were days of purification and the eighth day was for sanctification.

FEASTS OF JEWS AND JESUS

The Israelites had mainly seven feasts which according to the calendar order were: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First-fruits, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). More Jewish feasts were added later after the Babylonian exile. These feasts were communal in the sense that they brought the nation together for worship and they helped to commemorate their common origin and memorable experiences in relation to God. Out of these seven pre-exile feasts originated from God, three were pilgrimage feasts: Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks) and Sukkot (the Festival of Booths). According to Deuteronomy 16:16-17, “Three times a year, then, all your males shall appear before the LORD, your God, in 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, but each with his own gift, in proportion to the blessing which the LORD, your God, has given to you.” Since they traveled to Jerusalem for these feasts, they were known as “Pilgrimage Feasts.”

The first four of the seven feasts were interrelated.

(1) The Passover

“The Passover of the LORD falls on the fourteenth day of the first month, at the evening twilight.” (Leviticus 23:5). Passover commemorated the marking with the blood of a slaughtered lamb on the door posts of the houses of Israelites to save them from the angel of death. In the New Testament, this Passover became the slaughter of Jesus, the true Lamb of God whose blood was marked on the cross for our redemption from the bondage of sin.

(2) The Feast of the Unleavened Bread

Immediately after Passover, the Israelites had to leave Egypt in a hurry and could not wait to leaven the bread. So, God asked Israel to celebrate the feast of the Unleavened Bread for one week to remember this historical event. “The fifteenth day of this month is the LORD’s feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.” (Leviticus 23:6). Leaven was considered as symbol of sin. Israel had to give up all their sinful ways in Egypt and follow the Lord to the promised land.

(3) The feast of the “First Fruits”

This feast was celebrated on the day after Sabbath during the one-week feast of the Unleavened Bread. “When you come into the land which I am giving you, and reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest, who shall elevate the sheaf before the LORD that it may be acceptable on your behalf. On the day after the sabbath the priest shall do this.” (Lev. 23:10-11). This offering was the first ripe barley in the field and each Israelite presented it as a bundle to the priest who would wave it in front of the altar of the Lord. Barley was harvested first before wheat and other agricultural products. Along with sheaf of barley, they were supposed to offer a one-year old lamb and a grain offering. According to Deuteronomy 26:1-11, this offering was to acknowledge that God had delivered them from Egypt and had given them the fertile land that He had promised to the forefathers. For 40 years they had to depend on Manna and now they could cultivate and eat fresh agricultural products. The Israelites did not eat of the new harvest until the first fruits offering had been made (Lev. 23:14).

The resurrection of Jesus happened on the feast day of the “First Fruit” because that was the first fruit of the salvific activity of God.  The day of Easter was the day after the Sabbath (Sunday) during the one-week feast of the Unleavened Bread after Passover. Jesus then went to heaven, the Holy of Holies, on the 40th day after his resurrection to present his sacrificial offering as the High Priest used to do on the Day to Atonement. The Father who was well pleased and accepted the offering of the Son, sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles to constitute the church on the 50th day after the Passover sacrifice of Jesus. This fiftieth day coincided with the 50th day celebration (Pentecost) of the Old Testament.

(4). The Feast of Pentecost

Also known as the Feast of Weeks, Pentecost was celebrated according to the directive of God given in Leviticus 23: 15 - 22. From the feast of the first fruits, the Israelites must count seven full weeks and the day after that or on the 50th day, they shall observe Pentecost by wheat grain offering. It consisted of two loaves of leavened bread representing Israelites and gentiles, a burnt offering of seven one-year old lambs, one bull and two rams followed by a sin offering of one goat and a fellowship offering of two lambs (Lev. 23: 18). Though this 50th day observance was a harvest feast of thanksgiving, it was also associated with the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai on the 50th day after the original Passover in Egypt.

FEAST OF TABERNACLE / FEAST OF BOOTHS

The Jews annually celebrated three pilgrim feasts. The Israelites who lived in the Kingdom of Judah were required to make pilgrimage to the Temple of Jerusalem for these feasts. They were the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost) and the Festival of Tabernacles (Deut. 16:16).

The Feast of the Tabernacles was also known as the Feast of Booths and Sukkot and lasted seven days. An eighth day was added later as the “greatest day”. The feast started on the 15th day of the seventh month, Tishri of the Hebrew calendar (late September to mid-October). It began and ended with a special Sabbath day of rest and worship, thus constituting eight days. During the seven days of the feast, all Israelites left their home and lived in temporary tents or booths made of branches of trees outside to remind them how their ancestors lived in tabernacles for 40 years in the wilderness after God delivered them out of the “land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:39-43). It also was a feast of Messianic expectation that the Israelites prayed to God for the new Joshua (Jesus) to come and lead them to the Kingdom of God. By the month of Tishri, the fall harvest was completed and so Israelites joyfully celebrated and thanked God for the continued provision of rain and corps for them.

Many Biblical events are associated with the feast of the Tabernacles. Dedication of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:2) was held at the feast of the Tabernacles. When the Israelites returned from Babylon to reconstruct the Temple of Jerusalem, it was on the seventh month that they listened to the Word of God read by Ezra and revived the feast of the Tabernacles that was discontinued from the days of Joshua who succeeded Moses (Nehemiah 8). Some Bible scholars claim that the birth of Jesus (“the Word made his dwelling among us” John 1:14) and his second coming to establish the earthly kingdom are associated with the Feast of Tabernacles.

The ritual of the feast of Tabernacles included a solemn procession with music everyday morning from the Temple under the leadership of a priest to the pool of Siloam. The priest would fill a golden vase with water and carried back to the temple in procession amid the joyful songs of the people who would be holding branches of trees that they had used for making the tents for the feast.  The priest then poured the water on the western side of the altar of burnt-offering. In the meantime, another priest would be pouring wine as a drink-offering on the eastern side of the altar. During this time the pilgrims would be moving around the altar singing Psalms of Hallel (Alleluia) 113-118. This was repeated seven times on the seventh day remembering the procession done around the wall of Jericho carrying the Ark of the Covenant causing its fall and conquest of Jericho. So, this ritual of offering water on the altar was symbolic of God providing them water from rock in the wilderness and rain they have been receiving for abundant harvest.

During the feast, the temple courtyard was illuminated with four large golden menorahs having seven torches each. These 28 big torches shed light to a wide area and was visible from all around the city as a “pillar of fire”. People used to sing and dance with musical instruments throughout the night until at daybreak when they start procession to the Pool of Siloam. Jesus made use of this ritual to teach people that he was the light of the world.

FIRST BORN

According to Jewish Law, the firstborn son had special duties and privileges. He shall inherit a double share of his father’s property (Deut 21:17). Parents should offer him to God and then redeem him (Num 18:15-16). Even if the parents have only one son, yet they consider him as the firstborn. So, the parents of Jesus presenting him to God as firstborn does not imply that Mary had other sons.

The evangelist quotes from Exodus 13:2, “Consecrate to me every firstborn. The first to open the womb among the Israelites, whether human or animal, is mine.” The LORD asked Moses to tell the children of Israel the reason for the consecration of the firstborn: “As Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD slew every firstborn in Egypt, of man and beast alike. That is why I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that open the womb, but the firstborn of my sons, I redeem” (Ex 13:15). The offering of the firstborn male to God was a grateful remembrance of God saving the firstborn male of Israelites at the time of the original Passover from Egypt, while the angel killed the firstborn of the Egyptians (Ex 12:12). Since Jesus was also the firstborn male of Mary, she and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple.

The Israelites believed that their firstborn males and animals belonged to God. They sacrificed animals and bought back the child from God by giving five shekels to a priest. That amount was worth a month’s income. That helped to support the priests who consecrated themselves to God’s service in the place of the firstborn sons of Israel (Num 3:11-13). Thus, the non-Levites ransomed their firstborn for five shekels (Num 18:16). They did this on the 40th day by presenting the child to a local priest and paying him the money.

However, in Jesus’ case, the Bible does not mention any such payment. Joseph and Mary took the infant Jesus to the Temple and offered him to God. The parents did not redeem Jesus because he was destined to serve God as a priest like the Levites. He later sacrificed himself as a priest and lamb for the remission of humanity’s sin. Since Mary’s purification and presentation of Jesus in the Temple happened 40 days after Christmas, the feast falls on 2 February according to the church calendar 

FRUIT OFFERING / VINTAGE TIME

According to Leviticus 19: 23-25, the fruits of the first three years of a tree were considered uncircumcised and could not be eaten. In the fourth year “all of its fruit shall be dedicated to the LORD in joyous celebration.” (Lev. 19:24). Thus, the fruits of the fourth year was taken to the temple where the priests and the owner ate them at the temple area. Only from the fifth-year, the owner could eat its fruit or sell for profit. So, God would be waiting for the fruits of the vineyard to be brought to the temple on the fourth year. Similarly, God had been waiting for the spiritual fruits from Israel considering all the great favors God had done for them.

JESUS AND JEWISH PRACTICES

Jesus used to attend synagogue service on a regular basis even when he had disagreements with some of their practices. His parents made sure that every Jewish practice was followed in Jesus’ life. They circumcised Jesus on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) and presented Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:22-40). When St. Luke, the Evangelist presents the event of finding the missed child Jesus in the temple at the age of 12, he starts saying: “Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.” (Luke 2:41).

JESUS, THE BRIDEGROOM

Jesus had established a new covenant with his apostles at the last supper. It was like a wedding betrothal of the Jews. Jesus the groom had made the betrothal with his bride the church through the apostles who were the pillars of the church. According to the Jewish wedding custom, groom or his father had to pay a dowry (mohar) to the bride’s family. For example, before the wedding of Isaac, Abraham’s servant “brought out objects of silver and gold and clothing and presented them to Rebekah; he also gave costly presents to her brother and mother.” (Genesis 24:53). Jacob labored for Laban seven years each, to marry his daughters Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29:15-30). The dowry that Jesus paid was the sacrifice of his life as ransom for the redemption of his followers (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45). Once the engagement was made, the groom would depart to his father’s house and prepare a space there for the couple. Then at an unexpected day, the groom would come to receive the bride who would be eagerly waiting for the return of her husband for the marital union. Likewise, Jesus was bidding farewell to his dearly beloved church promising that he would prepare a place for them in the Father’s mansion for their full communion with him.

JESUS, THE PASSOVER LAMB

Passover feast involved selection of a sacrificial lamb, free from all blemish on the tenth day of Nisan. Jesus was the perfect “lamb” free from sin that God selected to offer as sacrifice for the atonement of all humanity on the 10th of Nisan which according to Christian calendar was Sunday, April 2nd. This lamb could be sacrificed only in Jerusalem and that should be on the 14th of Nisan that was on Thursday, April 6 from sunset to April 7th sunset. Jesus was crucified on Friday, April 7th.

The last supper of Jesus was a Jewish Passover Meal that was a remembrance of the deliverance of the Israelites from the slavery of Egyptians. It was also a recollection of slaying a lamb and marking the door posts of their houses with the blood of the lamb, so their first-born children were saved from the final plague of death. Jesus was getting ready to replace the blood of the lamb with his own blood and mark it on the cross instead of the door posts so that his first-born children in faith would be saved from the eternal death.

JESUS, WASHING THE FEET

People in the past were walking on dirty or dusty roads with sandals on their feet. So, they had to wash their feet before entering a house. Usually a slave, servant, or host (Luke 7:44) would wash the feet of the guest. This might have been missed when Jesus and the apostles gathered for the Passover because they had no host or servant. None of the apostles wanted to be at the service of others, not even to wash the feet of their Lord. So, they might have started the supper without the ceremonial washing of feet. Jesus might have noticed it and delayed it to teach them a lesson by making himself a humble servant of his disciples. According to Jewish practice, there was no practice of washing the feet during the Passover celebration.

JESUS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Jesus made use of the occasion of the Feast of the Tabernacles to teach people that he was the light of the world. During the feast, the temple courtyard was illuminated with four large golden menorahs having seven torches each. These 28 big torches shed light to a wide area and was visible from all around the city as a “pillar of fire”. Light from the four menorahs in the temple reminded the people of the presence and guidance of God in the form of pillar of fire at night in the wilderness. Jesus said at this occasion that he is the light (not a light) of the world (not just in Jerusalem or for the Jews but for all people all over the world). Thus, Jesus replaced the four menorahs that illuminated the Holy place of the temple. Only one sun is necessary to illumine the world. So also, Jesus is the only source of spiritual light.

LENT, DIFFERENCE IN EAST AND WEST IN GREAT LENT

According to the Latin Rite, the Great Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Since Sundays are for the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord, they are exempt from Lenten observance. When excluding the six Sundays during the season of the Great Lent, there are only 40 days for Lent. The Eastern churches have 50 days for the Great Lent starting with seven Sundays before Easter (Petratha) and ending with Easter. The lent is observed continuously for 40 days as Jesus fasted in the wilderness. The culmination of this is on the 40th Friday. The following days are for the observance of the passion of the Lord and his glorious resurrection. Thus the 50 days Lent starts with the feast of Petratha (The Eve of Great Fast) and ends with the great feast of Easter.

MARRIAGE, LEVIRATE

(Ref. Matthew 22:23-33). The Sadducees were referring to the law of Levirate Marriage given in the book of Deuteronomy. The word levirate derives from the Latin word “levir” meaning “brother-in-law.” According to this law, “When brothers live together and one of them dies without a son, the widow of the deceased shall not marry anyone outside the family; but her husband’s brother shall come to her, marrying her and performing the duty of a brother-in-law. The firstborn son she bears shall continue the name of the deceased brother, that his name may not be blotted out from Israel. But if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go up to the elders at the gate and say, ‘My brother-in-law refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel and does not intend to perform his duty toward me.’ Thereupon the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists in saying, ‘I do not want to marry her,’ his sister-in-law, in the presence of the elders, shall go up to him and strip his sandal from his foot and spit in his face, declaring, ‘This is how one should be treated who will not build up his brother’s family!’ And his name shall be called in Israel, ‘the house of the man stripped of his sandal.’” (Dt. 25:5-10). The purpose of this law was to continue the family line and property of a deceased person.

NAMING A CHILD

For Hebrews, naming was to identify the named person or object and exercising power over it. So, they did not dare to use the name of God. Instead, they used the word “LORD.”

The Jews name a child on the eighth day after birth during circumcision. The child’s father names the child according to the names of the forefathers in the family, declaring that the child was his beloved one. The name of a person expresses his personality.

In the Biblical tradition, either the mother or the father could name the child. For example, Leah and Rachel named their children and their maidservants’ children (Gen 29:31–30:24). Hanna named her son Samuel (1 Sam 1:20). Abram named his son Ishmael from Hagar (Gen 16:15). Moses named his son Gershom (Ex 2:22). There were exceptions when others also named children: Pharaoh’s daughter named her adopted son Moses (Ex 2:10). Naomi’s female neighbours named her son Obed (Ruth 4:17).

The Jews named a male child near the birth or at the time of circumcision on the eighth day. They named girls within 30 days of their birth. The Jews gave the grandfather’s name and in exceptional cases the father’s name, to the male child. They gave the father’s name when they were unsure of his name’s continuation to the next generations. The priest and relatives considered giving Zechariah’s name to his child. Otherwise, his name could not extend to the next generation because John was his only son who will remain single with Nazirite vow.

A person’s name had great significance in Biblical times. Parents named a child based on the essence of the person, divine role in his birth, his birth order, his character, his future mission, his physical trait, or where he was born. For example, Adam means the man, a human being, or red (colour of the earth) (Gen 2:7), Noah means rest or comfort (Gen 5:29), Abraham means the father of a multitude (Gen 17:5), Moses means drawn out of the waters (Ex 2:10), David means beloved (1 Sam 13:14) and Jesus means saviour or ‘Jehovah is salvation’ (Mt 1:21).

NAZERITE

Like some exceptional people of the past, John consecrated himself for the service of the Lord and accepted the Nazirite vow (Num 6:2). Nazirites abstained from drinking wine or any alcoholic items (Num 6:3-4). They did not cut their hair (Num 6:5) and did not touch corpses, even of their parents (Num 6:7). Examples of such Biblical characters are Samson (Judg 13:4-5) and Samuel (1 Sam 1:11).

PASSOVER

The Last Supper of Jesus is to be understood in the background of the Jewish Passover because the last supper of Jesus and his institution of the Holy Eucharist (Qurbana) took place while Our Lord was celebrating the Passover with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. Passover, one of the three pilgrim feasts was to be celebrated in Jerusalem (Leviticus 23: 4-14, Deuteronomy 16:1-8). A lamb was sacrificed in the Temple and its meat was taken home and ate during the Passover meal. The procedure for the Paschal feast has been known as the Seder which means “order” that give 15 steps of procedure and prayers in a book known as Haggadah. The fifteen corresponds to the 15th day of Nissan when Passover starts or the 15 semi-circular steps from the Court of Women to the Court of Israel in the Temple. Levites sang the fifteen "Psalms of the Steps" (Psalms 120-134 of Degrees or Ascents) with musical instruments there.

The procedure for Passover meal along with how Jesus observed it are given below:

Preparations for Passover

1. Selection of the lamb on the 10th of Nisan. Family would select a one-year-old unblemished male lamb for sacrifice. In Jesus’ case, he was the unblemished and male lamb, selected and brought to the Temple by the family of Israel and approved by the priests for slaughter. This had happened on the Palm Sunday that was the 10th of Nisan. The slaughter of the lambs would take place between the evenings of 14th and 15th of Nisan. Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist on 14th evening and was crucified on Friday the 15th.

2. Searching Leaven on 13th of Nisan. Any leaven in the house had to be checked and removed based on God’s commandment: “No leaven is to be found with you in all your territory for seven days.” (Deut. 16:4). Jesus did this on the Palm Sunday by cleaning the Temple and removing all the merchants who were making the temple defiled.

3. Foot washing on 14th of Nisan. When the guests and family members arrived at the house for the Passover meal, a slave or servant would wash their feet. Since his disciples did not perform this, Jesus did this for them during the meal which was unusual. It was to teach them how they should be following his servant leadership in their ministry.

4. Table setting: Charoseth (a sweet dark-colored paste made of fruits and nuts), unleavened bread, vegetables, vinegar (karpas), four wine glasses, red and warm wine bottles, and several candles were set on the table. The people would be sitting in a reclined position with support of pillows around a low table about 18” high. Seating was arranged according to age or social position of the participants.

The 15 Steps of Passover Meal

Step 1. Kadeish (Sanctification): The head of the family who sat at the place of honor would take the first out of the four wine cups and fill it with wine mixed with water (grape juice for children) and pronounced a thanksgiving over it. He would taste it first and then pass it to all present. The four cups of wine stood for the four “I wills” in Exodus 6:6-7. “I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians (The Cup of Sanctification) and will deliver you from their slavery (The Cup of Deliverance). I will redeem you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment (The Cup of Redemption). I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God (The Cup of Restoration) and you will know that I, the LORD, am your God who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 6:6-7).

Step 2. Urchatz (Washing of Hands): Participants washed their hands by pouring water on the right hand three times, and then left had three times in preparation for eating the herbs dipped in saltwater.

Step 3. Karpas or Bitter Herbs (usually parsley) was eaten after dipping it in saltwater. The vegetable was symbolic of the poor background of the Jewish people and the saltwater was symbolic of the tears shed by the Israelites in Egypt during slavery and throughout their history. The saltwater also reminded them the Red Sea they crossed with the providence of God while leaving Egypt. The second cup was then poured with wine.

Step 4. Yachatz (Breaking of middle matzo bread): Three matzo breads were placed in three pockets of matzo cover. Matzo bread was an unleavened flat bread with stripes and piercings on it symbolic of the scourging and nailing of the Messiah according to Christian interpretation. These three breads, according to Christian interpretation, represented the Most Holy Trinity. The middle one representing Messiah, the second person of the Trinity, was broken into two pieces reminding of the broken body of Christ for our sins. The smaller piece representing the “bread of affliction” was returned to the pocket and the larger one representing Pesach Sacrifice was kept in a hidden place in another cover. For Christians this represented the burial of Jesus.

Step 5. Magid (Story telling) of Exodus from Egypt as a question-answer session: The youngest son or the least significant person would be asking four questions on the difference of that night from the banquet of other nights. The head of the family would give the answers and clarify the significance of the special food items. Participants then drank the second cup of wine. The first half of the Hallel Psalms 113-114 were recited then.

Step 6. Rachtzah (Second handwashing) by the participants with a blessing in preparation for eating the matzah, the unleavened bread: Paschal Lamb, charoseth (paste of nuts and fruits) with vegetables, and two of the unleavened bread wafers were served.

Step 7. Motzi (The blessing for bread) holding the remaining matzah bread.

Step 8. Matzah (Unleavened Bread): Everyone ate a part of the top and the middle matzah. They lean to the left when they eat.

Step 9. Maror (Bitter Herbs): Eating of bitter vegetable like raw horseradish or romaine lettuce after a blessing was recited over it. Bitter Herbs reminded the bitterness of slavery. The bitter herb was dipped in charoset, a sweet dark-colored paste made mixing apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine, that signified the mortar used by the Israelites for construction work in Egypt during their slavery. 

Step 10. Koresh (Matzah Sandwich): Filled two pieces of Matzah with Maror and Romaine lettuce, made a special prayer and ate it while leaning to the left.

Step 11. Shulchan Orech (Dinner): The Pascal lamb was cut into pieces and each received a portion with unleavened bread and bitter herbs dipped in sauce.

Step 12. Tzafun / Afikoman (Half-piece Matzo bread): Children were asked to find the piece of matzah bread that was hidden earlier. The finding of it represented the resurrection of Jesus according to Christian view. That was broken into pieces and shared by all saying, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in Egypt”. At this point Jesus established the Holy Eucharist using probably the Afikoman bread.  “Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’” (Matthew 26:26).

Step 13. Barech (The Cup of Redemption): The third cup of wine was poured; a blessing was said over the cup and all the participants shared it. This was the time when Jesus instituted the second part of the Holy Eucharist. “Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28). Jesus and his apostles left the room to the Garden of Gethsemane at this point and the rest of the Passover continued through his sacrifice as the Lamb of God on the Cross.

Wine was poured on the fourth cup as well as an additional cup set aside for the prophet Elijah, who was supposed to announce the arrival of Messiah on a Pesach day. A door was then opened to invite Elijah into the house.

Step 14. Hallel (Praises): The rest of the psalms (Hallel) were recited (Psalms 115-118) followed by a blessing over the fourth cup of wine and it was drunk. Jesus considered fourth cup as his suffering, he prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42).

Step 15. Nirtzah (Closing): The Passover concluded saying “It is finished” and with the prayer, "Next Year in Jerusalem” hoping that they might celebrate Pesach the following year in Jerusalem with the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus also said, “It is finished” after tasting the fourth cup on the cross just before his death.

PASSOVER, RECLINING AT

During Biblical times, people were not sitting around the table as we do now. According to Jewish and Roman custom, the dining table was low slab with couches around its three sides. This was how Jesus used to eat at houses and at the last supper. The original Passover in Egypt was done in a standing position. Later it was done on reclining position to show their relaxation and freedom because of their redemption from slavery.

PRIESTS, DIVISION OF

All priests served in the temple of Jerusalem during the busy season of the three main Jewish feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Feast of the Tabernacles. At other times, each division of priests served two terms of one week each in a year. Even then, all priests of the division could not be in the temple during the off season. So, they were selected by lot which was a selection from God. Many would not get this opportunity. So, Zechariah must have been delighted for his selection for priestly duty and had prepared himself spiritually for the service.

PRIESTS WORKING ON SABBATH

The priests must work double on a Sabbath in the temple to make sure the sacrifices take place according to the prescriptions of the Law. “On the sabbath day: two unblemished yearling lambs, with a grain offering of two tenths of an ephah of bran flour mixed with oil, and its libation. This is the sabbath burnt offering each sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its libation.” (Numbers 28:9). This involved work by priests like cleaning of sacrificial animals, lighting of fires, slaughter of animals, lifting of them on to the altar, and other related works. In addition, the priests also had to change the showbread on the every sabbath such works would become violation of Sabbath for ordinary people (Leviticus 24:8). However, the law itself gave precedence for the sacrifice to God over the Sabbath rules. Jesus who gave importance to human suffering, also expressed precedence for acts of mercy over Sabbath regulations.

PRODIGAL SON, RING AND SANDALS

Ring was symbolic of sharing father’s authority. The signet ring was like an official seal or credit card of the modern times. It was used to sign documents and give assurance for any credit that would be paid by the father. When Pharaoh made Joseph his prime minister, he gave a ring as sign of sharing his authority in the palace. “And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.” (Genesis 41:42). The prodigal son was honored and empowered in a similar way.

Sandals were symbol of family membership and authority. Others like servants and slaves were not allowed to wear sandals.

QURBAN

(Ref. Mark 7:11-12). The literal meaning of “Corban” is “that which is brought near.” It was an offering made to God in the Temple to substitute an obligation. Such an offering and replacement of responsibility could not be withdrawn later. The temple authorities encouraged such offerings because they would benefit from the offerings made in the name of God. Jesus condemned such practices fostered by the Pharisees and Scribes because no temple offering could substitute the love and care to be given to the parents, especially when they needed care. It was also against the commandment of God and such an offering was not pleasing to God. Thus, Jesus was proving how the Jewish religious leaders were manipulating God’s commandments by substituting their own traditions.

Once a “corban” was offered, the person was free from any obligation to the parents. He could not reverse that by himself even if he changes his mind considering the needs of his parents. The exception should be sought from a wise man who had to formally approve to care for the parents whose services were already paid by corban. Jesus was criticizing that practice. Parents were suffering because of such false teachings and traditions the leaders had developed against the will of God.

RECLINE AT TABLE

According to the Jewish custom during the Biblical times, people were reclining on cushions around a low-level table for banquets. “Recline at table” represents the love, relaxation, joy, intimacy, and communion of saints at the Kingdom of God. This was how Jesus used to eat at houses and at the last supper. The prominent persons were in the middle and others were on the two sides of a U-shaped table setting. Though seats were not pre-assigned, guests were supposed to know where to recline. Once the guests seated themselves, the host would come to see the guests as given in the parable of the wedding garment (Matthew 22:11).

The original Passover in Egypt was done in a standing position. Later it was done on reclining position to show their relaxation and freedom because of their redemption from slavery.

SABBATH

Sabbath has been considered as originated from the time of creation as given in the creation account. “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:3). Before giving the two stone tablets of the covenant inscribed by God’s own finger at Mount Sinai, God said: “Six days there are for doing work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD. Anyone who does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. So shall the Israelites observe the sabbath, keeping it throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant. Between me and the Israelites it is to be an everlasting sign” (Exodus 31:15-17). Thus, sabbath became the sign of God’s everlasting covenant with humanity. It must be observed forever as a day of holiness and rest. Violation of its observance could be punishable by death.

Sabbath is primarily a day of rest and spiritual enhancement. It is observed at home and in the synagogue. The sabbath starts at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday with an overlapping of 18 minutes at the beginning and 40 minutes at the end.

Sabbath observance at home

Sabbath observance included special bread (challah), wine and candles placed on a table. Its observance includes more daily prayers and more leisurely eating. It is a day of joy and family get together. This could be more understood and valued when we look at the ancient situation of slaves, servants, and laborers who would have to work daily. Without this commandment from God, their family and personal life would have been miserable.

Woman of the house lit two candles on Friday before sunset representing two commandments on Sabbath: (zakhor) remembrance (Exodus 20:8) and (shamor) observance (Exodus 31:16). Remembrance is of God’s creation (Matthew 20:11) and deliverance of Israelites from the slavery of Egypt (Deut. 5:15). On the weekdays, people are slaves of their work for others or working for the sustenance of themselves. Whereas, on sabbath they are free from such botherations which reminds them of their freedom from the slavery of Egyptians.

Sabbath observance at home involves candle lighting and recitation of a blessing no later than eighteen minutes before sunset by the woman of the house marking the beginning of the sabbath. The family then do an evening service of 45 minutes. The man of the house recites Kiddush, a sanctification prayer over the wine and prayer over the challah (a sweet, eggy, braid shaped bread). Then the family eats a festive and leisurely dinner. After dinner the grace after meals is recited in a leisurely manner. The family then study or talk on the Torah before going to bed. On the next day also, the family will have leisurely meal along with prayers and study of Torah in the afternoon followed by leisurely activities. Sabbath ends at nightfall when three stars are visible around 40 minutes after sunset. So sabbath observance involves approximately 25 hours. Thus, sabbath is a day of joy, leisure, family union, spiritual nourishment by reading and reflecting on Torah.

Sabbath observance at the Synagogue

Public observance of sabbath was held at the synagogue. A ceremony welcoming the sabbath was held on Friday evening followed by the evening service. The services were conducted in a relaxed pace with more music than the weekday liturgy. After the evening service, there can be a communal meal at the synagogue or people might return to their homes for dinner. The Saturday service in the synagogue involved public recitation from the Torah, and a reading (Haftarah) from one of the prophetic books. So, recitation and study of Law and Prophets, and prayer were the major components of sabbath observance in the synagogue. Reading and commentary could be done by anyone who had knowledge in the Scriptures (Acts 13:14-15). If a person had a religious message to communicate to the Jews, synagogue was the best place to address that.

If there were 10 or more Jewish families in a locality, they used to have a synagogue. Prayer services were done daily, and more were done on the sabbath. The synagogue was administered by the ruler of the synagogue. He also oversaw collections taken daily in cash or kind to support the poor. Food was then distributed to the poor. So, the sick and poor also used to come to the synagogue seeking help. Jesus helped them by performing miracles. Another staff of the synagogue was the minister (Chazzan) who oversaw taking care and storing away the rolls of Sacred Scripture kept in the synagogue. He was also in charge of keeping the synagogue clean, blowing the trumpet announcing the arrival of Sabbath, and responsible for primary education of the children. However, the synagogue had no permanent preacher. The ruler of the synagogue used to invite any competent person to preach based on the scripture. That was how, Jesus and apostles like Paul had the chance to preach in the synagogues. Since Jesus was a famous rabbi, he got many opportunities to preach in the synagogues. 

TASSEL

God had instructed through Moses that the Israelites had “to make tassels for the corners of their garments, fastening a violet cord to each corner.” (Numbers 15:38). The purpose of the tassels was that “the sight of the cord will remind you of all the commandments of the LORD.” (Numbers 15:39). Jesus also wore such outer garment with four tassels prescribed by law.

According to Malachi 3:20 (4:2), “for you who fear my name, the sun of justice will arise with healing in its wings.” When Jesus came as this sun of justice or Messiah, people touched his outer garment considering it as his wings for the prophesied healing. That was what this woman also did with her faith in the Messiah. According to Mark 5:28, “She said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.’”

There were other instances where the sick people touched the tassel of Jesus’ garment and got healed. Matthew records that when Jesus and his disciples reached Gennesaret, people brought the sick to him and “begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed.” (Matthew 14:36). Mark also reports the same (Mark 6: 53-56).

UNCLEAN AFTER CHILDBIRTH

According to the law of Moses, there was a period of ceremonial uncleanliness for women who gave birth to children. “When a woman has a child, giving birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as during her menstrual period.” (Lev. 12:2). Even after completing the seven days of uncleanliness, the mother had to “ spend thirty-three days more in a state of blood purity; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled.” (Lev. 12:4). If the child was female the duration of uncleanliness was 14 days and the state of blood purity was an additional 66 days. Thus the period of purification for the mother who gave birth to a male child was 40 days and a female child was 80 days.

According to biblical numerology, 40 is symbolic of a period of purification, preparation, or testing. Biologically, after giving birth a woman has a discharge known as lochia that might last for four to six weeks. The term lochia derives from the Greek word lokheíos, that means “of childbirth.” Lochia is a combination of blood, mucus and uterine tissue coming from the wound that occurred when placenta tore away from the uterine wall. It is a post-delivery healing process. During this time, she was not allowed to touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary.

On the 40th day after childbirth, the sacrifice for cleansing was offered at the Nicanor Gate on the east of the Court of Women in the Temple. Women who lived far from the Temple were not obliged to be present in the Temple for the purification ceremony. Since Bethlehem was only six miles south of Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary went to the Temple to offer the sacrifice and to present Jesus.

WASHING, CEREMONIAL

Jews used to wash feet upon entry into the house because they were walking on muddy or dusty ground. Washing hands before and in between each course of the meal and cleaning all the utensils carefully with water was necessary and a ceremonial custom.

There were many practices of ceremonial washings, including immersion in water, for Israelites in the Old Testament. Some of them were like the baptism performed by John. Before the ordination to priesthood, Moses washed Aaron and his sons with water as per the directive of God through Moses (Lev. 8:6). On the Day of Atonement, Aaron had to bath his body in water before he robed his vestments to enter the Holy of Holies (Lev. 16:4). Those who have touched a human corpse were unclean for seven days and had to purify themselves with water on the third and seventh day as part of their ritual purification (Numbers19:11-12). The new converts to Judaism had to undergo immersion in water known as Mikveh which was symbolic of transition from his or her old identity to a new one as a Jew.