Monday, September 24, 2012

High Holy Day Roundup

A slew of high holy day related links that have been accumulating:

May you all have an easy and meaningful fast, a renewed sense of vision and purpose, and many blessings for life in 5773.

Is Rosh Hashanah in the Bible?

"Did you know that Rosh Hashana is not in the Bible?"
So claimed several Messianic Jewish ministry emails that showed up in my inbox this autumn.  Ordinarily I would have just said, "Yes," and moved on, but it just so happened that several weeks ago I discovered something that surprised me: the phrase Rosh Hashanah DOES appear in the Bible.  A casual reference in Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's A Guide to Jewish Prayer led me to Ezekiel 40.1:
בְּעֶשְׂרִים וְחָמֵשׁ שָׁנָה לְגָלוּתֵנוּ בְּרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ, בְּאַרְבַּע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה, אַחַר, אֲשֶׁר הֻכְּתָה הָעִיר--בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, הָיְתָה עָלַי יַד-יְהוָה, וַיָּבֵא אֹתִי, שָׁמָּה.
In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me to the city.
Now most commentators seem to agree that this isn't a reference to Rosh Hashanah but simply a generic reference to the beginning of the year.  Wikipedia sums it up (with a footnote to Conservative Jewish scholar Louis Jacobs):
The term Rosh Hashanah appears once in the Bible in Ezekiel 40:1 where it means generally the time of the "beginning of the year" or is possibly a reference to Yom Kipur,[3] but the phrase may also refer to the month of Nissan in the spring, especially in light of Exodus 12:2 where the month of Nissan is stated as being "the first month of the year" and Ezekiel 45:18 where "the first month" unambiguously refers to Nissan, the month of Passover, as made plain by Ezekiel 45:21.[5]

I was reasonably satisfied with this explanation...until it occurred to me, "Wait, what if this verse is simply the earliest reference we have to the observance that came to be called Rosh Hashanah?"  After all, as everyone knows, Rosh Hashanah came from Babylon, and Ezekiel prophesied in...Babylon.  (Obviously there's still that "tenth day of the month" thing to deal with...)

It turns out I'm not the first person to think of this.  A little Googling led me to a 2006 paper by LDS scholar (!) Rodger C. Young in the Seventh-Day Adventist Journal Andrews University Seminary Studies entitled "Ezekiel 40:1 as a Corrective for Seven Wrong Ideas in Biblical Interpretation." In it, Young uses chronologies to demonstrate that Ezekiel used a Tishri - Tishri calendar and not a Nisan - Nisan calendar.  He also suggests that the burden of proof should be on those who claim that the phrase Rosh Hashanah could refer to springtime/Nisan, since in all other attestations it uniformly refers to the fall.

Young also claims that this one verse "slays the giant [that is] the idea that the Pentateuch was written at any time later than the time of Moses."  In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I don't have the expertise or time to verify Young's claims.  If anyone out there wants to enlighten me on whether Young is right on or totally off, I welcome you to do so.

In the mean time, I'm putting this out there as an encouragement to all of us to treasure precision in language.  Don't say that "Rosh Hashana" is not in the Bible...because it is.  In Ezekiel 40:1.

Shanah tovah, good readers!