Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hanukkah Is On Its Way December 20–28

Did you know that the Gospel of John mentions Hanukkah? 

 =Egevneto tovte ta; ejgkaivnia ejn toi:V +IerosoluvmoiV, ceimw;n h\n, kai; periepavtei oJ =Ihsou:V ejn tw/: iJerw/: ejn th/: stoa/: tou: Solomw:noV.

“Now when it was Hanukkah in Jerusalem, it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon” (John 10:22).  

The term ta; ejvgkaivnia (ta engkainia) means “the renewal” (it comes from the verb ejgkainivzei:n [engkainizein], “to renew”)—it is otherwise known as the “festival of rededication” or “Hanukkah.” 

Our Anglicized Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew חֲנֻכָּה (khanukkah), meaning “dedication” (in contemporary Israel, it is usually spelled like this: חנוכה). Hanukkah starts on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Chislev, which this year falls on December 20, and it lasts for eight days. So this year, the feast will last until until December 28. 

So what’s Hanukkah all about? 

Long after Alexander the Great had conquered Judea and the surrounding lands, spreading Greek culture wherever he went in the 300s b.c.e., the area he conquered became split into four major kingdoms—Macedon, Pergamon, and the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms. Eventually, Judea became part of the Seleucid empire (after being under Ptolemaic control) when Antiochus III of Syria defeated King Ptolemy V in Egypt. 

When Antiochus III was ruler over Judea, he was content to allow the Jewish people to live as they pleased according to their ancestral traditions, but his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, took the temple in Jerusalem, ordered a statue of Zeus to be built inside, banned circumcision, and sacrificed a pig on the altar!

The Jewish people would not stand for this persecution against their religion, so a Jewish revolt was launched against the evil Antiochus, and it was successful by 165 b.c.e. under “Judah the Makabi,” meaning “Judah the Hammer.” (This is where we get the name “Maccabees.” If you’ve never read 1 Maccabees in the Apocrypha—the literature in between the Old and New Testaments—I highly recommend it.)

Jewish tradition has it that when Judah retook and “rededicated” the temple (replacing the unclean altar with a new one), they had to use some oil to keep the lamp (menorah) in the temple burning every night. 

Unfortunately, there was only enough for one night. Nevertheless, that oil was miraculously sufficient to allow the menorah to burn for eight days straight, which is the traditional reason behind the eight-day celebration.

So in light of that background, what’s the significance surrounding the context of Jesus in John 10:22 walking in the temple at the time of Hanukkah? 

Hanukkah, a time celebrating the renewal of the temple, is also known as the “Festival of Lights.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus is presented as the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5), and he is said to have “tabernacled” (ejskhvnwsen, eskēnōsen) among us (John 1:14). The temple, functioning in Jesus’ day as the tabernacle did in the time of Moses, housed the very presence of God. Jesus, literally God come down to earth as a human, was right there in the temple, yet his opponents who came to question him in John 10 did not recognize his true identity, instead perturbed that he was not plainly telling them that he was the Messiah. 

Hanukkah took place over a hundred years before Jesus was walking around the temple. The victory there was a military one. But Jesus’ victory was much more powerful—his mission resulted in the redemption of all who put their faith in him. As God, he gives true victory and real life. The miracle of the Incarnation outshines the miracle of the menorah on Hanukkah. God himself became man so that we might have life and freedom from the bondage and destructive power of sin.

The miracle of Jesus renews all creation (Romans 8). That is a renewal worth celebrating. Something to reflect upon as Hanukkah and Christmas both draw near.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ever Been Told You're "Stupid" or "Don't Measure Up"?

I think that many of us end up marginalized and lost because we are told by some of our educators that we are "stupid" because we struggle with understanding the material they want us to learn (or perhaps we struggle with the methodology they use to teach us).

If this has ever been your experience, I hope this creative video of illustrations of a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson encourages you. I particularly like this line in the video: "Collaboration is the stuff of growth." We too often section ourselves off from each other and make ourselves the master of our own education, perhaps in part because the world keeps stressing our work as individuals against our work as groups.

Surely the individual is important, but we weren't created to be islands unto ourselves. Humans are social creatures, as God himself noted when he created us: "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). (Of course, women were not simply created just to keep men company. I fear that this verse is too often used to suggest this. God did not create women just to please men. I want to be emphatic about this. I think the larger point of this passage is that God recognized that humans are not meant to be alone, and Adam needed another person---someone different from/other than him---to be present as well. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments if you think I'm way off base here.)

I think this corresponds to biblical truth, actually. Part of loving our neighbors involves giving everyone a voice (by providing conditions in which they are encouraged to speak and by subsequently listening to them when they speak). Just because someone does not have what we would call "academic" abilities, for instance, does not mean that they do not have something constructive to say.

I think the root of the problem is human pride. We are often so arrogant in the way that we refuse to let our paradigms be challenged, whether they are educational, business-oriented, intellectual, or economic in nature. If we can show that a particular paradigm has "worked" in some sense ("hey, my business model is keeping in my company in business, after all"), we then cite that as evidence for avoiding any kind of change, and we therefore continue to slide past the people who don't measure up to the way we do things. (That is, so what if your "business model" keeps your company in business if it squashes the "least" of your employees in the process?)

Bottom line: No matter where you operate in life, never develop an attitude of "unteachability" or "personal inerrancy." Allow yourself to be challenged.

The truly stupid people are those who think they have nothing more to learn.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Is the God of the Old Testament an Evil or Loving God?

God as portrayed in the Old Testament has often been maligned as a villainous, genocidal character, a divine Hitler of sorts who orders cold mass executions and sanctions the mistreatment of women. And the Old Testament has often been seen as mostly unhistorical (people often say that the Exodus never happened historically).

If you've ever struggled with this issue (is the God of the OT a good God?), I suggest listening to an excellent OT scholar's views on this topic here. I happen to think that Iain Provan, the OT scholar interviewed here, does an outstanding job asnwering difficult questions about the Old Testament.

I think sometimes this question has been dealt with too hastily (or superficially) by Christian apologists, and I think that Dr. Provan treats the questions with the appropriate care that they require.

But what do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Where the Term “LORD” Comes From: God’s Divine Name

I know I said I would post this much sooner (like last month), but time got away from me (I’m still in school—that’s my lame excuse).

But if you watched the video I referenced earlier, than you can learn a Hebrew word!

The Hebrew word in question (which, in this case, is actually a name) is Yahweh (יהוה). This is God’s divine name. In fact, whenever you see the term “the Lord” in your English Bible, that is a translation of יהוה (yod-hey-vav-hey, Hebrew consonants that correspond to YHWH). Because Hebrew is made up of all consonants, vowel sounds were often understood. No one really knows how יהוה was originally pronounced, but the best guess scholars have is Yahweh.

But why “the Lord” (with small caps)? 

Over time, a Jewish tradition developed: Because some Jewish communities wanted to treat God’s name with the utmost respect, they began to keep from pronouncing his name out loud when they would read the Hebrew. So whenever they would come to יהוה, instead of pronouncing it as “Yahweh,” they would say ’adonai (אדני) instead, which means literally, “my lords.” It’s plural in form, but it functions as what is known as a “plural of majesty,” which is when the single God is referred to with a plural form. So it would be more adequately understood as “my Lord” or “the Lord.”

Many Jews today, when reading aloud the Torah in synagogues, will continue to pronounce יהוה as אדני.
Modern English translations have followed this tradition. So when אדני actually appears in the Hebrew text, English translations will use “the Lord” (no small caps). But when יהוה occurs in the Hebrew text, they will use “the Lord” (small caps), just to make the distinction.

The name יהוה is related to ’ehyeh (אהיה), which means “I am/will be.” In the burning bush story, when Moses asks God what he should say to the Israelites when they ask the name of the God who sent him to them, he says, “I AM WHO I AM / I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE [’ehyeh ’asher ’ehyeh   אהיה אשר אהיה]. Thus you will say to the children of Israel: ‘I AM [ ’ehyeh אהיה] has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).

Here’s something that’s also cool about how אהיה is used in this passage: When Moses expresses doubts about going to Egypt to speak to the slaves, God says, “I am/will be [אהיה] with you” (see Exodus 3:12).
God introduced him as one who is—one who is present. In the context of the Exodus story, this is actually pretty powerful. Yahweh (the one who “is”) is a present God—a personal God, one who cares about his people who were slaves in Egypt. He heard their cries. And he was there. And he would be with Moses.

Jesus picks up on this language: “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). The next verse says that his fellow Jews picked up stones to throw at him because he had just equated himself with the one true God. No human could claim to be God (unless it was actually true!).  

By stating this, Jesus claimed to be יהוה, the same God who said his name was “I AM” in the burning bush to Moses. Embodied in Jesus is the same One who parted the sea for Moses and the Israelites. The One who brought Israel out of Egypt is the same One who, for the sake of humankind, made himself nothing and became obedient to death—even to death on the cross (Philippians 2). 

This God is not some distant, far-off pie-in-the-sky deity—he isn’t a God who used to be. He is a God who is.
This is a God who saves.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Learn the Hebrew Aleph-Bet (Alphabet)

I'm going to post something interesting tomorrow that has to do with Hebrew, so for now, if you've never learned the Hebrew aleph-bet (alphabet), check this out.

Friday, January 14, 2011

For All Those Grammar Geeks

You may find this website interesting:

I'm finding that most people simply don't care about proper grammar anymore. No one likes a "grammar Nazi," but I think there is a fine line between someone who cares enough to construct a grammatically decent sentence and a grammar Nazi.

Grammar Girl is not a grammar Nazi. She may be a stickler for proper usage of the English language, but that does not mean that she will complain about minute details, such as whether you begin a sentence with the word however or not (that's a grammar myth).

Grammar Nazis freak out if you end a sentence with a preposition. But according to Grammar Girl, prepositions are words that you can end sentences with. (In her words, "at least in some cases." To find out what she means by that, see here.)