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Sukkoth and the Equinox
Below is a note on what could have happened with regard to the recession of the equinox, discussed in the light of the circumstances of the celebration of Sukkoth. This is a continuation of the article “The Sun Miracle”.
1 – Historical considerations
[What now follows is a quote – with some modifications – from an article by Julian Morgenstern, concerning the three liturgical calendars that have succeeded each other in the long history of Israel - HUCA 1924, in particular note 47.] «« Such being the case, we may be confident that the Mosaic Code establishes that the consecration of Aaron and his sons and the dedication of the Tabernacle in the wilderness took place during the seven-day Sukkoth festival, celebrated as in the preexilic period from the 3rd to 9th of Tishrei inclusive, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, that culminated in the peculiar rites of New Year’s Day on the 10th of that month (the day after Sukkoth), which happened for the first time when Aaron officiated in his new capacity as High Priest. On that very day the K’bod Hashem (Glory of the Lord) appeared …and then a flame came forth from this fiery apparition, from the very presence of Hashem, and consumed the sacrifice upon the altar, and presumably also kindled the sacred flame upon the altar. Ezechiel, too, it may be inferred, intended that the future new Temple of Jerusalem, later called the Temple of Zerubbabel, for which he made such elaborate provisions, should be dedicated during this same period and on that particular occasion. Ezechiel, who prophesied from the Babylonian exile, provides in 43:26-27 that the dedication ceremonies proper should continue for seven days and culminate with the commencement of the regular functioning of the priests on the eighth. In this he complies fully with the prescription of the Mosaic Code. It is true that nowhere, in the texts known to us, does Ezechiel state explicitly the time of the year when the dedication ceremonies should be held. But
-2since it follows that the completion of the second Temple (construction to start much later), and its inspection and dedication are inseparably associated with the solemn entrance of the K’bod Hashem through the Eastern gate into the Beit ha-Mikdash (Temple) with intent to take up its permanent abode therein (Ez. 43:1-7, 44:1-4), this may well point to the pre-exilic Sukkoth festival, with the following day - on the equinox - its connected rite of the descent of the sacred fire from heaven, and explain why this occasion, falling around 23rd September of our Gregorian calendar, must have been selected by the prophet for the dedication of the second Temple. During Ezechiel’s lifetime Yom Kippur did not exist: so there was no confusion from that point of view. It is interesting and significant to note also that the original Basilica of the Martyrium, erected by Constantine the Great on the site of the tomb of Christ (1), was consecrated on September 14th of the year 335 with a ceremony that lasted eight days. Evidently, this date was chosen because it coincided with the pre-exilic celebration of Sukkoth. The consecration of Constantine’s church was thus fixed in imitation of Solomon’s dedication of the glorious first Temple that also served as an example for the dedication of the Temple of Zerubbabel. For many years after, the anniversary of this event was celebrated by the Christian Church as an eight-day festival and pilgrims from every region under the sun resorted to Jerusalem, the Ælia Capitolina (2), and profited from the occasion to visit the sacred places. This feast has long since turned into a one-day celebration called the Exaltation of the Cross, and as such continues to be celebrated by both the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church. (3)
2 – The link between Sukkoth and the Festival of the Cross
There is ample evidence that the original Festival of the Cross is reminiscent of the ancient Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth). Throughout Palestine and Syria, even during the Roman dominion, the Jewish celebration of the equinoctial dedication festival was never interrupted and was continuous until the days of the Emperor Constantine, although Sukkoth itself had been moved to the 15th - 22nd of Tishrei inclusive. In all likelihood, therefore, the emperor’s selection of a festival, coincident with the place and time of the Jewish dedication festival, for the consecration of his Basilica, that was certainly regarded as a fitting successor of Solomon’s Temple, was not only made because Solomon had dedicated the Temple then, but also because throughout the Eastern Empire this must have been recognized as the proper and divinely ordained time for the consecration of temples and churches. »» Exodus 23:14-19 recommends three high festivals. These are Pesach (Easter), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkoth (Tabernacles). Concerning the latter, Leviticus 23:42-43 instructs: “You shall dwell in huts (booths, tabernacles or tents) seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in huts. That your generations may know that (during the 40 years wanderings in the wilderness) I made the children of Israel dwell in huts, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt (when they were headed for the promised land of Palestine that lies beyond the river Jordan)…” Sukkoth, the greatest festival in pre-exilic times, and also the most joyful, is referred to in the Mishna as He-Hag, ‘the feast’ - that is, the feast par excellence. It is the seventh and final feast and thus fittingly the feast of the Millennium Age. (4) All seven are described in chapter 23 of the book of Leviticus. Remarkably, it is the only sacred season found in the Torah that was not adopted (not yet!) by the Christian Church, nor were its adjuncts, Rosh Ha-Shana and Yom Kippur. If, according to the Zecharian prophecy, the 7-day festival of Sukkoth would also become a Christian celebration, its logical place in the liturgical calendar would be immediately after the “Triumph of the Cross” on September 14th and “Our Lady of Sorrows” the day after. The Sukkoth festival would then close on September 22nd and be followed by the autumn equinox on September 23rd (when night and day are of equal duration). This sequence would agree with the pre-
-3exilic practice. Sukkoth was originally an equinoctial festival immediately preceding the autumn equinox. This is explicitely stated in verse 16 that talks about the Feast of Ingathering (Sukkoth) at the end of the year.
3 – A people that had to come to terms with its traumas
The forward adjustment of Sukkoth from the 3rd to the 15th of Tishrei, along with a number of other festive adjustments and innovations during the whole liturgical year, was necessary because of the ‘fearful-awful’ 9-day adjustment of the equinox (when day and night are of equal length) from the 10th to the 1st of Tishrei, that might have been caused by a recession of the earth’s axis , possibly in the year 594 BC (see article “The Sun Miracle”). As a result, the post-exilic Sukkoth celebration ceased to be a pre-equinoctial festival. I should add that nowhere does Morgenstern reach the obvious conclusion that there has been in the not so distant past a sudden 9-day backward adjustment of the autumn equinox, that had its prelude, exactly 90 years earlier, with the sign on the Sundial of Ahaz, described in 2 Kings 20:7-11, when the shadow cast by the sun moved backward 9 steps (from degree x +10 to x +1). He does no more than observe that there has been a loosely structured transition of Calendar I to II and he advances the unlikely proposition that this is probably due to the ascendancy of the Babylonian culture and religion at the beginning of the 6th century BC. The complete transition to Calendar III would have taken place no earlier than the 4th century BC for which he does not provide an answer except that Calendar III is more accurate. In my view, the new astronomical complexities after the catastrophe in year 594 would have caused a state of conceptual confusion. It could easily have taken several centuries before the intricacies were clearly understood and incorporated into the new festive cycle of Israel. Basically, the joyous feast of Sukkoth was no longer fit as an equinoctial event for a people that had to come to terms with the traumas of the recent past, which explains the radical innovation of Yom Kippur and the twelve-day shift of Sukkoth from the 3rd to the 15th, which nonetheless left behind a vestige consisting of the dedication ceremony for temples and churches.
The bright, smooth surface is marked with minute calibrations to measure the exact time in the sundial park of Jantar Mantar in India
-44 – Not the sun, but the earth’s axis of rotation tilted
The Wycliffe Bible Dictionary states that the Sundial of Ahaz consisted possibly of twin flights of stairs in stone, leading to the roof of the royal palace, one facing east and the other west, a low wall bordering each flight. The Septuagint favours this interpretation by its use of the word (ana)bathmous, meaning steps. As the morning sun rose higher, the shadow travelled down the east stairs of the Sundial of Ahaz; in the afternoon the shadow ascended the west stairs. The style (gnomon) of a sundial is always set parallel to the earth’s axis of rotation and is therefore an appropriate instrument for measuring a large movement of the axis of the earth along the plane of the earth’s orbit around the sun, while, as can be expected, the poles on the earth itself remain unchanged.
5 – A complicated matter
Nehemiah 8 and Ezra 3:1-7, both presumed to have been written or compiled by Ezra the scribe, discuss the first celebration of Sukkoth after the return from the galuth (exile). Yom Kippur did not exist then and this momentous first celebration was from the 3rd to the 9th of Tishrei, which followed immediately after the equinox ‘as from the early Light’. How to call the first of Tishrei, Rosh Ha-shanna or otherwise, was not yet decided in the mind of Ezra, but the holiness of this first day (Neh. 8:10) - as from the early Light (verse 4) - is insisted upon in his report about this special occasion. Solely based on this evidence Morgenstern reaches the conclusion that in the pre-exilic time Sukkoth was celebrated from the 3rd to the 9th of the 7th month. I feel obliged to disagree, because logically in both ancient and modern times the New Year’s equinox must have started on the 1st of the 7th month and Sukkoth must have been in the last days of the 6th month. If elsewhere I write that the equinox moved from Tishrei 10 to 1, I use in both cases our present-day calendar, but if we compare our present calendar with that of pre-exilic times, then of course the equinox remains on Tishrei 1. While in the new era the equinox had moved backwards and together with it the 1st of the 7th month, Sukkoth had nevertheless kept its original place in the counting of the cycle of the year, and thus it was now situated after the equinox, and not before as had always been the case in the pre-exilic period. Depending on the angle of attack by the foreign celestial body entering the earth’s sphere of influence , both the rotational speed of the earth itself and its orbit around the sun will also be affected, which in those times would go unnoticed if both the length of a day and that of the year were to change in the same direction and more or less proportionally. What really happened I do not know, but of course a substantial lengthening or shortening of the year would also influence the shift of Sukkoth in relation to the equinox. In technical terms: due to the gravitational force of a foreign celestial body a rapid rotation of the earth’s axis may occur around the perpendicular to the ecliptic, which leads to an easily noticeable recession of the equinoxes. In contrast, the regular precession of the equinoxes is a continuous and hardly noticeable phenomenon, presently revolving with a speed of approximately 25,700 years. In reality the exact duration cannot be given, as the rate of precession is changing over time. The speed is currently 243.8 microradians (50.3 arcseconds) per year which would – at that rate – give 25,765 years for one cycle to complete. The precessional speed is slightly increasing each year, and therefore the cycle period is decreasing. Numerical simulations of the solar system over a period of millions of years give a period of 257 centuries as established by professor A. L. Berger in 1976, but no one is certain about the exact precession rate over long periods of time. (5) Before the intervention in year 594 the precession could have been faster and have fit the ancient zodiacal scheme of 24,000 years (6), representing (who knows?) a condition of equilibrium to which in the long passage of time it could be expected to return, if indeed such had been the case. If the autumn equinox moved backward 9 days to September 23rd, I estimate the spring equinox will have moved backwards 8 days, which discrepancy results
-5from the elliptical form of the orbit of the earth around the sun. Each 13,000 years, the ever-moving equinoxes arrive at the apsides of January 3rd and July 3rd, and only then the time between the spring and the autumn equinox will have become identical to the time between the autumn and spring equinox, whereas these are now respectively 191 and 174 days.
6 – Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees or backward?
One would be inclined to think that the cataclysmic event of the year 594 was more important than the miracle of the Sundial of Ahaz, but this is not the case. If in the year 594 the equinox moved 9 days and assuming the length of the year remained the same, this equals a correction of the spin axis of 9 degrees (9/365 x 360). If, on the other hand, the shadow cast on a sundial goes back 9 steps, in which each step consists of 15 minutes, and the time required to travel back takes nine times 15 minutes, this equals a correction of the axis of rotation of (9 x 2 x 15’)/24H x 360 degrees = 67 degrees, which equals a 68-day correction of the equinox. This would truly be a huge cataclysmic event if indeed it were caused by a celestial body that had entered the earth’s sphere of influence. But since the account does not imply that the phenomenon was accompanied by traumatic events such as gigantic earthquakes, which in such a case would certainly occur, we have to accept that it was caused by a miracle. If God intervened by pushing the spin axis of the earth, it had to be corrected afterwards by means of a reverse movement for otherwise the astronomical calendar of Israel - and not only Israel! - would have been totally disturbed, but there is not the slightest indication in the historical records of the world which points in that direction. This reverse movement must have happened immediately afterwards, because there is no conceivable reason for any delay. Therefore the question put to king Hezekiah by the prophet Isaiah (2 Kings 20:9): “Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees or go backward ten degrees?”, could be interpreted: Shall the shadow ‘first’ go forward ten degrees or ‘first’ go backward ten degrees?
7 – What about Joshua’s battle ?
A miracle comparable to that of the moving of the shadow on the Sundial of Ahaz, is when the sun and moon stood still at the battle against the Amorites, described in Joshua 10:1214. Because then, both sun and moon stood still, this rather reflects an effect caused by the earth (of a tilting of the spin axis). Verse 13 refers to the “Book of Jasher”. In a translation from the Hebrew by Mr. Samuel, Jasher 88:62-65 mentions : «« The children of Israel pursued them, and they still smote them in the road. (…) And when they were smiting, the day was declining toward evening, and Joshua said in the sight of all the people: “Sun, stand thou still up on Gibeon, and thou moon in the valley of Ajalon, until the nation shall have revenged itself upon its enemies.” And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Joshua, and the sun stood still in the midst of heavens, and it stood still thirty six ‘times’, and the moon also stood still and hastened not to go down during the whole day. And there was no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel. »» Mr Samuel remarks in a note that the Hebrew word literally means times, but what proportion of time he could not understand, for ‘ittiyim’ (which refers to Strong’s 6261), he points out, is never used in Scripture to express any division of time. In my view it could mean units of time similar to our quarter of an hour. In that case the 36 agrees with the 9 steps on the Sundial of Ahaz, and such a solution would nicely fit our approach. Hubert Luns
See also my article: “Chanukah”
History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre / Basilica of the Martyrium (1) The Basilica of the Martyrium that displayed the Cross, had in its middle the Rotunda of the Anastasis (resurrection) placed on top of the little tomb. The present structure with the adjoining properties is commonly known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When, in 1149, the Crusaders rebuilt it for a second time, a much larger structure covered all the neighbouring holy places, including the adjacent site of Golgotha. Afterwards it was twice rebuilt, in 1310 and 1810, based on the same plan as the old structure of 1149. How Jerusalem came to be known as Ælia Capitolina (2) When, in 118 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian ascended to the throne, he sought to pacify the embittered Jewish masses by pledging to rebuild their holy city that was destroyed during the great war of 66-70 and by holding out a vague promise to reconstruct the Temple itself. But it soon became clear that such promises conflicted with the emperor’s policy of achieving greater cultural homogeneity in his realm. After Hadrian had crushed the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 he decided to rebuild Jerusalem, not as a Jewish centre but as a Greek city, to be called Ælia Capitolina or Holy Capital, henceforth its official name. Rabbi Akiba recognised Simeon Bar Kochba (son of a star) as the messiah when he started leading the guerrilla warfare against the Roman occupation, whose name is an allusion to Numbers 24:17: “There shall come forth a star out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel who shall crush the forehead of Moab and destroy all the sons of tumult.” And this again refers to battle-psalm 2. The Invention of the Cross (3) In the Greek Church the Feast of the Invention of the Cross (the Finding of the Cross) was originally kept on September 14th, now the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, together with the commemoration of the consecration of Constantine’s two Jerusalem basilicas (the second situated on the Mount of Olives). The commemoration on May 3rd, which seems to go back to the apocryphal treatise ‘De Inventione Crucis Dominicæ’, is not found in the Gregorian Sacramentary ascribed to Pope Gregory I (590-604). It was probably first observed on this day in Gaul in the seventh century and thence came to Rome circa 800, but was suppressed in 1961. Rufinus of Aquileia, who lived in the second half of the 4th century, mentions in his Church History (10:7-8) how the three crosses on Cavalry (of Christ and the two robbers) were found (Lat. inventæ) by the august St Helena (ca. 249-329), the mother of Constantine the Great, that of Christ being identified by a miracle. This happened near the end of her life. She found the crosses jumbled together deep down under a pile of rubble beneath the temple of Venus erected there by the persecutors of old. Rufinus is the first to connect the event with St Helena, to be followed by St Ambrose in his ‘Oratio de Obitu Theodosii’, composed in 395, and many other Fathers such as St John Chrysostom and Paulinus of Nola. St Jerome, however, who lived quite near the place, is silent on the matter, in what has survived of his writings, but we must not forget that he deeply resented Rufinus on account of the Origenist controversy, then running high, and this may have had something to do with it. St Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, without mentioning St Helena, states in his letter of 351 to the emperor that the Cross was found at Jerusalem in the time of Constantine. The relic of the Cross was preserved in Emperor Constantine’s Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in a silver receptacle, after a large part of the wood had been distributed among the churches throughout the world. The veneration of the Cross at Jerusalem is first described in the ‘Pilgrimage of Egeria’ (written probably in 381-4), formerly known as the ‘Peregrinatio Silviæ’. The Millennium Age (4) The Millennium Age is what is also sometimes called the thousand-year age of peace, and coresponds to the seventh day of rest or the 7th anno mundi millennium. (See also my article: “Olam Assia”.) At an early stage the messianic kingdom was already seen by the ancient Israelites as the reign of a thousand years. It is possible to translate the Hebrew word for year as sleep, repetition or the number two (the controversy). During a thousand years can therefore be rendered as ‘during the repetition of the generations’. So, it has not necessarily to do with a literal fulfilment of a thousand years. Jewish tradition talks of the expectation of a messiah who would be forty years old, the term of a generation. I wonder if
-7this means that the Millennium Age will last only seventy years, the present duration of a generation. That, at least, was the expectation of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who, referring to the Exodus texts of Deuteronomy 8:2-4 and Psalms 90:15 and 95:10, counted the ‘days of the Messiah’ forty years, the time ‘then’ of a generation. (Bab. Sanh. 99A) During the Millennium Age the self-repeating and aggravating cycle of world events will not have been broken, yet will concord with the announced period of peace and glorious reign of the Church, rightly called the messianic age. At that time the whole of Israel (the 10 + 2) will have been assembled. The letter of separation will have been rescinded and the harvest cycle will then have turned into a feast cycle again. (5) Because the precession is accelerating, the total precession cycle is less than 25,765 years (the period derived from the present speed); perhaps exactly 25,704 years = (5151 x 5) – 51; at the same time 5151 = 51 x 101. The number 51 regularly appears in the dimensions of the pyramid of Cheops (see: “Great Pyramid: Its Secrets & Mysteries Revealed” by Charles Piazzi Smyth # 1864). The number 25,704 has also other properties: 42 x 612 = 25.704, where 612 = 12 x 51, moreover 42 is identical to the three and a half years of the Book of Revelation (= 42 months). The number 612 is also equal to the numerical value of the Hebrew for covenant (brit); 612 is, according to some, equal to the number of biblical commandments (except the Ten Commandments), though normally one arrives at 613. The Zodiac is not valid anymore (6) The Babylonians tried to divide the constellations of stars into an annual cirkel of 12 identical parts or signs, which always remained a crude approximation, because the zodiacal ring has never accurately represented 12 identical divisions. In addition, astronomers now recognize a 13th constellation along the ecliptic, called Ophiuchus. Due to movements over thousands of years, the sign of Aries has now moved in the eye of the observer within Pisces, and therefore the old zodiacal system does not apply anymore.
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