Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – History

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – History

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In sharing the viewpoint of the “Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays” and giving a Biblical and historical defense to a number of the customs and traditions of the Christian Church I have run across a couple of arguments which I’d like to address in this article.

The first argument against the perspective I’ve shared is that those who “deny” the “paganism” found in Christian holidays are ignoring the “clear” “truth” found in history. In other words, if one believes that Christmas and Easter are NOT based in paganism but in the Bible, then these people are “willingly ignorant” of the “truth.”  I hope I’ve shared enough history to prove this claim to be false but I’d like to share a little bit more on the idea of history research and how it needs to be put into proper perspective.

When one makes a statement that those who don’t see Christian holidays as “pagan” are denying the “truth clearly set forth in history” when there is just as much, if not much more, historical backup for the legitimacy of Christian holidays what they are really saying is “if you don’t agree with my worldview you are denying the truth of God.”

We cannot take our understanding of history and force it into the minds of others.  If our doctrine is based upon history then we must be willing to give grace to those who don’t see history as we do.  For those who believe that Christmas and Easter are pagan, please prove this entirely from Scripture before you make the claim that those who don’t agree are “denying” the “truth.”  The Word of God is truth (John 17:17; 8:31-32; 14:6; 1:17), not historical writings of men.

If you believe Nimrod is the “father” of paganism & the Mystery religions you aren’t going to be able to prove this through the Bible.  If you believe Christianity was corrupted by Constantine you aren’t going to be able to prove this through the Bible.  If you believe Christmas trees, Easter eggs and the like are pagan you aren’t going to be able to prove this through the Bible.  All you have is interpretation of history.  If this is the case, please don’t condemn other Christians who interpret history differently.

Following is an article entitled “Is Josephus Reliable” written by Brenton Cook which brings forth some excellent points on Josephus which I think are pertinent to the “Hebrew roots of Christian Holidays” subject and can be applied to all historical documents.

“One of the most-quoted resources about the world during Bible times is the first-century historian Josephus. But who was this man, and should we trust what he has to say?

Famed Jewish historian Josephus Flavius was born in Jerusalem in AD 37 or 38, not long after Christ’s crucifixion. The son of a priest, he became a Pharisee, a military commander in the Jewish resistance, and an eyewitness to Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70. Eusebius, the first church historian, calls him “the most famous Jew of his time” and tells of a statue erected in his honor in Rome.

For two millennia Christian scholars have preserved and studied Josephus’s works, especially his account of the Jewish revolt (The Jewish War) and a complete history of God’s people from creation to the first century (Antiquities of the Jews). Pastors often incorporate details from Josephus in their sermons without even realizing they came from him. But should we trust his works?
A Valuable Eyewitness

While every historian is fallible and must be read with care, historians can be very helpful, especially when they report firsthand knowledge. As a teenager, Josephus spent time with various Jewish sects and knew them well. He later observed the Jewish revolt from the front lines. When he was captured, he got to see the other side. In fact, he won the favor of the general, Vespasian, by accurately predicting his rise to the throne of the empire. Josephus ultimately switched sides and received Roman citizenship, even adopting Vespasian’s imperial family name, Flavius. He now had access to the emperor’s libraries, military reports, and court records from Herod and other rulers in Palestine.

The principal value of Josephus’s work lies in his discussion of Jewish history from 100 BC through AD 100. His narrative of this era is strongly supported by numerous authentic sources he gathered and interpreted with skill.
 
Josephus’s works provide us with valuable details that do not survive in any other records. In fact, he provides the most important extrabiblical information on many key political figures, such as Herod the Great, Felix, and Pilate. For instance, most of our knowledge of Herod’s extensive building projects, such as the temple that Christ often visited, comes from Josephus.

His works also provide insight into the inner workings of first-century Jewish sects such as the Pharisees and Sadducees. His description of another sect, the Essenes, helped confirm that they were the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He also provides gripping details about other first-century events, such as the destruction of the temple (prophesied by Christ in Matthew 24:2) and the Jews’ last-ditch resistance atop Masada.
Yet Josephus was not an eyewitness to most events in his works. His history is only as good as his sources. The early history in The Antiquities of the Jews is far removed from his own personal experience. We can only be sure of the details that coincide with Scripture, but the others are no more trustworthy than the traditions he relied upon.

Pro-Jewish Bias

Though many Jews viewed Josephus as a traitor, he nevertheless remained loyal to his people. The Jewish revolt had caused hard feelings in Rome, and Josephus wanted to change that as a historian and apologist for the Jewish people. While praiseworthy, this bias is cause for caution.

 

His pro-Jewish sympathies emerge clearly in The Jewish War. That work portrays most Jews as peace-loving citizens. He blames Jewish zealots, whom he calls “bandits” and “brigands,” for the collapse of Jewish society in the first century.

Antiquities, written later, attempts to show the superiority and antiquity of the Jewish culture. To achieve that end, it tends to exaggerate the good qualities and ignore the unflattering failures, such as Aaron’s golden calf, in an effort to promote the Jewish cause.

Historians now generally agree with Harold Attridge that Josephus’s Antiquities were a “propagandistic history.” His “paraphrasing [of] the narratives” of the Old Testament was a “creative adaptation” aimed at presenting Jewish history as “relevant, comprehensible and attractive in a new environment.”1

A Different Set of Standards

To read Josephus correctly, we need to keep in mind that he was a product of his times. Readers in first-century Rome had different expectations than we do today. It was common practice for historians to shape or add details to make a good story. Josephus gives a famous account of the last stand of the Jews atop Masada. Instead of surrendering, he says the Jews selected several men to slay the majority and then turn their swords upon themselves. Yet archaeologists have not found the bodies to verify his story.

Also, like other historians of his day, Josephus sometimes invented heroic speeches and put them into the mouths of his subjects, such as the patriotic oratory of Eleazer, the leader of the Jews atop Masada. Since the men who heard Eleazer were slain in the siege, and since Josephus wrote the account from Rome, he cannot possibly have had access to the full speech.

Few ancient historians were careful about numbers and statistics, either. Scholars know that Josephus often errs on the chronologies of first-century events with which he was quite familiar. So be wary of any numbers he gives.

In summary, Josephus is an eminently important and helpful source for gathering details about New Testament times, but Christians should be careful not to read him as an apologist for Christianity or to rely upon him too heavily. Nor should they be ignorant of his bias in favor of Judaism and his willingness to deliberately rewrite Old Testament narratives to provide a more flattering picture of the Jewish heritage.”

The writings of men like Josephus and Philo are valuable for Christians because they came forth during the time period in which Jesus and the Apostles lived.  There is great value in studying this time period in order to gain a better understanding of the New Testament writings.  However, one cannot take these writings as 100% accurate.  One should not base their doctrine on their writings.

Some who are zealous to learn about this time period will look to the writings of the Rabbis during this time period as well.  However, these writings (The Mishnah, Talmud(s), Tosefta etc.) are not reliable historical documents.

The following quotes come from Jacob Neusner, “one of the most published authors in history, having written or edited more than 950 books”, most famous for translating numerous Rabbinic texts into English.

“The early rabbis created an ideal cultic world with little continuity with the real world of the second-temple period. Neusner wrote, “It [the Mishnah] purports to describe how things are. But it tells us more about a fantasy than about the real palpable world, the world concretely known to the people who wrote about it.”  {Jacob Neusner, Messiah in Context pg 24}

“The Mishnah is a document of imagination and fantasy, describing how things ‘are’ out of the sherds and remnants of reality, but, in larger measure, building social being out of beams of hope.  The Mishnah tells us something about how things were, but everything about how a small group of men wanted things to be.”  {Mishnah translation by Jacob Neusner pg xvii}

“So, in all, the Mishnah represents the thinking of Jewish sages who flourished in the middle of the second century…When we consider that, in the very time in which the authorities before us did their work, the Temple lay in ruins, the city of Jerusalem was prohibited to all Israelis, and the Jewish government and administration, which had centered on the Temple and based its authority on the holy life lived there, were in ruins, the fantastic character of the Mishnah’s address to its own catastrophic day becomes clear.  Much of the Mishna speaks of matters not in being in the time in which the Mishnah created, because the Mishnah wishes to make its statement on what really matters.”  {Mishnah translation by Jacob Neusner pg xvi}

“But it [Mishnah] would not provide us with an exhaustive and reliable account of the world actually viewed by those people, I mean, the world of Jewish people of the first and second centuries in the Land of Israel…through regulating a world constructed mainly in mind, the sages of the Mishnah built a world that would endure from their time to ours.”  {Mishnah translation by Jacob Neusner pg xix}

This is the point to be made…that which is recorded by historians is not always 100% accurate.  All historical sources have some bias, whether or not the writer is trying to be objective or not.  Some historians are merely propagandists, others are sincere but have been deceived or misinterpreted their sources.  When it comes to matters of faith, we can’t rely upon historical sources to make judgments on God’s will.  We must look to the Bible.  The Bible says that we all see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12) so we must give each other grace in how we “work out our own salvation” (Philippians 2:12).

The true “test” to see if one’s application of history to their walk is based upon “truth” is if they are bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 1:9-11; 2 Peter 1:5-8).

Has your study of history caused you to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18) or has it caused you to become bitter?  C.S. Lewis speaks of this “history” study which leads to bitterness.  In the following quote Lewis speaks of “filthy atrocities read in the paper” but one can apply this to “pagan roots” claims which one can readily find on the internet and in the interpretation of history by some.

“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything – God and our friends and ourselves included – as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.” {C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity}

The New Testament warns us not to give heed to writings of men which lead to the above description by Lewis.
Tit 1:14  Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.
Tit 1:15  Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.
Tit 1:16  They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

Has your study of history caused you to grow closer to His people (Colossians 1:9-18; Peter 1:22; 2 Corinthians 6:6) or has it drawn you away (Proverbs 18:1; Jude 1:19; Ezekiel 14:7; James 3:15)?

Don’t assume that a fellow believer who doesn’t see things as you do is an ignorant fool or heretic because they don’t submit to your understanding.  Many times, our world-view is coming from less than accurate history such as with Josephus, the Rabbinic writings, or writings of men like Alexander Hislop.  If one wants to believe certain historical writings as factual then that is their prerogative but don’t point the finger in condemnation at those who don’t believe these things to be 100% trustworthy.  Don’t assume that another believer is outside of God’s will because they aren’t walking as you are when it comes to convictions based upon history.  Some times the other person is closer to God’s will than you are because they aren’t equating “historical writings” with fact.

 

The second argument given against the “Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays” viewpoint is that of the law of Moses still being binding on New Testament believers.  I believe I addressed this issue enough in the series of articles shared to prove this view cannot be demanded upon other Christians but I’d like to address it a little further in this article.

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – The Law & Holidays

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Change in Law

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – The Law of Christ

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – A New Commandment

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – God Changes Times and Seasons

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Binding & Loosing

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Establishing the Law

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Fulfillment of the Law

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays –  Receiving One Another

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays –  The Lord’s Day

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Love Bears All Things

You’re not keeping the law of Moses unless you are keeping the law of Moses.  In other words, one cannot demand other Christians “keep” the law of Moses unless they, themselves are keeping the law.  I believe the words of Paul in Galatians 6:13 can rightly be applied to the modern day “Torah observant Christian” doctrine.

Gal 6:13  For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

One cannot condemn someone who celebrates Easter as “adding” or “taking away” from the law of Moses and at the same time not follow the law of Moses.  In other words, one cannot celebrate a Passover Seder without sacrificing a lamb and say they are following the law of Moses.  If you don’t sacrifice the lamb you are “taking away” from the law of Moses and if you celebrate a Seder you are “adding” to the law.  When one “keeps” Passover by celebrating a Seder they aren’t following the law of Moses, they are re-interpreting and re-applying the Old Covenant Passover to their lives today by using symbolism to portray literal actions done by those of ancient times.  Is this wrong?  I don’t believe so, but it is no different than those who re-interpret and re-apply the symbolism of Passover to Easter (Pascha).

If you claim Christ Jesus is your Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7) then you are proclaiming there has been a change in the law (Hebrews 7:12).  There is not one verse in the Torah which says that the ordinances of the Passover are to be kept until the Messiah comes and then you are to observe a Seder and this will be “keeping” the law.  Either you’re keeping the law of Moses or you are not.  If one celebrates a Passover Seder they are not keeping the law of Moses…where then is the justification for labeling those who keep Easter as “lawless?”

If you participate in a Passover Seder and hide the afikomen, later having children retrieve this as a “picture of Messiah’s resurrection” you are proclaiming, in symbolic form, the exact same thing as those who have their children find Easter eggs.    Is it wrong?  No, but if you condemn another for doing the same thing as you (albeit in a different manner) you are in transgression of the Word of God (Romans 2:1-11) and are in danger of the judgment of God (Matthew 7:1-2; Mark 4:24).

For those who would say Easter eggs are pagan and pieces of bread called “afikomen” are Biblical or Hebraic…prove it through the Bible.  If you can’t, then you are relying upon history, not the Word of God.  One cannot interpret history to see the message of Christ in the afikomen and then condemn the custom of Easter egg hunts which have just much as “historical backup” as that of the afikomen.

If you put up a Hanukkiah as a symbol of Christ being the “Light of the world,’ you are proclaiming the same message as those who put up Christmas trees.  If you feel led or convicted to celebrate Hanukkah in honor of Christ then by all means do so, but I would caution you not to point the finger of condemnation at your brothers in Christ who put up Christmas trees in honor of Christ.

My desire in sharing this information is to not persuade the “Christians are pagan” camp to completely reject their understanding of history or to compromise their convictions.  My desire is to give the “Christians are pagan” camp some food for thought and hope that they re-examine their understanding, holding on to the truth and rejecting the errors.  My desire is to see the “Christians are pagan” camp humble themselves and admit they could be mistaken in their understanding and the sources of history they see as truth may be in fact be bearing false witness.  My desire is that all believers “bear up one another in love” (Galatians 6:1-2) not attacking and condemning one another (Galatians 5:15).

Gal 6:1  Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
Gal 6:2  Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
Gal 6:3  For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
Gal 6:4  But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.

 

Rom 14:1  Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
Rom 14:2  For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
Rom 14:3  Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
Rom 14:4  Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
Rom 14:5  One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
Rom 14:6  He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
Rom 14:7  For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
Rom 14:8  For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
Rom 14:9  For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
Rom 14:10  But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Rom 14:11  For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
Rom 14:12  So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Rom 14:13  Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
Rom 14:14  I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Rom 14:15  But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
Rom 14:16  Let not then your good be evil spoken of:
Rom 14:17  For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Rom 14:18  For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
Rom 14:19  Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
Rom 14:20  For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
Rom 14:21  It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
Rom 14:22  Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
Rom 14:23  And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

“In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas”

“Unity in things Necessary, Liberty in things Unnecessary, and Charity in all.”  ~ Rupertus Meldenius

“Unity in the body of Christ does not rest on uniformity, but on our common ‘blood,’ which is the blood of Christ.  We are now members of one family, and that identity cannot be taken from us, no matter how much we disagree or quarrel.” (The Gospel in Human Contexts – Paul Hiebert pg 193)

I pray that the beguiling of the serpent doesn’t destroy your walk with God.

2Co 11:3  But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity {ἁπλότης ‘haplotēs’} that is in Christ.

The Greek word for ‘simplicity’ in verse 3 is ἁπλότης ‘haplotēs’ which means singleness, honesty, virtue, generosity.  ἁπλότης ‘haplotēs’ is used in 2 Corinthians 1:12 in reference to the walk of the Apostles which is not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God.  The simplicity {ἁπλότης ‘haplotēs’} is God’s  bountifulness/liberality of His grace in giving mankind His Son (2 Corinthians 1:12; 9:11).

I have seen history beguile many into turning away from the Word of God, the love of God and the people of God.

Pro 18:1  Through desire {תּאוה ‘ta’ăvâh’} a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.

תּאוה ‘ta’ăvâh’ is the same word used in Genesis 3 where the serpent beguiled Eve.

Gen 3:6  And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant {תּאוה ‘ta’ăvâh’}  to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

 

Jude warns us of those who would allow lust to lead them to separate from the body of Christ.  May we reject that which divides us, and receive one another (Romans 14:1-23) unto the edifying and building up (Romans 14:19; Ephesians 4:1-32) of the body of Christ.

Jud 1:17  But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ;
Jud 1:18  How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.
Jud 1:19  These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.
Jud 1:20  But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,
Jud 1:21  Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

 

pagan-christianity

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays part 1

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays part 2

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Examine Yourself

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Pagan Christianity?

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Alexander Hislop

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Ralph Woodrow

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Pagan Parallels

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Church Fathers & Paganism

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Constantine

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Origins of Christian Holidays

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Easter & Paganism?

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Easter Eggs

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Easter Lily

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Easter Bunny

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Resurrection Celebration

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Christmas & Paganism?

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Christmas Trees

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – The Law & Holidays

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Change in Law

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – The Law of Christ

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – A New Commandment

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – God Changes Times and Seasons

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Binding & Loosing

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Establishing the Law

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Fulfillment of the Law

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays –  Receiving One Another

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays –  The Lord’s Day

Hebrew Roots of Christian Holidays – Love Bears All Things

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