I wrote yesterday explaining what I see as some of the issues involved for intermarried families and the question of whether or not to celebrate Christmas. I think it is a tough issue and a tough decision for intermarried families. I see positives and negatives, though in my mind the negatives are weightier. Interestingly, the discussion on my Facebook page has been more heated than the discussion here on the blog.
In this post I want to accomplish several things:
(1) To explain further what I mean by false historical arguments used to denounce Christian celebration of Christmas as a pagan practice and
(2) To explain why I am making a Haggadah for the Birth of Messiah even if I am not encouraging intermarried families to celebrate Christmas.
The Nimrod/Tammuz/Ezekiel 8/Jeremiah 10 Fallacy
Tandi says in her paper on why she does not celebrate Christmas, “There are many complex legends, but essentially the tree represents the slain god, Nimrod, reincarnated as Tammuz, the Babylonian messiah.”
A commenter on my Facebook page said, “It started with Nimrod and Seremis, who both declared being godly. When Nimrod died he was reincarnated into himself as Tammuz the sungod. Seramis who first was his wife now said that the rays of the sun made her pregnant.”
So, just to be clear, all our Christian and secular friends who put up a Christmas tree are bringing an idol of Nimrod into their home and worshipping the Babylonian Messiah.
Many of you have no need for me to debunk this claim and you can intuitively recognize it as ludicrous. For one thing, it smacks of the idea that people can love God and through an unknown error actually earn damnation or at least judgment. This understanding of God is so deficient, I weep for anyone who believes it. This is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Arguments against it are many. I might note that the men and women of the Bible would never live up to this kind of black and white fundamentalism. They built altars in violation of Torah and yet God accepted them (Samuel and Elijah, for example). They were imperfect in their obedience and yet God supported them (the kings of Judah). They thought in pagan ways, but God continued to show himself faithful (Jacob and Rachel).
I am glad that God is not so “paganoid” as some critics of Christianity are (paganoid = paranoid of pagan ideas).
Let’s start with the Nimrod fallacy. Nimrod is only mentioned in Genesis, Chronicles, and Malachi. We know almost nothing about Nimrod. The idea that Nimrod was the Babylonian Messiah is based on multiple errors. The Babylonians did not have a Messiah. They did not worship Nimrod.
So where did this falsehood come from? It comes from a late Jewish writing of the Second Temple period which equates Nimrod with Ninurta (a.k.a. Ningirsu), a Sumerian and Akkadian deity. Just because a Second Temple Jewish document equates the two does not make it true.
It is possible to equate Ninurta with Tammuz (Babylonian) and then Adonis (Greek) and Saturn (Roman). And here we get our connection with Christmas. Since the church set Christmas during Saturnalia (a fact), the festival for Saturn and involving sun worship, some people want to equate it all into one Satanic conspiracy.
The way we get from Nimrod to the Christmas tree is a convoluted path of equating this and that and relying on a very late Jewish text which has no historical claim to accuracy. Meanwhile, there is no evidence the Babylonians used cut trees in their worship of Tammuz. Nor is Tammuz the Babylonian Messiah.
People will use Ezekiel 8 in their argument. This is interesting to me, since I am beginning to read Ezekiel for serious study. The passage in question is about unfaithful Judeans in Jerusalem who are participating in the Babylonian Tammuz cult. Tammuz supposedly died every winter and was reborn each spring.
Note the difference between Christmas and Ezekiel 8. In Ezekiel 8 the unfaithful Judeans are specifically worshipping Tammuz and engaging in a ritual knowingly devoted to him. This cannot begin to compare to a family joyfully celebrating a holiday with a decorated tree and singing songs about snow, chestnuts, and baby Jesus.
Others will use Jeremiah 10. To the naive, who do not consider that Jeremiah lived 2,600 years ago and was in a very different life-situation which had nothing to do with Christmas, this passage could sound like putting tinsel on a tree. Or you could read it in context: it is about hammered work of silver on a wood base in idol-making. The Bible cannot simply mean whatever we want it to mean. There is an audience and a situation for every writing. Interpretations which ignore the audience and situation must be rejected (otherwise the Bible can be made to say anything we want it to say).
So, Why Make a Haggadah for the Birth of Messiah?
This is a major change in subject, I know.
Yesterday I suggested some positives and negatives, as I see it, for intermarried families considering whether or not to celebrate Christmas. I respect the many varied decisions made in families. Until I am willing to live with someone through their issues, I will not stand as judge. Family is terribly important and negotiating decisions about family and culture is terribly complex. We have to remember the non-Jewish spouse of intermarriage has a culture and a family to relate to as well.
As I said yesterday, the negatives of celebrating Christmas in an intermarried family are weightier for me. But I have a family that understands. In my context, I am able to negotiate the non-Christmas path of life and maintain good relations with family. Some others are not.
That said, there are two reasons why I am making a Haggadah for the Birth of Messiah:
(1) Intermarried families I know and love do celebrate Christmas and I want to provide some healthy alternatives which will also be attractive.
(2) Every Messianic Jewish family can and should study or discuss the birth of Messiah at some point in their lives and having nothing at all to do with Christmas.
So, to provide some healthy alternatives to the traditions of Christmas, I need some ideas that are powerful and which can compete with decorated trees and gift-giving and so on. This is not an easy task.
So far, I have been compiling a few ideas and I have a colleague who I hope will also be contributing ideas (all very quickly since I hope to have this out by mid-December).
How about going to a sheep farm and reading from Micah and Luke? How about a family project to learn about constellations and consider theories about the Magi and the star of Bethlehem? How about a map of Israel and tracing the journey of Joseph, Mary, and Yeshua?
Also, it seems to me some meaningful prayers and Bible readings would be useful when learning about the Birth of Messiah or celebrating it annually. How about combining the Messiah prayers of the Siddur with various scriptures about Messiah’s birth?
I am open to other suggestions from Messianic Jewish Musings readers and I look forward to the ideas I am expecting from my friend and partner on this project.
The Birth of Our Teacher and Messiah
Some people make a big deal out of the fact that God nowhere reveals to us the time of Messiah’s birth and nowhere commands us to celebrate it.
One illogical deduction goes like this:
–God did not reveal the timing or command the celebration.
–There are other festivals for which God did reveal the timing and celebration (e.g., Lev. 23).
–Therefore it is wrong to celebrate the birth of Messiah.
The conclusion does not follow from the two premises. A better conclusion would be: it is not necessary to celebrate the birth of Messiah.
But first, it should be obvious to all that we need to teach our children and we need to study for ourselves the birth of Messiah. This need not be an annual affair. It might be something we do once or occasionally in our lives. Considering the importance of the coming of the Word into flesh, I’d say it should be repeated many times in our lives. We can’t overemphasize the importance of Yeshua’s birth and the promise it brings and the theology of the joining of divinity and humanity.
And second, in parallel to traditions in wider Judaism noting the timing of birth and death for important teachers, it would be a very Jewish thing to do to celebrate Messiah’s birth and mourn his death each year. We do have the problem of not knowing the time of his birth. There are several ways to handle this.
One is to go with the erroneous, but widespread, tradition that Messiah was born at Sukkot. There is no compelling evidence for this claim, but Sukkot could be a good time to celebrate. The symbolism of earthly tabernacles does make for a nice celebration.
Another involves the cycle of readings from the Apostles (New Testament). In Messianic Judaism there are at least four reading cycles I am aware of for the New Testament. Perhaps one day we will be able to unite around one as the mainstream Jewish community has united around a set of Torah-Haftarah readings. We could celebrate Messiah’s birth at the time Luke 2 is read in the cycle.
However we in our families and synagogues handle these issues, a Haggadah with readings, liturgy, and celebration suggestions will be a most useful tool.
Best of all: it’s free. So when I release it here on Messianic Jewish Musings, I hope even those inclined to be very negative about Christmas will read it and consider using it in their communities. If you have some ideas you would like to add to it, feel free to comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org