More About Christmas and the Haggadah

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.

Healthy Alternatives
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 derek4messiah@gmail.com

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Holidays, Interfaith, Intermarried, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Yeshua and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to More About Christmas and the Haggadah

  1. judahgabriel says:

    Derek,

    What does your employer, MJTI, think of this?

    I ask because I just received the MJTI newsletter, and the opening article from Dr. Kinzer is all about not adopting the ways of the nations, preventing assimilation, and maintaining Jewish identity. Hanukkah plays a role here.

    I don’t wish to discourage any work the Lord is having you do. At the same time, I can’t help but think this only encourages assimilation and adopting the ways of the nations.

  2. Judah:

    That’s funny because I edit the MJTI newsletter and write the articles other than the scholars’ columns. Glad you read my work.

    I will respond to your last comment on yesterday’s post and clarify my logic there. Basically what I will say is it has nothing to do with God “copying” pagan customs. It has everything to do with God using familiar forms and changing them to reflect true theology. I think when you understand what I am saying you will agree.

  3. I am reproducing my answer to Judah here so that readers don’t miss it:

    Judah:

    You said: Derek, this logic seems like a non-sequitur:
    –God gave Israel festivals and structure for worship.
    –There are similar festivals and structure in civilizations predating Israel.
    –Therefore, God borrowed festivals, the tabernacle, and systems of worship from these civilizations and their false gods.

    My response:
    -God gave Israel the festivals and structure for worship.
    -They are very similar in some ways and different in others from pre-existing customs of the nations.
    -God’s purpose it would seem is to reveal himself in familiar terms to the people and to modify existing customs in important ways to correct bad theology and promote life and not death.

    I regret that in this short discussion I have not had time to fully lay out what I see happening in the parallels between Ancient Near Eastern customs and Biblical patterns. The differences matter as much as the similarities.

    As for the argument that Noah knew clean and unclean and Abraham kept all the Torah statutes, there is much misunderstanding here. I’d need a lot more space to do it justice but let’s start with Noah. Moses wrote Genesis and used terminology familiar to his generation. This does not mean that Noah knew Leviticus 11 in advance. We do not know how God communicated these commands to Noah specifically. We just know that Moses could use clean and unclean in writing Genesis because his generation understood. As for Abraham keeping the statutes a la Gen 26, it is a dubious interpretation (Judah did not say this, but someone else did) that Abraham knew all the Torah statutes. The language of Gen 26:5 could be taken in other ways (Abraham adhered to the ethical laws known at the time and was faithful to the covenant).

  4. tnnonline says:

    I do not think it is a bad idea at all to study the birth of Yeshua, as given to us in the Scriptures, or to make some kind of an interactive/investigative “thing” of it. So, the idea of Derek’s to make some kind of, at least a teaching workbook, should be well taken. I am sure there are other things we could consider in the Scriptures to make into teaching exercises, where we would each have to make some effort and go to the library or some kind of a museum, to get a feel for things.

    I have thought that the best time to address the birth of Yeshua is probably when Shemot is read (first parashah of Exodus) during the yearly Torah cycle. The thematic and typological connections between the birth of Moses and the birth of Yeshua are pretty serious. Those who have tried to integrate a remembrance of Yeshua’s birth into their Sukkot observances, frequently have them shot down (and, there is no way of knowing if He really was born at Sukkot). So, at the reading of Shemot seems to be the easiest, and least debatable time.

    I personally think that Derek would have more traction on his idea if he did not call it a Christmas “haggadah,” and instead would make it into more of a teaching exercise. And, what kind of other exercises could be added? The journeys of Paul? Answering the call of the Prophets? The list could probably go on, but it would allow people to–in various degrees–bridge the gulf between the world of the Bible and the modern day.

    • rebyosh says:

      John-

      That is an interesting idea of addressing Yeshua’s birth during the reading of Shemot. The two are indeed obviously linked, so it would make sense to read the two simultaneously.

  5. Dan Benzvi says:

    Why is everyone afraid to deal with the facts? 95% of the people who celebrate Christmas are discarding, or ignoring God’s appointed times. Here is where the true paganism appears, and yet all of you just dancing around the issue…..

  6. Dan:

    You know me better than that. I do not believe that Gentiles are required to keep the appointed times. I am of the opinion that Passover should be observed by all Christians as a Messianic feast. But there is no obligation by non-Jews to live as Jews. I did not say that Gentiles cannot observe the holy days, but should do so in a way that makes it clear they are not attempting to replace Israel.

    • Dan Benzvi says:

      Well, Derek,

      I am glad you said “..I do not believe..” That does not necessarily put it square with Scriptures. so, Yes, I let you believe what you believe, and let scriptures show how wrong you are…LOL!

  7. tandi119 says:

    I find the “possibly related automatically generated WordPress link” above very apropos and germane to this discussion:

    http://dauben.wordpress.com/2008/12/16/jews-for-jesus-stop-riding-the-fence/

    Sounds like the amalgamation idea is already out there, Derek. Yet God hates mixtures. You can call me “paganoid” but I smell a Jesuit conspiracy. No wonder there is such an attack on Alexander Hislop’s research. The Two Babylons had a huge impact on me and others, leading many out of the bondage of Roman Catholicism. Yet now this book is supposedly discredited. How many references were checked? Most of his sources are no longer available to check as they were published centuries ago. Where were the scholars of 50 or 100 years ago to sound the alarm against this book? Now that the ecumenical movement is in full swing, attempts are made to stamp out “anti-Catholic” literature. Discrediting is just another way to burn books or put them on the forbidden reading list. Very clever plot. “All roads lead to Rome”……..except the narrow path that leads to life.

    I’ll say it again. “Eschew Syncretism!”

    The Acts 15 Council decided that Gentiles needed to demonstrate a clean break from paganism to have table fellowship with Jews. This would include “abstaining from pollutions of idols” (Acts 15:20). Abstaining from Christmas is a modern day application of this command.

  8. tandi119 says:

    For those who would like to evaluate The Two Babylons (Alexander Hislop) for themselves:

    http://philologos.org/__eb-ttb/

  9. tandi119 says:

    This is another resource that helped bring me to my convictions about Christmas…….by Jewish believer, Charles Halff of The Christian Jew Foundation (Should Christians Celebrate Christmas):

    http://www.sovereigngrace.net/should.htm

    • Tandi119… that same guy, Charless Halff, would also have an issue with you celebrating Jewish holidays, and I quote:

      “Finally, I don’t celebrate Christmas because God’s Word forbids the observance of ANY HOLY DAYS in this dispensation of grace.”

  10. rightrudder says:

    I don’t know why we read the bible and become so super critical to each other. The first is the thing of G-d and the other is that of the accuser. Maybe what the Torah has done is give a separate identity to the Jews so they can be identified throughout history. We live in a melting pot. My Czech identity is so fused with this world culture that I do not even relate myself as being Czech. This is not the case for Israel.

    Instead of looking at other cultures as terrible we should be looking at what is being done with Israel. Why is it important that Jews are identifiable? Perhaps there are a lot of prophesies that are being fulfilled through Israel. To put this in modern scientific terms, in this large scheme of life G-d has set up and experiment to prove himself real to the world. We are all included in the experiment, Israel is G-d’s control group. What was written about Israel is happening to Israel and we know this because even when Israel did not have a country the Jews did not loose their national identity. So when the nations gave up their pagan gods and worshiped the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in its place, we should be happy because G-d is breaking through. But we should be cautions that Christmas is not used as a means to replace Israel, instead it should be used to support Israel.

  11. tnnonline says:

    I just received this article this afternoon from BAR, and it might help tone down some of the “it’s pagan” rhetoric:

    http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/christmas.asp

    Yes, December 25 has had bad things associated with it, and Christmas has some questionable traditions. The original Disciples and Apostles did not observe it. This is why it is best to simply say, “Christmas on Dec 25 was not God’s original intention…” and then move on.

    We still have to interact with people, for whom Christmas has nothing to do with a tree or presents. How we can be sensitive to their needs, and perhaps show them a better way, could be a challenge for a while. This does not mean we have to celebrate Christmas with them–but we do have to recognize that in spite of its problems, God is going to touch many people with the message of the birth of His Son.

  12. peterygwendyta says:

    Derek your last view blogs on Christmas have been very interesting and well ballanced compared to some I have read over the last 2 or 3 years. Thankyou JK McKee for the link. It also was a very good article. I do not have problem with people not keeping Christmas or keeping it. That is for people to make up there own mind in balance with the Bible and God. I do keep Christmas (I am a Christian) but there are many things around Christmas that I do not keep as i do not agree with them eg santa etc. But I use it as a time to remember the birth of My saviour, as well as being around family etc. What I do have a problem with is individuals accusing me and people like me of being pagans, and worshipping false god’s. In say this is you take it to its logical conclusion then I most be going to Hell. I do not worship Tummuz, Nimrod or any other ancient Babylonian god. And saying so is an insult. Most people who are now Messianic and accept Yeshua (Jesus) probably came to this view point through Church, Christianity or Christian writings. They didn’t come to it through Jewish writings. (While there are many problems with Christianity they core truth Concerning the Messiahship of Jesus has been preserved for todays generation.). So if you take your positions to another logical conclusion you are also admitting that the only reason that you believe in yeshua today is through a pagan institution.

    I have no problem with debating these issues and talking about them but when it becomes insulting that is where is crosses a line. If your point is to get people to start believeing what you believe with this attitude you will fail miserably. Where as people like Derek, JK McKee for example will make more of an impact on people especially Christians who are returning to the hebraic roots of their faith in there thousands (but unfortunately many are leaving as quickly again when the insults start flying).

    I want to say again loudly thankyou Derek for your teaching and your pastoral heart for people both jews and Christian and of course messianics.

  13. Tandi:

    Several things show everyone who observes you on this blog how little concern you have for truth and how big a concern for repeating uninformed opinions. I made several cogent arguments showing that Tammuz is not related to Nimrod or Christmas trees. Instead of countering my arguments, you posted links to get people to read the bogus scholarship you prefer over accountable, mature scholarship. In other words, I have no answer for Derek but he’s wrong because some book that has zero credibility says other than Derek. You should either make a cogent counter-argument or admit you are stymied. And then you bring up Jesuit conspiracies. Do those Jesuits fly in black helicopters and leave con trails which cause early onset cancer, perhaps? Are the Illuminati involved also? You should evaluate your dogmatism in light of your weak evidence instead of throwing around conspiracies.

    Derek Leman

  14. dansangelflew says:

    Derek,

    I think your idea is wonderful, and I hope and pray that it is blessed and that it blesses the lives of those who partake of it.

    It is nice to see the heart of someone who keeps Christmas, such as Peter up above. Your words are encouraging brother. Continue to show love and don’t worry about insults.

    I loved Rightrudders comment about how God uses Israel in the world…its fascinating…….what God has done, and is doing with Israel makes the tangibility of my faith as a Gentile all the more awing.

    J.K. McKee keep seeking peace! (Matthew 5:9, James 3:18)

  15. warland52 says:

    As a Catholic who supports Christians (of all stripes including Catholics) seeking to get in touch with our Jewish root, thanks for this reasonable approach and the honest assessment of some of the common hysterical junk.

    Todd

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