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Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement

October 26, 2012

There is a story I came across in the Talmud related to the Day of Atonement that some Christians like to attempt to use as a tool for converting Jewish persons.

In ancient times the Jewish High Priest would take two goats, and throw lots to determine which one was the scapegoat.

ASIDE: they are throwing lots, to put the sins of the community on a *goat*, so they can have those ‘sins’ go out into the desert and die… this is the spot where all of your skeptical dashboard lights concerning ancient understandings of “reality” should start going off!

Back to the post!

The sins of the entire community were put on the ‘lucky’ creature who ‘won’ the lot, and he was led out in the wilderness to die. In addition, the High Priest put a crimson thread on this scapegoat, and he hung a similar thread on the gates of the Temple as well. Apparently, at some point, the thread that hung on the gates of the Temple would turn white signaling the forgiveness of the people’s sin.

Yomah 39b relates this story:

Forty years before the Temple was destroyed, the lot never came into the right hand, the red wool did not become white, the western light did not burn, and the gates of the Temple opened of themselves, till the time that R. Johanan b. Zakkai rebuked them, saying: “Temple, Temple, why alarmest thou us? We know that thou art destined to be destroyed. For of thee hath prophesied Zechariah ben Iddo [Zech. xi. 1]: ‘Open thy doors, O Lebanon, and the fire shall eat thy cedars.’

Can anyone tell me what happened 40 years before the destruction of the Temple around 30 C.E.?

For the Christian apologist: the Talmud says that 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE) the crimson wool stopped turning white. Ergo, Jesus died (circa 30 CE), and became the atonement for sins, which proves that the old atonement system is invalid.

Obviously, that sort of apologetic is ridiculously forced if you have a personal relationship with reality, but even more so considering the number forty in Hebrew constructive memory. If you are a fundamentalist of a certain worldview and reading persuasion you might want to stop reading right now because I’m going to use a word you don’t like very much: symbolic. There, I said it. As you may or may not know the number forty is highly symbolic in the ancient Hebrew writings. Primarily I can think of three ways. 1) it is the duration of a generation 2) it represents a period of testing 3) it represents a time of change brought around by God’s strength.

When the Mishna was redacted/compiled by Judah HaNasi the whole Christian thing wasn’t exactly a secret. And to say that the rabbis were pedantic in their argumentation would be an understatement. If there was something in the text that pointed to Yeshua the Nazarene as the Son of God and as the Atonement for the world I’m pretty sure they would have noticed it. These guys knew their sacred texts in ways that would put most modern Christians to shame. It would not have “slipped their attention.”

It seems to me that the Rabbis were so involved in some sort of defense of ‘God’ and the destruction of the Temple that they employed this highly symbolic language to show that not only did they know the Temple was to be destroyed but that God himself was responsible.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Robert permalink
    October 30, 2012 4:51 pm

    No doubt the red dye was bleached out by ultraviolet light. Not that they understood stuff like that back then!

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