Today begins is an interesting week of Holy Days: Palm Sunday, Passover, and Easter. Today is Palm Sunday. Passover begins Monday night at sunset, and of course Easter is next Sunday. I thought I’d do a post which ties all of these related holidays (or stated better–Holy Days) together.
It is always celebrated exactly one week prior to Easter. The celebration refers to Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. It is one event captured in all 4 gospels, but only The Gospel of John talks about people waving Palm fronds in front of Jesus. The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and of victory in Jewish tradition, and it is evident that many Jews believed Jesus was more of a political/military king than a spiritual king. There’s some interesting information at this Wikipedia Entry. MSNBC has a nice photo of Pope Benedict the 16th celebrating Palm Sunday Mass earlier today.
I have often wondered why Palm Sunday is completely ignored by Mormons. Palm Sunday is the beginning of the last week in the life of Jesus, and I just can’t figure out why Mormons wouldn’t want to celebrate with the rest of Christendom. Do you have any ideas?
I didn’t realize that Passover is an eight-day celebration. I remember attending a Passover meal and celebration with a college friend–it was a lot of fun! I must say that Jews really know how to celebrate, and I think Mormons could learn some celebration techniques from them. Passover is one of the most important Jewish holidays, which is also known as Pesach, Chag he-Aviv, Chag ha-Matzoth and Z’man Cherutenu.
As you’re probably aware, the Passover celebration commemorates Moses leading the Jewish liberation from Egyptian slavery approximately 1500 years ago. ABC annually broadcasts Cecil B. DeMille’s film, The 10 Commandments on Easter Sunday. Moses told the Egyptian pharaoh that if he did not let the Israelites go, God would issue 10 plagues to afflict Egypt. The term ‘Passover’ specifically refers to the 10th plague. Moses told pharaoh that God would kill all the firstborn sons of Egypt. Moses instructed the Israelites to spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts so the destroying angel would “pass-over” their homes, leaving the firstborn Israelite sons alive. This last plague finally caused pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery, and the Exodus story follows. I plan another post specifically devoted to the Exodus theories, but I want to talk specifically about the Passover and these 10 plagues in this post.
A 2-time Emmy award winner for investigative journalism named Simcha Jacobicivi (pronounced Sim-ka Yah-cob-oh-vitch) teamed up with Titanic Director James Cameron to put together a documentary titled The Exodus Decoded. It aired on the History Channel in 2006; you can rent it via Netflix. Jacobovici is not a stranger to controversy. You may be familiar with another documentary of his titled The Lost Tomb of Jesus in which he claims to have discovered the bones of Jesus and his family in Jerusalem. He has another documentary titled Quest for the Lost Tribes in which he believes he has discovered the Lost tribes in areas such as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, China, Burma, and Africa. Here is a website questioning Jacobovici’s Exodus claims, and another website questioning the Lost Tomb of Jesus DVD.
Jacobovici makes a very interesting case for the 10 plagues of Egypt; he believes they were the result of the Santorini Volcano eruption of 1500 BC. He notes similarities between the Passover narrative and a volcanic eruption in 1986 in Cameroon. I must say that there are some startling similarities, and Jacobovici seems to have some very interesting parallels. Let’s talk about the actual 10 plagues of Egypt.
1. The Nile will be turned to blood. Jacobovici notes that in 1984 and 1986, separate volcanic eruptions turned Lake Monoun and Lake Nyos in Cameroon blood red. Dr George King of the University of Michigan explained that both of these lakes contained high levels of iron. An underwater natural gas leak created a disturbance, turning the lake red in color. Jacobovici notes that the Nile is near a fault line. An underground gas leak could have turned the river blood red as mentioned in the Bible.
2. A frog infestation. Jacobovici says that all living things in the Nile would have died due to lack of oxygen in the water resulting from the gas leak and subsequent iron stirred up in the water. However, frogs would have been able hop out of the water, explaining the frog infestation.
3. Lice. With all the dead fish, lice would have been a problem.
4. Flies. Once again, dead fish would have attracted flies
5. An epidemic. Disease would have spread to everyone following the death of so many fish in the Nile.
6. Boils. Jacobovici notes that many people developed Boils following the 1986 eruption at Lake Nyos, Cameroon, and shows several photos of these awful boils. Jocobovici explains that “It turns out that carbon dioxide mixed with air put people into a kind of coma, reducing circulation to the skin and causing the kind of boils described in the Bible as plague #6.”
7. An Unusual Hail storm. I’ll abbreviate Jacobovici as SJ in the quotes below; I want to quote directly from the DVD here.
Rabbi Chaim Sacknovitz, “The seventh plague was the plague of hail, but the Bible describes hail in a very unique manner. The hail was together with ice with fire, the idea being that the fire and the ice mixed together, that they coexisted together. The Bible then describes God as making a miracle within a miracle, taking opposites in nature, and having them coexist together.”
SJ, “Incredibly, there is an Egyptian papyrus that tells the exact same story. It’s called the Ipuwer Papyrus and is dated by many scholars to the Hyksos period. The Ipuwer Papyrus specifically states that Egypt was struck by a strange hail, made of ice and fire mingled together. Another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. It now seems clear that the biblical and Egyptian texts are describing what scientists call ‘accretionary lapilli“, volcanic hail, and could have only come from earthquake induced Santorini volcano.
Dr. Catherine Hickson, Geological Survey of Canada, “When the ash cloud goes up into great distances in the stratosphere, essentially what happens is that you have moisture in the atmosphere, you also have a lot of water vapor in the cloud itself, so small fragments of ash and crystal actually form the nucleus, very similar to a hail stone.”
8. Plague of Locusts. Jacobovici says the volcano causing weather changes, and this hail storm would have excited the locusts. He says,
Cold weather produces a drop in their body temperature and makes them land en masse. The Volcanic hail and weather disruptions caused by the Santorini eruption would have forced great clouds of locusts which are common in this part of the world to suddenly land in Egypt. As the hail storm cleared, and the temperature rose, so did the locusts, exactly as the Biblical account describes.
9. Darkness. Following the Mount Saint Helens eruption, ash blocked out the sun and made it appear very dark. Jacobovici quotes scientists as saying the cloud of ash from the Santorini eruption could have been 40 km from top to bottom, 200 km across–that would be approximately 25 miles high, and 122 miles across. He quotes Prof Jean-Daniel Stanley of the Smithsonian Institution saying that ash was found at the ancient Egyptian capital of Avaris: “We had to look through 10 to 20,000 grains to find one ash grain. So, we found a total of 40 ash grains. Not all ash looks the same. Ash has an imprint aspect. The ash particles that we find in the northern and northeastern Nile Delta are individual grains that came in from Santorini.”
10. The Firstborn of Egypt die, and Israelite children are spared. Jacobovici has an explanation for this phenomenon as well. Once again, he cites the Cameroon eruption at Lake Nyos in 1986.
SJ, “The final plague took place at midnight, after Moses ordered the Israelites to sit down to what became known as the first Passover meal. While the Israelites were involved in the Passover ritual, the Egyptians slept, and then it happened: every firstborn male Egyptian died. Every house was affected. No one has ever been able to offer up a plausible scientific explanation for the death of the firstborn until now. According to our scenario, at this point in the sequence of events that began some 6 months earlier, the gas leaks that set the chain of plates in motion would have finally erupted. Carbon dioxide would have seeped to the surface, and being heavier than air, would have killed animals and sleeping people before it dissipated harmlessly into the atmosphere.
In case you think all this is conjecture, consider this. It happened in exactly the same way in 1986 at Lake Nyos, Cameroon. On the fateful night of August 21, the villagers at Nyos went to sleep. They couldn’t have known that the carbon dioxide gas which had turned the lake blood red, was now reaching a critical point. As the people of Lake Nyos slept, the top of the lake was keeping the carbon down like a cap in a pop bottle. But then the earth rumbled, and a landslide took place sending rock into the water, disturbing the surface pressure and releasing the gas. The gas then rose to the surface, and like some alien monster, emerged from the water, droplets forming on it, turning the invisible gas into a visible fog. The fog then rolled across the water, and across the land, suffocating everything in its path. And as suddenly as it appeared, it disappeared, dissolving harmlessly into the atmosphere.
The next day those who had been sleeping on higher ground woke up to find some 1800 people dead, hundreds of cattle and small animals also dead, all around there was deadly silence.
Villager, “I was sleeping among the dead people, inside the house, some of them were outside. Animals every where lying cows, dogs, everything. All the family, we were 56 but 53 died.”
SJ, “After the death of the first born, Pharaoh finally relented, letting Moses take his people out of Egypt. According to the Bible, what made pharaoh give up was the selectivity of the deaths: the fact that it was only male, firstborn who died. It was this selectivity that demonstrated to him that God himself was involved. How can we account for this?
Well, Egyptian firstborn males had the privileged position. They were the heirs to the throne, to property, title, and more. They slept on Egyptian beds low to the ground, while their brothers and sisters slept on rooftops, sheds, and wagons. The Israelites sitting up at their first Passover meal did not feel a thing, while the low traveling gas suffocated the privileged Egyptian males sleeping in their beds. This conclusion is backed by the archaeology. At Avaris, Professor Manfred Biatek has found mass graves dating to before and during our date for the Exodus. The earlier graves are classic examples of ancient epidemics and killed men, women, and children. But at the time of the Exodus, the mass grave he found has only males in it.
Biatek, “Here you see bones of burials in the early 18th Dynasty. They are all male victims. By the size of the graves, and the number of individuals in the graves, we think people died in rapid succession and the individuals were just thrown into the pit, some of them lying on their stomach, some lying on their side. Some of the people were just 20 cm deep and just some dust put on top of them. The bible says that pharaoh’s son also died during the plagues of the firstborn. Since we claim that Ahmose is the pharaoh of the Exodus, we should be able to prove that Ahmose son died young.
Searching the Cairo museum, we found Ahmose’ son, the prince had died young, he was only 12. For the first time ever, we have a face and a name to a victim of the biblical plagues.
So, I found this to be a really interesting scientific explanation for the plagues. What do you think? I found James Cameron and Simcha’s final words regarding these plagues interesting. They discuss how these explanations will bother both skeptics and believers.
Cameron, “It seems that the Bible, geology, and archaeology, are all telling the same story. But skeptics, who would like to regard the Exodus as myth, might resist the idea that it actually happened, because this would imply that God does indeed exist. Believers on the other hand may feel that a scientific explanation of the Biblical story takes God out of the equation.”
SJ, “But in the book of Exodus, God does not suspend nature, he manipulates it. In other words, according to the Bible, we should be able to understand the science behind the miracles.
You’ll notice that date of Easter varies considerably from year to year. The reason for this is because of it’s relationship to the Passover. Christ died during the Passover festival, and rose on the first day of the week (Sunday.) There’s a Jewish joke that goes like this.
“When is Chanukkah this year?”
The other man smiled slyly and replied, “Same as always: the 25th of Kislev.”
There is a really interesting article on the Jewish calendar at Judaism 101. (It’s a fantastic website.) The Jewish calendar tries to correlate
the rotation of the Earth about its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon about the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth about the sun (a year).
Months are either 29 or 30 days, corresponding to the 29½-day lunar cycle. Years are either 12 or 13 months, corresponding to the 12.4 month solar cycle.The lunar month on the Jewish calendar begins when the first sliver of moon becomes visible after the dark of the moon. In ancient times, the new months used to be determined by observation. When people observed the new moon, they would notify the Sanhedrin. When the Sanhedrin heard testimony from two independent, reliable eyewitnesses that the new moon occurred on a certain date, they would declare the rosh chodesh (first of the month) and send out messengers to tell people when the month began.
So, you can see that a 12 or 13 month year (they have leap months instead of leap days) can wreak havoc on knowing when holidays will be as we try to correlate the Jewish calendar with our Gregorian Calendar. As Christians were debating when to celebrate Easter, the consensus was to keep Easter near the Passover festival. As a result, the date of Easter changes with the changes in celebration of the Passover Festival. Another Jewish joke says that every Jewish holiday can be boiled down to “They tried to kill us. Let’s eat.”
I wish Mormons celebrated, rather than simply observed, the Easter holiday. It would be nice to have more of a celebration of Easter; I really like Easter gets the short shrift for celebrations, but I think that Christmas celebrations in our church are lacking as well. Two years ago, I posted the question, Why don’t Mormons celebrate Easter? It is my #2 post over the past 2 years. I always receive a spike in hits for that post around Easter. If you do a Google search asking “do Mormons celebrate Easter”, my post comes up on the #2 position. I expect that as Easter approaches this week, my 2 year old post will get another spike in views, and will probably be #1 by the end of the month.
So to answer my own question is, yes, we observe Easter, but we don’t celebrate Easter. Do you wish there was a greater emphasis on Easter?