Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Fall Festival in Jacob 2-3

 Some weeks ago I started a series of posts that attempted to identify a number of Book of Mormon texts that appeared to have the autumn or fall festival (Day of Atonement/Feast of Tabernacles) as their setting. In one of the first posts in this series (“The Annual Fall Festival in the Book of Mormon”), I documented a few reasons why the three festivals in the harvest month of Tishri (Num 29; Lev 23) were originally part of a single fall harvest festival that contained elements of what would later be separated into the separate feasts. I noted that some of the themes from this festival appeared in the form of imagery of gates and robes used by Book of Mormon prophets. In “A Tower and a Name: Benjamin as the Anti-Nimrod” I made the case that the theology of this fall festival explains the context behind the tower story in Genesis and that King Benjamin is consciously using these same festival themes as well as the tower rebellion as a reference point in his narrative to address descendants of the those who came from that tower. For the reasons given below, I also believe that this fall festival underlies the sermon in Jacob 2-3 and that this context gives Jacob's words added depth. 

The fall festival of ancient Israel celebrated the enthronement of Jehovah as king. It was the Day of Judgment as well as the Day of Atonement, when the Lord provided healing for his people and their land. Psalms that preserve the temple ritual behind this fall festival tell us that it begins with a procession of the people ascending up to the gates of the temple, where they ask the keeper of the gate for admittance:

Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD: This gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter. (Psalm 118:19-20 KJV)

This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. (Psalm 24:6-7 KJV)

The gatekeeper asks them questions about their worthiness to enter:

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. (Psa 24:3 KJV)

As part of the ritual, the assembled people at the temple would present themselves inside the gates of the temple before the high priest to be purified from their sins. On this day the high priest has set aside his multi-colored garments with jeweled and gold-plated accoutrements (see Exodus 28) and has put on the simple white linen robe of a common Levite (Lev 16:4; “these are holy garments,” says the text). He takes a censer of burning coals behind the veil into the holy of holies (Lev 16:12)—the one time in the year that he is allowed to enter God's presence in this most holy place (Lev 16:2). He sets the censer on the ground before the Mercy Seat (kapporeth, or ‘atonement cover’) and places incense on the burning coals so that a cloud covers God's throne (Lev 16:13). He exits the holy of holies and sacrifices the goat designated “for the Lord” (Lev 16:15), collecting its blood in a basin. Back within the veil, he sprinkles the blood on and before the mercy seat to “make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgression in all their sins” (Lev 16:16). In the darkness much of the blood lands on his robes, and so he removes them and immerses himself to wash away the ritual impurity, putting on his usual high-priestly robes afterward (Lev 16:23-24).

After the blood ritual, the high priest addresses those assembled as God's representative, reading from key biblical texts and giving them divine guidance as if he were God himself. One of the autumn festival texts from Psalms documents how he would likely start: “Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me” (Psalm 81:8 KJV). Another psalm from this festival is similar: “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would hearken to his voice!” (Psalm 95:7 RSV). These words of God are often a rebuke to the people for their disobedience, greed and lack of social consciousness. Thus, in Psalm 15:5, the high priest, representing God, rails against those who charge interest when lending money to the innocent. And in another fall festival psalm that Jacob will reference in his discourse, the priest talks about the disobedience of their ancestors: “Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work” (Psalm 95:9 KJV). One Day of Atonement text from Isaiah reproves Israel for not taking care of those in need:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7 KJV)

Isaiah's comments reference the sabbatical and Jubilee requirements—holy periods that are initiated by fasting on the Day of Atonement as part of the autumn festival—to release both people and land from bondage and to take care of their needs.

Jacob's sermon in the Book of Mormon comprising Jacob chapters 2-3 is a powerful discourse that touches on these themes from the fall festival—judgment, accountability, and social responsibility. He is a priest (Jacob 1:18)—and very likely the high priest as well. This fact colors much of how he thinks and what he says. Several of the indicators that point to the fall festival as the cultic Sitz im Leben for his sermon include aspects of location, theme, textual citations, and imagery.

Jacob has assembled his people at the temple for instruction, and in ancient Israel, these assemblies occurred as part of the festivals. We know that the Nephites observed the festivals of ancient Israel because this would have been part of the law that they repeatedly tell us that they kept (cf. 2 Ne 5:10; 2 Ne 25:24; Jarom 1:5; Alma 30:2-3). Jacob tells us that he is directed to go up to the temple “on the morrow” to teach his people. Is this an ad-hoc gathering that is organized at the last minute, or is Jacob receiving revelation in preparation for something that is already scheduled for the next day? If the biblical tradition were being followed here in the temple patterned after that of Solomon, then this would be the latter case and Jacob would be inquiring of the Lord in order to prepare for a sacred ceremony that involved addressing the assembled people.

While the setting for Jacob's speech is the temple, the context is sin and judgment. This is the purpose of the Day of Atonement, which is the Day of Judgment. The assembled are confronted with their sins and then redeemed through the atoning ritual involving the blood of the goat “for Jehovah” shed on their behalf. “You are beginning to labor in sin,” he tells his people (Jacob 2:5). He combines the concepts of the judgments of God coming upon them (Jacob 2:14) with the redemptive idea that God can rid them of their abomination (Jacob 2:16). The entire sermon reflects the potential wrath of God, which occurs “when ye shall be brought before the throne of God” (Jacob 3:8), a judgment scene before the heavenly throne. It is followed by a reference to the sins of the children being heaped on parents at the last day (Jacob 3:10) and being thrown into the lake of fire (Jacob 3:11), clear references to the Judgment Day.

The other aspect of Jacob's sermon that keeps appearing is the subject of land healing and cursing. Jacob tells his people that theirs is a land of promise (Jacob 2:12) but that if they don't repent others will take it (Jacob 3:4). He is rather emphatic about the connection between sin and land: “Except you repent the land is cursed for your sakes” (Jacob 3:3). This ties back to aspects of the Day of Atonement concerned with the healing of the land and the promise for those who kept these statutes to be protected in the land. (These were also main concerns of the jubilee and sabbatical years that were initiated on the Day of Atonement.) The ritual enacted at the temple provided atonement for the land as well as for the people, and Jacob's sermon reflects a priestly concern for the purity of both. In a Day of Atonement narrative found in Zechariah, the high priest Joshua is met by the angel of the Lord in the holy of holies and given a change of robes to remove his iniquity (Zech 3:5), after which the the Lord promises to “remove the iniquity of that land in one day” (Zech 3:9 KJV). In another Day of Atonement text, the Lord appears on the Day of Judgment to “make atonement for his land and people” (Deut 32:43 NIV). Jacob's emphasis on the land being cursed reflects these ideas of land iniquity healed on the Day of Atonement.

In his sermon Jacob also frequently cites, alludes to, or uses language that is similar to biblical texts that have been identified as fall festival discourses. While there is no requirement for the contexts to be the same simply because he cites these texts, the fact that his themes are the same while almost all of his citations are from fall festival texts certainly enhances the probability that this ritual lies behind his discourse as well.

One of the fall festival texts that seems to be at the forefront of Jacob's sermon is Psalm 24.[1] Here the priestly gatekeeper dwells on the worthiness of those who ascend to the temple: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3). The priest then says “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in” (Psalm 24:7 KJV), as if the gates were members of the divine council or assembly.[2] Jacob's sermon also stresses the ascent to the temple: “I come up into the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God” (Jacob 2:2; see also 2:11). As one who presides over the assembly of those who have ascended into the hill of the Lord, he is concerned about their worthiness, frequently talking of their sins in the context of those who are “pure in heart”' (Jacob 2:10; 3:1, 3). One of these 'pure in heart' passages also uses the lifting heads imagery of the gates or those in the divine council: “O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love” (Jacob 3:2). Jacob appears to be using the language and imagery of Psalm 24 as he places his thoughts in the context of ascending to the temple, the pure in heart within the temple, and lifting their heads in the presence of God, God's word, or God's love.

Jacob cites another fall festival text as he introduces the reason for preaching to his people prior to the start of his sermon:

Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness. (Jacob 1:7)

David Bokovoy points out that Jacob is using the very language of Psalm 95:9 here as a reference point:[3] “Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness” (Psalm 95:9 KJV). In a series of presentations on the priestly Jacob, Bokovoy details a number of points of contact between Jacob's sermon and Psalm 95.[4] While Psalm 95 is part of a type of psalm called a Prophetic Liturgy or Exhortation, it is also one of the psalms identified as part of the enthronement ceremony enacted during the autumn festival in ancient Israel.[5]

Jacob's sermon also touches on the social aspects of the Day of Atonement. Since this holy day began the Sabbatical and Jubilee years—wherein slaves were released from bondage, debts were forgiven, and the land was allowed to lie fallow—this day became a time for the prophet or priest in Israel to proclaim the requirements each person had to their fellow beings. As noted above, a Day of Atonement text from Isaiah gives these requirements as follows:

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7 KJV)[6]

Jacob's sermon contains language that is very similar to this:

And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good--to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted. (Jacob 2:19)

On the whole, this sermon by Jacob, comprising chapters 2-3, has many overtones from Isaiah 58, but this verse in particular seems fairly connected to the same list that Isaiah is using in the context of social practices based on the Sabbatical and Jubilee year customs that were initiated on the Day of Atonement. Note that this same type of list shows up in King Benjamin's speech as well: “I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief” (Mosiah 4:26; for the fall festival as the context for King Benjamin's address, see my post “A Tower and a Name: Benjamin as the Anti-Nimrod”).

As mentioned earlier, part of the ritual enacted to atone for the people's sins during the Day of Atonement portion of the fall festival required the high priest to sprinkle the blood of a slaughtered goat (that had represented Jehovah) onto the mercy seat in the darkness in the holy of holies as a ritual that redeemed the assembled people from their sins. The sprinkling in the dark would have ended up on the robes of the priest as well as the veil of the holy of holies.[7] The high priest would later change his robe because of its filthiness—the iniquity of the people staining red the white linen of his holy garments. As noted previously, we saw this same change of robe by Joshua the high priest in the holy of holies as part of the Day of Atonement ritual in Zechariah. Jacob uses this very imagery of blood on the skirts of the high priest as part of his message about sin and redemption:

Now, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, according to the responsibility which I am under to God, to magnify mine office with soberness, and that I might rid my garments of your sins, I come up into the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God. (Jacob 2:2)

The imagery of a high priest ridding his garments of the sins of his people in the temple comes directly from the Day of Atonement ritual. And he had said something similar in his introduction to the sermon:

And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day. (Jacob 1:19)

While priests would typically gather blood on their robes during all forms of animal sacrifice, the high priest did not participate in the common sacrifices, only this one, so when Jacob uses this blood imagery it likely comes from the one time he would officiate in the sacrifice—on the Day of Atonement. For a more in-depth analysis on this theme, see my post “'Rid of Your Blood': Robes and Atonement in the Book of Mormon.

While perhaps not very strong individually, the accretion of these indicators point towards a cultic setting for Jacob's sermon in the Day of Atonement portion of the fall festival as performed in pre-exilic Israel. He gathers his people at the temple to talk about judgment and atonement, while emphasizing land purity and iniquity. He cites biblical passages that come from Day of Atonement texts, and he uses imagery that lies at the heart of this ritual. He is likely the high priest for his gathered people, and his sermon reads like the prophetic oracle of judgment delivered in Israel on this very occasion.


1. Psalm 24 (along with Psalm 15) is usually designated as an entrance liturgy commemorating a procession of the ark into the temple gates, and this procession is often placed within the rituals enacted during the fall festival; The Oxford Bible Commentary [(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 374] note on this is fairly representative of most scholarship: “Within the worship of the pre-exilic temple it may have been used during the annual Autumn Festival, with the celebration of YHWH as creator, and as a warrior who returns to his temple in triumph after the defeat of the powers of chaos”; Frank Moore Cross [Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press, 1997) 93] is more emphatic: “The psalm is an antiphonal liturgy used in the autumn festival”; see also J. H. Eaton, The Psalms: A Historical and Spiritual Commentary (New York: Continuum, 2005) 125-127, 139; Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004) 106-192. This portion of Psalm 24 is noted for the entrance requirements or instructions that have also been identified in another fall festival text, Psalm 15:1-2, which also mentions clean hands and a pure heart. Other entrance instruction texts can be found in Isaiah 33:14-16 and Micah 6:6-8. On this see Claus Westermann, The Psalms: Structure, Content & Message (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1980) 103-104.

2. For more on this, see my earlier post “Gates and the Divine Council in the Book of Mormon.

3. David Bokovoy, “Temple Imagery in the Book of Mormon” parts 1 and 2.

4. Ibid.

5. Cf. Larence A Hoffman (ed.), My People's Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries, vol 8 (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2005) 23-24; Irene Nowell, Sing a New Song: the Psalms in the Sunday Lectionary (Collegeville, Minnesotta: The Liturgical Press, 1993) 168: “Psalm 95 is an enthronement song (see Psalm 93). The psalm suggests a great procession into God's sanctuary.” Herman Gunkel, followed by Kraus (and others), excludes Psalm 95 from the enthronement ceremony psalms and focuses on its use as Prophetic Liturgy. However, recall that Gunkel originally did not even concede the presence of an enthronement ceremony in ancient Israel at all, only to revise his views after his former student Sigmund Mowinckel provided sufficient documentation for the ritual. After accepting the celebration of an enthronement festival, he limited the number of references to this festival in the Psalms to only those proclaiming Yahweh as king within the text. Mowinckel responded that many of the psalms were of more than one type (or Gattung) and that Psalm 95 was used as a lament as well as for the enthronement ritual. His response to Gunkel concerning Psalm 95 (and others) as part of the enthronement ritual can be found in Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004) 243-244; for a good discussion on the different views on the Gattung and cultic Sitz im Leben for Psalm 95, see W. S. Prinsloo, “Psalm 95: If Only You Will Listen to His Voice” in M. Daniel Carroll R., David J.A. Clines, and Phillip R. Davies (eds.), The Bible in Human Society: Essays in Honor of John Rogerson (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995) 393-397; for an excellent survey of the views of the leading scholars on Psalm 95's inclusion in or exclusion from this ritual, see chapter 9 (“The Psalms and the sukkôt Festival”) in Karl William Weyde, The Appointed Festivals of YHWH (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004).

6. For the autumn festival as the setting for Isaiah's discourse, see Margaret Barker, “Isaiah” in (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003) 537; Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra, The Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003) 56, 155-156; Johanna Manley, Isaiah Through the Ages (CA: Monastery Books, 1995) 870; Robert B. Sloan, “The Favorable Year of the Lord: An Abbreviation and Addenda” in Jerry Vardaman (ed.), Chronos, Kairos, Christos II: Chronological, Nativity, and Religious Studies in Memory of Ray Summers (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1998) 270.

7. For blood on the priest's clothing, see Martha Himmelfarb, “Earthly Sacrifice and Heavenly Incense: The Law of the Priesthood in Aramaic Levi and Jubilees” in Ra’anan S. Bouston, Annette Yoshiko Reed (eds.), Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antique Religions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004) 107:

Sacrifice must have been an extremely messy ritual. Although P does not appear to be worried about blood on priest’s garments, the Mishnah contains some indications that it expected priests to change their garments frequently. A list of Temple officials includes a certain Phineas who was in charge of the garments (m. Sheqalim 5:1); he had a chamber designated for his use (m. Middot 1:4). We also learn that there were niches in which priests kept their garments when not participating in the service (m. Tamid 5:3).

See also Clyde M. Woods, Justin Rogers (eds.), The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, Missouri: College Press Publishing Company, 2006) 105:

How can the high priest be certain that the blood reaches the atonement cover, since it is so dark inside the Most Holy Place? Jewish tradition answers this question by simply stating that he cannot be certain. In fact, Josephus mentions that the blood was thrown rather haphazardly, aimed at the ceiling and floor (Antiquities 3.243). The rabbis concur, stating that the blood ritual was completed in a whiplike fashion (m. Yoma 5:3).

For blood on the veil due to the sprinkling, see Margaret Barker, The Great High Priest, London: T & T Clark International, 2003, pp. 205-206:

Another veil was taken as loot by Titus after the sack of Jerusalem in 70 ce. He ordered the golden temple vessels to be stored in the Temple of Peace, but the scrolls of the Law and the veil of the holy of holies he kept in his palace (War 7.162). A rabbi who taught in the middle of the second century ce saw the veil there: 'Said R. Eleazar b. R. Jose “I myself saw it in Rome and there were drops of blood on it.” And he told me “These are the drops of blood from the Day of Atonement”' (Tosefta Kippurim 2.16).

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