The Scripture passages used herein are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Sukkot, not Pesach-Matzot
The truly greatest miracle of the gospels, far greater even than the reported Resurrection, is the unbelievably astonishing feat whereby spacetime was warped so that a week which began in early fall on 15 Tishrei ended in mid-spring on 15 Nisan. That kind of reality bending feat is worthy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Chronicles of Amber, and several different episodes of Star Trek from different series across the franchise, combined.
The crowds in Jerusalem, there to greet Isho and company according to the gospels, are pictured, six days before the actual festival, mind you, crying out, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. They are also described as carrying “palm branches”. For such things to have actually happened in Jerusalem around the time of Pesach, even six days before it, would be like Christians carrying sprigs of mistletoe and singing Christmas carols around a decorated evergreen tree at Easter.
It is not just these ceremonies; the eight-day sequence of events, Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday in Christian parlance better fits the progress of Sukkot than Pesach-Matzot. Even the blood and water flowing from Isho’s side after he is pierced with the spear reflect Sukkot as celebrated in Jerusalem in the first century CE.
Many of these traditions still go on, but I use the past tense here because we are talking about what happened in the first century CE.
The central ritual feature of the whole period, at least as far as lay participation went, the one which gave the festival its name, was the sukkah, or booth. These were temporary shelters built for use during the festival, primarily for eating but sometimes for sleeping also, particularly in the Temple period when pilgrims to Jerusalem needed somewhere to sleep.
The other major feature was the four species carried by each worshipper. These four species were a palm branch, a willow branch, a myrtle branch, and a citron fruit. Bound together, these were referred to collectively as the luvav, Hebrew for ‘palm branch’. While the luvavim were used daily by those worshipping in the Temple, in the rest of Palestine they were reserved for the first day of Sukkot only, even elsewhere in the city of Jerusalem.
The messianic festival
The feast of Sukkot, literally Booths or Tabernacles, originally went by the moniker of the Feast of Ingathering (Chag ha-Asif), and its original purpose was to carry out and celebrate the finish of the fruit harvest, the last of the Palestinian year. The booths originally housed the farmers or laborers performing the harvest, staying near their crops.
As Israelite society became sedentary and more urban, agrarian symbols lost their meaning, and to preserve the feast, the priests made it symbolize the mythical wandering in the Sinai desert after the mythical Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai-Horeb-Paran commemorated on Shavuot, along with the Messiah ben Joseph.
During the so-called “Second Temple” era, especially beginning in the later second century BCE when the great festivals came to be identified with messianic figures, Sukkot came to symbolize expectation of the coming of the Messiah ben David and to be thought of as the time he would appear, particularly given the above-mentioned passage in Zechariah 14.
The designation “Second Temple”, by the way, is a misnomer since there was no “First Temple”, Jerusalem being uninhabited from the Late Bronze Age through the Early Iron Age. The Jews have not been the only ones stretching the truth about their chosen spiritual center. Shechem (modern Nablus), the holy site of the Samaritans, was likewise uninhabited from the Late Bronze Age through the Early Iron Age. Something about Philistines.
Sukkot is the only festival that the Torah named as a time of joy. In fact, another name for the festival is Zeman Simhatenu, or ‘Season of Our Joy’. In the Temple era, it was the greatest of all the festivals of Judaism, especially in Palestine, so much that it was most commonly referred to simply as “The Festival”.
Order of Sukkot festivities
In the first century CE, Sukkot was a seven-day affair, as it still is in Palestine.
The first day was a sabbath, and no work was done. Before the Shacharit sacrifice, the priests and Levites placed willow branches upright around the altar with their tips hanging over. For the first day, the sabbath at the beginning, these had been gathered the day before from the village a few kilometers outside Jerusalem known as Motza.
(Note: Israelites had inhabited Motza since the destruction of the Philistine city of Gath in 854 BCE by Hazael, Aramean king of Damascus. So, unlike Jerusalem, it was indeed inhabited before the Babylonian Exile, and hosts one of only three known sanctuaries titled “House of Yahweh” of the pre-Exilic period; the others are at the town of Arad and the city of Samaria.)
Before offering the slaughtered animal(s) as burnt-offerings, the priest made a libation offering of wine, just as he did with every burnt-offiering.
On the first day of Sukkot, the burnt offering was thirteen bulls, fourteen lambs, and fifteen rams, plus a goat kid for expiation of sins.
Immediately after the Shacharit sacrifice, Levites sang the group of psalms known as the Lesser Hallel, Psalms 113-118. The congregation, holding their luvavim, would wave them back and forth as they sang along.
The Mussaf sacrifice followed immediately after Shacharit, as is did every Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and Yom Tov. Unique to Sukkot, however, after the Mussaf sacrifice and its prayers were finished, the shofar would sound, and the priests, Levites, and Israelites (as lay people were termed) would then circumambulate around the altar reciting Psalm 118:25-26: “Hosanna (‘Save us’), we beseech you, O Yahweh! O Yahweh, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh. We bless you from the house of Yahweh”.
Though the number of circuits may have at one time been seven, by the first century there was just one on this day and the rest until the seventh day. After this, most or all the lay people returned to their homes to prepare to the festivities later that night.
The Mincha sacrifices, though not closed, were more of a temple rather than a public affair, and usually were. And for those celebrating Sukkot at the Temple, rest was certainly needed.
Outside the compound atop the Temple Mount, in the city of Jerusalem and across much of Palestine, the people had their own popular ceremonies for this, the greatest of all feasts, including parading through the streets with their luvavim and singing the Hallel. But unlike the worshippers at the Temple, those celebrating outside the compound put away their luvavim after this first day, as mentioned above.
The days following the first day were called the Chol ha-Moed, or ‘festival weekdays’; the same pattern followed at Matzot. Each of the Chol ha-Moed, of course, began at sundown, when the Arvit ceremonies and prayers were conducted. But it was at midnight, when the gates of the compound were thrown open, that the real festivities began.
Simchat Beit ha-Shoeivah
Hebrew for ‘Rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing’, these festivities took place in the Women’s Court at the temple, which indicates the participation of those not normally allowed in Temple ceremonies in the Court of the Israelites, such as women, lepers, and Nazarites.
For several hours, everybody parties. There was no solemnity allowed. Four giant menorah lit up the Court of Women and the whole Temple Mount, even the entire city of Jerusalem. By the descriptions, it sounds like Clark Griswold’s Christmas lighting.
Accompanied by lyres, harps, cymbals, and trumpets played by Levites, dancers danced and whirled while holding torches in either hand. People drank, ate, watched, sang, laughed. At various points in the night, Levites sang the Songs of the Ascents (Psalms 120-134).
At cockcrow, two priests keeping watch at the Nicanor Gate, between the Court of Women and the Court of Israelites, called out, “Our ancestors in this place turned their backs on the altar of Yahweh, and their faces to the east, worshipping the Sun; but we turn to Yahweh”.
Hebrew for ‘Pouring of the water’, this ceremony was unique to the Chol ha-Moed of Sukkot; at no other time were burnt-offerings preceded by any libation but wine. After the shout from the Nicanor Gate, priests, Levites, and people processed from the Court of the Women atop the Temple Mount to the Pool of Siloam south of it, which lay some six hundred meters from the base. Worshippers carried their livavim and sang the Lesser Hallel. After the high priest filled a pitcher with water, about a quart of it, the whole crowd returned to the Temple.
As he entered the gate of the Temple compound, the high priest cried out, quoting Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation!”. Upon arrival at the altar, he would take the pitcher of water in one hand and a pitcher of wine in the other, then simultaneously pour both out over the altar as a libation offering.
Every day of Sukkot was the same (bulls, fourteen lambs, fifteen rams), except that the number of bulls sacrificed was one less each succeeding day, plus a goat kid for expiation of sins.
Immediately after the Shacharit sacrifice, Levites sang the group of psalms known as the Lesser Hallel, Psalms 113-118. Again the congregation, holding their luvavim, would wave them back and forth as they sang along.
Every day, priests, Levites, and Israelites circumambulated the altar after the Mussaf sacrifice reciting Psalm 118:25-26, once each day, for the first six days.
Though not a sabbath, the seventh day evolved into something special and acquired the name Hoshanna Rabbah (‘Great Hosanna’). In Temple times, it stood out in a couple of ways.
First, the Great Hallel, Psalm 136, was added onto the end of the Lesser Hallel following the sacrifices of Shacharit.
Second, each previous day of Sukkot, the priests, Levites, and people circumambulated the altar once; on Hoshanna Rabbah, however, they did so seven times. At the end of the seventh circuit, all present beat their luvavim on the ground several times, then tossed the branches, after which they finally consumed their citron fruit.
Literally the ‘eighth day of assembly’, the day after Hoshanna Rabbah was a separate observance in its own right, a full sabbath. In Temple times, this served primarily as the day for the ritual cleansing of the altar, vessels, priestly garments, etc. The burnt offering for the day was a bull, a ram, and seven lambs, plus a goat kid for expiation of sins.
The Hakhel ceremony was prescribed by the Torah, in Deuteronomy 31. During Sukkot at the end of every Shemita, or ‘sabbath year’, the Torah, or at least a representative portion of it from Deuteronomy, was read to the people on the second day of the festival. Trumpets blew all over Jerusalem so that even those not able to attend would know it was about to proceed.
According to the Talmud, the portion read was composed of the following passages from Deuteronomy as follows:
Hakhel reading, according to the Talmud
Composed from Deuteronomy 1:1-6:5; 11:13-21; 14:22-27; 26:12-15; 17:14-20; and 28:1-69.
These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan—in the wilderness, on the plain opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab. (By the way of Mount Seir it takes eleven days to reach Kadesh-barnea from Horeb.) In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the Israelites just as the Lord had commanded him to speak to them. This was after he had defeated King Sihon of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and King Og of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei. Beyond the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law as follows: Yahweh our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Resume your journey, and go into the hill country of the Amorites as well as into the neighboring regions—the Arabah, the hill country, the Shephelah, the Negeb, and the seacoast—the land of the Canaanites and the Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them.”
At that time I said to you, “I am unable by myself to bear you. Yahweh your God has multiplied you, so that today you are as numerous as the stars of heaven. May Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times more and bless you, as he has promised you! But how can I bear the heavy burden of your disputes all by myself? Choose for each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning, and reputable to be your leaders.” You answered me, “The plan you have proposed is a good one.” So I took the leaders of your tribes, wise and reputable individuals, and installed them as leaders over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officials, throughout your tribes. I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” So I charged you at that time with all the things that you should do.
Then, just as Yahweh our God had ordered us, we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrible wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, until we reached Kadesh-barnea. I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which Yahweh our God is giving us. See, Yahweh your God has given the land to you; go up, take possession, as Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, has promised you; do not fear or be dismayed.” All of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring back a report to us regarding the route by which we should go up and the cities we will come to.” The plan seemed good to me, and I selected twelve of you, one from each tribe. They set out and went up into the hill country, and when they reached the Valley of Eshcol they spied it out and gathered some of the land’s produce, which they brought down to us. They brought back a report to us, and said, “It is a good land that Yahweh our God is giving us.” But you were unwilling to go up. You rebelled against the command of Yahweh your God; you grumbled in your tents and said, “It is because Yahweh hates us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to destroy us. Where are we headed? Our kindred have made our hearts melt by reporting, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified up to heaven! We actually saw there the offspring of the Anakim!’” I said to you, “Have no dread or fear of them. Yahweh your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, and in the wilderness, where you saw how Yahweh your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place. But in spite of this, you have no trust in Yahweh your God, who goes before you on the way to seek out a place for you to camp, in fire by night, and in the cloud by day, to show you the route you should take.”
When Yahweh heard your words, he was wrathful and swore: “Not one of these—not one of this evil generation—shall see the good land that I swore to give to your ancestors, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his descendants I will give the land on which he set foot, because of his complete fidelity to Yahweh.” Even with me Yahweh was angry on your account, saying, “You also shall not enter there. Joshua son of Nun, your assistant, shall enter there; encourage him, for he is the one who will secure Israel’s possession of it. And as for your little ones, who you thought would become booty, your children, who today do not yet know right from wrong, they shall enter there; to them I will give it, and they shall take possession of it. But as for you, journey back into the wilderness, in the direction of the Red Sea.” You answered me, “We have sinned against the Lord! We are ready to go up and fight, just as Yahweh our God commanded us.” So all of you strapped on your battle gear, and thought it easy to go up into the hill country. Yahweh said to me, “Say to them, ‘Do not go up and do not fight, for I am not in the midst of you; otherwise you will be defeated by your enemies.’” Although I told you, you would not listen. You rebelled against the command of Yahweh and presumptuously went up into the hill country. The Amorites who lived in that hill country then came out against you and chased you as bees do. They beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah. When you returned and wept before Yahweh, Yahweh would neither heed your voice nor pay you any attention.
After you had stayed at Kadesh as many days as you did, we journeyed back into the wilderness, in the direction of the Red Sea, as Yahweh had told me and skirted Mount Seir for many days. Then Yahweh said to me: “You have been skirting this hill country long enough. Head north, and charge the people as follows: You are about to pass through the territory of your kindred, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, so, be very careful not to engage in battle with them, for I will not give you even so much as a foot’s length of their land, since I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. You shall purchase food from them for money, so that you may eat; and you shall also buy water from them for money, so that you may drink. Surely Yahweh your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.” So we passed by our kin, the descendants of Esau who live in Seir, leaving behind the route of the Arabah, and leaving behind Elath and Ezion-geber.
When we had headed out along the route of the wilderness of Moab, Yahweh said to me: “Do not harass Moab or engage them in battle, for I will not give you any of its land as a possession, since I have given Ar as a possession to the descendants of Lot.” (The Emim—a large and numerous people, as tall as the Anakim—had formerly inhabited it. Like the Anakim, they are usually reckoned as Rephaim, though the Moabites call them Emim. Moreover, the Horim had formerly inhabited Seir, but the descendants of Esau dispossessed them, destroying them and settling in their place, as Israel has done in the land that the Lord gave them as a possession.) “Now then, proceed to cross over the Wadi Zered.”
So we crossed over the Wadi Zered. And the length of time we had traveled from Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the Wadi Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation of warriors had perished from the camp, as Yahweh had sworn concerning them. Indeed, Yahweh’s own hand was against them, to root them out from the camp, until all had perished. Just as soon as all the warriors had died off from among the people, Yahweh spoke to me, saying, “Today you are going to cross the boundary of Moab at Ar. When you approach the frontier of the Ammonites, do not harass them or engage them in battle, for I will not give the land of the Ammonites to you as a possession, because I have given it to the descendants of Lot.” (It also is usually reckoned as a land of Rephaim. Rephaim formerly inhabited it, though the Ammonites call them Zamzummim, a strong and numerous people, as tall as the Anakim. Yahweh destroyed them from before the Ammonites so that they could dispossess them and settle in their place. He did the same for the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir, by destroying the Horim before them so that they could dispossess them and settle in their place even to this day. As for the Avvim, who had lived in settlements in the vicinity of Gaza, the Caphtorim, who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and settled in their place.) “Proceed on your journey and cross the Wadi Arnon. See, I have handed over to you King Sihon the Amorite of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession by engaging him in battle. This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the peoples everywhere under heaven; when they hear report of you, they will tremble and be in anguish because of you.”
So I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemoth to King Sihon of Heshbon with the following terms of peace: “If you let me pass through your land, I will travel only along the road; I will turn aside neither to the right nor to the left. You shall sell me food for money, so that I may eat, and supply me water for money, so that I may drink. Only allow me to pass through on foot—just as the descendants of Esau who live in Seir have done for me and likewise the Moabites who live in Ar—until I cross the Jordan into the land that Yahweh our God is giving us.” But King Sihon of Heshbon was not willing to let us pass through, for Yahweh your God had hardened his spirit and made his heart defiant in order to hand him over to you, as he has now done.
Yahweh said to me, “See, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin now to take possession of his land.” So when Sihon came out against us, he and all his people for battle at Jahaz, Yahweh our God gave him over to us; and we struck him down, along with his offspring and all his people. At that time we captured all his towns, and in each town we utterly destroyed men, women, and children. We left not a single survivor. Only the livestock we kept as spoil for ourselves, as well as the plunder of the towns that we had captured. From Aroer on the edge of the Wadi Arnon (including the town that is in the wadi itself) as far as Gilead, there was no citadel too high for us. Yahweh our God gave everything to us. You did not encroach, however, on the land of the Ammonites, avoiding the whole upper region of the Wadi Jabbok as well as the towns of the hill country, just as Yahweh our God had charged.
When we headed up the road to Bashan, King Og of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, for battle at Edrei. Yahweh said to me, “Do not fear him, for I have handed him over to you, along with his people and his land. Do to him as you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.” So Yahweh our God also handed over to us King Og of Bashan and all his people. We struck him down until not a single survivor was left. At that time we captured all his towns; there was no citadel that we did not take from them—sixty towns, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these were fortress towns with high walls, double gates, and bars, besides a great many villages. And we utterly destroyed them, as we had done to King Sihon of Heshbon, in each city utterly destroying men, women, and children. But all the livestock and the plunder of the towns we kept as spoil for ourselves.
So at that time we took from the two kings of the Amorites the land beyond the Jordan, from the Wadi Arnon to Mount Hermon (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, while the Amorites call it Senir), all the towns of the tableland, the whole of Gilead, and all of Bashan, as far as Salecah and Edrei, towns of Og’s kingdom in Bashan. (Now only King Og of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. In fact his bed, an iron bed, can still be seen in Rabbah of the Ammonites. By the common cubit it is nine cubits long and four cubits wide.) As for the land that we took possession of at that time, I gave to the Reubenites and Gadites the territory north of Aroer, that is on the edge of the Wadi Arnon, as well as half the hill country of Gilead with its towns, and I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh the rest of Gilead and all of Bashan, Og’s kingdom. (The whole region of Argob: all that portion of Bashan used to be called a land of Rephaim; Jair the Manassite acquired the whole region of Argob as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and he named them—that is, Bashan—after himself, Havvoth-jair, as it is to this day.) To Machir I gave Gilead. And to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the Wadi Arnon, with the middle of the wadi as a boundary, and up to the Jabbok, the wadi being boundary of the Ammonites; the Arabah also, with the Jordan and its banks, from Chinnereth down to the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, with the lower slopes of Pisgah on the east.
At that time, I charged you as follows: “Although Yahweh your God has given you this land to occupy, all your troops shall cross over armed as the vanguard of your Israelite kin. Only your wives, your children, and your livestock—I know that you have much livestock—shall stay behind in the towns that I have given to you. When Yahweh gives rest to your kindred, as to you, and they too have occupied the land that Yahweh your God is giving them beyond the Jordan, then each of you may return to the property that I have given to you.” And I charged Joshua as well at that time, saying: “Your own eyes have seen everything that Yahweh your God has done to these two kings; so Yahweh will do to all the kingdoms into which you are about to cross. Do not fear them, for it is Yahweh your God who fights for you.”
At that time, too, I entreated Yahweh, saying: “Yahweh Elohim, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon.” But Yahweh was angry with me on your account and would not heed me. Yahweh said to me, “Enough from you! Never speak to me of this matter again! Go up to the top of Pisgah and look around you to the west, to the north, to the south, and to the east. Look well, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession of the land that you will see.” So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor.
So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. You have seen for yourselves what the Lord did with regard to the Baal of Peor—how Yahweh your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, while those of you who held fast to Yahweh your God are all alive today.
See, just as Yahweh my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?
But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children—how you once stood before Yahweh your God at Horeb, when Yahweh said to me, “Assemble the people for me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth, and may teach their children so”; you approached and stood at the foot of the mountain while the mountain was blazing up to the very heavens, shrouded in dark clouds. Then Yahweh spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, which he charged you to observe, that is, the ten commandments; and he wrote them on two stone tablets. And Yahweh charged me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy.
Since you saw no form when Yahweh spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure—the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that Yahweh your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven. But Yahweh has taken you and brought you out of the iron-smelter, out of Egypt, to become a people of his very own possession, as you are now.
Yahweh was angry with me because of you, and he vowed that I should not cross the Jordan and that I should not enter the good land that Yahweh your God is giving for your possession. For I am going to die in this land without crossing over the Jordan, but you are going to cross over to take possession of that good land. So be careful not to forget the covenant that Yahweh your God made with you, and not to make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything that Yahweh your God has forbidden you. For Yahweh your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.
When you have had children and children’s children, and become complacent in the land, if you act corruptly by making an idol in the form of anything, thus doing what is evil in the sight of Yahweh your God, and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to occupy; you will not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. Yahweh will scatter you among the peoples; only a few of you will be left among the nations where Yahweh will lead you. There you will serve other gods made by human hands, objects of wood and stone that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. From there you will seek Yahweh your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. In your distress, when all these things have happened to you in time to come, you will return to Yahweh your God and heed him. Because Yahweh your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.
For ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other: has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as Yahweh your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that Yahweh is God; there is no other besides him. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, while you heard his words coming out of the fire. And because he loved your ancestors, he chose their descendants after them. He brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, giving you their land for a possession, as it is still today. So acknowledge today and take to heart that Yahweh is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Keep his statutes and his mitzvot, which I am commanding you today for your own well-being and that of your descendants after you, so that you may long remain in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you for all time.
Then Moses set apart on the east side of the Jordan three cities to which a homicide could flee, someone who unintentionally kills another person, the two not having been at enmity before; the homicide could flee to one of these cities and live: Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland belonging to the Reubenites, Ramoth in Gilead belonging to the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan belonging to the Manassites.
This is the law that Moses set before the Israelites. These are the decrees and the statutes and ordinances that Moses spoke to the Israelites when they had come out of Egypt, beyond the Jordan in the valley opposite Beth-peor, in the land of King Sihon of the Amorites, who reigned at Heshbon, whom Moses and the Israelites defeated when they came out of Egypt. They occupied his land and the land of King Og of Bashan, the two kings of the Amorites on the eastern side of the Jordan: from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Wadi Arnon, as far as Mount Sirion (that is, Hermon), together with all the Arabah on the east side of the Jordan as far as the Sea of the Arabah, under the slopes of Pisgah.
Moses convened all Israel, and said to them: Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently. Yahweh our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did Yahweh make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. Yahweh spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. (At that time I was standing between Yahweh and you to declare to you the words of Yahweh; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.)
And he said: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for Yahweh your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Observe Shabbat and keep it holy, as Yahwehyour God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to Yahweh your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Yahweh your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore Yahweh your God commanded you to keep Shabbat.
Honor your father and your mother, as Yahweh your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you.
You shall not kill.
Neither shall you commit adultery.
Neither shall you steal.
Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.
Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
These words Yahweh spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; and you said, “Look, Yahweh our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of Yahweh our God any longer, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? Go near, you yourself, and hear all that Yahweh our God will say. Then tell us everything that Yahweh our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.”
Yahweh heard your words when you spoke to me, and Yahweh said to me: “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they are right in all that they have spoken. If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my mitzvot always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever! Go say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the mitzvot, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” You must therefore be careful to do as Yahweh your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. You must follow exactly the path that Yahweh your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.
Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that Yahweh your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear Yahweh your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God is one Yahweh. Love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
If you will only heed his every mitzvah that I am commanding you today—loving Yahweh your God, and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul—then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill. Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshiping them, for then the anger of Yahweh will be kindled against you and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain and the land will yield no fruit; then you will perish quickly off the good land that Yahweh is giving you.
You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.
Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field. In the presence of Yahweh your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear Yahweh your God always. But if, when Yahweh your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where Yahweh your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that Yahweh your God will choose; spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of Yahweh your God, you and your household rejoicing together. As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you.
When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before Yahweh your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments: I have not eaten of it while in mourning; I have not removed any of it while I was unclean; and I have not offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed Yahweh my God, doing just as you commanded me. Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey.”
When you have come into the land that Yahweh your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” you may indeed set over you a king whom Yahweh your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community. Even so, he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since Yahweh has said to you, “You must never return that way again.” And he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself. When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the Levites. It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the mitzvah, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel.
If you will only obey Yahweh your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, Yahweh your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey Yahweh your God:
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.
Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.
Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
Yahweh will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways.
Yahweh will command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you undertake; he will bless you in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you.
Yahweh will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the mitzvot of Yahweh your God and walk in his ways. All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of Yahweh, and they shall be afraid of you.
Yahweh will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land that Yahweh swore to your ancestors to give you.
Yahweh will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow.
Yahweh will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom—if you obey the commandments of Yahweh your God, which I am commanding you today, by diligently observing them, and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I am commanding you today, either to the right or to the left, following other gods to serve them.
But if you will not obey Yahweh your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, which I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you:
Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field.
Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.
Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.
Yahweh will send upon you disaster, panic, and frustration in everything you attempt to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.
Yahweh will make the pestilence cling to you until it has consumed you off the land that you are entering to possess.
Yahweh will afflict you with consumption, fever, inflammation, with fiery heat and drought, and with blight and mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. The sky over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you iron.
Yahweh will change the rain of your land into powder, and only dust shall come down upon you from the sky until you are destroyed.
Yahweh will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out against them one way and flee before them seven ways.
You shall become an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.
Your corpses shall be food for every bird of the air and animal of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away.
Yahweh will afflict you with the boils of Egypt, with ulcers, scurvy, and itch, of which you cannot be healed.
Yahweh will afflict you with madness, blindness, and confusion of mind; you shall grope about at noon as blind people grope in darkness, but you shall be unable to find your way; and you shall be continually abused and robbed, without anyone to help.
You shall become engaged to a woman, but another man shall lie with her.
You shall build a house, but not live in it.
You shall plant a vineyard, but not enjoy its fruit.
Your ox shall be butchered before your eyes, but you shall not eat of it.
Your donkey shall be stolen in front of you, and shall not be restored to you.
Your sheep shall be given to your enemies, without anyone to help you.
Your sons and daughters shall be given to another people, while you look on; you will strain your eyes looking for them all day but be powerless to do anything.
A people whom you do not know shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors; you shall be continually abused and crushed, and driven mad by the sight that your eyes shall see.
Yahweh will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.
Yahweh will bring you, and the king whom you set over you, to a nation that neither you nor your ancestors have known, where you shall serve other gods, of wood and stone.
You shall become an object of horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you.
You shall carry much seed into the field but shall gather little in, for the locust shall consume it.
You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them.
You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off.
You shall have sons and daughters, but they shall not remain yours, for they shall go into captivity.
All your trees and the fruit of your ground the cicada shall take over.
Aliens residing among you shall ascend above you higher and higher, while you shall descend lower and lower. They shall lend to you but you shall not lend to them; they shall be the head and you shall be the tail.
All these curses shall come upon you, pursuing and overtaking you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey Yahweh your God, by observing the mitzvot and the decrees that he commanded you. They shall be among you and your descendants as a sign and a portent forever.
Because you did not serve Yahweh your God joyfully and with gladness of heart for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom Yahweh will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and lack of everything. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you. Yahweh will bring a nation from far away, from the end of the earth, to swoop down on you like an eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a grim-faced nation showing no respect to the old or favor to the young. It shall consume the fruit of your livestock and the fruit of your ground until you are destroyed, leaving you neither grain, wine, and oil, nor the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, until it has made you perish. It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout your land; it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout the land that Yahweh your God has given you. In the desperate straits to which the enemy siege reduces you, you will eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your own sons and daughters whom Yahweh your God has given you. Even the most refined and gentle of men among you will begrudge food to his own brother, to the wife whom he embraces, and to the last of his remaining children, giving to none of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because nothing else remains to him, in the desperate straits to which the enemy siege will reduce you in all your towns. She who is the most refined and gentle among you, so gentle and refined that she does not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground, will begrudge food to the husband whom she embraces, to her own son, and to her own daughter, begrudging even the afterbirth that comes out from between her thighs, and the children that she bears, because she is eating them in secret for lack of anything else, in the desperate straits to which the enemy siege will reduce you in your towns.
If you do not diligently observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, fearing this glorious and awesome name, Yahweh your God, then Yahweh will overwhelm both you and your offspring with severe and lasting afflictions and grievous and lasting maladies. He will bring back upon you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were in dread, and they shall cling to you. Every other malady and affliction, even though not recorded in the book of this law, Yahweh will inflict on you until you are destroyed. Although once you were as numerous as the stars in heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey Yahweh your God. And just as Yahweh took delight in making you prosperous and numerous, so Yahweh will take delight in bringing you to ruin and destruction; you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to possess. Yahweh will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other; and there you shall serve other gods, of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. Among those nations you shall find no ease, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There Yahweh will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and a languishing spirit. Your life shall hang in doubt before you; night and day you shall be in dread, with no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, “If only it were evening!” and at evening you shall say, “If only it were morning!”—because of the dread that your heart shall feel and the sights that your eyes shall see. Yahweh will bring you back in ships to Egypt, by a route that I promised you would never see again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.