In a recent Facebook post, Bobby Valentine wrote,
In Genesis 1.14 we read, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky … let them be for signs and for seasons.” What the reader does not realize is that this is not the normal word for “light.” In other contexts, like Exodus 27.20, this word refers to the lit CANDLES in the sanctuary of the tabernacle. The “seasons” likewise does not refer to winter, spring, summer or fall but in the rest of the Bible refers to the Israelite worship calendar. Thus the “seasons” are “festivals” (cf. TEV/JB/REB/etc) like passover, booths, etc. So from the first page of the Bible the reader is taken into not simply a debate about origins but worship.
So let’s take a look at the text. In Gen 1:14, “lights” translates ma’owr. The word is used of heavenly lights in Gen 1:14-16 and in Psa 74:16 and 136:7 and Eze 32:8, which are echoing the Genesis verses.
With one exception, the word is only found in Gen 1:14-16 and in the Law of Moses: Exo 25:6, 27:20, 35:8, 14, 28, 39:37, Lev 24:2, Num 4:9, 16, all speaking of the lights in the tabernacle, particularly the seven candles on the lampstand.
The only other OT use of the Hebrew word is Pro 15:30 (“the light of the eyes”).
The word for “seasons” in Gen 1:14 is mow’ed. It’s translated as “sacred seasons” (CEB), “religious festivals” (GWN), and “sacred times” (NIV).
The HALOT lexicon, the premier OT Hebrew lexicon, doesn’t even offer “seasons” as a possible meaning. In fact, the word’s primary meaning is “assembly” or “time for an assembly” or “place for assembly. The word is used about 140 times in the Torah to refer to the tabernacle.
Hence, “season” really means “appointed time to assemble [at the tabernacle]” for a festival. God made the stars and moon and sun to mark, not the four seasons, but the tabernacle (and later, the Temple) festivals. (Ray Vander Laan fans take note.)
After all, in Egypt, the Sinai peninsula, and Israel, they don’t have the four seasons as we experience them in the US. The seasons are more along the lines of wet and dry periods, that is, periods for planting and harvesting — the rhythm of agriculture that God built into the Jewish calendar of festivals.
Long before the tabernacle, people were living in the Middle East according the “seasons,” that is, based on the times to plant and to harvest, and it’s entirely possible that some of the festivals God describes in the Torah pre-existed the Exodus in some similar form. Harvest festivals are common everywhere people live by farming.
And so it’s hard to escape the conclusion that, as Josephus explained, the tabernacle was designed as a microcosm of the Creation. In fact, you could make a case that Gen 1 was written to fit hand-in-glove with the description of the tabernacle in Exodus. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The two books have the same author.
While we’re on the subject, I ran across this paper by Margaret Barker, Scottish Journal of Theology 51.1 (1998):
Josephus says [the veil of the Temple] was a Babylonian tapestry (War 5.212), a curtain embroidered with a panorama of the heavens (War 5.213). The veil separated the holy place from the most holy (Exod.26.33), screening from view the ark and the cherubim or, in the temple, the ark and the chariot throne. …
Josephus, who was himself a priest (Life 1), says that the tabernacle was a microcosm of the creation, divided into three parts: the outer parts represented the sea and the land but ‘…the third part thereof… to which the priests were not admitted, is, as it were, a heaven peculiar to God’ (Ant.3.181). Thus the veil which screened the holy of holies was also the boundary between earth and heaven. Josephus was writing at the very end of the second temple period, but texts such as Psalm 11 ‘The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven’, suggest that the holy of holies was thought to be heaven at a much earlier period, and the LXX of Isaiah 6, which differs from the Hebrew, implies that the hekhal was the earth. The Glory of the LORD filled the house in v.1, and the seraphim sang that the Glory filled the earth, v.3. …
Those who entered the holy of holies were entering heaven. When Solomon became king, the Chronicler recorded that ‘he sat on the throne of the LORD and all the assembly bowed their heads and worshipped the LORD and the king’ (1 Chron.29.20-23). Something similar was said of Moses in later texts when much of the old royal ideology was transferred to him: Ezekiel the tragedian described how a heavenly figure on the summit of Sinai stood up from his throne and gave it to Moses (Eusebius Preparation of the Gospel 9.29); Philo said that Moses ‘entered into the darkness where God was and was named god and king of the whole nation’ (Moses 1.158). For both Ezekiel and Philo, this transformation took place on Sinai, one of the many examples of Moses sharing the royal traditions associated with the holy of holies, but there can be no question of this being Hellenistic syncretism as is usually suggested. Acquiring the titles and status of God and King must be related in some way to the Chronicler’s description of Solomon’s coronation, and to the psalmist’s description of the procession into the sanctuary, when he saw his God and his King (Ps.68.24).
Other texts imply that a transformation took place in the holy of holies: those who entered heaven became divine. Philo said that when the high priest entered the holy of holies he was not a man. We read Leviticus 16.17 as: ‘there shall be no man in the holy of holies when he (Aaron) enters to make atonement…’ but Philo translated it: ‘When the high priest enters the Holy of Holies he shall not be a man’, showing, he said, that the high priest was more than human (On Dreams 2.189). In 2 Enoch there is an account of how Enoch was taken to stand before the heavenly throne. Michael was told to remove his earthly clothing, anoint him and give him the garments of glory; ‘I looked at myself, and I had become like one of his glorious ones’ (2 En.22.10). This bears a strong resemblance Zechariah 3, where Joshua the high priest stands before the LORD, is vested with new garments and given the right to stand in the presence of the LORD. As late as the sixth century Cosmas Indicopleustes, an Egyptian Christian, wrote a great deal about the temple and its symbolism, and we shall have cause to consider his evidence at several points. Of Moses he said: the LORD hid him in a cloud on Sinai, took him out of all earthly things ‘and begot him anew like a child in the womb’ (CosmasChristian Topography 3.13), clearly the same as Psalm 2; ‘I have set my king on Zion… You are my son. Today I have begotten you’ but using the imagery of reclothing with heavenly garments, rather than rebirth.
The best known example of such a transformation text is in the Book of Revelation. The vision begins in the hekhal where John sees the heavenly figure and the seven lamps, originally the menorah. Then he is invited to enter the holy of holies; a voice says: ‘Come up hither and I will show you what must take place after this’ (Rev.4.1). He sees the throne and the Lamb approaching the throne. Once the Lamb has taken the scroll he is worshipped by the elders in the sanctuary and then becomes identified with the One on the throne. Throughout the remainder of the book, the One on the throne and the Lamb are treated as one, with singular verbs. The Lamb has become divine.
The veil was the boundary between earth and heaven. Josephus and Philo agree that the four different colours from which it as woven represented the four elements from which the world was created: earth, air, fire and water. The scarlet thread represented fire, the blue was the air, the purple was the sea, that is, water, and the white linen represented the earth in which the flax had grown (War 5.212-213). In other words, the veil represented matter. The high priest wore a vestment woven from the same four colours and this is why the Book of Wisdom says that Aaron’s robe represented the whole world (Wisd.18.24; also Philo Laws 1.84; Flight 110). He took off this robe when he entered the holy of holies because the robe was the visible form of one who entered the holy of holies. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, which explores the theme of Jesus as the high priest, there is the otherwise enigmatic line: his flesh was the veil of the temple (Heb.10.20). In other words, the veil was matter which made visible whatever passed through it from the world beyond the veil. Those who shed the earthly garments, on the other side of the veil, were robed in garments of glory. In other words, they became divine. …
The holy of holies was also beyond time. To enter was to enter eternity. Philo says that the veil ‘separated the changeable parts of the world… from the heavenly region which is without transient events and is unchanging (Questions on Exodus 2.91). …
Those who passed through the veil also passed into the first day of creation as the building of the tabernacle was said to correspond to the days of creation. Again, the evidence for this belief is relatively late, but given the cultural context of the first temple, it is not unlikely. Solomon’s kingdom was surrounded by cultures which linked the story of creation to the erection of temples, and there are canonical texts which could be explained in this way. Various attempts have been made to relate the commands given to Moses and the account of the seven days in Genesis 1. One was that the gathering of the waters on the third day corresponded to making the bronze sea, and making the great lights on the fourth day corresponded to making the menorah. The birds of the fifth day corresponded to the cherubim with their wings and the man on the sixth day was the high priest. It is more satisfactory to keep the traditional order for creating the tabernacle: tent, veil, table, lamp, and link this to the first four days of creation. The earth and seeds of the third day would then be represented by the table where bread was offered and the great lights of the fourth day by the menorah.
There is no disagreement, however, over the correspondence between the first and second days of creation and the first two stages of making the tabernacle. The LORD told Moses to begin erecting the tabernacle on the first day of the first month (Exod.40.2). In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and on the first day Moses set up the outer covering, the basic structure of the tabernacle (Exod.40.17-19). On the second day, God made the firmament and called it heaven and on the second day Moses set up the veil and screened the ark (Exod.40.20-21). This implies that those who passed beyond the veil and entered the sanctuary entered the first day of creation, a curious idea, but one for which there is much evidence, and one that explains how the firmament separating heaven and earth was also the temple veil on which history was depicted in the Apocalypse of Abraham: ‘Look now beneath your feet at the firmament and understand the creation … and the creatures that are in it and the age prepared after it…’ (Ap.Abr.21.1-2) …
The other two aspects of the tradition, that the temple was a microcosm of the creation and that its construction corresponded to the days of creation suggest that what Moses saw on Sinai was not a heavenly tabernacle but rather, a vision of the creation which the tabernacle was to replicate. This would account for Philo’s observation that the tabernacle ‘was a copy of the world, the universal temple which existed before the holy temple existed’ (Questions on Exodus 2.85), and for the curious line in the Letter to the Hebrews, that the temple on earth ‘is a shadow and copy of heavenly things’ (Heb.8.5). A heavenly temple is not mentioned in this verse even though some translations insert the word temple at this point, e.g. R.S.V.
Barker’s 1998 paper is fascinating and anticipates Walton and Wright. It’s a good read even though it presumes a late date for much of the OT.
As always, Bobby’s insights are illuminating and seasonable.