By Tirzah Frank, Assistant Editor
As noted in my previous posts on Rosh-HaShanah and Yom Kippur, I’m an editorial assistant at Hendrickson Publishers, and I’m reading through (and reporting on) The Complete Jewish Study Bible’s topical articles about the three upcoming Jewish holidays. Sukkot is the third and final holiday. Its practice is interesting and fun to read about, but the most exciting information was in the third topical article: “New Testament Observance.” I have three main takeaways:
- Jesus Understood the Importance of Timing
This article discusses an instance in John 7 where Jesus’s behavior was directly related to Sukkot. The CJSB explains it better, but basically, by Jesus’s time Sukkot had come to involve pouring water over the altar in the Temple. The water symbolized the Holy Spirit, which the people hoped the Messiah would bring, and Jesus chose the day of that outpouring to speak of himself as the bringer of living water, and thus the Messiah.
- Cultural Context Is Crucial to a Better Understanding of Jesus
It seems like an overstatement to say that learning this made me newly impressed by Jesus, but it did make me realize just how well he knew what he was doing, how in tune he was with his culture and with the best way to make his point clear at any given time. As a modern reader without a lot of background knowledge of Judaism, I feel like I could have gone my whole life without making this connection, never fully understanding what Jesus’s actions meant. So the article filled me with a mix of relief and fear: I was glad to learn about the layer of meaning I hadn’t noticed, but concerned about how many other things I’m missing when I read the Bible.
- Knowledge of Jewish Holidays Is a Great Avenue into Cultural Context
Throughout the process of reading about these holidays, it’s become clear to me that Jewish history and practice, especially regarding holidays, has more direct relevance to modern Christianity than I thought. Everyone who understands the customs of Sukkot would understand the multilayered significance of Jesus’s words in that specific time and place, but the average Christian alive today (myself included) is so out of touch with Jesus’s cultural context that she or he might never figure it out. Unfortunately, most of us can’t devote our lives to researching the connotations of every event and speech in the Bible, and in the face of that reality, I can only be grateful for the CJSB.
For more information about The Complete Jewish Study Bible, check out this video explaining what it is, this blog post about the CJSB’s beautiful cover design, or this review of the Bible! Visit our website for a full description as well.