Ezekiel: From Sheep to Spaceships
Just prior to Passover, the parsha of HaChodesh (החדש) is read in temple on Shabbat morning. It is an interesting reading in that it covers both the establishment of the Jewish (lunar) calendar and then goes into detail about the Paschal Offering and preparations for Passover. The sages also attached a passage from the Book of Ezekiel about future Paschal Offerings. Most of you have already made the culinary connection for this article, correctly deducing that lamb will be the main course. But after reading a few of my articles, you may be asking yourself, what clandestine slant does Chef Lon have up his apron, and where does the calendar fit into a story about food? By the time you get to the recipe I will have answered all of these questions, including the contemplation of things that are out of this world.
Shabbat HaChodesh and the Paschal Lamb
Rosh Chodesh marks the beginning of every new month of the Jewish calendar. It is designated as a minor holiday, and there are only a few special observances followed:
- a few extra words added to the Amidah (a silent prayer recited daily)
- an extra Torah parsha (relating to Rosh Chodesh) is added to the service
- a short form for the prayer of thanksgiving (hallel) is recited, and
- an extra stanza is added to the birkat hamazon (grace after meals).
Although Rosh Chodesh is celebrated each month, the Shabbat prior to the beginning of the calendar New Year [the Jewish month of Nisan (נִיסָן)] is given its own special name, Shabbat HaChodesh (שבת החודש). [Fast Fact: There are actually four (4) New Years in Judaism: 1st of Nissan, Rosh Hashana, Tu B’Shvat, and 1st of Elu.] This day may be celebrated on the 1st of Nisan, even if that day falls out on Shabbat. During this Shabbat, there is a special Torah reading that provides guidance on the celebration of the Hebrew’s exodus from Egypt, including what everyone needs to know about the paschal lamb. It is commanded for the Jewish people to eat the paschal lamb, also known as the sacrificial lamb, on Passover. But, there are also a few other rules and restrictions placed on it is to be cooked, served, and eaten, such as: it must be roasted and cannot be boiled or eaten raw (Exodus 12:8–12:9), you have eat all of it on that evening (Exodus: 12;10), restrictions on who cannot eat it (Exodus 12:43–12:45), the bones of the lamb are not to be broken (Exodus 12:46), and the meat cannot be taken out of the house (Exodus 12:46). There is even a rule that it must be eaten will unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8).
Since the ritual of actually sacrificing a live lamb is no longer observed due to the absence of the Holy Temple (and modern regulations), it has been memorialized by placing a roasted shank bone of a lamb onto the Seder plate (a plate of symbolic items displayed during the Passover meal/celebration). To some it represents the sacrifice, to others it represents the blood of the lamb that was placed above the doors of the Jews in Egypt so that the Angel of Death did not enter their doorways.
Lamb vs. Sheep
About 10,500 years ago, people living in the Fertile Crescent learned that sheep could be domesticated. Our ancestors did so for two main reasons: their wool could be used for clothing, and they were a good source of nourishment. By the middle ages, some farmers learned that there can be a profit to be made from herding them, since there were a myriad of items that were associated with raising them (milk (including butter and cheese), wool (clothing), skins (parchment), etc. They eventually made their way to the Americas in 1519 (on the ship of a Spanish explorer named Cortez).
Sheep are part of the subspecies bovidae, which include goats, antelope, oxen, and cattle. Sheep have been their own separate species for more than 2.5 million years. The modern use of the word, lamb was derived from the German lambiz. The word lamb is usually used interchangeably in the United States with the word sheep for the living animal, although known as sheep in most other parts of the world. Nonetheless, there is a definitive distinction when it comes to the age of the animal in regards to its meat. If the animal is slaughtered before it is a year old, the meat is called “lamb,” and is more desirable to consumers (the meat is usually tenderer). Meat of the animal slaughtered after a year, is usually referred to as mutton. Lambs intended for slaughter before their first birthday are usually given a high fat diet, while those intended to live into their later years are provided with grass and legumes.
The Prophet Ezekiel
The name of the person that wrote the Haftorah (the reading that accompanies the Torah portion) is Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a prophet that lived from approximately 622 BCE to 570 BCE. He prophesized about many things, including: the destruction of Jerusalem; its reclamation by the Hebrews; and the rebuilding of a third Holy Temple. His discussion of ritual sacrifices are read on Shabbat Hachodsh for its obvious correlation with the Passover sacrifice/offering as discussed above. However, Ezekiel is one of my favorite prophets because he led an interesting life, and has some unique visions.
Ezekiel’s Alien Encounter
In one of his other writings, he detailed the visions he saw, including what he had interpreted as being angels or G-d. However, some people had read, and interpreted his visions in a more modern sense, claiming that what Ezekiel had actually seen were aliens. This theory came to a head in 1974 when the chief of systems layout branch at NASA (Josef F. Blumrich) began performing research for a book with the intent of disproving this theory. However, after he began his research, he had come to the re-evaluating his hypothesis, and published a book trying to provide evidence that Ezekiel had, in fact, experienced an extraterrestrial encounter. Blumrich used his knowledge of engineering to draw pictures of what may have been a spaceship in his book, and had patented a specialized wheel (that moved in multiple directions) based on his research.
However, Blumrich does have his critics, some noting that he took artistic license with the translation of the passages, and others stating that he said a lot of fancy things and drew a lot of pretty pictures to impress people, but did not prove anything.
But one must observe the passage ourselves to see if there may be any legitimacy to the theory. But when you read the passages, try to imagine yourself in the shoes of someone from the 6th century BCE, whom has never seen (or imagined) a spaceship, or any kind of technology before. Ezekiel 1:4 describes what it looked like when it appeared:
And I looked, and, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with a fire flashing up, so that a brightness was round about it; and out of the midst thereof as the colour of electrum, out of the midst of the fire.
The beings are described in Ezekiel 1:13 as:
As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like coals of fire, burning like the appearance of torches; it flashed up and down among the living creatures; and there was brightness to the fire, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
Ezekiel’s when is described in paragraphs 16 through 19 as:
The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl; and they four had one likeness; and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went toward their four sides; they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were high and they were dreadful; and they four had their rings full of eyes round about. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went hard by them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the bottom, the wheels were lifted up.
Lastly, from Ezekiel 1:24, he writes about how it sounded:
And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings like the noise of great waters, like the voice of the Almighty, a noise of tumult like the noise of a host; when they stood, they let down their wings.
When you read it from the perception of someone living over 2500 years ago, one can almost imagine that Ezekiel was describing an encounter with an alien spaceship. I also implore you to read the entire text of Ezekiel, or at least the first few chapters to get a full sense of his writings (see http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt1201.htm for both the Hebrew and English translation).
There are other passages throughout Hebrew text that may speak of alien life. For instance, Genesis 6:4 discusses the “Nephilim” (נְפִילִים) sometimes interpreted as s, but could also be interpreted as “fallen ones,” with the ancient meaning of fallen from grace, or a modern spin as having fallen from the skies. Note that many modern text just leave the word untranslated since it has a different meaning to ever person that reads it:
The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.
I am not trying to argue one way or the other, but only shining some light on how certain passages within ancient text might be interpreted differently, depending on the angle you look at it. It is clear that alien life is not directly mentioned in the Torah, or in any of the ancient texts for all the major religions. However, does that necessarily mean that the Jewish religion does not allow for such thoughts to exist?
Does Judaism Allow a Belief in Extraterrestrial Life?
In my research I found that most sources state that the discovery of alien life would be within the allowances of Jewish laws and teaching. Rabbinical scholars have been discussing the possibility for centuries, such as Rabbi Chasdi Crescas of Spain, who stated in the 14th century that the Torah allows for the possibility of alien life.
The Talmud in (Moed Katan 16a) provides that Meroz (a place some scholars believe to be a city that existed in Galilee), referred to in Judges 5:23 could be a distant star or planet in which its inhabitants did not come to help the Israelites. The Zohar (Tikunei Zohar) also provides for the possibility of other worlds (through the interpretation of “worlds without number” in Song of Songs 6:8). The Zohar also interprets a passage in Isaiah 40:31, “They shall mount up with wings as eagles,” as providing the means for the tzaddikim to travel around the universe (maybe a prophesy of space travel), but that would mean that worlds exist for which they can travel to. The one argument that I did constantly read was that the reason to preclude the existence of alien life would be to limit the power of G-d.
Looking Towards the Stars
Without getting into the question of whether astrology is “kosher,” in Judaism, rabbis and religious scholars have been looking towards the skies for centuries. Jews, like almost every culture has looked at the stars and the images that are formed by connecting these points of light in the tapestry of the night sky. These images are known as constellations. Although constellations are not referred to in the five books of the Torah, it is mentioned in other religious texts.
Although a few constellations are mentioned such as Pleiades/Taurus, Ursa Major and Minor, etc., I would like to forward your attention to a constellation that most laypersons without any astronomical education can find . . . Orion, which distinguishes itself with three bright stars in a row, known as Orion’s Belt. The constellation is referred to as Kesil (כְּסִיל) in the ancient texts, and is referenced to in Amos 5:8:
Him that maketh the Pleiades and Orion, and bringeth on the shadow of death in the morning, and darkeneth the day into night; that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth; the LORD is His name;
In Job 9:9
Who maketh the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the chambers of the south.
And in Job 38:1
Canst thou bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?
When looking at Orion’s Belt, if you looked at the star on the right with a semi-high powered telescope, one would see what looks like another smaller star. However, when viewed under one of the mega-telescopes used by scientists and NASA, one would observe that that is not another star, but the closest galaxy to us, named the Andromeda Galaxy. Is it a coincidence that the constellation which includes the nearest galaxy is mentioned so many times in biblical text? To stretch this even further, Kesil could also be interpreted as “giant,” which might have described the visitors from such a distant galaxy (and also ties into the “nephelim” I had discussed above.
If we look at the passage in Amos 5:8 again, it mentions that Orion was also created by G-d, but it does not state that “life” was not also created there as well.
Just something to ponder . . . . .
For this month, I am providing an out of this world recipe for Roasted Lamb and Potatoes:
1 5 lb leg lamb (tied)
3 cloves garlic (chopped)
1/2 tsp red pepper
2 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp black pepper
4 tbs olive oil
½ cup water
6 lg potatoes (cubed)
- Heat oven to 400 degrees
- Place meat into pan; Score the meat & insert ½ of garlic into slashes
- Season with salt, both peppers, sugar, and remainder of garlic; cover with oil
- Bake 1 hour; add potatoes
- Bake an additional 50 minutes (or until desired doneness)
Keep on cookin’
- “Aliens in the Bible” (Open Bible) @ http://www.openbible.info/topics/aliens
- “Aliens in the Bible” @ http://www.theforbiddenknowledge.com/hardtruth/aliensinbible.htm
- “Aliens in the Torah”@ http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3012/jewish/Is-There-Life-on-Other-Planets.htm
- “Difference Between Lambs and Sheep” (DifferenceBetween.net) @ http://www.differencebetween.net/science/nature/difference-between-lambs-and-sheep/
- “Eating Lamb on Passover” (About.com) @ http://judaism.about.com/library/3_askrabbi_c/bl_pesachlamb.htm
- “Extraterrestrial Life” (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan: Torah.org) @ http://www.torah.org/features/secondlook/extraterrestrial.html
- “Hag HaPesach” (My Jewish Learning) @ http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Passover/History/Biblical.shtml
- “Hebrew Astronomy” (Wikipedia.org) @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_astronomy
- “History of Sheep” (woolandsheep.com) http://www.woolandsheep.com/?q=node/44
- “How and When Sheet Were First Domesticated” (K. Kris Hirst: About.com) @ http://archaeology.about.com/od/shthroughsiterms/qt/Sheep-History.htm
- “How Many Jewish New Years?” (Michele Alperin: MyJewishLearning) @ http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/how-many-jewish-new-years/
- “Is There Life On Other Plantets? (Tzvi Freeman: Chabad.org) @ http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3012/jewish/Is-There-Life-on-Other-Planets.htm
- “Lamb” (Chabad.org) @ http://www.chabad.org/kids/article_cdo/aid/114766/jewish/Lamb.htm
- “Lamb History: History of Lamb as a Food” (Peggy Trowbridge: Filippone: About.com) @ http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/lambhistory.htm
- “Lunar Files” (Chabad.org) @ http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1209/jewish/The-Lunar-Files.htm
- “Nephelim” @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nephilim
- “Orion” (Jewish Encyclopedia) @ http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11767-orion
- “Parsha HaChodesh” (Chabad.org) @
- “Pascal Lamb” (Jewish Treats) @ http://www.jewishtreats.org/2009/03/paschal-lamb-unique-commandment.html
- “Passover Sacrifice” (Jewish Encyclopedia) @ http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11934-passover-sacrifice
- “Rosh Chodesh” (My Jewish Learning) @ http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/rosh-chodesh/
- “Shabbat HaChodesh: Reconstructing Passover” (Rabbi Mordechai Liebling: Dorscheitzedek.org: 2011) @ http://dorsheitzedek.org/writings/shabbat-hachodesh-reconstructing-passover
- “The Shank Bone” (Chabad.org) @ http://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/1999/jewish/The-Shank-Bone.htm
- “Sheep in religion and mythology” @ http://www.think-differently-about-sheep.com/Sheep%20_In_Religion_and_mythology.htm
- “Sheep vs. lamb” @ http://www.differencebetween.net/science/nature/difference-between-lambs-and-sheep/
- “Spaceships of Ezekiel” (Wikipedia.org) @ –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Spaceships_of_Ezekiel
- “What Does Judaism Say About the Discovery of Aliens?” (Rabbi Aron Moss: Chabad.org) @ http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/160985/jewish/What-does-Judaism-say-about-the-Discovery-of-Aliens.htm