Those of us around the world who were interested and fortunate enough to have a clear sky were treated to a rare heavenly treat on Sunday evening or Monday morning — a total eclipse blood supermoon that occurred on the first day of Sukkot. It was the fourth total lunar eclipse in a tetrad, that is, a series of four total eclipses that took place six months apart with no partial eclipses in between. The first three total lunar eclipses of the tetrad also fell on Jewish holidays: Passover on April 15, 2014; Sukkot on October 8, 2014; and Passover again on April 4, 2015.
Rayleigh scattering is the well-understood and common phenomenon that produces both red moons and red sunsets on earth. Compared to sunsets, the sun’s direct rays overhead at noon have fewer nitrogen and oxygen particles to pass through to earth and so appear mostly yellow. However, the greater distance that the sun’s rays travel from the horizon at the end of the day results in the scattering of greater amounts of yellow light. This allows the light reaching our eyes at sunset to be more concentrated with red and orange frequencies.
Similarly, as the earth blocks most of the sun’s light striking the moon during a total lunar eclipse, the longer red wavelengths pass through the earth’s atmosphere around its edges and are projected onto the moon. Any astronaut standing on the moon and looking back at the earth would see the circumference of the earth appearing as a ring of fire. He literally would see all sunrises and sunsets around the earth at once.
Lunar tetrads are relatively common. There were five in the twentieth century and there will be eight in the twenty-first century. So why do certain evangelical prophecy buffs see such celestial events as signs of the imminent end of the world? Why should it be of even remote interest to us? Unfortunately, they include Jews and Israel in their prophecies.
Certain evangelical prophecy aficionados claim that blood moons are fulfillment of a prophecy in the Tanakh, Joel 3:4, that predicts that the moon will turn to blood before the great and terrible day of HaShem. (הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ יֵהָפֵךְ לְחֹשֶׁךְ וְהַיָּרֵחַ לְדָם לִפְנֵי בּוֹא יוֹם יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא.) One prophecy expert goes so far as to claim that a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians must be imminent because of this tetrad. Huh? Contrary to his prediction, we appear farther from a final, comprehensive settlement than at any other time.
Ever since the BDS movement began to pick up steam in 2005, the release of the 2009 Goldstone Report, and the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, Israel has been fighting a desperate hasbara battle for hearts and minds in the international community. It felt really lonely for Israelis when it seemed the world was against us. We were desperate for friends.
Into this vacuum stepped many members of the American evangelical community who today are among Israel’s staunchest supporters. In recognition of the important support evangelicals provide Israel, any major evangelical event in the Jewish state usually is attended by either the prime minister or president. So how do we demonstrate our appreciation for their support of Israel without being caught up in their religious views?
It should be acknowledged that not all Christian Zionists are evangelicals and not all evangelicals are Christian Zionists. Certainly not all evangelicals or Christian Zionists believe in biblical prophecy, but according to a 2013 OmniPoll survey, 77 percent of evangelicals believe that we are living in biblical end times. Furthermore, 41 percent of U.S. adults and 54 percent of Protestants hold similar views.
Prophecy can be very risky business. Yet some people cannot resist claiming that they can foretell the future. People who become famous prophets are typically so vague that if an event resembling their prophecy actually occurs, they get credit, but if it doesn’t happen as predicted, it obviously wasn’t the event they were predicting or the fulfillment would have been an exact match. And, since prophecy has to be interpreted, how can we know which interpretation is correct until the fulfillment actually occurs? Then it is too late to do anything about it.
In their belief, such a sign in the heavens portends a future calamitous event. Yet they seem to get the cart before the horse in their examples of previous tetrad series. For example, some have pointed out that the Spanish Inquisition took place “before” the tetrad of 1493-1494, not after. They say the tetrad of 1949-50 occurred just “after” the founding of Israel, not before. They do say that the tetrad of 1967-1968 occurred “during” the Six-Day War when Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem, but how did the tetrad foretell the war if it was already underway?
Jews seem better than evangelicals at linking Jewish calendar events with calamitous events. We all know that bad things tend to happen to us on Tisha B’Av, such as the destruction of both of our Temples. The destruction of Bar Kochba’s last fortress, Betar, by the Romans also happened on the Tisha B’Av. We were expelled from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492 on Tisha B’Av. World War I began, Himmler presented his plan to the Nazi party for the “Final Solution” to the Jewish problem, and the Nazis started deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto on, you guessed it, Tisha B’Av. So Jews can be forgiven for being concerned that future bad events for Jews might happen on Tisha B’Av. That’s why we fast on Tisha B’Av.
Sukkot is a joyous family event for us. So why crash our annual party with prophecies concerning the end of the world? The Siddur, the Jewish prayerbook, refers to Sukkot as the “season of our rejoicing,” apparently because the festival was fixed to coincide with the final harvest of the year “after the ingathering from your threshing floor and your wine press.” (Deuteronomy 16:13) (חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בְּאָסְפְּךָ מִגָּרְנְךָ וּמִיִּקְבֶךָ.) We are naturally more thankful and grateful when our needs have been met.
The prediction that got my attention was when NASA announced that, after scanning the heavens, there are no extinction-level asteroids headed our way for the next hundred years that they have found. So September 28, 2015 passed without an ELE, that is, an extinction level event. If an earth-crushing asteroid does appear in the lens of their big telescopes over the next several decades, we’ll be told about the exact time and place of impact several days, if not months in advance. That would be a prediction that we could act on. That would be prediction news we could use.
Yoeli’s Mandate: Leave your mark, make a difference for the good, and do your part to make sure that they never again devour Jacob or make his habitation waste.
You can email Eli Kaufman at email@example.com