What did God think of that blood moon?

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The phases of the lunar eclipse.
Credit: Gail Johnson, via Shutterstock

The phases of the lunar eclipse. Credit: Gail Johnson, via Shutterstock

The phases of the lunar eclipse. Credit: Gail Johnson, via Shutterstock

The phases of the lunar eclipse.
Credit: Gail Johnson, via Shutterstock

If you believe Pastor John Hagee, as well as countless other evangelicals, Sunday evening’s blood moon/full moon/lunar eclipse is a sign of, well, apocalypse now — especially in the wake of the Iran deal.

I am going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that Hagee’s bizarre theory is wrong — that the world is not coming to an end, and that I reject any kind of apocalyptic thinking.

Even though there are some fantastic photos of that blood moon in Jerusalem.

Even though the blood moon occurred on the eve of the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, when the moon is full.

And even though the prophet Joel preached: “Before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes, I will set portents in the sky and on earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke; the sun shall turn into darkness, and the moon into blood.” (Joel 3:3-4)

What would a “faithful” response be to this past Sunday’s lunar event?

Jews, and others — pay attention.

The Jews are a lunar people. Both Ur, Abraham’s birthplace (in modern-day Iraq), and the place where his family migrated to — Haran (in modern-day Turkey) — were centers of a moon-based religion. The Yazidis have elements of their religious culture that can be traced back to that ancient faith.

Jacob’s uncle and father-in-law, Laban, lived in Haran. His name seems to be related to the word levanah, meaning “moon.” Likewise, Abraham’s father, Terach, has a name that reminds us of the Hebrew word yerach, which means moon.

It was natural, then, for ancient Judaism to base its way of reckoning time on the phases of the moon. Like the moon, the Jewish people is constantly going through various historical and spiritual cycles: times of creativity, and times of stagnation; times of openness to the world and its wisdom, and times of insularity.

My colleague and friend, Rabbi James Stone Goodman, reminded me that Rosh Ha Shanah — the Jewish New Year — happens when the moon is barely discernible.

And yet, even when the evening sky yields very little light, the Jew has the profound courage to proclaim a new year.

The moon was the first thing in the universe to protest. An ancient legend imagines that when God created the sun and the moon on the fourth day of creation, the moon protested that the sun had much more light. God consoled the moon, saying that in the future, its light would be as great as the sun. The moon was still not satisfied. The moon’s ongoing protest did not make God very happy. As Norma Rae, in the movie of the same name, said: “Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch.”

But that legend is not merely a sweet story. We can imagine that it provided comfort to the Jews, a powerless people, reminding them that their relative powerlessness, i.e., being a lesser light, would not last forever.

The moon is smaller than the sun; the Jews have been smaller than other nations. But this has been a blessing. The Jews have been a minority, and minorities don’t get to take themselves for granted.

They are forced to think.

God is in eclipse as well.  It’s not just the moon that goes into eclipse. This is one of the most beautiful moves in all theology — God is also sometimes in eclipse.

The great German-Jewish theologian, Martin Buber. wrote a book on that theme. The idea is biblical, hearkening back to the not on that sometimes, God’s face is hidden.

But, for me — and I suspect for many — this idea of the divine presence in eclipse can have powerful meaning. Just because we cannot sense God’s presence does not mean that God is not there.

Recall the famous, sad inscription, sometimes said to have been found on a wall in the Auschwitz concentration camp (others say: on a wall in a cellar in Cologne, Germany): “I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent.”

Pay attention to everyday miracles. When I was outside on the beach on Sunday night, looking at the moon, a teenaged boy walked boy. He was listening to music, and totally oblivious to what was going on in the heavens.

I stopped him. “Hey, look at the moon!” I said.

Which he did, and to which he instantly responded: “Holy s——-, is that dangerous?”

(See apocalyptic fantasies, above).

I toyed with telling him that, in fact, the Venusians were in the process of completing their utter conquest of the entire solar system, that earth was about to be either destroyed or become a colony of Venus, and that, therefore, he need not do his homework — but that would have been cruel.

I did, however, give him a mini-lecture on paying attention. “Check it out,” I told him. “There isn’t going to be another one like it until 2033. Stuff like this doesn’t happen all the time.”

My young friend will be, oh, about 36 years old when that amazing sight comes around again. Many of us will still be around; others, won’t.

It’s about paying attention.. Minor miracles like that don’t happen all the time, you know.


  • Both Harran and the birthplace of Abraham are in Turkey. Urfa, Turkey is the birthplace of Abraham. Harran you can simply Google.

  • thetentman

    What a joke. It is the 21st century and it is time to drop the Bronze age superstitions for reality. You do know that EVERY prediction for the end of the world or end of times has been wrong! Logical fallacies abound and yet the weak still cling to religion like a pacifier. Instead try science, reason and perhaps humility. Reality is cool, you should try it. Stop drinking the Kool-Aid.

  • Pingback: Apocalypse Now? | hartford faith & values()

  • CB500

    Your end of the world is coming sooner than you think, guaranteed. It is called DEATH. What is cool about that reality? What brilliant solution do you have for DEATH? You only offer a hopeless nothing. Thanks for nothing.

  • Bernardo

    “Was there a religious message in that blood moon?” No and there never will be!!

  • thetentman

    nothing is better than self delusion and lies

  • Bernardo

    Time for some reality: And the latest astrophysics view of life after death? Tis simply recycling of your body into future bodies and things in a never -ending cycle of birth, death and renewal. No heaven, no hell, no purgatory, no limbo just the beauty of Mother Nature in recycling mode. Here today, gone tomorrow eventually returning as something different, non-animated or animated in the chaotic, stochastic life of the expanding or shrinking universe..

    Have a beautiful day wherever you are!!

  • jc boswell

    YHVH is not a liar, the near complete destruction of all on earth. cannot happen until the arrival of Noach again here in, THEIR Giving only TheTorah.

    and since this is only, the evening dawn of the sixth to seventh day again. their, is over 1000 years before the flood again. after G-D returns, from the day of rest. and ELOHEEM has not even yet appointed adam and his mate in charge of it all for the day of rest to begin.

    then the world after the day one flood, can struggle all over again. having made no progress with G-D here in TheTorah. beginning with Noach, Avraham, Yeetzak, Yaachov, Moshe, Adam, to adam and his mate all over again. because of this whole world as THEIR enemies, forever claiming they are not here in This Same Story from G-D again and again. as G-D continues to speak to all of THEIR enemies, with pestilence, plague, and famine.

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    Superstition is harder to eliminate than a red wine stain on a new carpet.

    Here we are, as you say, in the 21st century, and hundreds of millions of people (at least) are jumping around like scared rabbits over a lunar tetrad, just as they would have done thousands of years ago.

  • jc boswell

    this always happens, at the exact same time here in TheTorah. just prior to the appointment of adam and his mate as HaMosheeach for the day of rest.

    so the whole world could not be, ever more wrong with their delusions of not being here in TheTorah from G-D. because the whole world has been paying attention to other not here in TheTorah g-ds instead of TheG-D of Only TheTorah.

    where even the occult religious, enemies of G-D are all giving their support of the flood again with Noach. in this world again here in TheTorah, all following after the subtle talking beasts of the fields again. in their paying no attention to I-SHALL BE again giving TheTorah again to all of THEIR enemies.

    for once again, there is nobody here in TheTorah with the arrival of adam and his mate from Adam again.

  • jc boswell

    I-SHALL BE, has only promised THEIR Giving of only TheTorah. for thousands and thousands of third and fourth giving’s of The Whole Torah previously. and so when this, present Torah cycle has finished with the world’s failure to be mentally all here in IT again. ELOHEEM shall only give, TheTorah again, with or without all of the exact same you and your exact same grandmother again.

    and this world’s, disbelief of being here in TheTorah forever today. shall only result in eternal hell and death with pestilence, plague, and famine as promised, to all of you as THEIR enemies. as all on earth, give their support to the diverse enemies of G-D, and not to G-D only here in TheTorah cycle again.

  • Phil Esteen

    Is there anyone on Earth more vain, more selfish, more misguided than a so-called religious person who thinks his time on Earth is so precious that God chose THIS TIME for the apocalypse.

    What vanity!

    Simply read the book “Apocalypse,” if want to enjoy a hilarious recap of all the liars, fakes and fools who claim to know the day and hour.

  • Bernardo

    Obviously, the rabbi missed the following:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    “New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob·a·bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation. “

  • David Ridge

    Oh, come on people, as I have noted elsewhere: there are plenty of passages in the Old Testament that have as yet to be fulfilled. Although the blood moon does play an integral part of the prophetic puzzle, there are also inclusively other details in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. There are other details scattered in the letters of The Apostles and again inclusively, The Apocalypse. And, again I remind you all, no date or time setting.

  • Hagee makes me want to pull my hair out. There’s a whole cult that can’t seem to make up their minds. They pine for the day of Christs return & then they freak out every few years that He is coming.
    Don’t mistake the sciences with our spiritual ones. That’s comparing pinecones to apples. Some of us can see that the rib of the eighth day creation Adam could very well have meant the arcs of the human gennome. Even Hagees father was amazed in his time news would travel around the world almost instantly as was spoken of in the bible. For him it was newspapers, radio, for us it’s twitter, the net. Science & the working of God are’nt mutally exclusive.
    The problem with preachers like Hagee is they only preach at a 4th grade level. We have a republican front runner that still believes God made the world in six days even when the time for God is given in Genesis quite clearly as being as a 1000 days.
    And nobody teaches that PEACE comes first. A one world nation comes first. Not…

  • Tonga

    The citation for Joel above is wrong. It is Joel 2:31 that says “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”

  • Jack

    Rabbi Salkin, excellent article — but a few caveats.

    Hagee is wrong for a number of reasons regarding apocalypticism, but that doesn’t mean his views are “bizarre.” They are what I’d call plausible but ultimately wrong.

    It’s a basic premise of national security people that there are two extremes we should avoid when looking at potential future danger — hysteria and complacency. The Hagee crowd obviously errs on the hysteria side, but complacency based on what’s called normalcy bias can be just as deadly. After all, one day, the apocalyptics will be right — because no civilization lasts forever and the earth itself will one day be no more.

    Beyond that, Hagee deserves credit for loving Israel and the Jewish people as well as human freedom in a very tangible and practical way.

  • Jack

    Shara, you make some very good points, especially about peace coming first. It will turn out to be an abbreviated peace, but a peace nonetheless.

  • Jack

    Bernardo, don’t be ridiculous. The only way you can make such dogmatic statements is to take the basic rules of historical evidence and turn them on their head.

    We’ve been through this before…..A basic rule of historians is that a text of any kind is presumed on its mundane details to be accurate until proven otherwise. It is not the absence of corroboration, but the presence of contradiction (internal or external) that rebuts a text.

    Thus if a document or text mentions a man named Moses, or David, or Abraham, we assume they existed even if there is zero corroboration. Skepticism only arises when other texts of that time say concrete things that specifically call their existence into question.

    Absent such contrary evidence, the operating premise is that such people were historical figures…..they were actual people, not made-up characters.

  • Jack

    Tentmaker, I hate to break it to you, lad, but one day, the world is definitely going to end. And I’m sorry to have to disabuse you of your normalcy bias about the country you’re living in, but one day, probably long before the end of the world, our civilization will go the way of prior ones and become extinct.

    You can make fun of religious apocalyptics, but their secular counterparts among the environmental extremists are just as strident and just as consistently wrong.

    God laughs at them both….but probably more at the environmental radicals since they worship the very thing that will one day perish — Mother Earth.