Friday, December 25, 2009

Is the chirstmas tree referenced in tanach?

According to my husband it might be. In Yirmiyahu 10:1-4, the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) has this to say:
2. So says the Lord: of the way of the nations you shall not learn, and from the signs of the heaven be not dismayed, for the nations are dismayed from them.
[AE note: This might refer to the classical period practice of trying to interpret the will of god by the position of birds in the sky, which I learned about in a class I took on "magic and science in the ancient world" back in college]

3. For the statutes of the peoples are vanity, for it is but a stock that one cut from the forest, the handiwork of a carpenter with a small axe.
Rashi:a carpenter: Heb. חרש, a craftsman.

[AE Note: note that it's statute with a third 'T', not statue the way I first read it]

4. With silver and gold he beautifies it, with nails and with sledge hammers they strengthen them so that it does not bend.
Rashi: and with sledge hammers: A hammer; it does not bend: Heb. יפיק, it does not kneel with its knees. Comp. (I Sam. 25: 31) “a stumbling block (פוקה) ” ; (Nahum 2:11) “and tottering (ופיק) of the knees.”

5. Like a palm tree they are beaten, and they do not speak; they are carried for they do not step; fear them not for they will do no harm, neither is it in them to do good.
Rashi: Like a palm tree they are beaten: He hammers them with a hammer until it has an upright stature like a palm tree.

[The christian version can be read here.]

So according to Yermiyahu, the non Jewish craftsman of his time would cut something from the woods (presumably a tree) and do some kind of handiwork with it (trim it?), adorn it with gold and silver and hammer it until it doesn't totter around and stands straight. I don't remember ever learning this part of tanach, but this sounds like they can be referring to either a Christmas tree or some kind of idol/statue that they built out of wood.

Certainly the tradition of decorating an evergreen tree around the winter solstice predates Jesus. Via wikipedia:
The ancient pagans, Druids, Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews celebrated the Winter Solstice, (Dec. 21st), the day of the year that the Sun begins its ascent in the sky, thereby ushering a fertile time of planting and bountiful harvests. Hence, the evergreen tree represented eternal life and the promise of replenishment during the cold winter months. Apples and other fruit were hung upon the tree to represent the plentiful food to come. Candles were lighted to symbolize the warmth and brightness of the sun. While the Christmas tree is generally associated with Christ, it predates this religious figure by many centuries.

Ancient Hebrews celebrated the winter solstice? what? I know it's wikipedia and totally unreliable, but....what?

Does anyone know what the Jewish interpretation of this passage is? I'm guessing it has something to do with idolatry.


  1. But the Jewish commentaries consider these a reference to carved and decorated idols and statues which represent the Sun and stars.

  2. Can't you let me criticize Christians in peace?!

  3. "Signs of heaven" is probably astrology. Romans did "augury" or whatever where they looked at birds and stuff as you say. Haven't heard of that in reference to ancient Middle Eastern cultures. The description is probably of making an idol of wood. The next paragraph and much of the chapter refers to the Jewish God contrasting him with this.

    I just noticed that verse 11 of this chapter is in Aramaic! The commentators have some excuse for it of course...

  4. This is your first post where B. is into scripture. Now you love Christmas? Good for you. Seeing as you are spiritual, its probably common sense that you will find the friendly down home midwestern form of Christianity to be welcoming. See Lauren Winner "Girl Meets G-d"

  5. Why do you think I am "spiritual"?

    I just find this interesting on an intellectual level.

  6. Actually the Christmas tree is a very young tradition, and we know exactly who began it.

    It was Martin Luther, and he estabilished it as a Protestant counterpart for the Catholic manger diorama.

    The Christmas tree symbolizes the Tree of Life in Eden.


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