Month 1:13, Week 2:5 (Chamashee/Teruah), Year:Day 5936:013 AM|
The Fourth Millennium Memorial
Gregorian Calendar: Wednesday 4 April 2012
Were the Hebrews Ever Moonstruck?
Continued from Part 2
I received an interesting question in the mail a couple of days ago asking me whether the Israelites consulted the prophets on the New Moon because the full moon was in some way either harmful or caused interference in the revelatory process. I have heard this suggested before and whilst there is no doubt that the moon does have a biochemical affect on us that can - and does - affect moods, I am not sure that this is the reason the prophets were consulted on the new moon for the pure and simple reason they were consulted on the four monthly sabbaths also, one of which always falls on the full moon...the worst possible time for a consultation if this theory is true.
"The shemesh (sun) shall not strike (nakah) thee by day, nor the yarei'ach (moon) by night" (Ps.121:6, OJB).
Note also that the sun and moon are linked together in today's passage so if the full moon in some way strikes the mind then the sun must be doing so every day. Should we then only consult the prophets by night? Are we doomed to never having pure revelation from Yahweh by day? Obviously not.
Today's passage is probably best understood by taking a look at the Septuagint (LXX) again where the translators render the pre-Masoretic Hebrew in this way:
The most obvious interpretation of this passage is that sitting directly in the hot sun is likely to give you sunstroke, one of the symptoms of which is an altered mental state brought upon by nausea, vomitting, and visual disturbance. One of the side-effects of sunstroke is dizziness, irritability, and confusion that can ultimately lead to unconsciousness. Excessive exposure to the sun can result in muscle meltdown (rhabdomyolisis) and blood clotting (thrombosis) if the patient is not quickly cooled down. Obviously someone so disabled physically isn't going to be in much of a condition to be sensitive to revelation.
"The sun shall not burn thee by day, neither the moon by night" (Ps.121:6, LXX).
The real question that has to be asked, then, is why the moon has been coupled to the sun. How is one either "struck" or "burned" by the moon? Is there such a thing as 'moonstroke' as The Message translation freely renders this passage? To answer that, we must look at the wider context of this psalm.
Psalm 121 is part of a collection of psalms known as the 'Songs of Ascent' or 'Pilgrim' songs that were sung by those travelling to Jerusalem to observe the Festivals of Yahweh. For most, who would not want to absent themselves from their farms longer than necessary, this meant a longish journey at a rapid pace by day and by night. Such pilgrim trips would, in that hot Middle Eastern climate, have inevitably led to a considerable amount of fatigue and not a small amount of anxiety. Understandably, some would prefer to avoid the heat of the sun and travel by night which, though sparing them from possible sunstroke, would not have spared them from the fatigue of sleepless nights. Which ever time of the day you chose - day or night - there would have been stress and exhaustion.
There are two passage in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) which seem to suggest (at least in Greek) a physical or spiritual disease known as being 'moon-struck':
The word seleniazomai is universally translated in Greek lexicons as 'epileptic' even though it literally means 'moon-struck'. Why? In English and Latin culture, one who is 'moon-struck' is a lunatic - a crazy person. Philologists all agree that usage, not etymology, is what determines meaning in any language. Thus were I to say in American-English: "He is drunk with moonshine", no one would suppose that the reference is to someone being overwhelmed with the beauty of the full moon. So this expression in koine Greek refers to an epileptic, not to a lunatic, because of the symptoms described. Thus the NKJV did a service in correcting the earlier KJV "lunatik".
"Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics (seleniazomai, lit. 'moon-struck', crazy, lunatic), and paralytics; and He healed them" (Matt.4:24, NKJV).
"Master, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic (seleniazomai, lit. 'moon-struck', crazy, lunatic) and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water" (Matt.17:15, NKJV)
There is clearly a difference between today's passage in Psalm 121 and the various New Testament passages - the former is about exhaustion occasioned by long traveling and the latter by physical illness and/or demonic activity.
If I were to render today's passage into modern colloquial English, I might put it this way:
I do not think there is any biblical evidence to suggest that the full moon causes madness, epilepsy or in any way affects the sanity of a man's mind. That there are biochemical influences that we now know of is, of course, not denied but this has more to do with the activity (for example) of enzymes, menstrual rhythms, etc., none of which is pathological. Neither do I think that Yahweh has ordained the New Moon to be a time for consulting the prophets because the moon interferes with the revelatory purpose beyond changing moods in woman (who seem the most susceptible) for the simple reason that sabbaths are to be used for the same purpose including at full moons. We run the danger of running into astrological superstition if we are not careful and of putting ourselves into bondage to imaginary elemental powers, such as the pagans have always done. Neither do think that this has any bearing on the fact that the day begins at sunrise and not sunset, as some might perhaps wonder.
I find no evidence scripturally or elsewhere that the biblical Hebrews believed - as the pagans did - that the moon could render them insane or rpevent them from receiving revelation. No doubt during times of apostacy such pagan notions would have crept in but as far as Torah is concerned, no such teaching exists.
 James D. Price, Book Review D.K.Madden - Remarks on the New King James Version