Next week most of the 14-some million Jews around the world will be celebrating the annual feast of Passover. This day commemorates the escape of the Israelites from bondage and slavery in Egypt, as described in the first fourteen chapters of the book of Exodus in the Bible, culminating with the well-known story of the parting of the Red Sea.
The Jewish Passover is one of the oldest Holy Days in the world that is still celebrated today. It has been kept continuously since the days of the Babylonian Captivity circa 550 BCE, and very likely for many centuries earlier. It is described in the New Testament as being observed in Judea during the time of Jesus, and the famous Last Supper was in fact the traditional Passover meal, which includes a ceremonial sharing of wine and unleavened bread between the participants.
The Passover meal today involves a several-hour long ritual known as the Seder, which is written in an ancient booklet called the Haggadah (there are alternate spellings of this word in English.) The current text of the Haggadah was compiled in early 3d C. CE, and at its core are relevant passages from the book of Exodus and their interpretation by various Talmudic sages from the several centuries preceding the compilation.
The Seder is largely a fun family happening, one reason why secular and even professedly atheist people of Jewish extraction still like to continue the tradition today. The Haggadah includes many songs with catchy tunes, and is written with stage-directions, like a drama play, indicating when and how one should read, bless, drink, or eat. Each guest at the dinner table gets a copy of the text, and families have members reading different parts, or taking turns reading, and there are special parts for children.
Yet most of the participants in this celebration hardly remember the fact that this ritual is replete with strong mystical symbolism, hidden underneath the apparent meaning of the spoken words. All ancient writings, foremost the Old Testament as well as its interpretation by the early sages - are considered in traditional Judaism to have several layers of meaning, beyond the obvious one. And especially the Passover Seder, being a very ancient tradition, is thought to hide deep mysteries and secrets, so that it is extensively studied even today in all Talmudic schools.
There is one particular passage in the Seder ritual, which has been paid surprisingly little attention to over the years, yet it appears to shed a remarkable light on nothing less than the very origin of the Jewish people. It's a well-known quote from the Seder, but it seems that few realize its potentially immense importance. Unfortunately this expression makes historical sense only in the Hebrew language, and thus its possible deeper significance has been denied from non-Hebrew speakers.
The phrase in question occurs in the Seder during a discussion about the famous Ten Plagues of Egypt - a series of natural disasters described in the Bible, which befell the land of Egypt as a result of the Pharaoh's refusal to release the Israelite slaves. The Talmudic sages argued between themselves about God's manifestations during the Plagues, and agreed that God's various attributes which combined to produce the Plagues are best summed up in a verse from Psalms 78:49, which says,
"He sent upon them his burning anger, fury and indignation and trouble, a band of destroying angels." (New American Standard version.)
Or in the King James version: "He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them."
In Hebrew it sounds like this: "Ve-ishalakh bam kharon apo, evrah, ve-zaam, ve-tsara, mishlakhat malakhei raim".
The word translated into English as "fury" in the NAS and "wrath" in the KJV - is the Hebrew word "evrah". Its root is "AVR", spelled with the letters Ayin, Bet (or Vet), and Resh. This is one of the most significant and multi-faceted word-roots in the entire Old Testament. It appears in many different contexts with different meanings, the most common of which is "to cross", or "to come across".
This ancient root AVR seems to have had far-reaching influences on many languages, because there is even a theory which proposes it as the origin of the English word "over" and the Germanic "uber" - both also primarily meaning "across" originally. Furthermore, curiously AVR seems to have made it into the English language in its other meaning of "fury" as well, because the phrase "to be cross" signifies anger.
Among many other possible related meanings, the root AVR can also turn into the word "ivri", or "hebrew". This was the very name, by which the group later called "the Israelites" and still later "the Judeans" or "the Jews", was first known in the Bible.
Scholars have argued extensively over the years, and still do, about the origins and meaning of this word, "Hebrew". Its first biblical appearance in this form is in Genesis 14:13, where the Patriarch Abraham, considered to be the forefather of the Jewish people, is called an "ivri", the word that has been transliterated into English as "hebrew". Before that, this identically spelled root-word AVR is used as the name of Abraham's ancestor six generations removed, a great-grandson of Shem, named Eber. ("Ever" in Hebrew.) (Genesis 10:25, 11:14).
This is therefore taken to mean that Abraham was an "ivri", because he was the most notable descendant of Eber/Ever. Furthermore, the word obviously denotes a crossing over to somewhere else, which is understood to indicate that Abraham's ancestors had come across the Great River, Euphrates, from the Mesopotamian countries of Sumer and Akkad.
Many researchers have tried connecting the origins of the Hebrews with a group of marauding brigands called Habiru or Apiru, which is mentioned in several ancient sources, such as the famed "Amarna letters". The prevailing opinion in that regard is that the many ancient references to the Habiru cannot possibly refer to one tribe of people, but most likely denote several different groups, all of them wanderers without a permanent location. Their common denomination as Habiru most likely came from the Sumerian root IBR, which also meant "to cross", and later turned into the Hebrew AVR. This seems like a most reasonable explanation.
And since AVR appears to have its roots in the language of ancient Sumer, then there is every reason to suppose that the concept of ivri/ibri is also Sumerian. In fact, there is a widely accepted minority theory that this word means "a person from the city of Nippur". Nippur, or NI.IBUR in Sumerian, was a city located in the geographical center of the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia, and roads to everywhere else in the realm criss-crossed it in a large grid. Its name therefore meant "the City of the Crossing", the city of crossroads.
The family of Abraham the Patriarch is said in the Bible to have emigrated from the Sumerian city of Ur, but there is no mention that Abraham was born there. This is a curious omission by all counts, since birthplaces of important personages are invariably stated in relation to everyone else. It's likely that the editors of the Bible felt no need to point out the birthplace in this instance, because the title "ivri" had already denoted Abraham's origin as being from Nippur, and this would've been clear to readers of that period.
That the descendants of Abraham are somehow connected to the Sumerian civilization is evident in the still-kept Hebrew lunar-month calendar, according to which we are now in the year 5770. Taking this count back in time brings us to 3660 BCE, which is exactly when, as all the archeological evidence points, the lunar-month calendar was first used in Sumer. It appears that modern Jews still keep the old Sumerian count of days. Thus the status of Abraham as being a man of Nippur is perfectly reasonable in this context. He brought the Sumerian calendar with him from Mesopotamia, and decreed it to his descendants.
But getting back to our earlier point pertaining to the passage in Psalms 78:49 - it is not at all clear, why the same ancient word that means "crossing", would also come to contain such a diverse meaning, one that describes God's ultimate anger and wrath during the Exodus.
There is of course a large school of study, which attempts to explain the various miracles described in the Bible as being scientifically possible according to modern science. These miracles are said to be a result of natural causes, that were misinterpreted by their stunned contemporary witnesses as Acts of God. The Ten Plagues of Egypt and the Parting of the Red Sea are perhaps the most famous Biblical miracles in that regard, and many theories have been put forward that these were naturally occurring phenomena, caused by such things as an unusual increase in tectonic activity, a major volcanic eruption such as the one on the Mediterranean island of Thera circa 1600 BCE, or a particularly lengthy and potent meteor shower.
A most interesting theory about this has been offered primarily by writers in the alternative field (called "alternative" because there is no point-blank scientific evidence to prove this theory.) This particular view can go a long way towards explaining the curiously disparate connotations of the root AVR as relating both to the Hebrew people and to God's wrath.
The events described in the Ten Plagues of Egypt can loosely be called "death from the sky", an image brought out poignantly by the metaphor in Psalms 78:49 of "a band of destroying angels". And the word "evrah" could denote a "passing" danger from above, something that merely "crosses" our area of the sky. This would give this word an identical meaning in referring to the Hebrews as the people who "crossed over" the River.
It has thusly been proposed that Evrah refers to some kind of a stellar body, which passed close to Earth and caused tectonic disturbances, heavy meteor showers, and bizarre extreme weather. A passing comet during an unexpectedly near fly-by would fit this bill perfectly, and in fact there are many described instances in ancient lore of different civilizations, when comets were to blame for disasters on Earth.
The word "evrah" is mentioned on several other occasions in the Bible as denoting God's wrath, each time in connection with momentous celestial events.
For example, Isaiah 13:13 says: "Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts ("evrat yhwh"), and in the day of his fierce anger". (KJV)
Another instance is found in Zephania 1:15, which seems to refer to this same Judgement Day scenario - "That day is a day of wrath ("yom evrah"), a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness". (KJV)
This seems to bear out our image of a celestial object that wreaks havoc and destruction on Earth during its passage. "Yom Evrah" is in fact the Day of the Comet.
The writer Zecharia Sitchin takes the concept of Evrah still further, and maintains that it refers to the mythical Sumerian deity/celestial body Nibiru, which is named in the Babylonian epic of creation, the Enuma Elish, as "the body of the crossing". Sitchin theorizes that this is an actual planet of the Solar System, called Nibiru, which makes a very long orbit around the sun and comes to "visit" our area once every 3,600 years.
But the existence of such a planetary body, much less of intelligent life on it, is a total impossibility according to our known science. Furthermore, such a body is not described by other ancient civilizations extant at the time of its supposed previous fly-bys of the Sun. Therefore, a more likely explanation is that "evrah" refers to a much better known and much more common type of dangerous celestial visitor - a comet that comes so close to Earth as to cause severe tectonic disturbances and to rain destructive meteors on its surface. It is much more likely that Yom Evrah is the Day of the Comet, not of the entirely theoretical planet Nibiru.
This brings us to the title of this little essay, which is a quote from the scary 1970's movie "The Omen", about the birth of the Antichrist as leading to the "end of the world". This is said to have been predicted in the New Testament book of Revelations, whose end-time scenario is largely based on the Old Testament books of Daniel and Ezekiel.
The book of Daniel does list the return of the Jews to Zion as a prerequisite before "the end" - but a comet or a particular celestial body is not specifically mentioned in any of those texts. The traditional interpretation of the "end-time tribulation" as caused by a celestial body like a comet, comes from the old identification of Jewish Return with a comet, all the way back from the time of the Biblical Exodus, as celebrated up to this very day. Because the escape of the Israelites from Egypt then, was evidently made possible by havoc wrought by a passing comet.
The "people of the crossing", the ivri/Hebrews, are thus forever related in the Scripture to the "celestial body of the crossing" - the comet, Evrah.