Autumn Festival

The Feast of Tabernacles (or Tents) סֻכּוֹת
Autumn Festivals in Ugarit and Babylon
The Autumn Festival in Israel

The Feast of Tabernacles (or Tents) Sukkot סֻכּוֹת

Known by a variety of names (both booths and tabernacles being English translations of סֻכּוֹת and "harvest festival" or "feast of ingathering" translations of חַג הַקָּצִיר), this was one of three major pilgrimage festivals. For 8 days in autumn (late September or early October), the end of harvesting was celebrated, even the fruits had been gathered and the rains would begin soon, starting another cycle. Dancing, drinking and the very "booths" themselves were all associated with the production of wine. In a religious sense, the themes of providence (harvest), covenant (the temporary shelters were associated with the tents of ancestors at Sinai) and kingship were prominent. (Ex 23:16; 34:22; Dt 16:13-15).

As the main annual festival, it was known as "Adonai's festival" (Lev 23:39; Jdgs 21:19). As part of efforts to wean the newly independent Northern tribes away from worship at Jerusalem Jeroboam I changed the date by one month (1 Kgs 12:32).

Autumn Festivals in Ugarit and Babylon

A number of biblical texts speak of a conflict between God and the sea, while some of these speak in almost historical terms others personify Adonai's enemy as a multiheaded serpent monster.

Psalm 74 speaks of the plight of Adonai's faithful worshipers at a time when His foes have desecrated his temple. In vv.9-11 his silence is troubling, but in vv.12-17 confidence is expressed in Adonai's kingship (12), and as creator (16-17). Between these themes the confidence is expressed in terms of God's victory over Sea and dragons, including breaking the heads of Leviathan. This motif is taken from earlier Canaanite mythic language of which large fragments were discovered in the first half of this century at Ras Shamra (Ugarit) on the coast of northern Syria-Palestine. In these texts Ba'al (= lord), who later becomes king of the gods, fights Yam (= sea) and his monsters.

To see the similarities compare: Ps 74:13-14 with Is 27:1 and the Canaanite text BAAL V iii ll.52-57 (from Ugarit).

Then compare Ps 77.16-20 where the mythic language describes an historic event. This is typical of Israel's use of the themes and imagery of her neighbors (and ancestor's) myths. They are domesticated and made to serve the one true God.

A sharper or humorous example (depending on your point of view - certainly it is ironic) is in Ps 104:25-26.

In Babylon talk of Marduk's fight with the sea monster occurs in connection with the New Year festival, where it related to his kingship and to the creation of the world. The context of the Canaanite story is less clear, but Ba'al like Marduk becomes "king of the gods" after a battle - though this is with Mot (god of the dry season) rather than after his battle with the sea (Yam).

The Autumn Festival in Israel

Hints about the content of the pre-exilic feast of Tabernacles (Israel's autumn festival), together with the presence of psalms dealing with Adonai's kingship, and with his fight with the dragon, suggest that in some respects Israel's festival may have echoed those of its neighbors.

The great annual Festival of Adonai would have included celebration of his victory over the powers of chaos and drought, his kingship and the provision of rain and so of harvest (cf. Ps 29:10f.; 65:6-7 [creation] 9-13 [harvest]; 93; and Zech 14:16-17 [note the mentuion of Adonai's day in the context in v.1ff.]). Also compare the lengthy discussion of Adonai's day and its use in Amos.


This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,

© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.