Monday, March 4, 2013

Feast of First Fleece

Festival of Sheep Shearing on last day of Adar

The first fruit also of your corn, of your wine, and of your oil, and the first of the fleece of your sheep, shall you give him.” (Deut. 18:4)

Festivals were created around these first fruit offerings. The festival for sheep shearing was held toward the end of the year in Adar.

". . . as is almost universal in a rural economy sheep-shearing was de rigueur the occasion for a good time, it was the Yom Tob of feasting and hilarity. Furthermore, it took place in those parts somewhere about March/April and thus more or less at the time of the Spring Equinox, generally the juncture for reckoning the New Year." (Wright, G.R.H., "Dumuzi at the Court of David," in As on the First Day: Essays in Religious Constants, Leiden, 1987, p. 53)

The Spring Equinox gives the most daylight for sheep-shearing. On our calendars it is usually March 20th. The full moon after it is Passover (Nisan 14).


And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were in Carmel; and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep, and a thousand goats: and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. . . . And now I have heard that you have shearers: now your shepherds which were with us, we hurt them not, neither was there ought missing to them, all the while they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will show you. Why let the young men find favor in your eyes: for we come in a good day [tob yom]: give, I pray you, whatever comes to your hand to your servants, and to your son David.” (I Samuel 25:2-8)

David and his men protected the shearers while they were processing thousands of animals in Carmel (in Judah, not near Mt. Carmel). They asked for food on the “good day” of the festival. I suggest that day was the dark moon which ended the year on the last day of Adar based upon I Samuel 20. It was an annual celebration for families of sheep herders (I Samuel 20:6).

The festival of sheep shearing was one of imbibing which often led to drunkeness, deceit, and infidelity. Jacob used the time of sheep shearing to escape from Laban (Gen. 31:17-22). David used it to escape from king Saul (I Samuel 20). Absalom lured Amnon to the sheep shearing to kill him for raping his sister, named Tamar (II Samuel 13:23). Judah used the festival to justify having sex with a “harlot” who turned out to be his daughter-in-law, Tamar (Genesis 38:12-16). 


Judah was born in 1771 BC in Harran in PadanAram, and helped Jacob tend Laban's flocks and herds. Jacob's daughter Dinah was born in 1754 BC, and Joseph was born in 1745 BC; so being almost 20 years older than them, he likely felt protective of his younger siblings. Jacob and his family escaped south to Canaan during sheep shearing in 1742 BC, and dwelt near Shechem (Gen. 33:18) and bought a field from Hamor. Maybe a year or so goes by before Dinah is raped by a son of Hamor who begs his father to get her as his bride. Jacob tells them he can accept the marriage if his village circumcizes all their men. Judah's older brothers, Simeon and Levi, took vengeance for the defilement of their sister by killing all the males of Shechem as they were healing.

Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took each man his sword, and came on the city boldly, and slew all the males. And they slew Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem's house, and went out. The sons of Jacob came on the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their sheep, and their oxen, and their asses, and that which was in the city, and that which was in the field, And all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their wives took they captive, and spoiled even all that was in the house. And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, You have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house. And they said, Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?” (Genesis 34:25-31)

Though Simeon and Levi did the killing, all of the sons of Jacob partook in the spoil (according to most commentaries), and some unwisely obtained Canaanite wives. Jacob told his sons to give him all the idols they had taken, and he buried them in Shechem; and they all moved to Luz outside of (Jeru)Shalem and made an altar at elBethel (the house of God) where God kept them safe, not letting any retaliation take place (Genesis 35:1-7).

Joseph was sold into slavery in 1745 BC, and it is recounted in Genesis 37. Jacob and all his family of 66 persons, including the two sons of Pharez (Gen. 46:8-12), moved to Egypt in 1706 BC. Therefore the account of Judah and Tamar producing their son Pharez in Genesis 38:12-30 likely occurred after Joseph was sold, but Genesis 38:1-10 occurred prior. Genesis 38:1-11 gives the backstory of Judah taking a Canaanite wife (from the spoil?), and having three sons with her. Judah married his firstborn to Tamar, but God slew him because he was wicked. Judah's second born, Onan, refused to produce a son with Tamar for his brother; so God slew him too. Judah denied the wickedness of his own sons and blamed Tamar for their deaths, and so deceifully refused to let her marry his third son. Judah's wife died, and then we proceed to the ruse of Tamar during sheep shearing to obtain a child in Genesis 38:12-30.

And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold your father in law goes up to Timnath to shear his sheep. And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him to wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned to her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray you, let me come in to you; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.)” (Genesis 38:13-16)

Timnath is the ruins of Timneh northeast of Abdullam. Three months later when Judah found out Tamar was pregnant, though she was engaged to his son, he sentenced her to be burned (Gen. 38:24). She then showed Judah the signet ring and staff he left with her, and he realized the child was his. Judah helped spoil the town of Shechem for treating his sister like a harlot, and now he had been caught using his own daughter-in-law as a harlot. But Judah repented, and he never had sexual relations with Tamar again (Gen. 38:26).

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