on celebrating hanukkah
shamash the sun god
shamash in hebrew scripture
Yesterday we noted the instances of Strong’s H8121, shemesh meaning “sun,” as it appeared in Hebrew Scripture. But then there is a single Aramaic counterpart to it that appears in the Old Testament:
Strong’s H8120, shemash; (Aramaic) corresponding to the root of Strong’s H8121 through the idea of activity implied in daylight; to serve:—minister.
A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered (Strong’s H8120, shemash) unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. Dan 7:10
Why Aramaic and not Hebrew? Ahhh … forty years ago when I first moved from merely reading the Bible to studying it in depth, my Strong’s Concordance of the Old Testament stated it was a Hebrew and Chaldean (i.e. Babylonian) dictionary, because of the part of Daniel that was written in Chaldean, under which Daniel 7:10 falls. Mine then was similar to this out of print edition I found on Amazon this morning:
Forty years ago the Strong’s would have said H8120, shemash (Chaldee). Why did they change the Strong’s? Today I note from sources such as this one that Aramaic was the common language of Mesopotamia, of which Babylonia, where Daniel lived and the events of Daniel took place, was a part.
Now here is a puzzle. I note from the original languages as found in the Old Testament, that shemash means, “to minister,” from the Chaldean (Babylonian). The Hebrew concrete noun for “sun,” shemesh, comes from an unused verbal root, not identified, meaning, “to be brilliant.” Brad Scott mentions
The word shamash, which is the verbal root of shemesh, means to serve or minister. The center lamp or candle in the Chanukah lamp, for example, is called the shamash, or ministering candle. It is the candle that bears the light that will light the other candles.
So I searched for the Hebrew primitive root shamash (all Hebrew roots are verbs) meaning, “to serve,” and as yet have not been able to find it. (If someone has a reference for it, please send it my way.) Strong’s tells us the unused verbal root meant “to be brilliant,” not “to serve.” I had previously studied the Hebrew verbal root meaning, “to serve:” it is abad, Strong’s H5647. Thus the puzzle.
If shamash meaning, “servant” was originally from Babylon – and let’s not forget that the name of the Babylonian sun god was Shamash – then how was it that it got mixed up with the Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony? Could the entire practice be retooled Babylonianism for the Jews, as Christmas on December 25 is retooled Babylonianism for the Christians?
[By] burning lamps and lighted candles … according to the established rites of Zoroaster, [so] was the sun-god worshipped. When every Egyptian on the same night was required to light a lamp before his house in the open air, this was an act of homage to the sun, that had veiled its glory by enshrouding itself in a human form. When the Yezidis of Koordistan, at this day, once a year celebrate their festival of “burning lamps,” that, too, is to the honor of Sheikh Shems, or the Sun. Now, what on these high occasions was done on a grand scale was also done on a smaller scale, in the individual acts of worship to their god, by the lighting of lamps and tapers before the favorite divinity. In Babylon, this practice had been exceedingly prevalent, as we learn from the Apocryphal writer of the Book of Baruch. “They (the Babylonians),” says he, “light up lamps to their gods, and that in greater numbers, too, than they do for themselves, although the gods cannot see one of them, and are senseless as the beams of their houses.”
Now, so thoroughly and exclusively Pagan was this custom of lighting up lamps and candles in daylight, that we find Christian writers, such as Lactantius, in the fourth century, exposing the absurdity of the practice, and deriding the Romans “for lighting up candles to God, as if He lived in the dark.” Had such a custom at that time gained the least footing among Christians, Lactantius could never have ridiculed it as he does, as a practice peculiar to Paganism.
Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, Chapter V, Section V, Lamps and Wax-Candles
(Please see On the Two Babylons before sending me emails about Hislop – thank you.)
I am finding multiple sources of information as to the later dating of the Hanukkah “miracle” the Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony is supposed to commemorate, and I will include that in a separate post: hanukkah historical documentation. For me, enough questions have been raised to warrant our family’s suspension of this observance. Shalom, and may Yehovah bless and keep you!
Benjamin and Lauren Turner says
It’s an excellent point that in Hebrew “shemash” clearly does not mean servant. There is no basis for that Hebrew translation, though clearly it does come through in Aramaic.
A thought about the burning of candles and lamps being only pagan, however: how do we reconcile this practice with the one that YHVH ordained when He ordered the lights in the Tabernacle in the great candlestick be kept burning whenever the Tabernacle was erected (even in the daytime)?
Because YHVH commanded the lighting of oil lights to worship Him, it seems hasty to assume candlelighting or lamplighting immediately denotes pagan practice. Though it is true that YHVH did not command us to light candles in our homes, just in the Tabernacle.
All things taken together, you have a very serious point that we need to really dig into the issue of whether we should celebrate Hannukah the traditional way with a nine-branched candlestick.
Hi Benjamin and Lauren, I don’t believe I said all candle lighting was pagan. But for me the connection of *shamash* coming from the Babylonian language coupled with the Babylonian practice of candle light to their god shamash raises questions that I don’t have answers to as yet. I do hope that what I have shared will inspire others to do their own research. As to the Menorah in the Temple, the command for Aaron to keep the Menorah lit in the Temple cannot seriously be compared to individuals doing so in a menorah knock off in their individual homes. The question is, where did the practice of individuals lighting a menorah knock off in their homes come from, since it did not come from Torah or the Temple ceremonies?
KENNETH Sutton says
or the 24 elders like candle sticks with the most high