The Month of Ethanim

We can view this holy month as the month in which two foundations were laid: the foundations of the earth, and of Messiah’s assembly.


CalendarOct 20, 2016

CalendarOct 20, 2016


Pages from a calendar (Image: Bigstock)

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We are accustomed to calling the Hebrew month in which all the high holy days occur—the first month of the Jewish calendar—Tishrei. However, the Bible (1 Kings 8:2, for example) calls it by the name “Ethanim.”

This word really has no satisfactory translation into English. The word eitanim (איתנים) in Hebrew has multiple meanings, and the word eitan (איתן)—from where we get the male name “Ethan”—acts more as an adjective rather than a noun. Nineteenth-century Messianic Jewish thinker Theophilus Lucky, in his article from Edut LeYisra’el, attempts to give us a better translation/explanation of the name of this month:

Perhaps it was called by this name because there was no rain during this month in Canaan and Palestine except for the water that came from the ever-flowing streams, [1] which never dried up throughout the whole year, or perhaps because through these streams, and during this month, the everlasting foundations of the earth were created. The meaning of this name is actually “the month in which the heavens and the earth were created.”[2]

The name Tishrei, on the other hand, was adopted by the Israelites upon their return from Babylon. The word “Tishrei” comes from the Syrian “tishrin,” and it means “beginning” or “commencement.” This is how we presently refer to this first month on the Jewish calendar, and it is fitting.

Yet, remembering the original name of this month can hold value for us. The mysteriousness of the word eitanim opens the door for extrapolation and creative interpretation. As we can see from Lucky’s interpretation, eitanim can mean “ever-flowing streams,” “enduring,” “strong,” “everlasting,” and so on. Theophilus Lucky decided to be creative in his interpretation, and in doing so he actually found useful hints in this name that caused him to piece together a famous story in the Gospels. As per his interpretation style, he reconstructed the conversation between Yeshua and Peter (Keifa), adding to their recorded dialogue in order to clarify his own opinion of the matter:

When Yeshua came to the area of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “What do people say about me? Who is the son of man? Who am I?”

Shimon the apostle said, “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God!”[3]

Shimon the fisherman was the only apostle who responded with words like these. He was a son of Jonah,[4] yet he was not awaiting the sign of Jonah. Our Heavenly Father revealed to him that Yeshua was the Messiah, and Yeshua our Master said to him, “O how exceedingly happy are you, Shimon, who are a son of Jonah son of Amittai,[5] for the truth[6] has been revealed to you. Therefore, you are Keifa, a rock, one of the strong [7] foundations of the earth, and upon you I will build my congregation.[8] In the month of Ethanim I will set it upon the foundation stone, on Rosh HaShanah I will establish it, and the gates of Sheol will not overcome it.[9] Satan and all his angels who perform his desire will wage war against it, but every weapon formed by them will not prosper.”

In this particular instance, Lucky is thinking of this term eitanim as meaning “strength” or “strong foundation,” and correlating that interpretation to speak of a strong rock, which is what the name Keifa (or Petros in Greek) means. Lucky does not claim that his view is absolutely correct, but he does offer this as one possibility.

Whether or not his postulations are true, an interesting correlation is drawn between establishing Peter as the head of the disciples and the month of Ethanim, i.e., the month in which all the high holy days take place. If Lucky indeed is correct, then we might very well not only view this holy month as the month in which the foundations of the earth were created, but also the month in which the foundations of the Messiah’s assembly were laid.

Shanah Tovah and may we all experience a sweet new year. May our faith be strengthened and further fortified in this month of Ethanim.

Footnotes:
  1. This word ethanim, or eitanim, appears in Exodus 14:27, Amos 5:24, and Psalm 74:15. However, it does not only refer to rivers and streams. In and of itself the word means “strong” and “durable,” as in something that is eternal and indestructible. Even though it is most commonly used in reference to waters, the prophets also use it in reference to the foundations of the earth. See Micah 6:2. Job also uses it when speaking of strong and important people (Job 12:19).
  2. According to Rabbi Eliezer, who says that on the month of Tishrei HaShem created the world (b.Rosh HaShanah 11a).
  3. Matthew 16:15-16.
  4. While Simon was a son of a different Jonah (elsewhere John), Lucky is suggesting that Shimon was also a direct descendent of the prophet Jonah—both spiritually and physically—and that Yeshua was referencing this when responding to Simon’s revelatory answer.
  5. Yeshua is naming the prophet Jonah, not Shimon’s father. See Jonah 1:1.
  6. Lucky is drawing from the Hebrew root of the name of Jonah’s father: Amittai. The root of this name is the Hebrew word emet, which means “truth.” Thus Jonah—and also in this case Simon—is a “son of truth.”
  7. The Hebrew word used here for “strong” is eitanei, a form of the word eitanim, and the name of this seventh month.
  8. Similar to this Rabbi Eliezer said that on Rosh HaShanah the patriarchs were created (b.Rosh HaShanah 11a), meaning that the foundation of Israel’s Torah was established on Rosh HaShanah, and the patriarchs are that foundation. The Torah is the intimate knowledge of HaShem that he revealed to those who had faith, first to Abraham, then Isaac, etc. Yeshua also raised up a foundational stone (keifa) on Rosh HaShanah.
  9. Perhaps Yeshua’s words are referencing the midrash and the Targum which interpret “And on that day” (Job 2:1) as “this is Rosh HaShanah.” Satan wanted to destroy everyone, and on Rosh HaShanah he came to accuse, because he saw that Israel was repenting. He was angered even more when he saw the Jewish people believing in Yeshua, for he knew that then that his end was near. Therefore, he came to accuse ten-fold, but he did not succeed.
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About the Author: Jordan Levy is a staff writer for First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David where she also serves by translating from Hebrew, French, and Italian into English. She is dedicated to strengthening her community and providing linguistic and theological teaching. More articles by Jordan Levy

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