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SUKKOT: Yeshua and the Water Libation Ceremony

SUKKOT: Yeshua and the Water Libation Ceremony

By
James Scott Trimm

We read in Yoochanan:

And on the great day, which is the last of the feast,
Yeshua stood and cried out and said,
If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures have said,
rivers of water of life will flow from his belly.
(Yochanan 7:37-38)

The occasion of this event is the last great day of Sukkot (Jn. 7:2) and the setting appears to be the water libation ceremony at the Temple. A priest had a flask of gold filled with water and another has a flask of gold filled with wine. There were two silver bowls perforated with holes like a narrow snout. One was wide for the water the other is narrow for the wine. The priests poured the wine and water into each of their bowls. The wine and water mixed together. The wine flowing slowly through the narrow snout and the water flowing quickly through the wider snout.

The ceremony is described in the Mishnah as follows:

HOW WAS THE WATER LIBATION [PERFORMED]? A GOLDEN FLAGON HOLDING THREE LOGS WAS FILLED FROM THE SILOAM. WHEN THEY ARRIVED AT THE WATER GATE, THEY SOUNDED A TEKI'AH [LONG BLAST], A TERU'AH [TREMULOUS NOTE] AND AGAIN A TEKI'AH [LONG BLAST]. [THE PRIEST THEN] WENT UP THE ASCENT [OF THE ALTAR] AND TURNED TO HIS LEFT WHERE THERE WERE TWO SILVER BOWLS. R. JUDAH SAID, THEY WERE OF PLASTER [BUT THEY LOOKED SILVER] BECAUSE THEIR SURFACES WERE DARKENED FROM THE WINE. THEY HAD EACH A HOLE LIKE A SLENDER SNOUT, ONE [HOLE] BEING WIDE AND THE OTHER NARROW SO THAT BOTH EMPTIED THEMSELVES TOGETHER. THE ONE ON THE WEST WAS FOR WATER AND THE ONE ON THE EAST FOR WINE. IF ONE POURED THE FLAGON OF WATER INTO THE BOWL FOR WINE, OR THAT OF WINE INTO THAT FOR WATER, HE HAS FULFILLED HIS OBLIGATION. R. JUDAH STATED, WITH ONE LOG HE PERFORMED THE CEREMONY OF THE WATER-LIBATION ALL EIGHT DAYS. TO [THE PRIEST] WHO PERFORMED THE LIBATION THEY USED TO SAY, ‘RAISE THY HAND’; FOR ON A CERTAIN OCCASION, A CERTAIN MAN POURED OUT THE WATER OVER HIS FEET, AND ALL THE PEOPLE PELTED HIM WITH THEIR ETHROGS.

AS WAS ITS PERFORMANCE ON WEEKDAYS, SO WAS ITS PERFORMANCE ON THE SABBATH, SAVE THAT ON THE EVE OF THE SABBATH AN UNHALLOWED GOLDEN BARREL WAS FILLED FROM THE SILOAM, AND PLACED IN A CHAMBER. IF IT WAS POURED AWAY OR UNCOVERED, IT WAS REFILLED FROM THE LAVER, FOR WINE OR WATER WHICH HAS BECOME UNCOVERED IS INVALID FOR THE ALTAR.
(m.Sukkah 4:9 (b.Sukkah 48a-b)

It was as this ceremony was being performed that Yeshua stood up and said:


If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures have said,
rivers of water of life will flow from his belly.


Similar imagery appears in the Book of Enoch (see comments to Jude 1:14-15):

And in that place I saw the fountain of righteousness
Which was inexhaustible:
And around it were many fountains of wisdom:
And all the thirsty drank of them,
And were filled with wisdom,
And their dwellings were with the righteous and holy and elect.
(1Enoch 48:1)

And elsewhere in the Mishna:

…Let your house be a gathering place for sages…
and drink in their words with gusto.
(m.Avot 1:4)

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