Monday, August 24, 2015

The Shemitah myths exposed

Shemitah Years and Blood Moons as Market Timing Tools
Jerry Bowyer, President, Bowyer Research; Jay Ryan, Author-Signs & Seasons: Understanding the Elements of Classical Astronomy; Charles Bowyer, Research Analyst, Bowyer Research; Joel McDurmon, Ph.D.

Foreword -- By Dr. Joel McDurmon
There is currently an explosion of interest in the Old Testament religious law of “Shemitah” thanks to books like Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger. This wildly popular book makes startling claims about catastrophic judgments and financial chaos allegedly backed by convincing historical evidences. Coupled with the alleged coincidence of the Jewish Shemitah years as well as the “Blood Moon” phenomena which have also recently been hyped, this message has unnecessarily confused and alarmed even many level-headed Christians. In fact, with the inclusion of historical evidences, even non-religious forecasters are joining the prediction circuit, resulting in the shock and alarm of many in the secular world as well, especially the financial industry.

The excellent paper which follows—and which I am proud to bring to you from a friend of mine—addresses the “Shemitah” and “Blood Moon” issue specifically from a historical, astronomical, and financial perspective. While I will let the main paper do most of the discussion for itself, in this brief Foreword I want to make a few comments on the religious side of the equation, as well as how this phenomenon has also recently been secularized and leveraged primarily, it appears, for personal financial gain. It is my concern to prevent Christians and many in the young libertarian audience as well from being duped into sales pitches with fears built on religious chicanery.  It is my conclusion that The Harbinger, the Blood Moons materials, and the particular use they make of “Shemitah” are unfortunately very misleading, although The Harbinger in particular is presented in an engaging “mystery” format very similar to The Da Vinci Code. Now that I think of it, The Harbinger is written in the same genre—fiction pretending to be fact. As to accuracy in regard to Christianity, however, the two deserve the same assessment.

Making Void the Word of God
The interest arises due The Harbinger’s bold claim that this “mystery” literally “holds the secret of America’s future.” Since the next “Shemitah” year on the Jewish calendar occurs allegedly beginning this September, 2015, the alleged big event has millions of readers anticipating imminent collapse.1 But there are several theological problems with the presentation, not the least of which is labeling the “Shemitah” as an “ancient mystery.” While this may fool many of the unsuspecting or unknowing, anyone familiar with the Bible (especially the Hebrew law) will tell you this is an absolute joke. The “Shemitah” is a well-known principle that has been openly known and expounded by rabbis since it was first revealed as part of the Old Testament law thousands of years ago. In fact, when I told an Orthodox Jewish friend of mine that some Christian authors were making bold end-time predictions based on it, he simply laughed and said, “That’s funny. Are they unaware that we go through this every 7 years?”

Biblically speaking, a “mystery” is something that God has kept hidden for centuries and only recently revealed in its fullness. This is what Christians believe the gospel of the New Testament was in the time of Jesus Christ (see Eph. 1:9). It is now no longer a mystery. But the Shemitah was never hidden; it was openly revealed and read out loud to everyone from day one.  Far from being any new revelation, Jews have celebrated hundreds upon hundreds of these Shemitot (the plural form of the word) without historical incident and without anyone besides Jews, really, ever paying much attention.  There is nothing special or “prophetic” about them; they are commonplace, ritual occurrences. The only real problem here is that too many Christians are ignorant of the Old Testament, and thus get duped!  What is the Biblical Shemitah?

So what is this “Shemitah”? It is simply part of the Hebrew system of Sabbath-rests. Most people are familiar with the weekly Sabbath: Saturday for Jews and Sunday for most Christians. That’s one day out of seven. Less well known is the Sabbath-year. In the law of Moses, every seventh year was a Sabbath year, or “Shemitah” (“release”) year. In these years, all debts were cancelled and anyone who had fallen into slavery or indentured servitude was released.

Finally, after every seven Shemitah years (49 years), the law prescribed for Israel to set aside the 50th year as Yovel, or a “Jubilee” year. In addition to release of debts and freedom for indentured servants, in this year all land in Israel was returned to its original owners or living descendants. This way, whatever hardships may have fallen throughout life, the Jewish people living in the land were never permanently disinherited from their family’s inheritance.

For Christians, these laws ultimately had symbolic significance for the work of Jesus Christ. When He first announced His earthly ministry, He did so in terms of the fulfillment of the Jublilee. He did so by reading Isaiah 61 in His local synagogue:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18–21).

This “year of the Lord’s favor” in which “liberty” is given to the captives was not only the fulfillment of Isaiah 61, but is widely recognized as a reference to the spiritual meaning of God’s Jubilee system.

No One Today Celebrates Shemitah
The concept of fulfillment is important because it is here that we recognize why the Shemitah principle can have no significance for anyone today, Jew or Christian—at least not from God’s perspective. The entire ritual system of the Mosaic law as a whole and in virtually every detail was fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is why Jesus told the Pharisees (religious leaders of His day who claimed to be foremost experts and devotees of Moses): “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46).

But since Jesus has come, died on the cross, resurrected, and created a new “living” Temple of His body (the body of all believers who follow Christ—see 1 Peter 2:4–5), we no longer need the old stone temple, sacrifices of lambs, or the old Hebrew calendar of Sabbaths and moons. This is what the whole biblical book of Hebrews is about: we now have a better covenant (the New Covenant) with a better priest, better sacrifice, better temple, better temple mount, better feast, better inheritance—better everything! And since that is true, to seek to return to the old, inferior and earthly system is to do injustice and disgrace to Christ!

The Apostle Paul makes these points prominently as well. To the Colossian church he wrote, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16–17).
Paul was teaching that since Christ has come, all of the former Sabbaths and new moon festivals, etc.—which includes by definition Shemitah—are superseded and have no further significance for the Christian. They were merely “shadows” of the substance found in Christ. They have no place in judging the life of the Christian. As relics of the Old Testament symbols now replaced by the full truth in Christ, they have no prophetic significance either.  Indeed, Paul suggests that the Christian has fully “died” (Col. 2:20) to the old elements of the ceremonial law.

For these reasons, the book of Hebrews announces the replacement of the Old Covenant (Sinai, Moses) with the New Covenant, and it specifically states that the Old Covenant had become obsolete. This is how the letter puts it:

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13).

Think about that. The entire Old Covenant was “ready to vanish away” already in the first century when this letter was written. When you consider that the whole book contrasts the New Testament fulfillment in Christ against the old temple, sacrifice, and calendar system, you can understand the first-century prophetic significance of this pronouncement. The Old Covenant system was indeed “ready,” or “about to,” pass away at the time:

in AD 70, the Roman armies destroyed the city of Jerusalem and dismantled the old temple block-by-block just as Jesus had predicted (Matt. 24:1–2).  From Christ’s ascension in AD 30 (roughly), the Old Covenant systems were superseded. But Christ mercifully gave the Jewish people of the time an entire generation—40 years—to repent and receive the message before He had the nation and its old temple destroyed. From that moment on, nothing about the old sacrificial or calendar system has had any relevance for the Christian life or future.

But What about the Jews?
While it is true that those following the religion of Judaism have observed the Sabbaths, moons, and Shemitah for centuries (as mentioned earlier), they have done so in a way that essentially renders the spirit of the law null and void. Before I explain the rabbinical version of this for today, let me explain a bit of background.

First, we must consider a parallel case in which Jesus confronted the Pharisees (certain devout Jews) of His day for creating clever loopholes to get around the substance of the law. This episode is recorded in Mark 7. It reads:

And he [Jesus] said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:9–13).  The short explanation here is that under the Old Covenant system, sons and daughters were expected to support their parents in their old age. But the Pharisees had devised a system in which young men could falsely “dedicate” their wealth to the temple, and yet still use that wealth for other purposes as agents of that public body. Yet since the wealth was not technically their own, they were absolved of spending it on their parents. Jesus rightfully rebuked this system for what it really was—a blatant violation of the fifth commandment masquerading as religious piety!

It is key to notice what Jesus says at the end: “And many such things you do.” You can find such legal wranglings throughout the Pharisees’ and rabbinical commentaries on God’s laws.

Secondly, and related to the first point, you must realize that modern day Judaism is nothing less than an extension of the Pharisees’ version of Judaism in Jesus’ days. This is openly admitted by modern orthodox Jews and Jewish scholars, and is not received as any kind of “antisemitic” slur. The Judaism that survived the first century was almost exclusively the Judaism of the Pharisees, and that is the version passed down to today.  In light of these things, therefore, we can understand why I argue that no one—not even modern Jews—actually observe the Shemitah according to the Bible. While they may observe the biblical day and the ritual in name, it is usually in a “loophole” version very much akin to the way the Pharisees of Jesus’ day created the temple-dedication rule that violated the fifth commandment.  The modern practice of Shemitah is one of those “many such things” as Christ said.

So what exactly is this loophole? Well, there are many, but the main one is very similar to the “Corban” rule Christ denounced. During Shemitah, all debts between Jews are supposed to be released and cancelled. So you would expect this to happen simply across the board: all debts get wiped out and debtors get to start over, right? No. Rabbis have long since created the practice of writing a “Prozbul.” This document hands over the debt to a public court and makes the lender an agent of the public court. In rabbinic rules, the Shemitah release does not apply to public agencies, only private debts. So, this arrangement allows the lender to continue collecting his debt even through the Shemitah year.

It’s pretty easy to see how this arrangement effectively does the opposite of what the Shemitah law intended. Instead of cancelling debts between people, it specifically makes sure they remain. Thus, what Jesus said about the Corban rule above applies directly here also: these modern-day Pharisees make void the word of God by their tradition.

As such, it’s also pretty easy to acknowledge that Jews don’t keep the Shemitah law any more than anyone else. Christians don’t keep it because it has been fulfilled and replaced by Christ. Modern Jews may not accept this, but they don’t keep the law either because they have created a tradition specifically designed to avoid the heart of it. No one keeps Shemitah.  Aside from the fact that we can theoretically continue to count sevens into eternity, the Shemitah is utterly devoid of any meaning or significance as a religious concept, principle, or law.

This means there are only a handful of misguided reasons anyone would place significance in it. Perhaps some Jews or Christians could attach to it some mystical meaning, pretending there is some kind of secret, mystical principle pervading the universe. Even if there are a few such people, they would be appealing to pure fancy or claiming some special privilege of prophetic powers for themselves. Such a view would certainly not be derived from the Bible either in regard to the doctrine of the Shemitah itself, any alleged secret power pervading the universe, or to their own private prophetic powers.  The only other option would be some sort of conspiracy theory. Perhaps certain people have determined certain patterns in history, and found it convenient to create a story based upon it. Perhaps some people have connected key historic events as nearly as possible with the seven-year principle, and presented this story after-the-fact as fulfilled “prophetic” events or as predictive of the near future?

Why would anyone invent such a conspiracy theory? Well, some people truly believe the conspiracies they purport. Others create conspiracy theories out of anger, jealousy, or even righteous indignation at the injustices of others (whether real or perceived). Still others perpetuate such theories for the pure reason of selling books, newsletters, subscriptions, etc. And often, the truth is a combination of these.
And that leads me to the last section of this brief Foreword.

The Shemitah Secularized
I had been asked several times about the predictions and claims made in The Harbinger. For the most part, I considered it one more passing fad. I was content to let it go the way of every other end-times prediction. I had already written enough about John Hagee’s Blood Moons predictions: explaining why he is certainly wrong in his biblical interpretation of it, and exposing why his claims are without question a prediction of the return of Jesus for which he ought to be held accountable. I honestly did not want to delve any further into these related matters.

But then I saw a famous secular forecaster latch on to the Shemitah principle, specifically citing The Harbinger, and tying it together with a variety of other events in a grand conspiracy theory that is allegedly going to climax this September 2015! His YouTube video is approaching a million views. The Shemitah and Blood Moons predictions have been secularized, turned into a full-blown conspiracy theory, and they have gained a very broad audience, primarily among young libertarians.

The whole thrust of this video is the threat of an imminent and inescapable “event.” In fact, it begins with a statement very reminiscent of the language of The Harbinger:

An event with profound implications takes place in September 2015.  A 3,000 year old mystery [ha!] called the Shemitah. Some are aware of it, most aren’t. Elites on Wall Street call it the “end of a seven-year cycle.” What they either don’t know or won’t say, however, is that these endings are historically disastrous and this one may be even worse. There are signs, both economic, financial and military that this September 2015 could change everything about the way we live and work … and even survive.

That’s pretty ominous. But worse, once I watched the video, I was immediately angered. I realized this purported exposé and interview is nothing more than a cleverly composed advertisement. I realized the “interview” was being read from a script carefully prepared to induce action and reduce inhibitions. I began to anticipate exactly where it was going. I knew it was going to end with a “click here to get my free report!”—the classic first step to get your name on an email list and then bombard you with sales offers for investment newsletters.

Now, offering free reports in exchange for an email address is not necessarily bad—it can be great free-market business. (In fact, it’s how you got this free report.) But when religiously-charged conspiracy theories are presented as genuine concern to get free information to the public, but the end-goal is really to sell investment newsletters not caring whether the great conspiracy actually takes place or not—I consider that to be more than a little disingenuous. And since my area of expertise includes the intersection of culture and religion—specifically Mosaic law (like Shemitah)—I take it a little personal when I see these things being twisted, and people confused and deceived, for someone’s calculated personal gain.

I knew things were fishy when this financial expert’s story began to include contradictory statements (pretty bad considering it was a prepared script!).

First he says he discovered the Shemitah principle in his private financial research:
“My discovery of it emerged as part of my financial analysis.” Then just few sentences later he says, “I first heard of the Shemitah after reading Jonathan Cahn’s book The Harbinger.” Well, which is it? This story sounds fishy already.

Meanwhile, the video’s purposefully-chosen music builds anticipation, and discussions of global-scale movements drives us to expect some coming crisis this September. It’s the main thing you hear over and over: September, September, September. But then the analyst smoothly adds a subtle disclaimer. He says the Shemitah event this September may actually not be a big crisis after all! “It could just be the beginning of a long process that unfolds, that takes many years to end in total collapse.”

Well, again, which is it? The irony here is that he is building anxiety with a very short time window and focus on September. This will drive “act now” sales. But he is also covering himself in case it does happen suddenly. It could happen slowly over years. So, you know, keep watching. Keep hanging on. Keep subscribing.

Yet we are assured, “Everything seems to be gravitating towards this September.  Something’s going on. What that is, is anyone’s guess.” Indeed, it must remain vague: “There’s too many variables to make a solid guess.” And yet, “This is far too many coincidences that all seem to point to something massive happening around September of this year.”

“The U.S. seems to be ground-zero for this coming crisis.”

But there is hope here, believe it or not. Since you have the predictive expert and his free report on your side, you can not only escape the calamity—you can benefit from it. And not only benefit—you could rich off of it!  That’s right, “During any crisis, there’s always an opportunity to become wealthy.”

“I’m telling subscribers of ways to—with limited risk—make a fortune if some sort of market calamity occurs this September or October.” “Very few market analysts see what’s going on, and so we have a great advantage over them when the collapse comes.”

Note that: “subscribers.” Now we’re looking past the area of free reports.  But don’t worry my fear-herded, panic-stricken audience! You’re not only in a small elite group with insider investment knowledge, you also enjoy “limited risk”! You stand to gain everything and lose very little! Wow! Just imagine how it was that thousands of other Wall Street elites have totally missed this Shemitah opportunity—even though the forecaster told you up front they already know about it.

So then, finally, the action step comes: “We created a special report on how to survive the coming collapse as well as how to profit from it.” All you have to do is go to And keep in mind that this guy really just has the public interest at heart: his report is free allegedly “because” the information is too important to withhold from anyone.

Well, actually, there’s a bit more to it. I signed up, clicked through, and read it. The lengthy report provides hardly any specifics on what to do to profit from this crisis or even survive it. It is really just another long advertisement—only this one ends with a sales pitch for a $39.95 three-month newsletter or a $150 annual subscription. And there’s more. I won’t deconstruct the ad entirely, but suffice it to say that it is expertly composed and contains classic techniques for lowering resistance and driving one to a sale.  Now back up to the first moment you clicked on that YouTube video entitled “SHEMITAH EXPOSED” and ask yourself whether this whole string of events is really designed primarily for truth or for marketing. If you think this is about informing the public, think again. It is about convincing the public with fear tactics and a clever presentation.

Can this guy be right at all? Could he actually help you? Perhaps. But this marketing campaign looks primarily designed for you to help him.

After scrutiny of the fundamental aspects of all these predictions—The Harbinger, the Blood Moon predictions, and the secularized predictions drawn out of them—I am convinced that they are not grounded in sound Biblical teaching, Biblical law, Biblical prophecy, any alleged “prophetic” realm, or religious truth. As I said, The Harbinger is in the same literary genre as The Da Vinci Code, and it’s applications of Biblical teaching and history are on the same level.

The secularized marketing scheme built upon this phenomenon I regard as even worse. While it is probably the case that Jonathan Cahn truly believes what he has written in The Harbinger and is perfectly sincere in calling America to repentance (and who would complain if this truly resulted!), the calculated marketing based on the fears associated with these issues in order to sell investment newsletters is, in my opinion, without conscience.  I have now given religious and ethical objections to the phenomena outlined above. I have concluded that the Shemitah is biblically and religiously annulled. It has no significance today except primarily for Jews who don’t really observe it anyway, and for conspiracy theorists who use it to advance their special interests, mainly profit. In the report that follows, you will see a very experienced Christian financial analyst collaborate with a Christian astronomer to confirm this case from historical, astronomical, and financial perspectives as well.

1. There are other persuasive aspects to The Harbinger as well, particularly its application of Isaiah 9:8–10 as an alleged parallel prophecy for America and the September 11, 2001 attacks. Space does not allow a full analysis of all these points, but suffice it to say that my conclusion is very similar as that which follows for the relevance of the Shemitah law.

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