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The Feast: What Shall We Call It?

October 13, 2019

Christians who read the KJV usually know it as the Feast of Tabernacles (Zech. 14 & John 7) or the Feast of Booths (Lev. 23 & Neh. 8). Christians who read modern translations may know it as the Feast of Shelters, or the Feast of Huts, or something like that. Jews usually call it by its Biblical Hebrew name, Sukkot (sometimes spelled Succot). Classical Jewish sources sometimes just call it ha-chag, "the Feast," because it is the final feast of the Bible's annual cycle of the Feast Days, and it therefore prophetically represents the culmination of human history and the setting up of the future Messianic Kingdom.

   From my personal observation, I would guess that the most commonly-used term for the Feast among non-Jews is the Feast of Tabernacles. The second most commonly-used term is probably the Feast of Booths.

   Even though sukkot is translated "tabernacles" and "booths" in at least one Jewish translation (JPS version), these terms sometimes sound quaint or foreign to some Jews. A New York Jew who never celebrated Sukkot until he immigrated to Israel explained his neglect of the holiday in America. He said that when he saw the "Feast of Tabernacles" announcement at his American synagogue, it "sounded so biblically remote like a Southern Baptist thing, that I paid no attention" (Matthew Granover, "Succah Shock in Israel," newspaper insert in author's possession).

   A sukkah (singular of sukkot) in Biblical times was a temporary make-shift structure constructed of sticks and covered with leafy branches to provide shade for workers or livestock. The words "booth" and "tabernacle" do not communicate this idea in modern English. The word "booth" usually makes a person think of a ticket booth, a phone booth, or a booth at a fair or convention. The word "tabernacle" usually makes a person think of a big fancy church building, like the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

   So why was sukkot translated "booths" and "tabernacles" in the KJV? In 1611 when the KJV was translated (and in 1525 when Tyndale translated the Bible), "tabernacles" and "booths" were both good choices to translate the word sukkot. The Hebrew phrase chag ha-sukkot in Leviticus 23:34 ("the feast of tabernacles" in the KJV) was translated into Latin as feriae tabernaculorum. In Latin a tabernaculum is a hut or tent, sometimes used in a sacred context. So in view of the Latin origins of the English "tabernacles," it is a suitable translation for sukkot.

   What about the word "booths"? In Leviticus 23:42 the KJV translates ba-sukkot teshvu as "ye shall dwell in booths." In 17th-century England, a "booth" was a shelter roofed with green tree branches to provide shelter from the sun. So "booths" was an accurate translation of sukkot in 1611.

   Where the KJV says "ye shall dwell in booths," the Latin translation says habitabitis in umbraculis. The Latin umbraculum comes from umbra, which means "shade" or "a shady place." The English word umbrella is from umbra. In classical Latin an umbraculum was a parasol; in later centuries an umbraculum was a temporary shelter. It's a good thing the KJV translators didn't translate chag ha-sukkot as "the Feast of Umbrellas." To modern ears, that would sound even weirder than the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths.

   The "Feast" in "the Feast of Tabernacles" is another word that sounds quaint to some Jews. A "feast" is usually a single sumptuous banquet, not a week-long celebration whose centerpiece is a flimsy, temporary shelter. One Jewish writer states: "Rather than speaking of a feast that isn't a feast, tabernacles that aren't tabernacles, and booths that aren't booths, it is indeed more sensible to say Sukkot" (Philologos, in a past issue of Forward).

   Perhaps it is more sensible to say Sukkot when talking to Jews. But when talking to non-Jews, who usually don't know the Hebrew word, I still prefer to call it the Feast of Tabernacles. You can call it by some other name if you wish. The most important thing about it is not its nomenclature but its celebration and all that its celebration represents.

   If you have never celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles and don't know much about it, find a group of disciples who celebrate the Feast and enter in. The holy convocations of the Feasts of Yahweh are "rehearsals," the Bible says. (Look up mikra--"convocation"--in Strong's Concordance or see below.) If you're not celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles now, you'll be celebrating it in the Messianic Kingdom after the Lord returns. If you don't, rain will be withheld from you. (See Zechariah 14.) So start rehearsing now, so you'll be ready for the Feast when He returns.


| DB

מִקְרָא miqrâʼ, mik-raw'; from H7121; something called out, i.e. a public meeting (the act, the persons, or the place); also a rehearsal:—assembly, calling, convocation, reading.  (From Blue Letter Bible online; highlighting added.)


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