Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

Judahites, Judahite-Christians, and Old Testament Birthdays

Celebrating the day of one’s birth, as though it were a special occasion, is wrong. It violates YEHOVAH’s command. It keeps people selfishly focused on their temporary, physical lives, when YEHOVAH’s purpose is to give His people Israel eternal life in His Family. True Christian-Israelites should be focused on how their lives are preparing them for rulership on this earth at the return of YEHOVAH God and His Messiah.

by John D. Keyser

What were early Judahite practices regarding the day of their birth?

The first century Judahite historian Josephus noted that Judahite families did not celebrate birthdays:

"Nay, indeed, the law does not permit us to make festivals at the birth of our children, and thereby afford occasion of drinking to excess" (Josephus. Translated by W. Whiston. Against Apion, Book II, Chapter 26. Extracted from Josephus Complete Works, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids (MI), 14th printing, 1977, p. 632).

There is no tradition in Judaism of celebrating birthdays, otherwise we would have a list of birthdays from Noah, Abraham to Moses, King David and many others, but no such thing exists. There are of course Sages who have suggested that certain individuals were born on Moedim or important days of Israel's history, however there are no "birthdays" within Judaism, Torah, Judahite Christians or the true Ecclesia of YEHOVAH God down through the ages.

Now although there is no specific command against the celebration of birthdays in the Bible, the Judahite custom in those days was apparently based on the negative occurrences in the Bible surrounding birthdays, as well as the astrological implications of the celebration of birthdays (pagan practices, like astrology, were specifically prohibited in the law).

Since nearly all of the first Christians were Judahites, this may partially explain why the celebration of the Messiah's birth would not be consistent with that early custom.

In their essay titled "Birthdays, Jewishly," Lisa Farber Miller and Sandra Widener point out that the Encyclopedia Judaica is very blunt on this topic:

"The celebration of birthdays is unknown in traditional Jewish ritual."

Here are some passages in the Old Testament that the Judahites probably looked at to come to their conclusion about birthdays:

"Now it came to pass on the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. Then he restored the chief butler to his butlership again, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand. But he hanged the chief baker" (Genesis 40:20-22).

"There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD" (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

Early Origins of Birthdays

So what is the origin of birthdays? Where did the idea of birthdays celebrations come from?

"Originally the idea [of birthday greetings and wishes for happiness] was rooted in magic. The working of spells for good and evil is the chief usage of witchcraft. One is especially susceptible to such spells on his birthday, as one's personal spirits are about at that time. Dreams dreamed on the birthday eve should be remembered, for they are predictions of the future brought by the guardian spirits which hover over one's bed on the birthday eve. Birthday greetings have power for good or ill because one is closer to the spirit world on this day. Good wishes bring good fortune, but the reverse is also true, so one should avoid enemies on one's birthday and be surrounded only by well-wishers. 'Happy birthday' and 'Many happy returns of the day' are the traditional greetings" (The Lore of Birthdays, Linton, p. 20).

"The giving of birthday gifts is a custom associated with the offering of sacrifices to pagan gods on their birthdays. Certainly the custom was linked with the same superstitions that formed the background for birthday greetings. 'The exchange of presents' is associated with the importance of ingratiating good and evil fairies on their or our birthdays" (ibid.).

The traditional birthday cake and candles also have their origin in ancient pagan idol worship. We read in The Two Babylons, by Alexander Hislop, that

"it was the birth of the 'Lord Moon' that was celebrated among our ancestors at Christmas, we have remarkable evidence in the name that is still given in the lowlands of Scotland to the feast...which seems to be a remnant of the old birth festival for the cakes then made are called Nur-Cakes, or Birth-cakes. That name is Hogmanay. Now, 'Hog-Manai' in Chaldee signifies 'The feast of the Numberer'; in other words, The festival of Deus Lunus, or of the Man of the Moon" (Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune, NJ. 1959, p. 95).

The ancients believed that the fire of candles had magical properties. They offered prayers and made wishes to be carried to the gods on the flames of the candles. Thus we still have the widely practiced birthday custom of making a wish, then blowing out the candles. The Greeks celebrated the birthday of their moon goddess, Artemis, with cakes adorned with lighted candles.

"The Egyptians discovered to which of the gods each month and day is sacred; and found out from the day of a man's birth, what he will meet with in the course of his life, and how he will end his days, and what sort of man he will be" (Herodotus, Persian Wars, Book II, ch. 82)

Since it was believed that the positions of the stars at the time of birth influenced a child's future, astrological horoscopes came into being, purporting to foretell the future, based on the time of birth. "Birthdays are intimately linked with the stars, since without the calendar, no one could tell when to celebrate his birthday. They are also indebted to the stars in another way, for in early days the chief importance of birthday records was to enable the astrologers to chart horoscopes" (The Lore of Birthdays, p. 53). Rawlinson's translation of Herodotus includes the following footnote: "Horoscopes were of very early use in Egypt and Cicero speaks of the Egyptians and Chaldees predicting a man's destiny at his birth".

"When we examine the principles of God's law closely, as they relate to birthday celebrations, we can understand why neither Jesus, nor his Apostles, nor their true followers, observed their birthdays. As noted earlier, the practice has its origin in idolatry and the worship of the sun, moon and stars...Some may view birthday customs as purely secular, lacking any religious significance. Yet we need to be aware of the broader perspective of their origins, and the religious significance they have had -- and still have -- for vast multitudes of people" (Reynolds, Rod. Should Christians Celebrate Birthdays? Living Church News, May-June 2002. pp.16-18).

Furthermore, the book The Lore of Birthdays (New York, 1952) by Ralph and Adelin Linton, on pages 8, 18-20 had this to say:

"The Greeks believed that everyone had a protective spirit or daemon who attended his birth and watched over him in life. This spirit had a mystic relation with the god on whose birthday the individual was born. The Romans also subscribed to this idea....This notion was carried down in human belief and is reflected in the guardian angel, the fairy godmother and the patron saint....The custom of lighted candles on the cakes started with the Greeks....Honey cakes round as the moon and lit with tapers were placed on the temple altars of [Artemis]....Birthday candles, in folk belief, are endowed with special magic for granting wishes....Lighted tapers and sacrificial fires have had a special mystic significance ever since man first set up altars to his gods. The birthday candles are thus an honor and tribute to the birthday child and bring good fortune."

Saying “happy birthday” to friends and loved ones was society’s superstitious way of protecting them from evil spirits. Birthday thumps, bumps, pinches, etc., were said to bring luck and send away evil spirits. Party snappers, horns and other noisemakers were also intended to scare off bad-luck spirits.

Thus it appears that birthdays had their origin in mythology and magic, with horoscopes also probably playing a role. It should now be clear that birthdays are not only unbiblical, they are pagan!

In Judaism people are memorialized by their day of death, their yahrzeit -- their personal anniversary, not the day of their birth. One who follows the Messiah must certainly be spiritually born again (by the resurrection) to enter into Life. This spiritual re-birth looks forward to the world to come -- the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God -- and pales the physical birth by a quantum leap. By elevating ones physical birthday the flesh is magnified above the spiritual.

Those of us who wish to enter into the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God are not to subscribe to pagan tradition. The Scripture says: "A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth" (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

Celebrating the day of one’s birth, as though it were a special occasion, is wrong. It violates YEHOVAH’s command. It keeps people selfishly focused on their temporary, physical lives, when YEHOVAH’s purpose is to give His people Israel eternal life in His Family. True Christian-Israelites should be focused on how their lives are preparing them for rulership on this earth at the return of YEHOVAH God and His Messiah.

The celebration of birthdays is a tradition that justifies the flesh, it is generally used as an excuse to eat foods of Babylon or do mundane and trivial activities for the sake of "amusement" that merit nothing for the world to come. Whenever pride and the flesh rise up in our souls, Truth and Sobriety for the word and spirit of YEHOVAH God takes the back seat.

Although some politely choose not to celebrate birthdays, their family or friends push the issue and try to impose their will. Perhaps some feel a need to give recognition, hoping you will return the favor? Perhaps some want to indebt you, so you feel obligated to recognize their birthday? Do we want recognition to come, from YEHOVAH or from men? The choice is up to you.


Hope of Israel Ministries -- Proclaiming the Good News of the Soon-Coming Kingdom of YEHOVAH God!

Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.

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