Episode 85: Blood Moons, Jewish Holidays, and the End of All Things
Recap: Around 2008, the claim that Jewish holidays occurring during a Blood Moon in 2014 and 2015 was going to signal the Apocalypse. The claim persists in some circles today. Exploring the nature of eclipses and the Jewish calendar itself sheds some light onto the basic claim.
Puzzler for Episode 85: Is there ever a time when the moon is up that, with modern photographic equipment, you can capture both the moon and hundreds of stars and have both be visible AND properly exposed in a single shot? If so, when, and if not, why not?
Answer to Puzzler from Episode 84: There was no puzzler in episode 84.
Q&A: There was no Q&A for this episode.
- Logical Fallacies / Critical Thinking Terms addressed in this episode: Correlation ≠ Causation, numerology, Affirming the Consequent, Cherry-picking
- Relevant Posts on my "Exposing PseudoAstronomy" Blog
Claim: The claim for this episode is a bit more widespread than I thought before I started researching for this episode. It's a claim made by many - and there are even websites dedicated too it such as "The Blood Moon Prophecy" at bloodmoonprophecy.com, though it may have been started by a guy named Mark Biltz, the founder of El Shaddai Ministries. The idea is that blood moons occur during several Jewish holidays in 2014 and 2015, and that because of those occurrences, the Apocalypse is going to be triggered.
What Is a Blood Moon
In order to address this, we first have to know what a "blood moon" is. It's an at least partial total lunar eclipse. As in, there are two main parts of Earth's shadow that the moon can pass through during a lunar eclipse: The penumbra and the umbra. If you were on the moon when it was in Earth's penumbra, then the sun would be partly blocked by Earth. You'd still be able to see some of the sun. If you're on part of the moon that's in Earth's umbra, then NONE of the sun is visible to you, it's completely blocked by Earth.
This means that, from Earth, when we see part of the moon in the penumbra, it only dims a little bit. It's like blocking just a part of a light bulb, you're only going to dim the room a little. When any part of the moon enters the umbra, then from Earth, it gets MUCH darker. If there were no atmosphere around Earth, then for all practical purposes, the part of the moon in the umbral shadow would not be visible at all, no light would reach it.
Instead, because we DO have an atmosphere around our planet, sunlight can be bent around Earth. The little bit that does can then reflect off the moon's surface and so we can see it, but there's very little light that gets there, so it's MUCH dimmer. And, because it's going through our atmosphere, which preferentially scatters shorter-wavelength - or, bluer - light, then it's just the red light that can make it all the way through and reflect off the Moon back to Earth. That's why a total lunar eclipse looks red.
That's also why it's called a "blood moon" by people who want to sound all scary and mysterious.
I should also note before I leave this background into the lunar eclipses that a lunar eclipse - when the Moon goes into Earth's shadow and dims - can ONLY happen during a full moon. That's because it's during a full moon and ONLY during a full moon that you have a line between the sun and moon with Earth between them.
The reason that we don't get a lunar eclipse EVERY full moon is because we live in 3D: The moon's orbit is slightly tilted, by 5.2°, relative to the plane of the Earth and sun. So, not only do you have to have a full moon for there to be a lunar eclipse, but the Moon also has to be just about on one of those two nodal points where it crosses the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. It sometimes helps to visualize this as one hoola hoop with a small round drink coaster on it, with the hoop going through the middle of the coaster, but the coaster tilted slightly relative to the hoop. The hoop represents Earth's orbit around the sun, the coaster represents the Moon's orbit around Earth. Only twice in its orbit does the Moon cross the plane of the hoop, all other times it's either above or below, so it won't be in Earth's shadow.
And, these two nodal points move. So from one orbit to the next, they're in slightly different positions. But, they're ALMOST exactly 180° away from each other. That means that if you have a lunar eclipse coming up, chances are there's a solar eclipse either two weeks before that or after it, because that's when the moon crosses the next nodal point. We call that an "eclipse season." And if you're in luck, you get three eclipses each two weeks apart, like a lunar eclipse, then two weeks later a solar eclipse, then two weeks later another lunar eclipse. And, because of the way the precession of the nodes works out, often times the next time the nodes line up with the line between the Earth and the Sun, it will be about six months later. So if you have a good eclipse in March, then chances are good you have another eclipse coming up in September, six months later.
So, to review a bit, the blood moon is a lunar eclipse where at least part of the moon is in Earth's umbral shadow so it's very dark and very red. Eclipses only happen when the sun-Earth-moon align in the same line AND same plane. The same line can only happen during a new moon, where you'd get a solar eclipse, or a full moon, where you'd get a lunar eclipse. And, because of the way the moon's orbital tilt works with Earth's orbit around the sun, these nodes often line up to give you eclipses about six months apart, and during an eclipse season, you can get two or three eclipses happening two weeks apart. That's a lot of celestial mechanics to take in, so let's take a break from it.
Jewish Calendar and Holidays
The second piece of background information for this episode is about the Jewish calendar, or more specifically, the Jewish or Hebrew religious calendar. I find calendar systems fascinating, so you'll have to indulge me a bit while I get into this.
The Hebrew calendar is a pretty ancient system, probably based on the Babylonian calendar from which it gets the seven-day week, concept of a leap-day/week/month, and even the names of the month. The seven-day week very likely comes from lunar phases since it takes about 7 days each to go from new to half, half to full, full to half, and half to new again. Makes sense to divide your calendar that way and have a month based on the moon.
The problem with that is your lunar calendar is short of the actual solar year, so even over 2000 years ago, they knew to add an extra month every two or three years to correct for those differences. They added it based on observing agricultural events, like when seeds started to sprout.
Around 1500 to 1800 years ago, the kinda "rule of thumb" for when to add the extra month was slowly replaced by various mathematical rules that were fully codified in the Mishneh Torah about 900 years ago. The current Hebrew year is only off by about 6 minutes and 25.5 seconds from the current average solar year. This means that every 224 years, it'll be behind by a day, while every 231 years it'll be behind the Gregorian calendar by a day.
But, in principle, the Jewish calendar is STILL based on lunar cycles, and it repeats with phases of the moon every 235 lunar months or about 19 years.
New months are based on the appearance of the new moon - and like the month of Ramadan is still done today in the Islamic religion, originally, the new crescent moon had to be sighted and certified by witnesses. Don't have to do that today, but it is based on when we know mathematically the new moon happens. And, more importantly for this episode, Jewish holidays pretty much always happen relative to the start of the month.
You might be able to see now where this is going.
Important Jewish Holidays
Based on hebcal.com, there are 10 major Jewish holidays. And yes, by birth I'm Jewish, but I never went to Hebrew school, so I apologize in advance for the crappy pronunciation:
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, and as one might expect, it begins on the first of the month of Tishrei. So, during a new moon.
Yom Kippur is next and 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, during a waxing gibbous moon. It's the day of atonement.
Sukkot is the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles and it starts on the 15th of Tishrei, so it's during a full moon when you could get a lunar eclipse.
Moving on we have Shemini Atzeret which is right after Sukkot finishes on the 22nd of Tishrei. waning gibbous moon.
Simchat Torah is right after Shemini Atzeret, 23rd of Tishrei, so another waning gibbous. Or, if you want to play a game that requires you to be connected to the internet thank you very much Electronic Arts, then you could call this what I did originally, the Sim-Chat holiday.
Chanukah is eight nights and ends on what is supposed to be the darkest day of the year, at least in the northern hemisphere, so it typically starts around the 24th or 25th of Kislev and ends the 2nd or 3rd of Tevet. Anyway, it happens during a new moon.
Purim is on the 14th of Adar, a full moon.
Pesach (or Passover) starts on the 15th of Nisan, another full moon.
Shavuot, or how I pronounced it two weeks ago as the French might, "Shoo-vwah," is the ninth big holiday. It's the Feast of Weeks and starts on the 6th of Sivan if you're in Israel or the 7th of Sivan if you're outside Israel. Apparently cheese blintzes are the traditional food for Shavuot, the holiday on a half-full moon.
Tish'a B'Av is on the 9th of Av, a major feast day, but unimportant for this because it's a waxing gibbous moon.
After going through this, I was also told that Tu Bishvat should also be added to the list of major holidays, and it's on 15 Shevat, which is a full moon.
So, depending on how you count - 10 or 11 holidays - we have two holidays over a new moon and three or four on a full moon. In other words, HALF of the major Jewish holidays could occur during a solar eclipse or a lunar eclipse, and 30-36% happen when a lunar eclipse or "blood moon" can happen.
But, how far apart do those full moon ones happen? We have the months of Tishrei, Adar, Nisan, and Shevat. These are the 7th, 12th, 1st, and 11th months. Or, in order perhaps, 7th, and then 11th, 12th, and 1st. I list 7th as first because that's when Rosh Hashanah is, the Jewish New Year.
And, I list it first because if we have a blood moon during Tishrei, that gives us the 12th month or the 1st month for when another blood moon can happen, because they typically happen in cycles that are about 6 months apart.
So what are the actual dates of when this happens that people are all scared about?
Passover is April 15, 2014, and it happens during a full moon when there will be a total lunar eclipse.
Six months later, Sukkot happens on October 8, 2014, when we also have a full moon and a total lunar eclipse.
Six months after that and six months after that again, we have Passover on April 4, 2015 and Sukkot on September 28, 2014, also during total lunar eclipses. There are also some solar eclipses on more minor Jewish holidays during this time that start on the first of their respective months, such as March 20, 2015 with Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Hashanah is on September 13, 2015 which happens to have a solar eclipse, too.
I did a bit of digging and - hey! I love it when math works out - in 19 years, this'll happen again: In April and October of 2033, we get total lunar eclipses during Pesach and Sukkot. And it happened before in 1986 ... 19 years earlier. Just about that 19-year cycle of repetition of the Jewish calendar. Now, it is somewhat more rare that it happens two years in a row, but still not ridiculously rare, and definitely not a "has-never-happened-before" thing.
Wrap-Up and Retrodiction and Deletion
That's really about all I have to say on this topic, which seems anti-climactic, so I guess I'll try to say a bit more. I'm not sure what logical fallacy this is or if it even is one, but it's effectively saying that B happens, therefore an extraordinary C will happen, while ignoring that a mundane thing A causes what SEEMS to be rare, B. In this case, Biltz, and others are saying that this apparently impossible thing of blood moons happening during Jewish holidays two years in a row happens, therefore it's the second coming of Jesus and the world will end.
Meanwhile, he's ignoring that by their very nature, half of the important Jewish holidays happen on days that can have a solar or lunar eclipse, that because of the nature of celestial mechanics, if an eclipse happens on some of the holidays, it will almost certainly happen on others that are six months later (or two weeks before or after), AND that this cycle repeats every 19 years because of how celestial mechanics interact with the Jewish calendar.
Meanwhile, Mark Blitz's story is a bit of an interesting twist to this tale. From what I can find, he started talking about this back in 2008, when he published stuff on his website and did a few interviews, such as to "Prophecy in the News." He claimed that this won't happen again for hundreds of years, but that it happened twice in the 20th century, including the year after Israel became a state which is, "nigh unto impossible, unless it was set up by Divine design" according to the interviewer J.R. Church. Now, I don't know why the year after Israel became a state is more important than the year it became a state, but that's forcing the facts to fit the story for you. But in the interview, Biltz was emphatic that this would happen
However, Blitz's story on prophecyinthenews.com is now an Article Not Found. Blitz's response to criticism throughout the internet back in 2008, to which he responded on his own website, is no longer available. His qualifications, which you can find on the Internet Wayback machine, are that "IF these eclipses in 2015 are what the Lord was referring to, then 2015 would look like a possible year for His feet to land on the Mt of Olives. And IF this is true then the tribulation could, not would, start this fall at the Feast of Trumpets." All of those qualifications were severely lacking from his original statements, which I've linked to on YouTube.
So, besides the making much ado about nothing that rare, we also have someone who back-tracked from what he originally claimed and then tried to delete the claims entirely. Of course, in the age of the internet, you have no such luck.
Provide Your Comments:
Comments to date: 14. Page 1 of 2. Average Rating:
Bob Palatine, IL, USA
9:37am on Sunday, September 27th, 2015
Thanks for the nice explanation of eclipse seasons.
James H Tennessee
5:11am on Saturday, July 4th, 2015
The 4th Blood Moon is also a Super Moon... Do you know how many times during a Tetrad this has happened since the 1st Century?
Roy Dow Australia
11:34pm on Saturday, June 20th, 2015
I find it amazing that someone asked why stuff happens on days of significant celestial occurrences? We make all, this stuff up over time. Remember, we invited time, The big g just does caused effect, simple :-) If the moon was going to have an effect on this planet, i think it would be via oceans and gravity, linked to gods natural laws. changes are coming, but they can be what WE want them to be. WE CREATE :-)
Stuart R Lyons, CO, USA
4:15pm on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
Joe, I think you missed the purpose of this episode, when I was explaining why absolutely none of this stuff is real.
joe miami florida
1:56pm on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
Actually I fact checked the dates of Pesach and sukkot for the 1986/87 triad and the 3033/2034 triads to nasa charts and you were incorrect. In 1986/1987 the lunar eclipse only happened on passover 86 and was off by one day for the remaining 86 sukkot and 1987 holiday. As for 2033/2034, the Eclipse occurs on three of the four holidays, with sukkot in 2034 off by one day. In other words, your theory holds no water as these lunar eclipse tetrads have occurred exactly on four holidays of passover/sukkot is extremely rare (only 9 times in 2000 years). Sorry.
Stuart Lyons, CO, USA
4:13pm on Sunday, May 3rd, 2015
The lunar eclipse seasons precess through the months, which is why it's "rare" that they happen during these particular Jewish holidays. If you look through the NASA lunar eclipse tables, you will see that they occur during April and September just as often as any other month, on average.
7:13pm on Friday, May 1st, 2015
thanks for your detailed coverage
Mark Barnett Michigan, USA
10:28am on Saturday, March 28th, 2015
This sequence has happened 62 times since the first century. What makes THIS one special? The more dogmatic people are about prophecy, particularly when they start saying sell everything and give it to us, the more skeptical you should be. All of this could be right, but the BIBLE also says nobody KNOWS... Mostly this just sells books... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_Moon_Prophecy
5:08pm on Monday, March 23rd, 2015
I am so tired of evagelical christians and all their half baked crazy freaked out ideas. Join the 21st century. its getting tiresome. We have bigger fish to fry than waiting for one armageddon prophacy after another to come true.
2:45pm on Sunday, September 28th, 2014
2014 and 2015 have 4 blood red moons on feasts. AND Shemitah also occurs on Rash Hashana September 24 (it was actually the 27th.) Shemitah is a seventh year which is year of rest and also is has significant things that seemt o happen during this year.
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