By its very nature, fasting seems to suggest that something is wrong. Eating is a normal part of human existence, so abstaining from eating implies a disruption in the very rhythm of life. But it will be seen in this chapter that the OT uses fasting and abstinence from food to point to something even more necessary for life—communion with and dependence on God. Fasting behaviors were sometimes commanded, sometimes voluntary, and sometimes even ritualized, but the Hebrew Bible rather consistently portrays fasting in conjunction with themes of disruption and restoration. In the midst of disruption, fasting comes to symbolize hope. Through repentance and prayer, fasting can signify the centering of the self in humility, the renewal of the relationship to God’s sustaining force. As such, fasting takes on a dual significance of mourning and hope. And the hope evidenced in the proper kinds of fasting in the OT is ultimately a hope in the fulfillment of the eschatological, messianic age. These themes that especially anticipate the NT theology of fasting as a symbol of eschatological, messianic fulfillment will be highlighted below, within the overall context of the nature and purposes of fasting in the OT and ancient Judaism.
It is reasonable to ask how theological applications might be derived from the biblical texts related to fasting. An attempt will be made to examine a wide number of biblical passages in order to arrive at what Gerald O’Collins and Daniel Kendall describe as “biblical convergence.” They write that “the principle of convergence entails letting the broadest and most varied amount of biblical witness come to bear on the theological question at issue.”11 This will also entail acknowledging intersection with certain “metathemes and metanarratives” in key passages, as will be seen below in discussions of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Moses on Mt. Sinai, and the Day of Atonement, and how these kinds of themes find an answer in the NT literature (especially as discussed in the following chapter).12
In his discussion of moving from the text to application, Daniel Doriani lists seven biblical sources for application: (1) rules, (2) ideals, (3) doctrine, (4) redemptive acts in narrative, (5) exemplary acts in narrative, (6) biblical images or symbols, and (7) songs and prayers.13 Since most of the references to fasting occur in narrative literature, those points that relate to narrative will be most important. First and foremost, these narratives should be seen theologically as communicating the redemptive acts of God in the world. As Doriani suggests, “The central character in every Bible story is God, and some aspect of his redemptive purpose attaches to the main theme of every narrative. Therefore, while interpreters rightly draw moral lessons from biblical history, theological lessons should come first.”14 So as these passages related to fasting are discussed, a primary consideration will be given to the respective places of these narratives in the theological history of redemption that unites the larger biblical story. As one might expect, many of the instances of fasting in Scripture are presented as exemplary acts of biblical characters, and these will generally be seen to be reasonably straightforward in their presentation. There is almost no specific teaching about fasting in the OT, but as Doriani suggests, “where there is no direct teaching, narrative provides guidance,” and “biblical narratives guide readers in their proper use.”15 But also of interest will be how fasting begins to be used as an image or symbol, and this will lay the foundation for how the NT uses fasting as an eschatological fulfillment motif.16
As shown below, abstaining from food for essentially spiritual purposes was part of the fabric of ancient cultures. By the time such fasting appears in the biblical record, it was already a well-established feature of life in the Ancient Near Eastern context. When the Scriptures address fasting, it is often to criticize, modify, sanction, or appropriate behavior that is common to the human experience. But the Hebrew Bible also introduces particular theological emphases on dependence on God that manifest in messianic, corporate, and individual ascetic themes. The concept of fasting in the Bible should ultimately be subsumed under these larger, theological ideas. The following section briefly reflects on the place of religious fasting in ancient cultural backgrounds for studying the OT and introduces the main terminology that is used to describe fasting in the Hebrew Bible.
Fasting arose and was practiced as a human religious activity that transcended the cultures of the biblical narratives. H. A. Brongers writes:
As a matter of fact fasting is by no means a [sic] Israelite monopoly. From earliest antiquity peoples scattered all over the world have, for one reason or another, abstained themselves from food and drink for a shorter or longer time, as individuals or as a community. Instances collected from many books on ethnology and history of religion are abundant. They all demonstrate such a variety of forms and practices that it is almost impossible to classify them… .
Now turning to our main subject it soon becomes clear that almost the whole range of fasting-rites we meet with in all parts of the world is present in Israel as well.17
The original motivations for ancient fasting are not entirely clear, although a few suggestions have been offered. Some have suggested a connection in mourning rituals to abstain from food so that the dead might make use of it, or in increasing susceptibility to visions and dreams, or in preparation for a sacred meal, or in humbling oneself before one’s god.18 But because of the variety of fasting practices, both religious and secular, it seems best to conclude with Brongers that there is likely no single origin to which all fasting could be traced.19
Fasting in the Bible can generally be viewed as an example of religious activity that would have been common in any number of cultures, and therefore subject to similar impulses. Certain Sumero-Akkadian documents describe instances of partial and absolute fasts, which R. Largement thinks may form a basis for (or at least a parallel to) the life of prayer required in the religion of YHWH, minus some of the magical components.20 Stolz suggests that fasting survived as a remnant of the Canaanite cult of the dead because of the connection to weeping and mourning.21 Proving direct historical connections like these seems tenuous, but they at least illustrate the commonality of fasting practices. It should not be surprising that occasionally the biblical record would view these religious impulses as misdirected, since the Bible frequently critiques the religious practices of both the believing community as well as outsider cultures. And it should also be understood that such practices could be beneficial if directed toward purposes consistent with the will of the God of the Bible.
The principal Hebrew term for fasting is the root צום. The verb occurs twenty-one times in the Hebrew Bible, all in the qal stem, and the noun צוֹם twenty-six times in scattered references.22 The root form also appears in Arabic and Ethiopic “as a religious technical term.”23 Both the verb and noun forms refer exclusively to abstaining from food (and possibly drink), whether personal or corporate in nature, with the primary general occasions being mourning for the dead and worship.24
Verbs of interest associated with the noun include קרא, “to call” or “to proclaim” a fast (1 Kgs 21:9-12; Isa 58:5; Jer 36:9; Jon 3:5; Ezra 8:21; 2 Chr 20:3), קדשׁ, “to sanctify” a fast (Joel 1:14, 2:15), and the verb and noun together as וַיָצָם צוֹם, “to keep a fast” (or literally, “to fast a fast,” 2 Sam 12:16).25 The term “belongs to the semantic field that also contains weep, mourn, wear sackcloth and ashes, deny oneself, and to do no work.”26
The most important other term for this study in this semantic field is ענה נֶפֶשׁ, to “afflict one’s soul” (as in Lev 16:29, 31, KJV), to “humble one’s soul” (NASB) or to “deny oneself” (NRSV, NIV). Forms of this phrase are found in apposition to צום in Ps 35:13 and Isa 58:3 and Isa 58:5. While the derivative תענית (note the tractate of the Mishnah by that name) becomes a standard term for a fast in Judaism, Way is correct (in contrast to the NIV footnote on Lev 16:29) that the two terms should not be seen as complete synonyms.27
Rather, fasting would be a more specific means of accomplishing the self-denial enjoined by the public תענית. The relationship of these concepts will be discussed in more detail below, in reference to the Day of Atonement.
Besides these terms there are occasional references in narratives to persons who go without food or water (as in 1 Sam 28:20 and 30:12). The Hebrew term רָעֵב means “to hunger,” and is used along with noun and adjective forms to describe the condition of hunger or famine. This descriptive term differs from fasting in that the condition typically is not intentionally self-imposed. צָמֵא, “to thirst,” along with its noun and adjective forms, functions in a similarly descriptive manner, although it shares an assonance of sound with צוּם.
Brongers lists the general occasions for fasting in the OT as related to: mourning a death, making war, preparing or introducing oneself to certain experiences, accompanying prayer, expiating sins, accompanying other activities, and ritualizing days of remembrance.28 The collation of biblical purposes done for this study divides the bulk of the material from the OT prophets and writings into five positive categories: (1) fasting as a sign of grief or mourning, (2) as a sign of repentance and seeking forgiveness for sin, (3) as an aid in prayer, (4) as an experience of the presence of God that results in the endorsement of his messenger, and (5) as an act of ceremonial public worship.29 For the purposes of this study, only those occasions in which food is purposely abstained from will be considered “fasting,” and within that range most attention will be paid to those occasions that have a demonstrably spiritual purpose. But broader concepts, such as involuntary fasting (as in a siege or illness) or dietary restrictions could be considered in the degree to which they have direct bearing on the theological implications of fasting practices in general. They may help to color the contexts of the broader categories of self-denying behavior, which in turn help one to understand fasting more clearly.
The Torah does not regulate or enjoin fasting per se on the people of the covenant.30 But several key points emerge that contribute to and set the foundation for the rest of the biblical theology of fasting. Of the greatest significance are the nature of the food prohibition in the Garden of Eden, the supernatural fasting of Moses on Sinai, the injunction of personal affliction on the Day of Atonement, and the various dietary restrictions of the law. As seen in the following section, together these metathemes associate fasting with living in or returning to the sustaining presence of God.
Then the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.”
Gen 2:16-17, NET Bible
The first sin in the Bible was a violation of a dietary restriction. Even in the Garden of Eden, a restriction on dietary behavior was imposed. As Nahum Sarna comments, “Unrestricted freedom does not exist. Man is called upon by God to exercise restraint and self-discipline in the gratification of his appetite. This prohibition is the paradigm for the future Torah legislation relating to the dietary laws.”31
After the wonders and methods of creation have been described, YHWH Elohim commands the man32 in Gen 2:16, “Then the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die”. Then the creation of the woman is juxtaposed, with the introduction that it was “not good for the man to be alone” (2:18), which stands in contrast to the repetition of the pronouncement after each day of creation in Genesis 1 that the works were “good,” and “very good” in the conclusion of the sixth day which included man as male and female in Gen 1:31. Immediately after the creation of the woman the food prohibition is referred to again in Gen 3:1, creating a structure that interchanges the individual creation narratives with references to the food prohibition.33 In Gen 3:1, the serpent questions the validity of the command to the woman.34 In fact, the serpent contradicts the stated penalty of certain death, suggesting instead that they would become like Elohim, “knowing good and evil” (3:5).35 The resulting reasoning process of the woman included three elements, “that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise” (3:6, NASB). This led her to take it, eat it, and give it to her husband who also ate (3:7).
After the disobedient act, the couple knew they were naked and so they covered themselves and hid. When YHWH Elohim called to them, he immediately asked Adam if he had eaten from the tree (3:11).36 The man responded that the woman whom God had given him gave him fruit from the tree and he ate, and the woman likewise defers to the deception of the serpent when she is interrogated. This launches the story into the curse format of Gen 3:14-19, in which God begins by pronouncing judgment on the serpent. Along with his penalty of going on his belly comes the statement that he will eat dust all the days of his life (3:14). As Sarna suggests, “The transgression involved eating, and so does the punishment. As the serpent slithers on its way, its flickering tongue appears to lick the dust.”37 There would be enmity between the serpent and the woman and her offspring, who would one day bruise the serpent on the head while being himself bruised in the heel.38 The woman is assigned great pain in childbearing and a potentially dysfunctional relationship with her husband.39 Because the man listened to his wife and ate what he was commanded not to eat, the ground is cursed, resulting in great toil to produce food to eat in the future (3:17-19). “Once again, the punishment is related to the offense. The sin of eating forbidden food results in complicating the production of goods.”40 Then the judgment of death is pronounced, with the foreboding words, “for you are dust, and to dust you will return” (3:19).
Of what significance is this account to fasting? At least three ideas present themselves that are picked up by the NT, referred to often in the Church Fathers, and prove foundational to a christocentric, biblical theology of fasting: (1) the notion that the created world, including food, may be regulated by God for his purposes, requiring disciplined obedience on the part of mankind; (2) the messianic idea that the offspring of the woman will reverse the effects of the fall, a theme which will later be symbolized by fasting passages; and (3) the unsettling reality that the body is somehow disconnected from the sustaining force of life. These aspects will be explored in further detail below.
In the context of Genesis 2-3 we find that food is used as a tool of discipline by God both before and after the fall. As Thomas Brodie notes, “Among human needs and activities, eating is fundamental, thus making it a suitable representative for human conduct in general.”41 Before the fall, all manner of food was allowable (hardly a fast), with one exception. Was this a test by God to examine the loyalty of the man and woman? It would appear so, since a direct command was given and a penalty was prescribed for disobedience. Without speculating too much about the purposes of God (such as a “covenant of works” or the like, which are not readily discernible from the text), one may surmise a couple of relevant points. First, the creation should be viewed as fundamentally good, but even in the Garden of Eden potentially subversive elements lurked. The crafty serpent was ready to deceive, and the food that led to separation from God was readily available. Amidst all the glory and good of creation, God immediately called the woman and man to disciplined obedience, abstinence from something that might appear desirable. It is interesting to find that although the Mishnah and Talmud do not elaborate on the concept, “later Christian fathers and particularly Byzantine hymnographers, however, interpret the fall in terms of a failure to maintain a decreed fast.”42 Additionally, the intertestamental book of The Life of Adam and Eve 6:1 will add that Adam engaged in a forty-day fast in penitence for his fall (the Slavonic adds that Eve fasted forty-four days).43 This would create an interesting correlation with the forty-day fasts of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus as discussed below, as well as the Christian idea of a forty-day Lenten fast.
In humanity’s fallen condition, the disciplinary nature of food is heightened. The curse section repeatedly draws attention to the failure to obey the negative command not to eat by reinforcing penalties related to eating. The serpent will eat dust, mankind will wring their food from the sweat of their brow, eating from the painfully toilsome cultivation of the ground only to one day return to the very soil from which they derived their food. Perhaps this signifies their apparently ultimate defeat by the forces of nature, of which they are no longer clear masters (as in 1:26-30, 2:15). They are relegated to being participants in a hostile conflict they are doomed to lose. So food is used as a tool of discipline throughout the passage. Before the fall, it is part of a call to obedience, abstinence from one source in the midst of abundance, while afterward its difficult acquisition is part of the penalty. In the end, the ground becomes master of all life.
It is difficult to assess the messianic role of Gen 3:15 in the immediate context. But there can be little doubt that the Bible picks up on the concept of a זֶרַע, “seed” or “offspring,” bringing hope for God’s people. Most notably this can be traced through the promise to Abraham of “descendants” (literally “seed,” זֶרַע, Gen 12:7, 13:15-16, 15:3-18, 17:7-19) when he was as yet childless. After the birth of Isaac, he is pronounced to be the inheritor of the seed covenant of Abraham (21:12), though Ishmael receives blessing as still part of the seed without being the heir of promise (21:13). The seed promise is reiterated to Isaac (26:4, 24) and passed along to Jacob by Isaac (28:4) and God (28:13-14, 32:12, 35:12, 48:4). No doubt these passages nourished ancient Israel’s concept of their nation as the chosen people, the promised seed of Abraham.44 The literary connection of the prominence of the concept of זֶרַע, in Gen 3:15 and the rest of Genesis would in turn suggest that the chosen people, the seed of Abraham, were the potential fulfillment of the promise of victory over the serpent.
Besides the nation of Israel as the promised seed of Abraham, perhaps the most important narrowing of the concept is the specifying of David’s royal line as a covenantally promised זֶרַע, whose throne would endure forever (2 Sam 7:12-17; Ps 89:4, 29, 36; Jer 33:26). It is this idea that allows the NT to connect Jesus Christ theologically back to the Garden of Eden. Christ, the heir of the royal seed promises to David (Matt 1:1; John 7:42; Rom 1:3), is the embodiment of the chosen people as the chosen seed (Gal 3:15-16), the second Adam (Rom 5:12-21), the ultimate seed of the woman (Gal 4:4-5).
Additionally, Jesus is presented in the NT through subtle literary food motifs as the restorer of paradise through his incarnation in at least two contexts (combining the synoptic accounts). First, he withstands the three-fold temptation by the devil in the wilderness during his forty days of fasting, showing himself as the new Adam who lives “not on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4; this theme will be explored more fully below in the following chapter). This interpretation is commended by the points that the devil answers to the serpent, and the three temptations answer to the three qualities of the fruit of the tree in Gen 3:6. In the Garden, knowledge of good and evil was offered at the expense of death by eating; in the desert, Christ refuses to eat and so shows dependence on the true source of life, rejecting the devil’s offer of dominion to acquire his own rightful title as seed of David, Abraham, and the woman.
Second, at his Last Supper, Jesus’ actions recall Eve when she took the fruit of the tree, gave it to Adam, and ate it with him (Gen 3:6). Victor Hamilton comments on the “distinctive sonant structure in this verse” in the phrase
וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ וַתֹּאכַל וַתִּתֵּן גַּם־לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ וַיֹּאכַל, “she took from its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some of it to her husband with her, and he ate it”:
The first four words—of which three are waw-consecutive imperfect—contain six instances of doubled consonants—“and she took,” wat-tiqqah£; “of its fruit,” mippiryo‚; “and she ate,” watto„ák£al; “and she gave,” wattitte„n. Such “extremely difficult pronunciation … forces a merciless concentration on each word.”45
It is interesting to consider how this language is similar to the solemn verbal formula of remembrance in the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus “takes” the bread and cup, “giving” them to his disciples, instructing them to “take” and “eat” and drink, all of them together, the NT accounts of the Last Supper use the same verbs that the LXX used to translate Eve’s taking of the fruit in Gen 3:6 (Matt 26:26-27; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26).46 It seems reasonable, then, that in the NT accounts of the Last Supper Jesus is presented as offering his body and blood to his disciples as the remedy for original sin, which would also be consistent with the more immediate Passover imagery there of the substitutionary lamb. The “tree” of Christ’s cross is also mentioned in 1 Peter 1:21-25, in a context that evokes Christ as the sinless substitute (second Adam imagery), connecting it with Isaiah 53 (Christ as the suffering servant of Israel, the ultimate “seed” upon whom God would look and be satisfied). Although Genesis itself does not elaborate much on the remedy for sin, in the Christian theological context, the fall of Adam and Eve is reversed in Christ. He is the second Adam and the ultimate seed of the woman, who himself dies on a tree to make himself the food that gives life to those who will take and eat.
Finally, Rev 22:1-3 presents a vision of the New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and Earth. Once again there is an answer to the fall in the Garden, but this time it is the once forbidden tree of life. Now it is presented as given for the “healing of the nations,” and there will “no longer be any curse.” This amplifies the eschatological banquet language that is common in the NT.47 The ultimate hope of the believer is one of feasting and enjoying the life intended by God through the work of Christ, who kept the fast that humanity could not.
The account of the creation and fall of man raises questions about humanity’s ambiguous relationship with the rest of the created order. On the one hand, it is obvious that man is very much a part of the material world in which he finds himself. Adam is created from the “dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7), a fact which God reminds him of in the curse narrative (3:19). The woman derives her life from the man when God fashions her from one of his ribs (2:21-23). The man and woman have material bodies that are organically connected to the ground on which they walk and from which they derive their life-sustaining food.
On the other hand, the couple is presented as more than just a part of nature. The creation of Adam involves the unique infusing of the “breath of life,” which appears to be anthropomorphically transmitted directly to his nostrils from the nostrils of YHWH Elohim (2:7).48 This act sets the man apart from the rest of creation as “a living soul,” a נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, who possessed the נְשָׁמָה, the breath of God himself. This animating aspect of humanity does not come from the ground, but instead the vibrant life force of his breath comes from God. This fact adds to the chill of the curse of Gen 3:19, because the penalty of death apparently means the cessation of the function of this infused life force. The נִשְׁמַת, the breath, cannot return to dust, since its source is not created material. Instead, the fall reorients man to his status as created, material being, deriving his life from the ground.
All of this sets up the tension inherent in theological anthropology. Von Rad writes:
This man, however, formed from the earth, becomes a living creature only when inspired with the divine breath of life. [Neshama] corresponds to our “breath.” This divine vital power is personified, individualized, but only by its entry into the material body; and only this breath when united with the body makes man a “living creature.” Thus v. 7 is a locus classicus of Old Testament anthropology. It distinguishes not body and “soul” but more realistically body and life. The divine breath of life which unites with the material body makes man a “living soul” both from the physical as well as from the psychical side. This life springs directly from God, as directly as the lifeless human body received breath from God’s mouth when he bent over it! Nevertheless, the undertone of melancholy is unmistakable: a faint anticipation of the state of post-Adamic man! When God withdraws his breath (Ps. 104.29 f.; Job 34.14 f.), man reverts to dead corporeity.49
So humans are more than simply material beings that function like the rest of the created order, existing in a web of life in nature that includes but transcends them. The “living soul” still functions, pulling man toward his initial role as lord of creation in the image of God (1:26-30, 2:15). These concepts will affect one’s view of the body and spiritual life, which will have implications for fasting in the traditions of both Judaism and Christianity.
Sometimes added to the biblical concepts will be the alien notion of a dualism between a pure spiritual world and a corrupt material world, which will complicate ascetic traditions through the ages. The biblical account of the creation and fall of mankind does not sanction a strict dualism between body and soul. Rather, humanity is viewed as both material and immaterial, created from the ground and infused with divine life. The curse of the fall clearly tells what happens to the material side of man at death—it returns to the ground from whence it came. But the ongoing, living, fallen status of the immaterial life force is left unaddressed, at least explicitly. But a clue that it continues (albeit in a fallen condition) is the fact that Adam and Eve did not physically die the day they ate from the fruit of the tree (after all, that was the stated consequence of the food prohibition in 2:17). So one is left wondering if they really died in some way when they ate (or was the serpent correct when he asserted, “You surely shall not die!”?). The material life did not cease, nor did the vivifying breath. Gen 5:1-5 says that Adam lived to be 930 years old before he died, and in the meantime the text explicitly states that he passed along the image and likeness of God to his offspring.
An implicit message of the account, then, would be that the nature of the punishment of Adam and Eve did indeed involve death, though they did not instantly die. The punishment of death was not merely a distant consequence. The very principle of death became operative in Adam and Eve as soon as they disobeyed God and ate the fruit. The account ties sin and death together in an organic, dissoluble union. Where sin exists, there death exists. Death is not only the punishment for sin (which it surely is on a basic level), but death actually is part and parcel of the concept of sin itself. The fingers of the grave reach out into the land of the living in every inclination toward evil.
Therefore the initial OT account presents man as a complex dichotomy. He exists in a fallen state, both materially and immaterially, and oriented by the curse more toward the material world. This will have implications for fasting in at least two other areas: the incarnation of Christ and the ongoing struggle for sanctification, addressed in more detail in later chapters.
So he [Moses] was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread, and he did not drink water.
Exod 34:28, NET Bible
The first explicit reference to a case of total fasting one encounters in the biblical text is found in Exod 34:28. This second occasion of Moses on the mountain follows on the heels, however, of the first forty day period mentioned in Exod 24:18, and both incidents are acts of fasting, as Deut 9:9 and 10:10 make clear. In between the events, Deut 9:18 suggests that there was another intercessory period of forty days’ fasting. So the story line as presented by Deuteronomy actually contains three incidents of Moses engaged in forty-day fasts from food and water on Sinai, although the Exodus account only explicitly mentions one fasting episode.50
While the intended chronology of the Sinai account is less than crystal clear, it appears that God spoke with Moses in the cloud, giving the instructions of Exodus 20-23. Then Moses came down and related the teachings to the people, writing them down and initiating a covenantal ceremony, before coming back up to receive the divinely inscribed tablets and further instructions (24:1-18). One interesting factor is that in Exod 24:11 the nobles of Israel (which must have included Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of 24:9) “beheld God, and they ate and drank.” After this feasting in the presence of God, Moses is separated from them to go up on the mountain alone (with Joshua). After six days of the cloud of the glory of YHWH resting on the mountaintop, which appeared to the Israelites as a “consuming fire” (v. 17), God called to Moses, who entered the cloud for forty days (24:18). Presumably he received the instructions of Exodus 25-31 during this time, dealing primarily with tabernacle construction and worship regulations. The encounter ends with the story of the people’s idolatry, Moses’ repeated intercessions, his breaking of the tablets, and his destruction of the golden calf (32:1-35).
After these momentous happenings, the journey resumes on the ground, but the presence of God is reserved for Moses alone in the cloud in the tent, where they would speak face to face (33:11). Moses is granted a partial vision of YHWH in Exod 33:12-23, after which another invitation to go up Mt. Sinai is given, in order to replace the broken tablets (34:1). The teachings of the previous meeting are reiterated in Exod 34:10-26, apparently a summary of a much larger communication Moses received. Then the reader is informed that Moses was writing down these words, and “he was there with the Lord forty days and forty night; he did not eat bread or drink water” (34:18). When he descended, his face still shone with the glory of YHWH (34:29-35).
The retelling of the story in preparation to cross Jordan and enter Canaan in Deuteronomy 9-10 mainly contributes an emphasis on Moses’ intercession for the people in the midst of their rebellion. Deut 9:4-6 mentions that the reason for Israel’s possession of the land is not their own righteousness, but rather the combination of the wickedness of the inhabitants and the fulfillment of the patriarchal oath. Even the miraculous events of Sinai (called Horeb in 9:8), including the divine tablets of stone, Moses’ supernatural sustenance, and the voice from the cloud and fire on the mountain had not kept the people from idolatry. Moses then again fasted from bread and water another forty days, “because of all your sin which you had committed in doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD to provoke Him to anger” (9:18). YHWH listened to Moses’ intercession again (9:19). God called Moses back up on the mountain, and after a parenthetical account of the intervening journey (10:6-9), Moses says that he was again on the mountain “forty days and forty nights like the first time” (10:10), which, when correlated with Exod 34:18, meant another supernatural fast. Once again the emphasis is on intercession, because “the LORD listened to me that time also; the LORD was not willing to destroy you” (10:10b).
One main theological point of reflection about these fasts of Moses is the supernatural sustaining power of God for his servant. Under ordinary circumstances it would be difficult to fast from food for forty days, but not impossible. However, to go without water for more than just a few days would mean certain death from dehydration. Yet the text explicitly mentions Moses’ abstinence from water on all three of these occasions. As Walter Kaiser comments, “That Moses was able to go for this length of time without food or water was a miracle requiring the Lord’s supernatural care.”51 Similarly, Nahum Sarna elaborates on the reference to abstinence:
In the presence of the ultimate Source of holiness and in communication with Him, Moses realizes a transformation of his self. He achieves a state that is beyond the ordinary range of human experience. In this extrasensuous world he transcends the constraints of time and is released from the demands of his physical being.
This same phenomenon is included in the retrospective summary of the first theophany on Sinai found in Deuteronomy 9:9, 18, although it is omitted in the primary narrative in Exodus 24:18. Its emphasis here must be taken as another indication that the thrust of this epilogue is to elevate the status of Moses. It serves as the background for the culminating and extraordinary experience recounted in the following verses.52
The apparent means of the sustaining of Moses’ life is the near absorption of Moses into the glory of God. When he is in the presence of God on the mountain, he needs no food or drink, because God himself sustains him. Perhaps we should think then of God being pictured as the real source of life, in whose presence even earthly food and water might be unnecessary for a person, if God so chooses. Of significance is the fact that Moses was speaking with God. This comes on the heels of Deut 8:3, in which Moses recounted the story of the manna in the wilderness, asserting that the people were made to hunger, “that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” Moses is being kept alive on the mountain, then, not by food and water, but by the mouth of YHWH. This recalls the creation of Adam from the breath of God, the life force being separate in source from the body itself, and ultimately divine in origin.
Another point of emphasis is on the contrast between Moses, the servant of God, and the nation for whom he was interceding. The people are pictured as in need of an intercessor, a mediator between them and God. Jeffrey Tigay comments:
The phrase implies that Moses can, as it were, restrain God from destroying Israel. Midrashic commentaries understand it as a hint for Moses to do just that by praying on Israel’s behalf. In other words, God is saying that by right Israel ought to be destroyed, but that He wants the prophet to make the case for sparing them. Prophets frequently play this intercessory role in the Bible in addition to their role as God’s messengers to man. This is part of what God wants them to do.53
God’s wrath is imminent, but it is averted when he is appeased through the prayers of his servant. The complete humility and dependence on God shown by Moses in his fasting plays a role in God’s acceptance of his plea. Moses himself could have become the father of a new nation (Deut 9:14), but the covenantal, patriarchal promises are invoked and applied to the entire people (Deut 9:26-29).
The promise that God would raise up a prophet like Moses to whom the people would listen (Deut 18:15) is recalled in later biblical accounts through fasting motifs in two key instances. The first will be Elijah, who returns to Horeb on the strength of a food that enables a forty day fast (1 Kgs 19:8). The second, and most important for Christians, will be Jesus (as discussed more fully in the following chapter), who initiates his ministry with a forty day fast in the wilderness before presenting himself as the giver of the new law (Matt 4:2; Luke 4:2). As Eugene Merrill comments on the similarity in the gospels, “One cannot help but note the reference to bread and stones in light of the experience of Moses, who received the Word of God on stone tablets even while being denied physical food and drink.”54 The NT will pictures Jesus as a new Moses, the mediator of a new covenant. He is the One who is able to resist the temptation to make his own bread, and instead chooses to live on “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). This messianic function will be further reflected in the Davidic promise, and he is the “Son of God,” and the people are commanded to “listen to Him!” (Mark 9:7). So these fasting passages contribute to the way the NT will coalesce several OT messianic images into Christ as the one central figure of biblical theology.
This is to be a perpetual statute for you. In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you must humble yourselves and do no work, both the native citizen and the foreigner who resides in your midst, for on this day atonement is to be made for you to cleanse you from all your sins; you must be clean before the Lord. It is to be a Sabbath of complete restfulness for you, and you must humble yourselves. It is a perpetual statute.
Secondary sources about fasting often mention that the only fast required by law in Judaism was the Day of Atonement as described in Lev 16:29-30, 23:27-32, and Num 29:7.55 However, it is not specifically described as a “fast” in the Hebrew Bible, nor is fasting enjoined. That is, the words from the root צום are not employed, nor is there any explicit reference to abstaining from food. Instead, the Hebrew uses a broader term ( תְּעַנּוּ אֶת־נפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם, which may have included fasting as an understood application) and commands the people to “afflict,” “deny,” or “humble yourselves.” Jewish tradition practiced fasting on that day, as also evidenced by the Targums (which actually used the Aramaic cognate of צום), the Qumran literature, and the NT.56
Since Jewish tradition universally has interpreted the instructions of these passages to include fasting as a sign of afflicting and humbling oneself, it is possible that other places in the Bible that mention humbling, affliction, and the like may have in fact tacitly included fasting. This connection is clear in Ps 35:13, “I humbled my soul with fasting” ( עִנֵּיתִי בַצּוֹם נַפְשִׁי)(NASB). Here, fasting is explicitly the means of “humbling” oneself. Isa 58:3 similarly links these terms: “‘Why don’t you notice when we fast? Why don’t you pay attention when we humble ourselves?’”.57 In this poetic text, צַּמְנוּ stands in parallel relationship to עִנִּינוּ נַפְשֵׁנוּ in the next line. It is reasonable that a similar logical relationship exists with the Day of Atonement admonitions, even though the Hebrew text itself is not explicit. Fasting is a particular expression of the more general concept of humbling oneself.
The intended solemnity of such an occasion can be gauged by a review of the usage for the root ענה.58 Of the approximately seventy-seven uses of this verb, about twenty-nine refer to suffering imposed by God, eighteen to suffering forcibly at the hands of others, and fifteen as a euphemism for rape or illicit carnal knowledge of a woman. Of the fifteen references to the possibility of self-imposed affliction, six fall in the Day of Atonement passages, and two are referenced above in connection with fasting. To afflict oneself, then, was a very serious concept, a way of identifying with suffering, often thought of in severe terms, usually imposed by God or through other means beyond one’s control. This would result in a humble spirit as opposed to a proud or haughty one.59 It would be a way of taking the part of the poor, suffering and afflicted in society. A survey of the related nouns עָנָו and עָנִי shows how this class often appears to have the special attention of God.60 The NT will echo these themes, as Jesus himself identifies with the humble and afflicted in his life (Matt 11:28-29) and ultimately in his death (Phil 2:8), and in like manner, God’s people are called to humble themselves in order to be exalted by God. 61
While a full-scale examination of dietary regulations is outside the scope of this study, their similar relation to fasting would be difficult to avoid entirely. Their theological overlap eventually comes under the category of sanctification, although different purposes may be delineated.
Food consumption is of course part of everyday life, and Judaism has been distinctive for its regulations of eating habits.62 While both fasting and dietary restrictions at times have some kind of sanctification as their common end, kosher regulations can be seen to deal more with issues of ontological purity. The meat of certain animals is forbidden because they are “unclean.” As is the case with fasting, the instructions and narratives are woven together in a complex web rather than dealt with systematically. Commenting on this, Neusner writes:
What is new here is the equation of purity with holiness, a theme virtually absent in the narrative, prophetic, and sapiential materials we have just examined. But what we are not told is why these particular animals are unclean and lead to unholiness; the pre-history of the forbidden creatures is not recorded. All living creatures are simply divided into clean and unclean, without explanation.63
The primary lists of unclean animals may be found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.64 The stated reason in Lev 11:44-45 for abstaining from such animals is simply YHWH’s holiness and his desire for his people’s holiness:
I am the Lord your God and you are to sanctify yourselves and be holy because I am holy. You must not defile yourselves by any of the swarming things that creep on the ground, for I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God and you are to be holy because I am holy.
The main explanations offered for the rationale behind such regulations are cultic, hygienic and ethical considerations, although Bryan prefers some kind of an anthropological approach.65 However, getting into the mind of the author (and contextually in this passage, that would include God!) is a difficult task (as Bryan admits). Perhaps the ethical approach that refuses to speculate into the rationale behind the commands provides a better framework for reflecting on the phenomenon of obedience to the commands themselves.
At any rate, these kosher regulations set the ancient people of Israel apart unto YHWH, and obedience to these laws protected ritual purity. Although this happens in the same general sphere of food intake regulation as fasting, one can see that their purposes ultimately diverge. These dietary restrictions were ways of normativizing a sanctified lifestyle, whereas fasting is generally an unusual behavior, an action taken that is conspicuously out of the ordinary. Yet there is a similarity in the kosher regulations for the people of Israel to the command in paradise to abstain from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both prohibitions require God’s people to abstain from foods to demonstrate submission, obedience and loyalty to him. The command in the garden can be seen as anticipating these kosher regulations, or alternately, kosher regulations can be seen as reflecting the primeval ideal of obedient abstinence.
Perhaps a slightly closer theological relative to later ascetic fasting behavior is the taking of a Nazirite vow, as discussed in Num 6:1-21. The only explicit food regulation was abstaining from any product of the grapevine, whether as food or wine (6:2). But the whole cluster of regulations suggests an ascetic lifestyle that was unusual, whether temporary or lifelong (as was intended in the case of Samson, Judg 13:5). In this example we see an intensification of the approach to sanctification, the idea that one must live a strictly disciplined lifestyle before God. This of course was not mandatory for the entire community (otherwise the very unusual characteristic of the lifestyle would lose its primary meaning), but rather reflected a specific calling. Christian monks and other ascetic characters in later ages can be seen as following in the train of these OT Nazirites who exemplified a special calling to a life of renunciation.
The first use of צוּם and the first narrative reference to fasting after Moses is Judg 20:26, when Israel fasted during the Benjamite civil war. Fasting accounts become more frequent in historical sections of Samuel and Kings, but none of these passages provides instruction on how fasting should be practiced or hint about the origins of the rite. As noted above, it would appear that this kind of fasting was a part of the normal cultural milieu in which the Bible exists, without Scripture dominating its early shaping.
In dealing with fasting beyond the Torah, it may be useful to categorize the instances by their occasions. These categories show fasting as (1) a sign of grief or mourning, (2) a sign of repentance and seeking forgiveness for sin, (3) an aid in prayer, (4) an experience of the presence of God that results in the endorsement of his messenger, and (5) an act of ceremonial public worship. Texts that specifically focus on fasting or raise the key theological themes that anticipate the Christian theology being explored in this dissertation will be dealt with in more detail than those that mention fasting more incidentally. While fasting occurs for a variety of reasons in a variety of passages, the theological ideas attached to the practice seem to grow and converge in the prophetic anticipation of an eschatological fulfillment in an age when fasting and repentance will give way to the presence of gladness and justice.
When tragic events struck in ancient biblical communities, fasting was often an expected response. When the Israelites lost a battle to the Philistines, “all the people went up and came to Bethel and wept; thus they remained there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening” (Judg 20:26, NASB). When David and his men heard of the death of Saul and the loss of the battle, they tore their clothes, “They lamented and wept and fasted until evening because Saul, his son Jonathan, the Lord’s people, and the house of Israel had fallen by the sword.” (2 Sam 1:12).66 When news of the king’s death edict reached them, “there was considerable mourning among the Jews, along with fasting, weeping, and sorrow. Sackcloth and ashes were characteristic of many” (Esth 4:3, NASB). Community fasting was proclaimed for drought (Jer 14:1-12) and locust plagues (Joel 1:14, 2:12-15). Fasting also was often part of someone’s personal sorrow or suffering, as we see in Hannah, Job, and David and other Psalmists (1 Sam 1:7-8, 20:34; Job 3:24; Pss 42:3, 102:4, 107:17-18).
This type of fasting is possibly its most basic expression. This shows fasting’s role as part of the overall human experience, particularly in ancient cultural contexts. The disruption of the normal course of life caused by death or calamity is reflected in a behavior that disrupts the normal functions of life, as fasting does with eating. The act of fasting reflects the disrupted state of affairs in the circumstances around it, and also engages the person fasting in behavior that intensifies the experience of the sorrow and abnormality of the situation.
In an expansion of the idea of fasting as grief or mourning as described immediately above, fasting in biblical contexts often was done as a sign of grief or mourning over sin as a show of repentance. This frequent occasion for fasting probably grows out of (or at the very least accompanies) the understanding of fasting as a means of humbling oneself. Several of the OT’s specific references to fasting involve repentance from national or corporate sins. Several of the references dealt with under other headings also include elements of repentance, in addition to those highlighted here. Often leaders and prophets called for public fasting as a demonstration of humility and repentance:
1 Sam 7:5-6: “Then Samuel said, ‘Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord on your behalf.’ After they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted on that day, and they confessed there, ‘We have sinned against the Lord.’”
Neh 9:1: “…the Israelites assembled; they were fasting and wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust.”
Joel 1:14: “Announce a holy fast; proclaim a sacred assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the temple of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.”
We also see individuals such as David and Ahab fasting in repentance and prayer after their own sins. Righteous leaders mourned over and identified with the sins of their people as evidenced by Nehemiah and Daniel:
2 Sam 12:16: “David prayed to God for the child and fasted. He would even go and spend the night lying on the ground.”
1 Kgs 21:27: “When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and fasted. He slept in sackcloth and walked around dejected.”
Neh 1:4: “When I heard these things I slumped down, crying and mourning for several days. I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”
Dan 9:3: “So I turned my attention to the Lord God to implore him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.”
Ceremonial fast days seem to have been regarded as appropriate times for exposing the sins of people. The prophets Isaiah (Isa 58:1-5), Jeremiah (Jer 36:6-9), and Zechariah take advantage of these occasions to rebuke people who otherwise may have seemed hostile to their message. Even in the negative example of wicked Queen Jezebel, we see that she used a fast day to accuse Naboth under false pretenses (1 Kgs 21:9-12). While hardly exemplary, it shows that fasting was commonly viewed as appropriate behavior when dealing with matters of grave consequence.
Prayer and fasting are frequently connected in biblical texts. The examples already cited generally include prayer in their contexts, and there are several other situations in which prayer and fasting are connected in a general sense. Bible characters are often found fasting while in intercessory prayer for others (2 Sam 12:16-23; Neh 1:8-10; Ps 35:13; Dan 6:18, 9:15-19). Fasting is sometimes part of personal prayer (1 Sam 1:7-11; Neh 1:11; Ps 109:21-24; Dan 9:3, 10:1-3). Leaders pray and fast for success in battle (Judg 20:26; 1 Sam 7:6; 2 Chr 20:3), for relief from famine (Jer 14:1-12; Joel 1:14, 2:12-15), or for success in other endeavors, such as Ezra’s return from the exile or Esther’s success before the king (Ezra 8:21-23; Esth 4:16).
Fasting in such instances appears to be a kind of intensification of prayer. The humility associated with the act of fasting is demonstrated physically, perhaps as a sign of the special and serious nature of the petition being offered. This calls the believer into a physical enactment of the prayer, engaging the self more thoroughly into the religious action of prayer. Additionally, the petitioners may have hoped that God would see their seriousness and answer, as in the case of Daniel’s intense conclusion to his prayer in Dan 9:19: “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, pay attention, and act! Don’t delay, for your own sake, O my God! For you are identified with your city and with your people”. We see also in the case of Daniel 9 and 10:1-3 prayer and fasting associated with receiving special revelations from God through angels.68 Perhaps this suggests that biblical characters fasted in order to receive revelations, although that theme is certainly not very dominant.
As noted above, Moses is the prototype for this kind of fast. In an interesting parallel, Elijah visits Horeb (a variant name for Sinai) and is sustained by a supernatural meal for a similar forty-day period: “The Lord’s angelic messenger came back again, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, for otherwise you won’t be able to make the journey.’ So he got up and ate and drank. That meal gave him the strength to travel forty days and forty nights until he reached the mountain of God in Horeb” (1 Kgs 19:7-8). This kind of fasting highlights the role of God as giver and sustainer of life, who can supply food at will, and sustain human life without food if necessary.
The fasting of Elijah also functions in a literary manner to further the redemptive-historical theology of the OT narrative. This recalls the promise of God raising up a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15), with the implication that God will sustain his chosen servant, even by supernatural means.69 Thomas Brodie notes the parallels between Moses and Elijah’s trip to Horeb in “the thunderous meeting at the mountain, the supplying of food in the wilderness, the journey for forty years/days, and the appointment of a successor (Joshua/Elisha).”70
This fasting incident highlights the motif of the succession of the Mosaic prophet. R. P. Carroll has demonstrated convincingly that there is a theme of prophetic continuity in the OT, with Yahweh raising up prophets from time to time in succession and in the mold of Moses, as occasion demanded.71 The NT interprets this Mosaic prophetic succession eschatologically as culminating in Christ, as can be seen in Acts 3:22 and 7:37. This helps us understand something of the way John the Baptist was referred to as “Elijah” by Christ (Matt 11:13-14). He was the last in a line of prophetic successors, initiated by Moses and epitomized by Elijah, and predicted to return in the eschatological day:
Remember the law of my servant Moses, to whom at Horeb I gave rules and regulations for all Israel to obey. Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment (Mal 4:4-6).
All of God’s true prophets were penultimately pointing toward Christ as the quintessential divine mediator. So when Christ fasts in the desert for forty days, he is demonstrating himself to be the fulfillment of the prophetic line from Moses through Elijah, who both also fasted forty days in the wilderness. The Elijah narrative picks up on the fasting aspect of Moses’ experience, transforming it into a symbol of prophetic succession that the NT can apply to Christ in his messianic, prophetic role.
As in the cases of Moses and Elijah, fasting can be used to mark out God’s messenger for ministry. This seems to highlight God’s ability to sustain his prophet or servant by his own means, creating an aura of the supernatural around the messenger. This can also be seen in the rather obscure OT narrative of 1 Kgs 12:1-22, where an unnamed prophet was commanded to fast while on a specific mission. Perhaps this was associated with the need for purity when the prophet was speaking the words of the Lord, or of the solemnity of the message. This idea of God’s leaders fasting in relation to specific ministries seems to find further expression in a few NT contexts as well. Jesus’ forty-day fast came at the onset of his public ministry. Then in Acts we see the commissioning of Saul and Barnabas and the ordination of elders accompanied by fasting (Acts 13:2-3, 14:23). Paul said that he was in “fastings often” (2 Cor 6:5/11:27, NASB), which could refer to intentional fasting, or possibly the fact that he was forced to go hungry at times for the sake of the ministry (see discussion in the following chapter). In these instances, fasting associated with a specific ministry highlights God’s endorsement of his messengers, as the messengers deny themselves food to deliver his words.
In addition to the Day of Atonement described above, several instances are recorded in the OT in which ceremonial fasts of Judaism are described. As these do not grow out of direct teachings of the law, the attitude of the people and not the ritual in itself was of greatest concern to God as speaking through his prophets. It is possible that the altogether human penchant for expanding on Scripture’s admonitions gave rise to ritualistic fasting, which often was seen as problematic by the prophets. Isaiah 58 and Zech 7:3-1472 provide powerful examples of Judaism’s own prophets offering critiques of their religious fasting traditions, and will be dealt with in greater detail below. Even when the prophets offer their critiques of fasting, it is not the ceremony itself they attack, but merely the hypocritical spirit that accompanies it. The assumption is that the ceremony might have positive value if accompanied with righteousness. A couple of the most theologically important passages are worth dealing with in more detail as examples of the role of ceremonial fasting in the prophetic tradition. These passages look forward to an eschatological realization of the underlying purposes of fasting, a day when mourning gives way to gladness and justice.
Isaiah 58: True Fasting Must Include Justice. The prophet Isaiah gives an extended example of alternative fasting attitudes in OT Judaism.
No, this is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood!
The chapter begins with YHWH urging the prophet to expose the sins of his people (58:1) by raising his voice like a shofar (note the connection between the shofar and fasting in Ta’anit, below). Although the people appear to be acting in sincere desire ( יֶחְפָּצוּ) for the Lord’s favor (58:2), they feel that they have not been answered in their fasting, that God has not noticed (58:3).73 The Lord responds that this is because they are actually seeking after their own desire ( חֵָפֶ'),74 and exploiting workers (58:3). Such fasting does not merit God’s attention. God has not chosen fasting to be a day for merely humbling oneself outwardly, as shown by the bending of the head and lying in sackcloth and ashes. Such displays seem to not even merit the title of fast, as the concluding question of Isa 58:5 suggests: “Is this really what you call a fast, a day that is pleasing to the Lord?” (NASB). Instead, God has chosen a fast in which one will make restitution for injustice, “to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke” (58:6). Additionally, it is a day for sharing food with the hungry and clothing the naked (58:7).
These social actions are actually considered to be a proper expression of the attitude of fasting and not a rejection of fasting altogether. As Barré observes, the passage uses “dialectic negation,” which is characterized by “‘exaggeration’ … in the negative member, which may often be characterized as a statement of contradiction,” but this “contrasting-by-way-of-negating is intended for emphasis.”75
Isaiah 58 is not rejecting fasting but emphasizing that unless accompanied by actions of love of neighbor it is an empty ritual. As noted earlier, for the Israelites fasting was meant to be a “sign” of repentance, of turning back to God. A distinctive mark of Israelite (i.e., covenant) religion was that turning to God was inseparable from turning in love to one’s neighbor. This is why Isaiah 58 uses “dialectic negation” to emphasize the fact that a sign of repentance means nothing if the neighbor is unaffected by it.76
When one makes oneself hungry by fasting, perhaps the plight of those who suffer hunger involuntarily will be more personalized, prompting sharing (58:7, 10). By humbling or afflicting one’s own soul, one will enter vicariously into the suffering of those who are oppressed ( וְנֶפֶשׁ נַעֲנָה), helping their needs to be satisfied (58:10). This will demonstrate a true righteousness, and result in God answering the people’s cry. The reference to water on scorched land (58:11) may suggest that these fasts were linked to drought, perhaps being part of the tradition of fasting for rain preserved in the Mishnah tractate, Ta’anit (see below). The ones who bow themselves low will ultimately “ride on the heights of the earth” (58:13, NASB), and the one who has fasted and kept the sabbath for the Lord’s delight will be fed “on the land I gave to your ancestor Jacob,” apparently a reference to the covenanted blessings of Israel.77
Fasting in Isaiah 58, then, is intended to be more than ritual. It is to be a true humbling of the heart that results not only in humility, but in actual identification with those who are lowly—the hungry and oppressed. This theme will later be appropriated by Christians who call for true forms of fasting as opposed to fasting for mere rituals.
The sovereign Lord says, ‘The fast of the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months will become joyful and happy, pleasant feasts for the house of Judah, so love truth and peace.’
The stated occasion for the Lord’s reply is the question of an envoy from Bethel79 to the priests and prophets in Jerusalem, asking if they should continue certain fasting days (7:2-3). Zechariah responds with a call to dedicate both fasting and feasts to God as opposed to themselves (7:4-7), and a call to social justice with themes reminiscent of Isaiah 58 (7:8-14). Then an eschatological vision of a restored Jerusalem ensues (8:1-23), which includes the turning of the people’s fasts into feasts (8:19).
The fasts mentioned in the passage are specifically linked to the calendar. The first reference, in the question of the messengers from Bethel, is to a fast in the fifth month (7:3). The fifth month refers to the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar about seventy years earlier on the ninth of Ab (August 14, 586 BC).80 The word employed here is הִנָּזֵר, a niphal infinitive absolute from נָזַר, “to devote” or “dedicate oneself unto.”81 The fact that this root is morphologically related to the Nazirite concept of consecration is significant. Since the context clearly includes fasting, it suggests that here fasting was seen as a communal act of consecration. In Zechariah’s immediate response, he mentions fasts in the fifth and seventh months (7:5).82 Then in Zech 8:19 four fasts are mentioned as being in the fourth (marking the breach of the wall of Jerusalem, the ninth of Tammuz), fifth, seventh and tenth (apparently commemorating the onset of the siege of Jerusalem on the tenth of Tebeth) months. So while the initial question mentions only one fasting occasion in the fifth month, it seems probable that the nature and legitimacy of a certain system of ritual fasts was being discussed.83
The eschatological nature of the question itself may be inferred from Zechariah’s answer. Zerubbabel elsewhere has been presented as a potentially messianic figure (Zechariah 4). As Mason suggests, it would seem that the envoy is asking about the appropriateness of continued fasting, if indeed the exile is over, the temple is being rebuilt and a messianic figure is present:
The force of the question seems to be, as Ackroyd has suggested, “Has the new age you have been predicting come or not?” It is universally agreed that the answer to the question occurs in 8:18f., for only there is the question of whether to continue fasting, or stop it, dealt with. The section beginning in 7:4 is concerned more with the motive for fasting.84
While the prophet certainly desires to see the blessings he prophesies in Zechariah 8, the fulfillment appears to await an eschatological future when YHWH returns to dwell with the people in Jerusalem. Ackroyd thinks that Zech 8:19 “makes it clear that the new age has come.”85 Jewish sages took this to mean that when the temple was rebuilt, these ritual fasts were to be turned to times of rejoicing.86 The post-exilic return to the land and the restored worship in Jerusalem were indeed an eschatological fulfillment, although that fulfillment may not yet have been exhausted. Willem VanGemeren places this discussion in this eschatological context, noting that “God’s response is that the new era of restoration calls for rejoicing instead of fasting. Joy is more in accordance with the loving kindness of the Lord (8:19).”87 But the social conditions suggested by the passage as prerequisite for such an age clearly were not being universally applied by the nation, and so it seems most reasonable that the new age was viewed as an ideal for which to strive. In a future, more realized age, Israel would be a spiritual leader among the nations, entreating the Lord even as the envoy from Bethel had done, and declaring their allegiance to Israel’s God (8:20-23).88 It would be brought about by the messianic figure and result in the kind of social justice the passage envisions, overturning the fasting and mourning into joyous feast days. The NT will pick up on these themes, identifying the appearance of Christ, the “bridegroom,” as the beginning of that messianic age when mourning gives way to gladness (Matt 9:15; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34).
The fasting customs and theology of the Hebrew Bible are reflected and expanded in extrabiblical Jewish literature, establishing some identifiable fasting traditions. While these Jewish traditions find certain roots in biblical literature, it also becomes evident that various additions to that tradition form a backdrop that the NT can address in its own formation of a more specifically Christian theology of fasting. References to fasting in the apocrypha, pseudepigrapha and rabbinic literature will be examined briefly below.
There are several instances of fasting in the apocryphal books. 1 Esd 8:50 and 8:73 are similar to the stories in the canonical Ezra 8:21-23 and 10:6, with the first instance of fasting initiated for the journey of the exiles and the second in humiliation for the sins of the people.89 When Baruch read the words of his book that recounted the destruction of Jerusalem to Judah’s kings, nobles and people already in exile, “Then they wept, and fasted, and prayed before the Lord” (Bar 1:5, NRSV). In 2 Esd 5:13, Ezra is commanded by an angel to “pray again, and weep as you do now, and fast for seven days” in order to receive further apocalyptic revelations.90 In 2 Esd 9:23 the seer is told not to fast this time. In this vision he sees a woman whose son died in his wedding chamber, and she says in 2 Esd 10:4 that she will “neither eat nor drink, but will mourn and fast continually until I die” (NRSV). This account turns out to be a metaphor for Jerusalem’s desolation. Judith 4:13 describes a national fast as an act of repentance, and “The Lord heard their prayers and had regard for their distress; for the people fasted many days throughout Judea and in Jerusalem before the sanctuary of the Lord Almighty” (NRSV). In 1 Macc 3:47, the people fast in mourning over their devastated sanctuary and to seek counsel from God, and a similar fast is observed in 2 Macc 13:12. So in each of these passages, fasting is portrayed in mourning or repentance scenarios much as in the biblical literature already examined.
Other apocryphal references to fasting seem to parallel OT contexts. Sirach 34:26 (LXX, 34:31 NRSV) asks in a manner similar to the OT prophets, “So if one fasts for his sins, and goes again and does the same things, who will listen to his prayer? And what has he gained by humbling himself?” This suggests that fasting and prayer are of no use to the man who goes his way and continues in his sin, and his superficial humbling does not profit him unless accompanied by true life change. 1 Maccabees 3:17 tells of a victory in a guerilla-style battle accomplished while fasting. The question is raised whether they should engage in battle because of their faintness from fasting, but God provides the victory. This stands in interesting contrast to 1 Sam 14:24-46, in which Saul is viewed as foolish for forcing a fast on his army.
A couple of apocryphal texts use fasting in ways that appear to be echoed in the NT. An interesting passage in Tob 12:8-10 associates prayer, fasting and almsgiving with righteousness, themes elaborated by Jesus in Matthew 6. Except here we see almsgiving (and perhaps the other acts of righteousness by implication) as capable of purging sin and providing life:
Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than wealth with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold. For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do wrong are their own worst enemies. (Tob 12:8-10, NRSV).
It appears that here is an elaboration of the theme of Isaiah 58, that true fasting should be accompanied by sharing with those who have nothing to eat. However, the raising of this kind of righteousness to the status of purging sins seems to relocate the forgiveness in the action itself, something not stated explicitly in the biblical passages. In Jdt 8:6, Judith is described as a woman who “fasted all the days of her widowhood, except the day before the sabbath and the sabbath itself, the day before the new moon and the day of the new moon, and the festivals and days of rejoicing of the house of Israel” (NRSV). Presumably this was an extraordinary sign of mourning, and this long-term fasting as a sign of mourning for widowhood seems similar to the depiction of the NT Anna in Luke 2:37.91 Additionally, the idea that Sabbaths and festival days were not to be days of fasting will be found in early Christian traditions that exempt Sabbaths, Sundays and certain feast days from fasting.
The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs contains several references to fasting.92 The Testament of Simeon 3:4 has Simeon say, “Two years therefore I afflicted my soul with fasting in the fear of the Lord,” which he describes as fleeing to God in order to finally overcome the vice of envy.93 Joseph says that he “fasted in those seven years” (T. Jos. 3:4) when he was tempted by the Egyptian woman, giving his bread to the poor. Afterward, he “appeared to the Egyptians as one living delicately, for they that fast for God’s sake receive beauty of face” (T. Jos. 3:4).94 Joseph even fasted in prison (9:2), and he attributes his accomplishments to prayer and fasting: “Ye see, therefore, my children, how great things patience worketh, and prayer with fasting” (10:2).95 Rachel is said to have prayed and fasted while barren, with the result that Benjamin was born (T. Ben. 1:4). Fasting while continuing in sin is condemned as hypocrisy in T. Ash. 2:8, in a manner reminiscent of prophetic themes: “Another committeth adultery and fornication, and abstaineth from meats, and when he fasteth he doeth evil.”96 Reuben is said to have abstained from meat and wine in penance for seven years for his sin of fornication (T. Reu. 1:10), as did Judah until his old age (T. Jud. 15:4). These frequent references to fasting in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs evidence an escalation in the attention being paid to the virtues of fasting, since the original biblical materials describing these figures never mention it.
1 Enoch 108:7-9 describes the humble as longing more for God than earthly food, which sounds ascetical in tone.97 Psalms of Solomon 3:8 suggests that involuntary sins may be atoned through fasting, which may be an extension of the concept of fasting on the Day of Atonement: “[The righteous] maketh atonement for (sins of) ignorance by fasting and afflicting his soul, and the Lord counteth guiltless every pious man and his house.”98 As previously mentioned, in the Life of Adam and Eve 6:1, Adam fasted forty days, and the Slavonic version adds Eve fasting forty-four days, as penance.
Fasting was not always encouraged in pseudepigraphal literature, however. Jubilees 50:12 lists fasting as one of several things forbidden on the sabbath, on pain of death, and the Fragments of a Zadokite Work 13:13 makes a similar statement. But as Wimmer observes, “the command not to fast on the sabbath implies that some wanted to do just that.”99 So on the whole, when fasting is mentioned in the pseudepigraphal texts, there appears to be an escalation of its virtues.
The Qumran literature and the authors Philo and Josephus offer glimpses into Jewish life in the first century, and they are briefly examined below. While the evidence from this material is not extensive, it does at least give some picture of Jewish fasting practices that were going on around the time of the events and writing of the NT.
Qumran Literature: Scanty Evidence from an Ascetic Community. Although the Qumran community practiced a life of discipline, in the Dead Sea Scrolls the only explicit mention of fasting is in reference to the dispute with the Jerusalem temple authorities over when to observe the Day of Atonement.100 It is possible that the lifestyle of the community included ritual fasting, since asceticism was woven into the fabric of their lives.101 But on the whole, the Qumran literature does not factor into this discussion of a theology of fasting in a very significant way.
Philo: Blending Jewish Religious Fasting with Greek Philosophies. Philo represents something of a blending of a Hebrew religious focus on fasting and some broader Greek ideas of bodily purity and receptivity. In rather Hebrew fashion, he describes the purpose of the Day of Atonement as humility before God and the putting away of boasting, which results in propitiation.102 He contrasts the awe and reverence of the Jewish fast, which he says is kept more strictly and solemnly than the “holy month” of the Greeks, which he describes as gluttonous “fasts.”103 He contrasts drunkards with the sober and their clarity of the senses in a way that may reflect a more broadly Greek concept of purification:
Though indeed, it is true that these sober ones are drunk in a sense, for all good things are united in the strong wine on which they feast, and they receive the loving-cup from perfect virtue; while those others who are drunk with the drunkenness of wine have lived fasting from prudence without ceasing, and no taste of it has come to their famine-stricken lips.104
In a similar vein, he says, “For understanding is starved when the senses feast, as on the other hand it makes merry when they are fasting.”105 In De Vita Contemplativa, Philo discusses approvingly the disciplined lifestyle, which included fasting and dietary regulations, of the “Therapeutae,” a Jewish communal sect living on the shore of Lake Mareotis near Alexandria.106 In all of these references, we see Philo’s desire to honor the traditional practices of Jewish fasting and correlate them with an appeal to Greek notions of virtue.
Additionally, Philo connects gluttony with sexual indulgence:
Gluttony is naturally followed by her attendant, sexual indulgence, bringing on extraordinary madness, fierce desire and most grievous frenzy. For when men have been loaded up with overeating and intoxication, they are no longer able to control themselves, but in haste to indulge their lusts they carry on their revels and beset doors until they have drained off the great vehemence of their passion and find it possible to be still. This is apparently why Nature placed the organs of sexual lust where she did, assuming that they do not like hunger, but are roused to their special activities when fulness of food leads the way.107
This connection between the belly and the genitals will be seen in the Church Fathers and become a point of a good deal of reflection in monasticism.108
Josephus: Fasting as Practiced in First-Century Judaism. Josephus does not add a great deal to the theology of fasting, but he “is an important witness to the Jewish institution of fasting and to its spirit of penance for sin and supplication for deliverance.”109 He frequently mentions fasting in his retelling of OT narratives, and refers to the Day of Atonement as “the Fast.”110 He also recounts an instance of wicked Ananias proposing a general fast day for the deceitful purpose of getting his enemies among the people, including Josephus, to lay down their weapons and catch them off guard.111 He describes the prayer and fasting of King Izates when threatened by Parthian invaders.112 He also “points out with pride that many nations have taken over Jewish beliefs and pious practices, including the fasts.”113 Like Philo, Josephus upholds Jewish fasting as a positive ideal, and reflects the general practice of Judaism in the first century.
There are numerous references to fasting in rabbinic literature. Occasionally some of these discourage fasting, while others are more favorable. Of those that are favorable, they qualify fasting by considering whether or not the reasons are imperative, and whether those fasting go beyond mere mortification to true spiritual reappraisals of inner thoughts as well as actions.114 Although the literature is diverse, evidence of some codification of fasting practices can clearly be seen. Some of the more important instances of fasting, especially the extended treatments, will be discussed below.
Ta’anit: Regulating How to Fast for Rain. Over time, Judaism grew keenly interested in ritual fasting, and a tractate of the Mishnah, Ta’anit, is devoted to certain fasting regulations.115 The tractate is divided into four chapters, primarily dealing with drought in the rainy season. The first and longest chapter deals with the conditions of drought which would necessitate fasting and the prescribed days and regulations for doing so. The second details certain ceremonies to be performed on such days, as well as the potential calendar collision of fast days and festival days when fasting is prohibited. The third chapter discusses the appropriateness and methods of sounding the shofar for fast days at various times of calamity. The fourth discusses the relation of priestly orders and temple service to the fast days, and includes a recounting of the tragedies that befell the Jews on the seventeenth of Tammuz and the ninth of Ab.
According to Ta’anit chapter one, if rain had not begun to fall by the seventeenth of Marcheshvan, a series of fasts would be initiated. The first series was for individuals distinguished in the law. On the immediately following Monday, Thursday, and Monday they would fast during the day, but they were allowed to eat and drink after dark, and they were permitted to work, bathe, anoint themselves, wear shoes, and have marital relations (m. Ta’an. 1:4). If by the first of the next month, Kislev, rain had not arrived (about two weeks after the seventeenth of Marcheshvan), a series of three Monday-Thursday-Monday fasts was enjoined upon the entire community. They were allowed to eat and drink only during the day, and forbidden to work, bathe, anoint themselves, wear shoes or have marital relations. The bathhouses were to be locked (m. Ta’an. 1:6). If these passed without rain, seven more stringent fasts were enjoined, still following the Monday-Thursday pattern.
They were to sound the shofar and lock the stores. On Monday the store doors could be opened partially toward evening, and they could be open on Thursdays in preparation for the Sabbath. If these days passed, they were to “decrease” commerce, construction, planting, betrothals, marriages, and greeting one another. The distinguished individuals would resume the fasting until the end of Nissan, after which any rainfall would be symptomatic of a curse, since it would no longer be of benefit to the crops (m. Ta’an. 1:7).
As can be seen, there was an increased intensity in the nature of these fasts as time wore on: “Abstaining from food and drink on a public fast-day is not an end in itself, but the means by which the community is to arrive at a spiritual awakening and true repentance.”116 The rituals prescribed, however, are subject to a great deal of discussion about exceptions and exemptions, which leads to the observation that the acts could easily have been interpreted by the people as primarily symbolic. The fact that certain accompanying actions (work, bathing, laundering, anointing, sandals, and sex) are discussed tends to focus attention in their direction.117 It is also interesting to observe the distinction between the fasting and prayers of those distinguished in the law and the community at large. The prayers of the leaders appear to be seen as more efficacious, as they begin the cycle (no point in bothering the entire community yet) and end it (there was little hope left, no point in disturbing the community further). In Ta’anit, then, fasting retains its role in repentance, but it also becomes more ritualized, codified, and elevated to a potentially elitist function. The Pharisee who fasted twice a week but was condemned by Jesus in a parable in Luke 18:12 seems to reflect such an elitist attitude toward his fasting.
Yoma: Regulating Fasting on the Day of Atonement. The tractate Yoma expands on the procedures of Leviticus 16 concerning the Day of Atonement. For the most part it discusses the preparation and function of the high priest and the service order for the day, including both the sacrifice and the scapegoat.
The eighth (and last) chapter deals some with the laws promoting repentance by regulating fasting and labor on the Day. Eating, drinking, washing, anointing, wearing shoes and cohabitation were all prohibited (Yoma 8:1).118 One was not to eat more than the volume of a large date or drink more than both cheeks full (8:2). Sin offerings were prescribed for violating these limits (8:3). Children were not required to afflict themselves but were to be instructed in the procedures, and pregnant women and the sick were allowed exemptions from fasting (8:4-6). Similarly, work could be performed to clear a collapsed building if it threatened human life (8:7). Yom Kippur provided atonement for sins before God, provided repentance was genuine; but for sins against a fellow man reconciliation was first enjoined (8:8-9).
On the whole, Yoma does not add a great deal to the discussion of fasting, except to show the practical outworking of the practice on the Day of Atonement. The need for true repentance over against merely ritualistic conformity is stressed, although the ongoing discussion of related regulations may tend to obscure that basic point.
Fasting in Other Talmudic References: Diversity, with Some Extreme Tendencies. The Talmud contains a number of incidental references to fasting, and S. Lowy provides the best introduction.119 The main purposes for voluntary fasting in the early talmudic period followed the biblical and apocryphal lead, and primarily focus on repentance, atonement, and the strengthening of prayer, while fasting as an expression of private mourning is discontinued.120 Later, however, there are some examples of more extreme cases of fasting as examples of penitence, which are attributed to the Tannaim of the earlier period, even though tannaitic literature itself does not mention such things. There were attempts to curb or modify fasting, evidenced by Samuel’s statement, “There are no public fasts in Babylonia except Tish’ah be-‘abh” (Pesah. 54b), but Lowy says this qualification was not intended to be taken literally.121 Some excessive examples include:
R. Eleazar b. Azariah’s teeth “were blackened from fasting” to atone for his sin of opposing a majority view (y. Šabb. 3.4, 7c.).
R. Joshua used insulting words about an illogical opinion of the school of Shammai, and his “teeth were black from fasting” (t. Ohol. 5.11).
R. Tarfon saved his own life by revealing his identity when accused of being a thief, and a later tradition says he fasted throughout his life for this sin (y. Šeb. 4.2, 35b, b. Ned. 62a).
R. Simeon made a derogatory remark about R. ‘Aqiba, and his “teeth were blackened from fasting” (Naz. 52b).
R. Hiyya b. ‘Ashi lived in sexual abstinence from his wife for years. His wife tested him by dressing as a harlot and seduced him. When he realized her identity, he was plagued by guilt, because he intended to sin, and he died from extensive fasting to expiate this sin (Qidd. 81b).
R. Hisda offended his teacher, R. Huna, with a comment, and both fasted forty fasts: R. Hisda because of the suffering caused his teacher, and R. Huna because he falsely suspected his pupil (Bab. Mes. 33a).
R. Papa fasted because of a slightly insulting expression about the sages (Sanh. 100a).
Mar b. Rabhina fasted the whole year except for some holidays (Pesah. 68b).
Rabbi Sadoq is described as having fasted forty years so that Jerusalem would not be destroyed. The context describes a famine, and a woman ate a date left by the Rabbi, who would allow himself to suck the juices of a fig to get well. When he ate something, it is said that the food could be seen in his throat (b. Git£.56a).122
However, Lowy cautions us:
It would be wrong to assume that an ascetic tendency towards extensive fasting was prevalent. On the whole, Judaism was set against such extreme practices. From the very earliest times—even before the ascetic sects came into existence—down to the amoraic period such practices were generally discouraged. There were many limitations on fasting.123
Despite Lowy’s cautions, we can see, however, that there were ample examples of rather excessive forms of fasting in certain rabbinic traditions. Additionally, the fasting practices reflected a division in society between great ascetic men, the middle class, and everyone else. It is easy to see how such a division associated with religious practices could lead to ritualization and potential abuse or neglect, as the case may be.
We should be careful not to stereotype traditional Jewish fasting as completely negative or hypocritical, which the Church Fathers occasionally did. 124 But we should take to heart both the OT prophets’ admonitions as well as Jesus’ later instruction in the Sermon on the Mount. Fasting can have its proper place in personal and corporate religious experience, but it can also degenerate into meaningless or even hypocritical ritual.
The various references to fasting in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition begin to converge in several key theological themes. The most basic ancient purpose of fasting as a sign of mourning in times of death or disaster branches into two main theological ideas, namely fasting as repentance for sin and fasting to intensify prayer when seeking God’s favor. Both of these ideas, however, presuppose an even more basic theological idea that the OT occasionally highlights through fasting references: that God is the ultimate source and sustainer of life, and human life depends on connection to his presence and obedience to his words. This theme that emerges already in the Garden of Eden is the basis for the fasting that highlights Moses as God’s chosen leader, and sets in motion a messianic motif that God’s chosen prophet will be like him. As the fasts of Israel turned routine, the prophets urged the people to true justice in anticipation of the eschatological day when their mourning would be turned to gladness, their fasting to feasting. Against the backdrop of Jewish fasting that occasionally obscured true humility, repentance and justice through hypocrisy and ritual, the eschatological realization of the ideal that fasting anticipated came in the person of Jesus Christ. To the theological discussion of fasting in the NT we now turn.
11 Gerald O’Collins and Daniel Kendall, The Bible for Theology: Ten Principles for the Theological Use of Scripture (New York: Paulist, 1997), 24. The authors go on to explain: “Obviously the principle of convergence emphasizes the unity of the canonical scriptures more than their diversity, that unity effected by the Holy Spirit over against the diversity due to the human authors and the complex differences between the OT and NT. To expect convergent biblical testimony presupposes that one takes the Bible to exhibit, in and through its diverse witnesses and the tension between their perspectives, much more unity than a mere anthology of ancient, religious writings held together by the covers of one book. Ultimately it is the divine authorship by the one Holy Spirit that forges the christological unity of the Bible in the convergence of its many witnesses.”
12 Ibid., 27-28. An important qualification follows: “This sixth principle does not aim to repeat the naive appeals to ‘authoritative’ biblical concepts that James Barr, Brevard Childs, and others rightly criticized years ago. It simply aims at noting the existence of patterns of divine activity and promise that recur in the Bible, yield an overall picture, evoke varying human responses, and throw light, above all, on Jesus’ activity and identity. Any adequate theology will be sustained by the biblical metathemes and metanarratives.”
13 Daniel M. Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 2001), 81-91.
14 Doriani, 86-87.
15 Ibid., 195-96, 207-10. Hans Frei (Theology and Narrative: Selected Essays, ed. George Hunsinger and William C. Placher [New York: Oxford University Press, 1993], 113-14), following Karl Barth, describes the three stages of hermeneutics of narrative: “(1) Explicatio, the sheer retelling of the story or other texts, together with the philological and other aids that go into that activity for the more technically trained; (2) meditatio, the conceptual redescription or (more generally) refraction of the text through the structures of our minds—whether we think of this as taking place by virtue of a unified phenomenon, an internal process, or through the discovery of deep structures shared by synchronically ordered texts into which the interpreter himself becomes intercalated, or other forms of what this autonomous intellectual activity might best be described to be; and finally (3) applicatio, or use, which is in its own way as inclusive as the second stage. It is the skill to relate the story (or other texts) to the context, the judgment that we do or do not share a world with the text and with the community in which it has functioned since its first telling. The text is meaningful by appropriation, its meaning is performatively or existentially realized.”
16 A more thorough discussion of narrative, hermeneutics, and theology would need to interact with several more philosophical and methodological questions, such as those raised and discussed in the following primary sources and the many secondary sources surrounding them: Hans W. Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (New Haven: Yale University, 1974); Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Continuum, 1975); and Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1984). It is beyond the scope of this dissertation to explicitly critique and/or bring these works to bear on the material presented below.
17 H. A. Brongers, “Fasting in Israel in Biblical and Post-Biblical Times,” in Instruction and Interpretation: Studies in Hebrew Language, Palestinian Archaeology and Biblical Exegesis, OtSt 20 (Leiden: Brill, 1977), 1.
18 H. H. Guthrie, Jr., “Fast, Fasting,” IDB 2: 241-42; John Muddiman, “Fast, Fasting,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary 2: 773; Julius H. Greenstone, “Fasting and Fast-Days,” The Jewish Encyclopedia 5: 347-49.
19 Brongers, 2.
20 R. Largement, “L’ascétisme dans la civilisation Suméro-Sémitique,” ASSR 9 (1964): 22-34. Largement also draws connections between the related practices of virgins dedicated by celibacy to the gods and the psalms with superscriptions to virgins (‘alamoth). From this he surmises a celibate virgin cult ritual in Jerusalem, which he also speculates as forming a background for later Christian celibacy practices. He also compares Pss 89:39 and 51:3-6 to a ceremony on the fifth day of the Babylonian New Year festival, in which the king of Israel humbly confesses sin in contrast to the Babylonian king who professed perfect innocence. These highly speculative ideas cannot really be substantiated, but there is clearly the likelihood that Israelite religious asceticism and fasting (and perhaps the early Christian forms that grew from it) reflect wider cultural traditions of their day.
21 F. Stolz, “ xw<,” Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament,” ed. Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, trans. Mark E. Biddle (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1997), 2: 1066.
22 See Appendix I for a complete listing of biblical passages that first appeared in Kent D. Berghuis, “A Biblical Perspective on Fasting,” BSac 158 (2001): 97-101.
23 Stolz, 1066.
24 BDB, 847.
25 Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, rev. Baumgartner and Johann Jakob Stamm, trans. M. E. J. Richardson (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 3: 1012.
26 Robert J. Way, “ xw<,” New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, ed. Willem VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 3: 780.
27 Ibid., 781.
28 Brongers, 3.
29 For a full list of references and sub-categories, see the Appendix, “Master Summary of Biblical Purposes for Fasting,” that first appeared in Berghuis: 102-3. A sixth category that appeared there, that of fasting as an accompaniment of ministry, has been subsumed under the category here of experiencing the sustaining presence of God.
30 Brongers, 2, comments that fasting is more properly categorized with “customs and manners” rather than with legal prescriptions.
31 Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 21.
32 *h*a*d<, primarily referred to generically in the context as the “man,” and probably not as the proper name “Adam.”
33 The context moves from Adam’s creation in the garden (2:1-15), the prohibition (2:16-17), Eve’s creation (2:18-25), the questioning of the prohibition (3:1-5).
34 Interestingly, the man is presented as alone in the giving of the command by God, while the woman is presented as alone in the questioning of the command by the serpent. This may already be suggestive of a subverting of the exclamation of the man in Gen 2:23, emphasizing separateness that is being brought into the creation. But as in Gen 3:5, ]w=h]yy#t< and other verbs in the passage are plural, so the serpent is including the man and woman together in the speech.
35 This assertion by the serpent suggests that Elohim knew evil experientially, which would be contrary to sound faith in later biblical theology.
36 The reference in this verse is singular.
37 Sarna, Genesis, 27.
38 The reference to “offspring” is in the singular, which could function collectively, but is grammatically used here as being personified in the singular, as the pronoun hWa (3:15) would suggest.
40 Sarna, Genesis, 28.
41 Thomas L. Brodie, Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 151.
42 John Mancantelli, “Fasting: A Christian View Based on The New Testament and Old Testament Jewish Antecedents” (M. Div. thesis, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1974; Micropublished, Portland, Oreg.: TREN, 1990), 8.
43 The versions may be compared in Gary A. Anderson and Michael E. Stone, eds., A Synopsis of the Books of Adam and Eve, 2d. rev. ed., SBL Early Judaism and Its Literature 17 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999).
44 As in the words of comfort in Isa 6:13, 41:8, 43:5, 44:3, 45:19, 25, 48:19, 53:10, 54:3, 59:21, 61:9, 65:9, 23, and 66:22. Jeremiah also views the people collectively as the seed of Abraham, though often in more judgmental tones (cf. 36:31), yet he provides similar themes of assurance to the chosen seed in Jer 31:27, 36-37, and 33:22-26 (which additionally reasserts the Abrahamic promise of innumerable multiplied seed to the Davidic line).
46 The LXX version of Gen 3:6b reads, kaiV labou'sa tou' karpou' aujtou' e[fagen, kaiV e[dwken kaiV tw'/ ajndriV aujth'" met* aujth'", kaiV e[fagon. In the NT passages, the Greek uses the same verbs consistently.
49 Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, rev. ed, trans. John H. Marks (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), 77.
50 Jeffrey H. Tigay, Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996), 100-01, discusses the possibility of Deuteronomy referring to the three instances in Exodus or whether Deuteronomy has references to three partial reports of one prayer condensing the three into a single instance: “In either case, Deuteronomy is not interested in a chronological report but in presenting information about Moses’ prayer(s) at the points where it is most effective in illustrating Moses’ theme. In the present section (vv. 7-21), the contents of the narrative are determined by its focus on Israel’s sin and God’s anger, and Moses’ prayer(s) is mentioned only briefly.”
51 Walter C. Kaiser, Exodus, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 487.
52 Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 220. Cf. Tigay, 99: “Moses’ ability to survive for so long a time without food or drink can only be due to divine support”; Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1983), 447: “Hence it is further recorded here: he neither ate bread nor drank water, indicating that he was uplifted above the everyday plane of life and tangibly approached the Divine sphere. In the light of this development, we can understand the statement in the next paragraph that the skin of Moses’ face shone.”
53 Tigay, 99-100.
54 Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, NAC 4 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 192.
55 E.g., Johann Gamberoni, “Fasting,” Encyclopedia of Biblical Theology: The Complete Sacramentum Verbi, ed. Johannes B. Bauer (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 257; Muddiman, “Fast, Fasting,” 773; Greenstone, 347.
56 Note the expansion on the HB text in Tg. Neof. Lev 23:27-32 [ca. second century AD]: “But on the tenth day of this seventh month is the fast of atonement ( xwmh dkypwryh). It shall be for you a feast day and a holy convocation. You shall fast ( wtxwmw/) on it, and you shall offer sacrifices before the Lord. 28 And you shall not do any work on that same day for it is the fast day ( yw< xwmh) of the atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. 29 For whoever eats on a day of fast ( lmxw<) and does not fast ( xyymh) at the time of the fast day ( yw< xwmh) of the atonement shall be blotted out from the midst of the people. 30 And whoever does any work on that same day, I shall blot out that person from the midst of the people. 31 You shall do no work. It is an everlasting statute for your generations in every place where your dwellings are. 32 It shall be for you a sabbath of solemn rest, and on it you shall fast ( wtxymw). On the ninth day of the month from evening until (the following) evening you shall make your fasts ( xymy), you shall take your rest and you shall observe the times of your appointed feasts with joy” (Alejandro Díez Macho, ed., Neophyti 1: Targum Palestinense Ms de la Biblioteca Vaticana, vol. 3, trans. Martin McNamara and Michael Maher [Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigacioned Científias, 1971], 398). Similar additions occur in Tg. Ps.-J. Lev 23:27 [date unknown; however, the additions to the text of Neofiti in these passages seem to suggest a later date]: “And you shall afflict your souls from food, drink, and the enjoyment of the bath and anointing, sexual intercourse and sandals. And you shall sacrifice sacrifices before the Lord” (Ibid., 508). Other passages, such as Lev 16:29, 31, 25:9; and Num 29:7 specifically refer to fasting in the Targums where the HB does not, some adding references to other forms of abstinence as above.
1QpHab 11.8 [ca. 1st century BC to 1st Century AD]: “Woe unto him that plies his neighbor with drink, that pours out his flask [hematho], yea, makes him drunk, in order to gaze on their festivals! This refers to the wicked priest, who chased after the true exponent of the Law, right to the house where he was dwelling in exile, in order to confuse him by a display of violent temper [hamatho], and who then, on the occasion of the rest-day of Atonement, appeared to them in full splendor in order to confuse them and trip them up on the day of the fast, the day of their sabbatical rest” (Theodor H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures in English Translation With Introduction and Notes [New York: Doubleday, 1956], 255). This refers to the Jewish tradition of changing the date of the day of Atonement by lengthening the previous month so as to avoid the holy day falling on a Sabbath, a practice the Qumran community rejected. Cf. also Acts 27:9.
58 BDB, 772-77, lists three other roots with the same radicals ( unh): I. “answer, respond”; II. “be occupied, busied with”; III. “be bowed down, afflicted” (the usage under discussion here); and IV. “sing.”
59 Another term, *k~nu, “to be humble,” functions similarly (note especially the reflexive uses in Lev 26:41; 2 Chr 7:14, 12:6, 7, 12, 30:11, 32:26, 33:12, 19, 23, 34:27, 36:12; 1 Kgs 21:29; 2 Kgs 22:19); also compare Isaiah’s preferred term, *v@pl, “to become low, be abased” (Isa 2:9, 11, 5:15, 10:33, 52:15; Jer 13:18; Dan 5:22).
61 Gregory Vall, “Psalm 22 and the Vox Christi: A Hermeneutical Test Case” (paper presented at the Southwest Commission on Religious Studies Regional Meeting, Irving, Texas, 4-5 March 2000). In addition to the references to Psalm 22 at Christ’s crucifixion, Isaiah 53 also uses *u`nh to present God’s servant as one who will be afflicted with suffering (53:4, 7). Cf. Matt 18:4, 23:12; Jas 4:6-10; 1 Pet 5:5-6.
62 Oded Schwartz, In Search of Plenty: A History of Jewish Food (London: Kyle Cathie, 1992) provides a fascinating look into the everyday nature of Jewish food through time. Writers occasionally note that apparently humanity in paradise enjoyed a vegetarian existence, and only after the flood was meat-eating permitted, with the proviso of the blood taboo (cf. Gen 1:29-30, 9:3-4; but also note that God covered Adam and Eve in animal skins [3:21], and Abel offered animal sacrifices to God [4:4-5], both of which seem to point away from the adequacy of vegetation after the fall). For a fuller discussion of the place of animals in Judaism, including a discussion of vegetarianism, see Elijah Judah Schochet, Animal Life in Jewish Traditions: Attitudes and Relationships (New York: Ktav, 1984).
63 Jacob Neusner, The Idea of Purity in Ancient Judaism, SJLA 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1973), 18. Neusner cites biblical texts mentioning unclean animals and food: Gen 7:2,8, Deut 14:3-20; Judg 13:4, 7, 14; Ezek 4:14; and unclean people and food: Deut 12:15, 22; 1 Sam 20:26; 2 Chr 30:18-19.
64 For a fuller discussion, see Walter Houston, Purity and Monotheism: Clean and Unclean Animals in Biblical Law, JSOTSup 140 (Sheffield: JSOT, 1993), and David Bryan, Cosmos, Chaos and the Kosher Mentality, JSPSup 12 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 130-67.
65 Bryan, 144-60. Bryan points out their respective weaknesses: the cultic explanation of Noth lacks real evidence, the hygienic approach does not seem to fit ancient mentalities as much as modern ones, and the ethical explanation does not get one far enough into the mind of priests drawing up the laws.
68 This also occurs in the apocryphal 2 Esdras 5:15, 6:31, and 9:23.
69 One might note Elijah’s conversation with YHWH in 1 Kgs 19:9-18, which stresses Elijah’s role as a prophet to whom the people apparently have not listened, in contrast to the words of Deut 18:15. Alan J. Hauser and Russell Gregory (From Carmel to Horeb: Elijah in Crisis, JSOTSS 85, Bible and Literature Series 19 [Sheffield: Almond, 1990], 144-46) highlight the contrast between Moses and Elijah as prophetic figures.
70 Thomas L. Brodie, The Crucial Bridge: The Elijah-Elisha Narrative as an Interpretive Synthesis of Genesis-Kings and a Literary Model for the Gospels (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 2000), 46. David M. Hoffeditz provides a thorough discussion of the later connections to Elijah in the Gospels, in “A Prophet, a Kingdom, and a Messiah: The Portrayal of Elijah in the Gospels in Light of First-Century Judaism,” D. Phil. thesis, University of Aberdeen, 2000.
71 R. P. Carroll, “The Elijah-Elisha Sagas: Some Remarks on Prophetic Succession in Ancient Israel,” in Prophecy in the Hebrew Bible: Selected Studies from Vetus Testamentum, ed. David E. Orton, Brill’s Readers in Biblical Studies 5 (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 56-71. First published in VT 19 (1969): 400-415.
73 Because the same category of people that fasts is called to repentance and social justice, it would appear that the community at large is in view and not merely priests or religious leaders. This follows the reasoning of Michael L. Barré, “Fasting in Isaiah 58:1-2: A Reexamination,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 15 (July 1985): 94-97, in response to Leslie J. Hoppe, “Isaiah 58:1-12, Fasting and Idolatry,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 13 (April 1983): 44-47.
74 Cf. also 58:13.
76 Barré, 96-97.
77 The unity of the entire chapter is assumed here, including the supposedly dissimilar verses 13-14, in agreement with Barré (who cites J. Muilenburg and N. E. A. Andraeson favorably), 95-96. This is based on the similar structure of the “if/then” clauses throughout and the similar thematic material from the beginning to the end of the chapter (again in contrast to Hoppe, “Isaiah 58:1-2,” and the position that Barré cites as held by the majority of commentators, including J. L. McKenzie and C. Westermann).
78 For a good discussion of the nature of sermonic material in Zechariah as a case study in the post-exilic prophets and second temple period, see Rex Mason, “Some Echoes of the Preaching in the Second Temple? Tradition Elements in Zechariah 1-8,” ZAW 96 (1984): 221-35.
79 This reference to the envoy being from Bethel is in line with the NASB, as well as Carol L. and Eric M. Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987), 382-83, and Eugene H. Merrill, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1994), 206-8. This somewhat difficult passage could be translated differently, as Ackroyd does: “Then Bethel-sharezer the Rab-mag of the king and his men sent to seek the favour of Yahweh …” (Peter R. Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B.C. [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968], 206-07). This would clarify the use of the first person in Zech 7:3. But the readily recognizable town of Bethel should not be too easily dismissed in favor of a person nowhere else mentioned, bearing a title which is based on textual emendation (supported by the Syriac and Ethiopic versions) and which would perhaps more easily be a proper name, as in the NASB. It may be significant that “Bethel” means “House of God/El,” and the messengers are being sent to the “House of YHWH” in Jerusalem, suggesting the prominence of Jerusalem as YHWH’s dwelling place and the main centralizing factor in Israel and Judah’s religion (Edgar W. Conrad, Zechariah, Readings: A New Biblical Commentary, ed. John Jarick [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999], 133). These men from Bethel come to “seek the favor of the Lord,” anticipating something the peoples and inhabitants of many cities will one day do (8:20-21; Conrad, 135). However, it seems to go too far to suggest that at this point El is viewed as a rival deity to YHWH, as Conrad seems to suggest (137). The contrast in Zech 7:5-6 is not between YHWH and El, but rather between YHWH and the people’s own selfishness, a connection Conrad mentions but appears to misunderstand, as he says the meaning “is not totally clear” (138).
80 See discussion on Ta’anit, below.
81 BDB, 634. Merrill cites J. Kühlewein, TWAT 2:50, as pointing out that the verb “in the niphal occurs four times (Lev 22:2; Ezek 14:7; Hos 9:10; Zech 7:3) in the sense of separation from unclean things, from YHWH Himself, or from food” (Merrill, 208).
82 Merrill, 209. The fast of the seventh month, Tishri, was apparently in memorial of the murder of Gedaliah.
83 Conrad suggests that “a question about mourning and practising abstinence for one month (the fifth month) has been answered with reference to ‘seasons of joy’ during four months of the year” (Conrad, 137). However, in light of the brief summary of the presumably longer conversation between the messengers and Zechariah, it would seem that this conclusion is unnecessary. Perhaps by mentioning the four fasts in Zech 8:19, Zechariah uses literary skill in avoiding redundancy while further elucidating the nature of the original conversation.
84 Mason, 229-30, citing Ackroyd, 209.
85 Ackroyd, 209.
86 Naphtali Winter, ed., Fasting and Fast Days, Popular Judaica Library, ed. Raphael Posner (Jerusalem: Keter, 1975), 10, 17.
87 Willem VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption: The Story of Salvation from Creation to the New Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 296.
88 Shalom M. Paul, “Gleanings from the Biblical and Talmudic Lexica in Light of Akkadian,” Minhah le-Nahum: Biblical and Other Studies Presented to Nahum M. Sarna in Honour of his 70th Birthday, ed. Marc Brettler and Michael Fishbane, JSOTSup 154 (Sheffield: JSOT, 1993), 244-48, provides a helpful explanation of Zech 8:23 in light of cultural backgrounds.
89 1 Esd 8:50: “There I proclaimed a fast for the young men before our Lord, to seek from him a prosperous journey …”; 8:71-73: “As soon as I heard these things I tore my garments and my holy mantle, and pulled out hair from my head and beard, and sat down in anxiety and grief. And all who were ever moved at the word of the Lord of Israel gathered around me, as I mourned over this iniquity, and I sat grief-stricken until the evening sacrifice. Then I rose from my fast, with my garments and my holy mantle torn, and kneeling down and stretching out my hands to the Lord” (NRSV).
90 Cf. also 2 Esd 20 and 6:31, 35.
91 It should be noted, however, that Anna’s fasting is associated with temple service and eschatological anticipation (as discussed in the following chapter), while Judith’s fasting apparently was only for the purpose of a sign of mourning. Also, Judith’s beauty and heroic deeds do not find any correspondence in Anna.
92 References to the following pseudepigraphal materials are found in R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963). Joseph F. Wimmer, Fasting in the New Testament: A Study in Biblical Theology, ed. Lawrence Boadt, Theological Inquiries: Studies in Contemporary Biblical and Theological Problems (New York: Paulist, 1982), 10-17, contains a very nice summary of Jewish intertestamental sources.
93 Charles, ed., 301.
95 Ibid., 349. Cf. also T. Jos. 4:3.
96 Ibid., 343.
97 Wimmer, 11.
98 Charles, ed., 635.
99 Wimmer, 12.
101 See Wimmer, 17-22, for a thorough discussion of the broader implications of asceticism in the community as a possible link to fasting.
102 De Posteritate Caini, 13.48, Philo, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, trans. C. D. Yonge, new updated ed. (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993), 136.
103 Mos. 2.23.1. See also Decal. 159.5; Spec. 1.169.1, 1.186.3, 2.41.8, 2.193.1, Legat. 306.5.
104 Ebr. 148, Philo, trans. F. H. Colson, LCL (New York: Putnam, 1930), 3: 397.
105 Migr. 204, Philo, LCL, 4: 251-53; cf. Migr. 98.7.
106 Wimmer, 27-30, provides a thorough discussion of this community.
107 De Agr. (On Husbandry) 8.37-38, Philo, LCL 3: 127.
108 See especially the discussion of John Cassian in the fourth chapter, below.
109 Ibid., 22.
110 For examples of references to OT narratives, see Ant. 5.159, 5.166, 8.358, 10.93, 11.134, 11.228. For references to the Day of Atonement as “the Fast,” see Ant. 3.240, 14.487, 17.165, 17.166 (this interesting account tells of a high priest relieved from his duties for one day on the Day of Atonement because of a sexual dream defiling him for the day); 18.94; Wars 5.236. Note that he refers to the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans on “the Fast,” apparently a reference to the Day of Atonement, in Ant. 14.66; this is probably a chronological error, due to Josephus following sources that mistakenly referred to the sabbath day as a fast, as in Strabo 16.763, who says Pompey took Jerusalem “on a fast day, they say, when the Jews refrain from all work,” as noted in Josephus, trans. Ralph Marcus, LCL (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1986), 7: 480-81.
111 Life 290.2.
112 Ant. 20.89-91.
113 Wimmer, 22, citing Ap. 2.282.
114 Winter, ed., 23.
115 Note the relationship to the Hebrew root unh. The noun ^T&u]nyt from which the tractate derives its title occurs only once in the OT, in Ezra 9:5, “But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the LORD my God” (NASB). Editions consulted here include Avrohom Yoseif Rosenberg, trans., “Tractate Taanis,” The Mishnah, Seder Moed vol. 4, Artscroll Mishnah Series, ed. Nosson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz (Brooklyn: Mesorah, 1969); J. Rabbinowitz, ed. and trans., Ta‘anith, in I. Epstein, ed., The Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo‘ed, vol. 4 (London: Soncino, 1938), v-vi; Henry Malter, ed. and trans., The Treatise Ta‘anith of the Babylonian Talmud, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1978), xi-xliii; Adin Steinsaltz, The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition, vols. 13-14, “Tractate Ta‘anit,” ed. and trans. Israel V. Berman (New York: Random House, 1995); Jacob Neusner, ed., The Two Talmuds Compared, vol. I. F (Atlanta: Scholars, 1996), 105-232.
116 Steinsaltz, Talmud, vol. 14, 1.
117 Preserved in these traditions here we see some of the very additions to fasting (restrictions from bathing and anointing in particular) that Jesus criticized in Matt 6:16-18. While it is unclear exactly when such practices emerged in Judaism, Jesus’ words, along with the material in the Targums on the Day of Atonement already examined, can be taken as evidence that at least some of these practices were prevalent in the first century.
118 R. Eliezer said that the king and the bride could wash their faces, and a new mother could wear shoes, things which the Mishnah says the other sages prohibited. However, the Talmud records the haggling over the possible exceptions to these regulations, and the halachah eventually allowed for a good deal of latitude.
119 S. Lowy, “The Motivation of Fasting in Talmudic Literature,” JJS 9 (1958): 19-38.
120 Ibid., 21.
121 Ibid., 29.
122 Ibid., 22-23; also noted are Bab. Mes. 85a; y. Ta’an. 2.13, 66a; y. Meg. 1.6, 70d; y. Ned. 8.2, 40d.
123 Lowy, 23-24.
124 Lowy, 25-26, traces some of the early Christian conflict over fasting to its Jewish counterpart. Christians saw great value in fasting, but rejected Jewish fasting as insincere, and as Lowy points out, ignoring many of the rabbinic calls for caution. Perhaps early Christians were also repudiating what they perceived as Jewish disregard for Jesus, and fasting practices were used to highlight the differences. See especially the discussion of the Didache below in the third chapter.