One of the many surprising aspects of asteroid Apophis is the supernatural timing of its arrival. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Cal Tech, which tracks Near Earth Objects (NEOs) for NASA, tells us that it “will cruise harmlessly by Earth, about 19,000 miles (31,000 kilometers) above the surface” on April 13, 2029.[i] Why is this interesting? The date has intriguing connections to the annual feasts God decreed to Moses in the wilderness.
Assuming for the moment that Apophis is biblical Wormwood (we’re not certifying that or setting dates here), and that 2029 would thus represent a period sometime around the middle of the Great Tribulation period when the trumpet judgments begin, Monday, October 13, 2025 (April 13, 2029, minus three and a half years), would be the approximate start date of the seven years of Tribulation foreseen in Scripture (see Matthew 24:21, Revelation 7:14, and Daniel 12:1). For evangelical dispensationalists (and some Catholic prophecy believers), this timing may seem an ominous sign that a Rapture of the Church is soon to occur (the eschatological event, as we’ve described earlier, when all true Christians who are alive will be transformed into glorious bodies in an instant and joined by the resurrection of dead believers, who ascend with them into heaven). Depending on one’s position, this would place the last possible date for a pre-Tribulation Rapture sometime around October 13, 2025.[ii]
October 13, 2025, is 21 Tishri on the Hebrew calendar, the seventh day of the annual Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot, literally “Feast of Booths”), one of the annual festivals God directed the Israelites to keep when He gave the Law to Moses.
Sukkot is a seven-day festival that begins on 15 Tishri, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. That puts it exactly six months after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a seven-day festival that follows Passover, which falls on the evening of 14 Nisan, the first month of the year. Those two, along with Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), were the annual pilgrimage festivals that required Jewish men to appear before God at the tabernacle and, later, the temple in Jerusalem.[iii]
The pagan religious calendar in the ancient Near East likewise featured festivals in the spring and fall called the akitu. This rite dates back at least to the middle of the third millennium BC.[iv] For many years, scholars thought the akitu was a new year festival held each spring at Babylon to honor the chief god, Marduk. More recent discoveries, however, have shown that there were two akitu festivals, one in the spring, the harvesting season, and the other in the fall, the planting season, and many cities performed the ritual to honor their patron deities. For example, the earliest akitu known to scholars was at Ur in Sumer, the home city of the moon-god, Sîn.[v]
The akitu began on the first of Nisan and first of Tishri, close to the spring and fall equinoxes. Although the length of the festival changed over the years, it appears it generally lasted eleven[vi] or twelve days.[vii] So, the Feasts of Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles began a few days after the pagan neighbors of the Hebrews finished their annual harvest and planting rituals.
Sukkot is a seven-day festival. The sheer number of sacrificial animals required suggests that this was the preeminent festival in the Jewish calendar, and it’s especially interesting because they were bulls. Numbers 29:12–34 spells out the requirements:
Day 1: 13 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 2: 12 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 3: 11 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 4: 10 bulls. 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 5: 9 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 6: 8 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
Day 7: 7 bulls, 2 rams, 14 lambs, 1 goat
So, a total of seventy bulls were sacrificed over the seven days of Sukkot. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, also a seven-day festival, required only one ram and seven lambs each day. But the biggest difference between the two feasts is that only two bulls were sacrificed each day during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.[viii] In fact, none of the other festivals God decreed for Israel required the offering more than two bulls per day.[ix]
So, Sukkot was unique in the annual calendar. It was so important that it was sometimes simply called “the festival” or “the feast.”[x] But why? Why were so many bulls required at this feast? One thing, at least, is certain: It wasn’t about the beef.
Bovid imagery was commonly used to describe the pagan gods of the ancient world. For example, the name of the old gods of the Greek pantheon, the Titans, derives from an ancient tribe of the Amorite people, the Tidanu (or Ditanu, depending on where and when it was inscribed onto clay tablets).[xi] This was a semi-mythical group from which the Amorite kings of Babylon (including Hammurabi the Great), northern Mesopotamia, and Ugarit claimed to descend.
By the time of the judges in Israel, the tribe had passed into history. The Ditanu lived on in Amorite religion, however, venerated as gods of the underworld. Religious texts linked the Ditanu to the Rephaim, who were well known to the pagan Amorites. It appears that Amorite kings aspired to join the “council of the Ditanu” after death, and royal gardens were set apart to venerate the departed kings, presumably to help them join the company of their mighty ancestors in the afterlife.[xii]
The relevant point is that the Ditanu/Tidanu derived their name from ditânu, the Akkadian word for “bison” or “bull.”[xiii] This probably meant the aurochs, a primitive strain of cattle from which modern domesticated breeds descend. Aurochs bulls were black, weighed about a ton, stood more than six foot at the shoulder, had nasty-looking horns, and were not a beast that an inexperienced hunter wanted to engage on his own.[xiv]
And this was how the pagan neighbors of the ancient Hebrews described their creator-god.
The bovid sense of the form Ditanu/Didanu is particularly intriguing in view of other tauromorph elements in the tradition. Thus, the prominent Titan Kronos was later identified with El, who is given the epithet tr, “Bull,” in Ugaritic and biblical literature. Apart from this explicit allusion, we may well ask whether the name El (Akkadian and Ugaritic ilu) does not already itself have a bovine sense.… Does it perhaps mean “Bull”, (perhaps more generically “male animal”), so that the epithetal title tr is in effect a redundant gloss on it?…
Furthermore, the name Kronos may well carry the same nuance, since it may be construed as referring to bovine horns (Akkadian, Ugaritic qarnu, Hebrew qeren), which feature prominently in divine iconography in the Near East.[xv] (Emphasis added)
References to “Bull El” are common in Ugaritic texts, but if you read the above carefully, you may have been surprised to learn that scholars find those references in the Bible as well. For example, in the book of Hosea, the prophet recalled the idolatry of Jeroboam, who led the rebellion against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, to establish the breakaway northern kingdom of Israel:
I have spurned your calf, O Samaria.
My anger burns against them.
How long will they be incapable of innocence?
For it is from Israel;
a craftsman made it;
it is not God.
The calf of Samaria
shall be broken to pieces. (Hosea 8:5–6; emphasis added)
The phrase, “For it is from Israel,” comes from the Masoretic Hebrew text, kî miyyiśrāʾēl, which literally means, “for from Israel.”[xvi] That makes no sense in Hebrew or English. The verse as published in our English Bibles represents the best guess of translators trying to “fix” a sentence they don’t understand.
But scholars of Hebrew have found that separating the characters differently yields kî mî šōr ʾēl, which changes verse 6 from “for it is from Israel” to this:
For who is Bull El?[xvii]
a craftsman made it;
it is not God.
The calf of Samaria
shall be broken to pieces. (Hosea 8:6, modified; emphasis added)
Jeroboam had drawn the northern tribes back into the worship of the creator-god of the Canaanites by erecting the golden calves at Bethel and Dan. By reading “Bull El” in Hosea 8:6, instead of “Israel,” the verse becomes a polemic directed not just at the idols of Jeroboam, but against the head of the Canaanite pantheon as well. It fits the context of the passage better than the common English rendering.
And, interestingly, this isn’t the only place in the Bible where that substitution comes closer to the meaning of the original Hebrew.
The epithet has also been identified recently in a perceptive study of Deuteronomy 32:8 by Joosten, in which he proposed a similar consonantal regrouping in the expression bny yśrʾl (bĕnê yiśrāʾēl) to read (bĕnê šōr ʾēl). Since LXX (ἀγγέλων θεοῶ, some mss υἱων θεοῶ), and one Qumran text, 4QDeut j (lmspr bny ʾlhym), already read a divine reference here, rather than the “Israel” of MT, this proposal has much to commend it:
yaṣṣēb gĕbulōt ʿammîm He set up the boundaries of the nations
lĕmisparbĕnê šōr ʾēl in accordance with the number of the sons of Bull El.[xviii]
Here is why we’re pursuing this rabbit trail: The Amorite neighbors of ancient Israel believed that El held court on the summit of Mount Hermon[xix] with his consort, Asherah, and their seventy sons.[xx]
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The number seventy in the ancient Near East was symbolic. It represented completion, totality, the full set; not one left out.[xxi] For example, in accounts of violent transfers of power, the number of the losers put to death was usually seventy.[xxii] It described total destruction.
Cases in point: The seventy sons of Gideon killed by Abimelech[xxiii] and the seventy sons of Ahab slaughtered by the usurper Jehu.[xxiv] Did Ahab and Gideon really father seventy sons each? Probably not. Similar accounts outside the Bible from the same time period confirm that what was meant was that all of their sons had been killed (except, of course, Gideon’s lone surviving son, Jotham; in his case, seventy represented all except him).
Now, you probably noticed that “Bull El” had the same number of sons as the number of bulls slaughtered during the Feast of Tabernacles. Excellent! You see where this is going.
But it’s more than just symbolic. There is supernatural significance to those seventy sons.
Let’s circle back to Deuteronomy 32:8, which we cited above. It’s safe to say that you won’t find an English translation that renders the end of that verse “sons of Bull El.” However, there are a number of newer translations, such as the English Standard Version and New English Translation, that are similar.
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God. (Deuteronomy 32:8, emphasis added)
The translators of the NET were even more precise in what they believe was intended by the original Hebrew:
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
when he divided up humankind,
he set the boundaries of the peoples,
according to the number of the heavenly assembly. (Deuteronomy 32:8, NET; emphasis added)
Most English translations read “sons of Israel” at the end of the verse. Again, this is an example of translators making their best guess at a difficult phrase.
There are a couple of reasons to favor “sons of God” over “sons of Israel.” First, in the passage, Moses referred to God’s reaction to the Tower of Babel incident. He confused the language of the people at Babel and then “dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”[xxv] Israel—that is, Jacob—was at least fifteen hundred years in the future when God disrupted Nimrod’s pet building project.
Second, and more important: The oldest and best text evidence supports the “sons of God” reading. A copy of Deuteronomy found among the Dead Sea scrolls clearly reads “sons of God,” and the Septuagint translation, which was rendered into Greek from Hebrew more than two hundred years before the birth of Jesus, adopts a similar meaning:
When the Most High distributed nations
as he scattered the descendants of Adam,
he set up boundaries for the nations
according to the number of the angels of God. (Deuteronomy 32:8, Lexham English Septuagint; emphasis added)
Here is the key point for this section: When we read the list of the descendants of Noah in chapter 10 of Genesis, the Table of Nations, we find seventy names. In other words, when God divided the nations after Babel, He created a balance between the number of nations and the “sons of God,” “angels of God,” “heavenly assembly,” “heavenly court,”[xxvi] or “heavenly beings.”[xxvii] Why? Judgment. God decreed that the earth would no longer be under His direct authority but would report to His subordinates, the “sons of God.”
And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.
But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. (Deuteronomy 4:19–20; emphasis added)
God allotted “the host of heaven” to the nations as their gods, but Israel He reserved for Himself.
But the Lord’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage. (Deuteronomy 32:9)
Babel was an attempt to build an artificial mountain—a portal, if you will, to bring the gods to earth.[xxviii] God’s punishment was to give humanity what it wanted, an epic example of “be careful what you wish for.”
Just to be clear: We’re not pointing out these differences in translation to pick nits with the accuracy of the Bible. Reading “sons of Israel” in Deuteronomy 32:8 doesn’t change the Bible’s overall message of sin and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. What we get with the correct reading, “sons of God,” is a fuller understanding of the depth and intensity of the supernatural war going on around us.
Were there exactly seventy angels who became the gods of the pagan world? Probably not. Remember, seventy in the ancient world meant “all of them.” In other words, God allowed the nations to follow these lesser spirit beings, but reserved Israel for Himself.
The concept that each nation had its own patron deity was widely accepted in the ancient world, and it’s evident in the Bible. For example, consider the following, when Jephthah addressed the king of Ammon:
So then the Lord, the God of Israel, dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel; and are you to take possession of them?
Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess. (Judges 11:23–24)
The point here is that much of what’s in the Bible has a deeper meaning than we’ve been taught because the consensus view of Scripture by most Christian theologians since the time of Augustine in the fifth century AD is that the entities called “gods” were imaginary. That happens not to be the case, and many things in Scripture, such as the Feast of Tabernacles, make more sense—or only make sense—when we understand that God meant what He said when He called these beings “gods.”
Another case in point: A pagan festival similar to Sukkot was performed in Emar, a city in what is today northern Syria. This annual rite, called the zukru, is documented in texts from the time of the judges, the fourteenth through twelfth centuries BC.
It was celebrated in Emar on the first month of the year, called SAG.MU—namely, the “head of the year”. On the first day of the festival, when the moon is full, the god Dagan—the supreme god of Syria—and all the other gods in the pantheon were taken outside the temple and city in the presence of the citizens to a shrine of stones called sikkānu.…
The first offerings of the zukru-festival were sacrificed on the fourteenth of the month of the “head of the year”:
On the month of SAG.MU (meaning: the head of the year), on the fourteenth day, they offer seventy pure lambs provided by the king…for all the seventy gods [of the city of] Emar.[xxix]
Seventy lambs for the seventy gods of Emar, headed up by the chief god of the pantheon, Dagan, who was the same deity as El and Kronos but known by a different name.[xxx] The seventy lambs were sacrificed over seven days during a festival “when the moon is full,” just like at Sukkot.
The pagans who surrounded ancient Israel believed that their creator-god—variously called El, Dagan, Enlil, and Ashur—fathered all of the gods that controlled their world. Similarly, the Hebrews understood that the pagan gods of their neighbors were lesser elohim, fallen angels, who had rejected God’s authority. The seventy bulls sacrificed to Yahweh represented those small-g “gods,” which may also have been a message to those fallen angels that their days are numbered. So, the Feast of Tabernacles was a reminder to God’s people that He would rescue them from all of the gods of the pagan nations of the earth.
If the arrival of the approaching asteroid named for the ancient Egyptian god of chaos does coincide with the midpoint of the seven-year Great Tribulation, it is not too much to suggest that God may rescue His Church through the prophesied Rapture on or about October 13, 2025—at the end of Sukkot, the annual feast celebrating His victory over the gods of the nations.
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[i] “Scientists Planning Now for Asteroid Flyby a Decade Away,” News, April 29, 2019. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=7390, retrieved 6/16/20.
[ii] Horn, Thomas, The Wormwood Prophecy (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2019), 27.
[iii] Exodus 34:22–23.
[iv] Cohen, Mark E., The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East (Bethesda, MD: CDL, 1993) 401.
[vi] Ibid., 403.
[vii] Black, Jeremy & Green, Anthony, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary (London: British Museum Press, 1992) 136.
[viii] Numbers 28:16–25.
[ix] Numbers 28:16–27.
[x] 1 Kings 8:2, 65; 2 Chronicles 5:3; Ezekiel 45:25.
[xi] Amar Annus, “Are There Greek Rephaim? On the Etymology of Greek Meropes and Titanes.” Ugarit-Forschungen 31 (1999) 13–30.
[xii] Sharon K. Gilbert and Derek P. Gilbert, Veneration (Crane, MO: Defender, 2019) 85–94.
[xiii] Annus, op.cit., 20.
[xiv] The last aurochs died in Poland in 1627, but a breeding program to recreate the aurochs by crossing larger breeds of domestic cattle hopes to release a close match to the aurochs into the wild across Europe by 2025.
[xv] Wyatt, Nicolas, “A la recherche des Rephaïm perdus,” in J. M. Michaud (ed.) Le royaume d’Ougarit de la Crète à l’Euphrate: Nouveaux axes de recherche (Proche-Orient et Littérature Ougaritique II, Sherbrooke, QC: Éditions GGC, 2007) 597–598.
[xvi] Wyatt, Nicolas, “Calf.” In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible 2nd extensively rev. ed. (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999) 181.
[xviii] Wyatt, Simon and Wyatt, Nicolas, “The longue durée in the Beef Business.” In: O. Loretz, S. Ribichini, W. G. E. Watson, & J. Zamora (Eds.), Ritual, Religion and Reason (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2013) 346.
[xix] Lipiński, Edward, “El’s Abode: Mythological Traditions Related to Mount Hermon and to the Mountains of Armenia.” Orientalia Lovaniensa Periodica II (1971) 13–69.
[xx] Ugaritic text KTU 1.4 vi:46.
[xxi] Ayali-Darshan, Noga, “The Seventy Bulls Sacrificed at Sukkot (Num 29:12–34) in Light of a Ritual Text from Emar (Emar 6, 373).” Vetus Testamentum 65:1 (2015) 7–8.
[xxiii] Judges 9:5–6.
[xxiv] 2 Kings 10:6–7.
[xxv] Genesis 11:9.
[xxvi] Deuteronomy 32:8, New Living Translation.
[xxvii] Deuteronomy 32:8, Good News Translation.
[xxviii] Gilbert, Derek P., The Great Inception (Crane, MO: Defender, 2017). See chapter 3.
[xxix] Darshan, “Seventy Bulls Sacrificed at Sukkot, 9–19.
[xxx] Gilbert, Derek P., Last Clash of the Titans (Crane, MO: Defender, 2018) 29–43. Also, Derek P. Gilbert, Bad Moon Rising (Crane, MO: Defender, 2019) 81–93.