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My understanding is that the festival of Booths (i.e., Sukkot) in first-century, second temple Judaism was a seven-day harvest festival that included petitions for rain and sunlight (for better crop growth), which were connected ritually with practices such as libations of water and lighting menorahs (and/or lamps in the temple). I’m seeking sources to confirm (or correct) this information and to learn more about the specific practices, rites, liturgy, etc. within the first-century context.

This is connected specifically to my study of the gospel of John. In the beginning of chapter 7, Jesus went to Jerusalem to attend the festival of Booths. I think that on the last “great” day of the festival, when Jesus cried out about anyone thirsty coming to him (cf. 7:37-39), Jesus is connecting himself to the rainwater being prayed for in the harvest festival, and in 8:12 when he calls himself the “light of the world,” he is connecting himself to the sunlight being prayed for.1 In essence, John is using the water/light themes of the festival to point to Jesus as the true source of life/growth/harvest.2

I’m seeking additional sources to learn more about the festival as I study this possible interpretation.

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1 Particularly since I don’t take 7:53-8:11 as original, in which case Jesus hadn’t yet left the festival and temple when he uttered his claim in 8:12 (he entered the temple in 7:14 and left in 8:59).

2 Not to mention some additional themes throughout the gospel. For example, I think water is connected in John to the river flowing in the garden of Eden around the tree of life that shows up again in Ezekiel’s vision of the eschatological temple and later in John’s Apocalypse in its final chapter.

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  • The festival of booths is not a 'harvest festival'. It commemorates the making of booths when the children of Israel left Egypt and dwelt in the wilderness. It is a commemoration of pilgrimage so that a pilgrim people will avoid settling down, overmuch, in this present world. I understand that you are looking for spiritual allusions regarding water in John, but I think you are over-stretching it in regard to the matter of booths and rainwater, myself.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 6 '20 at 9:01
  • I have spent some of the past months in the same inquiry within John. I am seeking the fundamental concepts attached to the signs. If you wish to communicate privately on this you are most welcome. My profile points to my website and the website has a business email address. Regards.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 6 '20 at 9:05
  • Can you pls explain what you mean by "lighting menorahs"? Are you referring to the menorah of the temple, or to a widespread custom of lighting menorahs?
    – Bach
    Aug 6 '20 at 16:19
  • @Bach see my comment here
    – Dan
    Aug 6 '20 at 17:39
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Water was definitely an element of the celebration of the Festival of Booths in the Temple. The water libation is well-attested. The Mishnah (Sukka 4:9) details how they would bring a golden bowl filled with water and pour it on the altar during the seven days of the festival. The Mishnah (Ta'anit 1:1) also prescribes the prayers mentioning rain to start on either the first or the seventh day of the festival, but this isn't explicitly attributed to the Temple period.

On the other hand, while I don't see any connection to sunlight, and I'm not aware of any prayers for sunlight ever being attributed to this holiday (or any other), the Mishnah (Sukka 5:2-3) does mention golden lamps (the word used is "menorahs," but I assume the meaning is generic lamps) which were set up in the Temple at the end of the first day of the holiday and lit all of Jerusalem.

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  • @Bach The custom on Hanukkah is to light candles, not menorahs. It's an interesting connection but there are no actual practices that can be connected to Sukkot
    – b a
    Aug 6 '20 at 16:21
  • Check out this video beginning at 6:40 where someone makes an explicit connection to the wilderness wanderings with water/light. Concerning menorahs, a commentary I have says “lighting menorahs,” but another source says the festival involved “the lighting of great lamps in the Temple” (Coogan, Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible, vol. 1, 2011, p. 465).
    – Dan
    Aug 6 '20 at 17:13
  • @Dan I looked into it and you were right, there is a reference to lighting lamps in the Temple. I'll edit the answer
    – b a
    Aug 6 '20 at 17:20
  • BTW +1 from me, thank you
    – Dan
    Aug 6 '20 at 17:41

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