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The real Honi the circle maker

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Honi Hama'gel (aka Khoni or Choni and also Onias as this is the Greek form of the name) lived in the first century BC (born circa 65 BC) and came to be known as the circle maker or circle drawer. Who he was and what he did will become a relevant portion of a consideration of pop-Churchianity. See this link for Mark Batterson - Honi the Circle Maker images.

I have explained to my children that every year the toy companies come up with another “it.” A few years ago the must have “it” was (the occult) Pokémon and every kids had to watch the show, go to the movie, get the figurines, buy the cards, the t-shirt, etc., etc., etc. Two years ago it was Angry Birds and all of the merchandizing that came along with. Last year it is Minecraft. This year it will be something else and next year something else still.

Well, it is the same in many religious circles, in this case pop-Christianity aka Chrurchianity. One year it was The Prayer of Jabez; pray this prescribed prayer numerous times a day for, like, ever and Jeeeeeeeeesssssssus will bless ya!!! Who prays that prayer now? No one! And there is always some “new” thing, a “new move” of the spirit, don’t cha know? And in order to get the anointed blessing just plant your seed faith offering; name it and claim it, blab it and grab it…and on it goes (on and on and on and on).

Of interest in this regard is Mark Batterson’s The Circle Maker which was a book turned into a curriculum turned into a video series, etc., etc., etc. The Christian pastor Mark Batterson claims to have gotten a new revelation from God about a new way to pray based on Honi the circle maker.

Well, before getting to Batterson and his claims, let us hearken back to get to know Honi Hama'gel.

One place to learn about Honi is the Babylonian Talmud, in this case Michael L. Rodkinson’s trans., Section Moed/Festivals; Tract Taanith (aka Taanit or Ta'anit); Book 4: Volumes VII. and VIII; Chap. III.

“It once happened that Honi Hama'gel (the circle-drawer) was asked by the people to pray for them, that rain might descend. Said he to them: ‘Go and bring in the Passover ovens that they may not be spoiled by the rain.’ [footnote: “The ovens were movable, and were used to roast the paschal lamb on the Passover. When not in use they were kept outside of the house.”]

He prayed, but the rain did not descend. What did he then? He drew (marked out) a circle around him, and placing himself within it, prayed as follows: ‘Creator of the Universe! Thy children have always looked up to me as being like a son of Thy house before Thee. I swear, therefore, by Thy Great Name, that I will not move from this place until Thou wilt have compassion on Thy children.’

Whereupon the rain commenced to drop down gently. Said he: ‘It was not for this I prayed, but for rain sufficient to fill the wells, cisterns, and caves.’ The rain then fell in torrents, and he said: ‘Not for such rain have I prayed, but for mild, felicitous, and liberal showers.’ The rain then descended in the usual manner, until the Israelites of Jerusalem were obliged to seek refuge from the city to the Temple Mount, on account of the rain. They came and said to Honi: ‘Even as thou didst pray that the rain might descend, so pray now that it may cease.’

And he replied: ‘Go and see whether the stone To'yim is covered by the waters.’ [footnote: “This was the name of a high stone in Jerusalem, where the finders of lost articles would deposit what they had found, and then proclaim that they had found something. The owners would then come, and upon sufficient identification of the lost article it would be restored to them”]

Simeon b. Sheta'h sent him word, saying: ‘If thou wert not Honi, I would order that thou be anathematized. But what shall I do with thee, since thou art petulant towards God, and yet He forgiveth and indulgeth thee like a petted child who is petulant towards his father and is nevertheless forgiven and indulged? To thee may be applied the passage [Prov. xxiii. 25]: ‘Let thy father and thy mother rejoice, and let her that hath born thee be glad.’’”

Well, in typical Rabbinic fashion, this reference becomes a springboard for elucidating many fine points of Halakah (Rabbinic Judaism’s religious law). They also offer a commentary on the story:

“‘It once happened that Honi Hama'gel,’ etc. The rabbis taught: It once happened the greater part of the month of Adar had passed, and no rain had yet fallen. Honi Hama'gel was thereupon requested to pray for rain. He prayed, but no rain descended. So he marked out a circle around him, the same as Habakkuk did, as it is written [Habakkuk, ii. 1]: ‘Upon my watch will I stand, and place myself upon the tower,’ placed himself in the midst of it…”

Let us consider whether Honi being “petulant towards God” to the point almost being anathematized, drawing a circle in which to stay until YHVH answered and then directing YHVH as to how to get it right is like that which Habakkuk did beginning in chapter 1:

“The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw. How long, O Lord, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness?...”

Two verses later, YHVH answers to the effect that He is “raising up the Chaldeans” as a vehicle for judgment.

Then Habakkuk asks:

“Are You not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O Lord, have appointed them to judge; and You, O Rock, have established them to correct. Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor.”

Yet he has difficulty understanding how and why YHVH uses “those who deal treacherously” for meting out justice and asks YHVH some questions along these lines. In chapter 2 Habakkuk states:

“I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved. Then the Lord answered me and said…”

Thus, there correlation between Honi and Habakkuk is strained, at best, as their demeanors are very different, Habbakkuk is not “petulant towards God” as is Honi and does not draw a circle (which will become very important as we continue) but stood “on my guard post and station myself on the rampart” which he, apparently, did in order to keep a lookout for incoming Chaldeans and not as a location, or method, for more effective prayer.

Getting back to the Talmud; the story gets expanded as we are told that when “the rain commenced to drop down gently”:

“Said the disciples to him: ‘May it be that we may see thee and not die; for we think that the rain is merely dropping in order to release thee from thy vow.’ And he replied: ‘It was not for this I prayed, but for rain sufficient to fill the wells, cisterns, and caves.’ The rain then fell in torrents, each drop being as large as the mouth of a barrel, and the sages opined that each drop contained no less than a lug of water. The disciples again said to him: ‘Rabbi, may we see thee and not die! We believe that the rain is falling in order to destroy the world.’ He again said: ‘Not for such rains have I prayed; but for mild, felicitous, and liberal showers.’

The rain then descended in the usual manner, until the Israelites of Jerusalem were obliged to seek refuge from the city to the Temple mount on account of the rain. They then came to him and said: ‘Rabbi, even as thou didst pray that the rain might descend, thus pray now that it may cease.’ And he replied: ‘I have a tradition that it is not permitted to pray for a cessation of too much good. Still, bring me a praise-offering.’

It was accordingly brought to him, and putting both hands upon it, he said: ‘Creator of the universe! Thy people which Thou hast brought out of Egypt cannot be sustained either with too much evil or too much good. When Thou becamest angry with them, they could no longer bear it; and now that Thou hast showered too much good (rain) upon them, they cannot bear it either. Let it be Thy will that the rains may cease and the world become happy.’ Thereupon a wind came up, dispersed the clouds, the sun commenced to shine, and the people went out into the fields and brought back mushrooms.

Simeon ben Sheta'h then sent him word, saying: If thou wert not Honi, I would order that thou be anathematized; for were these years as those when Elijah said that no rain should fall and when he had the key to the rain, thou wouldst have merely desecrated the Holy Name; but what shall I do with thee, since thou art petulant towards God, and yet He forgiveth and indulgeth thee like a petted child who is petulant towards its father…”

We then learn that Rabbi Johanan tells of an occasion wherein Honi “slept for seventy years”; so, he was the first Rip Van Winkle. As it turns out, YHVH answered another of Honi’s prayer. No one believed that it was really him when he came around again, his son had already died, etc. and since “This caused him to become downcast and despondent…he prayed to God that he might die, and so he died. Said Rabha: ‘This illustrates the saying: ‘Give me the glory due me, or give me death.’”

Abba Helkyah was a grandson of Honi Hama'gel and the Rabbis would turn to him when rain was needed and his prayers were successful, although no mention of circles in made. On one occasion “two younger rabbis” were sent to him but Abba went about his day ignoring them. Finally, he said to his wife:

“‘I know that these rabbis came on account of rain. Come, let us go up into the attic and pray for rain, and should the Lord have mercy on His children and cause it to rain, it will not appear as if it came about through us.’ They went up into the attic, and he stood in one corner, while she stood in another. The rain-cloud appeared in the direction where the wife was standing.”

He then speaks to the Rabbis and pretends that since the rain just came on its own, or that YHVH granted it without his intercession, so that “ye no longer need Abba Helkyah's favor” to which they say that they “know that this rain is come only on account of Master,” meaning Abba Helkyah, and ask:

“‘Why did the rain-cloud appear first in thy wife's corner?’ ‘Because my wife is always at home, and when a poor man begs for a meal she always gives it to him readily, while I can but give him a Zuz and he must first go and purchase food for it. Thus her charity is more effective than mine.’”

We also learn that Hanan the Hidden was a son of the daughter of Honi Hama'gel and when rain was needed:

“the rabbis would send the school-children to him, who would surround him, take hold of his garments, and cry: ‘Father, father, give us rain!’ And he would say to the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Creator of the universe! Cause rain to descend, for the sake of those who cannot distinguish between a father capable of giving rain and one who is not.’ Why was he called Hanan the Hidden? Because whenever he would do some good, he would hide himself so as not to be observed.”

Another reference to Honi comes from Flavius Josephus who was generally dismissive of miracle workers but had esteem for Honi who is known within Antiquities 14.2.1 by the Greek transliteration of Honi as Onias. Josephus offers a very different account of Honi’s death.

When Aretas, the King of Arabia attacked the Temple Onias/Honi, to whom Josephus refers as “a righteous man and beloved of God” was asked to “call curses down” but initially “refused and made excuses” but:

“was nonetheless compelled by the mob to supplicate, he said, ‘O God, king of the whole world! Since those that stand now with me are your people, and those that are besieged are also your priests, I beseech you, that you will neither hear the prayers of those others against these men, nor to bring about what is asked by these men against those others.’

Whereupon the wicked Jews that stood about him, as soon as he had made this prayer, stoned him to death. But God punished them immediately for their barbarity, and took vengeance on them for the murder of Onias.”

In the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin chapter 6, there is a footnote by Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzak (or, Solomon ben Isaac who is aka Rashi for short) about the disciple of “a contractor, who was wicked,” whose name, according to the Shulchan Aruch (accepted by some to be the Code of Jewish Law), was Bar Mayon and whose body was mistakenly buried “with great honor” in the place of “a great man in Israel” who had died the same day. We also find a question about Simeon b. Sheta'h (the one who bypassed anathematizing Honi) because, “There are many Israelitish women who occupy themselves with witchcraft in the city of Askalon, and Simeon b. Shetha, who is the head of the court, does not seize them.” It is stated that because of this, Simeon will take the wicked contractor’s place in Gehenna.

Rashi brought this up because the text of the Talmud makes reference to Bar Mayon, it is noted that the story of the contractor and the great man is found within the Palestine Talmud, Tract Hagigah, Chapter II.

Simeon decides to do something about it and confronts the eighty witches, pretends to be a witch himself, “come to try how far you are skilled in it” and tricks them by pretending to have performed a magickal feat. The result is that “all of” the witches “were hanged.”

So, was Simeon b. Sheta'h zealous about prosecuting witches? He was not and was condemned for it by others. Yet, in order to save face, he did so. In any regards, all of this must be tied together as it pertains to the Christian pastor Mark Batterson who, as aforementioned, claims to have gotten a new revelation from God about a new way to pray based on Honi the circle maker. But that was in 2012 AD.

In the next segment, we will consider how all of this has specific relevance to Mark Batterson’s The Circle Maker.

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