Why is Anna the Prophetess significant?

In this week’s reading, I particularly focused on Anna, the prophetess from Chapter 2 in Luke.

“And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

I wondered why Anna was mentioned, with her short biography which included her geneology. Was the mention of Phanuel or the tribe of Asher significant? Why is this elderly sibyl significant?

I found that Anna was the only female prophetess in the New Testament to be given a name, an honor that her husband is not granted within the verses above. This in itself mandates an importance to her mentioning within the text. Her interaction with Jesus and his family is to confirm the messianic prophecy and obviously spread the word that he had come (Biblical Archaeology).

I then explored Anna’s heritage. The man Phanuel was rarely mentioned in any sources, but the angel Phanuel had scores of documents and articles for me to search through. Phanuel, the angel, is considered the angel of repentance and hope, encouraging people to be forgiven of their sins (Angels & Miracles). His name also means “face of God”. He is listed as a possible fourth archangel in the Book of Enoch (Archangels-Bloggy), an influential yet apocryphal book to the Torah, and is considered the ruler of the Ophanim, or the “wheels” which guard the throne of heaven (Angels & Miracles). Perhaps the redactors knew to draw the conclusions between the redemptive angel and Anna, as a way to point out the nature of Christ’s message of forgiveness of sins, the pure hope that he gave some of the Jewish people, and that Jesus was the literal face of God.

A depiction of the Ophanim—-which wheel is Phanuel?!

The second listed point of Anna’s geneology is the tribe of Asher. Asher was the eighth son of Jacob and the second son of Zilpah (Judaism 101). According to Gematria or Hebrew numerology, eight symbolizes new beginnings while two denotes witnessing; together, the witnessing of a new beginning occurs (The Twelve Tribes of Israel). This is most definitely what Anna is doing at the time of these verses. She sees a youthful Jesus beginning his path as messiah, and dares to declare it, confirming the prophecies of the Old Testament. Historically, the tribe of Asher was truly loyal to David, going to war in his favour at the time of his coronation (Biblehub). Knowing that the messiah is of the Davidic lineage, it makes perfect sense that the prophetess would be an Asherite. The New Testament redactors are again pointing out the confirmation of Jesus as messiah according to Old Testament parallels.

Anna is significant because of her heritage and her duty as a prophetess. Her entire life has been spent dedicated to prayer, as denoted in the previously listed verses. She fasts, never leaving the temple, remaining in a holy state. Luke’s mention of this old woman is to not only confirm the Messiah’s identity, but to spread the redemption message as well.

The Blood Covenant of Abram

“He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half.” (Gen 15:9-10)

Brutal Lego Sacrifice

As I sat bewildered at the fact that God demanded Abram cut every mammal in half but the birds, my mind sped to the symbolism of this action. Why cut the heifer, the female goat, and the ram in half but not the turtledove nor the pigeon? Did the action of cutting the animals in half symbolize something? And why choose these animals in particular? What did these animals represent? As I researched these questions and delved further into Genesis, answers rose to the surface.

In Jewish symbolism, the dove was a feminine symbol often associated with fertility and the spirit of God (Biblical Archaeology). I found this gem of information most interesting as the fifteenth chapter of Genesis is all about the covenant between God and Abram to populate the earth with Abram’s offspring. Considering the fact that Sarai, Abram’s wife, was entirely too old to bear children, the dove sacrifice represented God’s ability to make her fertile. To continue with the feminine aspects of this sacrificial ritual, two female animals were also slaughtered, the heifer and a goat. Perhaps these two animals embodied the feminine aspect of this ritual while literarily strengthening the message sent to early biblical readers.

In continuity with the animals, I dug deeper into Genesis, finding another verse that connected Abram’s offspring to this ritual:

“And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” (Gen 22:13)

So if the ram represented Abraham’s son later in Genesis, then in my opinion, the ram in chapter fifteen foreshadows this later sacrifice to God. The ram in chapter fifteen was another symbol of Abram’s offspring, later to be born as Isaac. So I had the answers to part of my line of questioning; the animals themselves represented both the fertility of Abram’s wife and the promise of offspring. These animals were chosen to be the representatives of the promises that God was making to Abram.

I also wondered at the number three. The heifer was three years old. The goat was three years old. The ram was three years old. Three, what was so important about the number three? Did it have to do with the animals reaching adulthood? As I researched, I discovered gematria, or “numerological study…used for…gaining insight into interrelating concepts” (Hebrew Gematria). In simpler terms, gematria is the spiritual study of numbers to better understand the Torah. The number three in gematria represents completeness and stability (Judaism & Numbers). In this sacrificial ritual, the animals that were three years of age stood for Sarai’s fertility and the promise of offspring in the form of Isaac. The number of their years reinforced the promise that God was making—it made the promises quite serious.

Gematria

Finally, I came to rest at the halving of the animals. In the process of research, I discovered that blood covenants were fairly common in the time period of Abraham. I also found that the verb for “making” a covenant is KRT or to cut (Cutting Covenants and Cutting Animals). Later, the symbol of the covenant wouldn’t be halved animals, it would become circumcision. Literally, God cut a covenant with Abram. The cutting of the animals was simply the commonplace practice of signing a contract. This was culturally relevant to Abram, as he would have understood the significance of the blood promise made between himself and God.

“Let’s cut a covenant, shall we?” – Knife Wielding Rabbi

Abram’s covenant with God was a business deal as he would deal with any other person who was making promises to him, solidified by the blood ritual and the symbolism of each animal.

Original Word Count: 568

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