Monday, November 27, 2023

The Problematic Manifesto of Jonathan Cahn — Part 2

This is part 2 of a multi-part review and critique of Jonathan Cahn's latest book published in 2023. You can read Part 1 here


The first "Jubilee" Cahn writes about concerns Felix, the leader of the Spanish-language ministry at Cahn’s New Jersey congregation, Beth Israel. Cahn had invited Felix to be his interpreter on a ministry trip to Cuba. The theme of the meetings Cahn was to lead was “¡El Jubileo Viene! The Jubilee Comes!” Cahn writes that it was only after they were on the Caribbean island that he discovered Felix himself was of Cuban descent. He had been born on the island, and his family had fled to the United States following Castro’s takeover of the nation. As they traveled across the island, they ended up on a farm, which they discovered was owned by Felix’s grandfather. Cahn writes, “In the ancient law of the Jubilee, God ordained that each shall return to his own possession. And now Felix had returned to his own possession….As was ordained in the Jubilee, he had come back to that which he had lost.” (19)

Was Felix’s visit to the farm that once belonged to his family a modern-day example of the biblical Jubilee? According to the Jubilee as outlined in the Torah, the person or family who had been forced to sell their lands out of economic necessity was supposed to actually take possession of the land again—to begin to live on and farm that land again. But Felix did not return to live on his ancestral land in Cuba. He was just there for a visit. So while in one sense he may have “returned to his possession”—the property that once belonged to his family—this was not an example of the Jubilee as set forth in Leviticus.

Cahn next tells more about his trip to Cuba. He writes about three gifts he gave to Fidel Castro through a member of Castro’s cabinet: a shofar, a Bible in Spanish, and a message Cahn had written to him in the form of a letter. He writes, “I cannot give the details of what was in the message except to say it was a prophetic word—connected to the Jubilee and concerned freedom and the lifting of the curse.” I guess we’re just supposed to take Cahn’s word for it that the message was prophetic, since he does not reveal the content of the message. This seems to fly in the face of the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth that prophecies are to be judged by the assembly of believers. We have no way of knowing whether Cahn’s claimed prophetic word was accurate or not, since he has kept it a secret.

Cahn then tries to establish a connection between the biblical Jubilee and the time frame between the fall of Batista and the beginning of Fidel Castro’s exit as the strong man controlling the island:

Starting the countdown from the exact day that Batista set in motion his resignation—seven sevens of years to the fiftieth year and seven sevens of days to the fiftieth day—the fiftieth day of the fiftieth year—what would it being us to? The fiftieth day of the fiftieth year was February 18, 2008—the Jubilean day of the Jubilean year of Batista’s resignation. Did anything of significance happen on that day?


On February 18, 2008, Fidel Castro set in motion the end of his reign as leader of Cuba. (29)

A little further along, on page 31, Cahn writes of Castro: “Had he decided to resign even a week earlier or a week later, it would not have happened on the Jubilean day of the Jubilean year.”

Jonathan Cahn here completely misrepresents the Jubilee. According to Leviticus, the Jubilee was not something where one event came fifty years after an initial event. The Jubilee in Israel was on a set fifty-year cycle. If a family, due to economic hardship, had to sell their land ten years after the previous Jubilee, then the property would be returned to that family forty years after the sale, in the set year of Jubilee. This set, fixed cycle is why Lev. 25:15-16 talks about calculating the price of the land based on the number of years that have passed since the prior Jubilee and the number of years remaining until the next Jubilee. Everyone knew when the next Jubilee was coming because it was a fixed cycle on the national calendar of Israel. It was not about the time from one event to that event’s “Jubilean year” fifty years later.

And Cahn invents his idea of a “Jubilean day”—the fiftieth day of the fiftieth year—out of thin air. There is nothing in the biblical text about the fiftieth day of the Jubilee year. The only specific day that is mentioned is the “tenth day of the seventh month” in Lev. 25:9, when the trumpet was to be sounded to announce the time for properties to be returned and slaves to be freed.

One would expect a rabbi to have an accurate understanding of Jewish festivals laid out in the Torah. But Cahn shows a complete lack of ability to understand a very straightforward biblical text. Rather than use sound hermeneutics, he makes up interpretations to fit the narrative he is trying to weave, counting on people considering him an expert in the Hebrew Scriptures simply because of his ethnicity.

Now, while I have a master’s degree in theological studies, my area of concentration was the New Testament, not the Hebrew Bible. So before diving into writing this review, I reached out to several Bible scholars whose doctoral degrees are in the Old Testament, to make sure I was correct in my understanding of the Jubilee law in the Torah. I only mentioned that I was preparing a review of a popular-level book that dealt with the Jubilee, without revealing the author or the title, so there was no chance that any personal Bias against Cahn’s work could influence their responses. All four Old Testament scholars said that my interpretation of the Leviticus text, which would place the Jubilee on a fixed fifty year cycle (not the fiftieth anniversary of the initial event), was how they understood the system to be designed and described in Scripture.

Cahn also writes:

In the ancient world, kings were given signs foreshadowing the end of their reign. In the modern world, Castro was given such a sign. It came to him in the form of a shofar, the sign of the Jubilee, the release ushered in by the seventh seven of years. The sign spoke of an ancient countdown that would determine how much time he had left until the end of his reign….The ancient ordinance given in the book Castro had banned had determined how long it would last, even from his very first day in power. (31)

So it appears here that Jonathan Cahn wants us to believe that his giving a shofar to Castro had something to do with signaling the end of Castro’s time in power. This is not the only time in this book that Cahn tries to link his personal actions to grand events, as though he were God’s designated prophet helping these things come to pass. First, as we have already seen, Cahn conflates his own ideas about fifty-year cycles with the Jubilee in a way that does not comport with Scripture. But here he also claims that Castro was given a sign of the end of his reign. But do we have any evidence that there was any actual prophetic announcement spoken to Castro that would lead him to understand the shofar meant his time in power was nearing its end, or foretelling the date that end would come?

Starting on page 33, Cahn writes:

In the year of Jubilee, if one lost one’s land, one would receive it back. The Jubilee brought restoration. On the other hand, for the one who had occupied one’s land, the Jubilee bore a different dynamic. In order to be restored to one’s land, the one occupying it had to relinquish it. The repossession of the one meant the dispossession of the other. (33-34)

One other point about the biblical Jubilee that Cahn seems to overlook is that the Jubilee had to do with lands that had been sold in a legally agreed-upon transaction for a price. It was not about people who had lost their ancestral property due to military conquest or some other form of hostile takeover (if someone had illegally taken over someone else’s inheritance in Israel, or moved a boundary marker to add someone else’s property to their own landholdings, then there were legal remedies through the priests and the civil government).

Even with Fidel Castro’s resignation in 2008, Cuba was not liberated from Communist rule. Fidel’s brother Raul Castro was chosen to succeed him as president of the island nation, and took office on February 24 of that year. Raul served two five-year terms as president of Cuba, choosing not to run for reelection in 2018. Another Communist party member, Miguel Díaz-Canel, then became president.

The fact is that Cuba remains under Communist party rule to this day. If the events Cahn relates about the end of Fidel Castro’s rule were in any way related to the biblical Jubilee, would we not expect there to be actual freedom from totalitarian government on the island, rather than simply a change in who is leading the Communist party there?

Read part 3 here

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