Tonight marks not only the first lunar eclipse of 2014, but also the first in a series of four total lunar eclipses that will stretch into autumn of next year.
The phenomenon, known as a “lunar tetrad”, is “four successive total lunar eclipses, with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six lunar months (six full moons)”. The individual eclipses themselves are noted for their reddish hue and have recently come to be known as “blood moons”, a term that may have originated with a book by John Hagee, founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas.
Hagee’s 2013 book Four Blood Moons: Something Is About To Change points to the rarity of this particular lunar tetrad, in that its eclipses coincide with the Jewish feasts of Passover and Tabernacles (also “Sukkot”), as a sign of a ‘hugely significant event’ for the world. Hagee says,
“To have four and have them fall on these exact dates is something that has to be beyond coincidental. What is so remarkable about these blood moons is that they specifically fulfill prophecies set out in the Bible. Joel Chapter Two also says the ‘Day of the Lord will be as when the sun refuses to shine’. The really significant fact is that between these four blood moons there will be a total solar eclipse. Even Jesus himself, in the Book of Luke, states there ‘will be signs in the sun, moon and stars’ and to ‘lift up your heads for redemption draws nigh’.
“There’s a sequence of prophetic events that the Bible says will happen. It does not, ever, give a timeline. It just says ‘when you see these signs’ – and four blood moons is a very significant one – ‘the end of this age is coming.”
While there have been a total of 62 lunar tetrands since the first century, only eight of them have similarly fallen on Passover and Sukkot in 21 centuries. The last three have also surprisingly coincided with significant religious events. The first of last three was in 1493, following the Alhambra Decree expelling the Jews from Spain. The second occurred in 1949, parallel to the establishment of the State of Israel. The most recent “blood moon” tetrand was in 1967, during the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War.
Bruce McClure and Deborah Byrd, from EarthSky, point out that the eclipses aligning with Jewish holidays may not necessarily be coincidental, and might even possibly be intentional:
The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar. In any year, it’s inevitable that a full moon should fall on or near the feasts of Passover (15 Nissan) and Tabernacles (15 Tishri). Nissan and Tishri are the first and seventh months of the Jewish calendar, respectively.
It is somewhat ironic that three of these four lunar eclipses are not visible – even in part – from Israel. The only eclipse that can be seen at all from Israel is the tail end of the September 28, 2015 eclipse, which may be observable for a short while before sunrise.
Professor Gary Shogren, a former pastor, says “You’ll never go broke predicting the apocalypse.”
Do the upcoming lunar eclipses, the spookily dubbed “blood moons”, signal the end of days or are they just a somewhat rare and beautiful cosmic oddity?