Experts study Jewish holidays, symbols for clue to Koresh's next move

March 31, 1993|By Houston Chronicle

In David Koresh's theology, Passover probably is as important as Easter, say specialists in theology, who recommend closely examining Old Testament and Jewish feasts and symbols for a deeper understanding of the significance of the coming holidays in Branch Davidian life and ritual.

Speculation is increasing that Mr. Koresh might end his standoff with law enforcement officials at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco on one of these coming significant days.

Yesterday, Mr. Koresh met with an attorney on the porch of the cult compound. It was the second day of meetings he has had with Dick DeGuerin, and FBI officials said they were "cautiously optimistic" that the discussions could end the standoff, which began Feb. 28 in a gunfight between authorities and cult members.

Still, second-guessing David Koresh is predicting the unpredictable, say religious specialists. Like those of many cult leaders and self-proclaimed messiahs, his behavior and psychology are erratic.

"You probably need to pay more attention to Jewish feast days, Old Testament symbols and the like than to later holy days developed in the Christian Church," said Lynn Mitchell, religion scholar-in-residence at the University of Houston.

Passover, which commemorates the ancient Israelites' Exodus from Egypt, begins at sundown Monday. Easter, the Christian celebration of Jesus' resurrection following his death on the cross on Good Friday, is April 11 for churches following a Western liturgical calendar. Good Friday is April 9.

The Jewish Passover marks a major religious event after which Moses led the Jews out of slavery from Egypt to the Promised Land. Christians regard Jesus as the new Moses who leads believers into eternal life.

Dan McGee, a religion professor at Baylor University in Waco, said the Davidians observe Passover because they see themselves as a continuation of God's people on earth.

"And they accept the belief that the Jewish people were God's chosen people and that that is their history as well as the Jewish people's history," said Mr. McGee, who closely studied the forerunners of Mr. Koresh's sect, the Davidians.

That the group named itself the Davidians after King David, a major figure in ancient Israelite history, is significant, said Mr. McGee. The Davidians closely linked themselves to the Jewish state when Israel became a nation after World War II. Every leader of the Davidians, including Mr. Koresh, has made several trips to Israel.

Passover's significance in Jewish life and history figures prominently in Mr. Koresh's understanding of biblical prophecy, scholars say.

Mr. McGee said Mr. Koresh probably would view the final outcome of the Waco standoff by interpreting it "in terms of a sign from God."

Branch Davidians' history "indicates that such a sign would be a particular day of significance or some historical event of significance," Mr. McGee said.

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