1902 Encyclopedia > Passover


PASSOVER AND FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD. It is explained in the article PENTATEUCH (p. 511) that the ancient Israelites were accustomed to open the harvest season by a religious feast. No one tasted the new grain, not even parched or fresh ears of corn, till the first sheaf had been presented to Jehovah, and then all hastened to enjoy the new blessings of divine goodness by eating unleavened cakes, without waiting for the tedious process of fermenting the dough. This natural usage became fixed in custom, and at a comparatively early date a new significance was added to it by a reference to the exodus from Egypt, when, as tradition ran, the people in their hasty departure had no time to leaven the dough already in their troughs. The two elements of a thankful recogni-tion of God's goodness in the harvest, which every one was eager to taste the moment that Jehovah had received His tribute at the sanctuary, and of grateful remembrance of the first proof of His kingship over Israel, went very fittingly together. A similar combination is found in the thanksgiving of Deut xxvi. 5 sq, in the law, Deut. xxiv. 19-22, and elsewhere; the yearly blessings of the harvest were the proof of the continued goodness of Him who brought Israel forth from Egypt to set him in a fruitful and pleasant land

The feast of unleavened bread (Hebrew n_, maccoth), with the presentation of the harvest sheaf, which is its leading feature, presupposes agriculture and a fixed resi-dence in Canaan. In the pastoral life the same religious feelings find their natural expression in thank-offerings for the increase of the flocks and herds, consisting of sacrifices "of the firstlings of the flock and the failings thereof," such as Gen. iv. 4 makes to dafe back from the very beginnings of human history. The firstlings answer to the first fruits; the increase of cattle falls mainly in the spring; and spring is also the time of the best pasture in a climate where the harvest-tide lies between Easter and Whitsunday, the time therefore when a fat sacrifice can be selected and when vows would generally be fulfilled; especially as the latter, among the pastoral Hebrews as among the Arabs, would frequently have reference to the multiplication of the flock. Abel's sacrifice of firstlings and fatlings corresponds in fact exactly to the old Arabic farci and atira, the former of which was the firstborn of the herd and the latter a sacrifice offered in the spring month Rajab in fulfilment of a vow conditional on the good increase of the herd. The accumulation of the sacrifices of firstlings and fatlings at one season of the year would readily give rise to a spring feast, and it appears from the Jehovist that something of this kind existed before the exodus (see PENTATEUCH), and gave occasion to the request of Moses for leave to lead the people out into the wilderness to sacrifice to Jehovah. Pharaoh's refusal was appropriately punished by the destruction of the firstborn of man and the firstlings of beasts in Egypt. The recollection of this fact reacted on the old Hebrew usage, and supplied a new reason for the sacrifice of all male firstlings after the Israelites were settled in Canaan (Exod. xiii. 11 sq.). Up to the time of Deuteronomy this sacrifice was not tied to any set feast (contrast Exod. xxii. 30 with Deut. xv. 20); the old sacrificial spring feast, like the Arabic feast of Rajab, was not wholly dependent on the firstlings, but might also be derived from vows. But when Israel was thoroughly united under the kings the tendency plainly lay towards a concentration of acts of cultus in public feasts at the great sanctuaries; and the final result of this tendency, which appears to some degree in earlier laws, but reached its goal only through the Deuteronomic centralization of all sacrifices at the one sanctuary, was that the spring pastoral feast coalesced with the agricultural Ma^oih, and that its sacrifices were swollen by the prohibition of continued private sacrifices of the male firstlings. This is the form of the Deutero-nomic passover (Deut. xvi. 1 sq.). The passover is a sacrifice drawn from the flock or the herd, presented at the sanctuary and eaten with unleavened bread. It is slain on the evening of the first day of the feast, so that the sacrificial feast is nocturnal; and the pilgrims may return to their homes next morning, but the abstinence from leaven lasts seven days, and the seventh day, observed as a day of rest, is the 'asereth or closing day of the feast. The passover is now viewed specially as a commemoration of the Exodus; and by and by, in Exod. xii. 27, its name (Heb. _____)(a, Lat. pasclia) is explained from Jehovah " passing over" the Israelites when he smote Egypt. That this was the original meaning is by no means clear; there is no certain occurrence of the name before Deuteronomy (in Exod. xxxiv. 25 it looks like a gloss), and the corresponding verb denotes some kind of religious performance, apparently a dance, in 1 Kings xviii. 26. A nocturnal ceremony at the consecration of a feast is already alluded to in Isa. xxx. 29, who also perhaps alludes to the received derivation of ____ in ch. xxxi. 5. But the Deuteronomic passover was a new thing in the days of Josiah (2 Kings xxiii. 21 sq.). It underwent a farther modification in the exile, when sacrifices in the proper sense of the word were impossible, but the com-memorative side of the feast was perpetuated in the house-hold meal of the paschal lamb, eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exod. xii.—from the Priestly Code). The paschal lamb is quite different from the paschal sacrifices of Deuteronomy and from the ancient firstlings. In Deuteronomy, for example, the sacrifices may be either from the flock or from the herd, and are boiled, not roasted (A. V. in Deut. xvi. 7 mistranslates); the paschal lamb is necessarily roasted, and the only traces of sacrificial character that remain to it are the sprinkling of the blood on the lintel and door-posts, and the burning of what is not eaten of it. After the restoration the passover seems to have retained its domestic character, for, though the feast at the sanctuary was renewed, its public features now con sisted of a series of holocausts and sin-offerings continued for seven days (Num. xxix. 16 sq.). The feast is now exactly dated. The paschal lamb is chosen on the tenth day of the first month (Abib or Nisan) and slain on the even-ing of the fourteenth. Next day—that is, the fifteenth— is now the first day of the feast proper (a change from the Deuteronomic ordinance naturally flowing from the fact that the properly paschal ceremony is now not festal but domestic), so that the seven days end with the twenty first and close with a " holy assembly " at Jerusalem. The old ceremony of presenting the first sheaf had been fixed, in Lev. xxiii. 11, for the "morrow after the Sabbath." This naturally means that the solemn opening of harvest was to take place on a Sunday. But when the feast was fixed to set days of the month the " Sabbath " was taken to mean the first day of the feast or of unleavened bread (Nisan 15), and the sheaf was presented on the sixteenth. As the feast was now again a great pilgrimage occasion, there was a natural tendency to restore to the paschal lamb a more strictly sacrificial character. This tendency does not appear as yet in the Pentateuch, where the latest provisions are those put in historical form in Exod. xii.; but in 2 Chron. xxxv., which must be taken as describing the practice of the author's own time, the paschal lamb is slain before the temple, the blood is sprinkled and the fat burned (1 verse 14) on the altar; and at the same time we find the Deuteronomic paschal sacrifices existing side by side with the paschal lamb of the later law as subsidiary sacrifices. The later Jewish usage followed this practice; the Deuteronomic sacrifices in their new subsidiary form constituted the so-called liagiga. The pre-eminent import-ance which the passover (with the feast of unleavened bread) acquired after the exile, from the fact that its rites, like those of the Sabbath and of circumcision, could be in great part adapted to the circumstances of the dispersion, was still further increased by the fall of the second temple, and the ritual of the Mishna (Pesahim) was supplemented by the later paschal LTaggada. The lamb, however, not being slain at the temple, is not in later praxis regarded as strictly the paschal lamb of the law. Some of the post-Biblical features are of interest in connexion with the New Testament, and especially with the last supper. The company for a single lamb varied from ten to twenty; the bitter herbs and unleavened cakes were dipped in a kind of sweet sauce called har6setb ; and the meal was accom-panied by the circulation of four cups of wine and by songs of praise, particularly the Hallel (Ps. cxiii.-cxviii.).

The history of the passover is one of the most complicated sub-jects in Hebrew archeology, and has been a great battlefield of Pentateuch criticism. The present article should therefore be read with the article PENTATEUCH. The older books on Hebrew archaeology are of little use, except for the later Jewish practice; on this full details will be found in Bartolocci's Bibliotheca Ralbinica, or in Bodenschatz's Kirchliche Verfassung der Juden. The Biblical data can only be understood in connexion with a critical view of the Pentateuch, and have been discussed in this connexion by Kueuen (Godsdienst), Wellhausen (Prolegomena), and others. The present position of those who oppose the Grafian hypothesis may be gathered from Delitzseh's art. "Passah" in Biehm's Ilandworterbucli, and from Dillmann's commentary on Exodus and Leviticus. Hupfeld, De vera et primitiva Festorum . . . ratione, 1852-65, and Ewald's Antiquities, may also be consulted. (W. R. S.)

Ziizeni on Harith's Mo all., 1. 69; Bokhari, vi. 207 (Bulak vocalized edition).

The sprinkling of blood on a tent in order to put it under divine protection appears also among the Arabs; Wakidi, ed. Kremer, p. 28.

In everything that has to do with sacrifice a day means the day-time with the following night; in other words, the feast days do not begin in the evening. Compare Eeland, Ant. Heb., iv. § 15.

This exegesis and practice are as old as the LXX. version of Leviticus. The passage of Leviticus has given rise to much contro-versy ; see the commentaries and Lightfoot's Horse, on Luke vi. 1, Acts ii. 1.

The above article was written by: Prof. William Robertson Smith.

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