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Yeshua and the Passover Part 2

Three times in a year all Israelite males are to appear before Yahweh.[1] These are called Shalosh Regalim (the three pilgrimage festivals):

(1) Feast of Unleavened Bread

(2) Feast of Weeks (Shavuot aka Pentecost) 

(3) Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)

On the major feasts days, all priests from all divisions could make pilgrimage, and all of them were entitled to the festal offerings. The special feature of Passover in the Temple was the slaughter of the paschal lamb by all worshippers, inhabitants of Jerusalem and pilgrims alike. Let’s take a moment to define a couple of key words:

(1) pilgrim – from Old French pelerin, peregrine "crusader; foreigner, stranger."[2]

(2) paschal – from Greek pascha "Passover," from Aramaic pasha "pass over," corresponding to Hebrew pesah, from pasha "he passed over."

Notice that Passover is not listed above in the feasts. Originally, Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were two separate holidays:

(1) In the fourteenth day of the first month at evening is Yahweh’s Passover.[3]

(2) On the fifteenth day of the first month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread unto Yahweh; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. [4]

At the beginning of the Babylonian exile they were combined.[5] The Torah’s laws for the observance of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are given in Exodus 12:1-28, Leviticus 23:4-8, Numbers 9:1-14, Deuteronomy 16:1-8. Below is an overview:

(1) This month shall be the first month of the year -- Nissan, is in the spring (March-April).

(2) On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb for a household.

(3) If the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it.

(4) The lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year (from the sheep or the goats).

(5) You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month.

(6) On the fourteenth of the month, the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight.

(7) They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it.

(8) You shall eat it with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste.

(9) They shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

(10) Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire — its head with its legs and its entrails.

(11) You shall let none of it remain until morning.

(12) If any of it remains until morning you shall burn it with fire.[6]

By the time of Yeshua, the ways Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were understood and celebrated had evolved. The Temple was the center of activity and the rituals had to be able to accommodate and include the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem. At midnight the Temple gates were opened to the people and before the sun rose the Temple court was already filled with Israelites. The special feature of Passover at the Temple was the slaughter of the paschal lamb by all worshippers.[7] Obviously, there was simply not enough space and time for every family to sacrifice a lamb in the Temple. Therefore, group sacrifices of single lambs were done in the Temple by a few, while most sacrifices were done outside the Temple.

The lamb was sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan, on the eve of Passover, at the ninth hour (about 3 pm) of the day. The Mishnah (Oral Law) describes the activities that took place within the Temple. Those who wished to sacrifice formed groups, each of which slaughtered one paschal lamb for the entire group. The priests allowed the Court of the Israelites to be filled three times. The paschal lamb, unlike with the usual animal-offerings, was sacrificed by the Israelites themselves. As with all peace-offerings, it was offered in the inner court and its blood tossed on the altar. After one group completed the ritual, the doors were opened again and the next group entered. The lambs were then eaten in the households and courtyards throughout the city.[8]

At the close of the first festival-day, the people participated in the harvesting of the barley sheaves. These usually came from Beth Makleh, beside the Kidron brook, but if, due to the late arrival of winter, it proved difficult to find ripe barley nearby, and the sheaves thus could not be harvested in this area, they were brought from afar. [9] The Torah states that the barley should be waved “the morrow after the Shabbat” and that a count should be made for seven weeks until “the morrow after the seventh Sabbath,” when the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) was to be celebrated.[10] This created a conflict between the Sadducees and Pharisees.[11]

● The Sadducees interpreted “the morrow after the Shabbat” to mean literally the day after the first Shabbat after Passover (the very next Sunday).

● The Pharisees interpreted the term “Shabbat” as “festival” and taught that the sheaves should be brought on “the morrow of the first day of Passover” (the 16th of Nisan).

There were many things going on in and around Jerusalem other than the religious rituals. Consider the fact that 250,000 to 500,000 pilgrims were added to the resident population and they had to eat, sleep and do all of the other things humans to on a daily basis. Some of the pilgrims slept in Jerusalem, while others stayed in nearby villages or in tents around the city. Pilgrims came to make new friends as well as renew old friendships on these journeys.[12] They came to browse among the masses of merchants and buy things they could take back home. It was an environment in which there was a great deal of activity, festivity, and many opportunities to encounter and interact.

 The worshippers could spend their nights outside Jerusalem until the day of sacrifice of the paschal lamb. But on that night they were required to remain in Jerusalem for the night.[13] Matthew records Yeshua’s activities during this period. Before the feast Yeshua stayed outside Jerusalem, but with the approach of Passover he told his disciples to go to one of the inhabitants of the city and fix a place for their mean. Even though the townsman is not necessarily a follow of Yeshua, he and his disciples are welcomed to his house as a matter of course.[14]

It is not clear whether pilgrims were obliged to remain in Jerusalem throughout the seven days of Passover and the eight days of Sukkot, but many traditions from the time of the Temple take it for granted that they remained until the end of the feast-days. [15] The feasts created many opportunities for the multitudes to interact with Yeshua, as well as many other teachers – and others who claimed to be the messiah. It also made it possible for them to go to the Temple and listen to the scribes discuss and teach from the Torah, as well as go to the “Stairs of the Rabbis” and listen to their views. The focus of the scribes, teachers and rabbis would have been on the correct way to do the laws of the festivals. I feel we can be sure that when the pilgrims returned home the first thing their friends and neighbors did was ask them about their experiences in Jerusalem and on the journey.

With the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the offering of the paschal lamb came to an end. During the period between 70 and 200 CE, the synagogue and home became the center for the practice of rituals that had been exclusively done at the Temple. New ways had to be created to make it possible for the laws of the Torah to be done. Today, a book called the Haggadah (from the Hebrew root "to tell") serves as the liturgy and guidebook for the seder (the rituals of the Passover meal). Yeshua did not use a Haggadah or participate in a seder meal like those done today.

The first documented evidence of parts of the Haggadah is found in the Mishnah (Oral Law edited ca. 200 CE). The arrangement of the table, the psalms, benedictions, and other recited matter of today coincide substantially with the program laid down in the Mishnah. Midrashim (commentaries) were added and most of the version we now have was completed by the end of the Talmudic period (500-600 CE). Evidence of the wide acceptance of the Haggadah was its inclusion in Rav Amram's siddur (prayerbook) in the eighth century CE.

Let me repeat, it is important to understand that the Passover Yeshua knew and participated in was not the same thing as the Passover of Rabbinic Judaism today.  Rabbinic Judaism is an offshoot of the Pharisees and reflects their positions on many things. The focus in Yeshua’s time period was on correctly doing the laws of the Torah, something that in many cases today is impossible because there is no Temple or functional priesthood.

I hope you learned something from this and enjoyed it. Passover begins tomorrow night (April 3, 2015) at sunset. Remember your biblical heritage with the wisdom and values we have received from those who came before us.

Jim Myers

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[1] Deuteronomy 16:16
[3] Leviticus 23:5
[4] Leviticus 23:6
[5] Encyclopaedia Judaica Vol. 13, p. 169.
[6] Exodus 12:1-12
[7] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two: Historical Geography, Political History, Social Culture and Religious Life and Institutions; Edited by S. Safrai and M. Stern in co-operation with D. Flusser and E. C. van Unnik; © 1976 By Stichting Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum Testamentum; Fprtress Press, Philadelphia, PA;p.891-892.
[8] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 892
[9] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 892
[10] Leviticus 23:11-16
[11] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 893
[12] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 903
[13] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 904
[14] Matthew 26:17-18
[15] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 904


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