Samaritan Passover

The Samaritan Passover has just been celebrated (April 28, 2010). In so doing, they mainly follow the instructions of Exodus 12 and Deuteronomy 16 in sacrificing lambs, albeit with a few local traditions as well. This is performed on Mount Gerizim together with the eating of the lambs in the same night. Any left overs are burned before daybreak.

Aren Maeir, a professor at Bar Ilan University was invited to the latest event and blogs about it--including photos--on his blog. It is worth a read as it captures some of the atmosphere that must have pervaded the temple in Jerusalem during prior to C.E. 80.

Interestingly, the Passover is kept at the beginning of the 14th according to the Hebrew Calendar, but in this case on the second month. Whether this was an intercalary year for the Samaritans is not given. I've tried to find information previously on the Samaritan calendar but have not found anything of substance on-line.


Tags: Temple, Passover, Samaritians, Aren Maeir, sacrifices, passover lambs

Pentecost: The Birthday of the Church!

Or: Where Did Our First Festivals Come From?

Today, June 9, Jewish congregations are celebrating a festival known as Shavout. Details of the festival are found in Leviticus 23:15-22, but most Christians are unaware that the same festival is featured prominently in the New Testament, under its Greek name: Pentecost. Christians didn’t give it that name—it precedes the time of Christ. Philo of Alexandria uses the term in several of his works, linking the term Pentecost to the festival of the firstfruits, or Shavout as it is commonly called to this day (see Philo: Special Laws II, XXX, 176).

Pentecost becomes a feature of the New Testament in Acts 2, where it is recorded that the Holy Spirit was first given to the church on that day. As a result, many consider Pentecost to be the birthday of the church.  Unbeknownst to most readers of Acts 2, however, there is a linkage to an earlier celebration of the festival at Mount Sinai. Luke, in recording the event of Pentecost in 31 C.E., uses imagery that is found in both of the accounts of Israel's sojourn at Mount Sinai. Jewish tradition has long held that the giving of the Law and the confirmation of the Covenant at Mount Sinai occurred on the Festival of Shavout. Luke reinforces that idea by his use of imagery. The sound of wind, the references to fire and quaking, the universality of the experience, the aspect of people hearing the wonders of God in their own language and the change of heart are all found in the accounts recorded in Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 5.

It should be cause for Christians to stop and ponder. Two of the first Jewish festivals of the year, Passover and Pentecost, are fundamental to the foundation of the church. If that is so for the Passover and Pentecost, what about the possible applications of the remaining “Jewish” festivals to the church.  Have we become so far removed from our origins that we no longer have any appreciation for our foundation?


Tags: Festivals, Church, Leviticus 23, Passover, Pentecost, Philo

The Passover Bread

Was it Leavened or Unleavened?
Questions are occasionally asked about the type of bread that Jesus used as an emblem of His body in the Passover. Was it leavened or unleavened?  How people answer this question determines which type of bread is used for the Passover or as some groups prefer—the Lord’s Supper.

Confusion about “which type of bread?” can occur because of the all-encompassing nature of the Greek word used for “bread” in the New Testament. The Greek artos is unlike Hebrew, which has a specific term for unleavened bread, matzah. Hence the festival known as Hag Hamatsos.

Artos is the word used for bread of any description. By way of example, we see that manna is referred to as artos (John 6:31), as was the “showbread” in the tabernacle (Hebrews 9:2), specified in Leviticus 24:5. Yet these were unleavened loaves. When Christ performed a miracle to feed 4,000 people with seven loaves and a few fish (Matthew 15:32-37), the word used for loaves was artos, in this case probably leavened bread. Christ described Himself as the artos of life (John 6:48-51). And the bread taken at the Passover by Christ is also calledartos (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, John 13:18).

Not only could artos be used for bread, it could also be used metaphorically for food in general. For example, when Christ prayed that God would give us our daily bread or artos(Matthew 6:11), He was referring to the food we need each day for our physical sustenance—not just to bread.  

In contrast, the term azumos, used some nine times in the New Testament, is not ambiguous. It means “without leaven.” As a result, some conclude that the use of the wordartos by itself without any qualification for the Passover bread means that leavened bread was used. But this is not the case.

Although azumos means “without leaven,” it is not used specifically to describe bread—it is used as the name of the festival itself. What we translate as the Feast of Unleavened Bread from the Hebrew would simply be “the Feast of Unleavened” when translated from the Greek. The term “bread” has been added in English-language Bibles (e.g. Matthew 26:17). Only once is the word azumos used to describe the state of being unleavened (1 Corinthians 5:7), and even there it is not related to bread, but to our spiritual state. And in the next verse we are told to celebrate the Feast with the azumos of sincerity and truth.

So the fact that artos is used for the Passover bread instead of azumos does not mean that the bread was leavened. Artos was used to describe bread of any description—azumos was not used to describe bread at all.

So how do we know whether the bread Jesus used as an emblem of His body in the Passover was leavened or unleavened?  We simply need to understand that the all-encompassing Greek term artos has to be interpreted by its context.

In this case, we need to remember that the New Testament was written principally to a Jewish audience. How would they have associated the use of the term artos with Passover? They would have seen it as unleavened artos because that was the type of bread used for the Passover (Exodus 12:1-8). Any problem we may have about what type of bread was used stems from our distance from those times and culture.  Matthew 26:17 and Luke 22:7 record that the First of Unleavened Bread had come. As the Passover required matzah, then that unleavened bread was being prepared that day for that event.  So the use of the term “bread” (artos) for the bread used in relation to the New Testament Passover bread should be understood in that context.

Tags: Jesus Christ, Passover, Unleavened Bread, artos, azumos

What Happened to the Feast of Unleavened Bread or 'Hag Hamatsot'?

Why was it conflated into the Passover celebration?

At some point in time, the events of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread came to be called by a common name and literally merged into one event of eight days. It is normally considered that the conflation of the two events, outlined in Exodus 12 and Leviticus 23 came about as a result of the Rabbis, as suggested by R. Joshua Maroof in his blog Vesom Sechel.  R. George Wolf, whom I quoted last week, takes a more specific view.  In addressing this issue he opines: 

Who was responsible for this new name and the creation of a new Pesach liturgy of Haggadah for the new Pesach festival?  It was Rabban Gamaliel II of Yavne, (80-115 C.E.), the Nasi, who wished to preserve the unity of the Jewish people and halt the inroads of Pauline Christianity. In order to replace the centralized sacrificial cult, he supervised the creation of a non-sacrificial prayer service. The Pesach liturgy or Haggadah, served as a replacement for the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb and was also a defense of Judaism against the Pauline interpretation of the Pesach festival.         

The redaction of a Haggadah for the new Pesach home festival provided Jews with an official and authentic interpretation and expression of this festival’s ceremonies and theology transmitted by tradition from Moses and the Prophets to the Pharisaic Rabbis. 

It demonstrated to Jews that the destruction of the Temple was only a temporary situation and didn’t reflect a change in God’s relationship with the Jewish people, namely that God’s old covenant or promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was still in force and was not abrogated by the new covenant. 

The new name Pesach was chosen because it meant protection, to emphasize to Jews that they were still under God’s protection, as they were during their sojourn in Egyptian bondage.[1]

In taking such a view of the change Wolf highlights a major issue. Certainly Paul commanded the Corinthian church to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (1 Corinthians 5:6-8), so where does the idea of Paul being anti-Torah and not requiring gentiles to observe Jewish dietary and festival obligations come from?

If Wolf is correct in his interpretation, ‘Pauline’ theology at the end of the century was a very different theology from what is considered Pauline theology today!  It would then present a situation in which those churches established by Paulwho died in the early 60’s some 24 -30 years prior to the events Wolf addresseswould have been indistinguishable from other groups who are commonly called Jewish Christians.  Hence the commonly supposed opposition of Paul and James would have been a fiction as well. Wolf presents a uniform view of the first century followers as being Torah observant in a way that few Christian scholars today would be prepared to accept. 

[1]George Wolf, Lexical and Historical Contributions on the Biblical and

Rabbinic Passover (New York: G. Wolf, 1991), 38–39.

Tags: Apostle Paul, First Century, Passover, Corinthians, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Gamaliel II, George Wolf, Pesach, Yavne

Chronology of the Passover week

Was Jesus Christ really crucified on a Friday?

Today it is largely accepted without question that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Most people accept this scenario as there was a Sabbath following and everyone knows that the Jews keep the Sabbath on Saturday. So ipso facto, the crucifixion had to be on Friday.

Making such an assumption shows how little is commonly understood about the world into which Jesus was born, lived and died. However, by putting the key events into context, we can discover more details from the Gospels.

Jesus was crucified on the 14th Nisan and died about 3:00 p.m. The next day, 15th Nisan, was an annual festival: the first day of the seven days of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-7) which was associated with the Passover. So depending upon which day of the week the 15th fell, it was possible to have two Sabbaths during the week in which Jesus Christ was crucified. That possibility creates numerous scenarios for reconstructing the factors given in the gospels.

Rodney J. Decker, Professor of Greek and New Testament at the Baptist Bible College published a paper in which he examined this aspect of the crucifixion week. It is available on his blog and is well worth the read and consideration.

The upshot is that he also considers the impact of Jesus being in the tomb three days and three nights and offers a non-orthodox reading of the event. To be fair to his considerations of the resurrection, what was to prevent that event occurring at sunset on Saturday evening? That would have made a strict three days and three nights, as opposed to the three days and four nights that Decker suggests.

Next week is the time of the Jewish Passover, which represents the real time that Jesus was crucified, rather than the Easter weekend, which this year was almost a month removed from the event according to the Hebrew calendar.

Tags: Jesus Christ, resurrection, Passover, crucifixion, Hebrew Calendar, Unleavened Bread

Passover Considerations

Rabbinic changes to the Passover to distance it from the early Church

In a short work on the Passover, Rabbi George Wolf examines some of the changes that he considers the early Rabbis introduced to the Passover in response to the observance by the early church. Scholars have long studied the New Testament without a serious consideration of other literature that impinges on its understanding. Fortunately that has begun to change in the last half century. 

The action of Jesus Christ with his disciples the night of his betrayal has most often been seen as a point of disjuncture with the established practices of Judaism of that day. This reaches its apex with the apostle Paul who speaks of the “Lord’s Supper,” which most exegetes wish to see as the proto-eucharist and the start of a Christian festival cycle independent of the Jewish Holy Days. 

Wolf, like some Jewish scholars sees it differently. He sees both Jesus and Paul keeping the Passover in such a manner that it prompted the Rabbis of the second and third centuries to bring changes to the Jewish practice to distance the Jews from the emerging church. 

As an example, Wolf examines the use of haroset in the Seder meal, which he sees as being a red accompaniment to the meal possibly originally derived from pomegranates. Haroset is nowhere mentioned in the Biblical record but its place in the Seder dates back to the time of the destruction of the second temple in C.E. 70 when it was introduced to represent the blood of passover lamb that could no longer be killed at the temple.  

Initial references to this are recorded by R. Eleazar Ben Zadok, a pupil of Gamaliel II (80-115 C.E.). By the time the Mishnah was codified over a century later, Ben Zadok’s opinion on haroset had become simply a footnote to the then-accepted use of haroset to represent the clay of Egypt used by the ancient Israelites in brick-making. Wolf sees this change in understanding—from blood, which was part of the Biblical command, to clay, which was a Rabbinic command not included in Scripture—as being an attempt by the Rabbis to distance the Jewish event from that outlined in the New Testament where blood was represented by wine.  

Paul's references to Jesus Christ as “our Passover” (1 Corinthians 5:7) and the cup of blessing representing the blood of the covenant (1 Corinthians 10:16, 11:25) are instructive to Wolf in his considerations. The end result is that the Jewish Passover meal has no references to the blood of the lamb or the blood daubed on the lintels and threshold of a home. 

Wolf’s book is entitled: Lexical and Historical Contributions on the Biblical and Rabbinic Passover, (New York: G. Wolf, 1991).


Tags: Early Church, Passover, blood, haroset, Passover lamb, Rabbis

Easter is coming!

Just how far Christianity has strayed from the New Testament roots

This year in particular highlights how far traditional Christianity has strayed from the New Testament. Tomorrow is Good Friday when the majority of Christians celebrate the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.  Yet the New Testament nowhere speaks of Easter – apart from a mistranslation in Acts 12: 3 in the King James Version.  The death of Jesus Christ occurred at the Passover season which included the seven days of Unleavened Bread.

This year, Passover falls a month after Easter.  Calculated according to the Jewish calendar which is a combination of lunar and solar elements rather than the purely solar basis of the Gregorian calendar used throughout the western world, the Jewish calendar requires the addition of an extra month in certain years to keep the calendar in line with the movement of the sun. A starting point for the calculation of the calendar was the need to offer freshly cut barley during the days of Unleavened Bread.  This year saw the inclusion of an extra month to harmonize the calendar with the solar year.  This is true for those who follow the calculations for the calendar as well as for those who observe the growth of barley within proximity of Jerusalem before declaring the start of the new month.

So how did the Christian world end up with a festival observing the death of Jesus Christ so far removed from the calendar date when the event occurred?

Christians today follow the edict of the Emperor Constantine who decreed as a result of the Council of Nicea in C.E. 325, that Easter should be calculated separately from the Jewish festival.  As a result, Christianity today follows a festival that has no connection to the timing given with the Bible. The upshot is that the detail of the event is largely lost. 

We will continue to examine some of these connections as the period of time passes from Easter to Passover.

Tags: Passover, calendar, Constantine, Council of Nicea, Easter

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