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

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