Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


Search for…
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Felix, Antonius
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

FEASTS . Introductory . The sacred festivals of the Jews were primarily occasions of rejoicing, treated as a part of religion. To ‘rejoice before God’ was synonymous with ‘to celebrate a festival.’ In process of time this characteristic was modified, and a probably late institution, like the Day of Atonement, could be regarded as a feast, though its prevalent note was not one of joy. But the most primitive feasts were marked by religious merriment; they were accompanied with dances ( Judges 21:21 ), and, as it seems, led to serious excesses in many cases ( 1 Samuel 1:13 , Amos 2:7 , 2 Kings 23:7 , Deuteronomy 23:18 ). Most of the feasts were only local assemblies for acts and purposes of sacred worship; but the three great national festivals were the occasions for general assemblies of the people, at which all males were supposed to appear ( Exodus 23:14; Exodus 23:17; Exodus 34:23 , Deuteronomy 16:16 ).

I. Feasts connected with the Sabbath. These were calculated on the basis of the sacred number 7, which regulated all the great dates of the Jewish sacred year. Thus the 7th was the sacred month, the feasts of Unleavened Bread and Tabernacles each lasted for 7 days, Pentecost was 49 days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Passover and Tabernacles each began on the 14th day of their respective months, and there were 7 days of holy convocation in the year.

1. The Sabbath and the observances akin to it were lunar in character (cf. Amos 8:5 , Hosea 2:11 , Isaiah 1:13 , 2 Kings 4:23 ). The Sabbath ordinances are treated in Exodus 20:11; Exodus 31:17 as designed to commemorate the completion of creation, but Deuteronomy 5:14-15 connects them with the redemption from Egypt, and Exodus 23:12 ascribes them to humanitarian motives. On this day work of all sorts was forbidden, and the daily morning and evening sacrifices were doubled. Sabbath-breaking was punishable with death ( Numbers 15:32-36 , Exodus 31:14-15 ). No evidence of Sabbath observance is traced in the accounts of the patriarchal age, and very little in pre-exilic records ( Isaiah 56:2; Isaiah 56:6; Isaiah 58:13 , Jeremiah 17:20-24 , Ezekiel 20:12-13; Ezekiel 20:16; Ezekiel 20:20 ). But after the Captivity the rules were more strictly enforced ( Nehemiah 13:15; Nehemiah 13:22 ), and in later times the Rabbinical prohibitions multiplied to an inordinate extent. See art. Sabbath.

2 . At the New Moon special sacrifices were offered ( Numbers 28:11-15 ), and the silver trumpets were blown over them ( Numbers 10:10 ). All trade and business were discontinued, as well as work in the fields ( Amos 8:5 ). It appears also that this was the occasion of a common sacred meal and family sacrifices (cf. 1 Samuel 20:5-6; 1 Samuel 20:18; 1 Samuel 20:24 ), and it seems to have been a regular day on which to consult prophets ( 2 Kings 4:23 ).

3. The Feast of Trumpets took place at the New Moon of the 7th month, Tishri (October). See Trumpets.

4. The Sabbatical year . An extension of the Sabbath principle led to the rule that in every 7th year the land was to be allowed to lie fallow, and fields were to be neither tilled nor reaped. See Sabbatical Year.

5 . By a further extension, every 50th year was to be treated as a year of Jubilee , when Hebrew slaves were emancipated and mortgaged property reverted to its owners. See Sabbatical Year.

II. Great National Festivals. These were solar festivals, and mostly connected with different stages of the harvest; the Jews also ascribed to them a commemorative significance, and traditionally referred their inauguration to various events of their past history. They were:

1. The Passover , followed immediately by the Feast of Unleavened Bread . These two feasts were probably distinct in origin ( Leviticus 23:5-6 , Numbers 28:16-17 ), and Josephus distinguishes between them; but in later times they were popularly regarded as one ( Mark 14:12 , Luke 22:1 ). The Passover festival is probably of great antiquity, but the Feast of Unleavened Bread, being agricultural in character, can scarcely have existed before the Israelites entered Canaan. For the characteristic features of the two festivals, see Passover.

2. Pentecost , on the 50th day after 16th Nisan (April), celebrated the completion of the corn harvest. See Pentecost.

3. The Feast of Tabernacles , the Jewish harvest-home, took place at the period when the harvests of fruit, oil, and wine had been gathered in. See Tabernacles.

III. Minor Historical Festivals

1. The Feast of Purim , dating from the Persian period of Jewish history, commemorated the nation’s deliverance from the intrigues of Haman. See Purim.

2. The Feast of the Dedication recalled the purification of the Temple after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes. See Dedication.

3. The Feast of the Wood-offering or of the Wood-carriers, on the 15th day of Abib (April), marked the last of the nine occasions on which offerings of wood were brought for the use of the Temple ( Nehemiah 10:34; Nehemiah 13:31 ).

Besides these there were certain petty feasts, alluded to in Josephus and the Apocrypha, but they seem never to have been generally observed or to have attained any religious importance. Such are: the Feast of the Reading of the Law ( 1Es 9:50 , cf. Nehemiah 8:9 ); the Feast of Nicanor on the 13th day of Adar (March) ( 1Ma 7:49; see Purim); the Feast of the Captured Fortress ( 1Ma 13:50-52 ); the Feast of Baskets .

A. W. F. Blunt.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Feasts'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​f/feasts.html. 1909.