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Bible Dictionaries
Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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1. OT references

(1) Law and Ezekiel . The allusions in Exodus 34:25; Exodus 23:16 are so dubious that they can hardly give any sure ground on which to base a consideration of the Passover festival. The first certain reference to the feast is in Exodus 12:21-27 . (This is probably an older account than Exodus 12:1-13 , and differs from it in details.) We find that ‘the passover’ is assumed as known, and possibly it is the feast referred to in Exodus 3:16; Exodus 7:16 etc. The characteristic features of the feast in Exodus 12:21-27 are: ( a ) a lamb is to be slain and its blood sprinkled on the lintel and side-posts of the houses; ( b ) the cause for this observance is found in the slaughter of the Egyptian firstborn.

In Deuteronomy 16:1-8 the Passover is directed to be observed in the month Abib (April), in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. The sacrifice is not to be offered in private dwellings, but ‘in the place which Jehovah shall choose to place his name there.’ With the Passover meal, and during seven days, no leavened bread was to be eaten. None of the flesh was to be left till morning. After the meal the worshippers were to go to their homes; the seventh day was to be a solemn assembly, and this period ( Deuteronomy 16:9 ) was treated as opening the 7 weeks’ ‘joy of harvest,’ commencing from Abib, when the corn would be coming into ear. We may notice here: ( a ) the Passover is regarded as part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread ( Mazzoth ), the two being apparently blended into one; ( b ) the sacrifice, though composed of individual sacrifices, is to be offered only at the Temple in Jerusalem; ( c ) the offering may be taken from flock or herd.

In Ezekiel 45:21-24 the date is precisely assigned as 14th Abib. The feast lasts 7 days, and unleavened bread only is to be eaten. The prince is to offer a bullock as a sin-offering for himself and the people, and a he-goat on each of the 7 days, as well as 7 bullocks and 7 rams daily, with other offerings of meal and oil. All takes place at the central sanctuary; there is no mention of a lamb, and the Passover is part of the Unleavened Bread festival.

Leviticus 23:5-14 ordains the Passover for the evening of 14th Abib. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is treated separately; it lasts 7 days, a holy convocation is to be held on the 1st and 7th days; and ‘on the morrow after the sabbath’ a sheaf of new corn is to be waved before the Lord, a he-lamb is to be offered as a burnt-offering with other offerings; and till this is done, no bread or parched corn or green ears may be eaten.

According to Exodus 12:1-13 , the current month of the Exodus is to be regarded as the 1st month of the year. On the 10th day a lamb or a kid is to be taken for each family or combination of families, according to their size. It is to be slain at even on the 14th, and the lintel is to be stained with its blood. It is to be roasted intact, and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs . Nothing of it is to remain till morning. It is to be eaten in haste, the partakers prepared as for a journey; it is a sign of the Lord’s ‘pass-over.’

Exodus 12:43-49 forbids any foreigner or hired servant or sojourner to eat the Passover unless he first submits to circumcision.

Numbers 9:1-14 deals with a case recorded as arising on the first anniversary of the Exodus. It is declared that anybody who is unclean may celebrate the Passover on the 14th day of the 2nd month.

In Numbers 28:15-25 the Passover is distinguished from the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The 1st and 7th days of the latter are to be days of holy convocation. On each of the 7 days two bullocks, a ram, and 7 lambs (with special offerings of meal and oil) are to be sacrificed, and a goat for a sin-offering.

(2) Historical and Prophetical books . No certain reference is found previous to the date of the discovery of Deuteronomy. Most of the allusions in the prophets are quite general in scope (cf. Hosea 2:11; Hosea 9:5; Hosea 12:9-10 , Amos 5:21; Amos 8:10 ). The observance in 2 Kings 23:21-23 is stated to have conformed to the regulations of Deuteronomy 16:1-22 and to have been novel in character. 2 Chronicles 30:1-27 , 2 Chronicles 35:1-19 perhaps reflects the later usages of the writer’s own age. Of post-exilic witnesses Ezra 6:19-22 may be quoted, where the priests and Levites play the prominent part in the sacrifice, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread is distinguished from the Passover.

Many of the Passover rites are undoubtedly very ancient; but Deuteronomy tends to emphasize the historical connexion of the festival with the Exodus. The various regulations and allusions in the OT are not consistent with each other, and different ideas were probably associated with the feast at different periods of the national history. Thus Ezk. lays most stress on its aim as a collective piacular sacrifice. It is likely that the feast was observed during the Exile, and that its commemorative significance was then made more emphatic. This would explain the underlying conception of the account in the Priestly Code. But the Chronicler shows preference for the Deuteronomic version, perhaps owing to the growing centralization of worship at one sanctuary in his time.

2. Origin and primitive significance. The Passover was in all probability an institution already existing when the Jewish legislation was codified, but taken up and transformed by the Legislator. ( a ) The most widely accepted theory is that it was in origin the shepherd’s offering of the first-fruits from his flocks, the slaughter of the Egyptian firstborn being Pharaoh’s punishment for hindering this observance. On this theory, later tradition would then have altered the sequence, and have regarded the slaughter of the Egyptians as the reason why the Israelites should offer the firstborn of their flocks. And, finally, the connexion with the pastoral sacrifice would have been forgotten, and the Passover would be treated as instituted in order to save the firstborn of Israel. ( b ) Another theory finds the central idea of the Passover in the piacular notion. The sacrifice would be offered as a substitute for the firstborn of man, and this conception is a common constituent of primitive spring festivals. ( c ) Other theories regard the observance as originating from domestic sacrifice to avert harm in times of pestilence, or from an ancient solemnization of a threshold covenant, when Jehovah was welcomed into a private dwelling.

It is quite possible that all these theories represent different parts of the truth. The Passover appears to date from very early times, and may have amalgamated features from an entire series of festivals. Thus it combines the notions of sin-offering (the sprinkling of the blood), of burnt-offering (the victim being roasted intact), and of peace-offering (the victim being eaten by the worshippers). Other noticeable features are: its date at the vernal equinox, the fact that the sacrifices were mostly or entirely of firstborn, and that an old tradition connected it with the Israelites’ desire for a religious pilgrimage, which eventually led to the Exodus (cf. Exodus 5:1-3 ). This variety of character suggests the inference that the Passover is the complex amalgamation of different feasts, in which these different elements existed separately. Its association with the Feast of Unleavened Bread is probably accidental, due to contiguity in time. The latter is plainly an agricultural festival, and falls into line with the feasts of Pentecost and Tabernacles.

3. Post-exilic observances. The Samaritans continue to observe the detailed ordinances of Exodus 12:1-51 . But the Jews learned in time to disregard some of the details, as applicable only to the first or Egyptian Passover. Such details were the choice of the lamb on the 10th day, its slaughter at home, the sprinkling of the blood on the house-door, the admission of the unclean, the posture and attire of the partakers, etc. Various alterations and elaborations were introduced. The month Adar was devoted to a thorough purification of lands and houses, sepulchres being whitened, roads and bridges repaired. On the evening of 13th Abib all leaven was sought out. On the 14th the Passover was offered by indiscriminate companies of 10 to 20 people. It was slain in relays at the Temple, and the blood thrown before the altar by the priests. The lambs were then dressed, and the fat offered, while the Levites chanted the Hallel ( Psalms 113:1-9; Psalms 114:1-8; Psalms 115:1-18; Psalms 116:1-19; Psalms 117:1-2; Psalms 118:1-29 ). The lambs were taken home and roasted; each of the guests brought 4 cups of red wine , and the meal was eaten with bitter herbs and unleavened cakes . The posture at the meal was recumbent (as a token, according to the Pharisees, of the rest which God had given to His people). A blessing was said over the first cup (perhaps implied in Luke 22:17 ff.). Then followed the washing of hands and offering a prayer. At the second cup came the son’s question as to the significance of the feast, and the father’s explanation. This was succeeded by the singing of Psalms 113:1-9; Psalms 114:1-8 . Grace was said over the third cup, and with the fourth came the singing of Psalms 115:1-18; Psalms 116:1-19; Psalms 117:1-2; Psalms 118:1-29 . Large numbers assembled at Jerusalem for this feast, and such occasions were always carefully supervised by the Romans for fear of insurrection. Hence perhaps would come the custom of releasing a selected prisoner; but we have no hint of the origin of the custom.

A. W. F. Blunt.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​p/passover-and-feast-of-unleavened-bread.html. 1909.
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