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Passover (I.)

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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PASSOVER (I.) (Heb. פָּסַח pesah, Aram. Aramaic פַּסְחָא pasha, in Greek πάσχα, φασέκ, and φάσκα [Josephus ], NT πάσχα).—The most distinctive festival of the Jewish religion. Its origin, significance, and method of celebration are given in Exodus 12:1-49; Exodus 23:18; Exodus 34:25, Leviticus 23:5-8, Numbers 9:1-14; Numbers 28:16-25, Deuteronomy 16:1-8.* [Note: The derivation of the word is uncertain. It may be derived from a root meaning to leap or pass over, used of the sun at the spring-time; or to pass over, in the sense of sparing, the traditional meaning.]

Modem criticism has discovered certain variations in the ritual and significance, has distinguished layers and stages in the ideas the festival was to suggest, and has sought to connect it with earlier and ethnic rites. Without accepting all such contentions, it may be granted that there is, at least, the union of an agricultural feast with a commemoration of the Exodus out of Egypt, in which commemoration certain of the circumstances which marked the historic deliverance are more or less literally repeated. Jewish expositors distinguish between ‘the Egyptian Passover’ and those which were subsequently observed,—‘the perpetual Passover’ or ‘Passover for the generations,’—and narrate the points in which they differ from each other; in the former the impure partook, the blood was sprinkled on the lintels, the fat was not burned, and no hymn was sung; with other details.

The references in the OT to the observance of this festival are comparatively rare. There was the observance at the time of the Exodus, in the second year after coming out of Egypt (Numbers 9:5), at the entry into Canaan (Joshua 5:10-11). The feast was apparently observed during the reign of Solomon (2 Chronicles 8:13). Under Hezekiah there was a great act of observance, but in the second month, when the feast was prolonged by one week, and even the Levitically unclean were permitted to participate (2 Chronicles 30:15-23).At the period of the revival of religion during the reign of Josiah, there was another celebration that stood out conspicuously among the memories of the festival (2 Kings 23:22, 2 Chronicles 35:1-17). One Passover is also recorded as kept by the returning exiles (Ezra 6:19). With the period of the NT writers, of Josephus, and the Mishna, the feast has become one of regular observance, drawing multitudes to Jerusalem from many lands, and forming a strong bond of unity to the scattered nation.

From the references outside of the Pentateuch little can be learnt as to the details of the celebration of this feast. Nor is much to be gathered from the NT apart from the history of the Last Supper, regarding which there is doubt as to whether it was a true Paschal celebration, and whether the ordinary ritual was observed, or whether it was purposely modified and departed from (see following art. and Last Supper). We are driven for information as to the order and details of celebration to the Mishna (c. a.d. 200), the Gemara, an ancient supplement of the same, the commentaries of later Jewish Rabbis, as Maimonides and Bartenora. There is consequently a certain doubt as to how far the practices enjoined in the Mishna were observed in the time of our Lord; but, since the traditions are for the most part very ancient, the regulations laid down give a fairly accurate representation of the feast as observed at the time of the Evangelists.

One month before the feast, preparations for the same were put in hand. Roads and bridges were repaired for the companies of pilgrims, and burying-places which were lying in the way, and likely to be unnoticed, were whitened, that the travellers might avoid defilement. Flocks and herds were tithed, and persons ceremonially unclean went up to Jerusalem out of the country to purify themselves (John 11:55). As the time drew nearer, the significance and laws of the feast were explained in the academies and synagogues, the last two Sabbaths before the Passover being specially occupied with this exposition.

The number of those who took part in this festival was enormous. Every male Jew residing within fifteen miles of Jerusalem, and not ceremonially unclean, was required to do so, and in addition, numerous visitors from other parts of the Holy Land, and from other countries near and far, travelling with their gifts, and with song, swelled the number of residents. Women as well as men were eligible for participation, and though the observance was not compulsory, the privilege was often embraced (1 Samuel 1:3-7, Luke 2:41-42, Josephus BJ VI. ix. 3, Mish. Pesachim ix. 4). The nearest approach to a census is that given by Josephus, and, though certainly exaggerated, it shows the vast concourse which the feast brought together. He states that at the Passover of a.d. 65 there were 3,000,000 persons present (BJ II. xiv. 3), while in another place (VI. ix. 3) he relates that, at the request of Cestius, the priests counted the number of lambs slain as 256,500. Remarking that the minimum number permitted for a lamb was ten persons, Josephus calculates the number at 2,700,000. An ancient Jewish tradition gives the number of Passover lambs on one occasion as 1,200,000. It was customary to extend hospitality to the numerous visitors. This was done without charge, but as a return the host received the skin of the lamb and the vessels used by his guests. Many must have tented outside the city. In this vast crowd, with the sense of nationality strong, and its religious feelings at the highest tension, it is easy to understand the dread of possible disturbance which from time to time appears in the Gospel narratives (Matthew 26:5, Luke 23:24, John 18:39).

The feast proper began with the evening of the 14th Nisan; it must be borne in mind that, according to Jewish reckoning, this was the first half of the day. It was succeeded by the days of Unleavened Bread, which sometimes gave a name to the whole festival (Luke 22:1). On the evening of the 14th it was the duty of the master of each house to take a lighted wax candle, in silence thoroughly to search all the house for leaven and to remove it to a safe place. This investigation was preceded and followed by prayer. A portion of leavened food sufficient for the family requirements had been put aside, and it was lawful to eat this until 11 o’clock on the morning of the 14th, though a stricter school drew the limit at 10 o’clock. At midday all leaven was to be completely and solemnly destroyed, by burning or otherwise. The times of this obligation were notified in the following way: ‘Two cakes of thanksgiving offering which had been desecrated were exposed on a bench or gallery of the Temple. While they lay there all the people yet ate leaven; when one was removed, they abstained from eating it but did not burn it; when both were removed, all the people commenced burning the leaven’ (Pes. i. 5). Secular work was gradually ceasing. In Galilee the whole day was one of rest. In Judaea work continued till noon; but only what had been begun could be finished; no new work could be commenced. Only tailors, barbers, and sandal-strap makers were allowed to follow their avocations. At 1.30 o’clock the daily evening sacrifice was killed, and at 2.30 it was offered up. In each case this was one hour before the usual time of killing and offering; if the 14th Nisan fell on a Friday (i.e. Thursday evening and Friday morning according to our reckoning), these times were made each yet an hour earlier to avoid possible desecration of the Sabbath. By the time this daily sacrifice was offered, the lambs had been brought to the Temple by those who had been selected to represent each Passover group at the slaughter of the victim. Each lamb was required to be not less than eight days or more than one year old. The great company was divided into three sections, the ritual observed being the same in each case. The first section entered the Court of the Priests, the gates being thereupon closed, and the trumpets blown three times. Although the priestly course on duty for the week attended to the daily sacrifice, to meet the necessity of the Passover the whole priestly body was in attendance. It stood in two lines which ended at the altar, one row holding silver, the other golden bowls. Each man representing a Passover group killed his own sacrifice, the nearest priest caught the blood in his bowl, passed it to a fellow-priest and he again to another, while each as he received the full bowl handed back an empty one. The bowls were made without bases, and could not stand if placed on the ground, coagulation being in this way avoided. When the bowl was received by the priest nearest to the altar, he cast it with one jet at the base. Meanwhile the ‘Hallel’ (Psalms 113-118) was recited, the Levites leading the song, the people repeating the first line of each Psalm and also three others of the closing Psalm, but otherwise responding ‘Hallelujah’ to each line. If the sacrifices were not completed, the Hallel was sung a second or even a third time.

The preparation of the sacrifice now took place. The lambs were hung on iron hooks fastened to the walls and pillars of the court, and when these were all in use, upon staves which rested on the shoulders of two men; if the day were a Sabbath, the use of staves was not permitted, and two offerers laid one the left hand the other the right on his neighbour’s shoulder and so suspended the lambs. The sacrifices were then skinned, the portions appointed for sacrificial use (Leviticus 3:1-5) were removed and cleansed, the fat separated and placed on a dish and then offered with incense on the altar. The company was then dismissed to their dwellings to partake of the feast, the incense was burnt, the lamps trimmed, and the Temple court washed. If the sacrifice fell on a Sabbath, the first and second divisions stayed in appointed parts of the Temple until the whole of the victims had been sacrificed, that they might not profane the Sabbath by bearing a burden.

It was required that careful attention should be given to the cooking of the lamb. It was to be roasted, in an earthenware oven; a spit of pomegranate wood was to be put in at the mouth and to pass through at the vent; Justin Martyr (Tryph. 40) states that a transverse spit was passed through the victim, thus forming a cross. If any part of the lamb touched the oven, it was to be pared off, as was also the case with any part on which fat from the oven had fallen. No bone of it was to be broken, no part was to be taken out of the house where the feast was held, and none of it was to be left over.

The meal was partaken of, not as at the first Egyptian Passover, in travelling dress, ‘with loins girded, with shoes on the feet, and staff in the hands,’ but in festive garments, and reclining on the left side ‘as free men do, in token of their freedom.’ The table was probably arranged as a triclinium, and this explains the position of St. John, the question addressed across the table by St. Peter, and the unheard conversation of our Lord with Judas Iscariot (John 13:23-24, Matthew 26:25). See art. Upper Room.

A cup of red wine, mixed with water, was poured out for each guest, not by the host but by a servant, for all things were on this night to be done with distinction; and over it the following blessing was spoken:

‘Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, who hast created the fruit of the vine. Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the Universe, who hast chosen us from among all people, and exalted us from among all languages, sanctified us with Thy commandments. And Thou hast given us, O Jehovah our God, in love the solemn days for joy, and the festival and appointed seasons for gladness; and this feast of unleavened bread, the season of our freedom, a holy convocation, the memorial of our departure from Egypt. For Thou hast chosen us, and hast sanctified us from among all nations, and Thy holy festivals with joy and gladness hast Thou caused us to inherit. Blessed art Thou, O Jehovah, who sanctifiest Israel and the appointed seasons. Blessed art Thou, Jehovah, King of the Universe, who hast preserved us alive, and sustained and brought us to this season.’

The use of wine at this festival was compulsory, even upon the poorest; it might be the gift of charity, or procured by selling or pawning raiment or hiring out one’s labour; but used it must be, even by persons commonly abstaining and young persons. After this, each participant washed his hands, our Lord apparently varying the custom and teaching a new and deeper lesson by Himself washing the feet of His guests (John 13:3 ff.).

The Paschal table, with its appropriate viands, was then placed in position. These comprised the lamb, the bitter herbs (lettuce, endive, garden endive (or succory), urtica, and bitter coriander (or horehound)), and the harôseth, a paste of dates, raisins, etc., with vinegar, which was held to represent the mortar of Egypt, and salt water. The president of the company took some of the bitter herbs, dipped them in salt water, ate a portion the size of an olive, and gave a similar portion to his companions. A second cup of wine was now poured out, and this was followed by the Haggâdâh or ‘showing forth’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26 ‘ye proclaim’). The son of the family or the youngest member of the company inquired the significance of the feast in which they were participating: ‘Why is this night distinguished from all other nights?’ ‘Then the father instructs his child according to the capacity of his knowledge, beginning with our disgrace and ending with our glory, and expounding to him from “A Syrian ready to perish was my father” (Deuteronomy 26:5), until he has explained all through, to the end of the whole section’ (Pes. x.). This involved a recital of the national history from the Patriarchal times to the deliverance out of Egypt, and the constitution of the emancipated people by means of the covenant at Sinai. After this, the president explained the significance of the Passover-lamb, of the bitter herbs, and of the unleavened bread. In acknowledgment of the great redemption, the first part of the Hallel (Psalms 113, 114) was sung, and a benediction added: ‘Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the Universe, who hast redeemed us and redeemed our fathers from Egypt.’ The second cup of wine, which had been previously filled, was now drunk.

After a second washing of hands, one of the two unleavened cakes was broken, and pieces containing between them bitter herbs were, after dipping in the harôseth, handed to each one in the company. This was probably the sop which Judas Iscariot received (John 13:26). After this the Paschal lamb was eaten, the hands were again washed, a third cup of wine filled, a blessing said, and the cup drunk. This was known as ‘the cup of blessing,’ and was probably that in which our Lord instituted the cup of the Eucharist, which is called by St. Paul ‘the cup of blessing’ (1 Corinthians 10:16). There remained another cup to be drunk, for the number four was insisted upon, and became the subject of various interpretations; the second part of the Hallel (Psalms 115-118) was sung—probably the ‘hymn’ after which ‘they went out unto the mount of Olives’ (Mark 14:26)—and the feast ended with a benediction, ‘the blessing of the song.’

On the next day, the 15th Nisan, sacrifices additional to those offered ordinarily were brought (Numbers 28:19), and peace-offerings, the hagigah—which on this day was compulsory, but on the 14th needed not to be offered except where the lamb would not suffice for the feast—were presented. On the 16th day the barley for the omer (Leviticus 23:11) that was to be presented was cut; this was threshed in the Court of the Priests, parched, and then ground fine. When sufficiently fine, one omer by measure was taken and mixed with oil; frankincense was placed upon it, and it was ‘waved’—moved to and fro—before the Lord. The 17th to the 20th days were the Mô’çd Kâton, or ‘lesser festival,’ when no new work might be commenced. With the 21st Nisan the feast ended, the day being kept as a Sabbath.

In the case of persons Levitically unclean or living at a distance, it was permitted to celebrate the Passover on the corresponding day of the following month (Iyyar), according to the legislation of Numbers 9:9-12, 2 Chronicles 30:2; but in this case there was no search for and removal of leaven, no Hallel was sung at the supper, and no hagigah offered and eaten.

Literature.—Comm. on Pentateuch, esp. Driver’s Deut.; Bibl. Archaeol. of Keil, Nowack, and Benzinger; Buxtorf, Syn. Jud.; Reland, Ant.; the Mishnic tractate Pesachim, with comm.; Maimonides, Yad Hachazakah; artt. in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , Kitto’s Cyclopaedia, the EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.] , Hamburger’s RE [Note: E Realencyklopädie.] , the JE [Note: E Jewish Encyclopedia.] ; Edersheim, The Temple, etc.; Chwolson, Das letzte Passamahl Christi; J. P. Lilley, The Lord’s Supper (1891), 35 ff.

J. T. L. Maggs.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Passover (I.)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​p/passover-i.html. 1906-1918.
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