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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Feasts

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FEASTS.—The religious Feasts of the Jews in our Lord’s time were not so many as the religious Feasts of the Christian Church of to-day as enumerated in the English Book of Common Prayer, but they meant very much more in the way of outward observance. In the first rank—like Christmas, Easter, Ascensiontide, and Whitsuntide—there stood out the three great Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Not unlike the Holy Days of the Church’s Calendar, commemorating as they do various victories of the past, there were the annual Feasts of Dedication and of Purim, to which must be added the Feast of Trumpets together with its smaller counterpart in the monthly Feast of the New Moon. Corresponding to the Christian Sunday there was the weekly Feast of the Sabbath. Of these, Passover, Tabernacles, and Dedication are all specially mentioned in the Gospels, as well as the Sabbath, to which there are very many references, some merely incidental and some meant to show that it was our Lord’s purpose to free the observance of that day from the artificial rules that had grown up about it in tradition. The Feasts are most prominent in the Fourth Gospel, where they are so mentioned as to form a framework into which the events of our Lord’s Ministry fall. Three Passovers are there recorded: (1) John 2:13, when our Lord cleansed the Temple almost at the beginning of His Ministry; (2) John 6:4, just after the feeding of the 5000; (3) John 13:1 (cf. Matthew 26:2, Mark 14:1, Luke 22:1), at the time of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

It has indeed been contended that the reference to Passover in John 6:4 is a mistake, and that really there were only two Passovers in our Lord’s Ministry, the one at the beginning and the other at the end; it has also been contended that there may have been other Passovers, which are not mentioned, and that our Lord’s Ministry may have included so many as ten or twelve, lasting over 10 or 12 years; but neither of these contentions can be made good, and it seems more likely that the record as it stands is both accurate and complete (see Turner in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Chronology of NT’).

Besides these three Passovers, mention is made of the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7:2, of the Feast of Dedication in John 10:22, and of some Feast not particularized by name in John 5:1. To these St. Luke adds mention of an earlier Passover, when our Lord was 12 years old and was for the first time (?) allowed to accompany Joseph and Mary as they went up to Jerusalem year after year for the Feast (Luke 2:41 f.).

The Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were all of them Pilgrimage Feasts, that is to say. Feasts at which all male Jews above the age of 12 years were required to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem. It is noticed in Luke 2:41 f. that Joseph and Mary were both in the habit of going up to Jerusalem for the Passover every year. There was no requirement that women should thus attend at the Feasts, but Hillel seems to have encouraged the practice, and it was adopted by other religious women besides Mary (Edersheim, Life and Times, vol. i. p. 236). St. Luke in the same passage speaks of our Lord as going up at the age of twelve; that, too, was in excess of what was required by law, but was apparently in accordance with custom (so Edersheim, op. cit. p. 235; but cf. Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. ii. p. 51, who represents that, strictly speaking, every boy who could walk ought to have attended, and that it was only by custom that boys who lived at a distance were allowed to wait till their twelfth year before going). Attendance at the Feasts was not confined to those who lived within easy reach, but Jews came as well from great distances, although naturally they could not attend so often as three times a year.

Schürer writes (op. cit. p. 290 f.): ‘There was nothing that contributed so much to cement the bond of union between the dispersion and the mother country as the regular pilgrimages which Jews from all quarters of the world were in the habit of making to Jerusalem on festival occasions.’ He quotes Philo (de Monarchia, ii. 1) as saying: ‘Many thousands of people from many thousands of towns made pilgrimages to the Temple at every festival, some by land, some by sea, and coming from the east and the west, from the north and the south,’ and refers to Josephus’ estimate of the number of Jews in Jerusalem at the time of the Feasts as being so many as 2,700,000 (BJ vi. ix. 3).

In accordance with this it is definitely stated in the Gospels that four times during His Ministry our Lord went up to Jerusalem to keep the Feasts, twice for Passover, once for Tabernacles, and once for an unnamed Feast. Possibly He went up quite regularly three times a year, for the notice that He was in Galilee shortly before the second Passover (John 6:4) does not preclude the possibility of His having gone up a little later. At the first Passover mention is made of His disciples being with Him in Jerusalem (John 2:17; John 2:22), evidently having journeyed from Galilee with the same purpose as Himself, to keep the Feast. Similarly at Tabernacles it is stated that His brethren went up from Galilee to keep the Feast (John 7:10). In all the Gospel references to Passover and Tabernacles the impression is given of large crowds of Jews in Jerusalem. At the Feast of Dedication also our Lord was in Jerusalem, but that was simply because His work at that time lay close by. He did not go up to Jerusalem on purpose for it, since no pilgrimages were made except at the three great Feasts; but being close at hand He liked to mark the occasion by a visit to the Temple, and there found a considerable number of Jews resident in the neighbourhood who had been attracted thither like Himself. See, further, the sep. artt. on Dedication, Passover, etc.

As regards the unnamed Feast of John 5:1, it is impossible to reach any certainty as to what Feast is intended. If the correct reading were ἡ ἑορτή, it would most naturally he the Feast of Tabernacles, which was above all the Feast of the Jews (Cheyne on Isaiah 30:29); but if the article be omitted, as almost certainly it should be, the expression is quite indefinite, and might refer to either Tabernacles or Passover or Pentecost, or to any of the smaller Feasts.

In attempting to decide between these, guidance may first he sought from the general sequence of events, so far as it is indicated by the following notes of time:

(1) Passover, i.e. March or April, John 2:13.

(2) A reference to harvest, John 4:35.

(3) This unnamed Feast, John 5:1.

(4) A second Passover, John 6:4.

Thus it appears that the unnamed Feast fell between the incident connected with the harvest in John 4:35 and Passover. This does not, however, give very much help, because John 4:35 may mean either that that was the actual time of harvest or that it was four months before harvest, so that it is impossible to tell whether the incident there described happened in the month of April or in midwinter. If that happened in midwinter, then Dedication (Dec.) and Purim (Feb.) are the only Feasts possible chronologically; but if, as is equally likely, that incident happened at harvest, then the chronology would admit almost any of the Feasts, either Pentecost (May), or Trumpets (Sept. [Note: Septuagint.] ), or Tabernacles (Sept. [Note: Septuagint.] ), or Dedication (Dec.), or Purim (Feb.). Thus the setting of the incident is quite indeterminate. In the description of the incident itself there are two points that need to be noticed. The one is that the introductory words are such as to suggest that the only reason for mentioning the Feast at all is to explain our Lord’s presence in Jerusalem,—‘After these things there was a Feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.’ Since there were only three Feasts at which even the strictest Jews went up to Jerusalem, it appears that this must be one of those three, i.e. must be either Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles. At the smaller Feasts many of those Jews who were in or near Jerusalem would naturally congregate in the Temple courts (cf. John 10:22 ff.), but none were in the habit of going up on these occasions from other parts of the country. Accordingly, though Purim may seem suitable in other ways, it quite fails to explain the one fundamental fact, our Lord’s visit to Jerusalem, and the same objection lies against all the smaller Feasts. The second point to be noticed is that St. John’s use of so vague a phrase in reference to one of the three great Feasts can mean only that he was himself unable to recall the exact occasion. The events recorded were quite clear in his mind, and he remembered that they had happened on one of the occasions when our Lord went to Jerusalem to keep the Feasts, but at which particular one he could not recall. This being so, it is useless to try now to discover the secret from his writings, but there is no need to feel disappointment at the absence of information on this point, as if some part of the significance of the incident were lost through ignorance of its occasion, for the circumstances would not have dropped out of St. John’s memory as they did, if they had been essential to the understanding of our Lord’s words or actions. See also art. Ministry.

C. E. Garrad.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Feasts'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/f/feasts.html. 1906-1918.

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