Click to donate today!
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(properly, צוּם, tsum, strictly, to keep the mouth shut; νηστεύω, strictly, not to eat). In the early ages of the world, when the spontaneous productions of nature and the spoils of the chase formed man's chief aliment, fasting from time to time was compulsory, in consequence of the uncertainty of obtaining food when wanted. It would be easy for superstitious ignorance to interpret this compulsion into an expression of the divine will, and so to sanction the observance of fasting as a religious duty. The transition would be the easier at a time and in countries when the office of physician was united in the same person with that of priest; for in hot climates occasional abstinence is not without its advantages on the health; and an abstinence which the state of the body required, but which the appetite shunned or refused, the authority of the priest and the sanctions of religion would exact at once with ease and certainty. In the earlier stages of civilization no idea is more prevalent and operative than that the Deity is propitiated by voluntary sufferings on the part of his' creatures. Hence ensued all kinds of bodily mortifications, and even the sacrifice of life itself. Nay, "the fruit of the body" — the dear pledges of mutual affection, the best earthly gift from the heavenly Father — children, were sacrificed in expiation of "the sin of the soul." Human enjoyments were held to be displeasing in the sight of God. The notion that the gods were jealous of man's happiness runs through the entire texture of Greek and Roman mythology; and the development of this falsehood, as presented in Greek tragedy, has given birth to some of the finest productions of the human mind. But what more pleasurable than food to man, especially to the semi-barbarian? The denial of such a pleasure must then be well-pleasing to the Divinity, the rather because, on occasions of family bereavement, of national disaster, or any great calamity, the appetite is naturally affected under the influence of grief, and is made to loathe the food which in its ordinary condition it finds most grateful.
A connection between sorrow and fasting would thus be established which would carry with it a sort of divine siaction in being natural and inevitable in its origin. Accordingly, abstinence, which seemed imposed by Providence, if not in expiation of guilt, yet as an accompaniment of sorrow, easily became regarded as a religious duty when voluntarily prolonged or assumed, and grew to be considered as an efficacious means for appeasing the divine wrath, and restoring prosperity and peace. "Climate, the habits of a people, and their creed, gave it at different periods different characteristics; but it may be pronounced to have been a recognized institution with all the more civilized nations, especially those of Asia, throughout all historic times. We findd it in high estimation among the ancient Parsees of Irania. It formed a prominent feature in the ceremonies of the mysteries of Mithras; and found its way, together with these, over Armenia, Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia Minor, to Palestine, and northward to the wilds of Scythia. The ancient Chinese and Hindus, and principally the latter, in accordance with their primeval view — which they held in conmmon with the Parsees — of heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, of the transmigration of the soul, and of the body as the temporary prison of a fallen spirit, carried fasting to an unnatural excess. Although the Vedas attach little importance to the excrumciation of the body, yet the Pavaka, by the due observance of which the Hindu believer is purified from all his sins, requires, among other things, an uninterrupted fast for the space of twelve days.
Egypt seems to have had few or no compulsory general fasts; but it is established beyond doubt that for the initiation into the mysteries of His and Osiris, temporary abstinence was rigorously enforced. In Siam, all solems acts are preceded by a period of fasting, the seasons of the new and full moon being especially consecrated to this rite. In Java, where abstinence from the flesh of oxen is part of the religion of all, Buddhists and emorshippers of Brahma alike, the manner and times of the observance vary according to the religion of the individual. Again, in Tibet, the Dalailamaites and Bogdolamaites hold this law in common. That Greece observed and gave a high place to occasional fast-days — such as the third day of the festival of the Eleusinian mysteries, and that, for instance, those who came to consult the oracle of Trophonius had to abstain from food for twenty-four hours — is well known. It need hardly be added that the Romans did not omit so important an element of the festivals and ceremonies which they adopted from their neighbors, though with them the periods of fasting were of less frequent recurrence" (Chambers, Encyclopedia, s.v.). The Mohammedans fast (till sunset) during the, whole of their ninth (lunar) month Ramadan (see D'Herbelot, Bibl. Or. s.v.). (On this religious observance among pagan nations, consult Meiners, Gesch. der Relig. 2:139; Lakemacher, Antiq. Grcec. Sacr. page 626; Wachsmuth, Hellen. Alterthum. 2:237; Bottiger, Kunstmythol. 1:132.) (See ASCETICISM).
I. Jewish Fasting. — The word צוּם(νηστεία, juni um) is not found in the Pentateuch, but it often occurs in the historical books and the prophets (2 Samuel 12:16; 1 Kings 21:9-12; Ezra 8:21; Psalms 69:10; Isaiah 58:5; Joel 1:14; Joel 2:15; Zechariah 8:19, etc.). In the law the only term used to denote the religious oaservance of fasting is the more significant one, נֶפֶשׁ עִנִּה ). (ταπεινοῦν τὴν ψυχήν; affligeae animam), "affflicting the soul" (Leviticus 16:29-31; Leviticus 23:27; Numbers 30:13). The word תִּעֲנִית, i.e., affliction, which occurs Ezra 9:5, where it is rendered in A.V. "heaviness," is commonly used to denote fasting is the Talmuda, and is the title of one of its treatises.
The sacrifice of the personal will, which gives to fasting all its value, is expressed in the old term used in the law, afflicting the soul. The faithful son of Israel realized the blessing of "chastening his soul with fasting" (Psalms 69:10). But the frequent admonitions and stern denunciations of the prophets may show us how prone the Jews were in their formal fasts to lose the idea of a spiritual discipline, and to regard them as being in themselves a means of winning favoifroma God, or, in a still worse spirit, to make a parade of them in order to appear religious before seen (Isaiah 58:3; Zechariah 7:5-6; Malachi 3:14; comp. Matthew 6:16).
The Jewish fasts were observed with various degrees of strictness. Sometimes there was entire abstinence frona food (Esther 4:16, etc.). On other occasions there appears to have been only a restriction to a very plain diet (Daniel 10:3). Rules are given in the Talmud (both in Yoma sand Taanith) as to the mode in which fasting is to be observed on particular occasions, The fast of the day, according to Josephus (Ant. 3:10, 3), Was considered to terminate at sunset, and St. Jerome speaks of the fasting Jew as anxiously waiting for the rising of the stars. Fasts were not observed on the sabbaths, the new maoons, the great festivals, or the feasts of Purim and Dedication (Judith 8:6; Taanith, 2:10).
Those who fasted frequently dressed in sackcloth or rent their clothes, put ashes on their head and went barefoot (1 Kings 21:27; comp. Josepheus, Ant. 8:13, 8; Nehemiah 9:1; Psalms 35:13). The rabbinical directions for the ceremonies to be observed in public fasts, and the prayers to be used in theam, may be seen in Taanith, 2:1-4 (see the Cod. Talm. "Taanith," c. verss. et notis De Lundii, Traj. ad Rh. 1694, 8vo). Consult also Maimonides, Jod Ha-Chezeka, Hilchoth Taunioth, 1:315 sq.; Lightfoot, Horae Hebraic on Luke 18:12; Schottgen, Horae Hebraicae on Luke 18:12 Reland, Antiquitates Sacrae Veteruin Hebraorum (1717), page 538 sq.; Bloch, in Geiger's Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift fur judische Theol. 4:205 sq.; Fink, in Ersch und Grasber's Encyklopadie, s.v. Fasten; Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und seiner Secten (Leipzig, 1857), 1:184 sq.; Bauer, Gottesd. Verf. 1:348 sq.; Otho, Lex. Rabb. page 233 sq.
1. The sole fast required by Moses was on the great day of annual atonement. This observance seems alvays to have retained some prominence as "the fast" (Acts 27:9). But what the observance of the enjoined duty involved we are nowhere expressly informed, and can approximate to a knowledge of precise details only so far as later practices among the Jews may be considered as affording a faithful picture of this divinely-sanctioned ordinance. In these remarks the opinion is implied that "the fast," whatever importance it may have subsequently acquired, was originally only an incident, not to say an accident, in the great solemnity of the annual atonement. (See ATONEMENT, DAY OF).
There is no mention of any other periodical fast in the O.T. except in Zechariah 7:1-7; Zechariah 8:19. From these passages it appears that the Jews, during their captivity, observed four annual fasts in the fourth, fifth, seventh, aelnd tenth months. When the building of the second Temple had commenced, those who remained in Babylon sent a message to the priests at Jerusalem to inquire whether the observance of the fast in the fifth month should not be discontinued. The prophet takes the occasion to rebuke the Jews for the spirit in which they had observed the fast of the seventh emonth as well as that of the fifth (Zechariah 7:5-6); and afterwards (Zechariah 8:19), giving the subject an evangelical turn, he declares that the whole of the four fasts shall be turned to "joys and gladness, and cheerful feasts." Zechariah simply distinguishes the fasts by the months in which they were observed; but the Mishna (Taanith, 4:6) and St. Jerome (in Zechariah 8) give statements of certain historical events which they were intended to commemorate:
(1.) The fast of the fourth month. — Kept on the 17th of Tamnmuz, to commemorate the making of the golden calf by the Jews, the breaking of the tables of the law by Moses (Exodus 24; comp. 33:3), the failure of the daily sacrifice for emant of cattle during the siege, and the storming of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 52).
(2.) The fast of the fifth month. — Kept on the 9th of Ab, to commemorate the decree that those who had left Egypt should not enter Canaan (Numbers 14:27, etc.); the Temple burnt by Nebuchadnezzar. and again by Titus; and the ploughing up of the site of the Temple, with the capture of Bether, in which a vast number of Jews from Jerusalem had taken refuge in the time of Hadrian (comp. Jost, Gesch. d. Israeliten, 3:240).
(3.) The fast of the seventh month. — Commemorating the complete sack of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the death of Gedaliah (2 Kings 25), on the 3d of Tisri (comp. Sedera Olam Rabba, c. 26).
(4.) The fast of the tenth month. — On the 10th of Tebeth, to commemorate the receiving by Ezekiel and the other captives in Babylon of the news of the destructian of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 33:21; compare 2 Kings 25:1).
These four fasts have been Christianized, and tradition tells us that their transfer into the Christian Church was made by the Roman bishop Callistus (flour. A.D. 223). To deprive them, however, of their Jewish appearance, the whole year was divided into four seasons (quatnor tempora), and a fast was appointed for one week of each season (compare Herzog, Encyklopadie, 3:336).
(5.) The fast of Esther. — Additional to the above; kept on the 13th of Adar (Esther 4:16). (See ESTHER (FAST OF).)
Some other events mentioned in the Mishna are omitted as unimportant. Of those here stated several could have had nothing to do with the fasts in the time of the prophet. It would seem most probable, from the mode in which he has grouped them together, that the original purpose of all four was to commemorate the circumstances connected with the commencement of the captivity, and that the other events were subsequently associated with them on the ground of some real or fancied coincidence of the time of occurrence. As regards the fast of the fifth month, at least, it can hardly be doubted that the captive Jews applied it exclusively to the destruction of the Temple, and that St. Jerome was right in regarding as the reason of their request to be released from its observance the fact that it had no longer any purpose after the new Temple was begun. As this fast (as well as the three others) is still retained in the Jewish calendar, we must infer either that the priests did not agree with the Babylonian Jews, or that the fast, having been discontinued for a time, was renewed after the destruction of the Temple by Titus.
The number of annual fasts in the present Jewish calendar has been multiplied to twenty-eight, a list of which is given by Reland (Antiq. page 274). (See CALENDAR).
2. Public fasts were occasionally proclaimed to express national humiliation on account of sin or misfortune, and to supplicate divine favor in regard to some great undertaking or threatened danger. In the case of public danger, the proclamation appears to have been accompanied with the blowing of trumpets (Joel 2:1-15; comp. Taanith, 1:6). The following instances are recorded of strictly national fasts: Samuel gathered "all Israel" to Mizpeh and proclaimed a fast, performing at the same time what seems to have been a rite symbolical of purification, when the people confessed their sin in having worshipped Baalimn and Ashtaroth (1 Samuel 7:6); Jehoshaphat appointed one "throughout all Judah" when he was preparing for war against Moab and Ammon (2 Chronicles 20:3); in the reign of Jehoiakim, one was proclaimed for "all the people in Jerusalem, and all who came thither out of the cities of Judah," when the prophecy of Jeremiah was publicly read by Baruch (Jeremiah 36:6-10; comp. Baruch 1:5); three days after the feast of Tabernacles, when the second Temple was completed, "the children of Israel assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes and earth upon them," to hear the law read, and to confess their sins (Nehemiah 9:1). There are references to general fasts in the prophets (Joel 1:14; Joel 2:15; Isaiah 58), and two are noticed in the books, of the Maccabees (1 Maccabees 3:46-47; 2 Maccabees 13:10-12).
There are a considerable number of instances of cities and bodies of men observing fasts on occasions in which they were especially concerned. In the days of Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, when the men of Judah had been defeated by those of Benjamin, they fasted in making preparation for another battle (Judges 20:26). David and his men fasted for a day on account of the death of Saul (2 Samuel 1:12), and the men of Jabesh Gilead fasted seven days on Saul's burial (1 Samuel 31:13). Jezebel, in the name of Ahab, appointed a fast for the inhabitants of Jezreel, to render more striking, as it would seem, the punishment about to be inflicted on Naboth (1 Kings 21:9-12). Ezra proclaimed a fast for his companions at the river of Ahava, when he was seeking for God's help and guidance in the work he was about to undertake (Ezra 8:21-23). Esther, when she was going to intercede with Ahasuerus, commanded the Jews of Shushan neither to eat nor drink for three days (Esther 4:16). A fast of great strictness is recorded in the Scriptures as having been proclaimed by the heathen king of Nineveh to avert the destruction threatened by Jehovah (Jonah 2:5-9).
Public fasts expressly on account of unseasonable weather and of famine may perhaps be traced in the first and second chapters of Joel. In later times they assumed great importance, and form the main subject of the treatise Taanith in the Mishna. The Sanhedrim ordered general fasts when the nation was threatened with any great evil, such as drought or famine (Josephus, Life, § 56; Taanith, 1:5), as was usual with the Romans in their supplications (Livy, 3:7; 10:23).
3. Private occasional fasts are recognised in one passage of the law (Numbers 30:13). The instances given of individuals fasting under the influence of grief, vexation, or anxiety are numerous (1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Samuel 20:34; 2 Samuel 3:35; 2 Samuel 12:16; 1 Kings 21:27; Ezra 10:6; Nehemiah 1:4; Daniel 10:3). The fasts of forty days of Moses (Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:18) and of Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) are, of course, to be regarded as special acts of spiritual discipline, faint though wonderful shadows of that fast in the wilder ness of Judaea, in which all true fasting finds its mean ing (Matthew 4:1-2). After the exile private fasts became verya frequert (Lightfoot, p. 318), awaiting the call of no special occasion, but entering as a regular part of the current religious worship (Sueton. Aug. 76; Tacit. Hist. 5:4, 3). In Judith 8:6 we read that Judith fasted all the days of her widowhood, "save the eves of the sabbaths, and the sabbaths, and the eves of the new moons, and the new moons, and the feasts and the solemn days of the house of Israel." In Tobit 12 prayer is declared to be good with fasting; see also Luke 2:37; Matthew 9:14. The parable of the Pharisee and Publican (Luke 18:9; comp. Matthew 9:14) shows how much the Pharisees were given to voluntary and private fasts, "I fast twice a week." The first was on the fifth day of the week, on which Moses ascended to the top of Mount Sinai; the second was on the second day, on which he came down (Taanith, 2:9; Hieros. Mlegillah, 75, 1). This bi-weekly fasting has also been adopted in the Christian Church; but Monday and Thursday were changed to Wednesday and Friday (feria quarta et sexta), as commemorative of the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ. Of a similar semi-occasional character was the First-born sons' fast (תִּעֲנִית בְּכוֹד ), on the day precedrng the feast of Passover, in commemoration of the fact that while God on that occasion smote all the first-born of the Egyptians, he spared those of the house of Israel (comp. Exodus 12:29, etc.; Sopherim, 21:3). (See FIRST-BORN).
The Essenes and the Therapeutae also were much given to such observances (Philo, Vit. Contenmpl. page 613; Euseb. Prop. Evan. 9:3). Fasts were considered a useful exercise in preparing the mind for special religious impressions; as in Daniel 10:2 sq. (see also Acts 13:3; Acts 14:23). From Matthew 17:21 : "Howbeit this kind (of demons) goeth not out but by prayer and fasting," it would appear that the practice under consideration was considered in the days of Christ to act in certain special cases as an exorcism.
Fasting (as stated above) was accompanied by the ordinary signs of grief among the Israelites, as may be seen in 1 Maccabees 3:47. The abstinence was either partial or total. In the case of the latter food was entirely foregone, but this ordinarily took place only in fasts of short duration; and abstinence from food in Eastern climes is more easy and less detrimental (if not in some cases positively useful) than keeping from food would be with us in these cold, damp Northern regions (Esther 4:16). In the case of partial abstinence the time was longer, the denial in degree less. When Daniel (10: 2) was " mourning three full weeks," he ate no "pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in his mouth." There does not appear to have been any fixed and recognized periods during which these fasts endured. From one day to forty days fasts were observed. The latter period appears to have been regarded with feelings of peculiar sanctity, owing, doubtless, to the above instances in Jewish history. There are monographs, entitled De jejuniis Hebraeorum, by Opitz (Kil. 1680), Peringer (Holm. 1684), and Lund (Aboae, 1696).
II. In New Testament. — We have already seen how qualified the sanction was which Moses gave to the observance of fasting as a religious duty. In the same spirit which actuated him, the prophets bore testimony against the lamentable abuses to which the practice was turned in the lapse of time and with the increase of social corruption (Isaiah 58:4 sq.; Jeremiah 14:12; Zechariah 7:5). Continuing the same species of influence and perfecting that spirituality in religion which Moses began, our Lord rebuked the Pharisees sternly for their outward and hypocritical pretences in the fasts which they observed (Matthew 6:16 sq.), and actually abstained from appointing any fast whatever as a part of his own religion. In Matthew 9:14, the question of the reason of this avoidance is expressly put, "Whydo we (the disciples of John) and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?" The answer shows the voluntary character of fasting in the Christian Church, "Can the children of the bridechamber fast?"
It is true that a period is alluded to when these children "shall fast;" but the general scope of the passage, taken in connection with the fact that Christ's disciples fasted not, and with the other fact, that while John (Matthew 11:18-19) "came neither eating nor drinking," the Son of man "came eating and drinking," clearly shows that our Lord, as he did not positively enjoin religious fasting, so by the assertion that a time would come when, being deprived of the (personal presence of the) bridegroom, his disciples would fast, meant to intimate the approach of a period of general mourning, and employed the term "fast" derivatively to signify rather sorrow of mind than any corporeal self-denial (Neander, Leben Jesu, pages 231, 305). In his sermon on the mount, however (Matthew 6:17), while correcting the self-righteous austerity of Pharisaic fasting, he clearly allows the practice itself, but leaves the frequency, extent, and occasion of its performance to the private conscience and circumstances of each individual. That the early Christians observed the ordinary fasts which the public practice of their day sanctioned is clear from more than one passage in the New-Testament Scriptures (Acts 13:2; Acts 14:23; 2 Corinthians 6:5); but in this they probably did nothing more than yield obedience, as in general they thought themselves bound to do, to the law of their fathers so long as the Mosaic institutions remained entire. Although the great body of the Christian Church held themselves free from all ritual and ceremonial observances when God in his providence had brought Judaism to a termination in the rasure of the holy city and the closing of the Temple, yet the practice of fasting thus originated might easily and unobservedly have been transmitted from year to year and from age to age, and that the rather because so large a portion of the disciples being Jews (to say nothing of the influence of the Ebionites in the primitive Church), thousands must have been accustomed to fasting from the earliest days of their existence, either in their own practice, or the practice of their fathers, relatives, and associates (comp. Corinthians 7:5). (See FASTING).
Literature. — Ciacconius, De jejuniis apud antiquos (Romans 1599); Tiegenhorn, Descriptio jejuniorum (Jen. 1607); Drexel, Dejrjunio (Antw. 1637); Dalleus, De jejuniis et Quadragesima (Dauentr. 1654); Ortlob, De ritu jejuniorum (Viteb. 1656); Lochner, De jejunio contra pontificios (Rost. 1656); Launoy, De ciborum delectu in jejuniis (Par. 1663); Funke, Dejejuniis (Altenb. 1663); Nicolai, Dejejunio Christiano (Par. 1667); Sommer, De jejuniorum natura (Jen. 1670); Sagittarius, De jejuniis veterum (Jen. 1672); Varenius, Jejunium Christianorum (Rost. 1684); Salden, De jejuniis (in Otia theol. [Amst. 1684], page 658 sq.); Thomasin, Traite des jeunes (Paris, 1690); Hooper, Discourse concerning Lent (Lond. 1696); Ortlob, De jejunio Mosis quadragesim Tali (Lips. 1701); Andry, Le regime de careme (Par. 1710); Pfanner, De jejuniis Christianor. (in Obss. sacr. 2:324-520); Mabillen, Jeune de l'Ep'phanie (in (Euvresposth. 1:431 sq.); Hildebrand, De jejunio (Helmst. 1719); Bohmer, De jure cira jejunantes (Hal. 1722); Schutz, De quat. temporum jejuniis (Wemig. 1723); Volland, De jejuniis Sabbaticis (Rost. 1724); Muratori, De quat. temporuns jejuniis (in Anecd. 2:246 sq.); Bernhold, De jejunio partiali (Altd. 1725); Walchf De jejunio quadragesimali (Jena, 1727); Bernhold, De jejunio spirituali (Altorf. 1736); Carpzov, Dejejuniis Sabbaticis (Rost. 1741); Seelen, De jejuniis Sabbaticis (Rost. 1741-2); Becker, De jejuniis vett. Christianorum (Leucop. 1742); Ehrlich, De Quadragesimae jejunio (Lips. 1744); Kiesling, De xerophagia ap. Judeos et Christianos (Lips. 1746); Seidel, De Hieronymo, jejunii suasore (Lond. 1747); Schickedanz, De jejunio Sabbatico (Servest. 1768); Karner, Jejunium Christo propasitum (Lips. 1776); Anon. Gesch. den Fastenaustalten (Vien. 1787); Anon. Apologie dujeune (Par. and Genev. 1790); Van Falekenhausen, Ueb. d. 40thg. Fisitengebet (Augsburg, 1809); Brauan, Verth. d. Fastens (AVien. 1830); Morin, Jeune chez les anciens (in Mim. da l'Acad. des Inscr. 4:29 sq.). On fasting in the Christian Church, (See FASTING).
These files are public domain.
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Fast'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/f/fast.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
the Sixth Week after Easter