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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Passover

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pas´ō - vẽr ( פּסח , peṣaḥ , from pāṣaḥ , "to pass" or "spring over" or "to spare" ( Exodus 12:13 , Exodus 12:23 , Exodus 12:17 ; compare Isaiah 31:5 . Other conjectures connect the word with the "passing over" into a new year, with assyr pašâh̬u , meaning "to placate," with Hebrew pāṣah , meaning "to dance," and even with the skipping motions of a young lamb; Aramaic פּסחא , paṣḥā' , whence Greek Πάσχα , Páscha ; whence English "paschal." In early Christian centuries folk-etymology connected páscha with Greek páschō , "to suffer" (see PASSION ), and the word was taken to refer to Good Friday rather than the Passover):

1. Pesach and Maccoth

2. Pesach Micrayim

3. Pesach Doroth

4. Maccoth

5. The 'Omer

6. Non-Traditional Theories

7. The Higher Criticism

8. Historical Celebrations: Old Testament Times

9. Historical Celebrations: New Testament Times

10. The Jewish Passover

1. Pesach and Maccoth:

The Passover was the annual Hebrew festival on the evening of the 14th day of the month of 'Ābhı̄bh ( Abib ) or Niṣan , as it was called in later times. It was followed by, and closely connected with, a 7 days' festival of maccōth , or unleavened bread, to which the name Passover was also applied by extension ( Leviticus 23:5 ). Both were distinctly connected with the Exodus, which, according to tradition, they commemorate; the Passover being in imitation of the last meal in Egypt, eaten in preparation for the journey, while Yahweh, passing over the houses of the Hebrews, was slaying the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 12:12 f; Exodus 13:2 , Exodus 13:12 ff); the maccōth festival being in memory of the first days of the journey during which this bread of haste was eaten (Exodus 12:14-20 ).

2. Pesach Micrayim:

The ordinance of peṣaḥ micrayim , the last meal in Egypt, included the following provisions: (1) the taking of a lamb, or kid without blemish, for each household on the 10th of the month; (2) the killing of the lamb on the 14th at even; (3) the sprinkling of the blood on doorposts and lintels of the houses in which it was to be eaten; (4) the roasting of the lamb with fire, its head with its legs and inwards - the lamb was not to be eaten raw nor sodden ( bāshal ) with water; (5) the eating of unleavened bread and bitter herbs; (6) eating in haste, with loins girded, shoes on the feet, and staff in hand; (7) and remaining in the house until the morning; (8) the burning of all that remained; the Passover could be eaten only during the night ( Exodus 12:1-23 ).

3. Pesah Doroth:

This service was to be observed as an ordinance forever (Exodus 12:14 , Exodus 12:24 ), and the night was to be lel shimmūrı̄m , "a night of vigils," or, at least, "to be much observed" of all the children of Israel throughout their generations (Exodus 12:42 ). The details, however, of the peṣaḥ dōrōth , or later observances of the Passover, seem to have differed slightly from those of the Egyptian Passover (Mishna, Peṣāḥı̄m , ix.5). Thus, it is probable that the victim could be taken from the flock or from the herd (Deuteronomy 16:2 ; compare Ezekiel 45:22 ). (3), (6) and (7) disappeared entirely, and judging from Deuteronomy 16:7 , the prohibition against seething (Hebrew bāshal ) was not understood to apply (unless, indeed, the omission of the expression with water" gives a more general sense to the Hebrew word bāshal , making it include roasting). New details were also added: for example, that the Passover could be sacrificed only at the central sanctuary (Deuteronomy 16:5 ); that no alien or uncircumcised person, or unclean person could partake thereof, and that one prevented by uncleanness or other cause from celebrating the Passover in season could do so a month later (Numbers 9:9 ff). The singing of the Hallel (Psalms 113 through 118), both while the Passover was being slaughtered and at the meal, and other details were no doubt added from time to time.

4. Maccoth:

Unleavened bread was eaten with the Passover meal, just as with all sacrificial meals of later times (Exodus 23:18 ; Exodus 34:25 ; Leviticus 7:12 ), independently perhaps of the fact that the Passover came in such close proximity with the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:8 ). Jewish tradition distinguishes, at any rate, between the first night and the rest of the festival in that the eating of maccōth is an obligation on the first night and optional during the rest of the week (Peṣāḥı̄m 120a), although the eating of unleavened bread is commanded in general terms (Exodus 12:15 , Exodus 12:18 ; Exodus 13:6 , Exodus 13:7 ; Exodus 23:15 ; Exodus 34:18 ; Leviticus 23:6 ; Numbers 28:17 ). The eating of leavened bread is strictly prohibited, however, during the entire week under the penalty of kārēth , "excision" (Exodus 12:15 , Exodus 12:19 f; Exodus 13:3 ; Deuteronomy 16:3 ), and this prohibition has been observed traditionally with great care. The 1st and 7th days are holy convocations, days on which no labor could be done except such as was necessary in the preparation of food. The festival of maccōth is reckoned as one of the three pilgrimage festivals, though strictly the pilgrimage was connected with the Passover portion and the first day of the festival.

During the entire week additional sacrifices were offered in the temple: an offering made by fire and a burnt offering, 2 young bullocks, 1 ram, 7 lambs of the first year without blemish, together with meal offerings and drink offerings and a goat for a sin offering.

5. The 'Omer:

During the week of the maccōth festival comes the beginning of the barley harvest in Palestine ( Menāḥōth 65b) which lasts from the end of March in the low Jordan valley to the beginning of May in the elevated portions. The time of the putting-in of the sickle to the standing grain ( Deuteronomy 16:9 ) and of bringing the sheaf of the peace offering is spoken of as the morrow after the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:15 ), that is, according to the Jewish tradition, the day after the first day, or rest-day, of the Passover (Menā 65b; Meg Ta‛an . 1; Josephus, Ant. , III, x, 5), and according to Samaritan and Boethusian traditions and the modern Karites the Sunday after the Passover. At this time a wave offering is made of a sheaf, followed by an offering of a lamb with a meal and drink offering, and only thereafter might the new grain be eaten. From this day 7 weeks are counted to fix the date of Pentecost, the celebration connected with the wheat harvest. It is of course perfectly natural for an agricultural people to celebrate the turning-points of the agricultural year in connection with their traditional festivals. Indeed, the Jewish liturgy of today retains in the Passover service the Prayer of Dew (ṭal ) which grew up in Palestine on the basis of the needs of an agricultural people.

6. Non-Traditional Theories:

Many writers, however, eager to explain the entire festival as originally an agricultural feast (presumably a Canaanitic one, though there is not a shred of evidence that the Canaanites had such a festival), have seized upon the ‛ōmer , or sheaf offering, as the basis of the ḥagh (festival), and have attempted to explain the maccōth as bread hastily baked in the busy harvest times, or as bread quickly baked from the freshly exempted first-fruits. Wherein these theories are superior to the traditional explanation so consistently adhered to throughout the Pentateuch it is difficult to see. In a similar vein, it has been attempted to connect the Passover with the sacrifice or redemption of the firstborn of man and beast (both institutions being traditionally traced to the judgment on the firstborn of Egypt, as in Exodus 13:11-13 ; Exodus 22:29 , Exodus 22:30 ; Exodus 23:19 ; Exodus 34:19 , Exodus 34:20 ), so as to characterize the Passover as a festival of pastoral origin. Excepting for the multiplication of highly ingenious guesses, very little that is positive has been added to our knowledge of the Passover by this theory.

7. The Higher Criticism:

The Pentateuch speaks of the Passover in many contexts and naturally with constantly varying emphasis. Thus the story of the Exodus it is natural to expect fewer ritual details than in a manual of temple services; again, according to the view here taken, we must distinguish between the peṣaḥ micrayim and the peṣaḥ dōrōth . Nevertheless, great stress is laid on the variations in the several accounts, by certain groups of critics, on the basis of which they seek to support their several theories of the composition of the Pentateuch or Hexateuch. Without entering into this controversy, it will be sufficient here to enumerate and classify all the discrepancies said to exist in the several Passover passages, together with such explanations as have been suggested. These discrepancies, so called, are of three kinds: (1) mere omissions, (2) differences of emphasis, and (3) conflicting statements. The letters, J, E, D, P and H will here be used to designate passages assigned to the various sources by the higher criticism of today merely for the sake of comparison. (1) There is nothing remarkable about the omission of the daily sacrifices from all passages except Leviticus 23:8 (H) and Numbers 28:19 (P), nor in the omission of a specific reference to the holy convocation on the first day in the contexts of Deuteronomy 16:8 and Exodus 13:6 , nor even in the omission of reference to a central sanctuary in passages other than Dt 16. Neither can any significance be attached to the fact that the precise day is not specified in Ex 23 (E) where the appointed day is spoken of, and in Leviticus 23:15 (H) where the date can be figured out from the date of Pentecost there given. (2) As to emphasis, it is said that the socalled Elohist Covenant (E) (Ex 23) has no reference to the Passover, as it speaks only of maccōth in Exodus 23:15 , in which this festival is spoken of together with the other reghālı̄m or pilgrimage festivals. The so-called Jehovistic source (Jahwist) (Exodus 34:18-21 , Exodus 34:25 ) is said to subordinate the Passover to maccōth , the great feast of the Jehovistic history (JE) (Exodus 12:21-27 , Exodus 12:29-36 , Exodus 12:38 , Exodus 12:39 ; Exodus 13:3-16 ); in Dt (D) the Passover is said to predominate over maccōth , while in Lev (P and H) it is said to be of first importance. JE and P emphasize the historical importance of the day. Whether these differences in emphasis mean much more than that the relative amount of attention paid to the paschal sacrifice, as compared with maccōth , depends on the context, is of course the fundamental question of the higher criticism; it is not answered by pointing out that the differences of emphasis exist. (3) Of the actual conflicts, we have already seen that the use of the words "flock" and "herd" in Dt and Hebrew bāshal are open to explanation, and also that the use of the maccōth at the original Passover is not inconsistent with the historical reason for the feast of maccoth - it is not necessary to suppose that maccōth were invented through the necessity of the Hebrews on their journey. There is, however, one apparent discrepancy in the Biblical narrative that seems to weaken rather than help the position of those critics who would ascribe very late dates to the passages which we have cited: Why does Ezekiel's ideal scheme provide sacrifices for the Passover different from those prescribed in the so-called P ascribed to the same period ( Ezekiel 45:21 )?

8. Historical Celebrations: Old Testament Times:

The children of Israel began the keeping of the Passover in its due season according to all its ordinances in the wilderness of Sinai (Numbers 9:5 ). In the very beginning of their national life in Palestine we find them celebrating the Passover under the leadership of Joshua in the plains of Jericho (Joshua 5:10 ). History records but few later celebrations in Palestine, but there are enough intimations to indicate that it was frequently if not regularly observed. Thus Solomon offered sacrifices three times a year upon the altar which he had built to Yahweh, at the appointed seasons, including the Feast of Unleavened Bread (1 Kings 9:25 = 2 Chronicles 8:13 ). The later prophets speak of appointed seasons for pilgrimages and sacrifices (compare Isaiah 1:12-14 ), and occasionally perhaps refer to a Passover celebration (compare Isaiah 30:29 , bearing in mind that the Passover is the only night-feast of which we have any record). In Hezekiah's time the Passover had fallen into such a state of desuetude that neither the priests nor the people were prepared for the king's urgent appeal to observe it. Nevertheless, he was able to bring together a large concourse in Jerusalem during the 2nd month and institute a more joyful observance than any other recorded since the days of Solomon. In the 18th year of King Josiah, however, there was celebrated the most memorable Passover, presumably in the matter of conformity to rule, since the days of the Judges (2 Kings 23:21 ; 2 Chronicles 35:1 ff). The continued observance of the feast to the days of the exile is attested by Ezekiel's interest in it ( Ezekiel 45:18 ). In post-exilic times it was probably observed more scrupulously than ever before (Ezra 6:19 ff).

9. Historical Celebrations: New Testament Times:

Further evidence, if any were needed, of the importance of the Passover in the life of the Jews of the second temple is found in the Talmud, which devotes to this subject an entire tractate, Peṣāḥı̄m on which we have both Babylonian and Palestine gemārā' . These are devoted to the sacrificial side and to the minutiae of searching out and destroying leaven, what constitutes leaven, and similar questions, instruction in which the children of Israel sought for 30 days before the Passover. Josephus speaks of the festival often ( Ant. , II, xiv, 6; III, x, 5; IX, iv, 8; XIV , ii, 2; XVII , ix, 3; BJ , II, i, 3; V, iii, 1; VI, ix, 3). Besides repeating the details already explained in the Bible, he tells of the innumerable multitudes that came for the Passover to Jerusalem out of the country and even from beyond its limits. He estimates that in one year in the days of Cestius, 256,500 lambs were slaughtered and that at least 10 men were counted to each. (This estimate of course includes the regular population of Jerusalem. But even then it is doubtless exaggerated.) The New Testament bears testimony, likewise, to the coming of great multitudes to Jerusalem (John 11:55 ; compare also John 2:13 ; John 6:4 ). At this great festival even the Roman officers released prisoners in recognition of the people's celebration. Travel and other ordinary pursuits were no doubt suspended (Compare Acts 12:3 ; Acts 20:6 ). Naturally the details were impressed on the minds of the people and lent themselves to symbolic and homiletic purposes (compare 1 Corinthians 5:7 ; John 19:34-36 , where the paschal lamb is made to typify Jesus; and Hebrews 11:28 ). The best-known instance of such symbolic use is the institution of the Eucharist on the basis of the paschal meal. Some doubt exists as to Whether the Last Supper was the paschal meal or not. According to the Synoptic Gospels, it was (Luke 22:7 ; Matthew 26:17 ; Mark 14:12 ); while according to John, the Passover was to be eaten some time following the Last Supper (John 18:28 ). Various harmonizations of these passages have been suggested, the most in genious, probably, being on theory that when the Passover fell on Friday night, the Pharisees ate the meal on Thursday and the Sadducees on Friday, and that Jesus followed the custom of the Pharisees (Chwolson, Das letzte Passahmal Jesu , 2nd edition, Petersburg, 1904). Up to the Nicene Council in the year 325, the church observed Easter on the Jewish Passover. Thereafter it took precautions to separate the two, condemning their confusion as Arianism.

10. The Jewish Passover:

After the destruction of the temple the Passover became a home service. The paschal lamb was no longer included. Only the Samaritans have continued this rite to this day. In the Jewish home a roasted bone is placed on the table in memory of the rite, and other articles symbolic of the Passover are placed beside it: such as a roasted egg, said to be in memory of the free-will offering; a sauce called ḥārōṣeth , said to resemble the mortar of Egypt; salt water, for the symbolic dipping (compare Matthew 26:23 ); the bitter herbs and the maccōth . The ṣēdher (program) is as follows: sanctification; washing of the hands; dipping and dividing the parsley; breaking and setting aside a piece of maccāh to be distributed and eaten at the end of the supper; reading of the haggādhāh shel peṣaḥ , a poetic narrative of the Exodus, in answer to four questions asked by the youngest child in compliance with the Biblical command found 3 times in Exodus and once in Deuteronomy, "Thou shalt tell thy son on that day"; washing the hands for eating; grace before eating; tasting the maccāh ; tasting the bitter herbs; eating of them together; the meal; partaking of the maccāh that had been set aside as'ăphı̄ḳōmēn or dessert; grace after meat; Hallel ; request that the service be accepted. Thereafter folk-songs are sung to traditional melodies, and poems recited, many of which have allegorical meanings. A cup of wine is used at the sanctification and another at grace, in addition to which two other cups have been added, the 4 according to the Mishna (Peṣāḥı̄m x.1) symbolizing the 4 words employed in Exodus 6:6 , Exodus 6:7 for the delivery of Israel from Egypt. Instead of eating in haste, as in the Egyptian Passover, it is customary to recline or lean at this meal in token of Israel's freedom.

The prohibition against leaven is strictly observed. The searching for hidden leaven on the evening before the Passover and its destruction in the morning have become formal ceremonies for which appropriate blessings and declarations have been included in the liturgy since the days when Aramaic was the vernacular of the Jews. As in the case of other festivals, the Jews have doubled the days of holy convocation, and have added a semi-holiday after the last day, the so-called 'ı̄ṣṣur ḥagh , in token of their love for the ordained celebration and their loathness to depart from it.


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Passover'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/isb/p/passover.html. 1915.

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