Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions

By Roland De Vaux ; John McHugh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
THE ANCIENT FEASTS OF ISRAEL

IN ancient Israel, the great annual feasts were the three feasts of pilgrimage (ᬥag), i.e. the feasts of Unleavened Bread, of Weeks and of Tents, and the feast of the Passover, which was eventually combined with the feast of Unleavened Bread.


1. The feasts of the Passover and of Unleavened Bread

In New Testament times, the Passover was the principal feast in the Jewish year, and it has remained so ever since; but it was not always the main feast, and several points in its long history are still obscure. It is not our intention to discuss here the form which the feast has taken in post-biblical Judaism (this is the subject of the treatise in the Mishnah entitled Pesaᬥm), nor the feast which the Samaritans still keep to-day, in accordance with their own ancient rites; we shall restrict ourselves to what we learn from the Old Testament. The information it contains is not very plentiful, and it is sometimes difficult to interpret. First we have liturgical texts: the ritual for the Passover contained in the story of the Exodus from Egypt ( Ex 12); the religious calendars in Ex 23: 15; 34: 18 and 25; Dt 16: 1-8; Lv 23: 5-8; the rituals in Nb 28: 16-25 and Ez 45: 21-24; and the story in Nb 9: 1-14, which provides a justification for keeping the Passover in the second month. Secondly, certain historical texts mention or describe the celebration of a particular Passover: the first Passover, at the Exodus ( Ex 12); the first Passover in Canaan ( Jos 5: 10-12); the one celebrated by Josias ( 2 K 23: 21-23 = 2 Ch 35: 1-18); that celebrated after the Return from the Exile ( Esd 6: 19-22); to these we should add the Passover under Ezechias, which is described at length in 2 Ch 30, though it has no parallel in the Books of Kings. Lastly, we must take into account three important non-biblical documents, a papyrus and two ostraka, from the Jewish colony at Elephantine.

(a) The historical development. The legislative texts (apart from the one in Ezechiel) all come from the Pentateuch, and they belong to different traditions. Hence they enable us to trace the historical development of the feast; this development is confirmed by the more laconic information in the historical books and in the documents from Elephantine. Since the latest texts are the most detailed and the clearest, the best approach is to start with

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