The Psalms, Tr. and Interpreted in the Light of Hebrew Life and Worship

By Elmer A. Leslie | Go to book overview

Chapter III
THE NEW YEAR FESTIVAL IN ISRAEL

ONE OF THE GREAT FESTIVALS--AND ONE OF THE MOST PERSISTENTLY OBSERVED IN the religious history of Israel--was that of the New Year. The celebration of this festival in some form goes back to a time long before the monarchy. In its origin it was a Canaanite festival, and it is the earliest of which we hear in the Israelite records. In an authentic source which gives an illuminating glimpse of the old Canaanite festival as observed in Shechem. at the temple of Baal-Berith, we learn that the worshipers "went out into the field, and gathered their vineyards, and trod the grapes, and held festival, and went into the house of their god, and ate and drank." ( Judg. 9:27.) It was a joyous festival, with the vegetation idea at the center of all its ceremonies and rites.1 The earliest name for it in the Israelite records is the Feast of Ingathering. This is found in the original nucleus of the Code of the Covenant, the origins of which must be sought outside of Israel among the population which the Israelites found in Canaan,2 and it was held "at the going out" ( Exod. 23:16) or "at the turn" ( Exod. 34:22) of the year. The present renderings of these two terms, respectively, in the American Standard Version of the Old Testament as "at the end of the year" and "at the year's end" (margin: "revolution") are, as G. Buchanan Gray3 has shown, mistranslations. From the analogy, of the Accadian (ṣit shamshi), the rendering should be "at the going out" of the year, in the same sense as the sun is said to "go out" of his chamber ( Ps. 19:6).

In a careful historical study of the development of the Hebrew New Year celebration Fiebig agrees with Volz4 that Tabernacles (Ingathering) was the old New Year festival of Israel, and that the celebration of the New Year in the autumn goes back to oldest times. The entire seventh month (Tishri) was celebrated as a sacred festal month of the turn of the year. After the Exile, the Day of Atonement (on the tenth of Tishri) put the Festival of Tabernacles somewhat in the shade. In the Priestly Code in two classical passages ( Num. 29: 1; Lev. 23:24) prominence is given, alongside of Tabernacles and the Day of Atonement, to "the holy convocation," which was "a memorial of blowing of trumpets" on the first day of the seventh month, although it is not spoken of or emphasized as the beginning of the year. It is not until the Seleucid era

____________________
1
See Leslie, op. cit., pp. 42-43.
2
Alt, Die Ursprünge des israelitischen Rechts, pp. 24-25; and Pfeiffer, Introduction to Old Testament, p. 211.
3
Sacrifice in the Old Testatament, pp. 300-301. Also, in the Gezer Calendar ( Macalister, Excavations at Gezer, II, 24-28). the month of "ingathering" is the first of the series.
4
Das Neujarfest (Laubhüttenfest).

-55-

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