Feasts

FEASTS (Heb. mô‘ēdh, an assembling, hagh, dance, or pilgrimage). The feasts, or sacred festivals, held an important place in Jewish religion. They were religious services accompanied by demonstrations of joy and gladness. In Lev.23.1-Lev.23.44, where they are described most fully, they are called “holy convocations.” Their times, except for the two instituted after the Exile, were fixed by divine appointment. Their purpose was to promote spiritual interests of the community. The people met in holy fellowship for acts and purposes of sacred worship. They met before God in holy assemblies.

I. The Feast of the Weekly Sabbath (Lev.23.3). This stood at the head of the sacred seasons. The holy meetings by which the Sabbath was distinguished were quite local. Families and other small groups assembled under the guidance of Levites or elders and engaged in common acts of devotion, the forms and manner of which were not prescribed. Little is known of where or how the people met before the Captivity, but after it they met in synagogues and were led in worship by teachers learned in the Law.


Theologically the Passover finds its heart in the doctrine of propitiation. The Lord entered Egypt bent on judgment (Exod.12.12); but, seeing the blood, he passed over that house completely at peace with those who were sheltering there. His wrath was assauged by the blood of the lamb. See also SUBSTITUTION.

III. The Feast of Pentecost (Lev.23.15-Lev.23.21). Other names for this are the Feast of Weeks, the Day of the Firstfruits, and the Feast of Harvests. It was celebrated on the sixth day of the month of Sivan (our June), seven weeks after the offering of the wave sheaf after the Passover. The name “'Pentecost,” meaning “fiftieth,” originated from the fact that there was an interval of fifty days between the two. The feast lasted a single day (Deut.16.9-Deut.16.12) and marked the completion of the wheat harvest. The characteristic ritual of this feast was the offering and waving of two loaves of leavened bread, made from ripe grain that had just been harvested. This was done by the priest in the name of the congregation. In addition to these wave offerings, the people were to give the Lord an offering of the first fruits of their produce. The amount of the offering was not designated.

IV. The Feast of Trumpets, or New Moon (Lev.23.23-Lev.23.25). This was held on the first day of the seventh month, Tishri (our October), which began the civil year of the Jews. It corresponded to our New Year’s Day, and on it, from morning to evening, horns and trumpets were blown. After the Exile the day was observed by the public reading of the Law and by general rejoicing.

V. The Feast of the Day of Atonement (Lev.23.26-Lev.23.32). This was observed on the tenth day of Tishri. It was really less a feast than a fast, as the distinctive character and purpose of the day was to bring the collective sin of the whole year to remembrance, so that it might earnestly be dealt with and atoned for. On this day the high priest made confession of all the sins of the community and entered on their behalf into the Most Holy Place with the blood of reconciliation. It was a solemn occasion, when God’s people through godly sorrow and atonement for sin entered into the rest of God’s mercy and favor. In receiving his forgiveness, they could rejoice before him and carry out his commandments.

VI. The Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths, or Ingathering (Lev.23.33-Lev.23.43). This was the last of the sacred festivals under the old covenant in preexilic times. It began five days after the Day of Atonement (Lev.23.34; Deut.16.13) and lasted seven days. It marked the completion of the harvest and historically commemorated the wanderings in the wilderness. During this festival people lived in booths and tents in Jerusalem to remind themselves of how their forefathers wandered in the wilderness and lived in booths. The sacrifices of this feast were more numerous than at any other. The last day of the feast marked the conclusion of the ecclesiastical year. The whole feast was popular and joyous in nature.

Besides the above feasts, which were all preexilic and instituted by God, the Jews after the Captivity added two others, the Feast of Lights, or Dedication, and the Feast of Purim.

THE JEWISH SACRED YEAR

MONTHSPECIAL DAYS

Nisan(April)14

Passover

15 - Unleavened Bread

21 - Close of Passover

Iyar(May)

Sivan(June)6 - Feast of Pentecost -

seven weeks after the

Passover (Anniversary

of the giving of the

Law on Mount Sinai)

Tammuz(July)

Ab(August)

Elul(September)

Tishri(October)1-2 - The Feast of Trumpets

Rosh Hashannah, be-

ginning of the civil year.

10 - Day of Atonement

15-21 - Feast of Tabernacles

Marchesvan(November)

Kislev(December)25 - Feast of Lights,

Hanukkah

Tebeth(January)

Shebet(February)

Adar(March)14 - Feast of Purim

The Feast of Lights was observed for eight days beginning on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev (our December). It was instituted by Judas Maccabeus in 164 b.c. when the temple, which had been defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria, was cleansed and rededicated to the service of the Lord. During these days the Israelites met in their synagogues, carrying branches of trees in their hands, and held jubilant services. The children were told the brave and stirring deeds of the Maccabees so that they might emulate them.

The Feast of Purim was kept on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar (our March), the last month of the religious year. It was instituted by Mordecai to commemorate the failure of Haman’s plots against the Jews (Esth.9.20-Esth.9.22, Esth.9.26-Esth.9.28). The word Purim means “lots.” On the evening of the thirteenth the whole Book of Esther was read publicly in the synagogue. It was a joyous occasion.

See also Calendar.

Bibliography: H. Schauss, The Jewish Festivals, 1938; A. S. Herbert, Worship in Ancient Israel, 1959; H.-J. Kraus, Worship in Israel, 1966.——SB


Pan for baking unleavened bread used in Passover celebration.

FEASTS. “Feast” is used in the Eng. Bible without distinction for both private and public celebrations while Heb. used mishteh for the former and mo’ed or hag for the latter.

Old Testament

Private feasts


Ancient Hebrews were not ascetics. Often feasts demanded no specific occasion other than gladness (Job 1:4, 5; Isa 5:12). It was a severe restriction upon participation in social life imposed by the Lord on Jeremiah when He forbade him to go to the house of feasting (Jer 16:8).

Communal feasts


Weekly festival—The Sabbath



Some Jews of the Maccabean period allowed themselves to be massacred on the Sabbath rather than to profane it by self-defense after which the Maccabees permitted self-defense on the day (1 Macc 2:38-41). Some Jews would not negotiate for peace on the Sabbath (Jos. War IV. ii. 3). The extent of permitted activities was a point of dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees. The latter permitted defiling the Sabbath when human life was in danger. Jesus contended that lesser cases of human need as well as animal need took precedence over the Sabbath (Matt 12:1ff.). The Zadokite Fragment (10:14ff.), denies the right to aid suffering beasts on the Sabbath but grants it for humans.


Despite its restrictions, the Sabbath was a joyous occasion (2 Kings 4:23; Isa 58:13ff.) the cessation of which in the Exile was considered as a punishment from God (Lam 2:6; Hos 2:11). The prophets called for proper Sabbath observance (Isa 56:4; Jer 17:19ff.).

Monthly festival—the New Moon


In Pauline thought new moons and sabbaths are mere shadows of good things to come (Col 2:16).

Annual festivals.




This night was followed by seven days—the ḥag hammassot—in which unleavened bread was eaten (Exod 34:18, 19; Lev 23:6; cf. Exod 12:31-34). For this reason the NT speaks of the entire season as “the days of unleavened bread” (Acts 12:3; Luke 22:1). On the first and the seventh of these days no servile work was to be done and special offerings were made upon them all.

The Passover was observed at Gilgal when Joshua brought Israel into Canaan (Josh 5:10-12). Reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah were characterized by elaborate Passover celebrations (2 Kings 23:21-23; 2 Chron 30:1ff.; 35:1-19). Passover and unleavened bread were observed by the Elephantine Jews (ANET, p. 491).

The liturgy of the Passover celebration is the subject of minute elaboration in the Mishna tractate Passover. Despite the assertion of Jubilees 49:16 that one cannot eat the Passover outside the sanctuary, Jesus ate with His disciples in a private house as was the custom of the times (cf. M. Passover 5; 8:13). In addition to the pilgrimage to Jerusalem this festival retained some features of a home celebration which reasserted themselves after the fall of Jerusalem. The Passover meal was eaten at home with bitter herbs, successive cups of wine, the blessings and reciting of the Psalms. Whether a roast was eaten or not varied from community to community (M. Passover 4:4). The need for each individual to feel personally that he was brought out of Egypt was stressed.

During NT times large crowds, including Greeks, attended the celebration (John 12:20; Jos. War VI. ix. 3). Jesus was a participant in the celebration (Luke 2:42; John 2:13; 6:4; 11:5) and was Himself crucified during the Passover season (John 13:1). Peter’s imprisonment and deliverance was also at this season (Acts 12:3 RSV; KJV “Easter”).

In Pauline thought the Passover is used fig. when Christ our Passover Lamb is said to have been sacrificed and when the disposing of the leaven is allegorized to signify the casting out of insincerity (1 Cor 5:7).


A memorial significance was given to the Feast of Weeks by the rabbis by the 2nd cent. a.d. when they designated it as the time the law was given at Sinai (T. B. Pesahim 68b), but the connection is not made in Scripture. The Book of Jubilees puts all the covenants it can find in the OT on the day of the Feast of Weeks. The Qumran Community celebrated the renewal of the covenant on the Feast of Weeks.

An ambiguity in the instructions for the day was the occasion of debate between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The former argued that “Sabbath” (Lev 23 means the first day of Passover without regard to the day of the week (Mishna Haggigah 2:4). Thereby for them Pentecost could fall on any day of the week. The Sadducees (Boethusians) argued that “Sabbath” has its regular meaning in the passage and thereby Pentecost must fall on the first day of the week (cf. M. Menahoth 10:3; Haggigah 2:4).

The outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2), took place on Pentecost and thereby the day acquired additional meaning as the beginning day of the Church. Paul hoped to extend his stay in Ephesus until Pentecost (1 Cor 16:8), but sought to be in Jerusalem at that season in a later year (Acts 20:16).


The returned exiles observed this feast under Darius (Ezra 3:4) and in the time of Ezra at which time Ezra read the law and led the people in acts of penitence. The celebration is said to be different from anything done since the days of Joshua (Neh 8:13-18). Zechariah 14:16-19 envisions all nations coming up to Jerusalem year by year to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. The punishment for those who neglect it is that upon them no rain shall fall, but in the case of Egypt the inundation of the Nile would fail.

The Feast of Tabernacles was participated in by Jesus (John 7:2, 8ff.). Josephus calls it the holiest and greatest of the Heb. feasts (Antiq. VIII. iv. 1). Both Josephus (Antiq. III. x. 4; XIII. xiii. 5) and the Mishna (Sukkah) enlarge upon the customs of the later observance, one chief feature of which was a libation of water drawn from the fountain of Siloam. This practice furnishes a likely background for Jesus’ discourse on living water (John 7:37-39).

(4) The Day of Atonement (יֹ֧ום הַכִּפֻּרִ֣ים; LXX ἡμέρα ἐξιλασμου̂) fell on the tenth day of the seventh month, Tishri (Lev 23:27-32; Num 29:7-11). Its ritual, which included the expiation for the priest and for the people and the sending away of the goat for Azazel, is described in Leviticus 16:8, 10, 26. It was a day of rest and fasting.

(5) The New Year’s Day (רֹ֨אשׁ הַשָּׁנָ֜ה, beginning of the year; LXX πρω̂τος μη̂ν, first month). One of the most debated questions in current study is that of whether or not there was a New Year’s Day celebration in ancient Israel. Beginning with an analogy with the Babylonian Akitu festival which fell in the spring of the year and celebrated the renewal of creation and kingship of Marduk, it is postulated by many scholars that in Israel Yahweh was crowned annually at the “New Year Feast of Yahweh.” Mowinckel argued that the “enthronement psalms” (Pss 47, 93, 96-99) in which “Yahweh reigns” prominently occurs were a part of the liturgy of the day. Out of these concepts it is thought that Israel’s messianic and eschatological thought developed. It is argued that Jeroboam introduced a festival in the eighth month, similar to the one held in Judah, in order that the people not be attracted to Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:32).

Opponents of the theory point out the difficulty of explaining how a spring festival got shifted to fall. Exodus 12:2 points to Nisan one as the beginning of the year. While there are special offerings on the first of the seventh month, a convocation was held in which no laborious work was done, trumpets were blown, and an offering made to the Lord (Lev 23:24-27; Num 29:1-6), the text says nothing specific about the New Year’s day. The postexilic gathering on the first of the seventh month is not said to be a day of high feast (Neh 8:1), and the one occurrence of rosh hasshanah in Scripture (Ezek 40:1) describes a vision on the tenth of the month and not one on the first. The observance of such a feast also goes unmentioned in the Apoc., Josephus, and Philo, but is the subject of a Mishna tractate Rosh Ha-Shanah.

b. Postexilic festivals. Two non-pentateuchal festivals were prominent in late Judaism:

(1) Purim (פֻּרִ֖ים; LXX φρουραὶ, lots) has its origin in the deliverance wrought by Esther (Esth 9:16ff.) and falls on the fourteenth of Adar (roughly March) by those in villages and unwalled towns and on the fifteenth by those in fortified cities (Esth 9:18, 19; Jos. Antiq. XI. vi. 13). The name is explained as coming from the lot (pur) which Haman planned to cast to destroy the Jews. The observance of the festival is first attested by 2 Maccabees 15:36 where it is called the “Day of Mordecai.” There is no mention of any religious observance connected with the day. In later observance the nodetitle was read in the Synagogue amidst rejoicing, and food and presents were sent to friends; see Mishna Megilla.

(2) Hanukkah or Dedication (חֲנֻכָּ֤ה; LXX αἱ ἡμέραι του̂ ἐγκαινισμου̂ του̂ θυσιαστηριόυ, the days of the dedication of the altar; NT, τὰ ἐγκαίνια). Following the victories of Judas Maccabeus in 167 b.c. a celebration of eight days commemorating the rededication of the Temple, whose worship had been interrupted three years, was instituted (1 Macc 4:41-49; 2 Macc 10:6-8). The festival begins on the 25th of Kislev (December) and one additional candle is lighted each day until a total of eight is reached (T. B. Sabbath 21b). Josephus (Antiq. XII. vii. 7) calls it “lights” (Phota). There was no partial or total abstention from ordinary occupation nor was there a holy convocation at the beginning and end. Jesus was once in Jerusalem at this season (John 10:22).

After 160 b.c. Nicanor’s day was celebrated on the thirteenth of Adar commemorating the victory over the Syrian general (1 Macc 13:51-52).

Periodic Festivals.

a. Sabbatical year (שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן לָאָ֔רֶץ; LXX σάββατα ἀνάπαυσις ἔσται τῃ̂ γῃ̂, “a sabbath of rest will be to the land”). Each seventh year brought a cessation of agricultural activity and a release from debt. That the land might have its required rest, exile was threatened for neglect of the observance (Exod 23:10, 11; Lev 25:1-7; Deut 15:1). At the Feast of Booths there was the public reading of the law (Deut 31:10ff.).

b. Jubilee (יוֹבֵ֥ל; LXX ἀφέσεως σημασία, “sign of release”). At the Day of Atonement of the forty-ninth year the sounding of a trumpet marked the onset of the Jubilee year as a period of freedom (darom) in the land. Property returned to its original owners. There was a price adjustment in sales in view of its approach. Sowing and reaping was forbidden (Lev 25:8-17). The Book of Jubilees is built around this custom, but uses a different system of calculation from that in Scripture.

New Testament

Jewish festivals.


THE JEWISH SACRED YEAR

The festivals were sources of allegorical interpretation for the NT writers. Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7ff.). Sabbaths, new moons, and festival days are mere shadows of good things to come (Col 2:16, 17). The epistle to the Hebrews allegorizes the rest of the people of God to be the eternal rest (Heb 4:1ff.) and the ceremony of the Day of Atonement forms the basis for the presentation of the work of Christ as our High Priest (Heb 8:1ff.).

Other feasts

Social occasions.

Jesus denounced the Pharisees for seeking the uppermost seats at feasts (Matt 23:6; Mark 12:39; Luke 20:46). Levi entertained Jesus and His friends at a great feast after he was called to discipleship (Luke 5:29). Jesus suggested that the poor should be invited rather than rich friends when one gives a feast (Luke 14:13). Jesus attended the marriage feast in Cana (John 2:8ff.).

Pagan feasts.

In Corinth, because of food sacrificed to idols, a problem faced the Christian as to whether or not he could attend pagan feasts. Paul grants the right to go and eat whatever is set out asking no questions for conscience sake (1 Cor 10:27).


Certain characters with heretical tendencies are said to be blots in the “love feasts” (ASV and RSV) or “feasts of charity” (KJV—the agapē Jude 12).

The marriage feast.


The eschatological banquet.

In the prophets already the figure of speech in which God’s judgment on a people as a sacrificial banquet is expounded (Isa 34:5ff.; Ezek 39:17-20). This inversion of the concept of a banquet in the Apocalypse when the birds are invited to enjoy the great supper of God is the counterpart of the messianic banquet (Rev 19:17ff.).

Bibliography

G. F. Moore, Judaism (1927), II, 40-54; J. Pedersen, Israel (1940), IV, 377, 378; N. H. Snaith, The Jewish New Year Festival (1947); E. Auerbach, “Die Feste im alten Israel,” VT, VIII (1958), 1-18; 337-343; S. J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks (1960), 68ff.; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 468-517; S. Mowinkel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship (1962), I, 106-189.