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Some scholars have questioned the etymological meaning of פֶּ֫סַח, H7175, and point to Assyrian where the word means to soothe or placate (i.e., the gods; cf. BDB s.v.). In Hebrew the verb can also mean to “limp,” “skip,” or “halt” (1 Kings 18:21). It has been therefore suggested that originally the festival was of different origin and had something to do with the pagan custom of “hopping” performed by professional mourners. Such a limping dance would be performed in token of mourning for the dying god in connection with the annual cycle (cf. T. H. Gaster, Passover [1949], 23ff.). This however, is mere speculation.

Some speculative scholars suggest that the original rite was connected with the superstitious fear of evil spirits, pointing to the phrase לַ֤יְלָה שִׁמֻּרִ֛ים “a night of watching” (Exod 12:42) against the “destroyer” (12:23, מַשְׁחִ֔ית). It is therefore suggested that the festival was taken over by the Israelites from a pre-Yahwist cult of Kadesh and was originally a rite performed for protection from a night demon (cf. C. A. Simpson, The Early Traditions of Israel [1948], 437f.). That some superstitions have attached themselves to the midnight ritual can be seen from the remark by Rab Naḥman who calls it “a night of the preserved one, i.e. from malignant spirits” (cf. Pes 109b). Nonetheless in the Old Testament the significance of Passover, whatever its prehistory, is entirely associated with a historic event in the life of the Hebrew people.

There is reason to suspect that the sacrifice of the lamb and the festival of unleavened bread were also of agricultural origin and were meant as annual offerings of flock and field. The Feast of Unleavened Bread coincides with the spring harvest of barley and the ordinance of waving “the sheaf before the Lord” on the day after the Sabbath (the day after Nisan 15 ?) confirms the agricultural connection with Passover (cf. Lev 23:11). This connection has been preserved in the synagogue liturgy to this day. On the first day of Passover, in the afternoon liturgy, a lengthy prayer for dew is inserted (cf. D. A. Sola, Passover Service [1860], 153ff.; also L. N. Dembitz, Jewish Services in Synagogue and Home [1898], 124; cf. also Pes 2:5).

Corresponding to the unleavened bread is the male lamb, without blemish, one year old (Exod 12:5). This agricultural festival is pre-Mosaic and belongs to the earliest Israelite tradition. When Moses appeared before Pharaoh in the name of YHWH (5:1) requesting: “Let my people go that they may hold a feast” (וְיָחֹ֥גּוּ), the חַג, H2504, was not an invention but the traditional spring festival (12:3).

The festival of freedom

Passover offers a wide field for speculation by reason of the great variety of its features: smearing of blood, hopping, “a night of watching,” the sacrificial lamb, the firstfruits of barley, the sacred meal, etc. These features are suggestive of similar rites outside Israel. No wonder that scholars find the festival puzzling. Some regard Exodus 1-14 not as a record of events but as a cultic legend attempting to glorify the flight from Egypt (Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, III-IV, 726ff.). The assumption rests upon a misunderstanding: the real purpose of Passover was to glorify the God of Israel. It would be futile to expect historical data except on the writer’s own terms. In the center of Exodus 1-14 is the God of Israel who performs mighty deeds on behalf of His people (cf. G. von Rad, The Problem of the Hexateuch [1965], 52). Biblical history is written with a purpose, and the purpose is to attest God’s gracious acts. Israel understands his freedom as a miracle wrought by YHWH who with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” brought His people out of Egypt (Deut 26:8). To understand the meaning of Passover one must therefore ask for the Biblical interpretation; it is futile to inquire what the Festival was in pre-Mosaic times.

It is possible that Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were agricultural feasts (cf. Exod 23:15f.). Some evidence of the cultic connection between passover and the firstfruits is preserved (Josh 5:10-12; cf. C. W. Atkinson, AThR [Jan 1962], 82). But the Festival underwent a radical reinterpretation as a result of the great event in Israel’s history, namely deliverance from the Egyp. house of bondage. Scholars have no answer to the puzzle how a primitive rite rooted in superstition became the festival of freedom. It is in keeping with Old Testament practice to reinterpret ancient traditions in the light of Israel’s own history. Thus the Sabbath law is associated with the story of creation (Gen 2:3) and appears also (Deut 5:15) as the sign of Israel’s liberation from slavery (cf. P. R. Ackroyd, The People of the Old Testament [1959], 48). The same may have happened with the original spring festival: in the light of the Exodus it acquired a new dimension, namely the dimension of freedom linked to a historic event.

Ordinances regarding Pesah

The Old Testament refers to a set of statutes (חֻקַּ֣ת הַפָּ֑סַח) that are obligatory for the keeping of the feast (Exod 12:43; Num 9:12, 14; 2 Chron 35:13). These statutes define in detail the date, the time, the duration of the festival, and the manner of eating the paschal lamb, etc.

Israelites who were prevented from keeping the Feast for reasons of Levitical uncleanness or travel were to celebrate a month later (Num 9:10f.; cf. Pes 9:3).

The obligation to explain the meaning of Passover rested upon the pater familias: “And you shall tell your son on that day, ‘it is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt’” (Exod 13:8; cf. 12:26). Only Israelites and those who by circumcision were joined to the community were allowed to eat the paschal lamb. Foreigners and sojourners, i.e., resident strangers, were normally excluded (Exod 12:45), but the rule was relaxed for those circumcised strangers and sojourners who showed a real desire to identify with Israel. They were permitted to share in the passover celebration (Num 9:14). The lamb was to be eaten inside the house and was not to be carried outside.

The Exodus theme in the Old Testament

The Old Testament abounds in references to the miracle of redemption from Egypt. Especially the Psalms delight to dwell on the theme of the Exodus with its attending miracles. Psalm 78 rehearses Israel’s history with the Exodus as the central theme. God’s redemptive act consisted in bringing a vine out of Egypt and planting it in the Promised Land (Ps 80:8). Some Psalms contrast God’s faithfulness toward His people with Israel’s rebellious behavior in the wilderness (cf. Pss 95; 106). The main purpose of retelling the story of redemption was to praise God for His mighty acts (cf. Pss 135; 136). The ancient singers exulted in the privilege of Israel’s calling as God’s people and connected it with the flight from Egypt (Ps 114:1).

The historic books are equally aware of the meaning of the Exodus for Israel’s relation to YHWH. God has made Himself known to His people by freeing them from the house of slavery and by settling them in the land of promise (1 Sam 8:8; 2 Sam 7:23; 1 Kings 8:53; etc.).

The Exodus dominates in a very real sense the Old Testament perspective, and the Passover is the reminder of what God has done for His people. Liberation from Egypt and settlement in the land of Israel is regarded as the seal of YHWH’s loyalty to the Covenantal promises (cf. Mic 6:3ff.). The theme of Passover as the festival of liberation is carried over to the New Testament.

The Passover theme in the New Testament and the Church

Jesus’ Messianic activity reaches a climax in the events of His last Passover. According to John, the crucifixion took place on the first day of “Passover” (here apparently used as a designation of the Feast of Unleavened Bread). The synoptics make it clear that it was on the first day of the feast. John who appears to be specially concerned with chronological data records two, or even three Passovers (John 2:13; 6:4; 12:1; cf. W. F. Howard, The Fourth Gospel, revised by C. K. Barrett [1955], 122). Contrary to C. H. Dodd (The Interpreter of the Fourth Gospel [1953], 234), there is good reason to believe that John attached special importance to the Passover theme. His gospel, which stresses that the Messiah is the true bread of life, fits remarkably well into the paschal context (cf. John 6:31ff.; cf. V. Ruland, INew Testament [Oct., 1964], 451ff.). The Passover is equally important to the synoptic gospels; so much so that it is possible to view the gospel of Mark as a Christian Passover Haggadah written with the purpose of reinterpreting the paschal theme in Messianic terms as the New Exodus (cf. John Bowman, The Gospel of Mark [1965]). A somewhat similar case is 1 Peter, which makes so many allusions to Passover that some scholars feel justified in regarding it as a paschal liturgy. The suggestion is made that 1 Peter is a liturgy connected with the paschal vigil in preparation for Easter baptism, a custom widely practiced in the Early Church (cf. F. L. Cross, 1 Peter [1954]; Roger Le Déaut, La Nuit Pascale [1963], 297; A. R. C. Leaney, New TestamentS, X [1964], 238ff.). This may prove too restricted a view and has been contradicted by some (C. F. D. Moule; T. C. G. Thornton), but it nevertheless shows how deeply embedded is the paschal theme in the New Testament. Other New Testament books make similar allusions to Passover in connection with the Christian message. Paul plainly associates the Messiah with the Passover and equates the Christian life with the symbol of unleavened bread (ἄζυμα) that stands for sincerity and truth (1 Cor 5:7f.).

A similar association between Messiah and Passover exists in rabbinical Judaism. Nisan 15 is declared a time of rejoicing for all Israelites because God performed a miracle (sign) on that night, but in the age to come (i.e., in Messiah’s time) He will turn the night into day (cf. SBK IV, 55). In the Haggadah shel pesaḥ, the Messianic expectation is linked to the seder both by direct reference to the Messiah and by the part that Elijah plays in the Passover tradition. The custom of opening the door at midnight on the first night of Passover was already practiced in the Temple at Jerusalem (cf. Jos. Antiq. XVIII. ii. 2), and has definite Messianic overtones. Déaut has shown the close association between the paschal ritual and the messianic expectations in rabbinic Judaism of the 1st cent. This applies even to the Samaritans who expected their Taheb (Messiah) to make his appearance on the day of Passover (cf. Déaut, op. cit. 281, 283).

The paschal theme of the New Testament, and most specially of John (cf. A. Guilding, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship [1960], 58ff.), was taken over by the Gentile church. The liturgy of the paschal vigil and the Quartodeciman tradition of making Easter coincide with Passover persisted in the Church for centuries (cf. B. Lohse, Das Passafest der Quartodecimaner [1953]; Die Passa-Homilie des Bischofs Meliton von Sardes [1958]). The phrase “the Passover of salvation” (τὸ πάσχα τη̂ς σωτηρίας) entered the church vocabulary and was used widely in the liturgy (cf. Déaut, 296; though contradicted by Lohse). The identification of Christ with the Christian Passover was accepted as a theological premise: “the festival of the Savior’s Pascha,” του̂ σωτηρίου Πάσχα ἑορτη̂ς (Euseb. Hist. V. 23:1), means both the Last Passover that Jesus celebrated and the Christian Passover when the Church celebrates Christ’s resurrection. In a play of words, which is only possible in Gr., πάσχα, G4247, is interpreted to mean πάσχω, G4248: “And on the following day our Saviour suffered, He who was the Passover—propitiously sacrificed by the Jews” (Ante-Nicene Christian Library XXIV, 167). Thus Passover and Easter are closely held together so that the paschal theme of the Old Testament continued though centered upon the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Last Supper

The date of the Crucifixion

If John’s reference to the sacrificing of the Passover lamb in 18:28 refers to the actual passover meal then the Last Supper itself could not have been a paschal meal. The synoptics are explicit in stating that the Crucifixion took place on the first day of Passover (Nisan 15). There are two possible problems in this connection: the events described in the story of the Passion would have to be compressed within a very short time; the involvement of the Jewish authorities in the sordid business of a crucifixion on the first day of a high festival is difficult to accept. J. Jeremias rejects the difficulties that arise in connection with the Crucifixion on Nisan 15 (The Eucharistic Words of Jesus [1955], 46ff.), but on the Jewish side this is held to be a sheer impossibility (cf. J. B. Segal, The Hebrew Passover [1963], 244 n 8; cf. also D. Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinical Judaism [1956], 312). D. Chwolson tried to solve the difficulty by presupposing two dates for Passover, one to suit the Pharisaic calendar, and the other the Sadducean (Das letzte Passamahl Christi und der Tag seines Todes [1892, rev. 1908]). From the Qumran lit. we now know that calendaric differences were a cause of dissent (cf. M. Black The Scrolls and Christian Origins [1961], 199ff.). There is no evidence that the Sadducees, who had the oversight of the Temple, ever compromised on so important an issue as to allow two different dates. Mlle. Annie Jaubert has worked on the premise of two different calendars: an old sacerdotal calendar based on the solar system, and the official lunar calendar in force at the time. According to the solar system, Passover would always fall on a Wednesday; the lunar system would make it a movable feast. It is therefore suggested that the discrepancy in the gospels derives from the double system (cf. La Date de la Céne [1957]). According to an ancient church tradition, Jesus was arrested on Wednesday (cf. Epiphanius, de fide XXII, 1), which means that the Last Supper would have taken place on a Tuesday. Mlle. Jaubert’s theory has received wide acceptance (cf. G. R. Driver, The Judaean Scrolls [1965], 330ff.; John Bowman, op. cit. 257ff.; Norman Walker, “Concerning the Jaubertian Chronology of the Passion,” Nov Test II [1959], 317ff.). But the theory stands and falls with the assumption of two paschal celebrations. If the synoptics and John are thinking of the same Passover “the discrepancy cannot be reconciled” (Driver, op. cit. 331). George Ogg has shown why the theory is untenable (cf. Historicity and Chronology in the New Testament [1965], 82f.). At the same time there is wide consensus of opinion that the Last Supper was a paschal meal: neither the kiddush nor the ḥaburah theory is adequate (cf. Bowman, op. cit. 274f.). Jeremias provides some fourteen features suggestive of a paschal meal (op. cit. pp. 136ff.) yet he admits that from the New Testament evidence no uniform answer is possible (TWNew Testament, V, 895ff.). One way out of the dilemma would be to assume that the Last Supper was a paschal meal but in anticipation of the festival, which would mean that the paschal lamb was missing; at least the paschal lamb is never mentioned in any of the New Testament documents (though Bowman assumes its presence, op. cit. 266). Such a simple solution makes it possible to reconcile the two traditions: John was right, for Passover began on Friday night; the synoptics were right, for the Last Supper was a paschal meal though without the lamb (cf. J. Jocz, A Theology of Election [1958], 37; G. Ogg, op. cit. 85f.).

The memorial meal

Anamnesis is the keynote of Passover: Israel is to call to memory what God has done for His people (cf. Hans Kosmala, Nov Test, IV [1959], 81ff.). In the paschal context, the words of the institution of the Last Supper fit well with the purpose of the festival. But the call to “remember” is missing in the synoptics, except in the longer VS of Luke (cf. Luke 22:17-19mg.). This raises the question as to which is the original text. The question is complicated by the fact that the longer VS is under suspicion of having assimilated the text from 1 Corinthians 11:24f. Jeremias after careful study decided in favor of the longer VS of Luke and attributes the verbal similarities to the fact that it derives from liturgical formula (op. cit. 91, 102). This coincides with Paul’s own testimony that he received the tradition (cf. Birger Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript [1961], 321ff.). In favor of Luke’s longer VS is the mention of two cups, one before and one after the meal. This is in full agreement with Jewish custom to have the kiddush cup at the beginning of the festival.

Because the anamnesis is not mentioned in Mark does not mean that the institution of the Last Supper was unknown to that gospel as Bowman infers (op. cit. 266). Once the paschal context is granted, anamnesis is already implied as a matter of fact—the whole festival is lezikkaron (Exod 12:14). The interpretative words accompanying the manual acts are in compliance with the obligation to explain the meaning of the “rite” &--;(עֲבֹדָ֥ה Exod 12:26; Pes 10:4). Jesus followed custom but reinterpreted the Passover in terms of the Messianic event: the Messiah took the role of the paschal lamb. It is therefore correct to say that the Last Supper provides Passover with a new content (cf. J. Steinbeck, Nov Test III [1959], 73). From henceforth the bread and the wine of the seder become the signs of the Messiah’s sacrifice upon the cross. The paschal meal becomes a Messianic meal.

Scholars have suspected Paul of Hel. influence in view of the practice of cultic meals in pagan religions. The paschal context of the Last Supper makes such suspicions unfounded (cf. E. Käsemann, Exegetische Versuche und Besinnungen [1960], 11). Sverre Aalen denies any connection with non-Jewish rites and points to the fact that in the Last Supper there is no hint of sharing a meal between God and man (Nov Test VI, 151).

The Last Supper and Passover

At the time of the Temple, the paschal meal consisted not only of the lamb but also of the special festive sacrifice of which everyone partook (cf. 2 Chron 35:13). Such eating of the sacrifice was a joyous occasion and gave cohesion to community life. This is to be distinguished from the sin offering that was totally burned and never consumed. For the Hebrew, eating the sacrifice never meant eating his God. Participation in the α̂̔μα and the σω̂μα, G5393, of the Messiah creates a problem if the Last Supper is conceived in purely sacrificial terms. For this reason, the emphasis in the Last Supper must be placed as much upon the Covenant as upon the sin offering, if not more so (cf. Aalen, op. cit. 148f.). The blood that sealed the Covenant is not the blood poured upon the altar but the blood sprinkled upon the people. There is a correspondence between the Last Supper and Exodus 24:11; the elders of Israel beheld God and ate and drank.

The Covenant is at the core of the Passover account. On the eve of the Exodus, God revealed Himself as the God of the Fathers who remembered His Covenant (Exod 2:24; 3:15). On the eve of the Crucifixion, this covenant was reaffirmed by the Messiah’s willingness to shed His blood. The paschal lamb is therefore not sufficient to explain the full meaning of the Last Supper; the Covenant intrudes as the over-arching theme.

This raises the problem of the meaning of ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη: in what sense is it a new covenant? The writer of Hebrews and sometimes Paul, give the impression of a radical break: the former commandment is set aside “because of its weakness and uselessness” (Heb 7:18); had the first covenant been faultless there would have been no need for a second (8:7); “in speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete” (8:13); those who are in Christ are new creations; the old has passed away, behold the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).

Since Marcion, there has persisted a tendency to separate the two Testaments and to understand the “new” in the radical sense. From Paul’s exposition of Israel’s destiny (Rom 9-11), such a break becomes impossible. The Church Fathers who spoke of a “change of covenant” (cf. Lactantius, Divinae Institutiones IV, 11) did violence to the continuity of revelation. The Logos doctrine allows no such break; the preexistent Christ spoke already in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Pet 1:11). The writer of Hebrews bases his argument on the premise that the preincarnate Christ was present in Israel’s history (cf. W. Manson, The Epistle to the Hebrews [1951], 79f., 82, 96, 184ff.). The novum therefore must be understood in connection with the Messianic event. The New Covenant brings the Old Covenant to the brink of eschatological fulfillment, but the people of God are one continuum from Abel to this day (cf. Melanchthon, On Christian Doctrine [1965], 232). Christ as the telos of the law (Rom 10:4) brings in the New Age but does not change God’s promises. The New Covenant is called “better” than the old (Heb 8:6) because God in Christ fulfills His promise to write His law upon the believer’s heart (Heb 8:8ff.). The Last Supper therefore continues the Passover theme in the new Messianic context.

(1) It is a memorial feast of the Person and work of the Messiah. The anamnesis goes beyond the historical events and becomes a proclamation and confession of faith (cf. 1 Cor 11:26).

(2) It is an avowal of loyalty between Master and disciples, expressing the cohesion and the mutual interdependence of the Christian brotherhood.

(3) It reaffirms the Covenant of old and seals it in the blood of the Messiah.

(4) It expresses the joy of salvation and the eschatological hope of the Messiah’s ultimate triumph (cf. J. Steinbeck, op. cit. 71ff.).

The Christian Exodus

Additional Material

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(pecach, from pacach, "to pass" or "spring over" or "to spare" (Ex 12:13,23,17; compare Isa 31:5. Other conjectures connect the word with the "passing over" into a new year, with assyr pasahu, meaning "to placate," with Hebrew pacah, meaning "to dance," and even with the skipping motions of a young lamb; Aramaic [~paccha’, whence Greek Pascha; whence English "paschal." In early Christian centuries folk-etymology connected pascha with Greek pascho, "to suffer" (see Passion), and the word was taken to refer to Good Friday rather than the Passover):

1. Pecach and Matstsoth

2. Pecach mitsrayim

3. Pecach doroth

4. Matstsoth

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. Pecach and Matstsoth:

The Passover was the annual Hebrew festival on the evening of the 14th day of the month of ’Abhibh (Abib) or Nisan, as it was called in later times. It was followed by, and closely connected with, a 7 days’ festival of matstsoth, or unleavened bread, to which the name Passover was also applied by extension (Le 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 (Ex 12:12 f; 13:2,12 ); the matstsoth festival being in memory of the first days of the journey during which this bread of haste was eaten (Ex 12:14-20).

2. Pecach mitsrayim:

The ordinance of pecach mitsrayim, 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 (bashal) 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 (Ex 12:1-23).

3. Pecach doroth:

This service was to be observed as an ordinance forever (Ex 12:14,24), and the night was to be lel shimmurim, "a night of vigils," or, at least, "to be much observed" of all the children of Israel throughout their generations (Ex 12:42). The details, however, of the pecach doroth, or later observances of the Passover, seem to have differed slightly from those of the Egyptian Passover (Mishna, Pesachim, ix.5). Thus, it is probable that the victim could be taken from the flock or from the herd (De 16:2; compare Eze 45:22). (3), (6) and (7) disappeared entirely, and judging from De 16:7, the prohibition against seething (Hebrew bashal) was not understood to apply (unless, indeed, the omission of the expression with water" gives a more general sense to the Hebrew word bashal, making it include roasting). New details were also added: for example, that the Passover could be sacrificed only at the central sanctuary (De 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 (Nu 9:9 ). The singing of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118), both while the Passover was being slaughtered and at the meal, and other details were no doubt added from time to time.

4. Matstsoth:

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 matstsoth festival comes the beginning of the barley harvest in Palestine (Menachoth 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 (De 16:9) and of bringing the sheaf of the peace offering is spoken of as the morrow after the Sabbath (Le 23:15), that is, according to the Jewish tradition, the day after the first day, or rest-day, of the Passover (Mend. 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 (Tal) 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 `omer, or sheaf offering, as the basis of the hagh (festival), and have attempted to explain the matstsoth 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 Ex 13:11-13; 22:29,30; 23:19; 34:19,20), 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 pecach mitsrayim and the pecach doroth. 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 Le 23:8 (H) and Nu 28:19 (P), nor in the omission of a specific reference to the holy convocation on the first day in the contexts of De 16:8 and Ex 13:6, nor even in the omission of reference to a central sanctuary in passages other than De 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 Le 23:15 (H) where the date can be figured out from the date of Pentecost there given.

(3) Of the actual conflicts, we have already seen that the use of the words "flock" and "herd" in De and Hebrew bashal are open to explanation, and also that the use of the matstsoth at the original Passover is not inconsistent with the historical reason for the feast of matstsoth--it is not necessary to suppose that matstsoth 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 (Eze 45:21)?

8. Historical Celebrations: Old Testament Times:

9. Historical Celebrations: New Testament Times:

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 charoceth, said to resemble the mortar of Egypt; salt water, for the symbolic dipping (compare Mt 26:23); the bitter herbs and the matstsoth. The cedher (program) is as follows: sanctification; washing of the hands; dipping and dividing the parsley; breaking and setting aside a piece of matstsah to be distributed and eaten at the end of the supper; reading of the haggadhah shel pecach, 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 matstsah; tasting the bitter herbs; eating of them together; the meal; partaking of the matstsah that had been set aside as ’aphiqomen 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 (Pecachim x.1) symbolizing the 4 words employed in Ex 6:6,7 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 ’iccur chagh, in token of their love for the ordained celebration and their loathness to depart from it.


  • Haggadah of Passover, tr. by M. Sumnel (1942);
  • T. H. Gaster, Passover (1949); B. Lohse, Das Passafest der Quartodecimaner (1953);
  • J. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (1955); A. Jaubert, La Date de la Céne (1957);
  • P. Goodman, The Passover Anthology (1961); R. Le Déaut, La Nuit Pascale (1963);
  • J. B. Segal, The Hebrew Passover (1963); J. Bowman, The Gospel of Mark (1965).