Click to donate today!
1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
a Hebrew spring festival, celebrated by the Jews in commemoration of the exodus from Egypt by a family feast in the home on the first evening, and by abstaining from leaven during the seven days of the feast. According to tradition, the first Passover ("The Passover of Egypt"), was preordained by Moses at the command of God. The Israelites were commanded to select on the tenth of Abib (Nisan) a he-lamb of the first year, without blemish, to kill it on the eve of the fourteenth and to sprinkle with its blood the lintel and sidepost of the doors of their dwellings so that the Lord should "pass over" them when he went forth to slay the first-born of the Egyptians. The lamb thus drained of blood was to be roasted and entirely consumed by the Israelites, who should be ready with loins girded, shoes on feet and staff in hand so as to be prepared for the exodus. In memory of this the Israelites were for all time to eat unleavened bread (matzoth) for seven days, as well as keep the sacrifice of the Passover on the eve between the fourteenth and the fifteenth of Nisan. This evening meal was not to be attended by any stranger or uncircumcised person. "On the morrow of the Sabbath" a wave offering of a sheaf of barley was to be made. Those who were unable to perform the sacrifice of the Passover owing to impurity at the appointed time, were permitted to do so a month later.
Various theories have been from time to time proposed to account for this complex of enactments. J. Spencer in his De legibus Hebraeorum saw in the Passover a practical protest against the Egyptian worship of Apis. Vatke considered it a celebration of the spring solstice, Baur a means of removing the impurity of the old year. Lengerke recognized a double motive: the lamb for atonement, the unleavened bread as a trace of the haste of the early harvest. Ewald regarded the Passover as an original pre-Mosaic spring festival made to serve the interest of purity and atonement.
All these views have, however, been cast in the shade by more recent investigations based on minute literary analysis of the Pentateuch, begun by Graf, continued by Kuenen, and culminating in the work of Wellhausen and Robertson Smith. This view claims to determine the respective ages and relative chronological position of the various passages in which the Passover is referred to in the Pentateuch, and assumes that each successive stratum represents the practice in ancient Israel at the time of composition, laying great stress upon omissions as implying non-existence. The main passages and their contents are arranged chronologically in the following way: A. In the Elohist Book of the Covenant (Exod. xxiii.). The feast of unleavened bread to be kept seven days at the time appointed in the month Abib.
B. In the Yahwist Source (Exod. xxxiv. 18-21, 25). The feast of unleavened bread to be kept seven days, &c. All firstlings to be the Lord's. First-born sons to be redeemed; none to appear before the Lord empty; six days' work, seventh day rest, in the harvest; the sacrifice of the Passover shall not remain until the morning.
C. In the Yahwistic History (Exod. xii. 21-27, 29-36, 38-39, xiii. 316). Moses summons the elders of Israel and orders them to kill the Passover and besprinkle the lintel and sideposts with a bunch of hyssop dipped in blood so that the Lord will pass over the door. In later days when the children shall ask what this means it shall be said that this is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover. At midnight all the first-born of the Egyptians are slain and Pharaoh sends the Israelites out of Egypt in haste, and the people took the dough before it was leavened upon kneading troughs upon their shoulders.
D. The Deuteronomist (Deut. xvi. 1-8, 16-17). Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover because in that month God brought out the Israelites from Egypt. The sacrifice of the Passover of the flock and the herd shall be done in the place where God shall cause His name to dwell. No leaven shall be eaten with it for seven days, and bread of affliction shall be eaten because they came forth from Egypt in haste. Flesh shall not remain until the morning; the sacrifice must not be within their gates but in the place where the Lord shall cause His name to dwell. It shall be sodden and eaten, and in the morning they should go to their tents. Six days eat unleavened bread, on the seventh a solemn assembly. Reckon seven weeks from the time of putting the sickle to the standing corn.
E. In the Holiness Code (Lev. xxiii. 4-8, 9-14). The 14th of the first month at even is the Passover of the Lord; on the 15th of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread for seven days.
First and seventh days shall be holy assembly, but a re-offering for seven days. On the morrow after the sabbath a wave offering and also a burnt offering of the he-lamb (with the corresponding meal and drink offering). Neither bread nor parched corn nor fresh ears shall be eaten until the oblation is made.
F. In the Priestly History (Exocl. xii. 1-20, 28-31, xiii. 1-2). On the 10th day of the month every household shall take a firstling male without blemish, of sheep or goat, and should kill it on the 14th at even, and sprinkle the two sideposts and lintel with the blood, and eat the roasted flesh, not sodden, including head, legs and inwards; all remaining over until the morning to be burnt by fire. It should be eaten with loins girded, shoes on feet, and staff in hand because in haste. It is the Lord's Passover; when He sees the blood He will pass over you and there will be no plague upon you. As a memorial of this you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, on the 14th day at eve until the 21st day at eve; when children shall ask what this service means, you shall say that it is the Passover of the Lord.
G. In the Secondary Sources of the Priestly Code (Exod. xii. 40-41, 43-5 0, ix. 1-14, xiv. 16-25). No alien, sojourner or hired servant shall eat thereof, but a bought servant, if circumcised. It shall be eaten in haste; none of the flesh shall be carried forth, neither shall a bone be broken. If a sojourner should wish to keep the Passover, all his male shall be circumcised and he will be as one born in the land. The Passover was kept in the first month on the 14th day of the month at even in the wilderness of Sinai; but certain men, unclean by touching a dead body, asked what they should do; they were to keep it on the second month on the 14th day, eating it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, leaving none of it until the morning, nor breaking a bone. The first month on the 14th day of the month is the Passover; the 15th day of this month shall be a feast; seven days unleavened bread to be eaten; first day a holy assembly with fire offering, two young bullocks and one lamb and seven firstling he-lambs without blemish, with appropriate meal offering and one he-goat for sin-offering; on the seventh day another holassembly. Many discrepancies have been observed among critics in the different portions of this series of enactments. Thus in the Elohist and in Deuteronomy the date of the festival is only vaguely stated to be in the month of Abib, while in the Holiness Code and in the Priestly History the exact date is given. In the Yahwist and Deuteronomist a solemn assembly is to be held on the seventh day, but in the Holiness Code and in the secondary sources of the Priestly Code both the first and the seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread are to be solemn assemblies. In the Deuteronomist the Passover sacrifice can be from either flock or herd, whereas in the Holiness Code only lamb is mentioned, and in the Priestly Code either kid or lamb. In the Deuteronomist the lamb is to be sodden or boiled, whereas in the Priestly Code this is expressly forbidden. A still more vital contrast occurs concerning the place of sacrificing the Passover; as enjoined in Deuteronomy this is to be by the males of the family at Jerusalem, whereas both in the presumably earlier Yahwist and in the later Priestly Code the whole household joins in the festival which can be celebrated wherever the Israelites are settled. These discrepancies however are chiefly of interest in their bearing upon the problem of the Pentateuch, and really throw little light upon the origin of the two feasts connected together under the name of the Passover, to which the present remarks must be mainly confined. It may be observed however that the absence of a definite date in Deuteronomy must be accidental, since a common pilgrimage feast must be on a fixed day, and the reference to the seven weeks elapsing between Passover and Pentecost also implies the fixing of the date. So too even in the Elohist the time is appointed.
Reverting to the origin and the meaning of the feast, modern criticism draws attention to the different nature of the two observances combined with the name Passover, the pastoral sacrifice of the paschal lamb and the agricultural observance of a seven days' abstention from unleavened bread. It is assumed that the former arose during the pastoral period of Israelite history before or during the stay in Egypt, while the latter was adopted from the Canaanites after the settlement in Palestine. Against this may be urged that, according to the latest inquiries into the pastoral life, there is always connected with it some form of agriculture and a use of cereals, while, historically speaking, the Israelites while in Egypt were dependent on its corn. There is, further, the objection that no distinctive crisis in the agricultural era can be associated with the date of the Passover. The beginning of barley harvest is however generally associated with it, while the wheat harvest is connected with Pentecost. The "sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest," mentioned in Lev. xxiii. 10, is associated in Jewish tradition with the barley harvest (Mishna, Menachoth x.). This, however, is not immediately connected with the Passover, and is of more significance as determining the exact date of Pentecost.
Considering however the two sections of the Passover separately, it is remarkable how many of the ceremonies associated either historically or ceremonially with the Passover have connexion with the idea of a covenant. The folk-etymology of the word Passover given in Exod. xii. 23 seems to connect the original of the feast with a threshold covenant (see Trumbull, Threshold Covenant, Philadelphia, 1902); the daubing of the sideposts and lintel with blood at the original Passover, which finds its counterpart in Babylonian custom (Zimmern, Beit. z. Bab. Rel. Î. 126-7) and in Arabic usage (Wakidi, ed. Kremer, p. 28), implies a blood covenant. The communion meal would, according to the views of Robertson Smith, also involve the idea of a covenant; while the fact that no person joining in the meal should be uncircumcised connects the feast with the covenant of Abraham. Finally, the association of the first-born with the festival specially referred to in the texts, and carried out both in Samaritan tradition, which marks the forehead of the first-born with the blood of the lamb, and in Jewish custom, which obliged the first-born to fast on the day preceding Passover, also connects the idea of the feast with the sacro-sanctity of the first-born. The Hebrew tradition further connects the revelation of the sacred name of the God of the Hebrews with this festival, which thus combines, in itself, all the associations connecting the Hebrews with their God. It is not surprising therefore that Hebrew tradition connects it with the Exodus, the beginning of the theocratic life of the nation. It seems easiest to assume that the festival, so far as the Passover itself is concerned, was actually connected historically with the Exodus.
With regard to the abstention from leavened bread, the inquiry is somewhat more complicated. As before remarked, there seems no direct connexion between the paschal sacrifice and what appears to be essentially an agricultural festival; the Hebrew tradition, to some extent, dissociates them by making the sacrifice on the 14th of Nisan and beginning the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th. This seeming casual connexion, to some extent, confirms the historic connexion suggested by the text, that the Jews at the Exodus had to use bread prepared in haste; but not even Hebrew tradition attempts to explain why the abstention should last for seven days. The attempt of modern critics to account for the period as that in which the barley harvest was gathered in, during which the workers in the field could not prepare leavened bread, is not satisfactory. The first-fruits of the barley harvest are to be gathered on the "morrow of the sabbath" (Lev. xxiii. 11). This expression has formed the subject of dispute between Samaritans and other sectaries and the Jews, the former of whom regard it as referring to the first Sunday during the festival, the latter as a special expression for the second day of the festival itself (see Hoffmann, Lev. ii. 159-215). But whichever interpretation is taken, the connexion of the festival with the harvest is only secondary.
The suggestion has been made by Wellhausen and Robertson Smith that the Passover was, in its original form, connected with the sacrifice of the firstlings, and the latter points to the Arabic annual sacrifices called Atair, which some of the lexicographers interpret as firstlings. These were presented in the month Rajab, corresponding to Nisan (Smith, Religion of Semites, p. 210). But the real Arabic sacrifice of firstlings was called Fara`; it might be sacrificed at any time, as was also the case with the Hebrews (Exod. xxii. 30). The paschal lamb was not necessarily a firstling, but only in the first year of its life (Exod. xii. 5). The suggestion of Wellhausen and Robertson Smith confuses the offering of firstlings (Arabic Fara') and that of the first yeanlings of the year in the spring (Arabic Atair). It is possible that the Passover was originally connected with the latter .(cf. Wellhausen, Reste arab. Heidentums, pp. 94 seq.). As regards the Feast of Unleavened Bread, now indissolubly connected with the paschal sacrifice, no satisfactory explanation has been given either of its original intention or of its connexion with the Passover. It has been suggested that it was originally a hag or pilgrimage feast to Jerusalem, of which there were three in the year connected with the agricultural festivals (Exod. xxxiv. 17, 18). But the real agricultural occasion was not the eating of unleavened bread but the offering of the first sheaf of the barley harvest on the "morrow of the sabbath" in the Passover week (Lev. xxiii. io, ii), and this occasion determined the second agricultural festival, the Feast of Weeks, fifty days later (Deut. xvi. 9; Lev. xxiii. 16; see Pentecost). The suggestion that the eating of cakes of unleavened bread, similar to the Australian "damper," was due to the exigencies of the harvest does not meet the case, since it does not explain the seven days and is incongruous with the fact that the first sheaf of the harvest was put to the sickle not earlier than the third day of the feast. It still remains possible therefore that the seven days' eating of unleavened bread (and bitter herbs) is an historical reminiscence of the incidents of the Exodus, where the normal commissariat did not begin until a week after the first exit. On the other hand, the absence of leaven may recall primitive practice before its introduction as a domestic luxury; sacral rites generally keep alive primitive custom. There was also associated in the Hebrew mind a connexion of impurity and corruption with the notion of leaven which was tabu in all sacrifice (Exod. xxiii. 18; Lev. ii. ri).
According to Robertson Smith, the development of the various institutions connected with the Passover was as follows. In Egypt the Israelites, as a pastoral people, sacrificed the firstlings of their flocks in the spring, and, according to tradition, it was a refusal to permit a general gathering for this purpose that caused the Exodus. When the Israelites settled in Canaan they found there an agricultural festival connected with the beginnings of the barley harvest, which coincided in point of date with the Passover and was accordingly associated with it. At the time of the reformation under Josiah, represented by Deuteronomy, the attempt was made to turn the family thank-offering of firstlings into a sacrificial rite performed by the priests in the Temple with the aid of the males of each household, who had to come up to Jerusalem but left the next morning to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread in their homes. During the exile this was found impossible, and the old home ceremonial was revived and was kept up even after the return of the exile. This is a highly ingenious hypothesis to explain the discrepancies of the text, but is, after all, nothing but hypothesis.
There appears to have been originally considerable variety in the mode of keeping the Passover, but the earliest mention in the historical narratives (Josh. v. 11) connects the paschal sacrifice with the eating of unleavened bread. But it is unsafe to assume, from 2 Kings xxiii. 22, that the festival was not kept in the time of the early kings, since Solomon appears to have kept up the three great pilgrimage festivals, 2 Kings ix. 25, and it is possibly referred to in Isa. i. 9. The complex of observances connected with the Passover and the very want of systemization observed in the literary sources would seem to vindicate the primitive character of the feast, which indeed is recognized by all inquirers.
At any rate the Samaritans have, throughout their history, observed the Passover with all its Pentateuchal ceremonial and still observe it down to the present day. They sacrifice the paschal lamb, which is probably the oldest religious rite that has been continuously kept up. In two important points they differ from later Jewish interpretation. The term "between the evenings" (Lev. xxiii. 5) they take as the time between sunset and dark, and the "morrow of the sabbath" (v. 11) they take literally as the first Sunday in the Passover week; wherein they agree with the Sadducees, Boethusians, Karaites and other Jewish sectaries. This would seem to point to a time when the fixing of the sabbath was determined by the age of the moon, so that the first day of the Passover, which is on the 15th of Nisan, would always occur on a sabbath.
During the existence of the Temple there was a double celebration of the Passover, a series of stipulated sacrifices being offered during the seven days in the Temple, details of which are given in Num. xxviii., but the family ceremonial was still kept up and gradually developed a special ritual, which has been retained among orthodox Jews up to the present day. The paschal lamb is no longer eaten but represented by the shank bone of a lamb roasted in the ashes; unleavened bread and bitter herbs (haroseth) are eaten; four cups of wine are drunk before and after the repast, and a certain number of Psalms are recited. The family service, termed Hagada shel Pesach, includes a description of the Exodus with a running commentary, and is begun by the youngest son of the house asking the father the reason for the difference in Passover customs.
It is stated in the gospels that the Last Supper was the Passover meal, though certain discrepancies between the accounts given in the Synoptics and in John render this doubtful. It is, at any rate, certain that Jesus came up to Jerusalem in order to join in the celebration of the Passover. When the Passover fell upon the sabbath, as occurred during his visit, a difficulty arose about the paschal sacrifice, which might involve work on the sabbath. There appears to have been a difference of practice between the Sadducees and the Pharisees on such occasions, the former keeping to the strict rules of the Law and sacrificing on the Friday, whereas the Pharisees did so on the Thursday. It has been suggested that Jesus followed the pharisaic practice, and ate the Passover meal (the Last Supper) on Thursday evening, which would account for the discrepancies in the gospel narratives (see Chwolson, Das letzte Passahmal Jesu, 2nd ed., St Petersburg, 1904). It seems probable in any case that the ritual of the Mass has grown out of that of the Passover service (see Bickell, Messe and Pascha, tr. W. F. Skene, Edinburgh, 1891). Up to the Nicene Council the Church kept Easter coincident with the Jewish Passover, but after that period took elaborate precautions to dissociate the two.
See the commentaries on Exodus and Leviticus; that of Kalisch on the latter book (vol. ii., London, 1871) anticipates much of the critical position. The article in Winer's Bibl. Realworterbuch gives a succinct account of the older views. A not altogether unsuccessful attempt to defend the Jewish orthodox position is made by Hoffmann in his Commentary on Leviticus (Berlin, 1906, ii. 116-224). Wellhausen's views are given in his Prolegomena, ch. iii. A critical yet conservative view of the whole question is given by R. Schaefer, Das Passah-Mazzoth-Fest (Gutersloh, 1900) which has been partly followed above. For the general attitude towards the comparative claims of institutional archaeology and literary criticism adopted above see J. Jacobs, Studies in Biblical Archaeology (London, 1895). (J. JA.)
These files are public domain.
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Passover'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/bri/p/passover.html. 1910.