AN HISTORICAL LOOK AT PENTECOST
FROM THE BOOK "Festivals of the Jewish Year"
Theodor H. Gaster
THE FEAST OF WEEKS
The Festival of the Covenant
In, the Bible, the Feast of Weeks plays a somewhat minor
role beside the major seasonal festivals of Passover on the one
and and Booths (or Ingathering) on the other. It is simply the
end of the barley harvest, and its distinctive feature is the
presentation to Jehovah (apart from special sacrifices) of an
offering consisting, according to one version of the Law (Deut.
16:10), of whatever one feels prompted to give, or, according to
another (Lev.23:17), of two loaves made out of the new corn. The
festival, we are told, is to take place a full seven weeks after
the sickle has been first applied to the standing grain (Deut.
It is easy to dismiss this early phase of the festival as
nothing but the product of a crude, unsophisticated age, and to
think one has explained the presentation of firstfruits by
collecting parallels from other parts of the world, without
stopping to penetrate to their significance. The truth is,
however, that even at this primary stage, though the form of
expression may be primitive, the underlying meaning of the
festival is at once subtle and profound. Two ideas are combined,
and each is capable of an extension and development of
The first is based on the common Oriental principle that
land belongs to him who "quickens" it, or brings it under
cultivation. Since, it is here affirmed, the earth obviously
depends for its fertility not only on the labors of men but also
on the cooperation of God, who furnishes it with rain, wind and
sunlight, He too is necessarily a part owner of it. The
presentation of firstfruits is thus no mere token of thanksgiving
or mere submissive rendering of tribute, although, to be sure, by
a blunting of religious sensitivity, it may (and often does)
degenerate into this. It is the payment to God of the dividend on
His investment. To withhold that payment is an act not of impiety
but of embezzlement.
Translated into broader terms, what is here proclaimed is
that the relation between God and man is not one of master and
servant but of mutually dependent partners in a joint enterprise
of continuous creation. This idea gives new validity to human
existence and at the same time provides a signal and momentous
alternative to that more common conception which, projecting the
image of God from the model of kings and magicians, regards Him
merely as a supernal lord and benefactor of mankind. For the
conventional attitude of subservience, worship and adoration
there is substituted a concept of God which is at once more
robust and more mystical and which, indeed, modern religion might
do well to recapture.
The second idea which underlies this early phase of the
festival stems from the fact that primitive man regards anything
new and unused as being fraught with potential peril, much as an
infant might regard a new toy. The firstfruits of the harvest
(and likewise the firstborn both of men and of beasts) are
therefore consigned to the gods or spirits so that the newness
may be taken away and the rest thereby rendered "safe." The
important thing, however, is not so much the why as the how of
the ritual; the danger of a new thing is removed by bringing it
into contact with some eternal being to whom it is not new,
inasmuch as he transcends the limitations of our own temporal
existence. Behind the symbolism of the primitive procedure,
therefore, there lies once again a permanent, universal message:
the only immunity against the terror of new things is to try to
see them in the light of eternity, and the only protection
against the perils of human existence is to dedicate the prime
portion of it to God.
Thus, even in its rudimentary stage, the Feast of Weeks
possessed its own spiritual values. For Judaism, however --
especially after it had outgrown its Palestinian origins--these
alone were not sufficient. The presence and activity of God had
to be recognized at this season - not only in the phenomena of
nature but also, and on parallel lines, in some crucial event of
history. Accordingly, in the first centuries of the Common Era,
inspiration and ingenuity combined to produce the necessary
***The Scriptural narrative states clearly (Exod.19:1) that
the children of Israel reached Mount Sinai in the third month, to
the day, after their departure from Egypt. This, it was now
argued, does not mean that a full three months elapsed, but only
that the event took pace in the "in third month of the year," and
in that case the giving of the Ten Commandments might MIGHT (with
a little latitude and fancy) be made to coincide with Feast of
Weeks. The festival thus became the birthday of Israel, the
anniversary of the day on which the Covenant had been concluded
between God and His people and the Law first revealed. Such, ever
since, has been its primary significance; it is known, in fact,
as "the season of the giving of our Law."***
(Did you notice it? Did you see what the writer said? With a
little LATITUDE and FANCY .... the third month is tied together
with the giving of the Law. There is absolutely NOTHING in the
books of Moses that ties together the giving of the Law [Ten
commandments] with Pentecost, as adopted by the "traditions" of
the Jews. In fact Jesse on her Website [which is located on this
my Website] has a study PROVING that the giving of the Ten
Commandments could not have been on Pentecost. The idea that the
Law was given on Pentecost is just an idea from the Jews, with no
basis in actual fact; it indeed has become a tradition that had
to use a little LATITUDE AND FANCY FOOT WORK, as the writer
admits - Keith Hunt)
The parallelism between the historical and agricultural
aspects of the festival is far closer than might at first be
suspected, and is carried through with rare ingenuity and
resource. According to Jewish teaching, the important thing about
the session at Sinai was not only the giving of the Law but also
the receiving of it, the two acts of offer and acceptance
constituting a Covenant (or contract) between God and Israel.
Here too, therefore, the idea of collaboration is involved: if
the Law issues from God, its fulfillment lies with Israel.
Inspiration and aspiration, revelation and perception, are the
two sides of a single coin: on the one side is the face of God;
on the other, that of man. What Saint Theresa said of the
relation of the Christian to Christ was expressed by Judaism,
many centuries earlier, in its concept of the covenantal
partnership of God and Israel: In the world of men, Israel is
God's hands and feet and eyes.
Nor is it only in this major respect that the natural and
historical aspects of the festival run parallel to each other.
For if the former marks the end of seven weeks' collaboration
between God and man in the reaping of the material harvest, what
the latter celebrates is the end of a corresponding spiritual
harvest, which began with the deliverance from Egypt and reached
its climax with the conclusion of the Covenant. And just as the
ingathering of the crops is the necessary condition of life and
prosperity during the ensuing year, so the event at Sinai is the
necessary condition of Israel's continuing existence and fortune.
Moreover, if, in the primitive agricultural rite, man offers to
God two loaves of the new bread as a symbol of cooperation, in
the historical counterpart - by a fine and inspired inversion -
God offers to man the two tablets of the Law.
(As the writer has stated, the third month DID see Israel
receiving the Law of God, and later in the settlement of Israel
in the promised land, you also had the end of the first grain
harvest [of barley and wheat]. Hence it was not a large step for
some religious Jews to put together the giving of the law of God
ON Pentecost, which then became one of the "traditions" of the
Jews, which is based on no actual fact - Keith Hunt)
Lastly, as the harvest is renewed from year to year, so too
is the historic experience of Sinai. Jewish teaching (as we have
pointed out repeatedly) is insistent on the point that the
festivals are not mere commemorations. All the generations of
Israel, say the sages, were released from Egypt, and all were
present at the mountain. By this they did not mean, as is so
often supposed, that all of time was telescoped into a single
moment, but rather that a single moment was projected into all of
time. Both the revelation of God and His covenant with Israel are
essentially continuous and are no more confined to the single
event at Sinai than is the process of nature to a single harvest.
The twofold character of the festival finds eloquent
expression in the services of the synagogue: on the first day,
the lesson from the Pentateuch (Exod.19-20) deals with the
promulgation of the Ten Commandments; on the second day, with the
institution and observance of the Feast of Firstfruits (Deut.15:
19--16:17); while on both days an extra portion is read
describing the special sacrifices which were anciently presented
on this occasion (Numb.28:26-31). The dominant theme is, however,
the Giving of the Law. Interspersed throughout the morning
prayers are elaborate medieval poems (piyyutim) in which the
Scriptural account of that event is tricked out with all the
embellishments of rabbinic fancy. The following extract, taken
from the Ashkenazic liturgy for the first day, will serve as a
Loud rang the voice of God, and lightning spears
Pierced all the heavens; thunder shook the spheres,
And flames leaped forth; and all the angels blew
Their trumpets, and the earth was riven through.
Then all the peoples writhed, aghast and pale,
Like as a woman in her birth-travail.
And, lo, the mountains leaped and looked askance 1
On little Sinai, and began to dance,
Certain each one that it would be the place
Which God would choose to hallow and to grace.
Like calves did Lebanon and Siryon leap, 2
Bashan and Carmel like as frisking sheep; 3
Tabor, too, and each high hill; but He
Who dwells on high to all eternity 4
Looked not on them but on the humble mound,
And while that shame did all those hills confound,
To little Sinai bent the skies and came,
And crowned it with His mist and cloud; and flame
Of angels wreathed it. Then, amid the sound
Of thunder, under them that clustered round
Its foot gave forth His mighty voice; and they
Replied: O Lord, we hear and will obey. 5
And when that they stood waiting, came the word, That word that
splits the rocks: I AM THE LORD.
Sometimes, indeed, the Law is made to recite its own
"biography," as in the following passage from the same poem:
Ere that He stayed the heavens in the height 6
I was firm-stayed and stablish'd in His sight.
1 Cf. Ps. 68:17.
2 Cf. Ps. 29:6.
3 Cf. Ps. 114:4; Nah. 1:4.
4 Cf. Is. 57:15.
5 Cf. Exod. 24:7.
6 Cf. Prov. 8:2S.
Ere that in glory He the clouds bestrode, 7
I was the vehicle on which He rode.
Ere that His stronghold in the vault He made,
I was the vault in which His power was laid.
Ere that His arm did first outstretch the sky,
A bracelet on that selfsame arm was I.
Ere that the sunlit welkin was His place,
I was well kindled by His holy grace.
And lo, He held me on His knees of old, 8
Ere first the cloudmist did His feet enfold.
Moreover, a standard element of the traditional liturgy is
the recital of rhymed versions (Azharoth) of the 613 commandments
contained in the Pentateuch; while in Reform congregations it is
customary also to "confirm" adolescents on the Feast of Weeks,
the confirmands thereby pledging adherence to the Covenant which
was then concluded with their forebears.
But it is not only as a historical event that the revelation
at Sinai figures in the services of the festival. Supplementing
the lessons from the Pentateuch are others from the Prophets, and
in these the truth is brought home that inspired men in all ages
can obtain a vision of God, and that the wonders wrought when
Israel was delivered from Egypt will be repeated in the future
when she is at last redeemed from the dark night of her present
On the first day, the Lesson from the Prophets (haftarah) is
taken from the opening chapter of the Book
7 Cf. Ps. 68:5.
8 An allusion to Prov. 8:30, which Jewish tradition renders,
"Then was I beside him as a nursling."
of Ezekiel, where the prophet relates how, when he was "among the
captives" in Babylon, he was granted a vision of the heavenly
creatures adoring God in the firmament and how, by progressive
stages, his vision penetrated to the very "Glory of the Lord"
surrounded by the same radiance and holding the same promise as
"the bow which is in the cloud in the day of rain." Similarly, on
the second day of the festival, the lesson is taken from the
great Prayer of Habakkuk (Hab.3), in which that prophet, writing
during the difficult days of the Assyrian Exile, recalls the
historic revelation of God at the time of the Exodus and
expresses the conviction that such deliverance will always be
vouchsafed to His people and that the divine providence will
I have heard tell of Thee, Lord;
Lord, I have seen Thy work.
In the midst of the years revive it,
In the midst of the years make known
That even when Thou art raging
Compassion comes to Thy mind.
When from out of the Southland
God was about to come,
And the Holy One from Mount Paran, 9
His splendor covered the heavens,
And the earth was filled with His sheen.
A glow there was as of dayspring;
Rays shot forth from His side;
While still in the darkness yonder
Lay hid the full force of His power.
Disaster went stalking before Him,
And Pestilence cleared His path. 10
9 Cf. Deut.33:2.
10 An allusion to the ancient belief that major gods were
escorted by two attendants.
He halted, and shook the earth;
Looked, and convulsed the nations.
Primeval mountains were split,
Old, old hills sank low,
And all the ancient highways
Were utterly effaced.
The tents of Cushan quivered;
Midian's curtains shook
Thou didst tread the sea; Thy chargers
Were the surge of the ocean waves. 11
Against the streams, O Lord,
Was it against the streams
Once more Thine anger was kindled?
Was Thy wrath against the sea, 12
When Victory rode Thy chargers,
When Victory rode Thy wains?
Thy bow was made utterly empty;
Thou didst spend all the shafts of Thy quiver;
The streams gushed madly in uproar;
The earth was riven in sunder. 13
The mountains saw Thee; they quailed;
The torrents overflowed; 14
The deep gave forth its voice.
The sun forgot its station;
The moon stood still in the height,
11 In the traditional text, this verse follows vs.14, where it
comes in awkwardly. I believe that its correct place is here.
12 An allusion to the ancient myth relating how Baal had once
fought the rival power of the sea and streams. The myth is told
on the cuneiform tablets recently discovered at Ras Shamra, in
Syria; see my Oldest Stories in the World (New York, 1952), pp.
13 The traditional text of this verse is corrupt and
unintelligible. The present rendering depends on the assumption
that a few letters have accidentally dropped out.
14 i.e., the mountain-chutes (cf. Job 24:8). But many scholars
think that the verse should read (by a very slight change in the
Hebrew text), "The clouds poured streams of water," in accordance
with the parallel passage in Ps.77:18.
At the glint of Thy darts as they went,
At the lightning flash of Thy spear.
In fury the earth Thou bestrodest;
Didst thresh the nations in wrath;
Forth to the fray didst Thou sally
For the victory of Thine army,
The victory of Thy troops. 15
Thou smotest the head of the wicked,
Didst smite him from top to toe;
Didst split the heads of his captains
As they like a stormwind rushed
To blow me away in their onset,
The while their war-song sounded
Like as [the roar of a lion] 16
At devouring the hapless unseen.
I have heard it; mine inwards tremble;
My lips have twitched at the sound;
Rottenness enters my bones,
And all my footsteps fail.
Yet now can I face with calm
The day of adversity,
The charging down of armies
That troop against me in force.
Here, too, the God of history is also the God of nature, and His
bounty consists not only in the deliverance of His people from
their assailants but also in the provision of increase upon
15 The English Bible renders, "For the salvation of Thine
anointed," assuming that this means the king; but the allusion is
to warriors who were customarily anointed before battle.
16 Here, too, it would seem that a few letters have dropped out;
cf. Ps.7:2; 17:12; Is.5:29.
Though the figtree now be fruitless,
And produce be none in the vines,
Though the yield of the olive now fail,
And the field produce no food;
Though the sheep be cut off from the fold,
And no cattle there be in the stalls;
Yet I in the Lord will exult,
In the God Who saves me rejoice!
The Lord, the Lord is my substance;
He will make my feet like the hinds',
And will cause me yet to trample
Upon the backs of my foes!
The same message is conveyed also by the choice of the
Sixty-eighth Psalm as the special "anthem" of the festival. For
the purpose of that psalm (one of the most difficult and obscure
in the entire Psalter) is, once again, to universalize the events
of the Exodus and Revelation and to rehearse them as an assurance
of God's continuing providence and bounty; and here, too, the
divine salvation is said to be made manifest not only in history
but also in nature:
O God, when Thou wentest forth before Thy people, 17
When Thou didst march through the wilderness,
Earth trembled, and skies dropped rain
At the presence of the God of Sinai,
At the presence of Israel's God.
So, too, dost Thou alway pour
The shower of Thy bounties, O God,
On the people Thou callest Thine own; 18
17 Or, army.
18 Literally, "Thine inheritance"; cf. Deut.32:9. "For Jehovah's
portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance."
And whene'er it hath waxen faint,
Thyself hast set it firm.
When Shaddai 19 went scattering kings,
It seemed as though dark Zalmon 20
Had suddenly turned snow-white!
Mount Bashan, too, is a mount divine,
Yea, a cloud-capped mount is Mount Bashan.
Why, then, should ye look with envy,
ye cloud-capped mounts,
At the mountain which a god hath fancied
for his dwelling?
Surely, Jehovah too
Can take up an eternal abode? 21
Lastly, the double-sidedness of the festival is brought out
by the custom of reading the Book of Ruth as a prelude to the
afternoon service. For the two dominant features of this Biblical
idyl are: first, that it plays against the background of the
barley harvest; and second, that it relates how a woman who was
formerly a pagan came to embrace the faith of Israel and to throw
in her lot with Jehovah's people (1:16, "And Ruth said, Entreat
me not to leave thee and to turn back from following thee, for
whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will
lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."). The
story thus epitomizes the two main features of the Feast of
Weeks: the ingathering of the harvest and the acceptance of the
Law and Revelation of God.
19 Here the name of an ancient pagan god of Palestine.
20 A mountain in Samaria (Judg.9:48). The name means "dark," and
the reference is to some ancient myth, at present unknown, in
which the god Shaddai was said to have turned this mountain white
21 The point of these lines, it would seem, is to indicate the
superiority of Jehovah's sacred mountain, viz. Zion, to those of
the earlier gods of the pagans.
MORE TRADITIONS ADDED
(Note all this carefully! You are seeing how Judaism REACTED and
COUNTERNANCED the spreading of Christianity - adding and making
up from certain Scriptures THEIR teachings of Pentecost. We have
seen how they added with some fancy and latitude the mixing of
Pentecost with the giving of the Law. Now they go even further
and add more to their traditions of how they will teach the
observance of Pentecost - Keith Hunt)
In the early centuries of the Common Era a further element,
scarcely less interesting, was injected into the celebration of
the festival; it became, to a certain extent, a conscious
counterbalance to the Christian festival of Whitsun, with which
it approximately coincides.
In Christian tradition, Whitsun is the birthday of the
Church, the anniversary of the date on which the Holy Spirit was
miraculously poured forth upon the original disciples of Jesus.
The event is narrated in the second chapter of the Acts of the
Apostles, in the New Testament. At Pentecost, we read, ".... they
were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a
sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all
the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them
cloven tongues, like as of fire, poised above each of them. And
they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak
with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."
To this Christian version of Pentecost, Judaism now opposed
its own. Not the Church, but the community of Israel had been
founded on that day. Not to a select few, but to a whole people
had come the revelation of God. Not over the heads of favored
disciples had the tongues of fire appeared; ".... all the people
saw the thunders and the flames" (Exod.20:18). Not the astonished
onlookers, but God Himself had spoken in a multitude of tongues;
for, so the sages asserted, every word uttered from the mountain
had been pronounced in seventy-two languages at the same time!
Moreover, if Christianity emphasized at this season the
figure of its resurrected saviour, Judaism replied by giving
special prominence to that of David, the messianic king. The
Feast of Weeks, it was maintained, was the anniversary of David's
death. The Book of Ruth, which (as we have seen) was prescribed
reading for the festival, ends with the genealogy of that monarch
(4:I3ff.); and on the second evening the pious would stay up late
into the night reading the Psalms of David.
Nor this alone. If, according to the dominant faith, Christ
would return at the end of days and fight the great Dragon of the
Deep and bring renewed salvation to men, so too, in the equally
fervent conviction of the Jews, would David or his scion appear
to usher in the Messianic Age. In the twelfth century this belief
found eloquent expression in the liturgy of the festival, for
into the morning service of the first day, immediately after the
reading of the first verses from the portion of the Law, there
was introduced the famous Aramaic poem, Akdamuth. Written by a
certain Meir ben Isaac Nehorai (probably of Orleans), this poem
described, in highly fanciful terms, the ultimate victory of God
over the monsters Leviathan and Behemoth, and the lavish banquet
at which He would regale the faithful in heaven:
As maidens to the dance are led
God will lead them, and outspread,
Like viands at a royal feast,
Shall be the flesh of that fell Beast,
That raging monster of the sea
Who dared assail His sovereignty.
For when that monster coils and curls
And beats the angry sea and hurls
Defiance at his sovran Lord,
Unsheathed then shall be the Sword, 22
And He that made him shall arise
And smite him, till that dead he lies.
The oxen on a thousand hills 28
22 See job 40:19
23 See Psalm 50:10.
Shall be our meat, the while He fills
Gleaming goblets crystalline
With that most rare and perfect wine
Which in His cellar He hath stored
Since first creation knew its Lord.
There is a remarkable similarity between the contents of
this poem and the description of the heavenly Jerusalem which is
contained in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament--a
correspondence so close as to suggest the possibility that the
Aramaic composition may have been designed as a deliberate
counterpart to the Christian apocalypse. In the Book of
Revelation, for example, we are told that the author was caught
up "in the spirit" and beheld "a throne set in heaven, and One
sitting on the throne" (4:2); while in the "Akdamuth" we read
how, on the eve of the first Sabbath:
When all creation's work was done,
At twilight, with the setting sun,
In radiance God's Glory came
And sat upon a throne of flame.
In the Book of Revelation, we are informed that the throne
of God was surrounded by heavenly creatures "having each six
wings," who "had no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord" (4:6,8). Similarly, the "Akdamuth" describes how:
Flaming, six-wing'd seraphs sing
His praise, and through the welkin ring
Ceaseless, in a sweet accord,
The words: Thrice-holy is the Lord.
Besides the heavenly creatures, says the Christian book, the
throne is encircled by angels to the number of "ten thousand
times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands." Moreover, the
heavenly creatures continually prostrate themselves before God,
offering to him "golden bowls full of incense, which are the
prayers of the saints," the while the voices of the celestial
choir resound "like the voice of many waters ... as they cry,
Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (5:11, 5:8-9,
19:6). This picture is reproduced, with characteristic Jewish
touches, in the Aramaic poem:
A thousand thousand angels throng
To serve Him and, a myriad strong,
The heavenly host each morning press
To make to Him their sweet address.
God takes the prayers which forth have flown
From Israel's lips, and weaves a crown,
Or wears them for phylacteries
Between His everlasting eyes.
Like as the surging of the deep
Through all the wide-flung heavens sweep
The thunders of the cherubim
As they His royal glory hymn.
Lastly, a prominent feature of the Christian vision is the
picture of the New Jerusalem "coming down out of heaven from God,
having the glory of God," gleaming like precious stones and
bathed in celestial light, and graced by the presence of the
Divine Bridegroom come at last to claim His bride and to summon
the guests to the marriage supper (19:7-9, 21:10-11). The same
picture reappears in the Jewish poem, where it is said that God
will set up His marriage bower in Jerusalem, and entertain the
Lo, when the exiles He hath led
To Jerusalem, there shall be shed
Upon that city, day and night,
The splendor of His radiant light;
And silver-lined clouds shall be
Spread o'er it for a canopy,
When He doth like a bridegroom ride
At last, at last, to claim His bride.
Then round about, on golden chairs
(Each one approach'd by seven stairs)
The righteous as His guests shall dine,
And perfect bliss shall be their wine;
And o'er their heads, for chandeliers,
Shall hang the radiance of the spheres,
A beauty which no lips can tell,
Whereon no earthly eye can dwell,
A starry glory which of old
No prophet's vision e'er foretold.
And they beside the Lord shall walk
In Eden's close, and softly talk
With him, and to themselves shall say:
This is He for whom alway
We waited through captivity;
This is our Lord, yea, this is He.
But it was not only in the loftier realm of doctrine that
the Feast of Weeks was influenced by contemporary Christian lore.
The usages of the Church (themselves borrowed from earlier pagan
custom) seem likewise to have been imitated by the synagogue. In
many parts of Europe, for instance, it is customary to deck the
churches at Whitsun with wreaths and bunches of flowers; in
Catholic districts of Germany, even private dwellings are adorned
with green twigs on this occasion. In Italy, rose leaves are
often scattered from the ceilings of churches during the progress
of the services; they are popularly explained as representing the
"tongues of fire" which the original disciples beheld at Antioch
when the Holy Spirit descended upon them. Simharly, in Russia it
is (or was) customary to carry flowers and green twigs on
Whitsun; and in many Latin countries, the festival is known as
Pascha Rosatum. All of this appears to be but a Christian
transformation of the ancient Roman festival of Rosalia,
celebrated in the preceding month. At this festival it was the
practice to adore Venus by decorating her images with roses.
Sometimes, indeed, the custom takes on a more sinister
complexion. In Rumania, for instance, the festival is commonly
known as Rusaliile. This, it is explained, is the name of three
ancient princesses who were forced to remain spinsters. In
revenge, they return to earth for three days each year to plague
mankind, destroy the harvest and blow away the roofs of houses.
During this period, no manual work may be performed, no one may
smile, and children may not make faces. To exorcize the malicious
ladies, branches of wormwood are placed under the pillow at night
or worn in the belt!
(Oh yes, the popular Christian church was very skilled at taking
pagan customs and adopting them; it was done all the time, with
practices like Christmas and Easter, Halloween, and Thanksgiving
festivals, all kinds of other "saint" days and celebrations that
were from the heathen, but sprinkled with "holy water" to make
them clean, and then given to the people as blessed of God. The
Jews were also skilled at doing the same thing. Now you see why
Jesus uttered the words He did in Mark 7:7 and its context -
The Jewish form of this common custom is to adorn the
synagogue with flowers on the Feast of Weeks, and the lilies
which are used for this purpose are sometimes taken (by an
inspired sublimation) to symbolize that "lily of the valley"
which, in the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs, is
none other than Israel itself.
Another Pentecost custom which has its counterpart in
Gentile usage is that of eating dairy dishes, especially those
made with cheese. The usual explanation of this custom is
fanciful enough. In Psalm 68 - which is prescribed as the
"anthem" of the festival - the mountain on which the Law was
given is described (vs.15) as "a mountain divine, a Bashan-like
mount, a mount of gabnunim, a Bashan-like mount." The word
gabnunim (which does not recur in this form elsewhere in Scrip-
ture) really means "gibbous, many-peaked," but it was fancifully
connected with the Hebrew gebinah, "cheese," the conception of a
mountain made of cheese being a commonplace of folktale.
Accordingly, it was maintained that the eating of cheese was
a reminder of the giving of the Law at this season! In reality,
cheese and dairy dishes are eaten at this time because the
festival has a pastoral as well as an agricultural significance.
Thus, at the analogous Scottish celebration of Beltane, on May I,
dairy dishes are commonly consumed, and churning and
cheese-making are a common feature of spring harvest festivals in
many parts of the world. In Macedonia, for instance, the Sunday
before Lent is known as "Cheese Sunday"; in several districts of
Germany cheese and dairy dishes are (or were) standard fare at
That such usages are extremely ancient is shown by the fact
that at the Roman rural festival of Parilia (April 21), which
fell at the same time of year as marks the beginning of the
barley harvest in Palestine, milk and must were drunk, and the
image of the pastoral god Pales was sprinkled with the former.
Moreover, that a rite involving the seething of a kid in milk was
part of the Canaanite prototype of Pentecost is strongly
suggested by the fact - noted already by Maimonides - that in two
passages of the Pentateuch (Exod.23:19, 34:26) where this
practice is prohibited to the Israelites, it is somehow connected
with the offering of firstfruits; and the rite of seething a kid
in milk seems actually to be mentioned in a recently discovered
Canaanite text possibly designed for a spring festival.
(The truth of "seething a kid in its mother's milk" is given in a
study on this Website. You can see how mankind, both heathen,
Jewish, and "Christian" so-called, how borrowed and adopted, have
added, to the word of the Lord, and to the observing of His
Festivals, which He has strictly forbidden us to do in
Deut.12:29-32 - Keith Hunt)
If, however, anthropology and comparative religion throw
light on many features of the festival, there is one which still
remains a puzzle, namely, its precise date.
In the earlier code of the Pentateuch, it is said, quite
vaguely, that it is to take place seven full weeks after the
beginning of the harvest. This is the kind of vague and general
dating which one would naturally expect in a primitive
agricultural society unconscious of a fixed and stable calendar.
Later, however, the date is given more precisely: the
festival is to be celebrated seven full weeks "after the morrow
of the sabbath" (Lev. 23:I5).
Scholars have long disputed the meaning of this term.
According to the Sadducees and the Samaritans, the word "sabbath"
is here to be taken literally and refers to the first sabbath in
Passover. Pentecost would therefore always fall on a Sunday.
(AND THIS IS THE CORRECT UNDERSTANDING as I prove in a number of
studies under "Pentecost" on this Website - Keith Hunt)
The Pharisees, on the other hand, contended that "sabbath"
was but a loose term for "festival," and this interpretation has
prevailed in Jewish usage. The counting of the fifty days
therefore begins with the second day of Passover.
(VERY IN-CORRECT! For the Pharisee Pentecost then falls on a
fixed calendar date every year. God said we had to COUNT to
Pentecost each year, a fixed calendar date does away with having
to count, hence such a Pharisee idea is contrary to God's
instructions - Keith Hunt)
A novel view was put forward, some fifty-five years ago, by
the distinguished Jewish Assyriologist, the late Morris Jastrow.
According to this scholar (later followed by many others), the
original meaning of the word sabbath was "full moon," i.e., the
moment when the moon comes, as it were, to a stop (Hebrew:
shabat), its waxing changing to waning. Jastrow supported this
view by reference to an Assyrian calendar now in the British
Museum, where the term was applied to the fifteenth day of a
lunar month. Since Passover in fact begins at full moon, "the
morrow of the sabbath" would denote, quite simply, the second day
of the festival. The objection to this is, however, that there is
no evidence to prove that the term sabbath regularly bore this
meaning. All that is really implied by the statement in the
Assyrian calendar is that in a given month, on a particular
occasion, the sabbath (in whatever sense we take it) happened to
coincide with the full moon, not that this was the standard term
for that event.
Lastly, an ingenious theory has recently been propounded by
Professors Julius and Hildegarde Lewy. According to these
scholars, the ancient Semites used more than one calendar, and
for practical purposes these had often to be accommodated to one
another. One of the prevalent systems was to reckon time by
pentacontads, that is, in stretches of fifty days, while another
was to reckon by lunar months. The two methods were reconciled by
regarding the interval between the end of a pentacontad and the
next new moon as a "vacant" period, outside the ordinary
calendar. Such a period would have been called "Sabbath" or
standstill, and the reference to "the morrow of the Sabbath"
would be a relic of this ancient computation.
Whether this theory is right or wrong, further discoveries
alone will tell. In the long run, except to professional students
of antiquity, this is not particularly important. What matters is
not the origin of the festival, but the meaning and value which
it has acquired in the course of its subsequent history. And
these are values which transcend any single date or, for that
matter, any single epoch.
(The truth is Israel from the time of Moses HAD a calendar. And
the word "sabbath" was literal. You can only have 7 "sabbaths"
and 7 "weeks" [7 x 7 = 49 days] working out to be COUNTED and
then the day after, or the 50th day, being Pentecost or as the
Greek word is "count 50" - all working together to always come on
a Sunday, but not on the same calendar date every year. Well for
the full in-depth truth on counting to Pentecost, see my studies
under "Pentecost" on this Website - Keith Hunt)