Saturday, April 15, 2006

What is the meaning of Pesach?

Pesach is NOT the name of a holiday. It is the name of a certain kind of sacrifice, just like there is an olah (burnt-offering), shelamim (peace) and in other traditions todah (thanksgiving) chatath (sin), asham (guilt) and nedabah (voluntary). These are all different kinds of sacrifices that people were expected to offer to yahweh on different occasions and whose sacrificial procedure typically varied. It seems that the distinguishing characteristic of the Pesach was NOT its connection to the Abib festival (dated to the 14th of the first lunar month in P). Rather the pesach sacrifice was tied to the season of the year. In other words, other sacrifices were contingent upon the commital of transgressions (asham) or upon certain events (todah) or were offered on a regular basis (olah) or were just general peace-offerings offered to yahweh when things were going well (shelam or shelamim). Pesach’s uniqueness was that it was tied to a solar calendar; it was brought on the three key seasons of the solar calendar: the season of ripening (abib), the season of harvest (qatsir) and the season of gathering (asiph).

Ironically, even though it seems that there would be many other occasions when one would bring an animal sacrifice to the Yahweh shrine, there actualy wasn’t. In fact, it seems that in the very beginning of days, people would not even observe three annual festivals but just one. This is apparent from the passage in 1Samuel that describes how Elkanah used to go up to the house of yahweh in Shiloh to sacrifice "miyamim yamimah" (from year to year). But even when three times a year became the norm (perhaps sometime during the divided monarchy after 922 BCE), it was usually ONLY three times a year. Unlike in P where a person is obliged to bring an offering upon various actions and events, as described above, those sacrifices are never mentioned in J or E. In JE we only find three kinds of sacrifices: Olah, Shelam (sometimes called zebach shelam or simply zebach) and Pesach (which is also sometimes called zebach pesach or simply zebach). An olah was offered wholly to yahweh and was not brought by individuals and so we won’t discuss that here. Between Shelamim and Pesach we find no difference in sacrifice ritual or rules. The only difference is that Pesach was tied to a season and the Shelam was not but since people were bringing the Pesach three times a year anyway, the Shelam never gained widespread practice by inviduals (atleast during the first temple).

In essence what I am saying here is that during the first temple there was no clear distinction between Pesach and Shelam. The Pesach was the Shelam (that, is the seasonal offering was actually little more than a peace offering) and the Shelam was the Pesach (that is, the peace offering was tied to annual seasons). Accordingly, when JE talks about a Pesach it is talking about ANY peace offering (although those offerings were typically tied to a season) and the term is synonymous with Zebach which literally means simply "sacrifice".

What is the connection between Pesach and Matsah?

In the JE tradition, although leavened bread tastes better and is easier to digest than unleavened bread, it is considered "impure" and unbecoming for a godly sacrifice. Just like when it comes to animal offerings and grain offerings Yahweh wants the firstborn and the firstfruit, so when it comes to baked goods yahweh prefers matsah. It is really not my point here to go into details as to why and how this tradition developed. What we do know is that this is an extremely old tradtition and it is NOT tied specifically to Pesach. Any grain offering made to Yahweh or eaten along with sacrificial meat offered to Yahweh ought to be unleavened.

The prohibition against chamets in the oldest pentateuchal sources (Exodus 23:18 and 34:25) are very simple and minimal:

Not to eat chamets together with the sacrificial meat of the Pesach, expressed in the archaic form "do not slaughter the blood of my sacrifice over chamets".

There is no command to eat Matsah as in D and P.

The seven-day prohibition is not from JE. According to JE, chamets is only forbidden to be eaten along with the Pesach.

Analysis of the JE texts on the Abib festival

שמות לד יח אֶת־חַג הַמַּצּוֹת תִּשְׁמֹר שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תֹּאכַל מַצּוֹת אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ לְמוֹעֵד חֹדֶשׁ הָֽאָבִיב כִּי בְּחֹדֶשׁ הָֽאָבִיב יָצָאתָ מִמִּצְרָֽיִם: יט כָּל־פֶּטֶר רֶחֶם לִי וְכָֽל־מִקְנְךָ תִּזָּכָר פֶּטֶר שׁוֹר וָשֶֽׂה: כ וּפֶטֶר חֲמוֹר תִּפְדֶּה בְשֶׂה וְאִם־לֹא תִפְדֶּה וַֽעֲרַפְתּוֹ כֹּל בְּכוֹר בָּנֶיךָ תִּפְדֶּה וְלֹא־יֵֽרָאוּ פָנַי רֵיקָֽם: כא שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּֽעֲבֹד וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי תִּשְׁבֹּת בֶּֽחָרִישׁ וּבַקָּצִיר תִּשְׁבֹּֽת: כב וְחַג שָֽׁ בֻעֹת תַּֽעֲשֶׂה לְךָ בִּכּוּרֵי קְצִיר חִטִּים וְחַג הָֽאָסִיף תְּקוּפַת הַשָּׁנָֽה: כג שָׁלשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵֽרָאֶה כָּל־זְכוּרְךָ אֶת־פְּנֵי הָֽאָדֹן יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: כד כִּֽי־אוֹרִישׁ גּוֹיִם מִפָּנֶיךָ וְהִרְחַבְתִּי אֶת־גְּבֻלֶךָ וְלֹֽא־יַחְמֹד אִישׁ אֶֽת־אַרְצְךָ בַּֽעֲלֹֽתְךָ לֵֽרָאוֹת אֶת־פְּנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ שָׁלשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָֽה: כה לֹֽא־תִשְׁחַט עַל־חָמֵץ דַּם־זִבְחִי וְלֹֽא־יָלִין לַבֹּקֶר זֶבַח חַג הַפָּֽסַח:

שמות כג יד שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים תָּחֹג לִי בַּשָּׁנָֽה: טו אֶת־חַג הַמַּצּוֹת תִּשְׁמֹר שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תֹּאכַל מַצּוֹת כַּֽאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ לְמוֹעֵד חֹדֶשׁ הָֽאָבִיב כִּי־בוֹ יָצָאתָ מִמִּצְרָיִם וְלֹא־יֵֽרָאוּ פָנַי רֵיקָֽם: טז וְחַג הַקָּצִיר בִּכּוּרֵי מַֽעֲשֶׂיךָ אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע בַּשָּׂדֶה וְחַג הָֽאָסִף בְּצֵאת הַשָּׁנָה בְּאָסְפְּךָ אֶֽת־מַֽעֲשֶׂיךָ מִן־הַשָּׂדֶֽה: יז שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵֽרָאֶה כָּל־זְכוּרְךָ אֶל־פְּנֵי הָֽאָדֹן יְהוָֹֽה: יח לֹֽא־תִזְבַּח עַל־חָמֵץ דַּם־זִבְחִי וְלֹֽא־יָלִין חֵֽלֶב־חַגִּי עַד־בֹּֽקֶר: יט רֵאשִׁית בִּכּוּרֵי אַדְמָתְךָ תָּבִיא בֵּית יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹֽא־תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּֽחֲלֵב אִמּֽוֹ:
I have this strong suspicion that the command about eating Matsah for seven days was not originally part of the JE text. Rather the E text should read something like this (and a similar substitution should be made to the J text):

יד שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים תָּחֹג לִי בַּשָּׁנָֽה: טו אֶת־חַג הַאביב תעשה לך בכורי שְעֹרָה: טז וְחַג הַקָּצִיר בִּכּוּרֵי מַֽעֲשֶׂיךָ אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע בַּשָּׂדֶה וְחַג הָֽאָסִף בְּצֵאת הַשָּׁנָה בְּאָסְפְּךָ אֶֽת־מַֽעֲשֶׂיךָ מִן־הַשָּׂדֶֽה: יז וְלֹא־יִרְאוּ פָנַי רֵיקָֽם שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יִרְאֶה כָּל־זְכוּרְךָ אֶת־פְּנֵי הָֽאָדֹן יְהוָֹֽה: יח לֹֽא־תִזְבַּח עַל־חָמֵץ דַּם־זִבְחִי וְלֹֽא־יָלִין חֵֽלֶב־חַגִּי עַד־בֹּֽקֶר: יט רֵאשִׁית בִּכּוּרֵי אַדְמָתְךָ תָּבִיא בֵּית יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹֽא־תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּֽחֲלֵב אִמּֽוֹ:

And the translation is as follows (NRSV with my revision):

14 Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me. 15 You shall observe the Festival of Fresh Ears (of barley) with the first fruits of barley 16 and the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of your labor that you sow in the field and the Festival of Ingathering at the year’s end with your labor that you gather from the field. 17 No one shall appear before me empty-handed. Three times in the year, all your males shall see the face of the lord yahweh. 18 You shall not spill the blood of my sacrifice over leavened bread, or let the fat of my festival remain until the morning. 19 The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Yahweh your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

How do I know that the seven-day matsah verse (Ex 23:15 and 34:18) is an insertion by a later D or P editor?

There are several clues!

1. The language used is typical of P. Both the term "moed" and (appointed time) and "tishmor" (you shall guard) are hallmarks of P.

2. "as I have commanded you" is an extremely suspicious phrase and really doesn’t make any sense if it is part of JE. It seems that the author is referring to a widely known law code that the reader is assumed to be familiar with and the author’s intent is just to reiterate it and perhaps elaborate or modify it. Since the JE "book of the covenant" (of which this verse is part) is the the first published law code, such a reference to a past commandment does not make any sense. Where in JE do we previously find the seven-day matsah law? Even if we do find it elsewhere in JE (Ex 13:6-7 if you believe that this particular text is originally JE), why would we assume that the other instance is primal and and this one secondary and why would there be a need to reference it?

3. The other two festivals are named after an aglicultural season. Abib is the ripening of barley ears season Qatsir is the wheat harvest season and Asiph is the ingathering season. Why doesn’t he call it chag h’abib like the other two festivals? Note that in Leviticus 23:6 the P author names the three festivals Matsoth, Bikkurim and Sukkoth, all three names based on practices observed during those festivals rather than on aglicultural seasons and so we see that "festival of the matsoth" is a Priestly terminology.

4. We don’t find anywhere in the Bible or elsewhere that seven-day festivals were actually observed during the first temple, let alone three such festivals per year. (Since the text does not differentiate between the three festivals we are made to assume that they all last for seven days if we assume that the abib festival is seven days). Since the JE text was written during the first temple, they must have been applicable at the time of authorship and this verse can therefore not have been part of the original JE cultic calendar.

5. "for in it you emerged from Egypt" is the reason given for the observance of the Matsoth festival in the Abib season but that is inconsistent with the flow of the JE text. We see that the other festivals are tied to agricultural seasons and ONLY to agricultural seasons. Why would the JE author tie the "matsoth" festival to the historical event of Exodus while completely ignoring the association of the other festivals with any historical event in Israel’s history?

6. The implication of this verse is that Matsah is somehow unique to the abib festival but that seems to be disputed elsewhere in JE: in the cultic calendar all three annual festivals are mentioned and then laws pertaining to those festivals are enumerated and one of those is that the "sacrifice shall not be slaughtered over leavened bread". Clearly, this rule applies to the sacrifices of all three festivals and we thus see that the prohibition of chamets in JE is not peculiar to the Abib festival.

This is why I have come to the conclusion that the clause about eating matsah for seven days in the JE cultic calendar was added in by a later editor, probably from the priestly school. "as I have commanded you" refers to a command contained somewhere in the prestly code (probably Ex 12:15 since the prieslty cultic calendar Leviticus 23 hasn’t been introduced yet). The priestly writer thus deliberately edited the existing JE cultic calendar in order to produce a new and radical change: The festival of Abib is s seven day festival and not just one day and leavened bread is forbidden all seven days. Other major inventions of the priesly writer are:

Seven-day Matsoth and Sukkoth festival but only a one-day Bikkurim festival. (in J all three festivals are one-day).

Leavened bread is forbidden during the Matsoth festival, encouraged on the Bikkurim festival (the actual firstfruit grain offering brought on Bikkurim was chamets) and treated neutrally on the Sukkoth festival.

The Pesach animal sacrifice ("chag" or "zebach") is brought on the first day of the seven-day festival. (in JE the Pesach is offered on the seventh day of the Abib and Qatsir month).

The Pesach sacrifice is only offered on the matsoth festival. There is no Pesach sacrifice on other festivals; there are only communal Olah sacrifices. (in JE all three annual festivals are to be celebrated with Pesach animal sacrifices by the individual, if affordable).

The festivals are called Matsoth, Bikkurim and Sukkoth after the ritual actions required on each one of them: Eating of unleavened bread is unique to the Matsoth festival. The offering of firstfruits of the new wheat grain is unique to the Bikkurim festival and the dwelling in booths is unique to the Sukkoth festival. (In J the festivals are named after the agricultural seasons in which they are observed and the actual rituals are the same for all three except that the offerings are made from whatever produce is in season).

Matsoth and Sukkoth are on the fiteenth day of the month. Matsoth is in the first month and Sukkoth is in the seventh month. Bikkurim is an appendage to the matsoth festival just like Atsereth is an appendage to the Sukkoth festival. The only difference is that Bikkurim is celebrated seven weeks after Matsoth and Atsereth is celebrated immediately after Sukkoth. (In J, Qatsir is just as important a festival as Abib and Asiph and is NOT dependent in timing on Abib. Abib and Qatsir are observed on the seventh day after their respective agricultural season commences. Thus the Abib festival was held roughly on the seventh of Iyur and Qatsir on the seventh of Sivan. There does not seem to be a seven-day count towards the Asiph festival and so the Asiph festival was celebrated immediately upon the commence of Ingathering or anytime during the season (which is quite extensive).

individual vs national festival. The priestly festivals are national, that is the entire nation is to observe the festival on the very same day and in the manner prescribed by the Priestly code. In J, festival observance is an individual matter. Each person celebrates the festival when he is engaged in the agricultural activity to which it is attached. Thus, there is no single day during which the entire nation is convened in the central shrine in observance of a national holiday. Furthermore, J does not require the individual to offer anything specific in any given number or quantity. In J, the individual offers to yahweh whatever is seasonal in agriculture and whatever firstborn kosher animal is available for sacrifice as a Pesach.

The Pesach must be a one year old male sheep in P and does not have to be a firstborn whereas in JE the Pesach animal can be any kosher male animal of any age but it must be a firstborn. Furthermore, all firstborn animals must be dedicated to yahweh as Pesach sacrifices.
The Pesach meat is not shared with the priests in P but it is shared with the priests and with God in JE, that is, certain parts of the animal are burned on the altar and certain parts are earmarked for the priests. P does not need to require people to share the Pesach with priests for according to Priestly law firstborn animals are completely committed to them (Num 18:17-18) and so the priests had no need for Pesach meat.