An important part of the celebration of Passover and the seven days of Unleavened Bread was the day on which the high priest waved the עמר (omer) of freshly cut grain in front of the altar of Yahweh as an offering.
This event occurred on the first day of the 50-day count to the חג שבעות (Khag Shabuath; Festival of Weeks).
As a result, for the Jews and later the Christians, the events associated with the 50 days of the Festival of Weeks (also called Pentecost) were regarded as an important facet of the Passover celebration.
The divergent opinions over exactly which day the omer wave offering took place proved to be the source of much debate among the various Jewish religious factions.
For this reason, no discussion of the Passover and seven days of Unleavened Bread can be complete without addressing the issues surrounding the day of the omer wave offering, the 50-day period, and the celebration of the Khag of Shabuath (Festival of Weeks; Pentecost).
In the present post we shall examine the scriptural commands and statutes regarding Pentecost. This investigation will allow us later on to examine the different interpretations used by the various Jewish and Christian schools and analyze their merits.
The thanksgiving harvest festival of the 50th day, meanwhile, is referred to as the חג השבעות (Khag ha-Shabuath; Festival of the Weeks),3 Aramaic
חגא דשבועיא (Khagga di-Shebuaya), because one must count seven full weeks (49 days) from waving the omer offering.4
The Khag of Weeks is listed as one of Yahweh’s three moadim (appointed times) to be celebrated during the year.13 It is specifically referred to in the Torah as a “חקת עלם (khoquth olam; world-age lasting statute).”14
The first written command to observe the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost) is found in the marriage covenant made with Israel at Mount Sinai.15 The fact that it is mentioned with no explanation as to how one was to celebrate it points to the fact that its tenets were already well-established.
As demonstrated in the publication by Qadesh La Yahweh Press titled The Festivals and Sacred Days of Yahweh, with the discussion of the seven days of Unleavened Bread, the original covenant at Mount Sinai was a written codification of the commandments and age-lasting statutes already required in the verbal agreement of the Abrahamic Covenants.16
In support of this pre-Exodus requirement, the ancient Jewish book of Jubilees claims that not only did Isaak, Ishmael, and their father Abraham celebrate this festival but so did Noah and his sons before them and Jacob after them.17 Even present-day scholars acknowledge that the Festival of Weeks bears the signs of a pre-Exodus agricultural festival.18
Under the handwritten Torah there are three aspects to this important scriptural festival:
• The waving of an omer offering on the first day.
• The festal period lasting 50 days.
• The high Sabbath, sacred convocation, and wave offering on the 50th and last day.
The difference between the two wave offerings is that the first consisted of an omer of freshly cut grain while the last was represented by two loaves of freshly baked bread, each loaf made with two-tenth parts of an ephah of leavened flour.20
Day of the Omer Wave Offering
Under the Torah, on the first day of the 50 days an עמר (omer), or “sheaf,” wave offering is required. An עמר (omer) is a dry measure or gathering of “newly cut grain,”21 as in “a heap.”22 An omer equals about four pints and is calculated as one-tenth of a Hebrew ephah.23
This wave offering of newly cut grain is a gift to Yahweh of the firstfruits of the land from each year’s harvest. The offering occurs in the spring and is directly connected with the Promised Land. This offering is described in detail in the book of Leviticus:
When you come into the land (of Promise) which I am giving to you, and have reaped its harvest, and have brought in this omer, the beginning of your harvest, to the priest, then he shall wave this omer before Yahweh for your acceptance. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.24
As we shall see, what is meant by the phrase “on the day after the Sabbath” proves to be a point of serious contention among the various sects of Judaism. Connected with the omer wave offering was also a burnt offering of a perfect lamb as well as a food and drink offering.25
Under the guidance of this statute, no one could harvest or eat any of the new year’s crop until the offering had been made by the high priest at the altar:
And you shall not eat bread, and roasted grain, and new grain until the self-same day; this until you have brought the offering of your eloahi. It is a world-age lasting statute for your generations in all your dwellings.26
Philo, the first century C.E. Alexandrian Jewish priest who belonged to the Pharisaic sect, had a great deal to say about the omer wave offering. To begin with, he uses the Greek term ἑορτὴν (heorten; festival) to describe the type of day for this offering.
We must keep in mind that the Greek term ἑορτὴν (heorten) has a much broader connotation than the Hebrew term khag (festival).27
It includes any celebration, banquet, sacrifice, or time of offering.28 Yet, Scriptures never specifically refer to the day of the omer wave offering as a khag, sacred convocation, or high Sabbath.
Philo, on the other hand, includes under his definition of an ἑορτὴν every day, the Sabbath day, and the day of the new moon.29 Therefore, for Philo’s purpose, a “ἑορτὴν (heorten; festival)” simply means a special observance.
Philo continues by noting that the fifth of the ten Jewish ἑορταί (heortai; festivals) or special observations “is the offering of the first ears, the sacred δράγμα (dragma; handful),”30 dragma being his Greek translation of the Hebrew word omer.31
In another place, he refers to this day as a special heorten for the “hand-grip of corn.”32 Philo adds definition for dating this event when he writes that “within the festival (of Unleavened Bread),” which he calls a “springtime festival,”33 there is “another ἑορτῇ (heorte; festival).”
He then describes the omer wave offering in the following way:
This (festival) is called the δράγμα (dragma; Handful), a name given to it from the ceremony which consists in bringing it to the altar as a firstfruit, both of the land which has been given to the nation to dwell in and of the whole earth, so that it serves that purpose both to the nation in particular and for the whole human family in general.34
Philo remarks that in the first century C.E. the “handful (= omer) thus offered was of barley.” He continues:
The Torah ordained that the firstfruit offerings should be made of barley, a species of grain regarded as holding the second place in value as food. For wheat holds the first place and as the firstfruit of this has greater distinction, the Torah postponed it to a more suitable season in the future.35
As we shall see below, wheat, holding the first place in value as food, was the primary firstfruit offering for the last day of the 50-day festival; wheat being a New Testament symbol for the righteous who will be harvested by Yahweh.36
Philo further notes that this omer cereal offering can only come from the sacred land (i.e., the Promised Land), and must be a gift fit for the deity alone.37 He then adds what he believed to be the higher meaning of this offering.
While defining the symbolism of these “firstfruits of your reaping,” he writes that they are “not of the land but of ourselves, that we may mow and reap ourselves, by consecrating every nourishing, excellent and worthy growth.”38
The first century Pharisee and Jewish priest Josephus also describes the grain used in his day as barley and the time of this offering as during the days of Unleavened Bread. At that time, he writes:
. . . our people partake of the crops which they have reaped and which have not been touched until then, and esteeming it right first to do homage to the deity, to whom they owe the abundance of these gifts, they offer to him the firstfruits of the barley in the following wise. After parching and crushing the little sheaf of ears and purifying the barley for grinding, they bring to the altar an assarona (= omer)39 for the deity, and, having flung a handful thereof on the altar they leave the rest for the use of the priests. Thereafter all are permitted, publicly or individually, to begin to harvest.40
The 50 Days
Scriptures provide a specific method for counting the 50 days for the Festival of Weeks. We find this method first mentioned in the book of Leviticus:
And you shall number for yourself from the day after the Sabbath, from the day you bring in the omer of the wave offering, they shall be seven complete Sabbaths, until the day after the seventh Sabbath. You shall number 50 days.41
Similarly, the book of Deuteronomy states:
Josephus comments on these instructions:
When the seventh week following this sacrifice has elapsed—these are the 49 days of the “Weeks” . . .44
Philo, meanwhile, writes:
The Festival of the Handful, which has all these grounds of precedence (privileges), indicated in the Torah, is also in fact anticipatory of another greater festival. For it is from it that the day of Pentecost is reckoned, by counting seven sevens, which are then crowned with the sacred number by the monad, which is an incorporeal image of the deity, who it resembles because it also stands alone.45
Just how one is to utilize the count of seven complete Sabbaths became a matter of much dispute among the various Jewish factions. We shall examine their different approaches in detail in a later post.
The 50th Day
The 50th and last day of the celebration was the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost). It was the greatest day of the 50-day period, being designated a high Sabbath and sacred convocation. Leviticus, for example, states:
And you shall make a proclamation on this same day, a sacred מקראי (miqrai; gatherings for reading, convocation) it is to you. You shall not do any laborious work. It is a world-age lasting statute in all your dwellings in your generations.48
Similarly, Numbers states:
And on the day of the firstfruits, as you offer a new food offering to Yahweh, in your weeks a sacred מקראי (miqrai; gatherings for reading, convocation) shall be for you, you shall not do any laborious work.49
The 50th day was also a khag. In Exodus the command was given to observe it as the “Khag of the harvest, the firstfruits of your labor of what you sow in the field.”50
Likewise, Deuteronomy states:
And you shall perform the Khag of Weeks to Yahweh your eloahi, according to the measure of the free-will offering of your hand, which you shall give, accordingly as Yahweh your eloahi has blessed you.51
Under the Torah, another type of תנופה (tenuphah; consecrated wave offering) of food, along with other sacrifices, was made. The book of Exodus specifically names wheat as the firstfruits.
And you shall observe for yourself the Khag of Weeks, the firstfruits of the wheat harvest.52
The ceremony is described in Leviticus:
And you shall bring near a new food offering to Yahweh; you shall bring in bread out of your dwellings for a wave offering, two (loaves); they shall be of two-tenth parts of flour; they shall be baked with leavening, firstfruits to Yahweh.53
Along with these two loaves were provided seven perfect year-old lambs, one bullock, and two rams for burnt offerings, with a food offering, a drink offering, and a fire offering of sweet fragrances to Yahweh.54
The Pharisaic priest named Philo labels “the Festival of Sevens or Weeks” as the seventh of his ten ἑορταί (heortai; festivals) or observances of the Jews, seven for him being the perfect number.57 He describes this festival as follows:
The festival which is held when the number 50 is reached has acquired the title of “first-products.” On it is the custom to bring two leavened loaves of wheaten bread for a sample offering of that kind of grain as the best form of food. One explanation of the name, “Festival of First-products,” is that the first produce of the young wheat and the earliest fruit to appear is brought as a sample offering before the year’s harvest comes to be used by men.58
Philo notes that the offering takes the form of loaves instead of wheaten meal.59 Wheat is used because all other crops are second in ranking as food.60 The offering itself was given as a thanksgiving.61
Josephus, meanwhile, writes:
Pentecost—thus the Jews call a festival which occurs seven weeks after (Passover), and takes its name from the number of intervening days.62
He describes the festival as follows:
When the seventh week following this sacrifice has elapsed—these are the 49 days of the “Weeks”—on the Pentecost day, which the Hebrews call “Asartha, (Closing Assembly),”63 the word denoting “50th,” they present to the deity bread of two assarons (omer portions)64 of flour of wheat made with leaven and, as a sacrifice, two lambs. These are by ordinance to be offered to the deity, but are made up into a repast for the priests, and it is not permitted to leave any portion of them over for the next day.65
The name ἀσαρθὰ; (Asartha), Hebrew עצרת (Atsarth; Closing Assembly), is used to describe the day ending a festival period.
For example, the last day of the seven days of Unleavened Bread as well as the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles are both referred to as an Atsarth.66
To be continued . . .
Time to take a break everyone. When you are ready you can move on to the next part: 6. Passover – Pentecost Connection II.
For further reading see the publication by Qadesh La Yahweh press titled The Festivals and Sacred Days of Yahweh.
Click this link for Bibliography and Abbreviations.
1 Lev. 23:16.
2 LXX Lev. 23:16.
3 Deut. 16:16; 2 Chron. 8:13; cf., Exod. 34:22, חג שבעת Deut. 16:10, חג שבעות.
4 B. Men., 65a.
5 Lev. 23:15-21; Num. 28:6; Deut. 16:9.
6 Exod. 23:16; Num. 28:26.
7 The Greek word πεντηκοστός (pentecostos) means “fiftieth” and in the NT it is used to refer to “the fiftieth day” of the Festival of Weeks (GEL, p. 620; SEC, Gk. #4005).
8 Jos. Wars 2:3:1.
9 Jos. Wars 1:13:3, 6:5:3, Antiq. 3:10:6, 13:8:4, 14:13:4, 17:10:2.
10 Philo Cont., 8 §21, Decal. 30 §160, Spec. 2:30 §176.
11 Tob. 2:1.
12 2 Macc. 12:31-32.
13 2 Chron. 8:13; Lev. 23:1-4, 9-21.
14 Lev. 23:21; cf., Deut. 4:12-14; Mal. 4:4. Jer. 5:24, also indicates that this period is by statute. Jeremiah tells us that Yahweh keeps for us “the חקות (khoquth; statute) of the weeks of the harvest.”
15 Exod. 23:14-17, being part of the covenant found in Exod. 20:1-23:32.
16 See FSDY, Chaps. IV, VI, VIII.
17 Jub. 6:17-22, 16:13, 22:1-4, 44:1-4.
18 E.g. NCE 2, p. 105.
19 Lev. 23:15, 17. The Hebrew word תנופה (tenuphah) means, “a brandishing (in threat); by impl. tumult; spec. the official undulation of sacrificial offerings:—offering, shaking, wave (offering)” (SEC, Heb. #8573); “waving, shaking . . . bread for consecration (in wave-offering)” (CHAL, p. 392).
20 Lev. 23:10, 15, 17; Deut. 16:9. Also see below n. 23.
21 CHAL p. 277, “(newly) cut ears of grain (not sheaves; the stalks were cut off right under the ears.”
22 SEC Heb. #6014, 6016.
23 That an omer is about four pints, see NBD, p. 1323. One omer equals one-tenth of an ephah (Exod. 16:36). One-tenth portion of flour also equals one-tenth of an ephah (Num. 28:5). Therefore, one-tenth portion of flour equals one-tenth of an ephah. The two-tenths portion of flour in Lev. 23:17, as a result, equals two omer portions.
24 Lev. 23:9-11.
25 Lev. 23:12-13.
26 Lev., 23:14.
27 Scriptures deal with three khag periods (Exod. 23:14-17, 34:18-23; Deut. 16:16; 2 Chron. 8:13): First, “the Passover shall be to you a khag of seven days” (Ezek. 45:21); the same period is at other times defined as keeping “the Khag of Unleavened Bread seven days”(2 Chron. 30:21; Ezra 6:22). Second, there is the 50th day called the “Khag of Weeks” (Pentecost) (Deut. 16:9-10, cf., 2 Chron. 8:13, and Lev. 23:15-21), though the entire 50-day period is often treated as an observance.
And third, “the Khag of Tabernacles, seven days” (Lev. 23:34, 39, 41; Num. 29:12; Deut. 16:13, 31:10, cf., Neh. 7:73-8:18; 1 Kings 8:2, 65, cf., 2 Chron. 5:3, 7:8-9; Neh. 8:18).
The only festival period that is specifically subdivided into individual khagi by the Torah is the seven-day Khag of Passover and Unleavened Bread. On these occasions, the Passover of the 14th is called “a khag” (Exod., 12:14, 34:6) and the 15th, the first day of the remaining seven days, is made to be “a khag” (Num. 28:17; Lev. 23:6). The seventh and last day of the seven days of eating unleavened bread is also individually called “a khag to Yahweh” (Exod. 13:6). By implication, these details show that every day of that seven-day festival is a khag. We must also be careful to notice that in the often disputed verses found in Num. 28:17, and Lev. 23:6, it does not reference the 15th as the beginning of “a khag of seven days,” as often assumed and as we find, for example, with the Khag of Tabernacles (e.g. Lev. 23:34, 39, 41; Num. 29:12; Deut. 16:13). The phrasing used in these passages is importantly different. What they actually provide is a mere closing statement about the entire period of Passover and Unleavened Bread, i.e., “you shall eat unleavened bread seven days.” This phrasing was deliberate, for both passages begin with the statement that Passover was on the 14th (Lev. 23:5; Num. 28:16), and on the 14th one was required to eat unleavened bread (Exod. 12:18).
The late Samaritans give as the seven moadim the Passover, the seventh day of unleavened bread, the Festival of Weeks, the Memorial of blowing Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Festival of Tabernacles, and the eighth day following the seven-day Festival of Tabernacles (SHDL, pp. 165-168, 178; BCal, p. 6). Philo, meanwhile, gives ten ἑορταί (heortai; festivals): each day, each Sabbath, each new moon, Passover, the Handful wave offering, Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, the sacred first day of the seventh moon, the fast of the tenth day of the seventh moon, and the Festival of Booths (Philo, Spec., 2:11). The inclusion of every day, the Sabbath day, and day of the new moons by Philo’s use of the term ἑορτὴν (heorten) proves that he goes well beyond the idea of a khag.
28 The Greek word ἑορτὴν (heorten) means “a feast or festival, holiday” but in general is used to mean “holiday-making, amusement, pastime” (GEL, p. 277). For example, the “family זבח (zebakh; slaughter or sacrifice)” used by Jonathan as an excuse for David’s absence at King Saul’s dinner on the second day of the month (1 Sam. 20:24-29, esp. v. 29) is in the Greek text of the LXX also literally translated as the “family θυσία (thusia; sacrifice).” Yet in the Greek works of Josephus, more oriented toward a Greek speaking, pagan audience, the same thought is referred to as an ἑορτὴν (heorten; festival) (Jos., Antiq., 6:11:9).
29 Philo, Spec., 2:11. For his discussion of each of these celebrations see Philo, Spec., 2:12-14, every day, 2:15-16, the weekly Sabbath day, 2:26, the new moons.
30 Philo, Spec., 2:11 §41.
31 The Greek term δράγμα (dragma) means, “as much as one can grasp, a handful, truss of corn . . . uncut corn” (GEL, p. 211). The LXX also uses δράγμα (dragma) as a translation of the Hebrew term omer (e.g. LXX Lev. 23:12, 15).
32 Philo, Som., 2:11 §75.
33 Philo, Spec., 2:28 §160.
34 Philo, Spec., 2:29 §162. Philo further argues that this sacrifice was required only from the Israelites living on the sacred land because “the nation of Judah is to the whole inhabited world what a priest is to the State” (Philo, Spec., 2:29 §163).
35 Philo, Spec., 2:29 §175.
36 Matt. 3:11-12; Luke 3:15-17. Also see Matt. 13:24-30, 36-41, esp. v. 25, 29, 30; and Luke 22:31-32.
37 Philo, Som., 2:11 §76.
38 Philo, Som., 2:11 §77.
39 Jos., Antiq., 3:1:6, with MT Exod. 16:16; and Jos., Antiq., 3:9:4, with MT Num. 15:4, and MT Exod. 16:36. An assarona = an omer = one-tenth part of an ephah.
40 Jos., Antiq., 3:10:5.
41 Lev. 23:15-16.
42 The Hebrew term קמה (qamah) means, “something that rises, i.e. a stalk of grain” (SEC, Heb. #7054); “standing grain” (CHAL, p. 319).
43 Deut. 16:9.
44 Jos., Antiq., 3:10:6.
45 Philo, Spec., 2:30 §176f.
46 Philo, Spec., 2:15 §58.
47 For example, Philo writes of these 50 days, “by counting seven sevens, which are then crowned with the sacred number by the monad” (Philo, Spec., 2:30 §176f). Similarly, he sees the eighth day after the seven days of the Festival of Tabernacles as a day that crowns (Philo, Spec., 2:33 §211).
48 Lev. 23:21.
49 Num. 28:26.
50 Exod. 23:16.
51 Deut. 16:10.
52 Exod. 34:22.
53 Lev. 23:16-17.
54 Lev. 23:18.
55 Lev. 23:19.
56 Lev. 23:20.
57 Philo, Spec., 2:11 §41.
58 Philo, Spec., 2:30 §179.
59 Philo, Spec., 2:30 §186.
60 Philo, Spec., 2:30 §181.
61 Philo, Spec., 2:30 §182.
62 Jos., Wars, 2:3:1.
63 The Greek name ἀσαρθὰ (Asartha) is from the Aramaic form עצרתא (Atsartha) (B. Pes., 42b) a form of the Hebrew name עצרת (Atsarth) (Hag., 2:4) meaning, “an assembly, espec. on a festival or holiday” (SEC, Heb. #6116), “festive assembly” (CHAL, pp. 281f). It is derived from the word עצר (atsar), “to inclose; by anal. to hold back; also to maintain, rule, assemble” (SEC, Heb. #6113). J. J. B. Segal argues that an atsarth is “a formal reunion at the shrine,” serving as a tempus clausum or ending assembly that closes or places a seal on the festival period (THP, pp. 208–213). Thackeray refers to it as “closing (festival)” (Thackeray, Jos., iv, p. 439, n. d), as does JE, 9, p. 592. This concept also agrees with Philo’s interpretation that the eighth day of the Festival of Tabernacles and the 50th day of the Festival of Weeks act as a “crown” on those festivals (Philo, Spec., 2:30 §176f, 2:33 §211). The Hebrew name עצרת (Atsarth) is often utilized as a substitute for “Weeks” by the Talmudists in reference to this festival (JE, 9, pp. 592, 593).
64 One assarona = one omer = one-tenth part of an ephah, see above ns. 23 & 39. Therefore, two assarons of flour equal two omer portions.
65 Jos., Antiq., 3:10:6.
66 Deut. 16:8; Lev. 23:36.