As found with the celebration of Passover, there existed a great debate among the various Jewish factions, beginning in about the second century B.C.E., with regard to just how and when one was to count to the Khag of Shabuath (Weeks), also called Pentecost.
This debate was sparked by the fact that there is no direct statement found in Scriptures telling us exactly on which date one is to keep the Festival of Weeks.
Instead, the dating of the festival is dependent upon the timing of the עמר (omer) wave offering, as it relates to the seven days of Unleavened Bread, the interpretation of key words, and the inferences provided from context and statements made in Scriptures.
The result of this method was several varying views and the entire subject became a matter of much controversy.
Our next effort, therefore, is to examine important scriptural statements that must be used to determine the original practice of Pentecost and to investigate the approaches used by the various Jewish religious schools.
The calculations for keeping the Festival of Weeks was yet one more area where those holding to the Aristocratic view sharply opposed those advocating the Hasidic construct.
Their dispute centered upon the interpretation applied to Leviticus 23:11 which commands that the omer offering should be waved “on the day after the Sabbath.” The meaning of the word Sabbath as found in this verse became the source of much contention.
As a result, post-Biblical Jewish traditions soon varied concerning the day on which the sickle was to be put into the first corn of a year’s harvest.
Four different interpretations arose: two with a majority following and two with a minority following.
• Aristocratic (majority) view: the Sabbath referred to is the weekly Sabbath. The omer wave offering always occurs on the first day of the week falling just after the festival day of Passover.
• Quasi-Aristocratic (minority) view: the Sabbath referred to is the weekly Sabbath. The omer wave offering occurs on the first day of the week falling just after the end of the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
• Hasidic (majority) view: the Sabbath referred to is the high Sabbath festival day of Passover, which for the Hasidim is Abib 15. The omer wave offering, therefore, always occurs on the 16th of Abib (Nisan), the day after Passover, no matter which day of the week that might be.
• Quasi-Hasidic (minority) view: the Sabbath referred to is the high Sabbath festival occurring on the last day of the seven days of Unleavened Bread. For these quasi-Hasidic advocates this date is always Abib 21. The omer wave offering, therefore, always occurs on Abib 22, no matter which day of the week that might be.
To begin with, we shall quickly dispense with the two minority constructs.
These two views were originally advocated by some of the smaller Hasidic groups and a few others strongly influenced by them, such as the Essenes, the Qumran Covenanteers, the Ethiopian Falasha Jews, the Mishawayhs, and at least one Syrian group.
As we shall demonstrate, they are clearly aberrant and do not reflect the original meaning of the Levitical text.
One minority view is a quasi-Aristocratic system found in use among those at Qumran and in the Book of Jubilees. The advocates of this view used the Passover system of the Hasidim but, most likely due to their support of the Zadok line of priests, retained some Aristocratic leanings.
This Pentecost system always counted the 50 days from the Sunday which follows the seven days of Unleavened Bread.1
Like the Aristocratic groups and those that followed them on the Passover issue, the advocates of the quasi-Aristocratic Pentecost system understood the instruction found in Leviticus 23:15 that the Khag of Weeks was to be kept on “the day after the Sabbath,” as referring to the weekly Sabbath.
Therefore, the khag of the 50th day must always fall on the first day of the week.
Nevertheless, the advocates of this view failed in that they did not consider the important evidence from Joshua 5:10-12, which, as we have already demonstrated in an earlier chapter, clearly allows for the omer offering to be waved within the seven days of Unleavened Bread.2
The tenet that it must always be waved after the seven days of Unleavened Bread, therefore, is manifestly wrong.
A second minority view, the quasi-Hasidic Pentecost system, was used by a Syrian Jewish group and is continued to this day by the Falashas of Ethiopia. It always counts from the day after the last day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread.3
In this interpretation, the Sabbath of Leviticus 23:11 is not perceived as a weekly Sabbath but, as the Pharisees claimed, as a high Sabbath and festival day.
Yet, it too fails to consider Joshua 5:10-12, by also always placing the first day of the seven weeks beyond the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
We are now left with the two majority systems: one advocated by the Aristocratic groups—the Sadducees (and their Boethusian brothers), the Samaritans, and the Karaites—and a second practiced by the Hasidic Pharisees.
Once again we find ourselves entangled in the debate between the two leading factions of first century Judaism. J. Van Goudoever summarizes these two majority interpretations, stating:
Around the beginning of our era there were at least two rival systems for the counting of the 50 days; one from the Sunday after Passover to the Sunday 50 days later, and one from 16 Nisan to 6 Sivan. It appears that this was not only a question of difference of counting. It was also a difference in the theological conception of Revelation. According to the Pharisees, the Torah (i.e. the five Books of Moses) was revealed to Moses, and the Rabbis were to explain the Torah. According to the Zadokites every law was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai and other regulations were rejected by them.4
Aristocratic Pentecost System
The Sadducees, Boethusians, Samaritans, and the Karaites, all representatives of the Aristocratic view, understood the term “Sabbath” in Leviticus 23:11, literally hence; as the weekly Sabbath.5
This view was quite opposite that of the Pharisees, who interpreted this “Sabbath” as the “יום טוב (yom tob),” also Aramaic “יומא טבא (yoma toba),” or “festive day”6 of Passover (which for them was the 15th of Abib).7
In addition, the passage in Leviticus 23:15-16 became an important formula in the Aristocratic construct:
And you shall number for yourself from the day after the Sabbath, from the day you bring in the omer wave offering, they shall be seven complete Sabbaths, until the day after the seventh Sabbath. You shall number 50 days.
“The day after the seventh Sabbath” can only mean the day after the seventh weekly Sabbath day, for there was no other Sabbath or high Sabbath day occurring at this time.
This detail is further supported by the expression, “they shall be seven complete Sabbaths.” The words “complete Sabbath” is a reference to a complete week ending with a Sabbath day. Seven complete Sabbaths, in turn, equal 49 days.
The next day after the seventh weekly Sabbath is the 50th day. Therefore, for the advocates of the Aristocratic Pentecost view, the Festival of Weeks always fell on the first day of the week, on the 50th day from the presentation of the omer wave offering.9
A demonstration of the Aristocratic view was supplied by their antagonists, the Pharisees, in the Mishnah. In the section entitled the Hagigah, while discussing the issue of Pentecost and the slaughtering of animals on the Sabbath, this text reports:
The High Priest may not put on his high-priestly vestments, and mourning and fasting are permitted, to lend no support to the words of them (the Sadducees) that say, “The עצרת (Atsarth; Closing Assembly) falls on the day after the Sabbath.”10
The Babylonian Talmud similarly states:
For the Boethusians held that the Closing Assembly must always be on the day after the Sabbath.11
These statements demonstrate the belief of the Sadducees that the Festival of Weeks, contrary to the practice of the Pharisees, always came on the day after the weekly Sabbath.12
The first day of the 50 days, accordingly, must also fall on the day after the weekly Sabbath.
The differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees were also expressed by the Menahoth portion of the Mishnah.
While discussing the procedure used by the Pharisees to reap the barley corn for the omer wave offering, the author expresses the Pharisaic sensitivity to specific charges made by the Boethusian Sadducees (who were the priests). The passage reads:
How did they make (the omer) ready. The messengers of the court used to go out from the arab (= late afternoon) of the יום טוב (yom tob; festive day = Passover) and tie the corn in bunches while it was yet unreaped to make it easier to reap; and the towns nearby all assembled there together that it might be reaped with much pomp. When it grew dark he called out, Is the sun set? and they answered, Yes! Is the sun set? and they answered, Yes! Is this a sickle? and they answered, Yes! Is this a sickle? and they answered, Yes! Is this a basket? and they answered, Yes! Is this a basket? and they answered, Yes! On the Sabbath (day) he called out, On this Sabbath, and they answered, Yes! On this Sabbath, and they answered, Yes! Shall I reap? and they answered, Reap! Shall I reap? and they answered, Reap! He used to call out three times for every matter, and they answered, Yes! Yes! Yes! Wherefore was all this? Because of the Boethusians who used to say: The omer may not be reaped at the close of the יום טוב (yom tob; festive day) (= Passover).13
This statement is important because it reflects the early Sadducean (Boethusian) position that the omer of barley could not be reaped on the festive day of Passover. Yet, the Pharisees allowed that it could be reaped on the weekly Sabbath day.
This point is also indicated by the fact that the omer wave offering is mentioned as a separate item after the discussion of the rituals of Passover.14
The Pharisees could not deny this regulation and were careful that the sun had already set on their festive day of Passover before they reaped their omer of barley. Otherwise the Sadducees would have charged the Pharisees with error regarding their own Hasidic interpretation of which day was the festive day of Passover.
The Karaites also followed the Aristocratic system for Pentecost. The Karaite writer Jacob Al-Kirkisani (10th century C.E.) directly tells us from whom they received their practice. He writes:
As for Boethus he was of the opinion that Pentecost can only fall on a Sunday which is also the view of the Ananites and all the Karaites.15
In the same way, the Samaritans “maintain that the offering of the Sheaf is to be performed on the Sunday within the Passover week.”16 They also speak of the khag of the 50th day as the “Sabbath of the seven Sabbaths.”17
The Aristocratic interpretation of the seven Sabbaths is also basic to understanding their view. They define the “seven weeks” of Deuteronomy 16:9, by the “seven complete Sabbaths” of Leviticus 23:16.
The Karaite writer Samuel al-Magribi, for example, writes:
The expression “seven complete Sabbaths” means that each Sabbath is to serve as the concluding day of the week, by way of distinction from a Sabbath which falls in the middle of a different period of seven days, such a week not being regarded as “complete” since it is not uniform with the sequence of the seven days of Creation. The meaning of “complete” is thus that the week is to conclude with a Sabbath, which conforms with the ordinance, “Seven weeks you shall count for yourself” (Deut. 16:9), each week ending with a Sabbath. This is decisive proof in the hands of the Karaites, seekers of the truth, against the dissidents, who hold different opinions on this subject. The reason Scriptures mentions “Sabbaths” before “days” (Lev. 23:16) is because the Sabbaths are meant to be directly connected with the Sabbath quoted before, namely, the one mentioned in “on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Lev. 23:11).18
The important features of the Aristocratic view for counting the 50 days of Pentecost are, as a result, well-established.
The omer wave offering could only take place “after” Passover and never on that festival day; it can only take place on the first day of the week (Sunday); and it must follow a weekly Sabbath day that falls during one of the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
Counting seven complete Sabbath weeks from the day of the omer wave offering one arrives at the day after the seventh Sabbath. This day is the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost).
Pharisaic Pentecost System
The Pharisees held quite a contrary opinion. They insisted that the statement, “the day after the Sabbath,” as found in Leviticus 23:11 refers not to the weekly Sabbath but to the high Sabbath day of Passover, which is a יום טבא (yom tob; festive day).
Tobias, for example, writes:
“The day after the Sabbath” simply means “the day after the יום טוב (yom tob; festive day).”19
Their festival day for Passover was Abib 15. The day of the omer wave offering, accordingly, was always Abib 16, no matter which day of the week that might be.20
Under this system, the Festival of Weeks came on the 50th day, counted inclusively from the 16th of Abib, regardless of which day of the week it fell on.
Evidence for this view is also thought to come from Joshua 5:10-12, where they define the statement about the day (the 16th) after the Passover (which they make to be the 15th), when the Israelites began to eat from the stored grain, to mean, “they ate from the produce of the land of Kanaan in that year.”21
The Pharisaic view is demonstrated in several sources.
In the Mishnah, as shown above, for instance, it plainly states that the messengers of the court used to go out during the arab (= Pharisaic late afternoon) of the festive day (Passover) and tie the corn in bunches while it was yet unreaped to make it easier to reap for the omer. The barley corn was then cut just after the sun had set and the festive day had ended.22
The Babylonian Talmud states:
Our Rabbis taught: And you shall count unto you—that is, the counting is the duty of every one—from the day after the Sabbath, that is, from the day after the יום טבא (yom tob; festive day).23
The first century C.E. Pharisaic priest named Josephus, as another example, dates the offering of the firstfruits of the barley by stating:
On the second day of unleavened bread, that is to say the 16th, our people partake of the crops which they have reaped and which have not been touched until then.24
Another Pharisaic priest from that century, named Philo, similarly writes:
But within the festival (of Passover) there is another ἑορτῇ (heorte; festival) following directly after the first day.25
Since the 16th could fall on any day of the week, this meant that the 50th day could also come on any day of the week and not just after a Sabbath day.
What then of the issue of the “seven complete Sabbaths”? The Pharisees held the exact opposite opinion to that of the Aristocrats. The Pharisees defined the “seven complete Sabbaths” of Leviticus 23:16, by the “seven weeks” of Deuteronomy, 16:9.
That is, each of the seven Sabbaths represent a “week” as a period of seven days—not as a scriptural week extending from Sunday to the Sabbath. For them, this Sabbath meant a random period of seven days.
Under this interpretation, each of these seven-day periods could begin and end on any day of the scriptural week.
Therefore, one does not really count Sabbaths but days. The rabbis followed the instruction from Leviticus, 23:16, which commands, “you shall number 50 days.”
Rabbi Joshua, for example, argued that, from the day of the omer, one must “count days and sanctify the עצרת (Atsarth; Closing Assembly).”26 Rabbi Jose ben Judah, likewise states, “Scripture says, You shall number 50 days.”27
Some did recognize a contradiction in their logic but interpreted it to their own advantage. To demonstrate, Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkari, with a little sleight of hand, breached the contradiction with the following argument:
Now one verse says, You shall number 50 days, while the other verse says, Seven complete Sabbaths there shall be. How are they to be reconciled? The latter verse refers to the time when the yom tob (festive day = Passover) falls on the Sabbath, while the former to the time when the yom tob (festive day = Passover) falls on a weekday.28
Therefore, the command of “seven complete Sabbaths” only refers to those times when Passover fell on a weekly Sabbath. On those occasions, the 16th would be a Sunday and, as a result, the 50th day of the count would also fall on a Sunday.
When the Passover did not fall on a weekly Sabbath, then the 50- day count was used, disregarding the issue of counting Sabbaths.
Time to finish this first installment of “Pentecost Clarity I” everyone. When ready just proceed on to “Pentecost Clarity II” for the wrap-up.
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 The Qumran community had a fixed solar calendar whereby this Sabbath always fell on the 26th of Nisan and the Festival of Weeks always came on Sunday the 15th of Siwan (THP, pp. 41, 235, 247-251; EJ, 14, p. 1319; DSSE, pp. 43f; BCal, pp. 25-28; EEC, pp. 119f, 1b. n. a). Also see Jub., 1:1-4, 6:17-22, 15:1f, 16:13, 44:1-5, where 29 days appears to have been used for the second month, placing the festival on the 16th day of the third month (?).
2 See FSDY, Chap. X, pp. 165ff. Josh., 5:10-12, notes that the Israelites ate from the new crop on Abib 16, which makes the omer wave offering occur on that date, well within the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
3 THP, p. 255; EEC, pp. 119f, 1b. n. a; BCal, pp. 24f; JE, 5, p. 328.
4 BCal, pp. 143f.
5 E.g., Hag., 2:4.
6 The term יום (yom) means “day” (HEL, p. 105); טבא (tob) means, “happy, prosperous . . . valuable . . . goodness . . . wealth . . . prosperity . . . beauty” (HEL, p. 99), “joyous, glad . . . pleasing, desirable” and “(morally) good” (CHAL, p. 122). Therefore, יום טבא (yom tob), being a morally good day, came to be applied to a “feast-day” (CHAL, p. 122), cf., 1 Sam., 25:8. This expression was used by the Talmudists and in the Aramaic writings for a joyous and morally good day, i.e., for the high Sabbaths.
7 See our discussion below under subhead “Pharisaic Pentecost System” and our next post.
8 THP, pp. 248f; Danby, Mishnah, p. 506, n. 1; NBD, p. 179.
9 EJ, 14, p. 1319; JE, 9, p. 593; Danby, Mishnah, pp. 213, n. 12, 506, n. 1; BCal, pp. 12, 18, 19–24; EEC, pp. 119f, 1b. n. a; NBD, p. 179.
10 Hag., 2:4.
11 B. Men., 65a.
12 The Karaites, who followed System C—which held the hybrid view combining many of the Aristocratic concepts with those of the Hasidim—argued that the “day after the Sabbath” could include the festive day of the 15th (KAEEL, pp. 215–217). This allowance may well stem from the more ancient Aristocratic view that the 14th was the true high Sabbath of the Passover. This earlier concept was then merged with the Pharisaic view that the seven days of Unleavened Bread extended from the 15th to the 21st of Abib. As a result, the 15th was allowed as a day of the omer wave offering among the Karaites though disallowed by the traditions built up by the Pharisees.
13 Men., 10:3, cf., 10:1.
14 Lev., 23:5-8, and Deut., 16:1-8, deal with the Passover and its requirements, followed by Lev., 23:9-15, and Deut., 16:9, which relate to the omer wave offering and the count of 50 days.
15 Al-Kirkisani, 1:7; KAEEL, p. 50.
16 THP, p. 254; STE, 2, p. 20; DJS, 1, p. xxiii.
17 TSL, p. 285.
18 Al-Magribi, 12:7-8; KAEEL, p. 217.
19 Lek. Tob, Lev., 128f; KBFY, p. 277.
20 EJ, 14, p. 1319; JE, 9, p. 593; BCal, pp. 18f; EEC, pp. 119f, 1b. n. a; Danby, Mishnah, pp. 213, n. 12, 506, n. 1.
21 See the LXX of Josh., 5:10-12. J. Van Goudoever points out that the Pharisees read Josh., 5:11, so that the grain mentioned there is not stored grain but the grain of that year’s crop., i.e., “On the morrow after the Passover they ate from the produce of the land.” This view, though, as he admits, is not probable. He writes, “However, in Joshua the morrow after Passover seems to be 15 Nisan and not 16 Nisan; and in the Greek version the words ‘on the morrow after Passover’ are missing” (BCal, p. 19).
22 Men., 10:3. We have quoted this passage above on pp. 248f.
23 B. Men., 65b.
24 Jos., Antiq., 3:10:5.
25 Philo, Spec., 2:29 §162.
26 B. Men., 65b.