In our last post titled 17. Passover – Pentecost Clarity I we addressed the four approaches for keeping Pentecost. Of these four systems the oldest is the Aristocratic, which counted the 50 days from the day after the weekly Sabbath following Passover, Sunday to Sunday.
Its antiquity is demonstrated by the fact that both the ancient conservative Samaritan and Sadducean (Boethusian) priesthoods practiced the identical Pentecost system—this despite their loathing for each other.
This common approach among competing branches of the Zadokite priests reflects a common history, indicating that this system was used by the Zadokite priests prior to the fourth century B.C.E. (the time when the Samaritan schism took place).1
These Aristocratic priests were “heirs to the old Zadokite tradition in Jerusalem.”2 This Aristocratic system was later followed by the early Christian assemblies,3 demonstrating their belief in its antiquity as well.
Josephus, though himself a Pharisee, retains a relevant record from an earlier Jewish writer, Nicolas of Damascus, further demonstrating the antiquity of the Aristocratic method. This record refers to the days of the Hasmonaean leader Hyrcanus, when the Sadducean (Aristocratic) system for Pentecost was dominant in Judaism.
While the Jewish king was on an expedition, his troops remained at rest for two straight days due to this Jewish festival. Josephus comments, “For the Festival of Pentecost had come around, following the Sabbath (day), and we are not permitted to march either on the Sabbath (day) or on a festival (day).”4
Therefore, the Festival of Pentecost was the day immediately following the weekly Sabbath (i.e., a double Sabbath).
We must understand these words in their historical context. Hyrcanus of Judaea made this campaign as an ally of Antiochus VII (Antiochus Sidetes), when the latter marched against Parthia.5 Antiochus VII died at the end of this eastern campaign.6
Antiochus VII ruled only nine years (138/137-130/129 B.C.E., Oct. reckoning)7 and died in early spring 129 B.C.E., just when the snow began to melt, as the crops began to appear, and while his troops were still in their winter quarters.8
Nevertheless, Antiochus VII did not bring Hyrcanus under his authority until the fall of his fifth year, being the 179th Babylonian Seleucid year (133/132 B.C.E., Nisan or spring reckoning).9
Placed into historical context, which demands a double Sabbath for Pentecost after Antiochus VII conquered Hyrcanus yet before the former’s death, the Pentecost season (late May to early June) of 133 B.C.E. is too early while that of 129 B.C.E., which followed Antiochus VII’s death, is too late.
The double Sabbath in question could only have taken place in the spring of 132 to 130 B.C.E. Under Pharisaic calculations, none of these three years would have resulted in a Sabbath day followed by a high Sabbath day of Pentecost.10 Therefore, only the Aristocratic system would have worked, reflecting its use during this period.
The second oldest Pentecost system is the quasi-Aristocratic. This point is reflected by the Book of Jubilees (late second century B.C.E.).11 At that time, they still regarded only the first day of the week for both the omer wave offering and the day of Pentecost.
Yet, they differed from the Aristocratic groups in that they began to count from the first day of the week that followed the entire seven days of Unleavened Bread. They failed to listen to the instruction provided by Joshua, 5:10-12.
In effect, this system, despite its error with regard to Joshua, 5:10-12, is further proof of the antiquity of the original Sunday to Sunday format.
Shortly after the appearance of the quasi-Aristocratic Pentecost system came the Hasidic or Pharisaic version. J. B. Segal writes:
And, indeed, the insistence of the Pharisees upon their forced interpretation of the term ‘Sabbath’ shows that the usage was of no great antiquity.12
Segal dates the appearance of the Pharisaic Pentecost system to the “second-first century B.C.”13 J. Van Goudoever notes that the “influence” of this newer system “was increasing in the beginning of our era.”14
As we shall show below, the Pharisaic Pentecost system did not replace the Aristocratic Pentecost system in the Temple of Yahweh at Jerusalem until 68 C.E.
The Jewish Pentecost System
The last Jewish Pentecost system to make an appearance was the quasi-Hasidic view. This system mixes the Pharisaic view (that the Sabbath day mentioned in Leviticus, 23:11, is a festive day) with the quasi-Aristocratic view (that the omer wave offering should follow the entire seven days of Unleavened Bread).
As with the quasi-Aristocratic construct, they failed to heed the instruction provided by Joshua, 5:10-12, which allows for the omer wave offering within the seven days of Unleavened Bread. As a result, their 50-day count begins after the high Sabbath on the last day of Unleavened Bread.
There is some evidence of this quasi-Hasidic view in an old Syriac translation of Leviticus, 23:11 and 15,15 and it was followed by the Ethiopian Falasha Jews.16 The Falashas were established shortly before the Mishnah (c.200 C.E.) and the Talmud (c.500 C.E.) were compiled.17
In either case, because of this evidence one cannot place a valid date of origin any sooner than the early second century C.E., although some would suggest a reason to begin it just before the beginning of our common era.18
The Triumph of the Pharisees
The priestly Aristocratic system for the omer wave offering and the Festival of Weeks was overthrown during the second half of the first century C.E.19
In the Megillath Taanith (composed about 68 C.E.),20 for instance, we read that the period from the 8th of Nisan until the 14th was attached to the seven days of the Khag of Unleavened Bread as a period wherein “it is forbidden to mourn.”21
According to the Scholiast on the Megillath Taanith, these additional days marked the triumph of the Pharisees over the Sadducees in their famous controversy regarding the date of the Festival of Weeks.22
No such claim of doctrinal victory was actually made in the Megillath Taanith, which leads scholars like Solomon Zeitlin and J. B. Segal to interpret this claim as a later gloss.23 It seems rather designed to guise a more sinister episode that accompanied this so-called victory.
Nevertheless, the association of the victory of the Pharisees with a specific time of the year mentioned in the Megillath Taanith lends itself to defining the episode and period of this change. Unlike the Passover, which was a people’s festival, the omer wave offering at the Temple was solely a function of the high priest.
Therefore, the Pharisees were not able to force the conservative Sadducees to submit in this practice unless they had first obtained control over the Temple.
The most auspicious time for this doctrinal victory over the Sadducean priests would have been during the Jewish revolt against Rome, which began in 66 C.E. It would come after the Hasidic Zealots, an extremist group of Pharisees, took control of Jerusalem in November of 67 C.E.
Not long after seizing the city, an insurrection of the populace was instigated against them by Ananus, the senior high priest. The Zealots murdered him and many of the Aristocratic families and then converted the Temple of Yahweh into their fortress, making the sacred place of the Temple the headquarters of their tyranny.24
Having seized the Temple they also seized control of the priesthood. Josephus tells us:
To these horrors was added a spice of mockery more galling than their actions. For, to test the abject submission of the populace and make trial of their own strength, they essayed to appoint the high priests by lot, although, as we have stated, the succession was hereditary.25
They chose from the priestly clan of Eniachin, and cast lots for a high priest. Josephus continues:
By chance the lot fell to one who proved a signal illustration of their depravity; he was an individual named Phanni, son of Samuel, of the village of Aphthia, a man who not only was not descended from high priests, but was such a clown that he scarcely knew what the high priesthood meant. At any rate they dragged their reluctant victim out of the country and, dressing him up for his assumed part, as on the stage, put the sacred vestments upon him and instructed him how to act in keeping with the occasion.26
Since the radical Pharisees called Zealots instructed Phanni, it is clear that it was at this moment that the Pharisaic practice for Pentecost was instituted at the Temple.
As these events were unfolding, the Roman leader Vespasian heard of them from deserters and is said to have entered the city of Gadara on the fourth of the month of Dystrus (i.e., about March 21 of 68 C.E.).27
Therefore, the first occasion for this new high priest to perform functions at the Temple was during the Passover season in the spring of 68 C.E., with preliminary celebrations beginning on the eighth of Nisan.28
On Nisan 16, the first Pharisee-style omer wave offering would have been made by this priest. This moment was later interpreted as a victory for the Pharisaic view. Phanni was also the last high priest to serve in the Temple of Yahweh at Jerusalem,29 which was destroyed in September of 70 C.E.30
With the destruction of the Temple, Sadducean power was utterly destroyed.31
As D. Freeman points out, the Pharisaic “reckoning became the normative in Judaism after A.D. 70, so that in the Jewish calendar Pentecost now falls on various days of the week.”32
Day of the Sinai Covenant
Another important point of reference for the Khag of Weeks (Pentecost) was the ancient assertion, held by both Jews and Christians alike, that on the day of this festival, during the year of the Exodus (i.e., in 1439 B.C.E.),33 the Old Covenant Torah with its Ten Commandments were given to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.34
The widespread belief that Pentecost was the birthday of the Torah demands our attention, for it will later help us set the counting for the Festival of Weeks. What will be apparent is just how well-established this concept was among both Jews and Christians.
We find the claim that the Torah was given to the Israelites on the Festival of Weeks asserted as early as the Maccabean period in the late second century B.C.E.35
The earliest known connection was made by the Book of Jubilees (about 135 B.C.E.),36 whose author, as we have previously noted, followed the quasi-Aristocratic Pentecost system. The Jubilees text demonstrates the historical background for this belief.
The Jewish Falashas of Abyssinia, who follow a quasi-Hasidic Pentecost system, believe that Pentecost is “the day of the giving of the Law.”37 Those adhering to the Aristocratic view of Pentecost also retained this interpretation. It was advocated by the Samaritans,38 and suspected as true by the Karaites.39
Though not directly stated by Josephus and Philo, those holding to the Hasidic Pentecost view also believed in the connection of this festival with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
For example, this claim is made by the mid-second century C.E. Pharisaic work called the Seder Olam, which reports, “In the third moon, on the sixth day of the moon,” i.e., the day marked by the Pharisees as the Festival of Weeks, “the Ten Commandments were given to them.”40
In one passage from the Talmud, for example, we read, “On the sixth day of the moon (of Siwan) the Ten Commandments were given to Israel.”45 Rabbi Eleazar (c.270 C.E.) argues that Pentecost was “the day on which the Torah was given.”46
This belief eventually led to the custom of studying the Torah all night on Pentecost.47
The Old Covenant made at Mount Sinai was a marriage contract between Yahweh and the Israelites.48 The Qumran Covenanteers recognized a renewal of this covenant every year on the Khag of Weeks.49 The Zohar even calls the time between Passover and Pentecost the “courting of the bridegroom Israel with the bride Torah.”50
Christian writers followed the Aristocratic view of Pentecost.51 They also declared their belief that Yahweh gave the Torah on Pentecost. For them, this was a type of the giving of the sacred ruach on the day of Pentecost in the year of the messiah’s resurrection.52
A fragment of Severian of Gabala (c.400 C.E.), for example, states that “the Torah was given on the day of Pentecost.”53
Augustine (writing between 396-430 C.E.), as another example, speaks of “the 50th day” as “when they received the Torah written by the finger of the deity.”54 In another place, he notes that Pentecost was “the day on which the Torah was given on Mount Sinai to Moses.”55
In yet another place he writes that the Torah was written with the finger of the deity and was given to Moses on this day, adding that this was a type of the sacred ruach, called the finger of the deity in the New Testament, which the messiah promised to his disciples as a Comforter and sent to them on the 50th day after his suffering and resurrection.56
Again Augustine argued:
Why do the Jews celebrate Pentecost? This is a great mystery, brethren, and quite wondrous. Consider this: on the day of Pentecost they (the Jews) received the Torah written by the finger of the deity, and on the day of Pentecost the sacred ruach came (to the disciples of the messiah).57
Leo the Great (c.440-461 C.E.), in one of his homilies about the day of Pentecost, reports that on that day, “the Torah was given on Mount Sinai.”58 Chrysostom similarly writes, “On that day the Torah was given according to the Old Covenant.”59
Summary of “Passover – Pentecost Clarity I & II”
Ancient records have provided us with four models used for counting the 50 days to the Festival of Weeks.
Only two are viable—the Aristocratic and Hasidic (Pharisaic) models—for only these two conform with the example provided by Joshua, 5:10-12, that the omer wave offering can occur during the days of Unleavened Bread.
The heart of the difference between all of these various systems, nonetheless, is their differing interpretations about what exactly is meant by the phrase “on the day after the Sabbath,” as found in Leviticus, 23:11.
Nevertheless, it is important to notice that the oldest of these known systems was the Aristocratic Pentecost, and this was also the system deemed correct by all of the ancient Christian assemblies.60
We will continue our Passover/Unleavened Bread investigation with our next post providing a preliminary commentary on the various Passover practices of the early Christian assemblies.
For further reading see the publication by Qadesh La Yahweh press titled The Festivals and Sacred Days of Yahweh.
Who was that masked man anyway?
Click this link for Bibliography and Abbreviations.
4 Jos. Antiq., 13:8:4.
9 SJC chap. xiv.
10 Computer computations show that the Pharisaic calculation for Pentecost would have fallen on May 29/30, Sun. nighttime/Mon. daytime, in the year 134 B.C.E.; May 18/19, Fri./Sat., for 133 B.C.E.; June 5/6, Wed./Thurs., for 132 B.C.E.; May 25/26, Sun./Mon., or possibly May 26/27, Mon./Tues., for 131 B.C.E.; May 14/15, Thurs./Fri., or possibly May 15/16, Fri./Sat. for 130 B.C.E.; June 1/2, Wed./Thurs., for 129 B.C.E.
20 The last event chronicled in the text took place on Adar 17, 66 C.E. Meanwhile, the Talmud places its composition a few years before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. (MTS, pp. 3f, 112-115; B. R.Sh. 18b). The Pharisee Zealots overthrew the Sadducee high priest in Nov. of 67 C.E., allowing for the first omer wave offering to be made according to the Pharisaic method in the spring of 68 C.E. The year 68 C.E. for the compostion of the Megillath Taanith, therefore, is in full accord with these events.
24 Jos. Wars, 4:3:7, 4:5:1-4:6:2; cf., HJP, 2, pp. 496-499.
25 Jos. Wars, 4:3:7.
26 Jos. Wars, 4:3:8.
27 Jos. Wars, 4:7:3f.
29 Jos. Wars, 6:8:4-5, 6:10:1.
30 Jos. Antiq., 20:10:1.
33 For confirmation of this date see IC and the related study in SJC.
39 Al-Magribi 15:2f; KAEEL pp. 224f; ERE 5, p. 880. The Karaites claimed, “We do not know for certain the precise day when it happened” because the exact day was not directly stated in Scriptures. Their hesitancy seems more from a willingness to criticize the rabbis who claimed this event as a historical fact.
52 As recorded in Acts 2:1-13.
60 See FSDY Chap. XXII, pp. 344-347.