Dating Passover in Temple Times
By Rabbi Yaakov benYosef
Keeping the feast of Passover marks the first appointed time in the Torah observant believers year. The Torah states very plainly in Deut. 16:1 when Passover is to be kept: "observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night". According to this passage, we must keep the feast of Passover in the month of Abib. To determine the exact date of this crucial month we must first come to an understanding what Abib is, and what is required.
The word Abib itself gives us the first clue in the time of year in which Passover was to be celebrated as stated in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament: "Abib. Barley. This noun refers to barley that is already ripe, but still soft, the grains of which are either rubbed or roasted" (Harris 3). The time of year in which Abib occurs is obviously during the time of the first of ripe barley. Barley generally ripens in early spring, but there are many factors that determine the exact day that Abib will be ripe. Two of the primary factors that affect when this first month may begin are moisture and temperature. These factors are variables over which human beings have no control. Since man cannot control the weather conditions, the start of the biblical year is not an exact science.
How was Abib counted during the time of Yeshua? To find the answer to how our mentor would have kept this crucial month, we must look into the biblical record of priestly service at the Temple. The most important item that the Temple priests needed for Passover was ripe barley for the offering of the Omer. This offering is commanded in Leviticus 23:5-10. The offering was to begin when the Israelites harvested the first produce in the land. The priest was to make this offering on the day after the Shabbat (Lev. 23:11).
This was an important issue to the Israelite during the time of the 2nd Temple. The day after the Sabbath when this first wave offering was presented began the counting of the Omer. This counting is crucial in calculating the second spring Holy Day of Shavuot (Pentecost-Lev. 23:15-16). During the 2nd Temple, the priest would have had to wait for the green barley to appear. This would enable them to make the Omer offering. This witness demonstrates Israels dependence on the agricultural provision of HaShem.
The second witness of the way Yeshua would have observed the beginning of the biblical year comes from a historical study on Biblical chronology. The Sanhedrin closely watched the arrival of Abib. If the barley crop was not in a state ready for the wave offering the month was intercalated. This means the month of Adar II was added to the calendar, realigning the lunar year with the solar year. Unlike the present day traditional calculation for the reckoning of Adar II, the Sanhedrin reckoned it according to the signs of the seasons. This is documented in the book Handbook of Biblical Chronology where the author states: "in tractate Sanhedrin letters are quoted which were sent out by Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel and Rabban Gamaliel II. Simeon, son of Gamaliel I and head of the Sanhedrin in the two decades before the destruction of the Temple, wrote as follows. We beg to inform you that the doves are still tender and the lambs are still young, and the grain has not yet ripened. I have considered the matter and thought it advisable to add thirty days to the year" (Finegan 38). From this we can see, even from the Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin, that during the time of Yeshua the presence of ripe grain was the determining factor used to calculate the first of the biblical months.
The third and final witness comes from an existing source of Judaism that traces their traditions back to Temple times. These Jews are known as Karaites, the Karaites believe that the written Torah is the only Godly authority. This allowed the Karaite community to develop a system based exclusively on the word of HaShem. The Karaites mark the month of Abib by going into the fields and hills around Jerusalem looking for ripe barley. When they find the barley, they declare the next new moon will be Abib. The following is excerpted from an email that the Karaite leaders in Israel sent to Karaites not living in Israel.
"On Sunday April 11, 1999 I (Nehemia Gordon) inspected the patch of spontaneous barley at Mount Scopus, Jerusalem mentioned in previous letters. The barley was mostly in the wax stage with some stalks in the late "Between water and wax" stage. The barley had begun to take on a yellowish color but still maintained some greenish hue. This barley is in the state of Abib and should be harvest-ready in 2-3 weeks in time for the Omer offering brought on the Sunday during Passover. Given the evidence there can be no doubt that Hag Hamatzot (Feast of Unleavened Bread) will take place in the coming lunar month. The New Moon is expected to be visible on 17 April 1999 making the 1st day of the First Month on the evening of 17 April/ day of 18 April 1999. The 15th of the month will then be the evening of May 1/ day of May 2, 1999" (Karaite).
This crucial third source indicates that there are still Jews who date the month of Abib by the state of the crops in the land. Without a doubt, as observant Messianics, we should be committed to trying to keep the feast as Yeshua would.
In summary, the fact we can only estimate, and not know exactly the day when the harvest is ready, requires us to watch and wait. This is exactly what the Lord commanded us to do (Mat 25:13i). Although we can determine the approximate time of the Lords return, we will only know the season of the Lord's return; we are not allowed to know the exact day and hour. So, let us embark on keeping the feast as Yeshua would have done. This will require us to trust in HaShem for provision. After all, when Yeshua came the first time no person declared him until he was presented at the Temple (Ma 3:1, Lu 2:27).
Truly following Yeshua and wanting to serve HaShem we need to trust in Him to bring about the fullness of time (Ga 4:4).
New Moon - By Hava benYosef
Rosh Hodesh (literally: head of the month) is important as the observable guide to the changing of the months and the seasons.
The first month of each biblical year falls on the first New Moon after green Barley (AVIV) has been found this usually occurs around the time of the spring equinox. All of the biblical feasts are dated from this date.
However, in the current traditional Jewish calendar the astronomical new moon closest to the spring equinox, whether or not AVIV has been found, is used to date all of the feasts. The sighting of the new moon is not used as the beginning of the month. A scientific calculation is used to determine the exact timing of the new moon, resulting in the new moon being celebrated when there is no visible moon.
This leads to a discrepancy between the feast calendar based on the observable new moon and the traditional calendar, which is based upon the astronomical new moon. Sometimes the discrepancy can be as large as twenty-nine days.
There are many references to Rosh Hodesh in Scripture. At the end of this article you will find a listing of these references. While Scripture does not ever specifically address how to celebrate Rosh Hodesh, except the sacrificial offerings made in the Temple, it has been celebrated to varying degrees throughout the centuries.
At some point, Rosh Hodesh had been elevated to the status of Shabbat. No work or buying and selling were done on this day. We can see this by the references of Rosh Hodesh always being related in the same phrase as Shabbat. Also in Amos, written in the eighth-century B.C.E., the writer equates the attitude of the merchants of his day with immorality: "When will the New Moon be over so that we may sell grain? And Shabbat that we may trade wheat?" Rosh Hodesh was later viewed with less importance than Shabbat, the prohibition against ordinary work and trade being lifted.
Determining the beginning of the new month and proclaiming the time to all the land was always a problem. At the time of the Second Temple, witnesses were sent by the Sanhedrin to observe the first sliver of the new moon. When the new moon was sighted and confirmed signal fires were lit on mountains surrounding Jerusalem and then on relay fires throughout the land. Rosh Hodesh, the head of the month, would be celebrated the next day.
This method, however, was very susceptible to the whims of impostors who, for some reason, would light signal fires on nights that were not new moons. This created confusion and chaos in distant areas that did not have runners from Jerusalem.
In the middle of the fourth century C.E., Hillel II set down scientific rules for the computation of the calendar based on the new moon sighting. This began the standardization of the Jewish calendar into what it is currently, without the need for eyewitnesses and the involvement of the Sanhedrin.
Still remaining from the ancient proclamation of the New Moon is a prayer for the upcoming Rosh Hodesh, said on the preceding Shabbat, requesting blessings for the month and declaring when it will begin. In the traditional synagogues on Rosh Hodesh selected Psalms and portions of the Torah are read. Rosh Hodesh is celebrated for either one or two days traditionally, reminiscent of the days when extra time was needed for runners and signal fires to reach distant areas. Some communities gather on Rosh Hodesh for fellowship, Scripture study, and praise.
Whichever way of celebration you choose, be sure to set aside time to recognize Rosh Hodesh.
|Genesis 1:14-19 Creation||6,000 yrs ago|
|Numbers 10:10 Trumpet||1400 B.C.E|
|Numbers 28:11-15||Add'l sacrifices|
|1st Samuel 20:1-43 David, Yonatan||1020 B.C.E|
|1st Chron 23:25-32 Levites praise||1000 B.C.E.|
|2nd Chron 2:1-6 Shlomo's house||950 B.C.E.|
|2nd Kings 4:8-37 Elisha, dead boy||850 B.C.E.|
|Isaiah 66:15-24 Future worship||780 B.C.E|
|Amos 8:4-5 No buy or sell||770 B.C.E|
|2nd Chron 31:2-10 Hezekiah||727 B.C.E|
|Ezekial 46:1-7 Future worship||570 B.C.E.|
|Ezra 3:1-6 1st day of 7th month||460 B.C.E|
|Nehemiah 10:1,29-40 Don't neglect Temple||445 B.C.E.|