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* The evidence that the expression in John 18:28, 'They went not into the judgment-hall...that they might eat the Passover,' refers not to the Passover lamb, but to the Chagigah, is exceedingly strong, in fact, such as to have even convinced an eminent but impartial Jewish writer (Saalschutz, Mos. Recht, p. 414). It does seem strange that it should be either unknown to, or ignored by, 'Christian' writers.
And so the strangest contradiction was enacted. They who had not hesitated to break every law of God's and of their own making, would not enter the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled and prevented from the Chagigah! Surely, the logic of inconsistency could go no further in meticulously observing the letter and violating the spirit of the law.
That same afternoon of the first Passover day, 'when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast Thou forsake Me?...And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the Temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom.' This, just about the time when the evening sacrifice had been offered, so that the incensing priest standing in the Holy Place must have witnessed the awful sight. *
* This would not necessarily disclose a view of the Most Holy Place if, as the Rabbis assert, there were two veils between the Holy and the Most Holy Place.
The Sheaf of Firstfruits
A little later on in the evening of that same day, just as it was growing dark, a noisy throng followed delegates from the Sanhedrim outside the city and across the brook Kedron. It was a very different procession, and for a very different purpose, from the small band of mourners which, just about the same time, carried the body of the dead Savior from the cross to the rock- hewn tomb wherein no man had yet been laid. While the one turned into 'the garden' (John 20:15), perhaps to one side, the other emerged, amidst loud demonstrations, in a field across Kedron, which had been marked out for the purpose. They were to be engaged in a service most important to them. It was probably to this circumstance that Joseph of Arimathea owed their non- interference with his request for the body of Jesus, and Nicodemus and the women, that they could go undisturbed about the last sad offices of loving mourners. The law had it, 'Ye shall bring a sheaf [literally the omer] of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest; and he shall wave the omer before Jehovah, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it' (Lev 23:10,11). This Passover-sheaf, or rather omer, was to be accompanied by a burnt-offering of a 'he lamb, without blemish, of the first year,' with its appropriate meat- and drink- offering, and after it had been brought, but not till then, fresh barley might be used and sold in the land. Now, this Passover- sheaf was reaped in public the evening before it was offered, and it was to witness this ceremony that the crowd gathered around 'the elders,' who took care that all was done according to traditionary ordinance.
'The Morrow After the Sabbath'
The expression, 'the morrow after the Sabbath' (Lev 23:11), has sometimes been misunderstood as implying that the presentation of the so-called 'first sheaf' was to be always made on the day following the weekly Sabbath of the Passover-week. This view, adopted by the 'Boethusians' and the Sadducees in the time of Christ, and by the Karaite Jews and certain modern interpreters, rests on a misinterpretation of the word 'Sabbath' (Lev 23:24,32,39). As in analogous allusions to other feasts in the same chapter, it means not the weekly Sabbath, but the day of the festival. The testimony of Josephus (Antiq. iii. 10, 5, 6), or Philo (Op. ii. 294), and of Jewish tradition, leaves no room to doubt that in this instance we are to understand by the 'Sabbath' the 15th of Nisan, on whatever day of the week it might fall. Already, on the 14th of Nisan, the spot whence the first sheaf was to be reaped had been marked out by delegates from the Sanhedrim, by tying together in bundles, while still standing, the barley that was to be cut down. Though, for obvious reasons, it was customary to choose for this purpose the sheltered Ashes-valley across Kedron, there was no restriction on that point, provided the barley had grown in an ordinary field--of course in Palestine itself--and not in garden or orchard land, and that the soil had not been manured nor yet artificially watered (Mishnah, Menach. viii. 1, 2). *
When the time for cutting the sheaf had arrived, that is, on the evening of the 15th of Nisan (even though it were a Sabbath *), just as the sun went down, three men, each with a sickle and basket, formally set to work.
* There was a controversy on this point between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The article in Kitto's Cycl. erroneously names the afternoon of the 16th of Nisan as that on which the sheaf was cut. It was really done after sunset on the 15th, which was the beginning of the 16th of Nisan.
But in order clearly to bring out all that was distinctive in the ceremony, they first asked of the bystanders three times each of these questions: 'Has the sun gone down?' 'With this sickle?' 'Into this basket?' 'On this Sabbath (or first Passover-day)?'--and, lastly, 'Shall I reap?' Having each time been answered in the affirmative, they cut down barley to the amount of one ephah, or ten omers, or three seahs, which is equal to about three pecks and three pints of our English measure. The ears were brought into the Court of the Temple, and thrashed out with canes or stalks, so as not to injure the corn; then 'parched' on a pan perforated with holes, so that each grain might be touched by the fire, and finally exposed to the wind. The corn thus prepared was ground in a barley-mill, which left the hulls whole. According to some, the flour was always successfully passed through thirteen sieves, each closer than the other. The statement of a rival authority, however, seems more rational--that it was only done till the flour was sufficiently fine (Men. vi. 6, 7), which was ascertained by one of the 'Gizbarim' (treasurers) plunging his hands into it, the sifting process being continued so long as any of the flour adhered to the hands (Men. viii. 2). Though one ephah, or ten omers, of barley was cut down, only one omer of flour, or about 5 1 pints of our measure, was offered in the Temple on the second Passover, or 16th day of Nisan. The rest of the flour might be redeemed, and used for any purpose. The omer of flour was mixed with a 'log,' or very nearly three-fourths of a pint of oil, and a handful * of frankincense put upon it, then waved before the Lord, and a handful taken out and burned on the altar.
The remainder belonged to the priest. This was what is popularly, though not very correctly, called 'the presentation of the first or wave-sheaf' on the second day of the Passover-feast, of the 16th of Nisan.
The Last Day of the Passover
Thus far the two first days. The last day of the Passover, as the first, was a 'holy convocation,' and observed like a Sabbath. The intervening days were 'minor festivals,' or Moed Katon. The Mishnah (Tract. Moed Katon) lays down precise rules as to the kind of work allowed on such days. As a general principle, all that was necessary either for the public interest or to prevent private loss was allowed; but no new work of any kind for private or public purposes might be begun. Thus you might irrigate dry soil, or repair works for irrigation, but not make new ones, nor dig canals, etc. It only remains to add, that any one prevented by Levitical defilement, disability, or distance from keeping the regular Passover, might observe what was called 'the second,' or 'the little Passover,' exactly a month later (Num 9:9-12). The Mishnah has it (Pes. ix. 3) that the second differed from the first Passover in this--that leaven might be kept in the house along with the unleavened bread, that the Hallel was not sung at the Passover Supper, and that no Chagigah was offered.
The 'Feast of Unleavened Bread' may be said not to have quite passed till fifty-days after its commencement, when it merged in that of Pentecost, or 'of Weeks.' According to unanimous Jewish tradition, which was universally received at the time of Christ, the day of Pentecost was the anniversary of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, which the Feast of Weeks was intended to commemorate. Thus, as the dedication of the harvest, commencing with the presentation of the first omer on the Passover, was completed in the thank-offering of the two wave- loaves at Pentecost, so the memorial of Israel's deliverance appropriately terminated in that of the giving of the Law--just as, making the highest application of it, the Passover sacrifice of the Lord Jesus may be said to have been completed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Jewish tradition has it, that on the 2nd of the third month, or Sivan, Moses had ascended the Mount (Exo 19:1-3), that he communicated with the people on the 3rd (Exo 19:7), reascended the Mount on the 4th (Exo 19:8), and that then the people sanctified themselves on the 4th, 5th, and 6th of Sivan, on which latter day the ten commandments were actually given them (Exo 19:10-16). *
* Owing to the peculiarity of the Jewish calendar, Pentecost did not always take place exactly on the 6th Sivan. Care was taken that it should not occur on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. (Reland. p. 430.)
Accordingly the days before Pentecost were always reckoned as the first, second, third, etc., since the presentation of the omer. Thus Maimonides beautifully observes: 'Just as one who is expecting the most faithful of his friends is wont to count the days and hours to his arrival, so we also count from the omer of the day of our Exodus from Egypt to that of the giving of the law, which was the object of our Exodus, as it is said: "I bare you on eagle's wings, and brought you unto Myself." And because this great manifestation did not last more than one day, therefore we annually commemorate it only one day.'