The Jewish Feasts: Part 8, Early Firstfruits

The next and last of the Spring Feasts is Yom ha-Bikkurim, the Day of Early Firstfruits. This is considered an agricultural festival; a celebration of the beginning of the spring barley harvest. It was commanded at Mt. Sinai, but was not to take effect until the Israelites were in the Promised Land, planting their own crops. The timing corresponds to the day that the redeemed slaves miraculously crossed the Red Sea (actually, the Yam Suf, or Sea of Reeds–I personally believe this is a reference to the upper reaches of the Gulf of Suez, near the town of Suez, where I think that papyrus and other reedy swamp plants would have washed down from the Bitter Lakes region at the ebb tides; but there is much scholarly disagreement on this). The theme of Resurrection attaches to this Feast because it is seen to commemorate both their resurrection from sure death at the hands of Pharaoh’s army, and more particularly, their resurrection as a people who essentially lost their national existence when they were enslaved.

©Ron Thompson 2020

I don’t think it needs to be said that Jesus’ resurrection took place on this, the third day after His death and burial! I do not want to spend much time here arguing the exegesis of Matthew 12:40 (ESV), were Jesus said, [40] For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Some well-meaning conservative Christians have argued on this basis that the Crucifixion must have taken place on a Wednesday; however, this is well-attested Hebrew idiom, and my preferred hermeneutic requires that figures of speech must be considered (see Zuck, Roy B., Basic Bible Interpretation) in translating and properly understanding Scripture. In my view, both Scripture and ancient traditions force the acceptance of a Friday Crucifixion.

©Ron Thompson 2020

Please study closely the slide above, where I have laid out the timeline, as I believe it to be, for the Jewish Spring Feasts, beginning with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Note that I have enumerated each day during the period Nisan 10 through 21. Note, too, that I have placed the Lamb Sacrifices and the “First day of Unleavened Bread” on Thursday, Nisan 14, the day before the start of the traditional “Passover Week”,  as I have previously explained. Next, see that I have placed the Day of Early Firstfruits, on Sunday, Nisan 17, the same as the third day of the 7-day Feast of Unleavened Bread.

 More on this timing below, but first, look closely at the three heading lines, colored blue on the slide. The middle line shows an equivalent Gregorian date for each of the days covered. I have often been curious about where the Crucifixion and Resurrection would fit on our modern Gregorian calendar.  You can find a lot of conflicting—guesses—on the Internet. Finally, I determined to figure it out for myself. Most attempts that I have seen place them in the period AD 30 – 33, which make sense from a historical point of view. Another vital clue is that every Jewish month, by definition, begins on a New Moon. With some searching, I was able to find charts showing calculated new moon dates going back much farther than I needed. Assuming the Crucifixion was indeed on a Friday, it turns out that it is somewhat rare for Nisan 15 to fall on a Friday, and that fact led me to decide that it must have occurred on Friday, April 5, 0030.

Other historical events corresponding to the Feast Day. I waffled here on whether to the Feast was on Nisan 16 or 17. In reality, I am convinced it was Nisan 17, as explained below, and here.

Although I am personally convinced that the Resurrection had to have been on Sunday, Nisan 17, you may have noticed that in the second and forth slide, I have shown it as Nisan 16 or 17. This is a nod to conflicting opinions based on Leviticus 23:11 (CJB) [11] He is to wave the sheaf before ADONAI*, so that you will be accepted; the Cohen* is to wave it on the day after the Shabbat*. A Biblical “wave offering” is a ritual waving of an agricultural product by a Priest (Heb. Cohen) in an up/down left/right, in out pattern–sort of like a 3D genuflection. The question about this verse that has puzzled the sages from antiquity is, what Shabbat does this verse refer to–the Nisan 15 Shabbat, as the Pharisees believed, or the included Saturday Shabbat, as the Sadducees believed? Modern scholars tend to favor the former because they suppose that (a) the Pharisees were more powerful, and (b) the Nisan 15 Shabbat was more important. Both of those suppositions are wrong! The Saturday Sabbath is more important, and the Pharisees, while most popular with the am ha-aretz, or common people, had little actual power. The Sadducees had almost total control over the Temple and its ritual.

Table of Contents: The Jewish Feasts
Start of Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 1, Chapter Introduction
Previous in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 7, Unleavened Bread
Next in Series: The Jewish Feasts: Part 9, Weeks