The New International Encyclopædia/Passover

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Edition of 1905.  See also Passover on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PASSOVER (translation of Heb. pesach, a passing over, from pāsach, to pass over). The first of the three chief festivals prescribed by the Pentateuchal codes (Ex. xii.; Lev. xxiii. 4-8; Num. ix. 1-14: xxviii. 16-25; Deut. xvi. 1-8). Its celebration begins on the evening of the fourteenth day of Nisan (corresponding to the older Abib) and lasts for eight days. The Jewish Church associates the festival with the Exodus from Egypt, and this historical character was so impressed upon it as to obscure its original significance. By a careful study, however, of the passages referring to the Passover in the various Pentateuchal codes, modern scholars claim that they have traced the gradual development of the festival and have shown that it was a mixture of various elements, originally having nothing to do one with the other. In the first place, distinction must be made between two festivals combined in the Passover, viz. (1) a feast of unleavened bread known as maṣṣōth, and (2) a festival in which the chief rite was the sacrifice of a sheep within the family circle and the sprinkling of the lintels and doorposts of the houses with the blood. This sacrifice was called pesach. Of these two festivals the former is the old Canaanitish harvest festival, commemorative of the first ripening of the corn, which the Hebrews naturally adopted when they took possession of the Canaanitish soil. Thanksgiving offerings were made on this occasion to Yahweh as the ‘Baal,’ to whom the land belonged. Since the presentation of such gifts, consisting of the first-fruit sheaf, involved a visit to a Yahweh sanctuary, the occasion became a khāg—the ancient Semitic designation for a mirthful festival with dances and processions at a sanctuary and a sacrificial meal as the symbol of communion between the god and his worshipers. It was customary at this festival to eat only unleavened bread, which merely represents the usual food during the harvest season, when the people, busy with field labors, did not take time to wait in baking their bread until the completion of the slow process involved in the leavening of the dough; hence the festival became known as the khāg ham-maṣṣōth, i.e. the festival of unleavened bread. On the other hand, the sacrifice of the pesach stands in no connection with agriculture and is originally a rite of propitiation or lustration observed during a pestilence or on some other special occasion. It consisted in sprinkling with blood the entrance to the house (or tent), which was particularly sacred. It is still customary among the Bedouins to sprinkle their camels and flocks with blood as a protection against the ravages of a pestilence. This blood rite, from being indulged in on extraordinary occasions, became a regular custom observed in the spring, the bearing time of the flocks, when it became especially important to secure the protection of the deity. Already in the earliest of the Pentateuchal codes these two festivals, one belonging to the agricultural stage, the other a survival of the nomadic stage, are brought into connection with the Exodus from Egypt, and combined with each other. The combination once made, there resulted a series of ceremonial observances which gradually assumed the elaborate character of the Jewish Passover festival. The sprinkling of the blood became the symbol of the protection granted the Hebrews by Yahweh at the time that pestilence struck the Egyptian households. The offerings of the first-fruits of the field to Yahweh led to the view that firstlings of the flock and the first-born of the household likewise belonged to the deity. The sacrificial lamb and the unleavened bread were also brought into connection with the Exodus, the former pictured as a ceremony indulged in on the eve of the departure of the people, the latter a symbol of the ‘haste’ with which the deliverance was brought about, so that the people did not have time to bake bread from leavened dough. In later Judaism the historical association was still further emphasized, and there grew up an elaborate service for the eve of the Passover, known as the sēder, the chief features of which were the recalling of the Exodus by reciting the narrative in the household, the preparation of dishes symbolizing the affliction and hardships of the people in Egypt, together with thanksgivings and songs of praise accompanied by benedictions over wine for the miraculous deliverance. For eight days unleavened cakes are eaten and no food prepared of any leaven material is to be eaten. In fact, all traces of leaven are to be removed out of the house, and in orthodox Jewish households separate sets of dishes are used during the eight days of the Passover. In the Christian Church the paschal lamb became preëminently the type of the sacrifice of Christ.

Bibliography. Consult the Hebrew archæologies of Nowack and Benzinger, and the commentaries on Exodus by Dillmann, Strack, Baentsch; R. Schäfer, Das Passah-Mazzot Fest nach seinem Ursprung und seiner Entwickelung (Gütersloh, 1900); Trumbull, The Threshold Covenant (New York, 1890); and for the later Jewish customs, Schröder, Satzungen und Gebräuche des talmudisch-rabbinischen Judenthums (Bremen, 1851); Dembitz, The Jewish Services in Synagogue and Home (Philadelphia, 1898).