Why Shavuot is Always on a Sunday

Why Shavuot is Always on a Sunday
By
James Scott Trimm

We read in the Torah:

10 Speak unto the children of Yisra’el, and say unto them, When you are come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest unto the cohen.
11 And he shall wave the sheaf before YHWH, to be accepted for you; on the morrow after the Sabbath, the cohen shall wave it.
12 And in the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a he lamb without blemish of the first year, for a burnt-offering unto YHWH.
13 And the meal-offering thereof, shall be two tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour mingled with oil: an offering made by fire unto YHWH for a sweet savour, and the drinkoffering thereof shall be of wine; the fourth part of a hin.
14 And you shall eat neither bread nor parched grain, nor fresh ears, until this selfsame day, until you have brought the offering of your Elohim: it is a statute forever, throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
15 And you shall count unto you, from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the waving; seven sabbaths shall they be complete:
16 Even unto the morrow after the sabbath shall you number fifty days, and you shall present a new meal-offering unto YHWH.
17 You shall bring out of your dwellings, two wave loaves of two tenth parts of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven, for first fruits unto YHWH.
18 And you shall present with the bread, seven lambs without blemish of the first year, and one young bullock, and two rams. They shall be a burnt-offering unto YHWH, with their meal-offering, and their drink-offerings, even an offering made by fire of a sweet savour unto YHWH.
19 And you shall offer one he goat for a sin-offering, and two he lambs of the first year, for a sacrifice of peace-offerings.
20 And the cohen shall wave them, with the bread of the first fruits for a wave-offering before YHWH, with the two lambs; they shall be Set-Apart to YHWH for the cohen.
21 And you shall make proclamation on the selfsame day; there shall be a Set-Apart convocation unto you. You shall do no manner of servile work: it is a statute forever, in all your dwellings throughout your generations.
(Lev. 23:10-21)

And again we read:

8 Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to YHWH your Elohim; you shall do no work therein.
9 Seven weeks shall you number unto you–from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain–shall you begin to number seven weeks.
10 And you shall keep the feast of weeks, unto YHWH your Elohim after the measure of the freewill-offering of your hand, which you shall give according as YHWH your
Elohim blesses you.
(Deut. 16:8-10)

From these passages we have the commandment for the counting of the omer… the countdown to Shavuot (Pentecost – The Feast of Weeks).

This is a count that began “the morrow after the Sabbath” when the Firstfruits offering is made during the Feast of Unleavened Bread and counts forward seven weeks to the “Feast of Weeks”.

Three systems existed in the first century for counting the omer.

The majority Pharisees maintained the starting point for this count was the morrow after the annual Sabbath, that is the morrow after the 15th of Nisan. Thus they placed the Firstfruits offering always on the 16th of Nisan, and Shavuot generally on the 6th of Sivan.

The minority Pharisees and Sadducees maintained the starting point for this count was the morrow after the weekly Sabbath which falls during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Thus pacing the Firstfruits offering and Shavuot both always on a Sunday.

The Qumran Essenes maintained the starting point for this count was the morrow after the first weekly Sabbath which falls after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Thus placing the Firstfruits offering and Shavuot both always on a Sunday (and Shavuot always on the 15th of Sivan on their Solar Calendar) (4Q320-4Q321).

Now Josephus tells us that the actual Temple practice in the first century was to observe Firstfruits on the 16th of Nisan:

But on the second day of unleavened bread, which is the sixteenth day of the month, they first partake of the fruits of the earth, for before that day they do not touch them.
(Josephus; Ant. 3:10:5-6)

However Joesphus also tells us that although Sadducees controlled the Temple, they followed the Pharisaic halacha in keeping the Temple rituals, out of fear of the Pharisees much larger numbers”

…they [Pharisees] are able greatly to persuade
the body of the people; and whatsoever they do
about divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices,
they perform them according to their direction…
(Ant. 18:1:3)

Likewise Talmud records that a certain Sadducee priest had his turn to offer incense come up. He was determined to offer the incense according to Sadducean custom rather than according to Pharisaic custom. His father admonished him saying:

My son, although we are Sadducees, we are
afraid of the Pharisees.
(b.Yoma 19b)

So while the Temple practice of the First century was to observe the count from the 16th of Nisan to the 6th of Sivan, this is really just another way of saying that this was the Majority Pharisee practice.

Central to this debate is the ambiguity of the word SHABBAT in Hebrew.

At least by the time of the translation of the Septuagint (if not before) the word SHABBAT could mean “Sabbath” or “week”.

As a result, where we read in the Torah”

15 And you shall count unto you, from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the waving; seven sabbaths shall they be complete:
16 Even unto the morrow after the sabbath shall you number fifty days, and you shall present a new meal-offering unto YHWH.
(Lev. 23:15-16)

The Septuagint translates:

15 And ye shall number to yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which ye shall offer the sheaf of the heave-offering, seven full weeks:
16 until the morrow after the last week ye shall number fifty days, and shall bring a new meat-offering to the Lord.
(Lev. 23:15-16 LXX)

This ambiguity also appears in the DuTillet Hebrew version of Matthew where the Hebrew has SHABBAT for “week” in the phrase “first [day] of the week”. And in the Greek texts of all four Gospels (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:1; Lk. 24:1 and Jn. 20:1) the Greek word SABBATON which generally means “Sabbaths” is used for “week”.

(There is an argument made that the word SABBATON actually means “Sabbaths” in these verses, however context would seem to preclude that understanding. We will cover this in more detail later.)

There is also another important ambiguity about the word Sabbath as it was used at least as early as the first century.

The word “Sabbath” can be used either to refer to the weekly Sabbath (i.e. The Sabbath of Creation) or to an annual Sabbath (a Festival Sabbath). This usage appears in the Gospels in which we are told that the day after Yeshua’s crucifixion was a “sabbath” that was a “high day”:

31 And the Judeans, because it was the day of preparation, were saying, These bodies should not remain overnight on their gallows, because the Sabbath is drawing on: for the day of that Sabbath, was a high day. And they entreated Pilate that they might break the legs of those crucified, and take them down.
(Jn. 19:31 HRV)

This “Sabbath” which was the day after Yeshua’s crucifixion was not a weekly Sabbath. Yeshua was three days and three nights in the belly of the earth (Mt. 12:39), and he was resurrected “the third day after these things (his crucifixion)” (Luke 24:21). This means he was not crucified on a Friday and Resurrected on a Sunday morning, as that is barely more than one day. This means that the Sabbath the day after Yeshua’s crucifixion was not the same day as the Sabbath the day before his resurrection, at least one of these Sabbaths had to be a festival Sabbath.

There is question, however, as to when the term “Sabbath” came to be used to refer to the festival Sabbaths (other than Yom Kippur in Lev. 16:29) as well as the weekly Sabbaths. The word is not used in the Torah to refer to festival days on which work is forbidden (except Yom Kippur in Lev. 16:29), unless it is doing so in this particular passage (Lev. 23:15-16). In the same way the Feast of Unleavened Bread is never called “Passover” in the Torah, but in the Gospels it is, because by the first century that was the usage.

There is question as to whether these ambiguities existed when the Torah was written, but they clearly existed by the First century, and by the First century these ambiguities had created confusion as to how the passages of Torah in question (Lev. 23:10-21 & Deut. 16:8-10) are to be understood.

Thus some understood the Lev. 23:15-16 to mean:

15 And you shall count unto you, from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the waving; seven weeks shall they be complete:
16 Even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall you number fifty days, and you shall present a new meal-offering unto YHWH.
(Lev. 23:15-16)

While others understood the same verses to mean:

15 And you shall count unto you, from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the waving; seven sabbaths shall they be complete:
16 Even unto the morrow after the sabbath shall you number fifty days, and you shall present a new meal-offering unto YHWH.
(Lev. 23:15-16)

This does not appear to be an issue of “Oral Law from Sinai” but a “Judgment of the Elders.” Although our forefathers certainly knew how to count the omer from the time of Sinai, the issue at hand had become one of interpretation of the written text. Not only were the Pharisees at odds with the Sadducees on the issue, they were also at odds with the Essenes, and even with each other (there was a minority group of Pharisees who held to the same position which was held by Sadducees, and certainly not because they rejected Oral Law).

 

 

The Majority Pharisee Position

The Talmud preserves for us the debate that existed between the Majority Pharisees and the Minority Pharisees and Sadducees on how to understand these verses (Lev. 23:15-16).

The section of the Talmud which covers this debate ((b.Men. 65a-66a) supplies us with two Baraitas (A “Baraita” designates a pre-talmudic tradition in the Jewish oral law which was not incorporated in the Mishnah.).

The first Baraita records a debate between certain Pharisees and the Boethusians (a sub-set of Sadducees) (b.Men. 65a-65b). The second Baraita records a debate between the Majority Pharisees and a minority group of Pharisees who are simply referred to as “Our Rabbis” (b.Men. 65b-66a). This is followed by Rabbah bar Nachmani’s (c. 270-c. 330) analysis and verdict (b.Men. 66a).

The First Baraita

The first Baraita gives five arguments given by certain Pharisees in debating with certain Sadducees. I will present all five of these arguments, however Rabba in the judgment dismisses the first three as easily refuted.

The First Argument
Rabbi Johanan (Yochanan) ben Zakkai

The first argument against the “Sabbath of Creation” and for the Festival Sabbath is given by Rabbi Johanan (Yochanan) ben Zakkai:

But R. Johanan b. Zakkai entered into discussion with them saying, ‘Fools that you are! whence do you derive it’?

Not one of them was able to answer him, save one old man who commenced to babble and said, ‘Moses our teacher was a great lover of Israel, and knowing full well that the Feast of Weeks lasted only one day he therefore fixed it on the day after the Sabbath so that Israel might enjoy themselves for two successive days’.

[R. Johanan b. Zakkai] then quoted to him the following verse, ‘It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb unto Kadesh-Barnea by the way of mount Seir.

If Moses was a great lover of Israel, why then did he detain them in the wilderness for forty years’?

‘Master’, said the other, ‘is it thus that you would dismiss me’?

‘Fool’, he answered, ‘should not our perfect Torah be as convincing as your idle talk! Now one verse says. Ye shall number fifty days. while the other verse says, Seven weeks shall there be complete. How are they to be reconciled? The latter verse refers to the time when the [first day of the] Festival [of Passover] falls on the Sabbath, while the former to the time when the [first day of the] Festival falls on a weekday.
(b.Men. 65a-65b)

The first part of this is a rather shallow response to a particularly shallow argument attributed to the Sadducees. But the second part gives an argument which Rabba admits is easily dismissed, saying:

If [it were to be derived from] R. Johanan b. Zakkai’s interpretation it can be refuted thus: Perhaps [the explanation of the conflicting verses is] as given by Abaye; for Abaye said, It is the precept to count the days and also the weeks.
(b.Men. 66a)

The Talmud elaborates on this as follows:

The [above] text [stated]: Abaye said, It is the precept to count the days and also to count the weeks. The Rabbis of the school of R. Ashi used to count the days as well as the weeks. Amemar used to count the days but not the weeks, saying, It is only in commemoration of Temple times.20
(b.Men. 66a)

The Second and Third Arguments
The Arguments of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua

The next two arguments presented in the Talmud are as follows

R. Eliezer says, This is not necessary, for Scripture says, Thou shalt number unto thee, that is, the numbering depends upon the [decision of the] Beth din; accordingly the Sabbath of the creation cannot be intended, as the numbering would then be in the hands of all men.

R. Joshua says. The Torah says. Count days and sanctify the new moon, count days and sanctify the Feast of Weeks. Just as in regard to the new moon there is something distinctive at the commencement [of the counting], so with the Feast of Weeks there is something distinctive at the commencement [of the counting].
(b.Men. 65b)

Again Rabba admits that the argument is easily refuted:

If from R. Eliezer’s and R. Joshua’s interpretations it can be refuted thus: How do they know that it refers to the first day of the Festival? It may refer to the last day of the Festival!
(b. Men. 66a)

The Fourth Argument
(The Argument of Rabbi Ishmael)

The next argument is given by Rabbi Ishmael:

R. Ishmael says. The Torah says. Bring the ‘Omer-offering on the Passover, and the Two Loaves on the Feast of Weeks. Just as the latter are offered on the Festival, and indeed at the beginning of the Festival, so the former, too. Is offered on the Festival, and indeed at the beginning of the Festival.
(b.Men. 65b)

Here Ishmael seems to actually paraphrasing Torah, I cannot actually find this as a quote. His point seems to be that since the two loaves are waved on a festival day, the Omer must also be offered on a festival day.

Following the “Sabbath of Creation” system, he argues that the Omer might sometimes be offered on the day after Passover (when the weekly Sabbath during Passover occurs on the 21st of Nisan.

For reasons we will discuss later, this is a false argument. It is not the Sabbath which must fall during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but the “morrow after the Sabbath” (Sunday) which must fall during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. So if the 14th of Nisan falls on a Saturday, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread would be the day of the First Fruits Offering. (We will disuses how we know this when we cover Joshua 5:11 later in this teaching).

The Fifth Argument
(The Argument of Rabbi Judah (Y’hudah) ben Batyra)

R. Judah b. Bathyra says:

There is written ‘Sabbath’ below:

[“Even unto the morrow after the sabbath shall you number fifty days, and you shall present a new meal-offering unto YHWH.
(Lev. 23:16)]

and also ‘Sabbath’ above:

[And he shall wave the sheaf before YHWH, to be accepted for you; on the morrow after the Sabbath, the cohen shall wave it.
(Lev. 23:11)]

Just as in the former case (23:11) the Festival, and indeed the beginning of the Festival, is near [to the Sabbath], so in the latter case (23:16), too, the Festival, and indeed the beginning of the Festival, is near [to the ‘Omer].
(b.Men. 65b)

R. Judah b. Bathyra’s argument actually does more to support the count from the “Sabbath of Creation. I would point out that the identical phrase “morrow after the Sabbath” in both of these verses would seem to point to a parallel meaning describing the beginning and ending of the count… a count that begins the morrow after the weekly Sabbath for the Firstfruits offering… and ends the morrow after the weekly sabbath for a Sunday Shavuot.

The Majority Pharisee understanding interprets the same phrase as meaning different things in the two parallel passages, especially conspicuous as they describe the beginning and end of the same count. They understand the “morrow after the sabbath” the begins the count to refer to the morrow after the festival sabbath on the 15th of Nisan, and the “morrow after the sabbath” at the end of the count to mean “the morrow after the week” to refer to the end of counting of seven weeks.

The Second Baraita

In the Second Baraita it is a minority group of Pharisees, and not Sadducees who are presented as arguing for counting the omer from the morrow after the “Sabbath of Creation”:

Our Rabbis taught: And ye shall count unto you. that is, the counting is a duty upon every one. On the morrow after the Sabbath. Is that on the morrow after the Festival? Perhaps it is not so but rather on the morrow after the Sabbath of Creation.
(b.Men. 65b)

The First Argument
(Rabbi Jose ben Judah’s First Argument)

R. Jose b. Judah says, Scripture says, Ye shall number fifty days, that is, every time that you number it shall not be more than fifty days. But should you say that the verse refers to the morrow after the Sabbath of Creation, then it might sometimes come to fifty-one and sometimes to fifty-two and fifty-three and fifty-four and fifty-five and fifty-six.
(b.Men. 65b)

Rabba again admits that this argument is easily refuted:

If from R. Jose son of R. Judah’s interpretation it can be refuted thus: Perhaps the fifty days excludes those six days!
(b.Men. 66a)

It might be added that the argument is simply not valid. If one begins with a Sabbath and the morrow after that Sabbath is the Firstfruits offering and counts seven Sabbaths or seven weeks, and places Shavuot on the morrow after that Sabbath, then Shavuot will always fall on the 50th day after the Sabbath which immediately precedes the day of the Firstfruits offering (the day from which all of the counting begins).

The Second Argument
(Rabbi Judah ben Batyra’a Argument)

R. Judah b. Bathyra says. This is not necessary.

for Scripture says, Thou shalt number unto thee, that is, the numbering depends upon [the decision of] the Beth-din; accordingly the Sabbath of the Creation cannot be intended as the numbering would then be in the hands of all men.
(b.Men. 65b-66a)

Again Rabba admits that this argument is easily refuted:

R. Judah b. Bathyra’s interpretation it can be refuted thus: How does he know that it means’ the first day of the Festival? Perhaps it means the last day of the Festival! R. Jose also realized this same difficulty, and he therefore added the second interpretation ‘Moreover.
(b.Men. 66a)

The Third Argument
(Rabbi Jose ben Judah’s Second Argument)

R. Jose says. On the morrow after the Sabbath means on the morrow after the Festival. You say that it means on the morrow after the Festival, but perhaps it is not so, but rather on the morrow after the Sabbath of Creation! I will prove it to you.

Does Scripture say, ‘On the morrow after the Sabbath that is in the Passover week’? It merely says, ‘On the morrow after the Sabbath’; and as the year is full of Sabbaths, then go and find out which Sabbath is meant. Moreover, ‘Sabbath’ is written below, and ‘Sabbath’ is written above; just as in the former case it refers to the Festival, and indeed to the beginning of the Festival, so in the latter case, too, it refers to the Festival, and indeed to the beginning of the Festival.
(b. Men. 66a)

Rabbi Jose probably brings this up because he knows that the Qumran sect interprets the text to mean the Sabbath AFTER Passover.

And again we could apply the following:

If from R. Eliezer’s and R. Joshua’s interpretations it can be refuted thus: How do they know that it refers to the first day of the Festival? It may refer to the last day of the Festival!
(b. Men. 66a)

The fact is that this argument is equally relevenat to the Rabbinic position. How do they know which festival Sabbath is intended? There are two festival Sabbaths during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the 15th of Nisan and the 21st of Nisan.

However the fact is that this problem does not actually exist for the Sabbath of Creation system. As we said earlier, for reasons we will discuss later (when we discuss Joshua 5:11) we know that it is the morrow after the Sabbath (Sunday) in which we have the Firstfruits offering, not the Sabbath itself. Therefore the Firstfruits offering will always occur during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The Fourth Argument
(Rabbi Shimeon ben Eleazar’s Argument)

R. Simeon b. Eleazar says, One verse says. Six days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, whereas another verse says, Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread. How are they to be reconciled?’ [In this way:] you may not eat unleavened bread of the new produce the seven days. but you may eat unleavened bread of the new produce six days. From the day that ye brought [the ‘Omer of the waving]…shall ye number: now I might think that the ‘Omer must be reaped and offered [on the day stated], but the counting may begin whenever one wishes, the text therefore also states, From the time the sickle is first put to the standing corn thou shalt begin to number. But from [this verse], ‘From the time the sickle is first put to the standing corn thou shalt begin to number’, I might think that the ‘Omer must be reaped and then one begins to count, but it is to be offered whenever one wishes, the text therefore states, From the day that ye brought [the ‘Omer...shall ye number]. But from [this verse], ‘From the day that ye brought’, I might think that it must be reaped and offered and the counting begun all by day, the text therefore states ‘Seven weeks shall there be complete; and when do you find seven weeks complete? Only when you begin to count from the [previous] evening. I might think, then, that it must be reaped and offered and the counting begun all by night, the text therefore, states, ‘From the day that ye brought’. How is it to be then? The reaping and the counting must be on the [previous] night, but the bringing on the [following] day.
(b.Men. 66a)

However elswehere the Talmud (and actually Rabba himself) gives a very different understanding of Deut. 16:8:

It was taught in accordance with Raba: Six days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord thy God: just as [on] the seventh day [the eating of unleavened bread] is voluntary, so [on] the six days it is voluntary. What is the reason? Because it is something which was included in the general law and then excluded from the general law, in order to illumine [other cases], [which means that] it was excluded not in order to throw light upon itself, but in order to throw light upon the entire general law. You might think that on the first night too it is [merely] voluntary; therefore it is stated, ‘they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.’ I know this only when the Temple is in existence; whence do we know it when the Temple is not in existence? From the verse, ‘at even ye shall eat unleavened bread’: thus the Writ made it a permanent obligation.
(m.Pes. 120a)

Moreover Rashi says of Deut. 16:8:

For six days you shall eat matzoth: But elsewhere it says, “For seven days [you shall eat matzoth]!” (Exod. 12:15). [The solution is:] For seven days you shall eat matzoth from the old [produce] and six days [i.e., the last six days, after the omer has been offered] you may eat matzoth prepared from the new [crop]. Another explanation: It teaches that the eating of matzoh on the seventh day of Passover is not obligatory, and from here you learn [that the same law applies] to the other six days [of the Festival], For the seventh day was included in a general statement [in the verse “For seven days you shall eat matzoth ,” but in the verse: “Six days you shall eat matzoth ”] it has been taken out of this general [statement], to teach us that eating matzoh [on the seventh day] is not obligatory, but optional. [Now we have already learned that if something is singled out of a general statement, we apply the relevant principle not only to itself but to every thing included in the general category. Thus the seventh day] is excluded here not to teach regarding itself, rather to teach regarding the entire generalization [i.e., the entire seven days of the Festival]. Just as on the seventh day the eating of matzah is optional, so too, on all the other days, the eating of matzah is optional. The only exception is the first night [of Passover], which Scripture has explicitly established as obligatory, as it is said, “in the evening, you shall eat matzoth” (Exod. 12:18). – [Mechilta on Exod 12:18; Pes. 120a]

So it seems that this argument is based on the idea that Deut. 16:8 MUST mean something, that it may not even mean… in fact Rabba himself understood it to mean something TOTALLY different. Rabba delivers a sentence in Men. 66a based his own claim that Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar’s argument cannot be refuted, when elsewhere (Pes. 120a) Rabba himself refutes Simeon ben Eleazar’s interpretation.

So this argument is easily dismissed as well.

The Basic Rabbinic Argument

Some years ago at a Vendyl Jones event, I had the opportunity to hear an Orthodox Rabbi address this issue. He began by saying that growing up he always thought that the Sadducees were right about this, but that in studying the Talmud he came to know better. used this argument:

R. Judah b. Bathyra says. This is not necessary for Scripture says, Thou shalt number unto thee, that is, the numbering depends upon [the decision of] the Beth-din; accordingly the Sabbath of the Creation cannot be intended as the numbering would then be in the hands of all men.
(b.Men. 65b-66a)

He argued that the MODEIM were a meeting place between man and HaShem, a cooperative venture in which man and HaShem agreed together on these dates… as such Shavuot must depend upon the decision of the Beit Din in regards to which day is the New Moon (thus be numbered from the 16th day after the New Moon).

However the Rabbi failed to say that Rabba admits that this argument is easily refuted:

R. Judah b. Bathyra’s interpretation it can be refuted thus: How does he know that it means’ the first day of the Festival? Perhaps it means the last day of the Festival! R. Jose also realized this same difficulty, and he therefore added the second interpretation ‘Moreover.
(b.Men. 66a)

In other words, by this argument one could just as easily argue that we count from the day after the 21st of Nisan as the day after the 15th of Nisan.

This argument is based on the parallel between Deut. 16:9 and Deut. 16:18

“Seven weeks shall you number unto you…”
(Deut. 16:9)

“Judges and officers shall you make you in all your gates…”
(Deut. 16:18)

The Rabbi Judah ben Batyra is arguing that “you” in Deut. 16:9 refers to the Beit Din, the “Judges and officers” mentioned in Deut. 16:18.

However the Minority group (called “Our Rabbis”) argue that the counting is in the hands of all men. By this argument, the “you” who count in verse 9 are the “you” who make to themselves judges and officers in verse 18, not the Beit Din, but the people.
The Key is Joshua 5:11

The answer to all of our questions is found in a single passage:

And they did eat of the produce of the land,
on the morrow after the Pesach:
unleavened cakes and parched grain, in the selfsame day
(Joshua 5:11 HRV)

This passage might seem at first glance to be incidental, but on close examination it answers all of our questions on this issue.

To begin with the phrase “morrow after the Pesach” refers to the 15th of Nisan. As we read in the Torah:

And they journeyed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. On the morrow after the Pesach, the children of Yisra’el went out with a high hand, in the sight of all the Egyptians,
(Numbers 33:3)

Now it is forbidden to eat from the produce of the land before the Firstfruits offering, as we read in the Torah “And you shall eat neither bread nor parched grain, nor fresh ears, until this selfsame day,” (Lev. 23:14).

This means that this year the Firstfruits offering must have occurred on the 15th of Nisan and not on the 16th of Nisan. That year the 14th of Nisan would have had to occur on a Sabbath, so that the “morrow after the Sabbath” was on the 15th of Nisan, a Sunday.

This also tells us that it is the “morrow after the Sabbath” (Sunday) which must fall during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, not the Sabbath itself, so the Firstfruits offering will always occur during the feast and never the day after it. Moreover we learn from this passage that the Qumran practice of counting from the morrow after the Sabbath which follows the Feast of Unleavened Bread was also not correct.

Yeshua as the Firstfruits Offering

20 But now the Messiah has risen from the dead and, has become the firstfruits of those asleep.
21 And as through a son of man came death, so also through a son of man came the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all sons of men died, so also in the Messiah all live;
23 Each man in his order. The Messiah was the firstfruits; after that, those who are of the Messiah at His coming.
(1Cor. 15:20-23)

After the Sabbath on the first day of the week some women visit Yeshua’s tomb and find it empty (Matt. 28:1-7; Mk. 16:1-8; Lk. 24:1-12; Jn. 20:1-2)

A short statement is needed here. Some have argued that this day was the weekly Sabbath, based on translating “first [day] of the week” as “First Sabbath” (referring to the first Sabbath in the counting of the omer.

For several reasons we know this was not the Sabbath. To begin with Mark tells us “the Sabbath was past” (Mark 16:1). Matthew tells us that the Elders of Jerusalem were handling money on this day (Matt. 28:11-15). In Luke 24:13-35 we read that “the same day” (Lk. 24:13) two of Yeshua’s Talmidim traveled sixty furlongs (about 7 1/2 miles) to Emmaus. Exodus 16:29 tells us not to go out of our “place” on Shabbat and in Acts 1:12 we read that the distance from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem (2,000 Cubits or .57 miles) is “a Sabbath Day’s Journey”. So it is clear that this day could not have been a Sabbath, so the verses in question (Matt. 28:1-7; Mk. 16:1-8; Lk. 24:1-12; Jn. 20:1-2) are properly understood to refer to “the first day of the week” and not “the first of the Sabbaths.”

Now that morning Kefa and another talmid run to the tomb (Jn. 20:3-10) Outside the tomb Miriam Magdala and the other women encounter Yeshua outside the tomb… they take hold of his feet (Mt. 28:8-10; Jn. 20:11-18) Upon being touched by them Yeshua says:

“Do not touch Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father. But go to My brothers and tell them, I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My Eloah and your Eloah.”
(John 20:17).

But later that day (Luke 24:39) he instructs his talmidim to “handle me”.

This is because the Firstfruits offering could not be touched until after it had been waved. As Josephus writes:

But on the second day of unleavened bread, which is the sixteenth day of the month, they first partake of the fruits of the earth, for before that day they do not touch them.
(Josephus; Ant. 3:10:5-6)

Sometime between Jn. 20:17 and Luke 24:39 Messiah ascended and was waved as the Firstfruits offering in the heavenly Holy of Holies on this morrow after the Sabbath of creation, thus supporting the Nazarene understanding that the Firstfruits offering is always given on the morrow after the weekly Sabbath and that Shavuot always occur the morrow after the seventh Sabbath afterwards, thus the fiftieth day after that weekly Sabbath.

Traditions Should Not Supersede the Word

In Matthew 15:2-9 we read that we should not follow a tradition if it conflicts with the plain meaning of the WOrd of YHWH.

The thing I find concerning is that the ultimate reason for embracing the “morrow after the festival sabbath” position seems to be that it was the majority Pharisee position.  To the point that normal rules of hermeneutics are ignored in favor of rubber stamping the Rabbinic position.

To begin with we have the phrase “morrow after the Sabbath” in Lev. 23:11 and 23:15-16; and “seven Sabbaths shall be counted.” In 23:16.

Now in keeping with the Rule of Common Meaning we should understand each of these terms in their most commonly accepted meaning if it is possible to do so.  This is alos in keeping with Ishmael’s principle, which states when Elohim speaks to man through the Scriptures, He speaks as a man would to another man.  In accordance with this principle, it is completely possible to understand the word SHABBAT to refer to the weekly Sabbath in all of these places.

Also in keeping with the Rule of Common Usage we should understand the word SHABBAT in each of these passages, if possible according to their most common usage in the Scriptures.  The word SHABBAT is most commonly used in Scripture to refer to the weekly Sabbath, and it is possible to apply that meaning to each of these passages with the result of a coherent reading.

Also in accordance with the Rule of Context we should understand the recurrence of the same word and the same phrase in the same passage with the same meaning if at all possible.  This means we should understand “morrow after the Sabbath” in Lev. 23:11 and 23:15, 16 to have the same meaning, especially in light of the fact that their context is so closely connected that they are the beginning and ending of the same count.  Moreover the Rule of Context would also lead us to believe that the word “Sabbath” should be understood as having the same meaning throughout the same passage unless that is not possible.

Finally if we apply the Rule of Collateral Reference then we may look to passages of parallel subject matter to help us understand the passage at hand.  And in keeping with this rule we look to Joshua 5:11 where Passover and the eating of “parched grain” are mentioned in close connection.  By all ordinary objective rules of interpretation, we should see this as a verse of Collateral Reference, and in keeping with that rule, we should be able to use information from Joshua 5:11 to help us understand Lev. 23:15-16.

So on the one hand, we have all of the rules of objective interpretation pointing to understanding this as the Morrow after the Sabbath of Creation.  On the other hand the Rabbinical interpretation is based on the assumption that the Feast of Shavuot must, like the other Festivals be established based upon a date set by the Beit Din (through the New Moon sighting).

 

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