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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Biblical Antiquities

Subset of archaeology

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Biblical Antiquities.—This department of archeology has been variously defined and classified. Some scholars have included in it even Biblical chronology, geography, and natural history, but wrongly so, as these three branches of Biblical science belong rather to the external environment of history proper. Archeology, properly speaking, is the science of antiquities, and of those antiquities only which belong more closely to the inner life and environment of a nation, such as their monumental records, the sources of their history, their domestic, social, religious, and political life, as well as their manners and customs. Hence, history proper, geography, and natural history must be excluded from the domain of archeology. So also the study of monumental records and inscriptions and of their historical interpretation must be left either to the historian, or to the sciences of epigraphy and numismatics. Accordingly, Biblical Archeology may be appropriately defined as: the science of I. DOMESTIC, or SOCIAL, II. POLITICAL, and III. SACRED, ANTIQUITIES of the Hebrew nation.

Our principal sources of information are: (a) The Old Testament writings; (b) the archaeological discoveries made in Syria and Palestine; (c) the Assyro-Babylonian, Egyptian, and Canaanitish monuments; (d) the New Testament writings; (e) the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, and of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds; (f) comparative study of Semitic religions, customs, and institutions.


(1) Family and clan

The Old Testament books present us the Hebrews as having passed through two stages of social development: the pastoral and the agricultural. The stories of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, picture them as dwelling in tents and constantly moving from one pasture-ground to another. In course of time tents merged into huts, huts into houses, and these into settlements, villages, and cities, surrounded by cornfields, vineyards, oliveyards, and gardens. Flocks and herds became rarer and rarer till the time of the early monarchy and afterwards, when, with few exceptions, they gave way to commerce and trade. As among all nations of antiquity, a coalition of various members, or branches, of the same family constituted a clan which, as an organization, seems to have antedated the family. A coalition of clans formed a tribe which was governed by its own chiefs or leaders. Some of the Hebrew clans at the time of the settlement in Canaan seem to have been organized, some to have been broken up and wholly or partially incorporated with other clans. A man’s standing in his clan was so important that if he was cast out he became ipso facto an outlaw, unless, indeed, some other clan could be found to receive him. After the settlement, the Hebrew clan-system changed somewhat and slowly degenerated till the time of the monarchy, when it fell into the back-ground and became absorbed by the more complicated system of national and monarchical government.

(2) Marriage and the constitution of the family

In ancient Hebrew times the family, as a social organization, and as compared with the clan, must have held a secondary place. Comparative Semitic analogy and Biblical evidences seem to indicate that among the early Hebrews, as among other early Semitic nations, man lived under a matriarchate system, i.e. kinship was constituted by uterine ties, and descent was reckoned through female lines; the father’s relation to his children being, if not ignored, certainly of little or no importance. Hence a man’s kin were the relatives of his mother, not those of his father; and consequently all hereditary property descended in the female line. The position of woman during the early Hebrew period, although inferior to what it became later, was not as low and insignificant as many are inclined to believe. Many episodes in the lives of women like Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel, Deborah, Mary the sister of Moses, Delilah, Jephtah’s daughter, and others are sufficient evidences. The duties of a woman, as such and as a wife and mother, were heavy both physically and morally. The work in and about the home devolved upon her, even to the pitching of the tent, as also the work of the field with the men at certain seasons. The position of the man as father and as the head of the household was of course superior to that of the wife; upon him devolved the duty and care of the training of the children, when they had reached a certain age, as also the offering of sacrifices, which necessarily included the slaughtering of domestic animals, and the conduct of all devotional and ritualistic services. To these must be added the duty of maintaining the family, which presupposes a multitude of physical and moral obligations and hardships.

Polygamy was an acknowledged form of marriage in the patriarchal and post-patriarchal periods, although in later times it was considerably restricted. The Mosaic law everywhere requires a distinction to be made between the first wife and those taken in addition to her. Marriage between near relatives was common, owing to a desire to preserve, as far as possible, the family bond intact. As the family was subordinate to the clan, the whole social life of the people, marriage, and even property rights were under the surveillance of the same. Hence a woman was to marry within the same clan; but if she chose to marry without the clan, she should do so only upon such terms as the clan might permit by its customs or by its action in a particular case. So, also, a woman might be allowed, where compensation was made, to marry and leave her clan, or she might contract through her father or other male relative with a man of another clan provided she remained with her people and bore children for her clan. This marriage-form, known to scholars under the term of Sadiga-marriage, was undoubtedly practiced by the ancient Hebrews, as positive indications of its existence are found in the Book of Judges and particularly in the cases of Jerubbaal, Samson, and others. The fact itself that Hebrew harlots who received into their tents or dwellings men of other clans, and who bore children to their own clan, were not looked upon with much disfavor is a sure indication of the existence of the Sadigamarriage type among the Hebrews. One thing is certain, however, that no matter how similar the marriage customs of the ancient Hebrews may have been to those of the early Arabs, the marriage tie among the former was much stronger than, and never as loose as, among the latter. Another form of Hebrew marriage was the so-called levirate type (from the Lat. levir, i. e. brother-in-law), i.e. the marriage between a widow, whose husband had died childless, and her brother-in-law. She was, in fact, not permitted to marry a stranger, unless the surviving brother-in-law formally refused to marry her. The levirate marriage was intended, first, to prevent the extinction of the name of the deceased childless brother; and secondly, to retain the property within the same tribe and family. The first-born son of such a union took the name of the deceased uncle instead of that of his father, and succeeded to his estate. If there were no brother of the deceased husband alive, then the next of kin was supposed to marry the widow as we find in the case of Ruth’s relative who yielded his right to Boaz. According to the laws of Moses, a man was forbidden to remarry a divorced wife, if she had married again and become a widow, or had been divorced from her second husband. Israelites were not forbidden to intermarry with any foreigners except the seven Canaanitish nations; hence Moses‘ marriage to a Midianite, and afterwards to a Cushite, woman and that of David to a princess of Geshur were not against the Mosaic law. The high-priest was to marry a virgin of his own people, and in the time of Ezechiel even an ordinary priest could not marry a widow, unless she were the widow of a priest.

Betrothal was mostly a matter of business to be transacted by the parents and near family friends. A distinction between betrothal and marriage is made even in the Mosaic law, where betrothal is looked upon as more than a promise to marry; it was in fact its initial act, and created a bond which could be dissolved only by death or by legal divorce. Faithlessness to this vow of marriage was regarded and punished as adultery. Betrothal actually took place after a dowry had been agreed upon. As a rule, it was given to the parents of the bride, though sometimes to an elder brother. Marriage contracts appear to have been mostly oral, and made in the presence of witnesses. The earliest account of a written one is found in the Book of Tobit (D. V. Tobias). The wedding festivities lasted ordinarily seven days, and on the day of the wedding the bridegroom, richly dressed and crowned, went in procession to the bride’s house to take her away from her father. The bride, deeply veiled, was led away amid the blessings of her parents and friends. The bridal procession not infrequently took place at night, in the blaze of torches and with the accompaniment of songs, dancing, and the highest expressions of joy.

Adultery was punished by death, through stoning of both participants. A man suspecting his wife of unfaithfulness might subject her to a terrible ordeal which, it was thought, no guilty wife could well pass through without betraying her guilt. Divorce among the ancient Hebrews was as frequent as among any other civilized nation of antiquity. Mosaic laws attempted only to restrict and to regulate it. Any “unseemly thing” was sufficient ground for divorce, as also was barrenness. The wife, however, was not allowed to separate herself from her husband for any reason; in the case of her husband’s adultery, he as well as the other guilty party, as we have seen, would be punished with death.

Concubinage, which differs widely from polygamy, was also extensively practiced by the Hebrews. A concubine was less than a wife, but more than an ordinary mistress, and her rights were jealously guarded in the Mosaic Code. The children born of such a union were in no case considered as illegitimate. The principal distinction between a legal wife and a concubine consisted in the latter’s social and domestic inferiority. Concubines were not infrequently either handmaids of the wife, or captives taken in war or purchased of their fathers. Canaanitish and other foreign women or slaves could in no case be taken as concubines. The seducer of an unbetrothed maiden was compelled either to marry her or to pay her father a heavy fine. In later times, ordinary harlotry was punished, and if the harlot was the daughter of a priest she was burnt. Idolatrous harlotry and sodomy were severely punished.

The domestic and social life of the Hebrews was frugal and simple. They indulged very little in public games and diversions. Hunting and fishing were looked upon as necessities of life. Slavery was extensively practiced, and slaves were either Hebrews or foreigners. The Mosaic law is against any kind of involuntary slavery, and no Hebrew slave was allowed to be sold to foreigners. An Israelitish slave was to be set free after five or six years servitude and not without some compensation, unless he were willing to serve another term. As was natural, Hebrew slaves were more kindly treated by their Hebrew masters than were foreign ones, who were either captives in war or purchased.

(3) Death and burial

The principal sicknesses and diseases mentioned in the Old Testament are: intermittent, bilious, and inflammatory fevers, dysentery produced by sunstroke, inflammation of the head, fits, apoplectic paralysis, blindness, inflammation of the eyes, haemorrhages, epilepsy, diarrhoea, dropsy, various kinds of skin eruptions, scabies, and the various forms of leprosy. To these must be added some psychical diseases, such as madness, melancholy, etc., and also various forms of demoniacal possession. No explicit mention of professional physicians and surgeons is made in the Old Testament.

In case of death, the body was washed and wrapped in a linen cloth and, if financial circumstances allowed, anointed with sweet-smelling spices and ointments. Embalming was neither a general nor a common practice. Burial took place, usually, on the day of the person’s death. The dead body was never burnt, but interred, unless for some particular reason, as in the case of Saul and his sons. Mourning customs were various, such as wearing sackcloths, scattering dust and ashes on the head, beating the breast, plucking and pulling out the hair and the beard, throwing oneself upon the earth; rending the garments, going about barefooted, veiling the face, and in some cases abstaining from eating and drinking for a short time. The usual period of mourning lasted seven days. With few exceptions the bodies were interred outside of the town, either in caves or in public cemeteries, Persons of high social and financial standing were publicly mourned, and their bodies placed in sepulchres hewn in rock.

(4) Food and meals

The principal articles of food among the ancient Hebrews can be easily summarized from the interesting description of the land of Canaan occurring in the Book of Deuteronomy, where it is said to be “a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it” (Deut., viii, 8, 9). Their meals were undoubtedly of the simplest description, and their table was more rich with fish, milk, fruit, and vegetables than with meat. Animal food in general was in favor with the people at large, but the Mosaic law restricted its use to almost the minimum. Animals or parts of animals designated for sacrifice or other holy uses could only be eaten under specific conditions. In the eleventh chapter of Leviticus and the fourteenth of Deuteronomy, a list is given of a large class of animals which were looked upon as ceremonially unfit to be eaten. Animals, furthermore, were classified as pure and impure, or clean and unclean, and the complicated legislation of the Pentateuch concerning the use of these is partly based on sanitary, partly fanciful, and partly ceremonial grounds. The evening meal was the principal meal of the day, and if knives, forks, spoons, and other like instruments were used in the preparation of the meals, they were not used at the table. Hands were washed before and after meals. Neither prayer, nor grace, nor blessing seems to have been proffered before or after the repast. In other particulars the table usages and customs of the ancient Hebrews may reasonably be supposed to have been like those of modern Palestine.

(5) Dress and ornaments

The materials for clothing were principally cotton, linen, and wool; silk is once, or never, mentioned in the Old Testament. The wearing of a mixed fabric of wool and linen was forbidden by the Mosaic law. So, also, either sex was forbidden to wear the garments proper to the opposite sex. The outer garment of men consisted of loose, flowing robes, which were of various types and forms. On the four corners of this outer robe a fringe, or tassel, was attached. The undergarment, which was the same for both sexes, consisted, generally, of a sleeveless tunic or frock of any material desired, and reached to the knees or ankles. That of the woman was longer and of richer material. The tunic was fastened at the waist with a girdle. The fold made by the girdle served at the same time as a pocket. A second tunic and the shawl, which was long and of fine material, were also in use. The outer garment of the Hebrew women differed slightly from that of the men, and no detailed description of it is found in the Bible. It was undoubtedly richer and more ornamented than that of the other sex. The most accepted color for ordinary garments was white, and the art of bleaching cloth was from very early times known and practiced by the Hebrews. In later times, the purple, scarlet, and vermilion colors were extensively used, as well as the black, red, yellow, and green. Girdles were worn by both sexes, and golden girdles were not unknown. Men covered the head with some kind of a turban, or cap, although it is doubtful whether its use was universal in pre-Mosaic and Mosaic times. In ancient times women did not wear veils, but probably covered their heads with kerchiefs, mufflers, or mantles. Sandals were in general use, but not among the poorer classes, or among the farmers and shepherds. Worthy of notice is the ceremony mentioned in l) eut., xxv, 9, according to which if a man refuses to marry the wife of his brother, who had died childless, “Then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in [or before] his face, and she shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto the man that will not build up his brother’s house The drawing off of the shoe evidently indicated the. surrender of the rights which the law gave the man to marry his brother’s widow. Likewise the modern custom of throwing a slipper sportively after a newly wedded pair leaving the parental house appears to have a like symbolical significance; the parents and family friends thereby symbolically renounce their right to the daughter or son in favor of the husband or wife. Finger-rings, ear-rings, and bracelets were extensively used by both men and women, but more so by the latter. Prosperous men always carried a staff and a seal. All these ornamental articles, however, were more indulged in by the Egyptians, Assyrians, and other Oriental nations than by the Hebrews. Hebrew women wore also cauls, anklets, and ankle-chains, scent-bottles, and decorated purses, or satchels. Perfumery was also indulged in; and extensive use was made of pigments as applied to the eyelids and eyebrows by women. Tattooing on the face, arms, chest, and hands was in all probability practiced by the Hebrews, although it was to a certain extent incompatible with certain Mosaic prescriptions.

(6) Pastoral and agricultural life

According to the Biblical records, tilling the ground and the rearing of cattle and sheep were the first and earliest occupations of men. In Patriarchal times the latter was in greater favor, while in the later Hebrew period the first prevailed over the second. This transition from the pastoral, or nomadic, to the agricultural, or settled, life was a natural consequence of the settlement in Canaan, but at no time did the two occupations exclude each other. Both, in fact, were important, indispensable, and necessary. The sheep was, of course, the principal animal both as an article of food and as wool-producer, besides its constant use as a sacrificial animal. Sheep’s milk was also a favorite article. Rams also, with from two to as many as eight horns, are not infrequently mentioned. Goats are frequently mentioned, and cows and oxen were utilized for milk and butter and for tilling the ground. Horses and camels were imported from Arabia. Poultry and hens are not once mentioned in the Old Testament. The ass was a common and useful animal for transportation, but the mule is not mentioned in the Bible prior to the time of the monarchy. The life of the Hebrew and Eastern shepherds in general was by no means easy or uneventful. Jacob, in fact, in reproaching his father-in-law, Laban, says: “Thus I was: in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep fled from mine eyes” (Gen., xxxi, 40); and of his own pastoral life and its perils David tells us that “there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: and I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth” [I Sam. (D. V. I Kings), xvii, 34, 35]. The shepherd’s duties were to lead out the flock to pasture, watch them, supply them with water, go after the straying ones, and bring them all safely back to the fold at night. These formed his riches, trade, occupation, and sustenance.

Agriculture is the natural product of settled life. Nevertheless we read of Isaac that during the prevalence of a famine in Palestine he cultivated land iii the vicinity of Gerar, which produced a hundredfold (Gen., xxvi, 12). The Mosaic law recognizes land as the principal possession of the Hebrews, and its cultivation as their chief business. Hence every Hebrew family was to have its own piece of ground, which could not be alienated, except for limited periods. Such family estates were carefully surveyed; and it was regarded as one of the most flagrant of crimes to remove a neighbor’s landmark. Estates were divided into so many yokes, that is, such portions as a yoke of oxen could plough in a single day. The value of the land was according to its yield in grain.

Irrigation was practiced to a certain extent in Palestine, though not carried to the same extent as in Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt. The chief dependence for moisture was on the dew and the drenching rains of the rainy season. The climate of Palestine was, as a whole, favorable to agriculture, although in modern times the valleys and the plains have greatly deteriorated in fertility. The ground was ordinarily fertilized by the ashes of burnt straw and stubble, the chaff left after threshing, and the direct application of dung. According to the Mosaic law, every tillable land should enjoy on each seventh year a xabbath, or a rest. The year in question is called the Sabbatic Year, in which the field was not to be tilled. The object of this prescription was to heighten the natural fertility of the soil. What grew spontaneously in that year was to be not alone for the owner, but, on equal terms, for the poor, for strangers and for cattle. It is doubtful, however, whether this law was scrupulously observed in later Hebrew times. The most widely cultivated grains were wheat and barley, as well as spelt and millet. Of plants and vegetables the principal were grape-vines, olive-trees, nuts, apples, figs, pomegranates, beans, lentils, onions, melons, cucumbers, etc. The season for ploughing and cultivating the ground extended frorn October to March; that of gathering the crops from April or May to September. The plough was similar to our modern one. It was ordinarily drawn by two oxen, cows or asses, never, however, by an ass and an ox together. It was also forbidden under penalty of confiscation to sow the same field with two kinds of seeds. The beginning of the harvest was signalized by bringing a sheaf of new grain (presumably barley) into the sanctuary and waving it before the Lord. The grain was generally cut with the sickle, and sometimes pulled up by the roots. Fields and fruit-orchards were not to be gleaned by their owners, as this privilege was given to the poor and strangers, as in the case of Ruth. The threshing and winnowing were performed in the open field, the first by means of cattle yoked together, the other by shovels and fans.

(7) Commerce

The Hebrew people of olden times were not inclined towards commerce and did not indulge in it. This is probably due partly to the geographical position of Palestine and partly to its physical features. For although, geographically, Palestine would seem to have offered the most natural highway to connect the opulent commercial nations of Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, Assyria, and Babylonia, nevertheless, it lacked a sea-coast. Hence the Israelites remained essentially agriculturists. The trade of the Israelites consisted chiefly in the mutual exchange of products among themselves. At the time of David and Solomon, caravans from Egypt, Arabia, and Syria were not infrequently sent to Palestine and vice versa. The ships which Solomon is said to have sent to remote lands were built and manned by the Phoenicians. But even this revival of commercial spirit among the Hebrews was short-lived, for it ended with the life of Solomon. Solomon‘s commercial activities have been also greatly misunderstood and exaggerated. A faint revival of the Solomonic commercial spirit was inaugurated by King Jehoshaphat, of whom we read that he made “ships of Tharshish to go to Ophir for gold: but they went not; for the ships were broken at Eziongeber” [I (D. V. III) Kings, xxii, 48]. During and after the Babylonian Captivity, the Hebrews were compelled by circumstances to resort to trade and commerce, as they had come into constant contact with their Babylonian brethren and with the numerous Syro-Phoenician and Aramaean tribes and colonies. The historian Josephus well summarizes this whole matter when, in his work against Apion, he says: “We neither inhabit a maritime country, nor do we delight in merchandise, nor in such a mixture with other men as arises from it.”

Previous to the Babylonian Captivity, coined money does not seem to have circulated among the Hebrews, although a few references in Isaiah and other prophets seem to indicate its existence. Silver and gold were bought and exchanged by weight and value. The talent, the shekel, the kesitah, and the maneh (mina) are late Hebrew terms and of Babylonian origin. After the Exile, and especially during the Persian, Greek, and Roman dominations, coined money became quite common in Palestine, such as the quadrans, the assarion, the denarius, the drachma, the stater, the didrachma, etc.

During the time of the monarchy and afterwards, such trades and occupations as woodworking, metal-working, stoneworking, tanning, and weaving were thoroughly in evidence among the most industrious class of the Israelites, but the Chosen People cannot be said to have attained considerable skill and success in these directions.

(8) Science, arts, etc

At no time can the Hebrews be said to have developed a liking for the study of history, astronomy, astrology, geometry, arithmetic, grammar, and physical science in general. The Book of Job, Proverbs, and the many parables which Solomon is said to have written contain but meagre and popular notions, mostly drawn from observations of everyday life and happenings, while others are, to a great extent, due to the Babylonian influence and civilization which, from very early times, and especially during and after the Captivity, seem to have invaded the entire literary and social life of the Hebrews. Hence the Hebrew astronomical system, their calendar, constellations, sacred numbers, names of the months, solar and lunar months, etc., are of Babylonian origin. The Book of Job no less than the early chapters of Genesis show the traces of this same Babylonian influence.

As the Tell-el-Amarna letters have conclusively shown, the art of writing must have been known in Canaan and among the ancient Hebrews as early as the Mosaic age, and even earlier. Whether, however, this art was utilized by them to any great extent, is another question. Hebrew literature is one of the most venerable and valuable literary productions of the ancient East; and, although in respect of quantity and variety far inferior to that of the Assyro-Babylonians and Egyptians, nevertheless, in loftiness of ideals, sublimity of thoughts, and standard of morals and ethics, it is infinitely superior to them.

The art of music, both vocal and instrumental, occupies a high position in the Bible. Previous to the time of David, the music of the Hebrews seems to have been of the simplest character, as direct efforts to cultivate music among them appear first in connection with the schools of the prophets, founded by Samuel. Under David’s direction not less than four thousand musicians, i.e. more than the tenth part of the tribe of Levi, praised the Lord with “instruments” in the service of the temple. A select body of two hundred and eighty-eight trained musicians led this chorus of voices, one person being placed as leader over a section consisting of twelve singers. Heman, Asaph, and Ethan were among the most famous of these leaders. Men and women were associated together in the choir. In later Hebrew times the art of music developed still further till it reached its acme under Hezekiah and Josiah. The Hebrew musical instruments were, like those of other nations of antiquity, chiefly of three kinds, viz: stringed instruments, wind instruments, and such as were beaten or shaken to produce sound. To the first class belong the harp, the psaltery (also rendered “viol”, “dulcimer” etc.), the sackbut (Lat. Sambuca). To the second belong the flute, the pipe (Lat. fistula), and the trumpet. To the last belong the tabret, or timbrel, the castanets, and the cymbals.

In mechanical arts, the Israelites were far behind their Egyptian and Assyro-Babylonian neighbors. The author of I Samuel (D. V. I Kings) gives a sorry but true picture of the times preceding the activity of Samuel as follows: “Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel . but all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock.” In the times of Solomon, however, as it appears in connection with the building of the temple, conditions materially improved. Of the artisan classes, those working in wood and metals were always, perhaps, the most numerous in Israel. Among the former were carpenters, cabinet-makers, wood-carvers, manufacturers of wagons, of baskets, of various household utensils, including the distaff and the loom, and of the tools used in agriculture, such as ploughs, yokes, threshing-machines, goads, and winnowing-shovels. Workers in metals mentioned in the Bible are gold- and silversmiths and workers in brass and iron. Some of the tools of which they made use were the anvil, the bellows, the smelting-furnace, the fining-pot, the hammer, and the tongs. Among the various products of these Hebrew metal-workers are settings for precious stones, gilding, axes, saws, sickles, knives, swords, spear-heads, fetters, chains, bolts, nails, hooks, penstocks, pans for cooking purposes, plough-shares, and the wheels of threshing-Instruments. Copper or bronze was also used in manufacturing some of these articles. Other artisans mentioned in the Bible are: stone-masons, brick- and tile-makers, engravers, apothecaries, perfumers, bakers, tanners, fullers, spinners, weavers, and potters. Most of these trades and mechanical arts, however, came into prominence during the reign of Solomon and his successors.


(1) Civil administration

It has been truly said that law as law was unknown in early Israel. The customs of the clans and the conduct of the elders or of the most influential members of the tribe were looked upon as the standards of law and morality. Lawfulness was a matter of custom more or less ancient and more or less approved; and penalty was equally a matter of custom. When custom failed in a specific case, judgment could be rendered and new precedents might be made which in process of time would crystallize into customs. Hence the old tribal system among primitive Semitic clans, and especially in early Israel and Arabia, knew no legislative authority; and no single person or group of persons was ever acknowledged as having power to make laws or to render judgment. Of course prominent individuals or families within the tribe enjoyed certain privileges in acknowledgment of which they performed certain duties. In many cases they were called upon to settle differences, but they had no judicial powers and, if their decision did not satisfy the litigants, they had neither the right nor the power to enforce obedience, much less to inflict punishment. Within the tribe all men are on a footing of equality, and under a communistic system petty offenses are unreasonable. Serious misdemeanor is punished by expulsion; the offender is excluded from the protection of his kinsmen, and the penalty is sufficiently severe to prevent it being a common occurrence. The man who is wronged must take the first step in gaining redress; and when it happens that the whole tribe is aroused by the perpetration of any exceptionally serious crime, the offense is fundamentally regarded as a violation of the tribe’s honor, rather than as a personal injury to the family of the sufferer. This condition ofaffairs, however, does not necessarily imply a condition of utter lawlessness. On the contrary, tribal customs formed practically a law of binding character, although they were not regarded as law in the proper sense of the term.

That such was the prevalent social condition of the ancient Hebrews in the patriarchal periods quite certain. The few recorded incidents in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob furnish ample illustration of it. The long sojourn of the Hebrews in Egypt and the comparatively advanced civilization with which they there came in contact, as well as their settlement in Canaan, might be expected to have influenced their old tribal system of law and justice. Nevertheless, the authentic historical records of Israel’s national formation and even the legislation of the Book of the Covenant, which is undoubtedly the oldest Hebrew code of laws, when carefully examined, utterly fail to show any such remarkable advance in the administration of law and justice over the old nomadic tribal system. It is true, that as Dr. Benzinger remarks, “before the monarchy Israel had attained a certain degree of unity in matters of law; not in the sense that it possessed a written law common to all the tribes, or as a uniform organization for the pronouncing of legal judgments. but in the sense that along with a common God it had a community of custom and of feeling in matters of law, which community of feeling can be traced back very far. `It is not so done in Israel’ and `Folly in Israel, which ought not to be done’ are proverbial expressions reaching back to quite early times”. Nevertheless, law as law, with legislative power and authority, or a uniform system of legal procedure with courts and professional judges, were unknown in the earlier period of Israelitish history.

A study of the different Hebrew terms for judge clearly shows that a professional class of judges and, consequently, duly constituted courts did not exist in Israel till the first period of the monarchy, and even later. The Shoterim were primarily subordinate military officials, who were employed partly in the maintenance of civil order and military discipline. It was not until post-Exilic times that the terrn was applied to one with judicial power. Mehokek (primarily from hakak, “to cut in”, “to inscribe”, “to decide”, etc., and subsequently, as in Arabic, “to be just”, “right”, etc.) meant originally commander or ruler. The shophetim (Lat. sufetes; Assyrian sapatu), from which the “Book of Judges” takes its title, were not judges, but champions and deliverers. Hence, in Hosea (D. V. Osee), vii, 7, and Ps., ii, 10, shophetim is a synonym of “kings” and “rulers”, and the sufetes of the Phoenician cities and colonies were called “kings” by the Greeks. Other terms, such as palil, quasin, the meaning of which is rather obscure, primarily mean “umpire” in general. “chief”, and “petty ruler”. The only Hebrew word which, properly speaking, means “judge”, in its etymology and historical significance, is dayyan (found in all Semitic languages: Arab. dayydn; Aramaic dayydna; Assyrian da-a-nu or da-ia-nu, etc.). Although the stem meant originally “to requite”, “to compensate”, “to govern”, and “to rule”, we have sufficient warrant to believe that it meant, from the very earliest times, “to decide”, and “to render decision”. In the Old Testament, however, the word rarely occurs. In I Sam. (D. V., I Kings), xxiv, 15, it is even questionable whether it belongs to the original text, and it is only in post-Exilic times that the word meant “professional judge”.

What was the polity of the Hebrew tribes prior to the time of Moses is not difficult to describe.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob governed their families with an authority well nigh unlimited. Their power over their households was little short of a sovereign dominion. They were independent princes. They acknowledged no subjection, and owed no allegiance to any sovereign. They formed alliances with other princes. They treated with kings on a footing of equality. They maintained a body of servants, trained to the use of arms; were the chiefs who led them in war, and repelled force by force. They were the priests who appointed festivals, and offered sacrifices. They had the power of disinheriting their children, of sending them away from home without assigning any reason, and even of punishing them capitally.

“The twelve sons of Jacob ruled their respective families with the same authority. But when their descendants had become numerous enough to form tribes, each tribe acknowledged a prince as its ruler. This office, it is likely, was at first hereditary in the oldest son, but afterwards became elective. When the tribes increased to such an extent as to embrace a great number of separate households, the less powerful ones united with their stronger relatives, and acknowledged them as their superiors. In this way, there arose a subdivision of the tribes into collections of households. Such a collection was technically called a family, a clan, a house of fathers, or a thousand. This last appellation was not given because each of these subdivisions contained just a thousand persons, or a thousand households; for in the nature of things, the number must have varied, and in point of fact, it is manifest from the history, that it did. As the tribes had their princes, so these clans, families, or thousands had their respective chiefs, who were called heads of houses of fathers, heads of thousands, and sometimes simply heads. Harrington denominates these two classes of officers phylarchs, or governors of tribes, and patriarchs, or governors of families. Both, while the Israelites were yet in Egypt, were comprehended under the general title of elders. Whether this name was a title of honor, like that of sheikh (the aged) among the Arabs, and that of senator among the Romans, or whether it is to be understood, according to its etymology, as denoting persons actually advanced in years, is uncertain. These princes of tribes and heads of thousands, the elders of Israel, were the rulers of the people, while they remained still subject to the power of the Pharaohs, and constituted a kind of `imperium in imperio’. Of course they had no written constitution, nor any formal code of laws, but governed by custom, reason, and the principles of natural justice. They watched over and provided for the general good of the community, while the affairs of each individual household continued under the control of its own father. For the most part, it may be supposed, only those cases which concerned the fathers of families themselves would come under the cognizance and supervision of the elders.”

During their wanderings through the Desert the Hebrew tribes had no occasion to introduce any radical change in this form of government, for they had to contend with continuous difficulties of a social, moral, and religious character. And, although numerically superior to many Canaanitish tribes, they were, nevertheless, lacking in military discipline and were constantly moving from place to place. Realizing the necessity of defending themselves against the predatory tribes and rivals for the possession of fertile lands and oases, they soon developed a military spirit, which is the strongest external principle of cohesion in nomadic life.

The administration of justice in Israel in the Mosaic age, and for a long time after, was in the hands of the elders, the local judges, and, somewhat later, the prieste and the Levites, joined afterwards by the prophets. The elders, who represented the former heads of the families and clans under the tribal system, had undoubtedly ample jurisdiction concerning family affairs, disputes about conjugal relations, inheritances, the division of property, the appointment of the god or upholder of the family, and the settlement of blood-revenge. The local judges, as we have remarked, were not what this technical title ordinarily means. They were merely arbitrators and advisers in settling disputes which could not be settled by the elders, and very often they had to decide cases of appeal from the ordinary bench of elders at the city gates. They were, as a rule, taken from the body of the elders of the city, and later on from the princes, chiefs, and military officers of the army. The third class consisted of priests, and later on of prophets. They were appealed to in all difficult cases, their authority and influence being undoubtedly very strong. To appeal to a priest was to appeal to God Himself, for the priest was universally acknowledged as the official representative of Yahweh. His decisions were regarded as “directions”, and as such they were of an advisory character, thus constituting the “oracle” of the Hebrews. As originally each family group had its own priest, resort was naturally had to him for light on practical difficulties, not so much the settling of disputes as pointing out the safe, judicious, or righteous way for the individuals of the household in embarrassment. The prophets were also, in course of time, appealed to, not so much as official representatives of Yahweh as from the fact that they were regarded as men eminent in wisdom and spiritual authority. From the eighth century downwards the authority of the priests was greatly over-shadowed by that of the prophets, who managed the destinies of the whole nation with an almost unlimited authority and assertiveness, proclaiming themselves as the messengers of Yahweh and the mouthpieces of His orders. A single judicial center for the whole nation was never attained till the period of the monarchy. During the period of the Judges several leading judicial centers existed, such as Shiloh, Beth-el, Gilgal, Mizpah, Ramah, etc.

Whether Hebrew judges held their office for life is not altogether certain, although the presumption is that they did. It is likewise uncertain whether any salary or compensation was attached to the office. In the case of the Ten Judges, no revenues were appropriated for them, except, perhaps, a larger share of the spoils taken in war; and in case of the ordinary local judges or elders the offering of presents was quite common. This at first may have been a kind of testimonial of gratitude and respect, but it afterwards degenerated into mere bribery and corruption.

Whether the office of princes of tribes, chiefs, military officers, elders, and judges was hereditary or elective, is not easy to determine. Both systems may have been according to the different circumstances; but that in the majority of cases it was hereditary, admits of no doubt, for such was the prevailing custom in the ancient East and, to a certain extent, is so even in our own days.

No external sign of honor seems to have been attached to the dignity of judges and elders in Israel. They were without pomp, retinue, or equipage, although the passage in the Song of Deborah relating to those “who ride on white asses and sit in judgment” probably refers to the princes of the tribes, chiefs, elders, and judges in their respective capacities of military commanders, magistrates, and moral advisers and arbiters. In the East, even at the present day, the quadis, or chief judges and magistrates, have the distinctive privilege of riding either on mules or white asses, as against the military officers and eivil governors who must ride on horses. That the office of chief magistrate was unknown in ancient Israel is quite certain. In the whole Pentateuchal legislation allusion to such an institution is absolutely wanting. The supreme authority of the Hebrew community was in Yahweh. Moses, strictly speaking, was but the viceroy of Yahweh; and the same, to a certain extent, may also be said of Joshua. Their successors, the judges, were rather military commanders than judges or magistrates in the strict sense. With the beginning of the monarchy, the civil as well as the military power began to be concentrated, as far as possible, in the person of the king. But the Pentateuchal legislation as a whole is decidedly adverse to the idea of concentrating all power in the person of the king, or in that of any individual, and it is not improbable that the writer of Dent., xvii, was influenced by Israel’s historical experience under the monarchy.

Allusions to the administration of law and justice in the old Book of the Covenant are extremely meagre and utterly fail to give us any clear (or even vague) reference to legal procedure, judges, courts, or to any system of administration of justice. It is true. that the Book of the Covenant contains statutes and judgments, apparently enacted by some authoritative power; for such an authority must be assumed, otherwise there would be no meaning in the precise fixing of punishment, etc., such as the punishment of death, seven times prescribed, and the avenging on the body of the guilty person the wrong he had done. Still, as Kautzsch rightly remarks, “we are wholly in the dark as to the circle from which all the statutes and judgments proceeded, and, above all, as to the public authority by which scrupulous obedience was ensured. And, emphatically as justice and impartiality in legal cases is insisted on (xxiii, ff.), there is not a single indication as to who is authorized to pronounce sentence or to supervise the execution of the verdict.” In two cases, however, viz., in Exodus, xxi, 6 and xxii, 8, in which the case is complicated and the law doubtful, the Book of the Covenant insists that the parties should present themselves “before God” (Elohim): in the first case probably to perform a symbolic act which will have legal effect, and in the second probably to obtain an oracle. The Septuagint seems to have understood the sense of the phrase before God in its most obvious meaning, rendering it “before the tribunal of God“, i.e. that the matter is to be referred to the judgment of God, presumably in the sanctuary or before the priest. Rabbinical tradition, however, as early as the time of St. Jerome, took the word Elohim (God) as a plural, i.e. “gods”, arguing that the word here means simply “judges”, from the fact that, on account of the sacredness of their office, and the place where their decisions were rendered (often in the temple or at some sacred shrine) the judges were called “gods”. The rabbinical interpretation which has been followed by the majority of ancient and modern commentators, ingenious though it be, is nevertheless erroneous; for, considering the fact that the two cases referred to were such as no judge could decide with any certainty or probability, and in which only a divine intervention could bring about a satisfactory solution, we may assume that the rabbinical interpretation is untenable. This conclusion has been admirably vindicated by the Code of Hammurabi, where, in several cases in which the doubt is such as to make any human wisdom of no avail, and any judicial decision untrustworthy, the decision is left to God Himself. Hence, in all such cases Hammurabi decrees that the litigants should present themselves “before God“, and swear by His name, i.e. take an oath. The expression used by Hammurabi is exactly the same as that used in the two passages of Exodus referred to, and the cases in which the expression is applied are analogous. But in the Code of Hammurabi “to appear before God” is the same as “to swear by the name of God“, or “to take a solemn oath”; hence, in the two passages of Exodus, to appear before Elohim does not mean to appear before the judges, but to take a solemn oath at some holy place or sanctuary where the presence of the deity was more sensibly felt. By taking an oath the man in question constitutes God as the judge before whom he protests his innocence and affirms his rights. God is thereby called upon to avenge Himself upon the perjurers. And this God is neither Bel, nor Marduk, nor any other particular god, but is the Deity in its almost abstract form—He who is considered to be everywhere and to know every-thing. Hence the rabbinical interpretation, followed, till the discovery of the Code of Hammurabi, by the majority of commentators, may be confidently dismissed.

The legislation of Deuteronomy, on the other hand, which is in the main considerably later than that of the Book of the Covenant, furnishes us with more abundant details concerning the administration of law and justice in Israel. These are contained mainly in xvi, 18-20; xvii, 8-13, and 14-20; xix, 15-20, and xxv, 1-4. From II Chronicles (D. V. Paralipomenon) we learn that King Jehoshaphat established in Jerusalem a supreme tribunal, or court of justice, where priests and lay judges participated in the administration of justice each in their own sphere, and that he appointed judges in all cities of Judah. Details are lacking, but in its broader features the judicature thus established by Jehoshaphat agrees remarkably with the system prescribed in Deuteronomy, xvii, 8-13. Even in this case it is doubtful whether these judges and tribunals could in any satisfactory measure compare with the Babylonian legal system of the time of Hammurabi. In Ezechiel‘s time (and this brings us down to the sixth century B.C.) the priests seem to have absorbed all administrative power, while the author of I Chronicles, evidently influenced by Ezechiel or Deuteronomy, tells us that David had appointed 6,000 Levites as judges, which is quite inadmissible. In the post-Exilic times, and during the Greek and Roman periods, reference is made to professional judges, local courts, and tribunals in all the cities of Israel, which was undoubtedly due to Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman influences.

Judicial or legal procedure was very simple in early Israel. In Exodus, xviii, 22, we are told that the elders appointed by Moses at Horeb were to judge the people “at all seasons”; and in Numbers. xxvii, 2 (cf. Exodus, xviii, 19 sqq.), we read that Moses rendered judgments before the tabernacle of Yahweh, where he sat with Aaron and the princes or elders of the congregation to teach statutes and give judgments. According to Deuteronomy, xxi, 19; xxii, 15; and xxv, 7 (cf. Prov., xxii, 22; Amos, v, 11, 15; and Ruth, iv, 1, etc.), the judges in the cities had their seat at the gate, which was the thorough-fare of the public, or in the public squares of the city, where the markets were held, or in some other open place. Even the supreme judges administered justice in public; Deborah, for instance, under a palm-tree, and the kings at the gate, or in the court, of the royal palace. Solomon is said to have erected a porch, or hall of judgment, in Jerusalem, for his own royal court of justice, and from Jeremiah we learn that in later times the princes of Judah exercised judgment in a chamber of the royal palace. Jeremiah himself, when accused by the priests and false prophets, was judged by the princes of the people, who are said to have come out of the king’s house into the temple to judge at the entrance of the new gate before the assembled people. The litigants, viz., the plaintiff and the defendant, appeared personally before the elders, and presented their complaints orally. The accused, if not present, could be summoned to appear. Advocates are unknown in the Old Testament, for the plaintiff was supposed to look after his own case if he desired satisfactory judgment. Litigants were also at liberty to settle their differences personally, without appealing to the judge. The judge was held bound to hear and examine the case closely and conscientiously, his chief method of inquiry being the examination of the testimony of the witnesses. The accusations of the father against his rebellious child needed no support of witness. In other cases, however, especially criminal cases, not fewer than two or three witnesses were absolutely required. In all probability the testimony of slaves, children under age, and women was not accepted, as is expressly stated by Josephus and the Talmud, although not mentioned in the Old Testament. Witnesses were thoroughly examined, and, as in the Code of Hammurabi, false witnesses were punished according to the lex talionis, viz., by inflicting the precise kind of punishment the false witness had intended to bring upon his victim by his falsehood. Witnesses do not seem to have been put on oath, but when the nature of the case was such as to make it impossible to have or to produce witnesses, as in a case of theft, the oath was then administered to the accused, and the case decided. When the discovery of the crime and of the guilty party was a practical impossibility, Yahweh was looked to for the accomplishment of the task.

The Law affixes no civil punishment for perjury; it forbids it as a profanation of Yahweh’s name and threatens it with divine punishment. It must be noted, however, that in all cases in which an oath was taken before a judgment-seat it consisted merely of an adjuration addressed by the judge and responded to by the person sworn with an Amen. “Only in common life did the person swearing himself utter the oath, either: `So Yahweh do to me, and more also’, or `God [Elohim] do so to me’, etc., or `as Yahweh liveth’. But in such cases the name of Yahweh was probably avoided, and the oath was taken by the life (soul) of the man, to whom one wished to protest by oath. In later times, it became common, especially among the Pharisees, to swear by heaven, by the earth, by the temple, the holy city, and by one’s own head.”

The verdict, or the sentence, was pronounced orally, although from Job, xiii, 16; and Isaiah, x, 1, it appears that in some cases the sentence may have been given in written form. The sentence was to be executed without delay: Punishment was administered before the eyes of the judge, and that of stoning by the whole congregation or the people of the city, the witnesses being required to put their hands first to the execution of the guilty.

The practice of ordeals as means for ascertaining the truth, or obtaining a confession of guilt, was by no means unknown in Israel, although Josephus expressly tells us that torture and the bastinado for this purpose were first introduced into Israel by the Herodians. The most important one is the so-called “ordeal of jealousy”, prescribed in Numbers, v, 11-31, in the case of a woman suspected of adultery which cannot be legally proved. For this purpose the husband of the suspected woman would bring her to the priest; he must also bring with him an offering of barley meal, which is called “a meal-offering of jealousy, a meal-offering of memorial bringing guilt to remembrance”. The priest brings the woman before Yahweh, makes her take an oath of purgation, and then gives her to drink a potion described as “the water of bitterness that causeth the cure”, consisting of “holy water” with which dust from the floor of the tabernacle has been mingled, and into which the written words of the oath have been washed. If the woman be guilty the potion proves harmful; if innocent, harmless; in the latter case, moreover, the woman becomes fruitful.

The existence, at least at certain periods, of corruption and dishonesty in the administration of justice in Israel, and especially among the priests, need hardly be insisted on. The example of the two sons of Eli, notorious for their greed, is well known. Micah, Isaiah, Hosea, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Malachi freely and vehemently accuse the Hebrew judges of unfairness, injustice, respect of persons, bribery, and dishonesty in their legal decisions.

(2) The army

While in Egypt, the Hebrews lived a peaceful pastoral life under the supreme control of the Pharaohs. During their forty-years wandering in the desert, they had no enemy to fight, and no land to conquer; but when the time of their entering Canaan approached, the situation was completely changed. Here they were face to face with old settled Canaanitish tribes and nations, such as the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Amorites, the Jebusites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, and many others, whom they had to attack, defeat, and exterminate. “Ye shall utterly destroy”, was the command of Yahweh, “all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: and ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place” (Dent., xii, 2, 3). Hence the creation and organization of an army became a necessity, and it is morally certain that in their first wars every available Hebrew fighter took part. From the time of David down to the late monarchical period a regular army was selected and organized. From Num., i, 3, it appears that the whole male population over twenty years of age, if capable of bearing arms, were liable to military duty. At the time of the Judges, it is certain that the Israelitish army was composed wholly of infantry, as David was the first to use horses and chariots for military purposes, and it was Solomon who first established a distinct cavalry army. In the middle days of the monarchy the Hebrews could raise an army of one hundred and eighty thousand men [I Kings (D. V. III Kings), 21], and on some occasions twice and even three times as many [see II Chronicles (D. V. Paralip.), 3, and xiv, 8]. These figures, however, need be greatly lowered, as they are due probably to a copyist’s error. The army was divided into hundreds and thousands, with their appropriate leaders, captains of hundreds and captains of thousands, if on their arrival by septs or clans they were not thus organized. It is certain, however, that in point of armament and military organization and discipline the Hebrew army was greatly inferior to either the Egyptian or the Assyrian. Before undertaking any military operation, Yahweh was consulted through a prophet or through the Urim and Thummim, and sacrifices were offered just as in Homer’s times. This custom, however, was practiced by all nations of antiquity. From many Biblical passages [such as Judges, vii, 16; I Sam. (D. V. Kings), xi, 11; II Sam. (D. V. Kings), xviii, 2; I Kings (D. V. III Kings), xx, 27; and II Mace., viii, 22, etc.] it clearly appears that the attacking Israelitish army was usually divided into three divisions, one in the center and two on the flanks. Isaiah refers even to the “wings” of the army (viii, 8). A column advancing to conflict was preceded by two ranks of spearmen; next to these was a rank of bowmen, and behind them came the slingers. Spies were often sent out in advance to learn the position and the strength of the enemy, while night-attacks, with skillfully divided forces, were not infrequent. The beginning of the battle was signalized by the blast of a trumpet accompanied by the shouts of the combatants. The Ark with its ephod was considered indispensable. It was borne before the army, who, as it was taken up, cried out, “Arise, O Yahweh, and let Thine enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee”. The principal equipment for war was the helmet, shield, and other defensive armour, the bow, the sling, the sword, the spear, the javelin, and other instruments which must have been common to all Oriental nations, although not explicitly mentioned in the Bible.


Some of the Hebrew festivals are originally of historical character, i.e. are commemorative of some great historical event in the life of the Hebrew nation; while others are primarily religious, or of ethico-religious significance. To the first category belong the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, and other minor ones mentioned below, such as the Feast of Purim, etc. To the second class belong the Sabbath, the New Moon, the Feast of Trumpets, the Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee. The former were more properly called festivals; the latter, sacred seasons. The latter are lunar; the former are solar—based on the lunar and solar systems respectively. The principal features of the three great historical festivals consisted in making a pilgrimage, or a visit, to the Temple, as prescribed in Exodus, xxiii, 14, 17: “Three times in the year shalt thou hold pilgrimage unto me, three times in the year shall all thy men appear before Yahweh, the God of Israel.”

A. Historical Commemorations
1. Passover

The Passover (whence our Pascha), with which the Feast of the Unleavened Bread is closely connected and almost identified, although originally distinct from it, constituted the opening festival of the Jewish ecclesiastical year, and was celebrated on the 14th of Nisan (Abib), which month approximately corresponds to our April. It was instituted in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt, when the Angel of Death went forth to destroy the first-born of the Egyptians, passing over (whence Passover), however, the houses of the He-brews, on the lintels of whose doors the blood of a lamb had been sprinkled. The Passover Festival was celebrated as follows: An unblemished male lamb a year old (called the paschal lamb) was to be selected by each family in Israel. It was to be killed on the evening of the fourteenth day and consumed the same night. The flesh was to be roasted, not eaten raw, or boiled, and not a bone of the animal was to be broken. Along with it, unleavened bread and bitter herbs might be used, but nothing more; and whatever portions were not needed for food were to be destroyed the same night by burning. Hence, on the evening of the thirteenth day of Nisan, all leaven was scrupulously removed from the Jewish homes. The fourteenth day was thus regarded as a holiday, on which all servile work was suspended. In later Hebrew times, however, the Passover Festival was somewhat modified.

2. Feast of the Pentecost

The Feast of the Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, Feast of Harvest, Day of Firstfruits, etc., was celebrated on the fiftieth day after the Passover, i.e. on or about the 8th of Siwan, the third month of the Jewish ecclesiastical year. It lasted a single day, and it marked the completion of the corn harvest. According to later Jewish traditions, the Feast of Pentecost was also instituted in commemoration of the giving of the Law to Moses. It is mentioned in the Bible for the first time in the second Book of Maccabees. With the Feast of Pentecost the New Year holiday season closed. The characteristic ritual of this feast consisted in offering and waving to Yahweh in his Temple two leavened loaves of wheaten flour, together with a sin offering, burnt offering, and peace offering, and its object was to offer to Yahweh the firstfruits of the harvest and to thank Him for it.

3. Feast of Tabernacles

The Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths, was observed for seven days, i.e. from the 15th to the 22nd of Tisri (the seventh month of the Jewish year, approximately corresponding to our October), following closely upon the Day of Atonement. It marked the completion of the fruit-harvest (which included the oil- and wine-harvest), and, historically, it commemorated the forty-years wandering in the wilderness, when all the Hebrew tribes and families, for lack of houses and buildings, lived in tents and booths. “The sacrifices at this feast were far more numerous than at any other. On each of the seven days one kid of the goats was offered as a sin offering, and two rams and fourteen lambs as a burnt-offering. Also seventy bullocks were offered on the seven days, beginning with thirteen on the first day and diminishing by one each day, until on the seventh day seven were offered. After the seven days a solemn day of `holy convocation’ was observed which marked the conclusion, not only of the feast of Tabernacles, but of the whole cycle of the festal year. On this day one bullock, one ram, and seven lambs were offered as a burnt offering, and one goat for a sin offering.” The earliest Biblical allusion to this feast is found in I (D. V. III) Kings, viii, 2, and xii, 32.

Besides these three great festivals, certain minor ones were observed by the Hebrews:

4. Purim

The word Purim is probably of Persian origin (Furdigan, Pordigdn, or Pardiydn), and the feast so named was instituted to commemorate the overthrow of Haman. the triumph of Mordecai, and the escape of the Jews from utter destruction in the time of Esther. It was celebrated in the 14th and 15th day of Adar (the twelfth and last month of the Jewish Year).

5. Feast of the Dedication of the Temple

The Feast of the Dedication of the Temple was instituted in 164 B.C. by Judas Maccabus, when the Temple, which had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes, was once more purified and rededicated to the service of Yahweh. It commenced on the 25th of Chislew, the ninth month of the Jewish year (corresponding to our December), and lasted for eight days. It was a feast of universal and unbounded joy, delight, and happiness, as was that of Purim.

Other minor feasts were the Feast of the Wood Offering; The Reading of the Law; Feast of Nicanor; of the Captured Fortress; of Baskets, etc.

B. Religious Commemorations (Sacred Seasons)
1. Sabbath

The sacred seasons, or religious festivals, are primarily a development of the institution of the Sabbath and based on the lunar system of the Calendar. It has been often remarked, and with good reason, that in all the Hebrew Religious Festivals the sacred number seven is the dominating factor. “Every 7th day was a Sabbath. Every seventh month was a sacred month. Every seventh year was a Sabbatical year. Seven times seven was the year of Jubilee. The Feast of the Passover, with the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, began fourteen days (2×7) after the beginning of the month, and lasted seven days. The Feast of Pentecost was seven times seven days after the Feast of the Pass-over. The Feast of Tabernacles began fourteen days (2×7) after the beginning of the month and lasted seven days. The seventh month was marked by (I) the Feast of Trumpets on the first day, (2) the Fast of Atonement on the tenth day, (3) Feast of Tabernacles from the fifteenth day to the twenty-first. The days of the “Holy Convocation” were seven in number—two at the Passover, one at Pentecost, one at the Feast of Trumpets, one at the Day of Atonement and one at the Feast of Tabernacles, and one on the day following, the eighth day.”

The institution of the Hebrew Sabbath may be traced in its origin to the early Babylonians who, according to the majority of Assyriologists, seem to have been its originators, although among the Hebrews it developed on altogether different lines. It was celebrated on the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th day of the lunar month. It is doubtful whether it was known and observed in patriarchal and pre-Mosaic times. Moses, in instituting—or rather in modifying—the old institution of the Sabbath, connects it with the seventh day of the Creation period, on which God is said to have rested. By the ancient Babylonians it was looked upon as an unlucky day, on which it was unlucky to do any public work, and consequently was a day of rest.

2. New Moon Festival

The New Moon Festival consisted in celebrating the reappearance of the moon, and as such it was universally practiced by all Semitic nations. Hence, in all probability, it was an acknowledged pre-Mosaic Hebrew institution. On this day the law enjoined only the offering of special sacrifices and the blowing of trumpets. Abstinence from work was not obligatory. On the day of the new moon of the seventh month the festival in question was more solemnly and more elaborately celebrated. After the Babylonian exile, however, the festival assumed a new character, similar to that of the New Year Celebration.

3 Feast of Trumpets

The Feast of Trumpets is the New Moon Festival of the seventh, or Sabbatical, month of the year.

4. Sabbatical Year

The Sabbatical Year occurred every seventh year, and in it fields were not to be tilled.

5. Year of Jubilee

The Year of Jubilee occurred every fifty years, i.e. at the end of seven Sabbatic years, just as Pentecost occurred on the fiftieth day after the Passover Festival. Its principal features were the emancipation of the Hebrew slaves and the return of mortgaged property to its hereditary owners.

6. Fast Festival or Yom Kippur

The great Hebrew Fast Festival was the “Day of Atonement“, or Yom Kippur. It was celebrated on the tenth day of the seventh month, on which day atoning sacrifices were offered for the sins and uncleannesses of the people of Israel as a whole, and for the purification of the temple in all its parts and appurtenances. It is significant that the earliest mention of it in the Bible occurs in such post-Exilic writings as Zech. (D. V. Zach.), iii, 9; Nehemiah, vii, 73; ix, 38; and Sirach, 1, 5 sqq. A ceremony connected with the Day of Atonement is the so-called For Azazel. It consisted in sending into the wilderness the remaining goat (the “emissary goat”), the sins of the people of Israel having first been placed symbolically upon its head.


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