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Friday, 10 August 2007

The Lunar Sabbath and Pentecost

Since quite a few of the hits this blog has been receiving lately relate to the Lunar Sabbath question, this would be a good time to share the results of my ongoing research.

Earlier I said that I was leaving the Pentecost question for later, since it was the hardest to answer.

It's later.

The Pentecost problem is simply this: The Jews were instructed in Leviticus 23:16 to count "fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath." According to the weekly sabbath calendar, the day after the seventh sabbath would in fact mark the 50th day. But in a lunar sabbath calander, seven weeks of sabbaths would not equal forty-nine days.

But is this (fifty days, to the day after) the meaning of the text, or could it actually mean "count fifty days--to the day--after the seventh sabbath--" which would mean fifty days AND seven sabbaths; approximately doubling the time being counted?

To answer this question, we begin with linguistics. The Greek language is much more precise than the Hebrew in matters of chronolgy, and this is how this passage (v.15-16) was translated into Greek around the time of Jesus:

Kai ariqhsete umin apo ths epaurion twn sabbatwn, apo ths hmeras hs an prosenegkhte to dragma tou epiqematos epta ebdomadas oloklhrous ews ths epaurion ths escaths ebdomados ariqmhsete penthkonta hmeras. . .

In English:
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 until the morrow after the last week ye shall number fify days. . .

Here we see that the word "sabbath" and "week" are interchangeable in Greek, giving a possible meaning in this case that the fifty-day count comes after the seven-week count. Could this actually be the case?

There are several ways to test this hypothesis. First of all, we have several historical accounts of Passover and/or Pentecost given in the Scriptures, and we can glean clues from them as to what time of the year is actually in view. Let's look at these.

1. The first Passover occurred when the barely was ready to harvest but the wheat hadn't yet borne fruit. This is clear from Exodus 10:31ff. This gives us an idea that the wheat harvest was several months behind the barely harvest. In fact, historical records indicate that it was close to four months (John 4:35) until the next harvest. But note that in Leviticus 23, the feasts at both ends of this 7-week-and-50-day period require the bringing of FIRSTfruits; i.e. the first pick of the harvest of barley and wheat respectively. So the interval between these two festivals should coincide with the respective differences in harvest time of barley and wheat. Fifty days just isn't enough for a 3- to 4-month growing season.

2. The question may be asked, "But what if the wheat was planted earlier?" Unlikely as that may be, there would still be another question to be faced: the grape harvest. At Pentecost, the disciples were specifically accused of having had too much fresh grape juice to drink. This beverage is only available around the time of the grape harvest, and grapes in Palestine don't ripen until summer--putting us at least 100 days after Passover.

3. There are many verses that equate harvest, including grape harvest, with summer. Click on the title above for a link to some of them. Note that Gideon was using an empty winepress to thresh wheat, indicating that the grape harvest came somewhat later, at the end of the summer. One hundred five days after Passover would be just into the fifth month of the year, around mid-July on our calendar.

Understanding the 7+50 count gives us an interesting insight into the ministry of Jesus: Acts 1:3 says that he ascended forty days after his Resurrection, which coincided with the Firstfruits Sheaf Offering. Thus it was not ten days that his disciples spent awaiting the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, but more than sixty. Only then was the Day of Pentecost fully come.

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