Passover and Ritual at Emar

fnd_Matzo-for-Passover_s4x3_lgAfter reading Festivals and Calendars in the Ancient Near East by Mark Cohen, I’ve become intrigued by the relationship between the zukru festival at Emar and Pesach, otherwise known as Passover. And what better day to write about Passover than today? Essentially Cohen draws on a few similarities between the calendars of Emar and ancient Israel to demonstrates how both festivals are similar:

  • Both festival occur “at the full moon of the first month and lasted seven days” (335).
  • Both festival concern the fertility of the herds.
  • Similar ritual inscriptions.
  • Smearing of blood on sacred stones by the city entrance (Emar) and smearing of blood at entrance of households (ancient Israel).
  • Linguistic similarities.

Connections have also been explored by Daniel Fleming (Time at Emar, 2000), R. Hess (“Multiple-Month Ritual Calendars in the West Semitic World: Emar 446 and Leviticus 23”, 2004), and B.C. Babcock (Sacred Ritual, 2014). Cohen’s argument,  by adjusting and concluding the calendar at Emar, suggests even more similarities between the two festivals. The following considers another potential connection. Please note that it is potential, as I do not have the resources or language abilities to fully explore this possibility.

Numbers 28:16-25 provides the commands for Passover and, on the first and seventh days, commands a holy convocation. This implies that the whole festival a holy convocation, sanctified. BDB, a Hebrew dictionary, notes that the Hebrew used, מִקְרָא, is used “in Priests’ code or narrative for religious gathering on Sabbath and certain sacred days”. Thus, Passover, and other holy days, are the only times for a sacred gathering. Likewise, COS 1.123 notes in the final section that “they consecrate the zukru festival”. Consecration of the festival is connected to verses about keeping the day holy (Ex. 20:18; Deut. 5:12; Joel 1:14, 2:15).  So, the zukru festival is a consecrated period of time.

I wonder too what extent the consecration of the zukru festival may be similar, or different, to the convocations of Passover. Or, for example, is the consecration of zukru the equivalent of the atonement of Passover, or at least conceptually similar? While I have no answer to these questions, they I hope to explore this idea over the next few years.