Article on pesaḥ by Mira Balberg and Simeon Chavel

Although it is quite long, I recommend reading the article titled “The Polymorphous Pesach.” Here is a summary of the article:

Despite points of critical clarity in the scholarly tradition, the biblical account of Exodus 12 continues to be treated as a sufficiently coherent story of origins that relates how the Passover festival and the pesaḥ ritual were established and what makes all subsequent performances reenactments. This article surveys ancient literature presenting or invoking the pesaḥ, from its very first representation in biblical literature up to the debates about it in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, to show that the pesaḥ is an instance of “repetition without origin” and one that problematizes the very notion of reenactment. The article demonstrates that successive authors and editors do not provide any clear sense of how the pesaḥ was done in their time or what the general tradition was as to its origins; the original version was itself already fragmentary and unworkable; subsequent work to recast and re-present it is always interpretive and re-interpretive in nature, is conditioned by the argument of the larger literary work, and advances contradictory views. Because the early sources construct the pesaḥ in so many opposing ways, subsequent readers had unusual liberty to interpret and retold this important practice in whatever shape best suited their needs and understanding. The survey illustrates how completely the pesaḥ foils the attempt to write its history both as a practice and as a literary tradition, but also how it generated a long and rich history of creative thought around itself.

Mira Balberg and Simeon Chavel, “The Polymorphous Pesah: Ritual Between Origins and Reenactment,” in Journal of Ancient Judaism 8 (2017), 292-343.

The article is available via Simeon Chavel’s Academia page.


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.