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Marvin A. Sweeney

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2018

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How the Temple Scroll Rewrote the Festival of Bikkurim

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Marvin A. Sweeney

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How the Temple Scroll Rewrote the Festival of Bikkurim

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How the Temple Scroll Rewrote the Festival of Bikkurim

Throughout the Bible, we find that the land of Israel is blessed with grain, wine, and oil (דגן, תירוש, ויצהר). In the Torah, however, the festival of Bikkurim, “First Produce,” only celebrates the wheat harvest. In Qumran, the Essenes rewrote the biblical festival calendar to include two further bikkurim festivals to celebrate wine and oil.[1] 

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How the Temple Scroll Rewrote the Festival of Bikkurim

A Festival of First Produce (Bikkurim)

The festival calendar of Leviticus 23:10-11 states that after the festival of Matzot, following the first reaping of grain, comes the offering of the first sheaf to the Priest:

ויקרא כג:י … וּקְצַרְתֶּם אֶת קְצִירָהּ וַהֲבֵאתֶם אֶת עֹמֶר רֵאשִׁית קְצִירְכֶם אֶל הַכֹּהֵן.
Lev 23:10 …when you reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest..

The offering of the first produce takes place fifty days from the omer offering:

ויקרא כג טו וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם אֶת עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָה. כג:טז עַד מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת הַשְּׁבִיעִת תִּסְפְּרוּ חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה לַי-הוָה.
Lev 23:15 And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: 23:16 you must count until the day after the seventh week — fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to YHWH.

The new offering is comprised of two loaves of bread baked from the first produce (bikkurim):

כג:יז מִמּוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם תָּבִיאּוּ לֶחֶם תְּנוּפָה שְׁתַּיִם… חָמֵץ תֵּאָפֶינָה בִּכּוּרִים לַי-הוָה.
23:17 You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation offering… baked after leavening as first produce (bikkurim) to YHWH.

This day of offering first-produce is to be celebrated as a festival:

ויקרא כג:כא וּקְרָאתֶם בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כָּל מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ חֻקַּת עוֹלָם בְּכָל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם.
Lev 23:21 On that same day you shall hold a celebration; it shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a law for all time in all your settlements, throughout the ages.

In Leviticus, this festival has no name, but picking up on the word bikkurim (first produce), the holiday list in Numbers calls the holiday the Day of Bikkurim:

במדבר כח:כו וּבְיוֹם הַבִּכּוּרִים בְּהַקְרִיבְכֶם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה לַי-הוָה בְּשָׁבֻעֹתֵיכֶם מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כָּל מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ.
Num 28:26 On the day of Bikkurim (First Produce), when you bring an offering of new grain to YHWH, on your Shavuot (Weeks), you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations.

Shavuot in Deuteronomy: A Parallel Festival

The verse in Numbers connects Bikkurim with Shavuot, a festival described in Deuteronomy in very similar terms to the way the festival is described in Leviticus:

דברים טז:ט שִׁבְעָה שָׁבֻעֹת תִּסְפָּר לָךְ מֵהָחֵל חֶרְמֵשׁ בַּקָּמָה תָּחֵל לִסְפֹּר שִׁבְעָה שָׁבֻעוֹת. טז:יוְעָשִׂיתָ חַג שָׁבֻעוֹת לַי-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִסַּת נִדְבַת יָדְךָ אֲשֶׁר תִּתֵּן כַּאֲשֶׁר יְבָרֶכְךָ יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.
Deut 16:9 You shall count off seven weeks; start to count the seven weeks when the sickle is first put to the standing grain. 16:10 Then you shall observe the Feast of Shavuot (Weeks) for YHWH your God offering your freewill contribution according as YHWH your God has blessed you.

Deuteronomy’s presentation of Shavuot differs from that of Leviticus in a number of respects:

From when? – Deuteronomy counts from the first cut while Leviticus from the offering of the first sheave from that cut.
49 or 50? – Deuteronomy counts seven weeks but doesn’t specify whether Shavuot falls at the end of this counting (day 49) or the day after (day 50). Leviticus specifies that it is day 50.
What to bring? – Deuteronomy does not specify what the “freewill contribution” will be, though it was most likely a grain offering, as the verse opens with the cutting of standing grain. Leviticus says explicitly that the offering is a grain offering (מִנְחָה), specifically two loaves of leavened bread.

Even with these differences, it seems clear that both texts are describing the same holiday, the festival that takes place 50 (or 49) days after the first cut (or the offering of the first cut), celebrating the new wheat.

Why Is Bikkurim only for Wheat?

A festival involving a grain offering from the first produce (bikkurim) highlights the importance of wheat as a staple product in the Israelite agricultural economy. But wheat was not the only staple product; why have a bikkurim offering only from grain? Specifically, what about celebrating grapes (wine) and olives (oil), which are often listed in the Bible together with wheat as the key agricultural products of the land?

Grain, Wine, and Oil (דגן, תירוש, ויצהר)

In Deuteronomy, God promises that if the Israelites keep the commandments, they will gather “grain, wine, and oil.”[2] Similarly, when biblical texts wish to describe the plenty of the land, they reference its “grain, wine, and oil,”[3] and when they want to threaten that it will be destroyed and made barren, they describe the loss of “grain, wine, and oil.”[4]

Several biblical texts specifically reference a tithe on grain, wine, and oil. For example, Numbers 18 specifically references grain, wine, and oil as required gifts to the priest:

בדמבר יח:יב כֹּל חֵלֶב יִצְהָר וְכָל חֵלֶב תִּירוֹשׁ וְדָגָן רֵאשִׁיתָם אֲשֶׁר יִתְּנוּ לַי-הוָה לְךָ נְתַתִּים.יח:יג בִּכּוּרֵי כָּל אֲשֶׁר בְּאַרְצָם אֲשֶׁר יָבִיאוּ לַי-הוָה לְךָ יִהְיֶה כָּל טָהוֹר בְּבֵיתְךָ יֹאכֲלֶנּוּ.
Num 18:12 All the best of the new oil and all the best of the new wine and grain — the choice parts that they present to YHWH — I give to you. 18:13 The first produce of everything in their land, that they bring to YHWH, shall be yours; everyone of your household who is clean may eat them.

Similarly, in describing its tithing law, Deuteronomy, mentions these three products:[5]

דברים יד:כב עַשֵּׂר תְּעַשֵּׂר אֵת כָּל תְּבוּאַת זַרְעֶךָ הַיֹּצֵא הַשָּׂדֶה שָׁנָה שָׁנָה. יד:כגוְאָכַלְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר לְשַׁכֵּן שְׁמוֹ שָׁם מַעְשַׂר דְּגָנְךָ תִּירֹשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ וּבְכֹרֹת בְּקָרְךָ וְצֹאנֶךָ לְמַעַן תִּלְמַד לְיִרְאָה אֶת יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ כָּל הַיָּמִים.
Deut 14:22 You shall surely tithe all the produce of your sowing which the field brings forth each year, 14:22 and you shall eat before YHWH your God in the place where He will chose for His Name to reside, the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the first-born of your cattle and your flock in order that you will learn to respect YHWH your God for all time.[6]

Why, then, is the Torah’s bikkurim festival only about wheat?

Seasons and Harvest Times in Ancient Israel

Wine and oil could not have been brought to the Temple together with wheat on Shavuot/Bikkurim since they were not yet ripe. As Oded Borowski, an archaeologist from Emory University and expert in daily life in biblical times, explains:

Barley harvesting (spring equinox to late April)… signaled the beginning of the ingathering. Following was the harvesting of wheat (late April to late May)…. Grapes were harvested in June and July, other summer fruit in late July to late August, and the ingathering season concluded with two months of olive harvesting (late August to late October)….[7]

Thus, wheat would be harvested in the spring, grapes would only begin to be harvested in the early summer,[8] and the olives in the late summer, early autumn. This is why Shavuot/Bikkurim, which takes place in the late spring, only celebrates wheat. But why doesn’t the Torah also prescribe a Bikkurim-like festival to celebrate the wine and oil in the early and late summer, when grapes and olives are harvested?

One creative and a radical answer to this question comes from the Essene community and can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Essene Festival Calendar

The Dead Sea Scrolls were written largely by a Jewish party known as Essenes, who followed Isaiah’s instructions in Isaiah 40:3 to go out into the wilderness and “prepare the way of the Lord.” They believed that the Temple had been defiled, and their founder, known only as the Righteous Teacher, led the group to the shores of the Dead Sea to found a holy community that would study and wait until God saw fit to destroy the wicked and reinstate holiness in the world.[9]

The Essene calendar, laid out in a number of Qumran texts (e.g., 4QReworked Pentateuch, 4QMMT, the Temple Scroll, and 4Q324d),[10] notes three bikkurim festivals, for wheat, wine, and oil respectively. How the Essenes derived this from the Torah can best be understood by looking at the Temple Scroll, a composition known from Qumran.

The Temple Scroll and the 150-Day First Produce Cycle

A major part of the Essene agenda was the correct interpretation of scripture. One of their scrolls found in two copies, 11Q19 (or 11QTa) and 11Q20 (or 11QTb), better known as the Temple Scroll, rewrites the book of Deuteronomy to cast it as God’s instructions to Moses on Mt. Sinai that would present a correct halakhic reading of all issues covered in the book.[11]

To ensure that the laws presented in the Temple Scroll are complete, the author gathered all texts from the Torah on a particular topic into one place and synthesizes them, thus functioning as early example of halakhic codification, a genre that will become familiar and even dominant in later Rabbinic and Karaite halakhic works.

In this case, the Temple Scroll rewrote the holiday calendar to harmonize Leviticus and Deuteronomy and to lay out its understanding of the “count fifty days till the bikkurim” passage. Remarkably, it understood this as a command that needed to be fulfilled three times, one for each of the three main agricultural products.

To see exactly how this worked literarily and exegetically, we will take a look at some key parts of the presentation of each of these three holidays in the Temple Scroll.[12]

The Wheat Festival: Shavuot (15th of Sivan)

יח:י …וספרתה [לכם] ש֗ב֗ע֗ ש֗ב֗ת֗ות תמימות מיום הביאכמה את העומר [התנופה תס]פורו עד ממוחרת השבת השביעית תספורו [חמשים] יום. והביאותמה מנחה חדשה ליהוה ממושבותיכמה [חלות] ל֗ח֗ם חמץ חדש בכורים ליהוה לחם חטים…
You shall count off [for yourselves] seven complete Sabbaths, from the day on which you fetch the sheaf[13] [of the wave offering you shall c]ount until the day after the seventh Sabbath, you shall count off [fifty] days. And you shall fetch a new cereal offering to YHWH from your villages, [loaves of] new leavened bread, first-fruits for YHWH: wheaten bread… (18:10-14)

In addition to the unique orthographic elements of Qumran texts (such as the plene spelling and the addition of a final hey in many words), the text adds the explicit statement that the holiday is about wheat (חטים). The text continues with a detailed description of the required sacrifices and concludes with:

…ואחר [יאכלו כול] [הע]ם לחם חדש אביבות ומלילות, והיה היוֹ[ם הזה להמה] [לזכרון[14] חוקות עו]לם לדורותם כול֗ מלאכת עב֗וֹ[דה לוא] [יעשו בו חג] ש֗בועות֗ הוא וחג בכורים לזכרון לעול֗[ם].
…Afterwards [all the peo]ple [will eat] new bread, ears of grain and soft grain, and this da[y] will be [for them an ete]rnal [memorial] for their generations. They shall do no men[ial] work, [for] it is [the feast of w]eeks and the feast of the first-fruits for etern[al] memorial…(19:7-9)

The Temple Scroll solves a number of exegetical issues here. First, Leviticus never actually says that Bikkurim is the name of the day (though this appears in Numbers), it only states that on this day bikkurim are brought. Moreover, Leviticus never says that this day is a חג (holiday), only that the day will be “proclaimed holy.” The Temple Scroll, however, understands Leviticus to be saying that this holy day is a holiday (חג) and that it is named Bikkurim.

Moreover, the Temple Scroll solves the problem of the holiday’s different names (in the same way the verse in Numbers did). Deuteronomy calls this day Shavuot, and Leviticus (in the Temple Scroll’s understanding) calls it Bikkurim. The Temple Scroll asserts that the holiday has two names: it is the holiday of Shavuot and the holiday of Bikkurim.

The Wine Festival (3rd of Av)

Whereas Leviticus 23 moves next to discuss the festival on the first of the seventh month (what eventually became known in the Jewish calendar as Rosh Hashanah), the Temple scroll continues with its second set of fifty days, this time from Shavuot until the next holiday, which is the wine festival:

[ו] ס֗פ֗ר֗ת֗מ֗ה֗ לכמה מיום הביאכמה את המנחה חדשה ליהו֗[ה] [את] ל֗ח֗ם֗ ה֗בכורים שבעה שבועות שבע שבתות תמימות [תהיינה] עד֗ ממוחרת השבת השביעית תספורו חמשים יום ו[ה]ק֗[ר]ב֗תמה יין חדש לנסך…
[And] you shall count off for yourselves from the day on which you carried to YHW[H] the new cereal offering, the bread of the first-fruits, seven weeks; [there will be] seven full weeks [up] to the day after the seventh sabbath. You shall count off fifty days, and [y]ou [shall] o[f]fer new wine for the libation… (19:11-14)

In this passage, the Temple Scroll flattens another difference between Leviticus and Deuteronomy, this time one of phraseology.[15] Leviticus refers to the seven weeks as שבע שבתות (literally “seven sabbaths”) and Deuteronomy calls them שבעה שבעות, “seven weeks.” Just as it did with the double name of Shavuot in the previous passage, the Temple Scroll here includes both terms.

This also has the effect of harmonizing what might be conflicting dates for the festival between these two sources. Leviticus states that the holiday of Shavuot should be celebrated after the seven weeks, on the fiftieth day, but Deuteronomy merely says count seven weeks. It is unclear whether this means the holiday should be on the 49th day or the 50th. By combining the terms here and explicitly referencing fifty days, the Temple Scroll makes Deuteronomy and Leviticus cohere.

This set of counting culminates in the wine festival, which it describes at length:

[··הכוהנ]י֗ם ישתו שמה ראישונים והלויי֗ם֗ [שניים] [ואחריהמה ישתו כול בני יש]ראל נשיא֗י הדגלים בר[אי]שונ[ה] [ונשיא העדה ברא]ש֗ם. ואחריהמה כול העם מגדול [ו]עד [קטן] יחלו לשתות יין חדש. ול֗א֗כול ענבים ובוסר מן הגפנים [כי] [ביו]ם הזה י[כפ]רו על התירוש.
[…the priests shall] drink there first and the Levites [second] [and after them all the Israeli]tes; the princes of the banners fir[s]t [and the prince of the people at their he[ad], and after them all the people, from the oldest [t]o [the youngest] shall begin to drink new wine and to eat grapes and the unripe fruit from the vines, [because] [on this da]y they shall atone for the new wine.
וישמחו בני ישראל לפ[ני] יהוה [חוקות] ע֗ו֗ל֗ם לדורותיהמה בכול מושבותיהמה ושמחו בי֗[ום] ה֗ז֗ה֗ ב֗מועד[ם ו]לנסך נס֗ך שכר יין חדש על מזבח יהוה שנה בשנ֗ה֗.
The children of Israel shall rejoice in YHWH’s pre[sence]. It is an eternal [statute] for their generations in all their dwelling places. They shall rejoice on [this d]ay at the appointed ti[me when] they shall pour out a libation of drink, a new wine, over the altar of YHWH, year by year. (21:4-10)

The ritual of the day includes the drinking of wine beginning with the priests and moves down the social hierarchy. After this ritual, the new wine may be drunk and grapes consumed. This is in keeping with the law of new grain (Lev 23:14), which can only be consumed after the offering of the first sheaf (omer).

The text describes this as “atoning” (כפר) for the wine, a word which only appears with regard to Yom HaKippurim in the Leviticus 23. Here it seems meant to explain the permission granted the Israelites to consume the new produce (in this case wine), which was ostensibly forbidden until this festival, just as Leviticus prescribes for grain.

The Oil Festival (22nd of Ellul)

Finally, the text describes a third fifty-day cycle, counting from the wine festival to the oil festival:

וספר֗[תמ]ה [לכ]ם֗ מיום֗ הזה שבעה שבעות שבע פעמים תשעה וארבעי֗ם יום שבע֗ שבתות תמימות תהיינה עד ממוחרת השבת השביעית תספורו חמשים יום. והקרבתמה שמן חדש ממשבות [מ]טות בנ֗[י יש]רא֗ל מחצית ההין אחד מן המטה, שמן חדש כתית [ויקריבו את ראשית ה]י֗צהר על מזבח העולה, בכורים לפני יהוה…
From this day [you] shall count off [for yourselves] seven times seven weeks. There will be forty-nine days, seven full weeks, up to the day after the seventh sabbath. You shall count off fifty days and you shall offer new oil from the dwelling places of the clans of the so[ns of Is]rael half a hin, one per clan, refined new oil, and they shall bring the first of the oil on to the altar of burnt-offerings, first produce (bikkurim) before YHWH… (21:11-16)

Again we see the same mixing of Leviticus and Deuteronomy terminology we saw in the wine festival. The text continues by describing the rituals of the oil celebration:

‎…אחר יואכלו ויסוכו מן השמן החדש ומן הזתים כי ביום הזה יכפרו [ע]ל֗ [כו]ל֗ [יצ]ה֗ר הארץ לפני יהוה פעם אחת בשנה. וישמחו‎ כ֗ו֗ל֗ [ב]ני י֗שראל בכול [מושבותיהמה לפני יהוה חוק עולם לדורותיהמה].
…Afterwards they shall eat and they shall anoint themselves with the new oil and with the olives because on this day they shall atone [fo]r [al]l [the oi]l of the land before YHWH once a year. And they shall rejoice all the sons of Israel in all [their dwelling places before YHWH. It is an eternal statute for their generations.] (22:14-15)[16]

The anointing is an atonement, permitting the use of the new olives.

Following the Oil Festival is the ritual wood offering, that lasts six days (23rd-28th of Ellul), and which also doesn’t appear in the Torah.[17] These festivals end only three days before the first of the seventh month, which is the Festival of Teruah (now known as Rosh Hashanah), thereby sanctifying the entire spring and summer harvest system with bikkurim festivals.

Appendix

Qumran Calendar from Nissan to Tishrei

Qumran’s calendar was a 364-day solar calendar, in which holidays fell out on the same day every year.[18] Below is the Qumran calendar covering the months of Nissan through Tishrei, noting in bold the dates for biblical and Qumran holidays.

Nissan (Month 1)

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
      1
Miluim
2
Miluim
3
Miluim
4
Miluim
5
Miluim
6
Miluim
7
Miluim
8 9 10 11
12 13 14
Pesach
15
Matzot
16
Matzot
17
Matzot
18
Matzot
19
Matzot
20
Matzot
21
Matzot
22 23 24 25
26
Omer
27 28 29 30    

Iyyar (Month 2)

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Sivan (Month 3)

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15
Wheat
16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        

Tammuz (Month 4)

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30    

Av (Month 5)

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
          1 2
3
Wine
4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Ellul (Month 6)

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22
Oil
23
Wood
24
Wood
25
Wood
26
Wood
27
Wood
28
Wood
29 30 31        

Tishrei (Month 7)

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
      1
Teruah
2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10
Kippurim
11
12 13 14 15
Sukkot
16
Sukkot
17
Sukkot
18
Sukkot
19
Sukkot
20
Sukkot
21
Sukkot
22
Shemini
23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30    

Published

May 3, 2018

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Last Updated

October 29, 2019

Footnotes

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Professor Marvin A. Sweeney is Professor of Hebrew Bible at the Claremont School of Theology and Professor of Tanak and Chair of the Faculty at the Academy for Jewish Religion California.  His Ph.D. is from Claremont Graduate University. He is the author of thirteen volumes, including Reading Ezekiel: A Literary and Theological Commentary; Tanak: A Literary and Theological Introduction to the Jewish Bible; and Reading the Hebrew Bible after the Shoah: Engaging Holocaust Theology.