Shemini Atzeret: Redacting a Missing Festival into Solomon’s Temple Dedication
Shemini Atzeret in the Torah
Shemini Atzeret (the “eighth day of solemn gathering”) is a one-day festival which immediately follows the seven days of Sukkot. This festival is mentioned twice in the Torah:
- The Holiness Collection’s festival calendar in Leviticus 23:
ויקרא כג:לו שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תַּקְרִיבוּ אִשֶּׁה לַי־הוָה בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַי־הוָה עֲצֶרֶת הִוא כָּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ... כג:לט אַךְ בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאָסְפְּכֶם אֶת תְּבוּאַת הָאָרֶץ תָּחֹגּוּ אֶת חַג יְ־הוָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן שַׁבָּתוֹן וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי שַׁבָּתוֹן.
Lev 23:36 Seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to YHWH. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to YHWH; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations…. 23:39 But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of YHWH to last seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. (NJPS adjusted)
- The Priestly list of festival sacrifices in Numbers 28–29:
במדבר כט:לז בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי עֲצֶרֶת תִּהְיֶה לָכֶם כָּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ׃ כט:לח וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם עֹלָה אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ לַי־הוָה...
Num 29:37 On the eighth day you shall hold a solemn gathering; you shall not work at your occupations. You shall present a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to YHWH…
Shemini Atzeret Is Absent in Deuteronomy
In the festival list of Deuteronomy, however, Sukkot ends after day seven and Shemini Atzeret is missing.
דברים טז:יג חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בְּאָסְפְּךָ מִגָּרְנְךָ וּמִיִּקְבֶךָ.... טז:טו שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תָּחֹג לַי־הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְ־הוָה כִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ וְהָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ.
Deut 16:13 After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Feast of Booths for seven days…. 16:15 You shall hold a festival for YHWH your God seven days, in the place that YHWH will choose; for YHWH your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.
The common view in academic scholarship is that these law collections come from different sources, and that Deuteronomy (D) prescribes a seven-day autumn festival, whereas H and P stipulate an eight-day festival, ending with Shemini Atzeret.
The lack of an eighth day festival following Sukkot in the Deuteronomic tradition can be seen in the account of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple in the book of Kings, which is the haftarah (portion of the Prophets) of Shemini Atzeret.
Going Home on Shemini Atzeret in Kings
According to the biblical account, Solomon’s Temple is completed after seven years of construction (1 Kgs 6:38). The people gather before the king in Jerusalem in the month of Ethanim (the Canaanite equivalent of Tishrei), “on the ḥag” (בֶּחָג), the pilgrimage feast of Sukkot (1 Kgs 8:2). After a series of blessings and prayers by Solomon which take up the bulk of the chapter, Solomon offers a multitude of sacrifices, וַיַּחְנְכוּ אֶת בֵּית יְ־הוָה “and they dedicated the House of YHWH” (v. 63).
In the last two verses of the chapter, Solomon and the people observe Sukkot, and the people are dismissed on the eighth day:
מלכים א ח:סה וַיַּעַשׂ שְׁלֹמֹה בָעֵת־הַהִיא אֶת־הֶחָג וְכָל־יִשְׂרָאֵל עִמּוֹ קָהָל גָּדוֹל מִלְּבוֹא חֲמָת עַד־נַחַל מִצְרַיִם לִפְנֵי יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְשִׁבְעַת יָמִים אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם׃ ח:סו בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי שִׁלַּח אֶת־הָעָם...
1 Kgs 8:65 So Solomon and all Israel with him—a great assemblage, [coming] from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt—observed the Feast at that time before YHWH our God, seven days and again seven days, fourteen days in all. 8:66 On the eighth day he let the people go...
Rabbinic Solution: Dismissed but Not Departed
The rabbis are bothered by Solomon seemingly sending the people home on Shemini Atzeret. Genesis Rabbah (35:3), therefore, interprets the phrase “he dismissed the people” (שִׁלַּח אֶת הָעָם) in Kings to mean that Solomon merely gave them “permission” to leave on the 22nd, but that in fact the people remained to observe Shemini Atzeret:
כבר כת' ביום השמיני שלח את העם ויברכו את המלך מה תלמוד לומר ביום עשרים ושלשה לחדש השביעי שלח את העם ויברכו את המלך, אלא נטלו ממנו רשות, המתינו ימים אחדים חזרו ונטלו ממנו רשות פעם שנייה לכך נאמר ביום עשרים ושלשה לחדש וגו', (תיאודור-אלבק).
It says “On the eighth day, he dismissed the people” (1 Kgs 8:66). How then do we understand “On the twenty-third day of the seventh month (= the ninth day), he dismissed the people, and they blessed the king” (2 Chron 7:10)? Rather, they obtained permission from him [to leave], remained there a couple of days, and then obtained permission from him a second time.
Jewish medieval commentators follow the midrash, insisting that the people could not have left on the 22nd because it was a festival. This interpretation is so well-established, in fact, that the rabbis designated the text of Kings 8 as the haftarah to be read on Shemini Atzeret—despite its omission of Shemini Atzeret!
Academic Scholarship: Shemini Atzeret Not a Part of D’s Calendar
Yet, the text implies that Solomon dismissed the people on the day after Sukkot, namely, Shemini Atzeret. This is not a problem, however, if we understand Kings as a part of the Deuteronomistic History: The authors of Kings saw the book of Deuteronomy, or at least its law collection, as the Torah. Therefore, the text of Solomon’s dedication did not mention Shemini Atzeret as a festival day, because the festival calendar the authors were familiar with didn’t include it.
Shemini Atzeret in Chronicles: Avoiding the Problem
By the late Persian Period, the Deuteronomic festival calendar was viewed in the context of the Pentateuch as a whole, together with the Priestly and Holiness festival calendars which included Shemini Atzeret. We can see this in the Book of Nehemiah, when Ezra reads from the Torah to the people on the seven days of Sukkot:
נחמיה ח:יח וַיִּקְרָא בְּסֵפֶר תּוֹרַת הָאֱלֹהִים יוֹם בְּיוֹם מִן־הַיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן עַד הַיּוֹם הָאַחֲרוֹן וַיַּעֲשׂוּ־חָג שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי עֲצֶרֶת כַּמִּשְׁפָּט:
Neh 8:18 [Ezra] read from the scroll of the Torah of God each day, from the first to the last day [of Sukkot]. They celebrated the festival seven days, and there was a solemn gathering on the eighth, as prescribed.
Once Shemini Atzeret was a given, any author dealing with the story of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple would need to factor it in. Thus, in his retelling of the story (2 Chron 7), the Chronicler, writing well into the Second Temple period, describes Solomon as holding a seven-day dedication of the altar, followed by seven days of Sukkot, culminating in the celebration of Shemini Atzeret.
דברי הימים ב ז:ח וַיַּעַשׂ שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת־הֶחָג בָּעֵת הַהִיא שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְכָל־יִשְׂרָאֵל עִמּוֹ קָהָל גָּדוֹל מְאֹד מִלְּבוֹא חֲמָת עַד־נַחַל מִצְרָיִם׃ ז:ט וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי עֲצָרֶת כִּי חֲנֻכַּת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ עָשׂוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְהֶחָג שִׁבְעַת יָמִים׃ ז:י וּבְיוֹם עֶשְׂרִים וּשְׁלֹשָׁה לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי שִׁלַּח אֶת־הָעָם לְאָהֳלֵיהֶם...
2 Chron 7:8 At that time Solomon kept the Feast for seven days—all Israel with him—a great assemblage from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt. 7:9 On the eighth day they held a solemn gathering, since they observed the dedication of the altar seven days, and the Feast seven days. 7:10 On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he dismissed the people to their homes…
The Chronicler here solves the problem by having Solomon dismiss the people one day later, on the 23rd of the month instead of the 22nd.
The Chronicler as Interpreter
Michael Fishbane, Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago, cites this as an example of inner-biblical interpretation. The Chronicler knew of Shemini Atzeret and yet also knew of the report in Kings saying, “On the eighth day, he dismissed the people to their homes.” The Chronicler’s solution: harmonize the two by creating an interpretive ellipsis, splitting the two halves of the statement and inserting material in the middle, so that they now refer to two different events. “On the eighth day” they observed Shemini Atzeret, and only on the following day “he dismissed the people to their homes.”
In Fishbane’s view, the Chronicler is not arguing with Kings as much as interpreting it, since the author’s assumption was that the Kings text “only appears to contradict priestly ritual prescriptions; so that, in fact, there is no real legal problem.”
Doubling the Seven Days: Were Kings and Chronicles Redacted?
The alignment of Kings with Deuteronomy, which lacks Shemini Atzeret, and Chronicles with the combined Pentateuch, which has it, explains why these texts differ about what happened on the eighth day. Nevertheless, both Kings and Chronicles have another feature that requires explanation: an extra set of seven days.
Kings: The Extra Week Before or After Sukkot?
1 Kings 8:65–66 reads so awkwardly that it is difficult to comprehend. On one hand, the timeline of the text seems to be simple: Solomon gathers the Israelites for the festival (v. 2), he holds the ceremony of dedication (vv. 4–64), then he and the people celebrate the festival of Sukkot for seven days, and on the eighth day they go home (vv. 65–66). On the other hand, the text says that they celebrated שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְשִׁבְעַת יָמִים אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם “seven days and again seven days, fourteen days in all.”
When did they celebrate the other seven days? If the seven days were celebrated before Sukkot (see Fig. 1, Option A below), this contradicts verse 2, which says they were gathered on the festival. If the seven days were celebrated after Sukkot (effectively doubling the festival; see Fig 1, Option B), why doesn’t verse 66 say that Solomon sent them home “on the fifteenth day?”
The Second Seven Days: A Later Insertion
Many academic scholars suspect that the text has been tampered with and that at an earlier stage, the text made no mention of a second set of seven days or the fourteen-day total, and simply had the people celebrate the festival and then go home on the eighth day. In fact, the Septuagint (LXX), one of the oldest witnesses to the Hebrew text, says precisely that (NETS, adjusted):
3 Reigns 8:65 And Solomon held the Feast on that day… eating and drinking and rejoicing before the Lord our God seven days (ἑπτὰ ἡμέρας). 8:66 And on the eighth day (καὶ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ὀγδόῃ) he sent the people away...
Why was an additional set of seven days inserted? One possibility is that a later scribe, familiar with Shemini Atzeret from the Pentateuch, added an extra week of celebration into the story following Sukkot to avoid having Solomon dismiss the people on the festival of Shemini Atzeret. He described the festivities as two sets of seven days, fourteen in all, with the people being dismissed on the eighth day of the second set of seven days (the 29th of the month), well after Shemini Atzeret.
The problem with this solution is that the scribe could have made a much simpler adjustment to verse 66, like Chronicles did, instead of inventing an entirely new week of celebration. For this reason, other scholars have suggested that the later editor doubled the celebration in order to avoid having the dedication coincide with Sukkot, much like the Talmud’s dictum of “not combining two festive occasions.” One problem with this explanation is that coinciding festivities does not seem like a strong reason to tamper with the text, much less add an entire week exclusively for the dedication. Whatever the reason, clearly the MT scribe was sufficiently bothered by the timeline that he adjusted it.
Chronicles: The Extra Week Before Sukkot
Like MT Kings, MT Chronicles also has a second week of festivities. While in Kings the timing is left unstated, in this case, the seven days are explicitly said to have taken place before Sukkot: כִּי חֲנֻכַּת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ עָשׂוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְהֶחָג שִׁבְעַת יָמִים “since they observed the dedication of the altar seven days, and the Feast seven days” (v. 9).
Influenced by Chronicles, rabbinic commentators tend to read Kings this way as well. Thus, for instance, Targum Jonathan translates 1 Kings 8:65–66 as follows:
וַעְבַד שְלֹמֹה בְעִדָנָא הַהוּא יָת חַגָא... שִבעָה יוֹמִין חְנוּכַת בֵיתָא וְשִבעָת יוֹמִין חַגָא אַרבְעַת עְסַר יוֹמִין׃ בְיוֹמָא תְמִינָאָה שַלַח יָת עַמָא ...
And Solomon made the Feast at that time… seven days of the dedication of the Temple and seven days of the Feast, fourteen days in all. On the eighth day, he dismissed the people...
This is also how Josephus (37–ca. 100 C.E.) describes the event in his Antiquities of the Jews (8.123, Brill ed., Christopher Begg trans.):
8:122 When he had said these things to the crowd, the king dismissed the assembly, after offering sacrifices for himself and all the Hebrews… 8:123 For the sanctuary then for the first time received its allotment of sacrificial animals, while all the Hebrews, along with their wives and children, were feasted in it. In addition, the festival called Tabernacles was splendidly and magnificently celebrated in front of the sanctuary. The king spent fourteen days feasting with the entire people.
A Late Gloss
Yet, the addition of the extra week in Chronicles (in italics below) has the appearance of a late gloss:
דברי הימים ב ז:ט וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי עֲצָרֶת כִּי חֲנֻכַּת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ עָשׂוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְהֶחָג שִׁבְעַת יָמִים ז:י וּבְיוֹם עֶשְׂרִים וּשְׁלֹשָׁה לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי שִׁלַּח אֶת־הָעָם לְאָהֳלֵיהֶם.
2 Chron 7:9 On the eighth day they held a solemn gathering, since they observed the dedication of the altar seven days, and the Feast seven days 7:10 and on the twenty-third day of the seventh month he dismissed the people to their homes…
First, it is strange that Chronicles only mentions the seven days of dedication here in verse 9, after the mention of the Sukkot, and not, for instance, in verses 5–7 where the dedication is described. In fact, it flatly contradicts the earlier verse that, following Kings, says that the people were gathered on Sukkot:
דברי הימים ב ה:ג וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ כָּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל בֶּחָג הוּא הַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִעִי.
2 Chron 5:3 All the men of Israel assembled before the king at the Festival, in the seventh month.
Similarly, on the face of it, 7:8 implies that the festival of Sukkot was celebrated together with the dedication, בָּעֵת הַהִיא, “at that time,” and not afterwards. As the problematic parenthetical comment in 7:9 is the only mention of an extra seven days in the entire story, it is very possible that it is a late supplement, just as it is in Kings.
The scribe who added this in Chronicles was likely doing so in reaction to MT Kings, but in this case he had no choice but to put the extra week before Sukkot since Chronicles already had the 23rd as a hard date for when the people were dismissed. Ironically, by pushing back the start of the seven days of dedication to the eighth of Tishrei, this scribe now had the festivities take place over Yom Kippur, which is on the tenth of that month. The Talmud notes that this was a one-time, sanctioned violation of the fast of Yom Kippur, for which the people were forgiven.
LXX’s Version of the Gloss: Seven Days Only
Notably, the LXX translation of Chronicles also has the parenthetical comment in 7:9, but in this case, without the extra seven days:
2 Chron 7:8 And Solomon held the Feast at that time for seven days… 7:9 And he made a concluding ceremony on the eighth day, because he had observed for seven days the dedication of the altar as a Feast. 7:10 And on the twenty-third of the seventh month he sent the people away…
If the LXX is translating a Hebrew Vorlage (a hypothetical prior version of the text), it would have read כִּי חֲנֻכַּת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ עָשׂוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כְּחָג. While it is possible that this is the earlier version of the gloss, the statement seems superfluous. Thus, another possibility is that the LXX translators had a version of Chronicles which already contained the MT gloss, כִּי חֲנֻכַּת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ עָשׂוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְהֶחָג שִׁבְעַת יָמִים. However, the translators possessed an earlier manuscript of Kings with only one set of seven days (accounting for the LXX translation of 1 Kgs 8:65), and so they adjusted the Chronicles parenthetical to make it fit with a celebration that lasted one week total.
Summarizing the Process
The following steps offer a provisional outline of the development of the Hebrew and Greek texts of Kings and Chronicles:
- Kings has seven days of festivities, no Shemini Atzeret – An earlier version of the Kings text told of how Solomon gathered all of Israel on the festival (Sukkot), performed a dedication ceremony for the Temple, followed by a celebration of the seven-day festival, with dismissal on the eighth day (22nd), what would later be Shemini Atzeret. The LXX translation preserves this text.
- Chronicles adds Shemini Atzeret – The event in Chronicles presents the same overall timeline except that the “eighth day” was celebrated as Shemini Atzeret, pushing off dismissal to the 23rd, the day after Shemini Atzeret. The LXX translation here may preserve an early version of Chronicles with only seven days.
- Seven days are added to Kings – A later Hebrew scribe, bothered by the implication that Solomon sent the people home on Shemini Atzeret in Kings—or alternatively, by the idea that he performed the dedication ceremony on Sukkot—added the extra seven days of celebration. Whether the seven days occurred before or after Sukkot is not specified.
- Seven days are added to Chronicles – A Hebrew scribe (either the same one, or a later scribe bothered by the fact that Kings had two weeks of celebration while Chronicles only had one) added a gloss explaining that they celebrated two sets of seven days. This scribe explicitly presented the extra week as taking place before Sukkot. The LXX translation may be a modification of this gloss.
Later Jewish interpreters took the work of the MT Chronicles scribe as authoritative and read Kings this way as well.
Shemini Atzeret: A Latecomer to the Official Calendar
In sum, Shemini Atzeret was not part of the Deuteronomistic calendar and thus was not part of the Kings narrative of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple. Even if it existed early on as a festival in Priestly circles, Shemini Atzeret did not become a universal fixture in Israel’s calendar until the Second Temple period, after the Kings account was written.
Once the festival calendars were brought together in the Pentateuch, Shemini Atzeret needed to be factored in. And thus, the MT text of Kings was adjusted to make room for it (according to one explanation of the extra seven days), and Chronicles rewrote the story of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple to add Shemini Atzeret explicitly. Otherwise, Solomon would have been guilty of violating a Torah law, dismissing the people on a festival, at the very dedication ceremony of the Temple in Jerusalem.
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David Bar-Cohn is a staff member at Project TABS and is completing graduate studies in Bible at Bar-Ilan University, where he is writing his thesis on purification from ritual impurity in the Priestly Torah. He is the author of the book Ohr HaShachar: Torah, Kabbalah and Consciousness in the Daily Morning Blessings (Urim, 2014), an analysis of the birkhot hashachar prayers, as well as the article “Shemini Atzeret: Redacting a Missing Festival into Solomon’s Temple Dedication,” (TheTorah, 2019). David also holds an M.A. in Clinical Psychology and received semikha in Yoreh De’ah in 2008.
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