Why Did King Hezekiah Celebrate His Inaugural Passover a Month Late?
The Book of Chronicles narrates how, in the first year of his rule, the Judean King Hezekiah (who ascended the throne in 727 B.C.E.) took the unusual step of celebrating Passover a full month later than the prescribed time, on the fourteenth of the second month (Iyar) instead of the fourteenth of the first month (Nisan). This event forms part of an extended narrative in Chronicles dealing with Hezekiah’s cultic activities (2 Chr 29–31) which has no parallel in the Book of Kings:
דברי הימים ל:א וַיִּשְׁלַח יְחִזְקִיָּהוּ עַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וִיהוּדָה וְגַם אִגְּרוֹת כָּתַב עַל אֶפְרַיִם וּמְנַשֶּׁה לָבוֹא לְבֵית יְ־הוָה בִּירוּשָׁלִָם לַעֲשׂוֹת פֶּסַח לַי־הוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. ל:ב וַיִּוָּעַץ הַמֶּלֶךְ וְשָׂרָיו וְכָל הַקָּהָל בִּירוּשָׁלִָם לַעֲשׂוֹת הַפֶּסַח בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי….
2 Chr 30:1 Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah; he also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh to come to the house of YHWH in Jerusalem to keep the Passover for YHWH God of Israel. 30:2 The king and his officers and the congregation in Jerusalem had agreed to keep the Passover in the second month….
ל:יג וַיֵּאָסְפוּ יְרוּשָׁלִַם עַם רָב לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת חַג הַמַּצּוֹת בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי קָהָל לָרֹב מְאֹד… ל:טו וַיִּשְׁחֲטוּ הַפֶּסַח בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי…
30:13 A great crowd assembled at Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month, a very great congregation….30:15 They slaughtered the paschal sacrifice on the fourteenth of the second month….
Upon assuming the throne following a long period of contamination and neglect during the reign of his wicked father, Ahaz, Hezekiah’s first act was to purify the Temple and restore its regular sacrificial rituals. The process, however, only ended after the 14th of Nisan:
דברי הימים ב כט:יז וַיָּחֵלּוּ בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן לְקַדֵּשׁ וּבְיוֹם שְׁמוֹנָה לַחֹדֶשׁ בָּאוּ לְאוּלָם יְ־הוָה וַיְקַדְּשׁוּ אֶת בֵּית יְ־הוָה לְיָמִים שְׁמוֹנָה וּבְיוֹם שִׁשָּׁה עָשָׂר לַחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן כִּלּוּ.
2 Chr 29:17 They began the sanctification on the first day of the first month; on the eighth day of the month, they reached the porch of YHWH. They sanctified the house of YHWH for eight days, and on the sixteenth day of the first month they finished.
In other words, according to this account, because the priestly and Levitical staff necessary to perform the Pesach rituals properly and the Temple itself were not adequately purified, the Judeans were unable to celebrate Pesach at its proper time and postponed it by a month.
Echoes of Pesach Sheni (the Delayed Pesach)?
At first glance, it seems Hezekiah is following the law of the delayed Passover in Numbers 9:1–14. After speaking about the first Pesach that the Israelites celebrated in the wilderness, it notes:
במדבר ט:ו וַיְהִי אֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ טְמֵאִים לְנֶפֶשׁ אָדָם וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לַעֲשֹׂת הַפֶּסַח בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא וַיִּקְרְבוּ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה וְלִפְנֵי אַהֲרֹן בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא.
Num 9:6 But there were some men who were unclean by reason of a corpse and they could not keep the passover at that time. Appearing that same day before Moses and Aaron.
The two passages contain several identical phrases. For example, the explanation of the problem that caused the delay are almost identical:
Wilderness Account (Num 9:6)
וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לַעֲשֹׂת הַפֶּסַח בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא
and they could not keep the Pesach at that time
Hezekiah Account (2 Chr 30:3)
כִּי לֹא יָכְלוּ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ בָּעֵת הַהִיא
for they could not keep it at that time
The Israelites then complain about their lost opportunity to Moses and Aaron, and Moses receives directions from God about celebrating a delayed Pesach:
במדבר ט:י אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי יִהְיֶה טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה לָכֶם אוֹ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח לַי־הוָה. ט:יא בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם יַעֲשׂוּ אֹתוֹ…
Num 9:10-11 When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or on a long journey would offer a paschal sacrifice to YHWH, they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight….
The connection between Hezekiah’s Passover and Numbers becomes tighter when we note that Chronicles uses the same reasons for allowing the Pesach to be pushed off—impurity and distance—as God uses in the response to the request in the Numbers account:
דברי הימים ב ל:ג כִּי לֹא יָכְלוּ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ בָּעֵת הַהִיא כִּי הַכֹּהֲנִים לֹא הִתְקַדְּשׁוּ לְמַדַּי וְהָעָם לֹא נֶאֶסְפוּ לִירוּשָׁלִָם.
2 Chr 30:3 For they were unable to keep it at that time [i.e., its appointed time], for not enough priests had sanctified themselves (=impurity), nor had the people assembled in Jerusalem (=distance).
Thus, it would seem that Chronicles is presenting us with a story about how, in the first year of Hezekiah’s reign, the people as a whole were forced to celebrate the second Pesach instead of the first.
Is This the Torah’s Pesach Sheni?
Notwithstanding these parallels, it is unclear that the Chronicler was intending to portray Hezekiah’s delayed Passover as an implementation of the Torah’s Pesach Sheni law. The classical rabbis suggested instead that Hezekiah was declaring a leap year by adding a month to the calendar, עיבר ניסן בניסן, “he added another Nisan when it was already Nisan” (m. Pesachim 4:9). Thus, the Judeans were not celebrating Pesach in Iyar but in Second Nisan (or in regular Nisan, with the first Nisan retroactively turned into Second Adar).
Although the rabbinic reading of the text cannot be sustained as peshat, because nothing in the text of Chronicles suggests the declaration of a leap year, a number of contemporary scholars agree that the text is not discussing Pesach Sheni. For instance, Simeon Chavel of the University of Chicago writes:
Hezekiah defers the Passover not on the basis of any law or tradition, but solely and explicitly through human deliberation and consultation capped by his own royal decree.
Perhaps the strongest argument against the story in Chronicles being an implementation of the law in Numbers is that it refrains from explicitly saying that Hezekiah’s decision was done “in accordance with Moses’ Torah” as is his wont elsewhere. Even in the continuation of the story itself, when describing the positions taken up by the priests and Levites during the sacrificial procedure, the Chronicler notes:
דברי הימים ל:טו …וְהַכֹּהֲנִים וְהַלְוִיִּם נִכְלְמוּ וַיִּתְקַדְּשׁוּ וַיָּבִיאוּ עֹלוֹת בֵּית יְ־הוָה. ל:טז וַיַּעַמְדוּ עַל עָמְדָם כְּמִשְׁפָּטָם כְּתוֹרַת מֹשֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים הַכֹּהֲנִים זֹרְקִים אֶת הַדָּם מִיַּד הַלְוִיִּם.
2 Chr 30:15 …The priests and Levites were ashamed, and they sanctified themselves and brought burnt offerings to the House of YHWH. 30:16 They took their stations,as was their rule according to the Teaching of Moses, man of God. The priests dashed the blood [which they received] from the Levites.
Considering the use of this refrain elsewhere, especially in this same story, the absence of an explicit mention of how Hezekiah was following the Torah would be hard to explain if, indeed, the story was about how Hezekiah was following the Torah’s law of Pesach Sheni.
Other differences between what is described in Chronicles and what is described in Numbers also suggest that the Chronicler did not view Hezekiah’s late observance of the Passover as a Pesach Sheni.
Some Participants Still Impure—Pesach Sheni is designed to give people who are impure on the 14th of Nisan an opportunity to do a make-up paschal sacrifice the next month. Hezekiah, however, actually allows people who are still impure to offer the sacrifice anyway:
דברי הימים ב ל:יז כִּי רַבַּת בַּקָּהָל אֲשֶׁר לֹא הִתְקַדָּשׁוּ וְהַלְוִיִּם עַל שְׁחִיטַת הַפְּסָחִים לְכֹל לֹא טָהוֹר לְהַקְדִּישׁ לַי־הוָה. ל:יח כִּי מַרְבִּית הָעָם רַבַּת מֵאֶפְרַיִם וּמְנַשֶּׁה יִשָּׂשכָר וּזְבֻלוּן לֹא הִטֶּהָרוּ כִּי אָכְלוּ אֶת הַפֶּסַח בְּלֹא כַכָּתוּב כִּי הִתְפַּלֵּל יְחִזְקִיָּהוּ עֲלֵיהֶם לֵאמֹר יְ־הוָה הַטּוֹב יְכַפֵּר בְּעַד.
2 Chr 30:17 Since many in the congregation had not sanctified themselves, the Levites were in charge of slaughtering the paschal sacrifice for everyone who was not clean, so as to consecrate them to the Lord. 30:18 For most of the people – many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun – had not purified themselves, yet they ate the paschal sacrifice in violation of what was written. Hezekiah prayed for them saying, “YHWH the good will provide atonement.”
The underlined phrase makes it clear that the Hezekiah of Chronicles knows the law against impure people eating the paschal sacrifice, but he violates it anyway. In spirit and letter, this is the very opposite of the Pesach Sheni law.
Cancelling the Main Pesach—The law of Pesach Sheni is designed to allow individuals who are impure or far away an opportunity to offer the sacrifice. Numbers 9 never envisioned a situation in which the main Passover observance would be cancelled altogether, and yet this is what Hezekiah does, thus creating an unprecedented situation that is not governed by any Torah law.
Only the Sacrifice, Not the Matzot Festival—The law of Pesach Sheni refers only to the delay of the paschal sacrifice itself, not to the ensuing seven-day festival of unleavened bread. By contrast, Hezekiah’s delayed Passover included both the paschal sacrifice as well as the seven-day festival of Unleavened Bread (2 Chr 30:21).
דברי הימים ב ל:כא וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַנִּמְצְאִים בִּירוּשָׁלִַם אֶת חַג הַמַּצּוֹת שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בְּשִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה וּמְהַלְלִים לַי־הוָה יוֹם בְּיוֹם הַלְוִיִּם וְהַכֹּהֲנִים בִּכְלֵי עֹז לַי־הוָה.
2 Chr 30:21 The Israelites who were in Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days, with great rejoicing, the Levites and the priests praising YHWH daily with powerful instruments for YHWH.
Was It Justified?
In keeping with the highly idealized portrayal of Hezekiah in the Book of Chronicles (even more so than in the Book of Kings), the Chronicler goes out of his way to present Hezekiah’s move in positive terms; he reports God’s favorable response to Hezekiah’s prayer asking for forgiveness on behalf of those who participated in the festivities in a state of impurity:
דברי הימים ב ל:כ וַיִּשְׁמַע יְ־הוָה אֶל יְחִזְקִיָּהוּ וַיִּרְפָּא אֶת הָעָם.
2 Chr 30:20 YHWH heard Hezekiah and healed the people.
If the Chronicler does not see Hezekiah’s Passover as an implementation of the Torah’s Pesach Sheni law, what then justified Hezekiah’s extraordinary steps in his eyes? Put differently, why does the Chronicler approve of what can at best be called a pseudo Pesach Sheni – ostensibly mimicking the circumstances of the law in Numbers 9 but at the same time diverging from that law in fundamental ways? The answer is connected to the depiction of Hezekiah as a second Solomon.
Hezekiah’s Motivation – Reuniting the Divided People
According to the Bible, shortly after the death of Solomon, the Northern and Transjordanian tribes under Jeroboam seceded from the Davidic Kingdom and formed the polity of Israel. As a consequence, the southern polity (now Judah), which remained under Davidic rule, was much smaller.
The Chronicler viewed the northern Israelite kingdom of the ten tribes as fundamentally rebellious. As stated by King Abijah (grandson of Solomon):
דברי הימים ב יג:ד …שְׁמָעוּנִי יָרָבְעָם וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל. יג:ה הֲלֹא לָכֶם לָדַעַת כִּי יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל נָתַן מַמְלָכָה לְדָוִיד עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל לְעוֹלָם לוֹ וּלְבָנָיו בְּרִית מֶלַח. יג:ווַיָּקָם יָרָבְעָם בֶּן נְבָט עֶבֶד שְׁלֹמֹה בֶן דָּוִיד וַיִּמְרֹד עַל אֲדֹנָיו. יג:ז וַיִּקָּבְצוּ עָלָיו אֲנָשִׁים רֵקִים בְּנֵי בְלִיַּעַל וַיִּתְאַמְּצוּ עַל רְחַבְעָם בֶּן שְׁלֹמֹה וּרְחַבְעָם הָיָה נַעַר וְרַךְ לֵבָב וְלֹא הִתְחַזַּק לִפְנֵיהֶם.
2 Chr 13:4 …Listen to me Jeroboam and all Israel. 13:5 Surely you know that YHWH God of Israel gave David kingship over Israel forever, to him and his sons by a covenant of salt.13:6 Jeroboam son of Nebat had been in the service of Solomon son of David, but he rose up and rebelled against his master. 13:7 Riffraff and scoundrels gathered around him and pressed hard upon Rehoboam son of Solomon. Rehoboam was inexperienced and fainthearted and could not stand up to them.
The Chronicler does not offer a systematic review of the history of the northern kingdom. Nevertheless, he had some form of the Book of Kings and thus, he knows that the northern kingdom came to an end in Hezekiah’s time (2 Kgs 18:9–10). Thus, the Chronicler seizes upon Hezekiah’s reign by viewing it as the first historical opportunity for the reunification of the people under Davidic rule, and even more importantly, around the Jerusalem Temple.
This is why the Chronicler has Hezekiah making such great efforts to include the inhabitants of the former northern kingdom in the belated Passover celebrations, even presenting it as an opportunity for the northerners to reverse their state of misfortune. Hezekiah states this explicitly in his appeal to the northerners:
דברי הימים ב ל:ז וְאַל תִּהְיוּ כַּאֲבוֹתֵיכֶם וְכַאֲחֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר מָעֲלוּ בַּי־הוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵיהֶם וַיִּתְּנֵם לְשַׁמָּה כַּאֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם רֹאִים. ל:חעַתָּה אַל תַּקְשׁוּ עָרְפְּכֶם כַּאֲבוֹתֵיכֶם תְּנוּ יָד לַי־הוָה וּבֹאוּ לְמִקְדָּשׁוֹ אֲשֶׁר הִקְדִּישׁ לְעוֹלָם וְעִבְדוּ אֶת יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְיָשֹׁב מִכֶּם חֲרוֹן אַפּוֹ.
2 Chr 30:7 Do not be like your fathers and brothers who trespassed against YHWH God of their fathers and he turned them into a horror as you see.30:8 Now do not be stiff-necked like your fathers; submit yourselves to YHWH and come to his sanctuary which he consecrated forever, and serve YHWH your God so that his anger may turn back from you.
This opportunity for political and cultic reunification of the people also explains why the Chronicler was prepared to make allowances for Hezekiah not following the letter of the law in terms of how he proceeded with and executed the delayed Passover. In this sense, Hezekiah’s delayed Passover is narrated more in the flavor of a הוראת שעה (an exceptional overruling of Torah law dictated by extraordinary circumstances and for the fulfillment of a greater good) than as a literal fulfillment of the Pesach Sheni law.
Using Solomonic Imagery
The clearest indication that the Chronicler viewed Hezekiah’s efforts as both justified and successful comes through the parallels that the Chronicler constructs between Hezekiah’s Passover and Solomon’s dedication of the First Temple (1 Kgs 8).
1. Seven Extra Days
Hezekiah’s observance of the seven-day festival of unleavened bread was followed by an additional seven days of joyous celebration, just as Solomon’s Temple dedication (which corresponded with the seven-day festival of the seventh month – presumably Sukkot) was followed by an additional seven days of celebration.
2 Chr 30:23 (Hezekiah)
וַיִּוָּעֲצוּ כָּל הַקָּהָל לַעֲשׂוֹת שִׁבְעַת יָמִים אֲחֵרִים וַיַּעֲשׂוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים שִׂמְחָה.
All the congregation resolved to keep seven more days, so they kept seven more days of rejoicing.
1 Kgs 8:65 (Solomon)
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
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.
2. Huge Amount of Sacrifices
The extraordinary large amount of sacrifices that were brought by Hezekiah and the entire congregation is reminiscent of the huge number of sacrifices that Solomon and the people offered at the temple dedication.
2 Chr 30:24 (Hezekiah)
כִּי חִזְקִיָּהוּ מֶלֶךְ יְהוּדָה הֵרִים לַקָּהָל אֶלֶף פָּרִים וְשִׁבְעַת אֲלָפִים צֹאן וְהַשָּׂרִים הֵרִימוּ לַקָּהָל פָּרִים אֶלֶף וְצֹאן עֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים
King Hezekiah of Judah contributed to the congregation 1000 bulls and 7000 sheep. And the officers contributed to the congregation 1000 bulls and 10000 sheep.
2 Chr 7:4–5 (Solomon)
וְהַמֶּלֶךְ וְכָל הָעָם זֹבְחִים זֶבַח לִפְנֵי יְהוָה. וַיִּזְבַּח הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת זֶבַח הַבָּקָר עֶשְׂרִים וּשְׁנַיִם אֶלֶף וְצֹאן מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים אָלֶף
Then the king and all the people offered sacrifices before YHWH. King Solomon offered as sacrifices 22000 oxen and 120000 sheep.
3. Great Joy
The Chronicler explicitly references the time of Solomon in highlighting the great joy that took hold in Jerusalem as a result of Hezekiah’s Passover. The joy of Solomon’s time most likely refers to the aftermath of his Temple dedication.
2 Chr 30:26 (Hezekiah)
וַתְּהִי שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה בִּירוּשָׁלִָם כִּי מִימֵי שְׁלֹמֹה בֶן דָּוִיד מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא כָזֹאת בִּירוּשָׁלִָם.
There was great rejoicing in Jerusalem, for since the time of King Solomon son of David of Israel nothing like it had happened in Jerusalem.
2 Chr 7:10 (Solomon)
… שִׁלַּח אֶת הָעָם לְאָהֳלֵיהֶם שְׂמֵחִים וְטוֹבֵי לֵב עַל הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְ־הוָה לְדָוִיד ולשלמה וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמּוֹ
… he dismissed the people to their homes, rejoicing and in good spirits over the goodness that YHWH had shown to David and Solomon and his people Israel.
Taken together, these parallels, along with the Chronicler’s explicit reference to Solomon’s time, express the idea that Hezekiah’s Passover was as momentous as the initial dedication of the Temple, inasmuch as it produced a broad-based participation in the Temple cult and a spirit of national unity and joy that had not been seen during the entire period of the divided monarchy. It is no wonder, then, that the Chronicler views Hezekiah and his reign as a highpoint in First Temple history (even more so than Josiah, who is portrayed as the ultimate hero in the Book of Kings).
Hezekiah as a Model for the Chronicler’s Own Quest for National Unity
Various factors point to an early fourth century B.C.E. date for Chronicles. This was a time when there was a growing danger of a split between the Judean community that was centered around the Jerusalem temple on the one hand and the polity based in Samaria on the other hand. Clear echoes of such tensions are present in the Book of Nehemiah that is set against the backdrop of the third quarter of the fifth century B.C.E. (Neh 2:19–20; 3:33–35).
The Chronicler’s positive depiction of Hezekiah’s outreach to the northerners, even at the expense of setting aside strict adherence to Torah law, would reflect the premium that the Chronicler put on communal unity and cooperation as a bulwark for preventing any possible split in the community.
Inspiration for Unity
Sadly, the Chronicler’s ideal vision did not come to pass, as the Samaritan split-off, which was made irrevocable with the establishment of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim during the time of Alexander the Great, was only the first of many Jewish sects that were to characterize later Second Temple Judaism.
But the Chronicler’s full and enthusiastic support for Hezekiah’s efforts to bring about national unity, even while making accommodations that only had very tangential parallel in strict Torah law, can serve as an inspiration for us now. This holds true notwithstanding the fact that over our long history, Hezekiah’s aims sometimes proved utopian rather than realistic.
TheTorah.com is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
We rely on the support of readers like you. Please support us.
May 15, 2019
February 27, 2021
Previous in the Series
Next in the Series
Dr. David Glatt-Gilad is a senior lecturer in the Department of Bible, Archaeology, and the Ancient Near East at Ben-Gurion University. He holds a Ph.D. in Bible from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Chronological Displacement in Biblical and Related Literatures.
Essays on Related Topics: