Sunday, June 01, 2008

Passover and the Domestic Temple

According to the Old Testament prescriptions one had to eat the Passover in the Temple. This is clear from Deuteronomy16:2-7:
"And you shall offer the passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place which the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there . . . 7 And you shall boil it and eat it at the place which the Lord your God will choose; and in the morning you shall turn and go to your tents.
The language here regarding "the place which the Lord will choose" is clearly a reference to the future Temple. Prescriptions for this Temple are found earlier in the book of Deuteronomy:
"But when you go over the Jordan, and live in the land which the Lord your God gives you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you live in safety, 11 then to the place which the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, thither you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the offering that you present, and all your votive offerings which you vow to the Lord" (Deut 12:10-11)
In fact, that Deuteronomy 16 was interpreted as indicating that one must eat the Passover at the Temple is confirmed by a number of other ancient texts.

Jub. 49:16-17: “And it is not fitting to eat [the Passover] outside of the sanctuary of the Lord, but facing the sanctuary of the Lord. And all the people of the congregation of Israel will observe it in its (appointed) time.

11Q19 17:8-9: [Concerning the Passover Meal]: And they shall consume it [atnight] 9 in the courtyards of [the] sanctuary

However, this would mean that the Temple would be absolutely packed at Passover. Josephus tells us that hundreds of thousands come for Passover (cf. Deut 16:16; Jub. 49:21; Josephus, Ant. 17. 214). And in rabbinic tradition, one of the great miracles associated with the Temple was that it was never overcrowded, so that all Israel could worship with plenty of room to bow their heads in prayer (cf. m. Abot. 5:5).

Yet, as is abundantly clear from other texts we know in fact that the Passover was not eaten by Jews in the Temple.
Indeed, the the rabbinic laws simply stipulate that it must simply eaten within Jerusalem (cf. Sipre Num. 9:10 (69), m. Pesah 7:9). The boundaries were extended--thus if the paschal lamb taken outside of the city it had to be burned (m. Pesah. 7:9). One had to remain in Jerusalem during Passover night (Sipre Deut. 16:7 [134]; Sipre Num. 151; t. Pesah. 8:8 ) though one was allowed to retire to a sleeping place outside the city after midnight, the hour the Israelites had left Egypt (t. Pesah. 8:17) [1]
Here then we have a great example of how the holiness of the Temple was extended to the entire city--though it seems that most texts that relate to the idea seem to talk about the eschatological age (e.g., Zech 14:20-21).
Moreover, according the rabbinic writing one would simply eat the Passover as part of a haburah, a designated group which functioned as a “household” (cf. Mek. 12:46). The amazing thing is that the household seems to function as a kind of micro-temple.
Interestingly enough it seems that on Passover then the family or the haburah was turned into a domestic Temple, since the rules outlined in Deuteronomy became applied to the household.
Something analogous to this is found in Philo, where Passover is linked not only with the idea of the domestic temple but also with the idea of Israel's common priesthood.
Philo, Special Laws, 2.146, 147-149: [in the first Passover] they sacrificed at that time themselves out of their exceeding joy, without waiting for priests… (147) But those who are in the habit of turning plain stories into allegory, argue that the passover figuratively represents the purification of the soul... (148) And each house is at that time invested with the character and dignity of a temple, the victim being sacrificed so as to make a suitable feast for the man who has provided it and of those who are collected to share in the feast, being all duly purified with holy ablutions…
It is no wonder than that the early Jewish Christians understood what Christ had come to do--he had come to make the Church His Temple and its members part of the royal priesthoood (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-10).
[1] Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (3d ed.; London: SCM, 1966) 43, n. 2;55, 75; idem., Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (rev. ed.; London: SCM, 1969), 115-16.; Gustaf Dalman, Jesus-Jeshua (London: S.P.C.K., 1929) 93-95. This, of course, has huge implications for understanding the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, where Jesus very clearly eats a meal within the city, though he apparently retires to a place outside of it (Bethany prior to feast, cf. John 12:1; cf. Mark 11:11 and the Mount of Olives afterwards, cf. Jn 18:1; Matt 26:30). Such actions only make sense if Jesus was eating the Passover. But I digress...


Anonymous said...

With all due respect, Michael, the Passover was, from the beginning, a household feast (please read the entirety of Exodus 12). Each household was responsible for sacrificing a lamb (one they had gotten to know personally for four days, by the way). If the household was too small, they were to share with a neighbor (again, all in Exodus 12).

And, yes, later the tabernacle and the priesthood (and later the temple) were instituted, but all as a sign pointing to Jesus Christ, just like the Passover. Every single aspect of the tabernacle furnishings and the priestly rituals were all directly pointing to Jesus Christ, everything from the lamps to the showbread to the ark of the covenant, and the very temple itself was to point us to Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, the disciples on the Emmaus Road were treated to the greatest Bible study ever when "beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He (Jesus) expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." (Luke 24:27)

All that to say, the priesthood of the believer was always from the beginning (Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc.), but our High Priest is Jesus Christ. All believers are priests, but we only have one High Priest, and "by His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." (Hewbrews 9:12)

I'm wondering why the Roman Church is now touting priesthood of the believer...very interesting.

Anonymous said...


I think that Michael was just trying to show how there could have been a transition between the Law's stipulation of there being a central Temple, and the New Testament writers' assertion that the gathered people of Jesus constitute the eschatological Temple of God. It's a question of how a Jewish religion like Christianity can end up somewhat distancing itself from a Jewish symbol as central as the Jerusalem Temple?

Also, as much as I understand what the writer of Hebrews has to say about the Old being a copy and shadow of the New, I wouldn't go so far as to say that everything Temple-wise points directly to Jesus (the two words I am wary about are 'everything' and 'directly'). I've heard that kind of preaching growing up quite often, and it usually doesn't quite make sense to me...I think we have to re-examine what it means again for the Old to be a copy of the New...

Oh, yeah, that last comment was not helpful at all. And I say that as a Protestant/Pentecostal.


Michael Barber said...


Thanks for dropping by and for your comment.


(if that is your real name!--just kidding!)

Of course I know that Exodus 12 stipulates that the household should celebrate the Passover. The fact is Deuteronomy specifically says it must be eaten in the Temple. That's striking given the fact that in Jesus' day it wasn't. It also seems that the instructions for the Temple were applied to the haburah, which I also thought was fascinating.

In addition, I thought that quote from Philo was pretty interesting.

I'm sorry you didn't like the post.

By the way, to be fair, I feel I need to set the record straight on your comment about the Catholic Church "now touting the priesthood of the believer". While I'm unsure why you felt the need to say what you did, it did reveal a bit of ignorance about Catholic teaching.

The idea of a common priesthood of the faithful isn't something Catholics are now just beginning to "tout". Not only is it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church published under John Paul II, you'll also find a good treatment on it in the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent (in the section on Holy Orders), which begins: "Regarding the internal priesthood, all the faithful are said to be priests, once they have been washed in the saving waters of Baptism."

It goes on to quote 1 Peter and the book of Revelation and applies these passages to the laity.

I love ecumenical dialogue--I especially have great respect for many evangelical Protestant scholars and bibliobloggers from whom I have learned a great deal. In fact, I'm finishing my Ph.D. at Fuller and went to Azusa Pacific University for my undergraduate studies!

I've spent much of my academic career studying with non-Catholics and I'm definitely not ignorant of the areas in Catholic theology disputed by Protestants. I'm all for serious dialogue. But let's not mispresent each other. That's counter-productive.

God bless...

Anonymous said...

Yes, as the church, we are temples of the living God. But that also is only a copy and a shadow. Actually, Jesus Himself IS the temple. Revelation is very clear about that. Speaking of the new Jerusalem, John says, "But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple." John does not say, the church is its temple, but God Himself. He is the temple outside of the church. If there were never any worshippers or followers or church, God and the Lamb would still be the temple. He exists outside of us, and His worth or value is not dependent on us. He Hiimself is the object of worship, not an institution, an organization, or a building, but Jesus Christ Himself.

When the temple was destroyed, long before the temple was destroyed, God sent His prophets "rising up early and sending them" to warn the children of Israel that He Himself was the object of their worship, not lamps or tables or bread or buildings. God Himself had the temple destroyed and Jerusalem decimated and the people sent into captivity for their own good. When in captivity, they would call to Him. He knew this alone is what they needed: Him! Read Jeremiah or any of the other prophets.

Maybe the last comment was harsh, but I have heard too many Roman churchmen say that believers don't have any "authority" outside of other "priests."

And the original post was about Passover.
As a matter of fact, Colossians speaks to that, and to the temple issue.
"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is Christ." (Colossians 2:17)

Also, Harper, the fact that you refer to yourself as a "Protestant" is very telling. I pray that you won't let what any misguided (or even downright deceptive) preacher has said, or what any "new teachers" say turn you away from Jesus Christ. He is the substance of all these things. The others are just a shadow!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Anon,

Just a few points of note, I think: I don't think the Israelites were sent into exile because of their adoration of the Temple, bread, and etc.? Rather, it was because of idolatry and syncretism, wasn't it? Think that point is a bit off, historically speaking...

And coming back to Michael's post, once again, I think the point in Deuteronomy is clear that the household act of eating the Passover is done in the Temple. Michael was just trying to show the people adapted to the commandment when it was impossible to fit all the locals and exiles returning for the feast, and this gave rise to the concept of a 'domestic temple' away from the physical Temple. I personally find that interesting because of the centrality of the Temple to the Jewish mindset, and I think it goes some way to explaining how the Christian Community understood itself as God's Temple, especially post-70 A.D.

And thanks for highlighting how John portrays God and Lamb as Temple, and naturally I agree with that. Though I'm don't think that demonstrates that the Church is only a shadow-copy Temple...'s very telling...of what? :) Ah well.


Steven Carr said...

Perhaps the Passover was not eaten in the Temple, because not everybody could have got in.

Stuart said...

A few suggestions:-

1. Just as in the Israel after the flesh there was both a common priesthood of the faithful (symbolised by the garment fringes), and a cultic, ministerial priesthood, both rooted in physical descent (from Jacob, and from Levi/Aaron), so in the Israel after the Spirit there is both a common priesthood of the faithful, and a cultic, ministerial priesthood, both rooted not in descent but in ascent, in baptism/chrismation, and in ordination.

2. The equivalent to Christ in the old Exodus is, after God, Moses, who acts not merely as prophet, but, after God, king, and as high priest. He baptises Israel at the Red Sea into their common priesthood, and ordains Aaron at Sinai, and constructs and consecrates all Israel, Aaron etc, and the abernacle by calling down the Spirit at Sinai etc etc. (See Rabbinic sources passim for references to the high priesthood and kingship of Moses).

3. (This is a little more controversial). The true type of baptism is not circumcision, since that was given only to males, and related to Abrahamic descent rather than to the Exodus experience, but, firstly, the passing through the waters of the Red Sea on the part of the first generation, and THEN subsequently, the passing through the waters of their Israelite mother's wombs, on the part of every subsequent Israelite, male and female, and the passing through the waters of the mikveh for every subsequent Gentile proselyte joining themselves to the community of Israel.

Hence all proselytes were immersed, male and female alike since it was such immersion that made up for their lacking of an Israelite mother, even though only the males would be circumicised. The womb of the Israelite woman, and the proselyte immersing mikveh were like the Red Sea, the ever fertile font of the Jewish Church, Holy Mother Israel.

Thus we must not think of God, through Moses, as somehow forcibly splitting the Red Sea asunder violently Enuma Elish fashion: rather the Red Sea joyfully parts to welcome within itself the seed of Jacob, and then brings that seed out safely on the other side, since it is washed by the blood of the paschal lamb and is marked for safety. Only for the pursuing Egyptians, marked with the sign of Pharoah is the womb of the Red Sea a place of terror and death.

I hope this is useful, and not too far fetched. It came to me as a flash of insight one day as I tried to explain what proselyte immersion might have meant theologically and then suddenly realised: "Well of course! What did a proselyte NOT have? A Jewish mother! And that makes a Jew! So to be a Jew that they would have to symbolically acquire one!"

kentuckyliz said...

Um, minor chronological hiccup in your analysis: the Mishnah were written after the destruction of the Temple.