The Passover Offerings

Passover is coming (first Seder is Monday night, March 29) and I’ll be talking mostly about Passover between now and then. There are so many subjects to cover.

Tomorrow I will have a “Passover Palooza of Information,” with links and information to help readers better observe the Passover (from beginners to more advanced and from full Jewish observance to Christians who wish to keep some degree of Passover).

We’ll discuss at length the relationship between the Last Supper of Yeshua and the Passover, including the timing of the crucifixion. I will be writing new articles on these topics (having written extensively in the past about them).

And, of course, there is J-BOM (Jewish Book of the Month Club) and the March selection, which is The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah. So stay tuned for Passover information and meditation galore.

The offerings (korbanot) of Passover (Pesach) make for a very interesting subject. Many moderns cannot imagine the joy and awe that bringing a korban (offering) to God would inspire in the days of the Temple. A lot of people are put off by the idea of blood and killing. The large number of vegetarians in our age testifies to the very real terror that killing should inspire. The Bible does not disagree, and the killing and eating of animals is a concession by God in Genesis 9:3, following the violent period of the flood. Vegetarianism was the only permitted way before that (Gen 1:29).

The dietary laws of Israel limit the killing to a select number of species.

Yet, we could say it is contradictory then for God to require killing as a form of worship. This is a subject worthy of consideration. Could it be that one thoroughly in tune with God’s abhorrence of death (reflected throughout Leviticus, for those who understand the purity system) would eat sacrificial meat with a sense of the cost?

Yet the paradoxical joy of some offerings, such as the peace (fellowship, shelammim) offerings, is that one was never as near to God as when offering at his altar. This is why the sacrifices are called korbanot (from the root karav, which means to draw near). God’s presence was in the Holy of Holies and the offerer never came closer to God’s presence than when standing at his altar to slaughter an animal.

Understanding the offerings of Passover is a good preliminary to understanding many other aspects of Passover.

I am not writing here a final study or theology of the Passover sacrifices. In many ways, I have just started researching this topic. I have quite a few unanswered questions. Nonetheless, I will present information from the Bible and other sources (Jubilees, the Mishnah, Josephus) about the offerings in order to understand what, how, when, and where offerings were slaughtered, offered, and eaten.

All of the Offerings of Passover and Unleavened Bread

1. Passover Eve (Nisan 14), before the Seder. One lamb or goat, a male yearling, unblemished. Slain “between the evenings,” roasted, not raw or boiled. No bones to be broken. Eaten at night and no flesh to remain by morning. (See Exodus 12:3-11 and Numbers 28:16-25).

NOTE: Deuteronomy 16 presents two problems, possibly contradictions. It says that the Passover offering may be from the flock or herd (thus, not limited to lambs or goats). It also says that it is to be boiled (16:7), whereas Exodus 12 says it must not be boiled. Rashi resolves the first issue by saying the offering from the flock is the Passover offering and from the herd is an optional extra offering, a Hagigah (festal offering) if the group is large and needs more than just a lamb or goat for its feasting needs. He resolves the second issue by saying that the verb does not mean boil (neither here nor in 2 Chronicles 35:13), but is an alternate word for cooking. Note, however, that the verb means “boil” in other contexts, such as Exodus 23:19. Another possible solution, which has been rejected in Jewish tradition, is that roasting was only for the Passover in Egypt and that once the Temple was built the intention was for the Passover to be boiled (see also 2 Chronicles 35:13).

2. The seven days of Passover (Nisan 15-21), after the Seder. For burnt offerings (korban olah): two bulls, a ram, seven lambs (male, yearling), and their accompanying grain offerings. For a sin (purification, chattat) offering: a male goat (which in Leviticus 4 is usually an offering for a ruler of Israel). These offerings (eleven animals a day) are in addition to the twice daily lamb for a perpetual (tamid) offering.

3. It is possible (see below under the summary of the Mishnah’s delineation of Passover offerings) that there were more offerings required as well. Exodus 23:15 and Deuteronomy 16:16 speak of the need for all males to appear before God at the feasts and not to come “empty-handed.” The Mishnah interprets this as a requirement for offerings (see below) in addition to the Passover lambs.

The Passover Offerings in the Mishnah
I am far from an expert in rabbinic writings. I have translated a little Mishnah here and there. I have read both academic and religious writings about the nature of Mishnah, Midrash, Talmud, and so on. I know enough to know that rabbinic writings are terribly complex and only fools speak with certainty about what this or that text means unless they have years of intense study behind their words.

Since I am unqualified to expound with authority on the meaning of the Mishnah about the Passover offerings, I offer these summaries simply as observations. I encourage anyone who knows a text that will prove me wrong about something to comment or email and let me know.

First, let me say that the Mishnah, according to modern scholarship and with good evidence to back it up, speaks of ideals that likely did not exist in Second Temple practice. In the time before the Temple was destroyed, the proto-rabbinic movement was small and not influential (though the Mishnah and Talmud depict these sages and leading the practice of Israel). In fact, something I will include from Josephus suggests that these Mishnah ideals of the Passover offerings were not followed by the people.

Nonetheless, here are the Passover offerings as the Mishnaic sages see them:

(1) The Passover offering (Nisan 14):

m.Pesahim 5:1 — Eve of Passover, the afternoon perpetual (tamid) offering was made early by one hour. On a normal day the tamid was slaughtered at 2:30 and offered at 3:30 (times are sundial time and not precise). But on Passover Eve it was slaughtered at 1:30 and offered at 2:30 (and 12:30 and 1:30 when Passover Eve was a Friday). After the tamid, it was the time for offering the Passover.

m.Pesahim 5:5-6 — The people were brought inside in three groups. Rows of priests stood with gold and silver vessels to hold the blood. The Levites sang Psalm 113-118. They never needed to complete a third singing as the process was so efficient, all Israel made their offering in two to two and a half times through these Psalms. Each Israelite would slaughter and the priests would pass the blood in assembly line fashion until it was tossed on the altar base.

m.Pesahim 5:9 — Iron hooks were set up to flay the carcasses.

m. Pesahim 5:10 — Trays received the sacrificial portions which were passed to the altar to be burned. At dark they went out and roasted the lambs (it sounds to me like the lambs did not start to be cooked until the Yom Tov started, perhaps this would be different if it was a Friday).

m. Pesahim 7:1 — Roasted on a spit of wood (pomegranate wood) and not on metal spit or grill.

m.Pesahim 7:4 — It was offered in uncleanness and eaten in uncleanness (I do not understand this, because later the Mishnah clarifies that people in various impure states could not eat the meat, but that they would not be “cut off” (karet) if they did).

(2) The Hagigah (festal) offering:

m.Pesahim 6:3 — If one lamb or goat was not sufficient for the dining group, then an additional offering was to be brought. No Hagigah could be offered if Nisan 14 was on a Shabbat.

(3) The Appearance offering (re’it olah), a burnt offering:

m.Hagigah — On Nisan 15, each Israelite male was to bring a burnt offering. This perhaps derives from Exodus 23:15 and Deuteronomy 16:16, that men should not appear empty-handed before God.

(4) The Festal offering (korban shelammim), a peace offering:

m.Hagigah — On Nisan 15, each Israelite male was to bring another peace offering (the Passover lamb was a peace offering given on Nisan 14).

m.Hagigah 1:3 — Shammai said the Hagigah must be over and above the animals set aside as a tithe. Hillel said the Hagigah could be from the second tithe.

OBSERVATIONS: In the rabbinic writings (I have not researched Talmud, Tosefta, or midrashim), the term Hagigah could have several meanings (an additional animal offered on Nisan 14 or a Nisan 15 peace offering). Also, I did not find in the Mishnah (someone help me if I am missing something) any description of the rules for the extra offerings for days one through seven of the Passover-Unleavened Bread feast. Even in m.Zevahim I did not find anything to help me. Perhaps the rules for the extra offerings were simply the same as other offerings of their kind and did not need comment.

Passover Offerings in Jubilees
The book of Jubilees (written somewhere between 161 and 140 B.C.E.) contains a chapter on the Passover ceremonies and offerings (chapter 49). Jubilees is very interested in its own system of correct timing and calendar issues.

We learn from Jubilees that drinking wine and singing praises and hymns were already Passover customs.

Jubilees says the Passover offering was made on Nisan 14 and eaten on Nisan 15 (the day changed at sundown).

We also see confirmed many commandments about the Passover offerings (roasted, not boiled). Thus, whatever Deuteronomy 16:7 means, it was not interpreted in any post-biblical writings we know of to be about boiling the Passover lambs.

Jubilees insists that any Israelite male who does not appear with a Passover offering, except if they are disqualified due to impurity, they are to be uprooted from Israel.

Jubilees clarifies the timing of the Passover offering as the “border of the evening” (on Nisan 14, and then eaten after sunset on Nisan 15).

Passover Offerings in Josephus
From Josephus we learn a few important things. First, he estimated how many people were in Jerusalem when the Romans surrounded the city by referring to a count taken at a specific Passover feast (in the time of Cestius). Josephus claims (many scholars say his information is wrong) that there were 265,500 lambs slaughtered in that year for Passover offerings. He notes that a group of 10 to 20 people ate from each offering, putting the number at the feast at well over 2.5 million (War 6.9.3). He also says the offerings were made from the ninth to the eleventh hour (I think that would be from 6 a.m., sundial time, and thus from 3 to 5 in the afternoon).

In Antiquities 17.9.3, Josephus says that more offerings were made at Passover than at any other time.

If this is true, then either more people came to the Temple for Passover than for Shavuot and Sukkot, or the rabbinic ideal that each male should bring a burnt offering and a peace offering was not followed in the Second Temple period.

Concluding Summary
The Passover offerings included several types:

(1) The Passover lambs (or goats).

(2) An additional offering (Hagigah) if a group was too large for one lamb to suffice (doubtful that this was needed–it is probably just theoretical).

(3) An appearance offering (burnt) and festal offering (Hagigah, peace) made on Nisan 15 (ideally, but we do not know this was the actual practice).

(4) The festal offerings of Nisan 15-21 prescribed in Numbers 28, which included a sin offering and ten animals as burnt offerings. These were eleven animals offered for the whole nation and were not brought by individuals.

(5) Voluntary offerings made on days 2-6 of the feast by any Israelite who needed or wanted to.

The Passover worship included the chanting of Psalms 113-118 by the Levites and the procedure at the Temple required many (probably thousands) of priests. Ideally, the rabbis claim, the slaughtering of many tens of thousands of lambs, happened very efficiently and quickly.

It is possible that the roasting the lambs did not begin until dark.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Holidays, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Passover, Sacrifices and Purity. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Passover Offerings

  1. judahgabriel says:

    Excellent post! All kinds of great information here. Thanks, Derek.

    I was disappointed that I could not confirm the “boiling” verb in Deut 16:7 in any of the English translations I looked at. In fact, some of the English translations, including both KJV and NIV, translate it as “roast”. Harmonizers at work, perhaps?

  2. Judah:

    Thanks. Try RSV for the translation “boil” (probably NRSV also, though I haven’t checked).

    The verb is bishel (a piel verb) and it is the verb used in the famous “do not boil a kid” verses.


  3. jestervii says:

    From one Derek to another Derek, I thought you might enjoy the conversation we’re having about Pesach on my friend’s blog. The topic right now is was the last supper the Sedar, was it the first meal of Unleavened Bread, or was it possible a Hagigah (sp?)…anywho, I found your blog while I was digging around and wanted to invite you to join in our fun.

    Blessings & Shalom,
    Derek Cronin

  4. mjgot says:

    I have read it is customary (at least among Ashkenazim) to serve boiled, braised, simmered meat at the meal, not roasted, so as not to be confused with the paschal lamb offering which was roasted.

  5. Hi Derek, your article on the Pesach Offerings has been great. You asked people to let you know if we can assist in any way with gathering material.

    I found an article you may be interested in concerning your comment on ‘not understanding why the Pesahim 7:4 says the offering is offered and eaten in uncleanness, but “the Mishnah clarifies that people in various impure states could not eat the meat, but that they would not be “cut off” (karet) if they did).”

    Perhaps this has something to do with the ceremonial washing, but more so perhaps as the info I read on the link below suggests that ALL people were welcome to come and participate in the ceremony and celebration, but only those who were “Levitically clean persons” could actually eat the meal itself.

    So IF anyone could be present during its slaying and offering then it would be offered in the midst of uncleanness. “Eaten in uncleanness” could also refer to the levitically clean eating the meal in the presence of those unclean.

    The article discuses the “cleansing of the participants”.

    Here’s the link, hope you find it of help.

    • Great information and the solution you propose sounds right to me. There could be unclean people at the table as long as they did not partake in the lamb itself. Thank you for the link.


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