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Shavuot and Pentecost: Similarities between the Old and New Testament events are reflected in scripture

Young kids celebrating the upcoming Jewish holiday of Shavuot, in Moshav Yashresh, June 2, 2022. (Photo: Yossi Aloni/Flash90

On Sunday – the 6th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan – the holiday of “Shavuot” (literally “Weeks”) will be celebrated in Israel.

Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals which include Passover and Sukkot as well.

This one-day holiday is mentioned in the Bible with several different names:

  • “Shavuot” (“Weeks”) 

Contrary to all other holidays that are mentioned in the Bible with their exact date, the time of Shavuot is only referred to as fifty days after Passover: 

“‘From the day after the Sabbath…  count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord…. On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work” (Lev. 23, 15-21).

The ancient Greek name of the holiday was “Pentecost” (lit. “fiftieth day”)

  • Hag HaKatzir (Harvest Feast)

In biblical times, the grain harvest season in the land of Israel commenced with the harvest of barley on Passover (on which an offering of barley, named “Omer”, taken from the first harvest of the land of Israel was brought to the temple). The harvest of wheat that concluded the season was celebrated on the holiday of Shavuot with an offering of two loaves of bread made from the new wheat.

Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest” (Ex. 34, 22)

  • Yom HaBikkurim (“Day of the First Fruits”)

This beautiful springtime is also the beginning of fruit harvest. In biblical times, the farmers brought the firstfruit of each fruit crop as an offering to the temple. The firstfruit offering season that commenced on Shavuot (spring) and ended on Sukkot (autumn) began with a public firstfruit offering on Shavuot.

“‘On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the Lord an offering of new grain during the Festival of Weeks, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work” (Num. 28, 26)

During rabbinical times, the festival became associated with the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. 

The events of giving of the Law started on the first day of the month of Sivan:

On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai” (Ex. 19,1).

According to Jewish tradition the giving itself took place 50 days after the Exodus, on the 6th day of the month of Sivan, the date of the holiday of Shavuot. 

The giving of the Law is often referred to in the Bible as the “Covenant” between God and the people of Israel. Therefore, the month of Sivan and the holiday of Shavuot became appropriate times for making covenants. In 2 Chronicles 15:10 we read about a covenant that took place some 500 years later:

They assembled at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign... They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul.

The Christian equivalent of the giving of the Law to the People of Israel is the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. It is not a coincidence that the two events are similarly dated (Shavuot 50 days after Passover, Pentecost 50 days after Easter) and similarly described:

Then Moses led the people… and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire... As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder…” (Ex. 19, 17)

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.” (Acts 2,1)

Both events represent a divine call, calling us to be better people and make the world a better place, deserving the divine revelation. May we get to fulfill this divine call.

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Uri Steinberg is a former Israeli Tourism Commissioner for North America, Israel Ministry of Tourism, and currently serves on the ALL ISRAEL NEWS advisory board.

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