PENTECOST, a feast of the Jews, in its original meaning a " harvest feast, " as consisting of the first-fruits of human toil (Exod. xxiii. 16), extending over the seven weeks which fairly correspond with the duration of the Canaanite harvest. Hence it was the closing feast of the harvest gladness.
The agricultural character of this feast clearly reveals its Canaanite origin (see HEBREW RELIGION). It does not, however, rank equal in importance with the other two agricultural festivals of pre-exilian Israel, viz. the Massoth or feast of unleavened cakes (which marked the beginning of the corn-harvest), and the Aslph (" ingathering," later called succoth, " booths ") which marked the close of all the year's ingathering of vegetable products. This is clear in the ideal scheme of Ezekiel (xlv. 21 seq.) in which according to the original text, Pentecost is omitted (see Cornill's revised text and his note ad loc.). It is a later hand that has inscribed a reference to the " feast of weeks " which is found in our Massoretic Hebrew text. Nevertheless occasional allusions to this feast, though secondary, are to be found in Hebrew literature, e.g. Isa. ix. 3 (2 Heb.) and Ps . iv. 7 (8 Heb.).
In both the early codes, viz. in Exod. xxiii. 16 (E) and in Exod. xxxiv 22 (J, in which the harvest festival is called " feast of weeks ") we have only a bare statement that the harvest festival took place some weeks after the opening spring festival called Ma^oth. It is in Deut. xvi. 9 that we find it explicitly stated that seven weeks elapsed between the beginning of the corn-harvest (" when thou puttest the sickle to the corn ") and the celebration of the harvest festival (JJTdjir). We also note the same generous inclusion of the household slaves and of the resident alien as well as the fatherless and widow that characterizes the autumnal festival of " Booths."
But when we pass to the post-exilian legislation (Lev. xxiii. 10-21 ; cf. Num. xxviii. 26 seq.) we enter upon a far more detailed and specific series of ritual instructions, (i) A special ceremonial is described as taking place on " the morrow after the Sabbath," i.e. in the week of unleavened cakes. The first-fruits of the harvest here take the form of a sheaf which is waved by the priest before Yahweh. (2) There is the offering of a male lamb of the first year without blemish and also a meal offering of fine flour and oil mixed in defined proportions as well as a drink-offering of wine of a certain measure. After this " morrow after the Sabbath " seven weeks are to be reckoned, and when we reach the morrow after the seventh Sabbath fifty days have been enumerated. Here we must bear in mind that Hebrew numeration always includes the day which is the terminus a quo as well as that which is term, ad quern. On this fiftieth day two wave-loaves made from the produce of the fields occupied by the worshipper (" your habitations ") are offered together with seven unblemished lambs of the first year as well as one young bullock and two rams as a burnt offering. We have further precise details respecting the sin-offering and the peaceofferings which were also presented. 1 This elaborate ceremonial connected with the wave-offering (developed in the post-exile period) took place on the morrow of the seventh Sabbath called 1 On the critical questions involved in these ritual details of Lev. xxiii. 18 as compared with Num. xxviii. 27-30 cf. Driver and White in 5. B. 0. T., note on Lev. xxiii. 18.
a " day of holy convocation " on which no servile work was to be done. It was called a " fiftieth-day feast." Pentecost or " Fiftieth " day is only a Greek equivalent of the last name (Trevrr/KoffTrj) in the Apocrypha and New Testament. The orthodox later Jews reckoned the fifty days from the 16th of Nisan, but on this there has been considerable controversy among Jews themselves. The orthodox later Jews assumed that the Sabbath in Lev. xxiii. n, 15 is the 15th Nisan, or the first day of the feast of Massoth. Hitzig maintained that in the Hebrew calendar 14th and 21st Nisan were always Sabbaths, and that 1st Nisan was always a Sunday, which was the opening day of the year. " The morrow after the Sabbath " means, according to Hitzig, the day after the weekly Sabbath, viz. 22nd Nisan. Knobel (Comment, on Leviticus) and Kurtz agree with Hitzig's premises but differ from his identification of the Sabbath. They identify it with the 14th Nisan. Accordingly the " day after " falls on the isth. (See Purves's article, " Pentecost," in Hastings's Diet, of the Bible, and also Ginsburg's article in Kitto's Cyclopaedia). Like the other great feasts, it came to be celebrated by fixed special sacrifices. The amount of these is differently expressed in the earlier and later priestly law (Lev. xxiii. 1 8 seq.; Num. xxviii. 26 seq.); the discrepancy was met by adding the two lists. The later Jews also extended the one day of the feast to two. Further, in accordance with the tendency to substitute historical for economic explanations of the great feasts, Pentecost came to be regarded as the feast commemorative of the Sinaitic legislation.
To the Christian Church Pentecost acquired a new significance through the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts ii.). (See WHIT- SUNDAY.)
It is not easy to find definite parallels to this festival in other ancient religious cults. The Akitu festival to Marduk was a spring festival at the beginning of the Babylonian year (Nisan). It therefore comes near in time to the feast of unleavened cakes rather than to the later harvest festival in the month Sivan called " feast of weeks." Zimmern indeed connects the Akitu festival with that of Purim on the isth Adar (March); see K.A.T.* p. 514 seq. Also the Roman Cerealia of April i2 thipth rather correspond to Massoth than to J^a^ir. (O. C. W.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)