Post – Mosaic Festivals
Besides the festivals that were mentioned in the Law of Moses, other festive seasons were also observed at the time of our Lord. These were to either remember great national deliverances or great national calamities. The festivities for the deliverances were public feasts, and there were public fasts for the calamities.
Most of these are alluded to in the Canonical Scriptures, but it is difficult to form a clear idea of how they were kept in the Temple. Many of them have been described in Jewish writings, or are still kept in present times. Most, though, apply rather to the festive observances in the various synagogues of the land rather than to those at the central sanctuary.
Most of the people could only go to Jerusalem for the major feasts, so naturally they would have gathered in the synagogues in their towns and villages and had their own festivals of celebration for these things. They commemorated a past event instead of pointing forward to a great and world-important fact yet to be realized. They were also of a human institution, instead of one that had been given to them by God. The people just chose to either celebrate or fast for major things that had happened in the past on their own accord. Some of these major events are listed below:
The Feast of Purim
This feast is probably the one that was most important of all the human institutions. The Feast of Purim, ‘of lots’, or the Feast of Esther, was observed in memory of the preservation of the Jewish nation at the time of Esther.
The name Purim is derived from ‘the lot’ which Haman cast in connection with his wicked desire to destroy Mordecai and all the Jews. Mordecai himself proposed to celebrate the anniversary of this great deliverance on the 14th and 15th of Adar, which would be about the beginning of March. It was universally agreed to by the Jews of his time to have the celebration at the same time every year.
Though it was popular with the people, the Jerusalem Talmud states that its general introduction after the return from Babylon was a subject of much deliberation among the 85 elders – a number which included as many as 30 prophets according to tradition.
This in itself shows that Purim was never more than a popular festival. It was kept with great merriment and rejoicing, and friends and families sent presents to each other.
There seems little doubt that this was the ‘feast of the Jews’ that Jesus went to in Jerusalem in John 5:1. This was when he healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda. There would have been no other feast that could have intervened between December and the Passover except Feast of Purim.
Ceremonies of the Feast
As far as we know, the religious observances of Purim began with a fast on the 13th of Adar. If the 14th fell on a Sabbath or Friday, the fast was done on the previous Thursday. It was not lawful to fast either on a Sabbath or the day preceding it.
There were disputes between the Jews in Palestine and the much larger and more influential community of Jews that still resided in Babylon as to this fact.
On the 13th of Adar, the Book of Esther was publicly read. It was also read on the 14th, except in walled cities, where it was read on the 15th. So in Jerusalem, it would have been read on the 13th and 15th.
In later Jewish calendars, care was always taken that the first day of Purim should fall on the first, third, fifth, or sixth day of the week. Country people who went into their market towns every week on a Monday or Thursday, were not required to go to town again specially for Purim. For those people, the Book of Esther was read on the previous Thursday.
It was also allowed to read the Book of Esther in any language other than the Hebrew if it was spoken by the Jewish residents in that district. Also, any person could perform the service except one who was deaf, an idiot or a minor.
According to the Mishnah, there was no prescribed fixed form of prayer. This was left open and was determined according to what the individuals felt needed to be done. Also it was left up to them as to whether they should accompany the reading of the Book of Esther with prayer.
According to Josephus, the historian, in his time ‘all the Jews that are in the habitable earth’ kept the Purim festival days. Even though it was not a festival that was Divinely instigated, nevertheless it was very important to every Jewish family.
In present times, the synagogue has prescribed special prayers and portions of Scripture, but the festivals are still marked by much boisterousness and merrymaking. They even sometimes go way beyond what would be normal limits with their fun.