The Resurrection of Yeshua and the Festivals of Firstfruits.
Part II - Jewish Literature and the Greek New Testament.

Yeshua was raised from the dead at the Festival of the Firstfruits of the Barley Harvest. This was on the "first day of the week", according to the popular translation of a Greek jargon phrase which could have a number of other meanings. The Church was born seven weeks later at the Festival of the Firstfruits of the Wheat Harvest, otherwise known as Pentecost.

This is the second of a three-part series.
For a Biblical Overview, see Part I.
For a view of the censor's amendments to the Talmud, which substitutes "Sadducees" for "Jewish-Christians", seePart III.

This article uses the Bible and Jewish literature to try and find out the date of the Festival of Firstfruits of the Barley Harvest, when Yeshua rose from the dead. This festival is commonly known as the "First Day of the Omer", but in New Testament Greek, for example in Matt. 28:1, it is called "mian sabbaton" which can be translated "First of Weeks". It cannot be literally translated "first day of the week" as in many popular versions because "sabbaton" is plural, meaning "sabbaths" or "weeks" but not "week". There is no reference to any particular day of the week.

Passover Chronology

The Passover Preparation Day, when the lambs were slaughtered, is 14th Nisan. If the Preparation Day fell on the Sabbath, all leaven had to be removed on 13th Nisan (Talmud Mas. Pesachim 13a), but the lambs were still slaughtered on 14th Nisan, the only restriction being that people had to wait until sunset before carrying their sacrifices home (Talmud Mas. Pesachim 64b).

Passover is on 15th Nisan. On that point everybody is agreed.

Regarding the Sheaf Offering, there was a disagreement between the Pharisees and Sadducees.

  • The Pharisees interpreted "the morrow after the Sabbath", in Lev. 23:11-15 to mean the day after Passover, since any non-working day was considered to be a Sabbath, so as far as they were concerned the Sheaf Offering was always 16th Nisan.
  • The Sadducees, and another similar group called the Boethusians, believed that "the morrow after the Sabbath" must be taken in it's strict literal sense, so that the Sheaf Offering was on the day after the first weekly Sabbath that occurred after Passover. (Talmud Mas. Ta'anith 17b, Talmud Mas. Menachoth 65a).

If Passover fell on the weekly Sabbath, the Pharisees and Sadducees were agreed that the Sheaf offering was on Sunday (Talmud Mas. Menachoth 65b).

To work out how this affects the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Yeshua, we have to take each view in turn.

The Pharisees Passover

If Yeshua and his followers took the view of the Pharisees, that the First of Omer was 16th Nisan, the story of the burial and resurrection of Yeshua looks like this:

  • 14th Nisan - Yeshua died at 3pm and was buried before sunset. The small amount of daytime left after the burial counts as one day.
  • 15th Nisan - Passover. One night and one day.
  • 16th Nisan - First of Omer. One night, on the basis that he rose before sunrise.

This does not allow enough time, by any reckoning, to provide a literal fulfilment of Yeshua's prophecy in Matt. 12:40, that he would be "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth". It remains feasible only if the timescale is metaphorical, as explained in my article entitled Three Days and Three Nights.

Also there is a problem with the phrase "after the sabbaths" in Matt. 28:1. There has to be more than one Sabbath, and the only Sabbath in this scenario is the Passover festival itself, 15th Nisan. The Preparation Day, 14th Nisan, could not have been a Sabbath because they could not have crucified Yeshua on a Sabbath. However, if the traditional church teaching of the Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection is to be believed, it means the Passover Sabbath and the regular weekly Sabbath were contracted into a single day, so some people might have considered the Preparation Day to be an unofficial Sabbath to avoid losing a holiday. In that case the phrase "after the sabbaths" would fit.

The Sadducees Passover

If Yeshua and his followers took the view of the Sadducees, that the First of Omer was the day after the first weekly Sabbath after Passover (i.e. the first Sunday), then the time between the burial and resurrection of Yeshua depends on which day of the week was Passover. The only day that fits is Friday, so it works out as follows:

  • Thursday 14th Nisan - Yeshua died at 3pm and was buried before sunset. The small amount of daytime left after the burial counts as one day.
  • Friday 15th Nisan - Passover. One night and one day.
  • Saturday 16th Nisan - Shabbat. One night and one day.
  • Sunday 17th Nisan - First of Omer. One night, on the basis that he rose before sunrise.

Modern-day Judaism does not allow Passover to be on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday because it would cause problems with the dates of other festivals which are fixed by the luni-solar calendar that was implemented by Hillel II early in the fourth century. Before that time, the festival dates depended on the observation of the new moon and there would be no problem having Passover on a Friday (Talmud Mas. Beitzah 4b, Midrash Rabbah - Deuteronomy II:14-16).

The Sunday resurrection is in accordance with traditional church teaching, although the Thursday crucifixion is not. The question is, does it really matter? The date of the crucifixion is important to Orthodox Christians who fast on Friday, and there is the popular tradition of observing "Good Friday" once a year. The Sunday resurrection is important throughout all the churches because it became the basis for observing the "Lord's Day" as a weekly celebration of the Lord's resurrection. In early church times, this was in addition to Shabbat which was a day of study and contemplation, and the two-day celebration probably forms the basis of our weekend. This dual festival is described in non-canonical literature which is referenced in my article Three Days and Three Nights. As time went on, Shabbat was abandoned in violation of the fourth commandment, so that only the Lord's Day was observed as a religious festival.

The New Testament does not attach any importance to the day of the week when Yeshua rose from the dead, probably because the substitution of the Lord's Day for Shabbat did not occur until after the New Testament books had been written, and there was no cause for controversy. Instead, it is more concerned with the time of year, and tells us that he rose from the dead on the annual festival when the Sheaf of Firstfruits of Barley was waved before the Lord. The importance of this is explained in 1 Cor. 15:20-23.

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

The next question to consider, regarding the Thursday-to-Sunday scenario, is the influence of the Sadducees. They didn't have much influence with Yeshua, as they tried to argue with him that there was no resurrection of the dead. However, this does not necessarily mean that he disagreed with everything else that they said. He might have agreed or disagreed with them on the question of the Sheaf Offering.

The Sadducees had dominated the Sanhedrin for some time before the reign of Alexander Janneus (105-79 BCE), until Simeon B. Shetah, brother-in-law of Alexander re-instated the Pharisees (Mishna - Mas. Avoth Chapter 1, Talmud Mas. Makkoth 5b, Midrash Rabbah - Ecclesiastes VII:19). However, the Sadducees were still quite influential at the time of Yeshua and appeared alongside the Pharisees, attempting to trap him in his words. They were quite close to the High Priest, and appear to be members of the Sanhedrin at the time of the persecution of the early church, according to Acts 5:17-21.

Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison ... But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

The Sadducees fell into demise some time later, so that there were no Sadducees left after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD (Talmud Mas. Sanhedrin 100b). Modern-day Judaism is profoundly influenced by the Pharisees, and rather less so by the Sadducees. In the Talmud, the Sadducees are sometimes referred to as "minim", which literally means "species", along with other groups such as the Jewish Christians who were considered heretical.

Notes On The Greek Text

Matt. 28:1 says:

Greek text of Matt. 28:1

This can be literally translated as:

After the sabbaths, at the dawning into the first of the sabbaths

The word "sabbaton" is plural and means "sabbaths". It has no other meaning in Classical Greek, but in the Hebraistic Greek of the New Testament it can also mean "weeks" so we have:

After the sabbaths, at the dawning into the first day of the weeks

The Hebraistic derivation is as follows:

(Shabbat or Shavat) = Sabbath or rest

(Shavua) = Week

(Shavuot) = Weeks, or the Feast of Weeks meaning Pentecost.

Each word in the Hebrew language is a variation of a root word which usually consists of three characters. In this case "shavat" is the root word, meaning "rest". If this principle is carried over to the Greek, you get the result that "sabbaton" can mean both "sabbaths" and "weeks".

To show that this is not just fanciful thinking, consider Luke 18:12.

Greek text of Luke 18:12

In this case "sabbatou" is singular and the phrase can be translated:

I fast twice in the week

It obviously can't be translated "I fast twice on the Sabbath" because you can't fast twice on the same day, and in any case no Jew would fast on the Sabbath.

We have the result that "mian sabbaton" and other similar phrases can be translated as one of the following, depending on the context:

  • "First of Weeks", meaning the First Day of the Omer.
  • "One of the Sabbaths", meaning one of the weekly Sabbaths that are counted from Passover to Pentecost.
  • "First of the Sabbaths", meaning the first weekly Sabbath that is counted from Passover to Pentecost, although there are no circumstances in which this translation needs to be used.

The term "First Day of the Weeks", or "First of Weeks" does not occur in Jewish literature, as far as I can make out, and it appears to be New Testament jargon for "First Day of the Omer". The days are counted as "First of Omer", "Second of Omer", and so on up to "Fiftieth of Omer" which is Pentecost.

A list of verses where "mian sabbaton" and other similar phrases are used in the context of the Days of the Omer are given in Part 1.


  • There is a feasible alternative view, that Yeshua was crucified on a Thursday and not on a Friday, although it is at variance with the traditional teaching of the church.
  • The Jewish literature throws some light on the discussion of the dates of the crucifixion and resurrection of Yeshua.
  • The influence of the Sadducees should be taken into account in our studies of the times of Yeshua and the early church.

See also:

Three Days and Three Nights
Passover in the New Testament

Copyright 1997 Updated December 1999

Mike Gascoigne
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