Archive for April, 2010

The Messianic Confusion About the Omer, Part V: The Appeal to the Septuagint

by Geert ter Horst


Messianic defenders of the rabbinic (pharisaic) calendar regarding the Omer count and the Feast of Weeks often make an appeal to the Septuagint (LXX) translation to defend their interpretation of the relevant texts of Lev. ch. 23. This appeal to an important degree is a futile matter, however, because, as we’ll see below, apart from a single ambiguity, the LXX strongly agrees with the masoretic text. Although the LXX has “complete weeks” instead of “complete Sabbaths” in Lev. 23:15, and thus seemingly offers some ground for the rabbinic interpretation, yet it translates here, like the masoretic text, “the morrow after the Sabbath” (“epaurion town Sabbatown”). Moreover, the terminological distinction between ‘Shabbat’ and ‘Shabbaton’ is preserved in the LXX and the annual feast days are not called Sabbaths. The Greek ‘Sabbaton’ is used as the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Shabbat’ and the Greek ‘Anapausis’ as the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Shabbaton’. Consequently, there is no ambiguity about the referent of ‘Sabbatown’ (‘Shabbat’) in Lev. 23:15. This can only be the weekly Sabbath.[1]

The only text that is problematic in the LXX translation of Lev. ch. 23 is :11. Instead of “the morrow after the Sabbath” the LXX translates here: “the morrow after the first (day)” (“tei epaurion tes prowtes”). This verse indeed seems to support the rabbinic Nisan 16 theory. In that case “the first” of :11 would refer to “the first day” (“hemera he prowte”) of :7, i.e. the first day of Matzot.

From this instance alone it cannot be concluded, however, that the LXX confirms or supports the rabbinic theory. Far from it. This text only proves that the LXX offers no definite clarity on the issue, or is perhaps inconsistent. This translation “the morrow after the first (day)” (“tei epaurion tes prowtes”) in :11 does  by no means take away the other translation, in :15, “the morrow after the Sabbath” (“tes epaurion town Sabbatown”). These two LXX texts are difficult to reconcile, but there is no valid reason why the first (:11) should be given more weight than the second (:15). Since the distinction between the weekly Shabbat and the annual Yamim Tovim is carefully maintained by the distinction between ‘Sabbaton’ (as translation of ‘Shabbat’) and ‘Anapausis’ (as translation of ‘Shabbaton’) one should not expect this distinction to be suddenly enfeebled by the one time occurrence of “the morrow after the first (day)” in :11.

The LXX was resived and edited several times and it is by no means excluded that the conflict about the Omer has left its traces in these revisions, so that the pharisaic view possibly could assert its influence in :11. On the other hand it is also quite possible that the LXX translation of Lev. 23:11 is a case of textual corruption. An explicatory comment (e.g. “the morrow after the Sabbath, which is the first day”) might have entered the main text, and thus what at first was a reference to a Sunday was changed into a reference to the 16th of Nisan. We simply don’t know. Whatever may be the case, it is clear that it is not possible to derive from the text of the LXX a decisive argument in favour of the rabbinic theory of the Omer count.

Ironically, the messianic appeal to the Septuagint to defend the pharisaic datings of the Omer and Shavuot is not appreciated by Rabbinic Judaism, which brought the LXX into disrepute after the first century, because it was much used by Christians and seemed to favour a Christian interpretation of the Tanach. Thus the means chosen by some Messianics here apparently doesn’t properly relate to the end. The halachic argument for the rabbinic position avoids any appeal to the Septuagint.


[1] J. van Goudoever, in his Biblical Calendars, concedes that the Greek Sabbaton can also mean ‘week’. He says (p. 18): “The word Sabbath in Greek can in fact only mean the seventh day of the week, or the week, but not the festival day”. If it means ‘week, however, this can only be a week from Sunday to Sabbath inclusive. This amounts to the same thing, since the morrow after the week is the same day as the morrow after the Sabbath, namely Sunday. [Cf. J. van Goudoever, Biblical Calendars, E.J. Brill — Leiden 1961 (1959)]

The Messianic Confusion About the Omer, Part IV: The Traditional Appeal to Josh. 5:10-12

by Geert ter Horst


Here follows the fourth article in our series about the Omer count, which centers around the Passover mentioned in Josh. 5:10-12. It is oftentimes argued that this text affords additional proof for the rabbinic theory that the Omer always starts on the 16th of Nisan. We hope to demonstrate here below that the argument for the rabbinic date is far from conclusive.

The rabbinic date for the beginning of the Omer, the 16th of Nisan, is often defended by an appeal to the description of the celebration of Passover in the Book of Joshua. Josh. 5:10-11 says: “And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho. And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the Passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day”. Oftentimes these verses seem to motivate the thought that the day here called “the morrow after the Passover” was the 16th of Nisan, the day on which, according to the rabbinic explanation of Lev. 23:10-14, 15-16 the Omer was to be brought. In particular Lev. 23:14 is referred to, where it is said: “And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor green ears, until the selfsame day that ye have brought an offering unto your G-d”.

From the fact that Josh. 5:11 reports that the Israelites ate corn of the land it is inferred that the Omer was already brought. In his article “Counting the Omer” (TorahResource, 2002) Tim Hegg has tried to defend the rabbinic view on this ground.[1] He says (on p. 4) that the Israelites could not enter the land before the 16th for the reason that the 15th was a Yom Tov. And he explains the expression “the morrow after the Passover” as being “the morrow after the Sabbath” of Lev. 23:11, 15, the 16th of Nisan. In Hegg’s view the day after the Passover here was not the day after the 14th of Nisan, or the day after the slaughtering of the Passover lambs, but the day after the first Yom Tov of Matzot (Nisan 15), which immediately followed the Passover. Hegg argues here from Dt. 16:1, where the celebration of the Passover seems to include the celebration of (the first day of) Matzot.

But is this line of thought indeed convincing and is this defense of the rabbinic position conclusive? In my perception this is hardly the case. Firstly, it is not a correct rendering of the historical events to say that the Israelites couldn’t enter the land before the 16th of Nisan because of the Yom Tov of the 15th. According to the story of the foregoing chapters they had crossed the river Jordan on the 10th of Nisan (4:19), and thus were in the land already.

Secondly, is Hegg’s conclusion justified that Dt. 16:1 proves that “the morrow after the Passover” can refer to the 16th of Nisan? This is very doubtful, to say the least. Hegg ignores that in the Torah itself a clear indication is given of the meaning of the expression “the morrow after the Passover” (mimacharot haPesach). In Num. 33:3 we find exactly the same expression: “And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the Passover (mimacharot haPesach) the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians”. This text clearly states that the morrow after the Passover is the 15th, not the 16th of Nisan.

Since exactly the same expression is used in Josh. 5:11 and in the text of the Torah in Num. 33:3, it seems obvious that the morrow after the Passover in Josh. 5:11 is the 15th of Nisan.[2]  The objections made against this and which are related to Lev. 23:14 can easily be solved. Lev. 23:14 doesn’t contain an absolute prohibition of eating grain or grain products before the cutting and offering of the Omer sheaf. The prohibition is limited to grain of the new harvest. This is clear from the fact that old grain was needed to make matzah for Pesach. The offering of the Omer was always after Pesach, never before, in accordance with the sequence of the appointed times in Lev. 23.

The Israelites in Josh. 5:11 did not eat of the new harvest, however, but, as the text says, “of the old corn of the land”. The word used here is ‘abur’, which in Strong’s Concordance is explained as used only of stored grain (#5669). That this is indeed about the 15th of Nisan is even more probable because of the addition “in the selfsame day”. The adherents of the rabbinic tradition want us to believe that this expression is related to the adjunct “until the selfsame day” of Lev. 23:14. It would indicate that “the morrow after the Passover” in Josh. 5:11 refers to the day on which the Omer was brought. And in the rabbinic perspective this day was of course the 16th.

It is far more probable, however, that “in the selfsame day” in Josh. 5:11 is reminiscent of Ex. 12:41, where we find exactly the same expression, “b’etzem hayom”, which is not the same as the expression found in Lev. 23:14, “ad etzem hayom” (“until the selfsame day”). In Ex. 12:41 the 15th of Nisan is intended and the emphasis is on the fact that the Israelites left Egypt “the selfsame day” after having been there for exactly 430 years. In Josh. 5:11 the emphasis is on the fact that the Israelites, exactly 40 years after the exodus, again on the selfsame day, “did eat of the old corn of the land”. “On the selfsame day”, and thus on the 15th of Nisan.

There is nothing in Josh. 5:11 to suggest a necessary relation between the morrow or day after the Passover and the bringing of the Omer. The next verse (:12) informs us: “And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year”. We are told here that the manna definitely ceased the next day, the 16th of Nisan. It may be that this was also a Sunday and the date on which the Omer was brought in that year, but we cannot know this with any certainty. Apparently the Israelites had purchased or captured enough old grain for the Passover and for the part of the festive week which fell before the Omer, so that they needed no manna anymore. As the text says, “they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year”. The fruit, or produce, of the land of :12 seems to include both the old grain of :11 and the grain of the new harvest.

We can conclude, therefore, that Josh. 5:11 affords no additional proof for the rabbinic position regarding the calendrical starting point of the Omer.


[1] Tim Hegg, “Counting the Omer: An Inquiry into the Divergent Methods of the 1st Century Judaisms”, TorahResource 2002 (2009), downloadable at: 

[2] Cf. J. van Goudoever, Biblical Calendars, Brill — Leiden 1961 (1959), p. 19.

The Messianic Confusion About the Omer, Part III: “The Morrow After the Sabbath”

by Geert ter Horst


This is the third in our series of articles devoted to solving the debate in messianic circles about the correct beginning point of the Omer, and, consequently, about the right date of the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot). We now direct our attention to the expression “the morrow after the Sabbath” in Lev. 23:11 & 15-16.

Our analysis in Part II contains major consequences for the status of the first Yom Tov day of Matzot. On the day after it the counting of the Omer starts according to the rabbinic theory. According to Lev. 23:15 this count starts on the day of the wave-offering of the sheaf of the firstlings, and this wave-offering according to the text occurs “on the morrow after the Sabbath” (Lev. 23:11). Lev. 23:15-16 states: “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave-offering seven Sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meal-offering unto HaShem.

According to the rabbinic theory the Omer count always starts on Nisan 16, and the “morrow after the Sabbath” referred to in Lev. 23:11 & 15 thus has to be the 16th of Nisan, and consequently the Sabbath mentioned there has to be the first Yom Tov of Matzot, the 15th of Nisan. This would mean that the first day of the feast was referred to as a Shabbat. From our earlier reflections on the terms ‘Shabbat’ and ‘Shabbaton’ (in Parts I & II) this is completely unacceptable. For we have made clear that the annual feast days are not named ‘Shabbat’ but at best ‘Shabbaton’.

The textual context of this chapter doesn’t permit of any reasonable possibility for the Shabbat mentioned in :11, save only to be a normal weekly Shabbat or Shabbat b’Reisheet. The Shabbat mentioned in :11 logically refers back to the Shabbat mentioned in :3, which is the weekly Shabbat. Moreover, it should be noticed that the word ‘Shabbat’ in :11 has the definite article, ‘HaShabbat’. This means that it carries a reference to a Shabbat which was supposed to be known before. The only Shabbat mentioned before in this chapter, however, is the weekly Shabbat.

Further proof for the thesis that :11 refers to a weekly Sabbath is afforded by ::15-16. According to the instructions given in these verses seven Sabbaths are to be counted after the just mentioned Sabbath. Now, if we comply, for the moment and for the sake of the argument, with the rabbinic theory that the Shabbat preceding the first day of the Omer is not the weekly Shabbat but the feast day which is the first Yom Tov of Matzot (Nisan 15), then the unavoidable conclusion seems to be that the seven Sabbaths of ::15-16 have to be seven feast days. But this is clearly impossible. There are no seven feast days between the 15th of Nisan and the Feast of Weeks. The only feast day falling in this time is the seventh day of Matzot, the 21st of Nisan. The inconvenience of this result for their theory motivated the Rabbis to take refuge in the explication that the seven Sabbaths are simply seven weeks, not seven feast days or seven weekly Sabbaths.

This explication, however, is very problematic, not to say completely unsustainable, for the following reasons. In the first place, the term ‘Shabbat’ in the Torah and the whole of the Tanach never signifies ‘week’, and certainly this signification isn’t supported by any data in the text of Lev. 23. As already said in Part II, a period of time signified by a number of Sabbaths can as well be signified by a number of weeks — and that is the reason why the feast following upon the Omer count can be called the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) in Dt. 16:9-10 — but this fact doesn’t allow us to impose the meaning ‘week’ upon the term ‘Shabbat’, or to translate ‘seven Sabbaths’ by ‘seven weeks’ (as happens e.g. in the The Soncino Chumash with the commentary of Rabbi J.H. Hertz). The seven Sabbaths (plus the day of Shavuot) also equal fifty days. But in a similar manner as it would be a gross mistranslation to substitute the expression ‘seven Sabbaths’ in this chapter by the expression ‘fifty days’, it would be a gross mistranslation to substitute it by ‘seven weeks’.

In the second place the translation of ‘Sabbath’ by ‘week’ causes an unsolable problem in Lev. 23:15. Here we meet a single sentence in which the term ‘Sabbath’ occurs twice, once in the singular (‘Shabbat’) and once in the plural (‘Shabbatot’). By following the rabbinic explanation we would have to say that this term signifies, when it occurs the first time, ‘feast day’, and, when it occurs the second time, ‘week’. It is difficult to imagine a thing more incredible than this explanation, according to which the word ‘Shabbat’ would have two different significations in one and the same sentence, while in neither case expressing the normal meaning it has in the entire Torah and even in all of the Tanach. If the word ‘Shabbat’ the first time it occurs in the sentence is forced to mean ‘feast day’, one would expect it to have this signification the second time also. The result of this would be that :15 requires “seven complete feast days” to be counted, a reading already rejected above as being impossible: everyone knows that there are no seven feast days between Pesach and Shavuot.

However, if the word ‘Shabbat’ when it occurs the second time in the sentence forcibly has to mean ‘week’, then it also has to have this meaning the first time. According to this reading Lev. 23:15-16 should be rendered as follows: “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the week, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave-offering seven weeks shall be complete: Even unto the morrow of the seventh week shall ye number fifty days”. What the day “after the week” signifies is not clear here. This reading is as impossible as the first, since it necessitates to read the meaning ‘week’ into the word ‘Shabbat’ in :11 too. By doing so it becomes unclear what is intended in this verse. Is it about a complete week, from Sunday to Sabbath inclusive, or is it perhaps about the week of Matzot? Both readings are so artificial that one involuntarily asks oneself how the only sensible and self-evident reading, according to which ‘Shabbat’ has its normal signification of the weekly rest-day, could be overlooked. And the rabbinic exegesis, which here combines the meanings ‘feast-day’ and ‘week’ for the word ‘Shabbat’ is by far the unlikeliest of all readings of the text. If the word ‘Shabbat’ in one and the same sentence has to mean both ‘feast day’ and ‘week’ and is forcibly prohibited to signify the weekly rest of the seventh day, which is its normal meaning, then of all unlikely readings the unlikeliest and of all impossible interpretations the most impossible is chosen.

We may conclude, therefore, without exaggeration, that the rabbinic explanation of Lev. 23:11 & 15-16 and the halachah based on it regarding the beginning of the Omer count and the date of Shavuot (Sivan 6) are clearly disqualified. There remains no possibility of a consistent reading of Lev. 23 if one accepts the rabbinic exegesis. This reading not only conflicts with the data of the text but also shows strong inner tensions.

Obedience by Choice: A Contradiction in Terms

by Geert ter Horst

It is not easy to make sense of the recent stream of publications flowing from the FFOZ ministry on the subject of their “Divine Invitation” theology. This is probably due to the fact that self-contradictory ideas don’t allow for much clarification. These ideas can only survive through their conceptual vagueness and power of confusion. Clarity is their enemy, because it brings out the incompatibility of their contradictory parts.

The latest slogan to promote the “Divine Invitation” doctrine seems to be “obedience by choice”. That is at least at the heart of Toby Janicki’s article: “We are the God-Fearers” in the just released Spring Issue of Messiah Journal (# 103). This article is such a specimen of vagueness and confusion that one scratches one’s head about where to begin to clear things up. For this reason I’ll limit myself to some purely logical remarks on the two inherent contradictions present in it, both in Janicki’s description of the Gentile position and in his concept of obedience by choice.

Janicki essentially classifies Gentile believers in Messiah as G-d-fearers, and describes their position in relation to Israel as follows (p. 36):

Although the Gentile God-fearers have not been given the Torah in the same manner as the Jews (i.e. they “do not have the law”), they nevertheless choose to obey it”.

At the end of the article we find a more extensive and theologically framed depiction of the Gentile position (p. 38):

God-fearers were not compelled to keep the Jewish aspects of Torah such as circumcision or Sabbath by decree or law. They did so out of a sincere and intense love for God’s Torah and his ways. They saw the light of Israel and sought to draw themselves close to it, so that they might warm themselves in its glow. As Gentile believers today realize that Messiah has spiritually grafted them into the nation of Israel, they feel drawn to the Jewish people and desire to worship alongside God’s chosen as fellow-heirs of the covenants and promises.

One of the curious things is here that Janicki says that the Gentile believers are “fellow-heirs of the covenants and promises”. This implies that he considers them to be members of the covenant. But it is clear without any further burden of proof that the ancient G-d-fearers — and their modern-day Noachide successors — are not considered as covenant members. For exactly this status would make them liable to the covenant obligations found in the Torah. This is the first contradiction of the article. It both includes Gentiles believers in and excludes them from the covenant.

The other contradiction is found in the concept of obedience by choice. Let me first clear up a possible misunderstanding here, by pointing out that, obviously, in a sense all real obedience involves choice. A child has to choose whether or not to obey the instructions of his parents and teachers, and an employee has to choose whether or not to obey the instructions of his employer. In morally normal cases the choice between obedience and disobedience here is the choice between good and bad, or between good and evil. In these normal cases disobedience is not morally permitted. It is simply the possibility of the wrong choice, and deserves punishment.

The position of the G-d-fearer or the Gentile follower of Messiah is not about this type of choice, however, in Janicki’s eyes, at least not for a considerable part. The kind of choice which is prevalent here is the choice to obey the Torah — or at least parts of the Torah — without being under the obligation to do so. The Gentile believer may choose to obey the commandment of the Sabbath, for instance, but he may equally choose not to obey it. He is free to obey or not obey. He may do as suits him, particularly in the domain of the ritual mitzvot.

This whole idea is, however, hopelessly contradictory, in more than one way. First, it is completely unclear, under the hypothesis of this theology, what the Gentile who “obeys” a certain mitzvah, e.g. Shabbat or kashrut, really does. More specifically, one can ask in what sense he is “obeying” these commandments. I’ll elaborate a bit on this.

To get more clarity in this matter let us ask the question whether a Gentile who keeps the Sabbath while supposedly not being legally obligated to do so really keeps the Sabbath. In other words: Is it really the Sabbath which is the thing kept by him? The answer must be negative. Keeping the Sabbath is only possible by obeying the instructions and commandments of the Torah pertaining to it. But obeying a commandment is only possible if the commandment is directed to you. If you are not the intended and proper addressee of a particular commandment or instruction, then it is impossible for you to obey it. It is simply not for you, and even if you “do” it, this is only so in your own imagination but not in reality. If a passer-by accidently hears the instructions given to a group of police officers on the street and decides to carry out these instructions, he’ll soon find out that by doing so he’ll be found a transgressor instead of a doer of the law. The necessary presupposition for the very possibility of obeying a commandment is that this commandment is given to you, directed to you.

This means that no matter what a believing Gentile does to keep the Sabbath, in reality he does not keep the Sabbath if he is not commanded to keep it. He may meticulously “do” all the scriptural commandments pertaining to the Sabbath and even “follow” the Oral Torah laws according to the strictest schools of rabbinic halachah. But no matter whatever he does, or whatever this “doing” may be called, it is not keeping the Sabbath and it is not doing the Sabbath commandments. It is simply not an act of obedience. For it is only logically possible to obey if one has also the possibility to disobey. However, under the presupposition of “Divine Invitation” theology a Gentile may neglect the Sabbath without any disobedience involved. From the perspective of this theology he does not transgress any commandment by not keeping it. Consequently he also doesn’t fulfil or do any commandment by “keeping” the Sabbath. His Sabbath “keeping” can only be called a purely superfluous and fictitious act. It is a “keeping” of the “Sabbath” which in reality is not a keeping of it; nor is it the Sabbath which is being kept by this “keeping”. It is a self-contradictory activity.

“Divine Invitation” theology is thus not compatible with the idea of obedience. Real obedience presuposes obligation and where there are no obligations there is nothing to obey. Moreover, the “obedience by choice” introduced by this theology cannot repair the fundamental logical flaw detected above. Obedience by choice is no real obedience at all. If I have the free choice of obeying a commandment or not, and if I don’t transgress by disobeying it, then my choice of obedience is no real obedience of HaShem. Instead of obeying HaShem I’m obeying myself and my self-styled religion.

This is a concept which may well suit and flatter the modern and the post-modern man of a secular epoch. It is in fundamental conflict, however, with the idea of obedience found in the Torah. In the Torah man is a dependent creature, who simply ought to follow the commandments given by his Father in heaven, whether he feels inclined to them or not, whether he loves them or not. Following the commandments because he feels inclined to do so is not a good reason for obedience. For if the inclination is the decisive criterion, then it is the inclination which is obeyed instead of HaShem. One of the purposes of the commandments of the Torah is to liberate us from own caprices and whims, and to elevate us to a sphere which transcends our own arbitrary self-will. Obedience of self is contradictory because it is not true obedience. It is autonomy. A Gentile who does the commandments because of his own choice ultimately belongs to a completely different religion than the Jew who obeys his heavenly Father because He says so.

Does this mean, then, that love is not a motivating force for doing the commandments? It is, but in another way than is understood by “Divine Invitation” theology. For to sincerely love HaShem’s commandments is to love them because they are commanded, and not consider them to be commanded because they are loved by us. Our love is unreliable and unstable. HaShem’s commandments are firm and reliable. His love is based on engagement. It does not leave us “free” or unobligated. It is a love that binds us to Him and which commands us to a response which is binding and lasting: “Hear O Israel, HaShem, our G-d, HaShem is One. And thou shalt love HaShem thy G-d with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Dt. 6:4). The love of HaShem, and his commandments, is a love which is itself commanded by HaShem.

The Messianic Confusion About the Omer, Part II: An Exegetical and Halachic Analysis of the Terms ‘Shabbat’ and ‘Shabbaton’ in Lev. ch. XXIII

by Geert ter Horst


This is the second article in a series devoted to solving the messianic conflict about the Omer. In it I give an exegetical and halachic analysis of the distinction between the terms ‘Shabbat’ and ‘Shabbaton’. The conclusion of this analysis is that it is impossible to interpret the term ‘Shabbat’ in Lev. 23:11, 15 as a reference to the first day of the feast of the unleavened bread (Matzot). Thus an important argument for the rabbinic system of starting the Omer count on the day after the first Yom Tov of Matzot is refuted.

The halachic distinction between Shabbat and Yom Tov is clearly indicated and outlined in Lev. ch. 23. This chapter opens with a general call (23:1-2) to proclaim the appointed seasons of HaShem (the Moadim), which are to be holy convocations. In 23:3 the weekly Shabbat is introduced as the first of these, followed by instructions for the annual feast days (from :4 on). In 23:5-36 the festivals from Pesach until Sukkot inclusive are treated. In ::37-38 general directions are given about the special sacrifices for these days, and at this point (in :38) the Shabbat is clearly distinguished from the feast days (in :37). In the next verses (::39-43) specific instructions are given for the feast of Tabernacles, and the chapter ends with a repeated mentioning, in general terms and by manner of inclusio, of the appointed seasons (in :44).

As I have said already in the previous article, the annual feasts are not called ‘Shabbat’ in this text. Sometimes these days are called ‘Shabbaton’, as for instance in the cases of Rosh HaShanah and Sukkot (::23, 39). The feast days of Matzot and Shavuot, however, are not called ‘Shabbat’ or ‘Shabbaton’.

The terms ‘Shabbat’ and ‘Shabbaton’ indicate to certain characteristic features of a day, not to that day itself. ‘Shabbat’ is not the proper name of the seventh day of the week, but the seventh day is called a ‘Shabbat’ to signify the character of the day. In the same manner certain days are called ‘Shabbaton’, after the characteristic features of these days. Both words, ‘Shabbat’ and ‘Shabbaton’ are derived from the root ‘Sh.b.t’, which means to ‘cease’ or ‘rest’. The seventh day of the week is named ‘Shabbat’, and this word is made from the verbal Pi‘el stem, which is the intensive of the active form of the verb. ‘Shabbat’ thus means a ‘complete cessation’ or ‘complete rest’. The word ‘Shabbaton’ seems to be derived from the Qal (or Pa‘al) stem, because of the –on ending, which indicates the normal active form. According to this stem the verb means ‘to cease’ or ‘to rest’. A Shabbaton is thus a cessation or rest, while a Shabbat is a complete cessation or a complete rest.

We also find the combination of these words, in the expression ‘Shabbat Shabbaton’, in Ex. 31:15 and Lev. 23:3, 32. In this expression ‘Shabbaton’ is qualified by ‘Shabbat’, and one can translate it as “Sabbath of rest” or circumscribe it more extensively as a “cessation which is a complete cessation” or a “rest which is a complete rest”. The expression ‘Shabbat Shabbaton’ is reserved for the weekly Shabbat and Yom Kippur. The expression emphasizes that the rest demanded in a certain context or on a certain day should be a complete rest. This emphasis is naturally important in relation to the prescriptions for the weekly Sabbath and Yom Kippur, since these days are different from the other feast days by their distuighed degree of ‘rest’ or ‘cessation’. While for the annual feast days a rest is demanded which is described by the words: “ye shall do no servile work therein” (Lev. 23:8, 21, 25, 35, 36), the rest demanded on the weekly Sabbath and Yom Kippur is described as: “ye shall do no work (or: “no manner of work”) therein” (Lev. 23:3, 31, cf. ::28, 29). The prohibitions of work for Yom Kippur and for the weekly Sabbath are thus principally on an equal level of severity. The prohibition of work for the annual feast days is, however, on an a lighter level than that for the weekly Sabbath.

The distinction between the work-prohibitions for days that are marked as ‘Shabbaton’ and days that are marked as ‘Shabbat’ is that on the Shabbat-days no work at all is permitted, while on the Shabbaton-days no work of service is permitted. By what is said elsewhere in the Torah it is clear that this distinction should be understood as meaning that on Shabbaton-days food may be prepared, while on the weekly Sabbath and on Yom Kippur this is not permitted. The distinction about food-preparation is the one important distinction between the prohibitions of Yom Tov and Shabbat found in the Torah-text itself. According to Ex. 12:16 preparation of food is a permitted actvity on the first and the seventh day of Matzot. From this instance we learn that, albeit preparation of food is defined as ‘work’ by the Torah, it is not defined as ‘work of service’. In virtue of Lev. 23:24-25, 35-36, 39, “no work of service” is the level of rest which is expressed by the term ‘Shabbaton’. Although the first and the seventh day of Matzot are not formally characterized as ‘Shabbaton’, it is clear that the degree of rest required on these days is the Shabbaton-rest and thus the cessation from “work of service” (Lev. 23:7-8, 21), not the Shabbat-rest from all work.

By now it is intelligible why Yom Kippur can be called a ‘Shabbat Shabbaton’. We have seen that Yom Kippur is an annual feast day and yet its work-prohibition is the same as the work-prohibition of the weekly Sabbath. This is undoubtedly due to the fact Yom Kippur is a day of humiliation, a day on which “ye shall afflict your souls” (Lev. 23:27). This affliction has always been understood to include a complete fast. To prepare food on Yom Kippur doesn’t make sense at all, because fasting is part of the required affliction, and it is actually excluded by the Shabbat work prohibition.

The distinction between the terms ‘Shabbat’ and ‘Shabbaton’ in characterizing certain days is therefore a distinction between two levels of the work-prohibition attached to these days. This distinction is maintained by the Torah in a precise and accurate manner. The annual feast days thus cannot properly be called ‘Sabbaths’, save only, as demonstrated above, Yom Kippur.

From this we can safely conclude that the Sabbath mentioned in Lev. 23:11, in the expression: “the morrow after the Sabbath” can not be the first Yom Tov day of Matzot. For this day can properly be called a ‘Shabbaton’, but not a ‘Shabbat’, since its work prohibition is limited to “work of service”, in :7. And this implies that the rabbinic system of counting the Omer, which assumes that the term ‘Shabbat’ in :11 refers to the first day of Matzot, cannot be correct. The Yom Tov day of the 15th of Nisan is not a Shabbat, it is a Shabbaton. To refer to it as a Shabbat would destroy the balanced distinction between these two terms, which is so carefully maintained throughout this chapter.

The Messianic Confusion About the Omer, Part I: The Misnomer ‘Annual Sabbaths’

 by Geert ter Horst


This article is the first of a series devoted to solving, on a biblical basis, the ongoing debate among Messianics on the Omer count. Major messianic ministries, such as FFOZ, TorahResource, and TNN have simply adopted the traditional rabbinic way of counting the Omer from the calendrical date of the 16th of Nisan, while failing to give clear scriptural arguments for it, and without duly considering whether the acceptance of the rabbinic halachah in this case can be reconciled with a messianic perspective. It seems that a messianic position can only be maintained and defended theologically if Scripture holds the place of supreme authority and is recognized above rabbinic tradition. As Messianics, we should never adopt a doctrine or practice which clearly conflicts with the teachings of Scripture. The traditional rabbinic system of counting the Omer, which is based on the halachah of the Pharisees,  in  my opinion clearly violates the instructions of Scripture, as found in the Book of Leviticus, to count the Omer from the morrow of the Shabbat” (Lev. 23:11, 15).

In this first article I point to the facts that Scripture teaches a clear distinction between the annual Mo’edim and the weekly Shabbat, and that, with the notable exception of only Yom Kippur, an annual Yom Tov is never called a ‘Shabbat’ in any part of Scripture. In the next article I hope to give a further theological and halachic analysis of this state of affairs. The often heard claim that the rabbinic or pharisaic halachah on the Omer was actually followed during the times of Yeshua and the Apostles will be also be part of our investigations in this series of articles. This claim will be questioned on its historical tenability.

A thing that strikes us when we engage in a detailed study of Lev. ch. XXIII is that this chapter does always make a clear distinction between the weekly Shabbat and the other high-days. This distinction is also found in the other parts of the Torah dealing with the Shabbat and the annual feast days. Nowhere a yearly feast day is called a Shabbat. Sometimes a related word, Shabbaton, is used, that cannot be equalized with ‘Shabbat’. There is only one exception to this: the Day of Atonement, which is called a ‘Shabbat Shabbaton’. We’ll return to this expression in the next article.

Among Messianics, however, it is of daily occurrence to speak of ‘annual Sabbaths’ and commonly a yearly high-day is called a ‘Shabbat’ or ‘Sabbath-day’ by them. This never happens in Holy Scripture. Scripture doesn’t know yearly Sabbaths at all. The feast days traditionally termed Yamim Tovim in Judaism — such as the first and seventh days of Matzot, the day of the Feast of Weeks (Shavu‘ot), the day of the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah) and the feast days of the festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot) — are never at all designated as ‘Shabbatot’. To speak of yearly or annual Sabbaths in referring to the Yamim Tovim, then, is clearly incorrect and potentially misleading. It is a misnomer.

When we keep track of the days or times the term ‘Shabbat’ is reserved for by the Torah, we find that, except for the weekly Shabbat, it is used for the Shabbat-year (or Shemittah-year), — i.e. the seventh year, during which the fields in in Eretz Yisrael have to lie fallow — and, as mentioned, for the particular case of Yom Kippur. These are the only days and times designated ‘Shabbat’ by the Torah.

According to the rabbinic exegesis of Lev. 23:11, however, the word Shabbat found there should refer to the annual first Yom Tov of Matzot. And in :15 it should refer to this holiday the first time it occurs in that verse, while the second time it should have the meaning of ‘week’.

The time-period of the week, which is based on the division made by the Shabbat, is never itself called ‘Shabbat’ in the Torah, however. The Hebrew language has a proper word for ‘week’ (Shavu‘ah), not related to the word ‘Shabbat’. Although it is obvious that a time-period of a certain number of weeks can be marked as one of an equal number of Sabbaths (cf. Lk. 18:12), this manner of speech is not convertible. If one can speak of seven weeks as of seven Sabbaths this is only a genuine possibility if these weeks are counted from Sunday to Sabbath. A time-period of seven serried Sabbaths thus equals a period of seven weeks, which is self-evident and contained in the nature of the case. But this doesn’t imply that the term ‘week’ can be replaced by ‘Shabbat’. The meaning of ‘Shabbat’ is entirely different from the meaning of ‘week’ (Shavu‘ah). ‘Shabbat’ means ‘cessation’ or ‘rest’, while ‘Shavu‘ah’ means ‘number of seven’. Moreover, each arbitrary time-period of seven serried days, not necessarily counted from Sunday to Sabbath, can be called a week. But a series of these weeks is not likely to be called a series of Sabbaths, since the Sabbath doesn’t function here as the divisive marker that separates one week from another.

This little study about the terms ‘Shabbat’, ‘Shabbaton’ and ‘Shavu‘ah’ contains already a genuine indication for the case under investigation here. The fact that the festival days of the unleavened bread (Matzot) are never called Sabbaths by the Torah means that there has to be provided weighty additional exgetical proof to defend a textual interpretation (and a halachic practice) based on a terminological levelling or equalization of Yom Tov and Shabbat. Likewise, weighty additional proof has to be brought forth to allow for an equalization of the seven Sabbaths of Lev. 23:15-16 to seven weeks with an arbitrary beginning day.

The conclusion thus far must be that it is very improbable that the annual first day of Matzot is referred to as the Shabbat mentioned in Lev. 23:11, where it is said: “And he shall wave the the sheaf before HaShem, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the Shabbat the priest shall wave it”. The only Shabbat that was mentioned before in this chapter is the weekly Shabbat in 23:3. An unbiased reading of 23:11 thus reveals that a weekly Shabbat seems to be indicated by this text, not an annual Yom Tov. And this constitutes a strong indication against the rabbinic exegesis of Lev. 23:11, 15 and against the halachah based on that exegesis.