The Roots of Passover

In the Beginning: 😊

Long before Passover was conflated with the Exodus myth by the Judean scribes, Pesach was a spring harvest festival, celebrating the first barley harvest after the austerity of winter in the desert. The ancient Israelites ate unleavened flatbread (matzah) made from roasted barley, to quickly ‘break free’ from the food insecurity of the winter season.

The Mesopotamians also celebrated a Spring Barley Festival in the first month of Nisanu in ancient Mesopotamia, to celebrate the sowing of barley.

What foods were traditional at the Passover Harvest FeSTIVAL?

A Spring feast of lamb, parsley and fresh chicken eggs was eaten with the matzah. Sound familiar?

Why lamb, eggs and PARSLEY?

Spring is lambing season. Egg-laying declines in the Winter and increases in the Spring when natural light and temperatures are optimal for egg-laying. Universally, eggs are symbolic of fertility and Spring. Parsley is a sun-loving plant native to the Mediterranean. Parsley was originally used for medicinal purposes to alleviate digestive issues, allergies, bug bites, toothaches and more. The somewhat bitter parsley, was eaten as a medicinal plant that aided digestion and brought the promise of improved health into the new season.


Absolutely. Unleavened flatbread was a non-perishable staple food that was quick and easy to make. Matzah was not a product of the Exodus tale, it was conscripted into it.

What’s the big deal about Barley?

Barely is a very nutritious, naturally insect resistant grain that slows down blood sugar absorption and is lower in gluten than rye, spelt and wheat. Our ancestors did not know exactly why it was beneficial, but barley was known to the ancient world as a ‘health aid’ that relieved certain conditions, such as dysmenorrhea and gastro-intestinal distress.

It could be grown on small plots of land, sown without a plow, matured earlier than wheat and provided more food security than the frailer crops of wheat.

Malted barley also made great beer, which the ancient Israelites enjoyed at their barley harvest festivities. In moderation, it was considered to be a cure for melancholy.

The Talmud records four different types of beer, [used by the ancient Israelites] brewed from barley, dates and figs…

Pesachim 107a

Beer’s popularity with ancient Jews is also evident in the fact that beer is an acceptable substitute for wine in the Havdalah ceremony.

Aish HaTorah

High Holidays – Humble RootS

As an agricultural community, harvest times were sacred keys to survival for the early Jews. The agricultural rhythm of preparing the soil, planting, watering, harvesting, and waiting for the earth to become ready for planting again were pivotal events. Judaism began life as a folk religion and the festivities of the early Jews were earth-centric nature festivals.

They came to be associated with etiological myths when the Judeans were writing and rewriting the Hebrew Scriptures. The barley harvest in the early spring was tied to the mythical Exodus. The summer fruit and olive harvest of Sukkot in early fall was tied to the ‘booths’ in the desert that are part of the Exodus myth.

In this way the folk practices connected with fertility took a back-seat to the demands of the deity and the Temple where the priests were in control and feasted on the high quality food brought as “offerings to God.”

Israelites marked the time between the two major harvest seasons by counting the omer (sheaf / measure of grain) during the seven week period between Pesach and Shavuot.

“The ancient Israelites would wave a sheaf toward the night sky in prayer for an abundant Spring harvest.” (Rabbi Yale Levy). 

The last day of each harvest festival marked the end of the harvesting cycle.

The rabbis tied the wheat harvest of Shavuot to matan Torah (the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai). The 16th century rabbis of Tzfat completely reinvented Shavuot as a Torah-centric holiday featuring late night Torah study sessions.


Original Passover was simple but significant, earthy but elevated. It was individual, shared and collective work that celebrated the liberating shift from meager Winter to the fullness of Spring.

Hope, gratitude, mazel (good fortune), feasting and some good old beer-cheer was the theme. It had nothing to do with a bloody, violent, melodramatic Exodus from Egypt — but it was significant nonetheless. Even more so, because it didn’t involve “God” murdering all the first-born sons of Egypt and killing all of their innocent farm animals.

The freedom to gather together, share food and be thankful for earth’s bounty was an occasion worth celebrating. L’chayim!


Related Pages:

Archeological Exodus


Where did the Jewish tradition of Blessing bread begin?

It began with the early Jewish worship of the Mother Goddess, Asherah. The women made special loaves of Asherah bread, which would be blessed, then ritually eaten, as we do with challah today.

Did “challah” always refer to the braided loaves on the Shabbat table?

No. German Rabbi Israel Isserlein welcomed in Shabbat with a bread he described as “three fine challot kneaded with eggs, oil, and a little water” in the 15th century. Yet in still, braided challah bread did not become a Shabbat mainstay for European Jews until the 17th century. The word challah חלה in the Torah does not refer to braided breads — challah was a piece of bread dough that was separated from the rest and gifted to the high priests, based upon Numbers 15:18-21.

The ritual involved two parts: Hafrashat Challah (separating the dough) and Netinat Challah (giving the dough to Kohenim). After the fall of the second Temple in 70 AD, small pieces of bread dough were tossed into a fire as a token offering.

Bread and matzah were staple foods, mentioned over 250 times in the scriptures.

Although framed as “sacrifices to God,” nearly all the offerings brought to the Temple, including the 12 loaves of shewbread (or showbread) brought by the “common people” every week, went to feed Aaron, the high priest, and his ruling class of priests, who did not work outside the Temple trappings.

The bread was changed every sabbath, and the priests ate that which had been displayed. Many aspects of the Christian Eucharist show that it was influenced by Israel’s shewbread.

Encyclopedia Brittanica

Leviticus 24:1-9: “Take the finest grade of wheat flour and bake it into 12 loaves. Each loaf will be made from two-tenths of an eifah. Arrange these loaves in two stacks, six loaves to a stack, on the pure table, before God. Put pure frankincense beside these stacks. This will be the memorial portion, a fire-offering to God. Every Shabbat these loaves should be placed before God. The bread will be given to Aaron and his descendants to eat in a holy place…”

Was the Shabbat Bread We call Challah always braided?

No. German and Austrian Jews copied the traditional braided breads of German society known as berchisbrod or Holle, which sounds a lot like “challah.” (Via Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks).

German women braided their bread to resemble the hair of a Teutonic Goddess named Holle. The bread was then thrown into the fire to escape her wrath. German and Austrian Jews integrated this local pagan tradition into Judaism. I can see the connection they made — the God of the Torah was also full of wrath and Shabbat was a particularly wrathful time. (Exodus 31:13-14)

In his book, Jewish Magic and Superstition, Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg notes that German Jews adopted the practice of braiding their ritual loaves from their neighbors who worshipped the goddess known as Perchta, Holda or Holle.

In Sephardi, Mizrachi, Yemenite and Ethiopian tradition, Shabbat breads are not braided.

Shabbat breads from around the world:

Iranian: Lavash, pita or barbari — flatbreads dipped into spicy and savory stews.

Ethiopian: Dabo — a soft, honey-sweetened bread spiced with turmeric and nigella.

Tunisia: Bejma — three balls of yeasted dough formed into triangles.

Morocco and Syria: Khubz ‘adi — soft, pillowy flatbreads eaten with tagines, (spicy stews).

Algerian: Mouna — round, sugar-sweet brioche made with orange blossom, orange zest, orange juice and anis powder.

Yemenite: Jachnun — flakey strips of thin dough brushed with oil or butter and rolled up like strudel, served with a spicy condiment. Kubaneh — breakaway rolls shaped into a round, buttery, flakey bread.

The braided bread known as challah is Ashkenazi.

Challah is tremendously popular in the United States, among Jews and non-Jews alike. But it doesn’t say anywhere in Jewish scripture that challah is a braided, sweet, eggy, deliciously squishy bread of the kind familiar to most Americans; that loaf is Ashkenazi, from Eastern European Jews. The Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, have their own distinct traditional loaves…

Sephardic Challah: NY Times Recipes

Name your Challah

German Jews called their braided breads Berches. The Yiddish word is khale. Litvaks called it kitke.

Whatever you call it, the braided Ashkenazi loaf called challah derived from Germanic folklore and a Teutonic goddess with braided hair named Holle, known in different regional dialects as Holda, Perchta or Berchta.

The braided bread loaves of Germanic tradition were invented by the women of Teutonic tribes, who used to make offerings of their own hair to their Goddess. Eventually they substituted the imitative loaf, which was called Berchisbrod or Perchisbrod, bread offered to the Goddess Berchta, or Perchta. The name of the braided Sabbath loaf among German Jews, Berches or Barches, was copied from this tradition.

Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects

Goddess Asherah: Lost and Found

Exodus Revisited

Twelve reasons why it never happened

1. Archeologists and Historians from Israel and beyond know the Exodus to be an etiological myth, not a historical event.

Exodus is the foundational myth of Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple.

PROFESSOR RON MARGOLIN, Shalom Hartman Institute. Department of Jewish Philosophy and Comparative Religion at Tel Aviv University. HEAD OF THE OFAKIM PROGRAM

2. Israelites were nomadic herders who emerged uneventfully from the Southern Levant and settled into agrarian life in the hills of Canaan. They were not slaves in Egypt and never lived in Egypt as a people.

There was no mass Exodus from Egypt. There was no violent conquest of Canaan. Most of the people who formed early Israel were local people—the same people whom we see in the highlands throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. The early Israelites were—irony of ironies—themselves originally Canaanites!

Israel Finkelstein, Professor Emeritus of the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze and Iron Ages at Tel Aviv University

3. According to Exodus, the Israelites had an army of 603, 550 young, fighting fight men. (Exodus 6 / Numbers 1:45-46).

An army of 600,000 young, fighting fit men would have been a military superpower in the ancient world, MANY times larger than ancient Egypt’s army!

King Ramses II had an army of around 20,000 men. The mighty Hittite Empire, which was battling King Ramses II for control of Egyptian territory, had an army of around 50,000 men.

Outside of Exodus 6 and Numbers 1:46, the Torah describes the Israelites as much smaller in number than surrounding societies, not comparable or larger in size. (Deuteronomy 7:7)

4. The army of 600,000 men plus their families and “mixed multitudes” described in Exodus, equates to around 2.5 million or more people, accompanied in the Torah by “great herds and flocks of animals.”

Egypt’s entire population was in 3 to 4 million range during the time the Exodus myth was set. Egypt did not suffer an infrastructural collapse such a massive loss of population and valuable livestock would entail. To the contrary, Egypt ruled over the Nile Delta, the Sinai Peninsula and Canaan for three centuries, which falls right into the Exodus timeline. The Exodus scenario has 2.5 million humans (infants, toddlers, adults, elderly), and great herds of farm animals fleeing Egypt to territories under Egyptian control, with Egyptian check-points along the way.

5. The ecosystem and natural habitat of the Sinai desert could never have hosted a foreign invasion of millions of humans and great herds of farm animals living, birthing, trampling, excreting and dying in the desert. The mountains of poop alone, generated on a daily basis, would be astronomical.

6. The pharaoh typically identified with Exodus, King Ramses II, died from severe dental decay (once a leading cause of death) and arteriosclerosis at age 90 and was buried in pharaonic tombs in the Valley of Kings and Deir el-Bahri. The mummy of Ramses II currently rests in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization.

In the history of Egyptology, no Egyptian armies died by mass drowning and no Pharaohs died by drowning or were lost at sea.

7. Israeli archeologists have dated the writing of the Exodus to centuries past the time it was set, which explains the wonky misinformation about ancient Egypt and Israelite campsites.

Places like Kadesh Barnea, ostensibly the main campsite of the Hebrews during their 40 years wandering the desert, or another supposed Hebrew campsite of Ezion-Geber at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba were in fact uninhabited during the Late Bronze Age (15th-13th centuries B.C.E.), which was when the Exodus would have happened. These locations only begin to be populated between the 9th and 7th centuries B.C.E., the heyday of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

Israel Finkelstein, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology Tel Aviv University, co-author of The Bible Unearthed

The authors, writing centuries later, were unaware that the places they were describing didn’t exist during the time-period they set for the Exodus.

8. The Exodus myth may have evolved from history of the Hyksos, Semitic Canaanites from the Levant, who gained control over Lower Egypt for a century, until the pharaonic dynasty expelled the “foreign threat” from Egypt in a violent conflict.

9. Matzah wasn’t ‘invented’ in the Israelite haste to escape Egypt.

Matzah was always a simple, non-perishable staple food for the Hebrew and Israelite tribes. Leavened bread was prone to spoilage and more of a hassle to make.

10. The body of water mentioned in Exodus is Yam Suf — the Sea of Reeds — not the Red Sea. Various Talmudists identified Yum Suf as the Gulf of Suez, Lake Manzaleh, Lake Serbonis or Lake of Tanis. They knew it was not the Red Sea.

11. The Exodus tale was not a central Jewish narrative.

Exodus was a narrative in the northern kingdom of Israel, not the southern kingdom of Judah. It only appeared in Judahite texts after the 8th century BCE, when Israelites sought refuge in Judah during the Assyrian conquest, bringing their founding myth with them. (The Bible Unearthed).

12. Original Passover was a barley harvest festival featuring roasted barley matzah and a spring feast. Judahite priests tied it to the Exodus when redacting the scriptures.

Early Jews were an intercultural society of nomadic herders and Canaanite farmers with a Goddess and a folk religion. They had many adventures, but residing in Egypt as slaves was not part of their historical journey.

©️2021 The Wild Pomegranate Tree


Credits and Resources:

Archeological Exodus

Temple Life: Death and Taxes (Redo)

(Expanded version)


The food and livestock “sacrifices to God” the early Jews made in the Temple were prevalent, intercultural cultic rituals in the ancient world.

Although framed as “offerings to God,” in actuality, the sacrificial crops, foodstuffs and general livestock brought to the Temple by the people went to feed the high priests. Meat that was leftover after the requisite sacrifice went to the family that brought the offering.

The priestly monarchy didn’t farm the land or perform work outside of the Temple, so the herders and farmers were pressed upon to supply the best quality food for the ruling class of high priests in the form of young, robust, “unblemished” animals and their finest yields.

Farming was arduous work and raising sheep, goats and cattle is very labor-intensive. It was generally thought to be a hardship on the agricultural community to give the best of their best as Temple offerings and sacrifices. Depending on whether it was sin-offering (chatat), guilt-offering (asham), or peace-offering (shelamim), the food and meat was either burnt up and wasted or eaten by the priests.

Temple TAXES

The high priest was in charge of Temple finances and administration. In the early Second Temple period he collected taxes. Typically, the office was hereditary for life, but bribery in the 2nd century BCE led to several reappointments. Everyone counted in the census had to pay Temple taxes.

Temple Life: An Inside View

The Temple priests did not allow women to serve as priestesses or to have a voice in religious practices. Postpartum and menstruating women were prohibited from entering the Temple/s.

Incense was burned daily to cover the stench of blood and animal slaughter, as Maimonides suggests. 

Animal sacrifices were a very bloody and smelly Temple ritual. The high priests slaughtered the animals and collected the blood into bowls. Levites removed the skin and innards, which were burned on the altar. The blood would then be sprinkled, poured or smeared onto the altar by the priests. In Exodus 24, Moses collects basins of blood from sacrificed bulls, splashes half the blood on the altar and sprinkles the rest over the people as a sign of their covenant with “God.”

Five types of animals were to be brought as sacrifices: oxen, sheep, goats, turtledoves and pigeons. Other offerings consisted of flour, wheat, barely, bread, date syrup, olive oil, salt, wine, dates, figs, pomegranates and grapes from the farmers’ orchards.

The community was obligated to offer two lambs per day, with additional animals to be sacrificed on holidays, when animal sacrifices and blood splattering were at an all-time high.

In Leviticus 10, two of Aaron’s boys are burned to death by “God” in front of their father and brothers for a ritual infraction involving the burning of “unauthorized incense.”

And Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them.

And fire went forth from the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.

Judaism started as a folk religion with veneration of a Mother Goddess and Queen of Heaven, Asherah, as Yahweh’s Wife, and also Elat, the Wife of El. Sometimes Goddess worship was upheld by a king, but ultimately it was condemned by the priests, who saw religious freedom as a threat to their power and control.

A few prophets, such as Hosea (6:6) denounced “God’s” need for animal sacrifices, suggesting compassion and communing with God in its stead.

For I desire loving-kindness, and not sacrifices, and knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

The sect of the Dead Sea Scrolls broke off from the mainstream Temple community in protest of animal sacrifices (which they refused to engage in) and Temple practices, which they considered to be polluted by the priesthood and the exclusivity of priestly authority.

Nonetheless, blood and gore prevailed until the destruction of the Second Temple, when the priestly stronghold and animal sacrifices came to an end.


Sources: Leviticus 6:1-23, Leviticus 7:1-14

How are the guilt-offerings brought? Both the definite guilt offerings and the conditional guilt-offerings should be slaughtered and their blood should be sprinkled on the altar, as we explained. They are skinned, the portions offered on the altar are removed, salted, and tossed on pyre. The remainder of the meat is eaten by males of the priestly family according to [the laws that govern the consumption of] sin-offering.

Mishnah / Maaseh Hakorbanot – Chapter 9

The meal offerings were brought to one of the priests, who took it to the altar and cast a “memorial portion” on the fire and he did this also with the incense. The priest ate the remainder unless he was bringing the meal offering for himself where he would burn the whole thing.

Bible History

One of the advantages of that status is that the priests received the meat of sacrificed animals to eat, and the hides to turn into clothing. (They also received tithes of crops, known as terumah…) This was an economic arrangement—the priests didn’t have time to farm their own land, so the people needed to provide for their upkeep…

Tabletmag, Jewish news, ideas, and culture: Who Gets To Eat Sacrificial meat

The more difficult it was to raise animals, the harder it would be to part with them, not to mention without tangible remuneration. One of the perks of priestly duties in the Temple was that the priests could consume the meat of most types of sacrifices.

Haaretz: How Ancient Israelites Ate Their Meat

The Goddess of Israel: Lost and Found

Asherah Artwork by Hrana Janto

Did Yahweh have a wife? Did early Jews worship a Goddess? Was there ever a Goddess image in the Jerusalem Temple? Was She also called Elat (the Goddess) Wife of El?

YES to all of the above!             

Many inscriptions, figurines and artifacts unearthed at ancient Judaic worship sites in Israel and Palestine have identified Asherah as a significant deity in the life of the early Jews. You can read all about the beloved and revered Goddess of Israel and Wife of Yahweh at the links below:

Arthur George wrote a great article called: Yahweh’s Divorce from the Goddess Asherah in the Garden of Eden — I highly recommend reading it.

Other recommended resources:

Asherah, Part I: The lost bride of Yahweh

History’s Vanquished Goddess Asherah

Vanquished Goddess

Goddess Asherah

Asherah by Sandra M. Stanton
Asherah, Mother of all gods, Wife of El by Baraka Robin Berger
Asherah artifact

Hanukkah, Hanukkah Light the Menorah

Hanukkah originated with the Greek-Syrian holiday called Nayrot. The word Nayrot means lights. The Hebrew word for light is ohr…the plural is אורות ohrot.‎

Nayrot (lights) was an eight-day winter holiday from a sun-worshipping belief system. A flame was kindled in each household over the eight-day period to honor the seasonal shift and the warmth of the sun.

As an eight-day festival, Nayrot conformed to the two other seasonal holidays, Sukkot and Pesakh. Fires were lit on each of the eight days to imitate the change and to encourage nature, by suggestion, to continue its good work. Ultimately, the fires were confined in each household to a board of eight lights. The eight days and the lights were part of Jewish life long before the legend of the holy oil made its appearance.

Rabbi Sherwin Wine

The high priests were not pleased that the Jews were celebrating Nayrot, when they were pushing the religion of YHVH with all their power and might. After their victory in battle, the Maccabees took it upon themselves to reframe the holiday of Nayrot to fit their narrative.

When the Maccabees defeated the Greek ruler Antochius IV’s regime in 165 BCE they were eager to restore the defiled Beit HaMikdash. Some believe the Maccabees defeated the Greeks in October but waited until the winter to begin their restoration so it corresponded with Nayrot. Judah Maccabee, military leader of the Maccabees, renamed Nayrot, Hanukkah (dedication), and intended it to mark the rededication of the Beit HaMikdash to God.  

The Secret History of Hanukkah

The transition from Nayrot to Hanukkah was an easy one, since both holidays were eight day festivals of light.

Hanukka started out with another name. Before the Maccabean triumph it was called Nayrot (Lights). It was the winter festival that celebrated the rebirth of light. At the winter solstice, darkness ceases to expand, and the day begins to grow longer. Since darkness is death and light is life, the reversal is a dramatic moment in the year.

Like many folk festivals, Nayrot never made its way into the priestly Torah. The priests were wary of sanctioning any practice that could not easily be identified with Yahveh and the Exodus experience. Nayrot flunked its entry test, leaving Judaism devoid of a decent winter festival.

Having defeated the Greeks and captured Jerusalem, Judah Maccabee decided to rededicate the temple shrine to Yahveh. He chose the folk festival of Nayrot as a perfect vehicle for the continuing commemoration of his victory. He renamed the holiday Hanukka (Dedication) and elevated it to official importance.

JBooks (the online Jewish book community) —The Origins of Hanukka

The rabbis resented the bold displays of Maccabean power, arrogance and control. To bring them down a few notches, they diminished their victory dance by making Hanukkah about YHVH and the “miracle of the oil.” There was no love lost between the Maccabees and the rabbis. They were hostile opponents on the opposite ends of a religiously political spectrum. As a result, the rabbis did not include the Books of the Maccabees in the Torah.

Despite its rabbinical demotion to a minor holiday, Hanukkah survived. The rabbis kept the real roots of Hanukkah under wraps, but retained the eight-day winter holiday of lights and the miracle of the oil story as a substitute for the popular holiday of Nayrot.

Religious leaders had a great fear of non-monotheistic traditions and saw them as threats to their stronghold. Hence, they were known to transform “pagan” holidays into Jewish and Christian holidays as a gambit to maintain power and control.

Passover Seder

the Seder Symposium

After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the rabbis modeled the Passover Seder on the Greco-Roman Symposium. (sym means togetherposium means drinking wine)

Modern scholars have pointed to the remarkable similarities between the structure of the seder and that of the ancient Symposium…

Among the practices described by the Greek sources were: a ritual wine libation and washing of the hands; the eating of various hors d’oeuvres before the main meal, including lettuce and various fruit and nut salads resembling our haroset, sometimes in the form of sandwiches (reminiscent of Hillel’s fammous custom); the singing of hymns to an assortment of gods, whose praises might make up the central topic of discussion; and the posing of a set of questions to set off the conversation.

There is thus little doubt that the seder was consciously modeled upon the conventional Greco-Roman “formal dinner.”

Calgary Jewish Star: The Seder

Mentions of the Seder first appear in the Mishnah and Tosefta, dated shortly before or after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

Siegfried Stein linked the Seder to the Hellenistic Symposium in his seminal article The Influence of Symposium Literature on the Literary form of the Pesah Haggadah, published in The Journal of Jewish Studies. It became widely known through its inclusion in Essays In Greco-Roman And Related Talmudic Literature by Henry Fischel.

At the Symposium guests would recline on divans, have their hands washed by servants and eat appetizers and dips before the main meal. The guests drank glasses of wine (three glasses was considered ideal) and engaged in philosophical discussions. Held in private homes, the host facilitated the Symposium. Prayers and hymns opened and closed the event.

At the rabbinically prescribed Seder we drink four glasses wine, dip appetizers before the main meal, recline on pillows, wash each other’s hands (urchatz) and engage in philosophical discussions of the Exodus tale and its premise of liberation. Traditionally held in private homes, the host facilitates the Seder, which opens and closes with hymns and prayers.

Urchatz (washing or cleansing in Aramaic) is traditionally performed by pouring water over the hands of the guest seated beside you at the Seder, passing around a bowl and pitcher.

Our Jewish ancestors did not live in a vacuum, nor did they develop the religion of proto-Judaism and post-Temple Judaism in a vacuum. Like all mainstream religions, they adopted practices from surrounding societies and creatively molded them to fit their context.

Source Material:

From a Sacrifice to a Symposium

From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur: Days of Atonement

Akitu: BabyLonian New Year

Akitu, the Babylonian New Year’s festival dates back to around 2000 BCE. It took place in March, during vernal spring equinox. Akitu featured ritual immersion, hymn singing, praying to the chief god, Marduk, for plentiful crops, penitential prayers, sacrificial animal offerings and rituals that culminated with the presiding god sealing fates for the coming year in the Tablet of Fate. The Judeans in Babylon modeled the character of Yom Kippur on the atonement rituals of the Babylonian New Year.

During Akitu sin purging rituals called Kuppuru took place. The traditional Yom Kippur ritual called Kapparah (‘expiation’) and Kuppuru are undoubtedly related.

The priests of the Jerusalem Temple who inaugurated Yom Kippur seem to have had the 12-day Babylonian festival marking the new year, Akitu, in mind, particularly the fifth day of Akitu, which has some striking similarities to Yom Kippur that are unlikely to be coincidence.

Haaretz: The Obscure Origins of Yom Kippur

Babylonian Atonement

On the fifth day of Akitu, the high priest burned incense in the temple. A ram was slaughtered and the blood was spread around to purge impurities. The sins of the community were then ritually transferred onto a ram/sheep or goat.

Day of ATONEMENT in the Torah

The high priest (Aaron) burned incense in the Temple, then splashed the blood of a slaughtered bull and goat on the ‘cover’ (kapporet) of the Ark of the Covenant and “horns of the altar” in a purging ritual. The sins of the community were ritually transferred to a goat. (Leviticus 16:3-34)

The New Year Connection

The priests and the rabbis retained the New Year connection via The Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) — a 10 day extension period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to mend or ‘repair.’

Yet it wasn’t only Nisan, Iyar, Tishrei and Marchesvan that our ancestors borrowed from the Babylonians. Our forefathers took Akitu and the ritual of Kuppuru and reshaped them in their own monotheistic image into what eventually became Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Finding the Scapegoat

Chamber of Fates: The Final Seal

Zagmuk, the Sumerian equivalent to the Akkadian Akitu, means “beginning of the year.” Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year.” As Babylon grew in political and religious importance, the new year’s festival became the most solemn occasion of the year.

An assemblage of the great gods in the “chamber of fates,” decreed the fate of the country and individuals for the upcoming year. The god Marduk presided with his son, Nebo, acting as recorder. The festival lasted for eleven days, and on the concluding day, the fates decreed by the gods were sealed. (“Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” by Morris Jastrow).

The sealing of fates on Zagmuk by the presiding gods is clearly mirrored in Judaism, when it said God opens the Book of Life each year on Rosh Hashanah to inscribe a person’s fate for the upcoming year, and seals that fate on Yom Kippur.


The rulers and priests of Babylonia performed expiatory rites and ceremonies to appeal to the divine court for a positive change in the sealing of the fates. All the priests, rulers and the people participated in penitential prayers and fervent pleas for forgiveness during the first days of the Babylonian New Year, expressing sin and guilt as a collective consciousness. Many examples of the penitential hymns are preserved in the library of Ashur-banapal. (“Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” by Morris Jastrow).

Again we can see the penitential practices on the Babylonian days of atonement mirrored on Yom Kippur, when the rabbis or prayer leaders lead the congregation in reciting the Al Chet — a collective consciousness prayer of repentance, confession of sins and plea for forgiveness, fervently expressed by thumping the chest during the Viddui (confession) for each sin that is named.

Biblical references to the Day of Atonement (Numbers 29:7-11, Leviticus 16:1-34; 23:26-32) were added into the Torah by post-exilic Judean priests during the Second Temple period.


In the Torah, an anointed priest was in charge of ritually cleansing the Mishkan and the altar on Yom Kippur. He then made expiation for himself, all the priests and the entire congregation. (Leviticus 16:32-33). On contemporary Yom Kippur we take a “cheshbon,” a personal accounting and our fates are sealed by God in the Book of Life for the coming year.

The concept of an accounting system and Book of Life are Babylonian in origin. During Kuppuru the priests ritually cleansed the temple. The King and the priests engaged in community atonement rituals. Nabu (the patron god of literacy, learning, wisdom and scribes) recorded the accounts in the Tablet of Fate, calculating debits and credits. Thereafter, the fates decreed by the gods were sealed.

Strange as it may seem, the old religions of Babylon live on in Judaism.

LINKS Babylonian Rosh Hashanah

Haaretz: The Obscure Origins of Yom Kippur

Forward: Finding the Scapegoat


Sabbath Origins (Shabbat)

Origins of Shabbat

A number of older Torah texts pair up Shabbat with monthly moon rituals in early Jewish writings, not the 7th day of the week.

Day of Rest

Two moral and pragmatic mandates in early Torah writings required landowners to grant farm laborers a day off work after six days of strenuous labor, but they do not mention Shabbat as later verses do.

Exodus 23:12: “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall cease, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and the son of your maidservant and the resident alien may be refreshed.”

Early biblical laws demand a cessation of labor every seven days, but that was unconnected to Shabbat, which was originally a full moon celebration.

Professor Jacob L. WrightThe Torah: Shabbat of the Full Moon

Pre-Exilic Shabbat

Prior to the Babylonian Exile, when the Judean elite were deported to Babylon by King Nebuchadrezzar, Shabbat was a monthly new moon rite.

For much of Israel’s history before the exile (before 586 BCE), Shabbat would have been celebrated just once a month, about fifteen days after the new-moon observance. During these two lunar phases, communities paused from their quotidian labors in order to engage in cultic activities. Offerings and sacrifices were offered to the deity, followed by sumptuous feasts.

The Torah – Shabbat of the Full Moon

A monthly moon rite known as Birkat HaChodesh or Kiddush Levanah (Sanctification Of The New Moon) is still practiced in contemporary Judaism, by reciting a blessing outdoors at night in the light of the moon.

On who blesses the new moon, in its proper time, is regarded like one who greets the Shechinah.

Rabbi Yochanan/Babylonian Talmud

The Shekhinah is the Divine Presence or She-Who-Dwells-Within in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism).

the Seven Day cycle

The earliest use of the 7-day week originated in Babylonia. The length of time is equivalent to a quarter of a lunar cycle. Babylonians counted the seven lunar cycle periods on their calendar.


For a century, the Sabbath has been linked to the Babylonian Sabattum or Shabattu corresponding to the fifteenth day of the lunar month (generally meaning full moon) as a day to ‘rest the heart.’

A related derivation is the Akkadian word, sebutum, meaning the seventh day when no work was performed.

Assyriologist, George Smith, was sorting through some unidentified cuneiform artifacts at the British Museum in 1869, when he made a surprising find.

I discovered among other things a curious religious calendar of the Assyrian, in which every month is divided into four weeks, and the seventh day or “Sabbaths’ are marked out as days on which no work should be undertaken. 

DAYOLOGY: Assyriologist George Smith

shabattu  means “rest of the heart.” The deeper meaning of the word is gamaru, “to be full, complete.” Shabbat Shalom, the standard Shabbat greeting, also signifies completeness and wholeness. The word shalom (peace) is rooted in the words shelem (completeness) and shlemut (wholeness).

Shabattu entailed pacifying the heart of the presiding god.

Sabattum days were considered very bad days to engage in prohibited activities. Priests, kings and physicians had to be careful not to arouse the anger of the presiding deity on Sabattum. On those days, the king was was not to ride in his chariot, consume food prepared by fire or don kingly garb.

The ‘bad day’ connotation may not seem commensurate with Shabbat as we know it today, but in the Torah those who violated Shabbat laws were ordered “by God” to be put to death, with their souls disconnected from the community. In Numbers 15:32-36, “God” ordered Moses to have a man stoned to death by the entire congregation for gathering wood kindling on Shabbat. Biblical Shabbat carried a clear message not to arouse the wrath of “God” by engaging in prohibited activities.

Exodus 31:13-14: “And you, speak to the children of Israel and say: ‘Only keep My Sabbaths! For it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I, the Lord, make you holy. Therefore, keep the Sabbath, for it is a sacred thing for you. Those who desecrate it shall be put to death, for whoever performs work on it, that soul will be cut off from the midst of its people.

Obedience in the Torah is centered around fearful pacification of a volatile God. The admonition to ‘fear God’ is used in various places in the Tanakh.

Sunset to Sunset

Babylonians observed days from sunset to sunset, a practice adopted by the Judeans in Babylonian.

Shabbat has several roots connecting the day of rest to the malefic influence of Saturn and Mesopotamian practices.

In Saturn and the Jews the words for Saturday (Shabbat in Hebrew) and Saturn (Shabbetai in Hebrew) points to Saturn as the planet ruling or “in charge” of the Jews. Abraham Ibn Ezra (circa 1089–1161) felt that the Jews protected themselves from Saturn’s baneful influence by not occupying themselves with everyday matters but devoting themselves solely to the fear of God on this day.


Shabbat / the Sabbath has an intercultural and Saturnine history!

Links and Additional Info: 

The Torah – Shabbat of the Full Moon

Babylonian Calendar and the Bible 

About Abrahma Ibn Ezra 



The labors and activities prohibited on Shabbat in the Torah are quite limited in number and scope in comparison to the multitudinous Shabbat restrictions invented by the rabbis. Earlier verses in Exodus 34:21 and 23:12 instruct landowners to give farm laborers a 7th day off after six [long] days of [arduous] labor, but those appear to be pragmatic and principled in nature, rather than religious, as they do not mention Shabbat as later references do.

Shabbat PROHIBITIONS In the Torah:

1. Gathering wood. (Num.15:32-36). God ordered Moses and the entire Israelite community to pelt a man to death with stones for gathering wood kindling on Shabbat. The Torah tells us the entire “congregation” took him outside the camp and hurled stones at him until he died.

2. Treading a winepress and loading up pack donkeys to carry provisions and food to be sold in the Jerusalem market. (Nehemiah 13:15-18).

3. Traveling, performing labor, engaging in affairs and carrying burdens from the home. (Isaiah 58:13; Jeremiah 17:22).

4. Resting and refraining from boiling, baking and gathering food, referring to some Israelites going out to gather manna on Shabbat. (Exodus 16:23-28).

5. Kindling fire in your dwelling place. (Exodus 35:2-3). It does not say outside your dwelling place.

6. Leaving your place; every man abiding in his place. (Exodus 16:29).

All the rest of the Shabbat prohibitions are rabbinical add-ons. The rabbis enumerated 39 major categories (“melachot”), with hundreds of subcategories of derivative activities they decreed to be prohibited on Shabbat.


Rabbinical prohibitions against “carrying” items in the public domain on Shabbat are based on the verse: “Neither shall you take a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath nor shall you perform any labor” in Jeremiah 17:22. What is a “burden” to one person is not to another, yet the rabbis included items such as a key, a wallet, handkerchief and tissues as items that cannot be “carried” in a public domain on Shabbat.

The eruv workaround

An eruv is an enclosure prominent in Orthodox communities made by using pre-existing structures or by stringing wires across pre-existing poles to section off a neighborhood close to a shul, with permission from the local government. Its purpose is to allow people to utilize or carry items such as house keys, baby strollers and canes on Shabbat.

An eruv (“mixture”) mixes “public domain” with “private domain” to ease some, but not all of the numerous rabbinical restrictions on “carrying.”

The presence or absence of an eruv thus especially affects the lives of strictly observant Jews with limited mobility and those responsible for taking care of babies and young children.


Electricity, Writing and Electronics

The rabbis compared flipping on a light switch, writing and using electronics (operating a computer or cell phone) to be forms of work prohibited on Shabbat in the Torah, although many would disagree that any of aforementioned constitute “labor.” There’s zero effort involved in flipping on a light switch and it’s most certainly not equivalent to the ancient process of “kindling a fire.” Writing and using electronics on Shabbat in a spiritual context can actually facilitate or enhance the restorative qualities of the Sabbath or the study of religious texts. Moreover, Shabbat restrictions invented by the rabbis are quite ableist in nature, rather than inclusive of people with varying needs.


There’s a huge and minutely detailed list of things forbidden to be touched or moved on Shabbat by rabbinical decree. These things are referred to as muktzeh (“set aside”).


The copious volumes of additional laws tacked onto the Torah are the result of Rabbinism (Rabbinical Judaism), a religious system based on the doctrines of the Talmud and post-Temple rabbinical writings.

Rabbinism (rabbinical Judaism) was standardized after the 6th century codification of the Babylonian Talmud. In the post-Second Temple period, the rabbis took control and began the process of reinventing Judaism according to their own vast body of laws, terms and interpretations. What is called ‘Judaism’ today is essentially Rabbinism built upon the Mesopotamian influences added by the Judean authorities.

Muktzeh Items