Pentecost by Steve Werlin

The term Pentecost comes from the Greek term meaning “fiftieth,” in reference to the fiftieth day after the start of the Passover festival in early spring. In Hebrew, Pentecost is known as Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks. Shavuot is a biblically mandated festival marking the conclusion of the springtime grain harvest. For this reason, it is also referred to as the Festival of the Harvest (Exod 23:16) and the Day of the First Fruits (Num 28:26).

In the first century C.E., Shavuot, along with Passover (Pesach) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth), was primarily an agricultural festival, culminating in a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem temple. Loaves of bread would be made from the harvested wheat and offered at the temple. In early rabbinic texts, Shavuot took a backseat to Passover and Succoth. It is unclear how much of the Jewish population would have attended the festivities in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, since frequent travel would have been difficult, especially for those in the more remote areas of Galilee, the Golan, and the Diaspora. The writings of Flavius Josephus suggest that Shavuot was the least well-attended of the three pilgrimage festivals. Nevertheless, according to Josephus, the mass gathering in Jerusalem during Shavuot in 4 B.C.E. occasioned a riot against the local Roman procurator, resulting in considerable loss of life (Jewish Antiquities 17.221-268; Jewish War 2.42-44).

There is evidence, however, suggesting that for some Jews during the Second Temple period Shavuot was the most important and holiest of the three pilgrimage festivals. In the book of Jubilees, Shavuot is celebrated as the annual renewal of the covenant between God, on the one hand, and Noah, the patriarchs, and Moses on the other. Shavuot may have had special significance for the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well.

The theme of an annually renewed covenant carried over into early Christian interpretations, associated with Acts 2:1-11. Over the centuries, Christians have celebrated Pentecost fifty days after Easter, to commemorate the receiving of the Holy Spirit by followers of Jesus.

Among Jews, rabbinic traditions have associated the holiday with the revelation on Mount Sinai and the giving of the Torah by God to Moses. Today, the holiday is known alternatively as hag matan torateinu, the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah. Jewish tradition has also associated the holiday with the birth and death of King David.

Steve Werlin, "Pentecost", n.p. [cited 1 Oct 2022]. Online:


Steve Werlin

Steve Werlin
Freelance Writer and Editor

Steve Werlin lives in New Haven, Connecticut, where he works as a freelance writer and editor and is active in local community initiatives.

A collection of Jewish texts (biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian) from around the time of Christ that were preserved near the Dead Sea and rediscovered in the 20th century.

Jews who live outside of Israel or any people living outside of their native land.

The Christian springtime holiday that celebrates Jesus's resurrection.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

Associated with a deity; exhibiting religious importance; set apart from ordinary (i.e. "profane") things.

A Jewish historian from the first century C.E. His works document the Jewish rebellions against Rome, giving background for early Jewish and Christian practices.

An ancient Jewish book that retells the stories of Genesis with added references to angels, fallen angels, and prophecy. It was highly regarded by early Christians and the Jews from Qumran, and is still considered canonical to Ethiopian Jews and Christians.

literally “pass over,” a biblical pilgrimage festival celebrated in the spring.

a journey, usually with religious significance

a Roman administrative officer

Related to the rabbis, who became the religious authorities of Judaism in the period after the destruction of the second temple in 70 C.E. Rabbinic traditions were initially oral but were written down in the Mishnah, the Talmud, and various other collections.

The structure built in Jerusalem in 516 B.C.E. on the site of the Temple of Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians seventy years prior. The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Romans responding to Jewish rebellion.

The historical period during which the second temple was standing in Jerusalem, from its dedication around 516 B.C.E. until its destruction by the Romans in 70 C.E.

Literally "Weeks," a biblical pilgrimage festival celebrated in the spring, seven weeks after Passover.

Exod 23:16

16You shall observe the festival of harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall observe the festival of ingathering at t ... View more

Num 28:26

Offerings at the Festival of Weeks
26On the day of the first fruits, when you offer a grain offering of new grain to the Lord at your festival of weeks, you sha ... View more

Acts 2:1-11

The Coming of the Holy Spirit
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rus ... View more

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