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TWO ANCIENT ISRAELITE AGRICULTURAL 
FESTIVALS * 

By Julian Morgenstern, Hebrew Union College, 
Cincinnati. 

MlSHNAH Ta'anit IV, 8 records a highly interesting 
ceremony. Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel said : ' Israel 
had no festivals like the fifteenth of Ab and the Day of 
Atonement, for on them the maidens of Jerusalem used 
to go out, clad in white garments, that had been borrowed, 
in order not to put to shame those who had none (of their 
own). All these garments had to be previously dipped 
in water. 1 And the maidens of Jerusalem would go out 
and dance in the vineyards. And what would they say ? 
" Young man, lift thine eyes and see what thou dost choose. 
Set not thine eyes upon beauty, but upon family, &c." ' 

* This paper was written in the winter of 1913 in response to the 
invitation of a committee of European Semitic scholars to contribute an 
article to & Festschrift, by means of which they intended to commemorate 
the sixtieth birthday of Immanuel Low, Rabbi at Szegedin, Hungary, and 
famous Semitic scholar. The European war, however, prevented the 
publication of the Festschrift. After waiting for over two years, the author 
has determined to follow the example of NOldeke, Littmann, and other 
scholars, and publish this article independently. He trusts that the scholarly 
world, and particularly he whom it was designed to honour, will still accept 
it as a small token of appreciation of and reverent tribute to true and 
exalted scholarship. 

1 According to the traditional interpretation, as recorded by Rashi (/. c), 
nTStJ means ritual washing, on the supposition that the owner may have 
worn the garments during menstruation. But the statement of R. Eliezer 
(Bab. Ta'anit 31 a), that even if the garments had been laid away in a chest 
fvDD was still necessary, shows that this was not for ritual purposes. 

31 



32 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

This custom presents many peculiar and interesting 
features, well worthy of investigation ; the dances of the 
maidens in the vineyards, the white, borrowed garments, 
which had first to be dipped in water, and the words of 
the maidens, all give rise to wonder and question. A full 
and detailed investigation of the origin and significance of 
these strange rites would lead too far afield for the present 
study. But the consideration of the two days upon which 
these rites were celebrated, and the association of the rites 
with these days, may form the natural approach to the 
subject proper, and in itself yield valuable results. 

Assuming for the present that the statement of the 
Mishnah has direct historic value, there cannot be 
the slightest doubt that these ceremonies could not have 
been performed on the Day of Atonement after its in- 
stitution in post-exilic times according to the ritual of 
Leviticus. That was altogether a day of fasting, humility, 
and repentance, 'a day of self-affliction' (Lev. 16. 29), 
while these rites must by their very nature have been 
essentially joyful. Nor can we regard as convincing the 
reasons for the observance of these ceremonies on the Day 
of Atonement, advanced in the Mishnah, viz. that this was 
the anniversary of the consecration of Solomon's temple, 
and in the Talmud (Bab. Ta'anit 30 b), viz. that this was 
the day of divine pardon and forgiveness, as well as the 
day upon which the second tablets were given to Moses 
(Exod. 34 and Deut. 9. 25 ft, and cp. Rashi to Exod. 34 
and Deut. 9. 10 and to Ta'anit 30 b), and consequently, 
because it was thus essentially a day of gladness and 
festivity, these joyful ceremonies were altogether appro- 
priate to its celebration. The nature and peculiar cere- 
monies of the Day of Atonement are too firmly established 



ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS — MORGENSTERN 33 

by the legislation of the Priestly Code (Lev. 16 ; 23. 26-32 ; 
Num. 29. 7-1 1) to either permit or justify festivities such 
as these. If, therefore, historical value can be attributed 
to this tradition, it must picture the celebration of a festival 
on the tenth day of the seventh month at a time previous 
to the institution of the Day of Atonement on this day 
according to the Priestly legislation, or more correctly, in 
view of the actual facts of Jewish history, previous to the 
Babylonian exile. 

Now we do know that still by Ezekiel the tenth day 
of the seventh month was regarded as the New Year's 
Day (Ezek. 40. 1 ; cp. Bertholet, 195 ; Kraetzschmar, 263). 
This is to be inferred also from the fact that the blowing 
of the Jubilee cornet and the proclamation of the Jubilee 
year, which must naturally have taken place on the first 
day of the year, were fixed for the tenth day of the seventh 
month (Lev. 25. 9; cp. Bertholet, 89 f. ; Baentsch, 416). 
The celebration of this day must have been primarily of 
a joyful nature. In this light the merry dances of the 
maidens of Jerusalem in the vineyards would seem an 
altogether natural and appropriate way of celebrating the 
joyful New Year's Day. And since the celebration of these 
dances on the tenth of the seventh month, if at all historical, 
must have taken place in pre-exilic times, when this day 
was actually regarded as the New Year's Day, it may well 
be that there was some intimate relation between the two, 
and that we have thus stumbled upon one of the actual 
details of the pre-exilic New Year's Day celebration. 

But according to the Mishnah these dances were held, 

not only on the Day of Atonement, but also on the fifteenth 

of Ab. Accounting for the celebration of this day in this 

joyful manner the Talmud records a number of interesting 

VOL. VIII. D 



34 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

and significant traditions (Ta'anit 30 b ; 31a; cp. also Baba 
batra 121 a and b and Midrash Lamentations Rabba, 
Introduction XXXIII, ed. Buber, 34 ft".). Of these, four 
have direct bearing upon our study. 

I. According to R. Nahman, the fifteenth of Ab was 
the day upon which the Benjamites, after the battle of 
Gibeah, captured the maidens of Shiloh, while dancing in 
the vineyards, and took them as wives (Jud. 21). 

II. Said R. Johanan, the fifteenth of Ab was the day 
upon which the number of those who were doomed to die 
in the wilderness was completed. In explanation the 
following tradition is related (Jer. Ta'anit IV, 69 c ; Mid- 
rash Lam. Rab., I.e.). During the entire forty years that 
the Israelites were in the wilderness, on the eve of every 
ninth of Ab, Moses would cause a herald to go and call 
out, ' Come forth to dig '. Then every man would come 
forth and dig a grave for himself and would sleep therein, 
that he might not die without his grave being dug. And 
on the morrow the herald would go and call out, ' Let the 
living separate themselves from the dead '. Then every 
one in whom there was life would stand up and come 
forth. So they would do every year. And in the fortieth 
year they did so, but on the morrow they all stood up. 
And when they saw this they were surprised and said, 
' Perhaps we have erred in reckoning the new moon (and 
consequently this is not the ninth of the month)'. So 
they lay down again in their graves during the succeeding 
nights, until the night of the fifteenth. And then, when 
they saw that the moon was full, and that not a single 
one of them had died, and thus knew that they had 
reckoned the month correctly, and that the forty years 
in which it was decreed that those who had come forth 



ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS — MORGENSTERN 35 

from Egypt should perish in the wilderness, were com- 
pleted, that generation appointed that day, the fifteenth 
of Ab, as a festival. In addition to this the Tosafists 
(ad locum) relate that during the forty years in the wilder- 
ness deaths occurred only on the ninth of Ab. 

III. According to Ulla, quoting R. 'Imri (cp. Midrash 
Lam. Rab., /. c), the fifteenth of Ab was observed as 
a festival because on that day Hoshea b. Elah abolished 
the guards that Jeroboam b. Nebat had set up over the 
roads to prevent the people of the northern kingdom from 
going to celebrate the three annual pilgrimage festivals 
in Jerusalem (cp. 1 Kings 12. 26-33). 

IV. R. Mathna said that the occasion of the celebration 
of the fifteenth of Ab was that on that day permission was 
given to bury those who had fallen at the capture of Bethar 
(on the ninth of Ab, A.D. 135, cp. Graetz 4 , IV, 150 f. and 
Jer. Ta'anit IV, 69 a). 

It is significant that of these traditions two (I and III) 
correlate the celebration of these dances of the maidens 
of Jerusalem in the vineyards with the observance of an 
annual hag, or even with the three annual haggim, Pesah, 
Shabuot, and Succot. And not only that, but tradition I, 
which states that the dances of the maidens of Shiloh in 
their vineyards were also held on the fifteenth of Ab and 
were attended by the marriage of the maidens of Shiloh 
with the Benjamites, concealed in the vineyards, clearly 
identifies these dances with those of the maidens of 
Jerusalem in their vineyards, with the young men gathered 
about them too and selecting their wives from the dancers. 
The inference is justified that dances such as these may 
have been a regular, and even integral, part of the folk- 
celebration of the annual hag or of the three annual haggim. 

T> 2 



36 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

This inference is supported by considerable evidence. 
Josephus expressly states (Antiquities, V, 2, 12) that the 
dances of the maidens of Shiloh were held three times 
during each year, when the men of Israel came up to the 
sanctuary to celebrate the three annual pilgrimage festivals, 
accompanied by their wives and children, precisely in the 
manner described in 1 Sam. 4. Furthermore, it is now 
generally recognized that the original meaning of hag was 
the sacred dance (cp. Gesenius-Buhl u , 191 f.), primarily 
around the sacred stone or cult object (cp. Wellhausen, 
Reste des altarabischen Heidentums' 1 , no), but which, by 
a very natural extension in folk custom, might easily come 
to be practised, in part at least, in the form of these dances 
by the maidens in the vineyards. And, finally, it is signi- 
ficant that every vineyard apparently had to have its mahol, 
or dancing-place, as the name must have originally con- 
noted. This mahol, surrounding every vineyard, was a 
narrow, open space, intended undoubtedly, at least in its 
origin, for just these dances. The exact dimensions of the 
mahol are prescribed in Mishnah Kil'aim IV, 1-3. 2 All 
this evidence makes it certain that these dances were not 
mere sporadic celebrations of the maidens of Jerusalem 
and Shiloh, but were regularly observed, though not 
necessarily in identically the same form, throughout the 
country, at least in early times. And it is equally certain 
that these dances, clearly of a religious, as well as of 
a joyful character, were not celebrated occasionally, but 
as all the evidence indicates, at fixed times of the agri- 

* Cp. also the Aramaic equivalent of tnafrdl, Ijinga (from Mri), the dancing- 
place in the vineyard (Jastrow, 458 a), and also my article, ' The Etymo- 
logical History of the Three Hebrew Synonyms for "to Dance",' JAOS., 
XXXVI (1916), 321-33- 



ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS — MORGENSTERN 37 

cultural year, and in connexion with the annual hag or 
haggim. 

On the other hand, two of the traditions (II and IV) 
connect the dances of the maidens of Jerusalem in the 
vineyards on the fifteenth of Ab with the cessation of 
some great national calamity that had happened on the 
ninth of Ab, but from the evil effects of which the people 
were freed only on the fifteenth. 3 From ancient times the 

3 In this connexion it may be noted that Josephus {Wars, II, 1 7, 5-7) relates 
that on the fifteenth of Ab an attack was made on the fortress of Anton ia, 
which practically began the war with the Romans. On the previous day, 
which was also the festival of the Xylophory, or bringing the wood for the 
altar, the Sicarii, mingling with the crowds that thronged the temple, had 
already begun the attack upon the garrison. It is most natural to connect 
this festival of bringing the wood for the altar with the tradition recorded 
in the Talmud (Ta'anit 31a; Baba batra iai b ; Midrash Lam. Rab., /. c), also 
accounting for the celebration of the fifteenth of Ab by the dances of the 
maidens in the vineyards, that according to Rabba and R. Joseph this was 
the day upon which they ceased to cut wood for the altar. In support of this 
statement, a saying of R. Eliezer the Great, found in a Baraita, is cited, affirm- 
ing that from the fifteenth of Ab on the heat of the sun began to diminish, 
and so they ceased to cut wood for the altar because it was no longer dry. 
Hence that day was called 'the day of breaking the saw '. One cannot but 
feel that Josephus has here confused matters somewhat, and that the festival 
of bringing the wood for the altar was celebrated, not on the fourteenth of Ab 
as he says, but on the fifteenth. In fact, it must be admitted that just here 
he has expressed himself rather obscurely as to the exact date in question, 
and that most probably he too meant that the fifteenth of Ab was the actual 
date of this festival. This is borne out by the fact that Mishnah Ta'anit IV, 5 
records nine different annual occasions or festivals upon which wood was 
brought to replenish the temple supply. Of these the fifteenth of Ab was 
evidently the most important (cp. Bab. Ta'anit 28 a). This is also clearly 
stated in Megillat Ta'anit V (ed. Neubauer, p. 9). According to the Mishnah, 
the observance of the fifteenth of Ab as the festival of the wood-offering 
began in the days of Nehemiah (Neh. 10. 35). That, however, the festival is of 
more ancient origin will soon be demonstrated. Josephus further states that 
the massacreing had been going on for seven days previous to the fifteenth of 
Ab, i. e. from the ninth on. This might, therefore, be cited as another instance 
where the fifteenth of Ab, celebrated as a joyful festival, is intimately 



38 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

ninth of Ab has been celebrated as a fast day in 
Judaism commemorating the destruction of the temple by 
Nebuchadrezzar. In fact Zech. 7. 5 ff. and 8.19 would 
seem to imply that this fast in the fifth month was in- 
stituted immediately after the destruction of the temple, 
and had by the time of the prophet been thus observed 
for seventy years. The actual question there raised is 
whether the completion of the second temple did not 
abrogate the celebration of that fast, as well as the fasts 
of the fourth, seventh, and tenth months, all of which were 
by tradition associated with the destruction of the temple 
and the fall of Jerusalem. But it is quite significant that 
according to 2 Kings 25. 8, Jerusalem fell on the seventh 
of Ab, while according to Jer. 52. 12, this happened on the 
tenth of the month. It is impossible to determine which 
of these two dates is historically correct. But certainly 
if, as the passages from Zechariah actually imply, the 
celebration of the anniversary of the destruction of the 
temple as a fast day began immediately after the occur- 
rence of that event, there would be no reason for holding 
this fast on the ninth of Ab, instead of on the seventh 
or tenth, as the case might have been. Furthermore, the 
very fact, already noted, of the traditional connexion 
between the joyful celebration of the dances in the vine- 
yards on the fifteenth of Ab and some national calamity 
that had occurred on the ninth of the month, and the 
other evidence that these dances were merely a feature of 
the celebration of an annual hag, the usual duration of 

associated with certain events that transpired, or began to transpire, on the 
ninth. At the same time, Josephus, being a contemporary, probably has 
recorded actual historical events, rather than semi-historical traditions, 
and therefore this incident may hardly be applied directly to our present 
question. 



ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS — MORGENSTERN 39 

which seems to have been seven days, lead us rather to 
suppose on the one hand that the fast on the ninth of Ab 
was older, probably much older, than the fall of Jerusalem, 
probably marked the beginning of the seven-day hag that 
concluded with the dances on the fifteenth, and on the 
other hand that its association with the fall of Jerusalem 
and the destruction of the temple, which had actually 
taken place on almost that very day, was the result ot 
that process of attaching an historical significance to the 
ancient festivals, which probably began with the definite 
association of the story of the exodus from Egypt with the 
Passover festival, or rather with the combined Passover and 
Mazzot-festivals. No certain mention of this association 
is found in the oldest legislation (Exod. 23. 15 ; 34. 18), 4 
and yet it had become a firmly established tradition by 
the time of the composition of the J and E codes. 
Similarly the Holiness Code (Lev. 23. 43), undoubtedly 
the product of the early exilic period, for the first time 
definitely associated the Succot festival with the tradition 
that in the wilderness Israel had dwelt in booths. It is 
only post-Biblical tradition that associated Shabuot with 
the giving of the Decalogue (cp. Jewish Encyclopaedia, IX, 
594). It was undoubtedly the same spirit which thus sought 
to justify the continued observance of the old agricultural 
festivals, most of the details of the celebration of which 
were certainly of non-Jahwistic origin, by correlating them 
with definite events in the history of Israel, that now 
associated the ancient fast on the ninth of Ab with the 
destruction of the temple. And, as we have seen, so com- 
plete and thoroughgoing was this association that only 

* Exod. 23.9bandi5aj3and34.i8bare undoubtedly redactorial insertions 
into the original text ; cp. Holzinger 96, 117 and Baentsch 206 f., 233 f. 



40 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

seventy years after the destruction of the temple the day 
had become to Zechariah and his contemporaries only the 
anniversary of that catastrophe, and, it now seemed, need 
no longer be celebrated, since the new temple replaced that 
for which they mourned and fasted. That this hypothesis 
is correct will soon become completely apparent. 

We return now to the celebration of the dances on the 
tenth day of the seventh month. We have seen that if 
the account of these dances be historical, and there seems 
no adequate reason to doubt this, they must have" been 
celebrated before the exile and in connexion with the 
observance of New Year's Day. As we have seen, both 
Mishnah and Talmud associate their celebration with 
historical events other than those by which they account 
for the celebration of the dances on the fifteenth of Ab. 
Yet the Mishnah itself seems to imply that the dances 
on the two days were of the same nature and purpose. 
And the very fact that the attendant ceremonies, the 
borrowing of the white garments that had to be dipped 
in water, and the words of the maidens, recited or chanted 
in chorus during the dances, were the same on both days, 
leads to the same conclusion. If, therefore, as we have 
inferred, the celebration of the dances on the fifteenth of 
Ab represented the concluding rites of a great seven-day 
hag, which began on the ninth with fasting and mourning, 
we would expect to find this true also of the dances on 
the tenth day of the seventh month. That this was actually 
the case is easily demonstrated. 

According to Exod. 23. 16 and 34. 22, the oldest 
Biblical legislation, the hag hdasiph was celebrated at the 
end of the year. In itself it was hardly the new year 
festival. Rather the language seems to imply that its 



ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS — MORGENSTERN 41 

celebration marked the close of the old year, and that the 
beginning of the new year came immediately thereafter, 
fell probably on the very day after the close of the hag. 
Neither of these oldest Biblical references mentions the 
actual duration of the festival. But according to all other 
pre-exilic and exilic writings it was celebrated for seven 
days (Lev. 33. 39 ff.; Deut. 16. 13 ; 1 Kings 8. 65; Ezek. 
14. 35). Now, since the New Year's Day was celebrated, 
at least in the period immediately preceding the exile, on 
the tenth day of the seventh month, and probably followed 
immediately upon the seven-day celebration of the ancient 
hag ha'asiph, or, as finally called in Deut. (16. 13), hag 
kassuccot, it follows that this last must have been celebrated 
during this period from the third to the ninth of the seventh 
month. 5 

In this connexion the tradition recorded in the Mishnah 

6 It is true that Deut. 16. 13 dates the celebration of the Succot-festival 
only at the time of the gathering in of the produce of the threshing-floor 
and wine-press. This must have been the original practice in the days 
of the local shrines. Then the varying times of the harvest and threshing 
seasons in the different parts of the country must have caused a slight 
variation in the dates of celebration of the local festivals (cp. 1 Kings 13. gs f.). 
But the practical application of the Deuteronomic principle of the central 
sanctuary naturally necessitated the fixing of one definite date for the 
celebration- of the festival by the entire nation. And, as the evidence has 
now made clear, this must have been from the third to the ninth of the 
seventh month, with the tenth celebrated as New Year's Day. This probably 
explains the selection of the Succot-festival as the time for reading the law 
to the people every seven years (Deut. 31. 10 f.). Not so much because 
of the multitude assembled for the celebration of the festival (ver. 11 a; this 
is probably secondary, cp. Steuernagel, in) as because of the association 
of the Succot-festival with New Year's Day, marking the beginning of the 
year of release, was this time selected for this purpose. Similarly, the 
opening ceremonies of the Jubilee year took place on this day (cp. above, 
p. 33)> and similarly, too, Ezra began to read the law to the people on 
the New Year's Day, celebrated, however, in his time on the first of Tishri 
(Neh. 9 iff,). 



42 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

that the tenth day of the seventh month was the anniversary 
of the dedication of Solomon's temple acquires new signifi- 
cance. According to i Kings 8. 2, 65 f., the dedication of the 
temple was celebrated in connexion with the annual hag 
of seven days. On the eighth day the closing ceremonies 
of Solomon's dismissal of the people to their homes and 
their blessing of him occurred. It is a very plausible 
conjecture that the dedication of the temple was made 
coincident with the hag, not only because of the large 
crowds that would thus be enabled to be present, but also 
because so important an event, which, especially in the 
king's mind, clearly marked the beginning of a new epoch 
in Israel's histoiy, might be fixed most fittingly for the 
beginning of a new year. The actual New Year's Day 
would in all likelihood be the eighth day of the festival, 
the day of the dismissal of the people. It is noteworthy 
that just in this connexion the Targum records that the 
month of 'Etanim, in which the dedication was celebrated, 
was actually the beginning of the year. In all likelihood 
the memory of the association of the dedication of the 
temple with the ancient New Year's Day prompted this 
remark of the Targum. At any rate this tradition of the 
Mishnah, which undoubtedly rests upon a firm, historic 
foundation, like the other traditions, recorded ab->ve, un- 
mistakably associates the tenth day of the seventh month 
with the pre-exilic celebration of the annual hag for seven 
days, apparently from the third to the ninth of the month, 
and implies at the same time that the tenth itself was the 
ancient New Year's Day as well as the day of the con- 
clusion of the ceremonies of dedication and the dismissal 
of the people. 

We have seen that the first day of the hag, which, we 



ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS — MORGENSTERN 43 

have ventured to assert, was celebrated from the ninth 
to the fifteenth of Ab, was observed as a day of fasting 
and mourning. We might therefore expect to find the 
hag from the third to the ninth of the seventh month 
beginning in the same manner. Nor are we disappointed. 
The third day of the seventh month has become fixed 
in the Jewish calendar as an annual fast day commemorating 
the murder of Gedaliah b. Ahikam after the destruction 
of Jerusalem (cp. a Kings 25. 25 ; Jer. 41. 1 ff.). In Zech. 
7. 5 ff. the fast of the seventh month is correlated with that 
of the fifth month, as if to imply that both fasts had 
a common origin. This would naturally go hand in hand 
with the tradition preserved in our Mishnah that the dances 
on the fifteenth of Ab and on the tenth day of the seventh 
month likewise had a common origin and manner of 
celebration. It has been suggested that the fast of the 
seventh month may perhaps refer to that fast described 
in Neh. 9. 1 ff. on the twenty-fourth of the month. But 
there it is clearly implied that that fast is celebrated as 
a special occasion of expiation and purification, and by 
no means as an annual occurrence (cp. Siegfried, 104 {.; 
Bertholet 72). This is certain from the fact that Neh. 8 
states clearly that the system of holy days instituted by 
the Priestly Code had been adopted and put into practice. 
And in this system no provision is made for a fast on 
the twenty-fourth of the seventh month. This could 
therefore have been celebrated on only this one occasion. 

It follows accordingly that the fast of the seventh month 
referred to in Zech. 7. 56". and 8. 19 can mean only this 
fast on the third of the month, which tradition has associated 
with the murder of Gedaliah. And just as with the fast of 
the fifth month, so too it is clearly stated that the fast 



44 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

of the seventh month had been instituted already seventy 
years before, at the time of the destruction of the temple, 
or rather of the murder of Gedaliah. But though there 
is every reason to believe that the murder of Gedaliah 
actually occurred on the third day of the seventh month, 
it is nevertheless difficult to understand why it should have 
come to be celebrated immediately by a general fast. The 
story in Jer. 41 nowhere implies that the effects of the 
murder were far-reaching or partook in any way of the 
nature of a great national calamity, similar to the destruc- 
tion of the temple, but merely explains why Jeremiah and 
his companions sought refuge in Egypt. Nor did the 
murder apparently have the slightest effect upon the subse- 
quent fortunes of Israel. And since we have had reason 
to infer that the fast on the ninth of Ab was of ancient 
origin, and only artificially associated with the destruction 
of the temple, so too we may be justified in inferring that 
the fast on the third day of the seventh month, in Zechariah 
directly, and in our Mishnah indirectly, correlated with the 
fast on the ninth of Ab, was likewise of ancient origin, and 
only in the course of time came to be regarded as com- 
memorative of the murder of Gedaliah. 

Luckily this hypothesis can be fully corroborated. 
Jer. 41 gives a detailed account of the murder of Gedaliah 
and the attendant circumstances. Among other things, 
the singular detail is chronicled that on the day after the 
murder, but before it had yet become known to any one, 
eighty men came from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria, with 
beards shaven, garments rent and having made incisions in 
their bodies, bringing a minhah and incense to the house 
of God. Ishmael b. Nethaniah, the murderer, goes out 
to meet them, weeping, and decoys them into Mizpah, 



ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS — MORGENSTERN 45 

where he murders them too. All the details of this strange 
scene cannot be easily explained, above all why Ishmael 
should go out weeping to meet these men, and why he 
should decoy them into the city only to murder them. 
But this much is certain, that the men are clearly repre- 
sented as in deep mourning, as if for some one dead. Yet 
it cannot have been Gedaliah, for not only is it expressly 
stated that this was known to no one as yet, but also they 
are decoyed into the city by the invitation to come to 
Gedaliah. That they are bringing up a minhah to the 
house of God, i.e. apparently to the ruins of the temple 
at Jerusalem (cp. Duhm, 317; Cornill, 416), would point 
to the celebration of the hag or Succot-festival and the 
bringing of a grain-offering, probably a first-fruit sacrifice, 
to the central sanctuary. In fact Cornill says that this 
rite would have to be regarded as a part of the Succot 
celebration, were it not that the latter fell later in the 
month, from the fifteenth to the twenty-second. Appa- 
rently he has, along with other commentators, lost sight 
of the fact that the Succot-festival was celebrated at this 
date only in the post-exilic period, after the adoption of the 
Priestly Code, and, as we have already established, before 
the exile, i. e. at the time of the murder of Gedaliah, must 
have been celebrated from the third to the ninth of the 
seventh month. Therefore just the piece of evidence that 
Cornill missed leads to the conclusion that we have to 
do here with the account of a pre-exilic celebration of the 
Succot festival, and that the pilgrimage of the eighty men 
to the house of God, bringing their minhah with them, 
as well as the accompanying rites of mourning, were all 
regular details of the pre-exilic celebration of the festival. 
It has been suggested that the mourning of the men, so 



46 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

graphically portrayed, was because of the destruction of 
the temple, barely two months before (Stade, Geschichte 
des Volkes Israel, I, 698). But this hypothesis is altogether 
groundless. Certainly the text implies that these rites of 
mourning, especially the shaving of the beards and the 
incisions in the bodies, had not been performed two months 
before, but were still so fresh and recent as to merit remark. 
The clear implication is that these incisions had just been 
made, presumably the day before, at the moment of starting 
out on the pilgrimage to the sanctuary. As Jer. 16. 6 
implies, just these were the characteristic rites of mourning 
for the dead. And on the other hand both Deut. 16. 1 
and Lev. 19. 27 f. and 21. 5 definitely and positively 
prohibit just these rites of mourning as abominations, 
presumably because they partook of the nature of heathen 
rites, which both the Deuteronomic and Holiness codes 
sought to abrogate. It is certain, therefore, that these 
were no rites of mourning for the destruction of the temple, 
almost two months before, but that they were regular rites 
of mourning with which the celebration of the Succot- 
festival in this early period must have always begun. And 
as rites of mourning necessarily and invariably imply 
fasting, we have here positive confirmation of our hypo- 
thesis that the third day of the seventh month was 
celebrated from early times as a fast day and day of 
mourning, as if for some one dead, marking the beginning 
of the seven days of the Succot-festival, which culminated 
in the New Year's Day on the tenth of the month, with 
the dances of the maidens in the vineyards. 

That these dances of the maidens in the vineyards were 
a regular and integral part of the celebration of the hag, 
and particularly of the Succot-festival in the pre-exilic 



ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS — MORGENSTERN 47 

period, is clear also from the beautiful picture in Jer. 31. 
4-6, 1 a, of the maidens of Israel, adorned with timbrels, 
going forth to the dances of the merry-makers, apparently 
at a time closely related to the sacred pilgrimage to Zion 
and the beginning of the planting season. At least this 
much is certain, that this picture is based upon the cele- 
bration of just such dances as those of the maidens of 
Jerusalem and Shiloh in connexion with the celebration 
of the annual hag. 

We have thus, we believe, established the existence in 
pre-exilic Israel of two festivals of ancient origin, and, by 
the very nature of their rites, especially the dances in the 
vineyards, of agricultural significance. 6 Each festival was 
of seven days' duration, beginning with a period of fasting 
and mourning, as if for some one dead, continuing then 
with the sacred pilgrimage and bringing of first-fruits, in 
later times to the central sanctuary at Jerusalem, but in 
earlier times certainly to the local shrines, and culminating 
on the last day with the actual hag, or sacred dance, of 
which the dances of the maidens in the vineyards were 
probably a gradual evolution. That in these seven-day 
agricultural festivals the sacred dance or hag was celebrated 
regularly on the last day, or perhaps in some form or other, 
on the last night (cp. Isa. 30. 29), may be safely inferred 
from Exod. 1 3. 6, according to which the actual hag of the 

8 Certainly Graetz's hypothesis (Geschichte derjuden*, III, 141 f.) that 
these dances were instituted by the Pharisees during the happy reign of 
Salome Alexandra (79-69 b. c.) in opposition to the Sadducees is altogether 
groundless. Ceremonies like these are seldom, if ever, introduced artificially ; 
they can be the result only of the evolution of ancient folk beliefs and 
practices. Graetz has, moreover, completely ignored the fact that these 
dances were held on the tenth day of the seventh month, as well as on 
the fifteenth of Ab. Certainly Pharisaic rigorism would not have coun- 
tenanced these dances on Yom Kippur. 



48 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

Mazzot-festival took place on the seventh day. The one 
festival was celebrated from the ninth to the fifteenth of 
Ab ; the other, the pre-exilic Succot, from the third to the 
ninth of the seventh month, with the additional celebration 
of New Year's Day on the following day, the tenth of the 
month. 

In the ritual legislation of the Priestly Code, which 
regulated the religious calendar in the period after Ezra, 
the festival in Ab found no place. The fast on the ninth, 
however, continued to be celebrated traditionally in com- 
memoration of the destruction of the temple, and later in 
commemoration of the destruction of the second temple 
and the fall of Bethar, while still later Messianic tradition 
made it the birthday of the Messiah (Talmud Jer. Berakob 
II, 45 a, where the story is told that on the very same day. 
that the temple was destroyed the Messiah was born). 
And the dances of the maidens of Jerusalem in the vine- 
yards survived for a time, probably until within the 
recollection of Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel, as a pretty 
folk custom. On the other hand the festival of the seventh 
month, while retained, was completely recast in the new 
ritual. New Year's Day was logically transferred to the 
first day of the seventh month. The tenth was made the 
day of the celebration of the great penitential and expiatory 
ceremonies of Atonement, 7 while the Succot-festival was 

7 There cannot be the least doubt that the institution of the Day of 
Atonement with its peculiar purpose and ceremonies, particularly that 
of the goat of Azazel, upon the pre-exilic New Year's Day was no mere 
chance or arbitrary arrangement of the priestly codicists, but was so fixed 
for very definite and positive reasons. The ceremony with the goat of 
Azazel was unquestionably the survival of some ancient ceremony (perhaps 
a local Jerusalem ceremony, since the goat seems to have been cast down 
the rocks in historical times at Beth Hadudo not far from Jerusalem 
(Mishnah Yoma VI, 8. The place is elsewhere called Beth Hadure and 



ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS— MORGENSTERN 49 

transferred from its original date to the fifteenth-twenty- 
second of the month, probably to conform to the date 

Beth Horon : Jastrow 332 f.). Now the purification of the sins of an 
entire people, often by means of scapegoats upon which the sins are 
supposed to be laden bodily, and which are then driven away to perish 
in some desert place, the abode of evil spirits, is a common practice. It is 
usually practised once a year, and generally on New Year's Day (cp. Frazer, 
The GMen Bough 3 , vol. VIII ; The Scapegoat, 127-30, 133, 145 50, 155, 
165, 197, 202 f., 209). It is a by no means far fetched hypothesis that, in 
addition to the other New Year's Day ceremonies, to which reference has 
already been made, on this day rites of purification of the entire people, 
or at least of the people of Jerusalem, and probably in similar manner 
of other local communities, were practised, such as that of the goat of 
Azazel, or other related rites similar to those described by Frazer {op. cit.). 
The little tufts of red wool, which, as the Mishnah records (Yoma VI, 6, 8), 
were affixed to the goat, were merely the physical representation of the 
sins of the people laden upon the goat. From Isa. 1. 18, and probably with 
it Ps. 51. 9, we may safely infer that sins were commonly represented 
as being red in colour, and the corresponding state of purity white. This 
too explains the symbolism of the tuft of red wool which, according to 
R. Ishmael (Mish. Yoma VI, 8), was affixed to the door of the temple, and 
turned white at the very moment when the goat was cast down the cliffs 
of Beth Hadudo. (,It would lead too far afield to enter into a detailed 
discussion of the symbolism of the red colour that plays so prominent 
a rdle in various Biblical purification ceremonies, as, for example, the red 
heifer (Num. 19), the cedar wood (probably chosen because of its red colour), 
the scarlet thread, and the hyssop [there is no evidence that the hyssop 
was red in colour. If its identification with the Origanum Maru, L. (cp. 
Immanuel Low, ' Der biblische 'ezob ' {Siteungsber. d. kais. Akad. d. IVissen- 
schaften in Wien, CLXI (1909), 3, p. 15 ; also Aramaische Pflanzennamen, 
no. 93, pp. 134 ff.) be correct, it would seem to have white flowers. At 
the same time, the plant itself, exclusive of the flowers, may have been 
of reddish colour, or may have been selected for these purification cere- 
monies for some other reason. According to the Zohar (I, 220 a ; II, 41 a, 
80 b ; quoting Low, Der biblische 'ezob, 11) it was effective in the expulsion 
of evil spirits. Dalman tells us {Zeitschrift des deutschen Paldstinavereins, 
1912, 124 f.) that the Samaritans use a bunch of the common za'atar, or 
Origanum Maru, in their Passover rites, and hold that it is identical with the 
biblical hyssop. They believe that this plant possesses a certain mysterious, 
supernatural power, in that a bunch of it placed in blood prevents the latter 
from congealing. Not impossibly this traditional association of the hyssop 
VOL. VIII. E 



50 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

of Passover, six months earlier, from the full moon of the 
month on. But whereas in the pre-exilic period Succot 
had actually been a festival of only seven days' duration 
with the following day, however, the supplementary New 
Year's Day, in the post-exilic ritual, while still nominally 
a seven-day festival, there was also intimately associated 
with it the celebration of the eighth day, Shemini Azeret, 
a day of particular sanctity and taboo, the real significance 
of which, even in the Bible, seems shrouded in uncertainty. 
Yet after our previous exposition there cannot be the 
slightest doubt that it is nothing but the outcome of the 
realization that there had been eight actual days of cele- 
bration in connexion with the pre-exilic Succot, of which 
the eighth day was important in itself and bore only a 
rather loose connexion with the rest of the festival. Thus 
it happens that Shemini Azeret appears in the Priestly 
Code as a day, the celebration of which is supplementary to, 
yet at the same time somewhat independent of, the actual 
celebration of the seven days of the Succot-festival proper. 

with blood may account for its use in the various purification ceremonies 
in which, as a rule, blood plays the leading r6le], in the ceremonies of the 
red heifer, and the purification of a leper (Lev. 14. 6 f., 51 ff.). It may, 
however, be noted in passing that in Babylonian purification ceremonies 
cedar wood was used extensively (cp. my ' Doctrine of Sin in the Babylonian 
Religion ' {MVAG., 1905, 3, 151)), while, at least occasionally, the priest 
seems to have worn dark-red garments (ibid. 145). Similarly, too, among 
the Beduin to-day a child about to be circumcised, certainly a critical 
moment when danger from evil spirits is to be feared, is clad in a red 
garment (Musil, Arabia Pttraea, III, 232). Red seems to [have been the 
favourite colour of evil plague spirits (cp. Gollancz, The Book of Protection, 
XXXIII and LH ; Musil, op. cit., 328 ; v. Duhn, 'Rot und Tot', Archivf. 
Religionswiss., IX (1906), 22 f.). In various parts of the world the colour 
red plays a prominent part in purification ceremonies (Frazer, op. cit., 146, 
190-92, 205, 208, 209, 213). This hypothesis would account completely 
for the fixing in the new religious calendar of Yom Kippur upon the 
pre exilic New Year's Day. 



ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS — MORGENSTERN 51 

The question still remains, in whose honour were these 

festivals originally celebrated, and, especially, for whom 

were the rites of mourning, that marked their beginning, 

performed? It is to-day a generally accepted fact that 

the biblical agricultural festivals were of Canaanite origin, 

and merely adopted by Israel when they began to follow 

an agricultural life in the conquered land. The ancient 

agricultural religious practices continued to be observed, 

with comparatively slight modification, at least in the folk 

religion, down to the exile itself. Against just these rites 

and practices the prophets protested and the Deuteronomic 

and Holiness codes legislated, but practically in vain. It 

needed the complete cutting off of the people from their 

ancient land and the gods from of old associated with it, 

and the complete recasting of the religion and ritual in 

a foreign land, to permit of a fairly, though by no means 

absolutely, complete eradication of the old Canaanite 

agricultural rites from the religious practice of the people. 

Before the exile the old agricultural festivals were celebrated 

from year to year in form but slightly modified from that 

of the ancient Canaanite days. But since these festivals 

must have primarily been celebrated in honour of the old 

Canaanite gods, we cannot help seeing in these rites of 

fasting and mourning as if for some one dead, that marked 

their beginning, 8 survivals of the ancient mourning for 

Adonis, the Canaanite god of vegetation, cut off in the 

flower of his youth, and thus mourned as dead at the 

8 That the Canaanite Mazzot-festival likewise began with fasting is to be 
inferred from the present custom of pious Jews that the first-born sons fast 
on the fourteenth of Nisan ('Orah Hayyim47o) in preparation for the Passover. 
Furthermore, that the hag, or sacred dance, of the Mazzot-festival was 
celebrated on the seventh or last day of the festival is, as said above, to 
be inferred from Exod. 13. 6. 

E 2 



52 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

beginning of all these festivals, and yet believed to rise 
again to new life. In accord with this belief the rites of 
these festivals rapidly changed from fasting and mourning 
to rejoicing and merry-making, often, if not generally, 
culminating in scenes of gross licence, of which the dances 
of the maidens in the vineyards, while the young men stood 
by and selected their wives, were merely a mild survival. 
This unquestionably correct explanation of the origin and 
significance of the rites, both of the fasting and mourning 
that began these festivals, and of the dances that formed 
their culmination, rounds out, as it were, and completes our 
chain of argument. 

Perhaps final proof, if such be needed, may be found in 
the fact that the fifteenth of Ab has continued to be cele- 
brated in the Greek and Maronite Churches of Syria as the 
Festival of the Repose or Assumption of the Virgin. 
Referring to this day 'the Syrian text of The Departure 
Of My Lady Mary From This World says, " And the 
apostles ordered that there should be a commemoration of 
the blessed one on the thirteenth of Ab (another manuscript 
reads [more correctly] the fifteenth of Ab), on account of 
the vines bearing bunches (of grapes), and on account 
of the trees bearing fruit, that clouds of hail, bearing stones 
of wrath, might not come, and the trees be broken, and 
their fruits, and the vines with their clusters ".' ' Simi- 
larly in the Arabic text of the apocryphal work On The 
Passing Of The Blessed Virgin Mary, which is attributed 
to the Apostle John, there occurs the following passage: 
" Also a festival in her honour was instituted on the fifteenth 
day of the month Ab, which is the day of her passing from 
this world, the day on which the miracles were performed, 
and the time when the fruits of the trees are ripening.' 



ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL FESTIVALS — MORGENSTERN 53 

' Further, in the calendar of the Syrian Church the fifteenth 
of August (undoubtedly meaning the fifteenth of Ab) is 
repeatedly designated as the festival of the Mother of God 
" for the vines ".' 9 Bliss likewise informs us that in the 
Greek Church the festival is preceded by a fourteen-days' 
fast, while the Maronites observe a fast of eight days. 
During this fast meat, eggs, cheese, and milk are strictly 
forbidden {The Religions of Modern Syria and Palestine, 
156 f.). Likewise, he says, 'on this day (the fifteenth of 
Ab) huge crowds, bent quite as much on merry-making 
as on worship, flock to the convent of the Virgin ' {op. cit., 
169). Frazer has correctly surmised that this festival 
represents merely a christianized survival of an ancient 
heathen festival. And the evidence here presented shows 
that it must have been an agricultural festival, calculated 
to promote the fertility of the trees and vines, that it must 
have begun with a period of fasting, and presumably of 
mourning for the dying deity, and culminated on the 
fifteenth of Ab in a period of merry-making and pilgrimage. 
This reminds us directly of our pre-exilic festival from the 
ninth to the fifteenth of Ab. But its picture of the passing 
of the Virgin reminds us equally of the customary Adonis 
festivals as described by Lucian {De Dea Syra, 6), and 
others, and even more particularly suggests a connexion 
with the ancient Babylonian Saccaea-festival, also cele- 
brated in honour of Ishtar, the virgin-goddess, in the same 
month Ab, presumably at the time when she was thought 
to depart into the nether-world, the 'land of no return', 
the realm of the dead, in search of her dead lover, Tammuz, 
the Babylonian Adonis (cp. Baudissin, Adonis und Esmun, 

9 I have quoted directly from Frazer, The Golden Bough 3 , vol. I, The 
Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings, 14 f., since the works cited were 
inaccessible to me. 



54 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

97-108 ; Fraser, The Golden Bough 3 , vol. VIII, The Scape- 
goat, 354 flf.). Perhaps, too, it would not be at all far- 
fetched to find here a striking parallelism with the annual 
four-day festival by which the maidens of Israel, or probably 
originally, of Gilead, commemorated the passing of the 
virgin daughter of Jephtha, undoubtedly with rites similar 
to those with which she herself is represented as, in com- 
pany with her maidens, bewailing her virginity upon the 
mountain tops of Gilead upon which, as the text strangely 
enough puts it, she had descended (Judges 11. 36-40). 
It requires no great stretch of the imagination to picture 
the dances of the maidens of Gilead in connexion with the 
annual hag in that part of the country. Whether this was 
celebrated in Ab, or in the seventh, or even in the eighth 
month, as was at one time actually the case in Israel 
(1 Kings 12. 32 f.), and what may have been the real import 
of the two months represented as elapsing between the 
moment when Jephtha announces his daughter's impending 
doom, and the fulfilment of this, cannot be determined. 

Into a further discussion of the attendant features of 
these festivals, the dances of the maidens in the vineyards, 
the presence of the young men seeking wives in the ranks 
of the dancers, the white garments, borrowed and dipped 
in water, the use of the leaves and branches of the four 
trees (Lev. 23. 40; Neh. 8. 15-17), almost the only detail 
6f the pre-exilic celebration of the Succot-festival preserved 
in biblical legislation, and undoubtedly a survival of the 
old Adonis rites, we cannot enter here. As said before, 
it would lead into a detailed and lengthy consideration 
of some of the fundamental principles and practices of 
primitive Semitic religion. We must accordingly reserve 
this for treatment elsewhere.