Pentecost and the Festival of Weeks

This coming Sunday is Pentecost with the gospel reading taken from the Gospel of John. The Greek name (pentēkostē) refers to the Jewish Feast of Weeks. The name itself means “50th” and is taken because the festival occurs 50 days after Passover (Acts 20:16; 1 Cor 16:8). Because the early Christians received the baptism of the Holy Spirit on this day, the term is now more commonly used to refer to that event recounted in Acts 2:1–13 and celebrated on Pentecost Sunday.

The Feast of Weeks was the second of the three great Jewish feasts. Its name signified that it concluded the period of seven weeks which began with the presentation of the first sheaf of the barley harvest during the Passover celebration (Lev 23:15–16; Deut 16:9). Thus it was originally an agricultural feast marking the end of the grain harvest and was celebrated during the month of Sivan (May/June). Both Josephus (Ant 3.10.6 §252; JW1.13.3 §253) and Jewish intertestamental writings (Tob 2:1; 2 Macc 12:31–32) refer to the feast as Pentecost. [AYBD 5:222-23]

During the Hellenistic period (324-64 BC), the ancient harvest festival also became a day of renewing the Noahic covenant, described in Genesis 9:8-17, which is established between God and “all flesh that is upon the earth.” By this time, some Jews were already living in the Diaspora (living in countries other than Israel itself). According to Acts 2:5-11 there were Jews from “every nation under heaven” in Jerusalem, possibly visiting the city as pilgrims during Pentecost. This group of visitors included both Jews and converts to Judaism.

In 70 AD, the Roman armies conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. At this point in history the offering of grains in the Temple as part of the festival was no longer possible. While this day continued to be celebrated, after the destruction of the Temple, the day commemorated the reception of the Law by Moses.

Image credit: Fr. Ted Bobash,, CC BY-SA 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.