What did John mean when he wrote “the feasts of the Jews”?

In numerous places in the book of John, the author refers to the feasts of the Jews? So what did John mean when he expressed the phrase “the feasts of the Jews”?

Sadly, this expression allows anti-semitic preachers of hate the opportunity to seize on on their misconception that the Jews were keeping their own feasts and not the feasts of God as specified in Leviticus 23. These are contemptuous preachers and it was prophesied that God’s anger will be directed against the brothers because of their deep-seated hatred, both covert and overt, against Judah: Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh; and they together shall be against Judah. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still” Isaiah 9:21. 

Samaria - New World Encyclopedia

For God to stretch out His hands is for Him to do something beyond the norm. This could refer to either mercy or judgment. But in the context of “His anger is not turned away” this is surely going to be judgement. Yes, God is going to judge both Manasseh and Ephraim for their well-entrenched hatred against their brother Judah. “Ephraim shall be desolate in the day of rebuke” Hosea 5:9. His rebuke is His judgement. One such judgement with more details is presented in Deuteronomy 28:22 ”The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blight, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.”

Before analysing what the phrase “feasts of the Jews” mean let’s quote the Scriptures first:

  • Passover 
    • John 2:13 — And the Jews’ Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
    • John  6:4 — Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh (there is a problem with this verse, but that’ll be another issue).
    • John 11:55 — And the Jews’ Passover was nigh at hand, and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves.
  • Feast 
    • John 5:1 — After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
  • Tabernacle 
    • John 7:2 — Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand.

So what are the feasts (or Passover, Tabernacle) of the Jews?

After the Jews came back from Babylon, many settled in Judea, but just north of Jerusalem the land were taken by the Samaritans, so some Jews had to move further north to settle around the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus grew up in the town of Nazareth, and most of his disciples were from Galilee. Every year, whenever they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts, they needed to pass or bypass the region inhabited by the Samaritans. But the Samaritans practised a religion very close to the Jews. From an outsider, the two practices may look similar, but on closer examination, they were different.

Whenever John wrote about the feasts of the Jews, he simply did so because he didn’t want to confuse his readers with the feasts of the Samaritans, whose dates, places and manners of worship were interpreted differently.

West Bank neighbors flock to Mt. Gerizim for Samaritan Passover sheep  slaughter | The Times of Israel
Samaritan’s Passover on Mount Gerizim at sunset

The Jews considered the Samaritans as “Cutheans” brought from other parts of Babylon in place of the Ten Lost Tribes who had been exiled by King Shalmaneser of Assyria around the year 721 BC. Out of fear of the lions, the new settlers converted to Judaism, but they reinterpreted the Torah differently, considering Mount Gerizim as the sacred mountain where they lived instead of Jerusalem. 

Hence the Jews considered the Samaritans as heretics and were an anathema to their faith in the centuries that followed. But why? There are a few vital differences:

(1) Located north of Jerusalem their weather would be expected to be colder, hence their barley ripening for the start of a new year and could, sometimes, even be a month’s late;

(2) The Samaritans repudiated the Jewish reckoning of sightings of the moon from Jerusalem. Hence their start of a month could differ from the Jews by a day or two;

(3) The Samaritans interprete “evening” for the Passover and the Counting of Pentecost differently from the Jews. 

The Jews know the truth and the path to salvation, the Samaritans don’t. When Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, He said to her “Ye worship ye know not what; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews” John 4:22.

 Hence the Jews considered rightly the Samaritans as heretics and were an anathema to the Jewish people in the centuries that followed. 

How a Passover Seder Became the Last Supper | CBN News
Jewish Passover kept indoor in Jerusalem’s homes

John, writing to whoever he had in mind at the time, was making a point that he was describing the feasts of the Jews and not that of the Samaritans where the people surrounding the regions were well aware off.

But among the descendents of Manasseh and Ephraim many continued to show their deep-rooted hatred of the Jews. Sadly, unless they repent profoundly, they are to meet an unpleasant end.

“The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet” Isaiah 28:3 

Gill: The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet. Not only cast down with the hand, but trampled upon with the feet; showing their utter destruction, and the contempt with which they should be used; which, with their character, is repeated, to point out their sins, the cause of it, to denote the certainty of it, and that it might be taken notice of. 

Poole: The expression is emphatical; the crown which was upon their own heads shall be trodden under the feet of others; and they, whose drunkenness made them stagger and fall to the ground, shall be trodden down there. 


~ by Joel Huan on January 12, 2021.

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