Bishop Gregory (hgr) wrote,
Bishop Gregory

The Jewish matrix of the Christianity seen through the early Christian liturgical institutions

In our search of the Christian Origins, we have to deal with a period of drastic changes in liturgical traditions. We become naturally predisposed to overestimate any kind of discontinuity and to overlook the continuity. The religious traditions we are interested in are mostly Jewish traditions. And, in the Jewish world, all the religious traditions were, first of all, liturgical. The liturgy was the main language of theology, and this is especially right for the Second Temple period. The structure of heavens has been reflected in the structure of earthly shrines, and God, Messiah of God, the angels and the people of God were united by the unique worship, both in the heaven and on the earth. The apocalyptic of the Second Temple period is the revelation of this unity, and so, the apocalypses of the Second Temple Judaism and of the early Christianity are so saturated with the liturgical contents, as some scholars noted (esp. P. Prigent).

With Christopher Rowland[1], I share the view that Christianity appears as a “Jewish messianic sect” whose doctrine was, first of all, apocalyptic. To be apocalyptic means to be liturgical. And so, Christianity was not only an eschatological accomplishment of prophesies, but also a completion of the liturgical symbolism of the Old Testament Church. Of course, this Church of Old Testament was, for the Christians, that of the “Jewish matrix of Christianity” and not the community of the official Temple cult. This is why one of the most promising ways of search of this “matrix” is that of the historical liturgy.

The sources of our knowledge of the relevant Jewish liturgical customs must be mostly “sectarian”, and the data of Mishnah and other rabbinical literature are of rather secondary value. Outside Qumran, these sources are limited almost exclusively to the liturgical data of the Second Temple apocalyptic and other literature. However, the method of comparative liturgy, formulated in the 1920s by Anton Baumstark, allows us to use the data of later Christian traditions to recovering of their common grounds. Therefore, the afterlife of the Second Temple Jewish traditions in the mediaeval Christianity could become, in turn, comparative data for recovering of the Christian origins…


Revalorization of Baumstark in the search of the Chirstian origins


Since the middle of the 20th century and, especially, in the 1950s, after discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some scholars have broken through in research of the Jewish matrix of Christianity by means of the history of liturgy. To my opinion, the first and the most important name in this field is that of Annie Jaubert (1912—1980), but there are certainly other quite significant names such as those of Jean Daniélou (1905—1974), Jean-Paul Audet (1918—1993), Pierre Prigent (b. 1928), Harald Riesenfeld (b. 1913), August Strobel (1930—2006), Georg Kretschmar (b. 1925), Willy Rordorf, and also Étienne Nodet … I omit here younger scholars and enumerate here only those who contributed significantly, in their search of Christian Origins, by means of the history of liturgy.

Then, the applicability of the modern methods of the liturgical reconstruction to the early Christianity studies has been appreciated in a more theoretical way by Paul Bradshaw (1993; 20022)[2]. Of course, the closer to the very origins we are the less effective our established methods become. The comparative liturgy deals with continuity, but it is very uncertain in the reconstruction of starting points of liturgical traditions. So, Bradshow’s conclusion regarding the applicability of Baumstark’s method to the search of the very beginnings of the Christian worships has been rather pessimistic (p. 14).

I would be inclined to agree with Bradshow in the case if we have nothing, for our liturgical reconstructions, than liturgical rites alone. But we have also the liturgical calendar as the most general matrix where all the liturgical rites are positioned. I think, that this is the calendar that we have to take as the ground of all our subsequent reconstructions.

In such an approach, I am far from being the first. Probably, the first was Annie Jaubert in the early 1950s. In the light of the modern scholarship of the Second Temple Judaism, this approach looks quite natural. In the Second Temple Judaism, a specific calendar was the most clear expression of the unity of a given religious group and its distinction from the others. If so, the calendar is a very natural tool of finding the “Jewish matrix” of the Christianity.

It is, then, also rather natural if the earliest Christian calendars turn out to be some Jewish calendars of the Second Temple period rather than inventions of the Christians themselves. This is also a part of Jaubert’s approach supported by some influential scholars, but, so far, in a rather sharp contradiction with the majority opinion (as expressed especially by Thomas Talley[3]). The latter acknowledges, in several cases, Christian borrowings from the Jewish calendars, but does not accept the idea that the earliest Christian calendars were Jewish as a whole. Now the mass of the information on the variety of the late Jewish calendars and their traces in the later Christian rites is rapidly growing. This gives me a hope that our “minority approach” to the origins of the Christian year will obtain more support…

However, the purpose of my present contribution will be much more modest. I would like to show how Baumstark’s laws of liturgical evolution works in the search of the Christian origins. We will start from a case study, and then, will finish by theoretical conclusions.


Case Study 1: The Theophaneia feast on January 6.


Now January 6 is the memory of the Baptism of Christ, but before this it was also the memory of the Nativity of Christ, while, several authors of the 4th century (so-called canons of Athanasius of Alexandria, Epiphanius of Salamine) insisted that January 6 is the date of the Baptism only. The origin of the date January 6 has been explained by several hypotheses. The most interesting is an intuition by Thomas Talley that the date of January 6 might be somewhat related to an Easter date April 6 in Asia Minor[4]. However, to prove any of such hypotheses, we need to know real calendarical schemes.

In fact, I think[5], the date January 6 goes back to a Jewish calendar known to us through a Jewish Second Temple period Egyptian text, the so-called 2 (Slavonic) Book of Enoch. Here, the 6th day of the 4th month is that of the ascension of a messianic figure (Enoch) in the divine glory. In fact, Origen said (in his Commentary on Ezekiel) that the date of Baptism of Christ, January 6, is that of the fourth month according to the count of Jews (that is, starting from Tishri = October). But, indeed, the date of Baptism of Christ is also the date of His disappearance for 40 days to the desert, in the same line as in 2Enoch the 6th day of the 4th month is the day of Enoch’s ascension. The equation between Tishri and October is peculiar to Asia Minor, and, in this way, the intuition of Talley holds.

The 2Enoch calendar is a form of the 364-day calendar that, despite its Egyptian origin, contributed to several feasts whose origin is in Asia Minor, including, to my opinion, the days of liturgical memory of John the Theologian, one form of the early cycle of the Dormition of Mary (bipartite feast in January and August) and the Feast of Transfiguration on August 6. (I am studying now all these topics).

This example is far from Jerusalem, and so, far from Jesus’ community (Urgemeinde), but is still important in two ways. First, it helps us to feel that the Jewish matrix of Christianity has been not a particular community in Jerusalem, but also consists of  some other traditions, especially those of the Jews of Egypt. Second, the feast on January 6 has a very long Christian and pre-Christian history, and so, provides us many examples of use and re-use of the same Jewish calendarical schemes. This is a good illustration of Baumstark’s “Law of Organic Development”: new elements of liturgy take their place alongside with the older ones, but subsequently tend to suppress them partially or completely.

The place itself where these processes occur is, in our case, an element of the calendarical scheme (January 6 or, more precisely, the 6th day of the 4th month). It is stable in a much greater extent that any other element of the liturgy, and this fact — the fact of stability of the calendarical scheme — is inexplicable by any of the laws of Baumstark. This fact belongs to the cult as a whole rather than its particular component such as the liturgy. It has been described by the Bollandist Hippolyte Delehaye (1933) as stability of the “hagiographical coordinate of time”. This empirical observation of a great Bollandist gives us an idea why the calendars are the most stable core of the liturgical traditions…

But is the comparative liturgy applicable to recover the calendar of the Urgemeinde? I think, yes[6]. Let us start from the comparative data.


Comparative approach to the Easter quarrels of the 2nd century


In the history of the Christian Church, the first appearance of the Julian calendar took place in the Easter quarrels between Rome and the Churches of Asia Minor in the middle of the 2nd century. The quartadecimans of Asia Minor celebrated Easter on 14 Nisan, regardless the day of the week, but Rome celebrated always on Sunday, after 14 Nisan. Both sides of conflict insisted that they follow the custom received from the apostles. This gives us, as a terminus ante quem for the appearance of the 365-day year, the early 2nd century or the very late 1st century.

Using the principles of the comparative liturgy formulated by Anton Baumstark, quite applicable here (note that we are discussing not an astronomy, but the liturgics!) the best way to explicate this discrepancy is to assume that the previous tradition of the 1st century presupposed an Easter celebration always on Sunday, but to this Sundays always belonged the night from 14 to 15 Nisan. This is possible only in a 364-day calendarical scheme, because in the 364-day calendars the week days of each day of the month are constant (because 364 is divisible to 7).

If the Gospels were written somewhere in the middle or even the second half of the 1st century, it is natural that their calendar was still in use everywhere until the late 1st century, at least. Probably, transition to the 365-day calendars was a necessity for the mission among the gentiles, but this necessity was paid off by the rupture of a quite important nerve holding out from the Jewish past.

Baumstark’s theory makes Jaubert’s hypothesis on the chronology of the Passion Week a priori stronger. It is very likely that the Christians of the 1st century were using the 364-day calendars. However, to go deeper, we have to go into details. The gospel narratives do not allow us to suppose that Nisan 14 took place on Friday, but the resurrection took place on the following night. This is why Jaubert herself considered her hypothesis unproven. To prove such a hypothesis, we need to propose an exact calendarical scheme and to find out its traces in the sources.

Therefore, let us permit to ourselves a little digression about the pre-Christian development of the 364-day calendar, called “Priestly Calendar” by Jaubert.


Pre-Christian history of the 364-day calendar


Jaubert dated the PC by the time of the “Priestly Codex” that was then commonly to be dated by the early post-exilic epoch (that is, the late 6th century BC as the terminus post quem). Now the Priestly tradition is considered as being pre-exilic, that is, going back to the 7th century BC (thus according to both Israel Knohl and Jacob Milgrom who reached the same conclusion independently in the 1990s).

What is more important, now we know the ultimate source of the PC whose earliest survived full representation is that of the 1Enoch, “Astronomical Chapters” (chs. 72-82, 3rd cent. BC; this part of the Enochic Pentateuch is called Book of the Heavenly Luminaries). This source is not Jewish at all, being a 7th century Babylonian astronomical work called “MUL.APIN” (“Polar Star”). The calendar of the 1Enoch is perfectly identical to his Babylonian prototype as far as the astronomy is concerned, while, by necessity, quite different in its theological interpretation of the same structure of the heaven (and so, providing us even better illustration of the Law of Organic Development of Baumstark!). This fact has been established by Matthias Albani in his 1994 monograph based on the 1985 Neugebauer’s study on the calendar of the 1Enoch and on Werner Papke’s 1989 editio princeps (!) and study of the MUL.APIN.

Without going too deeply, we have to admit that the synchronism, previously unknown, between the dates of the MUL.APIN and of the origin of the Priestly tradition presents a weighty argument for the applicability of Jaubert’s analysis to the calendarical information of the Hebrew Bible. Otherwise, the four century gap between the MUL.APIN (7th cent.) and the “Astronomical Chapters” of the 1Enoch (3rd cent.) is difficult to fill.

In the 1980s and, especially, in the 1990s a huge amount of the calendarical data became available from Qumran turned over the former common presupposition that there was only one “calendar of the Jubilees” (as Jaubert used to name the PC) as a universal model for all the 364-day calendars. Qumran gave us an idea of the real diversity of the 364-day calendarical schemes.

There were, at least, three main areas where the distinctions between various 364-day schemes of the liturgical year become sensible:

1.      intercalation days,

2.      epagomenal days,

3.      week and month cycles’ mutual relation (the number of Pentecontads within the year) — here I avoid any discussion of this large topic.


3.1. Intercalation days

A discrepancy between the 364-day year and the solar year of 365¼ days (as it was taken in the antiquity) was to be covered by an additional amount of days, an intercalation, added into specified years.

The main and sometime the only intercalation is an additional week (7 days) added every seventh year. It covers 1 day from 1¼ days a year gap. Such intercalation is known for every kind of the PC where we have representative data, including the Christian modifications of the PC.

As to the ¼ component (= 6 hours/year), our calendars may considerable vary. Very often (as we are now able to see in the Priestly calendars still in use), the calendars did not contain any rule for this 6-hour gap, presuming that they were to be corrected on the empirical basis. But sometime they did.

The scale of the problem became known after Uwe Glessmer’s study (1996) of the calendarical data of the Qumranic Otot-texts (4Q319), where a complicated system of intercalation is reparable in many details.

Normally, our data from the calendarical sources are not representative enough to reconstruct such a detailed system. In the Christian sources, I know only one case of description of such an intercalation mechanism. This is an Ethiopian homily of Abbas Giyorgis Saglawi (early 15th cent.) on the veneration of “two Sabbaths” (that is, of the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday and the Christian Sabbath on Sunday) [editio princeps by Yaqob Beyene 1993; correction of the text and analysis by Lourié 1999]. Abbas Giyorgis was a leader of a very archaizing movement of an extreme monophysitism. Below we will return to this movement widespread mostly in Armenia and Ethiopia, because it was a depository of great deal of the Jewish-Christian legacy.

To sum up, generally, intercalation is especially interesting when we are dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls, but, as to the Christian documents, it is rather trivial. 1 day per year component (intercalation of one extra week every seventh year) is rather trivial, but 6-hour per year component is, most often, absent.


3.2. Epagomenal days

On the contrary, the epagomenal days are one of the most important features of the PC.

To call them “epagomenal” is rather naturally (and so, I coined this term in 1996, but Liora Ravid, independently, in 2003), but this is by no means a genuine nomenclature. “Epagomenon” is, in fact, the name of the 13th additional month in the Egyptian calendar that contains 12 months, each of 30 days, plus 5 days of the epagomenon (in Coptic, “pagumen”). The epagomenal days are those needed to be added to the summary number of days of the 12 months to reach the number of days in the year. In the Egyptian calendar the number of the epagomenal days is 5 (or 6 for the bissextile years). In the PC it is always 4.

Jaubert knew well only the earliest variant of the distribution of the epagomenal days within the year, that of the 1Enoch and the Book of Jubilees (and now, we have to add to them the whole corpus of the calendarical Dead Sea Scrolls, where the relevant data are available, including the most important Temple Scroll). These earliest versions of the 364-day year presupposed 12 months, each of 30 days (12 × 30 = 360), and one additional day at the end of each quarter, that is, every third month (so, the months 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th were of 31 days).

Indeed, Jaubert realized that this scheme was not the only possible. She knew and even tried to reconstruct the calendar of the 2Enoch where the 364-day year is sharply different. Moreover, she underlined that the calendar of Jesus’ community, according to her hypothesis, was an unknown modification of the calendar of Jubilees. However, we started to describe other variants of the distribution of the epagomenal days only quite recently. Roughly speaking, these variants presuppose introducing of the epagomenal days as an uninterrupted 4-day period into one or other festive period of the liturgical year (especially such as the Passover or the Pentecost, with an appropriate complication of the liturgical structure of the corresponding feast).

Here we would like to clarify, why the number of the epagomenal days in the PC is always 4. — Of course, these “four days that are not to be included into the number of the days of year” (1Enoch 75:1) are overloaded by a quite specific symbolism. This symbolism becomes clearer from the genuine liturgical term for these days, preserved in the Qumranic Scroll of Psalms, 11QPsa (within a brief prosaic enumeration of the works of David), “(days of) the intercession”, הפגועים.

As I have argued otherwise [Lourié 2002/2008], this term is messianic, taken from the Hebrew text of Is 53:12 (the Greek being here different and irrelevant even to the Christian tradition): “…and made intercession (יַפְגִּיעַ) for the transgressors”. The same verb is calqued by the Christian authors, especially in Rom 8:32, 34 when this quote of Isaiah was applied to the Christ: “…who (Christ) also intercedes for us”. “Intercedes” here (ντυγχάνει) is an exact calque of the Hebrew verb פגע, both of them having the primary meaning “to meet”.

Without going into the details, it is clear enough, that the 4 days of the PC “epagomenon” were, in fact, the days of a quite important liturgical celebration, the days whose “quality” was different from that of the other days of the years. This is why, regardless the number of the days of the months in the later modifications of the PC, there are 4 days in the year whose features are quite specific.


Case Study 2: Passion Chronology


Now, we are prepared to return to the Passion chronology. Our citation from Romans allows us to suppose that this is a chronology of interceding. If we arrange the 4 epagomenal days as a unique period between Tuesday Nisan 14 and Sunday Nisan 15, we obtain a calendarical scheme in perfect accord with the Passion chronology as established by Jaubert (and having many reflects in Christian liturgical traditions, only few of them being known to Jaubert herself): Last Supper on Tuesday evening, Nisan 14, arrest during the following night (still Nisan 14: the following night belongs to the previous day, not vice versa), then a long series of examinations before Hannah, Caiaphas, Pilates (in fact, impossible in the short interval between Thursday evening and Friday morning), then, execution on Friday. So, I propose a calendarical scheme with a “broken” Nisan, that is, where the 4 epagomenal days intervene between Tuesday Nisan 14 and Sunday Nisan 15:


Scheme of the “Broken” Nisan











Interval Day



Interval Day



Interval Day



Interval Day







In the scheme, I replaced the Hebrew term “interceding” by the term “interval” because I found this term in the relevant Christian sources.

The most relevant is a 4th century anonymous homily on the Easter[7] containing a difficult place in the part dedicated to the immolation of the lamb according to Ex 12:6 and Lev 23:5. Both prescribes the immolation “in twilight”, and the Heberew text is the same in both: beyn hacarbayyim. But the Septuagint text differs: πρὸς ἑσπέραν in Exodus but ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν ἑσπερινῶν (“between the evening times” Brenton’s tr.) in Leviticus. Our homily retains the latter wording, and so, the lamb, according to this homily, is to be immolated ἐν μέσῳ. The whole phrase became untranslatable without recognizing the citation. As to the four days of preparation of the lamb, our homilist uses the term α διαμέσου ἡμέραι. This is the term that I translated here as “interval days”.

The same terminology is also known in Coptic (the wôš days) in three papyrus of the early 7th century (Till 1950) but these days belongs to the month Paone (June). I believe (Lourié 2002/2008) that this is a reflect of a similar calendarical scheme of Egyptian origin where the 4 epagomenal days were introduced into the feast of Pentecost and not into the Easter Week. Such a scheme is traceable in the Book of Tobit where the same scheme of the 4 days of the fast and intercession within a great feast occurs. The Pentecost rites in Tobit and the Easter rites in gospels have much in common and, first of all, both are accomplishment of Amos 8:10: and I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation (Brenton’s tr.).

One can see, in this case study, that both most important Baumstark’s laws are here in work. The Law of Organic Development shows several layers of the modification of the Passover rites, some of them being pre-Christian ones (such as rereading of Leviticus according to the literal meaning of the Septuagint), some other Christian. The second most important Baumstark’s law is that of the prevalent stability of the more sacred seasons of the liturgical year (“Das Gesetz der Erhaltung des Alten in liturgischen hochwertigen Zeit”). Indeed, the most important part of the earliest Christian year is the most accessible to our liturgical reconstructions.




The calendarical scheme is the most stable core of the liturgy. Its stability is defined by the development of the cult as a whole and not by the liturgical development alone. This fact has been observed, at first, by Hippolyte Delehaye.

But the calendar is, nevertheless, a liturgical establishment, and so, it is an area where the laws of liturgical development as described by Anton Baumstark (and some others after him) continue to be applicable.

So, the closer we are to the calendar, the more applicable are the methods of the comparative liturgy even to the earliest period of the Christian worship — and the more Bradshow’s pessimism is to be overcome.

[1] Christopher Rowland, The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity, New York: Crossroad, 1982.

[2] Paul F. Bradshaw, The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

[3] Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 19912.

[4] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 19912, p. 120.

[5] See, for the reconstruction of the calendarical scheme: Lourié, 2006: Метатрон и Прометая: Вторая книга Еноха на перекрестке проблем. Размышления по поводу книги: Andrei A. Orlov, The Enochic-Metratron Tradition (Tübingen, 2005) // Scrinium. Revue de patrologie, d’hagiographie critique et d’histoire ecclésiastique 2 (2006) 371—407.

[6] The following is a summary of B. Lourié, Les quatre jours « de l’intervalle » : une modification néotestamentaire et chrétienne du calendrier de 364 jours, Христианский Восток 4 (Х) (2002) [изд. 2006] 470—497 (= Mémorial Annie Jaubert (1912—1980). Éd. par M. Petit, B. Lourié ; see now 2nd edition : Gorgias Press, 2008).

[7] P. Nautin, Homélies pascales. I. Une homélie inspirée du Traité sur la Pâque d’Hippolyte. Étude, édition et traduction (Paris, 1950) (SC 27) 151 (§ 21).


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