As previously noted (#109-110, #111, #112), the ritual prescriptions outlined in the Priestly writer’s account of the Passover in Exodus 12:1-20 and 12:40-50—all from P—are at odds with the ritual prescriptions of the Passover outlined in Deuteronomy 16:1-8. This is not because Yahweh changed his mind 40 years later, following the narrative chronology, but rather because these two texts were written by two different priestly guilds and each one sought to present the Passover, authorized through the mouthpiece of Yahweh or Moses, in light of the specific historical audience for which they wrote. The specific contradiction that we’re concerned with in this entry is the place where each of these Passover accounts command the Passover to be celebrated and eaten.
Both in Exodus 12:3-8 and Exodus 12:43-46 the Passover is to be celebrated in each family’s house:
- on the 10th of this month, let each one take a lamb for the father’s houses, a lamb per house (12:3)
- if the household will be too few for a lamb, then he and his neighbor who is close to his house will take it according to the number of persons (12:4)
- and they will take some of the blood and place it on the two doorposts and on the lintel on the houses in which they will eat it (12:7)
- it shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the meat from the houses outside (12:46)
The Priestly writer presents these prescriptions as “the law of the Passover”: a lamb per household, ritually set apart 4 days prior to the Passover, ritually prepared, i.e., roasted, and eaten by that household and only in that household on the eve of Passover. This, our Priestly writer has Yahweh proclaim, “you shall celebrate through your generations, an eternal law.”
In the Deuteronomic version, however, preparing and eating the Passover at home, “in your houses,” in the city, or at the gates are ALL strictly prohibited! In the hands of the Deuteronomist, Passover becomes a national pilgrimage festival where all male Jews must perform a pilgrim to Jerusalem and celebrate and eat the Passover meal there, no exception!
Observe the month of Abib, and you shall make Passover for Yahweh your god, because in the month of Abib Yahweh your god brought you out of Egypt at night. And you shall make a Passover sacrifice to Yahweh your god of the flock or herd, in the place that Yahweh will choose to tent his name there. . . You may not make the Passover sacrifice within one of your gates that Yahweh your god is giving you. But rather to the place that Yahweh your god will choose to tent his name: there you shall make the Passover sacrifice in the evening at sunset, the time when you went out from Egypt. And you shall cook and eat it in the place that Yahweh your god will choose. (Deut 16:1-7)
The most pronounced feature of the Deuteronomic version is the repeated refrain that “you shall make, cook, and eat the Passover in the place that Yahweh your god will choose.” That place is Jerusalem, where Yahweh “tents” or “settles” his name. This Passover prescription, as well as the rest of Deuteronomy 12-26, was written during king Josiah’s religious reforms of the 7th century BC, and it was used to centralize Israel’s religious practices in Jerusalem, now the only altar where Yahweh was to be worshiped and sacrifices were to be made, the only “house of Yahweh” where tithes were to be brought, and the only holy place where his festivals were to be celebrated (Deut 12). It is during Josiah’s reforms that Jerusalem becomes the official religious and political center of Israel. The flip side of this centralization was the abolition and destruction of all earlier forms and places of worship throughout the land: the destruction of all other altars and shrines, and the centralization of all festivals at Jerusalem (see 2 Kgs 22). The text of Deuteronomy explicitly details the older practices that are being abolished and transformed here:
You may not make the Passover sacrifice within one of your gates. . . But rather to the place that Yahweh your god will choose to tent his name: there you shall make the Passover sacrifice!
Written to legitimate Josiah’s religious reforms (630 BC), Deuteronomy 12-26 stipulates the main reformative theme in Josiah’s centralization of the cult: namely, that all sacrifices and festivals must be officiated over by Levite priests at, and only at, the temple in Jerusalem. This in and of itself transforms the paschal sacrifice from a domestic rite performed in the community or the city gates, as described in both E and P, to a national pilgrimage festival and ritual performed at Jerusalem. Additionally, there is no mention of placing the blood of the paschal sacrifice on the doorposts in D; rather, what is placed on the doorposts in D is Moses’ words (Deut 6:9).
Thus, Deuteronomy 16 was clearly written during a time period when the Temple at Jerusalem stood—that is, it is a pre-exilic text (before the temple fell in 587 BC), and was most likely written in the late monarchal period (7th c. BC), and against the backdrop of E where sacrifices, tithes, and festivals were celebrated at any altar of Yahweh’s throughout the land (Ex 20:24-25; 23:14-17).
In sum, the reason given for P’s legislation, which allows for the paschal sacrifice to be performed by the family head and within the community, and D’s which stringently stipulates that the sacrifice be performed solely and only at “the place that Yahweh your god will choose to tent his name,” that is Jerusalem, is that while D’s text reflects the religious reforms of the 7th century under Josiah’s rule, P reflects a Passover rite that was observed and performed during the exilic period, when the Jews were not in possession of their homeland, nor their temple. P must have been written after the fall of the temple and for an audience that no longer had a centralized temple, that is one that was living in exile.
Finally, for the Priestly writer writing to an exilic group of Israelites now living in Babylon three identity markers were stipulated to keep the Israelites separated from their “heathen” environs and loyal to Yahweh: circumcision, the Sabbath, and the Passover as decreed in the Priestly text of Exodus 12. Furthermore, all of these stipulations are decreed, from the mouth of Yahweh, as “eternal laws.”
It was the strict observation of these three “eternal laws/covenants” (Gen 17:1-14 (#28); Ex 31:12-17; Ex 12:14-20) which instilled hope in the exilic community that in observing Yahweh’s covenants, Yahweh would uphold his end of the deal and bring them out of exile. This in and of itself was the sole creation of the exilic Priestly writer. We will have occasion to return to this theme in future contradictions, especially since the Priestly writer’s covenants (circumcision, Sabbath, and the Aaronid priesthood) stand in utter opposition to the Mosaic covenant in the Deuteronomic tradition (see also #30).