The Astronomy of Passover
- Thursday, April 15, 2004
"The Paschal Moon"
Mel Gibson's stunning motion picture, "The Passion of The Christ," opens with a dramatic closeup view of the Full Moon. From there, we see Jesus and His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the subsequent events from the Gospels are shown set against the pale brightness of the Moon's light.
The Moon is shown several times in that opening scene, as if to impress upon the viewer that these events did indeed take place on the night of the Full Moon. In this astronomical way, as in so many other ways, the maker of this remarkable film accurately depicted Biblical truth.
After all, Jesus was indeed crucified on the day following the Passover. And we do know from Scripture that the Passover is to be celebrated during the Full Moon of the current season. This particular Full Moon is commonly called "The Easter Moon," or more properly, "The Paschal Moon."
* The Astronomy of Passover *
The first Passover was celebrated by the Israelites in their last night in Egypt. The Israelites were instructed by the LORD to kill an umblemished lamb, and place its blood on their doorposts, so that the angel of death would "pass over" the house and not kill the firstborn of that family. In this way, the firstborn children of Egypt were killed, after which Moses led the children of Israel from slavery to freedom.
The LORD commanded that the feasts of the Passover and unleaved bread be celebrated by Israel forever. And the timing of the Passover celebration is given as follows:
"In the fourteenth day of the first month at even, is the LORD's Passover." -- Leviticus 23:5
In our culture, if we hear "the fourteenth day of the first month," we would think this to mean "January 14." Our modern, western culture still uses a variation of the old Roman calendar, originally established by Julius Caesar in around 45 B.C. Our calendar is strictly a solar calendar, timed around the annual cycle of the Sun through the seasons, and oriented so that the solstices and equinoxes fall on the same dates each year.
In our calendar, "months" are simply arbitrary units used to divide the solar year. So the dates within our months are just numbers, with no reference to the Moon or its phases. But the Hebrew calendar used by the ancient Israelites and the modern Jews today is a lunar calendar. And in this lunar calendar, the "months" represent complete cycles of the Moon's phases. In this way, each date of the month represents a certain phase of the Moon, so that the same phases will fall on the same date from month to month.
So when the LORD commanded Israel to celebrate Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month, it was understood that this day was two weeks after the New Moon, which is to say, the night of the Full Moon of the first month. The Passover is called "pesech" in Hebrew, and in the Greek of the New Testament, this word is rendered as "Pasch." For this reason, the Full Moon of Passover is called "The Paschal Moon."
* The Full Moon *
In our generation, very few people bother to notice the phases of the Moon. We might notice the Moon when outside in the evenings. But this usually while we are getting into or out of our cars as we scurry around living our busy little lives. So most of us never bother to observe the progression of the Moon's phases. But even 100 years ago, most people lived close to the earth, and it was natural to follow the Moon's phases over the course of the month, increasing each night to the Full Moon, and decreasing in the weeks after. And this was certainly true in Biblical times.
For those of us who still follow the Moon's phases, we notice that the Full Moon rises in the East just as the Sun is setting in the West. The Full Moon crosses the sky all night, and reaches its highest point at Midnight. The Full Moon finally sets in the morning, just as the Sun is coming up. So the Moon truly does "rule the night" as we read in Genesis 1:16. Here's an excellent classical description of the Full Moon:
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