Jewish and Christian Passover: Origins and differences

The Angel of Death and the First Passover

Two sister religions, such as Judaism and Christianitycould not but have among their most important holidays two absolutely similar traditions. Jewish Passover celebrates the passage (Hebrew פסח ; Greek pascha ; Aramaic pasah or “to pass over”) from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. The Christian tradition, together with this “transition” towards the freedom of the people of GOD, also associates and recalls the analogous “passage” from the death to the resurrection of Christ, from the earthly “imprisonment” of the body to the heavenly “liberation” of the Soul.


Among the Jews, Easter (Pesach) was originally linked to agricultural activity and was the feast of harvesting the first fruits of the countryside, starting with wheat. Easter is one of the three “pilgrimage festivals” (Shalosh Regalim) together with Pentecost (Shavuot) and Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).
Later, Easter becomes the annual celebration of the liberation of the Jews from slavery, a meaning that was added to the previous one. In memory of the exodus of the people from Egypt and when, because of the blood of the lambs sprinkled on the doorposts, the exterminating Angel of the LORD (Exodus Chapter 12) spared the firstborn of the Israelites, but instead killed those of the Egyptians.

Even today, the Passover dinner at the Jews takes place according to a precise order called Seder. It feeds on bitter herbs to remember the bitterness of Egyptian slavery and the wonder of rediscovered freedom.
To celebrate Easter the Israelites went to Jerusalem every year in Jesus’ time, and that was precisely the reason that led the Messiah to enter the Holy City. His death took place on the occasion of the Jewish Passover, and for Christians Jesus represents exactly the same as the Pesach lamb that spares from death, the new bread that revives (1Cor 5, 7-8).

Therefore the tradition of consuming the lamb for Easter it comes from the Jewish Pesach. In fact, the lamb is part of the origin of this feast, and specifically it refers to when GOD announced to the people of Israel that he would free them from slavery in Egypt by saying:

4 And Moses said, “Thus saith the LORD: ‘About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt;
and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant who is behind the mill, and all the firstborn of beasts.'”
(Exodus 11, 4-5)


Thus ordering the people of Israel to mark their doors with lamb’s blood so that the Angel could recognize those to strike with the tenth and final plague. With Christianism, the symbol of the lamb sacrificed for the salvation of all becomes Christ himself and his sacrifice has the value of redemption.

Jewish Tradition

Passover, also called Pesach ( Hebrew: פֶּסַח Pesaḥ/Peḏaḥ), is a major, biblically derived Jewish holiday. Jews celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation by GOD from slavery in ancient Egypt and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. It commemorates the story of the Exodus as described in the Hebrew Bible, especially in the Book of Exodus, in which the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. According to standard biblical chronology, this event would have taken place at about 1300 BCE (AM 2450).

Passover is a spring festival which during the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem was connected to the offering of the “first-fruits of the barley”, barley being the first grain to ripen and to be harvested in the Land of Israel.

Passover commences on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nisan and lasts for either seven days (in Israel and for Reform Jews and other progressive Jews around the world who adhere to the Biblical commandment) or eight days for Orthodox, Hasidic, and most Conservative Jews (in the diaspora). In Judaism, a day commences at dusk and lasts until the following dusk, thus the first day of Passover begins after dusk of the 14th of Nisan and ends at dusk of the 15th day of the month of Nisan. The rituals unique to the Passover celebrations commence with the Passover Seder when the 15th of Nisan has begun. In the Northern Hemisphere Passover takes place in spring as the Torah prescribes it: “in the month of [the] spring” (בחדש האביב Exodus 23, 15). It is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays.

In the narrative of the Exodus, the Bible tells that GOD helped the Children of Israel escape from their slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the ancient Egyptians before the Pharaoh would release his Israelite slaves; the tenth and worst of the plagues was the death of the Egyptian first-born.

The Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a slaughtered spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the LORD knew to pass over the first-born in these homes, hence the English name of the holiday.

When the Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise (leaven). In commemoration, for the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason Passover is called the feast of unleavened bread in the Torah. Thus matzo (flat unleavened bread) is eaten during Passover and it is a tradition of the holiday.

Historically, together with Shavuot and Sukkot, Passover is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals (Shalosh Regalim) during which the entire population of the kingdom of Judah made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans still make this pilgrimage to Mount Gerizim, but only men participate in public worship.

Christian Tradition

Easter, also called Pascha or Resurrection Sunday, is an holyday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day after his burial following his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.

Most Christians refer to the week before Easter as “Holy Week”, which contains the days of the Easter Triduum, including Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Maundy and Last Supper, as well as Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. In Western Christianity, Eastertide, or the Easter Season, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts seven weeks, ending with the coming of the 50th day, Pentecost Sunday. In Eastern Christianity, the season of Pascha begins on Pascha and ends with the coming of the 40th day, the Feast of the Ascension.

Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts which do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars which follow only the cycle of the sun; rather, its date is offset from the date of Passover and is therefore calculated based on a lunisolar calendar similar to the Hebrew calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established two rules, independence of the Jewish calendar and worldwide uniformity, which were the only rules for Easter explicitly laid down by the council. No details for the computation were specified; these were worked out in practice, a process that took centuries and generated a number of controversies. It has come to be the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or soonest after 21 March, but calculations vary.

Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In most European languages the feast is called by the words for passover in those languages; and in the older English versions of the Bible the term Easter was the term used to translate passover. Easter customs vary across the Christian world, and include sunrise services, exclaiming the Paschal greeting, clipping the church, and decorating Easter eggs (symbols of the empty tomb). The Easter lily, a symbol of the resurrection, traditionally decorates the chancel area of churches on this day and for the rest of Eastertide.

Muslim Tradition

Eid al-Adha (Arabic: عيد الأضحى‎, translit. ʿīd al-aḍḥā, lit. “Festival of the Sacrifice’”), also called the “Sacrifice Feast”, is the second of two Muslim holidays celebrated worldwide each year, and considered the holier of the two. It honors the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son, as an act of submission to GODs Command. Before he sacrificed his son GOD intervened by sending his Angel Jibra’il (Gabriel), who then put a sheep in his son’s place. The meat from the sacrificed animal is divided into three parts: the family retains one third of the share; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors; and the remaining third is given to the poor and needy.

In the Islamic lunar calendar, Eid al-Adha falls on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah and lasts for four days until the 13th day. In the international (Gregorian) calendar, the dates vary from year to year drifting approximately 11 days earlier each year.

Eid al-Adha is the latter of the two Eid holidays, the former being Eid al-Fitr. The word “Eid” appears once in Al-Ma’ida, the fifth sura of the Quran, with the meaning “solemn festival”.

Like Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha begins with a prayer of two rakats followed by a sermon (khutbah). Eid al-Adha celebrations start after the descent of the Hujjaj, the pilgrims performing the Hajj, from Mount Arafat , a hill east of Mecca. Eid sacrifice may take place until sunset on the 13th day of Dhu al-Hijjah. The days of Eid have been singled out in the hadith as “days of remembrance” and considered the holiest days in the Islamic Calendar. The takbir (days) of Tashriq are from the Maghrib prayer of the 29th of Dhul-Qadah up to the Maghrib prayer of the 13th of Dhu al-Hijjah (thirteen days and nights).

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