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The festival of Shavuot ("Weeks") is one of the three 'pilgrim festivals', when every Jewish male goes up to Jerusalem. The others are Pesach and Sukkot.

The name "Shovuot" comes from Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:9-10, which, along with Leviticus 23:15-16, determine that the festival is to be seven weeks after the start of Pesach. The Bible also says, "You shall number fifty days" (Leviticus 23:16); hence in the New Testament the Greek name for the holiday is "pentêkostês" which means 'fifty' and is usually transliterated into English as "Pentecost". Two other names for the festival are found in the Tanakh: 'Day of the First-fruits' in Numbers 28:26 and 'Feast of the Harvest' in Exodus 23:16.

On Shavuot the first-fruits of the wheat harvest were presented to the Lord in the Temple. The offering consisted of two loaves of bread baked with leavened flour (Leviticus 23:17). Thus was celebrated God's providence at the start of the wheat season.

Besides its primary agricultural significance Shavuot later came to be understood as commemorating the giving of the Torah to Moses. Thus each Pilgrim Festival was associated with a major historical event in the forming of the Jewish people, and also with a major religious theme:

  • Pesach, celebrating the exodus from Egypt, has creation as its theme, the creation of the Jewish people;

  • the theme of Shavuot is revelation;

  • and the theme of Sukkot, associated with the forty years of wandering culminated by entering the Promised Land, is redemption.

These tree themes – creation, revelation and redemption – reappear in other aspects of Jewish life, for example, the three meals of Shabbat ("For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things, to whom be glory for ever. Amen" Romans 11:36).

Because Shavuot recalls God's revelation of himself, his power and his Torah to the Jewish people, the synagogue readings for this holiday include Exodus 19-20 (Moses ascent of Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments) and two passages celebrating other theophanies (appearances of God), Ezekiel 1-2 and Habakkuk 3. Also read at this festival is the book of Ruth, appropriate because it is a story about a harvest.

Finally Shavuot is the traditional date on which King David died, a point to be remembered when reading Acts 2:25-32.