First Fruits

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Fruit Basket (painting by Balthasar van der Ast). Fruit Basket.jpg
Fruit Basket (painting by Balthasar van der Ast).

First Fruits is a religious offering of the first agricultural produce of the harvest. In classical Greek, Roman, and Hebrew religions, the first fruits were given to priests as an offering to deity. In Christian faiths, the tithe is similarly given as a donation or offering serving as a primary source of income to maintain the religious leaders and facilities. In some Christian texts, Jesus Christ, through his resurrection, is referred to as the first fruits of the dead. Beginning in 1966 a unique "First Fruits" celebration brought the Ancient African harvest festivals that became the African American holiday, Kwanzaa.

Harvest process of gathering mature crops from the fields

Harvesting is the process of gathering a ripe crop from the fields. Reaping is the cutting of grain or pulse for harvest, typically using a scythe, sickle, or reaper. On smaller farms with minimal mechanization, harvesting is the most labor-intensive activity of the growing season. On large mechanized farms, harvesting utilizes the most expensive and sophisticated farm machinery, such as the combine harvester. Process automation has increased the efficiency of both the seeding and harvesting process. Specialized harvesting equipment utilizing conveyor belts to mimic gentle gripping and mass transport replaces the manual task of removing each seedling by hand. The term "harvesting" in general usage may include immediate postharvest handling, including cleaning, sorting, packing, and cooling.

Ancient Greek religion religion in ancient Greece

Ancient Greek religion encompasses the collection of beliefs, rituals, and mythology originating in ancient Greece in the form of both popular public religion and cult practices. These groups varied enough for it to be possible to speak of Greek religions or "cults" in the plural, though most of them shared similarities.

Religion in ancient Rome the ancestral ethnic religion of the city of Rome

Religion in ancient Rome includes the ancestral ethnic religion of the city of Rome that the Romans used to define themselves as a people, as well as the religious practices of peoples brought under Roman rule, in so far as they became widely followed in Rome and Italy. The Romans thought of themselves as highly religious, and attributed their success as a world power to their collective piety (pietas) in maintaining good relations with the gods. The Romans are known for the great number of deities they honored, a capacity that earned the mockery of early Christian polemicists.


Ancient historical

In ancient Greece

In Classical Athens the First Fruits were called an offering of aparche. [1] Except during times of war, this would be a major source of funds for the temples of the Eleusinian goddesses, Demeter and Kore. Much of the agricultural offering was sold by the temple with the proceeds being used to pay for the daily upkeep of the temple complex. Under Pericles' rule, it became a way of extending Athens' power. The Demos or voting citizens would control the operation of the temple by elected boards. During times of war or for other necessity the Demos would borrow money from the treasury of the temple. Neighboring cities under Athens' control were required to give offerings from their harvests. This served to enrich Athens and extend her power.

Athens Capital and largest city of Greece

Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years and its earliest human presence started somewhere between the 11th and 7th millennium BC.

Eleusinian Mysteries ceremonies in ancient Greece

The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiations held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece. They are the "most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece". Their basis was an old agrarian cult, and there is some evidence that they were derived from the religious practices of the Mycenean period. The mysteries represented the myth of the abduction of Persephone from her mother Demeter by the king of the underworld Hades, in a cycle with three phases: the descent (loss), the search, and the ascent, with the main theme being the ascent (άνοδος) of Persephone and the reunion with her mother. It was a major festival during the Hellenic era, and later spread to Rome. Similar religious rites appear in the agricultural societies of Near East and in Minoan Crete.

Demeter Greek goddess of the harvest, grains, and agriculture

In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest and agriculture, presiding over grains and the fertility of the earth. Her cult titles include Sito (Σιτώ), "she of the Grain", as the giver of food or grain, and Thesmophoros, "Law-Bringer", as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society.

Much of this was shown in the temple reports which were carved in stone when the governing body (called the epistatai) of the temple changed hands. In the stone IG I3 386-387 it can be seen how the finances of the Eleusinian temples worked. Doctor Maureen B. Cavanaugh who translated stone IG I3 386-387, argues that there were heavy implications of the funding realized from the First Fruits donations to the temple, in particular that it brought significant impact on Athenian power. [2] This is noted in a loan cited in the stone record, of over 20,000 silver drachmas to the city.

Inscription IG I2 76 shows the provisions made for the offering of first fruits to Demeter and Kore by Athenian deme s, Athens' allies and other Greek cities. It sets out that one six-hundredth of the barley crop and one twelve-hundredth of the wheat was to be offered to the goddesses. The proposal for the decree came from a special board of 'draftsmen' (syngrapheis), which suggests that the matter was deemed relatively complicated. Sacrifices were to be paid for out of the proceeds from the barley and wheat, votive offerings were to be made to the two goddesses, and the rest of the grain was to be sold. There were clearly concerns that some allies might avoid offering grain by claiming that they had come to Athens but never been received by officials there. So, the inscription insists that the Hieropoioi accept the grain within five days, or otherwise be subject to a substantial fine of 1000 drachmas. [3] In order to draw in other Greeks, the Hieropoioi were then to record the weight of grain received on a board and distribute it to other cities, encouraging them to contribute. Lampon, a renowned seer in fifth-century Athens, moved a rider in which he proposed several changes to the draft decree: that the decree should be inscribed on stelai both in Eleusis and in Athens, that there should be an intercalary month in the following year, and that the Pelargikon (sacred land around the western end of the Acropolis) should be tidied up and protected. This demonstrates the authority which he gained from his expertise as a seer – notable since the Athenians tended to shy away from the recognition of experts in most fields.

Persephone daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld in Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, Persephone, also called Kore, is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Homer describes her as the formidable, venerable, majestic queen of the underworld, who carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead. She becomes the queen of the underworld through her abduction by and subsequent marriage to Hades, the god of the underworld. The myth of her abduction represents her function as the personification of vegetation, which shoots forth in spring and withdraws into the earth after harvest; hence, she is also associated with spring as well as the fertility of vegetation. Similar myths appear in the Orient, in the cults of male gods like Attis, Adonis, and Osiris, and in Minoan Crete.

The hieropoios in ancient Athens was the official in charge of overseeing religious ceremonies and sacrifices.

Fifth-century Athens is the Greek city-state of Athens in the time from 480–404 BC. This was a period of Athenian political hegemony, economic growth and cultural flourishing formerly known as the Golden Age of Athens with the later part The Age of Pericles. The period began in 478 BC after defeat of the Persian invasion, when an Athenian-led coalition of city-states, known as the Delian League, confronted the Persians to keep the liberated Asian Greek cities free. After peace was made with Persia in the mid 5th century BC, what started as an alliance of independent city-states became an Athenian empire when Athens abandoned the pretense of parity among its allies and relocated the Delian League treasury from Delos to Athens, where it funded the building of the Athenian Acropolis and put half its population on the public payroll and maintained dominating naval power in the Greek world. With the empire's funds, military dominance and its political fortunes guided by statesman and orator Pericles, Athens produced some of the most influential and enduring cultural artifacts of the Western tradition. The playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides all lived and worked in 5th century BC Athens, as did the historians Herodotus and Thucydides, the physician Hippocrates, and the philosophers Plato and Socrates. Athens' patron goddess was Athena, from whom they derived the name.

The motivation behind the offering of first fruits is a combination of three religious factors: the need to honour the two goddesses, obedience to Apollo (in the form of the oracle), and 'ancestral custom'. The last two factors suggest that a recent oracle was in line with an older practice which had either fallen into disuse, or was being transformed into a much larger affair. [4] In return for the offering, 'there will be many benefits in abundance of good harvests if they are men who do not injure the Athenians'. [5] The reward, therefore, although it could only be guaranteed by the gods, was conditional on not injuring Athens. The decree cannot be dated precisely, however the combination of specific religious policy and Athenian political dominance evident here is relevant throughout Athens' imperial period. It is an example of Athens striving to advertise her claims to leadership in Greece, whilst simultaneously binding herself more closely with her allies. Similar to this is the expectation that allies would bring annual tribute to the City Dionysia, and sacrificial contributions to the Panathenaea.

Dionysia festival in ancient Athens

The Dionysia was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia. The Dionysia actually consisted of two related festivals, the Rural Dionysia and the City Dionysia, which took place in different parts of the year. They were also an essential part of the Dionysian Mysteries.

Panathenaic Games

The Panathenaic Games were held every four years in Athens in Ancient Greece from 566 BC to the 3rd century AD. These Games incorporated religious festival, ceremony, athletic competitions, and cultural events hosted within a stadium.

Hebrew perspective

In Ancient Israel, First Fruits was a type of offering that was akin to, but distinct from, terumah gedolah. While terumah gedolah was an agricultural tithe, the First-fruits, discussed in the Bikkurim tractate of the Talmud, were a sacrificial gift brought up to the altar (Bikkurim 3:12). The major obligation to bring First Fruits (henceforth: Bikkurim) to the Temple began at the festival of Shavuot and continued until the festival of Sukkot (Bikkurim 1:6). This tithe was limited to the traditional seven agricultural products (wheat, barley, grapes in the form of wine, figs, pomegranates, olives in the form of oil, and dates) grown in Israel. [6] This tithe, and the associated festival of Shavuot, is legislated by the Torah. [7] Textual critics speculate that these regulations were imposed long after the offerings and festival had developed. [8]

Talmud Holy Book of Rabbinic Judaism

The Talmud is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law (halakha) and Jewish theology. Until the advent of modernity, in nearly all Jewish communities, the Talmud was the centerpiece of Jewish cultural life and was foundational to "all Jewish thought and aspirations", serving also as "the guide for the daily life" of Jews.

Shavuot Jewish holiday

Shavuot or Shovuos, in Ashkenazi usage, Shavuʿoth in Sephardi and Mizrahi Hebrew, is known as the Feast of Weeks in English and as Pentecost (Πεντηκοστή) in Ancient Greek. It is a Jewish holiday that occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, meaning it may fall between May 15 and June 14.

Seven Species Seven agricultural products listed in the Bible as special products of the Land of Israel

The Seven Species are seven agricultural products - two grains and five fruits - which are listed in the Hebrew Bible as being special products of the Land of Israel.

By the time of classical antiquity, extensive regulations regarding Bikkurim were recorded in the classical rabbinical literature. [9] According to Jewish law, the corners of fields, wild areas, left-overs after harvesting (gleanings), and unowned crops were not subjected to (and could not be used as) the tithe of First Fruits (they were intended to be left as charity for the poor, and other mendicants); [6] plants from outside Israel were also prohibited from inclusion in the tithe, [6] as was anything belonging to non-Jews. [10] The rules also specify that each type of product had to be individually tithed, even if the numbers were balanced so that there was no difference in amount between this situation and using just some types of First Fruit as the tithe, and retaining others in their entirety. [6] Fruit which was allocated to the tithe could not be swapped for fruit which wasn't, to the extent that wine couldn't be swapped for vinegar, and olive oil couldn't be replaced by olives; furthermore, fruits were not allowed to be individually divided if only part went to the tithe (small whole pomegranates had to be used rather than sections from a large pomegranate, for example). [6]

The separation of tithed produce from untithed produce was also subject to regulation. The individual(s) separating one from the other had to be ritually clean, and had to include the best produce in the tithe if a kohen (priest) lived nearby. [6] During the act of separation, the produce was not permitted to be counted out to determine which fell under the tithe, nor to be weighed for that purpose, nor to be measured for the same reason, but instead the proportion that was to become the tithe had to be guessed at. [6] In certain situations, such as when tithed produce became mixed with non-tithed produce (or there was uncertainty as to whether it had), the tithed produce had to be destroyed. [6] Anyone who made mistakes in the separation of tithed produce, and anyone who consumed any of the tithe, was required to pay compensation as a guilt offering . [6]

The pilgrims that brought the Bikkurim to the Temple were obligated to recite a declaration, also known as the Avowal, set forth in Deuteronomy 26:3-10 (cf. Mishnah, Bikkurim 3:6). Native-born Israelites and proselytes would bring the Bikkurim and would say the Avowal, but women who brought the Bikkurim were not permitted to say the Avowal, since they were unable to claim inheritance in the Land bequeathed unto the tribes by their male lineage. [lower-alpha 1] This Avowal was incorporated into a beautiful and grand festive celebration with a procession of pilgrims marching up to Jerusalem and then the Temple with gold, silver or willow baskets to which live birds were tied. (Bikkurim 3:3,5 and 8). The pilgrims were led by flutists to the city of Jerusalem where they were greeted by dignitaries (Bikkurim 3:3). The procession would then resume with the flutist in lead until the Temple Mount where the Levites would break out in song (Bikkurim 3:4). The birds were given as sacrificial offerings and the declaration would be made before a priest while the basket was still on the pilgrim's shoulder (Bikkurim 3:5-6). After the basket was presented to the priest, it was placed by the Altar and the pilgrim would bow and leave (Bikkurim 3:6).

Christian perspective

The idea of giving the First Fruits to the church has, for the large part, not been actively observed in Western Christianity. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the 'first fruits' tradition is kept during the Feast of the Transfiguration,[ citation needed ] held on August 6/19.

In the canonical gospels, the harvest of First Fruits is used metaphorically and allegorically.[ citation needed ] In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is described as stating that "in the time of harvest" he would instruct the harvesters (i.e., the angels) to gather the "tares", bind them into bundles, and burn them, but to "gather the wheat into [his] barn" (Matthew 13:30). Some argue that this teaching is about the Last Judgment rather than offering any thanksgiving to a deity, the “tares” being sinners or unbelievers of God and his son Jesus and the "wheat" being believers of God, although it also fits the rapture as noted in Matthew 24:31 and Revelation 14:4.[ original research? ]

Other Christians, as well as early Gnostic writers, argued it was less about sin and more about following Jesus' teachings and abandoning the teachings they had formerly known. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as stating "...he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together" (John 4:36), which some Christians argue is about rewards from God for those who perform God’s work.[ original research? ]

First Corinthians also referred to Jesus' resurrection as a type of First Fruit, "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep." [12]

In the Eastern Orthodox Church

In the Eastern Orthodox Church the offering of first fruits takes the form of a thanksgiving and blessing. The produce is then consumed by the faithful rather than being given to the Church (though it may be donated as a free-will offering). The liturgical concept behind the blessing is the faithful offering back to God a token of that which he in his lovingkindness has provided, God blessing these firstfruits and returning them to the faithful for their benefit and blessing.

The blessing of first fruits traditionally begins on the Great Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6), with the blessing of grapes. In localities where grapes are not grown, other early-ripening fruits such as apples may be offered. There is a special ceremony at the end of the Divine Liturgy at which the priest blesses the first fruits, asking "...that the Lord may bless them, that they may be to us unto rejoicing, and that He may accept a gift of these fruits unto the cleansing of our sins..." [13]

As the harvest season progresses, the first fruits of each species can be brought to the church to be blessed, using a similar format, but a different prayer: "...that the Lord may receive our gift unto His eternal treasury and grant us an abundance of earthly goods..." [13]

In the Roman Catholic Church

In the Middle Ages the concept of offering the first fruits was adapted by the Christian church. This was called a tithe and was basically a tax to support the local clergy and the facility. In England, every tenth egg, sheaf of wheat, lamb, chicken, and all other animals were given to the church as a tithe, so farm products were expected to be donated throughout the year.

In France, the tithes—called la dîme—were a land and agricultural tax. The offering of first fruits was also referred to as new fruits. In French churches in the Middle Ages, new fruits were at given seasons presented at Mass for blessing. The blessed fruits were kept by the church and divided between the clergy and the poor. Similar customs during the Middle Ages could be found in all European countries.

First Fruits also refers to the payment new clerics made to the bishop or the Pope of all profits from the territory the new cleric controlled. This payment was called both Annates and First Fruits.

In Mormonism

In the Book of Mormon, a canon of scripture used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a similar passage is found stating "the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God". [14]

See also

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  1. ἀπαρχή . Liddell, Henry George ; Scott, Robert ; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. Maureen B. Cavanaugh [PhD], Eleusis and Athens: Documents in Finance, Religion and Politics in the Fifth Century B.C. , Scholars Press, Published 1996, ISBN   0-7885-0031-7.
  3. Osborne, Robin; Rhodes, P. J. (2017). Greek Historical Inscriptions, 478-404 BC. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 236.
  4. Bowden, Hugh (2005). Classical Athens and the Delphic oracle: divination and democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 127.
  5. IG I2 76, 45-6
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Singer, Isidore, ed. (1901) Jewish Encyclopedia (Funk and Wagnals) ASIN: B000B68W5S s.v. "Heave-Offering"
  7. Exodus 23:16-19; Leviticus 23:9; Deuteronomy 26:2; et al.
  8. Friedman, Richard Elliott (1997), Who Wrote the Bible? HarperOne. ISBN   978-0-06-063035-5
  9. Black, Matthew, ed. (2001), Peake's commentary on the Bible , Routledge ISBN   978-0-415-26355-9
  10. Singer, ed., Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. "Sacrifice"
  11. Ben Maimon, Moshe (1974). Mishne Torah (Hil. Bikkurim 4:1–3) (in Hebrew). 4. Jerusalem: Pe'er ha-Torah. pp. 132–133.
  12. 1Corinthians 15:20
  13. 1 2 Sokolof, Archpriest D. (1917). "A Manual of the Orthodox Church's Divine Services" (3rd ed.). Jordanville NY: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev (published 2001): 95.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. 2 Nephi 2:9. "Book of Mormon".
  1. Mishnah Bikkurim 1:4, disputing, says that proselytes who brought the Bikkurim could not say the Avowal, seeing that they were not true descendants of Jacob the Patriarch and had no inheritance in the Land, though the Avowal would have them say, "Which the Lord sware unto our Fathers for to give us" (Deut. 26:3). Moreover, the Avowal makes use of the words, "My father was an oppressed Aramaean" (Deut. 26:5), explained there in the Aramaic Targum of Onkelos to mean that Jacob, the progenitor of the Israelite nation, was persecuted by Laban the Aramaean, who sought to destroy him. Maimonides, in his Code of Jewish law, makes it clear that the Avowal was also stated by proselytes, ruling in accordance with the Jerusalem Talmud, and where it is explained that although they cannot claim physical descent from Jacob the Patriarch, they could still claim to be of Abraham's progeny, since the Torah testifies retrospectively of him that he will become "the Father of many nations" (Gen. 17:5). Moreover, even proselytes had a portion in the Land, by virtue of the Torah allowing them to be allotted land in the suburbs of the cities occupied by the tribes. [11]

Further reading