History of Passover: the Jewish Pesach Holiday


Sunset tonight, April 22, marks the beginning of Passover. Exodus 12 in the Hebrew Bible tells the story of Passover from the life of Moses. Ten plagues were visited upon the Egyptian pharaoh (starring Yul Brenner in “The Ten Commandments,” though he was better in “The King and I“) to get his attention to release the Children of Israel from bondage.

The final plague was the death of the firstborn son, visited upon the land by the Lord’s destroyer. The Jews were to smear the blood of a sacrificed lamb upon “the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses” so that the destroyer would “pass over” them unharmed. Pharaoh relented and released the Israelites. The Israelite slaves took the road out of Egypt. The Greek words for “road out” are Ex ‘odos, and by way of Latin, Exodus.


Seder of Passover

In making their hasty exit, the Jews did not have an opportunity to let their bread rise, so in commemoration, they celebrated the Passover Seder (“order”) meal with unleavened bread (matzo), bitter herbs, and roast lamb to be eaten in traveling garb.

The term Passover is often used interchangeably with the term Feast of Unleavened Bread, at least in St. Luke’s Gospel (Chapter 22:1), though the first century Pharisees marked the seven-day feast to begin on the day after Passover. Nevertheless, only unleavened bread was eaten during the seven-day celebration following Passover. In present-day celebrations, all yeast is to be removed from Jewish houses during this time.



Passover as a Holy Day

Passover is one of the three Pilgrimage Festivals in the Jewish calendar – along with the Feast of Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles – and is a major holiday. Jews from all over the world return to Jerusalem for celebrations at the Temple. During Easter Week, which was at Passover, the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time would have tripled from its population of about 50,000.


Passover and The Last Supper



The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci. At the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazia, Milan


Could The Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples in the Upper Room have been a Passover meal? It seems likely from the New Testament Gospels, and the Epistles make it explicit. The Gospel of Mark chapter 14:12 says it was

“on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread”

when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb. Some churches commemorate this meal by using unleavened bread for their Communion “Lord’s Supper.”


The traditional Jewish greeting for this holiday is Pesach Sameach.


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.


  1. peppylady (Dora) on April 20, 2019 at 5:40 pm


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