With the exception of Purim, postexilic feasts are not presented in the Old Testament. For the most part, they developed in the intertestamental period and are mentioned primarily in the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha.
Feast of Purim
This feast was instituted by Mordecai to commemorate the preservation of the Jews of Persia from destruction through the plot of Haman, as recorded in the book of Esther. The term purim, which means “lots,” was applied to the festival because Haman had cast lots to ascertain which day he would carry out the decree to massacre the Jews. The festival was to last for two days, 14–15 Adar, with “feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:20–22). The feast has always been popular with the Jews as Josephus attests (Antiquities xi. 6.13), its celebration continuing down to the present time. Later generations began to observe only one day (14 Adar). The preceding day (13 Adar) is known as the fast of Esther in commemoration of Esther’s fast before seeking an audience with the king on behalf of the Jews (Esther 4:15–16). Services at the synagogue on Purim include the reading of the book of Esther.
Feast of Dedication
The Feast of Dedication (Ḥanukkah, “dedication”), also called the Feast of Lights, is a significant, although extrabiblical, feast originating during the Maccabean period in commemoration of the purification of the temple and restoration of the altar by Judas Maccabeus in 164 b.c. (1 Macc. 4:36–61). The dedication of the altar was observed eight days from 25 Kislev (December) and was ordained to be observed yearly thereafter. According to 2 Maccabees 10:6–7, the feast was likened to the Feast of Tabernacles and celebrated by the carrying of boughs, palms, and branches, with the singing of psalms. Josephus called the feast “Lights,” for he writes: “We celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was because this liberty [that is, restored political and religious freedom] beyond our hopes appeared to us” (Antiquities xii. 7.7). The use of lights during Hanukkah celebrations has always played a significant part, especially in the homes, synagogues, and streets of Palestine. The feast is mentioned in connection with Jesus’ ministry in John 10:22–23.
Subordinate Extrabiblical Jewish Sacred Seasons
The seventh day of Sukkot (Tabernacles), 21 Tishri, came to be known as hoshiah-na’, “Great Hosanna” or “great help.” The eighth day is now called shmini ‘tzeret, “eighth day of solemn assembly,” a holy convocation in which prayers for the homeland are offered. The following day (23 Tishri) is Simḥat Torah, “Feast of the Law,” a day of rejoicing and celebration marking the close of the yearly cycle of reading the Torah in the synagogues. The “fifteenth day of Shebat,” or ḥamishah ‘asar bishvat, marks the beginning of spring in Palestine and is celebrated by the planting of trees (cf. Lev. 19:23; Deut. 20:19). Ḥag b‘omer is celebrated on the thirty-third day of the “omer” season (18 Iyar) to commemorate the attempt by the Jews to regain their independence under Simon bar Kokheba (a.d. 132–135).
Fasts include, besides the fast of Esther (ta’anit ’Ester), ‘sarah btevet, “a fast in remembrance of the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Babylonia” (2 Kings 25:1; Jer. 39:1); shiv‘ah ‘asar btammuz, “seventeenth of Tammuz,” in token of the day the city was entered by the invaders (Jer. 39:2; 52:6–7); tish‘ah b’av, “ninth of Ab,” to lament the day of the destruction of the city and temple (2 Kings 25:8–9; Jer. 52:12–13); and the fast of Gedaliah (3 Tishri) to mourn the murder of the governor Gedaliah in 586 b.c.