Bikkurim, Chapter Three, Mishnah Three



The mishnah continues to describe the procession to Jerusalem. The mishnah is easily understood, so I will comment here on a few interesting matters and refrain from commenting below.

Saul Lieberman, the preeminent scholar of rabbinic literature in the 20th century, wrote a book called Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, and in the book he devotes a chapter entitled, “Heathen Pre-Sacrificial Rites in the Light of Rabbinic Sources,” to the ritual described in our mishnah. Lieberman notes that the bikkurim ritual as described in this mishnah is not taken from the Bible, which makes no mention of such a ritual. Rather, certain elements are customs that are parallel to Greco-Roman sacrificial rituals, most significantly the ox with gilded horns. This was a common feature in sacrificial processions in the Roman Empire. Clearly, when Jews of the time came to create a new ritual, they did so based on what they saw in the non-Jewish world. However, Lieberman also notes that this is the only time the mishnah describes an ox with gilded horns. Such a practice was not done with regular sacrificial oxen used in the Temple. In other words, when it came to the heart of their ancient tradition, the Temple ritual, the Jews were less likely to adopt foreign practice than they were with innovative rituals that were performed outside of the Temple.

The other feature that I find interesting in this mishnah is the line, “according to the rank of the entrants they would go forth.” This means that important Temple and Jerusalem officials would go out to greet important guests, whereas lesser officials would greet lesser guests. This is of course not surprising and is indeed human nature, but it is still important to note that ritual often served and still does serve as an opportunity for human beings to emphasize their social hierarchy. We should think in our own lives how often our public rituals are often laden with issues concerning the social hierarchy.


Mishnah Three

1)      Those who lived near [Jerusalem] would bring fresh figs and grapes, while those who lived far away would bring dried figs and raisins. 

2)      An ox would go in front of them, his horns bedecked with gold and with an olive-crown on its head.  

3)      The flute would play before them until they would draw close to Jerusalem.

4)      When they drew close to Jerusalem they would send messengers in advance, and they would adorn their bikkurim.  

5)      The governors and chiefs and treasurers [of the Temple] would go out to greet them, and according to the rank of the entrants they would go forth.

6)      All the skilled artisans of Jerusalem would stand up before them and greet them saying, “Our brothers, men of such and such a place, we welcome you in peace.”