By the end of the topic, learners should be able to:
  • Identify the various festivals observed by the Jews.
  • Explain when these festivals were held.
  • Explain the significance of each Jewish festival.
  • Describe the Jewish beliefs.
  • Name the Roman beliefs.
  • Explain the Roman way of worship.
  • Explain the various divisions found in the Jerusalem temple.

1.0 Introduction

  • The religion for the Jews was called the Judaism.
  • They worshiped God the Creator as their supreme being.
  • Most of the activities they followed always connected them to the Jewish ancestors and traditions that they practiced in Egypt and in the wilderness on their journey to Canaan with Moses.
  • After the ascension of Jesus, the Jews wanted to maintain their way of life.

1.1 Ascension of Jesus to heaven (Acts 1:9-12)

  • It took place on Mount of Olives, in a town called Bethany that is near Jerusalem.
  • He ascended forty days after his resurrection.
  • Jesus told his disciples that they would be champions of the word of God throughout Jerusalem and the whole of Judea and Samaria and to the whole world.
  • This happened in front of all his disciples.
  • After the ascension, the disciples went back to Jerusalem as Jesus had told them.
  • The angel then told the disciples that Jesus was to return on his "Second coming" (Parousia) in the same manner that he used when ascended.
  • Jesus told the disciples that John the Baptist baptized with water but they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.


Month Length Gregorian Equivalent
Nissan 30 days March-April
Iyar 29 days April-May
Sivan 30 days May-June
Tammuz 29 days June-July
Av 30 days July-August
Elul 29 days August-September
Tishri 30 days September-October
Heshvan 29 or 30 days October-November
Kislev 30 or 29 days November-December
Tevet 29 days December-January
Shevat 30 days January-February
Adar 29 or 30 days February-March
Adar II 29 days March-April

1.2.1 Jewish festivals and holidays

a. The Sabbath Day

  • This was a very important day and was strictly observed strictly as a day of rest.
  • It ran from sunset on friday to sunset on sartuday.
  • No form of work was to be done and they were forbidden to walk for more than a kilometer.
  • They spent this day worshipping God in the synagogue.
  • After the synagogue they would spent the rest of the day with family and friends.
  • In the Jewish calendar the days did not have names but are named using first, second, third day up to the seventh day.
Jewish names of Days of the week English names of Days of the week
First Day Sunday
Second Day Monday
Third Day Tuesday
Fourth Day Wednesday
Fifth Day Thursday
Sixth Day Friday
Seventh Day (Sabbath Day) Saturday

b. The Passover(Exodus 23:15; Leviticus 23:5)

  • This was a major spring festival for the Jews.
  • it is also known as the feast of unleavened bread.
  • They held this festival to celebrate the passing over of the angel in Egypt. During their slavery the angel of God went around killing of all first born children. The Jews were instructed to put signs of blood on their door posts and the angel of the Lord passed over these houses and did not kill any of the Jewish children.
  • The festival is also to celebrate their deliverance from slavery in Egypt by God through the leadership of Moses.
  • The festival came with the offering of the first grain. Barley was one of the first grains to ripen and harvest hence it was offered in this festival.
  • It was held in the temple in Jerusalem.
  • It was on the 15th day of Nissan, which is in March - April.
  • they prepared and ate bread with no yeast thus unleavened.
  • the bread was eaten with a lamb roasted and served with bitter herbs.
  • they ate unleavened bread for seven days.
  • This was in remembrance of the unleavened bread that they ate during the wilderness period.
  • Anyone who ate bread with leaven (yeast) was to be put to death as a way of punishment.

c. Feast of Tabernacles(Exodus 34:22; Leviticus 23:34; and Deutronomy 16:13)

  • It is also called the 'feast of booths' or the 'feast of the in gathering'
  • It was attended by every male Jew.
  • the festival was done in remembrance of the shelters they build in the wilderness.
  • It was held five days after the Day of Atonement.

d. Day of Atonement

  • The Day of Atonement was set aside for the Jews to enter the Holy of Holies and offer sacrifice. It was held once a year and it was presided over and done by the priests.

e. Pentecost

  • It is known as the feast of weeks, the feast of harvest and the day of the first-fruits.
  • The word pentecost was derived from a Hebrew word which means fifty.
  • Shavuot ("Pentecost" or "Feast of Weeks") celebrates the revelation of the Torah to the Israelites on Mount Sinai.
  • In the Jewish feast of Pentecost the Jews were to offer up a grain offering along with the regular burnt offerings.
  • The grain was to be ‘first fruits’ of new grain harvested from the land. This was an allusion – the depth of which was unseen by the first Jews from the time of Moses.

1.2.2 Jewish Religious clothing

  • As a way of respecting their religion the Jews always put on tunics, cloaks, sandals and turbans.

(a) Jewish religious costume

Fig 1.1Costume for women Costume for men.jpg (153 KB)
  • This was a respectable way of dressing in the Jewish religion. They also had other clothes that they used for special events and occasions.For example there was the tzitzit, kippah and teffilin. These were used for specific Jewish occasions.
Fig 1.2 Other religious clothes that were used by the Jews.jpg (165 KB)


a. Circumcision

  • This was a religious rite performed eight days after a boy's birth.
  • It was done to show that Abraham made a covenant or agreement with God in Exodus 20.
  • Being circumcised meant entering the Jewish community as a descendant of Abraham.
  • As a way washing away sins the Jews offered animals and cattle as sacrifice.

b. Jewish sacrifice

  • Jews gave sacrifices as a way of submitting to God's will.
  • Sacrifice was given in the form of animals. The animals included goats and cattle. The animal was offered as a way of cleansing sin.
  • sacrifice was either bloody or bloodless but was intended for the same reason which is of obtaining forgiveness of God.
  • The person giving the offering had to sincerely repent before giving the sacrifice.
  • Not all the sins could be atoned (cleansed)
  • they had a day which was set aside for the atonement of every child of Israel.
  • this sacrifice was done by the high priest only who enters the holy of holies and offered the blood of sacrifice for all the sins of Israel.
  • the sacrifice of a scape goat also took place in the holy of holies on the day of atonement.

1.4 Jewish belief in God

  • God exists
  • There is only one God
  • There are no other gods
  • Jews should worship only the one God
  • God is Transcendent: God is above and beyond all earthly things.
  • God does not have a body: Which means that God is neither female nor male.
  • God created the universe without help
  • God is omnipresent: God is everywhere, all the time.
  • God is omnipotent: God can do anything.
  • God is beyond time: God has always existed, God will always exist.
  • God is just, but God is also merciful: God punishes the bad and rewards the good. God is forgiving towards those who mess things up.
  • God is personal and accessible: God is interested in each individual, God listens to each individual, God sometimes speaks to individuals, but in unexpected ways.

1.5 Jewish religious occupations

  • The Jews held high positions in religion. They were in fact leaders.
  • The Jews mediated in the offering of sacrifices.
  • Priests were chosen from the Jews because they knew the law from the First five books of the Old Testament (The Torah)
  • Priesthood was hereditary among the Jews which means that in order for one to become a Priest he must be from the Priestly family.
  • There were also Levites who assisted the Priests at the temple.
  • Most Jews took part in the Sanhedrin which was the Jewish council made up of twenty-five members.

1.6 The impact of the Roman civilization on the nations of the Mediterranean Sea

The Mediterranean world had a number of states and these were Thessalonians, Ephesus, Antioch,
Philippi, Troas, Palestine, Samaria, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Damascus and many more.

a. Political influence

  • Herod the Great had power over most of the Jewish territory. After he died his sons became in charge.
  • In the Books of Acts, Herod Agrippa I took over the whole of the Jewish territory.
  • This then led to a series of change in the government of the Jewish territory; hence later Jerusalem was attacked and destroyed.
  • This led to a number of changes in the religious matters of the nations on the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The Emperor, Caesar at the time, had power over the Jews and the Romans. The Roman aim was to secure peace and control over the states that they had power over.

b. The Sanhedrin

  • The name means sitting together.
  • It was a council which tried religious matters but could not impose a death penalty.
  • It was the highest court of the Jews and it met in Jerusalem.
  • It was presided by The High Priest who was a Sadducee.
  • It was made up of seventy men from both the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
  • Caiaphas was the High Priest who was in position during the trial of Jesus.
  • It also had elders of the community and scribes.
  • The Romans had powers in the council especially in terms of capital punishment.
  • It controlled the running of the temple.
  • It also supervised the synagogues.
  • Most of its members were chief priests.

1.7 The benefits of the Nations of the Mediterranean Sea from the Roman civilization

  • Roman Kings built the temple in Jerusalem which helped in Jewish worship.
  • Good roads were built in all the Jewish territories.
  • No passports were needed to cross from one place to another.
  • There was freedom of communication, speech and thinking.

1.8 Negative impacts of the Roman civilization on the nations of the Mediterranean

  • Payment of tax to the Caesar.
  • Less freedom was granted to the Jewish leaders in terms of controlling the citizens.
  • Revolts among the Roman and the Jews.
  • Oppression of the Jews.
  • The Jews were also subjected to the worship of the old gods of Greece and Rome. This led to mixture of religions amongst some of the Jews. (Religious syncretism)
  • Mixture of many religions led to the rise of magicians, sorcerers, soothsayers and many who claimed to have the power to drive out the demons.



Zeus - He was the King of the many gods of the Greeks and he was controller of thunder and sky.
  • The Greeks believed in the underworld, a place where the spirit of the dead goes when they die.
  • Just like in the African Traditional Religion, they believed that unless proper funeral rites are done the spirit of a dead person never rests.
  • They believed that the spirit of the dead can harm those who are still alive by turning into ghosts.
  • Various religious festivals were held in ancient Greece. Many were specifically for a particular god.
  • The festival of Lycaea was celebrated in Arcadia in Greece, which was dedicated to the pastoral god Pan.
  • There were also the Games held each year in different locations, culminating in the Olympic Games, which were held every four years. These celebrated Zeus.
  • Sacrifices were offered mainly in the altars.
  • They used to leave food and drinks at the altar.
  • They would offer burnt offerings in form of animals and wine to their gods.
Fig 1.3 Image of Zeus.jpg (129 KB)

1.10 Romans

  • They worshipped many Greek gods but they had their many gods also. For example there was the god of war.
  • The different gods had power over different aspects of nature.
  • For the Romans to go to war they had to first consult the god of war. The god of war had the power to declare war and victory.
  • As the Roman Empire spread and grew bigger it began to absorb many other religions and practices from the nations that they conquered.
  • Later Judaism mixed up with Christianity and eventually it was swallowed up.
  • The Romans believed that for one to be admitted into their religion one had to be initiated. For example they used to circumcise children at a young age.
  • They preached this idea even when Jesus had ascended to heaven.
  • Their wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised first before being admitted into the church.
  • The worship was mainly done through sacrifices. Praying was not allowed as the gods had many names and no one knew whether they were male or female.
  • Every month in the Roman calendar there was a festival.

1.11 The Beliefs of the Romans

  • They agreed that religion was under the influence and authority of the political leaders; hence the King was in charge of religion.
  • Many political leaders built and renovated the Jerusalem temple one after the other. This includes Herod the Great and Herod Antipas. This is because they believed that leaders were in contact with the deity that is their gods.
  • They allowed the existence of other religious practices, opinions and beliefs apart from their own religion. Though the early church was persecuted, the Romans never saw Christianity as a harmful movement to their religion and political ideas.
  • They believed that their religion was the official religion for everyone.
  • They had other strange observances such as the food laws, the Sabbath and sacrifices.
  • They believed that this was very important in worship. Eating some of the forbidden unclean animals like the pig was considered as sin.
  • Cleansing through a sacrifice was to be administered for someone who would have eaten any of these unclean animals.

1.12 Roman ways of worship

  • They met (assembled) every seventh day of the week, that is on Sabbath day to worship.
  • Services were also held during the week sometimes.
  • Passages from the Old Testament were read, prayers said, psalms sang and then two readings were given. The readings were taken from the Law and the Prophets then the preaching or address of the people by the leaders.
  • The services were conducted by the "rabbi" or by the elders or the rulers of the synagogue.
  • The synagogue was the centre of the life of the Jewish and Roman community.
  • Synagogues were all over the land of Palestine and that is where the Romans who were Jews assembled.

2.0 Sacrifice in Roman religion.

  • It could be practiced in only one place that is the Jerusalem temple.
  • The temple was a very important place for the Romans and it was divided into many important various sections. Entering these various sections was not for every Roman Jew. It was for a selected few and it also depended with the time of the year and festival being held.
  • Ordinary Jews could not enter the temple building itself. It was the priests who would go in and intercede for the general people by offering sacrifices on their behalf.
Fig 1.4 Division in Jewish temple.jpg (223 KB)
a. The Holy of Holies
  • This was the innermost place of the temple.
  • This place was the symbolical dwelling of God.
  • Only the High priest was allowed in this section.
  • The High priest went once in year on the Day of Atonement.
It was inside the Court of the Priests, where there was an altar of burnt offering.
b. The Court of Israel
  • It was outside the Holy of Holies.
  • Only Jewish men were allowed into this section.
c. The Court of the Women
  • It was outside the Holy of Holies.
  • Any Jew woman was permitted into this section.
NB: The Gentiles and foreigners were never allowed into all the above sections no matter what the circumstance.
d. Court of the Gentiles
  • It was outside the Court of the Men and Women.
  • Gentiles and foreigners were allowed into this section which was outside the special section.