The Pagan Origins of the Memorial Observed by Jehovah’s Witnesses

by David_Jay 30 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • David_Jay

    “We don’t celebrate holidays because God doesn’t approve of any celebration that is rooted in pagan customs and manmade traditions.” (See here for a similar JW response.)

    If you were once an ex-JW like me, you have probably said something like this out in field service to someone who asked the question: Why don’t you people celebrate holidays? As the Witnesses' official website states in an FAQ about not celebrating Easter:

    We believe that our decision to abstain from celebrating Easter is based firmly on the Bible, which encourages the use of “practical wisdom and thinking ability” rather than simply following human traditions. (Proverbs 3:21; Matthew 15:3)
    This same page on their website also states:
    Jesus commanded that we commemorate his death, not his resurrection. We observe this Memorial each year on the anniversary of his death according to the Bible’s lunar calendar.—Luke 22:19, 20.
    Did you know that the Memorial is rooted in pagan customs and rites? It also has human traditions incorporated into it. This is because it is based on the Jewish Passover. The customs of Passover, the very timing of the observance, and even the meaning attributed to everything not just at a Passover Seder but at the Memorial observed by Jehovah’s Witnesses all come from the pagan world and invented tradition. Don’t believe me?

    What Jews Know and Teach about Passover

    Jews teach that the Passover comes from a custom observed by Abraham that he got from his ancestors before him. It was a spring festival held on the night of the first full moon in Spring (or somewhere to coincide with the arrival of the new season) to celebrate the this time of change and new life. And this observance, by its very nature, was of pagan origin.

    While there are variations in the Haggadah that each Jewish family or gathering will use, the outline of the Haggadah is pretty much generalized. The one I use is The New Union Haggadah (a recent revision of a very classic American Jewish Haggadah first published in 1923.) It has a very interesting explanation of the history of the Passover and its symbols in the back:

    In fashioning their allegorical narrative, the authors of the Book of Exodus mythologized an array of rituals that were likely part of ancient Near Eastern society for centuries. Many scholars have suggested that the slaughtering of an animal for the sake of painting one’s doorposts [with its blood] to ward off evil spirits existed long before the Israelite authors adopted and adapted it for the Exodus story’s final plague….
    Similarly, the consumption of matzah was mythologized to take on new was likely tied into the agricultural celebrations associated with the springtime harvest of the winter’s wheat. The integration of matzah and pesach [Passover doorpost painting] into the Exodus story--two ritual objects associated with renewed life and sustaining life--builds upon common themes in brilliantly creative contexts. What an ancient Canaanite family was observing annually anyway is suddenly imbued with an Israelite mythological origin….
    Most prominent in the Haggadah are materials that derive from Rabbinic literature rather than the Torah...even the specific ritual items on the seder plate, not to mention the four cups of wine--these and other details are all Rabbinic inventions with no basis in Torah.
    This is not to say that there is no historical basis for what the Jews are observing each and every Passover. The Jewish people are descendents of people who were enslaved several times in history, as they were in Babylon when the particular version of the Exodus that is in the Bible took its final shape. The Hebrews were likely among the Semites who migrated to Egypt when it was under Hyksos rule and then left when foreign settlers were being enslaved under the new dynasty of pharaohs that followed.

    Notes The New Union Haggadah:

    What is described in the Passover story should be considered a veiled depiction of Jews displaced to Babylonia and eventually through the Levant after the conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.
    While there is definitely reason to remember our “Egyptian sojourn,” Jews are also aware that those ancient stories were recomposed through the lense of the Diaspora after the Babylonians took us from our land. The promise of being freed from slavery, of entering into a new covenant with God, of receiving laws that would produce a just society (as they understood it back then), and the hope of entering (returning) to the Promised Land were all very real Diaspora concepts the Jews painfully felt while living in Babylonian exile. This gave their oral history about their origin as migrants escaping slavery in Egypt the meaning that filled the Exodus narrative we know today.

    The Emblems are Pagan

    This leads us back to the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that they don’t observe customs or celebrations that have pagan origins or have their basis in human tradition. Yet, as you can see, the bread or matzah used in the Memorial has its basis in pagan customs. The use of wine during the Passover Seder comes from a tradition invented by Rabbinical authority, not from God.

    It might also help people see that Jews are a bit more egalitarian than some have accused us of being. We don’t see ourselves as better or far more special than others. We understand that we are a product of the world around us and that our origins are far less than the legendary Cecil B. DeMille sequences from the movie The Ten Commandments. At its core the Exodus story is a call for all form of slavery to end, for all people to celebrate their freedom, and for people to learn from the past and celebrate the “now” with their loved ones. Whatever your beliefs, creed, or lack thereof, you too are called out from the bonds of darkness and oppression. Especially if you too left the Watchtower, you are free to celebrate your exodus in anyway and anytime you see fit. You were once slaves, but now you are all free.

    Blessings this Passover to all,

    David Jay

  • lusitano o tuga
    lusitano o tuga

    I disbbelieve this topic,

    Passover is of jew origin, indeed...

    the emblems have judaeico(jew) origin !

  • David_Jay

    lusitano o tuga,

    I myself am Jewish. And if you read the information you will see what we Jews teach about our own celebration.

  • David_Jay

    To add to the above:

    True, there are variations among Jews about how much some believe in the Exodus narrative to be fact and how much they see as allegorical. But anyone can do a search on the Internet about Passover and its pagan origins and find Jewish sources from all branches of Judaism that will admit to much of them above.

    For the most part all Jews embrace the Biblical narrative of Exodus with a lean to the allegorical, even the most conservative among us. This partially explains why we use our Haggadah and not read directly from Exodus on Passover night (and why the Haggadah traditionally makes no reference to Moses). It also explains why we don’t paint our doorposts with blood today and why we have incorporated a roasted egg and wine into the Seder.

    For more information try these articles:

    The The Origins of the Biblical Pesach

    My Jewish Learning: Passover History

  • Yesu Kristo Bwana Wangu
    Yesu Kristo Bwana Wangu

    Good to read from the Jewish perspective. David Jay, if I may ask, how could you ever have been trapped by the teachings of the JW's with your extensive knowledge about all doctrines and teachings of the Jews?

  • Hecce

    In all honesty I find the argument thin. The Jewish religion was Christ religion, and the fact that he said "keep doing this" validates the celebration.

  • David_Jay

    Yesu Kristo Bwana Wangu,

    David Jay, if I may ask, how could you ever have been trapped by the teachings of the JW's with your extensive knowledge about all doctrines and teachings of the Jews?

    I was born into a Jewish family, but my aunt had to take up caring for me later in my childhood due to my being abused my parents. As for my parents, they were not very observant Jews, at least in the religion part of it. But the customs were still there: eating kosher, Jewish language, lighting candles on Friday night, etc.

    Growing up in South Texas as a child I thought I was Mexican-American. My Jewish name sounds Spanish, but I grew up speaking a Jewish dialect called Ladino (the dialect of Sephardic Jews). I also ate kosher, but didn't realize this either. Sephardic Jews created much in the Tex-Mex diet, so I had no idea that I was different from any of the Latino people around me--except that my Spanish was "weird" and we didn't add cheese to our tacos (or were allowed to drink milk with meals which me and my brother would often beg to do since "all of our friends at school do it").

    My uncle married a Mexican-American woman who was a JW, and she became my guardian after I was rescued from my parents. My uncle was like my parents, disinterested in the religious side of Judaism, so I got raised by my Jehovah's Witness aunt who immediately took me to meetings, field service, the whole bag.

    I can tell you that it didn't last long as I grew from my teens to a young adult. I instantly recognized the Hebrew words in Watchtower literature (as Ladino is a mixture of Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew), but was at first laughed at when I would speak in Hebrew as the brothers didn't believe I was doing it. ("That sure is a funny made up language, son, but I'm sure it sounds nothing like the real thing!" they would say to me.) As time progressed, they realized I was indeed speaking the language but never bothered to figure out how a boy my age got that knowledge.

    Of course I saw through the religion as I grew into adulthood. It didn't help me to stay a Witness that in the late 1980s the Catholic Church opened the documents of the Spanish Inquisition to descendents of those who suffered, and that Portugal and Spain began to offer citizenship to me and others of Sephardi Jewish descent whose ancestors had been expelled from these countries due to the Spanish Inquisition. I was also identified as a Jew by someone I was working with who also happened to be a rabbi. I was on lists of Jews that even the nation of Israel was looking for to call back and had legal status as an Israelite--all of this and I didn't know it!

    This also occurred at the same time, my decision to leave, the law of return to Spain/Portugal, the opening of the Inquisition trial documents, the rabbi who told me I was Jewish, etc. So though I was trapped for a while, you might say that I had a lifeline that kept me from being trapped.

  • David_Jay


    In all honesty I find the argument thin. The Jewish religion was Christ religion, and the fact that he said "keep doing this" validates the celebration.

    I am a descendent of Abraham. Abraham was once a pagan, remember? He didn't always recognize or worship God.

    As the above Jewish studies (and more, if you will just look them up yourself) demonstrate, Jews recognize that our people celebrated what is now called "Passover" before there was an Exodus. Even Chabad Judaism, which is quite conservative, teaches that Abraham celebrated Passover in his lifetime.

    The matzah or unleavened bread comes from this ancient pagan spring festival. And the wine is a human tradition developed by our rabbis. The argument I advance is that Jehovah's Witnesses claim it is wrong to observe any holiday with pagan roots or based on human tradition. But the above Jewish testimony shows that the emblems Jesus employed come from both, meaning the Jehovah's Witnesses are just fooling themselves.

    Besides, Jews don't acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. With all due respect for my Christian friends, the words of Jesus do not belie the fact that the emblems have pagan and human origins nor do they validate the views of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

  • Hecce


    If your are approach comes from the Jewish perspective I will guess that you are correct. The actual JW celebration is not based on such traditions, the actual celebration is "the Lords evening meal" and is presented as a date instituted at the time of the last meal. I don't think that is needed to go to times immemorial to search for the origin of the occasion, it is clearly understood that started with Christ and not before.

  • David_Jay


    I don't think that is needed to go to times immemorial to search for the origin of the occasion...

    You might not think it necessary to go to times past to search for the origin of an occasion, but Jehovah's Witnesses do. Don't they reject the observance of birthdays and other holidays and customs based on their origins? Even if the custom as practiced today is no longer viewed as pagan, don't Witnesses still reject them due to their pagan origins? is clearly understood that started with Christ and not before.

    You are wrong. Luke 22:8 reads:

    Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover."

    Everyone acknowledges that Jesus got the emblems and the procedure for his observance from the Jewish Passover. The fact that Jesus had both matzah (unleavened bread) and wine and a dipping bowl (Matthew 26:23) shows that Jesus and his followers were having a Passover Seder. As mentioned above, the matzah comes from pagan spring festivals and the wine comes from a human rabbinical tradition.

    If you are trying to defend Jehovah's Witnesses, you would be corrected by one of them by now. I used to be a JW, and it is against Witness theology to say that Jesus invented the Memorial. It is based on the Passover. That is the teaching of the Jehovah's Witnesses, that is the teaching of Christendom, and even atheists will tell you that all these things are based on the Passover.

    It is also against Witness teaching to state that one does not need to go back to the origins of an observance to ensure there are no pagan or human traditions associated with it. JW theology demands that the origins not be pagan or based on human tradition.

    To recap what I am saying:

    1. The Memorial/Lord's Supper/Eucharist was indeed instituted by Jesus.

    2. Jesus based his observance on the Passover and its emblems. These did not originate with Jesus. Even the date, Nisan 14, is the date we Jews have always observed Passover (and will observe it again this year and always).

    3. The emblems of the Passover come from paganism and human tradition.

    4. Jehovah's Witnesses say that it is wrong to mix paganism and human tradition in true worship.

    5. Therefore Jehovah's Witnesses have created a paradox with their Memorial observance.

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