The illustration depicts a festive procession approaching the gates of Jerusalem to bring bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple for the festival of Shavuot. According to the Torah, Jews were to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year for the three pilgrimage festivals: Pesach, Sukkot, and Shavuot. The tractate “Bikkurim” in the Mishnah (the book of oral law) describes the pilgrimage that took place for Shavuot.
The procession portrayed in this illustration is led by trumpeters and followed by a bull decorated with floral garlands and then pilgrims carrying baskets filled with bikkurim, the fruits of the seven species that were the first to ripen. The pilgrims, who came from all parts of Israel, are being welcomed by the priests who work in the Temple. In the background another group of pilgrims can be seen advancing towards the walls of Jerusalem. Behind the walls is the city of Jerusalem and above it is the Temple. Despite the detailed illustration, the city and the Temple are not drawn as they really looked at the time but rather as the artist imagined them. The three crosses drawn on one of the mountains gives the illustration a Christian perspective.
The illustration appeared in a biblical dictionary published by the French monk Antoine Augustin Calmet at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Calmet, who was considered a pioneer in the scientific study of the Bible, published books of history and theology as well as commentaries on the New Testament and the Bible. The dictionary contains about 100 engravings: maps of the Land of Israel and its surroundings, various landscapes in Israel (Jerusalem, Mount Carmel, Mount of Olives, Nazareth, etc.), biblical scenes, ceremonies, and customs.
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Shavuot - Shavuot, also known as the Festival of Weeks – is celebrated on the sixth of Sivan. Shavuot, one of the three biblical pilgrim festivals, commemorates many different things: it marks the day that the Israelites received the Torah on Mount Sinai; it celebrates the wheat harvest in Israel; and it signifies the end of the Counting of the Omer. It is celebrated with many colourful and festive traditions such as holding bikkurim ceremonies, eating dairy food, decorating the synagogue with flowers and greenery, reading the Book of Ruth, and studying the Torah all through the night (Tikkun Leil Shavuot). In modern Israel, kibbutzim celebrate Shavuot and the bikkurim with processions displaying their produce of the previous year, including fruit and vegetables, farm animals, and even the new babies!
Bikkurim - One of the names of Shavuot in the Torah is the festival of the first fruits. These first fruits are traditionally of the “seven species” that were special agricultural products of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (Deuteronomy 8:8). According to Jewish tradition, the first fruits, Bikkurim, were brought to the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem, as described in the Torah: “The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God...” (Exodus 23:19).
Bikkurim Celebrations in Modern Israel - The early settlements in modern Israel transformed the traditional Bikkurim ceremony into a secular agricultural celebration – first fruit ceremonies to rejoice the end of the harvest festival (another term for Shavuot). The first fruits in the kibbutzim, in contrast to the time of the Temple, are not only the seven species but all kinds of fruits, vegetables, livestock, and even the babies born in the past year. The ceremonies feature colourful performances of songs and dances and processions of decorated agricultural tools and machinery, farm produce, and young children.