First Fruits

First Fruits

First Fruits are a religious offering of the first agricultural produce of the harvest. In classical Greek, Roman, Hebrew and Christian religions, the first fruits were offered to the temple or church. First Fruits were often a primary source of income to maintain the religious leaders and the facility.

In Ancient Greece

In Classical Athens the First Fruits were called an offering of "aparche". Except during times of war, this would be a major source of funds for the temples of the Eleusinian goddesses, Demeter and Kore (pronounced kore-eh). Much of the agricultural offering was sold by the temple with the proceeds being used to pay for the daily upkeep of the temple complex. Under Pericles' rule, it became a way of extending Athens' power. The "Demos" or voting citizens would control the operation of the temple by elected boards. During times of war or for other necessity the Demos would borrow money from the treasury of the temple. Neighboring cities under Athens' control were required to give offerings from their harvests. This served to enrich Athens and extend her power.

Much of this was shown in the temple reports which were carved in stone when the governing body (called the "epistatai") of the temple changed hands. In the stone IG I3 386-387 it can been seen how the finances of the Eleusinian temples worked. Doctor Maureen B. Cavanaugh who translated stone IG I3 386-387, argues that there were heavy implications of the funding realized from the First Fruits donations to the temple, in particular that it brought significant impact on Athenian power. [Maureen B. Cavanaugh [PhD] , "Eleusis and Athens - Documents in Finance, Religion and Politics in the Fifth Century B.C. ", Scholars Press, Published 1996, ISBN 0-7885-0031-7.] This is noted in a loan cited in the stone record, of over 20,000 silver drachmas to the city. The Eleusinian temple complex was more than just a temple to Demeter; there were living quarters, storage, work shops, administration as well as public spaces. It was a major institution, functioning almost like a city within a city.

In Ancient Rome

In the Roman religion the first fruits offering was observed in the Roman household. This was done during daily meals as well as more formal religious times of the month (see Roman calendar).


In Ancient Israel

In Ancient Israel, First Fruits were tithed as heave offerings; the tithe was allocated throughout the year, but for accounting purposes traditionally began each year at Tu Bishvat, which was thus the occasion of a festival. In later timesBlack, Matthew, ed. (2001), "Peake's commentary on the Bible", Routledge ISBN: 978-0415263559] this tithe was limited to the traditional seven agricultural products (wheat, barley, grapes in the form of wine, figs, pomegranates, olives in the form of oil, and dates) grown in Israel, but eventually onions, cucumbers, melons, a traditional cheese (known as "tiltan"), the herb fenugreek, and certain other vegetables were permitted as well.Singer, Isidore, ed. (1901) "Jewish Encyclopedia" (Funk and Wagnals) ASIN: B000B68W5S s.v. [ "Heave-Offering"] ] This tithe, and the associated harvest festival, is legislated by the Torah, [Exodus ; et al.] though textual critics believe that these regulations were imposed long after the offerings and festival had developed. [Friedman, Richard Elliott (1997), "Who Wrote the Bible?" HarperOne. ISBN: 978-0060630355]

By the time of classical antiquity, more extensive regulations had developed and were subsequently recorded in the classical rabbinical literature. According to the these, the corners of fields, wild areas, left-overs after harvesting ("gleanings"), and unowned crops were not subjected to (and could not be used as) the tithe of First Fruits (they were intended to be left as charity for the poor, and other mendicants); plants from outside Palestine were also prohibited from inclusion in the tithe, as was anything belonging to non-Jews. ["Jewish Encyclopedia", "op. cit.", s.v. [ "Sacrifice"] ] The rules also specify that that each type of product had to be individually tithed, even if the numbers were balanced so that there was no difference in amount between this situation and using just some types of First Fruit as the tithe, and retaining others in their entirety. Fruit which was allocated to the tithe could not be swapped for fruit which wasn't, to the extent that wine couldn't be swapped for vinegar, and olive oil couldn't be replaced by olives; furthermore, Fruits were not allowed to be individually divided if only part went to the tithe (small whole onions had to be used rather than fractions of large onions, for example).

The separation of tithed produce from untithed produce was also subject to regulatation. The individual(s) separating one from the other had to be ritually clean, and had to include the best produce in the tithe if a kohen (priest) lived nearby. During the act of separation, the produce was not permitted to be counted out to determine which fell under the tithe, nor to be weighed for that purpose, nor to be measured for the same reason, but instead the proportion that was to become the tithe had to be guessed at. In certain situations, such as when tithed produce became mixed with non-tithed produce (or there was uncertainty as to whether it had), the tithed produce had to be destroyed. Anyone who made mistakes in the separation of tithed produce, and anyone who consumed any of the tithe, was required to pay compensation as a "guilt offering".

Christian perspectives

Although some Christian churches do celebrate harvest time, the idea of giving the First Fruits to the church has been for the large part abandoned by Christianity. In the Canonical Gospels, the concept of the harvest of First Fruits is used metaphorically and allegorically. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is described as stating that “in the time of harvest” he would instruct the harvesters (i.e., the angels) to gather the “tares”, bind them into bundles, and burn them, but to "gather the wheat into [his] barn" () where he says: "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep."

In the Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church the offering of first fruits takes the form of a thanksgiving and blessing. The produce is then consumed by the faithful rather than being given to the Church (though it may be donated as a free-will offering). The liturgical concept behind the blessing is the faithful offering back to God a token of that which he in his lovingkindness has provided, God blessing these firstfruits and returning them to the faithful for their benefit and blessing.

The blessing of first fruits traditionally begins on the Great Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6), with the blessing of grapes. In localities where grapes are not grown, other early-ripening fruits such as apples may be offered. There is a special ceremony at the end of the Divine Liturgy at which the priest blesses the first fruits, asking "...that the Lord may bless them, that they may be to us unto rejoicing, and that He may accept a gift of these fruits unto the cleansing of our sins...";
*cite book|last=Pollard|first=John F.|title=Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950|year=2005|publisher=Cambridge University Press|location=Cambridge|id=ISBN 0-521-81204-6

ee also

*Bikkurim (Talmud)

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