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According to Exodus 12:5 is the animal required to be

  • less than one year old (but at least 8 days old),
  • at least one year old (mature/adult),
  • or a year old (older than zero, less than two, aka a "yearling")?

Exo 12:5 Your [?] shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats:

Actually, the nature of my question is related to what the Hebrew idiom "son of a year" means. After posting this question I located the following section of the entry for "son" in Wilhelm Gesenius' Hebrew Lexicon:

Son of a year from Gesenius

Gesenius' Lexicon is, I am told, the most authoritative lexicon of the Hebrew language for Biblical studies.

So we'll see in our English texts that so and so was 500 years old but the Hebrew actually says "a son of 500 years". This confirms my understanding from other contextual clues.

However, modern Jews celebrate Passover with a lamb rather than a yearling and I've seen commentators say that the term actually means "less than a year old". So there is a controversy.

Can anyone provide a reason that to conclude that the usage "son of a year" in reference to the Passover (and apparently only to the Passover) indicates a lamb less than a year old?

Click here for the Gesenius citation in situ:

https://books.google.com/books?id=1t1EAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA92&dq=hebrew+%22son+of+a+year%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjT4oT53qbMAhUMcz4KHS8uAG8Q6AEIIjAB#v=onepage&q=hebrew%20%22son%20of%20a%20year%22&f=false

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    Does it help to know that lambs are born in February-March? And Passover is in March-April? Still would need to address your second option. – Joshua Apr 23 '16 at 11:44
  • @Joshua In retrospect I probably shouldn't have used the word "precisely". I just meant "a year old" (in the prime of life) which didn't limit it to 12 months only. I'll edit the OP. – user10231 Apr 23 '16 at 11:47
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    I thought your parenthetical explanted it well. Just meant to point out that the previous year's lambs would have just completed their first year of life a month or weeks earlier, but never after Passover. So one just has to answer whether it meant exactly one or at least one (could be 2,3,4?) But the less than option is ruled out by nature :) – Joshua Apr 23 '16 at 11:51
  • In contemporary culture when you buy lamb meat in the store that animal was killed between 6 and 8 months: aussieabattoirs.com/facts/age-slaughtered – Ruminator Mar 31 '18 at 0:53
  • A year old animal would make more sense to me as it would be a better type of the Christ however it appears the normal age to eat a lamb is when they are very, very young. And that is when they are eaten in Jewish tradition now. So with reluctance I'm inclined to believe the animal was eaten when only days or weeks old. However Leviticus 9:3 still gives me pause as an ox is normally eaten at 18 months old and the lamb is killed at the same age. ?! chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9910#showrashi=true – Ruminator May 19 '18 at 13:26
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God commanded that new born sheep and goats remain with their mothers for seven days.

Likewise you shall do with your oxen and your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me. -Exodus 22:30

When a bull or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall be seven days with its mother; and from the eighth day and thereafter it shall be accepted as an offering made by fire to the Lord. -Leviticus 22:27 (NKJV)

Therefore the sheep or goat for the Passover could not be younger than 8 days and not older than 1 year in age. As such, an animal 1 year and a day old would not be acceptable as it would no longer be "of the first year" but instead of its second year.

a male of the first year; anyone within that time, but not beyond it; denoting the strength and vigour of Christ, in the flower of his age, his short continuance among men, and his being tender and savoury food for the faith of his people {John Gill}


A male of the first year - That is, any age in the first year between eight days and twelve months. {Adam Clark}


Of the first year—i.e., not above a year old. As children are most innocent when young, so even animals were thought to be. {Ellicott}


The lamb was to be not only perfect, and a male, but of the first year: Hebrew, a son of the year, i.e. not exceeding the first year in age. [...] And, as they were not to be offered after the first year, so were they not to be offered before they were eight days old; see ch. Exodus 22:30. Leviticus 22:27 before which time they were scarcely supposed to have attained the perfection of animal life, or to have been sufficiently purified. Pliny says, Pecoris foetus die octavo purus est, the young of cattle are pure on the eighth day. {Thomas Coke}

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  • Thank you Brian, however that passage is not speaking of the Passover, nor does it limit the age of the animal to one year. Also Gill's commentary is misguided because under a year the animal is immature, "not in the flower of his age." (Sheep, and I believe goats also, don't mature until they are a year old). Sorry, but I must down vote this answer. – user10231 Apr 23 '16 at 22:15
  • @WoundedEgo - That Lev 22:27 passage is speaking about acceptable sacrifices in general, and therefore the minimum of 8 days old rule applies to even the Passover animal which had the additional rule of not being older than 1 year. And I'm sorry you didn't like John Gill's phrasing...I looked at 4-5 other commentaries and they all said basically the same thing, with Gill's being the most succinct. – user6503 Apr 23 '16 at 23:03
  • The minimum of 8 days old would be irrelevant if an animal "of one year" means "a one year old". I did indicate in the OP that an animal under a year would have to first be weened (ie: 8 days old). | Gill's assertion that a lamb less than a year old was "in the flower" stage (mature) is patently false. And if the other commentaries agree, they likewise are misguided (the blind tend to follow the blind and wind up in the same ditch). Please give my comments some thought and I think you may come to the same conclusion. If not, I believe you'll have to defend the matter, not cite – user10231 Apr 23 '16 at 23:31
  • @WoundedEgo - I added additional references. Hope this helps. Also, John Gill does word things a little strangely sometimes, but note that Gill's "in the flower" stage was not referencing the lamb, but was instead referencing Christ: "...Christ, in the flower of his age, his short continuance among men...." – user6503 Apr 24 '16 at 4:54
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    @WoundedEgo - Hmm, I can see your point. This would also affect my understanding of the daily offerings (Ex 29:38) along with the other feast day offerings (Lev 23 & Num 28-29), all of which required 2-14 lambs "of the first year." – user6503 Apr 24 '16 at 19:34
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If Lambs 8 days to less than one year are acceptable, then it restricts the offerings of "yearlings" to the "produce of the land" of that year - i.e. the lambs born in that year are to be sacrificed only in that year and not beyond. In a way, it follows the principle of Ex 12:10, but stretched out to fit the agricultural year.

Exodus 12:10 Do not leave any of it until the next morning. Burn whatever is not eaten before morning.

I've come to this recognition after studying Islamic sacrificial processes which require older animals (even Zakat animals - "tithe" must sometimes be 4 or 5 year old animals https://sunnah.com/urn/2058010)

https://islamqa.info/en/41899

The thaniyyah of camels is one that has reached the age of five years. The thaniyyah of cows is one that has reached the age of two years. The thaniyyah of sheep is one that has reached the age of one year. The jadha’ah is one that has reached the age of half a year. It is not acceptable to offer anything younger than a thaniyyah in the case of camels, cows and goats, or anything younger than a jadha’ah in the case of sheep.

There are real practical consequences to this. Cost.

https://gulfnews.com/news/uae/society/livestock-prices-high-in-dubai-ahead-of-eid-al-adha-1.2267601

According to sellers, there are smaller goats for around Dh500 per head but they are not suitable for sacrifice because they are too young.

And then think of the wastage of meat - as happens also in the islamic context. https://www.thenational.ae/world/flash-freezing-takes-care-of-surplus-meat-from-haj-sacrifice-1.310668 Think about goat or lamb sizes and consider the practicality of a family of say four persons, having to consume an entire fully grown goat or sheep in one meal. Certainly, it would mean inviting many families together to eat it not simply your next door neighbour!

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