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If I understand the passages correctly, Exodus 23:14-17 lists the feast of unleavened bread, feast of firstfruits, and feast of ingathering (presumably booths). Exodus 34:22-24, however, lists the feast of weeks in the immediate context of three holidays requiring a pilgrimage (unleavened bread is listed in that chapter at an earlier spot). Futher complicating matters, Deuteronomy 16:16 lists weeks, unleavened bread, and booths (but not firstfruits). And also, everyone was required to eat the passover, but Deuteronomy 16:6-7 has it that the passover lamb was to be slaughtered at the tabernacle - meaning they had to show up for that too.

So, we're told explicitly that everyone had to show up at the tabernacle 3 times a year, but we have five different candidates for when (unless ingathering is something all it's own, and then we have six!), and seemingly none of the accounts agree entirely on which days are the correct three days.

How do we harmonize this?

  • Exodus 34:22-24 does not replace Unleavened Bread with the Feast of Weeks. 3 times a year the men were to appear before the LORD (34:23) - Unleavened Bread (34:18), Weeks (34:22), and Ingathering (34:22 also called Booths). – Revelation Lad Dec 3 '18 at 20:16
  • @Revelation Lad - You are correct that Ex 34 lists four holidays, but that's still a list of four, not three. Do you argue that v. 23 is just not specific about which holidays ought to be so observed, and that the listing of three holidays which immediately precede it are part of an irrelevant list of holidays? Even if so, does it explain the mention of the feast of firstfruits (but not weeks) in Exodus 23? What about the passover? Were they required to appear for that as well? Is it combined with unleavened bread? I don't appreciate the downvote. This is a legitimate question. – Truth Dec 4 '18 at 13:52
  • It is a legitimate question. I downvoted because your comment about Ingathering replacing Unleavened Bread confuses the issue. If you edit I will vote accordingly. – Revelation Lad Dec 4 '18 at 17:08
  • @Revelation Lad - Edited. :-) – Truth Dec 4 '18 at 20:10
  • I think it is a very good question and deserves a considered answer. +1 – user25930 Dec 4 '18 at 20:15
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The three occasions are mentioned in numerous places (eg, 1 Kings 9:25) but need some understanding of the metonymy involved.

From Ex 23:14-17, 34:22-24, Lev 23, Deut 16 we understand the following;

Festival 1:

Passover (Nissan/Abib 14), First fruits (Nissan/Abib 15), unleavened bread. This all lasted for 1 week and could be termed by any of these names. It was to celebrate the beginning of the barley harvest.

Festival 2: (50 days after festival 1)

Pentecost, Feast of weeks, etc. It was near the end (not at the end) of the grain harvest and usually associated with the wheat harvest.

Festival 3: (in 7th month)

At the beginning of the 7th month there was the celebration of the new year with the feast of trumpets (1st day). Then on the 10th day Yom Kippur. On the 15th day began the feast of tabernacles for 7 days.

The different lists are simply because these three festivals are sometimes referred to by different names because more than one thing was being celebrated at most of them. For example, festival 1 was sometimes referred to as Passover, or first fruits, or unleavened bread. Pentecost was also referred to as first fruits (distinct from festival 1) - see Lev 23:16, 20. Festival 3 was variously called booths, ingathering or tabernacles, etc.

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  • While this answer is good (probably the best we'll get), it leaves something to be desired. Exodus 23 (seemingly) sees it fit to list both firstfruits and unleavened bread, but not weeks. Why list separately two holidays which you have grouped together while ignoring a second group entirely? – Truth Dec 4 '18 at 21:06
  • As explained above Ex 23:15 lists unleavened bread, v16a lists harvest and first fruits as the feast of weeks; and v16b lists the feast of ingathering. Three feasts. As explained above, the feast of weeks was (as here) sometimes also called the feast of first fruits. See Lev 23:16, 20 which also lists first fruits in the feast of weeks. – user25930 Dec 4 '18 at 21:23
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Background
The LORD's Appointed Times1(bold indicates men were required to present themselves before the LORD):

  • Weekly Sabbath
  • 10th day of the first month - select the Passover sacrifice
  • 14th day of the first month - Passover
  • (1) 15th to 21st day of the first month - Unleavened Bread
  • 16th day of the first month - Firstfruits2
  • 14th day of the second month - Pesach Sheni (Second Passover)
  • (2) 50 days following Firstfruits - Shavuot (Feast of Weeks)
  • 1st day of the seventh month - Rosh Hashanah (Feast of Trumpets)
  • 10th day of the seventh month - Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
  • (3) 15th to 21st day of the seventh month - Sukkot (Feast of Booths or Ingathering)
  • 22nd day of the seventh month - a sabbath day following Sukkot

The requirement when to observe Firstfruits, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the day following Sukkot, are found only in Leviticus 23; Pesach Sheni is found only in Numbers 9. Passover, Unleavened Bread, Weeks (Shavuot), and Booths (Sukkot) are found in one more than one place:

  • Leviticus 23 - contains every time yet makes no reference to the requirement for men to present themselves before the LORD.
  • Exodus 12 - contains the Passover and Unleavened Bread with no reference to the requirement for men to present themselves before the LORD.3
  • Exodus 13 - contains Unleavened Bread with no reference to the requirement for men to present themselves before the LORD.
  • Exodus 23 - contains the weekly Sabbath, Unleavened Bread, the Feast of the Harvest, and The Feast of Ingathering. This includes the requirement for males to appear before the LORD.4
  • Exodus 34 - contains the weekly Sabbath, Unleavened Bread, the Feast of the Harvest, and The Feast of Ingathering. This includes the requirement for males to appear before the LORD.4
  • Deuteronomy 16 - contains Passover, Unleavened Bread, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The requirement for men to appear before the LORD is discussed below.

Exodus
As noted in the question, there are two passages in Exodus which discuss the Appointed times:

10 “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. 12 “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed. 13 “Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips. 14 “Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. 15 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. 16 You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. 17 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God. 18 “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning. 19 “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk. (Exodus 23) [ESV]

18 “You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in the month Abib you came out from Egypt. 19 All that open the womb are mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. 20 The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty-handed. 21 “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. 22 You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year's end. 23 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year. 25 “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover remain until the morning. 26 The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk.” (Exodus 34)

Comparing the two:

Item                                             Exodus 23   Exodus 34
Sabbath year                                        Yes         No
Sabbath day                                         Yes         Yes
False gods                                          Yes         No
Unleavened Bread                                    Yes         Yes
All that open the womb                              No          Yes
Firstfruits                                         Yes         Yes
Ingathering                                         Yes         Yes
Appear before the LORD                              Yes         Yes
No leaven in blood of sacrifice                     Yes         Yes
Do not let fat of sacrifice remain until morning    General     Passover
Boil young goat in mother's milk  Yes               Yes         Yes

As can be seen, the two are largely the same. The first opens with the requirement to observe the Sabbath year which is not found in the second and includes a prohibition about false gods. The second opens with the Feast of Unleavened Bread and restates all firstborn belong to the LORD, which is lacking in the first. The second makes no mention of false gods and makes a specific reference to the Passover sacrifice not remaining until morning; the first has no specific mention of Passover but does have a general statement about no sacrifice remaining until morning.

As noted, "Firstfruits" in Exodus is ambiguous since there are two "Firstfruits" in Leviticus. The first, which celebrates the barley harvest, must occur during the 7-days of Unleavened Bread; the second, which must come after Unleavened Bread, celebrates the wheat harvest. Therefore, it is the requirement to appear before the LORD on 3 occasions which connects the Firstfruits of Exodus to Shavuot celebrating the wheat harvest. The three times men are to appear before the LORD are:

  1. The 7-days of Unleavened Bread (during which time the Firstfruits of the barley harvest is celebrated)
  2. Shavuot at which time the Firstfruits of the wheat harvest is celebrated
  3. The 7-days of Booths

The key to understanding the differences is in how they began. Exodus 23 starts with the requirement to observe the Sabbath year before addressing the annual feasts. The implication is that observing the Sabbath year does not eliminate the need to observe the annual feasts. In other words, despite the lack of harvests from sowing and reaping in a Sabbath year, the annual feasts must still be observed.

Exodus 34 starts with the Feast of Unleavened Bread and emphasizes the firstborn belong to the LORD (effectively restating Exodus 13) before addressing Firstfruits and Ingathering. The event separating Exodus 23 and 34 is the golden calf. Thus the worship of the golden calf serves as the primary means to harmonize differences: Exodus 34 restates the firstborn belong to the LORD despite their decision to worship an idol (Exodus 23:13, a false god). So neither the Sabbath year nor the worship of an idol and false god negate the annual feasts and the requirement for men to appear before the LORD on three separate occasions.

Deuteronomy
The language to appear before the LORD in Deuteronomy is similar to that in Exodus:

1 “Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the LORD your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that the LORD will choose, to make his name dwell there. 3 You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 16)

9 “You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. 10 Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you. 11 And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. 12 You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes. (Deuteronomy 16)

13 “You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. 15 For seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your God at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful. (Deuteronomy 16)

What in Exodus was a requirement to appear before the LORD, becomes a requirement to appear before the LORD at the place He will choose:

Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. (Deuteronomy 16:16)

This change effectively conflates Passover and Unleavened as Bernard M. Levenson explains:

The blend of Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread is the most remarkable section of this calendar. Passover was originally a separate observance, celebrated within the family or clan. Since it did not require a sacrifice at the sanctuary, it was not included among the three pilgrimage festivals…But Deuteronomy’s restriction of sacrifice to the single sanctuary prohibited Passover from being observed locally (v.5) and required that the observance be redirected to the central sanctuary (vv.2,6-7)…The new observance then merges with the Festival of Unleavened Bread… 5

Appearing before the LORD at the Passover, which is implied, but not explicitly stated in the two Exodus passages, becomes an explicit requirement in Deuteronomy.


Notes:
1. Omitting times like Tisha B'Av, Hanukkah, and Purim and such which are added by tradition but not specifically required in Scripture.
2. Actual day is disputed. Pharisees claim it is always on the 16th, following the sabbath rest required on the first day of Unleavened Bread; Karaites claim it is on the day after the weekly Sabbath during the 7-days of Unleavened Bread. Regardless of which method is used a person appearing before the LORD for Unleavened Bread would be present on this day.
3. The Passover and Unleavened Bread are given before the Law, lack the requirement for men to appear before the LORD and include provisions for those who are not "Jewish" to participate in the Passover.
4. Given the instructions in Leviticus, "Firstfruits" is ambiguous as it could be taken to mean the day which falls during the 7-days of Unleavened Bread. It is interpreting the requirement to appear before the LORD on three distinct times which moves this Feast beyond Unleavened Bread to Shavuot.
5. Bernard M. Levenson, The Jewish Study Bible. Jewish Publication Society, 2004, p. 401

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