The Week of Holy Days: Palm Sunday, Passover, and Easter

Today begins is an interesting week of Holy Days:  Palm Sunday, Passover, and Easter.  Today is Palm Sunday.  Passover begins Monday night at sunset, and of course Easter is next Sunday.  I thought I’d do a post which ties all of these related holidays (or stated better–Holy Days) together.

Palm Sunday

It is always celebrated exactly one week prior to Easter.  The celebration refers to Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.  It is one event captured in all 4 gospels, but only The Gospel of John talks about people waving Palm fronds in front of Jesus.  The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and of victory in Jewish tradition, and it is evident that many Jews believed Jesus was more of a political/military king than a spiritual king.  There’s some interesting information at this Wikipedia EntryMSNBC has a nice photo of Pope Benedict the 16th celebrating Palm Sunday Mass earlier today.

I have often wondered why Palm Sunday is completely ignored by Mormons.  Palm Sunday is the beginning of the last week in the life of Jesus, and I just can’t figure out why Mormons wouldn’t want to celebrate with the rest of Christendom.  Do you have any ideas?


I didn’t realize that Passover is an eight-day celebration.  I remember attending a Passover meal and celebration with a college friend–it was a lot of fun!  I must say that Jews really know how to celebrate, and I think Mormons could learn some celebration techniques from them.  Passover is one of the most important Jewish holidays, which is also known as Pesach,  Chag he-Aviv, Chag ha-Matzoth and Z’man Cherutenu.

As you’re probably aware, the Passover celebration commemorates Moses leading the Jewish liberation from Egyptian slavery approximately 1500 years ago.  ABC annually broadcasts Cecil B. DeMille’s film, The 10 Commandments on Easter Sunday.  Moses told the Egyptian pharaoh that if he did not let the Israelites go, God would issue 10 plagues to afflict Egypt.  The term ‘Passover’ specifically refers to the 10th plague.  Moses told pharaoh that God would kill all the firstborn sons of Egypt.  Moses instructed the Israelites to spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts so the destroying angel would “pass-over” their homes, leaving the firstborn Israelite sons alive.  This last plague finally caused pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery, and the Exodus story follows.  I plan another post specifically devoted to the Exodus theories, but I want to talk specifically about the Passover and these 10 plagues in this post.

A 2-time Emmy award winner for investigative journalism named Simcha Jacobicivi (pronounced Sim-ka Yah-cob-oh-vitch) teamed up with Titanic Director James Cameron to put together a documentary titled The Exodus Decoded.  It aired on the History Channel in 2006; you can rent it via Netflix.  Jacobovici is not a stranger to controversy.  You may be familiar with another documentary of his titled The Lost Tomb of Jesus in which he claims to have discovered the bones of Jesus and his family in Jerusalem.  He has another documentary titled Quest for the Lost Tribes in which he believes he has discovered the Lost tribes in areas such as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, China, Burma, and Africa.  Here is a website questioning Jacobovici’s Exodus claims, and another website questioning the Lost Tomb of Jesus DVD.

Jacobovici makes a very interesting case for the 10 plagues of Egypt; he believes they were the result of the Santorini Volcano eruption of 1500 BC.  He notes similarities between the Passover narrative and a volcanic eruption in 1986 in Cameroon.  I must say that there are some startling similarities, and Jacobovici seems to have some very interesting parallels.  Let’s talk about the actual 10 plagues of Egypt.

1.  The Nile will be turned to blood. Jacobovici notes that in 1984 and 1986, separate volcanic eruptions turned Lake Monoun and Lake Nyos in Cameroon blood red.  Dr George King of the University of Michigan explained that both of these lakes contained high levels of iron.  An underwater natural gas leak created a disturbance, turning the lake red in color.  Jacobovici notes that the Nile is near a fault line.  An underground gas leak could have turned the river blood red as mentioned in the Bible.

2.  A frog infestation.  Jacobovici says that all living things in the Nile would have died due to lack of oxygen in the water resulting from the gas leak and subsequent iron stirred up in the water.  However, frogs would have been able hop out of the water, explaining the frog infestation.

3.  Lice.  With all the dead fish, lice would have been a problem.

4.  Flies.  Once again, dead fish would have attracted flies

5.  An epidemic.  Disease would have spread to everyone following the death of so many fish in the Nile.

6.  Boils.  Jacobovici notes that many people developed Boils following the 1986 eruption at Lake Nyos, Cameroon, and shows several photos of these awful boils.  Jocobovici explains that “It turns out that carbon dioxide mixed with air put people into a kind of coma, reducing circulation to the skin and causing the kind of boils described in the Bible as plague #6.

7.  An Unusual Hail storm.  I’ll abbreviate Jacobovici as SJ in the quotes below; I want to quote directly from the DVD here.

Rabbi Chaim Sacknovitz, “The seventh plague was the plague of hail, but the Bible describes hail in a very unique manner.  The hail was together with ice with fire, the idea being that the fire and the ice mixed together, that they coexisted together.  The Bible then describes God as making a miracle within a miracle, taking opposites in nature, and having them coexist together.”

SJ, “Incredibly, there is an Egyptian papyrus that tells the exact same story.  It’s called the Ipuwer Papyrus and is dated by many scholars to the Hyksos period.  The Ipuwer Papyrus specifically states that Egypt was struck by a strange hail, made of ice and fire mingled together.  Another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place.  It now seems clear that the biblical and Egyptian texts are describing what scientists call ‘accretionary lapilli“, volcanic hail, and could have only come from earthquake induced Santorini volcano.

Dr. Catherine Hickson, Geological Survey of Canada, “When the ash cloud goes up into great distances in the stratosphere, essentially what happens is that you have moisture in the atmosphere, you also have a lot of water vapor in the cloud itself, so small fragments of ash and crystal actually form the nucleus, very similar to a hail stone.”

8.  Plague of Locusts. Jacobovici says the volcano causing weather changes, and this hail storm would have excited the locusts.  He says,

Cold weather produces a drop in their body temperature and makes them land en masse.  The Volcanic hail and weather disruptions caused by the Santorini eruption would have forced great clouds of locusts which are common in this part of the world to suddenly land in Egypt.  As the hail storm cleared, and the temperature rose, so did the locusts, exactly as the Biblical account describes.

9.  Darkness. Following the Mount Saint Helens eruption, ash blocked out the sun and made it appear very dark.  Jacobovici quotes scientists as saying the cloud of ash from the Santorini eruption could have been 40 km from top to bottom, 200 km across–that would be approximately 25 miles high, and 122 miles across.  He quotes Prof Jean-Daniel Stanley of the Smithsonian Institution saying that ash was found at the ancient Egyptian capital of Avaris:  “We had to look through 10 to 20,000 grains to find one ash grain.  So, we found a total of 40 ash grains.  Not all ash looks the same.  Ash has an imprint aspect.  The ash particles that we find in the northern and northeastern Nile Delta are individual grains that came in from Santorini.”

10.  The Firstborn of Egypt die, and Israelite children are spared.  Jacobovici has an explanation for this phenomenon as well.  Once again, he cites the Cameroon eruption at Lake Nyos in 1986.

SJ, “The final plague took place at midnight, after Moses ordered the Israelites to sit down to what became known as the first Passover meal.  While the Israelites were involved in the Passover ritual, the Egyptians slept, and then it happened: every firstborn male Egyptian died.  Every house was affected.  No one has ever been able to offer up a plausible scientific explanation for the death of the firstborn until now.  According to our scenario, at this point in the sequence of events that began some 6 months earlier, the gas leaks that set the chain of plates in motion would have finally erupted.  Carbon dioxide would have seeped to the surface, and being heavier than air, would have killed animals and sleeping people before it dissipated harmlessly into the atmosphere.

In case you think all this is conjecture, consider this.  It happened in exactly the same way in 1986 at Lake Nyos, Cameroon.  On the fateful night of August 21, the villagers at Nyos went to sleep.  They couldn’t have known that the carbon dioxide gas which had turned the lake blood red, was now reaching a critical point.  As the people of Lake Nyos slept, the top of the lake was keeping the carbon down like a cap in a pop bottle.  But then the earth rumbled, and a landslide took place sending rock into the water, disturbing the surface pressure and releasing the gas.  The gas then rose to the surface, and like some alien monster, emerged from the water, droplets forming on it, turning the invisible gas  into a visible fog.  The fog then rolled across the water, and across the land, suffocating everything in its path.  And as suddenly as it appeared, it disappeared, dissolving harmlessly into the atmosphere.

The next day those who had been sleeping on higher ground woke up to find some 1800 people dead, hundreds of cattle and small animals also dead, all around there was deadly silence.

Villager, “I was sleeping among the dead people, inside the house, some of them were outside.  Animals every where lying cows, dogs, everything.  All the family, we were 56 but 53 died.”

SJ, “After the death of the first born, Pharaoh finally relented, letting Moses take his people out of Egypt.  According to the Bible, what made pharaoh give up was the selectivity of the deaths: the fact that it was only male, firstborn who died.  It was this selectivity that demonstrated to him that God himself was involved.  How can we account for this?

Well, Egyptian firstborn males had the privileged position.  They were the heirs to the throne, to property, title, and more.  They slept on Egyptian beds low to the ground, while their brothers and sisters slept on rooftops, sheds, and wagons.  The Israelites sitting up at their first Passover meal did not feel a thing, while the low traveling gas suffocated the privileged Egyptian males sleeping in their beds.  This conclusion is backed by the archaeology.  At Avaris, Professor Manfred Biatek has found mass graves dating to before and during our date for the Exodus.  The earlier graves are classic examples of ancient epidemics and killed men, women, and children.  But at the time of the Exodus, the mass grave he found has only males in it.

Biatek, “Here you see bones of burials in the early 18th Dynasty.  They are all male victims. By the size of the graves, and the number of individuals in the graves, we think people died in rapid succession and the individuals were just thrown into the pit, some of them lying on their stomach, some lying on their side.  Some of the people were just 20 cm deep and just some dust put on top of them.  The bible says that pharaoh’s son also died during the plagues of the firstborn.  Since we claim that Ahmose is the pharaoh of the Exodus, we should be able to prove that Ahmose son died young.

Searching the Cairo museum, we found Ahmose’ son, the prince had died young, he was only 12.  For the first time ever, we have a face and a name to a victim of the biblical plagues.

So, I found this to be a really interesting scientific explanation for the plagues.  What do you think?  I found James Cameron and Simcha’s final words regarding these plagues interesting.  They discuss how these explanations will bother both skeptics and believers.

Cameron, “It seems that the Bible, geology, and archaeology, are all telling the same story.  But skeptics, who would like to regard the Exodus as myth, might resist the idea that it actually happened, because this would imply that God does indeed exist.  Believers on the other hand may feel that a scientific explanation of the Biblical story takes God out of the equation.”

SJ, “But in the book of Exodus, God does not suspend nature, he manipulates it.  In other words, according to the Bible, we should be able to understand the science behind the miracles.


You’ll notice that date of Easter varies considerably from year to year.  The reason for this is because of it’s relationship to the Passover.  Christ died during the Passover festival, and rose on the first day of the week (Sunday.)  There’s a Jewish joke that goes like this.

“When is Chanukkah this year?”

The other man smiled slyly and replied, “Same as always: the 25th of Kislev.”

There is a really interesting article on the Jewish calendar at Judaism 101.  (It’s a fantastic website.)  The Jewish calendar tries to correlate

the rotation of the Earth about its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon about the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth about the sun (a year).

Months are either 29 or 30 days, corresponding to the 29½-day lunar cycle. Years are either 12 or 13 months, corresponding to the 12.4 month solar cycle.The lunar month on the Jewish calendar begins when the first sliver of moon becomes visible after the dark of the moon. In ancient times, the new months used to be determined by observation. When people observed the new moon, they would notify the Sanhedrin. When the Sanhedrin heard testimony from two independent, reliable eyewitnesses that the new moon occurred on a certain date, they would declare the rosh chodesh (first of the month) and send out messengers to tell people when the month began.

So, you can see that a 12 or 13 month year (they have leap months instead of leap days) can wreak havoc on knowing when holidays will be as we try to correlate the Jewish calendar with our Gregorian Calendar.  As Christians were debating when to celebrate Easter, the consensus was to keep Easter near the Passover festival.  As a result, the date of Easter changes with the changes in celebration of the Passover Festival.  Another Jewish joke says that every Jewish holiday can be boiled down to “They tried to kill us.  Let’s eat.”

I wish Mormons celebrated, rather than simply observed, the Easter holiday.  It would be nice to have more of a celebration of Easter; I really like Easter gets the short shrift for celebrations, but I think that Christmas celebrations in our church are lacking as well.  Two years ago, I posted the question, Why don’t Mormons celebrate Easter? It is my #2 post over the past 2 years. I always receive a spike in hits for that post around Easter.  If you do a Google search asking “do Mormons celebrate Easter”, my post comes up on the #2 position.  I expect that as Easter approaches this week, my 2 year old post will get another spike in views, and will probably be #1 by the end of the month.

So to answer my own question is, yes, we observe Easter, but we don’t celebrate Easter.  Do you wish there was a greater emphasis on Easter?

10 comments on “The Week of Holy Days: Palm Sunday, Passover, and Easter

  1. I have no clue why Mormons don’t celebrate Palm Sunday since the RLDS/CofChrist tradition always does.

    The connection of the 10 plagues with Santorini is a bit of a stretch, especially for plague 10. To begin with, there is an argument over the dating of the Exodus to about 300 years, but more fundamentally, most of the phenomena described are associated with rift volcanism where the earth is pulling apart to form a new ocean. Santorini is subduction zone volcanism where plates of the earth come together (like the Chilian situation of a few weeks ago.

    I think the most that can be said is that the headwaters of the Nile arise in the area where East Africa is rifting apart, and that volcanism could have occurred in that region which the Egyptians might not have observed and that volcanism could have caused SOME of the plagues. Others would have required volcanism much closer to the Egyptian capital for the accompanying earthquakes to go unnoticed as an “11th plague”.

  2. Interestingly enough, I just went downstairs to watch TV with the family and found that the Science channel had a documentary called “The Exodus” on that at first I thought was the DVD your post was discussing. This documentary has the first six plagues from upstream volcanism pretty much as you described above, but then has the next four triggered by a great storm independent of volcanism which knocks down the crops with hail, carries in locusts which consume the crops not knocked down by the hail, exposing the land to a major sandstorm, and then contaminates the remaining food supplies (stored underground in the cities) with uncontrolled fermentation of mytotoxins. The culture feeds the largest portion of the remaining food to the firstborn sons of the upper class to preserve the family line, inadvertently poisoning them. Dominant farm animals also grab the most food and die, too. Israelites, in work camps in Goshen, away from the elites, are naturally spared.

    MH is always the first to recognize a hot topic. :D

  3. Another interesting site! As much as I thought I knew about your church I had no idea the LDS didn’t celebrate Easter (or Palm Sunday, Christmas…) like other churches. When I’ve watched ‘Music and the Spoken Word” on TV and ‘Mormon Messages’ on your church site there seems to be a real focus on the holidays, joyous and upbeat-why that isn’t carried into your local congregations is a mystery to me! Is there more of a stress on celebrating at home with family rather than at church? My church really enjoys these special days. Sure we get a lot of ‘Chresters’ (Christmas and Easter Christians) but what an opportunity to share the hope found in Christ with them. Any visitors to your church during the holidays must be very disappointed-not very good outreach! It doesn’t sound like there is any clear policy from your GA regarding this issue. COuld it be that the LDS are afraid of looking too much like the rest of us? Regarding Passover, there are materials available to help Christians celebrate Passover. We have had Passover seders in our home and at church. Is that something LDS do?

  4. Just as an aside. Our Ward had a special Palm Sunday service yesterday. Though it is not formally organised via the hierarchy I am sure many areas do organise their own celebrations.

  5. FireTag, I’d like to hear more about your Palm Sunday celebration. I’m also glad to hear your take on the volcanoes. In the Bible, I don’t recall hearing about all these earthquakes that Jacovovici claims were happening. His talk of the African plate rising up 1 meter to dry up the Sea of Reeds seems like a massive earthquake, yet seems to be missing from the Biblical story. Still, I found the Nile turning to blood and first 6 plagues a very interesting explanation.

    Is there any way to record that Exodus film from the Science Channel–I love this stuff, and always love to hear alternative explanations. I have ordered a National Geographic DVD, but it hasn’t arrived yet.

    Doug, Welcome! I wouldn’t say there is any more pressure to celebrate Easter. I read a book by LDS Historian Leonard Arrington called Great Basin Kingdom which primarily describes the settlement of Utah by Brigham Young. One of the things Arrington points out is that most of the early church leaders came from New England–where the Puritans thrived. I think there is a real Puritanical influence that has been passed on down through the years. Mormons don’t know any different, so it’s not a big deal not to celebrate. Missionary farewells used to be one of the largest celebrations in the church, but in the past 5 or so years, the church has made a strong effort to tamp down these celebrations. For whatever reason, the leadership seems to feel that big celebrations are irreverent, and prefer to keep the celebrations to a minimum. The result to me seems to be that Easter (and especially Palm Sunday), is largely ignored by the general membership.

    My kids look forward to the Easter Egg hunts and Santa Claus more than the spiritual aspects of these holidays. Sure we talk about the resurrection and the birth of Christ, and frequently you do hear talks reminding us not to worry about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus at the expense of Christ, but I think the church could do a much better job of promoting these holidays, by actually focusing on them a bit more. I know many converts have mentioned that Mormon Easter and Christmas celebrations are lacking, and they most certainly are.

    Rico, I’m glad to hear you celebrated Palm Sunday. I did not know it was Palm Sunday until I opened up the internet and saw a photo of Pope Benedict early Sunday Morning, so I thought I had better add a small blurb to my post. On my way to work today, I asked my carpool buddy if he knew that yesterday was Palm Sunday. To my surprise, he did. Apparently his ward observed Fast Sunday yesterday, and one of the counselors mentioned participating in Holy Week in Israel one year, and talked about Palm Sunday during his testimony. A few other members made mention of Palm Sunday in their testimonies as well. My ward talked nothing about it (and in fact I must admit to sharing scores of the Duke and Michigan State basketball scores with other members, shame on me. Go Butler!

  6. MH,
    Thanks for the post, and I think it would be marvelous to see more discussion of Palm Sunday–as well as other notable days from traditional Christian liturgical calendars–in an LDS setting. My ward did nothing this year, but last year it was the focus of the talks in a Sacrament meeting.

    Also, Great Basin Kingdom FTW.

  7. Scott, thanks for stopping by. I liked Great Basin Kingdom so much, I bought it!

  8. […] presented Jacobovici’s position on the plagues in my previous post.  National Geographic (NG) had similar explanations for plagues 2-6 dealing with insects and […]

  9. I am a mormon and I have done Passover for the 2nd year now. I have not thought about Palm Sunday though, is it a scripturally based and commanded time as is the other festivals? With Passover- As I understand it, the scriptures quote from God saying “these are MY apointed times.” No where does it say this is a “jewish” thing. In history past there was no referance to “jew.” Furthermore, God requires it in the “old” testiment as something WE are required to do “throughout all YOUR generations FOREVER.” “We” meaning those who were not “so called Jews” but those who were spiritually grafted in. We see, with research that those who came out of Eygypt in the Exodus were a mixed multitude. -Those who kept His commandments and ways.
    I have been a mormon for 10 years and I love the truethfulness of the gospel and the doctrine. I and my family prayed for “spiritual acceleration” as we read about Joseph Smith encouraging the men in the early days of the church to pray for spiritual acceleration. We prayed that we as a family would be accelerated to where Heavenly Father needed us to be. We not only observe Passover in our home, we do it all ourselves to the best we can by following as much scripture as possible. We also have begun to study Hebrew as did Joseph Smith and the elders in the “School of the Phrophets.” We keep the feast or festivals of the scripture as was commanded by God in the old testiment and was kept and practised by the Savior and His apostles in the New Testiment. We keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Yom Kippur, (Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (feast of Tabernacles)and as many of all the rest that were “COMMANDED” as possible. We are still learning so we are off a bit, but making a lifelong journey and pursuit of it is our goal. The understanding of our Savior and His life has a whole new level of understanding. We also eat Kosher and kill our food as close to Kosher as you can get. We have done away with alot of Pegan practices, that we never really knew were pegan, even Christmas and Easter. In fact we are “inactive” from church for Easter and from basically right before Halloween and on until the New Year because of the terrible, depravity and sad sickness that these pagan holidays truely represent. I wish that our church did not focus on them as much or even at all, The scriptures command us not to do as the pegans do and even if there was no instruction about peagans and avoiding their holidays- as a moral person I would never want to have anything to do with Easter (burning babies to God Molek) or Christmas (Depravity to usually a “Jewish” person, drunkeness, ludeness and revelry. It only takes 2 minutes to find the origins of these holidays and thier meanings online and I highly recommend anyone promoting these holidays to research them first. Most people who are holocost victims don’t celebrate and throw a party for Hitler or on His Birthday, why should we do so on Christmas and Easter?

    We go by both the Hebrew calander and the Gregorian calander. Our lives are so enriched, our view of the life and history of our Savior so expanded. We also use the correct names for Heavely Father and the Savior. But hey, to each his own. It only takes a prayer to find out where Heavely Father really wants each of us to be. And it is up to us to ask Him to reveal as much as He needs us to know for our sakes and His sake. My husband and I and my 5 kids don’t miss Christmas or Pork or anything else we have given up. For awhile, a single widow who had to have double knee surgury needed to have my husband care for her goats (we knew nothing of goats then), what an amazingly insightful and spiritual opportunity Heavenly Father created for him and our family.-Herders like in biblical days-see the coarilation?

    Man, you can only know what you have been taught, until you search and “study out of the Best Books.”
    And Heavenly Father can show you His level of spirituality that He wants you to be on only when you are willing, inviting and teachable-humble, meek, like a little child. May YHWH bless you to be enriched in your journey to His enlightenedment, and may the desire to know the trueth grow within you. May YHWY bless you and cause His face to Shine upon you and grant you Shalom. (peace) -aaronic blessing psalms

  10. I am a Messianic Jew and we dont celebrate easter, christmas for a number of reasons, we stick to the moedims (appointed times)of the L-RD and the miracles that the L-RD did for us i.e Purim and Hanukkah etc. April is right about the origins of such pagen holidays of easter and christmas. easter has absolutely nothing to do with Messiah Yeshua, but has everything to do with false god worship. You say the “church” should do more to a better job promoting the holidays,but in fact they are detestable and should not be in anyway a part of a disciple of “YESHUA’S” life. Coming from a mormon I can understand why you might think it is ok to practice such abominations and spread lies starying from the truth. You teach false doctrines and profane HaShem.

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