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BIKKURIM

BIKKURIM (Heb. בִּכּוּרִים; "First Fruits"), last and shortest tractate of the Mishnah, Order Zera'im, dealing with laws relating to first-fruit offerings (Deut. 26:1–11; cf. also Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Num. 18:13). The Torah commands that the first fruits of the land be brought joyfully to the sanctuary, where they are to be offered in baskets to priests who are entitled to consume them in a state of purity. The offerers must recite a passage expressing their gratitude to God for delivering them from slavery in Egypt and bringing them to a rich land.

The laws set down in the Mishnah are based on an elaborate process of midrashic exegesis of the biblical texts, and the Mishnah (e.g., 1:2–5, 9) cites some of the relevant verses and their interpretations. Thus, the allusions in the recited passage to "fruits of thy land" and "the land which the Lord swore unto our fathers" were understood as excluding from the scope of the obligations people who did not own land or were not of Jewish descent. Similarly, the rabbis limited the precept to the seven fruits enumerated in Deuteronomy 8:8. From these basic premises, the Mishnah (especially in Chapter 1) develops its more detailed discussions of such topics as the relationships between the bringing of the fruits and the scriptural recitation, the appropriate time-frame for performing the precepts, precise identification of which fruits are subject to the obligation, what constitutes land ownership, the status of proselytes, and the extent of the owner's responsibility for the first fruits between the time of their designation and their delivery to the priest.

Most of Chapter 3 is devoted to a vivid narrative description of the ceremonial procession of bringing the first fruits to the Temple in joy, music, and fellowship. As noted by S. Lieberman, the abundance of details that cannot be ascribed to biblical sources or literary convention (e.g., the presence of an ox adorned with a garland on his gold-plated horns, a common feature of pagan panegyre) lends credence to the basic historicity of the Mishnah's description of the rustic folk custom. The statement in 3:4 that "even King Agrippa would take the basket and place it on his shoulder" was taken by scholars as an indication that the Mishnah was composed during the reign of one of the kings of that name.

Chapter 2 in the Mishnah is from a separate collection of traditions arranged by the formal pattern "There are features of x that are not in y, etc." By virtue of the references to first fruits at the beginning of the collection, the entire source was incorporated into the Mishnah.

Some Mishnah editions include a fourth chapter outlining laws related to the status of the androgynos. This represents a variant tradition of a passage also found in the Tosefta 2:3–7.

There is a full Palestinian Talmud to the three chapters of the Mishnah, but no Babylonian.

bibliography:

N. Sacks, The Mishnah with Variant Readings: Order Zera'im, vol. 2 (1975); J. Rabbinowitz, The Jerusalem Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi): Bikkurim (1975); S. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (19622); D. Hoffmann, The First Mishna and the Controversies of the Tannaim, trans. P. Forchheimer (1977).

[Eliezer L. Segel (2nd ed.)]

Bikkurim

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