FIRST-FRUITS--1. In the Old Testament: In common with other nations of antiquity the Hebrews consecrated the first proceeds of field or flock (Gk. aparchai, Lat. primitiæ) to the deity; this is the essence of the sacrificial cult (cf. Dillmann on Lev. xxiii. 14, and Smith, Rel. of Sem., pp. 443 sqq., 104, 210, 220 sqq.). The general term for first-fruits in Hebrew is re'shith ("the first of"; applied to land, Deut. xxxiii. 21; to the harvest, Lev. xxiii. 10; to fruit, Deut. xxvi. 2, 10; Ezek. xliv. 30); whereas bikkurim is a special term (used of new grain and fruit, Lev. xxiii. 20; Ex. xxiii. 16, xxxiv. 22; Num. xviii. 13; Neh. x. 35, xiii. 31; of figs [Neh. iii. 12]; of grapes, Num. xiii. 20; etc.); the term applied to animals (firstlings) and man (first-born) is peter rehem (Ex. xiii. 2, 15, xxiv. 19; Num. iii. 12, xviii. 15; Ezek. xx. 26) or simply peter (Ex. xiii. 20-21, xxxiv. 20; but cf. in poetic diction, Gen. xlix. 3; Deut. xxi. 17; Ps. lxxviii. 51). As the firstling belonged to the holy taxes (see TAXATION, HEBREW), so the expression terumah ("lift" or "heave-[offering]") includes, if used in its general sense (Lev. xxii. 12; Num. v. 9), besides the first-born, the tithe, the "ban," and plunder, also the firstlings (Num. xv. 19, xviii. 11, xxxi. 41).
As an expression of gratitude to him who had given both land and harvest there were at the feasts in the name of the whole people (1) the waving of the first sheaf, of barley, on the Sunday of the Mazzoth-week (16th of Nisan; cf. Dillmann on Lev. xxiii. 11), when other sacrifices were also offered (Lev. xxiii. 10-14); (2) seven weeks later, the two "wave"-loaves, baked out of leavened dough (of two-tenths of an ephah of new flour), offered as a peace offering with two yearling lambs (Lev. xxiii. 15-21; cf. Dillmann on vs. 18).
Besides these national offerings every individual brought his first-fruits, though the quantity was optional. These were in their natural state, as grain, fruit, honey, wool (first-fruits of the field); or partly refined as wine (first-fruits of the vineyard), as oil (first-fruits of the olive-groves), as bread or cake (first-fruits of flour). All these were perquisites of the priest, who alone might eat them (Num. xviii. 11-13 [P]; Deut. xviii. 4 [D]; Ezek. xliv. 30) though a part was used in the sacrificial meal (Deut. xxvi. 1-2; cf. xii. 16). From Prov. iii. 9-10, Mal. iii. 8, Job i. 6, Ecclus. xxv. 10, I Mace. iii. 49 it may be inferred that the "first-fruits" enjoyed popular approval, which "tithe" and "first-born" lacked (cf. II Kings iv. 42).
In a class by themselves, somewhat analogous to the cattle, were young fruit-trees of which not the first-fruits as such, but those of the fourth year were brought, the first three years' produce being regarded as unclean and neither gathered nor eaten (Lev. xix. 23-25). First-fruits of the field, and of the vineyards and olive-groves were to be brought yearly; the former, it was decreed, should be brought voluntarily and early (Ex. xxii. 29; xxiii. 19 [Book of the Covenant]; xxxiv. 26 [J] and according to Deut. xxvi. 1-2 [D]) in a basket; the rest of the firstlings was used for a meal (cf. Dillmann on Deut. xxvi. 11 and Nowack, Archäologie, Freiburg, 1894, ii. 256). As the first-fruits furnished the income of the priests they were later gathered in the store-rooms of the temple, to be used as required (II Chron. xxxi. 5, 11; Neh. x. 37, 39, xii. 44, xiii. 5; Mal. iii. 8, 10). The range was later extended to sheep's and goat's wool (Deut. xviii. 4) and honey (II Chron. xxxi. 5).
As the Old Testament law gives no instruction as to quantity or quality, or the place and manner of delivery, this was added in the Mishnah-tracts Bikkurim and Terumoth and may have been really observed later; wine and oil were to be no less than one-sixtieth of the harvest (one-thirtieth or one-fortieth was considered highly liberal, Terum. iv. 3); the bikkurim proper were limited to the seven products of Deut. viii. 8 (with dates in place of honey). These regulations apply only to Palestine; Jews remote from Jerusalem may bring their offerings dried. The ceremony of delivery is described (for a vivid picture of a Bikkurim-procession cf. Delitzsch, Jüdisches Handwerkerleben zur Zeit Jesu, Erlangen, 1875, 66; Eng. transl., London, 1877, 94), and the time was set not before Pentecost nor after the Feast of Dedication (Bikkurim, i. 3). The terumoth proper were to be delivered "to the priests" in their cities (Bikkurim, ii. 4) and included products from Jewish farms abroad (cf. Josephus, Ant. XVI., vi. 7; Philo, ii. 568); direction is given how and by whom they are to be eaten, and how the layman, who consciously or unconsciously eats of the terumoth is to be punished.
2. Ecclesiastical. See TAXATION, ECCLESIASTICAL.