The Last Supper And The Sign Of Jonah (1)

Have you ever been to Mini Israel Park? This Park (located not far from the ancient village of Emmaus) is a wonderful attraction that offers hundreds of exact replica models of the most important sites of Israel. There are trivia questions and answers on almost every site and under every model; thus, during this Passover, I discovered that one of the questions about Jerusalem’s Old City is:  Did you know that the Last Supper of Jesus and His disciples was in fact, a Passover Seder? I don’t recall seeing this question in Mini Israel before, therefore I applaud Israel for recognizing Jesus as a Jew. The question is, however, do we really know it?

It is certainly too big a question to try and solve here – whether Jesus was crucified on that specific day, and at the time when the Passover lambs were slain in the Temple court, or whether it was the night of Seder when Jesus and His disciples had their last Supper and therefore it was Seder indeed. This question has been the subject of much discussion for a long time. Many respected scholars have commented on this topic over the years, so of course, I don’t expect you to accept my view as the only correct one. Thus, the purpose of these articles is not to prove anything or to give the final answers, the purpose is, first of all, to make it clear that this subject should not be a stumbling stone. Far too many people stumble over this ‘three days and three nights’ question, and I wanted to show that there are various possibilities to present the final days of Jesus as a very solid and non-controversial story. My second goal here is to bring some Hebrew insights into this discussion. Without knowing the interpretations and customs connected to Passover that existed among Jews at the time of Jesus, we can really miss a lot, and this is precisely where the explanation of the discrepancies we find in Scripture (for instance between the Synoptic Gospels and John) should be sought.

So, first we will discuss the traditional view: Jesus was crucified on Friday, 15th of Nisan, and the Last Supper was indeed the Passover Seder. According to this traditional view, the Passover meal takes place on Thursday night. Thursday day was 14th of Nisan, but at sundown it became the 15th of Nisan.  At sundown, at the beginning of the 15th of Nisan, at the time of the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast. After the meal, very late that night or sometime after midnight, Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives.  At dawn, when the first lamb of the daily sacrifice is tied to the altar, Jesus is condemned by the Jewish court and sent to the Roman governor, Pilate. It should be noted that the word Pesach does not exclusively apply to the Passover lamb on the eve of the feast, but is used in scripture and in the Talmud in a wider sense for the entire festival, including the chagigah sacrifices which were offered on the 15th of Nisan.  Thus, at 9 am (the 3rd hour) when Jesus is crucified on the cross, the first lamb of the daily Chagigah sacrifice is offered up on the altar in the Temple. At the 9th hour, or 3pm, the hour of the second daily sacrifice, Jesus dies on the cross.

We all are aware of the difficulties bound up with this traditional approach (personally, I have always been perplexed by the fact that when Judah left, some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast[1]. In today’s Israel, everything would be closed during the Feast, but even if something was open, no pious Jew would think of doing something with the money, if it indeed was the Feast). However, the main question is:  How can we make three days and three nights if He died on Friday and was resurrected on Sunday? Hardly 40 hours have passed between his death and resurrection – so where are these three days and three nights? Where is the Sign of Jonah?

 

I love reading old commentaries of the earlier Jewish believers in Jesus (David Baron, Alfred Edersheim and others). Here is what David Baron writes on this subject: “The expression ‘three days and three nights’ is an Old Testament idiom carried over into the New Testament, and means not necessarily three whole days and three whole nights, but in round numbers a period of about three days.”[2]  In the case of Jonah, Baron continues, we have no means of knowing exactly how long he was in the belly of the fish. However, it can be proved from some other scriptures: for instance, in the book of Esther we read that Esther says to Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise” – but already “on the third day” she appeared before Ahaseurus.[3] To this argument, he adds: “I might point out also the fact that the Jews who heard the Lord use the expression did not understand it to signify literally ‘three days and three nights’ for after the Crucifixion they came to Pilate saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day.[4] So we see that, throughout the Old and New Testament, part of a day is counted as a whole day. Therefore, Baron concludes: Jesus indeed “may be said to have been in the grave ‘three days and three nights’: Friday, to which legally belonged the night of what we shall call Thursday; Saturday, consisting of the night of Friday and the day of Saturday; and Sunday to which belonged the night of Saturday and the very early morn of Sunday.”[5]

I have to admit that these arguments sound pretty convincing to me. However, if you are still not convinced, in my next post I will present my personal view of Jesus’ crucifixion (of course, you don’t have to agree with it). I think we have to remember that Jesus and his disciples were Galilean Jews who came to Jerusalem for Passover, and therefore we need to understand the differences between the Galilean Jews and Judean Jews – and to look there for the answers.

 

 

[1] John 13:29

[2] David Baron, Types, Psalms and Prophecies, Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 2000  p.361

[3] Esther 4:16-5:1

[4] Mat.27:63-64

[5] D.Baron, Types, Psalms and Prophecies, p.363

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Linda

    What about the ‘Supernatural’ period of darkness that occurred between the sixth and the ninth hour of the crucifixion:-
    ‘At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.’
    MARK 15:33
    another extra ‘night’?

    ‘And G-d called the light Day,
    and the darkness he called Night.
    And the evening and the morning
    were the first day.’
    GENESIS 1:5

    A period of darkness is definitely called Night!

    1. Julia Blum

      I don’t know Linda. Maybe you are right. But I personally think he meant three real nights.

  2. RAFIK F LABIB

    It is always interesting to dig deeper into the Word of God, it helps to understand better and without any doubts, whether I agree or do not agree, is not the main purpose of expanding my knowledge and read others how they synthesize the fundamental and core issue of their views. It is an eye opening and maturing process which definitely helps us to grow in knowledge and faith, it never hurts. Thanks for sharing such topics that immediately attract our attention.

  3. Julia Blum

    Hi Stephen, thank you for your comment and for your wonderful piece, I really enjoyed it. As you can see from my new post, I also believe that a man with a jar was an Essene. And of course, you are right regarding Passover meal : if it was a Seder, “the disciples could not have left their families behind”. However, I don’t think the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, that’s why I don’t think their families were with them at this meal. Please read my new post (The Last Supper and Sign of Jonah (2)), I would be interested to hear your opinion.