Passover, Easter, And The Hebrew Calendar

Dear friends, you might be surprised by this title: both Passover and Easter have passed already, so why would I write about it now? Why, indeed? Currently, we are in the month of Iyar, the second month of the biblical calendar; the root of this word comes from the word “light”, this is the month of the increase of light—we feel it in nature, the days are getting longer and brighter, and we want this increase of light to be felt inside us, in our souls, in our hearts, and in our minds. I believe the things that I am going to share today will indeed enlighten my readers!

The Last Supper

The last days of Jesus have been among the most debated topics throughout the history of the New Testament. Many respected scholars have commented on this topic over the years. When was the Last Supper, for instance? Was the Last Supper a Seder— the festive meal that marks the beginning of the Passover?

Of course, I don’t claim to have the final answers, but personally, I don’t think it was a Seder. Why?  First of all, I have always been perplexed by the fact that when Judah left in the middle of the Last Supper “some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast. In today’s Israel, everything would be closed during the Feast, but even if something was open then, no pious Jew would think of doing anything with the money on the Feast Day. However, the most important argument, I believe, is found in the Mishnah: “A paschal lamb is invalid if it was slaughtered for those who will not eat it…“[1] According to Jewish tradition, a paschal lamb had to be eaten during the Passover meal! The eating of the paschal sacrifice was the principal part of Seder! If the New Testament presents Jesus as the Passover Lamb, the meal that happened BEFORE the sacrifice of the Lamb, by definition, could not have been a Seder.

However, if it was not Seder, what was it? What was the nature of this meal? Let me share with you an additional quotation from Mishna, from the same tractate Pesachim:

“… The sages say that in Judah they would work on the day before Pesacĥ until noon, whereas in the Galilee they did not work at all…When someone goes from a place where they do work to a place where they do not (or from a place where they do not to a place where they do) we apply the more severe restrictions of both the place where he comes from and the place he is going to…[2]

In Jesus’ time, there were different festival traditions in different places. As we all know, Jesus and his disciples were Galileans, therefore they would have observed Galilean traditions. There were several differences between Judean and Galilean Passover observance, but the most important one was a special fast – the Fast of the Firstborns, in remembrance of the firstborn Israelites who were saved from death. The Galileans observed this fast, and that is why we read in Mishna that “in the Galilee, they didn’t work at all” on Passover day. The fast took place on Nisan 14th.

In Hebrew, the last meal before the fast is called seudah maphsehket  (if you have ever been in Israel for Yom Kippur, you would know that seudah maphsehket, the last meal before the Yom Kippur fast, is a very special event indeed).  Thus, in the Galilean tradition, there had to be this special meal before the beginning of Passover (Nisan 14th) called seudah maphsehket. After this meal, there would be a whole day fast – and the next meal would be the Passover meal, the Seder. In this sense, this meal was indeed the Last Supper.

Easter Sunday … on Sabbath

Let us now try to figure out the days of the week when all of this happened. Most Christians believe that Jesus was crucified on Friday and resurrected on Sunday. According to this traditional view, on Thursday evening, Jesus and His disciples gathered in Jerusalem for the Last Supper, then very late that night, Jesus was arrested. On Friday, He was crucified and died on the cross – to rise again on Sunday morning. However, do we really find the Resurrection Sunday in the Gospels – or this is one of the most crucial mistakes in Bible translation?

The Greek text of the New Testament never speaks of Jesus’ resurrection “on Sunday”. It literally says “on Sabbath” or “on one of the Sabbaths“. Mark writes that Jesus rose “early on the first Sabbath[3] (this is the literal translation; of course, you would not find it in your regular Bibles). The meaning of this expression is clear for those knowing the Hebrew calendar – God’s calendar: it’s the “first Sabbath” of seven weekly Sabbaths, counted every year from Passover till Pentecost. The translators, however, did not know that, therefore they decided that this expression meant the “first day of the week” (Sunday). Hence, the traditional Christian belief in Sunday resurrection – Easter Sunday.

Now that we know that Jesus rose on the weekly Sabbath, Nisan 17th., we can calculate all the days of this week. If Nisan 17th was a weekly Shabbat, then Nisan 14th, the Day of Passover Lamb, the Day of Crucifixion, was Wednesday. All four Gospels state that Jesus was crucified on the Day of Preparation. Mark, Luke, and John say that the following day was Sabbath. Again, if we know God’s calendar and terminology, we would know that there are three Sabbaths each year during the Passover Feast: namely, the two high Sabbaths on the 15th and 21st Nisan, and one regular weekly Sabbath in between. Therefore, there are also three days of Preparation. Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, Nisan 14th, on the Day of Preparation for the High Sabbath of 15th Nisan.  He died at the 9th hour (3 pm), the same time that the Passover lambs were slaughtered in Jerusalem. After “3 days and 3 nights”, He rose on the weekly Sabbath, Nisan 17th,

Entering Jerusalem 

Today, Christians all over the world know that Palm Sunday is the beginning of Passion Week. Once again, are we sure that Jesus entered Jerusalem on Sunday?  Let us read together the first verses of Exodus 12, where God instructed that the lamb that was to be slain on the eve of the Exodus, be separated out four days beforehand:

In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb…  Your lamb shall be without blemish… And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.

In Jewish tradition, the weekly Shabbat before Passover is called Shabbat Hagadol (Great Shabbat). The first Shabbat HaGadol was in Egypt, on Nisan 10th, when the Passover lamb was chosen and set apart and preparations began for its slaughter. This is the reason Jesus had to enter Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan – the very same day when the perfect lamb was to be selected and set apart. .A simple math would show us that if Nisan 17th is a weekly Shabbat, Nisan 10th is a weekly Shabbat as well.  Jesus entered Jerusalem on Saturday Nisan 10th, on this special Shabbat before Passover – Shabbat Hagadol.

Thus, on Saturday, Nisan 10th, Jesus entered Jerusalem. On Tuesday, Nisan 13th, the disciples prepared this special meal that we call the Last Supper and that was, in fact, seudah maphsehket—the last meal before the Fast of the Firstborns. Jesus and his disciples ate this meal before sundown, before the day changed to Nisan 14th.  Then Jesus was arrested at night, tried and convicted early morning, then crucified during that day – and all this happened on Nisan 14th, the day of “Pesach”—the day of the slaughtering of the Passover lamb. On Wednesday, Nisan 14th, Jesus died on the cross; and on Saturday Nisan 17th, after “3 days and 3 nights”, He was resurrected!

 

[1] Mishna, Tractate Pesachim, Chapter 5 Mishna 3

[2] Mishna, Tractate Pesachim, Chapter 4 Mishna 1,5

[3] Mark 16:9

 

If this article whets your appetite for learning more about the Jewish background of Jesus’ teaching, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our amazing course, Jewish Background of the New Testament (juliab@eteachergroup.com). You might also enjoy my books, they all are Bible-based and have  Hebrew insights – you can get them here.  In particular, after this article, I can recommend my book “Unlocking the Scriptures”, which explains various details in the New Testament through the Jewish Background. 

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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Join the conversation (11 comments)

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  1. David Rickerson

    Resurrection day on our calendar is March 31, and Good Friday on 29th. Nissan 17 is on April 25 or 26th. Having a Adar 2 this year appears to have our calendar and Hebrew calendar not lining up. Also I don’t like to use Easter for Resurrection day.

  2. Steven Wallenhorst

    In the article you state that “Now that we know that Jesus rose on the weekly Sabbath, Nisan 17th., we can calculate all the days of this week.” But you have only argued in the preceding that he rose on a Sabbath. Where does the date of 17 Nisan come from?

  3. Ugochukwu Odimba

    Thanks for the interesting insight. However, I have a question. Would it have been lawful for Jesus to travel all the way to enter Jerusalem on a Sabbath day?

    1. Darryl

      Julia,
      I’m with you that Yeshua entered Jerusalem on the 10th, lamb selection day. I’m with you that yeshua was crucified as the passover lambs were being slain. But to as to the days on the week, I’m not so positive. I am an avid student of the moedim. I firmly believe every moed given through Moses points to to a major messianic event. If Yeshua was raised on a sabbath then he was not raised on Yom HaBikkurim which was on the first day after the weekly sabbath (i’m not a fan of yom habikkurim always being on the 16th). For me the resurection of Yeshua is messianic fulfilment of Yom HaBikkurim. Do you have an article that would address these issues?

  4. Marcos Roberto Rastrelo

    Graça e paz, dra Júlia leio seus artigos e sou edificado através deles, por favor poderia traduzir alguns livros seus para a língua portuguesa do Brasil, espero que o ETERNO toque em seu coração quanto a tradução para a nossa língua.

  5. Jan

    Julia thank you do much for the explanation I surely understand more. The Ap. Paul says to selebrate Passover with unleavened sincerity and truth as Yeshua was crucified on our Passover A korinthian… What do we say for that?

  6. Eirik Pettersen

    Very interesting reading, and much to learn. One question though; If Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem on the Shabbat, and also returned to Bethany’s later that day, wouldn’t that break the Jewish Shabbat rule of traveling distance during that particular day? Yes, Jesus showed on many occasions that he did not obey traditional rules imposed on the people by the Pharisees. Do yo think this is one such occasion? Is the actions by Jesus and his disciples described in the gospels for palm “Sunday” according to normal behavior on a Shabbat?

  7. Plutarco Bonilla Acosta

    The first Spanish translation of the whole Bible made from the original languages and published in 1569, known as “La Biblia del oso” has this translation of Mark 16: “Muy de mañana, el primero de los sábados…” (Very early in the morning, the first of the Sabats). Did Casiodoro de Reina, the translator, the real meaning of that expresión? I do not know.

  8. John Freeman

    What do you think of Jesus calling the meal Passover? Luke 22:15. And He said to them, “With earnest desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.

    1. Malgorzata

      Thank you for this article. It give more Insights into my recent calculation and discoveries connected with Yeshua’s death and resurrection.

    2. Josiah

      Jesus did not say anything about a Passover meal…He said, “With desire I have desired…to eat this passover with you.”