The Transitional Chapter (3) : The Message Of The Broken Bread

NOT A REGULAR GUEST

After the two disciples constrained Jesus, “He went in to stay with them”. Then we read:

Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him[1]

First of all, let us understand how this meal looked from a traditional Jewish viewpoint. Sharing meals has always been a very important part of Jewish community life. At the beginning of the meal, the traditional blessing is always said as the bread is broken; since it was the week of Passover, it would have been matzah, not a regular bread, so the Blessing on Matzah would have been added:  “Blessed are You, our Lord God, King of the Universe who makes us holy through Your commandments, and commands us to eat Matzah.” The one who recites the blessing, does so while literally breaking the bread, exactly as we are told Jesus did. In this sense, it was a traditional Jewish meal of Chol Ha-Moed (Passover week). Or was it?

In the Babylonian Talmud, we read: “The host should break bread” (Berakoth 46). In Jewish tradition, the host— the head of the household—is the one who always says the blessing and breaks the bread. Guests wait for directions from their host and quietly receive what is set before them. However, that is not what we see here. Clearly, this was not a regular guest! Instead of waiting for his host’s direction, we see this ‘stranger’ taking the host’s place: He is the one who says the blessing and breaks the bread! We can imagine that this behavior must have caught the attention of everyone in the house.  Where did this authority come from?

NO ONE SHOULD STRETCH OUT HIS HAND

Here I would like to quote a passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Qumran Sectarians believed in the eternal Savior (they probably believed it was Melchizedek), who came as man and was known to them as the Teacher of Righteousness. The Teacher of Righteousness was a priest. Let us have a look at a fragmentary document, 1QSa (sometimes called The Messianic Rule), and see what this text says about the Priest; [the Mess]iah of Israel shall [enter] … and [no-one should stretch out ] his hand to the first fruit … before the Priest, for [he is the one who b]lesses the first-fruit of the bread and of the new wine  …[2]

No-one should stretch out his hand to bless the bread: this means that in the days of Jesus, there was an understanding (at least among the Essenes), that when the Messiah comes, no-one should stretch out his hand to bless the bread before Him. The authority to bless the bread clearly belonged to the host—unless the Messiah was present. And when, in our story, this stranger acted in the house as one that had authority,[3] even though the eyes of the disciples were still restrained, their hearts that had been burning along the way were now filled with excitement and anticipation. To them, His behavior was a definite sign of His messianic dignity.

A MAN WITH A JAR

But why and how would they even know about this Essenic understanding of Messiah’s privilege to break the bread?  Let’s s go back a week ago and watch Jesus and his disciples approaching the Holy City. Jerusalem was swarming with people who had come for Passover. Every house had additional guests, every room was packed, yet Jesus seemed strangely unconcerned about a place to eat the Passover meal. Confidently, He told His disciples, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters.”[4] How did Jesus know they would meet a man with a water jar? A man with a water jar was a very unusual sight, as this was ordinarily women’s work. Why would a man be carrying a water jar in Jerusalem?

The only group of Jewish men that traditionally did carry water jars were Essenes. Since Essenes were mostly celibate, their men did women’s work. Therefore, a man carrying a water jar could only have been an Essene. Essenes had their communities, not only in Qumran, but in various towns. They also had a community in Jerusalem. Josephus tells us that one of the gates of Jerusalem was called “the Gate of the Essenes”. Apparently it was through this gate that they entered their community. From Jesus’s words, his disciples understood they had to enter Jerusalem through the Essene’s gate. Also, since Essenes used a different calendar, their guest rooms were still available. That’s why the Teacher knew that a room would be available for the Last Supper. And that’s why a week later the disciples would recognize His messianic authority in breaking the bread.

RECOGNIZED BY SUFFERING

But there is something even more significant going on here—something that the Essenes didn’t know and the disciples had not yet understood, but they are starting to understand now.  We know that during the Last Supper, Jesus was the one who blessed the bread and the wine, and since they had this meal in the Essene room and within the Essene community, while breaking the bread, Jesus could have been seen as an Essene Messiah. That is why He is making sure to tell them that He is not a Messiah of the Essene concept: He is linking this breaking of the bread to what was to come, to His impending suffering. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”[5]

Now, back to the Emmaus story: when this stranger began to act in the house as one that had authority,[6] assuming the role of the host and breaking the bread, the hearts of the disciples—that had been burning along the way—were now filled to the brim with excitement. They were reminded of His Messianic blessing during the Last Supper (whether they saw it, or were told about it),  therefore for them it was a sure sign of his Messianic dignity. They were also reminded of His words about suffering: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”[7] These words: “you will know after this,” were being fulfilled right then and there: Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him.   According to Luke’s account,  this is what two disciples realized while He was breaking the bread: He was the Messiah – but He was not  not the Messiah that they expected; He was not the Messiah that Israel expected; He was not the Messiah that the Essenes expected. He was the Suffering Messiah.

 

If you’ve  liked this article, you might enjoy also my book As Though Hiding His Face, discussing in depth the story of Emmaus.   You  can get  this and my other books through my page on this blog,  https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/.

[1] Luke 24:30-31

[2] 1Qsa, column 2, lines 18-21.

[3] Mark 1:22

[4] Luke 22:10

[5] John 13:7

[6] Mark 1:22

[7] John 13:7

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. anne

    Unfortunately at this time I cannot take classes but I love getting the emails and always read them throughly..Someday I hope I can take classes and enjoy all the instruction you provide…God Bless Anne

  2. David Russell

    Hello Julia and others,
    I always enjoy the time of year from just before Passover to Pentecost as we recall and relive the events from the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Covenant Scriptures on which our faith is based. I have been wondering about the disciples. Tradition has them as barely educated, fisherman, in most cases immediately dropped everything to accept Yeshua’s invite to follow him. Others claim disciples were common as were rabbis in the time of Yeshua, so his disciples were not unique in that they were following a sage, teacher or Rabbi. Can both be true?
    David Russell

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, David, I think both statements are true: while his disciples (mostly) were simple fishermen,they were talmidim of their Rabbi – and it was a common thing indeed in the time of Jesus.

  3. Thomas Cordell

    I liked the interpretation that when Jesus broke the bread, they had a good look at his hands and wrists and could see the scars of crucifixion.

    1. Julia Blum

      I understand Thomas, it’s a beautiful interpretation, but I think there is more to this story. There is something else that Luke is telling us here. I am talking about in my new post, I’ve just published it, so you can read and let me know whether you agree with that. Blessings!

  4. Stephen Funck

    Excellent to include the possible Essene connection.The traditional location had a large Essene community.
    http://www.centuryone.org/apostles.html BARGIL PIXNER http://www.centuryone.org/pixner-q-a.html It is possible that this was Clophas and his wife Mary’s sister Mary parents of the 2nd Bishop of the Church Simeon, after Jesus oldest brother James. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopas

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Stephen, it is possible indeed; however, since Luke doesn’t provide their names, it would still be a guess (an educated guess, but still guess). Thank you for your support with Essenes.

  5. Marcia New

    Julia, what an insightful trip into the Jewish culture of the Emmaus Road incident. Thank you.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Marcia, I am so glad you find it helpful.