Unlocking The New Testament: The Last Supper (1)

If you have ever been to Israel, you may have visited Mini Israel Park—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; and here is one of the questions about Jerusalem’s Old City:  Did you know that the Last Supper of Jesus and His disciples was in fact, a Passover Seder? I had very mixed feelings when I saw it for the first time: on the one hand, it is a sign that Jesus is starting to be recognized as a Jew in Israel; but on the other hand, do we really know that? Can we say with the confidence that the Last Supper of Jesus and His disciples was in fact a Passover Seder?

The precise nature of the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, as well as the day and the date of His crucifixion, have been among the most debated topics throughout the history of the New Testament. It is certainly too big a question to try and solve here. Was Jesus crucified on that specific day, and at the specific time when the Passover lambs were slain in the Temple Court? If so, then the Last Supper could not be a Seder—the festive meal that marks the beginning of the Passover—or was it the first night of the Passover, 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, and of course, I don’t expect you to accept my view. The purpose of these articles is not to prove anything or to give the final answers: I merely want to show that there are various possibilities to present the final days of Jesus as a solid and non-controversial story. Towards this purpose, I would like to bring some Hebrew insights into the discussion. Without knowing the Passover customs that existed at the time of Jesus, we can really miss a lot, as this is precisely where many answers and explanations of the discrepancies in Scripture (for instance between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John) should be sought.

Let us first discuss the traditional view: Jesus was crucified on Friday, 15th of Nisan, and the Last Supper was indeed a Passover Seder. According to this traditional view, the Passover meal takes place on Thursday night. The day of Thursday 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.

This view seems to be supported by the Synoptic Gospels. However, we are all aware of the difficulties bound up with this traditional approach. First of all, there is a well-known problem of discrepancy between the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John, which apparently dates all these events a day earlier than the Synoptics. Numerous attempts were made to harmonize all the Gospels, in particular with the help of the ‘different calendars’ concept: If different calendars were in use, then the feast days were calculated differently by different groups. First, the scholars distinguished between the Pharisaic date of the Passover and the Saduccean date a day earlier, which might lie behind the Gospel of John. Even more promising is the fact that the Essenes also used their own calendar. The famous story of the man with a water jar[1] is based on that: a man carrying water could only have been an Essene; Essenes had their communities in various towns, and also in Jerusalem, and since they used a different calendar, their guest rooms were still available. That’s why Jesus knew that a room would be available for the Last Supper – and He may have followed their calendar as well. 

There are several other problems connected to this 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[2]. 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: where is the sign of Jonah? How can we make three days and three nights if He died on Friday and was resurrected on Sunday and hardly 40 hours have passed between his death and resurrection?

Next time, we will try to answer these questions – as well as try to discuss the alternative scenarios. We have to remember that Jesus and his disciples were Galilean Jews who came to Jerusalem for Passover, and maybe it is in the differences between the Galilean Jews and Judean Jews that we have to look for the answers.


[1] Mark 14:13

[2] John 13:29

 


Excerpts from my new book “Unlocking the Scriptures” are included in this article  (and many other posts here), and I wanted to let you know that the book is published already    and is available on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

You might enjoy also my other  books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/   
If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, studying in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, or 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 courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com).

 

 

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. Mond Angeles

    The most important thing to understand is that our Messiah is the Passover lamb. He could not have
    observed the Last Supper as a Passover meal, because that simply means that our Messiah would have
    died on the wrong day, or observed Passover on the wrong day.

    1. Julia Blum

      I agree Mond. Please read my second article (will be published tomorrow), and we will continue then our discussion. Blessings!

  2. Mond Angeles

    So how do we get 3 days and 3 nights?

    Because Christ said … “three days and three nights”.

    Matthew 12:40 (NIV)
    For as Jonah was THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

    Christ did say that there was 12 hours to a day.

    John 11:9 (NIV)
    Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light.

    And we know he didn’t die till the evening hours on the day he did die.

    Matthew 27:46 (NKJV)
    And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

    So, … we can’t count THAT day. So let’s work backwards. We know that He rose on the first day of the week.

    Mark 16:9 (NKJV)
    Now when He ROSE EARLY ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.

    But wait, a Hebrew day goes from SUNSET TO SUNSET. Making the first day of the week actually start on what we would call a Saturday night. Well, that makes sense because Mary Magdalene began her way out to the tomb on the first day of the week while it was still dark … HE HAD ALREADY RISEN.

    John 20:1 (NKJV)
    Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

    So that would mean that he rose on Saturday night at sunset. Because that would be the beginning of the first day of the week. So let’s count backwards from there. ….

    Saturday DAY … Friday NIGHT. Friday DAY … Thursday NIGHT. Thursday DAY… Wednesday NIGHT.

    OK…..That would mean He WAS CRUCIFIED AT THE 9TH HOUR ON WEDNESDAY and put in the grave by sundown that evening.

    But they wanted Him off the cross because the next day was a Sabbath.

    John 19:31 (NIV)
    Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.

    That would HAVE to make it a Friday evening wouldn’t it? Wait a minute. THE FIRST DAY OF UNLEAVENED BREAD IS CONSIDERED A HIGH SABBATH.

    Leviticus 23:7 (NIV)
    On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.

    Well that makes sense, because Mark says that Mary bought spices AFTER the Sabbath and yet still waited for the first day of the week to anoint Christ’s body.

    Mark 16:1-2 (NKJV)
    1 Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

  3. Gladys Fox

    It seems to me that John’s account is a different supper than the Pesach Seder, since it says it was just before the festival of Pesach. Therefore it would be understandable that the talmidim would think that Judah was sent to buy what they needed for the festival. See John 13:1

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Gladys, it seems to me as well. I have more information in my upcoming article, please stay tuned! 🙂

  4. Mirel

    Very interesting, cannot wait for the following study, Thank You

  5. Dot Healy

    Very interesting Julia! I think most of us simply accept things without asking the hard questions. I look forward to your next post to continue this conversation.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Dot! There will be lot of interesting details in my next post, I really hope many readers will find it interesting and helpful.