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 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”. 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.
 Mark 14:13
 John 13:29
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