Friday, November 03, 2017

The Passion and the Passover

[Exod 12:1-20] Passover was originally a home-based rather than a temple-based ceremony. Israel had no temple at the first Passover, but the instructions made no allowance for a temple: families were to gather in their homes and every family was to make its sacrifice at the same time (12:6). It would never be possible for every family to sacrifice its lamb simultaneously on the one altar at one temple. However, Deut 16:2 states that Passover was to be sacrificed "in the place where Yahweh chooses to have his name dwell" (this is generally taken to be the central sanctuary), and v5 indicates that the Passover is not to be sacrificed in any of the other towns in Israel…It is possible that there was to be an official, national celebration of Passover at the temple in addition to (not instead of) the local celebrations. 2 Chron 30:1-18 describes a national celebration of Passover conducted at the temple. For practical reasons, this probably took place later than the normal Passover time.

This may explain a problem in the NT, that Mk 14:12-16 says that the first Eucharist in the upper room was a Passover meal, in contrast to Jn 18:28, who asserts that Passover had not yet occurred (John says that the Pharisees had not yet eaten Passover on the morning of Jesus's crucifixion), Possibly the Last Supper was a home-based Passover seder, while the Pharisees were preparing for the national, temple-based service that took place on the next day. D. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus (Kregel 2014), 361-62. 


  1. In Catholic scholar Brant Pitre's book Jesus and the Last Supper, he wrote a ~122 page chapter (4th) on the topic of the apparent discrepancy and contradiction between the Synoptics and the GJohn. He acknowledges there are many views on the topic, but lists four of the most popular views among scholars. Two of them attempt to reconcile the apparent discrepancy and two argue for real contradiction. He describes and then goes through each options' strengths and weaknesses, and then argues for the fourth position.

    1. The Essene Hypothesis attempts to reconcile the discrepancy by appealing to two liturgical calendars among Jews at the time. So, it's both true that Jesus did and didn't observe the Passover.

    2. The Johannine Hypothesis argues that John is right and the Synoptics are wrong. This is the most popular view among scholars. He argues that the main basis for its popularity is that it's grounded in astronomical considerations. However, he argues that when examined more carefully, the astronomical considerations are weak because they ultimately depend on atmospheric observations from the ground (not merely where the moon was in relation to the earth) during the relevant 1st century years. If I recall correctly, a cloudy day could delay the Passover up to 48 hours. Also, (if I recall) the calendar was dependent on when the season started, and that depended on the state of the crops.

    3. The Synoptic Hypothesis argues that the Synoptics are right and GJohn is wrong.

    4. The Passover Hypothesis argues that the Last Supper was a Passover (as the Synoptics clearly state) and that when properly read, GJohn actually agrees with the Synoptics. Pitre argues that when one takes into account the various ways the Jews at the time used the word Passover and other phrases to refer to the Passover season, John perfectly conforms to it such that the apparent contradiction disappears. Pitre says this is the least popular of the four among scholars (because neglected and dismissed), but argues that it's actually the best of the four options.

    I highly recommend the chapter (and book) to everyone. It's really fascinating.

    Some scholarly endorsement of the book:

    Craig S. Keener
    —Asbury Theological Seminary
    "A pivotally important work on the Last Supper and also an important contribution to historical Jesus research. Carefully researched and vigorously yet graciously argued, it offers a brilliant new synthesis of the data."

    Dale C. Allison Jr.
    —Princeton Theological Seminary
    "Brant Pitre's contribution is provocative in the best sense of the word. At every turn readers will find new observations worth pondering and new arguments worth weighing."

    1. typo correction:

      "(not merely where the moon was in relation to the earth)"

      Maybe better phrased is, "(not merely where the sun, moon and earth were relative to each other to form the phases of the moon)".

    2. I should also say that Pitre's book The Case for Jesus is a great introductory book in defense of the historicity of the Biblical Jesus as well.

      Here's a lecture based on his book:

      The Case For Jesus | Brant Pitre, PhD

  2. Craig Blomberg, I believe, also takes position #4. I haven't had a chance to read his work on it, but I believe he uses the chagigah explanation for John 18:28. Indeed, if (as I have read was the case) they could have cleansed themselves quite simply in order to eat the *evening* meal in any event, even after entering the judgement hall, then the interpretation that "the Passover had not yet occurred" is not helpful to explaining John 18:28 in any event. But if the chagigah would be eaten at noon, that explains their desire not to enter the judgement hall, and of course it is fully consistent with the idea that the Last Supper was a Passover meal, and the explicit statement in Mark 14:12 that the "first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb" occurred prior to the day of Jesus' crucifixion. To my ear, Mark 14:12 sounds like it is referring to a *general* understanding that this was the day when the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed.