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Good Friday or Good Thursday? Easter and Passover Traditions

Tradition says that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. Not everyone agrees – some say that Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, the day before Passover.[i] Others argue there is a conflict in the Gospels serving to invalidate its credibility and its claim that Jesus is the Son of God.[ii] Was it Good Friday or Good Thursday? Easter and Passover Traditions are called into question by a verse in the Gospel of John that says:

JN 18:28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. (NRSV)

John seems to attribute the timing of the crucifixion before the first day of Passover by saying the priests were worried about becoming defiled thus disqualifying them from eating the Passover meal.[iii]It is easy to conclude “to eat the Passover” refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread being observed at its appointed time. If true, it would mean John was saying Jesus was crucified on Thursday, Nissan 14, before the Passover Feast of Unleavened Bread, a contradiction with the other Gospels saying he was crucified on the first day of Passover, a Friday that particular year.

All may not be what it appears to be. What if there was another separate Passover meal that concerned the priests on Friday, the first day of Passover, after the Feast of Leavened Bread the previous evening ? There was…and it involved a legally required Passover sacrifice.[iv]

The Jewish Talmud differentiates between the two Passover meals. The first meal, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, was to be taken from the paschal sacrifice offering on Nissan 14 to be consumed entirely that evening before midnight. The second Passover meal was to be taken from the festal sacrificial offering on the first day of Passover, Nissan 15, that was to be consumed over the course of two days and one night.[v]

Chagigah, as the first day of Passover meal later came to be called, originated from a sacrifice offered by an individual at the Temple that day with the assistance of a priest who became a beneficiary to it.[vi]The Law stipulated that a portion of the sacrifice was to be given to the priest for his own Chigigah Passover meal while the remaining meat was to be taken home by the offerer for his personal Chagigah meal.[vii] 

Defilement worries? Priests were held to a higher Rabbinical standard with special rules that did not apply to the general populace. Entering Pilate’s headquarters, the Praetorium, was one of those things that would place the priests in a state of ritual defilement.[viii]Disqualification from performing their Chagigah sacrificial duty on the first day of Passover meant the priests would not have received their lawful portion of the sacrificial meat – no meat for their Chagigah Passover meal that evening.[ix]

Jewish legalities also rule out the Feast of Unleavened Bread as the one referenced in John 18:28. Jewish Law provided two remedies for a ritually defiled priest to partake of the evening Feast or any other. Rabbinic ritual defilement could be absolved after sunset by means of a ritualistic purification bath. Since the Feast began after sunset, the purified priest could then partake of it. Additionally, the Law designated a make-up day called the “second Passover” for those who could not participate in the first Feast of Unleavened Bread.

There are much bigger, logical reasons why the defilement concern of John 18:28 does not refer to the crucifixion of Jesus on Thursday, Nissan 14, preceding the Feast of Unleavened Bread that evening. Earlier in the afternoon of Nissan 14, shortly after midday, upwards of a quarter million paschal sacrifices had to be performed! It was an all-hands on deck scenarios where all the Priests served a vitally important role at the Temple requiring massive preparations with a packed and rigid schedule involving the sacred sacrificial rituals for the most popular annual Festival in all the land that drew crowds of about 3 million.[x] 

With this in mind, how illogical is the scenario where high level priests pursued their vendetta against Jesus beginning after the evening dinner of Wednesday, Nissan 13, throughout the night into Nissan 14 with an inquisition and a trial; Roman hearings the next morning; and ending with the crucifixion of Jesus at 3pm on Nissan 14 … at the same time tens of thousands of pascal lamb sacrifices were being performed at the Temple? It would be like NFL Super Bowl event managers taking the day off on Super Bowl Sunday to attend to personal business.

Consider, too, the Roman factor – Passover was the one Jewish festival where the troublesome crowd of millions of pilgrims worried the Romans more than any other.[xI]  How likely is it that Roman authorities would risk triggering a riot by crucifying Jews on the same day as their sacred paschal sacrifices at the Temple? On the next day, the first day of Passover, Nissan 15; however, by Jewish Law the crowds were all dispersed to their local housing accommodations celebrating the Passover Festival with very minimal activity.

Did John’s reference to the priest’s Passover meal defilement concern actually pose a credibility issue with the other Gospels saying Jesus was crucified on the first day of Passover?

REFERENCES:

NRSV = New Revised Standard Version translation
[i]  Doig, Kenneth F.  New Testament Chronology.  Chapter 18.  <http://nowoezone.com/NTC18.htm>  Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book V.  <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm
[ii] Wells, Steve.  The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. 2017. “423. When was Jesus crucified?” <http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/passover_meal.html rel=”nofollow”</a>
“101 Bible Contradictions.”  Islamic Awareness. n.d. Contradiction #69. <http://www.islamawareness.net/Christianity/bible_contra_101.html rel=”nofollow”</a>
[iii] Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826-1889. Chapter 11. <http://philologos.org/__eb-ttms/temple11.htm>
[iv] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Chapter 11.  “Ablution.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com>  
[v] The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson.  1918.  Book 3, Tract Pesachim.  <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm>   Streane, A. W, ed. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud.  1891. Chagigah 7b.  <http://www.archive.org/stream/translationoftre00streuoft/translationoftre00streuoft_djvu.txt>
[vi] Leviticus 3.
[vii] Leviticus 7:29-32.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Chapters 5 & 11.  Streane.  A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud.  Glossary:  “Chagigah.”
[viii] Leviticus 22.  
[ix] Leviticus 22;  Numbers 9. Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book III, Chapter X. Google Books.  n.d <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[x] Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews. Book VI.. < http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  
[xi] Antiquities. Book XI, Chapter IV; Book XX, Chapter V. Josephus. Wars. Book V, Chapter V.

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