Preparation Day – Is There a Bible Contradiction?

A confusing Jewish tradition is the Preparation Day – is there a Bible contradiction between John and the other Gospels? Some critics point to John’s Preparation Day references to claim a Gospel contraction thereby casting doubt on their integrity and their accounts about Jesus of Nazareth.[1] In the setting of when Pilate was judging Jesus, John wrote:

JN 19:14 “Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”” (NKJV)

John seems to suggest that Jesus was judged by Pilate on the Thursday before Passover which would indeed create a Gospel conflict. In fact, it would be inconsistent with his own second reference a few verses later:

JN 19:31 “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” (NKJV)

Occam’s Razor theory suggests that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. John seems to clearly reveal his definition for the “Preparation Day” in this verse as being the day leading into the Sabbath – a Friday – not the Thursday before the Passover.

For some, this may not completely address the apparent conflict posed by verse 14 obliging the longer explanation. A big clue is found in John’s parenthetical comment “for that Sabbath was a high day” or, depending on the translation, a “high Sabbath” or a “special Sabbath.”[2]

All Festival holy days, according the Law of Moses, were to be regarded as a Sabbath, “an appointed time.”[3] Bookend holy day were designated for Passover week, the first and last days of Passover.[4] When Nissan 15, the first holy day of the Passover, fell on a Friday it created back-to-back Sabbaths.

God’s commandment defined the weekly Sabbath as the holy day prohibiting “all manner of work.[5] The Jewish Talmud legal opinion expounded on this Law defining what was or was not considered work – rules notoriously enforced by the Pharisees in the Gospels.

Work prohibitions ran the gambit from cooking, drawing water, walking, carrying, making fires, feeding livestock, harvesting, etc. To avoid such violations, preparatory work for these tasks had to be completed before sunset Friday evening – the day of preparation for the Sabbath.[6]

On the typical Nissan 15 first holy day of Passover, the people were customarily busy with other required and traditional activities. In the morning was the Chagigah sacrifice where the meat from it was to be prepared and eaten toward the end of the day. That evening was the traditional ritual of a barley reaping in preparation for the Wave Sheaf or the Omer offering the second day of Passover to celebrate the Feast of First Fruits of the harvest.[7]

When Nissan 15 Passover fell on a Friday, it presented a legal conundrum. According to the Talmud interpretation of the Law, people were meant to “enjoy” the Passover Festival. The enjoyment factor was confounded by the strict Passover meal limitations further complicated by the legal work restrictions imposed by the two consecutive day Sabbaths.

A common sense solution would be to use Thursday, Nissan 14, as the preparation day for the back-to-back Sabbaths. After all, there was also a preparation day in advance of any designated holy day.  For this high Sabbath Passover, it was not that simple.

Double food preparations on Nissan 14 to cover two days was not an option because of the Passover commandment that said all food from the Feast of Unleavened Bread had to be consumed by midnight or else burned – no leftovers.[8] Requiring the people to go without cooked meals for two days (all day Friday and Saturday) due to work restrictions, not to mention work responsibilities piling up especially for farming activities, would be a negative experience rather than a positive one.

Rabbis were interpreters of the Law, Jewish lawyers, and they found some legal wiggle room. Festival Sabbath language in the Law of Leviticus and Numbers used the Hebrew word abodah meaning “labor” interpreted by Rabbi Sages to be a more lenient work restriction than the weekly Sabbath “all manner of work. [9] English translations reflect the difference saying “servile work,” “laborious work,” “regular work,” “occupations” and “customary work.”[10]

In the spirit of the Passover being a celebratory festival and with this legal flexibility, work exceptions were allowed by the Rabbis for a Friday, Nissan 15, Passover holy day to prepare for the weekly Sabbath. JewishEncyclopedia.com explains the Passover holy day work restriction leniency:[11]

“The general purpose underlying these laws is to enhance the joy of the festival, and therefore the Rabbis permitted all work necessary to that end, while guarding against turning it into a working-day.”

Wading through all the Jewish legalities, it boils down to John having made references in verses 14 and 31 to two different times of the same “preparation day” based on different scenarios. Verse 14 is in the context of the Friday morning of Passover when the full day of High Sabbath preparation activities were still ahead – “the Preparation Day of the Passover.”

Verse 31 is in the narrower context of the very same Friday where the imminent sunset would begin the weekly Sabbath and its much stricter rules – “because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath.” This is why Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were in a hurry to bury the body of Jesus before sunset, the beginning of a new Jewish day.

Does John’s reference to the preparation day create a Bible contradiction with the other Gospels?

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REFERENCES:

NKJV = New King James Version translation
Gospel references:  Matthew 28, Mark 16; Luke 24, John 20

[1] 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>
[2] NIV, NASB, NLT, NKJV.  Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book V, Chapter 15. <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm>
[3] Exodus 31:12-17; Leviticus 23:1-44.  The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson.  1918. Book 1, Sabbath, Chapter I; Book 2, Tract Erubin; Book 3, Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter IV. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm>   Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  “Shabbath.” <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/shabbath/index.html>  “Shabbat” and “Festivals.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. < http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com>
[4] Exodus 12; Numbers 28.
[5] Exodus 23; 31; Leviticus 23.
[6] Exodus 16.
[7] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book V, Chapter 14.  “’Omer (= “sheaf”).”  JewishEncyclopedia.com.
[8] Deuteronomy 16.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826 -1889.  The NTSLibrary. 2016. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>
[9] Leviticus 23; Numbers 28.
[10] KJV, NET, NIV, NASB, NLT, NRSV, NKJV. Net.Bible.org. Hebrew text, footnote #20 for Numbers 28:18.  Strong.  “`abodah <5656>.”  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
[11] The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3, Tracts Pesachim, Chapter IV and Book 4, Tract Betzah (Yom Tob).  “Holy Days” and “Festivals.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.

Cicero’s Prosecution of Crucifixion

Crucifixion is as closely associated with the image of Jesus of Nazareth as any other save perhaps the manger scene. Yet some challenge the reality of whether Rome executed Jesus by nailing him to a cross – if doubts about the Gospel accounts can be meaningfully established, it discredits the integrity of the Gospel’s claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.[1]

All four Gospels record that Jesus of Nazareth was scourged and killed by crucifixion. The location was Golgatha just outside the city of Jerusalem where passersby could see and mock him. Aside from that, the Gospels do not go into the gory details of the crucifixion for one very simple reason – it was not necessary.

“Tacitus (“Annales,” 54, 59) reports therefore without comment the fact that Jesus was crucified. For Romans no amplification was necessary.” JewishEncyclopedia.com

Just about anyone living in the Roman Empire, the primary audience of the Gospel authors, knew about crucifixion – and most likely from firsthand experience.[2] The Jewish crowd at Pilate’s judgement knew about it shouting out “crucify him!” Not even Roman historians Josephus, Tacitus or Suetonius found it necessary to explain crucifixion.[3] But, there are a few exceptions…

– – – – –

Cicero, commonly regarded as the greatest orator in the history of Rome, was a Roman Senator and Consul who lived about 100 years before Pontius Pilate was Procurator of Judea.[4] A lesser known fact is that Cicero was a prosecutor, a Roman lawyer.

In Secondary Orations Against Verres, Cicero wrote about his prosecution of Verres.[5] The charge was the premeditated murder of a noble Roman citizen, one Publius Gavius, because of his public crusade for freedom and citizenship.

Scourging whips and the cross were the murder weapons – death by crucifixion. Cicero’s accusation of Verres in court described how humiliation, psychological and mental anguish were part of the excruciating, long lasting torment of the scourged victim nailed to the cross, a fate reserved only for slaves at that time:[6]

“…according to their regular custom and usage, they had erected the cross behind the city in the Pompeian road…you chose that place in order that the man who said that he was a Roman citizen, might be able from his cross to behold Italy and to look towards his own home?… for the express purpose that the wretched man who was dying in agony and torture might see that the rights of liberty and of slavery were only separated by a very narrow strait, and that Italy might behold her son murdered by the most miserable and most painful punishment appropriate to slaves alone.

It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is a wickedness; to put him to death is almost parricide. What shall I say of crucifying him? So guilty an action cannot by any possibility be adequately expressed by any name bad enough for it…that you exposed to that torture and nailed on that cross…He chose that monument of his wickedness and audacity to be in the sight of Italy, in the very vestibule of Sicily, within sight of all passersby as they sailed to and fro.”[7]

Seneca the Younger, born in Spain virtually the same year as Jesus of Nazareth, was educated in Rome. He became a stoic philosopher, statesman and dramatist gaining acclaim as a writer of tragedies and essays.[8]

With a penchant for including horror scenes in his tragedies, Seneca was familiar with the gruesome realities of crucifixion. In one “Dialogue,” he wrote to his embittered friend, Marcia, who had been grieving three years over her son’s death. Using a metaphor of crucifixion to describe the mental anguish of people of virtue striving to overcome their own self-imposed tribulations, he wrote:

“Though they strive to release themselves from their crosses those crosses to which each one of you nails himself with his own hand – yet they, when brought to punishment, hang each upon a single gibbets [sic]; but these others who bring upon themselves their own punishment are stretched upon as many crosses as they had desires….”[9]

Seneca’s letter suggests he expected Marcia to be familiar with the horrific analogy of crucifixion. A gibbet was a gallows-like structure used to hang dead, executed victims by chains or ropes for public display as compared to living victims of crucifixion who were stretched out and nailed to crosses.[10]

By the time of Josephus, crucifixion was commonly used by Rome to punish such crimes as robbery and insurrection devolving to the point it became Roman sport.[11] Josephus made nine references to Roman crucifixions. In one, he wrote of acts by Procurator Florus and in another from his own Roman eyewitness perspective to the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD:[12]

“…they also caught many of the quiet people, and brought them before Florus, whom he first chastised with stripes, and then crucified…for Florus ventured then to do what no one had done before, that is, to have men of the equestrian order whipped and nailed to the cross before his tribunal…”[13]

“So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies”.[14]

One central theme to the historical depictions of Roman crucifixion horrifically detailed by Cicero – it was common knowledge that victims were nailed to the cross as an extreme physical and psychological torturous means to kill them. Are the accounts of the Gospels credible in saying that Roman crucifixion was used to kill Jesus?

 

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REFERENCES:[1] “Jesus did not die on cross, says scholar.” The Telegraph. n.d. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/7849852/Jesus-did-not-die-on-cross-says-scholar.html rel=”nofollow” rel=”nofollow”> Warren, Meredith J.C.  “Was Jesus Really Nailed to the Cross?”  The Conversation.  2016.  <https://theconversation.com/was-jesus-really-nailed-to-the-cross-56321 rel=”nofollow”>   Perales, Ginger. “Was Jesus Nailed or Tied to the Cross?”  2016.  <http://www.newhistorian.com/jesus-nailed-tied-cross/6161 rel=”nofollow”>
[2]Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews.  Book IV, Chapter V. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[3] Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius.  The Annals. Ed. Church, Alfred John and Brodribb, William Jackson. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0078> Perseus Digital Library. Ed. Crane, Gregory R.  Tufts University. n.d. Word search “crucified” <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/searchresults?page=4&q=crucified>
[4]  Linder, Douglas O. “The Trial of Gaius (or Caius) Verres.”  2008.  <http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/Verres/verresaccount.html>
[5] Cicero, Marcus Tullius. “The Fifth Book of the Second Pleading in the Prosecution against Verres.” Ed. Crane, Gregory R.  Perseus Digital Library. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0018%3Atext%3DVer.%3Aactio%3D2%3Abook%3D5>
[6] Greenough, James. B.; Kittredge, George; eds.   Select Orations and Letters of Cicero.  1902.  Introduction I.  Life of Cicero. VII. “From the Murder of Caesar to the Death of Cicero.”   <http://books.google.com/books?id=ANoNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false>   Quintilian, Marcus Fabius.  Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory.  1856.  Book 8, Chapter 4.   Rhetoric and Composition.  2011. .<http://rhetoric.eserver.org/quintilian/index.html>   “Crucifixion.” JewishEncyclopedia.com < http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4782-crucifixion >
[7] Cicero, Marcus Tullius. “The Fifth Book of the Second Pleading in the Prosecution against Verres.” Ed. Crane, Gregory R.  Perseus Digital Library. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0018%3Atext%3DVer.%3Aactio%3D2%3Abook%3D5>
[8] “Seneca.”  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Zalta, Edward N.  2015. <https://plato.stanford.edu>  Mastin, Luke. “Ancient Rome – Seneca the Younger.” 2009.  Classical Literature. <http://www.ancient-literature.com/rome_seneca.html>
[9] Seneca, Lucius Annaeus.  “De Consolatione Ad Marciam+.”  “To Marcia on Consolation.”    Moral Essays.  Trans. John W. Basore.  1928-1935.   “Seneca’s Essays Volume II.”  Book VI.  Pages xx 1-3.  The Stoic Legacy to the Renaissance.  2004.  <http://www.stoics.com/seneca_essays_book_2.html#%E2%80%98MARCIAM1>    Seneca, Lucius Annaeus.  “De Vita Beata+.”  “To Gallio On The Happy Life.”  Moral Essays.  Trans. John W. Basore.   1928-1935.  “Seneca’s Essays Volume II.”  Book VII.  The Stoic Legacy to the Renaissance.  2004.  <http://www.stoics.com/seneca_essays_book_2.html#%E2%80%98BEATA1>
[10] “gibbet.”  The Free Dictionary by Farlex. 2017.  <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dictionary.htm>  “gibbet.”  Merriam-Webster.com. 2017 <http://www.merriam-webster.com>
[11] “Crucifixion.” JewishEncyclopedia.com.
[12] “FLORUS, GESSIUS (or, incorrectly, Cestius).” JewishEncyclopedia.com. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6200-florus-gessius>
[13] Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews.  Book II, Chapter XIV. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[14] Josephus.  Wars. Book V, Chapter XI.

Easter Good Friday – or is it Good Thursday?

Tradition says that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. Not everyone agrees – some say that Jesus was on a Thursday, the day before the 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]

Jewish Talmud differentiates between the first two Passover meals. First was the Feast of Unleavened Bread at the beginning of Nissan 15 to be taken from the paschal sacrifice offering earlier that day on Nissan 14 and 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, 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, was a sacrifice offered by an individual at the Temple earlier in the day with the assistance of a priest who became a beneficiary to it.[vi] Jewish Law stipulated that a portion of the sacrifice was to be given to the priest for his own Chagigah Passover meal while the remaining meat was to be taken home by the offeror 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?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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> “101 Bible Contradictions.”  Islamic Awareness. n.d. Contradiction #69. https://www.islamawareness.net/Christianity/bible_contra_101.html>
[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.