Passover and the Gospels – Are They In Sync?

 

Final days of Jesus of Nazareth took place during the annual Passover observance in Jerusalem surrounded by his trial, execution and Resurrection. Interwoven throughout the Gospels are 21 references to the Passover by name and 6 references to either “the feast” or “the festival.” The question arises whether the Gospel accounts are consistent with Jewish legal requirements not everyone agrees.[1]

Moses had defied Pharaoh some 1500 years earlier in Egypt ending with the 10th plague, death of the firstborn.[2] Hebrews were spared when the angel of death passed over their homes bearing the blood of the sacrificial lambs over their doorposts.

God declared His act of salvation was to be observed annually by the Hebrews to “sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God “in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name.”[3] Strict requirements appear in the books of the Law of Moses – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.[4]

Passover began at twilight of Nissan 14 just after the Pascal Lamb had been sacrificed that afternoon. This evening meal marked the beginning of Nissan 15 when the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be eaten.[5] A key distinction, Jewish days begin at twilight just after sunset while Western societies begin the new day at midnight.[6]

Most Western societies would consider this evening meal to be the dinner event for the day of Nissan 14 while the first meal of the next day would be breakfast. The Law of Moses, however, considered the evening Feast of Unleavened Bread to be the very first meal of Nissan 15.

Roasted lamb from the Pascal sacrifice became the main course.[9] The meal was literally a feast intended to feed 10 to 20 people, a festive and joyous occasion to celebrate God’s deliverance from bondage – freedom.[10] Any leftovers by midnight were to be promptly burned that night.

Sunrise brought the initial daylight hours of the first day of Passover, Nissan 15, along with the daily necessities still to come. People were busy with required and traditional activities including meals and more sacrifices.

Jewish Talmudic law defined the sacrifices for each day including the meal plan for the first day of Passover. An entire tractate in the Babylonia Talmud entitled Chagigah is devoted to addressing the various expectations and requirements.[11] Two Chagigah sacrifices were associated with the Passover.[12]

First was the optional Chagigah sacrifice that could be offered on Nissan 14 as an optional festal offering intended to supplement the Paschal sacrifice ensuring there would be enough meat to feed a large Passover company.[13] It was “in all respects equal to the paschal sacrifice itself” expected to provide for “the duty of enjoying the festival.”[14]

If this optional festal sacrifice was to be offered, it was to occur before the Pascal sacrifice so that there was no interruption between it and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.[15] Like the Paschal lamb, it had to be consumed by midnight with any leftovers to be burned.

By tradition, the second Chagigah sacrifice was traditionally offered on Nissan 15, the first day of Passover, coming to be called exactly that, the Chagigah. It was to be offered under different circumstances than the first with a different purpose and rules. As an obligatory, private “peace offering,” it was to be offered by an individual at the Temple with the assistance of a Priest who became a beneficiary to it.[16]

A portion of the sacrifice was to be given to God, a portion to the Priest as a tithe for his own meal, and the remaining portion of meat was to be taken home by the offerer for his own Chagigah meal.[17] For this reason, a priest had a vested personal interest to assist in the sacrifice.

Meat from this second Chagigah sacrifice was to be prepared during the afternoon of the first day of Passover and served before evening as the main course.[18] It was to be consumed over the course of two days and one night – the first and second days of Passover, Nissan 15 and 16, and the night in between.

John 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)

Things get interesting as it relates to the Gospels’ accounts describing the final hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, especially John 18:28.[19] After the “Last Supper,” the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus was arrested and put on trial that night. During the trial, Jesus was taken by the Jewish leadership to Pilate at the Praetorium where the priests refused to enter.[20]

Two actions are mentioned that are a cause of contention, the first being “eat the Passover.” Anyone not familiar with the two Passover Chagigah meals might easily conclude John referred to the Feast of Unleavened Bread rather than the obligatory second Chigigiah meal. Second is “so they would not be defiled.”

Entering the Praetorium was one of those things that could place a priest in a state of defilement.[21] Although John does not explain the reason for the defilement, one possibility was due to the Jewish legal concept known as “abortus” – touching a dead body or home that once contained a dead body (the presumption of a Gentile’s home).[22]

After sunset, a ritualistic purification bath by the priest would have absolved this type of defilement; however in this case, after sunset was too late. Meat from the Chagigah sacrifice offered was to be offered, prepared and cooked that same day before evening.[23]

As a consequence, a priest who was “defiled” could not offer any sacrifice that day meaning he would not receive his lawful portion of the Chagigah sacrificial meat for his own meal.[24] For a priest whose personal financial support came directly from his duties performed at the Temple, it was a major incentive not to be in a state of defilement on the first day of Passover.

Evening began the second day of Passover, Nissan 16, with the traditional ritual of a barley reaping in preparation for the Wave Sheaf also known as the Omar offering. It was required to be offered on the second day of Passover to celebrate the Feast of First Fruits of the harvest.

Are the Gospel references to the Passover during the final days in the life of Jesus of Nazareth in agreement with Jewish Law defined in the Old Testament, the Tenakh, and the Talmud?

 

Updated February 6, 2022.

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Wells, Steve. <u>The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible</u>. 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>
[2] Exodus 8-12. Roth, Don. “What year was the first Passover?” Biblical Calendar Proof. 2019. <http://www.biblicalcalendarproof.com/Timeline/PassoverDate>
[3] Deuteronomy 16. NASB.
[4] Exodus 12; Leviticus 23; Numbers 9; Deuteronomy 16. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>
[5] Exodus 12; Leviticus 23; Numbers 9; Deuteronomy 16. Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826-1889. “The Roasting of the Lamb.” pp 66 – 67, 71-72. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>
[6] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 71.
[7] Deuteronomy 16. Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The Roasting of the Lamb.” p 75.
[8] Gill. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible. John; chapters 18-19 commentary.  <https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-18.html> Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 70-71, 76, 79, 81-82.  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. and commentary William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus.1850. Book VI, Chapter IX.3.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. p 1324. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Life%20and%20Times%20of%20Jesus%20the%20Messiah.pdf
[9] Talmud Bavli. Sefaria. Trans. William Davidson. n.d.  <https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Talmud>
[10] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The Three Things.” pp 70-71.
[11] Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1324.
[12] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter VI. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t03/psc09.htm> Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1324.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 70-71.  Gill. John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible. John chapters 18 & 19 commentary.
[13] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter V.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 79.
[14] Leviticus 3. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1383-85. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70.  Streane, A. W, ed.  A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. 1891. Chagigah 7b, Gemara. Pages 35 – 36. <http://www.archive.org/stream/translationoftre00streuoft/translationoftre00streuoft_djvu.txt>
[15] Leviticus 7.  Streane. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. Glossary:  “Chagigah.” pp 147-148.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. pp 41, 82.
[16] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1382.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70. The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3. Tract Pesachim Chapters VI, VIII, IX.
[17] Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-2 3; John 18-19.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1384.
[18] NASB.
[19] Numbers 9. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p. 83. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. “Introduction to Seder Tohoroth.” #2. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/tohoroth.html> “Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[20] Leviticus 22. Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1383-1385.
[21] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. p 1382.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70. The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3. Tract Pesachim. Chapters VI, VIII, IX.
[22] Leviticus 22; Numbers 9, 19. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. “The First Day of the Feast” pp 82-83, 85, 130-131, “Appendix.” pp 130-131.  “Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12358-priest>  Streane. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud. Glossary:  “Chagigah.”  p 148.

Implications of the Miracles

 

Miracles performed by Jesus of Nazareth reported by the Gospels could demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. At least some Jewish authorities agree with the Gospels’ accounts of miracles and wonders such as Encyclopedia Judaica noting they define him as a “miracle maker”:[1]

“…Matthew, Mark, and Luke present a reasonably faithful picture of Jesus as a Jew of his time. The picture of Jesus contained in them is not so much of a redeemer of mankind as of a Jewish miracle maker and preacher.  The Jesus portrayed in these three Gospels is, therefore, the historical Jesus.” – Encyclopedia Judaica

Jewish sage Rabbi Maimonides, in his premier Jewish work Mishneh Torah (circa 1180 AD), commented on miracles performed by the Messiah.[2] Performing “miracles and wonders” was not proof of the Messiah because miracles are not a requirement for the Messiah although it is prophesied that he will perform miracles.

Mishneh Torah launched Maimonides into celebrity status causing a great response from the Jewish community who sent him letters with questions. His responses to some of these letters are known as Responsa (Teshuvot).[3]

One question was posed by Rabbi Jacob al-Fayumi of Yemen regarding the Isaiah 52-53 parashah prophecy. Known as the Epistle Concerning Yemen, Maimonides’ Responsa clarified his views about “the signs and wonders” that Isaiah prophesied would be performed by the Messiah:[4]

“…there shall rise up one of whom none have known before, and the signs and wonders which they shall see performed by him will be the proofs of his true origin…”

“…and so confounded at the wonders which they will see him work, that they will lay their hands to their mouth; in the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which the kings will hearken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived.” – Rabbi Maimonides

Various, often unique, reports of miracles, signs and wonders based on witness accounts are recounted by the authors of the Gospels. Some allegations claim Christian conspirators devised the Gospels as fictional books making Jesus appear to be the Messiah.[5] Comparing all four Gospels through literary analysis reveals a different story.

Accounts of miracles have less in common with each other than they have in common. A total of 35 miracles are recorded as having occurred before the crucifixion of Jesus, but only one these miracles is common to all four – the feeding of the 5000. One of the most famous miracles is Jesus walking on water and it does not even appear in Luke!6]

Less than a third of the miracles, only 10, are commonly recounted by the three Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Nearly half of the 17 miracles performed before the crucifixion are uniquely detailed by a given Gospel author – 3 by Matthew, 2 by Mark, 6 by Luke and 6 by John.[7] Both instances of Jesus resurrecting the dead are exclusively narrated, first in Luke and second in John.[8]

All four Gospels contain accounts of Jewish religious leaders wanting retribution for Jesus when he performed miracles on the Sabbath.[9] Jewish leaders acknowledged miracles had occurred in order to criticize when they were performed. Among them, even with today’s standards of modern medicine, are truly miracles:  restoring a withered hand; healing a woman with an 18-year infirmity that kept her doubled over; healing a man who had been an invalid for 38 years; and restoring sight to a man born blind.

Detailed by all four Gospels, the greatest miracle story ever told is the unique self-resurrection from the dead by Jesus of Nazareth – the sole basis of Christianity. No credible evidence has ever been produced to debunk the miracle of the Resurrection.[10]

Often overlooked are the miracles, signs and wonders recounted after the Resurrection. Later the same day of the Resurrection, Luke includes the eyewitness statement of Cleopas when the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and his traveling partner on the road to Emmaus, sat down to dinner and prayed with them, then vanished before their eyes.[11]

Later that evening, Mark and Luke described when the resurrected Jesus suddenly appeared inside a locked room terrifying those present. After eating and speaking with the gathering, he instantly disappeared.[12]

John exclusively reports it happened again 8 days later, with the doubting Disciple Thomas present, he was allowed to touch the healed wounds of Jesus.[13] John described two more miracles that occurred days later at the Sea of Tiberius (Sea of Galilee).[14]

Outside of the Gospels in the Book of Acts written by the author of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus rose in the sky and disappeared into a cloud.[15] The author wrote that the miracles of Jesus of Nazareth attested to the fact that God was manifesting Himself through Jesus.[16] Quoting the Disciple Peter:

Act 2:22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know ––” NKJV

Do miracles attest to the reality that Jesus of Nazareth was sent by God as the Messiah…and, if they do, what does that say about Gospels’ claim of the greatest and unique miracle, the Resurrection?

 

Updated November 28, 2022.

Creative Commons License

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

REFERENCES:

[1] “Jesus.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Page 246.  CR “Jesus.”  Encyclopedia.com. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jesus>  “Miracles.” YouTube. photo. 2017. <https://i0.wp.com/theodds.website/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Miracles-image.jpg?resize=300%2C169>  
[2] Maimonides, Moses.  Mishneh Torah.  Moznaim Publications.  Jewish year 4937 (1177 AD).  Trans. Eliyahu Touger.  Chabad.org. 2018. <https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1188356/jewish/Melachim-uMilchamot-Chapter-11.htm>  Rich, Tracey R.  “What Do Jews Believe?”  Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm>
[3] Mangel, Nissen. “Responsa.” Publisher:  Kehot Publication Society. 2018. Chabad.org. 2014. <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/107783/jewish/Responsa.htm> [4] Maimonides .“Letter to the South (Yemen).”  Neubauer and Driver. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 374, 375. <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false>
[5] Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp vii-viii, 1-3. 1895.  Online Books Page. Ockerbloom, ed.   <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>  “Gospel Contradictions.” 2000. Walker, ed. PositiveAtheism.org. n.d. <https://web.archive.org/web/20150324003025/http://www.positiveatheism.org/mail/eml9449.htm>  Smith, Ben C. “Gospel manuscripts – The manuscripts extant for the four canonical gospels.” TextExcavation.com. 2018. <http://www.textexcavation.com/gospelmanuscripts.html> Vick, Tristan D. “Dating the Gospels: Looking at the Historical Framework.” Advocatus Atheist. 2010. <http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/search?q=Dating+the+Gospels>  “New Testament.”  Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament> Etinger, Judah. Foolish Faith. Chapter 6. 2018. FoolishFaith.com. <http://www.foolishfaith.com/book_chap6_history.asp> Shamoun, Sam. “The New Testament Documents and the Historicity of the Resurrection.” Answering-Islam.org.  2018. <http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/documents.htm>
[6] “The Miracles of Jesus.” Bible.org. 2018. <https://bible.org/series/miracles-jesus> Fairchild, Mary. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” ThoughtCo. 2017. <https://www.thoughtco.com/miracles-of-jesus-700158> Ryrie Study Bible. Ed. Ryrie Charles C. Trans. New American Standard. “The Story of Jesus.” “Part 13 –His Miracles of Nature.” n.d. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. <https://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/CN171-MIRACLES.htm> “The Story of Jesus.” “Part 14 –His Healing Miracles.” n.d. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. <https://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/CN175-HEALING.htm> “Gospel of John.” Theopedia.com. n.d. <https://www.theopedia.com/gospel-of-john>
[7] Fairchild. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” Ryrie. “The Miracles of Jesus.” 
[8] Luke 7; John 4.
[9] Matthew 12; Mark 3; Luke 6, 13; John 5, 9.
[10] Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20; I Corinthians 15. Strobel, Lee. The Case For Christ. 1998. Part 3.
[11] Luke 24; CR Mark 16.
[12] Mark 16; Luke 24. NET.
[13] John 20. NRSV.
[14] John 16. “Gospel of John.” Theopedia.com.  “The Book of John.”  Quartz Hill School of Theology. n.d.  <http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/john.htm>  Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  Crandall University. 2015. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/John.htm>
[15] Acts 1.
[16] Acts 1:3, 15; I Corinthians 15. Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. Philip Schaf, ed. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. Book III, Chapter XIV.1. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Heresies> Aherne, Cornelius. “Gospel of Saint Luke.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 9. 1910. New Advent. 2015. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09420a.htm>  Cline, Austin. “Luke the Evangelist: Profile & Biography of Luke.” About.com|Agnosticism/Atheism.  n.d. <http://atheism.about.com/od/biblepeoplenewtestament/p/LukeEvangelist.htm>  Singer, Isidore; Adler, Cyrus, et. al.  The Jewish Encyclopedia. Volume 9. “Luke.”  Page 251. 1912. <http://books.google.com/books?id=lfoOtGOcIBYC&lpg=PA594&ots=6qoCfVVUz7&dq=wave%20sheaf%20encyclopedia&pg=PA594#v=onepage&q&f=false&gt