Passover and the Gospels – Are They In Sync?

Final days of Jesus of Nazareth were set 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.” Are the Gospel accounts consistent with Jewish legal requirements? Not everyone agrees.[1]

Moses defied Pharaoh some 3500 years ago 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, the day when the Pascal Lamb was to be sacrificed, marking the beginning of Nissan 15; then 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 offered earlier that day of Nissan 14 became the main course.[9] It 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.

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 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 offeror for his own Chagigah meal.[17] For this reason, a priest had a vested personal interest to assist in the sacrifice.

Meat from this obligatory Chagigah sacrifice was to be prepared during the afternoon and served before evening as the main course of the first meal of Passover day.[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.

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, as referenced in John 18:28, “so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”[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 second Chigigiah meal during the first daylight hours of Passover. 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 absolved the defilement; however, it was too late. Meat from the Chagigah sacrifice offered on the first day of Passover was to be prepared and cooked that same day before evening.[23]

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?

 

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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.

Mount Moriah – the 2000 Year Connection

Mount Moriah had a direct connection to the Messiah by reason of the place going back 2000 years. The Mount’s sacred religious history first gained importance during the days of Abraham.[1]

By birth a Chaldean, Abraham followed God’s instruction to leave for an unknown land with a blessing that his name would be great, the father of a great nation in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.[2] Eventually Abraham settled in Canaan at Hebron about 20 miles south of the mounts of Moriah and Salem, the city one day to be called Jerusalem.[3]

Beyond childbearing years, God tested Abraham’s faith by telling him to offer Isaac, his only son with his wife Sarah, as a sacrifice in “the land of Moriah…on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”[4] Known as “The Binding of Isaac” in Jewish tradition, the story in Genesis is read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.[5]

Faithfully Abraham built an altar on God’s chosen Moriah mount and was in the act of offering Isaac as a sacrifice when an “angel of the Lord” stopped him. A ram caught in a thicket became a substitute sacrifice.[6]

Moriah means “chosen by Jehovah” yet Abraham was so moved by the experience with his only son, he called this particular Mount of Moriah hwhy har or Y@hovah ra’ah.  Some Bibles translate the word as “Jehovahjireh,” the Hebrew words meaning “the LORD will Provide.”[7] Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi explained the significance:[8]

“The Lord will choose and see for Himself this place, to cause His Divine Presence to rest therein and for offering sacrifices here…that [future] generations will say about it, ‘On this mountain, the Holy One, blessed be He, appears to His people.’” – Rabbi Rashi

Several hundred years later the Hebrew nation encamped at Mount Sinai soon after the Exodus from Egypt. God handed down the Law to Moses which included prophetic promises about the place hinting that the land of Moriah was part of God’s future master plan.

One promise was that God would lead Israel to the land he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In two, God promised He would provide a permanent place for His Name to dwell and to observe the Passover.[9]

In the land of Abraham, King David established his throne in the city of Jerusalem encompassing Mount Moriah. A most unusual set of circumstances brought the Mount to center stage.[10]

King David angered God due to his lack of faith by conducting a census leading to a severe judgement on his kingdom of Israel. Taking responsibility, David pleaded with God to stop the judgement on the people because it was his own sin, not theirs.

Through the prophet Gad, God instructed David to offer an atonement sacrifice for the people of Israel on the threshing floor of Araunah (Ornan) located on Mount Moriah.[11] Once again, just has He had done with Abraham, God chose Mount Moriah for this sacrifice.[12] Ensuring it was a true sacrifice, not one where the sacrificial possessions of wealth were merely usurped by the King, David personally purchased the entire threshing floor, its oxen and its equipment.[13]

On Mount Moriah David built the altar, slew the oxen for the offering and used the wood from the threshing floor implements as fuel for the altar’s fire. Then something miraculous happened – fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.[14] Deeply affected, David proclaimed,

I Ch. 22:1 “This is the place where the temple of the Lord God will be, along with the altar for burnt sacrifices for Israel.”(NET)

God was upfront with David informing him that his son would build the House of God, not him.[15] After David’s death, in the fourth year of King Solomon’s reign, the building of the Temple commenced on Mount Moriah:

2 CH 3:1 Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (NASB)

Seven years later the Temple was completed.[16] To commemorate the occasion, Solomon held a public consecration and blessing acknowledging the fulfillment of God’s promises:

2 CH 6:2, 4 “I have surely built You an exalted house, and a place for You to dwell in forever.” …  “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who has fulfilled with His hands what He spoke with His mouth to my father David, saying,

2 CH 6:5-6 “‘Since the day that I brought My people out of the land of Egypt, I have chosen no city from any tribe of Israel in which to build a house, that My name might be there, nor did I choose any man to be a ruler over My people Israel. Yet I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there; and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel.’(NKJV)

In spectacular fashion, God once again sent fire down from heaven to consume the first sacrifices offered at the new Temple that day on Mount Moriah. The celebration continued for seven days.[17] With the completion of the Temple, it became the place to permanently offer the Passover sacrifices:

DT 16:2 “You shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to establish His name…”

DT 16:5-6 …You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the LORD your God is giving you; but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover…”(NASB)[18]

A thousand years later on the sacred Mount Moriah in the holy city of Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth stood on trial before the Priests and Scribes of the Temple, the House of God, and declared himself to be the Son of God. Perceived as a blasphemy, it triggered a string of events in the following hours leading to the crucifixion of Jesus on the first day of the Passover.

United States Federal legal definition of the Doctrine of Chances is the premise for the obvious question: What is the probability of chance that the location, the timing, and the circumstances of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth were all an accident?

 

Updated October 17, 2021.

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

REFERENCES:

[1] “Abraham.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2018. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/abraham>
[2] Genesis 12.
[3] Genesis 11-15. “Hebron.” Bible-History.com. 2017. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/hebron.html>
[4] NRSV.
[5] Genesis 22. “The Binding of Isaac.” My Jewish Learning. 2018. <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-binding-of-isaac> “The Great Test: The Binding of Isaac.” Chabad.org. 2018. <https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/246616/jewish/The-Great-Test-The-Binding-of-Isaac.htm>
[6] Genesis 22. Quote – all mainstream Christian and Jewish Bible translations. Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book I, Chapter XIII.  The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[7] Net.bible.org. Genesis 22:2, Hebrew text Mowriyah <04179>; Genesis 22:14, Hebrew text “ra’ah <07200>;” Y@hovah <03068>;” “Y@hovah yireh <03070>”
[8] Rashi, Shlomo Yitzchaki. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Bereishit – Genesis 22:14 commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8217#showrashi=true>
[9] I Chronicles 17.
[10] I Chronicles 17; 2 Samuel 5, 7. Josephus. Antiquities. Book VII, Chapter III.
[11] II Chronicles 3.
[12] I Chronicles 21; 2 Chronicles 3; 2 Samuel 24. Josephus. Antiquities. Book VII, Chapter III. “Herod’s Temple.”  Bible-History.com. 2017. <http://www.bible-history.com/jewishtemple/JEWISH_TEMPLEThe_Site.htm>
[13] I Chronicles 21; 2 Samuel 24.
[14] 2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21.
[15] I Chronicles 22, 28.
[16] 1 Kings 6; 2 Chronicles 3.
[17] CR Leviticus 9.
[18] NASB. Deuteronomy 16; Exodus 23:14-20.

Passover – an Appointed Time for the Crucifixion?

Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth didn’t happen on just any day of the year…the timing is simply too hard to ignore. Was the particular day of his execution an appointed time or was it simply a 1-in-365 odds happenstance incident?

Nissan 15, Jesus was crucified on the first day of the Jewish Passover commemorating the event when the sacrifice of an innocent lamb had once been required of God for salvation from the slavery and tyranny of Egypt. Merriam-Webster defines a sacrifice as “an act of offering to a deity something precious.”

Determining whether or not the timing of the crucifixion at the Passover just coincidentally happened that day or if the timing had a deeper significance starts with a basic understanding of an appointed time. Clues are found in the story of how the Hebrew Law came to be given by God at Mt. Sinai.

_ _ _ _ _

From the burning bush at the base of Mt. Sinai, God told Moses to return to Egypt after a 40-year exile. Along with his brother Aaron, they confronted the mighty Pharaoh with the clear and succinct message:

Ex 5:1 …”Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’”(NKJV)

Initially, Pharaoh was not willing to give up his slave labor force, but he paid a big price for taking that stance. Suffering through several plagues, Egypt’s ruler was finally looking to stop the misery and commanded, “‘Go, serve the Lord your God.”

Having an afterthought, he asked, “Exactly who is going with you?” Pharaoh realized he was about to make a big mistake if he let all the Hebrews leave. On the other hand, if he allowed only the Hebrew men to go have this feast, he could hold their families hostage.[i]

Moses countered with a shocking response that ruined Pharaoh’s scheme: “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our sheep and our cattle we will go, because we are to hold a pilgrim feast for the Lord.”[ii]

‘No way!’ was the essence of Pharaoh’s response saying, “‘No! Go, you men only, and serve the Lord, for that is what you want.’ Moses and Aaron were then driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.”[iii] The 9th plague of deep darkness for three full days made it clear that nothing less than a full release of the Hebrews was acceptable to God.

Leading up to the horrible night of the 10th plague, God offered protection for the Hebrews if they followed a precise sacrificial ritual. Each family was to choose one of their unblemished lambs, sacrifice it, splash its blood on the door posts of their homes, and roast the lamb for a family feast at sunset.

At midnight, the angel of death passed over any home with the lamb’s blood splashed on the doorposts thereby sparing the lives of the Hebrew firstborn and their livestock. For the Egyptians, the 10th plague was devastating. Every firstborn including the livestock died that night including the Ruler’s own son. Pharaoh’s resolve was finally broken.

Salvation from the plague of death set the stage for what would become Israel’s first legally mandated Feast observance, “It is the LORD’s Passover.” Every year thereafter, the Passover was to be observed as a celebration festival to remember how God delivered the Hebrews from Egyptian tyranny:[iv]

Ex 12:14 ‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.(NKJV)

A few weeks later, God handed down the Law to Moses at the top of Mt. Sinai. The Law defined the observance of three annual Festivals or Feasts starting with the Passover using similar terms as for the weekly Sabbath, each was called “a holy assembly” or “holy convocation.”

According to the Law, the Passover opened the annual festival cycle beginning with the Feast of Unleavened Bread to be observed at its appointed time in the month of Abib aka Nissan 14th in the the place God was to choose:[v]

Lev. 23:4-7‘These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times.

‘On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD’S Passover.

‘And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.

‘On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. (NKJV)

For the Passover, the primary component was the sacrifice of the paschal lamb. The Feast and the week that followed were to be a time of solemn celebration in remembrance of God’s miraculous deliverance from slavery and tyranny.

Add to the timing factor, the circumstances factor. The events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus were controlled solely by his archenemies, the Jewish leadership – out of the control of Jesus, his Disciples or any alleged Christian conspirators.

Found to be innocent by the rulers of Judea (Tetrarch Herod) and Rome (Procurator Pilate), still Jesus was crucified at the urging of the Jewish Council, the first day of Passover – a coincidence?

 

Updated September 15, 2021.

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

NKJV = New King James Version translation.
NET = NETBible translation

REFERENCES:

[i] NET.
[ii] NET.
[iii] Quotes from NET translation. Exodus 10[iv] Exodus 12.
[iv] Exodus 13, 34.
[v] Exodus 12; Deuteronomy 16; Leviticus 23. “Abib” and “Nisan.”  Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.