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.

Creative Commons License

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.

The Trial of Jesus — Guilty or Innocent?

Jesus of Nazareth had been arrested by a posse of the Jewish leadership in the Garden of Gethsemane outside Jerusalem. It was  Thursday evening, formally the Jewish Friday that began at sunset beginning the Passover, Nissan 15. Escorted by the armed Temple Guards and their Roman captain back into the city, Jesus was to be tried on the charge of blasphemy as defined in the Law of Moses.[i]

Prosecuting the case in defense of God’s Law was Chief Priest Caiaphas. The defendant representing himself was Jesus of Nazareth. The verdict of the trial would have colossal implications in one of two very different ways.

Acquittal would mean, at the very least, that Jesus would likely be the Son of God, worthy of worship. Such a verdict would be an embarrassment for the Jewish Council and pose a threat to their religious political power base. Rome would surely react unfavorably to any potential new Jewish figurehead who might be viewed as an insurrectionist.

Conviction would publicly label Jesus as a blasphemer worthy of death, not worship. God’s Law would be successfully defended and upheld. [ii] Trouble with Rome would be averted. As an added bonus, the subversive threat to the Jewish political power base would be eliminated. A Jewish Talmud Gemara would later expose the reasoning:

San 49b “…thus the blasphemer and the idol-worshipper are executed.  Wherein lies the particular enormity of these offences? — Because they constitute an attack upon the fundamental belief of Judaism.”[iii]

Gravity of the situation called for a fair and thorough trial, but how likely was that reality? At stake was the defense of Judaism, a religious institution headed by the same power base that was responsible for rendering the verdict – the prosecution witnesses even came from among those serving as judge and jury.[iv]

Defense witnesses for Jesus were nowhere to be found. Not because there weren’t any, but being under the threat of death themselves, who would come forward in his defense?[v] Even his most stalwart disciple, Peter, upon whom Jesus had declared he would build his church, would deny knowing Jesus three times that very night as the aberrant trial progressed.

Other ominous signs did not favor a fair trial since it was not conducted in accordance with Jewish law. Legal code in the Talmud defined how capital offenses were to be tried and convictions rendered. Among them: [vi]

MISHNA: Sanhedrin 32a:

“Capital charges must be tried by day and concluded by day.”

“In capital charges, anyone may argue in his favour, but not against him.”

“Capital charges may be concluded on the same day with a favourable verdict, but only on the morrow with an unfavourable verdict therefore trials are not held on the eve of a Sabbath or Festival.”

Pretrial events began at the residence of Annas, a Sanhedrin power broker, former Chief Priest and father-in-law of Chief Priest Caiaphas.[vii]Annas began with cursory questions asking Jesus about his disciples and his teachings. Jesus replied that he had always spoken openly in the Temple and synagogues – there were no secrets.

“Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”(NRSV)

Not sitting well with his captors, one of them reacted by hitting Jesus. Holding firm, Jesus again challenged his captors saying:

“If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?””(NRSV)

With this, Annas sent the posse with their blindfolded and bound prisoner to Caiaphas. By the time they arrived at the Sanhedrin meeting hall at the Temple, Jesus had been mocked and beaten.

Chief Priest Caiaphas presided over the trial held that fateful night. The Law required two eyewitnesses to corroborate the same point of evidence to establish a fact for a conviction.[viii]

Initially the High Priest’s prosecution effort was not going well with many accusers coming forward; however, no two witness testimonies could agree.[ix]Finally, two witnesses made the same accusation: “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’”(NASB)

It was true. Jesus made a similar statement when he wrecked the tables of the money changers and merchants in the Temple.[x] A legal conundrum – was it a literal or figurative claim? Was it really evidence Jesus blasphemed God?

Caiaphas understood the implications. He pounced on the moment with an indicting question that cut to the heart of the trial:

“Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (ISV, NLT, NRSV)

An answer in the affirmative would be self-incriminating and condemning. It was the moment of truth – was Jesus of Nazareth willing to put his life on the line knowing that he could die if he acknowledged this to be true? The answer to Caiaphas was unambiguous:

I am.”

To be crystal clear, Jesus added:

“’you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”ISV, NET, NRSV)

Immediately the verdict rendered when Chief Priest Caiaphas tore his robes and said,

“He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses?”(NASB)

– – – – –

Sentencing was still not a slam dunk. Under Roman rule, the Jews were not allowed to carry out capital punishment.[xi]Would a heathen Roman government even entertain a charge of blasphemy based solely in Jewish religious law? They figured, probably not. On the outside chance they did, would the Roman government issue a death penalty verdict for blasphemy? Even more unlikely.[xii]

Considering their options, the Jewish Council sought to convince Pilate that Jesus was guilty of failure to pay taxes to Caesar and insurrection to Rome for claiming to be a king. Either of those charges could result in the Roman death penalty.

For Pilate, insurrection was a hot button issue with Rome having battled insurrections throughout his tenure as Procurator.[xiii] Ultimately, Pilate found Jesus to have no guilt, but caved to political pressure and sentenced Jesus to be crucified.

Was it a fair trial or was it a divinely predestined outcome?

 

Updated August 23, 2021.

Creative Commons License

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

REFERENCES:

NASB = New American Standard Bible translation
ISV = International Standard Version translation
NLT = New Living Translation
NRSV = New Revised Standard Version translation
Gospel accounts:  Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 18-19.

[i] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XX, Chapter VIII.  NetBible.org. Greek Text. John 18:3, 12: “chiliarchos <5506>” and “speira <4686>”.
[ii] Leviticus 24:15-16. Josephus. Against Apion. Book II, #21-23. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. 1935 – 1948. Sanhedrin 49b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html>
[iii] Sanhedrin 49b. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. 1935-1948. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_49.html
[iv] Josephus.  Against Apion. Book II.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>   Spiro, Ken. “History Crash Course #39: The Talmud.” <http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48948646.html>  Valentine, Carol A. . “The Structure of the Talmud Files.” <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/structure.html>
[v] Sanhedrin 43a.
[vi]  Sanhedrin 32a – 36b.
[vii] Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Chapter 13.  The NTSLibrary. 2016. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Life%20and%20Times%20of%20Jesus%20the%20Messiah.pdf> Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XX, Chapters IX.1 & X.1; Book XVIII, Chapter IV.   Whitson, William. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Footnotes – Book XX, Chapter VIII. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[viii] Deuteronomy 17, 19; Numbers 35.  Sanhedrin 9a, 30a.  Resnicoff, Steven H. “Criminal Confessions in Jewish Law .“  2007. <http://www.torah.org/features/secondlook/criminal.html>
[ix] Sanhedrin 41a.  “Capital Punishment.” Jewish Virtual Library. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/capital-punishment>
[x] John 2.
[xi] Sanhedrin 41a. “Capital Punishment.” Jewish Virtual Library. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/capital-punishment>
[xii] Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book V, Chapter 14.
[xiii] Forsythe, Gary Edward.  “Ancient Rome – The Roman Army.” 2007.  <http://history-world.org/roman_army.htm>

Good Friday…Or Good Thursday?

Tradition says Jesus was crucified on Good Friday of Easter weekend. Not everyone agrees – some say that Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, the day before the Passover rather than Friday, the first day of Passover.[i] Was it Good Friday or Good Thursday?

Exacerbating the issue, others argue there is a conflict in the Gospels on the crucifixion timing which, in turn, serves to invalidate the Gospels’ credibility and by extension, its claim that Jesus is the Son of God.[ii]  The accuracy of Easter and Passover are called into question by this verse:

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 says the priests were worried about becoming defiled which would then disqualify them from “eating the Passover” meal.[iii] It is easy to draw the conclusion that “to eat the Passover” refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread to be eaten at its appointed time to launch Passover week.

If the verse is understood in this way, it would mean Jesus was crucified on Nissan 14, a Thursday that particular year. As such, the verse would indeed be a contradiction with the other Gospels, even John himself, which say Jesus was crucified on the first day of Passover, a Friday.

All may not be what it appears to be. It helps to remember that Jewish days begin at Sunset, not midnight.

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? There was…and it involved a legally required Passover sacrifice.[iv] The Talmud, the Jewish Bible, differentiates between the first two Passover meals.

First of the two meals occurred at sunset beginning Friday, Nissan 15, with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The meat for the main course was taken from the paschal sacrifice offering earlier that afternoon, Thursday, Nissan 14. The meal was to be consumed by midnight with any leftovers burned.

The second Passover meal, Chagigah, was to be taken from the legally required festal sacrificial offering on the first day of Passover, Nissan 15. This meal 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, involved the meat taken from a sacrifice offered by an individual at the Temple earlier in the day with the assistance of a priest who was also a beneficiary.[vi] Jewish Law stipulated that a portion of the sacrificial meat was to be given to the priest as a gratuity for his own Chagigah Passover meal while the remaining meat was to be taken home by the offerer for his own personal Chagigah meal.[vii]

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] Defilement worries centered on the consequences impacting their Chagigah meal.

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 intended to be consumed over two days and a night.[ix]

Jewish legalities 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 of Unleavened Bread began after sunset, the purified priest could still partake of it if he had performed a ritual purification bath.

Additionally, the Law designated a make-up day called the “second Passover.” It’s purpose was intended for those who could not participate in the first traditional Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Logical, perhaps much bigger, 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. Earlier in the afternoon of Nissan 14, shortly after midday, upwards of a quarter million paschal sacrifices had to be performed at the Temple!

It was an all-hands on deck scenario where all the Priests served a vitally important role at the Temple requiring massive preparations with a packed and rigid schedule. Activities involved 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 conceivable is a 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 overnight inquisition and a trial; Roman hearings the next morning; and ending with the crucifixion of Jesus at 3pm on Thursday Nissan 14 … at the very 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 other hand, the next day, the first day of Passover, Nissan 15, the crowds were dispersed by Jewish Law to their local housing accommodations to celebrate the Passover Festival with very minimal activity.

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

 

Updated November 21, 2021.

Creative Commons License

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.