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.

Creative Commons License
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.

Preparation Day – Is There a Gospel Contradiction?

Preparation Day for a Sabbath can be a confusing Jewish tradition in the Gospels. Some critics point to John’s Preparation Day references to claim a Gospel contraction exists thereby casting doubt on the integrity of Gospel accounts about Jesus of Nazareth.[1] In the first setting, Pilate was judging Jesus:

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 possibly suggest that Jesus was judged by Pilate on the Thursday before Passover which would indeed create a Gospel conflict. If true, this view would be inconsistent with John’s 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 reveals the context of the “Preparation Day” in verse 19:35 when he said the crucifixion occurred the day leading into the Sabbath, a Friday, stating that the Sabbath was set to begin at dusk.

For some, this may not completely address the apparent conflict posed by 19:14 obliging a longer explanation. A big clue is found in John’s parenthetical comment in 19:31 “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 to the Law of Moses, were to be regarded as a Sabbath, “an appointed time.”[3] Bookend holy days were designated for Passover week, the first and last days of Passover.[4] When the first holy day of the Passover fell on a Friday, it created a back-to-back Sabbath scenario, a “High Sabbath.”

Defined in the Law of Moses, God’s commandment said the weekly Sabbath is a holy day prohibiting “all manner of work.[5] The Jewish Talmud’s legal opinion expounded on the meaning detailing what was or was not considered “work” – rules notoriously enforced by the Pharisees.

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]

Every year, Nissan 15  fell on a different day of the week. When it fell on a Friday, it presented a legal conundrum. According to the Talmud’s interpretation of the Law, people were meant to “enjoy” the Passover Festival.

Confounded by the strict weekly Sabbath restrictions, the enjoyment factor was greatly diminished. It would be a negative experience to require the people, for example, to go without meals due to back-to-back Sabbath work restrictions, not to mention the work responsibilities such as farming activities.

Typically the day of Nissan 15th, people were customarily busy with other required and traditional activities such as at the Temple with the offering of the  chagigah sacrifice where the meat from it was to become the main course of the evening meal ending the first day of Passover, Nissan 15. That same evening was the traditional barley reaping ritual in preparation for the Wave Sheaf or the Omer offering to celebrate the Feast of First Fruits of the harvest the next day.[7]

One seemingly common sense solution might be to use Thursday, Nissan 14, as the preparation day for the back-to-back Sabbaths. For this 2-day High Sabbath weekend, it was not that simple.

Double food preparations on Thursday, Nissan 14, to cover two days was not an option because the Passover commandment required all food from the Feast of Unleavened Bread beginning Nissan 15 to be consumed by midnight or else burned – no leftovers.[8] Meat from the Chagigah sacrifice would not be available until evening time meaning the next day, thus there would be was no prepared food for breakfast or lunch on the first day of Passover.

Rabbis as the  interpreters of the Law, the Jewish lawyers, identified 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 this difference saying “servile work,” “laborious work,” “regular work,” “occupations” and “customary work.”[10] 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.”

In the spirit of the Passover being a celebratory festival along with its legal flexibility, typical Preparation Day work for the weekly Sabbath was allowed by the Rabbis when a Passover Nissan 15 fell on a Friday Preparation Day.

Wading through all the Jewish legalities, it boils down to John making references in both verses 19:14 and 19:31 to the same Friday “preparation day,” but under two different scenarios.

Verse 14 is in the context of an event marking the specific day when Pilate presented Jesus to the crowd that Friday morning, “the Preparation Day of the Passover.”

Verse 31 is in the narrower context of the very same day, Friday. 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.” It is the reason Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were in a hurry to bury the body of Jesus before sunset, the beginning of a new Jewish day, the Sabbath.

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

 

Updated September 22, 2022.

Creative Commons License

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

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. “Happy Preparation Day.” Gail-Friends. photo. 2017. <https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-qEj69N9z6bM/WR87uOnqzcI/AAAAAAAAkvI/hcScRQ40VasvaY1QHdF7bI3C4ep9rsanACLcB/s1600/sabbath%2Bprep.jpg
[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.