Are the Gospels in Sync with the Passover?

 

Final days of Jesus of Nazareth took place during the annual Passover observance in Jerusalem surrounded by his trial, execution and Resurrection. Skeptics make the charge that the Gospels are not in sync with the Passover; there are contradictions.[1] Interwoven throughout the Gospels are 21 references to the Passover by name and 6 references to either “the feast” or “the festival.”

Passover began when Moses 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] Yet to be revealed was the place.

Strict requirements for the Passover appear in the books of the Law of Moses – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.[4] A key distinction, Jewish days begin at twilight just after sunset while Western societies begin the new day at midnight.[6]

Passover began at twilight of Nissan 14 just after the Pascal Lamb had been sacrificed earlier that afternoon. At the onset of Nissan 15, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be eaten.[5]

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] At midnight, any leftovers 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 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]

As an optional festal offering, the first chagigah sacrifice was to be offered on Nissan 14 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.

Traditionally offered on Nissan 15, the first day of Passover, this second chagigah sacrifice was offered and the meal was called exactly that, the Chagigah. The sacrifice had a different purpose and rules than the first chagigah sacrifice. It was an obligatory, private “peace offering” 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 this second chagigah sacrifice on Nisan 15 of Passover 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 and served as the main course before of the first day of Passover evening.[18] The meal 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] Two references are the cause of contention – the meal and the defilement.

JN 18:28 “They did not go into the governor’s residence so they would not be ceremonially defiled, but could eat the Passover meal.”(NET)

The Feast of Unleavened Bread had been eaten, Jesus was later arrested that evening and put on trial during the night. Early that same morning of Nisan 15, Jesus was taken by the Jewish leadership to Pilate at the Praetorium where the priests refused to go inside.

Entering the Praetorium was one of those things that could place a priest in a state of ritual defilement. When the author added “so they would not be defiled,” this could only be referring to the second Passover chigigiah meal since it was after the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

John does not explain the reason for the defilement. One possibility is the Jewish legal concept known as “abortus,” touching a dead body or home that once contained a dead body (the presumption was that it was common practice for mourning Romans to display a dead body in a building).[20]

After sunset, a ritualistic purification bath by the priest before the Feast of Unleavened Bread would have absolved this type of ritual defilement that may have occurred day on Nisan 14. In this case, however, it would be too late to absolve a ritual defilement.

A defiled priest on Nisan 15 could not perform any sacrifice that day. As a consequence, he would not receive his lawful portion of the chagigah sacrificial meat for his own meal.

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 November 12, 2023.

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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>  “Passover.” SVGmall.com. image. n.d. <https://svgmall.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Passover-PNG-Free-Download.jpg?v=1619147248>
[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. pp 1382, 1384. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. p 70. The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3. Tract Pesachim. Chapters VI, VIII, IX.
[18] NASB.
[19] Numbers 9. CR Mark 14:12.  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 22:4-8. CR Numbers 9:6-12; 19:11-13. Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pp 1383-1385.  “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.

It’s All About a Meal

 

Tradition says Jesus was crucified on Good Friday of Easter weekend. Not everyone agrees – some say that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified earlier in the week or even before the Feast of Unleavened Bread.[1] A meal plays a big role in determining when Jesus was crucified…and it may not be the one that first comes to mind.

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.[2] It is easy to draw the conclusion that “to eat the Passover” refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Playing this out farther, if the verse is referring to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it would mean Jesus was crucified on Nisan 14th before the Feast. In this scenario John 18:28 would then indeed be a contradiction with the other Gospel accounts saying Jesus was crucified and died on the first day of Passover. A conflict could serve to invalidate the Gospels’ credibility and by extension its position that Jesus is the Son of God.[3]

Many people may not be aware there were two other meal possibilities at the beginning of Passover called a chagigah addressed in the Talmud.[4] It is helpful to know the Jewish day begins at sunset and the following sunrise begins the daylight portion of that same day ending at dusk.

First of the two Passover meals was optional and was a supplement to the Feast of Unleavened Bread launching the Passover after sunset. If it was necessary to feed a larger party, the optional first chagigah sacrifice was offered earlier the afternoon on Nisan 14th in addition to the Pascal lamb sacrifice. It was to be treated the same as the Feast of Unleavened Bread where all meat was to be consumed by midnight or else any leftovers were to be burned.

A second, separate chagigah was to be offered and consumed the first day of Passover, after the Feast of Leavened Bread the previous evening. It was to be a peace offering to be offered on the first day of Passover, Nisan 15th.[5] The meat from the second chagigah meal was to be consumed over the course of two days and one night[6]

Jewish Law stipulated that a portion of the Passover Nisan 15th second chagigah sacrificial meat was to be given to the priest as a gratuity for his own chagigah Passover meal. The remaining meat was to be taken home by the offeror for his own personal chagigah meal.[7]

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 in John 18:28, was one of those things that would place the priests in a state of ritual defilement.[8] Rabbinic ritual defilement could be absolved after sunset by means of a ritualistic purification bath.

Since the Feast of Unleavened Bread occurred after sunset, a ritually defiled priest that day could still partake of the meal that evening if he had performed a ritual purification bath. The second chagigah sacrifice occurred occurred during first day of Passover meaning a ritual purification bath later that evening would be too late.

Disqualification from performing their chagigah sacrificial duty on the first day of Passover meant the priests would not have received their lawful gratuity portion of the sacrificial meat – no meat for their chagigah meal on the first day of Passover.[9] As such, defilement worries in John 18:28 “to be able to eat the Passover” centered on the consequences involving the second chagigah meal by the Priests.

Logically, perhaps even much bigger, is why the defilement concern of John 18:28 does not refer to the crucifixion of Jesus on Nisan 14th. Earlier in the afternoon shortly after midday of Nisan 14th, upwards of a quarter million paschal sacrifices had to be performed at the Temple!

Offerings of the Pascal sacrifices preceding the Feast of Unleavened Bread 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 for the most popular annual Festival in all the land drew crowds of about 3 million.[10]

With this in mind, how conceivable is a scenario where high level priests pursued their vendetta against Jesus beginning after the evening dinner of Nisan 13th with an arrest, an inquisition and an aberrant trial overnight; Roman hearings the next morning; and ending with the crucifixion of Jesus at 9am on Nisan 14th … at the very same time tens of thousands of pascal lamb sacrifices were being prepared to be sacrificed at the Temple hours later? 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 potentially troublesome crowd of millions of pilgrims worried the Romans more than any other.[11] 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? Alternatively, the next day, the first day of Passover, Nisan 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 July 25, 2023.

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

[1] 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> “Sharing a Meal.” Pinterest.com. image. n.d. <https://www.pinterest.com/pin/785737466232633826/>
[2] 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>
[3] Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Chapter 10. 1826 -1889. The NTSLibrary. 2016. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20BooksJewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com>
[4] Leviticus 23:7-8; Numbers 28:18. Net.Bible.org. Hebrew text, footnote #20.  CR Exodus 23:14.  Netbible.org. n.d. Hebrew text. “G5656.” Lexicon-Concordance. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/search6.asp?sw=5656&sm=0&x=0&y=0 Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson trans. Book 3, Tracts Pesachim, Chapter IV and Book 4, Tract Betzah (Yom Tob); Book 4, Tract Moed, Chapter II.. <https://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm#t03>
[5] Leviticus 3.
[6] 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>
[7] 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.”
[8] Leviticus 22.
[9] 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>
[10] 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>
[11] Antiquities. Book XI, Chapter IV; Book XX, Chapter V. Josephus. Wars. Book V, Chapter V.