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.

Good Friday…Or Good Thursday?

 

Tradition says Jesus was crucified on Good Friday of Easter weekend. Not everyone agrees – some say that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on a Thursday, the day before the Passover rather than Friday, the first day of Passover.[1]

Playing this out farther, the claim presents a conflict in the Gospels. In turn, it serves to invalidate the Gospels’ credibility and by extension, the Gospels’ claim that Jesus is the Son of God.[2] The accuracy of Easter and Passover are called into question by this verse in John:

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

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

Many people are not aware there is a second, separate Passover meal to be eaten the first day of Passover, after the Feast of Leavened Bread the previous evening.[4] It is helpful to remember the Jewish day begins with sunset and the following sunrise begins the daylight portion of that same day ending at dusk. The Talmud differentiates between the first two Passover meals.

First of the two Passover 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 to be burned.

Second of the Passover meals, Chagigah, was to be taken from the legally required festal sacrificial offering on the first day of Passover, Nissan 15 (after the Feast of Unleavened Bread the previous evening). Meat for the Chagigah came from the sacrifice offered by an individual at the Temple earlier in the day with the assistance of a priest.[5] The Chagigah meal was to be consumed over the course of two days and one night.[6]

Jewish Law stipulated that a portion of the 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, 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 purified priest could still partake of the meal if he had performed a ritual purification bath. The Chagigah sacrifice occurred during the day meaning a ritual purification bath 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 Passover meal.[9] As such, defilement worries in John 18:28 “to be able to eat the Passover” centered on the consequences impacting the Chagigah meal of 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 Thursday, Nissan 14. 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.[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 Wednesday, Nissan 13, throughout the night of Nissan 14 with an overnight arrest, 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 offered 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.[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? 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 September 22, 2022.

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> “Sync Icon.” WebToolHub.com. image. n.d. <https://secure.webtoolhub.com/static/resources/icons/set110/78958a79.png>
[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. 1826-1889. Chapter 11. <http://philologos.org/__eb-ttms/temple11.htm>
[4] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Chapter 11.  “Ablution.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com>
[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.