Jesus’ Last Week Against Jewish Background
By Julia BlumApril 8, 2021No comments
Originally, I was going to continue to discuss today “the tough questions of Passover”: why “his own received him not” and what the place of Israel is in this script written by God. Especially on days such as the one on which I am now writing – Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day – the last sentence of my previous post begs to be continued: “Knowing that He came not only for His own suffering but also for the suffering of His own people – chosen not to recognize and thus to become “enemies for your sake” – Jesus weeps openly over all the torment to be unleashed on Israel in His name…” However, once again, questions from the comments have changed my plans. We will definitely talk more about the Israel and Jesus dynamic – but today, we will try to figure out the events of the Last Week.
The day and date of Jesus’ crucifixion have been among the most debated topics throughout the history of the New Testament. I have also addressed this issue here before, however, I’ve never had all the ‘Jewish’ arguments brought together, and this is what I will try to do today. As always, I would like to add a disclaimer: I don’t claim to have the final answers—nobody can be one hundred percent certain exactly how and when these events took place. Moreover, even though I will share some Hebrew insights with you here, I still want us to remember that there is always the possibility that we are missing something—“The secret things belong to the Lord”. My point is that we don’t have to stumble over this story: there are several plausible scenarios presenting the final days of Jesus.
We all know the traditional concept: The Last Supper was the Passover meal (Seder) that took place on Thursday night, and on Friday, Jesus was crucified. This view seems to be supported by the synoptic gospels. However, there is a well-known problem of discrepancy between the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John, which seem to date all these events a day earlier than the synoptics do. Numerous attempts were made to harmonize all the gospel accounts, in particular with the help of the ‘different calendars’ concept: If different calendars were in use, then the feast days were calculated differently by different groups. First, the scholars distinguished between the Pharisaic date of Passover and the Sadducean date a day earlier, which might lie behind the Gospel of John. Even more evidence points to the fact that the Essenes also used their own calendar. The famous story of the man with a water jar is based on that—a man carrying water could only have been an Essene; Essenes had their communities in various towns, and also in Jerusalem, and since they used a different calendar, their guest rooms were still available. That’s why Jesus knew that a room would be available for the Last Supper—and He may have followed their calendar as well.
Personally, I don’t accept this concept. I don’t think the Last Supper was the traditional Passover meal. Why? First of all, I have always been perplexed by the fact that when Judah left in the middle of the Last Supper, “some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast”. In today’s Israel, everything would be closed during the Feast, but even if something was open, no pious Jew would think of buying something with money on the Feast day.
There is another and much more important argument, however: the Jewish texts say explicitly that the paschal lamb had to be eaten during the Passover meal:
A paschal lamb is invalid if it was slaughtered for those who will not eat it…
The eating of the paschal sacrifice was the principal part of the Seder – therefore the meal that happened BEFORE the sacrifice, by definition, could have not be perceived as a Seder.
If the Last Supper was not a Seder, what was it? What was the nature of this meal? Let me share with you some additional quotations from the Pesachim tractate of the Mishnah:
… The sages say that in Judah they would work on the day before Pesacĥ until noon, whereas in the Galilee they did not work at all…. When someone goes from a place where they do work to a place where they do not (or from a place where they do not to a place where they do) we apply the more severe restrictions of both the place where he comes from and the place he is going to…
We see that there were different festival traditions in different places. As we all know, Jesus and his disciples were Galileans, therefore, they would have observed the Galilean traditions. There were several differences between Judean and Galilean Passover observance, but the most important one was a special fast – the Fast of the Firstborns, in remembrance of the firstborn Israelites who were saved from death (that is why we read in the Mishnah that “in the Galilee, they didn’t work at all” on Passover day). The fast took place on Nisan 14, on the day of Passover.
In Hebrew, the last meal before the fast is called seudah maphsehket (if you have ever been in Israel for Yom Kippur, you would know that seudah maphsehket, the last meal before Yom Kippur fast, is a very important and special event indeed). Thus, in the Galilean tradition, there had to be this special meal at the beginning of Passover (Nisan 14th) called seudah maphsehket—the Last Meal before the whole day fast. The next meal would be the Passover meal, the Seder.
Let us now try to figure out the events of Jesus’ last week, starting from His resurrection on the early hours of Yom Rishon (Sunday) – because Sunday is a given. To make it simple, we will just count three nights back and arrive at Thursday, and then everything else falls into place. It was on Wednesday Nisan 13 that the disciples prepared this special meal that we call the Last Supper and that was, in fact, seudah maphsehket – the last meal before the Fast of the Firstborns. Jesus and the disciples ate this meal on Wednesday night, at the beginning of the Passover, as the day changed to Nisan 14; then Jesus was arrested that night, tried and convicted early on Thursday morning, and then crucified during the day – and all this happened during Passover day, Nisan 14, Thursday.
Some people ask: why Thursday, and not Wednesday? First, if Jesus died on the cross on Wednesday, he had to enter Jerusalem four days before, the very same day when the perfect lamb was to be set apart in Exodus 12 – and in this case, it would be Shabbat, a highly unlikely time for entering Jerusalem. Second, the Greek of John 20:1 suggests the early hours of the morning, dawn, the day-break watch: “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb”. This means that the night from Motzey Shabbat (the exit of Shabbat) through Sunday morning, was one of three nights. In this sense, only Thursday seems to “work” both backward and forward: both Palm Sunday and the sign of Jonah make sense then. Thus, on Thursday, Nisan 14, Jesus died on the cross; and on Sunday, Nisan 17, He was resurrected!
 Mishna, Tractate Pesachim, Chapter 5 Mishna 3
 Ibid., Chapter 4, Mishna 1
 You can read more about it in: David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1995, p. 77
I favor this explanation as explained by a Jew who has studied and knows her culture.
Nin se Neaseno