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The Last Supper & Passover: Overlooking the Obvious?





The longstanding question of whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal may be resolved by an overlooked possibility: that Mark tried to transform an ordinary meal into a Passover observance by fashioning and inserting a single paragraph between (what we identify as) 14:11 and 17. The proposed insertion revised the time-line of the surrounding original tradition that Jesus was to be arrested before Passover ("not during the feast"). Mark neglected, however, to explain what transpired to thwart that plan. Indeed, five to seven anomalies generated by Mark's proposed insertion vanish simultaneously when, reversing Mark's apparent procedure, we remove his offending paragraph. Thereby the Last Supper reverts to its originally presented, and intended, time-line: that of an ordinary meal.



By Michael J. Cook
Professor of Judeo-Christian Studies
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati campus
March 2013


The opening paragraphs of Mark's Passion Narrative (chapter 14) seem marred by two conflicting time-lines as to whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal. The following schematic abridgment highlights those elements germane to this discussion:


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First Paragraph 14:1–2: It was now two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and … scribes were seeking how to arrest him … and kill him; for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be a tumult of the people ….” 10–11: Then Judas Iscariot … went to the chief priests … to betray him to them … and he sought an opportunity ….

Second Paragraph 12-16: And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us ... prepare for you to eat the passover?” And he sent two of his disciples: … “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; … wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?”’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the [two] disciples ... went to the city and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover.

Third Paragraph 17–20: …When it was evening [Jesus] came with the twelve. And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, “… one of you will betray me, one ... dipping [ordinary leavened] bread into the dish with me ….” 22–25: … as they were eating, he took [ordinary leavened] bread, … blessed … broke it, and gave it to them …. “Take; this is my body ....” ... he took a cup, and … gave it to them, and they all drank …. he said … , “This is my blood of the covenant … poured out for many ….” 26: And … they went out to the Mount of Olives.


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At least five striking anomalies flow from the Second Paragraph. I term these “anomalies” because details of the Second Paragraph clash with the surrounding First and Third Paragraphs.

Anomaly A: Unexplained Rupture of the Story Line — In 14:2, the authorities intend to dispose of Jesus before the feast. If in fact they do arrest Jesus before the feast, Jesus' Last Supper would have had to transpire before the arrival date of the Passover meal — so the Last Supper could not have been a Passover observance. Yet, abruptly, verse 12 presents the feast as having somehow already arrived. Reading this story at face value, we have to infer that the plan to arrest Jesus early failed. Why, then — and surely we are entitled to know — has Mark either neglected to tell us what problem ensued or to reconcile these two conflicting chronologies in some other way? (Speculations that Jesus must have used a different holiday calendar or that he accelerated his date of Passover meal observance seem strained; further, they do not adequately resolve the additional anomalies below.)

Anomaly B: Unnatural Concentration of All “Passover-Arrival” Material — All indications that Passover has arrived before Jesus’ arrest seem unnaturally compressed into the Second Paragraph (14:12-16), rather than naturally surfacing randomly also in the surrounding narrative (i.e., outside the Second Paragraph).

Anomaly C: Telltale Omissions — Curiously absent from Mark’s Second Paragraph is allusion to any of three expected and fundamental components of a pre-70 CE Passover observance: lamb (the main food); bitter herbs; even matzah. Indeed, not simply is the Greek word for matzah (azyma) absent, but regular leavened bread (artos) is present (instructively, we find the same in Mark 14:22 and 1 Corinthians 11:23).

Anomaly D: A Subtraction Error? — In the Second Paragraph, Jesus sends two disciples from Bethany to Jerusalem to prepare the Passover meal. Accordingly, when Jesus himself soon arrives, only ten disciples remain available to accompany him. Yet, in 14:17, we find that Jesus “came with the twelve,” with no indication that the two he had sent to Jerusalem ever rejoined the group. (Lest one argue that we should not be literal, note how this matter so disturbs Matthew and Luke that they set about, independently, correcting Mark's arithmetic; see below.)

Anomaly E: Jesus’ Trial on the Evening of a Festival? — Mark 14:55-65 coincides Jesus’ alleged Sanhedrin trial with the Passover festival evening, presumably requiring the summoning of Jewish councilors to sit in court only shortly after (even interrupting?) their own Passover meals. Thus scheduled, a Sanhedrin trial (presuming that one took place at all) intrudes into the holy day celebration, which would have been highly unlikely.

Resolving All Five Anomalies Simply and Simultaneously

A single simple solution instantly and simultaneously resolves all five problems: that Mark himself crafted and inserted his Second Paragraph, 14:12-16, into an originally inherited but quite different time-line. (Since Gospel manuscripts originally lacked verse numbers, the substance of “verse 17” originally could have directly continued what is presently designated as “verse 11.”)

This hypothesis resolves Anomaly A: Deleting vv. 12-16, we would no longer wonder why the plan to arrest Jesus before the feast failed because, without these verses, we would presume the plan’s success.

Anomaly B’s resolution follows in short order: If Mark folded his own paragraph (vv. 12-16) into an earlier story line in which Jesus’ Last Supper was already over before Passover arrived, this would readily account for the unnatural concentration of all references to Passover's arrival in this single interpolated paragraph. Of course, Mark could have remedied this oddity by simply mentioning Passover's arrival elsewhere, i.e., outside this paragraph, but he failed to do so.

Anomaly C likewise ceases to pose a problem: in trying to transform the Last Supper into a Passover meal, Mark forgot, or did not know, to include the key components we would expect — lamb, bitter herbs, and matzah.1 A diaspora Gentile, e.g., if unpolished on this subject (and writing, perhaps, from as far away as Rome2) could well fit this bill. Similarly, Mark's unfamiliarity with things Jewish in the holy land per se is evinced elsewhere in his Gospel.3

As for Anomaly D, while the claim that Jesus “came with the twelve” (v. 17) could be but formulaic for whatever members of Jesus’ inner circle were still present with him in Bethany, obviously both Matthew (ca. 85 CE) and Luke (ca. 95 CE) assume that Mark has committed a subtraction error, so they each set about to correct him: Matthew adjusts Jesus “came with the twelve” to “Jesus sat at table with the twelve” (26:20);4 and Luke not only incorporates Matthew's change but then also substitutes for “he came” instead “the hour came” (22:14). Without Mark's crafted Second Paragraph, there would be no Passover meal to prepare, and hence no sending of two disciples ahead to do so. Now Jesus could indeed arrive for his Last Supper literally “with the twelve,” and neither Matthew nor Luke would spot anything to correct.

The oddity of a Sanhedrin trial convened the same evening as that of the Passover meal, Anomaly E, likewise vanishes since now the Last Supper would have transpired on a day before the Passover meal. (The historicity of such a Sanhedrin trial is a separate question.)

Other, less glaring anomalies likewise vanish with this self-same solution.5 Meanwhile, Paul's lone mention of the Last Supper itself implies a non-Passover meal,6 and John sets the Passover meal twenty-four hours later than the Last Supper. So the case for identifying the two occasions — the Last Supper and the Passover meal observance — rests solely with Mark's Second Paragraph, 14:12-16, with all the anomalies he bequeaths (some glaring and others more subtle) instantly vanishing when we remove his Second Paragraph.

The Question of Motivation

What might have prompted Mark to try changing an ordinary meal into a Passover observance? He may have wished to correlate Passover, festival of freedom for the Jews, with Jesus’ death and resurrection, which brought freedom for humanity. Here Matthew and Luke followed Mark albeit repairing him. John’s goal was to capitalize on a different theological theme which required his own special time-line.7

Summation

This close analysis of Mark has aimed to reveal the Passover meal material to be a superimposition on an underlying tradition at variance with it — a lens, or filter, through which Mark wished the story now to be understood. Because Mark thereby generated problems left unresolved, evidently the entire case for the Last Supper as a Passover meal crumbles. For Matthean and Lukan chronologies replicate Mark’s, their primary source; whereas John and, before him, Paul take other directions. Simple solutions, if adequate, may be preferable to convoluted solutions suspect for that reason alone.8

Pertinent also is that Mark’s proposed procedure here echoes his apparent editorial practice also with his "blasphemy" (2:5b–10), "Sanhedrin" (14:45-55), and "Barabbas" (15:6-15a) paragraphs, and even what he assigns as Pilate's first question of Jesus (15:2). In each case Mark appears to employ a pattern of editing-by-interpolation, paralleling stylistically what we have just seen in our present example. I detail and defend this contention in chapters 10, 12, and 21 of my Modern Jews Engage the New Testament (Jewish Lights, 3rd printing 2012).



Notes

1 While generic “bread" could encompass matzah, Jewish scriptural references to Passover naturally designate “unleavened bread,” rendering it odd that Mark here, of all places, used the generic term.

2 Brian Incigneri, The Gospel to the Romans (Leiden: Brill, 2003), passim; John Donahue and Daniel Harrington, The Gospel of Mark (Collegeville: Liturgical, 2002), passim; Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 9 n. 8; Benjamin Bacon, Is Mark a Roman Gospel? (Cambridge: Harvard, 1919).

3 Personal unfamiliarity with the land of Israel best accounts for Markan topographical and geographical errors (e.g., 7:31 [towns are encountered in reverse order]; and 11:1 [Jesus follows an implausible route]). Also consistent with a Western diaspora provenance: Mark translates Aramaisms that readers near the holy land would not have needed him to do, and explains Greek by Latinisms more so than other Evangelists (Mk 12:42; 15:16); see P. Feine, J. Behm, and W. Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon, 1966), 70; Ralph Martin, Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 64. Cf. 6:27, 7:4,8; 15:39,44,45. Mark's unbalanced definition of the Pharisees (7:3-4) buttresses these impressions.

4 Matthew also has Jesus send all disciples, not just two, to prepare the meal. (Luke retains Mark’s sending of only two, and names them.)

5 E.g., verses 12-16 seem to echo an earlier Markan episode, 11:1ff.: “he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, ‘Go into the village opposite you and ...’” (11:1). Did Mark, for convenience sake, simply co-opt that story as a basis for his new one here in chapter 14? Also, some may note the odd phraseology of 14:12 relating to "sacrifice" of the Passover lamb on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread.

6 1 Cor 11:23 (mid-50s) — “the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was delivered up [to death], took bread”; here, too, Paul uses the Greek for regular bread (artos), not for unleavened (azyma).

7 John chose to present Jesus’ death as coincident with that of the paschal lamb. Since the lamb had to die before the Passover meal, John had to set the Passover meal on Friday night, after Jesus’ death that previous afternoon. Cf. John 19:36 with Exod 12:46; Num 9:12; Ps 34:20(21). Paul likewise employed “paschal lamb” imagery with reference to Jesus (1 Cor 5:7).

8 For samples of such attempts, cf. I. H. Marshall, Last Supper and Lord’s Supper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), Chap. 3; R. O’Toole, “Last Supper,” ABD (New York: Doubleday, 1992), IV: 235ff.





Comments (14)


Thanks for this insightful suggestion Michael. I find it quite compelling, having concluded long ago, despite Mark's disjointed paragraph, followed unfortunately by Matt and Luke, that the "night he was betrayed" could hardly be the night of the Seder--ancient or modern. Jews of course know this instinctively...one simply does not get up from the Passover celebration, a full family affair (which the "Last Supper" was not) and run out to arrest a criminal...nor would a crucifixion have taken place on the morning of the 15th of Nisan, a Shabbat.
#1 - James D. Tabor - 03/24/2013 - 09:50



Dear James,

It is so relatively rare in our profession of academia to receive a supportive comment that I treasure both yours as well as, naturally, its distinguished source! Michael
#2 - Michael J. Cook - 03/24/2013 - 13:49



Michael,

A possible resolution of the problem has been suggested. It asserts that the death of Jesus occurred, not in 30 A.D., but in 33 A.D., and that in the later year, Passover would ordinarily have fallen on Friday. However, since this would have resulted in Sabbaths on two successive days, Friday and Saturday, the Jerusalem Temple authorities, who controlled the lunar calendar as the "official" astronomers, simply shifted the Passover date to Saturday. For a city such as first century Jerusalem, two successive days without normal commerce, especially fish deliveries, could well have been considered unacceptable if there were any reasonable alternatives.

A messianic sect such as the Nazarenes might very well not have agreed with this transference of the Passover date. From the point of view of the party-room renters and lamb-sellers/sacrificers that might have been quite all right, since it would mean more business with two catering days and more time to do the lamb butchering. That would also explain why Jesus's group had to vacate the "Upper Room" on Friday but were able to return to it on Saturday and apparently remain there for several days or weeks. (Incidentally, it suggests that the proprietor of the "Upper Room" was a crypto-Nazarene or perhaps an Essene since its likely location was close to the Essene quarter in SW Jerusalem.)

Speculative? You bet. And the 33 A.D. date may run into some conflict with the proposed date of Jesus's death based on the chronologies of Pilate, the Herods and the Nabatean war. But it does resolve some of the paradoxes of the Passover date question without invoking "creative redaction."

Jack
#3 - John P. Shea - 03/25/2013 - 08:49



Dear Jack,

Yes, I thank you for presenting this option.

When we have so many competing solutions to a problem, it usually indicates that no compelling analysis will carry the day -- or we'd simply rely on one response and let the others fall by the wayside.

At the same time, I am indeed advancing my own analysis as just such a compelling candidate, for two primary reasons:

[1] I've proposed five major and two more minor "anomalies" in my essay -- and one I perhaps should have delved into more deeply (why the wording of Mk 14:12 seems a post-70 perspective). Each of these is instantly, simultaneously, and (I believe) fully resolved by my reconstruction which no competing reconstruction comes close to achieving. Indeed, your own suggestion -- which I'm unsure you personally hold (perhaps you are only calling attention to an interesting alternative?)-- admits to resolving only "some of the paradoxes".

Also, to quote my own anticipatory statement: "Simple solutions, if adequate, may be preferable to convoluted solutions suspect for that reason alone."

(I hasten to apologize: obviously, by "convoluted" I was not referring to your forthcoming submission of which, of course, I had no knowledge at the time. Yet would you yourself go along with describing the proposal you submit as at least "complicated," "involved," "multi-faceted" -- actually you yourself provide "speculative"?)

[2] Again anticipatory, I close my essay by claiming that Mark's procedure here (I like your term: creative redaction)

____________________________________

"echoes his apparent editorial practice also with his 'blasphemy' (2:5b–10), 'Sanhedrin' (14:45-55), and 'Barabbas' (15:6-15a) paragraphs, and even what he assigns as Pilate's first question of Jesus (15:2). In each case Mark appears to employ a pattern of editing-by-interpolation, paralleling stylistically what we have just seen in our present example."
___________________________________

Given space restrictions, of course I did not present these other analyses but did indicate where I have written them up. So here I am bringing to bear what I feel is a powerful underpinning of my position: that what I claim Mark has done in the Passover paragraph is characteristic of his habitual editorial style throughout his Gospel.

I could respond to the more incidental matters you suggest -- the proprietor as an Essene; the "upper room"; control of the lunar calendar; the year Jesus died, etc. -- but these seem to me symptomatic of a struggle somehow to account historically what for me is basically a literary and theological concern to Mark. So to my taste these introduce extraneous (distracting?) matters that do not stand up to my two basic positions above.

The ingenious alternative you set forth is admittedly intriguing, and makes scholarship absorbing and "fun". Yet isn't my simple, immediate, and all-encompassing solution -- not requiring ingenuity! -- to be preferred?

Thanks so much for contributing.

Michael
#4 - Michael J. Cook - 03/25/2013 - 12:23



Let's have a look at the alleged "anomalies" in paragraph Mark 14:12-16.

[A] Unexplained Rupture of the Story Line

Cook claims that the reason why "the chief priests and the experts in the law [did not] find a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him" "before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread" remains unexplained. But then he dismisses out of hand as "strained" a plausible explanation, viz. that "Jesus must have used a different holiday calendar", which was the case, because, for Galileans, the day started at sunrise and thus they would celebrate their feast that night. The Judeans, on the other hand, started their day at sunset and thus the Passover would not be celebrated until the next day (see "Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ", by Harold W. Hoehner, 1976, pp. 88-89)

[B] Unnatural Concentration of All “Passover-Arrival” Material

This objection ("All indications that Passover has arrived before Jesus’ arrest seem unnaturally compressed into the Second Paragraph (14:12-16), rather than naturally surfacing randomly also in the surrounding narrative") is clearly incorrect.

[C] Telltale Omissions

The lamb is indeed not mentioned, nor are the "bitter herbs". But it is simply false that the unlevened bread (Heb: matzah; GreeK: azyma) is not mentioned. In fact the paragraph begins by speaking of the "first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread [azymôn]". The unleavened bread (azyma), though, is still bread, so, at verse 14:22 it is perfectly right that the loaf of bread that Jesus took is called arton.

[D] Subtraction Error?

That Mark would have committed an "error", that this "error" would have embarrassed Matthew and Luke so much that they would have set about to correct it is simply false. Apart from the finicky literalism of the remark, Mark does not even say that the two disciples that Jesus sent to prepare for Passover were two of the Twelve.

[E] Jesus’ Trial on the Evening of a Festival?

Cook obviously wants to have it both ways: on the one side, he wants us to believe that Jesus Passover happened (at least one day) before the Judaean Passover. On the other hand, he would want to lead us to believe that "Mark 14:55-65 coincides Jesus’ alleged Sanhedrin trial with the Passover festival evening". Which is simply textually non-existent and logically inconsistent.
#5 - Miguel de Servet - 03/26/2013 - 14:48



Of course Mark means that the two disciples were among the twelve. And there is no suggestion in the text that different Passover calendars were being followed. Mark's readers cannot either in ancient or modern times be expected to think of different sets of disciples or of divergent calendars.
I think Professor Cook makes a good case. However, I have some reservations. We do indeed begin with the priests' plotting to seize Jesus outside the festival, which implies waiting until the crowds have dispersed, not acting before the festival with the crowds still in situ. But then everything changes with the treachery of Judas, which (credibly or not) gives the corrupt old priests an opportunity that they grab, abandoning their previous timetable and giving Jesus, by way of accidental bonus for him and illuminating pathos for us, just enough time to celebrate the festival.
The priests are certainly deep enough dyed in their corruptions, according to Mark, to have a holy man arrested immediately after Passover. A narrative should never be rejected because it imputes corruption to political or religious leaders.
The really strange thing about Mark's narrative is that the crowds change sides so totally. In comparison with this the anomaly over the Passover meal is minor: indeed removing the minor apparent anomaly, and thus laying stress precisely on the priests' wish to avoid acting during the festival just because the crowds are present, only intensifies the major anomaly in which the crowds first justify this fear and then give the priests invaluable help. Luke explains things by neutralising the crowds, making them into more and more helpless onlookers, Matthew explains by ultra-dramatising, as every Jewish and Christian person so well knows, the crowds' fateful passsions. In Mark we can explain the change of public opinion by (implicitly) the unimpressive behaviour of the disciples and (more explicitly) the existing popularity, on which the priests expertly play, of the mysterious and mysteriously named Barabbas. This may or may not be plausible but of course Mark's narrative races along with an overwhelming sense of grief and indignation that you have to be quite hard-hearted to resist. Not to mention that wonderful sense of the liberation of humanity.
#6 - Martin - 03/27/2013 - 18:00



If it had been a Passover Seder, then Holy Communion/Eucharist would be held once a year. The from the start it was held weekly is one rebuttal. Further, the Christians used leavened bread as a sign of the resurrection. It was during the 8th Century C.E. that the Western Church started to interpret the Last Supper as a Passover meal and began switching to unleavened bread. (The Irish were using leavened bread when the Bishop of Rome gave Henry II his blessing to bring the Irish into the "true" religion.)
#7 - Tim Solon - 03/29/2013 - 19:16



Dear TIM SOLON, MARTIN, MIGUEL DE SERVET. I respond to you in this sequence to facilitate reader comprehension!

TO TIM:

[1] Timing the EUCHARIST; Western church revision of Last Supper celebration:

The arguments you advance help to answer Miguel.

[2] "Whoops" on using "SEDER": Jesus would not know what one was. It arose in the late 80s in response to the fall of the Temple as an elementary substitute for celebrating Passover now that the Temple cult no longer operated. Today's church "seders" are an egregious error. (See Ch 10, pp. 109-20; 320-21 of my book). Or my just published [simplified] essay at )


TO MARTIN:

[1] The CROWD-CHANGING SIDES:

You have the right stick but I feel by the wrong end. Not why did the crowd change sides but why did the priests, noting Jesus' popularity AND the POPULAR-prisoner release scheduled for Friday, bother arresting him when he was the odds-on favorite for release? What's in question, therefore, is the prisoner-release custom.

Now forget recourse to desperate solutions: the Friday crowd was different, fickle, cajoled. Instead, such a custom did not exist for Pilate. The Barabbas unit reflects powerful theological problems for LATER Christians. It was NOT part of the original story line. Remove it (15:6–15a)and your problem vanishes:

---------------------------------
“But Jesus made no answer, so that Pilate wondered; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (15:5,15b)."
--------------------------------

Does we now see what I mean by Mark's "editing-by-interpolation"? Can I buttress my contention that the Barabbas story was added? See my book, Ch 12, pp. 140-46, 274, 322-23.

[2] THE PRIESTS' TIMING JESUS' ARREST:

I agree: the priests seem late in seizing Jesus, waiting for the crowds to mushroom. But “not during the feast” must mean to arrest Jesus BEFORE the 8-day combined feast. Jesus posed a danger imminently. To wait two weeks until the crowds subsided would be unnatural. But we're dealing here with a STORY-LINE, not LITERAL HISTORY. You have the priests shift into gear due to Judas. Be careful here!

[3] YOUR ROLE FOR JUDAS:

For Judas, we'd better look at Nero's persecuting Christians into BETRAYING one another in 64 CE before we rely on the Judas tale as from Jesus' day. Along with Raymond Brown, I am bewildered why 1 Cor 11:23 is still mistranslated by Bible editors -- Paul's single Last Supper allusion:

----------------------------------------
INCORRECT: “the night when [Jesus] was betrayed.”
CORRECT: “the night when [Jesus] was delivered up to death.”
----------------------------------------

Paul mentions no Judas and no betrayal!

Further, why would Jesus, AFTER announcing that Judas would betray him, reserve for him a role as one of the 12 judges of Israel? Luke hastily revises the number of thrones to conceal whether Judas got one! (22:28ff.) -- doesn't do the trick.

The betrayal story arose from Christians betrayng one another under Nero; originally unnamed, "Judas" was named after Judah from Genesis, 1 of 12 selling Joseph for silver with the plan hatched at a meal (Gen 37).


TO MIGUEL:

Tim and Martin have refuted some of your arguments for me.

You and I start from mutually exclusive positions: I look for literary anomalies possibly yielding gems -- clues as to how Gospel traditions originated and underwent change (and the more historical validity I can discover along the way the happier I am). You appear committed, ab initio, to confirm the historicity of what is in a given narrative even if it means you have to strain hither and yon to find disparate arguments that appear to confirm what you'd like to be true. So unless one of us changes we can make no progress.

You say I am "clearly incorrect"; my reasoning "simply false" (twice); my evidence "simply textually non-existent and logically inconsistent". Look where you place these words: exactly where you do not proceed to "justify" them: a hit-and-run approach neither scholarly nor respectful of interpersonal relations -- which I myself put before scholarship any day. As a matter of simple courtesy read chapters of my book showing how Mark habitually edits-by-interpolation, my most powerful argument of all.

CLOSING WORD OF SOBRIETY:

I concentrate on Markan narratives because of Mark's special gravitas over time. After all, Matthew and Luke often perpetuate him (and sometimes intensify him), while John's story-line is different. From a historian's perspective, am I saying that Mark is the most important Gospel? Absolutely -- particularly for modern Jewish-Christian interchange!
#8 - Michael J. Cook - 03/30/2013 - 18:18



The specific use of leavened bread (arton) in Mark 14:22 surely must be conclusive. A Seder meal without this most symbolic of items would have been unthinkable.
#9 - Roger Cooper - 04/03/2013 - 08:26



It's always nice to see an old friend from student days (I am a washed-out candidate for Anglican Holy Orders) whose demise had been feared, in this case Ur-Markus, come back to vigorous life. However, maybe the old boy is more decrepit than he seems.
Received Mark makes the theological point - this is the main theme of his Last Supper narrative; it's what he really wants to say, we shouldn't suppress the poor guy - that the last valid Jewish Passover was also the first Christian Agape. The magic, that beautiful old numen, of the Passover was to be encapsulated and poured out over a new, excitingly reconfigured ceremony. Think how important idea this must have been in the fevered atmosphere of post-70 Rome. It differs from the (perhaps Pauline) idea of celebrating an annual Passover in Christianised form and from Johannine reluctance to adopt Jewish things, rather than emphatically to replace everything Jewish with something Christian. The difference between azyma and artos is that one is a specific, one a generic term and this transition fits the wider theology in which, as Michael says, the specific liberation of the Israelites becomes the general liberation of the human race. I had my reservations about what Miguel said above but he's surely right that azyma has been mentioned and that this mention is not erased, it's just widened in significance - and that is the whole basic, wholemeal enchilada of an idea that Received Mark is trying to convey. He's not suggesting that Jesus didn't use unleavened bread, just reminding us that we don't have to use it in the future and that in this as in other respects the numen has moved on to wider uplands.
RM may have been working over older accounts (why just one?) but if some of these accounts did not make his point about the last supper they were different from him in theology and so not really an Ur (or Mark 1)version of him.
Another part of his theology is his portrayal of the Jerusalem priests, the people from whom the numen has moved on, leaving few redeeming features. Their 'Not during the Festival' should not, given this characterisation, be regarded as an expression of resolve. Its logic expresses not resolve but hesitation, its grammar is dominated by the negative 'Not' and radiates weakness. (Contrast the logic and dominant word of 'It must be by his death' in relation to Caesar.) So this phrase does not repel, but calls for, a game-changing intervention by yet another bad guy, this time Judas.
We're talking about a storyline, as you say, not about historical plausibility, which is another matter, topic and ballgame altogether. It's a very good, dramatic storyline, sustained by a racing-speed narrative and a marvellous sense of grief and indignation - stylistic qualities which dull doubts. The Barabbas story is another necessary feature - why didn't the disciples try to rally the crowds to get Jesus released? It may or may not be plausible objectively to say that they failed conspicuously but it surely fits Mark's generally quizzical portrait of them. You say that it's rather desperate resort to claim that the crowds were cajoled, but that is what RM says. I agree that Matthew and Luke were not entirely satisfied with this account. But it's much more compelling than a bald (no offence to Elisha) statement that Jesus had some popular following but in the end no one did much for him - boring!
What we have in RM does not strike me a tottering structure full of interpolations but as, excuse cliche, one of the greatest stories ever told, brilliantly executed, a worthy contender for all-time world bestseller. Is it true historically? Well, I'm a sort of sceptical fundamentalist these days.
#10 - Martin - 04/12/2013 - 08:31



This essay might be of interest to you. It contains study of Betray/Handover mistranslation, offers alternative explanation to Last Supper being a Seder (a ceremony that probably did not exist prior to the end of the 1st revolt), and offers an argument that Judas was a go-between, not a traitor.

http://rogerviklund.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/the-traditional-translation-and-interpretation-of-the-last-supper-betrayal-of-the-original-text/
#11 - David Blocker - 04/15/2013 - 02:08



I would like to recommend another solution that has been proposed recently in order to account for the anomalies in the accounts of the Last Supper.

It’s found in a book length treatment that was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011. The title of the book is The Mystery of the Last Supper: Reconstructing the Final Days of Jesus. The author is Colin J. Humphreys.

The following extended quotation is from this summary at the end of the book. (Note: I have deleted parts of the summary in order to keep the length of this comment below 5,000 words.)

The solution given in this book is as follows.
1 John places the last supper, the trials and the crucifixion of Jesus all before the official Jewish Passover meal. In John’s account, Jesus died at the time the first Passover lambs were slain, at about 3 p.m. on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month Nisan.
2 In Matthew, Mark and Luke (the synoptic gospels), the last supper is a Passover meal. Jesus was therefore crucified after this Passover meal, on Nisan 15. Hence John and the synoptic gospels apparently disagree not only on whether the last supper was a Passover meal or not, but also on the date of the crucifixion.
3 The solution to the above problems given in this book is that, in their description of the last supper as a Passover meal, Matthew, Mark and Luke were using a different calendar to John. This book also identifies the different calendars used.
4 John was using the official Jewish calendar, the one used by the priests of the temple in Jerusalem in the first century AD. This calendar was a lunar calendar with a sunset-to-sunset day. In this calendar the Passover lamb was slain on Nisan 14, in the afternoon, and the Passover meal was eaten after sunset, the day then being Nisan 15.
5 In their description of the last supper, Matthew, Mark and Luke were using a different lunar calendar, one having a sunrise-to-sunrise day. In this calendar, both the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and the eating of the Passover meal were on Nisan 14. Nisan 14 in this calendar was before Nisan 14 in the official Jewish calendar.
7 Using a different calendar theory, all four gospels agree on the date and nature of the last supper. The last supper was a real Passover meal according to the calendar used by the synoptic gospels. However, the Passover meal in this calendar was eaten before that in the official calendar, hence John was correct in saying that the last supper was before the official Passover meal. All four gospels also now agree on the date of the crucifixion. It was on Nisan 14 in the official Jewish calendar, Jesus dying at 3 p.m. when the first Passover lambs were slain (John and also Paul).
8 All the evidence from the Bible and other early documents is consistent with the crucifixion being on Nisan 14 in the official calendar.
10 The ‘different calendar’ I have identified that Jesus used to celebrate his last supper as a Passover meal was the pre-exilic calendar of ancient Israel.
11 I have identified this ancient pre-exilic Jewish calendar as being based on the lunar calendar of ancient Egypt, but with the first month changed to the spring (called the month of Abib, meaning ripening ears of barley). The name of this first month was later changed to Nisan when the Judean Jews were in exile in Babylon (Nisan being the Hebrew equivalent of the name of the Babylonian first month, Nisannu).
13 With the aid of an astrophysicist I have reconstructed both the official Jewish calendar and the pre-exilic Jewish calendar for the first century AD. Passover in the pre-exilic Jewish calendar was always a few days before Passover in the official calendar.
14 From these calendar reconstructions we can identify the date of the crucifixion as Friday, April 3, AD 33, and the date of the last supper as Wednesday, April 1, AD 33.
16 A Wednesday last supper goes against the widespread assumption that this was on a Thursday. However, Thursday is nowhere said to be the day of the last supper in the Bible. A detailed analysis of the gospels shows that they do indeed place the last supper on a Wednesday.
17 A Wednesday last supper solves the problems outlined in Chapter 1 of this book. It explains what happened on ‘lost Wednesday’. It solves the apparent discrepancy of John and the synoptics on the date and nature of the last supper. It allows sufficient time for all the events the gospels record between the last supper and the crucifixion. Finally, it means that the Jewish trials of Jesus were legal. Following the last supper on Wednesday evening/night, Jesus was arrested in the early hours of Thursday morning. The main trial by the Jewish Sanhedrin court was in the daytime on Thursday. They then met again early Friday morning to confirm the death penalty. This agrees with the Mishnah, which states that the Sanhedrin must only meet in the daytime and in capital cases it must meet again the next day to confirm its decision.
#12 - Paul Tanner - 07/23/2013 - 09:04



This is a great discussion and I commend everyone on their civility. When all is said and done, we still have to remember what Paul wrote to Timothy. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness...". We probably won't have it figured out this side of heaven.
#13 - Marianne Westrope - 03/08/2014 - 09:45



There is something literally everyone I know of has missed for 1900 years or more and now that the problem has been resolved, the solution needs to be stated. Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers describe a "Pesach" on Abib 14 at home; Deuteronomy 16:1-8 and most of the dependent narratives in 2 Chronicles and Ezra describe a "Pesach" on Abib 15 at the Tabernacle or Temple. What has not been understood is that from the beginning, these were two separate observances (the second is called the Night to be Much Observed in Exodus 12, KJV). Deut. 16:1-8 does not change or replace Exodus 12 etc. It adds to Exodus 12 etc. "Pesach" in Deuteronomy might best be translated "Passover-offering", and likewise where it is mentioned later.

Hezekiah's, Josiah's, and Ezra's "Passover" all mention both sacrifices and Josiah's Passover shows one was kept on Abib 14, and the other was kept on Abib 15 by implication. But one has to understand how the Hebrew grammar and accents show the sequence of action - and it seems few indeed ever have since the Pharisees gained the ascendency in the old Sanhedrin. In Jesus' day, though, the Herodians or Boethusians were still in charge of Temple observances and people still kept both sacrifices, the one at home on Abib 14 and the other at the Temple on Abib 15.

The Synoptic Gospels all refer to the Passover of Exodus 12. John's Gospel consistently refers to the "Passover-sacrifice" of Deuteronomy 16.

The Sadducees and Boethusians understood the distinction in all likelihood, because *they had access to the authoritative reading tradition (accents and vowels) and were in charge of Temple observances anyway. The scribes and Pharisees, who were given civil not religious authority originally, had access to neither. They argued from the consonantal text alone, ambiguous as it can sometimes be, and so did their rabbinic heirs until the reading tradition reappeared in the hands of the medieval Karaites and Masoretes.

In this light the verses in question in Mark pose absolutely no problem at all:

(Mark 14:12 RSV) And on the first day of Unleavened Bread [Josephus called Abib 14 one of the *eight days of Unleavened Bread], when they sacrificed the passover lamb [according to Exodus 12, not Deuteronomy 16 - that's what John refers to], his disciples said to him, "Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?"
(Mark 14:13 RSV) And he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him,
(Mark 14:14 RSV) and wherever he enters, say to the householder, 'The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?'
(Mark 14:15 RSV) And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us."
(Mark 14:16 RSV) And the disciples set out and went to the city, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover.
(Mark 14:17 RSV) And when it was evening he came with the twelve.

Mark didn't need to mention more details than this because 1) by implication this summary was enough; 2) given his action-oriented temperament (symbolized by the Lion in Christian Aramaic tradition and demonstrated by his language), he only hit the highlights; 3) also true to his action-oriented (Jungian S_P) temperament, he is less concerned about order of action than about relationship of action, as compared to some of the other authors.

Nevertheless Mark wasn't trying to "transform" anything, still less by inserting a paragraph. He recorded the simple truth: Jesus and His disciples had a traditional Passover meal (but apparently, as prepared in that day according to Talmudic sources, by using a special oven to hasten the roasting process) before the bread and the wine were instituted by Jesus as the New Testament Passover.

In any case the whole premise of this article is far from obvious. It rather is a violation of a cardinal rule of classical criticism: the received text gets the benefit of the doubt over any critic's theory about it.

If we follow the real evidence where it really leads, we erase all real problems without making arbitrary decisions about what the text should and should not say. But there is some excuse understandably, as not all evidence pertinent to this issue has been considered or in some cases even available until now.

James Tabor's name caught my eye here and Phillip Arnold his longtime cohort directed me here. Both know of my many years of association with the rediscovery of the reading tradition's original meaning (in its accents) by the late Suzanne Haik-Vantoura. Knowing that reading tradition has been an invaluable aid to me in researching the history of observance of the Passover, the NTBMO and Unleavened Bread across the two Testaments.

Respectfully, John Wheeler
#14 - John Wheeler - 04/08/2014 - 11:32






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