When I first began seeking sources, people and articles and books, on the Jewish background of Yeshua’s life, I ran into numerous articles and conversations to the effect that Good Friday is a myth. Looking back now, I realize the articles were amateurish and the conversations were with those who had more zeal than knowledge. There is a certain appeal to proving the mainstream wrong and staking out a corner of self-glorification and insider truth. I know I have fallen into a similar trap myself with egotistical delusions.
And sometimes the mainstream is wrong. I think, for example, of supersessionism and its long history in Christian thought, where it has truly been the mainstream and an Israel-centered view of the canonical narrative is thought to be special pleading. So we really should ask: is Good Friday a myth? Was Yeshua’s crucifixion on a Friday?
Crucifixion Before Passover?
There are a number of reasons people might think Yeshua was crucified on a day other than Friday. The prerequisite for a non-Friday crucifixion is the acceptance of one vital theorem: that Yeshua was crucified on the afternoon before Passover began. That is, one must accept the idea that Yeshua was crucified at the time the Passover lambs were being slaughtered.
Many believe something just like this due to their reading of the Fourth Gospel. I treated this topic and debunked the notion of a pre-Passover crucifixion in a series of three articles here, here, and here.
Why is a pre-Passover crucifixion necessary to deny that Yeshua was crucified on a Friday? The answer is the repeated mention in the accounts that Yeshua was taken down from the cross quickly to be buried before the coming Sabbath. The Sabbath, of course, begins Friday at sundown. But there is another kind of Sabbath, which can be any day of the week, a Yom Tov. A Yom Tov is a special Sabbath occurring on certain days of Biblical festivals, such as the first day of Passover.
If the Sabbath they rushed to bury Yeshua before was the Yom Tov of the first day of Passover, then his crucifixion could have been on a day other than Friday — say Thursday or Wednesday.
Three Days and Nights
If pre-Passover crucifixion is the pre-requisite for a non-Friday theory, then the saying of Yeshua about three days and nights is the crux.
When Yeshua was asked for a sign of his Messiahship in Matthew 12, he responded that he would only give the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so Yeshua would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:38-40).
This certainly does look like a problem for a Friday crucifixion. By the most generous interpretation this would require Yeshua’s time in the grave to include at least Friday day and night, Saturday day and night, and Sunday day and night, with a resurrection at the earliest on Sunday night. To arrive at a Sunday morning resurrection, the latest the crucifixion could be is Thursday (some say Wednesday). Or so it would seem.
The Reason It Had to Be Friday
The case for Good Thursday seems solid and yet I will argue that it is wrong and even impossible. I believe the crucifixion had to be on Friday. In fact, I would say that either Matthew, Mark, and Luke are wrong or the crucifixion had to be on Friday.
The reason is simple: Yeshua ate a Passover Seder the night before he was crucified. As I argued in the previous series, “The Last Supper and Passover,” Yeshua kept Passover with the rest of Israel and not on some hypothetical separate calendar.
This leaves us with only one possible meaning for the Sabbath before which Yeshua was quickly entombed. It had to be a Friday afternoon with the weekly Sabbath about to arrive.
The idea that they were hurrying to bury Yeshua before the Yom Tov of Passover’s first day is off the table. It was the first day of Passover when Yeshua was crucified, the day after the Seder.
But . . . Three Days and Nights
Those who urge a strictly literal reading of three days and three nights make two errors. First, they are not equally literal about the far more common saying that Yeshua rose on the third day. Second, they do not account for similar uses of three days and nights in conjunction with the third day in the Hebrew Bible.
As to the first error, think of it this way. If Yeshua was crucified on Thursday, by the most generous reckoning this would mean a Thursday day and night, Friday day and night, and Saturday day and night, with the resurrection being on Sunday morning. Sunday is the fourth day from Thursday, not the third day.
As to the second, the story of Esther is a good example. She instructed Mordechai and all the Jews to fast for three days and nights before she would appeal to King Xerxes (Esth. 4:15-17). Esther then went in to the king. On which day did she go? Was it on the fourth day, after the fast of three days and nights? No, she went in on the third day (Esth. 5:1).
It would seem that Yeshua’s three days and nights saying was not so literal. And the point of the sign of Jonah is perhaps also overlooked. Was Yeshua’s point that he would miraculously meet the exact time parameters of Jonah’s entombment in the fish? Is there something impressive about the time period of three days and nights?
No, the sign of Jonah was not about a period of time. It was about the impossible turning of a hopeless situation. What man survives being swallowed and held for days in the belly of a great fish? Like Jonah, Yeshua returned from three days in the jaws of death.
The mainstream is sometimes right. Whatever the faults of Christian history, on important details such as the timing of the crucifixion, the tradition turns out to be right. Good Friday is no myth. It is the only interpretation true to the Jewish background of the story.