Passover, Last Supper, Crucifixion: 2011 Notes, Part 2

In Part 1, we talked about the discrepancy between Mark and John regarding the day on which Yeshua was crucified and whether the Last Supper was a Passover Seder or not. I will explain this again briefly below a different way. I should repeat that this problem is well-known in New Testament studies and if it is new to you, please don’t think I made it up or “discovered” it.

I said there we have three basic options: (1) decide Mark’s dating is right and John’s is not (Maurice Casey does this in Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel), (2) decide John’s dating is right and Mark’s is not (McKnight in Jesus and His Death and Brown in The Death of the Messiah, Vol. 2), or (3) harmonize them in some way (I used to follow Edersheim’s harmonization but never gave much weight to the two calendars theory of Jaubert). The problem with judging the gospels “right” or “wrong” on a point is that things that are terribly important to us, like dates, were not so important to them comparatively.

In this post, I want to clarify matters a bit and discuss why I opt for (2). The Last Supper was not exactly a Passover Seder, though it was a Passover-like festal meal held one night before. Mark erred in his account. John did not err. But theologically, the Last Supper is filled with Passover meaning. Mark may have erred, but he wasn’t completely wrong. Yeshua put a lot of Passover into his not-quite-Passover meal.

The Discrepancy Between John and Mark

Mark 14:12 says it was the first day of Unleavened Bread “when they were sacrificing the Passover lamb.” But John 13:1 says it was “before the feast of Passover.”

Mark 14:14 and 16 say the meal was “Passover.” But John 19:14, 31, and 42 the crucifixion was on “the day of preparation,” and 19:14 specifies “of the Passover.”

Mark 14:17-18 say that Yeshua and the twelve ate what was prepared, which had been called Passover in vss. 14 and 16. But John 18:28 says that the chief priests, the next morning, did not enter Pilate’s hall in order to remain pure “so that they might eat the Passover.”

Arguments in Favor of Last-Supper-Equals-Passover vs. Weaknesses
The wording here is mine but much of what I say is found in Scot McKnight’s Jesus and His Death and Raymond Brown’s The Death of the Messiah, Vol. 2.

Mark calls the meal the night before Yeshua died “Passover.” But John says Passover was the next night after Yeshua died.

The meal took place after dark while normal meals happened earlier. A meal on the festal days of purification and preparation before Passover (pilgrims arrived early says Josephus) could just as well be at night.

Yeshua broke bread in the middle of the meal, whereas at normal meals this is at the beginning. In anticipation of Passover, it may not have been uncommon for people to have festal meals with symbolic portions and perhaps multiple breakings of bread.

In John 13, some thought Judas was sent away to give money to the poor (a concern in Passover haggadahs now and perhaps then). They may have thought this about any night leading up to Passover as well, since Yeshua would have been sensitive to this issue at all times, and the festal season lent itself to such almsgiving even before Passover.

They sang a hymn after, possibly the Hallel (Psalm 113-118). A hymn, possibly the Hallel, could have been sung at a festal meal in anticipation of Passover and in the enthusiasm of the pilgrims gathered.

In John 13:23 and 25, the Beloved Disciple was lying at Yeshua’s breast (reclining is a Passover custom). The reclining posture of the symposium meal, a Greco-Roman custom brought into the Passover, would fit well with any festal or significant meal.

Arguments Against Last-Supper-Equals-Passover

There is no mention of lamb at the meal. Mark 14:12 may possibly mean that Yeshua and disciples slaughtered a lamb, but even if so, it is never mentioned again.

A Jewish trial is much less likely on Passover than it is on the day of preparation for Passover.

Early Christianity had a weekly celebration of remembrance of the body and blood (1 Cor 11; Didache), not an annual celebration.

It seems (Maurice Casey argues otherwise) that only the Twelve were present at the Last Supper, but Passover would include everyone and women too.

What Probably Happened

On the night before Passover, Yeshua had a festal meal with the Twelve. They reclined and Yeshua taught them. They sang Hallel after supper. Yeshua evoked strong Passover themes such as blood atonement, covenant, and coming into the kingdom.

Mark erred in relating what he read in his sources. He thought the Last Supper was a Passover. He had some justification for his mistake. Yeshua made the meal like Passover in some ways.

Theologically, the Last Supper was a sort of “renewed Passover” looking ahead to the Passover the disciples expected to celebrate the next night. Yeshua explained his death as a sacrifice re-constituting the people of Israel in a new covenant (and including the nations, as understood later). The atonement theology of Yeshua is nowhere more explicit than here. The Last Supper is not a Passover-replacement. Jewish thinking is so much more “both-and” and not “either-or.” The Last Supper is a reinterpretation of and reapplication of Passover, adding a new Exodus theme to the existing Exodus theme.

In many ways, it is true that the Last Supper is and isn’t a Passover. It is a Passover without a lamb. It is part of a larger set of rituals and stories about redemption. It is about Passover finding its goal in Yeshua without ceasing to be relevant in its progress from Egypt to the history of Israel in the land to the coming of the Lamb of God to inaugurate final redemption.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Passover, The Cross, Yeshua, Yeshua In Context. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Passover, Last Supper, Crucifixion: 2011 Notes, Part 2

  1. James says:

    I’m probably going to get in trouble for walking on your side of the street, so to speak, but don’t at least some New Testament scholars believe that the actual writers of the Gospels, including Mark, weren’t the original Apostles? My understanding is that the practice of “pseudography” (I know you know all of this already; I’m just writing to clarify my understanding), a person writing a scholarly or religious text in the name of someone more important in order to draw attention to it, was more or less common back in those days.

    If the actual Gospel writers weren’t direct witnesses to these events, but were relying on other sources, possibly including oral sources, it makes it more likely that they’d get some of the details wrong. Also, I believe Maurice Casey said that three out of the four Gospel writers are believed to have self-identified as Gentile, and thus would not have the same familiarity with Jewish practices, including the Passover, as the Jewish disciples.

  2. James:

    Mark: He doesn’t identify himself as author. It is a tradition. If we believe the tradition, this is the John Mark of Acts and he wrote from Rome based on the oral witness of Peter. If we believe the tradition, this is a non-disciple writing 30 or more years later from far away. I like the view of Crossley and Casey at the moment that this is a writer in the land of Israel writing in the 40’s as hype about the revolt against Rome is building. In any of the views “Mark” is a collector of tradition, not an eyewitness.

    Matthew: Only a tradition that Matthew, one of the Twelve, wrote this. Here is why I would say “Matthew” could not have been one of the Twelve: why did he use Mark as his main source? Probably written in the 70’s and he has some eyewitnesses different than “Mark” and has other sources (possible the so-called “Q” or other collections he shared with Luke).

    Luke: I lean toward this being the known associate of Paul (but need to read more). He writes in the 80’s or so (maybe 70’s). He is not a witness and is a gentile. He has a number of eyewitness stories (which he may have heard first or second-hand) that Mk and Mt do not.

    John: The idea that this John the son of Zebedee is only a tradition. The idea that this is the Beloved Disciple is only a tradition and that Beloved Disciple = John son of Zebedee is only a tradition.

    There is no claim by any of the gospels themselves that they are written by eyewitnesses or members of the Twelve. So there is no pseudography.

    I welcome anyone to give evidence I am wrong on any of these statements. I wrote them off the top of my head and if I got a fact wrong, someone show me.

    Derek Leman

    • Derek Leman says:

      By the way I have since changed my mind about this. The Beloved Disciple is the author of John in my opinion, based on my read of the literary evidence. And the Beloved Disciple is the Elder John, mentioned by Papias, who was a disciple, but not one of the 12. He was Judean and was not there for the Galilean parts of Yeshua’s deeds and teachings (see Richard Bauckham, Testimony of the Beloved Disciple).

  3. Oops. I did omit the fact that there are eyewitness claims in John. But some of these are in the plural (3:11, “we have seen, we have born witness”) which has led to the “Johannine community” idea (instead of a single author). And John 19:35 and 21:24 may be part of the Second Edition of John (I have discussed this on the Yeshua in Context blog) and this does not necessarily mean eyewitness testimony from John son of Zebedee or the author of the First Edition. It sounds like a second generation referring to the storytelling by a first generation eyewitness.

    Derek Leman

  4. Jeff Allen says:


    For my part, the giant elephant in the room is the doctrine of inerrancy. I do understand that the ancients had really different ideas about factual accuracy (i.e., the telescoping of genealogies and the like) than do moderns. Nevertheless, it seems to me that taking the position that one gospel writer is objectively wrong compared to another gospel writer with respect to the same historical event is a bit too far to take things.

    If we pick one gospel account as objectively “true” and relegate the other to objectively “false” on this point of history, how do we understand the doctrine of inerrancy to apply to this question? What are your thoughts?

  5. Jeff:

    I’m asking this deliberately (don’t think I’m being sarcastic, in other words): where is this doctrine of inerrancy found in the Bible?

    Derek Leman

    • Jeff Allen says:


      Thank you for responding to my comment. If no sarcasm is intended, then none is perceived.

      As to your question, I submit the following—

      The Master taught us in Matthew 5:18 (WEB:ME):
      For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the Torah, until all things are accomplished.

      On this basis I can say without a doubt that at an absolute minimum the Torah proper is inerrant. This kind of thinking is echoed in Jewish thought elsewhere. The most strait-forward and presumably familiar of which would be from Maimonides’ 8th and 9th Principals of Faith:

      I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that is now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses our teacher, peace be upon him.


      I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be exchanged, and that there will never be any other Torah from the Creator, Blessed be His Name.

      Therefore, the idea that Torah is inerrant is preserved crystal clearly both in the words of Yeshua Himself and also in later Jewish thought. As for inerrancy having having a scope greater than the Torah proper extending to the whole of biblical (OT & NT) cannon—this can be derived from established principals of classical Jewish exegesis: kal v’chomer.

      The book of Hebrews (2:2&endash;3a) makes the following kal v’chomer argument regarding the Torah and the New Covenant:

      For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

      Hebrews is constructing a light and heavy argument to show the primacy of the New Covenant based on existing exegetical arguments used to analyze the Torah. I believe therefore it’s no great stretch to construct a quite similar kal v’chomer argument thusly regarding the inerrancy of the Torah and the NT: If the Torah is inerrant how much more must the gospel be similarly inerrant. (To be clear, I speak of the autographs, incidental scribal transmission error happens of course.)

      This, however, does not address James’ open cannon question. My understanding is, the cannon of scripture is closed because the Council of Yavne (a late first century Sanhedrin council) says it is.

      I welcome your feedback Derek.

  6. James says:

    Derek, do you really think it’s possible to reconcile one Gospel account of the Passover/Crucifixion in relation to another? You seem to try to do this in your “What Probably Happened” of the blog post but what if the two versions are fundamentally incompatible?

  7. Derek… let me ask you the following: are you open to questioning the composition of the existing NT cannon? Do you think that it’s possible that the inclusion or exclusion of certain writings within NT may have been done by human error? There’s no agenda behind my questions, just want to know your honest opinion.

  8. James:

    I do not believe history is about a straightforward list of facts. History to me means a story told about events that happened. Fiction is a story told about events that did not happen. But the line between them is fuzzy. People who think deeply about what I am saying will understand what I mean, even if this concept is not new.

    So, in Yeshua in Context, I talk about story as a way of knowing. Everything we know comes to us through story (except possibly abstract or mathematical thought, but even there I think we storyboard much of our knowledge–our minds are wired to story).

    I think we look back at stories and we consider factors like coherence, believability, and so on, and we make reasonable guesses about what happened based on limited evidence.

    That sounds pretty much like we can’t “know” what happened (and this is true not just with Bible, but all storytelling about events), but I think that’s about how it is.

    The “what happened” part of this blog post is a likely account of what happened. The possibility of error is there. But some things, like the likelihood that Yeshua had a meal with his disciples the night before we was executed, is high based on the many sources of corroboration.

    Guess that was a complicated answer to a simple question. Basically, I have high confidence in the “what happened” reconstruction I suggested but I admit room for error.

    Derek Leman

  9. Gene:

    Getting into the details of what belongs in the canon or out is tough. If we get honest, we have to explain why our canon is the Protestant one forged in the 1500’s and not one of the older ones.

    On the Hebrew Bible, I feel good in saying that I follow Jewish tradition as my authority and accept what Judaism has accepted.

    On the New Testament, we follow the general canon of the Western churches.

    I’m okay with tradition limiting what I consider to be sacred text.

    I’d be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts. It is not a valuable contribution to start with the unexamined assumption that the modern “Bible” contains just the books God intended to be authoritative (when there are other canons competing).

    Derek Leman

  10. I’m responding to Jeff’s reply to me which is a few comments above. I asked him where the Bible teaches a doctrine of inerrancy. He responded well by citing Matthew 5:18, “…until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the Torah.”

    Now I will deconstruct his response (not out of desire to win an argument, but to help myself and my readers to think more clearly).

    Jeff, I think that you read Matt 5:18 through the lens of your instruction in how the Bible works and what it is all about. In the world you have learned Bible in, it makes sense to interpret Matt 5:18 that way.

    But I suggest that this is not what Matt 5:18 is about. I suggest that the idea never would have occurred to Yeshua or his readers. I suggest that in the context of the verse, the “inerrancy” interpretation does not even fit.

    First, just for the fun of being flippant, let me say that Yeshua was not correcting the misperception that he believed in JEDP (the documentary hypothesis) or that he thought there were only 20-30,000 Israelites and not 600,000 in the Exodus.

    Second, in his world (and in Judaism now) the issue with Torah is halachah (binding principles of ethics, worship, and faith), not matters of interpretation (“if the Torah says there used to be a firmament holding a great ocean of water over the earth, I believe it”) or concerns about historical accuracy (“I guess there were camels being used as beasts of burden in the third millennium after all”).

    The idea that not the smallest letter or pen stroke will disappear from the Torah is about the authority of the sacred text, not inerrancy.

    I’d imagine that you’ll find theologians who subscribe to inerrancy do not even use Matthew 5:18 as a prooftext. Note that I said “theologians” and not populist commentators who have done little or no homework.

    So, will you agree with me that Matt 5:18 is about the authority of Torah to place demands on our lives and is not about a denial that the Torah could have historical inaccuracies?

    (By the way, all storytelling has inaccuracies. Imagine, for example, how Sarah would tell the stories very differently from her point of view if someone asked her to.)

    Derek Leman

    • Jeff Allen says:


      A few things:

      You’re right to suggest that a reasonable interpretation of Matthew 5:18 is that Torah has authority to place demands on our lives. However, such an interpretation of Matthew 5:18 is not mutually exclusive with the idea that the doctrine of inerrancy (at least for the Torah proper) can be derived from this passage. So, yes, I agree with you that the passage is about Torah’s authority, but without budging on inerrancy.

      As for your aside that story telling inherently has inaccuracies, this is true. But with respect your comment misses a crucial difference: the difference between objective and subjective truth. If two witnesses to a singular event write down their experiences there are going to be differences borne of their differences of perspective. That’s subjective truth. For more on this, I highly recommend “The Trial of Jesus from a Lawyer’s Standpoint” by Walter M. Chandler (1908). He goes so far as to suggest that if the testimony of two observers match too closely this is evidence of fabrication on the part of the witnesses.

      The problem I have with suggesting one gospel writer erred and the other did not is really simple and borne of logic: If the Bible cannot get objective truth (material facts) correct about things I can see, how then can I believe its testimony for eternal life in the World to Come which I cannot see?

      There are other arguments I might make from Talmudic law, but it’s late and I’m just too tired to do so. I really enjoy your blog, I enjoy reading it and respect your opinion, so please keep the blog posts coming. But, on this point (the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy) I respectfully disagree with you rather strongly.

  11. Jeff:

    Well said. Thanks for the benefit of the doubt and for not making the notion of inerrancy a test of friendship.

    You raised a question: “If the Bible cannot get objective truth (material facts) correct about things I can see, how then can I believe its testimony for eternal life in the World to Come which I cannot see?”

    I’d say there is no comparison between details like dates or numbers on the one hand and major themes of future hope on the other. As an analogy, I have no problem believing the overall factuality of a historical account which omits the involvement of women and ordinary people. The blindness of storytellers to such matters does not negate their larger points. Neither does the lack of concern the prophets and apostles had about minor facts negate their authority on matters like God’s love, plan to redeem, the world to come, etc.

    Derek Leman

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  14. All I can say is that I am SO GLAD you posted a picture of Matzah WITHOUT ‘stripes’ and ‘piercings’ (courstesy of Manischevitz & co.) that so many claim are a symbol of Yeshua’s sufferings. Ouch! That’s just the way they come out in modern times when made with a machine! Let’s get real and quit conning people.

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