DID JESUS OBSERVE THE PASSOVER? A.M.D.G.
“On the first day of the Azymes, the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the pasch?” (Matt 26:17)
“Now on the first day of the unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the pasch, the disciples say to him: Whither wilt thou that we go, and prepare for thee to eat the pasch? (Mark 14:12)
“And the day of the unleavened bread came, on which it was necessary that the pasch should be killed. And he sent Peter and John , saying, : Go, and prepare for us the pasch, that we may eat.” (Luke 22:7,8)
“Then they led Jesus from Caiphas to the governor’s hall. And it was morning; and they went not into the hall, that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the pasch.(John 17: 28) “ “Then the Jews, (because it was the parasceve) that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (for it was a great Sabbath day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken and they might be taken away.” John: 19:31).
“ This month shall be to you the beginning of months: It shall be the first in the months of the year.
“Speak ye to the whole assembly of the children of Israel, and say to them: On the tenth day of this month let every man take a lamb by their families and houses.
“But if the number be less than may suffice to eat the lamb, he shall take unto him his neighbor that joineth to his house, according to the number of souls which may be enough to eat the lamb.
“And is shall be a lamb without blemish, a male of one year: according to which rite also you shall take a kid.
“And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month: and the whole multitude of the children of Israel shall sacrifice it in the evening.
“And they shall take of the blood thereof and put it upon both the side posts and on the upper door posts of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.
“And they shall eat the flesh that night roasted at the fire, and unleavened bread with wild lettuce.
“You shall not eat thereof anything raw, nor boiled in water, but only roasted at the fire: you shall eat the head with the feet and entrails thereof.
“Neither shall there remain anything of it until morning. If there be anything left you shall burn it with fire (Exodus 12: 2 -10)
“ And this day shall be a memorial to you; and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord in your generations with everlasting observance.
“Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread: in the first day there shall be no leaven in you houses: whosoever shall eat anything leavened, from the first until the seventh day , that soul shall perish out of Israel
“The first day shall be holy and solemn, and the seventh day shall be kept with the like solemnity: you shall do no work on them, except those things that belong to eating.
“And you shall observe the feast of the unleavened bread: for in this same day I will bring for your army out of the land of Egypt and you shall keep this day in your generation by a perpetual observance.
“The first month, the fourteenth day of the month in the evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the one and twentieth day of the same month in the evening.” (Exodus 12: 14 -18)
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The problem which has plagued students of the Bible since the beginning of exegetical study, is how to reconcile the fact that the synoptics clearly state that the Lord Jesus observed the legal Passover on the first day of the Unleavened bread according to the prescription of the Mosaic Law ; and yet, John clearly states that Jesus died the following day: that is, on the Preparation Day when the Jews killed the Passover lamb.
Many theories have been proposed, but I find that the confusion stems from not understanding the history of the Israelites of the period before the time of Christ.
The following information was the result of a conversation with Rabbi Sparer one time presiding over Congregation Chevra Thilim , an Orthodox congregation in San Francisco, California on 25th ave. Also, much of this information is in standard Jewish Encyclopedias.
Non Jewish historians do not realize the profound effect of the Exile of the leaders of the Jews from Jerusalem and Judea to Babylon 597 years before the coming of The Christ.
Babylon is circa 700 miles from Jerusalem by direct line. But since the armies could not cross the intervening Arabian Desert all travel had to go north to Aram and then go south between the Euphrates and Tigris to reach Babylon. That is a trip of over 1000 miles.
As a result it was difficult to travel back to Jerusalem even after it had been re-settled at the command of Cyrus the Persian king.
Considering the pace of pack animals and the walking pace of women and children, the trip would take at least six months. Also the dangers from hostile tribes were such that the Jewish exiles were effectively separated from their ancestral homeland on a permanent basis.
Ezekiel and other prophets encouraged the people to settle wherever they were and to form communities. Thus we find Jewish trading communities as far away as India, China, Egypt, Rome, Carthage, etc. This was the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora which is the form in which they are among us to this day.
Since it was too difficult to go to Jerusalem to observe the prescribed festivals, the Jews would gather on the Sabbath to engage in prayer and study of the Scriptures. This was the origin of the Synagogue. Scholars who spent their time studying the Scriptures and the history of the people would act as teachers thus the “Rabbi” (which means “teacher”) was the essential link with their traditions and with other communities. These Scholars would study at certain centers and thus be in contact with each other.
At Jerusalem, on the other hand, the reformation of the priesthood and its functions under Nehemia and Ezra, allowed the people to observe the festivals and to offer the prescribed sacrifices. In this way the Jewish community was divided into two: the Diaspora under the Rabbis and the Judean Jews under the Priests.
Each of these two groups had different challenges. In Jerusalem, the Priests kept alive the Cult of the Creator and we call them the “Sadducees” because they descend from a high priest named “Sadoc”.
The Jews of the Diaspora, on the other hand had the challenge of maintaining their integrity and language under the natural tendency we have to live like those around us. The Rabbis developed different ways to effect this separation. For example this is when the “Scapular” was invented. They would put a garment on their children that the Orthodox Jew would wear all his life ( and still do!!); made of two pieces of cloth, one in front ant one in back conncted by shoulder straps and having tassels hanging from the bottom edge. Whis is called the “Talith qatan” or “small garment”. The idea was to remind the Jewish child that he was a chosen person called by the Creator to do His will on earth and thus the wearer was under the special protection of the Creator.
Jesus, was givens such a garment by his Mother and she has given it to his chosen members of the Mystical Body of Christ with the same meaning: chosen and with the duty of completing the work of Jesus in the salvation of mankind.
Another mechanism for the separation of the people from the pagans of the Diaspora was the multiplication of rules. The laws given by Moses were multiplied until there were 613 different rules the observant Jew has to follow. In Acts (15: 10) Peter comments that the Law was a yoke no one could bear. Indeed, trying to follow all those rules was a fence the Rabbis devised so that the Jewish children would be so busy they could not mingle with the surrounding pagans.
An example is the rules for the Sabbath. Mosaic Law requires that the Sabbath be kept holy. The Rabbis devised many laws to show us how to keep it holy. An observant Jew could not light a fire; prepare food on the Sabbath; He could only walk a certain number of steps from his home to the synagogue ( hence, Orthodox Jew always live very near their Synagogue); the day had to be spent within the home with his family, reading the Torah and discussing the Scriptures.
An observant Jew was forbidden to enter the home of a Gentile and would not allow a Gentile to enter into his home. He could only marry his children off to another Jew.
All these rules to preserve the integrity of the Jew had the effect of separation so the Jews of the Diaspora are called “Pharisees”, which in Hebrew means “separation.”.
And the New Testament is quite clear that the Sadducees and Pharisees developed different ideas about the soul, the Resurrection, the existence of angels and the nature of the Messiah.
The Pharisees expected the Messiah to be a man of unusual gifts from God who, with the power of the Creator, would establish the kingdom of God on earth and rule here like an earthly king. On the other hand (following the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.) — the Sadducees expected the Creator Himself to reign from Jerusalem after subjecting all earthly power to Himself. They knew that God was a spirit so they assumed that the Priests would be the ones to effectuate the Will of God on earth.
This is why the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas said that Jesus was a blasphemer when he said that he was the Messiah. John makes it quite clear that the Sadducees could not accept a human as the Messiah because God has no physical parts.
The beginning of the Diaspora, and hence the formation of the Pharisees ( the “separatists”), thus can be dated at the capture of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans about 580 years before the time of Christ. The Chaldeans were destroyed by the Persians in 539 B.C. In the spring of 537 B.C. a caravan of repatriates left Babylon. It consisted of 42,360 Jews who went back to Jerusalem to rebuild their city and the Temple.
Around the year 300, Alexander the Great captured every city and state between Macedonia, north of Greece to the Indus River. He died in 323 B. C. His empire was left to his generals who carved up the rich lands and were constantly fighting. They were all subdued, finally (around 80 years before Christ) by the Romans.
Thus, for five hundred years the Jews of the Diaspora were effectively separated from their home city of Jerusalem. Scholars and Merchants, traveling with caravans were the only ones that kept up the contact between the two groups. Until the invincible Roman Legions established the Peace of Rome, it was simply too dangerous to travel anywhere.
However, when Jesus was born the roads were again safe and the Jews of the Diaspora who were relatively near would again go up to the Temple for the Feast. Galilee was less than 100 miles from Jerusalem; Alexandria ( with a very large Jewish colony was also about the same distance away.
But there were very few pilgrimages until the Romans came.
This posed a problem.
The Hebrews were commanded by Mosaic Law to celebrated the Passover annually. That feast commemorated their release from slavery under the Egyptians and was really the source of their identity as the People of God.
The date of the Passover had to be the evening of the 14th day of the first month after the Vernal Equinox. The new moon marking the new month could be any of 28 days after the Vernal Equinox. The Jews ( as all the world until Julius Caesar established the Julian Calendar) had really no regular Calendar. Everything was calculated from the date of Passover.
The High Priest at the Temple was the one who decreed what was the date of Passover. The 14th day is the night in the lunar month of the full moon; however, there is considerable possibility of misjudgement because to the human eye the Full Moon seems to last several nights.
In order to be legally a member of the Hebrew People and thus the Chosen, the Passover had to be celebrated. In the diaspora, it was celebrated in the Jewish home. They were notified of the legitimate date by and ingenious method: On a mountain East of Jerusalem, a universally agreed number of days before the Passover, a huge bonfire would be lit. Hundreds of miles away, a member of the Diaspora, seeing the Bonfire would light another on a nearby mountain top. This would be repeated sequentially so that in one night the official date of the Passover would be signaled to every Jew of the Diaspora no matter where he lived.
This system worked for 500 years very efficiently in all points of the compass except north, where Galilee was the nearest community of Pharisees. Here the problem was complicated by the fact that the Samaritans lived between Jerusalem and Galilee. These were a people who actively hated the Jews. They descended from Gentiles that had been brought by the Assyrians, eight hundred years before the time of Christ, to populated the areas that the Northern Hebrew Tribes had vacated, fleeing the Assyrians. They had built a temple and offered worship to the Creator, just as did the Jews; but the Jews would not accept them as legitimate People of God. So the Samaritans and Jews were always fighting with each other. Only the threat of the Legions kept them in peace.
However, the Samaritans (to cause trouble) would light spurious signal fires on other nights to confuse the Hebrews to the North.
To take this into account, the Priests and Sanhedrin passed a law (still known to the Jews) allowing the Galileans to celebrate Passover a night earlier or later (?) than the rest of the Jewish people.
When the Romans came and peace was established the law was, strictly speaking, no longer necessary. However, it was kept because once the pilgrimages began again, so many people came to the Temple on the Preparation Day that it was impossible to accommodate them all. Fro example, the year of the Fall of the Temple to the Romans ( in 70 A.D.) it is estimated that one million lambs were slain. To do that, as well as skin and prepare the pascal lamb between three in the afternoon and six which officially terminated the day ( “the evening twilight) was impossible. Thus the Galileans (because of being so close they made up a very large part of the Passover multitudes) were allowed to celebrate the Passover one day ahead of the rest of the Jews.
Peter (whose Gospel was recorded by Mark), Matthew as well as all the other apostles were Pharisees; being born and raised in the Galilean Diaspora. Luke took his gospel from “eyewitnesses” — thus Thursday was the “Day in which the Pasch was prepared” and the last supper took place.
St. John who, on the other hand was a member of the family of the High Priest and thus trained in the rules as they applied in Jerusalem, insists that The Lord Jesus was killed on the Preparation Day. Thus, when Jesus died on the cross, about three in the afternoon, they ware just beginning the slaughter of the pascal lambs in the Great Temple. John could see that the death of our Saviour was prefigured in the entire Passover experience of the people released from slavery in Egypt.
Notice the both accounts are correct. The Bible is written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He is the spirit of truth itself. You will not find anything in the Bible that is not true.