The date of the Last Supper (Benedict XVI)

The problematic chronology of the Synoptics [1].

We know that Jesus ate the Passover meal on a Thursday evening and died on a Friday, because it is written that Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus "as it was the Preparation, that is, the Sabbath eve." (Mark 15: 42) So he celebrated the Passover on the day before the crucifixion, which was on a Thursday.

On that year, Passover fell on a Friday.

Scriptures say that Jesus ate the Passover according to the law, "on the evening of the First Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread." (Mk 14:12-17) "The first day of Unleavened Bread, when the paschal lambs were sacrificed in the Temple, is the day before Passover." So Jesus died on the day of Passover.

The problem is that the trial and the crucifixion must have taken place during the Passover feast, which is not totally impossible, but unlikely because it is also said that the high priests and scribes wanted to avoid this (Mk 14: 1).

Mrs. Jaubert’s unlikely hypothesis [2].

This hypothesis is that Jesus did die on a Friday, the day of Passover, but that he ate the paschal meal on a Tuesday evening.

In this case the Last Supper would have taken place on a Tuesday, with "Jesus adopting the calendar of the Jubilee Book (2nd century B.C.), a calendar widely used in Qumram and for which the day of 15 Nisan is always on a Wednesday and the Easter meal always on a Tuesday night. According to this theory, Jesus celebrated a true paschal meal, which affords more time to place his arrest and trial before the Passover.

However, the tradition of Thursday clearly goes back to "the second century" and constitutes a stronger base than the Didascalia Apostolorum (early 3rd century). "The other difficulty is that it is unlikely that Jesus used the Qumram calendar. He went to the Temple for the major feasts, showing that he followed the Jewish liturgical calendar. This is plainly demonstrated in the Gospel of John."

The chronology of John:

Jesus ate the Passover on a Thursday night and died on a Friday, but that year Passover fell on a Saturday.

According to the Gospel of St John, the Jewish officials didn’t want to enter the courtroom "in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover."(Jn 18:28) According to St John, that year the Jewish Passover fell on a Saturday.

What about Jesus' meal on a Thursday night?

"Meir's answer is surprisingly simple and compelling in many ways. Jesus was aware of his impending death. He knew he could not have eaten Passover. Knowing this, he invited his disciples to a last supper of a very special character, a Last Supper which does not belong to any particular Jewish rite, but which was his farewell meal, in which he gave something new: he gave himself as the true Lamb, instituting his Passover."[3]

If John is right, why do the Synoptics talk about a paschal meal?

"In retrospect the inner connection of the whole with the death and resurrection of Jesus appeared obvious: it was the Passover of Jesus. [...] The old rite had not been denied, it had just been brought to its full meaning." [4]

The first testimony of this unifying vision is found in St Paul:

"Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.” (1Co 5:7)

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, Jésus de Nazareth. De l'entrée à Jérusalem à la Résurrection (Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection). Parole et Silence, Paris 2011, p. 130-131

[2] Ibid., p. 133-135

[3] Ibid., p. 137

[4] Ibid., p. 138

Summary by F. Breynaert