At the moment I am reading Brant Pitre's book "Jesus and the Last Supper". I was especially interested in his section on question of what day the Last Supper was celebrated. He is as usual very thorough, scholarly and certainly worth reading. He lists the major scholarly opinions about when the Last Supper was celebrated with many of the weaknesses and strengths of each opinion.
He makes it pretty clear that the Last Supper in his opinion could not have occurred on 14th of Nisan or earlier. In this regard his arguments are mostly convincing and I would certainly agree with him that the Last Supper did not occur on 14th of Nisan or earlier. I would also agree that the Last Supper was a Pesach meal.
He makes a good point which I had made previously on this blog that the term Pesach or Pascha refers to a number of things including the Passover Korban Lamb. Pitre mentions four 1) the passover lamb 2) the passover meal 3) the passover peace offerings 4) the Passover week. I would add a fifth the Passover Tamid lambs offered every day during Passover. However I do not agree with his conclusion that the Last Supper occurred on the 15th of Nisan. I believe that it occurred on the 16th of Nisan and the Resurrection on the 18th of Nisan.
The Last Supper was a Pesach or Pascha and a Pesach Havurah in which many elements of the stricter first night Seder was repeated but in a manner that allowed for more flexiblity in adapting the ritual for the purposes of the Havurah. Unfortunately Pitre doesn't mention this possiblity at all even though his understanding of the wider use of the term Pascha would make this a good possibility. Unlike Pitre I would agree with the opinion of Pope Benedict XVI on a 15th of Nisan Last Supper. He wrote:
"Despite all academic arguments, it seems questionable whether the trial before Pilate and crucifixion would have been permissible and possible on such an important Jewish feast day."
That the Last Supper occurred on Thursday evening of the 16th of Nisan (probably in 31 AD) fits the facts better. Pitre seems to acknowledge what all Jews know, that the first day of unleavened bread is Nisan 15. He seems to miss that the lamb sacrificed for the Last Supper Pesach (Pascha) was sacrificed on that day and not the previous day 14th Nisan as told in Mark 14:12. What lamb then is this referring to? There are the Pesach Korban lambs that are sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan between 1.30 -5.00 pm, there are the Pesach peace offering lambs, goats or bulls that may be eaten with Matzah during Pesach week and there are the daily Pesach Tamid lambs sacrificed twice daily in the morning and afternoon.
It is possible that the lamb of the Last Supper was a peace offering Pesach lamb but there is also another possibility. The text in Mark says nothing about the lamb that is sacrificed being sacrificed at the Temple or by the priests: "Änd on the first day of the unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb (Pascha)...". In context the "they" of the text would be Jesus and his disciples. There is a Catholic belief (also found in the writings of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich) that Jesus himself sacrificed the Last Supper lamb in the same way that the father of the household sacrificed it at the first Passover. Whether it was sacrificed in this manner or Jesus and his disciples took it to the Temple and offered it as a peace offering for the purpose of their Havurah is open to debate. Though from a Jewish and historical perspective I think the peace or Todah offering is more likely and makes much theological sense too (see the Jewish Encyclopedia on Peace offerings).
Jesus also died on the Cross during the sacrifice of the afternoon Pesach Tamid lamb sacrifice so this also has relevance. Also as this was the first day of the counting of the Omer (Nisan 16) another male lamb without blemish was offered for that as well.
"And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, 'When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf (omer) of the first (reshit) of your harvest (katzir) to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD.' (Lev. 23:9-12)"
Pitre criticises those who use later Jewish sources such as the sayings in the Talmud when they don't support his ideas but he uses them himself when it supports his arguments. Many scholars see the Mishnah as valuable as many of the traditions recorded in it come from Second Temple Times. However Pitre does provide much information and helpful evaluation of the issues on the dating of the Last Supper. His wide knowledge of Second Temple Judaism is also obvious in this regard. His position that there is no real contradiction between the Synoptics and John's gospel but merely a misunderstanding of its Jewish context is another strong point of this study. I loved his book on the Jewish roots of the Eucharist and I would also recommend this wonderfully scholarly but readable book on the Last Supper in which only one section is the discussion of the dating of the Last Supper.
For links to my previous posts on Nisan 16 click here.