Sergey E. Rysev


The Last Supper in the Light of the Book of Daniel



In the study of the New Testament there still exists a serious problem that comes to the following. According to the synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper of Jesus took place on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed (Mk 14:12, see also Mt 26:17, Lk 22:7) but the Gospel of John claims the Supper was on the day before the Passover (13:1-2). Attempts that were taken to eliminate this contradiction, including the ones that tried to do it by means of the calendar found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, havent brought convincing results.

At first, let us refer to the Old Testament legislation and see what it says about the beginning and duration of the Passover festival. In the first month, on the 14th day of the month at twilight is the Lords Passover. Then on the 15th day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work (Lev 23:5-7). And about the order of offering of the Passover sacrifice, it says this: On the 10th of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers households... You shall keep it until the 14th day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight (Ex 12:3,6).

Now its useful to compare the Old Testaments instructions about the Passover with information given by Josephus in his Antiquities: In the month of Xanthicus, which is by us called Nisan, and is the beginning of our year, on the 14th day of the lunar month, when the sun is in Aries... the law ordained that we should every year slay that sacrifice...which was called the Passover; and so we do celebrate this passover in companies, leaving nothing of what we sacrifice till the day following. The feast of unleavened bread succeeds that of the passover, and falls on the 15th day of the month, and continues seven days... (Ant 3,10,5).

In Josephus explanation, two important details should be taken into account. Firstly, he counts up the days of a month from the new moon. Secondly, he equals the Jewish calendar with Macedonian one. Moreover, such an equation is found constantly in his works. For example, in The Wars of the Jews, Romans seize the Galilean town of Jotapata on the first day of the Macedonian month Panemus (3,7,36), the Jerusalem temple is consumed by fire on the 10th day of the month Lous (6,4,5) and so on. This shows that, in 1st century AD, Jews in their daily life followed the lunisolar Graeco-Macedonian calendar. Using a foreign calendar in Judaea in the period discussed is supported by the Dead Sea Scrolls one of which hurls the following reproach at Jewish authorities: They fix all celebrations in agreement with the celebrations of the nations (Commentary on Hosea, 4Q167 2,16 DSS, p. 330-331).

It can be maintained with sufficient confidence that the official celebration of the Passover, i. e. the calendar day of Nisan, 14, on which the paschal sacrifice was offered, fell on Friday that year, just because the evangelist John repeatedly directs readers attention to this point. Let us examine all significant references to the Passover in his gospel.

The first one is given in the verse 12:1: Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany. If the Passover fell on Friday it means Jesus came to Bethany on the previous Saturday, which corresponds with the data of the Synoptists since Jesus entrance to Jerusalem in the Gospel of John takes place on the next day an episode described by all the evangelists without exclusion (Jn 12:12-15, Mt 21:1-11, Mk 11:1-10, Lk 19:29-38).

The second reference to the Passover in John is directly connected with the Last Supper: Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world... And during supper... (13:1-2). John doesnt say that this supper was the Passover meal (Hebrew seder) while the Synoptists unequivocally point to this circumstance, for example: The disciples went out and came to the city... and they prepared the Passover (Mk 14:16).
Then John recalls the Passover when he describes the events that followed Jesus arrest: ...and they themselves did not enter into the praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover (18:28). Next, the Passover is mentioned when the sentence was passed on Jesus: Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour (19:14).

Finally, the last, indirect reference to the Passover in the Gospel of John is linked with details of the execution: Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away (19:31). The Sabbath is, most probably, called high because it coincided with the first day of Unleavened Bread owing to which Jews had double ground for resting.

Thus, if the Passover (the 14th of Nisan) occurred on Friday that year what impelled Jesus and his disciples to eat the Passover meal the day before? And that the Last Supper took place on Thursday is of no doubt. This is supported not only by the fact that the next day, on which Jesus was crucified, was exactly Friday according to all the Gospels, but also by the counting of days if it is done from the previous Saturday. Here we will rely on the story of Mark who adds one day to the narrative of Matthew, most probably in order to make it more accurate (cf. Mt 21:1-23 and Mk 11:1-27).

On Sunday, as was already mentioned, Jesus solemnly entered Jerusalem and viewed the temple (Mk 21:1-11). The night he spent in Bethany (11:11). He returned to the city on Monday morning, again visited the temple and drove merchants out of it (21:12-19). For comparison, according to Matthew, driving out all those who were buying and selling in the temple took place on the day before (Mt 21:12). On Tuesday Jesus spent all the day in the temple and on the mount of Olives, arguing with the Pharisees and Sadducees and instructing his disciples (Mt 21:23-25:46, Mk 11:27-13:37). Having described the events of Tuesday, Mark indicates that the festival of the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days away (14:1), and Matthew even cites the words of Jesus in this connection: You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion (26:2). Our attention is drawn to the words you know suggesting an idea that not everyone at all knew when the Passover should be properly celebrated. In any case, counting the days from the previous Saturday supports the fact that Jesus ate the lamb a day before the official term.

Sometimes the commentators try to explain the discrepancy discussed by differences in calendar issues between two Jewish parties, Pharisees and Sadducees. It is supposed that the Pharisees might celebrate the Passover on one day and the Sadducees on another. But this view can be objected by the following argument: the far less authoritative party of Sadducees would hardly dare to act counter to the Pharisees who dominated in Jewish social and political life of the time. For instance, Josephus reports that whatever the Pharisees do about Divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices, they [ordinary people] perform them according to their direction and when the Sadducees become magistrates... they addict themselves to the notions of the Pharisees, because the multitude would not otherwise bear them (Ant 18,1,3-4). This balance of power corresponds to the situation pictured in the New Testament where the Pharisees are mentioned much more often than the Sadducees.

However the Pharisees had more decisive opponents among Jews. It is quite probable that when Jesus heaped severe reproaches on them (Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites... You blind guides... Mt 23:23-24) he expressed not only his own opinion. It is curious that, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, a similar bitter criticism is cast upon the influential antagonistic group, dwrshi ha-halaqwt, members of which walk in treachery and lies (Commentary on Nahum, 4Q169 2,2 DSS, p. 338-339). Most of the researchers reasonably see the Pharisees behind the above definition although they experience serious difficulties in understanding the meaning of the term itself. Dwrshi ha-halaqwt is most often translated as seekers after smooth things. That is behind this designation there loom out people who are usually called conciliators or conformists those who are ready to make any concessions to sustain their well-being.

The word halaqwt is present in the Old Testament, in particular in chapter 11 of the book of Daniel fragments of which were found in Qumran. In verses 11:32-33, halaqwt is used together with the contrary term maskylym (Heb. wise, insightful ones): By smooth words [Heb. ba-halaqwt] he [the king] will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action. Those who have insight among the people [Heb. maskyley am] will give understanding to the many... Insightful ones are mentioned also in the Dead Sea Scrolls: in the sectarian community, a maskyl fulfilled the duties of an instructor who should instruct and teach all the sons of light about the nature of all the sons of man (Rule of the Community, 1QS 3,13 DSS, p. 74-75).

If we look attentively at the book of Daniel it is seen that chapters 10-12 (dated by the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia 10:1) form a single whole in this book. They themselves belong to a group of chapters that include prophesies about world events and four kingdoms (chap. 2, 7-12). The fourth kingdom, in which the commentators most often see either the kingdom of Seleucids or the Roman Empire, is doubtlessly... Israel. The ten horns, or kings (7:7,24), correspond to the royal dynasty of Hasmoneans, and the three ones pulled out by the roots (7:8) are its last representatives perished after Romans invasion of Palestine. The horn that became larger in appearance than its associates (7:20) and is different from the previous ones (7:24) is the king Herod. It can be also noticed that the beast which personifies the fourth kingdom is already slain (7:11) whereas the other ones are allowed to live for an appointed period of time (7:12). This indicates that chapter 7 of Daniel was written when Jews lost all hopes for revival of Hasmonean dynasty. The king insolent and skilled in intrigue (8:23) whose power will be mighty but not by his own power (8:24) is the same Herod. As to chapter 11, in which successive rulers feature, it speaks about kings from Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties, and about Roman emperors.

We have finally arrived at a curious passage in chapter 10 of Daniel that directly relates to the considered problem of the Last Supper. Verses 10:2-4 say that Daniel fasted for three entire weeks and on the 24th of the first month [Nisan] he was on the bank of the river Tigris. Since Jews count weeks from Sabbath to Sabbath it means 23th and 16th of Nisan were Sabbaths. It follows that the 14th of Nisan was Thursday. According to the apocryphal books of Enoch (14,74) and Jubilees that were also present among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the calendar year should consist of 364 days. For example, the book of Jubilees (6,30-32) indicates: And all the days of the commandment will be 52 weeks of days, and these will make the entire year complete... And command thou [Moses] the children of Israel that they observe the years according to this reckoning 364 days, and these will constitute a complete year. As a result, any Jewish festival had to fall annually on the same day of the week. As a matter of fact, this is seen from the calendar documents of the Qumran community (4Q320-330). However in them the Passover occurs on Tuesday each year. But the calendar of the Qumran community should be considered as a project of a perfect calendar elaborated after the death of Jesus, most probably with assistance of the Pharisees a part of whom joined the community (But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed... Acts 15:5).

Thus, a contingent dating of the Passover in the book of Daniel obviously written by Sadducees was used by the sectarians, i. e. the Essenes, as a kind of temporary guidance. And high regard of this books prophesies by the sectarians is seen from its mention by Jesus at the moment when he uttered his own predictions (Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet... Mt 24:15). Before the Essenes formed a solid organization they presented separate groups of people who disappointed in social life and followed ascetic soothsayers (see Ant 13,11,2; 15,10,5; 17,13,3). Such a view helps to clear up the still debated etymology of the word essaioi or essenoi as it usually written by ancient authors. The answer can be found again in a Josephus work: But in the void place of this garment [the ephod of a high priest] there was inserted a piece of the bigness of a span... called Essen [the breastplate; Heb. hoshen], which in the Greek language signifies the oracle [Greek logion] (Ant 3,7,5).

The initial stage of consolidation of Essenes is reflected in short in chapter 9 of Daniel that speaks about 70 seven-year periods (And one seven-year period [Heb. shavua] will strengthen the covenant for the many... 9:27). It is also described in the above cited passage from chapter 11: Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many... (11:33), and in the introduction to the so-called Damascus Document: ...they were like blind persons and like those who grope for a path over 20 years. And God appraised their deeds... and raised up for them a Teacher of Righteousness... (CD 1,9-11 DSS, p. 550-551; cf. For John came to you in the way of righteousness Mt 21:32). Subsequent events inside the sect, first of all its split, are described, from the position of followers of the Teacher of Righteousness, in the number of texts that were called the Commentaries (1QpHab, 4Q169, 4Q171, etc.).

The Sadducees played a part of educated teachers of the community, which is seen from yet another Qumran text, the Instruction: will be exceedingly understanding. And from all your teachers [Heb. maskylichah] get more understanding... (4Q418 frag. 81,17 DSS, p. 872-873). Working as enlighteners, they simultaneously incited the Essenes preparing them for a rebellion against Roman authorities, which required conspiracy. As a result, we have the allegoric language of the book of Daniel, numerous pseudonyms in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and seemingly strange instructions of Jesus before the alternative Passover meal: ...when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters (Lk 22:10). So the Last Supper can be rightfully called the mystical or secret (as it is done in the Eastern Orthodox Church) not only because of the mystery of Eucharist established in it.

Bickerman E. J. Chronology of the Ancient World, London, 1969.
DSS. - The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (ed. by Florentino G. Martinez & Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar). Vol. 1,2. Leiden, 1997, 1998.
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (transl. by W. Whiston).
Josephus, The Wars of the Jews (transl. by W. Whiston).
New American Standard Bible.





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