The Last Days of Jesus: A Final “Messianic” Meal

James Tabor examines gospel accounts of the last supper

This article was originally published on Dr. James Tabor’s popular Taborblog, a site that discusses and reports on “‘All things biblical’ from the Hebrew Bible to Early Christianity in the Roman World and Beyond.” Bible History Daily republished the article with consent of the author. Visit Taborblog today, or scroll down to read a brief bio of James Tabor below.


 

tabor1On Wednesday Jesus began to make plans for Passover. He sent two of his disciples into the city to prepare a large second-­story guest room where he could gather secretly and safely with his inner group. He knew someone with such a room available and he had prearranged for its use. Christian pilgrims today are shown a Crusader site known as the Cenacle or “Upper Room” on the Western Hill of Jerusalem that the Crusaders misnamed “Mount Zion.” This area was part of the “Upper City” where Herod had built his palace. It is topographically higher than even the Temple Mount. It was the grandest section of ancient Jerusalem with broad streets and plazas and the palatial homes of the wealthy. Bargil Pixner and others have also argued that the southwest edge of Mt Zion contained an “Essene Quarter,” with more modest dwellings and its own “Essene” Gate mentioned by Josephus, see his article “Jerusalem’s Essene Gateway,” here.

Jesus tells his two disciples to “follow a man carrying a jug of water,” who will enter the city, and then enter a certain house. The only water source was in the southern part of the lower city of Jerusalem, the recently uncovered Pool of Siloam. This mysterious man apparently walked up the slope of Mt Zion and entered the city–likely at the Essene Gate. The house is large enough to have an upper story and likely belonged to a wealthy sympathizer of Jesus, perhaps associated with the Essenes. Later this property became the HQ of the Jesus movement led by James the brother of Jesus, see Pixner’s article “The Church of the Apostles Found on Mt Zion” here.

Later Christian tradition put Jesus’ last meal with his disciples on Thursday evening and his crucifixion on Friday. We now know that is one day off. Jesus’ last meal was Wednesday night, and he was crucified on Thursday, the 14th of the Jewish month Nisan. The Passover meal itself was eaten Thursday night, at sundown, as the 15th of Nisan began. Jesus never ate that Passover meal. He had died at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

 


 
In the DVD lecture series Jerusalem Discoveries From The Time of Jesus, author James Tabor reviews some of the most exciting and controversial archaeological discoveries from Jerusalem in recent years. In his characteristically accessible style, Tabor examines questions surrounding the James ossuary, the Talpiot tomb and what the Mt. Zion excavations are revealing about the Jerusalem that Jesus knew.
 

 

The confusion arose because all the gospels say that there was a rush to get his body off the cross and buried before sundown because the “Sabbath” was near. Everyone assumed the reference to the Sabbath had to be Saturday—so the crucifixion must have been on a Friday. However, as Jews know, the day of Passover itself is also a “Sabbath” or rest day—no matter what weekday it falls on. In the year a.d. 30, Friday the 15th of the Nisan was also a Sabbath—so two Sabbaths occurred back to back—Friday and Saturday. Matthew seems to know this as he says that the women who visited Jesus’ tomb came early Sunday morning “after the Sabbaths”—the original Greek is plural (Matthew 28:1).

As is often the case, the gospel of John preserves a more accurate chronology of what went on. John specifies that the Wednesday night “last supper” was “before the festival of Passover.” He also notes that when Jesus’ accusers delivered him to be crucified on Thursday morning they would not enter ­Pilate’s courtyard because they would be defiled and would not be able to eat the Passover that evening (John 18:28). John knows that the Jews would be eating their traditional Passover, or Seder meal, Thursday evening.

Reading Mark, Matthew, and Luke one can get the impression that the “last supper” was the Passover meal. Some have even argued that Jesus might have eaten the Passover meal a day early—knowing ahead of time that he would be dead. But the fact is, Jesus ate no Passover meal in 30 CE. When the Passover meal began at sundown on Thursday, Jesus was dead. He had been hastily put in a tomb until after the festival when a proper funeral could be arranged.

There are some hints outside of ­John’s gospel that such was the case. In Luke, for example, Jesus tells his followers at that last meal: “I earnestly wanted to eat this Passover with you before I suffer but I ­won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:14–16). A later copyist of the manuscript inserted the word “again” to make it say “I ­won’t eat it again,” since the tradition had developed that Jesus did observe Passover that night and changed its observance to the Christian Eucharist or Mass. Another indication that this is not a Passover meal is that all our records report that Jesus shared “a loaf of bread” with his disciples, using the Greek word (artos) that refers to an ordinary loaf—not to the unleavened flatbread or matzos that Jews eat with their Passover meals. Also, when Paul refers to the “last supper” he significantly does not say “on the night of Passover,” but rather “on the night Jesus was betrayed,” and he also mentions the “loaf of bread” (1 Corinthians 11:23). If this meal had been the Passover, Paul would have surely wanted to say that, but he does not.

As late as Wednesday morning Jesus had still intended to eat the Passover on Thursday night. When he sent his two disciples into the city he instructed them to begin to make the preparations. His enemies had determined not to try to arrest him during the feast “lest there be a riot of the people” (Mark 14:2). That meant he was likely “safe” for the next week, since the “feast” included the seven days of Unleavened Bread that followed the Passover meal. Passover is the most family-­oriented festival in Jewish tradition. As head of his household Jesus would have gathered with his mother, his sisters, the women who had come with him from Galilee, perhaps some of his close supporters in Jerusalem, and his Council of Twelve. It is inconceivable that a Jewish head of a household would eat the Passover segregated from his family with twelve male disciples. This was no Passover meal. Something had gone terribly wrong so that all his Passover plans were changed.

 


 
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Jesus had planned a special meal Wednesday evening alone with his Council of Twelve in the upper room of the guesthouse in the lower city. The events of the past few days had brought things to a crisis and he knew the confrontation with the authorities was unavoidable. In the coming days he expected to be arrested, delivered to the Romans, and possibly crucified. He had intentionally chosen the time and the place—Passover in Jerusalem—to confront the powers that be. There was much of a private nature to discuss with those upon whom he most depended in the critical days ahead. He firmly believed that if he and his followers offered themselves up, placing their fate in ­God’s hands, that the Kingdom of God would manifest itself. He had intentionally fulfilled two of Zechariah’s prophecies—riding into the city as King on the foal, and symbolically removing the “traders” from the “house of God.”

At some point that day Jesus had learned that Judas Iscariot, one of his trusted Council of Twelve, had struck a deal with his enemies to have Jesus arrested whenever there was an opportunity to get him alone, away from the crowds. How Jesus knew of the plot we are not told but during the meal he said openly, “One of you who is eating with me will betray me” (Mark 14:18). His life seemed to be unfolding according to some scriptural plan. Had not David written in the Psalms, “Even my bosom friend, in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). History has a strange way of repeating itself. Over a hundred years earlier, the Teacher of Righteousness who led the Dead Sea Scroll community had quoted that very Psalm when one of his inner “Council” had betrayed him.

When Judas Iscariot realized that the plan for the evening included a retreat for prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane after the meal, he abruptly left the group. This secluded spot, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from the Old City, offered just the setting he had promised to deliver. Some have tried to interpret ­Judas’s motives in a positive light. Perhaps he quite sincerely wanted Jesus to declare himself King and take power, thinking the threat of an arrest might force his hand. We simply ­don’t know what might have been in his mind. The gospels are content simply to call him “the Betrayer” and his name is seldom mentioned without this description.

Ironically our earliest account of that last meal on Wednesday night comes from Paul, not from any of our gospels. In a letter to his followers in the Greek city of Corinth, written around a.d. 54, Paul passes on a tradition that he says he “received” from Jesus: “Jesus on the night he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’ ” (1 Corinthians 11:23–25).

These words, which are familiar to Christians as part of the Eucharist or the Mass, are repeated with only slight variations in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. They represent the epitome of Christian faith, the pillar of the Christian Gospel: all humankind is saved from sins by the sacrificed body and blood of Jesus. What is the historical likelihood that this tradition, based on what Paul said he “received” from Jesus, represents what Jesus said at that last meal? As surprising as it might sound, there are some legitimate problems to consider.

tabor2At every Jewish meal, bread is broken, wine is shared, and blessings are said over each—but the idea of eating human flesh and drinking blood, even symbolically, is completely alien to Judaism. The Torah specifically forbids the consuming of blood, not just for Israelites but anyone. Noah and his descendants, as representatives of all humanity, were first given the prohibition against “eating blood” (Genesis 9:4). Moses had warned, “If anyone of the house of Israel or the Gentiles who reside among them eats any blood I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut that person off from the people” (Leviticus 17:10). James, the brother of Jesus, later mentions this as one of the “necessary requirements” for non-­Jews to join the Nazarene community—they are not to eat blood (Acts 15:20). These restrictions concern the blood of animals. Consuming human flesh and blood was not forbidden, it was simply inconceivable. This general sensitivity to the very idea of “drinking blood” precludes the likelihood that Jesus would have used such
symbols.

The Essene community at Qumran described in one of its scrolls a “messianic banquet” of the future at which the Priestly Messiah and the Davidic Messiah sit together with the community and bless their sacred meal of bread and wine, passing it to the community of believers, as a celebration of the Kingdom of God. They would surely have been appalled at any symbolism suggesting the bread was human flesh and the wine was blood. Such an idea simply could not have come from Jesus as a Jew.

So where does this language originate? If it first surfaces in Paul, and he did not in fact get it from Jesus, then what was its source? The closest parallels are certain Greco-­Roman magical rites. We have a Greek papyrus that records a love spell in which a male pronounces certain incantations over a cup of wine that represents the blood that the Egyptian god Osiris had given to his consort Isis to make her feel love for him. When his lover drinks the wine, she symbolically unites with her beloved by consuming his blood. In another text the wine is made into the flesh of Osiris. The symbolic eating of “flesh” and drinking of “blood” was a magical rite of union in Greco-­Roman culture.
 


 
Read Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder? by Jonathan Klawans online for free in Bible History Daily as it appeared in Bible Review.
 

 

We have to consider that Paul grew up in the Greco-­Roman culture of the city of Tarsus in Asia Minor, outside the land of Israel. He never met or talked to Jesus. The connection he claims to Jesus is a “visionary” one, not Jesus as a flesh-and-blood human being walking the earth. See my book, Paul and Jesus for a full elaboration of the implications of Paul’s visionary revelations. When the Twelve met to replace Judas, after Jesus had been killed, they insisted that to be part of their group one had to have been with Jesus from the time of John the Baptizer through his crucifixion (Acts 1:21–22). Seeing visions and hearing voices were not accepted as qualifications for an apostle.

Second, and even more telling, the gospel of John recounts the events of that last Wednesday night meal but there is absolutely no reference to these words of Jesus instituting this new ceremony of the Eucharist. If Jesus in fact had inaugurated the practice of eating bread as his body, and drinking wine as his blood at this “last supper” how could John possibly have left it out? What John writes is that Jesus sat down to the supper, by all indications an ordinary Jewish meal. After supper he got up, took a basin of water and a cloth, and began to wash his disciples’ feet as an example of how a Teacher and Master should act as a servant—even to his disciples. Jesus then began to talk about how he was to be betrayed and John tells us that Judas abruptly left the meal.

Mark’s gospel is very close in its theological ideas to those of Paul. It seems likely that Mark, writing a decade after ­Paul’s account of the last supper, inserts this “eat my body” and “drink my blood” tradition into his gospel, influenced by what Paul has claimed to have received. Matthew and Luke both base their narratives wholly upon Mark, and Luke is an unabashed advocate of Paul as well. Everything seems to trace back to Paul. As we will see, there is no evidence that the original Jewish followers of Jesus, led by Jesus’ brother James, headquartered in Jerusalem, ever practiced any rite of this type. Like all Jews they did sanctify wine and bread as part of a sacred meal, and they likely looked back to the “night he was betrayed,” remembering that last meal with Jesus.

What we really need to resolve this matter is an independent source of some type, one that is Christian but not influenced by Paul, that might shed light on the original practice of Jesus’ followers. Fortunately, in 1873 in a library at Constantinople, just such a text turned up. It is called the Didache and dates to the early 2nd century CE. It had been mentioned by early church writers but had disappeared until a Greek priest, Father Bryennios, discovered it in an archive of old manuscripts quite by accident. The title Didache in Greek means “Teaching” and its full title is “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” It is a type of early Christian “instruction manual” probably written for candidates for Christian baptism to study. It has lots of ethical instructions and exhortations but also sections on baptism and the Eucharist—the sacred meal of bread and wine. And that is where the surprise comes. It offers the following blessings over wine and bread:

With respect to the Eucharist you shall give thanks as follows. First with respect to the cup: “We give you thanks our Father for the holy vine of David, your child which you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.” And with respect to the bread: “We give you thanks our Father for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.”

Notice there is no mention of the wine representing blood or the bread representing flesh. And yet this is a record of the early Christian Eucharist meal! This text reminds us very much of the descriptions of the sacred messianic meal in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here we have a messianic celebration of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah and the life and knowledge that he has brought to the community. Evidently this community of Jesus’ followers knew nothing about the ceremony that Paul advocates. If ­Paul’s practice had truly come from Jesus surely this text would have included it.

There is another important point in this regard. In Jewish tradition it is the cup of wine that is blessed first, then the bread. That is the order we find here in the Didache. But in ­Paul’s account of the ­“Lord’s Supper” he has Jesus bless the bread first, then the cup of wine—just the reverse. It might seem an unimportant detail until one examines ­Luke’s account of the words of Jesus at the meal. Although he basically follows the tradition from Paul, unlike Paul Luke reports first a cup of wine, then the bread, and then another cup of wine! The bread and the second cup of wine he interprets as the “body” and “blood” of Jesus. But with respect to the first cup—in the order one would expect from Jewish tradition—there is nothing said about it representing “blood.” Rather Jesus says, “I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom comes” (Luke 22:18). This tradition of the first cup, found now only in Luke, is a leftover clue of what must have been the original tradition before the Pauline version was inserted, now confirmed by the Didache.
 


 
Read more posts by James Tabor in Bible History Daily:

That Other “King of the Jews”

Can A Pre-Christian Version of the Book of Revelation Be Recovered?

The “Strange” Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Why It Makes All the Difference

The Making of a Messiah
 


 
Understood in this light, this last meal makes historical sense. Jesus told his closest followers, gathered in secret in the Upper Room, that he will not share another meal with them until the Kingdom of God comes. He knows that Judas will initiate events that very night, leading to his arrest. His hope and prayer is that the next time they sit down together to eat, giving the traditional Jewish blessing over wine and bread—the Kingdom of God will have come.

Since Jesus met only with his Council of Twelve for that final private meal, then James as well as Jesus’ other three brothers would have been present. This is confirmed in a lost text called the Gospel of the Hebrews that was used by Jewish-­Christians who rejected ­Paul’s teachings and authority. It survives only in a few quotations that were preserved by Christian writers such as Jerome. In one passage we are told that James the brother of Jesus, after drinking from the cup Jesus passed around, pledged that he too would not eat or drink again until he saw the kingdom arrive. So here we have textual evidence of a tradition that remembers James as being present at the last meal.

In the gospel of John there are cryptic references to James. Half a dozen times John mentions a mysterious unnamed figure that he calls “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The two are very close; in fact this unnamed disciple is seated next to Jesus either at his right or left hand. He leaned back and put his head on Jesus’ breast during the meal (John 13:23). He is the one to whom Jesus whispers that Judas is the betrayer. Even though tradition holds that this is John the fisherman, one of the sons of Zebedee, it makes much better sense that such intimacy was shared between Jesus and his younger brother James. After all, from the few stories we have about John son of Zebedee, he has a fiery and ambitious personality—Jesus had nicknamed him and his brother the “sons of Thunder.” They are the two that had tried to obtain the two chief seats on the Council of Twelve, one asking for the right hand, the other the left. On another occasion they asked Jesus for permission to call down fire from heaven to consume a village that had not accepted their preaching (Luke 9:54). On both occasions Jesus had rebuked them. The image we get of John son of Zebedee is quite opposite from the tender intimacy of the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” No matter how ingrained the image might be in Christian imagination, it makes no sense to imagine John son of Zebedee seated next to Jesus, and leaning on his breast.

It seems to me that the evidence points to James the brother of Jesus being the most likely candidate for this mysterious unnamed disciple. Later, just before Jesus’ death, the gospel of John tells us that Jesus put the care of his mother into the hands of this “disciple whom he loved” (John 19:26–27). How could this possibly be anyone other than James his brother, who was now to take charge of the family as head of the household?

Late that night, after the meal and its conversations, Jesus led his band of eleven disciples outside the lower city, across the Kidron Valley, to a thick secluded grove of olive trees called Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Judas knew the place well because Jesus often used it as a place of solitude and privacy to meet with his disciples (John 18:2). Judas had gone into the city to alert the authorities of this rare opportunity to confront Jesus at night and away from the crowds.

It was getting late and Jesus’ disciples were tired and drowsy. Sleep was the last thing on Jesus’ mind, and he was never to sleep again. His all-­night ordeal was about to begin. He began to feel very distressed, fearful, and deeply grieved. He wanted to pray for strength for the trials that he knew would soon begin. Mark tells us that he prayed that if possible the “cup would be removed from him” (Mark 14:36). Jesus urged his disciples to pray with him but the meal, the wine, and the late hour took their toll. They all fell asleep.

 


 
Dr. James Tabor is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he is professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism. Since earning his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1981, Tabor has combined his work on ancient texts with extensive field work in archaeology in Israel and Jordan, including work at Qumran, Sepphoris, Masada, Wadi el-Yabis in Jordan. Over the past decade he has teamed up with with Shimon Gibson to excavate the “John the Baptist” cave at Suba, the “Tomb of the Shroud” discovered in 2000, Mt Zion and, along with Rami Arav, he has been involved in the re-exploration of two tombs in East Talpiot including the controversial “Jesus tomb.” Tabor is the author of the popular Taborblog, and several of his recent posts have been featured in Bible History Daily as well as the Huffington Post. His latest book, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity has become a immediately popular with specialists and non-specialists alike. You can find links to all of Dr. Tabor’s web pages, books, and projects at jamestabor.com.

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  1. JOHN says

    Interesting article Dr. Tabor. Don’t always agree with you, but you always give the reader something to think about – I may have to rethink John’s chronology (of the meal and crucifixion – that Jesus was crucified on Thur. rather than Fri.) as being the literal chronology with the Synoptics being “spiritual” if you will.

  2. terrie says

    But what of the passage in John 6:53-66? I am not a scholar by any means but the many years I have read and studied, these words by Jehoshua puzzled me and gave me much pause knowing Jehoshua’s Jewishness and Jehovah’s explicit command to not drink blood. Along with the Catholic churches taking the words of the body and blood of Jehoshua literally in their sacraments, your article has given me something to ponder concerning this perplexity.

  3. Paul says

    If this is an Essenian tradition, wouldn’t the drawing of water from the Pool of Siloam connect this with Melchizedek king of Salem?
    http://www.gnosis,org/library/commelc.htm
    The recently discovered fortress guarding the Gihon Spring that is said to have been the largest would have provided adequate security to be called Salem=Peace in the time of Abraham.

  4. Pat says

    I have read other studies that said the last supper was on a Tuesday evening and Jesus was cut off in mid week on Wednesday. He was dead for three days and nights then resurrected Saturday evening. The tomb was discovered empty on Sunday morning. The basis for Sunday worship assumed Jesus rose on Sunday not on the Sabbath Saturday. The study says this took place 31AD not 30 AD.

  5. Skip says

    I think it is certainly time for Dr. Tabor to “out himself” and publicly admit that he is not a believing Christian.

  6. N.V. says

    Does all of this really matter ? The last supper is not that important as the teaching of Jesus is what matters. Taking of the wine and bread is symbolic to remind us to remember and follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus. Even as to the day He was on the Cross ; Just remember God’s promise . We are taught to love one another . How is that now today ? We cannot just believe IN Him ; We MUST believe Him.

  7. Isjacob says

    I am confused. Maybe I am not a Jewish and do not understand the fests clearly. In Mt26:17 and Mk14:12 state that ‘on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” ‘. Then they have the last supper on that evening. Therefore, which day is the first day of the Unleavened Bread? Is it on the evening of Nissan 13 or 14?

  8. James says

    Just a few comments…thanks for this initial feedback. I appreciate it. @Terrie, most scholars would consider the tradition in John 6 a later development in the Johannine community and not verbatim teachings from the lips of Jesus. My article was trying to get at the “historical Jesus” on the night he was betrayed, etc. @Pat, that is an alternative view made very popular by Bullinger and then Herbert Armstrong’s WCG. I think the year is wrong, and the dates don’t work out. @Skip, I don’t know what relevance my “faith” would have to this discussion. Work on the historical Jesus is done by folks of all persuasions, the relevant question is evidence, arguments, and method, not one’s personal faith. @Isjacob, it is confusing! Read all the links and also there is more here: http://jamestabor.com/2013/03/29/jesus-died-on-a-thursday-not-on-friday/ and http://jamestabor.com/2013/03/24/tonights-the-night-the-last-supper-and-passover/. The question is whether we favor the Synoptics or John and why? They do indeed say different things.

  9. Skip says

    Well James, it seems that many of your proposed ideas are base on assumptions and innuendo with, as purpose, the de-bunking of the Gospels. Very Richard Dawkins in it’s flavor. Jesus did many things that were ” against the norm” in the Jewish world of that time, so to discredit the drinking of his blood in the literal context holds no weight. Symbolism. Jesus told Peter that he would surely drink of His cup, but that doesn’t mean the actual cup which Jesus physically drank from.
    I do, however, totally agree with the idea that the Last Supper took place on the Wednesday.
    As to why they say different things?..different perspectives. Take for example the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. John’s perspective is from Jerusalem going to meet the festive band whilst the Synoptics afford a viewpoint of coming into Jerusalem.
    Unfortunately we often get partial conversations, scenes cut short, works not included and have to make do with what we have. John states clearly at the end of his Gospel that there were so many other things that we done that they could not possibly be included.

  10. Paul says

    Sorry, I had incorectly typed the link to the Dead Sea Scroll about Melchizedek:
    http://www.gnosis.org/library/commelc.htm
    The Essenian connection is particularly fascinating and it may explain why Jesus’ brother who led the first Christian community in Jerusalem was called “James the Just” in Galatians 1:19. This would place James the Just (synonomous with ‘righteous’ which is ‘zadok’ in Hebrew) in the position like that of the Zadokite priests; “You are a priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4).

  11. James says

    Thanks for your comment but I can’t agree Skip. It has nothing to do with “debunking,” so much as critical reading of sources and trying to get at “best evidence.” In other words, there is a method to the “madness.” See http://jamestabor.com/2013/05/31/picking-and-choosing-how-scholars-read-the-gospels/ and here: http://jamestabor.com/2014/03/16/do-historians-exclude-the-supernatural-2/. Others can freely disagree but to be part of the academic enterprise you have to make your own better arguments, based on the texts, etc. What one believes in terms of Jesus should not really come into play–one should at least try to be objective, as in studying any other ancient texts (say the DSS–you would not have to “believe” in the Yachad or their Teacher of Righteousness to try to understand the ideas in the texts) an objectivity as much as possible. I consider it incomprehensible that Jesus spoke even allegorically of eating his flesh and drinking blood. It does not fit the Jewish culture or the language of the times. I go into it more here: http://jamestabor.com/2013/12/15/eat-my-body-drink-my-blood-did-jesus-really-say-this/. I think the words in the Synoptics likely came from Paul–and he says he got them “from the Lord,” not from tradition. One is free to believe what Paul reported he got from Jesus is historical fact, but I have my doubts. It is no innuendo but just good healthy skepticism about such visionary claims by Paul, over against the Jewish culture we know. And then there is the Didache! This is surely the smoking gun. A Eucharist, clearly Christian, but with none of these Pauline influences!

  12. DAVID says

    Did I miss the discussion on 30 CE vs 33 CE? I know we are off on the calendar year based on archeological work with Herod, but what is the argument for 30 CE? Are you saying Christ was 30 or ascribing the year to 30 CE , Christ being 33?

  13. Rob says

    Mary Magdalene is alive and well in Cincinnati; answers to the name of Schneider.

  14. James says

    On 30 or 33 CE I would say look at Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology. He covers ALL the evidence on all sides, of that and other dates that have been proposed. To me and many other scholars who work in the period 30CE is the best date.

  15. Paul says

    The blessing over the cup of wine quoted in the Didache that says, “for the holy vine of David, your child, which you made known to us through Jesus your child,” may even have antecedents in Rabbinical tradition. In the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 93a, the Judahite king Hezekiah is is portrayed as a model for a messianic leader, but because he did not sing songs and praises to the Lord like David, he was disqualified:
    “Immediately the earth opened and said before Him: ‘Master of the universe! I will sing a song before You in place of that righteous man, and you will make him the Messiah.’ It opened and sang a song before Him, as it is stated: ‘From the uttermost ends of the earth we have heard songs: Glory to the righteous!’” (Isaiah 24:16).
    Perhaps this is why some Pharisees wanted Jesus to control the people who were singing praises during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to which Jesus replied, “I tell you if they keep silent, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).
    In Genesis 49:11 it is said about the tribe of Judah; “He tethers his donkey to the vine,” and it is known that Jerusalem held the position as the leading city of the territory of Judah since the time of Abraham (18th century B.C.E.) and during Hezekiah’s time (late 8th to early 7th century B.C.E.) Jerusalem was the leader of an alliance of four other Judahite cities which served as administration centers. They were “tethered to the vine” in respect to the wine-producing industry that dedicated their jars with the royal stamp,”to the king.”
    Similarily, the apostle James’ position as leader of the Jerusalem church gave him a royal status since the early church was tethered to the pre-existing community of Essenes with its elaborately worked out predictions of a Messianic banquet mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

  16. Scott says

    Sir Isaac Newton said 33 or 34 AD. How does Tabor get 30? The 15th of Tiberius as Jesus gets baptized leads us to 29 AD, and 3.5 years of preaching before being executed. 33 AD. As far as symbolism, how do you explain the sharing of a sacrificial lamb being EATEN? But the emphasis was on Jesus giving his blood and body in sacrifice. He willingly gave up his own body/blood when 12 legions of angels were there if he called for them. He sacrificed himself. Neither Romans nor Jews offered him in sacrifice. They offered him up as a criminal. But he was innocent of those bogus charges. We give evidence of accepting that sacrifice offered by Jesus for us, by accepting the wine and bread as tokens of acceptance of his sacrifice to repay what Adam has forfeited willingly. To try to claim cannibalism is utterly absurd and dishonest. Jesus loved to use the shock value. So did Jehovah thru Ezekiel in chapter 23.
    There is so much crap in this speculative article. I’ve read better in the National Enquirer!

  17. Scott says

    Not to mention, Jesus was intended to be the sacrificial passover lamb for all mankind. as such, he was to be slaughtered on the day that began the night before, of the 14th. The meal was readied to be cooked and eaten on the 15th in the evening, since the next day, they would be leaving Egypt in a hurry. You changed the year so you could change the day and deny any possibility of Jesus’ life sacrificed for mankind by being the lamb on the 14th, on a Friday, as tradition has always held to. Am I not right? You know I am!

  18. Robert says

    Really? And on what conversion calendar does Nisan 14 fall on a Thursday? …30 CE or years prior to or following 30 CE? My research indicates that it doesn’t. But then, scholarship has a way of finding sources that suit all types of self-indulgent need.

    I believe that Alan Millard has said it best in the May/June 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review – although, perhaps, not for the way that I have chosen to appreciate his words. Quoting in paraphrase: “At least seven different readings have been proposed by as many epigrapher’s, … including some of the world’s leading scholars in the field. Most read left to right; but at least one… reads right to left. One scholar claims it could be either. And of course different scholars, equally eminent, identify the same letters differently.”

    Dr. Tabor’s interpretation of his reading of the Gospels is off-base. Besides, Jesus was crucified in 26 CE. But, that is another story complicated in the Gospel of Luke.

  19. Glen says

    Tabor makes statements like “However, as Jews know, the day of Passover itself is also a ‘Sabbath’” and “Like all Jews they did….” Ordinarily if a person says such things, we can assume they never knew any Jews in real life. But since it’s Tabor, let’s just agree that (unless he’s lying outright) his ignorance of Jews and Judaism is deep.

  20. James says

    @Glen, why be insulting and nasty. But to your point, all the Jews I know are aware of Yom Tov days even if they are not observant. And even in Israel today things shut down on Yom Tov days. It would be like Americans not knowing 4th or July or Thanksgiving are national holidays, however observed.

  21. James says

    On the dating question there are many proposals, and I mention again Fingegan’s work, which surveys them all, ancient and modern. I am many others are convinced that 30 CE has the best evidence. On the Hillel calendar the 15th of Nisan is never ever on a Thursday due to adjustments and postponements that are made but in 2nd Temple times such was not the case, but the date was determined by the new moon.

  22. Mark says

    I’m curious why the Didache being such a late document is given priority over John 6. The best dating of both documents I have seen have them about the same age. Also, your appeal to the Didache is an argument from silence. Since it was much later than Paul or the Synoptics, you would expect it to be contra blood/flesh formula if this was such a problem. It seems more likely to me, that the blood/flesh aspect was one of many facets to early Christian teaching on communion.

  23. Richard says

    A great article. An interesting and fruitful read. I think that your evidenced interpretation of the texts supports what every true follower of the teachings of Jesus ‘knows’ from what they feel; the Eucharist is an uncomfortable experience for many people attending services. The eating of flesh and drinking of blood, even symbolically seems unnatural to human beings. I’m of the opinion that if the texts we read don’t support our ‘feelings’ / ‘natural spiritual inclinations’ then the texts must be erroneous. I’ve passed from atheism through orthodox Christianity and into a personal religious theological position and largely because rituals,like the Eucharist, seem to grate against the grain of my natural human inclinations. I am grateful for the insight you give on this as it supports my own personal view that much of what we read in any Holy book needs to be questioned and put to the test. I for one do not believe Jesus to be the Hebrew Messiah nor do I think him the son on Jehovah nor the Christ and when I read articles like the one above I am more convinced that there are too many good arguments suggesting that the Gospels, along with all Holy books, are the organized and shaped interpretations of priest figures, shaping religious orthodoxy with their human hands. Thanks again; I’ll be back to read more of what you have to say.

  24. Emmanuel says

    I am perplexed and in extreme cases annoyed at what some so called christians publish about christ. Whether the last supper was on wednesday or thursday is not of much importance as the message and the redemptive work of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus died for the sins of mankind. That’s what matters. Dont you all know that the wisdom of the world is foolishness before God? Think well!

  25. Robert says

    I thank Dr. Tabor for his response. I understand the focus of Dr. Tabor and “many others” on 30 CE for the death of Jesus – the ministry of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus as confined by Luke 3:1-3 – but as Dr. Tabor and many others know Luke was not a contemporary of Jesus, nor was the book of Luke the first gospel to be written.

    Jesus pointed back to Daniel the prophet. If Jesus would make reference to Daniel then I for one am willing to believe that Daniel actually existed, and, therefore, that the prophecies of Daniel would be signs for us to observe throughout their un-foldings. The Word (of God) went forth from Babylon with Ezra, and he taught the word of God to people people. 483 years later Jesus died to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity; the second unfolding of Daniel 9:24. The third unfolding, following the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 [when] the sanctuary shall be cleansed… To bring in everlasting righteousness…is also a sign for us. Jesus wanted us to be observant. He pointed at Daniel to provide a clue for us to follow. I believe therefore, that the prophecies found in the book of Daniel have meaning for us, now, as they did during the time of Jesus. The Bible is about the word of God, not the word of several kings. Ezra by the protection of God carried the word forward. That, + 483 years, equals 26 CE. Yes, I also believe I know the occurrence that initiated the clock for Daniel 8:14.

    Respectfully,

  26. daSilva says

    I have a question. If the “disciple whom he loved” is a blood brother of Jesus and son of Mary, why Jesus had to declare he should take care of her? Wasn’t it obvious that the younger brother would assume the family’s sustenance? The declaration only makes sense if Jesus charges someone not of the family to this role.

  27. arthur says

    I believe that the first day of the week (Sunday) was celebrated as the Lord’s Day by the earliest of Christians, to commemorate the day of the Resurrection of Jesus. This doesn’t line up with the timeline that you’ve presented.


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