Friday, March 11, 2016

The Passover Puzzle: part 4 of 4


“Now the feast of the Passover and Unleavened Bread was two days off; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth, and kill Him...

“And on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples said to Him, ‘Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?’”  (Mark 14:1, 12)

“So the Roman cohort and the commander, and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year…Annas therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest…They led Jesus therefore from Caiaphas into the Praetorium; and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium in order that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”  (John 18:12-13, 24, 28) 

In discussing the Passover events up to and including the Exodus, it was noted that the Sadducees and the Pharisees held different interpretations of the timeline associated with those events.

The Sadducees believed that the Passover events, including the slaying of lambs and the painting of Hebrew doors, the eating of the Passover meal, the angels pass over of Hebrew homes, the smiting of Egyptians, and the night journey out of Egypt, all took place on Nisan 14.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed that only the slaying of lambs and the painting of Hebrew doors took place on Nisan 14 and the other events, beginning with the Passover meal, occurred the following day, on Nisan 15.

The Sadducees and the Pharisees agreed on only one point.  The Passover lambs were sacrificed on Nisan 14.  This is crucial to understanding the two passages above, taken from Mark’s Gospel.

In Mark 14:1, the author identified the Lords Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread as separate entities.  God’s original intention was that the single day Lords Passover, on Nisan 14, and the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread, beginning on Nisan 15, would be observed as two separate feasts.  However, in Mark 14:12, the author described the two feasts as one celebration.  Indubitably, when he said, “the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed,” he was referring to Nisan 14.

So at what time, on Nisan 14, did Christ’s disciples ask, “Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?”  Was it in the evening at the beginning of Nisan 14, according to the custom of the Sadducees or was it in the afternoon near the end of Nisan 14, according to the tradition of the Pharisees?  Let’s investigate.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke document Christ’s late night arrest after He ate the Passover.  Additional information is revealed in John 18:28: After His arrest and trial before the Sanhedrin, they transferred Him to Pontius Pilate’s palace which served as the governor’s official residence and hall of judgment.  Those who delivered Jesus wouldn’t set foot in the palace.  Why?  Because they didn’t want to defile themselves before they ate the Passover.  It was unlawful for a Jew to come in contact with a Roman or any uncircumcised Gentile prior to eating the Passover.

That additional information, revealed in John 18:28, clarifies the timeline created by the other three Gospels: Christ ate the Passover meal just after dark on Nisan 14.  Later that same night, He was arrested and tried by the Sanhedrin.  Early the next morning, they delivered Him to Pontius Pilate where He was sentenced to death by crucifixion.  He was pronounced dead at 3 PM on Nissan 14.  In the evening following His death, after the sun had set, the day changed to Nisan 15.  It was then that the Pharisees ate the Passover meal according to their tradition.

Therefore, when Christ’s disciples asked Him where they should go to prepare the Passover, it was evening, at the beginning of Nisan 14.  Jesus ate the Passover just after dark, that same night, according to the command of the God of Israel, “…you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt.  And you shall cook it and eat it in the place where the Lord your God chooses.”  (Deuteronomy 16:6-7)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Passover Puzzle: part 3 of 4


At the time of the Exodus, the Hebrews sacrificed their Passover lambs and smeared the blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses in the evening of Nisan 14.  After dark, they ate the Passover while the tenth plague passed over their homes and struck down first born Egyptians.

About five centuries later, Solomon built the First Temple circa 973 BC.  The Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s Temple and the city of Jerusalem in 586 BC.  Surviving Judeans were exiled in Babylon.  After Cyrus the Great released the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, they rebuilt their Temple.  It was completed in 515 BC.  The Second Temple didn’t approach the magnificence of Solomon’s Temple.  However, in 37 BC, Herod the Great was appointed King of the Jews.  To gain favour with his subjects, he began to renovate the Second Temple in 19 BC.  He continued for over a decade until the lavish splendour of the Second Temple rivalled the magnificence of the First.

In the latter part of the Second Temple period, every Jewish male was obliged to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.  Passover lambs were slaughtered at the door of the Temple.  Some of the blood was collected and carried in basins so it could be sprinkled on the altar.  Then the lambs were butchered and conveyed to thousands of community ovens in close proximity to the Temple.  Groups, of no less than ten, roasted their lambs and ate the Passover.  By the time the Passover reached its zenith, just before the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 AD, over 256,000 lambs were sacrificed in a single Passover, according to Josephus.

When the Lord’s Passover was celebrated in homes, the hour or so, between sunset and darkness, was sufficient to slay the Passover lambs.  But as the celebration grew, the sacrificial period was gradually extended.  First it was moved to the following afternoon between 3 PM and 5 PM.  Then it was extended until 6 PM and may have started as early as 12 noon.  Surely it would take several hours to slaughter and butcher tens of thousands of lambs.  With the extended time also came a new interpretation of the phrase “between the evenings.”

As mentioned in part two, the Pharisees adopted the sacrificial period in the afternoon at the end of Nisan 14 while the Sadducees observed the sacrificial period in the evening at the beginning of Nisan 14.

In 30 AD, when Christ was crucified, Caiaphas was the high priest.  He was the son-in-law of an influential aristocrat named Annas, who was a former high priest.  While Annas was undoubtedly a Sadducee, it is more than likely that Caiaphas was a Sadducee as well.  Because the Sadducees ran the Temple, there is a question as to whether the Passover lambs were sacrificed according to the custom of the Sadducees or the more practical tradition of the Pharisees at the time of Christ's crucifixion.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Passover Puzzle: part 2 of 4


The Hasmonean dynasty began in the middle of the second century BC and ended in 37 BC when the Romans appointed Herod the Great, King of the Jews.  Two religious parties emerged from that dynasty, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  While the Pharisees were the larger, more dominant party, many of the Sadducees were wealthy and influential. The Sadducees ran the Temple and were responsible for performing sacrifices during festivals including Passover.  The governing council, called the Sanhedrin, contained members from both parties.  Now the two parties were bitter rivals.  That rivalry reached its boiling point in 88 BC after the country erupted into civil war.  Alexander Janneus, the Hasmonean, hereditary High Priest, was victorious.  He was supported by the Sadducees and opposed by the Pharisees.  In his victory celebration, he crucified 800 Pharisees while he feasted with his concubines.  Prior to their deaths, he cut the throats of their wives and children before their very eyes.

The origin of Rabbis can be traced to the Pharisees.  Before the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, they were known as teachers of the Written Law which was called the Torah.  They determined what the written laws meant and how they should be applied to everyday life.  The details of their determinations were committed to memory and established as oral traditions to be passed down to future generations.  The first written record, called the Talmud, wasn’t created until about 200 AD. 

The Pharisees and the Sadducees disagreed over the timing of the events related to the Lords Passover.  Their disagreement was based on the Hebrew phrase ben ha arbayim which is translated “at twilight” in most Bibles.  This was the time when the Passover lambs were sacrificed. 

Notably, unlike our contemporary day that runs from midnight to midnight, the Jewish day ran from sunset to sunset.  It started in the evening about 6 PM and ended at 6 PM the following evening.

Twilight can be defined as the light diffused over the sky from sunset to dark or, in less common usage, from dark to sunrise.  However, to someone who understands Hebrew, ben ha arbayim literally means “between the evenings.”  This should not be construed as the 24 hour period between sunsets.

The Sadducees believed the phrase, “between the evenings,” meant dusk or the time between sunset and complete darkness.  The first evening referred to the time when the sun sank below the horizon and the second evening referred to the time of total darkness.  That constituted a period from 6 PM to 7:20 PM, at the beginning of Nisan 14.

The Pharisees understood the phrase to mean from mid-afternoon to sunset.  The first evening referred to the time when the sun began to descend and the second evening referred to sunset.  That covered a period from 3 PM to 5 PM (some say 6 PM), at the end of Nisan 14.

The Pharisaic interpretation of the phrase, “between the evenings,” was based on the Torah and the Talmudic traditions.  Conversely, the Sadducees had rejected the oral traditions and based their interpretation solely on the Torah.

Hence, the Sadducees believed that the Passover events, including the slaying of lambs and the painting of Hebrew doors, the eating of the Passover meal, the angels pass over of Hebrew homes, the smiting of Egyptians, and the night journey out of Egypt, all took place on Nisan 14.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed that only the slaying of lambs and the painting of Hebrew doors took place on Nisan 14 and the other events, beginning with the Passover meal, occurred the following day, on Nisan 15.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Passover Puzzle: part 1 of 4


“Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old...And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.  Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.  And they shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs...and you shall eat it in hasteit is the Lords Passover.  For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgmentsI am the Lord.  And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt...

“Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of cattle.  And Pharaoh arose in the night...Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, Rise up, get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel; and go, worship the Lord, as you have said.’”  (Exodus 12:5-8, 11-13, 29-31)

“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the Lords Passover.  Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.”  (Leviticus 23:5-6)

The Diaspora or Jews living outside of Israel celebrate an eight day Passover (Nisan15-22) while Jews living in Israel hold a seven day Passover celebration (Nisan 15-21). The Jewish month of Nisan roughly coincides with our contemporary month of April.  After reading the scriptural passages above, one might ask, “What happened to Nisan 14?  Surely it should be included in the Passover celebration held by the Jews.”