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.

Two and a half 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.


  1. Some historians have suggested that because of size of the Passover celebration and the number of lambs that were sacrificed, the sacrificial period had to be extended beyond the period between sunset and darkness on Nisan 14. Extending it back into the daylight hours of Nisan 13 wasn’t an option. The Passover lambs had to be sacrificed on Nisan 14. Moreover, it didn’t make good sense to sacrifice the lambs after dark. The only workable solution was to move the sacrifice to the following afternoon, the sacrificial period observed by the Pharisees.

  2. Reference: Josephus, “The Jewish War” Book 6: Chapter 9: Passage 3: “So these high priests, upon the coming of that feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour till the eleventh, but so that a company not less than ten belong to every sacrifice, (for it is not lawful for them to feast singly by themselves,) and many of us are twenty in a company, found the number of sacrifices was two hundred and fifty-six thousand five hundred;”

  3. Our modern day runs from midnight to midnight. Twelve hours are reckoned between 12 AM & 12 PM and twelve hours between 12 PM & 12 AM. The Jewish day runs from sunset to sunset, 6 PM to 6 PM. Twelve hours are reckoned between 6 PM & 6 AM and twelve hours between 6 AM & 6 PM. Hence 3 PM is called the ninth hour and 5 PM the eleventh hour.