A low table set with food as it probably looked in New Testament times for the Passover
When did the last supper happen? You’ll doubtless say Thursday night, and the Crucifixion was on Friday. But consider the following from a printed lecture by Dr. Jim Fleming called “The Context of Holy Week”:
There is thus strong evidence…that both the Last Supper and the Crucifixion occurred on Passover. Yet, clearly the 2 events were on 2 separate days…. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, no written source…indicated that Passover was observed more than one day a week. The Dead Sea Scrolls…confirm that the Qumran community observed Passover on Tuesday night…. For the temple calendar, a feast can be any day of the week, depending on that year’s calendar. But Qumran never had a feast on Sabbath…had very strict Sabbath laws.
Now consider what had to transpire for the Last Supper to be on Thursday night.
There is a 4-6 hour Passover meal beginning at sunset…went to Gethsemane, probably around midnight…Peter, James and John would try their best…pray awhile before they fell asleep. Then there were 6 inquiries, all with witnesses, before 9 am…why were all these priests doing this…when they were supposed to be having Passover? …After the Jewish inquiries, there were 3 Roman trials…. Then followed the negotiations for Barabbas…Jesus was scourged, carried the cross, and was on the cross at 9 am…. Add to this the legal requirement…that there must be at least 24 hours between the arrest and the verdict…. Another thing that would bother a Jew…would be having a trial on the eve of a feast or the eve of a Sabbath…if this was Friday morning, it was the eve of both a feast and the Sabbath.
If the Last Supper was on Tuesday, it all fits better. For the final week of Jesus, there are events recorded for Sunday (Triumphal Entry), Monday (fig tree cursed, temple cleansed and John 12:20-50), and Tuesday (preparation for the Passover). About the 3 Jewish inquiries that night, they
were to see if there was enough evidence to hold him. They decided there was, that they should try him. So they waited at least 24 hours…he was taken to the Sanhedrin…Pilate…. There is evidence in the Gospel that there was a night between the 1st time Jesus was with…Pilate and the 2nd time: His wife’s dream.
Now backing up to the conclusions I was trying to draw while summarizing about the Essenes in last week’s blog, from my same source. I said one unifying factor that distinguished Essenes from other Jews was their solar calendar. A second unifying factor was their founder whom they always called “the Teacher of Righteousness.” Besides these, there were many discrepancies preventing a simplification of what the Essenes were like, and whether they wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. In a context about Christ’s final week, this summary about the Essenes was critical.
A part of the difficulty may be too ready acceptance of Josephus’s over-simplifying division of the Jews into Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes…there were many more than 3 groups among Second-Temple Jews…. Trying to apply Josephus’s 3 labels…is like trying to use only the categories “Catholic,” “Protestant,” and “Jew” to understand every shade of religious opinion in the United States in the late 1990s. Which one was David Koresh, leader of the…group at Waco? …if forced, you would probably say “Protestant”—but such a label would prove singularly unhelpful…. The same may well be true of the Teacher of Righteousness and his flock.
In summary, I believe Jesus had his Last Supper on a night when many Jews celebrated Passover. It may have been for those nominally called “Essenes.” Because the Dead Sea Scrolls showed there is no easy definition for whatever the sect was at Qumran. Keep in mind also the Scrolls never once use the term “Essenes” to describe the sect that wrote them. Rather, the sect called themselves the “Yahad,” which is Hebrew for “unity.”
Also, there are many aspects to this sect’s faith, and to the Pharisees’ faith, that Jesus taught himself. As Christians, we are more Jewish than we ever before realized.
I took the above picture at the Biblical Resources Center when they used to be located in Jerusalem, in 2002.