What actually happened in Holy Week?


Have you ever sat and read through the gospel accounts of Passion Week, and tried to work out chronologically what is happening? And have you done that with the four gospels? (It is easiest to do that latter using a synopsis, either in print or using this one online.) Why not do it as part of your Holy Week devotions this year? If you do, you might notice several things.

  1. Though there are variations in wording and in some details, there is a striking agreement between all four gospels in the order of the main events during the week.
  2. The events at the beginning of the week around Palm Sunday, and at the end of the week around the crucifixion seem very busy, yet the middle seems very quiet—the issue of the ‘silent Wednesday’.
  3. The main issue on which the gospel accounts disagree on the order of events is in relation to the denials of Peter by Jesus, which come earlier in Luke’s gospel, and are spread out in John’s gospel.
  4. Jesus’ trial is more detailed, with more people involved in different phases in John than in the Matthew and Mark, the latter two treating it in quite a compressed way as more or less a single event.
  5. The synoptics claim explicitly that the last supper was some form of Passover meal (which must happen after the lambs are sacrificed), whilst John makes no mention of this, and appears to have Jesus crucified at the moment that the Passover lambs are sacrificed.

These anomalies have made the question of the Passion Week chronology ‘the most intractable problem in the New Testament’, and it causes many readers to wonder whether the accounts are reliable at all. For some, they are happy to inhabit the narratives in each gospel as they are, and not worry about reconciling each account with the others, or any of the accounts with what might have actually happened.

But I am not sure it is quite so easy to leave it there. After all, the word ‘gospel’ means ‘announcement of good news about something that has happened’; a central part of the Christian claim is that, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has done something, and so we cannot evade question of what exactly happened and when. Sceptics (both popular and academic) make much of these apparent inconsistencies, so there is an apologetic task to engage in. And understanding how these issues might be resolved could potentially shed new light on the meaning of the texts themselves.


A couple of years ago, I caught up with Sir Colin Humphreys’ book The Mystery of the Last Supper, in which he attempts to solve this problem. Humphreys is an academic, and a distinguished one at that, though in materials science. He has written on biblical questions before, though is not a biblical studies professional, but he does engage thoroughly with some key parts of the literature. He identifies the main elements of the puzzle under four headings:

  1. The lost day of Jesus, noticing the lull in activity in the middle of the week.
  2. The problem of the last supper; what kind of meal was it, when did it happen, and can we harmonise John’s account with the synoptics?
  3. No time for the trials of Jesus. If we include all the different elements, they cannot fit within the half night from Thursday to Friday morning.
  4. The legality of the trials. Here, Humphreys notes that later Jewish sources prohibit the conduct of a capital trial during the night, and require that any decision is ratified on the morning following the first trial.

The book is set out very clearly and logically (as you might expect) and includes a good number of tables. Early on Humphreys helpfully tabulates the events in the gospels, showing their relationship.

Having started by looking at the biblical texts, in the middle of the book Humphreys goes on a long scientific exploration, delving into the astronomical issues behind the construction of Jewish calendars, and using this to argue for a particular date for the crucifixion. The key issue here is identifying the dates of the calendar from what we know of the moon phases, and then finding the years when the Passover falls on a Friday, which it will do on average only one year in seven.

Humphreys then uses other well-established data to eliminate outlying dates, and argues for Jesus’ death at 3 pm on Friday, April 3rd, AD 33. He is not alone in this, though the style of his argumentation will have lost many mainstream New Testament specialists (there is quite a nice, clear argument working through the data at this Catholic site). He assumes that the gospels are historically accurate, and takes them as his basic data, when most scholars would want him to be much more provisional. If the case was expressed more in terms of ‘were the gospels accurate, it would lead to this conclusion’ might have been more persuasive for the guild—but then Humphreys is primarily writing for a popular and not a professional audience. There is no particular problem in asking the question Humphreys does in fact ask: are the narratives we have capable of coherent reading, and if we taken them seriously, what do we find?

I was much more interested, though, in the later chapters, where Humphreys explores the gospel texts in detail in the light of the calendrical background. Although his proposals about the different calendars in use at the time of Jesus are speculative (even if plausible), there can be no doubt that different calendars were in use, and that it is quite likely that different gospel writers are making reference to different calendar schedules which could give rise to apparent anomalies in the gospel chronologies. In particular, some calendars worked sunset to sunset (as Jewish calculation works today), others counted from sunrise to sunrise, and the Roman calendar counted from midnight to midnight, as we do now. It is not hard to see how the phrase ‘on the next day’ can now have three different possible meanings.

It is also clear that the gospel writers vary in the emphasis that they give to chronological issues. So, whilst Luke offers some very specific markers in his narrative to locate the gospel story to wider world events (which has been typical of his overall approach), and John includes frequent temporal markers in relation both to Jewish feasts and successive days of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew is happy to group Jesus’ teaching and ministry into non-chronological blocks, and Mark has long been recognised as linking events in Jesus’ ministry thematically rather than chronologically. Humphreys uses an everyday example to illustrate this: if I cut the lawn and do some weeding, and someone asks my wife what I have been doing, and she says ‘He has been doing some weeding and cut the lawn’ then we would not describe our two accounts as ‘contradictory’. Chronology just hasn’t been an important issue here.


Humphreys’ solution rests on proposing that, in celebrating the Passover with his disciples, Jesus used the pre-Exile calendar which ran sunrise to sunrise and was at least a day ahead of the official Jerusalem calendar, so that there could be up to two days’ difference in calculation. (It is worth noting here in passing that first century Judaism was far from monolithic, and serious differences in belief, including about dates and calendars, was part of the diversity.) This means that, if the Jerusalem Passover took place on the Friday, following the sacrifice of the lambs on Friday afternoon, it would be possible for Jesus to celebrate his own Passover (and not merely a ‘Passover-like meal’ as some scholars have suggested) as early as the Wednesday. Humphreys believes that the man carrying the water jar (in Luke 22.10 and parallels) is a signal that the Upper Room was in the Essene quarter of Jerusalem, where there would not have been any women to undertake such roles. And the calendar differences account for Mark’s statement that the lambs were sacrificed on the ‘first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread’, (Mark 14.12) which is a contradiction that scholars have in the past attributed either to Mark’s error or his careless writing.

At some points, I think Humphreys’ case is actually slightly stronger than he claims. For example, John’s phrase ‘the Passover of the Jews’ in John 11.55 could arguably be translated as ‘the Passover of the Judeans’, thus emphasising communal and calendrical differences, and Matthew highlights the differences between the crowds of pilgrims and the local Jerusalemites in their response to Jesus. Richard Bauckham has argued that John is writing on the assumption that his readers know Mark, so there is no need for him to recount the details of the Passover meal in John 13 and following. And in the latest edition of Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, he argues (in an additional chapter) that the ‘Beloved Disciple’ is the author of the gospel but is not John son of Zebedee, and so not one of the Twelve, but a Jerusalemite. This explains some of the distinctive perspectives of John’s gospel with its Judean and Jerusalem focus in contrast to Mark’s focus on Galilee—but would also account for calendrical differences.


There are some points of strain in Humphreys’ argument—for me, the most testing one was Humphreys’ account of the cock crowing three times, the first of which was (he argues) the Roman horn blown to signal the approach of dawn, the gallicinium which is Latin for ‘cock crow’. (I always struggle to be convinced by an argument that claims a repeated phrase actually means different things at different times when the phrase is identical.) But there are also some interesting ways in which his reading makes better sense of some details of the text, such as the dream of Pilate’s wife—which she could not have had time to have under the traditional chronology. Moreover, one of our earliest testimonies to the last supper, in 1 Cor 11.23, does not say (as much Anglican liturgy) ‘on the night before he died’ but ‘on the night that he was betrayed’. I will be sticking with the latter phrase in my future use of Eucharistic Prayers! And when Paul says that Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us (1 Cor 5.7), and that he is the first fruits of those who sleep (1 Cor 15.20), Paul is reflecting his death on Passover (as per John, even though in other respects Paul’s account matches Luke, and it is largely Paul and Luke’s language we use in liturgy) and his resurrection on the celebration of First Fruits two days later.

Humphreys is certainly bold in taking on key scholars, including Dick France (with whom I would always hesitate to disagree), but in every case he gives citations and explains where the disagreement lies. When the book was first published, Mark Goodacre wrote a brief blog on why he disagrees, and the debate in comments—including from Humphreys himself—are worth reading. Goodacre’s main concern is Humphreys’ anxiety about demonstrating the reliability of the gospel accounts, and the need to eliminate contradictions.

One of Humphreys’s primary concerns is to avoid the idea that the Gospels “contradict themselves”.  The concern is one that characterizes apologetic works and it is not a concern that I share.

But I wonder whether concern about this aim has led many scholars to dismiss the detail too quickly; much of academic scholarship is ideologically committed to the notion that the gospels are irredeemably contradictory. (If I were being mischievous, I would point to the irony of Mark’s resisting Humphrey’s challenging of a scholarly consensus, when that is precisely what Mark is doing himself in relation to the existence of ‘Q’, the supposed ‘sayings source’ that accounts for the shared material of Luke and Matthew…!) And we need to take seriously that fact that Humphrey’s approach resolves several key issues (including the silence of Wednesday, the lack of time for the trial, the reference in Mark 14.12, and Pilate’s wife’s dream) that are otherwise inexplicable or are put down (slightly arbitrarily) to writer error.

I think there are some further things to explore, but it seems to me that Humphreys’ case is worth taking seriously.

(Posted annually, since I think it bears repeating—and delving into the gospel narratives is always a valuable devotional activity. I had originally thought that the picture of the Zoom last supper would only be of use for one year…)


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49 thoughts on “What actually happened in Holy Week?”

  1. But isn’t it only a “Holy Week” for church convenience? Where is the evidence that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a Sunday? Therefore no lull on Wednesday, and no real reason to put together a daily chronology until Thursday at least?

    Reply
  2. Two points not related to the main issues.
    (1) The Essene quarter idea is a red herring. Male slaves carried water jars.
    (2) John’s account of events up to the last supper makes very good sense. Anointing at Bethany, “Triumphal entry,” last encounter with the crowd, then Jesus stays in Bethany keeping out of trouble. Everything else in the Synoptics happened on earlier visits to Jerusalem that they do not record.

    Reply
    • re water jars, whilst that is true, it appears the Essenes allowed ‘only’ males to carry water jars, which arguably makes it more likely to have occurred there. It is not definitive, but it is simply part of the evidence.

      Peter

      Reply
        • This is covered by Humphreys in his book on pgs 157-160.

          He quotes I Howard Marshall from his commentary on the Greek text of Luke, that for the disciples to meet a man on entering the city carrying a water jar would have been unusual as typically men carried leather bottles whilst women carried jars or pitchers.

          He then asks was there a group who traditionally did carry water jars? Yes, the Essenes who were largely celibate and so by necessity carried them. He then quotes Bargil Pixner who argues it was an Essene whom they met (from “Wege des Messias und Statten der Urkirche”).

          Reply
          • I have looked at Humphries and Marshall, and in the past I read Capper’s article (depending on Pixner) and debated it with him. Marshall merely asserts without evidence and he only thinks it “unusual” – not so unusual that the man has to be an Essene. Josephus tells us there were two orders of Essenes – one order married, the other didn’t. Do we know which order lived in Jerusalem? I don’t think we do. I suspect that water jars were used to collect large quantities of water for household use and this would usually be women’s work. but slaves did all sorts of household tasks. I think in the instance in the Gospels the man carrying the jar was a pre-arranged sign. It was unusual enough for the sign to work. But it wouldn’t work if Essene men were carrying water jars all the time in the Essene quarter. I think the whole argument is very flimsy and Humphries doesn’t have the training of a historian to make good judgments. He throws Marshall and Pixner together without seeing that they are making different arguments, and he doesn’t bother to think what the actual evidence behind their assertions might be. In my view all attempts to connect Jesus and the early church with the Essenes are similarly suspect. Essenes make n appearance in the Gospels!

    • Just following on from your comments re Essenes (I couldnt respond directly below), my reading of Josephus is that the ‘typical’ Essenes were a group of single unmarried men with no children and who did not own slaves, but that there was a single ‘order’ (logically a smaller number) who did not eschew marriage.

      His characterisation of the main group fits with the writings of Philo and Pliny the Elder. It would therefore be more likely that it was a typical group of Essenes who lived in an area of Jerusalem, and who therefore would be carrying the water jars for their community precisely because they had no women nor slaves to do so.

      If it was a ‘sign’, that makes sense if none of the immediate disciples were Essene and therefore would have ordinarily expected to see a woman carry a water jar in their everyday life.

      Reply
      • My point is that if it were a pre-arranged sign, it could be any male member of the household in question. It didn’t have to be someone who usually carried water jars. That, I think, was Howard Marshall’s point in his commentary. Jesus had arranged for some male of the household to carry a water jar in such-and-such a place, where he would send the disciples to look out for him. If there were Essene men regularly carrying water jars around, the sign would not be distinctive enough to work. They could end up following the wrong person to the wrong house. A modern analogy would be: look out for a man with a shopping basket on wheels. (I have observed that men do not use them, though there is no real reason why they shouldn’t.) The Essene thing is just a red herring.

        Reply
        • Except that the text says “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters…”. The sign would be a man carrying a water jar which for the disciples is an unusual sight (unless you’re an Essene). But the text implies that the man would recognise the disciples (or some of them) and goes to meet them, and they then are to follow him to a particular house. This makes sense if the man was indeed a follower of Jesus, though even non-followers recognised some of his main disciples as evidenced by Peter’s experience in the courtyard. There is no possibility that they could end up following a random water jar-carrying man! The individual man would approach them.

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  3. I wouldn’t like concerns about this to get in the way of understanding the truth about the last hours before the crucifixion. 20 years ago when I hadn’t done this sort of detailed study, had you asked me, I would have worked back from a Friday crucifixion and said ‘the last supper must have been on Wednesday’, its only recently that closer reading has challenged me to believe that the timeline could have been a day shorter.

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  4. Well, Gospel sequence doesn’t seem to figure in the theology of the Archbishop of Wales, let alone creedal orthodoxy
    On our way home from our church service this morning, it was reported on BBC radio 4, 11.00 am news, that his message today was that we all have to create our own resurrection. Yuck.

    Reply
    • Resurrection is sometimes defined as no more than things getting better, but by the law of averages things will get better half the time and worse half the time.

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    • I can see why the BBC would roll out the red carpet for him and thrust a microphone under his nose. Their zeal to keep their religious broadcasting drivel-ometer at maximum level is unabating.

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      • The BBC only cares to give a platform to Anglicsn leaders of tiny and disappearing churches who sit loose to Christian orthodoxy. They constantly featured Richard Holloway in the 1990s although almost nobody goes to the Scottish Episcopal Church. Same with the Church in Wales.
        A preacher who affirmed the uniqueness of Christ and the necessity of faith in him for salvation has no pla e today on the BBC.

        Reply
          • The SEC experienced a 5% decrease in attendance in a single year (2018-19). In just 4 years it has decreased by 9%. Perhaps those are better statistics than the CoS but it doesnt bode well for the future.

  5. Is there a reason that the sabbath had to to be Friday /Saturday. If it was a special sabbath as scripture tell us might might it not have been Wednesday /Thursday. All I know is that no linguistic trickery can make Friday afternoon to Sunday morning three days and three nights!

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    • It doesnt involve trickery. It was standard practice that if part of a day was included then the whole day/night was being referenced. You might find this link useful:

      https://bloggingtheword.com/the-blog/yes-it-really-was-good-friday

      Hoehner’s view as repeated in this article is also endorsed by Colin Humphreys who wrote a very good book ‘The Mystery of the Last Supper’ regarding the last days of Jesus.

      So He died on Friday and was raised on Sunday.

      Our problem today is that we tend to be so precise when it comes to measurement of any kind, whether time or space!

      Peter

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      • Thank you – I hope my own question would not seem to be arrogant or condescending – it comes from genuine confusion. Until now I haven’t seen a convincing argument so I’m grateful for this. I find that I can accept the point about Friday to Sunday and the diffent appreciation of day and night, but much of the article seems to suggest averyone has always thought this and everyone knows this and I find myself wary of that kind of reasoning. Politicians and journalists, it seems to me, make a lot of capital out of the fact that if something is said often enough it acquires a legitimacy – it must be true! OK though I’ll accept it’s Good Friday today!

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      • We’re not that precise either! When we say somebody worked for 30 years at a job, we mean 30 × 240 x 8 hours or so, which is a bit less than eight years …

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          • Well, of course I wasn’t referring to my own 16 hour, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year job, Geoff – but we can’t all be social influencers!

          • You’re such a slacker, James. You’ll never work your way into God’s good books that way, never earn your salvation. Must try harder.
            Call yourself ( a cartoon graceless Victorian) evangelical, pejoratively speaking of course. (Or maybe that should be 21 century Sysphisean resurrected liberal ; I’m so confused).

        • Indeed, which is why people reading written works made today, including this blog, in 2000 years time need to be sure what the writers actually meant!

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  6. Thanks for this helpful analysis of Humphreys’ work, Ian.

    I read his book last summer and found many of the arguments quite compelling, so I decided to take up this topic for my Dissertation (due in three weeks! I’m third-year ordinand, doing a BA).

    For me, the most interesting problem among those you’ve summarised above was the lack of time for all the events to take place between the arrest and the crucifixion. In particular the crunch point comes between dawn and 9am. Luke 22:66 places the Sanhedrin trial ‘When day came’, and Mark 15:25 places the crucifixion at ‘the third hour’. Within those three hours we are supposed to fit the Sanhedrin trial (inc. ‘many witnesses’), a second Sanhedrin consultation, a cross-examination by Pilate, and interrogation by Herod (inc. ‘many questions’), another audience with Pilate, the dream-report, the release of Barabbus, the scourging and mocking of Jesus, the ‘Ecce-Homo’ pronouncement, yet another cross-examination of Jesus in the Praetorium, further attempts to release Jesus, the Gabbatha ‘Behold Your King’ scene, the final condemnation, the carrying of the cross to Golgotha by Simon of Cyrene, and the offering of myrrh-wine to Jesus, before, finally, his crucifixion between to two criminals. (This is not to mention the travelling time between the various locations). All in three hours.

    However, my studies have led me to change my mind (which surprised me), and push back a little against Humphreys’ theory.

    One of the primary pillars that it rests on is the conviction that Jesus died on Nisan 14 (according to the official Jewish, post-exilic Calendar), the day that the Passover lambs were sacrificed. But I read Brant Pitre’s treatment of this matter in his ‘Jesus and the Last Supper’, and was shocked at how effectively he was able to dismantle my presuppositions that the day of Jesus’ death was the 14th Nisan. He argues for the 15th Nisan, and that Jesus’ Last Supper was held in the normal way according to the normal calendar on the preceding evening, a true Passover meal, and that John’s gospel shows this to be true as well. He argues that the ‘Passover’ that the Jews wished to eat after Jesus’s death was simply one of the many sacred meals to be eaten during that festival evenings throughout the week (citing OT evidence of how the Passover terminology can be used in that way), and that the ‘Preparation for the Passover’ (Jn 19:14) is a reference to the ‘Friday of/within the Passover week’, rather than ‘the day that preparations were made for the Passover meal’, as ‘preparation day’, both in the Bible and extra-biblically, is never a reference to the day leading up to the Psssover meal, but is the name given to any and every sixth-day of the week – it is preparation for Sabbath.

    I figured if this is true, then if we still need an extra day for the Trials, then this theory could be modified so that Jesus eats true Passover at the end of Wed 14th Nisan, undergoes the Sanhedrin Trial (and maybe round 1 with Pilate, and the Herod trial) on Thurs 15th, then is returned to Pilate and crucified on Fri 16th.

    The problem with this is that Jesus crucifixion would then be on the Day of First-fruits, which would be symbollically and theologically out-of-line with Paul’s later references to Christ as Paschal Lamb and his resurrection as a type of First-fruits.

    This led me to re-examine the boundary markers of ‘dawn’ and the ‘third hour’ for all those events to take place.

    Luke’s ‘When day came’ can actually be taken much more vaguely than sunrise. He uses the phrase in Luke 4:42, which is parallel to Mark 1:35, where Mark gives much more specificity to the time – ‘early in the morning, while it was still dark…’. This gives ‘when day came’ the flavour of ‘astronomical twilight dawn’ (up to an hour and a half before sunrise). In Acts 27:39, Luke uses ‘when day came’ to designate when the sailors on Paul’s soon-to-be-shipwrecked ship would spy land where they could run aground. Sailors can see the horizon from the time known to us as ‘nautical twilight dawn’ (hence the name), up to an hour before sunrise. In Acts 12:18, ‘when day came’ there was no small commotion among the soldiers concerning Peter’s escape from prison. The squadron of soldiers (of four squadrons that were assigned) on duty during the final watch of the night, should’ve been able to notice Peter’s absence from the cell by at least the beginning of ‘civil twilight dawn’ which is about half an hour before sunrise. Would they wait till sunrise to make a commotion? All of these go to show that ‘when day came’ in Luke 22:66 is relatively vague, and can afford us up to an extra hour and half of time before sunrise.

    The other issue is the 9am boundary marker, given by Mark 15:25, for Jesus’ crucifixion. Already there is warrant for re-examination because of its irreconcilability with John 19:14 where it is said that Jesus is still with Pilate, being condemned, at ‘about the sixth hour’ (noon). I used to take a Julian midnight-to-midnight approach to John’s hour-system, but the problems with this are many and grave (see Josef Blinzler, ‘The Trial of Jesus’, 1959, p.266-267). I discovered a tightly reasoned argument by a Catholic scholar by the name of Aidan Mahoney, C.P., who contends that, because of a number of serious oddities in the Greek grammar of Mk 15:24-26, we should take ‘And it was the third hour when they crucified him’ as, instead, ‘…(but this was at the third hour). And they crucified him…’ – a parenthetical statement modifying the time, not of crucifixion, but the time at which the lots were cast for Jesus clothing. The stripping of Jesus for crucifixion was not the first time in the day he had been stripped. He had previously been undressed for his scourging after the release of Barabbas, and it is very plausible that that was the time at which the soldiers, in confident anticipation of his condemnation, cast the lots and bagsied the items of clothing. However, because of the stunning fulfilment of Psalm 22:18 through that event, in the retelling of it in all the gospels, it had naturally been assimilated into a quote from the Psalm and placed narratively next to the cross, for narrative, thematic and theological impact, even though technically, chronologically, it had happened a little earlier in the day, at 9am, (in view of which Mark seems here to be providing a brief, corrective caveat).

    If Mahoney is correct, the conflict between Mark 15:25 and John 19:14 dissolves, historicity of the details of the Passion in all the gospels is preserved, and we can take John’s chronological markers at face value with all seriousness, and place Jesus’ crucifixion within an hour of his condemnation, at about noon, when the sun went dark.

    Furthermore, these two re-examinations of Luke 22:66 and Mark 15:25, widen the alleged three-hour timeframe, adding an extra four to five hours to the proceedings. It has become my conviction that seven to eight hours, from Caiaphas to the Cross, is actually ample time for all the events to take place, and there is no need any longer to posit an extra day for the trials.

    The outcome of this, when it comes to dating the crucifixion, is that, if Brant Pitre is right about Jesus dying on Friday 15 Nisan (not 14), means that Humphreys’ and Waddington’s calculated date for the crucifixion would need to change. (Here, Pitre remains highly sceptical and dismissive of the use of astronomical data in this pursuit, but I don’t think he needs to be, and I remain pretty convinced of the accuracy of the mathematical data – it is peer reviewed, utterly accurate in rightly predicting 1,282 documented new moons (Humphreys, Mystery, p.53) in both recent and earlier times, and not a single occasion when the calculations failed. The uncertainty surrounding a day’s delay in the case of unclear skies at the time of the new moon, and the case of a month’s delay when an intercalary month was added, and the possible combination of both, has been fully factored in to the equations. (Contact me if you want a table showing all the possible results for years AD 26 -36; I compiled the data based on Waddington’s data found in Humphreys’ book, combined with the data given by the VelaClock app, the results of which comport exactly with Waddinton’s calculations.)

    If Jesus died on Nisan 14, April 3 AD 33 is probably correct. If Jesus died on Nisan 15, Jesus probably died on April 23 AD 34 (or possibly March 26 the same year, if there was no intercalation because of the earlier date’s scary proximity to the vernal equinox).

    The silent Wednesday is not insurmountable – it certainly provides no contradiction in the narratives.

    Pilate’s wife’s dream is not a problem if we believe it is possible for God to grant dreams, irrespective of whether the person has had an experience that leads to the dream on the previous day or not.

    The Mishnaic laws (written over a century later) about Sanhedrin Trials (of a capital nature) needing to be conducted during the day and over the course of two days, were not necessarily in force at the time of Jesus – there is no evidence to suggest so, and even if there was, it is not incredible to believe that the Sanhedrin might have ignored such rules if they deemed that the urgency of the situation superseded normal protocol.

    All this makes possible the traditional view that the Last Supper was on Thursday night and Crucifixion was on Friday, with the gospels perfectly harmonised in every detail.

    Although… I am with you, Ian, that we should ditch the phrase ‘on the night before He died’ from our Eucharist liturgies… just in case Humphreys is right.

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Aidan—that is all fascinating. But just to check, Pitre is correct if:
      a. we believe that Pilate’s wife’s dream was supernaturally granted out of time as it were
      b. the Mishnaic laws do not reflect earlier practice
      c. we need to redo the calculation of the date of the crucifixion.

      Where do you think Koestenberger and others go wrong on that last one?

      Yes, I’d love to see your calculations!

      Reply
  7. This is from a popular level (apologies to scholars) book by Mark Stibbe, linking as he does the Jewish Feasts with the NT, fulfilled in Jesus:
    “Jesus death occurs on 14th Nissan. Keep in mind that the biblical reckoning is different from the modern Western reckoning. For us, a day begins at midnight and ends the following midnight.
    “In Judaism, a day begins at 6pm in the evening and finishes the following evening at the same time.
    “Jesus died as the sin-bearing lamb of God on the afternoon of 14th Nisan, ie the Friday of Passover at about 3pm… (Day1)
    ” Jesus body was buried in a new tomb before the 14th Nisan ended at 6pm. It remained there throughout the feast of Unleavened bread on 15th Nissan which was a sacred Sabbath.
    ” We might say that Jesus (sinless body) rested (in the tomb) on the holy day from his great work of redemption throughout the Sabbath of 15th Nisan. (Day 2)
    ” Then on the morning of 16th Nisan, Jesus was raised from death. (Day 3)
    ” On the third day (according to Jewish reckoning of time) Jesus rose from the dead.”
    Stibbe also links Easter with Jesus as the fulfilment of
    1 the Feast of Unleaven Bread (15 th Nisan)- a removal of leaven, a common symbol of sin in the time of Jesus
    2 On the day of the Feast of Firstfruits- Jesus, the firstfruit of the resurrection harvest was gathered in. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
    From “Fire and Blood The work of the Spirit The work of the Cross”. (2000)

    Even from my time of conversion through non scholars work, first with such as “Who Moved the Stone” by Frank Morrison, and much by Josh McDowell, and others, I’ve understood that scripture has dovetailed, harmonised, including Jesus as a devout Jew religiously attending Jerusalem for the Festivals.

    I thank Ian Paul and Richard Bauckham for their scholarly perseverance and patience and eye for detail without pedantry.

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    • “Who Moved the Stone” by Frank Morrison – hear hear! May not please the scholars in every detail but his pioneering work of looking at the gospels with a journalist’s eye for how they would work as witness evidence still makes for a refreshingly clear read for the interested lay person.

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  8. Really, Ian, first Christmas and now Easter. Is the no end to your iconoclasm? I await in trepidation what you will have to say about St George and the dragon.
    John as an independent-but-presupposing-Mark witness is a very fruitful line to follow. So are we going to talk about TWO temple “cleansings”?
    That “Ioudaioi” sometimes means “Judeans” rather than “Jews” is an idea I’ve entertained for many years now first hearing it from a speaker at Tantur in Jerusalem, and it goes some way toward deflecting the charge of “antisemitism” in John’s Gospel. In any case, it’s obvious that John’s Gospel reflects an important Jerusalem source.
    And it is certainly prima facie possible that Galilee used a slightly different calendar from Jerusalem in the first decades of the first century; but is there actual documentation of this? I know there was a lot of talking French scholarly circles years ago about Qumran calendars, and somebody did a PhD some years ago on John, Qumran and calendars.

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  9. It’s an important question, and Timothy Berg’s article, to which PC1 links, strikes me as little more than bluster. Berg says that ‘day of preparation’ was a standalone synonym for Friday, the 6th day of the week, requiring no explanation. But he does not address/exclude the crucial possibility that the day before a special sabbath would also have been called a ‘day of preparation’. And why, if it necessarily meant ‘Friday’, the explanatory ‘that is, [the day] before the sabbath’ in Mark 15:42? Likewise he does nothing to solve the problem of Matt 12:40 if Jesus was crucified on the Friday. Hebrew writers (Matthew, Mark) counted exclusively, in line with OT practice, and presumably so would Jesus have done; Luke also, when reporting the words of Jesus. Therefore ‘on the third day’ means 3 days after the crucifixion, in keeping with the “after three days” of Matt 27:63.

    So the testimony of the gospels is unanimous and unequivocal: the crucifixion was on the Thursday. It then follows that there were two sabbaths, even though the synoptic gospel writers do not differentiate between the sabbath of Nisan 15 (Ex 12:16) and the weekly sabbath. One has to choose: either the consistent predictions of 3 days (esp. Matt 12:40) are all wrong, or there were two sabbaths, end-to-end. John does seem to differentiate. His note that the sabbath after the crucifixion was a ‘great’/high day (John 19:31) surely suggests that this was not an ordinary sabbath. What was he getting at otherwise? John has already referred to sabbaths many times in his gospel, but this is the first time he speaks of a ‘great’ sabbath.

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    • I should add that the last day of Tabernacles was also a special sabbath (Lev 23:39), which John calls a ‘great day’ (John 7:37).

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    • Humphreys deals with these issues in the first few chapters of his book, so Id recommend it. It’s a very thorough investigation, from different angles. An excellent, if detailed read.

      He takes a different position from you on, for example, that Jewish writers counted ‘exclusively’. He argues the opposite – they counted inclusively, as evidenced by OT passages and Jewish rabbinical writings.

      There is no indication there were 2 sabbaths. The ‘Day of Preparation’ was used for the Friday, the day before the Sabbath when no work etc could be done. Josephus confirms this. All the Gospels state Jesus was killed on the Day of Preparation, ie Friday before the Saturday Sabbath.

      Humphreys argues, in my view strongly, that Jesus was crucified on Friday 3rd April AD 33 during Nissan 14 as per John, at around 3pm, at the same time the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Jerusalem temple. Hardly a coincidence.

      This also corresponds with the predicted ‘blood moon’ that the prophet Joel spoke of. Lo and behold the only Passover lunar eclipse (which produces the red blood moon) visible from Jerusalem when Pilate was in office occurred on 3 April, AD 33.

      I would also argue, though surprisingly Humphreys doesnt mention it, that AD 33 correlates with the year the prophet Daniel was told the Messiah would be ‘cut off’.

      It was predicted 500 years before the event.

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      • If you can cite OT evidence for inclusive counting, I would be interested. My evidence is the 40.5 years of David’s reign were rounded down to 40 years, not up to 41 (II Sam 5:4f) and Jehoichin’s reign of 3 months 10 days rounded down to 3 months, not up to 4 (II Ki 24:8, II Chr 36:9). In the NT, Matt 17:1 and Mark 9:2, also Luke 9:28, also Acts 10:30.

        I have already dealt with the possibility of two consecutive sabbaths, so your assertion that ‘there is no indication there were 2 sabbaths’ does not advance matters. Nor have you dealt with Matt 12:40 and Mark 9:31.

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        • Hi Liz,
          Could never work it out. Was Morrison a journalist, or a barrister or both? In one place I read journalist, barrister in another. Does anyone know?
          It was one of the first books I read as a Christian around Easter time. I couldn’t put it down.

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        • Eg Esther – ‘Do not eat or drink for 3 days, night or day…when this is done, I will go to the king.’ After fasting, Esther went to King Xerxes ‘on the third day’. It therefore appears fasting for part of the third day counted as fasting for the whole of it. I think that is particularly relevant to the case at hand, given Jesus’ words (example taken from Humphreys).

          This understanding is further evidenced by Jewish Rabbi Eleazer ben Azariah, c AD 100, who said ‘A day and night are an Onah (a portion of time) and the portion of an Onah is as a whole of it’. (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbath ix, 3). So a portion of the day and night counts as the whole day and night. Again that is relevant to Jesus’ nights and days.

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          • When it comes to Esther, I see nothing at stake either way, as the question could depend on whether Persia reckoned inclusively or exclusively. In any case it is not a good example, as we do not read in chapter 5 that Esther ate at the feast she had prepared. One explanation for her asking (oddly) to prepare a feast also the next day would be that only then was she at liberty to eat. Esther 7:1 suggests that she did eat and drink with them on that fourth day; there is no equivalent statement in chapter 5. For a similar situation (the host not eating), see Gen 18:8.

            Again, you don’t deal with the material that I put to you.

            Perhaps a better example for your purposes would be Lev 23:16 (according to the Wikipedia article on the biblical Jubilee). However, if you count 7 full weeks from Sunday, that will take you to the end of Saturday. To get to the day after Saturday you need to add 1 day, making a total of 50. This illustrates the confusion surrounding the topic. Basic arithmetic still has to be obeyed, whatever the counting convention.

            ‘A portion of the day and night counts as the whole day and night.’ Yes, I agree with this. Thus, with crucifixion on the Thursday we have a portion of Thursday, all Friday, all Saturday = 3 days, and all Thursday night, all Friday night and a portion of Saturday night = 3 nights. According to your scenario we would have 2 days and 2 nights.

            Re John’s expressly saying that the day after the day of preparation was a ‘great’ day (sensu Jn 7:37), I should add that that would also have been the case in the Good Friday scenario. However, I don’t buy the standard argument that the reason for the request was Deut 21:22-23, as if this overrode standard Roman practice. The Jews were making a special request, the reason being that the next day was a ‘great’ day, and surely this would have had more force if the imminent sabbath was a distinct day and the total consecrated period two days than if the ‘great’ day simply coincided with a sabbath that was going to occur anyway.

  10. Day of Preparation:
    “John stresses three times Jesus died on the day of preparation; 19: 14, 31, 42.
    It was the day fathers of each household took a one-year-old male lamb to the Temple precincts to be slaughtered.
    In the Misnah it is written what happened before the Temple was destroyed in AD 70. An Israelite slaughtered his own lamb, the priest caught the blood. The priest passed the basin to his fellow, and he to his fellow, each receiving a full basin and giving back an empty one.
    In John 19. Jesus dies when the lambs are put to death in the Temple Courts. Jesus went to the cross to die on the cross as our substitute. Jesus is truly the lamb of God.” Mark Stibbe, “Fire and Blood”

    I suggest that to know the Gospel scriptures it is also necessary to look at the Jewish practice and traditions at that time and I’m ignorant whether any scholarly work has been done in this regard. I have two book by Messianic Jews, which to me are helpful in this regard. One is by two Drs, but it is a present hidden in full sight!

    The other is “The Seven Festival Feasts of the Messiah ” by Edward Chumney from which the following is taken.

    Jesus ate passover Seder (Luke 22:15) it could be eaten with or without a lamb. Jesus came from Bethany to Jerusalem not only to be
    1.the passover lamb (Pesach)
    2 but for the Seder

    There are two Seders,

    The day of preparation was part of the Seder.
    “In Mark 14:12 it is written, “And the first day of unleaven bread when they killed the passover lamb…” The word translated as first, is the Greek word protos, which means “before, earlier and preceding”.

    “The first Seder would be on 14th Nisan and the second on 15th. Seder could be on either night, Yeshua had His passover Seder by midnight on the 14th Nisan which begins at Sundown (roughly six hours prior to midnight) and was crucified the next afternoon at 3.00pm which is still 14th Nissan.

    To support this in John 18:28 when Jesus was brought before Pilate Caiaphas the high priest wouldn’t enter the judgment hall of the gentile Pilate because he would be defiled, for one day, and couldn’t eat the passover, and so it would have taken place on the morning of 14th Nisan. Jesus would have eaten the passover with his disciples on the evening of the 14th before he was seized and taken to Pilate. “Thus we can see how Yeshua ate a Passover meal and still fulfil being the passover lamb of God by being killed on 14th Nissan.”

    On 14th Nisan, at the 3rd hour (9.00am) the high Priest took the lamb, ascended to the altar, tied it.
    At the same time on that day Yeshua was tied to the tree on Mount Moriah (Mark 15:25).

    At the time of sacrifice (3:00pm) for the Passover, Exodus12:6 the High priest ascended to the altar, cut the throat of the lamb with a knife and said the words “It is finished” after giving a peace offering to God.

    Yeshua died at the same time (Matthew 27: 45-46. 50) saying the exact words (John 19:30)

    It was a requirement (Deut 16:16) for all Israel to be present at three Festivals/Feasts
    1 Passover
    2 Weeks (Shavuot)/Pentecost
    3 Tabernacles

    [ Comment; I’m not sure what Steven means when referring to super sabbaths, but without delving into the meaning and purposes of the 3 required Feasts and the Sabbath’s therein, a simple explanation is that those Sabbaths had additional emphases, in the context of each Feast. Here is Chumney:
    “HIGH Sabbath”
    NOTE Chumney- Nisan 15 the first day of Unleaven bread was a “High Sabbath” (John 19:31) So Jesus died on 14 Nisan- the day of Passover and when he was in the sepulchre the day following his crucifixion it was,
    1 15th Nisan
    2 a Sabbath
    3 the first day of Unleavened Bread
    4 which was also a High Sabbath
    Hence, there were not two Sabbaths.]

    Interestingly, Chumney suggests that there are 4 Passovers in the Gospel of John
    1 John2:13-17 (Jesus as Temple cleanser)
    2 John 5:1-15 (deduced from OT not specified) Jesus as healer of body and soul
    3John 6: 1-13 Jesus as bread of Life
    4 As the sacrificial Lamb of God and Unleavened Bread, dying sinless (without leaven) Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world.

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    • John makes great play of ‘the Day of Preparation’, an idea already present in Mk 15.42.

      I mentioned on another post how John’s special festival for this section chs 18-19 is ‘funeral’. If you look at the logic of all the 3 mentions of the Day of Preparation in John 19, then one can substitute ‘funeral’ (preparing the Passover Lamb). ‘Day of Preparation of the Passover’ (John) is not the same as ‘Day of Preparation’ (Mark), and nor is the idea of ‘Preparation *for* the Sabbath’ the same as the idea of ‘Preparation *of* the Passover’ – John’s special interest and double meaning is the preparation of the Lamb (killing and garnishing it) and its parallels with the preparation of Jesus’s body (his death and the preparation of his body with cloths and spices). Thus:

      -19.14. ‘It was the Day of Preparation of the Passover, around the 6th hour.’ This is the hour of the slaying of the Passover lamb. It is telling that John (apparently unnecessarily) cuts into the narrative with this double-detail right here, and the reason is that both parts of the detail are Passover-lamb related and what he is doing with ‘Day of Preparation’ is associating Jesus with the lamb. But maybe he also wishes to time when the crucifixion process began. I doubt it – that sort of thing is of less interest to him, unlike to Mark. The Passover Lamb connection seems his motivation for including these details.

      -19.31 ‘because it was the Day of Preparation’ the legs are broken – or not in the case of Jesus ‘because ”no bone of his [the Passover Lamb’s] shall be broken’. So *because* it was the Day of Preparation, a Jesus/lamb-related event took place.

      -19.42 Again we have a ‘because’. Jesus is laid with spices in the tomb, just as the lamb would be prepared on that day with spices.

      It is absolutely telling that the spices are on the Friday in John not on the Sunday as in Mark. Their very significance in Mark is that they are the correction of a Friday deficit. But because Friday is the day of preparation of the passover lamb, Jesus is prepared with spices on that day just like the lamb – which of course he is (1.29,36). He is the lamb throughout this section e.g. the reference to hyssop.

      It is undeniable that on this occasion the day of Preparation for the Sabbath is one and the same day as the day of the preparation of the Passover Lamb.

      But because of John’s skill at double meanings, the surface meaning is sufficient throughout too. A double-meaning I did not mention is the double-entendre ‘Passover’ which means both festival and Lamb (18.28 ‘eat the Passover’). ‘Day of Preparation for the Passover’ (which is John’s alteration of Mark’s ‘Day of Preparation’) is a phrase designed for a double meaning: ‘Day of Preparation so that everything be ready before the feastday begins with its restrictions on work and movement’ and ‘Day of Preparation of the Passover Lamb for consumption’.

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      • So to summarise, Christopher, you agree that Jesus was crucified on the Friday the day of preparation and raised on the Sunday, the third day?

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        • Yes I think he was. There is a vast amount of data on this, and it is a bit of an elaborate logic problem. The three days and three nights comes from Jonah only.

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      • Many thanks, Christopher, for drawing out the multi-level aspects of the Gospels.

        It’s also probably worth remembering, which I didn’t, the meaning and significance of biblical Appointed Feasts or Festivals.
        They are Festivals of the Lord.
        “Through which God revealed his overall plan of redemption for both man and the earth following the fall of man from the Garden of Eden as well as the role that the Messiah, Yeshua, would play in that redemption”. Chumney

        Feasts are;
        “1 A shadow of things to come that teach us about the Messiah (Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 10:1)
        2 Historic and Prophetic types and examples foreshadowing significant events in god’s plan of redemption (1 cor 10: 1-6, 11)
        3 So we can learn and understand that plan and our personal relationship with him. (Romans 15:4)
        4Part of the Torah (instruction) acting as a tutor that leads us to the messiah (Galatians3:24)
        5Point to the Messiah and God’s plan for the world through him (Psalm40:6-8 ; Hebrews 10:7)
        6 Yeshua came to fulfil what was written about in the OT (Tanakh) consisting of 3 parts; the Torah, the prophets and the writings 9personified by the Psalms concerning him. 9Luke 24:26-27, 44-45; john 5:46-47)
        7 a pattern of heavenly things on earth (Hebrews 8;1-2, 5; 9:8-9, 23; Exodus 25:8-9, 40; 2630; Numbers 8:4; Ezekiel 43: 1-6, 10-12)
        8 God gives the Natural to explain and help understand the spiritual (1 Cor 15: 46-47; 2:9-13; 2 cor 4:18)” Chumney again and following.

        Leviticus 23 uses the words
        1 mo’ed, meaning “an appointment, a fixed time or season, a cycle or year, an assembly, an appointed time, a set time or exact time. ”
        2 chag meaning “festival,” that is, to move in a circle, to march in a sacred procession, to celebrate, dance, to hold a solemn feast or holiday”
        They were also to be held in God’s Appointed Place, Deuteronomy 16:2, 6, 9-11, 13-16)
        Jerusalem was the appointed place for Feasts of Passover, Pentecost (Weeks) Tabernacles.

        7 festivals were divided into 3 major festivals seasons. All teach about Jesus, centering on a particular theme.

        NOTE: “The season of Passover comprising 4 Spring Feasts from of Passover to Pentecost (which includes the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Feast of First Fruits), is not considered totally over until Pentecost is completed.”

        (Comment: this significance would seem to enhance the multi-layered approach to the NT
        And would make for an interesting Christian Liturgical year! But could significantly assist in understanding the whole canon, no less the muliti-facetted Good News of Jesus in the NT.)
        It would seem that Messianic Jews have a head start and gentile believers are slow to latch on.

        RESURRECTION: Just a thought, maybe the feast of First Fruits, Jesus being The First-fruit raised from the dead bears some significant relation to the dead being raised in Jerusalem in Matthew.
        Particularly as The -Day- Following 15 Nisan – a high Sabbath- in the feast of unleavened is called (the start of) the Feast of First Fruits ie Nisan 16- Resurrection day.
        (There is some overlap in the feasts).
        The feast may be considered as prophetic of the resurrection of the Messiah, but this would necessitate a fuller look into the significance of the feast of First Fruits.

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    • Should perhaps have added that, for those not in Jerusalem, (eg Bethany) Passover could be eaten without a lamb! – Chumney. So again Jesus could both eat Passover and BE the Passover Lamb of God. Agnus Dei.
      Now RISEN.

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