The Chronology of the Last Supper -- By: Barry D. Smith

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 53:1 (Spring 1991)
Article: The Chronology of the Last Supper
Author: Barry D. Smith

The Chronology of the Last Supper

Barry D. Smith

One can construe the chronology of the Johannine passion narrative in such a way as to place the Last Supper on the evening of Nisan 14 and the crucifixion later on the afternoon of Nisan 14. (The day was reckoned from sunset to sunset.) This construal of the data contradicts the synoptic dating of the same events: in the synoptics, Jesus’ Last Supper is a Passover meal and he is crucified on the afternoon of Nisan 15, the first day of the Passover festival. The consensus seems to be forming that it is a lost labor of love to attempt to harmonize these accounts.1 But it would seem, in fact, that the older attempt to harmonize the accounts by the assimilation of the Johannine chronology to the synoptic, which few, it seems, take seriously any longer, has much to commend itself. According to this reading of the data, the Johannine Last Supper is a Passover meal, in spite of the fact that 18:28 and 19:31 can be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that Jesus died before the Passover meal was eaten. It is the aim of this essay to demonstrate anew the probability that, owing to an unfamiliarity with the use of festival terminology in first-century Palestine relating to the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread, these two

verses are misunderstood by modern interpreters as evidence that Jesus’ Last Supper was not a Passover meal.

I. Previous Attempts to Harmonize John and the Synoptics

The work of Annie Jaubert forms somewhat of a watershed in research into the chronology of the Passion week. Jaubert argued that Jesus kept the Essene calendar, and, as a result, celebrated the Passover before the priests and most other Jews.2 This meant that Jesus could have eaten the Passover meal with his disciples and still have been arrested before his opponents had eaten the Passover (cf. John 18:28). Eugen Ruckstuhl continued the line of thought begun by Jaubert: he likewise was convinced that the evidence supported a period of three days for Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution, thereby putting Jesus’ Last Supper much earlier in the Passion week.3 It is, however, very doubtful that Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover according to the Essene calendar.4

Since the appearance of Jaubert’s work, H. W. Hoehner has argued that the discrepancy between John and the synoptics is a r...

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