For Part I go HERE.
I have read an advance copy of the new, second volume of Benedict XVI’s book, Jesus of Nazareth. The new book will be released worldwide for Lent 2011, with a date of 10 March. Just buy it. You can click the image to the right, now, or find an appropriate link at the end of this entry.
The first volume the Holy Father’s dealt with the problems of an unbalanced “historical-critical” approach to Scriptures. He has a succinct explanation of how we are to understand “inspiration” and Scripture. His reflections on the temptations of the Lord was rich. That volume was well suited for spiritual reading during the first part of Lent.
This second volume looks at the period the Lord’s life from the entrance into Jerusalem to His resurrection. In other words – Holy Week. Then he drills into the Resurrection.
There has been an embargo on using the text. However, the publishers said we could use content from three sections.
Chapter 3, Section 4: “The Mystery of the Betrayer”
Chapter 5, Section 1: “The Dating of the Last Supper”
Chapter 7, Section 3: “Jesus Before Pilate”
Today I have some comments about that second bit, “The Dating of the Last Supper”.
I want to preface this with a statement I will circle back to by the end: Benedict XVI is a coworker of the Truth.
Now let’s go on.
This second now unembargoed section explores different theories about the time line of the Lord’s last days in Jerusalem, through his Passion and death, to the Resurrection.
There are scholarly disputes about the timing of the Last Supper in those days leading to Passover. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) the Last Supper seems to fall on Thursday, the evening of the first day of Unleavened Bread, the night before the day on which the Lambs would be slaughtered for the Passover. On the night leading into Friday, Jesus would be arrested in the Garden. The Jews would not go into the building to see Pilate because they didn’t want to be ritually unclean for Passover. The Lord was condemned and then crucified on Friday at the time the lambs were killed for that night’s Passover meal. Because it was the day of Preparation for the Passover meal, they were going to break Jesus legs, but he was already dead.
The Pope shows from internal evidence of Mark and from recent scholarship that the timing presented in the Synoptic Gospels is problematic. Among other things, “According to the Synoptic chronology, the execution of Jesus would indeed have taken place on the very day of the feast.”
The Holy Father favors the chronology in the Gospel of John. I quote with my emphases:
John goes to great lengths to indicate that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal. On the contrary: the Jewish authorities who led Jesus before Pilate’s court avoided entering the praetorium, “so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover” (18:28). The Passover, therefore, began only in the evening, and at the time of the trial the Passover meal had not yet taken place; the trial and crucifixion took place on the day before the Passover, on the “day of preparation”, not on the feast day itself. The Passover feast in the year in question accordingly ran from Friday evening until Saturday evening, not from Thursday evening until Friday evening.
Otherwise the sequence of events remains the same: Thursday evening-Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples, but not a Passover meal; Friday, the vigil of the feast, not the feast itself-trial and execution; Saturday-rest in the tomb; Sunday-Resurrection. According to this chronology, Jesus dies at the moment when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple. Jesus dies as the real lamb, merely prefigured by those slain in the Temple.
The Holy Father delves into various explanations for the seeming discrepancies in the timing.
Reading this, I was reminded of something that I had read in one of Papa Ratzinger’s books many years ago, Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy. (Das Fest des Glaubens, 1981; English trans. 1986.)
In this book, Ratzinger draws on the writings of Hartmut Gese who explored the idea that the meal eaten by Jesus and Apostles as the Last Supper was a type of sacrificial thanksgiving meal used by the Jews called a “toda” or “todah” meal.
According to Gese via Ratzinger:
“The thanksgiving sacrifice presupposes a particular situation. If a man is saved from death, from fatal illness or from those who seek his life, he celebrates this divine deliverance in a service of thanksgiving which marks an existential new beginning in his life. In it he confesses God to be his deliverer by celebrating a thanksgiving (toda). He invites his friends and associates, provides the sacrificial animal…and celebrates…together with his invited guests, the inauguration of his new existence…In order to recall God’s deliverance and giving thanks for it, it is necessary to reflect on one’s pilgrimage through suffering, to bring to mind the process of redemption…It is not a mere sacrifice rite; it is a sacrifice in which one professes one’s involvement…Here we have a unity which embraces a service of word and a ritual meal, praise and sacrifice. The sacrifice cannot be misunderstood as a ‘gift’ to God; rather it is a way of ‘honoring’ the Deliverer. And the fact that the rescued man is able to celebrate ‘life restored’ in the sacred meal is itself the gift of God. …The Lord’s Supper is the toda of the Risen One.” (Feast, p. 55)
“The toda is not restricted to a bloody sacrifice of flesh but also embraces the unbloody sacrifice of bread: toda is the only form of sacrifice which is concerned with unleavend bread. Thus, in the context of toda, bread and wine acquire a special significance; the one becomes part of the sacrifice itself, the other plays a constitutive role in proclamation.” (Feast, p. 56)
As I read the Pope’s new book this was all sounding familiar. Papa Ratzinger is clearly a scribe bring out things both old and new. He has been working on these ideas for a long time, long before his election to the See of Peter.
However, last night when I was visiting the Blessed Sacrament I reread this section on the Last Supper and there popped back into my mind another time I had heard Benedict go over some of this ground. In 2007 on Holy Thursday I was sitting just a few yard away from him as he preached from his cathedra in the apse of the Lateran Basilica. In that sermon he said:
There is an apparent discrepancy in the Evangelists’ accounts, between John’s Gospel on the one hand, and what on the other Mathew, Mark and Luke tell us.
According to John, Jesus died on the Cross at the very moment when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the temple. The death of Jesus and the sacrifice of the lambs coincided.
However, this means that he must have died the day before Easter and could not, therefore, have celebrated the Passover meal in person – this, at any rate, is how it appears.
According to the three Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper of Jesus was instead a Passover meal into whose traditional form he integrated the innovation of the gift of his Body and Blood.
This contradiction seemed unsolvable until a few years ago. The majority of exegetes were of the opinion that John was reluctant to tell us the true historical date of Jesus’ death, but rather chose a symbolic date to highlight the deeper truth: Jesus is the new, true Lamb who poured out his Blood for us all.
In the meantime, the discovery of the [Dead Sea] Scrolls at Qumran has led us to a possible and convincing solution which, although it is not yet accepted by everyone, is a highly plausible hypothesis. We can now say that John’s account is historically precise.
Jesus truly shed his blood on the eve of Easter at the time of the immolation of the lambs.
In all likelihood, however, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples in accordance with the Qumran calendar, hence, at least one day earlier; he celebrated it without a lamb, like the Qumran community which did not recognize Herod’s temple and was waiting for the new temple.
In his new, second volume, the Holy Father goes over some of the evidence connected to the Qumran community presented especially by the French scholar Annie Jaubert. He finally, however, makes the statement:
In reply it must be said that the traces of tradition to which she refers are too weak to be convincing. The other difficulty is that Jesus is unlikely to have used a calendar associated principally with Qumran. Jesus went to the Temple for the great feasts. Even if he prophesied its demise and confirmed this with a dramatic symbolic action, he still followed the Jewish festal calendar, as is evident from John’s Gospel in particular. True, one can agree with Jaubert that the Jubilees calendar was not strictly limited to Qumran and the Essenes. Yet this is not sufficient to justify applying it to Jesus’ Passover. Thus it is understandable that Annie Jaubert’s theory—so fascinating on first sight—is rejected by the majority of exegetes.
I have presented it in some detail because it offers an insight into the complexity of the Jewish world at the time of Jesus, a world that we can reconstruct only to a limited degree, despite all the knowledge of sources now available to us. So while I would not reject this theory outright, it cannot simply be accepted at face value, in view of the various problems that remain unresolved. (Jesus II, pp.111-12)
Finally, the Holy Father sides with John P. Meier, in A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical
Jesus and goes by the chronology of John, while sorting out the apparent differences with the Synoptics.
Just to give you a sense of where the Holy Father goes with this:
One thing emerges clearly from the entire tradition: essentially, this farewell meal was not the old Passover, but the new one, which Jesus accomplished in this context. Even though the meal that Jesus shared with the Twelve was not a Passover meal according to the ritual prescriptions of Judaism, nevertheless, in retrospect, the inner connection of the whole event with Jesus’ death and Resurrection stood out clearly. It was Jesus’ Passover. And in this sense he both did and did not celebrate the Passover: the old rituals could not be carried out—when their time came, Jesus had already died. But he had given himself, and thus he had truly celebrated the Passover with them. The old was not abolished; it was simply brought to its full meaning. (Jesus II, p. 114)
I’ll leave you to read through the whole thing to see how that works. The essence of the argument, however is this…. and this is a theme which threads its way through the entire book: Jesus constantly takes old forms and prayers such as psalms and rites and, when He takes them up, He brings them to a new meaning, a fulfillment, without destroying them. This is particularly important elsewhere in the book, which I can’t quote at the moment, when Papa Ratzinger discusses the destruction of the Temple and the Person of the Lord as THE Temple.
A final point.
As I read this second volume it occurred to me that one might use it as a companion to reading the Scriptural narrative accounts. You could go back and forth between the books and get some real use from the Holy Father’s insights. At the same time, this book is a demonstration that the Pope has been thinking through the questions he deals with for a very long time. His second volume reveals, and I think I have shown that above, an evolution in his thought about certain things.
In my look at this book, I mentioned that Pope’s can’t simply say what they think, or what they are thinking through. People like Joseph Ratzinger continue to think about things. Their thought evolves. The Holy Father is not afraid to show to the world how his thoughts have changed over the years, how he has learned, how his faith has sought understanding (cf. St. Anselm, Proslogion). This continuous, relentless pursuit of deeper understanding, and the eager use of the relentless pursuit recounted by other scholars, even of an different faith, shows that in his life, whether as priest, or professor or Pope of Rome, he has tried to live authentically what he encapsulated as the motto of his episcopal coat-of arms: Cooperatores veritatis… co-workers of the Truth (cf. 3 John 8).
That motto has been in front of my eyes for a long time, since he wrote it on a photo I have framed and hung in a hallway I walk by through the time. I used to meet the former Cardinal in another hallway, some years ago, not daily, but very often. I had many conversations with the man and he was always not only happy to answer questions, but always to hear and seriously consider other opinions and points of view. One of these exchanges lead to the topic of my thesis on St. Augustine.
Benedict XVI is a coworker of the Truth.
You can click HERE or the image above to go to amazon (USA) and buy the book at a significant discount before its official release. The USA KINDLE edition is available HERE for even less than the hardback. If you don’t have a Kindle – I am really starting to like using this great tool – you can get a USA version HERE. It will work anywhere, globally. If you are in the UK or Europe, use THIS LINK for the Pope’s hardback and THIS for a Kindle, which will work everywhere. I haven’t found a link for the UK Kindle version of the Pope’s new book. BTW… you can also read the stuff you get for Kindle on your iPhone, iPad, laptop, etc., and they all synchronize.