The Death of the Lord and the hour of the slaying of the lambs

Important reminder at the very end!

One line of argument that has arisen around the date of the Lord’s Death on the Cross, which seems to have been on the Friday of Preparation before the Sabbath of Passover in AD 33, is that the Lord was being crucified at the same time that the lambs were being slain in the Temple.  That would make sense, since He is the true Paschal Lamb who brings to fulfillment all the types and foreshadowing of the mysterious things to come.

However, there are problems with that line of though, since it makes the timing of the Last Supper, the Lord’s Passion, and his Death difficult to reconcile with the Passover practices, when the lambs – a lot of lambs – were to be slain.  The lambs had to be slain before the Hallel Psalms had been sung through. HERE  If this were the case, then, in the silence of the ancient world, it might have been possible for the Lord and those on Golgotha to hear the singing of the priests and and screaming of the dying lambs.

But there are some timing problems.

Here is one proposal which I picked up via True Anglican and Evidence Unseen.  How do we reconcile the calculation of time in the different accounts, Synoptic v John?  This clever and, because it saves the coincidence of the slaughtering of the lambs with the Crucifixion, I like it best!

Of course the thorny question of the year this all happened comes in.  If you use different Jewish to civil calendar calculators and day of the week calculators you get varying results. Still,  let’s have a look:

OPTION #4: There were two calendars for the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

We hold to this final view. It states that the Jews celebrated the Passover on two consecutive days. Hoehner writes, “The Pharisees celebrated the Passover immediately (Nisan 13/14) while the Sadducees waited until the usual time (i.e., Nisan 14/15).” Jesus celebrated the Passover on Thursday night according to the Pharisaic calendar, which is in line with the Synoptics. But John was going off of the Sadducean calendar, when he wrote his gospel, because he was focusing on Jesus’ enemies.  [Interesting.]

Since there were so many people to feed, it would be virtually impossible for the priests to sacrifice enough lambs in a 24 hour period. Josephus estimates that about a quarter million lambs were slaughtered during the Passover. Modern historians believe that Josephus was clearly exaggerating these numbers. It would be difficult for an army with guns and grenades to kill that many sheep, let alone a group of priests! However, modern historians estimate that anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 people were in Jerusalem during Passover. This would be a massive amount of people to feed with the sacrificed sheep.

By spreading this out over two days, this would help the priests perform the sacrifices. Thus Hoehner explains, “There arose the custom where the Galileans slew their lambs on Nisan 13, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted eight days whereas the Judeans celebrated on Nisan 14.” Hoehner also argues that the Galileans/Pharisees could have used a different way of reckoning the day from the Judeans/Sadducees. He writes, “It is thought that the Galileans used a different method of reckoning the Passover than the Judeans. The Galileans and Pharisees used the sunrise-to-sunrise reckoning whereas the Judeans and Sadducees used the sunset-to-sunset reckoning.” We can express these two groups succinctly:

The Galilean Jews reckoned the day from sunrise-to-sunrise: This made the Last Supper a Passover meal. They had the Paschal lamb slaughtered in the afternoon on Thursday, [?] Nisan 14. Carson writes, “The slaughter normally took place between 3.00 p.m. and 5.00 p.m. on 14 Nisan, falling on a Thursday in the year in question; Passover itself began about 6.00 p.m. on the same Thursday, the beginning of 15 Nisan.” [How does this line up with the astronomy of the other post?]

The Judean Jews reckoned the day from sunset-to-sunset: They would not have considered the Last Supper a Passover meal. They had their Paschal lamb slaughtered on Friday afternoon, Nisan 15. Under this calendar system, Jesus was eating the Passover meal, when his enemies were conspiring to arrest him. In fact, they arrested him the night before.

The corporate sacrifice of a burnt offering for the nation was done at 3 pm on Passover, according to the Judean calendar. This means that when the priest was slaying the Paschal lamb, Jesus was at that very moment yelling “tetelestai” [“It is finished.”] from the Cross! John must have been calling attention to this fact by focusing on the Sadducean calendar.

In any event, regardless of the exact year, or the astronomy of the day, this is something you can be sure about.

Sacramental reality is no less real than what you experience by your senses.

In the sacred liturgical action of the Triduum rites, you are made present to Mystery and Mystery to you.  You experience in a sacramental way the renewed events of the Passion and Death of the Lord.  You are there and they are with you in way that is real, more real than our historical conjuring.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Aquinas Gal says:

    Pope Benedict takes up this question in his book on Jesus: Holy Week. He goes with John’s chronology, that the Last Supper was not the Passover supper of the Jews. Benedict concludes this is perfectly fine because Jesus is establishing the new Passover, his own Passover in his flesh and blood.

  2. jflare says:

    Some years ago, I heard Scott Hahn’s theory. His view holds that Jesus, being an Essene, celebrated the Passover a day prior to the Sadduccees or Pharisees. The latter had altered their Passover to satisfy an outside party’s political demand. The Essenes had not, but remained faithful to the original Jewish calendar. In this view, both accounts of time are correct regarding the Passover because they used two different reckonings of when Passover should be. As a result, he also notes that the Sadduccees and Pharisees literally slaughtered the Lamb of God in an act of demanded crucifixion, because Christ was crucified about the time that the Temple priests were going about slaughtering lambs.

    I think this is very similar to the fourth option, though it does negate the two days of lambs being slaughtered.

  3. rosaryarmy says:

    I believe the Essene theory to be the correct one, although I don’t believe that it states that Jesus Himself was an Essene. There is strong evidence that John the Baptist was an Essene, however, and given that some of the Apostles were originally disciples of John and that Jesus Himself was a relative of John, it is reasonable to believe that there would have been a strong Essene influence on their actions.

  4. Chon says:

    Do dying lambs scream? I thought they were silent.

    “Though he was harshly treated, he submitted
    and opened not his mouth;
    like a lamb led to the slaughter
    or a sheep before the shearers,
    he was silent and opened not his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7

    Taken from the Lectionary for Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

    Screaming is for goats.

  5. Chon says:

    I just realized that the Passover lamb could be taken from the sheep OR the goats. I guess Jesus is always thought of in association with sheep, because of the above quote from Isaiah.

  6. Pingback: Passover | David's Commonplace Book

  7. Father Spike says:

    Apologist Jimmy Akin has an interesting solution (read it all at that hinges on the effective merging of the feasts of Passover and of Unleavened Bread, and also on the Day of Preparation being the day before the Sabbath:

    “The real problem in understanding the time references in John’s Gospel comes from not knowing enough about they way events were referred to in the first century. Concening John 19:14, “the day of Preparation” does not mean the day of preparing for the Passover. In the first century “the day of Preparation” meant “the day to prepare for the Sabbath” — in other words, Friday.

    “The Passover” could refer to at least four things: (1) it could refer to the two chagigah lambs which were slaughtered and eaten, one on the evening of 15 Nisan, during the Passover seder, and one on the following day of 15 Nisan (Jews at the time reckoned the day as beginning at sundown, so the evening of the day preceded the morning of the day), (2) it could refer to the Passover meal itself, (3) it could refer to the day on which the Passover meal was eaten, and (4) it could refer to the eight day festal cycle including both Passover day and the following seven day feast of Unleavened Bread. We see this latter usage in the gospels themselves. Luke 22:1 tells us: “Now the feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover.
    It is this usage which is relevant in John 19:14. Thus “the day of Preparation of the Passover” means “the Friday of Passover week.” Thus the New International Version renders John 19:14, “It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week …”

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