(Paper given at the 2018 AM Denver NAPH session of SBL on "The Institution of the Lord's Supper, a Passover Seder?")
By Ken Hanson
Associate Professor and Program Director of Judaic Studies
University of Central Florida
The Last Supper, while undoubtedly the central element of liturgical Christianity, is equally laden with theoretical and theological issues, as well as questions of textual redaction, that directly bear on is interpretation and intrinsic meaning. With the significant help of Jewish scholarship and Qumranic studies, much new light has been shed on the Gospels’ depiction of the meal as a kind of Passover meal. But was it? Looking behind the Textus Receptus, we find clear parallels with the so-called “Messianic Rule” of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which describes an eschatological “banquet,” involving bread and wine (in that order), blessed by a priestly/ messianic figure (1QSa 2:17-21). This is the order depicted by Paul (1 Cor. 11:23- 25), as well as well as by the Gospels of Mark (14:22-25) and Matthew (26:26-29), in which Jesus refers to the “blood of the covenant” or, according to other ancient texts, “new covenant” (as in Qumranic parlance). Luke, by contrast (22:13-20), has Jesus take the cup first, as common in Jewish ritual, followed by a second cup, which becomes, theologically, “the new covenant in my blood.” Might the problematic reference to the drinking of blood represent a later redaction of the Lucan account, which depicts Jesus behaving in an otherwise “kosher” manner? Another possible Qumranic allusion in the Gospels’ Passover narrative is the unexpected presence of a man carrying a pitcher of water (Mk. 14:13). To what extent do such details indicate a sectarian “overlay” to a more traditionally “Jewish” narrative? Might Jesus’ final repast with his disciples have been transformed from a traditional Jewish meal into, not just a Passover “Seder,” but a Qumran-inspired “Messianic Banquet,” influenced by a secondary Pauline wave of Judeo-Christianity?
The fabled “Last Supper” of Jesus, as recorded in all four Christian Gospels (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-39; John 13:1-17, 26) has long been viewed as a traditional Jewish Passover meal (which came to be called a “Seder”), intriguing as well as inspiring believing Christians the world over. The very idea that the elements of the Christian Eucharist, bread and wine, were essential components of the Passover meal, has captivated both theologians and popular Christian culture. On a scholarly level Joachim Jeremias’ exhaustive study, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, details not less than fourteen parallels between the Last Supper and the Passover Seder. Mark Kinzer (from a messianic Jewish perspective) devotes considerable attention to the Eucharist within the milieu of first-century Judaism, but sadly, relatively little Jewish scholarship deals seriously with the New Testament. Kinzer stresses “the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist, and its connection to the religious character of the Jewish way of life.” We would do well, in any case, to go beyond reflections on the theological significance of Last Supper, employing Jewish scholarship and Qumranic studies to gain a fresh appreciation of the event itself, framing the narrative as best we can in what might be called a “historical” context.
To be sure, there are a number of chronological and textual inconsistencies (“passed over” in Jeremias’ work and in Kinzer’s commentary as in popular religious culture) that make identifying Jesus’ Last Supper as a “Seder” a virtual impossibility. If the Last Supper had in fact been a “Seder,” then the Jewish high priest would have convened the trial of a fellow Jew after the onset of the great festival. That of course is unthinkable, and not even a Roman prefect would have ordered a crucifixion on the first day of Passover in the “powder keg” of ancient Judea. Furthermore, the Gospels indicate that the body of the crucified Jesus had to be taken down from the cross and interred prior to the Sabbath; yet if Jesus had been crucified on Friday (the first day of Passover), it would already have been a high holy day, and the rush to burial would have been moot.
Such issues have led to speculation that perhaps there was no Last Supper at all, and that the Gospels themselves are comprised of mere theological reflections on the meaning of Jesus’ death. Bruce Chilton argues that the identification of the Last Supper with a Passover “Seder” originated after the fact, among Jewish Christians who were attempting to maintain the Jewish character of early Easter celebrations. There is of course the larger issue of whether anything at all may be recovered of the “historical Jesus.”
We need of course to examine the specific language of the synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John and other relevant accounts. Mark (14:16) tells us that the disciples “prepared the Passover meal” on Jesus’ behalf. Matthew (26:19) agrees with Mark, declaring, “So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.” As Luke (22:8) relates, “Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.’” However, we are never told that they actually prepare it or that it is ever consumed. On this point it is reasonable to conclude that the Lucan language should be preferred over the other synoptics.
John’s Gospel (13:1) simply relates that the Last Supper occurred “before the festival of the Passover.” The meal is never identified as a Passover “Seder,” and the Passover itself is said to have commenced a few hours after Jesus’ death. This it seems is a much more credible chronology. Moreover, the liturgical element of what became the Christian Eucharist is completely absent in John.
Seder on a Leash
Notably, there have been multiple attempts to recover the “lost dog” of Jesus’ “Seder,” dragging it as if by leash to the proper time. Perhaps Passover coincided with the Sabbath that year, since, according to John, Jesus was crucified on the “day of preparation,” presumably Friday. In that case, however, Jesus’ “Seder” (presumably Thursday night) would have been conducted a day too early. Perhaps there was flexibility regarding when the Passover meal might be celebrated. After all, multiple Seders have come to be observed in the long legacy of Jewish tradition. Never, of course, has a Seder been conducted before the onset of Passover. Is it reasonable to assume, in an age in which so much emphasis was placed on precise calendrical calculations, that Jesus would have conducted the Passover meal on the wrong day? It more than strains credulity to imagine any Second Temple observant Jew, Jesus included, simply dispensing with halakhic provisions as to when the Passover was to be commemorated.
One possible solution, offered by Annie Jaubert, assumes that Jesus may have been operating according to a completely separate calendar, namely, the solar calendar that features prominently in both Jewish pseudepigrapha and the literature of Qumran. Notable references to this alternate calendar appear in the books of Enoch and Jubilees, which were wildly popular during the Second Jewish Commonwealth. In that case, what may have been observed as Passover by Jesus and his disciples was not Passover for the rest of the population of Jerusalem. The calendar began on the first of Nisan, a Wednesday, which was appropriate, since the creation account of Genesis lists the fourth day as that on which the heavenly bodies were created, affording the possibility of counting time. Subsequently, all holidays fell on Wednesdays. This proposed “solution” nonetheless presents us with more problems, since it would place the Last Supper/ “Seder” on a Tuesday night, in conflict with the rest of the Gospel chronology and effectively turning Jesus into a quasi-Essene. It has also been argued that Passover in the Qumran calendar (if it were intercalated) would have fallen after Passover according to the lunar Jewish calendar.
James Tabor has attempted to reconcile the disparate Gospel accounts of the Last Supper and blend them into a cogent chronological sequence by proceeding on the assumption that Passover fell on a Friday that particular year, thus creating (in essence) two back-to-back Sabbaths. Matthew 28:1 seems to hint at this when it relates that the women who rushed to Jesus’ tomb arrived early Sunday morning “after the Sabbaths,” the Greek being plural. Mark 14:12 (in agreement with Luke 22:7), relates that Jesus was crucified on the day “when the Passover lamb is sacrificed,” according to this reconstruction on a Thursday. This is also congruent with a Talmudic passage which relates, “They hung Yeshua the Nazarene on Erev Pesach.” The Passover meal would therefore have been conducted that evening, after Jesus had already died and been interred in a burial cave. This of course effectively rules out identifying the Last Supper with a Passover meal, Mark and Matthew notwithstanding.
If, however, Jesus’ famous repast should not be seen as a “Seder,” what was it, and how do we understand the elements of bread and wine as details of the synoptic Gospel accounts? The place to begin is not with the Gospels at all, but with the apostle Paul. Chronologically, Paul’s letters precede all of the Gospels, at least in their redacted forms, and it was Paul who arguably lent theological significance to Jesus’ final meal, transforming it from a prophetic vehicle to showcase the immanent betrayal by Judas (we might rename it the “Judas dinner”) to a liturgical formula for identifying with Jesus’ sacrificial death.
It is apparent that the key element in this transformation was the evolving tradition of a communal meal, which became part of Judeo-Christian (“Nazarene”) practice early on. The Acts of the Apostles pointedly alludes to the new believers in Jesus sharing such a repast: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, ate their food with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46 NKJV). Additional details emerge in the same narrative, recounting the selling of homes and the adoption of a communal lifestyle reminiscent of the Dead Sea sect. According to David Flusser, the initial stage of the Jesus movement derived from the character of Jesus’ message, which he insists was largely pre-rabbinic, while a “second stratum” was largely influenced by the Essenes/ Dead Sea Sect and later found expression in the kerygma of the hellenistic Christian communities.
The Pauline “Tail”
In keeping with this “second stratum,” the communal meal became integral in the liturgical life of the churches planted by Paul. The Pauline epistles repeatedly reference the “love feasts” of the early Christians, sometimes berating the participants for using them as an excuse for gluttony. The role of the communal meal at Qumran is likewise well attested, being central to the organization of the sect. Moreover, while gluttonous practices are never referenced, the “pure meal” of the sect is the domain, not of novices, but of full initiates into the order, who fully appreciate its solemnity. Most prominently, we find reference in the Dead Sea Community Rule (1QS 6:4-5) and in its addendum, the Messianic Rule, to a sanctified meal attended by one or both Qumranic messiahs (priestly and Davidic) and featuring the very elements of bread and wine central to the Last Supper. In latter we read:
For [he] shall [bl]ess the first portion of the bread and the wine, [reac]hing for the bread first. Afterw[ard] the Messiah of Israel [shall re]ach for the bread. (1QSa 2:19-21)
Most striking here is the liturgical order of bread first, followed by wine. Is it by any means coincidental that Paul follows the same order in recounting the meal partaken by Jesus and his disciples? Paul, writing around the year 55 of the Common Era, gave voice to what by then had become the focal point of the Christian “love feasts.” It is hardly surprising that we should see the Pauline Eucharistic formula embedded in the Last Supper narratives. The likely scenario is that the developing Christian sacrament required an earlier justification in Jesus’ mouth. It is a literary case of the tail wagging the dog. Paul, writing to the church he planted in Corinth, records it as follows:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (1 Cor. 11:23-25 NKJV)
Interestingly, Paul refrains from saying that this was the eve of Passover, only that it was the night on which Jesus was betrayed. Though Paul does not explain exactly how he “received” this, we may see him effectively transforming Jesus’ last meal into a Qumranic “messianic banquet,” complete with a “new covenant” reference such as we find in the Dead Sea Damascus Rule. This is the language that we see broadly reflected in the synoptic Gospels. As in the Messianic Rule, the bread comes first, followed by the wine. Might the historical Jesus have been enacting, not a Passover meal, but his own version of the Dead Sea sect’s “messianic banquet”? There is in fact another interesting connection between the Gospel narratives of the Last Supper and the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jesus’ directive: “Go into the city and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you” (Mark 14:13). A man carrying a jar of water is a detail we might expect to find in a celibate community, as the Essenes were rumored to be. It has even been argued that the location of the Last Supper was in the Essene Quarter of ancient Jerusalem.
However, all attempts to find an Essene connection to the Last Supper must come to grips with a startling variation in Luke’s Gospel, where we find the Pauline language prefaced by some uniquely Lucan material. Jesus says, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…” (22:15). He next hints that he will not in fact be able to eat it: “… for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Later manuscripts render the text as “eat it again,” most likely to make it appear as though the Last Supper was in fact a “Seder.”
The account continues: “Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves…’” (22:17). Thereafter we read: “Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them…” (22:19). Interestingly, the Greek word used here and in the other Gospels for “loaf” is artos, indicating ordinary, rather than unleavened bread. Again, we suspect that is no “Seder.” Next we find the Pauline-inspired language:
… saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (22:19-20)
Looking behind the Textus Receptus, we discover that these words do not appear in some of the earliest texts of Luke, leading to the conclusion that they are a later editorial gloss, picking up the Pauline eucharistic formula. In that case, as Flusser noted, we are left with the traditionally Jewish order of wine first, followed by the bread. Furthermore, the problematic reference to the drinking of blood vanishes if we understand it as part of a later redaction of the Lucan account, which otherwise depicts Jesus behaving in a characteristically “kosher” manner.
In the final analysis, if the “Seder” of Jesus amounts to a “lost dog,” then Paul’s Eucharist is the tail that wagged it. Some might be tempted to conclude that Jesus’ final meal is entirely a literary invention, leaving us a tail without a dog at all. It may nonetheless be argued that the “second stratum” of Judeo-Christianity effectively “overwrote” the Gospels themselves. Moreover, while the overwhelming majority of scholars assume that Mark, considered the earliest, is the preferred rendering, it is in fact Luke’s version that arguably relates an even earlier and more reliable tradition, preserved in his telling alone. It is a tradition separately reflected in the late first or early second century document, the Didache, which, describing the Eucharist, also begins with the cup, followed by the bread, according to the traditional Jewish order:
With respect to the Eucharist you shall give thanks as follows. First with respect to the cup: “We give thanks our Father for the holy vine of David, your child which you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.” And with respect to the bread: “We give thanks our Father for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever” (Didache IX: 1-3).
As Aaron Milavec points out, three different traditions of a cultic meal are presumed to have arisen by the last quarter of the first century: a “regular” Eucharistic meal with the elements interpreted pneumatically (as in the Didache); a sacramental meal involving Jesus’ flesh and blood; and a combination of Hellenistic/ Last Supper practices with synoptic elaborations of a “sacramental Last Supper.” Perhaps an early independent tradition in which Jesus blesses the cup, then the bread (with no mention of the wine as “blood” or the bread as “flesh”) became source material for both Luke and the Didache, in the former case being overwritten by the Pauline Eucharistic formula and in the latter instance becoming part of an early Christian liturgical practice.
We should still ask how the Last Supper should be perceived if it were not a Passover meal or a Pauline-inspired “messianic banquet.” In this regard there is much merit in Tabor’s assertion that the prophetic overtones of the meal are central, with Jesus seeing himself perhaps as a Davidic figure to whom the prophet Zechariah alluded. This is underscored by the account of him riding into Jerusalem on the foal of an ass and going on to cleanse the temple of unclean practices. Perhaps he believed that if he and his disciples offered themselves up to the Roman authorities, the divine rule of God would be revealed on earth. We might even understand Jesus’ “agenda” as politically revolutionary, inasmuch as he anticipated the supernatural overthrow of Roman rule.
Was the actual intent of Judas’ betrayal to force Jesus’ hand, as it were, into revealing the Kingdom of God with power and ushering in his messianic reign? Such a possibility is not as far-fetched as one might imagine, given Josephus’ accounts of other would-be messiahs of that age, who sincerely believed that they might bring down the rule of Rome via supernatural agency. That said, we may choose to refer to the “Judas dinner” simply as an “anticipatory” meal, in advance of Jesus’ expectation of immanent betrayal, to be followed perhaps by divine intervention and deliverance. In the synoptic Gospels, however, all of this is subsumed by the Pauline addition of the Eucharistic formula, which instead becomes the central focus of a very different “Gospel of peace.” That in turn would be much more palatable to the Greco-Roman sensibilities to which Paul was attempting to appeal. Only in reconstructed Luke and in John’s Gospel do we find, sans Eucharist, an unfiltered picture of the event that would define the last hours in the life and purpose of Yeshua the Galilean.
 Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 3rd ed. (London: SCM Press, 1966), 42–61.
 Mark Kinzer, Jean-Miguel Garrigues, and Christoph Schönborn, Searching Her Own Mystery: Nostra Aetate, the Jewish People, and the Identity of the Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015), 107, 113. Kinzer sees the Last Supper as embodying an “organic connection to the Israel of old.” He does not, however, address the multiple challenges to the reliability of the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper.
 Bruce Chilton, A Feast of Meanings: Eucharistic Theologies from Jesus Through Johannine Circles (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994), 93–108. See also Jonathan Klawans, “Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?,” Bible Review, October 2001.
 James Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 204. Tabor stresses the complete absence in John of any reference to the Eucharist. “If Jesus in fact had inaugurated the practice of eating bread because his body, and drinking wine as his blood at this ‘Last Supper’ how could John possibly have left it out? What John writes is that Jesus set down to the supper, by all indications an ordinary Jewish meal.”
 Annie Jaubert, The Date of the Last Supper (trans. I. Rafferty, Staten Island: Alba House, 1965); Stephane Saulnier, Calendrical Variations in Second Temple Judaism: New Perspectives on the ‘Date of the Last Supper’ Debate (JSJSup 159; Leiden: Brill, 2012). See also Colin J. Humphreys, “Did Jesus use the solar calendar of Qumran for his last supper Passover?” in The Mystery of the Last Supper: Reconstructing the Final Days of Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 95-109. As Humphreys observes, “Only a small minority of biblical scholars support a different calendar solution of the synoptics/John last supper controversy.”
 It is also likely that the embrace of the solar calendar was the principal reason for the initial schism which developed between the Dead Sea sectarians and the rest of Jewish society during this period. See Eshbal Ratzon, “The First Jewish Astronomers: Lunar Theory and Reconstruction of a Dead Sea Scroll,” Science in Context 30, 2 (2017):113-139; Jonathan Ben Dov, Head of All Years. (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2008).
 Eshbal Ratzon and Jonathan Ben-Dov, “A Newly Reconstructed Calendrical Scroll from Qumran in Cryptic Script,” JBL 136, 4 (2017): 905-936.
 Humphreys, 107-9. See also Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2015), 280: “It is difficult to reconcile with the synoptic testimony that Jesus ate the Last Supper the same evening the lambs were being sacrificed by other Jews.”
 b. Sanhedrin 67a and 43a.
 Jesus arguably made backhanded reference to the Dead Sea sect, castigating their exclusivity. For example, while the Dead Sea sectarians referred to themselves as “sons of light” and all outsiders as “sons of darkness,” Jesus (with wry irony) is quoted as declaring (Luke 16:8) that the “the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” See David Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1988), xviii.
 כיא֯[ הוא מ]ברך את רשית הלחם
והתירו[ש ושלח ]ידו בלחם לפנים. ואח[ר יש]ל֯ח משיח ישראל ידיו בלחם
Notably, the LXX almost always translates tirosh as oinos (“wine”). It is also notable that the Qumran meal has nothing at all to do with Passover. Neinz-Wolfgang Kuhn, “The Qumran Meal and the Lord’s Supper in Paul in the Context of the Graeco-Roman World,” in A. J. M. Wedderburn, and Alf Christophersen, Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman World: Essays in Honour of Alexander J.M. Wedderburn (London: T & T Clar, 2003), 221-49.
 James Tabor, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), 147: “We have every reason to believe that Mark got his tradition of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper from Paul. Matthew and Luke, who then use Mark as a source, also repeat what Paul had said decades earlier.”
 Bargil Pixner, Paths of the Messiah (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 192-220; idem, “Mount Zion, Jesus, and Archaeology,” in Jesus and Archaeology (ed. James H. Charlesworth; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 309-22; Rainer Riesner, “Jesus, the Primitive Community, and the Essene Quarter of Jerusalem,” in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. James H. Charlesworth; New York: Doubleday, 1992), 198-234; Bargil Pixner, D. Chen, and S. Margalit, “Mount Zion: The ‘Gate of the Essenes’ Reexcavated,” ZDPV 105 (1989): 85-95; Rainer Riesner, “Josephus’ ‘Gate of the Essenes’ in Modern Discussion,” ZDPV 105 (1989): 105-9.
 In the Uncial D and some Italian translations the last part of Luke 22:19 is missing, along with the entirety of 22:20. See Benjamin J. Burkholder, Bloodless Atonement?: A Theological and Exegetical Study of the Last Supper Sayings (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2017), 169, n. 5: “Luke 22:19 has been transposed before Luke 22:17-18, which was most likely done in order to cohere with the traditional Eucharistic practice of sharing in the bread before the wine.” For a full exposition of these variations see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, (London: United Bible Societies, 1971), 173-7.
 Joseph Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times and Teaching (trans. Herbert Danby; New York: Macmillan, 1925), 329: “The drinking of blood, even if it was meant symbolically, could only have aroused horror in the minds of such simple Galilean Jews.”
 Aaron Milavec, The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. (New York: The Newman Press, 2003), 394. See also Marcello Del Verme, Didache and Judaism: Jewish Roots of an Ancient Christian-Jewish Work (New York: T & T Clark, 2004), 174: “The Didache is generally viewed as a many-layered and compound work correctly classified under the genre of progressive literature.”
 Tabor, Jesus Dynasty, 205. See also Andrew B. McGowan, Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014), 114: “Paul’s interpretation of the Christian meal as a proclamation and remembrance of Jesus’ death does not feature. Yet other passages in the work suggest that the Didache is closely connected with the Synoptic Gospels or their sources.” See also See also H. van de Sandt, David Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and Its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 112-31; H. van de Sandt, “Didache 3,1-6: A Transformation of an Existing Jewish Hortatory Pattern,” JSJ 23 (1992): 21-41.
 Tabor, Jesus Dynasty, 192.
 Josephus recounts a certain prophet who would ascend from Egypt and lead a group of thirty thousand up the Mount of Olives, where he would, by supernatural power, command the walls of Jerusalem to fall down. Another messianic impostor named Theudas would claim to be able to part the Jordan River and lead the people across, like Joshua of old: “It came to pass, while Cuspius Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain charlatan, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the Jordan river; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it” (Antiquities 20.97-98). See also Fernando Bermejo-Rubio, “Jesus as a Seditionist,” in Zev Garber, ed., Teaching the Historical Jesus: Issues and Exegesis (New York: Routledge, 2015), 238-40: “Jesus should be labeled not only as a religious teacher, but also as a nationalistic two and an anti-Roman seditionist.”