Academic journal article Shofar

Where Jewish Scholars on Jesus Go Awry: Last Supper, Sanhedrin, Blasphemy, Barabbas

Academic journal article Shofar

Where Jewish Scholars on Jesus Go Awry: Last Supper, Sanhedrin, Blasphemy, Barabbas

Article excerpt

Is there a propensity by Jewish scholars to misconstrue as actual history Gospel "facts" that are purely fictional? Jewish studies on the historical Jesus need to give due regard to the operation of "gospel dynamics": those skillful techniques by which early Christians reconceptualized Jesus' image to resolve theological and political challenges not from Jesus' ministry but instead from the Evangelists' later day. Four "favorite" topics of Jewish scholars serve as apt prisms for revealing such underlying dynamics: Jesus' Last Supper as a Passover meal, his Sanhedrin trial, his "blasphemy" verdict, and his pairing with Barabbas.

I am often asked by Christian scholars why Jews accept so uncritically the Gospels' basic historical "facts" about Jesus. They ask also in writing - e.g., Donald Hagner: "modern Jewish scholars ... on the whole . . . surprisingly tend to ascribe more reliability to these materials than do many of the more radical non-Jewish critics."1 Some Jews have agreed-e.g., Samuel Sandmel: "I am sometimes aghast at the amateurishness of Jewish scholars in Christian literature," at "the almost fundamentalism of some Jewish scholars when they approach the Gospels"2; also Trude Weiss-Rosmarin: "Jewish historians tend to accept the Gospel data on Jesus as basically factual .... They take issue with the Gospel accounts of his trial and death as if they were history."3

Is this critique still warranted? Let us use as our prism four "favorite" Gospel topics for Jews: Jesus' Last Supper; his Sanhédrin trial; the "blasphemy" verdict; and his pairing with Barabbas. Our focus must be the Gospel of Mark since on these themes, at least for the most part, Matthew and Luke drew heavily from him, sometimes even word for word. On what follows, readers wishing to scrutinize my reasoning further may consult my volume, Modern Jews Engage the New Testament.4

Analyses of "Favorite" Topics for Jewish Scholars

The Last Supper and Passover

All four Gospels fix the Last Supper on Thursday night, with Jesus' death on the following Friday afternoon. But they disagree over when the Passover meal itself fell. Mark (14:12f), upon whom Matthew (26.17f.) and Luke (22:7f.) depend, sets the Passover meal Thursday night, coincident with the Last Supper; but John distinguishes the two meals, setting the Passover meal the following night, Friday, directly after the Passover lambs' sacrifice that Friday afternoon (13:1-2; 18:28; 19:14, 31-36). In Paul's sole Last Supper allusion (1 Cor 11:23), he designates the bread that Jesus broke as artos, the term normally understood to mean "leavened."

Understandably, Jewish scholars interested in whether the Last Supper was a Passover observance are eager to determine whose chronology is correct: the Synoptists' or John's. But careful analysis of Mark alone reveals how "off the mark" many Jewish studies may be since the difference in reportage by Mark and John is purely theological and not at all historical.

The entire Last Supper/Passover problem pivots on but a sole five-verse paragraph, Mark 14:12-16:

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover Lamb, his disciples said to him, "Where will you have us . . . prepare for you to eat the Passover?" And he sent two of his disciples: . . ."Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; . . . wherever he enters, say to the householder/The Teacher says," Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?'" And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us." And the disciples . . . went to the city and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.

I contend that Mark himself crafted and inserted this unit into the original written tradition he inherited, with Matthew and Luke, knowing no differently, dutifully replicating what Mark had done. Only consider these major "anomalies" in Mark's brief account-I term them "anomalies" because Mark's Passover paragraph does not sit well with the surrounding material. …

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