Sunday, March 13, 2011

Geza Vermes on the Pope's book, Jesus of Nazareth Part 2

Geza Vermes reviews Jesus of Nazareth part 2 by Pope Benedict in yesterday's Guardian. He thinks the book continues the tone of the first volume: as an extended sermon. He is glad to note that shards of NT criticism seem to have made an impact on the Pope's work. But this impact is muted. How, for example, does the Pope deal with conflicting schedules in the gospel accounts of the Passion narrative?

The facts are these. In the synoptics the last supper is a Passover meal eaten after sunset, when the Jewish day starts, on 15th Nisan. Everything that follows – Jesus's arrest, his trial and sentencing to death for blasphemy by the Jewish high court, his transfer to Pilate on the different charge of sedition, and the Roman proceedings leading to the crucifixion – occurs on the Passover festival. Yet the chief priests, sticklers for legal minutiae, spend the whole night and day engaged in forbidden activities on a feast day.
John, by contrast, antedates everything by 24 hours. The last supper is not a Passover dinner. There is no Jewish blasphemy trial; Jesus is simply interrogated by the former high priest Annas. In the morning, without the accused being present, the chief priests convene and decide to deliver the revolutionary Jesus to Pilate early on 14th Nisan. They refuse to enter the palace so as not to be defiled and barred from eating the Passover meal that evening.
Any historian familiar with Judaism must realise that the synoptic timetable is impossible: Jesus's two trials and crucifixion could not have taken place on Passover day. Obliged to make a critical choice, the pope judges the synoptic chronology erroneous and opts correctly for that of the fourth gospel. However, he wants to have it both ways. Instead of adopting the coherent story from John's gospel, he transfers the synoptic details that are missing from John, including the Jewish trial, to the day before Passover. But taking such liberties turns out to be costly: the denial of the last supper's paschal character flatly contradicts the clear mention of the feast in the synoptics and, further, clashes with the reference that Jesus and his party had sung the halleluiah psalms, "the hymn" concluding the Passover dinner, before they departed to Gethsemane.
While the Pope is correct to clarify that the responsibility for the death of Jesus does not lie with the Jewish people (cf Matthew 27:25),
One should add that the pope spoils the effect of his denial of general Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus by explaining the verse in Matthew as a "theological etiology" – an anticipated justification by Matthew of the terrible fate and total destruction the Jews brought on themselves by demanding Christ's execution.

1 comment:

Michael said...


Do you understand the 4th Cup?

After the supper He took the third cup saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This IS my blood of the NEW and everlasting covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

A hymn was sung, which is a combination of several psalms called The Great Hillel, and they went out to the Mount of Olives.

What happened? The Passover ceremony and ritual was not complete. There was no fourth cup. There was no announcement that it was finished. Could it be that Jesus was so upset with what He knew was about to happen that He forgot? Doubtful!

Not only Jesus, but also the 11 others had participated in the Passover Seder every year of their lives. No, this was done on purpose. The last supper of Jesus was not over.

On the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples slept while Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done."

He prayed that three times. Then Jesus was arrested, illegally put on trial by the Sanhedrin, then by Pontius Pilate, sentenced and crucified.

While on the cross He wept. Jesus, who was in excruciating agony, was so merciful that He prayed for the forgiveness of His executioners. He was offered some wine with a pain killer, myrrh, in it. He refused it.

"Later, knowing that all was now complete, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled and the kingdom established, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.'" A man dipped a sponge into sour wine; he placed it on a hyssop branch and lifted it up to Jesus lips.

He drank. (We recall that it was the hyssop branch which was used to paint lambs blood around the Hebrew's door for the Passover of the angel of death.)

It was then that Jesus said, "It is finished." He then bowed His head and gave up the spirit to His Father.

The fourth cup now represented the lamb’s blood of the first Passover, a saving signal to the angel of death.

The Lamb of God was now sacrificed. The last Passover supper of Jesus Christ was now complete with the fourth cup. It was finished.

The tie in with the Passover is unmistakable.

The Lamb of God was sacrifice and death was about to be passed over come Easter day.

The promise of eternal life for many was about to be fulfilled.

Christ’s Passover was finished, but His mission was not until he rose from the dead.

For more information on Jesus New Covenant and how everything ties together -- Passover Meal -> Manna -> Prophecy of the New Covenant -> Bread of Life Meaning -- go to The 4th and watch the video! You can also read along while the video is playing.

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