The following article appeared in
Called "Was the Last Supper a Passover Jewish Sedar?"
by Baruch M. Bokser - With some additional comments and all capital words
To this day, Jews throughout the world observe the Passover
festival with a highly ritualized meal called a SEDER. The word
means "order" and refers to the order of the SERVICE at the meal,
including prayers, psalms, other readings, the retelling of the
story of the Exodus from Egypt and the eating of special foods
that have symbolic significance.
It is commonly SUPPOSED that the Last Supper, the meal Jesus
ate with his disciples the night before his crucifixion, was a
But was the Last Supper a Passover seder?
The question itself assumes that the Last Supper occurred on
the eve of Passover ... The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and
Luke) clearly indicate that the Last Supper was the Passover
"And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they
sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him,
'Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the
Passover?'" (Mark 14:12; see also the parallel passages in
Matthew 26:17 and Luke 22:7-9).
The disciples then "prepared the Passover" (Mark 14:16;
Matthew 26:19; Luke 22:13). "When it was evening, he sat at the
table with the twelve disciples" (Matthew 26:20 and, with slight
variations, Mark 14:17 and Luke 22:14). This is the account in
the Synoptic Gospels.
According to the Gospel of John ... referring to the same
meal, at which Judas betrayed Jesus, John tells us that it
occurred "before the feast of Passover John 13:1, see also John
19:42). Moreover, after the Last Supper, between the second and
third time Peter denied he was a disciple of Jesus, when Jesus
was taken to Pilate - we are told that the Jews had not yet eaten
the Passover (John 18:28). Finally, John is careful to point out
that Jesus' crucifixion occurred on "the day of Preparation for
the Passover" John 19:14).
Scholars have provided a variety of responses to this
apparent discrepancy. Some say John is correct and the synoptics
are incorrect (Of course both are correct for all four were
inspired by God to write what they wrote - Keith Hunt). Others
say the synoptics are correct and John is incorrect (No, all are
correct, for ALL Scripture is given by the inspiration of God -
2 Tim.3:16 - Keith Hunt).
Still others attempt to harmonize the two accounts by
suggesting that they are referring to different calendars (The
answer simply lies in the fact that the true Old Testament
Passover was at the beginning of the 14th day, when Jesus then
observed it with his disciples, and what John relates is the
Pharisees Passover at the middle and end of the 14th going on
into the 15th. It was called also in every-day language "the
Passover" - John simply does not stop to take the time to
explain, he just uses the language and phrase "the Passover" for
indeed the Pharisees Passover meal had not yet begun when he was
relating the events prior to it. The synoptic Gospels are all
very clear that what Jesus observed with His disciples was "the
Passover" - the reader should then know that Jesus observed the
true Passover of the Old Testament, at the correct time of the
beginning of the 14th. I cover all this in great detail in all of
my Passover studies on this Website - Keith Hunt).
Putting chronology aside for the moment, I would like to
focus on the NATURE of the Last Supper. Was it a SEDER meal as we
have come to know it, assuming that it occurred on the eve of
The answer, I believe, is NO!
The seder meal as we know it did not DEVELOP until AFTER 70
AD., in RESPONSE to the Roman destruction of the Temple that
ended the First Jewish Revolt.
The description of the Passover festival in the Hebrew Bible
seems to combine two originally independent festivals (No, the
Bible does not combine them at all, it is the Pharisees Jews that
combined them - Keith Hunt). The FIRST was an ancient
agricultural festival known as the Festival of Unleavened Bread
(an alternative name for Passover, both in the New Testament and
among Jews even today). Unleavened bread (matzah), without yeast,
was baked at the time of the first harvest, in early spring. The
Bible assumes that this festival commemorates the Exodus from
Egypt and that the unleavened bread symbolizes that experience,
in particular, the haste with which the Israelites fled (Exodus
12:17-20,29). The SECOND festival was the Festival of the
Passover Offering, commemorating the historic deliverance of the
Jews when God slew the Egyptian firstborn, but passed over the
houses of Jews whose doorposts were swabbed with the blood of a
sacrificial lamb (Exodus 12:13,23-27). It was at this point that
Pharaoh allowed the enslaved Israelites to leave Egypt.
The fullest biblical account of the evening Passover
observance is found in Exodus 12, which sets out what should be
done on the first Passover night and how it should be remembered
in subsequent years.
The Israelites are instructed to prepare a Passover
offering, and eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, and
to put some of the sacrificial animal's blood on the doorposts so
as to provide a sign that the Destroyer or angel of death should
"pass over" the Israelite homes and afflict only the Egyptian
To ensure that the story is retold in subsequent years, the
Bible uses a pedagogic device: "And when your children ask you,
'What do you mean by this rite?' you shall say, 'It is the
Passover sacrifice to the Lord, because He passed over the houses
of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved
our houses"' (Exodus 12:26-27). The sacrifice and placing of the
blood on the doorposts are assumed to elicit this question from
Here and in all other biblical references to the evening
rite the text assumes the CENTRALITY of the sacrifice; the
SACRIFICE is the HEART of the rite. Thus, Numbers 9:1-15
considers the need for a "second Passover" for those who cannot
observe the first because they were in a state of impurity or on
a journey, they must bring a paschal offering one month later and
eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The implication is
that the holiday cannot be celebrated WITHOUT this sacrificial
After the establishment of the monarchy and construction of
Solomon's Temple, the nature of the Passover observance changed.
According to the Bible, before this time it had been a
DOMESTIC observance. The biblical text, even before Solomon's
time, nevertheless looks forward to the place that "God will
choose" for his sanctuary (Deuteronomy 16:2); that is, Jerusalem.
When, in the time of the monarchy, God had in fact chosen
Jerusalem and his sanctuary was built there, the nature of the
Passover observance changed. The Passover sacrifice was still
central, but instead of a domestic observance, it became a
national pilgrim festival, with the sacrifice offered at God's
sanctuary in Jerusalem - though families might celebrate the
festival in that central location.
Passover, at this point associated with joyous festivity,
took on the dimensions of a national holiday. A communal or
family meal still took place after the sacrifice, but the
SACRIFICE remained the critical feature and the eating of the
sacrificial animal was the ESSENTIAL CENTRAL element of the meal.
As in earlier times, the unleavened bread and bitter herbs were
eaten with the animal.
Except for the change from a domestic observance wherever
Israelites assembled, to a national pilgrim festival in
Jerusalem, the same basic pattern of observance is found in
Joshua 5:10-11; 2 Kings 23:21-24; Ezekiel 45:21; Ezra 6:19-22 and
2 Chronicles 30:1-27; 35:1-19. The last two chapters of
Chronicles, describing the Jerusalem observance, emphasize the
great rejoicing, as well as the role of the Levites and other
experts in singing praises to God; Chronicles also states that
the eating of the Passover sacrifice took place in kinship groups
(The writer forgets that before Jerusalem was the place where God
placed His name, it was Shiloh - hence before Solomon and David
his father, God had a place of "festival observance" and so
"pilgrim" feasts - Keith Hunt).
Early post-biblical sources maintain the centrality of the
communal sacrificial meal, even when they supplement the biblical
heritage. For example, Jubilees, a post-biblical text from the
second century B.C., speaks of observing the rite of the Passover
offering at the central sanctuary in Jerusalem and EMPHASIZES the
slaughter of the sacrifice and the people's joy as they eat the
sacrifice, drink wine and praise God (Jubilees 49). (For the
first time, the drinking of wine is required. Reference to bitter
herbs is omitted, and unleavened bread is mentioned only as part
of the Festival of Unleavened Bread.) Other sources - the epic
Greek Jewish poet Ezekiel (second century B.C.), Samaritan
traditions, the Temple Scroll and other Dead Sea Scrolls - all
refer to an evening celebration CENTERING around the SACRIFICE.
Even the Jewish philosopher Philo (c.30 B.C. - 45 AD.), who
adopts an allegorical reading of the Bible, assumes the
centrality of the Passover offering and meal, which he
spiritualizes. To the biblical record, he adds only the singing
of prayers and hymns. He is clear, however, regarding the
celebratory nature of the festival: the practice of "the whole
people" offering the sacrifices, a people "raised for that day to
the dignity of the priesthood ... was sanctioned by the law once
in every year to remind them of their duty of thanksgiving."
(Philo, Special Laws, 2:145-146,148)
(Yes, as Philo well knew, no Levitical Priesthood was needed to
kill the Passover lambs. The Passover lambs were to be killed in
the place where God had placed His name, Jerusalem in king
David's day, and after, but the Passover lambs did not have to be
killed in the Temple by the Priesthood - the people were the
priests on that day for that sacrifice, as Philo relates - Keith
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus, though
frequently mentioning Passover as a thanksgiving for the
deliverance from Egypt, describes the eating of the sacrifice in
fraternities, among the multitude of participants who came on
pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He refers to the great number of
sacrifices and the singing of the Levites accompanied by musical
instruments (Josephus, Wars, 6:423-424).
These post-biblical texts DO note some CHANGES in observance
- prayers, wine, omission of bitter herbs, Levites singing, etc,
- but they consistently center on the SACRIFICE, a distinct
holiday of the Passover Offering. Preparing and bringing that
offering led up to the experience of the sacrifice, which
culminated in the sacrificial meal.
Jews outside of Jerusalem who did not participate in the
sacrifice could still observe the seven-day Festival of
Unleavened Bread by avoiding leaven (This may even be attested in
the Elephantine sources; see Bokser, Origins, pp.20-21).
They might, on their own, gather to usher in the holiday
with a special meal, instruct a child on the meaning of the
event, offer praises to God and drink wine.
But especially those who had once gone on pilgrimage to
Jerusalem would have realized that they were missing the national
celebration. WITHOUT the SACRIFICE, they could not fully share in
the experience of the observance in Jerusalem. Philo insightfully
grasped this dynamic:
"Countless multitudes from countless cities come, some over
land, others over sea, from east and west and north and
south at every feast. They take the temple for their port as
a general haven and safe refuge from the bustle and great
turmoil of life, and there they seek to find calm weather,
and, released from the cares whose yoke has been heavy upon
them from their earliest years, to enjoy a brief
breathing-space in scenes of genial cheerfulness.
Thus filled with comfortable hopes they devote the leisure,
as is their bounded duty, to holiness and honouring of God.
Friendships are formed between those who hitherto knew not
each other, and the sacrifices and libations are the
occasion of reciprocity of feeling and constitute the surest
pledge that all are of one mind" (Philo, Special Laws, Book
Anthropologists like Victor Turner, have illuminated how the
heightened experience of departing from home and normal social
structures and going on pilgrimage amidst the throngs of pilgrims
would cause people to abandon their usual approach to the world
and open themselves to new experiences. Furthermore, people
gathering in one location reawaken, reinforce or create a sense
of being part of a larger group. In sharing something that was
offered to God, one not only sensed the divine presence, but
solidified one's bonds with those who shared in the meal.
After the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., all
this was no longer possible.
A new challenge faced the Jewish community. How should it
observe a festival that had been tied so closely to the
SACRIFICIAL cult? Some circles of Jews were apparently so caught
up in their grief over the loss of the Temple that they could not
react. Others, however, most notably the nascent rabbinic
movement, found means to continue Jewish life. They DREW ON and
ELEVATED the importance of those biblical rites which did not
require sacrifices and tried to make other religious rituals
independent of the Temple cult and its sacrificial rites. This
was a SLOW process, and all the stages are not clear, especially
because the earliest rabbinic sources were edited considerably
after the events. The MOST important and EARLIEST of these
rabbinic texts is the MISHNAH, edited in about 200 A.D, after the
failure of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome in 135 AD.
The failure of the Second Jewish Revolt dashed any remaining
hope of rebuilding the Temple or re-instituting its cultic forms.
By 200 AD., the necessity of the rabbinic approach for Jews
was confirmed. Since the Mishnah was not compiled until about
200, it is difficult to be sure what was originally proposed as a
temporary solution and what was suggested (whether after the
Temple's destruction in 70 or whether after the failure of the
Second Jewish Revolt) for the long term (See M.J.Cook, "Judaism,
Early Rabbinic," in Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible,
Abingdon, 1976, pp.499-504).
(I ASK THE READ TO NOTE AGAIN THE LAST PARAGRAPHS ABOVE - Keith
Several scholars, have noted teachings in the Mishnah that
explicitly free ritual acts from the Temple cult, but they also
note Mishnaic texts that make a CHANGE without explicitly
acknowledging it. Indeed, most of the Mishnah is written as if
religious life in general underwent no changes. Based on this
phenomenon, Jacob Neusner attributes to the Mishnah an a
historical and timeless view of reality (Jacob Neusner, Judaism:
The Evidence of the Mishnah, Chicago University Press, 1981).
A CLOSE STUDY, however, reveals that the laws of the Mishnah
INTRODUCED fundamental CHANGES. In the case of the Passover
ritual, the Mishnah reworks the domestic version of the Passover
observance, as described in Exodus 12 (before the establishment
of the Temple in Jerusalem). It TRANSFORMS what the BIBLE
describes as a DOMESTIC, sacrificial meal into a NON-sacrificial
SEDER. It does this EXTREMELY SUBTLY.
For example, it equates eating unleavened bread and bitter
herbs with the sacrifice, teaching that the unleavened bread and
bitter herbs comprise the festival's three essentials. Because
these two remain viable irrespective of the existence of a Temple
cult, the biblical rite can become independent of the sacrifice
(Alon, The Jews in Their Land, pp.261-265).
(AH, PLEASE NOTE what is beginning to take place here by the laws
of the Mishnah - Keith Hunt)
Moreover, by SUGGESTING that Jews outside the Temple in the
pre-70 period had a meal WITHOUT the Passover offering, it
creates a pre-70 precedent for the NEW protocol WITHOUT the
sacrifice. The Mishnah therefore writes as if the NEW rituals
were the STANDARD pre-70 practice - anachronistically reading
back into history rituals that had NOT YET been adopted. To
appreciate how this is done requires a close critical reading of
But it is CLEAR that this in fact occurred. This REWORKING
of history, as it were, was undoubtedly intended to convince Jews
that they should believe or feel that what they were doing
pursuant to Mishnaic rules was religiously viable.
The Mishnah also introduced a change in the thrust of the
Exodus story. This is reflected in the Mishnah's instruction that
one "starts with the disgrace [section of the Bible, which, e.g.,
narrates Israel's slavery] and ends with the glory, and expounds
[the biblical section] from 'A Wandering Aramean was my father'
(Deuteronomy 26:5), until he finishes the entire portion."
The best part of the requirement entails reviewing the
essential message of Passover - the freeing of the Israelites
from Egyptian slavery. The participants are to narrate Israel's
history from its "ignominious" origins to its praiseworthy state.
Such a retelling would not be unusual even in a pre-70
sacrificial rite. But the latter part of the quoted passage
prescribes a novel feature, the exposition of the classic
biblical text of Israel's early history. That text in effect
asserts that Israel continues to experience the divine bounty and
This activity will enable the participants to derive new
meaning from the biblical account of redemption from slavery.
Leading people to focus on the ongoing promise of redemption was
made especially prominent by the rabbis after the tragedy of 70
While the Mishnah speaks of eating the Passover offering,
the unleavened bread and bitter herbs, the latter two, as we have
noted, are equated with the sacrifice. Overcoming the sense of
the physical loss of the Passover offering is further developed
in the Mishnah's symbolic explanation for each of the foods:
As the Mishnah explains, the Passover offering is made
because the Lord passed over the houses of the Israelites, the
bitter herbs are eaten because the Egyptians embittered their
lives and the unleavened bread is eaten because the Lord redeemed
his people. NOTE the unleavened bread has REPLACED the Passover
sacrifice in conveying the notion of REDEMPTION. The text
continues: (on the post-Mishniac glosses to this passage and the
change in the sequence of C.1-3, see Bokser, Origins).
"Therefore we are obligated to give thanks, to prise, to
glorify, to crown, to exalt, to elevate the One who did for
us all these miracles and took us out of slavery to freedom,
and let us say before Him Hallelujah."
After the Roman destruction of the Temple, the Mishnah
restructured the biblical observance of Passover.
The symbolic interpretation of the three foods, giving
significance to what they represent rather than to the literal
act of eating, provides a means of relating to them without their
physical presence being consequential. The symbolic meaning of
the unleavened bread, redemption, leads to the religious
consequence of recognizing redemption: One must give thanks to
God by singing the appropriate biblical psalms and by reciting a
blessing formula. This reminds the people of past bounty so as to
make them realize that they continue to experience it in the
This, in effect, RESTRUCTURES the biblical practice. Instead
of Levites or other experts singing during the slaughtering of
the paschal lamb, ordinary people - without experts - are to
offer thanksgiving even without the sacrifice. Since God
continues to redeem Israel, Israel still experiences the divine
In still another passage, the sages, Rabbi Tarfon - and
Rabbi Aqiva, differ over the proper blessing to close these
thanksgiving praises to God:
"And [one] seals with [the term for] redemption. Rabbi
Tarfon says, '... Who has redeemed us and redeemed our
ancestors from Egypt and brought us to this night - and
[one] does not seal [with a concluding formula].'" "R.Aqiva
says, [One adds to the blessing:] 'Thus 0 Lord, our God and
God of our ancestors, bring us in peace to the approaching
festivals which are coming to meet us, happy in the building
of your city, [so as] to eat from the Passover and festive
offerings whose blood will reach the wall of your altar with
favor, and let us thank You for our redemption. Praised art
thou, 0 Lord, who redeems [or redeemed] Israel'"
(Mishnah, Pesahim 10:6).
Taron and especially Aqiva refer not simply to a past
redemption but to an ongoing redemption. In the mention of a hope
for the "building of Your city," the Jews in the post-70 period
were provided with a firm foundation of hope for future
redemption. In the post-Mishmic period this thought was
considerably expanded on; in contrast, at this point the message
speaks of the future in terms of the continued presence of God
who redeems and only in passing alludes to the loss of the
Temple. But the hope for the future is clear, and this
RESTRUCTURING reflects a transformation caused by the reality of
life (without the Temple), which contradicts the meaning of the
rite as a pilgrimage festival celebrating national redemption.
The holiday has taken on a NEW dimension, reaching back to
the pre-Temple perspective of Exodus 12, EMPHASIZING the MEAL as
a family gathering independent of any national cult. But the NEW
rite also deals with the hope of future redemption by channelling
it into the experience of the SEDER.
This pattern accords with a feature of rituals in general.
As historians of religion have noted, rituals are often designed
to respond to and overcome the contradictions of life. On the one
hand, the anxiety and disappointment caused by unachievable
ideals are temporarily eased by the experience of the ritual,
where one feels integrated with ones fellow celebrants and in
effect - at that moment - redeemed; on the other hand, a person
there receives a taste of the ideal so that he or she may try to
achieve it in daily life.
By this process and in this way the Mishnah has REWORKED the
DOMESTIC observance described in Exodus 12 into something QUITE
DIFFERENT, making a sacrificial meal INTO a SEDER. This was done
in response to the religious crisis presented by the Temple's
The Mishnah characteristically focuses not on the trauma but
on what was necessary in order to deal with that trauma, in
effect working through the religious and psychological problem.
This is in accord with the outlook of the Mishnah as a
whole, as suggested by Jacob Neusner (Neusner, Judaism, The
While the Mishnah nowhere CLAIMS it is TRANSFORMING the
earlier heritage, a CAREFUL reading of the text indicates that,
in FACT, it is. Emotionally it may have been too difficult openly
to acknowledge this change; memories of the Temple were still too
vivid to state cavalierly that it and its sacrificial system were
being replaced. Moreover, the rabbis were trying to convince
others and themselves that the new procedures were religiously
viable and desired by God.
Anachronism provided them, as it has other religious
thinkers through the centuries, with a creative and positive
means to move forward. As Alan Mina aptly put it:
"Alarmed at the effect the loss would have on the people,
the rabbis made believe that there had been no rupture, and
that the institutions they created or adapted had always
existed .... It is a fascinating idea, and one that goes
some way toward accounting for how traditions originate in
untraditional practices and why fictions are sometimes
necessary to give these new traditions power and secure
their acceptance" (Alan Mintz, review of Baruch M.Bosker,
Origins of the Seder, in The New Republic, April 22, 1985,
Let us return now m the Last Supper. The meal that Jesus and
his disciples would have eaten on the eve of Passover was the
SACRIFICIAL meal ... NOT a seder as we know it. It would have
FOCUSED on the sacrifice and celebrated the Exodus. It would NOT,
however, have looked to a future redemption, as the post-70 seder
In all four gospels, Jesus and his disciples go to Jerusalem
for the Passover observance, standard practice of all good Jews
who were able to make the journey. In a city crowded with
pilgrims, it was doubtless difficult to find a place where Jesus
and his disciples could gather to eat the sacrificial meal. Jesus
instructs his disciples, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark:
"'Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the
Passover?' And he sent two of his disciples, and said to
them, 'Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water
will meet you; follow him, and 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 set out and went to the
city, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared
the Passover" (Mark 14:12-16).
During the Last Supper, food is "dipped" and wine is drunk,
but this does not tell us much in terms of Passover observance.
True, at a SEDER wine is drunk and food is dipped in other
food, but this was true at other banquets and, for some, even at
ordinary meals. Moreover, the special dipping at the SEDER
originally involved the bitter herbs, which were dipped into a
special concoction called haroset (Haroset is still served at
Passover seders. Recipes any in different parts of the world, but
they always include chopped fruit and nuts, often bound together
with wine and seasoned with spices).
Thus, there is nothing in the gospel description that
indicates that the Last Supper was a rabbinic SEDER, rather than
the TRADITIONAL SACRIFICIAL meal held at the time....
The rabbis did their RESTRUCTURING in a manner that FIT
their NEED to demonstrate that Judaism could continue after the
destruction of the Temple, to show that the God of Israel still
related to Israel, and that Israel could still experience God and
find favor in God's eyes....
Sorry, the article I have does not have the author's name on it.
If anyone can give me this information, I will be pleased to add
it to the head of the article - Keith Hunt.
Thanks to a gentleman in Michigan by the name of Mike Phillips,
you now have the name of the author of this study. Thank you
Mike, from the Church of God Sabbatarian, greatly appreciated.
As the author has said, there is nothing in the Bible to indicate
the Passover meal or supper of the Old Testament was anything
close to the SEDER meal of the Mishnah and that observed by the
Jews of today. As shown, the CENTRAL eliment of the Old Testament
Passover was the killing and eating of the lamb. As to all the
other things done, in their order, and whatever words spoken for
each, at the Jewish SEDER meal, there is no evidence of any of
this for that which was observed in the true Old Testament
Passover meal, as observed by God's true children from Moses to
the time of Christ.
And under the inspiration of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians
11, God's children under the New Covenant gather together NOT to
observe the Lord's supper, but to do as Paul was instructed by
the Lord Himself, and observe the remembrance of Jesus' death on
the NIGHT He was betrayed, the beginning of the 14th of Nisan,
with bread and the fruit of the vine.
Jesus is our PASSOVER (1 Cor.5). He is the LAMB of God that takes
away the sins of the world. The New Testament Passover is NOT the
Lord's supper, but is still the Passover. Jesus through His
sacrifice, shed blood and broken body on the cross, covers,
PASSES OVER, our sins. It is the blood of the true Passover Lamb,
that makes it possible that death shall not come nigh to us -
Entered on this Website - April 2004