New Testament Chronology
New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)
Good Friday of Easter week commemorates the day of Jesus' crucifixion, and Easter Sunday the day of His resurrection. The early observance of these days needs to have no basis in an oral tradition that these were the actual days of His crucifixion and resurrection. These days can be easily extracted from a common interpretation of Scripture, and that could now be the sole basis for observing Friday and Sunday. There is, however, one tradition that is not obvious from Scripture, but probably represents an early oral transmission. This day commemorates the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Nisan 10 of Passion Week, and that day is now known as Palm Sunday. How does Palm Sunday fit with the following crucifixion, and what are its implications for deciding the Jewish date?
Nisan 10 was the day for the selection of the Pascal lamb to be sacrificed for the Passover supper (Exod. 12:3). On that day Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a colt, and the multitudes laid palm branches before Him. With His Triumphal Entry the crowds hailed Him as their King. On that day, according to common Christian theology, Jesus was selected as the sacrificial Lamb of God for the following Passover. However, if that Nisan 10 fell on Sunday, then a following Friday crucifixion fell on Nisan 15, the day after Passover. The crucifixion could not fall on Nisan 14. This seeming inconsistency can be resolved by first developing a harmony of the Gospels leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus.
The first problem will be to place those passages that do not seem to harmonize in a correct chronological sequence. Two rearrangements are suggested. The first is Matthew 21:12-13, which speaks of Jesus cleansing the Temple. This passage is in sequence with the description of Jesus' Triumphal Entry on Nisan 10. It is clear from Mark and Luke that Jesus cleansed the Temple on the following day, Nisan 11, and the verses from Matthew are here moved to that point.
The second rearrangement is John 12:2-11, which tells of Mary anointing Jesus for burial. This event is usually placed the evening of Jesus' arrival at Bethany, on Nisan 8. This requires that the same story in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 is moved back from their scriptural position on Nisan 13. Instead of interpreting John's account as an anticipation, that rearrangement is based on interpreting Matthew and Mark as flashbacks contrasting the worship of Mary with the animosity of the high priest, chief priests and scribes, or to show why Judas was so interested in obtaining additional funds.1 However, in the following harmonies John's account is moved forward to Nisan 13, with Matthew and Mark kept in their Scriptural sequence. John appears to have inserted the story of Mary anointing Jesus in Bethany according to the geographical location of the story, rather then its actual time sequence. In the story Judas Iscariot was angry because the nard could have been sold for a high price, and he could have pilfered the funds. When placed according to Matthew and Mark's sequence the immediate following story is Judas' betrayal of Jesus to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver. Judas' thwarted greed was followed by greed satisfied, which also injured the one who allowed the nard to be "wasted," Jesus. With the combination of greed and revenge, the anointing of Jesus for burial is placed in the evening of Nisan 13.
Two harmonies must be developed, one for sunrise reckoning and the other for sunset reckoning. The above two rearrangements are included in these harmonies. Chart XXIV is according to sunrise reckoning, and is appropriate for a Nisan 15, 30 CE crucifixion. Chart XXV is according to sunset reckoning, and is appropriate for a crucifixion on Nisan 14 in 30 or 33 CE. A Wednesday crucifixion on Nisan 15, 31 CE by sunset reckoning and a Thursday crucifixion on Nisan 14, 30 CE by sunrise reckoning are not given here, as they would require a different harmony; see chart XXVI.
Harmony of Passion Week
Sunrise, 30 CE
* = Not in sequence
Harmony of Passion Week
Sunset, 30, 33 CE
* = Not in sequence
A brief day-by-day synopsis follows for the harmony according to the sunrise calendar and the crucifixion on Nisan 15, 30 CE, Chart XXIV. This dating allows Palm Sunday to be on Nisan 10. A comparison of all possible combinations of Jewish date versus the day of the week will be found below in Chart XXVI.
Nisan 8, Friday - following the Jewish custom of being in Jerusalem for the Passover, "Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany." (John 12:1) This was the eighth of Nisan.2 The six days are counted inclusively up to Nisan 13, the day before the Passover. Nisan 8 was Friday, and the Sabbath would have begun that evening.
Nisan 9, Saturday - On the following day, "the great multitude therefore of the Jews learned that He was there (in Bethany); and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead." (John 12:9) This day was a Sabbath, but Bethany was next to Jerusalem and within the permissible travel distance for a Sabbath day.
Nisan 10, Sunday - "On the next day the great multitude who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees, and went out to meet Him, and began to cry out, `Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.'" (John 12:12-13) This "next day" is now known as Palm Sunday, which, according to the chronology presented here, was Sunday, April 2, 30 CE.
Other placement of the crucifixion presents a problem. If the crucifixion was Friday, Nisan 14 in 30 or 33 CE, then Jesus' Triumphal Entry on Nisan 10 was on Monday. There is no tradition for Palm Monday. A Wednesday crucifixion on Nisan 15 would place the Triumphal Entry on Friday.3 The Thursday crucifixion does place Nisan 10 on Sunday, but the crucifixion did not occur on "Good Thursday."
Nisan 11, Monday - On "the next day. . . ." (Mark 11:12) Jesus cursed the barren fig tree and cleansed the Temple.
Nisan 12, Tuesday - The next day, "as they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up." (Mark 11:20) Jesus returned to the Temple where the Jews challenged His authority. After an eventful day Jesus gave His discourse on the Mount of Olives. That evening He said, "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be delivered up for crucifixion." (Matt. 26:2; also Mark 14:1) That evening was still Nisan 12, as the Passover on Nisan 14 was still after two days, or two daylight periods.
Nisan 13, Wednesday - That evening was the supper where Mary anointed Jesus for burial, and Judas went to the chief priests to betray Jesus.
Nisan 14, Thursday - On that day the Passover lambs were slain (Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7), and the Last Supper was in the evening and was the Passover meal.
The events after Jesus' arrest moved rapidly. He was brought briefly before Annas, and then led before Caiaphas and some elders.
Nisan 15, Friday - The crucifixion of Jesus. At sunrise, about 6:00 AM Jesus appeared before the "council of elders," (Luke 22:66), or Sanhedrin.4 Jesus was then taken before Pilate in the Praetorium.5 Pilate found no fault and delivered Him over to Herod Antipas, before whom He was silent.6 Jesus was then returned to Pilate, who, under pressure from the Jews, allowed Barabbas to be set free and Jesus to be condemned to crucifixion.7 The Roman Soldiers then mocked Jesus, and He made the journey to Golgotha. The crucifixion of Jesus was at the third hour, or 9:00 AM.
Nisan 16, Saturday - "On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment." (Luke 23:56)
Nisan 17, Sunday - The resurrection of Jesus.
Was the crucifixion on Passover day, Nisan 14, or Nisan 15, the day after Passover? An underlying reason to insist on the fourteenth of Nisan as the day of Jesus' crucifixion is that His death then would then coincide with the slaying of the sacrificial lambs for the Passover supper. The Passover "lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or goats. And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight." (Exod. 12:5-6) The Passover lamb was to be killed at dusk to early evening.
The analogy of Jesus as the Passover lamb has some difficulties. The Passover lambs had been sacrificed the day before Jesus was crucified, before the Last Supper (Mark 14:12). Jesus died about 3:00 in the afternoon, not at twilight (Matt. 27:46, 50). It was, however, later the custom to slay the Passover lambs between 3:00 and 5:00 PM (Wars VI 9:3). But, there is no mention of the slaying of Passover lambs after the crucifixion of Jesus. The death of Jesus did not coincide with the sacrificing of the Pascal lambs.
The death of the Passover lamb was symbolic of the protection from physical death of the first-born male Israelites the night before the Exodus, its blood having been smeared around the door. The death of Jesus was for the salvation from the "second death" (Rev. 20:14) of both male and female, of any race. "The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 7) The blood of the Passover lamb cannot be extended to such a concept. No foreigner could partake of the Passover lamb (Exod. 12:43-45), yet the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God, was for all humanity.
Yet, Paul said, "For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed." (1 Cor. 5:7) Jesus became "our Passover" in the evening of Nisan 14 through the Last Supper. Then Jesus broke bread for the disciples, and said, "`Take, eat; this is My body.' And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, `Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'" (Matt. 26:26-28) Here Jesus symbolically and spiritually substituted Himself for the Passover lamb. This was the fulfillment of Jesus' claim that, "I am the bread of life," and "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:35, 54) In this act Christ is the Passover Lamb. However, this was not from eating a roasted lamb or goat, which lawful practice ceased with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Now the future "spiritual Israelites," Christians, could observe the Lord's Passover, or Eucharist, at any time and without journeying to Jerusalem. Paul's words tell us that Jesus was much more than the Passover lamb, but not through His death as the Passover Lamb.
Perhaps the giving of the Eucharist and death of Jesus the day following the Passover supper finished the need for the more important sacrifice, the daily sacrifice.8 This sacrifice "you shall offer on the altar: two one year old lambs each day, continuously. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; and there shall be one tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one fourth of a hin of wine for a libation with one lamb. . . . It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations." (Exod. 29:38-40, 42) Here is another meaning to Jesus' substitution of His body and blood by bread and wine. These accompanied the daily sacrifice. The priests normally sacrificed the second lamb of the day at 2:30 PM and offered it up for burning at 3:30 PM. Jesus died at 3:00 PM. Because of the additional need to slay the Passover lambs, on Nisan 14 the second daily sacrifice was performed an hour earlier, and two hours earlier if it preceded a Sabbath Passover. It was not necessary to have been done earlier on Nisan 15 of 30 CE.
Further, "And on the first day of Unleavened Bread (Passover), when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, His disciples said to Him, `Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?'" (Mark 14:12; also Mark 14:13-17; Matt. 26:17-20; Luke 22:7-16) The first day on which the leaven was removed was Passover. On Nisan 14, the day the "Passover lamb was being sacrificed," Jesus was still alive. The Last Supper, the Pascal supper, was yet to be eaten, in the evening of Nisan 14. Jesus would be sacrificed the following day.
"In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the Lord's Passover. Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord." (Lev. 23:5-6; also Exod. 12:6-8) Note the strong separation of the memorial Lord's Passover, which commemorates the deliverance of the first-born of Israel the night before the Exodus, from the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which commemorates the actual release from bondage the next day. These were originally intended as two distinct observances, back to back. Nisan 14 looked back at a sinful world and was the end of the old bondage to sin. Jesus' crucifixion on Nisan 15 looked forward to the beginning of a new era of salvation. Jesus' death on Nisan 15 makes theological sense, and His death on Passover is not necessary for a chronology of Passion Week.
Paul wrote of the resurrection, "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep." (1 Cor. 15:20) Christian typology often places the resurrection on the day of the waving of the first fruits. This falls on Nisan 16 following a crucifixion on Nisan 14. However, the Law does not specify this day of the month, but reads, "you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it." (Lev. 23:10-11) By the interpretation of the Pharisees the waving of first fruits is always placed on Nisan 16. On the sunset Diaspora calendar the Passover Sabbath began in the evening of Nisan 15, and the "day after the sabbath" was always Nisan 16. Here, the Sabbath is tied to the festival and not to the day of the week. It should be noted that those who deny that the day of preparation could have been before a festival Sabbath, here base their theology on recognition of a Passover Sabbath not necessarily on Saturday. It is only by chance that in the year of the crucifixion that Nisan 16 fell on Sunday according to sunset reckoning.
The interpretation of the Sadducees is followed here. They controlled the festivals according to the sunrise Second Temple Calendar. They interpreted that the Sabbath referred to Saturday, wherever it fell during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Thus, the waving of the first fruits on the following day may occur on any date after the first day of the festival. The first fruits of the resurrection, Jesus, must then occur on the first Sunday during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This was on Nisan 17 in 30 CE according to sunrise reckoning.
A Wednesday crucifixion specifies that Jesus was resurrected late Saturday, Nisan 18. This cannot meet the requirement that Jesus was the "first fruits" of the resurrection by any reckoning. A Thursday crucifixion would place the resurrection on Nisan 16, an acceptable date by the Pharisees' reckoning.
Pentecost is placed fifty inclusive days after the day of the waving of the first fruits. According to the Pharisees that was fifty days from Nisan 16,9 which might fall on any day of the week. According to the Boethusian high priests, or Sadducees, Pentecost was fifty inclusive days from the first Sunday after Passover, and always fell on Sunday.10 The Essenes' Pentecost always fell on III 15, fifty days after the first Sunday after the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. However, Pentecost is now observed as a Christian festival on the seventh Sunday after Easter Sunday. The early Church followed the sunrise reckoning of the Sadducees in the placement of Pentecost. That same reckoning leads to Jesus' Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday and His crucifixion on Good Friday. By this reckoning Palm Sunday must be Nisan 10 and Good Friday must be Nisan 15.
Having established Jesus' crucifixion as theologically possible on Nisan 15, as well as Nisan 14, the possible combination of days and dates can now be laid out. Chart XXVI gives all possibilities for a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday crucifixion. SR = sunrise and SS = sunset calendar. The day of crucifixion is indicated by (C) and the resurrection by (R).
The Days and Jewish Dates of Passion Week
Only two combinations include the traditional Palm Sunday on Nisan 10, and those days are italicized. These have the crucifixion fall in 30 CE on Thursday, Nisan 14 or Friday, Nisan 15, both according to the Second Temple Calendar with the day beginning at sunrise. Any other combination will require abandoning the traditional dating of Palm Sunday.
If Palm Sunday might fall on another day of the week, a Friday crucifixion on Nisan 14 may be acceptable. In fulfillment of Jesus being the first fruits of the resurrection, that day might be on Nisan 16 or Sunday, depending on the interpretation. The resurrection following a Wednesday crucifixion falls on Saturday, Nisan 18. It is the only combination that does not meet Paul's description of Jesus as the first fruits.
If the traditions are correct that the Triumphal Entry on Nisan 10 was Palm Sunday and that Jesus' crucifixion was on Good Friday, then Jesus was nailed to the cross on Nisan 15, the day after Passover. This would be in accord with the Church's placement of Easter Sunday and Pentecost on the seventh following Sunday. This is supported by the Passover lambs having been slain before the Last Supper, the day before the crucifixion. At the Passover Last Supper Jesus substituted Himself as the Passover lamb by the partaking of bread and wine, as symbols of His body and blood. He was sacrificed the following day as a final "daily" sacrifice. His resurrection on Sunday fell on the day of the waving of first fruits. The likely day of Jesus' crucifixion was Friday, Nisan 15, or April 7, 30 CE.
Such a conclusion may not yet seem clear. The Scriptures seem to
describe two Passovers, as will be discussed in the following chapter.
1. R. L. Thomas & Stanley N. Gundry, Harmony of the Gospels (Chicago: Moody, 1978), 174, note c.
2. Josephus (Wars VI 5:3) noted, "the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus (Nisan)." This date also appears in the Megallit Ta'anit. See H. Lichtenstein, "Die Fastenrolle Eine Untersuchung Zur Judisch-Hellenistischen Geschichte," HUCA 8-9 (1931-32).
3. A Wednesday crucifixion on Nisan 14 is not possible because this would place Jesus' Triumphal Entry on the colt and the crowds removing palm branches on a Saturday. Such "work" could not have occurred on a Sabbath without a strong outcry from the Jews.
4. The Sanhedrin was composed of both Sadducees and Pharisees, and was primarily a political body. It was presided over by the High Priest and authorized by the Roman prefect. The Beth Din was a religious body comprised of Pharisees. See E. Rivkin, "Beth Din, Boule, Sanhedrin: A Tragedy of Errors," HUCA 46 (1975), 181-199, and S. Zeitlin, "The Political Synedrion and the Religious Sanhedrin," JQR NS36 (1945).
5. The Jews did not enter as they would have been defiled, or made unclean in the midst of festival. This was probably an attempt to remain clean throughout the festival. Since the uncleanness would be over at sunset, it would not affect eating a meal that evening.
6. M. L. Soards, "The Silence of Jesus Before Herod: An Interpretative Suggestion," ABR 33 (1985), 43, suggests Luke's readers would have understood Jesus' refusal to speak as an indication of the noble character manifested by Jesus as He did God's will.
7. At this point John 19:14 notes, "it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour." Jesus was before the Sanhedrin at daybreak, about 6:00 AM, and was crucified at the third hour, or 9:00 AM. Based on the preceding and following events, it was probably about 8:00 AM, or a little after that Jesus was condemned. The "sixth hour" is not likely to mean 6:00 AM Roman time, unless misplaced from Jesus' first appearance before Pilate.
8. J. Neusner, "Money-Changers in the Temple: The Mishnah's Explanation," NTS 35 (1989), notes that when Jesus upset the tables of the money changers His act was not fully understood by the bystanders. The money changers were specifically to exchange foreign currency into the half sheqel annual Temple tax on Israelites. This tax paid the cost of the daily offering, which expiated the Israelite's sin and restored their relationship with God. Jesus' act foretold more than the destruction of the Temple. "The negative is that the atonement for sin achieved by the daily whole offering is null, and the positive, that atonement for sin is achieved by the Eucharist: one table overturned, another table set up in place, and both for the same purpose of atonement and expiation of sin."
9. The rabbis who wrote the Mishna and Josephus (Ant. III 10:5-6) were Pharisees, and they would foster their beliefs.
10. M. D. Herr, "The Calendar," JPFC, 858-860.