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Apr 1 - The Last Supper

Updated: May 18

Today we remember the foundation Christian meal of the Last Supper. Looking at Colin Humphrey's research we can historically date it to Weds Apr 1st year 33. Researching the different ancient calendars that were used - and the differing accounts of the Gospels he puts forward his argument below

F. F. Bruce, was a British biblical scholar who focused on the historical reliability of the New Testament. His first book, New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? , published in 1943 was very influential in Evangelical Circles. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy, in recognition of his work, this is a highly sought after honour . Fellowship of the British Academy (FBA) is an award granted to leading UK based academics for their distinction in the spheres of the humanities and social sciences. In his extensive work, Bruce published over 40 books, he felt that the thorniest problem in the New Testament are the discrepancies in the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper. Particularly because this is such a foundational moment for Christian liturgy and practice. Matthew, Mark and Luke all state that the Last Supper was a meal marking the start of the Jewish festival of Passover. John, by contrast, says that it took place before the Passover began. Now as Jewish people would never mistake the Passover meal for another meal, these contradictions are hard to understand, at least at a superficial level.

Sir Colin Humphreys, a Professor of Materials Science at Cambridge University, also specialises in trying to give a historically accurate account of the dates of key events in Christ’s life. In 2011 he published a book called The Mystery of the Last Supper putting forth a strong argument that the Last Supper took place on Wednesday, and therefore not as traditionally thought Thursday. The Easter Triduum in the Catholic Church, often starts on Maundy Thursday with the Mass of the Lords Supper. It may be a mistake to imply that such a liturgical event has to be historically precise rather than just historically accurate. For instance, it is almost definite that the disciples were reclining on their sides around a table in the upper room but no one is seriously suggesting that this should be re-enacted in a congregation that often numbers in its hundreds. But the discrepancy in the Gospels is an interesting question for committed Christians as it underlines the historicity of this event, when some people are trying to dismiss these accounts as fairy tales.

In the Hebrew calendar, the first month of the ecclesiastical year and the seventh month of the civil year is called Nisan which usually falls in March–April on the Gregorian calendar. In the fertile crescent, of the middle east, it is also the month of the barley ripening and first month of spring. More precisely Humphreys calculated that the Last supper took place on 12th Nisan (Wednesday 1st April AD 33) and that Jesus died at 3.00pm on 14th Nisan (Friday 3rd April AD 33) at the very time the Passover lambs were being sacrificed. He argued that reading Christian scripture carefully, we discover apparent timing discrepancies in the Gospel accounts, specifically between the Synoptic gospels and John, because of the use of different calendars by the writers. The Synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke appear to use an older Egyptian-style Jewish calendar while John appears to refer to the newer, Babylonian-style Jewish calendar.

Humphreys was not the first person to suggest that Jesus might have been using a different calendar.

Pope Benedict XVI, an eminent scholar in his own right, in his bestselling Jesus of Nazareth, proposed that Jesus might have used the solar calendar of the Qumran community, who were probably a Jewish sect called the Essenes. Using Humphreys time line and placing the Last Supper on Wednesday gives the dramatic events of Jesus last week more of a flow, i.e. for instance it would allow more time for His interrogation by the Sanhedrin followed by His presentation to Pilate prior to the crucifixion on Friday than given in the traditional view. Humphreys had already published a paper in the prestigious scientific journal Nature on the dating of the crucifixion of Jesus 9 . Using Astronomical calculations Humphreys reconstructed the Jewish calendar in the first century AD to date a solar eclipse that biblical and other references suggest followed the Crucifixion. The evidence points to Friday 3 April AD 33 as the date when Jesus Christ died. In his book Real Science, Real Faith, he admitted that he has ‘made it a particular personal interest…to try to pin down more accurately the dates of some important biblical events.’