Sunday, March 30, 2008

Since You Asked ...

In response to Gumpher's recent comment asking why the date of Jesus Christ's crucifixion changes from year to year, I replied with the following comment:

Indeed, there's more and much older manuscript evidence of Jesus' life than of Julius Caesar's. But like Caesar there's no confusion about the date when Jesus died. Caesar was stabbed on the Ides of March (March 15th); Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for Passover, Nisan 14 of the Hebrew calendar. But because the Jewish calendar is lunisolar (inserting seven leap months during each 19 year period rather than a leap day once every four years), Nisan 14 falls anywhere from late March to late April on the Gregorian calendar.

However, while there's no question about the date of the year, there is some doubt as to which year Jesus was crucified. Given that: (1) Jesus died on Nisan 14, (2) He was in the tomb three days, and (3) He rose from the dead between midnight and dawn on a Sunday, we can conclude that the crucifixion must have occurred either on Wednesday April 3rd of A.D. 30 or on Friday April 1st of A.D. 33. No other years within the possible range of Christ's later life permit a Sunday morning resurrection three days after His death on Nisan 14.

As for the seemingly random conjunction of Easter and Passover, those holidays usually coincide (a few days one way or the other), but because Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday and Passover falls on a different day of the week from year to year, they rarely coincide as they did when Christ went to the cross. And every once in a while (partly due to the Vatican's archane rules for setting the date for Easter) the insertion of a second month of Adar will cause Easter to occur a full month ahead of the Feast of Passover. (I'm pretty sure the Greek Orthodox Church is celebrating Easter next month - right next to Passover.)

If you're interested, I'll tell you which of the two years (A.D. 30 or 33) I believe is the more likely date of the crucifixion and why I think so. (But you have to ask me to torture you with that boring detail.)

So far Gumpher has wisely demurred, but my brother-in-law Jerry (being not so blessed with Gumpher's wisdom) took the bait. Duty demands that I make good my promised of an explanation, but I caution you not to attach any spiritual significance to this. It really doesn't matter when Christ's crucifixion occurred. The important thing is that our Lord's Resurrection is an historical fact. So with my caution that this information is both useless and boring, feel free to quit reading now. You've been warned.

I believe Jesus Christ was probably crucified in A.D. 30. I think the most compelling argument for that date is found in an otherwise innocuous statement in John 2:20. But before I explain how that verse argues for an A.D. 30 crucifixion, let's make sure we understand what the point of this passage is.

Back during Jesus' earthly ministry, the Jewish leaders who controlled the operation of the Temple in Jerusalem were trading in Passover lambs. We read in John's Gospel that when Jesus saw this, He commanded:

"Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a house of merchandise." (John 2:15)

Since there's nothing wrong with buying and selling sheep, what was Jesus objecting to?

Matthew's account of Jesus' similar action three years later gives us clues:

And Jesus entered the temple and cast out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, "It is written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER'; but you are making it a ROBBERS' DEN." And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. (Matthew 21:12-14)

Two things immediately jump out:
The trade was being conducted inside the Temple (probably meaning within the confines of the outer court); and
Thus, the trade involved the Levitical priests, the very people who were responsible for the selection of Passover lambs.

By the first century A.D. the Levitical priests had assumed the roll of Passover butchers (something the Old Testament Scriptures did not commission them to do). Thus, the priests (as those who certified the fitness of the lambs), by engaging in the lamb trade themselves, stood to gain financially by finding fault with spotless, unblemished lambs, that were brought for slaughter, or conversely by certifying the lame and blind lambs they were selling as spotless and unblemished. We also see that "moneychangers" (non-Levites) were involved in the lamb market. These moneychangers weren't merely exchanging foreign currency, they were sanctifying the transaction by exchanging any coins that had a "graven image" (of Caesar) for currency that the priests could accept in trade for their certified spotless and blameless Passover lambs. The revenue stream from those who handled Caesar's filthy lucre then would have flowed back to the Levites by way of rental space in the Temple or through tithes on the moneychangers' income.

In response to this, Jesus not only disrupted their business, but set about actually doing what the Levites themselves had presumed to do: He sanctified the lame and the blind as fit for God's service. And thus Jesus proved Himself to be the real "Lamb of God" ("suffering servant" spoken of by in Isaiah 53), the one who had the power to sanctify those who were defiled. In response to Jesus' actions, the Jewish officials challenged Him to explain by what authority He'd disrupted their trade.

The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?" (John 2:18)

Were the Jewish leaders really asking for a sign miracle? No, Jesus was already performing the sign miracles that bespoke the Messiah. These Jewish authorities weren't asking Jesus for proof, they were asking for His credentials. Their question is probably rhetorical; they were merely saying, "You have no authority to disrupt our business." Nonetheless, Jesus answers them by citing the supreme proof of His divine commission.

Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2:19)

The word "destroy" here is in the imperative - it's a command to the Jewish leaders. But rather than understanding this as an order, we should take it as irony.

The same sort of challenge is issue by God in Amos 4:4
"Enter Bethel [house of God] and transgress! In Gilgal multiply transgression! Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days. Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, make them known. For so you love to do, you sons of Israel," declares the Lord GOD.

Is God actually commanding Israel to sin? No, of course not. He is defying them to test Him. Likewise, Jesus isn't commanding the Jewish authorities to execute Him; He's merely saying, "Go ahead and destroy this Temple [My body] and see what happens." But the Jewish authorities misunderstood Jesus' statement as a reference to Herod's Temple.

The Jews therefore said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple [or rather, "This temple has been under construction for 46 years"], and will You raise it up in three days?" (John 2:20)

We know from extra-Biblical sources that the construction of Herod's Temple was begun in 20 or 19 B.C., so these Jewish officials must have uttered this statement no earlier than Passover of A.D. 26 and no later than A.D. 28. This is the first of four Passover commemorations mentioned in John's Gospel. So if these four Passover Feasts were in consecutive years, then that final Passover (when Jesus was crucified) in John 13 and following would have been three years later: A.D. 29, 30 or 31.

In Matthew 12:39,40 Jesus declared:
"An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

Using the reckoning of our current Gregorian calendar (which of course, wouldn't exist for another 15 centuries), Passover of A.D. 29 fell on Sunday, April 15th. If that were the year upon which Jesus had been crucified on the day of preparation for Passover, then that would mean He died on a Saturday. But there is no way one can interpret the interval from Saturday evening to the next morning as "three days and three nights", so A.D. 29 is not a possibility. In A.D. 31 Passover was on Tuesday March 25th. Likewise, the interval from Monday evening to Sunday morning is more than five days and by no reckoning can that be called "three days and three nights". So by process of elimination we're left with only Wednesday, April 3, A.D. 30.

However, this argument alone isn't sufficient to eliminate A.D. 33, since it's predicated on the assumption that Jesus' earthly ministry lasted less than five years. But we find no definitive Biblical statement that the Passover commemorations mentioned in John's Gospel were consecutive or even that they're listed in chronological order (other than the fact that Jesus was obviously crucified on the last of those Passovers). So even if one accepts the fact that the events of John chapter two occurred sometime between A.D. 26 and 28, that doesn't preclude the possibility that Jesus was crucified five to seven years later (on Friday April 1, A.D. 33).

In support of A.D. 30 are several facts:
(1) Jesus Christ was most likely born in either 6 or 5 B.C. (From Luke 2 we know Herod the Great was still alive when Jesus was born, and from extra-Biblical records we know that Herod died in 4 B.C. But if the Lord were crucified in A.D. 33, then He would have been at least 37 years old when He went to the cross.);
(2) If Christ's crucifixion occurred in A.D. 30, then in that year there was an added day for selection of the Passover Lamb (see the chronology below);
(3) If Christ's crucifixion occurred in A.D. 30, then Israel was granted exactly 40 years of wandering in a spiritual wilderness. (In A.D. 70 the Roman army, using the Jew's Feast of Passover against them, permitted Passover celebrants to enter Jerusalem, but the Romans then sealed off the city on Passover, thus trapping an estimated one-million Jews within the walls of Jerusalem, 70% of whom weren't there a week earlier.);
(4) If Christ's crucifixion occurred in A.D. 30, then Jesus' body lay in the tomb a full three days and three nights (according to both the Hebrew and Roman calendars); and
(5) If Christ's crucifixion occurred in A.D. 30, then Sunday, Resurrection day, lands on Nisan 18, the middle day of the week of the Feast of First Fruits when the unleavened grain offering seasoned with incense was to be presented to God. "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep." (1 Corinthians 15:20)

Here's the sequence of the Passion week for the two possible years:
If the year of Christ's crucifixion was A.D. 33 [during Hebrew calendar year 3793], Nisan 14 (the date of the crucifixion) would have started on a Thursday evening and ended on Friday afternoon.
9th = Saturday-Sunday (Mary's anointing Jesus' feet)
10th = Sunday-Monday (Selection of the Passover Lamb)
11th = Monday-Tuesday
12th = Tuesday-Wednesday
13th = Wednesday-Thursday
14th = Thursday-Friday (Last Supper & Crucifixion)
15th = Friday-Saturday (Passover)
16th = Saturday-Sunday (3 Roman calendar days: Sat, Sun, Mon)
17th = Sunday-Monday (3 Hebrew calendar days: Sabbath plus days 1, 2)
18th = Monday-Tuesday (3 days = after midnight, before sunrise Tuesday)

However, Jesus did not rise from the dead on a Tuesday. It was a Sunday morning.

If the year was A.D. 30 [during the Hebrew calendar year 3790], Nisan 14 would have fallen on Tuesday/Wednesday.
9th = Thursday-Friday (Anointing of Jesus' feet - selection of Passover Lamb)
10th = Friday-Saturday [No preparation for Passover due to Sabbath]
11th = Saturday-Sunday
12th = Sunday-Monday
13th = Monday-Tuesday
14th = Tuesday-Wednesday (Last Supper & Crucifixion)
15th = Wednesday-Thursday (Passover)
16th = Thursday-Friday (3 Roman calendar days: Thu, Fri, Sat)
17th = Friday-Saturday (3 Hebrew calendar days: days 5, 6, 7)
18th = Saturday-Sunday (3 days = after midnight, before sunrise Sunday)

It's only fair that I cite the counter-arguments in favor of A.D. 33.

In support of the A.D. 33 date is an astronomical event, the lunar eclipse of April 3rd, A.D. 33. On that evening the moon rose over Jerusalem in mid-eclipse. Proponents of A.D. 33 cite this as fulfillment of Joel 2:31, "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come." And they also point out that Peter (in Acts 2:20) quotes Joel 2 as proof that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah. This all sounds very convincing until you consider two facts.

First the eclipse of April 3, A.D. 33 was only a partial eclipse, so even at the height of the eclipse the moon would have been only partially obscured. It would not have been the "blood moon" one sees during a full lunar eclipse. This partial eclipse would have been difficult to distinguish from a typical moonrise that's been partially obscured by clouds. Secondly, the Apostle John tells us in Revelation 6:12 that Joel's prophecy will be fulfilled when the sixth seal is broken, so unless your eschatology teaches that Jesus' second coming has already occurred, you have (in addition to the practical problem of an obscure fulfillment of a major Old Testament prophecy) a very big theological problem with calling the partial eclipse of April 3, A.D. 33 the fulfillment of Joel 2:31.

Also, as an argument in support of A.D. 33, are the words of Jesus' disciples on the road to Emmaus:

"But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened." (Luke 24:21)

These words were spoken on Resurrection Sunday. So if the third day is Sunday, then counting backward: Day 2 = Saturday, and Day 1 = Friday. Conclusion: the Lord was crucified on a Friday, which (based on the timing of the Hebrew calendar) establishes the year as A.D. 33. The counter argument is simple: "It is the third day since these things happened" need not be interpreted literally. These disciples could have just as easily meant, "It's been three days since these things happened." Preferring the narrow interpretation of these disciples' ambiguous words over the clear statement of the Lord that He would be "three days and three nights" in the tomb seems foolish to me.

So there you have it. The conclusion seems obvious to me: "Good Friday" occurred on Wednesday, April 5, A.D. 30. I won't argue this point with anyone, because (as I said from the start) it really doesn't matter what day our Lord died.

What matters is: He's alive!


joyce said...

I love it ! And it explains the passionate keyboard pounding last night. So Easter oughta be April 6? or Nisan ?

supergurl said...

I prefer the toyota to the nissan, but maybe it's just me.

really enjoyed your IN DEPTH study. hmmm, just something you picked up? or did you learn this in bible study or history? very interesting. thanks.

Big Man for Jesus said...

Amen. He lives! I agree that I would not argue this point or go there, but it is always nice to frame history with Scripture and see how the two really do mesh. Thanks.

Bob said...

Big Man--
Yeah, and of course there's one more reason I wouldn't argue this point. There's always the possibility that I'm wrong.

I wandered down this rabbit trail when I was teaching a Bible class on the Gospel of John. This struck me as an interesting subject and I just never found a stopping place. I'm nothing if not retentive.

I'm sorry about getting so carried away with blogging that I stayed up so late. (My keyboarding wasn't exactly the kind of passionate pounding you were hoping for last night, now was it?) But just to add insult to injury, Resurrection Sunday would have been April 7th, A.D. 30.

joyce said...

I kinda get the impression that we are strange with our fascination with the Biblical details. I like reading and studying the Biblical geneologies, and lists of women in the Bible, and word occurrences, (recently, the word, "thorn"). God's Word is alive, and fresh. And all the clues He wants us to have are there.

Bob said...

I don't think there's ever been any dispute whether we're weird.

Gumpher said...

Hi Bob, I wasn't ignoring you ! I've been out of the loop for a bit, work getting in the way of everything else at the moment. Interesting answer

joyce said...

PASSIONATE could be a bingo, but POUNDING definitely is !

Bob said...

Yes, of course I was speaking of playing Scrabble. What else?

You actually read this? Masochist! You disappoint me.

jennifer said...

Oh my WORD!!! I was coming over here to tell you how brilliant you are, how well read. Your analysis was great. And SO MUCH of it!

Then I get caught up in the word play between you and that Joyce lady and ooh la la! Aren't you guys SOMETHING!!! Too much of that and your blog will have to go private!!! LOL! Hubby and I will be married 17 years in August, and I hope that we sound just like y'all when we are, um, your age!! LOL again.


And yes, HE LIVES!!!!

joyce said...

so, was your brother-in-law stunned into silence. ungrateful, I tell you, he is.

Jerry said...

"Stunned into silence"?

It has been a busy day at work, thus no opportunity to read this prior to lunch today.

Let me only provide one comment:

You won't get any argument from me.

buffi said...

I LOVE studying all those Biblical details. And THIS was so fascinating. Really. SP was asking me recently about why Easter is different every year. I will make her read this. Trust me, she'll love it, too.

I guess we are weird, too. Not that that should surprise anyone.