entête

Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah,
v.2: Appendix II: Dating the Crucifixion (Day, Monthly Date, Year), pp 1350-1378

(detailed summary)


Dating the Crucifixion (Day, Monthly Date, Year)


Table of Contents

  1. The Day of the Week
  2. The Date in the Month
    1. Clarification of Five Preliminary Issues
    2. Gospel Evidence for Dating the Crucifixion in Relation to Passover
    3. Attempts to Deal with the Discrepancies
    4. A Brief Survey of the Opinion Adopted in This Commentary
  3. The Year


Next chapter: Appendix III - Pertinent Passages Difficult to Translate

List of chapters

  1. The Day of the Week

    Here are the gospels data:

    • "Already evening had come, and as it was the day of Preparation, that is, the Sabbath Eve" (Mk 15:42)
    • "On the following day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees went in a body to Pilate" (Mt 27:62)
    • "It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath began to dawn" (Lk 23:54)
    • "As it was the day of Preparation, the Jews, to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross during the Sabbath - for that Sabbath was a great day..." (Jn 19:31)
    • "...we would have buried him, since the Sabbath is beginning to dawn" (EpPeter 2:5)

    All the gospels agree that Jesus died on the eve of the Sabbath, called the "day of preparation for the Sabbath". Since the Sabbath began after sunset on Friday and ended at sunset on Saturday night, Jesus died on a Friday.

    At what time? Here is the data:

    • "And at the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.) Jesus cried out with a loud voice..." (Mk 15:34 || Mt 23:44)
    • "But it was the middle of the day, and darkness reigned in all Judea..." (GPet 5:15)
    • "It was about the sixth hour (noon). Pilate said to the Jews, 'This is your king.'" (Jn 19:14)

    We can therefore conclude that Jesus died on Friday afternoon.

  2. The Date in the Month

    The gospels do not give us a date, but provide the following data:

    • "The Passover and the feast of the of Unleavened Bread were about to take place in two days, and the chief priests and scribes were looking for ways to arrest Jesus by trickery in order to kill him" (Mk 14:1)
    • "The feast of the Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near (Lk 22: 1)
    • "On the first day of the Unleavened Bread, when the Passover was being sacrificed, his disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go to prepare for you to eat the Passover?" (Mk 14:12 || Mt 26:17 || Lk 22:7)

    Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are two feasts whose history must be remembered. The oldest Jewish festival is that of Passover, which dates back to the time when the Jews led a semi-nomadic pastoral life and had to move to find new pastures. Its date corresponded to the first full moon of spring, and thus the first month of the year, called Nisan or Abib (see Ex 12:1-20; 13:4; Lev 23:5-8; Num 28:16-25), which began with the new moon. So, at twilight on the 14th lunar day, and thus at the beginning of the 15th day, the lamb was roasted at home, before leaving for the transhumance. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which marks the beginning of the barley harvest, was adopted later when Israel became a farming people after entering Canaan. Since these two events occurred at the same time, they were combined (see Deut. 16:2-3), and became one of the three annual pilgrimage feasts to the temple in Jerusalem (i.e., the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of booths). With the introduction of the pilgrimage, the lamb was no longer slaughtered and roasted at home, but in the temple by the priest, and took on the characteristics of a sacrifice. From then on, the eating of the lamb was accompanied by Unleavened Bread and bitter herbs and the feast lasted seven days. At the time of Jesus, the terms Passover and Unleavened Bread were used interchangeably, and in the era of 2nd century rabbinism, only Passover would be referred to, but this would include the seven day feast of Unleavened Bread.

    Thus, according to Mark, Jesus would have eaten the Passover with his disciples, which corresponds to the first day of Unleavened Bread and the first full moon of spring when the paschal lamb was eaten. Since Jesus died on a Friday, this last meal would have taken place on the Thursday evening after sunset, therefore at the moment when Friday began as the day of the Passover or the first day of Unleavened Bread; this means that Jesus would have died on the day of the Jewish Passover. But this presentation is contradicted by John's gospel, in particular Jn 19:14 ("Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, 'Here is your King!'"). According to John, Jesus died on the day before the Passover, and this means that the feast fell on the day after Jesus' death, a Saturday; it also means that the last meal Jesus had with his disciples was not a Passover meal as Mark states, because Jesus would have had to eat this meal on Friday evening.

    1. Clarification of Five Preliminary Issues

      Before discussing the date of Passover, we must first clarify a number of points.

      1. There is a divergence among some biblical scholars about how to interpret the time references in the gospels: 3rd hour, 6th hour, 9th hour. To harmonize Mark and John, some have proposed that John would use a system that begins at midnight (and thus Jesus would have appeared before Pilate at 6 a.m.), but Mark would use a system that begins at 6 a.m. (and thus Jesus would have appeared before Pilate at noon). But such a proposal is not plausible, and especially not necessary to integrate Mark and John. Let us remember that the evangelists had no personal and exact knowledge of the chronology of events, and that they simply reused what tradition offered them according to their dramatic and theological interests.

      2. A second point concerns the way of calculating the beginning of a specific day: does this day begin the day before at sunset, or at midnight (as in our modern world) or at sunrise (according to the normal perception)? Some biblical scholars have proposed different systems to harmonize the different gospels. We must reject these proposals which are crutches around a superficial reading. For we are in a liturgical framework, and according to this framework a day begins the day before at sunset, about 6:00 pm in Palestine, and ends with the disappearance of the sun 24 hours later. If it were otherwise, the atmosphere of haste in the account of Jesus' burial would make no sense. This notion must therefore be kept in mind in the discussion that follows.

      3. One might have the impression that, according to the Synoptics, Jesus died on the same day as the Passover. This impression is inaccurate, because none of these gospels mentions the Passover or the Unleavened Bread during the hours in which the arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus are recounted. For the last mention of the Passover is in Mk 14:16 ("and they prepared the Passover"; || Mt 14:16; Lk 22:15: "I longed to eat this Passover with you") and the last reference to the Unleavened Bread is in Mk 14:12 ("On the first day of the Unleavened Bread, when the Passover was being sacrificed" || Mt 26:17 || Lk 22:7), all before the section considered the "passion narrative. In the "passion narrative" section, however, there is mention of the "feast" in Mk 15:6 ("On each feast he released a prisoner to them" - Mt 27:15 - Lk 23:17), but it is not clear to which day in this week of feasting reference is made.

      4. The Hebrew term pesaḥ and the Greek term pascha can refer not only to the day of the feast, but also to the action of sacrificing the lamb or kid and the meal that follows. So we will have to distinguish the two meanings in our discussion. For example, Mark uses the word pascha five times during Jesus' last days, and he gives it different meanings:
        • 14: 1: "The Passover (the feast day) and Unleavened Bread were going to take place in two days"
        • 14: 12: "On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover was sacrificed (for the meal)."
        • 14: 14: "Where is my room, where I can eat the Passover (for the meal)"
        • 14: 16: "the disciples prepared the Passover (the meal, but also the celebration of the feast)

      5. There is, therefore, a form of ambiguity in the word "Passover", an ambiguity which has its source in the instructions for the Passover given in Ex 12:6: "You shall keep it (lamb or kid) until the fourteenth day of this month. The whole assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight." In the past, when the action was performed by the head of the family, the animal was killed between dusk (after sunset) and complete darkness. Thus the slaughtering occurred at the end of the day, on the 14th of Nisan, and the eating took place at the beginning of the following day, on the 15th of Nisan. Later, when the slaughter took place in the temple in Jerusalem, much more time was needed, especially when thousands of animals were brought by families who were following the obligations of the festival. Also, the slaughtering could begin in the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan (when the sun began to decline), so that up to six hours could separate the slaughtering of the animal on the 14th from the time when the meal was eaten in the evening, on the 15th. The references found in the OT, NT, Josephus or Philo are not always precise because of the various meanings of the word "Passover".

        It is this inaccuracy that is found in Mk 14:12 (|| Lk 22:7): "On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover was slain." Indeed, the immolation of the Passover took place on the 14th of Nisan, but the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the lamb was eaten took place on the 15th of Nisan. If, therefore, the immolation of the animal is called Passover, and if the Passover meal took place on the first day of Unleavened Bread, then in John's case Jesus died at Passover (immolation of the animal), on 14 Nisan, and in the Synoptics' case Jesus died the day after Passover, i.e. on the first day of Unleavened Bread, on 15 Nisan; the ambiguity of the words allows us to understand what each evangelist is saying.

    2. Gospel Evidence for Dating the Crucifixion in Relation to Passover

      1. Synoptic Advance Notices

        Mark 14:1-2 gives us this advance notice:

        It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, "Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people."

        Some biblical scholars have given great importance to this time indication, since it would mark the beginning of the passion narrative. And this would imply that the other mentions of the word "Passover" (Mk 14:12.14.16) should be considered as coming from the same source. This position must be rejected for the following reasons.

        1. The advahce notice of 14: 1-2 belongs to the first layer of a "sandwich" structure typical of Mark
          A. An incipient or desired action that will require time to be completed.
            
          B. A separate episode filling in the time and complementing the theme of A
            
          A'. Resumption of the action of A

          In the whole of Mk 14:1-11, the advance notice (14:1-2) plays the role of part A (an incipient or desired action), which is followed by part B (a separate episode which allows time to pass) which is the scene in Bethany where a woman anoints the head of Jesus (14:3-9), anticipating his burial, which is finally followed by part A' which takes up the action described in A, when Judas goes to the chief priests and offers to hand Jesus over. We are thus faced with a literary structure in which Mk 14:1-11 forms a unity, and the scene in Bethany has only a filler function, hence the image of a "sandwich" construction. It is therefore impossible to draw chronological data from it by trying to determine the time elapsed between "the two days" and the scene in Bethany, as well as the action of Judas.

        2. Secondly, does the indication of "two days before Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread" refer to the time when the chief priests and scribes are looking for ways to arrest Jesus or to the date when Judas came to them? And are the two days calculated according to the 14th or the 15th of Nisan? This ambiguity prevents us from seeing all the references to the Passover as coming from the same source.

      2. The Synoptic References to the Passover Supper

        Later, Mark writes in 14:12: "On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover was being sacrificed, his disciples said to him, 'Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?'" So two disciples go to Jerusalem to find the room where Jesus will eat and celebrate the Passover with his disciples. Then Mark continues: "When evening came, he arrived with the Twelve. While they were eating at the table, Jesus said..." (Mk 14:17-18). First, let us note that Mark seems to associate the slaughter (immolation) of the animal with the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, in contradiction with Lev 23:6, where the slaughter took place on the 14th of Nisan, while the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread took place on the 15th of Nisan; we are undoubtedly faced with one of the few cases of sloppy writing in Mark. In any case, Mark describes first what was happening on the 14th of Nissan, i.e. the preparations for the meal, and then the beginning of the 15th of Nisan, when it was dark, while Jesus was eating what Mark considers the Passover meal. So, logically, all the events that follow also take place on the 15th of Nisan: in the night there is the scene in Gethsemane, the arrest of Jesus, the Jewish trial, and when day breaks, the Roman trial, the crucifixion, the death and burial.

        Thus, many biblical scholars accept the date of 15 Nisan, which is the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, as the date of Jesus' crucifixion and death. Unfortunately, this chronology presented by the Synoptics must be questioned, for this first day of Unleavened Bread is a solemn feast. It is not plausible that on a day of great celebration such an impressive sequence of activities should take place: the crowd going to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus, the session of the Sanhedrin to condemn Jesus to death, the Sanhedrin authorities and the crowds going to see the Roman governor, Simon of Cyrene returning from his work in the fields, the whole group of passers-by at the site of the crucifixion, the purchase of linen cloth. This is all the more implausible because the chief priests and scribes wanted to avoid arresting Jesus during the feast in order to avoid a riot.

      3. Johannine Advance Notices

        After reporting a meeting of the Sanhedrin to decide on Jesus' death (Jn 11:45-53) and Jesus' flight to Ephraim to hide (Jn 11:54), John writes: "Now it was almost the Jewish Passover. On the eve of this Passover, many people went up from the countryside to Jerusalem to purify themselves" (Jn 11:55). According to Num 19:11-12, this period of purification was seven days before the festival. Then John adds that six days before Passover Jesus goes to Bethany where Mary anoints his feet in preparation for his burial (Jn 12:1). To what extent should we take literally the mention of six days in John for this scene that Mark has sandwiched in his structure with the mention: "The Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread were to take place two days later". Unfortunately, John does not specify the sequence of days until the eve of the Passover, except for the mention of the "next day" in 12:12 as the crowd greets Jesus with palm branches upon his arrival in Jerusalem.

      4. Johannine Reference to the Immediately Oncoming Passover

        John has a close reference related to Jesus' meal with his disciples: "Before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his hour had come" (Jn 13:1). This reference appears as an introduction to the second part of his gospel, which begins with the evening meal before he died. In John's description of this meal, there is no suggestion of a Passover meal as we see in the Synoptics. Moreover, when Judas leaves the table, the disciples imagine that Jesus asked him to "buy what was needed for the feast" (Jn 12:29). But the only feast mentioned by John is the Passover. So the Passover meal in this context is a future reality that needs to be prepared. John further diverges from the synoptic accounts in the chronological mentions related to the Jews: at the moment when the trial before Pilate begins, the Jewish authorities "who had brought him did not enter the residence so that they would not be defiled and would be able to eat the Passover" (Jn 18:28); at the end of the trial, when Pilate goes out to sit on the judgment seat, we are told: "It was the day of the Preparation of the Passover, about the sixth hour". It is clear, then, that for John, Jesus' meal as well as the activities leading up to his arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and burial take place on the 14th of Nisan, not on the 15th of Nisan as in the Synoptics.

    3. Attempts to Deal with the Discrepancies

      To resolve these discrepancies between the chronology of the Synoptics and that of John, biblical scholars have proposed various solutions, such as considering both chronologies as true, or accepting one of them as true, or rejecting both as unhistorical. Here is a sample.

      1. According to this solution, both the Synoptics and John are right, because they can be harmonized by rearranging the sequence. This solution presupposes that, contrary to the consensus among biblical scholars, John would have known the Synoptics and would have written his gospel as a supplement to their gospels, hoping that it would be integrated into them. Thus, Jesus' last meal (Jn 13:1-20) would be followed by another meal, the Passover meal described by the Synoptics. Moreover, to resolve the difficulty of Jn 18:28, which states that the Jews have not yet eaten the Passover, it must be interpreted as a decision by the Jewish authorities to postpone the Passover celebration until later, the time to get rid of Jesus. All this is based on no evidence and is pure conjecture.

      2. According to this solution, both the Synoptics and John are correct, for there were two Passover celebrations one day apart. This solution relies on Num 9:10-11, which allows someone who is unable to celebrate Passover on the scheduled date (unclean state, being on a journey) to celebrate it on the same date the following month. A variant of this solution is to point out that the date of Passover was based on the ocular observation of the beginning of the new spring moon, an observation that could vary from one region to another. To this some add that the various OT accounts of the celebration of the feasts are not always consistent and that there was dissension on the subject among the Jews. In all of this, it is forgotten that the slaughtering of the animals for Passover is done by the priests in the temple, and does not depend on a personal calendar.

        Among the variants around two Passover feasts, let us also add these:

        1. Perhaps the Galileans celebrated Passover a day earlier than was done in Jerusalem, and so the Synoptics would reflect Galilee, and John Jerusalem. In fact, the Mishna, Pesaḥim 4.5 speaks of the timing of the cessation of work on the eve of Passover being different in Galilee; but this is a 2nd century writing that cannot be assumed to reflect the 1st century.

        2. Perhaps the Pharisees calculated the time to eat the Passover lamb differently (and Jesus was closer to the Pharisees) than the Sadducees (the priests) who governed public life (hence the date given by John). According to this hypothesis, because of the number of animals to be slaughtered, the preparation took perhaps two days. So the Pharisees, who wanted to follow the rule that a slaughtered lamb had to be eaten before morning, had the Passover meal immediately on the 14th of Nisan, while the Sadducees, more scrupulous of the text of Scripture, waited for the 15th of Nisan. To this we must reply that there is no justification for the Sadducees to have ignored Ex 12:20 ("You shall have left nothing of it in the morning; what remains in the morning, burn it"). Moreover, no gospel mentions lamb as part of Jesus' meal, and none seems to know of a calendar conflict between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and moreover both groups were joining together to eliminate Jesus.

        3. Because of the Jewish Diaspora around the world, there may have been a two-day date policy, due to variations in the calculation of the date, with some Diaspora Jews using a fixed astronomical calculation, while in Jerusalem they used ocular observation of the new moon. Thus, according to astronomical calculation, 15 Nisan would fall on Thursday night/Friday, whereas according to ocular observation 15 Nisan would fall on Friday night/Saturday. This hypothesis assumes that the priests in Jerusalem were catering to the whims of both groups for the slaughter of the animal. But the biggest problem with all these solutions around two adjacent days as the Passover feast in Jerusalem is that they are not based on any evidence; they were invented only to try to reconcile the discrepancies between the Synoptics and John's gospel, and they cannot claim to be based on an established Jewish practice.

      3. According to this solution, both the Synoptics and John are correct, for the Synoptics were not describing a Passover meal. Perhaps it was a blessed meal of brotherhood. But this solution respects neither the Synoptics' mention of a Passover meal nor the verse in Lk 22:15: "And Jesus said to them, 'I so desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffered.'" A variant is that on the evening when we move from the 13th to the 14th of Nisan, Jesus would have eaten a pre-Passover meal to anticipate the Passover meal planned for the following evening; this means that all the elements of the Passover meal would have been present, except the lamb. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the synoptic account to suggest a private meal in anticipation of the Passover meal: on the contrary, two disciples are instructed to find a room where Jesus can eat the Passover meal with his disciples (Mk 14:12-16); this preparation implies a public contact and does not indicate that the night was going to have a private Passover meal a day ahead of all others. Here again we have an ad hoc hypothesis created only to harmonize the Synoptics and John.

      4. According to this solution, both the Synoptics and John are correct insofar as they preserve the memory of the chronology of the Qumran calendar that Jesus would have followed at the end of his life. Indeed, the authors of the scrolls discovered in 1947 in the caves on the shore of the Dead Sea, probably Essenes, testify to the use of a solar calendar different from that used in Jerusalem, which was a lunar calendar. This solar calendar consisted of 364 days, with additions interspersed, and allowed the feasts to be celebrated always on the same day of the week. Thus, the feast of Passover always fell on Tuesday evening and continued on Wednesday. In an effort to harmonize, biblical scholars have tried to show that Jesus followed the solar calendar of Qumran. Let us present a table that associates Mark's chronology with the lunar chronology, and John's with the solar chronology.
        DayGospel HappeningNisan Date
        Tues. day ->preparation for paschal meal (Mark 14:12-16)solar 14
        lunar 11
        Tues. eve ->Last Supper paschal meal (Mark 14:17-18; Luke 22:15) eaten before (lunar) 15th Nisan (John 13:1)solar 15 (paschal meal)
        night ->(Tu./Wed.)Gethsemane; arrest of Jesus
        Inquiry before Annas (Mark 14:53a; John 18:13)
        Peter's denials; mockery by servants (Luke 22:54-65)
        Sent to Caiaphas (John 18:24); 1st Sanhedrin session (Luke 22:66-71)
        lunar 12
        Wed. day ->Mockery of Jesus by authorities (Mark 14:65) 
        night -> (Wed./Th.)(Jesus in custody of high priest)solar 16
        Th. morn. ->2d Sanhedrin session (Mark 15:la)
        Jesus taken to Pilate (Mark 15:lb; Luke 23:1)
        Opening of Pilate trial (Luke 23:2-5)
        Jesus taken to Herod (Luke 23:6-12)
        lunar 13
        Th. P.M. ->Return to Pilate and trial resumed (Luke 23:15ff.); adjournment 
        night ->(Th./Fri.)(Jesus in Pilate 's custody)
        Pilate's wife's dream (Matt 27:19)
        solar 17
        Fri. morn ->Pilate trial resumed; Barabbas
        Pilate sentences Jesus (Mark 15:15)
        noon before Passover (John 19:14)
        (Jewish priests slay lambs in Temple precincts)
        Crucifixion, death, burial by Joseph
        lunar 14
        Fri. eve. ->Jesus in the tomb
        Jews eat their paschal meal (John 18:28b)
        solar 18
        Sat. morn. ->Priests and Pharisees ask Pilate to guard sepulchre (Matt 27:62-64)lunar 15 (paschal meal)

        Let's make some comments.

        1. This chronology allows more time for the events that occur in the gospels, but at the same time undoes the idea of haste and stealth that the authorities attribute to them.

        2. This chronology observes the requirement expressed by the Mishna that a trial extend over more than one day, with an interval, in cases that merit capital punishment. But it is not known whether this second-century rule applied in the first century.

        3. This allows the Bethany anointing to take place both "six days before Easter" (Jn 12:1) and only two or three days before Easter (Mk 14:1,3), but at the cost of ignoring the literary sandwich structure of the whole Mk 14:1-16.

        4. This is in keeping with an ancient tradition in which the last supper took place on Tuesday evening (see especially Didascalia Apostolorum 21). But do we have here a real historical reminiscence or rather a desire to see the prophecy that Jesus would have spent three days and three nights in the earth (Mt 12:40) fulfilled by having Jesus die on Thursday?

        All these proposals to harmonize the discrepancies between the Synoptics and John's gospel, despite their ingenuity, are to be rejected. For example, the idea of two trials in Mark is based on a misreading of Mark 15:1. Furthermore, one should not try to fit into a chronology stories that come from popular imagination, such as the dream of Pilate's wife. Finally, there is no evidence that Jesus followed a calendar other than the official calendar in Jerusalem. In short, this effort at harmonization creates more problems than it solves.

    4. A Brief Survey of the Opinion Adopted in This Commentary

      The tradition about Jesus' last meal precedes the gospel accounts. Here is what Paul reports in a letter dated around 54 AD:

      For this is what I received from the Lord and have passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. 1 Cor 11:23-24

      In the same letter, Paul writes: "Purify yourselves from the old leaven so that you may be a new dough, since you are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor 5:7). In Paul's mind, the death and resurrection of Jesus is clearly associated with the symbolism of the first days of the Passover/Unleavened Bread festival. And since the context of a pilgrimage feast is the most plausible explanation for the presence of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem, it can be taken as historical that Jesus' last meal and crucifixion took place just before or at Passover, a fact that early Christians were quick to theologize by relating Jesus' death to the sacrifice of the paschal lamb. This is echoed in 1 Pet 1:19 ("but by the precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, that of Christ") and in Rev 5:6-14. It is this ancient understanding of Jesus' passion that has made its way, albeit in different ways, into Mark and John.

      Mark 14 clearly presents Jesus' meal with his disciples as a paschal meal, although it is not clear that his audience could have seen it as a paschal meal from the details given about eating the meal and drinking from the cup; the words spoken in reference to the bread and wine give the "body and blood" the central place normally given to the sacrificial lamb in the temple. In short, we have here a theologoumene, i.e. a theological statement, and therefore the presentation of the last meal as a paschal meal is a dramatization of a pre-evangelical proclamation about Jesus as the paschal lamb. Is this theologoumene the work of Mark, or did it exist before Mark? In the latter case, Mark would have been content to take it up again without modifying it, and thus we would have an explanation of the inconsistency of his gospel between, on the one hand, a meal that would have taken place at the beginning of 15 Nisan, when the Passover feast began and the paschal lamb was eaten, which comes from tradition, and, on the other hand, the fact that Mark no longer makes any reference to Passover and presents us with a set of activities that are implausible on a feast day; Moreover, by not modifying what he receives from tradition, he conflicts with what he says about the decision of the high priests and scribes not to seize and kill Jesus on a feast day (Mk 14:2). Mark's decision not to change this tradition probably stems from his understanding of this tradition as liturgical theology and not as historical fact. Thus, if the early Christians began early to perceive Jesus' last meal as a Passover meal, they did not intend to offer historical information that Jesus died on 15 Nisan; and Mark would have understood this point.

      In John, this traditional understanding of Jesus as the paschal lamb is expressed in a different way. It is expressed directly when John the Baptist proclaims, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29). The gospel itself will not explain how this lamb takes away the sin of the world. But the first letter of John will return to the subject: "the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn 1:7), "for he is the victim of atonement for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world" (1 Jn 2:2). This reference to the lamb runs through John's passion narrative: Jesus' bones are not broken, fulfilling the description of the Paschal Lamb in Scripture (Jn 19:33,36; Ex 12:40,4; Num 9:12). 4; Num 9:12); the branch of hyssop used to make Jesus drink on the cross (Jn 19:29) refers to what was used to sprinkle the blood of the paschal lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites' house; the mention of the sixth hour (noon) when Pilate condemns Jesus to death (Jn 19:14) corresponds to the moment when the priests of the temple began to slaughter the lambs for the Passover celebration. In short, John, like Mark, has woven the traditional understanding of Jesus as a paschal lamb into the fabric of their respective narratives. But John did not do so in the manner of Mark, i.e., he did not interweave it with Jesus' last supper, which in John's case is not a paschal meal and does not include any reference to the eucharistic body and blood that might have taken the place of the paschal lamb.

      What does this mean? In John's chronology, Jesus' last meal and the various events of the passion take place on 14 Nisan, i.e. from Thursday evening to Friday, which was the day before the Passover. The only element that presents Jesus as the paschal lamb is the mention: "It was the day of the Preparation of the Passover" (Jn 19:14). Thus, one cannot say that John would have created a chronology to fit specifically with his theological understanding. One could still say that, despite everything, John could have erred in good faith about the date of Jesus' last supper and death. But it is virtually impossible to find a plausible alternative date. We have seen that it is unlikely that everything happened on the 15th of Nisan, the day of the Passover itself. And the next day, Sunday 16 Nisan, the day of the Jewish first fruits ceremony, was associated with the resurrection of Jesus. On the other hand, there is no reason to think that Jesus died earlier than Friday, 14 Nisan; if he had died before, it would be difficult to understand why the first Christians would have associated his death with the Passover lamb. We can therefore conclude that Jesus died on the day from Thursday evening to Friday, 14 Nisan, the day on which the paschal lamb was sacrificed, the day before 15 Nisan, when the paschal meal was taken.

  3. The Year

    There is a consensus among biblical scholars that Jesus died during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate, which lasted from 26 to 36. Other chronological indications are more difficult to determine. For example, the infancy narratives are not a model of historical objectivity. Nevertheless, several biblical scholars, on the basis of Mt 2:16, where Herod tries to massacre children up to the age of two, and knowing that Herod died in 4 BC, place Jesus' birth two years before his death, in 6 BC. Another chronological mention is that of Jn 8:57 ("You are not even fifty years old and you have seen Abraham!", which assumes that we are before 44 AD. Luke, on the other hand, tells us that Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his ministry (Lk 3:23), and dates the ministry of John the Baptist as follows: "In the fifteenth year of the government of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, Philip his brother tetrarch of the land of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene", which would put us in August/September of the year 28-29. But how long after John the Baptist's ministry did Jesus begin his own ministry? Another chronological indication comes from Jn 2:20, where Jesus speaks of the destruction and reconstruction of the temple: "Then these Jews said to him, 'It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you would raise it up in three days?'" The Jewish historian Josephus gives us two different dates for the beginning of this work (see Jewish Antiquities 15.11.1: #380; and The Jewish War 1.21.1: #401), i.e., 23/22 BC and 20/19 BC, two dates which, if we add 46 years, give us the year 24/25 AD and 27/28 AD for Jesus' ministry. Some biblical scholars use these indications to support Luke's chronology and place the beginning of Jesus' ministry in the year 28.

    If we accept this date, we still have to determine how long Jesus' ministry lasted. The synoptic accounts offer no way of calculating this. John, for his part, mentions three Passovers (Jn 2:13; 6:4; 11:55). It is difficult to determine whether John intends to give us historical information. If the answer is yes, then how much time elapsed between the beginning of Jesus' ministry and the first Easter? The answer to this question gives Jesus' ministry a duration of either two or three years, and thus places Jesus' death in the range of 30-33.

    Astronomical knowledge helps us to make some clarifications, because it allows us to answer the question: what are the possible years in which the 14th of Nisan could fall on a Thursday evening/Friday? The determination of this date is based on the beginning of the first moon of spring, and this is done ocularly in Palestine, with the possibility of being wrong. Moreover, because of the need for synchronization between the lunar and solar calendars, leap months had to be added; but there is no historical record of the addition of leap months for the period from 27 to 30. Thus, astronomers arrived at the following proposals for 14 Nisan:

    1. In the year 27 it fell a Wednesday/Thursday with a possibility of Thursday/Friday
    2. In the year 30 it fell on a Thursday/Friday, or less possibly on Wednesday/Thursday
    3. In the year 33 it fell on a Thursday/Friday.

    If we exclude the year 27, which is unlikely both astronomically and from the indications we have about Jesus' ministry, we are left with two possible dates: either April 7, 30 AD or April 3, 33 AD. If Jesus died in the year 30, he was about 36 years old and his ministry lasted less than two years. If he died in the year 36, he was about 40 years old and his ministry lasted about four years. A majority of biblical scholars opt for a death in the year 30 and a ministry of less than two years. But there is no evidence to support a definitive decision between these two dates.