Thursday, April 2, 33 AD


"For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).


In the footsteps of Jesus...

Our guide, Doran, continues his ongoing dialog, helping us understand the placing and sequence of events over the final days of Holy Week:

"Today, our walk in Jesus' footsteps," he says, "takes us to a number of scattered sites, both inside and outside the Ottoman-era walls of Jerusalem's Old City."

According to Luke it was the "day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed," and Jesus sent Peter and John, presumably from Bethany, into Jerusalem with these instructions:

"As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there. They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover'" (Luke 22:10-13).

This took place on the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (March/April), or April 2, 33 AD, the day of preparation for Passover (Hebrew Pesah). The festival meal itself was eaten that evening after sunset and therefore technically on the 14th (April 3).

The greatest of the Jewish pilgrim festivals, Passover was the story of freedom, defiance, hope and renewal. It was the annual retelling of how a rabble of slaves was infused with a special purpose and grew to enter into a covenant with God. The story was well-known.

Generations earlier, the Israelites 70 men and the uncounted women and children of the family of Jacob settled in Egypt during a time of great famine, brought there by Joseph with the blessing of the Pharaoh. Time passed and the Pharaoh died, and with him the memory of how Joseph helped the Egyptians survive the famine. The descendants of Jacob (Israel) were now seen as dangerous interlopers who had to be subdued. For 430 years, the Torah said, the Israelites lived in Egypt, and for 210, they were enslaved, forced to build the store-cities of Pithom and Rameses. Beaten and abused they never forgot God's promise to resettle them in a land of their own. In the midst of their oppression, they called to God, who brought a deliverer named Moses to challenge Pharaoh. Ten plagues later, the Israelites were set free. And so, once a year, every Jew, including Jesus, traveled to Jerusalem for Passover, not so much to celebrate the Exodus, but to relive it, retell it and experience it. That is where the Passover seder came in, the ritual meal at which the story of freedom was told, guided by a set order. For that is what Seder means, "order."

Jesus' assignment to Peter and John was simple enough. The two men hiked the two-and-a-half-mile journey from Bethany to Jerusalem. Their route took them over the Mount of Olives, down among a multitude of tents into the Kidron Valley. Heading south through the valley, they entered the city, possibly through a gate (Fountain Gate?) at the southeast corner of the imposing walls. Inside, near the Pool of Siloam, they saw a man with a tall pitcher of water on his head. Men did not usually draw water and carry it into the home. Normally water was drawn and brought to the home in the early morning or late afternoon by, in order of priority, wives, daughters, male sons under the age of twelve, animals and, finally, men (only if none of the others were available). Thus, the sight of a man carrying water would have been a sure sign for Peter and John.

The man led Peter and John up a stepped street to his home in the precincts of the Upper City, and up a flight of stairs to a second floor room. A roasting oven was there, and so were the unleavened bread, wine, bitter herbs, sauce and lamb necessary for a Passover meal for thirteen men. With the room arrangements made, Peter and John saw to the preparation of the food. The two hurried to build a fire and roast the lamb (zeroa). It was expressly forbidden that it should be boiled, or that any bone be broken because it symbolized Israel, whole and undivided. It also recalled the lamb's blood that the Israelites put on the doors in Egypt as a sign that God should pass over their houses and not kill their firstborn.

They fashioned the round, thin, loaves of unleavened bread (matzah), called the bread of affliction because the Israelites had left Egypt in such haste that they had no time to use yeast. They also made a salad (maror) from the five kinds of bitter-tasting herbs possibly including horseradish, pepperwort, lettuce, dandelion, and chicory a reminder of the dinners of the bitter bondage in Egypt. Wine mixed four parts of wine with one part water was made ready. Finally, they made the haroset, a dish consisting of almonds, figs, dates, wine and cinnamon, representing the mortar of bricks the Israelites were forced to make. The modern Passover Seder includes the beitzah, a roasted egg symbolizing the sacrifice that was offered at every pilgrimage holiday, and the karpas, greens such as celery or lettuce, a reminder of the freshness of spring (or baked potato a reminder of times when greens were hard to find).

As Peter and John completed their preparations, Jesus and the other ten disciples left Bethany to join them. It was around 6:00 p.m. and the sun had set a few minutes earlier, although, from the top of the Mount of Olives, the last reddish glow of the sunset could be seen on horizon beyond the golden spires of the Temple. Jesus paused and gazed across the valley to the walled city perched high and aloof with pride over the surrounding dark green valleys and hills now dotted with the tents of a quarter-million pilgrims. The men could hear babies crying amidst scattered conversation in Aramaic and smell the roasted meat of Passover lambs. Like Peter and John earlier, they crossed the Kidron Valley and entered the city. There the small group bucked a tide of men heading out to the tent-city outside the walls, carrying dead lambs across the backs of their necks. Near the Pool of Siloam they headed up the steps climbing into the Upper City. In a few minutes they would join with the many thousands of people gathered both inside and outside the walls in giving thanks to God.

As the night watch of the Temple came on duty, a priest standing at the southwest corner of the Temple compound sounded blasts from his shofar marking the beginning of a new day and the start of the Passover. Peter and John were just finishing their assignment when Jesus and the other disciples walked upstairs and into the room. The men, all in their thirties, seemed composed, but there was an underlying tension as they exchanged quiet greetings. As the homeowner's servants set the table in the middle of the room, the thirteen men washed their hands in the ceremony of purification. They then moved toward the low tables and took their places on the couches surrounding them. The chill of the early evening could be felt in the room. The disciples looked to Jesus, who said: "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God" (Luke 22:15-16).

Location of the "Last Supper"

We do not know where the "Last Supper" took place, but ever since the Middle Ages a room (below right) on the second floor of a Crusader-period building (below left), near the Church of the Dormition, just beyond the Zion Gate of today's Old City, has been designated as the site. The Cenacle or Coenaculum (both words mean "dining room") is recognized by all Christians, except the Syrian Orthodox, as the site of the Last Supper. However, the heavy pillars, arches and other Gothic-style architectural elements date the structure to the 14th century AD, but it may have been erected on the site of an earlier primitive Jewish-Christian place of worship (synagogue). During the 15th century AD the room was transformed into a mosque to the prophet David by Muslims, as evident by the mihrab (a niche indicating the direction of Mecca for prayer) against the south wall (left of center in below photo). The ground floor of the same building is a Jewish holy site known as "David's Tomb," honoring Israel's most illustrious king. It lies well outside the boundaries of the Jerusalem of his time, but this fact has not deterred Jewish pilgrims from coming here to pray, principally on Pentecost (Shavuot), the traditional date of the beloved king's death. (An alternate site for the Last Supper is the Syriac Orthodox Church monastery of Saint Mark near the Armenian Quarter.)


The actual Passover observance

The lambs used in the Passover feast were killed on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan (March-April), and the meal itself was eaten that evening between sundown and midnight. Since the Jewish day began at sunset, the meal actually took place on the 15th of Nisan. Passover was followed by the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread, which lasted until the 21st of Nisan.

Matthew, Mark and Luke indicate that the "Last Supper" was a traditional Passover seder; John places the meal "just before the Passover Feast" (John 13:1), which some scholars feel more comfortable with, as they believe the trial that took place later that night and into the early hours of the morning would never have been held on the actual day of Passover. Some of the confusion arises from the fact that several different calendars were used to determine the dates of festivals.

Originally, the Passover meal was eaten standing (see Exodus 12:11), but in Jesus' time it was eaten Roman-style, reclining at a three-sided table ("triclinium") (below) about twelve inches above the floor a style used by the wealthy. Archaeology and historical sources have confirmed this at Zippori (Sepphoris), an ancient city near Nazareth, the Herodion, a fortress near Bethlehem, and Masada near the Dead Sea, among other places. During the 1st century AD there was a custom that suggested that all people should eat the Passover as a reclining meal, because God had made all Jews wealthy when they were delivered from slavery to freedom during the Exodus from Egypt. Furthermore, the gospel of John is quite explicit in demonstrating that this was such a meal:

"One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him" (John 13:23).

At this three-sided table, diners reclined on pillows and cushions. VIP's were positioned on the left-hand side, as an observer would face the table. Moving left to right around the table, diners were placed in descending order of importance. The last place in the right-hand corner, was the place of least importance. At a formal meal, the person sitting there usually had the responsibility of washing the feet of the other guests.

The host would always occupy second position at the table; the attendant would recline in position one, while the guest of honor was always placed at position three. Knowing this, we can locate at least three of the disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus, as the host, would have been reclining in position two. The meal's attendant, the one who refilled the wine glasses or pitchers and food plates, would have been placed on the Jesus' right. This person, identified only as the "one whom Jesus loved," was probably John.

The guest of honor, the person in the third position, would have been to Jesus' left, and this would have been (surprise!) Judas Iscariot, the only non-Galilean of the group. How do we know that Judas was in this position? Mark's gospel (14:20) states that Judas was the one who dipped the unleavened bread in the bowl with Jesus. The only persons who could share common eating vessels with the host were those to his right and left (the attendant and the guest of honor). Since the attendant (John) asked who would betray Jesus, and since Jesus indicated that it was the one sitting next to him, this could only have been Judas!

We do not know which disciples occupied the other places, with the possible exception of the last position. It was probably Peter. Two reasons support this theory. First, when Jesus announced that one of the disciples would betray him, Peter asked John to ask who it was:

"One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, 'Ask him which one he means'" (John 13:24).

If Peter had been close enough, he could have asked Jesus himself. Second, the person in the last position was responsible for the washing of the feet of the other guests. But Jesus, even though he was the host, assumed this menial task, normally performed by a servant upon the arrival of each guest. It was a dramatic role-reversal, and it was deliberately done during the meal as a lesson in humility and selfless service. John's account states the Jesus began washing the other disciple's feet before coming to Peter, who seems to have been at or near the end of the table.

The portion of the meal that has become so central in Christian worship is described in Matthew, Mark and Luke. At some point, Jesus gave a new meaning to the bread and wine that were part of the Passover meal. First, he took a loaf of the unleavened bread, thanked God, broke it apart and gave it to the disciples, saying: "Take it; this is my body." Afterward he took the cup, gave thanks and passed it around for them to drink, saying: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (a reference to the scene at Mount Sinai in Exodus 24 when God's covenant with his people after their deliverance from Egypt was sealed). However, for the disciples, the Passover celebration of that deliverance would never again be the same. No longer would it be solely a remembrance of the past. From now on it would look toward the future.

There are four written accounts of the "Last Supper" in the New Testament. The earliest, written about 54 AD, thus predating the gospels, is found in one of Paul's letters to the church in Corinth. We know it as "First Corinthians," but it is actually his second letter (the first has not survived):

"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.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes'" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Around the time the full moon rose high enough to be seen over the Mount of Olives, Jesus made a shocking statement:

"I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me" (John 13:21).

All dining stopped immediately. Did the disciples understand correctly? Was Jesus really saying that one their own company was plotting against him? They glanced around the tables at each other as Peter motioned to John, saying, "Ask him which one he means." John leaned back against Jesus, and he asked him, "Lord, who is it?"

"Jesus answered, 'It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.' Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon."

This turn of events must have sent shivers through each of the men. They had known about the plot of high priest Caiaphas against Jesus' life and the arrest warrant issued weeks earlier by the chief priests and Pharisees. But Caiaphas was not the one "to whom I will give this piece of bread." It was one of their own, the group treasurer, Judas, and Jesus said to him: "What you are about to do, do quickly." After Judas had eaten the bread, he left the room, walked down the stairway and headed a couple stone throws away for the palatial mansion of the high priest, Joseph Caiaphas. At this point only three people in the room knew what the Judean was up to John, Peter and Jesus himself.

After the meal, Jesus and the remaining eleven disciples left the residential districts of the Upper City, possibly eastward on what is now known as the "Hasmonean Staircase."

Hasmonean Staircase

"This stairway (below, left and right)," Doran related, "is yet another major archaeological find of recent times. It connected the Pool of Siloam at the southwest corner of the City of David (Lower City) with the Upper City. The name 'Hasmonean' refers to the era in which this stepped-street was built (141-37 BC), and it was definitely in use at the time of Jesus. Possibly Jesus walked here at least three times on the evening of Maundy Thursday: once on his way to the "upper room" for the Passover remembrance, once to Gethsemane after the Last Supper, and again after his arrest at Gethsemane."


"Jesus and the disciples exited the city," Doran continued, "crossed the Kidron Valley and turned north. On the other side, on the Mount of Olives, was a "place called Gethsemane" and there, on this cold evening, Jesus sought strength in prayer and surrendered himself to the will of God. It is not surprising that Jesus was habitually in this area, for the Kidron Valley and the slopes of the Mount of Olives became a campground for thousands of poorer pilgrims during the great Jewish festivals. Though Christian tradition has always placed Gethsemane on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives, this assumption, though ancient, does not have the force of proof. In any case, Jesus 'often met' there with his disciples, and therefore it was well-known to Judas."

"A place called Gethsemane"

A stone-carved sign over the gated entrance reads "Hortus Gethsemani," Latin for "Garden of Gethsamane." Few sites connected with Christ's Passion are more famous. Here, within an iron fence, are eight gnarled and ancient olive trees commemorating Jesus betrayal and arrest. It should be noted, however, that the gospels never mention a "garden of Gethsemane," but rather "a place called Gethsemane" (Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32). In the original Greek, John's gospel (18:1) refers to a kepos which has been translated "garden" (KJV, ASV) and "olive grove" (NIV), but really means a cultivated tract of land. Gethsemane is derived from the Hebrew gat shemanim (Aramaic, gat shamna), meaning "oil press," indicating that an olive press for extracting precious lamp and cooking oil was located somewhere in the area, but it has never been found.

(Above left) Latin Inscription "Hortus Gethsemani" (Garden of Gethsemane) above the entrance to the traditional location of Gethsemane. (Above right) Church of All Nations or Basilica of the Agony at the foot of the Mount of Olives. To the left are the small grove of eight gnarled olives trees designated as Gethsemane.

The olive trees here are very old, but they did not witness Jesus' night of agonizing prayer. During the Jewish revolt of 70 AD, general Titus' Roman legions cut-down the trees around Jerusalem to build siege towers, as well as crosses to crucify the rebels who attempted to escape the siege as many as 500 a day. The roots of the trees, however, are said to be two-thousand years old and may have seen Jesus' betrayal and arrest.

Immediately south of the much-protected trees is the Church of All Nations (below left and right), built in 1924. The name refers to the countries who contributed to its construction, and it was designed by Antonio Barluzzi, the Italian architect of several shrines and sanctuaries in Israel, including Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem, the Church of the Flagellation on the Via Dolorosa and the Church of St. Lazarus in al-Eizariya (Bethany). The present church rests on the foundations of two earlier ones, a 4th century Byzantine basilica, destroyed by an earthquake in 746, and that of a small 12th century Crusader chapel abandoned in 1345.

(Above left) The centerpiece of the church is a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest (Mark 14:32-42). However, recent study indicates that the Gethsemane events took place, not in garden, but in a cave where an oil press was located. Olive presses were often placed in caves because their warmth hastened the extraction of oil. Olives were pressed in fall and winter, after the September harvest. A short distance northwest of the Church of All Nations/Basilica of the Agony is a large cave (above right), known as the "Grotto of Gethsemane," or "Cave of the Betrayal." Notwithstanding restoration work done in the 1950's, it has maintained its original appearance, as at the time of Jesus.

By spring, just before Passover, this cave, which may have belonged to or been part of an estate owned by a follower of Jesus, would have been available to pilgrims flocking to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, held during the month of Nisan (March-April). It would have been a good place for Jesus and the disciples to spend the night warm, dry and roomy sheltered from the cold and heavy dew prevalent in the spring. John's gospel (18:18) refers to the cold the night of Jesus' arrest. There is an old tradition that when Jesus came to Gethsemane after the Last Supper with the remaining eleven disciples, he left eight of them in this cave:

"Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, 'Sit here while I go over there and pray.'" (Matthew 26:36)

Jesus then went on with the other three disciples Peter, James and John (the same three who had earlier witnessed his Transfiguration) to pray:

"He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.' Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'" (Matthew 26:37-39)
In the gospel of John, this is Jesus' longest recorded prayer.

Matthew, Mark and Luke go on to report that Jesus tried to pray, but his distress would not allow him to concentrate. The picture drawn by the synoptic gospels is that of a very anxious Jesus waiting for Judas and those sent by the Temple officials to accompany him. This is perfectly understandable. Anyone facing imminent arrest, torture and execution would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to concentrate or focus on prayer. When he returned to the three disciples he found them asleep. In great anguish, he asked them to stay awake and to watch for him, but to no avail.

Twice more he moved back and forth from his place of solitude to his three sleeping friends but with no luck. He was not able to pray, and they were not able to stay awake. In Luke's version we are told that when Jesus prayed he was in so much agony that his perspiration was like drops of blood falling from his head. Christian tradition also suggests that when Jesus prayed he knelt beside a rock that is today located before the altar in the Basilica of the Agony, located immediately south of the Gethsemane olive grove.

After Jesus failed in his efforts to pray, Judas arrived at the olive grove, "guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons" (John 18:3). Then Judas, the guest of honor at the Passover Seder/Last Supper earlier that evening, greeted his friend and master in the time-honored Oriental manner with a kiss thereby identifying Jesus as the one to be seized. John's gospel (18:10ff) relates that Simon Peter, who carried a short sword (Greek machaira, either a large knife or short sword) at his side, struck the high priest's servant, Malchus, cutting off his right ear.

The soldiers and officials then bound Jesus and led him away into the wealthy Upper City. Their route probably took them south through the Kidron Valley, past several elaborate Hasmonean-era tombs (right) carved in the bedrock at the base of the Mount of Olives, on the eastern side of the Kidron Valley facing Jerusalem's Old City. Far left is the "Tomb Absalom,"  then the tombs of the Bnei-Hezir  and the "Tomb of Zechariah" (with pyramid top).

At the rear of the line of march, some of the guards noticed Jesus' followers lagging behind. The guards turned as if to pursue them and all ran off, retreating into the shadows. One guard got close enough to one of the men (who some sources say was John Mark) to grab his linen garment.

Frantically he whirled around and fled, naked. Only Peter and "another disciple" (presumably John) continued following at some distance. Everyone else, according to Mark, "deserted him and fled" (Mark 14:50).

The Passion narratives are full of surprising twists and turns. This is hardly a story the gospel writers would have made up about the Apostles. Why would these stalwart leaders of the early church want it known that they had all betrayed or deserted Jesus in his hour of need?

Jesus' Life Home n A Night of Trials, Part 1