Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pay Dirt: 'Last Supper' was on a Wednesday, not a Thursday?

Suzette Dalumpines/ Veronica Pulumbarit, GMA News
Every year on Holy Thursday, Christians call to mind the "Last Supper" — the time when the Lord Jesus Christ shared a meal with His apostles on the eve of His passion and death.

However, according to a Reuters report (by Nia Williams), a study of the Cambridge University in the United Kingdom claims that the Last Supper actually took place on a Wednesday, not a Thursday.

Filipino priest Father Abundo "Jay-ar" Babor, Jr. of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart based in Quezon City said in an interview with GMA News Online "the news of the study done by Prof. Colin Humphreys, a Cambridge University scientist, that the Last Supper took place on a Wednesday is indeed earth shaking."

"It comes at a time when we are celebrating the Holy Week. Humpreys theory, if it were true, would have a lot of implications and shake our understanding of the established traditional liturgical practices," he said.

Babor, who holds a licentiate in moral theology from the Academia Alfonsiana in Rome, cited the possible effect of the Cambridge study on the "Paschal Triduum" (also known as Holy Triduum or Easter Triduum) which begins on Holy Thursday and ends on Easter Sunday.

The Paschal Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday. It remembers the passion and death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.

"The Last Supper celebration, on Maundy Thursday, is essentially the beginning of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord," Babor said.

"If the Last Supper happened on a Wednesday, as Humprey theorizes, then it would change the counting of what is liturgically considered the holiest three days: Maundy Thursday-Good Friday-Easter Sunday (the Paschal Triduum)," he added.

Babor said "Humphreys’ theory could just be taken at face value but won’t radically change our liturgical practice of celebrating the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday (or his concern of setting a fixed date of Easter)."

He said "what is important in the Biblical tradition and our liturgical tradition is the celebration of the Biblical event/s, not on the preoccupation on the accuracy of the exact day/s when these Biblical events happened.

Different calendar

In an interview over radio dzBB on Wednesday, Father Bong Bongayan of St. Andrew's Shrine in Cainta said the calendars used in ancient times were far different from what we know today.

“The day starts on sunset," he said.

Thus, “Wednesday" during that period is already counted as “Thursday" in our calendar, Fr. Bangayan explained.

He further said that the news no longer surprised him since it has already been spreading for quite some time now.

"Hindi na bago yan (that is no longer news)," he said.

Humphrey's theory

A Reuters report on Monday said "The Last Supper took place on a Wednesday -- a day earlier than thought -- and a date for Easter can now be fixed, according to a Cambridge University scientist aiming to solve one of the Bible's most enduring

"I was intrigued by Biblical stories of the final week of Jesus in which no one can find any mention of Wednesday. It's called the missing day," Humphreys told Reuters. "But that seemed so unlikely: after all Jesus was a very busy man."

Reuters said Humphreys' findings help explain an "inconsistency" among the Gospels.

Matthew, Mark and Luke said the Last Supper coincided with Passover while John said the meal took place before the Jewish holy day commemorating the Exodus from Egypt.

"Humphreys' research suggests Jesus, and Matthew, Mark and Luke, were using the Pre-Exilic Calendar, which dated from the time of Moses and counted the first day of the new month from the end of the old lunar cycle, while John was referring to the
official Jewish calendar of the day," the Reuters report said.

"The contradictions have been known for a long time but not been talked about by the general public very much. I am using science and the Bible hand in hand to solve this question and showing the Gospels are actually agreeing, just using different
calendars," he added.

Humphreys, a metallurgist and materials scientist and a Christian, said "It was an extremely curious mistake for anyone to make because for Jewish people Passover was such an important meal."

With the help of an astronomer, Humphreys reconstructed the Pre-Exilic calendar. They placed Passover on April 1 (Wednesday) in the year AD 33, widely accepted as the year of Jesus' crucifixion, Reuters said.

If Christians want to ascribe a date for Easter based on Humphreys' calculations Easter Day would fall on the first Sunday in April.

If the Passover meal and the Last Supper did take place on a Wednesday it would help explain how the large number of events that the Gospels record between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion took place.

What Humphreys failed to consider

According to Babor, "Humpreys theory apparently fails to consider the following:

(1) The four Gospels were written at different times with different cultural milieu. The Gospel of Mark, which Biblical scholars agree was the first Gospel ever written is dated between 60-70 AD; the Gospel of Matthew was written between 80-90 AD; the Gospel of Luke was written at the same time with Matthew, between 80-90 AD; and the Gospel of John between 90-100 AD.

What does it tell us? It means that there’s really no problem with the inconsistency of the date and time when those events happened. The Gospel stories were handed down from one generation to another; the Biblical message remained the same but the particular dates were not the particular concern.

Whether Matthew, Mark and Luke used another calendar than John didn’t really matter. The Gospels were not intended to be a biography of Jesus.

(2) The Biblical writers' primary intention was not Biblical accuracy of the dates (as Humpreys strongly argues that the discrepancy of the Gospel accounts of Synoptic Gospels on the Passover and that of John had been the source of debate on the reliability of the Gospels) but the preaching and the telling of the story, the “narrative" of Biblical events especially concerning the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.