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What day of the week was the Last Supper?

Q. On what day of the week was the Last Supper?

A. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell us Jesus celebrated the Passover before He was arrested and condemned. The Fourth Gospel (John) informs us Jesus was crucified before the Passover began. Several theories explain this seeming discrepancy. Here’s the theory most convincing to me.

The Jews of Jesus’ time were divided on many issues, especially with regard to the liturgical calendar. The Sadducees and the priests in charge of the temple followed a lunar calendar of 354 days. That calendar set the date of the Jewish festivals according to lunar cycles. Thus Passover was celebrated on a different weekday (of the solar calendar) each year.

However, the Essenes, a Jewish sect of Jesus’ time, followed a 364-day solar calendar, with the festivals always occurring on the same day of the week. The Jews who followed the Essene calendar always observed the Passover on Tuesday night (which for them was the start of Wednesday).

Did Jesus use the Essene calendar and celebrate the Passover with His disciples on Tuesday? Was the Last Supper, therefore, held on Tuesday night instead of Thursday night? Some scholars argue that this is what happened.

In support of their argument, they note that an Essene community lived in the same part of Jerusalem where, according to tradition, the upper room was located. Jesus would have been aware that if He followed the temple calendar, He would have died before He could celebrate the Passover. So it’s possible He decided to follow the Essene calendar and celebrate the Passover on Tuesday night.

This interpretation also resolves a second apparent chronological discrepancy between the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel. According to Mark 14:1, Christ’s anointing at Bethany occurred “two days” before the Passover. Yet John 12:1 reports that event took place “six days” before the Passover. There would be no discrepancy if the Synoptics have in mind the Essene Passover on Tuesday, and the Fourth Gospel, the temple Passover on Friday evening.

After His arrest, and before His crucifixion, Jesus was subjected to lengthy legal procedures. He was brought before Annas (John 18:13, 19–23); before Caiaphas (John 18:24); before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66–71); before Herod (Luke 23:6–11); before Pilate (John 18:28–40). Could all this have taken place in only a night and part of a day? The theory that Jesus celebrated the Passover on Tuesday night allows time for all these proceedings.

Three ancient sources agree in saying that Jesus presided at the Last Supper on a Tuesday night: the Didascalia Apostolorum (2nd or 3rd century); St. Victorinus (3rd century); and St. Epiphanius (4th century). The first two sources also tell us this is why early Christians fasted and did penance on Wednesdays and Fridays. These two days recalled the beginning and end of Jesus’ passion.

Of one thing we are assured. The Gospels do not contradict one another. But for now, we have only possible explanations for this seeming discrepancy.

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