What happened when in the week leading up to the crucifixion of Yeshua? What if we ask this question of the Gospel of John instead of the more common approach of following Mark-Matthew-Luke (the synoptic gospels, as they are called)? It’s tempting to turn to Mark or Matthew for information, but suppose we simply follow the Fourth Gospel to see what we can learn?
Let me begin with just a brief note on my appreciation for the accuracy of the Fourth Gospel on matters related to the Temple and feasts of the Torah. I first began to consider the possibility that John was more precise that the synoptic gospels at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in New Orleans in 2009. Paul Anderson (The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus) gave a stunning presentation on the value of John for historical understanding (if you are skeptical, I suggest you take a look at the book). Then I read Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple. I became convinced that the Fourth Gospel is written by a Jerusalem disciple (the elder John) who ran in priestly circles (if this notion sounds strange to you, you might acquaint yourself with the evidence before discounting it). My previous views (published in many articles here 2010 and earlier on MJ Musings) about the timing the crucifixion, Passover, and Last Supper all began to change. With that said, I think there is a great value in looking at John to ask questions about the chronology of Yeshua’s last week.
Knowing the short attention spans of many readers, I will give my conclusions first and then you can decide whether to read the notes and commentary below. I give two results tables depending on whether we think the crucifixion was on a Thursday or a Friday (see below, “Friday Is Not a Certainty”):
IF CRUCIFIXION IS THURSDAY & PASSOVER IS THUR NIGHT/FRIDAY:
- Saturday (possibly Friday night), Yeshua arrives in Bethany (Jn 12:1). If so, he would not have traveled far since it was the Sabbath.
- Saturday night they hold a dinner for him in Bethany (arguably, could be Friday night).
- Sunday morning is the Triumphal Entry (Jn 12:12; arguably, could be Saturday morning, which would be unlikely and render Thursday crucifixion unlikely).
- Wednesday night is the Last Supper.
IF CRUCIFIXION IS FRIDAY & PASSOVER IS FRI NIGHT/SATURDAY:
- Sunday (or Sat night), Yeshua arrives in Bethany.
- Monday morning (possibly Sunday) is the Triumphal Entry.
- Thursday night is the Last Supper.
**Note that a Wednesday crucifixion theory, if based on John, would have the Triumphal Entry on Saturday morning (possibly Friday).
**Note that with so many ambiguities (what does “six days before” mean exactly?), the Palm Sunday/Good Friday tradition could fit with John’s chronology (as Raymond Brown supposes is does).
**The only things we can be “sure of” from John’s chronology: the crucifixion is on Nisan 14 when the lambs would be slaughtered and the Last Supper is the night before the regular Passover Seder. We cannot be certain about the day of the week given all the ambiguities.
CHRONOLOGY OF THE END IN JOHN
Taking the statements about timing at face value from John (for example, we skip over possibilities such as the notion that the Lazarus story may be told out of chronological order), we find these helpful periods, events, and chronological notes leading to the crucifixion and Passover:
- 10:22, Hanukkah.
- 10:40-42, Interlude beyond the Jordan.
- Ch. 11, The raising of Lazarus.
- 11:54, Interlude in the town of Ephraim (no one knows where this town is located).
- 11:55, Passover at hand and many had come to Jerusalem to purify themselves (very important, see commentary below).
- 12:1, Six days before Passover (thus, five before the crucifixion).
- 12:2-10, Mary anoints Yeshua, chief priests plot and plan.
- 12:12, The next day (five days before Passover, four days before the crucifixion).
- 12:13-16, Triumphal Entry.
- 12:17-19, Pharisees concerned with his popularity.
- 12:20-36, Greeks are brought to him, heavenly voice.
- 12:37-50, Yeshua hides, sayings on belief and unbelief.
- 13:1, Before the Passover.
- 13:2-27, Last Supper.
- 13:28-30, They supposed Judas went to buy what was needed for the feast.
- The remainder of chs. 13-17, discourses at the Last Supper.
- 18:1-27, Nighttime arrest and first trials.
- 18:28, It was morning; priests would not enter as they feared being disqualified to eat the Passover (see commentary below).
- 19:1-13, Roman trial, flogging.
- 19:14, It was the day of preparation for the Passover.
- 19:15-30, Crucifixion and death.
- 19:31, It was the day of preparation, bodies to be buried before Sabbath, Sabbath was a high day.
- 19:32-41, Body removed and burial.
- 19:42, They laid him close since time was short and it was the day of preparation.
- 20:1, First day of the week, women come to tomb in the early morning.
MANY HAD COME TO JERUSALEM TO PURIFY THEMSELVES
According to Numbers 19, the period of time for purification after coming into contact with any kind of corpse impurity (contact with the dead, being under a roof where a corpse lay, or contact with people or objects that have corpse impurity, etc.) is seven days.
We know that people would come to feasts early in Jerusalem (not a strict requirement to fulfill the entire period in the city), with many arriving in time to spend the entire seven days purifying themselves. Paul purified himself seven days before his Nazirite vow (Acts 21:24-27). Josephus mentions the practice of many pilgrims coming from the countryside to Jerusalem and spending the seven days of purification in Jerusalem (War I.XI.6 #229). Thus, in 11:55, while Yeshua has not yet arrived near Jerusalem, some of those who have arrived wonder when he will show.
SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT BE DEFILED … COULD EAT THE PASSOVER
The chief priests would have to consider themselves impure if they went under Pilate’s roof (as violence happened there and a corpse under that roof was a real possibility). This would make them unfit to eat the Passover (Numb 9:6-12). Thus we see here, as in several other indications, that Yeshua’s morning trial and crucifixion happened on Nisan 14, when the lambs for Passover were slaughtered.
YESHUA CRUCIFIED ON NISAN 14
Every indication in John is that Yeshua was crucified starting the morning on which the Passover lambs were slaughtered. John 19:14 is clear that it was the day for preparing for the Passover (which is Nisan 14).
FRIDAY IS NOT A CERTAINTY
I have in the past defended the “Good Friday” notion (that Yeshua was crucified on Friday). But that was based on previous assumptions I held and harmonizing Mark with John (something I no longer feel the need to do). If Passover (the first day of Unleavened Bread) is a Sabbath, then the “Sabbath” mentioned could be the weekly Sabbath (Friday night till Saturday night) or any day of the week on which the Passover fell. If Yeshua was crucified before Passover started, then we have no reason for dogmatism about a Friday crucifixion (but neither is it impossible, Matthew 12:40 notwithstanding).