The National Catholic Review

It’s not a bad way to sell a book: put “secret” in the title somewhere. And in light of Dan Brown’s success in selling books which are historical and theological nonsense but which claim to unlock age-old secrets, why not use it in the title of a book that makes (mostly) historical and theological sense: “Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper.” Such is the sub-title of Brant Pitre’s new book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (New York: Doubleday, 2011). Except, as he himself is open in saying at the end of his book, “most of the ideas in this book are not new. In fact, they’re quite old. And not only are they old, but they’re fairly accessible. They can be found in the writings of the New Testament, the works of the ancient Christian writers known as the early Church Fathers (first through seventh centuries A.D.), and even in the official teaching of the Catholic Church” (172).  This is generally true, and where it is true, the book is fine and even excellent, but where it is not true, when Pitre pushes hard beyond the historical or theological evidence, the book falls under the weight of his desire to see salvation history not simply as God’s plan, but as a blueprint or, better yet, IKEA instructions in which every nut, bolt and dowel has its proper place and not one dowel, bolt or nut will be left behind.

It is a strange thing to see because he is insistent on profound literalness in some of his readings when it suits his argument, while at the same time appealing to typological or allegorical readings when that is a more successful path for him. He ignores evidence from the New Testament that does not fit with his tightly drawn schema while importing evidence from Jewish texts that were composed or edited some five centuries after Jesus’ life to support his reconstruction (see pages 19-21 for his discussion of these texts). Indeed, the lasting impression one has of the book is not that God is doing, and has done, something new in Christ Jesus, but simply recapitulated all that was already there and waiting to be “unlocked” in the Old Testament. This is not to say that Jesus must not be understood in light of the Old Testament and the Judaism of his day – he must – but that there must be a clear sense that this is not the task of a mathematician filling in equations, but of the theologian who accounts for the living God who reveals his plan in its “breaks, tangents, oddly angled continuities” (Ben F. Meyer, Critical Realism and the New Testament, ix). It must be a theologian who can say : “The more I thought of  the stunning shape taken by the fulfillment of its {the biblical tradition’s} hopes, the more striking became the constant biblical affirmation of precedent and the triumphant achievement of ties with  the past” (Critical Realism and the New Testament, ix).  Pitre more than accounts for  “the constant biblical affirmation of precedent and the triumphant achievement of ties with  the past” in speaking of the Last Supper and the Passover, but seems to wipe away any consideration of “breaks, tangents, oddly angled continuities” or “of  the stunning shape taken by the fulfillment of its hopes.” After reading his book, it seems almost as if this is a “paint by numbers” exercise of getting the right colors in the right area and if this is not the death of theology it is the dearth of theology. This is the case, even though I am in agreement with much that he says.

This is what I like most of all about the book. I think that Pitre does a wonderful job of placing Jesus in his Jewish milieu, which is not “background” for understanding Jesus but the necessary context for knowing who Jesus is and why he acts as he does (chapter 1, 11-21). That this reality might reach a wide, popular audience is good news. Pitre also re-examines the general Jewish hopes for a Messiah prevalent in Judaism at the time of Jesus and finds some modern reconstructions wanting (chapter 2, 22-47). He is especially concerned that scholarly reconstructions, which have worked their way into popular consciousness, stress too fully that the Messiah expected just prior to and at the time of Jesus was a warrior king with short shrift given to Jewish expectations of a priestly or cosmic Messiah (22-23). He is correct that this is the case and his response is a proper one to counter-balance this wide-spread notion, though he verges on going too far in the other direction, namely, ignoring the warrior dimensions of the coming Messiah which were common in Judaism. I think especially of a central passage like Isaiah 11:4: “but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” Nevertheless, Pitre successfully adds nuance in his reconstruction of Jewish hopes in the 1st century A.D. Finally, I think the heart of his book, locating the Last Supper and the origins of the Eucharist in the Jewish Passover, is basically correct and yet this is also the undoing of the book (chapter 3, 48-76). It is his desire to be too specific and literal about what the Passover means to Jesus’ Last Supper with his apostles, the Eucharist and the Church that unsettles the book and, finally, leaves it wanting in serious historical and theological ways. This literalness tends to overshadow, as a result, his fascinating reading of John 6 (97-115).

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I will concentrate on two major issues which sabotage the book. First, Pitre does not account for significant differences amongst the four Gospels when he considers the Passover context of the Last Supper. Second, he ignores, almost completely, the eschatological and more broadly apocalyptic perspective of many of Jesus’ sayings, which allows for a focus in the Last Supper on  “Eucharist” but not  the expectation on the Messianic banquet in the world to come.

I might as well mention the most significant issue first, which sinks most of Pitre’s argument regarding the particular significance of precise Passover rituals in the Last Supper. Pitre does not mention at all that for John the meal is not a Passover meal, but it takes place the day prior to the Passover meal (68f). This is not an oversight, this is a conscious choice to leave out this hard reality which must be explained one way or the other. You cannot simply choose to ignore it, not on historical or theological terms. To my mind, the Gospel of John has the correct chronology of events because I do not think that Jesus would have been crucified on the day of Passover, which is why John does not have the words of institution as do the three Synoptic Gospels and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Instead, John has Jesus eating the Last Supper (John 13) and later crucified on the day before Passover (John 19: 14, 31, 42), when the Paschal lambs are slaughtered . This fits the Passover symbolism of the lamb of God whose blood is shed for us to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29, 36). I am open to other historical explanations of the Gospel of John’s evidence, but what does it matter? It matters much to Pitre because he wants to read the limited and spartan evidence of the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels as the actual celebration of a Passover meal as performed by Jews in Jesus’ day, even though very few details emerge within the Synoptic Gospels that could mark it as a complete Passover meal and even though the details for a Passover as celebrated in Jesus’ day must be taken from the Mishnah, a rabbinic document which was edited and compiled circa 200 A.D. To my mind, none of these details matter, because Jesus makes all things new, including the Passover.  Whether everything “fits” according to the Mishnah’s reconstruction of the Passover rite is insignificant, for if Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath”, he is just as surely “Lord of the Passover”! The big omission, though, is simply that Pitre did not consider the evidence of the Gospel of John. He can deal with the evidence however he chooses, but he cannot ignore it.

I think the previous point sinks Pitre’s case that Jesus ate an actual Passover meal according to the rites found in the Mishnah, even if we accept that the Mishnah preserves the rites as Jesus and other Jews would have performed them in 30 A.D., which I am not willing to do without an argument as to why we should. It is a stretch to rely on the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Talmud, all of which postdate Jesus and the New Testament writings, in some cases by centuries, without giving a clear sense that each statement from the rabbinic documents must be evaluated for date and for accurate knowledge, for the rabbis are suspect precisely on the issue of what took place at the Temple since the rabbis did not perform the sacrificial rites in the Temple, the Priests did.

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But there are further historical and textual problems. Let us accept for the time that Jesus and his apostles ate the Last Supper as a Passover meal and followed the form of the meal outlined in the rabbinic literature. In two of the Gospels (Mark and Matthew) the words of institution refer only to one cup, while in Luke Jesus speaks of two cups. Pitre does not explain why Matthew and Mark only have one cup, though he is specific about what the second cup in Luke means (158f). According to the rabbinic literature, there are four cups in the Passover meal. Pitre locates the first cup in Luke as the first cup of the rite and the second cup in Luke as the third cup of the Passover meal (159, but see pages 158-170 for the whole discussion). The second cup of the rite is not mentioned, therefore, but neither is the fourth cup. Yet Pitre finds a fourth cup. How does he do this? The fourth cup is the cup which Jesus drinks on the cross when he is given wine, thus completing the Passover meal. Forget, again, that John does not present the meal as a Passover meal and accept the chronology of the Synoptic Gospels and this is still a far reach to make, not only because of the lack of evidence in the actual narrative but because he is selective in which evidence he presents.

Pitre argues that Jesus drinks the fourth cup on the cross to complete the Passover rite and to prove it he cites Jesus’ words from Mark 14: 25: “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (161). That day, according to Pitre, is on the cross when he completes the Passover sacrifice (169-170). This is a very selective reading of the evidence because there is other evidence in Matthew, which passage he cites on page 161 but does not discuss, which points to Jesus’ eschatological meaning and to the consummation of all things when the day of the Lord arrives, including the Messianic banquet. What does Matthew say? “I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). Words matter and the two words “with you” point to Jesus’ apocalyptic scenario which he has in mind when he speaks of drinking the wine again, not on the cross, but at the coming of the Kingdom in all completeness. Pitre never discusses these two words in Matthew. Why? There is no way that Jesus drinking the wine on the cross can be seen as drinking it “new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” The desire to see the Cross as the completion of the Passover meal celebrated with his Apostles is not only “speculative” (148), as Pitre says, but selective.

What Pitre is doing is mixing and matching his Gospels, choosing what fits with his thesis and ignoring evidence that does not fit. Again, he could reject John’s chronology and reject Matthew’s addition of “with you,” but he must explain these differences, not ignore them. What is frustrating about it is that Pitre clearly has the scholarly chops to do the job right and so his ignoring of evidence must be a conscious effort to present a smooth picture by pretending not to see the bumps.

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In the vein of ignoring evidence, I think it is also odd to see Hebrews so rarely referenced in this book, when it is the one New Testament book that clearly deals with the sacrificial system and Jesus’ replacement of it as both victim and High Priest and it is earlier than any of the rabbinic literature which Pitre discusses (Hebrews is mentioned on page 126, but only in passing). Pitre’s reconstruction of Jesus’ step-by-step replacement of the Passover ritual in the Last Supper and on the cross does not fit in Hebrews. Pitre basically has Jesus fulfilling the rites of the Levitical priesthood in Jerusalem through the Last Supper, but Hebrews presents Jesus as fulfilling the Levitical priesthood by being “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:6, 6:20). Strangely, although Pitre discusses Melchizedek at length on pages 126-28, he never cites Hebrews on these pages. Later Pitre identifies Jesus as a “Melchizedekian king and priest” (141), but never puts this in the context of Hebrews. Is it because in Hebrews the Levitical priesthood was only a shadow of Jesus’ true, eternal priesthood and Jesus does not need to fulfill its rites but its rites are only outlines of Jesus’ true priesthood? To put it another way: Jesus is the prototype that the Levitical priesthood followed not the other way around. What is telling is that as significant as the Passover is for understanding Jesus’ sacrificial death, and it is significant, Hebrews only mentions the Passover once in conjunction with Moses (11:28). This does not make the Passover a minor issue, only that Jesus’ sacrificial death ought to be understood as combining and perfecting the whole of the sacrificial system not just the Passover.

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The biggest omission to my mind, though, is egregious for a scholar of Pitre’s obvious talent and skill: there is no discussion of apocalyptic thought and Jesus’ scenario of the future. He speaks of a “new exodus” on pages 42-47, but nowhere uses the words eschaton, eschatological or apocalyptic. What did Jesus intend by his death?  I would answer that he gave his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. What would take place after his death? The evidence of the Synoptic Gospels is that following his sacrifice the Kingdom of God would arrive in its fullness and that he expected very soon to drink the cup new with his followers in the complete and whole Kingdom of God. The evidence for the apocalyptic scenario is found in Jesus’ own words in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21 and other Gospel passages. From these Gospel passages and some passages from Paul’s letters (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 7) it is clear that there was an expectation that the end of the present evil age would be soon and the establishment of God’s final Kingdom would take place soon after. True, Jesus warned that no one knew when it would come, but no one expected a long interim period of waiting. This expectation of imminent fulfillment is seen in Acts 1:6 when Peter, naturally, asks, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Clearly, he did not see the Kingdom as fully established yet and he thought it would be established soon. What Peter thought, Jesus had taught.

We can reconstruct Jesus’ basic scenario of the future in this manner, based upon his own sayings: a) the present day, in which he was living; b) the repudiation, suffering and death of Jesus for the sins of the world; c) the ordeal (see especially Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Luke 21); d) the day of the Son of Man, general Resurrection, Judgment; e) the Kingdom of God (see Ben F. Meyer, Christus Faber: The Master-Builder and the House of God, 50). This was all coming soon! But it did not happen as quickly as expected and even today we are living in this period which is categorized by c), an interim period which has extended much longer than expected. This does not mean that Jesus was in any way wrong, only that “all prophecy speaks in the idiom of symbol. There is an irreducible disparity between this idiom and the actuality of events. This disparity is not well described as error. None of the prophets were mistaken, least of all the greatest of them” (Christus Faber, 56).

What it does mean is that the Gospels had to make sense of events which they had expected would lead to the absolute end of history soon. “It was unforeseen that the readership of the Gospels should have extended across centuries. It was unimaginable to the first storytellers that their audience would be counted in the hundreds of millions. Christians fondly hoped, as late as the sixties and seventies of the first century, to live to see the parousia. But no. The finished Gospel redactions belong to the transition-period from awaiters of an early parousia to awaiters of a parousia whose day no one knows” (Christus Faber , 272). As the Gospel writers, divinely inspired, wrote of what had taken place and what was to take place in order to make sense of what Jesus’ Passion meant now in their own day, they began to understand that Jesus’ promise of the Messianic banquet in the world to come (Matthew 8:11:“I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven”) was with them even now in their celebration of the Last Supper as a foretaste of that heavenly banquet foreseen by Isaiah centuries before (Isaiah 25:6: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear”). The banquet to which Jesus was calling them was indeed the Messianic banquet, but they could participate in it even now in the Eucharist. To overlook the apocalyptic scenario, however, and the eschatological goal of Jesus’ Last Supper and his sacrifice is to overlook his own sayings of what was to take place.

One more example would make this clear, both in terms of dealing with evidence and the eschatological context for much of Jesus’ teaching. Pitre argues that the best translation of the bread petition in the Lord’s Prayer is “supernatural” bread not “daily” bread (93-96). There is a general acceptance that the Greek epiousion  translated as “daily” does not do justice to the Greek word, but it is a tricky philological issue, as Pitre himself notes.  Pitre argues that St. Jerome translates it “supersubstantial.” Yet, we need to stay with Jerome for he gives us another reading which points to the general eschatological nature of this whole prayer, seen in “your kingdom come” and “do not let us come to the time of trial” (peirasmos, often the eschatological trial). “He {Jerome} recounts that the Aramaic Gospel of the Nazoreans had, for epiousios, the word mahar, “tomorrow.” That orients us toward epeimi/epieinai from the root “come” rather than toward epeimi/epieinai  from the root “be”” (Ben F. Meyer, Reality and Illusion in New Testament Scholarship, 12).  In this case, the Greek epiousios is probably best translated as “concerning what is to come or the future.”  As a result a common interpretation of “daily bread” today is “bread of tomorrow,” pointing to the Messianic banquet to come. Meyer says that the “scene evoked is the messianic banquet on the world mountain” (Reality and Illusion, 12).  Now, Pitre does not have to agree with this, but if he cites Jerome, he ought to give all of the evidence, for Jesus’ eschatological focus is attested throughout his sayings and even in the Lord’s Prayer itself. This reading actually supports Pitre’s argument that this bread of which Jesus speaks is the bread of heaven, but it would also add the necessary eschatological dimension which is found in the Lord’s Prayer and which is so sorely lacking in his book.

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Now, the reality is, after all this, that I agree with Pitre that, indeed, the Eucharist is a sharing, even now, in the Messianic banquet and that Jesus, the Lamb of God, intended his death as a Passover sacrifice, amongst other things, even though I do not think it was a Passover meal as such. It was transformed by Jesus into the new Passover. The issues which I have raised are, nevertheless, significant issues in interpretation because Pitre, in an odd way, has not attended to individual texts in their context. I mean that he has not considered individual Gospels, but mixed passages from various Gospels as he chooses and ignored other passages when it does not suit his argument. He has also not attended to each Gospel as a development of the tradition, but has treated all the Gospel material as coming from one context and having one particular meaning in the life and at the time of Jesus. In dealing with the general historical context of Judaism at the time of Jesus, the rabbinic texts and the Old Testament, and specific events in the life of Jesus, he engages in both a profound literalism when it suits his argument – the Last Supper must be an actual Passover supper as described in Jewish documents compiled over 150 years after Jesus’ death -  and a postmodern manner of making the texts say what you want without attending to the individuality of them and to their newness and strangeness.

Pitre’s book is evidence of a new sort of Catholic biblical scholarship which desires to be both ancient – in its reliance on the Church fathers and spiritual interpretations of texts – and highly literal – in that texts can only say one thing, at least if it fits with the reading the author is proposing. Indeed, the book is sometimes, quite literally, more Catholic than the Pope. Pitre argues that Jesus drinks the fourth cup of the Passover meal on the cross, but acknowledges that “to be sure, in these passages, the Catechism does not go so far as to identify the wine drunk by Jesus on the Cross as the fourth cup of the Jewish Passover” (179).   Pitre connects the Bread of the Presence to the Eucharist, but states that “unfortunately for us, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not ever explicitly link the Old Testament Bread of the Presence to the Eucharist” (192). Luckily, we have just now Pope Benedict XVI’s take on the Last Supper and the Passover, as excerpted only today as I completed this review:

“We have to ask, though, what Jesus’ Last Supper actually was. And how did it acquire its undoubtedly early attribution of Passover character? The answer given by Meier is astonishingly simple and in many respects convincing: Jesus knew that he was about to die. He knew that he would not be able to eat the Passover again. Fully aware of this, he invited his disciples to a Last Supper of a very special kind, one that followed no specific Jewish ritual but, rather, constituted his farewell; during the meal he gave them something new: he gave them himself as the true Lamb and thereby instituted his Passover. . . .

One thing emerges clearly from the entire tradition: essentially, this farewell meal was not the old Passover, but the new one, which Jesus accomplished in this context. Even though the meal that Jesus shared with the Twelve was not a Passover meal according to the ritual prescriptions of Judaism, nevertheless, in retrospect, the inner connection of the whole event with Jesus’ death and Resurrection stood out clearly. It was Jesus’ Passover. And in this sense he both did and did not celebrate the Passover: the old rituals could not be carried out—when their time came, Jesus had already died. But he had given himself, and thus he had truly celebrated the Passover with them. The old was not abolished; it was simply brought to its full meaning.” (Jesus of Nazareth, Volume 2, as excerpted at First Things).

Pope Benedict XVI clearly follows the Johannine narrative in his understanding of the Last Supper, and he does not see the Last Supper as an actual Passover meal. But it does not matter for understanding the Last Supper as a Passover, a new sort of Passover, reliant on the Old, but entirely New. This is what was missing from Pitre’s book: “he invited his disciples to a Last Supper of a very special kind, one that followed no specific Jewish ritual but, rather, constituted his farewell; during the meal he gave them something new: he gave them himself as the true Lamb and thereby instituted his Passover.” Pitre has done us a great favor by placing Jesus and the Last Supper once again in the essential Jewish context, and his book is worthwhile reading for this reason. Yet, the Bible is not a code book to be deciphered, its secrets unlocked, it is the story of God’s love for humanity, who surprises us with the newness of his ways and the depth of his love, but who openly reveals himself for all to see.  

John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens

Comments

Eduardo Montemayor | 11/26/2012 - 4:35pm
I enjoyed this review of Dr. Pitre's book.  It is definitely well done, but still exposes some false assumptions based precisely on ignorance of the Jewish roots of our faith.  I think Dr. Pitre's argument (in his webpage) of the 4 meanings of the word ''passover'' demonstrates that the Last Supper in the Gospel of John was clearly a Passover meal on Thursday.    
What concerns me about some scholars is their complete disregard for the seriousness by which the Oral Torah was transmitted among the Jewish people.   The Mishnah and other Rabbinic traditions were written, not because they wanted too, but because they had too for fear of them being lost.  The Rabbi's were scrupulous about their Oral Tradition, and the Mishnah accurately transmits teachings from very ancient sources (at least around to 100 BC, probably 250 BC). 
John W. Martens best point I think was this:  ''What does Matthew say? “I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). Words matter and the two words “with you” point to Jesus’ apocalyptic scenario which he has in mind when he speaks of drinking the wine again, not on the cross, but at the coming of the Kingdom in all completeness. Pitre never discusses these two words in Matthew. Why? There is no way that Jesus drinking the wine on the cross can be seen as drinking it “new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”''
Mr Martens later point that ''with you'' points to an eschatological banquet - seems valid and one could say fulfilled during the resurrection appearances, or during Pentecost if the new wine is seen as the Holy Spirit, or in Heaven.    
But I think Mr Martens is mistaken in this point. Matthew 26:29 asumes the apostles actually did drink the cup of wine/precious blood, and Jesus did not actually drink it. In other words, Jesus probably did not drink any wine at the Last Supper, but the apostles did drink the cups and completed their Passover.   
If, as Dr. Pitre's proposes, Jesus extended His Passover until the Cross (not the apostles Passover - they actually drank the cups), then the fact that Jesus actually drank wine on the cross actually can fulfill the statement ''with you'' because it was the same Passover meal, and actually done in the presence of John the Apostle.   In other words, the Apostles completed their Passover meal, it was Jesus that extended His participation in it.      
On the cross, Jesus was proclaimed ''King of the Jews'' by the Highest Roman Authority in the area (ie Pontius Pilate).  But since we know that all power/authority comes from above (cf Jn 19:11), one could say that the Kingdom of God had actually ''come'' on the cross.       
A key point that brings clarity is that ''with'' in ''with you'' is meta in Greek which can also be translated ''after'' you.  In other words Mt 26:29 could easily be translated, ''I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new AFTER you in my Father's kingdom.”  That is exactly what happened on the Cross.  And if this is the correct translation, then clearly Dr. Pitre's hypothesis is correct.     
These are just some thoughts in defense of Dr. Pitre’s book.  
   


 
 
 
 
Eddi Haskell | 3/23/2011 - 2:07pm
John, you make a good point.  Although one can assume that the Jews of Jesus time participated in the Yom Kippur fast, for example, there is no direct biblical commandment ordering the fast of the firstborn.  So it may very well be a later custom.

However, it is hard for me to believe that such a tradition for a fast started 400 - 500 years after the the time of Jesus.  The Rabbis of the Tamud were intent of codifing the oral law and related tradtions. It could be that the Fast of the Firstboen was observed by some Jews in come communities at the time of Jesus but perhaps not by the Temple establishment.  

I have tried to see if the Beta Israel - customs of the Ethipian Jews which predate Talmudic sources (Ethipian Jews did not celebrate Hanukah or Purim) include a Fast of the Firstborn.   They do not, but they do include a sacrifice of the Paschal lamb on the 14th of Nissan.  Perhaps the Fast of the Firsborn was first started in the Diaspora, and was codified in the Talmud since there was no more Temple sacrifice. 
Eddi Haskell | 3/21/2011 - 5:58pm
I think this arguement is very flawed. How can the last supper be the day before Passover if this day is specifically set as the fast of the first born?  Every first born Jewish male (which Jesus was) must fast on this day.
Donna Biggins | 3/16/2011 - 7:23pm
I have only just started Pitre's book and am not a Biblical scholar. Your review was incredibly helpful. The quote from Pope Benedict XVI's book literally gave me a chill as it opened up a newer, fuller meaning of the Last Supper. I will look forward to reading it. Many thanks.
Marie Rehbein | 3/12/2011 - 10:10pm
I really appreciate this detailed response to the book in question.  Without having read the book, or even become aware of it, I find the analysis enlightening with regard to how one might or might not interpret the Last Supper.  As Christian versions of Seder suppers have become more common, I think this is helpful in reconciling the Jewish and Chrisitian elements present in the event.  There is some confusion that results from the Last Supper being the foundation for celebrating the Eucharist and the Last Supper being a Seder supper, even if people experiencing both are not at a point at which they can put their finger on what is causing the confusion.
Kang Dole | 3/8/2011 - 5:15pm
I've been waiting for a substantial review of this study, so thank you.

Some of the hype that I encountered a week or so in the blogosphere concerning this book gave me pause, particularly with respect to excitement over Pitre's use of rabbinics (since, after all, scholars have been looking to rabbinics for decades on the very topic of the Last Supper). I appreciated and agree with your point concerning the advisability of, shall we say, less-than-critical use of the rabbinic texts in interpreting 1st and 2nd (and even 3rd and 4th!) century eucharistic texts. To an extent, the use of rabbinic descriptions of the seder as a tool in deciphering the Last Supper strikes me as bearing the same risks faced by previous scholars who tried to interpret eucharistic prayers from texts like the Didache through the lens of rabbinic Jewish prayer models: there's really just not sufficient evidence to support claims that 1st century Jews followed the prayer patterns or ritual rubrics put forward in the rabbinic texts.

I'm a bit confused by Pitre's discussion of the 4 cups. Is he offering an interpretive device that he thinks will help readers find new meaning in the text? Or is he arguing that the identification of these "cup moments" is key to understanding the narrative thrust intended by the gospels?
ROBERT O'CONNELL | 3/15/2011 - 2:05pm
I am intrigued most of all by the comment regarding Acts 1:6 asserting that "What Peter thought, Jesus had taught."  One might think that is an endorsement of infallibility - or an indirect criticism.  The details are important but the basic mystery of the Last Supper as the institution of the Eucharist still holds most of my attention.