Date and Hour of the Crucifixion Passover

The monthly research column considers the timing of the passover

By GRACE EDITH AMADON, Research Worker, Ta-koma Park, Maryland

In medieval centuries Jewish manuscripts were still extant with reference to the ancient Passover date. Both the Arabian chronologer Albirani and the Jewish philosopher Mainioni­des had these sources in hand, although they do not state what they were. In the seventeenth century Aegidius Bucherius, S. J., collected all available texts. This historical evidence is val­uable, for it reveals a change in date of the ancient Biblical Passover. To this fact Mai­monides is also witness.

Questions relative to the Passover date and hour still continue to come to the Ministry office: (I) Was the national lamb slain on Thursday afternoon,1 or at sunset at the begin­ning of death Friday ,2 or about the same time that Jesus died? 3 The inquiries are made on both a theological and an astronomical basis.

In this number we give further evidence with regard to the ancient Passover date and hour, leaving for another study the discussion of ques­tions relating to the Johannine Passover texts. We review the historical witness regarding the time of slaying the crucifixion Passover—both the date and hour. Our conclusions are based upon the following sources and authorities, and mainly concern the period of the Second Tem­ple from Ezra to Josephus:

1. Pentateuchal Authority. There are al­together six specific examples of Passover ob­servance in the period from Moses to Josiah,4 besides repeated Old Testament instruction con­cerning the time of celebration.5 And in each instance the Passover lamb was slain on the Jewish "fourteenth" of the first month. This date has never been disproved for the period of the First Temple.6

Current Witness Under the Second Temple. The Bible enumerates at least eight Passovers in the time of the Second Temple," for which there are additional Jewish sources—Apocryphal literature, Aristobulus, Philo, and Josephus. The New Testament reports seven of these feasts, although no date is given. How­ever, both the crucifixion Passover and Paul's festival at Philippi are tied to a definite day of the week;8 and these synchronisms, to­gether with the historical statements, fully es­tablish the sacrificial date of the Passover as the fourteenth of Nisan during the time of the Second Temple.

From these sources it can be demonstrated that the original laws of Moses governed the Jewish feasts until the Romans finally destroyed Jerusalem. And in addition, we are able to dis­tinguish between law and custom in Josephus's own time, and that later enjoined by the Tal­mud when Jewish independence was gone, and when extreme measures were taken in order to hold the nation together.

Passover Date Under Second Temple

We have early and late witnesses for the first Passover date in the time of the Second Temple. The building was finished in the sixth year of Darius I on the third of Adar. (Ezra 6:15.) In a few weeks the Passover was cele­brated, and regarding its date we have the fol­lowing testimonies:

  1. "The children of the captivity kept the Passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month." Ezra. 6 :19.
  2. "The children of Israel that were of the captivity held the Passover the fourteenth day of the first month, after that the priests and the Levites were sanctified." 1 Esdras 7 :10.
  3. "They offered the sacrifice, which was called the Passover, on the fourteenth day of the same month [Nisanl."1°

On this occasion only a few priests and Le­vites had purified themselves, and they accord­ingly killed the sacrifices for all the rest of the people. It is significant that they set up the service of God "as it is wiitten in the law of Moses," and not according to the new moons of Babylonia, from whence the Jews had come, about two decades before, and by whose kings they were being governed.

The next witness is AristobuIus, who lived in the time of Ptolemy Philometor, to whom he dedicated his commentary on the laws of Moses." The entire work is said to have been still extant in a library on Patmos during the Middle Ages.12 Whether this is true or not, his description and explanation of the Passover law and its relation to the full moon is of decisive importance to the ancient Jewish calendar and has been cited again and again as Jewish au­thority throughout the Christian Era. The following is Aristobulus's explicit statement with regard to the Jewish Passover date, and it was written in the second century B. C.:

1. "Since there are two equinoxes, spring and autumn, which are separated by equal distances : and since the Passover was appointed on the fourteenth day of the first month after the evening when the moon is caught in the region opposite to the sun, just as even the eyes can see, certainly the sun is found holding a part of the vernal equinox, and the moon, on the contrary, a part of the autumnal.7

The foregoing translation is from a Latin ver­sion that is even earlier than that published by Aegidius Bucherius (Antwerp, 1634), which Zahn maintains is an early translation of the genuine text of Anatolius.14 Aristobulus was in many respects the forerunner cf Philo, who lived in the time of Christ. In this same period the Book of Jubilees—the Little Genesis—and the Book of Enoch are said to have been writ­ten. However, the description of the Passover in the Book of Jubilees does not agree with that of the Pentateuch. Moreover, the calendar of the Book of Jubilees is based upon a 364-day solar year—exactly fifty-two weeks. Accord­ing to this inconsistent assumption, each Jewish festival would always have occurred on the same day of the week!

The works of Philo the philosopher give an even more complete analysis of the Jewish feasts and sacrifices than Josephus the priest. With regard to the slaying of the Passover lamb and its Jewish date, Philo's previously cited statement is precise and to the point:

e. "On this day every dwelling house is invested with the outward semblance and dignity of a temple. The victim is then slaughtered and dressed for the festal meal which befits the occasion. The guests assembled for the banquet have been cleansed by puri­ficatory lustrations, and are there . . . to fulfill with prayers and hymns the custom handed down by their fathers. The day on which this national festivity occurs may very properly be noted. It is the four­teenth of the month.'",

Concerning those who, through adverse cir­cumstances, failed to make the paschal sacrifice-with the mass of the nation, Philo represents God as vouchsafing an answer to Moses:

f. "'Mourning for kinsfolk,' He said, 'is an affliction which the family cannot avoid, but it does not count as an offence. . . But when its term is finished, let not the mourners be denied an equal share in the sacred services, and thus the living be made an ap­pendage to the dead. Let them form a second set to come on the second month and also on the fourteenth day, and sacrifice just as the first set, and observe a similar rule and method in dealing with the victims.'(See also Num. 9:11.)

Philo's testimony is important for two rea­sons: (1) He says that he discovered his facts by the study of ancient history, necessarily that of his own nation;17 and (2) he thereby compares festal customs in the time of Moses with those of his own day. Hence his descrip­tions can consistently be regarded, not only as an interpretation of ancient Jewish law, but also as an indication that the ancient sacrificial laws were being observed in the first century. If not, his investigation and research would obviously have taken note of the difference. His elucida­tion of the Passover-full-moon relation is of additional importance. This we shall refer to again in a later study.

Josephus groups his references to the Pass­over "fourteenth" around early Jewish history, and yet they are source statements, for he in­sists that they represent Jewish practice in his own time." They are therefore important, not only because they are an exposition of the original Passover law, but also because they agree with the testimony of Philo. In the Sep­tember IVIINtsTRV we cited one of these passages.19 The others are as follows:

g. "He commanded Moses to tell the people to have a sacrifice ready after they had prepared themselves on the tenth day of the month Xanthicus [Nisan] against the fourteenth. . . ."20

"But when the fourteenth day was come, all, ready for departure, offered the sacrifice and purified their houses with blood, using bunches of hyssop for the purpose, and, having supped, burned the rest of the flesh, as just ready to depart."2(Italics mine.)

In Wars, which was written about 75 A, D., a score of years before Antiquities, Josephus mentions the "festal" fourtenth just once:

"When the day of unleavened bread came round on the fourteenth of the month Xanthicus (Nisen]. the reputed anniversary of the Jews' first liberation from Egypt. Eleazar and his men partly opened the gates and admitted citizens desiring to worship within the building."22

All these historical sources—Ezra, the Apoc­rypha, Aristobulus, Philo, and Josephus—have one and the same Jewish date for Passover observance, namely, the fourteenth day of the first lunar month. This was the Passover date for slaying the lamb in the period of the Second Temple. (Compare the foregoing citations a, b, h, e, f.) It was the same date as was commanded by Mcses, and it had not changed in the time of Josephus. In the time of Christ, therefore, the national Passover must have been celebrated on the Jewish fou,rteenth.23 Let us now consider the hour of the sacrifice.

Hoar of the Passover Sacrifice

So long as the crucifixion Passover is tied to the correct Jewish date—the fourteenth of Nisan—the hour of the day when the lamb was slain makes no material difference to the calen­dar problem. For all that the calendar can do is to connect with the Jewish date as a whole; and so far as the calendar dating is concerned, it matters little whether the sacrifice was slain at the beginning of crucifixion Friday, or in the afternoon. Of -the two___ date or hour—the  Jewish date is of first importance; for upon the date and its relation to the full moon, the whole crucifixion calendar depends. If the Jewish date is wrong, the form of calendar is bound to be wrong. The hour of day is not consequential to the calendar.

However, from the viewpoint of Passover law, and the relation of the antitypical Lamb to the symbolic lamb, it is of the greatest im­portance to know whether the death of Christ fulfilled the true type or not. And in addition, it is deeply significant whether the ancient sacrificial types had changed in the era of Christ's ministry. The Second Temple sources have clearly shown that the ancient Passover date had not changed—even as late as Josephus. But some maintain that the hour of slaying the Passover had shifted, and that Talmudic law was operative in the time of Christ. On the contrary, there is evidence that such was not the ease. The following is the historical argu­ment:

Originally, the Passover lamb was commanded to be slain "at even, at the going down of the sun." (Dent. 16:6.) The Karaites have always been witness to the plan of an after-sunset paschal sacrifice,24 and even the few remaining Samaritans of today still slay their lambs about sunset.25 In the testimony of Philo­citation o—it is to be noted that he has both sacri­fice and banquet on one and the same Jewish date—the fourteenth. Only an after-sunset sacrifice and supper could agree with Philo's description. If the lamb were slain in the afternoon, it would then have to be roasted and eaten on the subsequent evening. Hence two Jewish dates would be involved—not one date only.

Josephus also follows the analogy that demands an evening sacrifice. In citation h he offers the sacri­fice, purifies the house with blood, and, after supper, burns the remnants of the feast—all on one date, the Jewish fourteenth. Likewise in Ant. III.X.5, on the same fourteenth day of Nisan, Josephus has the lamb sacrifice offered in Egypt, and then adds, "and Just so we keep it in companies, leaving nothing of the sacrifice until the morning." Again he ties both sacrifice and supper to one single date—the four­teenth. All these instances imply that the Passover lamb was slain about sunset.

We have, however, still another episode. Both Wars and Antiquities mention a circum­stance as occurring about the time of Jesus' birth. This incident is also decisive with regard to the evening sacrifice of the paschal lamb:

Herod the Great had just died, and Archelaus had announced himself as the successor according to the king's testament. He gave a very expensive funeral feast, with public mourning for seven days. Toward the end of this display he went up to the temple to deal with the requests and clamors of the people who had come from far and near to keep the Passover. Hereupon many came in crowds toward evening, and at the end of the day, when mourning for the dead king had ceased, began to mourn for the priests whom Herod had slain. Their clamors and cries increased, the seditious making for the temple, while the multi­tude en masse was without the city with lambs in their hands, ready for the sacrifice. Archelaus sent footmen and horsemen to quell the sedition, and they came upon the people outside the city, who were in the very act of slaying their passovers.26

Although it takes several long paragraphs for Josephus to relate this episode, yet it is all one scene__ one descriptive of an evening Passover ceremony at the very period when Christ was on earth. Consequently there should be no question but that the sunset sacrifice of the Passover was still in practice throughout the period of the Second Temple.

It was highly essential that no change in the Passover law should have occurred before the death of the true Passover. If there had been such, then confusion would have existed in the identification of the Messiah; for the real Christ had to show perfect fulfillment of the original Passover law. Jesus therefore cele­brated His last Passover at the hour ordained by Moses, and He was fully cognizant that "His hour had come." John 13:1.

There are those who maintain that the national lamb was accustomed to be slain in the afternoon of the Jewish fourteenth in the time of Christ.' 7 They base their conclusion upon a point of time that would not only have been indifferent to the crucifixion calendar, but also would have had no connection with the original Passover law and could not therefore have been prophetic of the death of the true Messiah.


1 Edersheim, Alfred, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. II, pp. 481, 482. New York, 1923.

Reland, A., Antiguitates Sacrae Veterum Hebrae­arum, p. 275. 1717.

3 Talmud : San. 43a.

4 Ex. 12 :6-28 ; Num. 9 :5, 11; Joshua 5 :10; 2 Citron. 30 :15 ; 35 :1.

5 Lev. 23 :5 ; Num. 9 :3 ; 28 :16; Eze. 45 :21.

6 Even Maimonides, who dates the Talmudic Pass­over on the fifteenth, writes as follows regarding the time of Moses : "On the fourteenth day of the first month, when the Passover offering was sacrificed," etc. Traetatus Primus de Raerificio Paschall, cap. dec. sec. XII. Londini, 1683.

7 Ezra 6 :19 : Luke 11 :41; John 2:13; Passover during John the Baptist's imprisonment (Matt. 12 :1: Mark 2 :23; Luke 6 :1) ; Passover after John's death (John 6 :4) ; crucifixion Passover ; Peter's Passover (Acts 12:3, 4) ; Paul's Passover at Philippi (Acts 20:6, 7).

8 According to the narrative in Acts 20, the 20th day after Paul's Passover at Philippi coincided with Sun­day. By means of this synchronism the exact year can be calculated, just as in the case of the crucifixion Passover, which coincided with Friday.

9 Both MT and LXX give 3 Adar in the 6th year of Darius as the date. 1 Esdras 7:5 has the 23d of Adar, which probably is the date of the dedication, the same as Josephus gives, although he has a different year. (Ant. XLIV.8.)

10 "Ant. XI.IV.8. (Written about 100 A. D. )

11 Eusebii Pamphili, Chronici Canones, ed. by Foth­eringham. Londinii, 1923.

12 Emil Schiirer, History of the Jewish People, sec. div., v. III. p. 242. New York.

13 Nicolai Nancelii, Analogia Microcosmi ad Macro-coma, secunda pars, col. 1204. Lutetiae Parisiorum, 1611. Tr. by Amadon.

14 Zahn, Theodor von, Forschungen zur Gesch. des N. T. Kanons, Erster Band, pp. 177-196. Erlangen. 1888,

15 Philo, Special Laws II, sec. 148, 149. Tr. by Col­son. Loeb Classical Library, Vol. VII, Cambridge, 1935.

16 Philo, De Vita Mosis II, sec. 231. Tr. by Colson. Loeb Classical Library. Vol. VI.

17 Philo. Special Laws II, sec, 146. Loeb Classical Library, Vol. VII.

18 Ant. ILXIV.6 ; III.X.5.

19 Ant. III.X.5.

20 Ant. ILXIV.6,

21 Ant. ILXIV.6. With regard to this passage, the Greek text is very revealing.

22 Wars, V.III.1. This Passover marked the beginning of the siege of Titus.

23 The Great Controversy, p. 399.

24 Reference 2.

25 Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement, January, 1902, p. 82 ff. London.

26 Ant. XVILIX.3 ; Wars,

27 The statement of Josephus in Wars VI.IX.3 is frequently cited as proof that in the time of the Jewish revolt the paschal lambs were being slain in the afternoon of the Jewish fourteenth. But the text has no date In Antiquities, Josephus further explains his state­ment in Wars VI.IX.3, namely, that it was the evening lamb sacrifice that was offered "about the ninth hour" (Ant. XIV.IV.3), or "at the ending of the day" (Ant. III.X.1), after which, obviously, followed the slaying of the paschal lambs at sunset, when the lamps were lighted (Ex. 30 :8) and the incense was burned (Ant. III.VIII.3). This was the hour called ben-ha-arbayim, which did not include the whole afternoon, as in the later Halacha, but only the period from sunset to darkness.—W. Bac/ter, Jewish Quarterly Review, July, 1893, Vol. 5, pp. 684, 687.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

By GRACE EDITH AMADON, Research Worker, Ta-koma Park, Maryland

February 1944

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

The Minister's Private Reading

Paul recognized the importance of reading, both in his own life and in his counsel to the young ministers under his care.

A New Approach on Saving Youth

Countering the idea that the work for our young people is largely finished once they are baptized.

Low-Cost Evangelism

Written shortly before Elder Cone's recent trans­fer to the Florida Conference.—EDITOR.

The Pastor's Multiple Duties

One of the gifts of the Spirit of God is that of pastors. (Eph. 4:8, 11.) No pastor can be successful in his ministry unless this gift of heaven is daily bestowed upon him.

Pro-Catholic Trends in Choir Schools

After attending two prominent schools where the standards of artistic church choirs are of the highest, I am impressed with certain trends, which, if carried over into our work, would dilute the strength of our vocal-music program.

Bible Readings as a Continued Series

The Bible instructor today would do well to capitalize in present-day interest in the continued serial story.

Personally Prepared Readings

Truth teaching has been greatly simplified by using the different sets of graduated studies now published for home Bible study.

Away With Defeatism

Are you in the "canning" business of Philippians 4:13?

Editorial Keynotes

Evangelistic Orthodoxy and Unorthodoxy

Inspiration of the Bible Writers

Vital "Testimony" Counsels.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - NAD Stewardship (160x600)