Sunday, March 31, 2013

Holiday Greetings - Historical Time Meets Biblical Time

Passover and Easter Greetings to you - may your celebrations be joyous and invigorating.

Today, our Jewish-Christian household is not celebrating Easter.  We follow the "old calendar" that celebrates Easter on May 5, 2013.  How is this possible?  The Orthodox Christian calendar calculates Easter in relation to the full moon after March 21 of the Julian Calendar, which falls two weeks after March 21 on the Gregorian Calendar (aka "the Common Era).  Here are the details which explain in all its complexity the date of Orthodox Easter.

All these calculations got me thinking about historical time versus biblical time.
Let's see what that means:

Leonardo da Vinci, Last Supper, c. 1498

Easter - 33 AD/CE
According to the Gregorian Calendar, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died and rose from his grave 1980 years ago.  Today, marks the Resurrection. The Feast of the Ascension, also known as Ascension Thursday, falls 40 days later (this year on May 9th).

Holy Thursday, the Last Supper - 33 AD/CE
The Last Supper celebrated Passover (commanded in the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 13:8) in 33AD/CE, before the Haggadah was written.

published 2012

The Haggadah ("the telling") - not before 170 AD/CE
The Haggadah was written during the Roman Occupation of Judea, after the Destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD/CE.  The Haggadah established the correct way to conduct a Passover seder. The word "seder" means "the order."  In this case, it is a ritual meal with recitations, prayers, songs, activities and symbolic foods.  It is based on the ancient Greek symposium: a drinking party with entertainment, discussion and frivolity.

The earliest Haggadot were probably composed during the 2nd to 4th centuries. Here are the details which hypothesize the evolution of the Haggadah.  Parts of the oldest extant Haggadah can be found in the Rav Amram Siddur (a prayer book), c. 860, and the oldest Haggadah in its entirety dates to the 10th century - also within a siddur.  The earliest separate books appeared during the middle ages.  The traditional Haggadah was inspired by the illuminated manuscripts created in Spain and Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries.

Therefore, Jesus' Last Supper celebrated the Passover with a festive meal, but not as a seder in the modern sense of the term.

Mark Podwal, "The Bread of Affliction," from The Haggadah with comments by Eli Wiesel, 1993

The Passover - c. 1220 BC/BCE ?
The story of the Exodus as it is recounted in the Hebrew Bible has been researched over the last few decades.  Theories abound and none can verify the narrative as it is written in the Tanakh (the Masoretic version of the Hebrew Bible, c. 400 BC/BCE).  If indeed the Israelites fled Egypt during the reign of Ramesses II, the Exodus would have taken place between 1279-1213 BC/BCE or c. 2550 HC (Hebrew Calendar, now in the year 5773).  Therefore, the Israelites did not build the pyramids (as some people erroneously claim), because no pyramids were built during Ramesses II's reign which was part of the New Kingdom in Egypt

Does the historical record really matter?
No.  Whether literally true or symbolically true, Passover and Easter celebrate the good that comes from sacrifice and promise of spring.  Historians believe that the pascal sacrifice took place in nomadic cultures when sheep and goat herders met to celebrate the spring festivals. 

Wishing you a sense of renewal during this holiday season and beyond - 

Happy Passover and Easter,
Beth New York

Beth Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange

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