Was the Last Supper on Wednesday?
British scientist Colin Humphreys recently proposed from an ancient Jewish calendar that the Last Supper took place on the Wednesday of Holy Week, a day earlier than the traditional Maundy Thursday, and that the date of Easter can now be fixed. Please comment and explain. – Neville Gallichan
The day on which the Church liturgically commemorates the Last Supper has been fixed as Maundy Thursday, as you point out. Yet there has been some debate about whether this day is historically accurate.
The problem arises from the gospels themselves. Matthew 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-16 and Luke 22:7-13 say that the supper was the Passover meal eaten on the evening of Thursday before Jesus’ trial and execution on Good Friday. John 13:1-13 says that the Last Supper took place before the festival of the Passover, presumably on the Wednesday evening.
This anomaly has had many explanations. Perhaps the most simple is that John was using the solar calendar in which Wednesday remained Wednesday until midnight. On the other hand, the synoptic gospels followed the Jewish lunar calendar according to which a day began at sunset and ended at the next sunset. (Our Saturday vigil Mass imitates this, where we celebrate the Sunday liturgy on the Saturday evening.) So, when the Synoptics speak of Thursday, they are referring to after sunset on Wednesday, when the Passover would have begun.
Colin Humphreys, in his book The Mystery of the Last Supper published in April, does not agree with this. He ignores the differences between the Synoptics and John and claims that his research and an ancient Jewish calendar support the contention that the Last Supper took place on the Wednesday.
His findings are not likely to rock the world of scriptural scholarship. Biblical critics have frequently applied a number of ancient non-Jewish and non-Roman calendars, such as those of the Essenes, when trying to make sense of scriptural dates and times, including the day of the Last Supper.
However, a question that still puzzles the critics is this. Jesus was arrested on Thursday night and crucified on Friday before sunset. How is it possible that his separate interrogations by Annas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod Antipas and Pilate again, and then his lengthy lashing, mocking and crucifixion could have been squeezed into about 12 hours at the most?
Humphreys’ proposition that the Last Supper was on Wednesday at least allows for more time for these events.