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Chapter 14 This Bread and This Cup We have concluded that the last supper was probably, or perhaps only possibly, not technically the Pesah. But the view concluded in chapter 13 does not imply that the meal was an ordinary Jewish meal, with a skin or two of vino tinto, vegetables , grains, herbs, a stew, and an assortment of dips. Even if Jesus does not celebrate Pesah, he does eat with followers during festal week, and every meal that week would be swallowed up in Pesah celebrations. How could they not be involved? They were away from home, and they were in Jerusalem for one purpose : to celebrate Pesah. The week was alive.1 In the meal Jesus eats with his followers, he reportedly assigns to the bread and wine an apparent redemptive meaning that expresses exodus theology.2 Pesah week meals, even unintentionally, evoke the events behind the rites of Pesah. With everyone gathering to Jerusalem, eating in special places, seeing old friends and making new ones, and with Jerusalem decked out in memory of its greatest event of salvation, and with the Roman soldiers on guard for any act of rebellion—with all this in the eyes of every celebrant, every meal begins to take on the themes of Pesah. This would include at least two exceptions: the rest of the meals that week were less formal and were absent of lamb. It was this kind 1 An excellent account, though I disagree in some details about Jesus’ life and family, can be seen in P. Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (New York: Knopf, 1999), 42–50. 2 On the theological themes that can be extracted from the last supper traditions, cf. F. Hahn, “Die alttestamentliche Motive in der urchristlichen Abendmahlsüberlieferung,” EvT 27 (1967): 337–74; “Zum Stand der Erforschung des urchristlichen Abendmahles,” EvT 35 (1975): 553–63; H. Merklein, “Erwägungen zur Überlieferingsgeschichte der neutestamentlichen Abendmahlstraditionen ,” BZ 21 (1977): 88–101, 235–44; L. Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament (ed. J. Roloff; trans. J.E. Alsup; 2 vols.; 1975; repr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 1:213–22; P. Stuhlmacher, Grundlegung Von Jesus zu Paulus (vol. 1 of Biblische Theologie des Neuen Testaments; 2d ed.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997), 130–43. See also the study of M. Casey, Aramaic Sources for Mark’s Gospel (SNTSMS 102; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 219–52. 275 276 Jesus and His Death of informal meal that Jesus most likely makes his last and to which he attributes significance. Most scholars today, the Jesus Seminar included, attribute some historical core to the last supper. E.P. Sanders classed it, along with the temple incident, as “almost equally certain,”3 and nearly two decades later James Dunn concluded that there is a “core memory of what Jesus said” in the last supper traditions.4 Jesus somehow found the bread and the wine to be a symbol. There is much here that speaks of a core of reliability in these two elements. To begin with, Jesus is known for the table he keeps and creates. Further, the astounding claim that “I am the bread/wine” has no parallel in Judaism and is the sort of prophetic behavior we have seen from Jesus before. It would not be unlike Jesus to take a significant event (a meal during Pesah week) and attribute to it a new significance and, in particular, make himself the center of it all.5 In addition, as we have demonstrated, that a premature death was on Jesus’ mind from the time of John onwards anchors the scene in the realities of Jesus’ life. Finally, these two elements (bread, wine) distinguished the early Christian communities from all other Jewish communities and did so from the very beginning. There is no time period of earliest Christianity that does not know of the Lord’s Supper, and there is no better explanation for its origins than the one given by the church itself: Jesus’ last supper.6 But, we need not just to concentrate on the words of Jesus. The actions of Jesus during that last supper are as significant here as his words, even if it is words, or a story, that articulate meaning and interpretation.7 It is consistent for Jesus, qua prophet, to perform symbolic actions and to interpret them. It is also consistent with Jesus to assume personal authority in acting and speaking qua prophet. But no prophet ever approached the sacred center that...


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