According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bo Sanders - Do We Worship a Bloody Easter or a Christ Who Ended It All?



Blood: Easter and That Damn Liberal Quote
http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2014/04/05/blood-easter-and-that-damn-liberal-quote/

April 5, 2014 by Bo Sanders Comments

It is almost Easter – my most conflicted time of year as a pastor.

I am smitten with the empty grave. In fact, I am almost as excited about the Easter imagery as I am horrified by North American protestant’s fascination with the cross.

I have written and talked about this disturbing trend in the past so I won’t take the time to elaborate on it here.

This whole subject has been intensified for me this year. I have been leading a discussion at my church through Lent about historic atonement theories. The hope in doing so has been twofold.

We wanted to look at how the churches’ understand of the cross has changed over time.

I wanted to suggest a way to move past those previous and limited views.

We have been working through this in conversation with several resources: Saved From Sacrifice, The Non-Violent Atonement and the work of Michael Hardin.

It has been a powerful excersise and I have learned a great deal in the process. It is the week before Palm Sunday and I have two things in the back of my mind:

1 - It bothers me that our most well attended services with the most visitors are our bloodiest (in imagery).
2 - That damn H. Richard Niehbuhr quote.

His famous jab at ‘liberal’ christianity:

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without
judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

This quote gets under my skin so much. Here are 3 reasons why:

1) It is so true. I suspected it when I migrated out West and it is has only been confirmed as I have emerged from an charismatic/evangelical context to a more mainline one. I can not tell you how many people would be covered by Niehbuhr’s concern.

2) We live in a sanitized and sterilized culture (to paraphrase Cornell West) where most people have no connection to the meat on their table. They pick it up at the grocery store in plastic wrapped styrofoam containers. I say this as an avid hunter descended from farmers.

We live in a horrifically violent culture (both domestic and military) but so few of us are familiar with blood. We outsource our violence.

This is why a penal substitutionary view of the cross is so attractive /acceptable for so many. The vicarious nature of god pouring out ‘his’ wrath on Jesus results in a pornographic delight that can be seen in depictions like that famous scene in [Mel Gibson's] The Passion and in many of our contemporary worship songs.

3) That Niehbuhr quote is thrown around too easily whenever someone wants to reexamine or revisit underlying assumptions about what happened (or how we understand) Easter.

Let me be clear about what I am saying and what I am not saying:

  • I am not saying that there was no cross and that there was no blood. I get both, I accept both and I proclaim both.
  • I am saying that something perverse has seeped into our understanding and our imagery.
  • What happened on that cross was real.
  • What happened on that cross mattered.
  • What happened on that cross was unjust.
  • What happened on that cross changed humanity’s relationship to God.

My concern is that we have misunderstood both how it changed and why it changed.

Let me end the critique there and wrap up with a constructive proposal.

When Jesus takes the bread and cup and forever changes their meaning he is saying “what they will do to me – don’t you, as my followers, do to anyone else”.

When Jesus says “forgive them, they know not what they do”, he is saying that they think they know what (and why) they are doing, but they are wrong.

When Jesus says “it is finished”, he is proclaiming the end of this type of scapegoating and violence by those who think they are doing it on God’s behalf.

2 Corinthians 5:18, "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 [The one] who had no sin [was made] to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."*

We are to be about peace. We are to be a people of reconciliation. In Christ, God absorbed the hatred and violence of the world. The one who knew no sin – an innocent man – was proclaimed guilty and God responds by proclaiming that we who are guilty of doing that are now innocent and our sins are forgiven.

This is the good news of gospel! This is the hope for human-kind. No one needs to be sacrificed any more. No one needs to die because God is angry – Christ’s unjust death is to be the last. In the empty grave we see the vindication of the victim. God took humanity’s wrong judgement of Jesus and now judges us right with God. We who are guilty are proclaimed innocent because the innocent one was found guilty.

Easter is the great reversal and the vindication of the victimized. It is finished. We can’t afford to keep missing this and repeating the mistake. We who follow Jesus must be about peace and reconciliation. Too many have been scapegoated, placed on crosses and victimized by violence … in Jesus’ name.

God forgive us – we know not what we are doing.

Let it be finished.

In Jesus’ name.

- Bo

* If that final verse reads a little different than you are used to hearing it, you should listen to the podcast with Michael Hardin.


Reported here @ Relevancy22 - 

Peter Enns - "How Jesus Read His Bible," by Michael Hardin (Parts 1-4)



* * * * * * * * * * *



Concerns About ‘The’ Cross
http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2014/04/09/concerns-about-the-cross/

April 9, 2014 by Bo Sanders Comments

I want to thank all of you who shared, commented and emailed about this past weekend’s post on Blood: Easter, the Cross and that quote about Liberals. I have received lots of feedback via email, FaceBook and text.

It seems that most people get the main thrust of the article but have one doubt/hesitation they can’t shake/make sense of. I was asked to write a response at a non-grad school level (which I love to do).

I have two requests:

1- If you are looking for something more academic please read Heim’s Saved From Sacrifice. It is wonderful.

2 - If you are a big fan of a penal substitution theory of atonement, understand that I am not. I’m willing to talk about it – just understand that it would be unhelpful for you to simply repeat that view as a defense of that view.

So let’s get started!

You said that we focus too much on the cross, but I love the cross and think we don’t focus on it enough! Jesus said to take up our crosses – we are a resurrection people and resurrection only happens after crucifixion.

There are several problems here.

First, there was more than one cross. There were three just in our Easter story (but not in most of our pictures – like the one above). So you can’t say ‘the’ cross. You can say ‘that’ cross. It is vital to get just how many crosses there were. Roman use of crosses was systemic. Jesus’ cross was not an exception in that way.

Second, you are using ‘the cross’ as a shorthand for the whole story. The incarnation, crucifixion, empty grave and pentecost provide a much better snapshot. To try and sum them up in ‘the cross’ is too limited.

Third, we are people of the resurrection. That does not mean that ‘the cross’ is a good thing. What happened there was unjust. That God redeemed it and brought something good out of it … does not change that it was tragic.

How do we engage the cross still as people who follow Jesus?

It seems like most of the things that we say about the cross are the first half of what should be a longer sentence.

“We preach the cross and Christ crucified” … yes but what do we preach about the cross? That is was unjust? That ‘it is finished’ (the sacrificial system)?

“Jesus died our sins” … yes but also because of our sin? And to what end? To move us away from the scapegoating impulse? To expose and unmask our unjust propensity toward violence?

Here is the problem: if we are not careful, we miss the radical reversal that Jesus’ cross is supposed to provide and we end up simply absorbing it into the system that it was meant to expose.

This is a tragedy that ends up normalizing the violence Jesus unmasks and continues the cycle of victimization Jesus was trying to break.

Because of the way we talk about the cross in half-sentences and short-hand phrases, we end up siding with the Romans’ use of power and violence and miss the fact that on Good Friday, God was not on the side of the Romans but that God was with Jesus on that cross.

What do we do with the sacrificial lamb imagery? 

I will withhold my real answer (that it was contextual and historically located) and will instead present what I think is a more helpful response!

We see a trajectory in our canon. God moves Abraham from human sacrifice to animal & grain … later God moves on from that system ( you see this in passages like Psalm 40:6 “sacrifice and offering you did not desire” and Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice”)

People will often quote Hebrews 9:22 “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”. The half they leave out is that it actually says “under the law …”

You see what has happened? By not saying the first half (under the law) and only saying the second half, we actually miss the entire point of Jesus’ sacrifice and end up reinforcing the system Jesus came to move us on from! We live and think as if we are still under the law!

The way talk and think about the cross of Christ actually undoes the very thing that Jesus came to do.

The rest of Hebrews 9 says that Jesus died once of all. So we don’t need to kill ‘them’ – they are ‘us’. We are all them – the all. Jesus died once for all so that we could stop this us-them thinking and stop victimizing and scapegoating. We miss this and then absorb ‘the cross of Christ‘ into the very system of power and violence that Jesus came to destroy.

I thought that the blood shed on the cross provides the forgiveness of sin?

Jesus forgave sins before the crucifixion. Part of the problem with saying ‘the cross’ as a form of shorthand for the whole story is that we skip both the life and teaching of Jesus. Jesus got in trouble for forgiving sins. How could he do that if what you are saying is true?

See? God forgives sin. How can God do that? Well if the debt that is owed is to God … then God can forgive them. The problem with they way we have been taught to think and talk about ‘the cross’ is that God is not free to forgive. God has to play by some external rules and ‘with out the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness’. But remember that the law is that way. God is not. Jesus, and this true whether you think Jesus was a messenger of God or God incarnate, forgave sins before the shedding of blood. How did he do that if they way were taught is true?

God forgives sins. Thank God! And we need to repent. We have made God into something Jesus was meant to destroy. We have placed God on the side of the powers and violence that God was trying to combat. We have returned to the very thing God was attempting to redeem us from and release us from. We have absorbed Jesus’ cross into the very system Jesus was attempting to unmask and expose. We have missed the very lesson that Easter is supposed to teach us.

I will contend that God was with Jesus on that cross and that the empty grave is the vindication of the victim so that we might be freed from the cycle of violence and victimization … once for all.



BAS - Jesus' Last Days and Final Messianic Meal




The Last Days of Jesus: A Final “Messianic” Meal
http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/the-last-days-of-jesus-a-final-messianic-meal/

James Tabor examines gospel accounts of the last supper

James Tabor • 04/18/2014

This article was originally published on Dr. James Tabor’s popular Taborblog, a site that discusses and reports on “‘All things biblical’ from the Hebrew Bible to Early Christianity in the Roman World and Beyond.” Bible History Daily republished the article with consent of the author.Visit Taborblog today, or scroll down to read a brief bio of James Tabor below.




On Wednesday Jesus began to make plans for Passover. He sent two of his disciples into the city to prepare a large second-­story guest room where he could gather secretly and safely with his inner group. He knew someone with such a room available and he had prearranged for its use. Christian pilgrims today are shown a Crusader site known as the Cenacle or “Upper Room” on the Western Hill of Jerusalem that the Crusaders misnamed “Mount Zion.” This area was part of the “Upper City” where Herod had built his palace. It is topographically higher than even the Temple Mount. It was the grandest section of ancient Jerusalem with broad streets and plazas and the palatial homes of the wealthy. Bargil Pixner and others have also argued that the southwest edge of Mt Zion contained an “Essene Quarter,” with more modest dwellings and its own “Essene” Gate mentioned by Josephus, see his article “Jerusalem’s Essene Gateway,” here.

Jesus tells his two disciples to “follow a man carrying a jug of water,” who will enter the city, and then enter a certain house. The only water source was in the southern part of the lower city of Jerusalem, the recently uncovered Pool of Siloam. This mysterious man apparently walked up the slope of Mt Zion and entered the city–likely at the Essene Gate. The house is large enough to have an upper story and likely belonged to a wealthy sympathizer of Jesus, perhaps associated with the Essenes. Later this property became the HQ of the Jesus movement led by James the brother of Jesus, see Pixner’s article “The Church of the Apostles Found on Mt Zion” here.

Later Christian tradition put Jesus’ last meal with his disciples on Thursday evening and his crucifixion on Friday. We now know that is one day off. Jesus’ last meal was Wednesday night, and he was crucified on Thursday, the 14th of the Jewish month Nisan. The Passover meal itself was eaten Thursday night, at sundown, as the 15th of Nisan began. Jesus never ate that Passover meal. He had died at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

In the DVD lecture series Jerusalem Discoveries From The Time of Jesus, author James Tabor reviews some of the most exciting and controversial archaeological discoveries from Jerusalem in recent years. In his characteristically accessible style, Tabor examines questions surrounding the James ossuary, the Talpiot tomb and what the Mt. Zion excavations are revealing about the Jerusalem that Jesus knew.

The confusion arose because all the gospels say that there was a rush to get his body off the cross and buried before sundown because the “Sabbath” was near. Everyone assumed the reference to the Sabbath had to be Saturday—so the crucifixion must have been on a Friday. However, as Jews know, the day of Passover itself is also a “Sabbath” or rest day—no matter what weekday it falls on. In the year a.d. 30, Friday the 15th of the Nisan was also a Sabbath—so two Sabbaths occurred back to back—Friday and Saturday. Matthew seems to know this as he says that the women who visited Jesus’ tomb came early Sunday morning “after the Sabbaths”—the original Greek is plural (Matthew 28:1).
As is often the case, the gospel of John preserves a more accurate chronology of what went on. John specifies that the Wednesday night “last supper” was “before the festival of Passover.” He also notes that when Jesus’ accusers delivered him to be crucified on Thursday morning they would not enter ­Pilate’s courtyard because they would be defiled and would not be able to eat the Passover that evening (John 18:28). John knows that the Jews would be eating their traditional Passover, or Seder meal, Thursday evening.
Reading Mark, Matthew, and Luke one can get the impression that the “last supper” was the Passover meal. Some have even argued that Jesus might have eaten the Passover meal a day early—knowing ahead of time that he would be dead. But the fact is, Jesus ate no Passover meal in 30 CE. When the Passover meal began at sundown on Thursday, Jesus was dead. He had been hastily put in a tomb until after the festival when a proper funeral could be arranged.
There are some hints outside of ­John’s gospel that such was the case. In Luke, for example, Jesus tells his followers at that last meal: “I earnestly wanted to eat this Passover with you before I suffer but I ­won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:14–16). A later copyist of the manuscript inserted the word “again” to make it say “I ­won’t eat it again,” since the tradition had developed that Jesus did observe Passover that night and changed its observance to the Christian Eucharist or Mass. Another indication that this is not a Passover meal is that all our records report that Jesus shared “a loaf of bread” with his disciples, using the Greek word (artos) that refers to an ordinary loaf—not to the unleavened flatbread or matzos that Jews eat with their Passover meals. Also, when Paul refers to the “last supper” he significantly does not say “on the night of Passover,” but rather “on the night Jesus was betrayed,” and he also mentions the “loaf of bread” (1 Corinthians 11:23). If this meal had been the Passover, Paul would have surely wanted to say that, but he does not.
As late as Wednesday morning Jesus had still intended to eat the Passover on Thursday night. When he sent his two disciples into the city he instructed them to begin to make the preparations. His enemies had determined not to try to arrest him during the feast “lest there be a riot of the people” (Mark 14:2). That meant he was likely “safe” for the next week, since the “feast” included the seven days of Unleavened Bread that followed the Passover meal. Passover is the most family-­oriented festival in Jewish tradition. As head of his household Jesus would have gathered with his mother, his sisters, the women who had come with him from Galilee, perhaps some of his close supporters in Jerusalem, and his Council of Twelve. It is inconceivable that a Jewish head of a household would eat the Passover segregated from his family with twelve male disciples. This was no Passover meal. Something had gone terribly wrong so that all his Passover plans were changed.


In our free eBook Easter: Exploring the Resurrection of Jesus, expert Bible scholars and archaeologists offer in-depth research and reflections on this important event. Discover what they say about the story of the resurrection, the location of Biblical Emmaus, Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, the ancient Jewish roots of bodily resurrection, and the possible endings of the Gospel of Mark.


Jesus had planned a special meal Wednesday evening alone with his Council of Twelve in the upper room of the guesthouse in the lower city. The events of the past few days had brought things to a crisis and he knew the confrontation with the authorities was unavoidable. In the coming days he expected to be arrested, delivered to the Romans, and possibly crucified. He had intentionally chosen the time and the place—Passover in Jerusalem—to confront the powers that be. There was much of a private nature to discuss with those upon whom he most depended in the critical days ahead. He firmly believed that if he and his followers offered themselves up, placing their fate in ­God’s hands, that the Kingdom of God would manifest itself. He had intentionally fulfilled two of Zechariah’s prophecies—riding into the city as King on the foal, and symbolically removing the “traders” from the “house of God.”
At some point that day Jesus had learned that Judas Iscariot, one of his trusted Council of Twelve, had struck a deal with his enemies to have Jesus arrested whenever there was an opportunity to get him alone, away from the crowds. How Jesus knew of the plot we are not told but during the meal he said openly, “One of you who is eating with me will betray me” (Mark 14:18). His life seemed to be unfolding according to some scriptural plan. Had not David written in the Psalms, “Even my bosom friend, in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). History has a strange way of repeating itself. Over a hundred years earlier, the Teacher of Righteousness who led the Dead Sea Scroll community had quoted that very Psalm when one of his inner “Council” had betrayed him.
When Judas Iscariot realized that the plan for the evening included a retreat for prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane after the meal, he abruptly left the group. This secluded spot, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from the Old City, offered just the setting he had promised to deliver. Some have tried to interpret ­Judas’s motives in a positive light. Perhaps he quite sincerely wanted Jesus to declare himself King and take power, thinking the threat of an arrest might force his hand. We simply ­don’t know what might have been in his mind. The gospels are content simply to call him “the Betrayer” and his name is seldom mentioned without this description.
Ironically our earliest account of that last meal on Wednesday night comes from Paul, not from any of our gospels. In a letter to his followers in the Greek city of Corinth, written around a.d. 54, Paul passes on a tradition that he says he “received” from Jesus: “Jesus on the night he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’ ” (1 Corinthians 11:23–25).
These words, which are familiar to Christians as part of the Eucharist or the Mass, are repeated with only slight variations in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. They represent the epitome of Christian faith, the pillar of the Christian Gospel: all humankind is saved from sins by the sacrificed body and blood of Jesus. What is the historical likelihood that this tradition, based on what Paul said he “received” from Jesus, represents what Jesus said at that last meal? As surprising as it might sound, there are some legitimate problems to consider.
tabor2
At every Jewish meal, bread is broken, wine is shared, and blessings are said over each—but the idea of eating human flesh and drinking blood, even symbolically, is completely alien to Judaism. The Torah specifically forbids the consuming of blood, not just for Israelites but anyone. Noah and his descendants, as representatives of all humanity, were first given the prohibition against “eating blood” (Genesis 9:4). Moses had warned, “If anyone of the house of Israel or the Gentiles who reside among them eats any blood I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut that person off from the people” (Leviticus 17:10). James, the brother of Jesus, later mentions this as one of the “necessary requirements” for non-­Jews to join the Nazarene community—they are not to eat blood (Acts 15:20). These restrictions concern the blood of animals. Consuming human flesh and blood was not forbidden, it was simply inconceivable. This general sensitivity to the very idea of “drinking blood” precludes the likelihood that Jesus would have used such symbols.

The Essene community at Qumran described in one of its scrolls a “messianic banquet” of the future at which the Priestly Messiah and the Davidic Messiah sit together with the community and bless their sacred meal of bread and wine, passing it to the community of believers, as a celebration of the Kingdom of God. They would surely have been appalled at any symbolism suggesting the bread was human flesh and the wine was blood. Such an idea simply could not have come from Jesus as a Jew.
So where does this language originate? If it first surfaces in Paul, and he did not in fact get it from Jesus, then what was its source? The closest parallels are certain Greco-­Roman magical rites. We have a Greek papyrus that records a love spell in which a male pronounces certain incantations over a cup of wine that represents the blood that the Egyptian god Osiris had given to his consort Isis to make her feel love for him. When his lover drinks the wine, she symbolically unites with her beloved by consuming his blood. In another text the wine is made into the flesh of Osiris. The symbolic eating of “flesh” and drinking of “blood” was a magical rite of union in Greco-­Roman culture.


Read Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder? by Jonathan Klawans online for free in Bible History Daily as it appeared in Bible Review.

We have to consider that Paul grew up in the Greco-­Roman culture of the city of Tarsus in Asia Minor, outside the land of Israel. He never met or talked to Jesus. The connection he claims to Jesus is a “visionary” one, not Jesus as a flesh-and-blood human being walking the earth. See my book, Paul and Jesus for a full elaboration of the implications of Paul’s visionary revelations. When the Twelve met to replace Judas, after Jesus had been killed, they insisted that to be part of their group one had to have been with Jesus from the time of John the Baptizer through his crucifixion (Acts 1:21–22). Seeing visions and hearing voices were not accepted as qualifications for an apostle.
Second, and even more telling, the gospel of John recounts the events of that last Wednesday night meal but there is absolutely no reference to these words of Jesus instituting this new ceremony of the Eucharist. If Jesus in fact had inaugurated the practice of eating bread as his body, and drinking wine as his blood at this “last supper” how could John possibly have left it out? What John writes is that Jesus sat down to the supper, by all indications an ordinary Jewish meal. After supper he got up, took a basin of water and a cloth, and began to wash his disciples’ feet as an example of how a Teacher and Master should act as a servant—even to his disciples. Jesus then began to talk about how he was to be betrayed and John tells us that Judas abruptly left the meal.
Mark’s gospel is very close in its theological ideas to those of Paul. It seems likely that Mark, writing a decade after ­Paul’s account of the last supper, inserts this “eat my body” and “drink my blood” tradition into his gospel, influenced by what Paul has claimed to have received. Matthew and Luke both base their narratives wholly upon Mark, and Luke is an unabashed advocate of Paul as well. Everything seems to trace back to Paul. As we will see, there is no evidence that the original Jewish followers of Jesus, led by Jesus’ brother James, headquartered in Jerusalem, ever practiced any rite of this type. Like all Jews they did sanctify wine and bread as part of a sacred meal, and they likely looked back to the “night he was betrayed,” remembering that last meal with Jesus.
What we really need to resolve this matter is an independent source of some type, one that is Christian but not influenced by Paul, that might shed light on the original practice of Jesus’ followers. Fortunately, in 1873 in a library at Constantinople, just such a text turned up. It is called the Didache and dates to the early 2nd century CE. It had been mentioned by early church writers but had disappeared until a Greek priest, Father Bryennios, discovered it in an archive of old manuscripts quite by accident. The title Didache in Greek means “Teaching” and its full title is “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” It is a type of early Christian “instruction manual” probably written for candidates for Christian baptism to study. It has lots of ethical instructions and exhortations but also sections on baptism and the Eucharist—the sacred meal of bread and wine. And that is where the surprise comes. It offers the following blessings over wine and bread:
With respect to the Eucharist you shall give thanks as follows. First with respect to the cup: “We give you thanks our Father for the holy vine of David, your child which you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.” And with respect to the bread: “We give you thanks our Father for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through Jesus your child. To you be the glory forever.”
Notice there is no mention of the wine representing blood or the bread representing flesh. And yet this is a record of the early Christian Eucharist meal! This text reminds us very much of the descriptions of the sacred messianic meal in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here we have a messianic celebration of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah and the life and knowledge that he has brought to the community. Evidently this community of Jesus’ followers knew nothing about the ceremony that Paul advocates. If ­Paul’s practice had truly come from Jesus surely this text would have included it.
There is another important point in this regard. In Jewish tradition it is the cup of wine that is blessed first, then the bread. That is the order we find here in the Didache. But in ­Paul’s account of the ­“Lord’s Supper” he has Jesus bless the bread first, then the cup of wine—just the reverse. It might seem an unimportant detail until one examines ­Luke’s account of the words of Jesus at the meal. Although he basically follows the tradition from Paul, unlike Paul Luke reports first a cup of wine, then the bread, and then another cup of wine! The bread and the second cup of wine he interprets as the “body” and “blood” of Jesus. But with respect to the first cup—in the order one would expect from Jewish tradition—there is nothing said about it representing “blood.” Rather Jesus says, “I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom comes” (Luke 22:18). This tradition of the first cup, found now only in Luke, is a leftover clue of what must have been the original tradition before the Pauline version was inserted, now confirmed by the Didache.


Read more posts by James Tabor in Bible History Daily:


Understood in this light, this last meal makes historical sense. Jesus told his closest followers, gathered in secret in the Upper Room, that he will not share another meal with them until the Kingdom of God comes. He knows that Judas will initiate events that very night, leading to his arrest. His hope and prayer is that the next time they sit down together to eat, giving the traditional Jewish blessing over wine and bread—the Kingdom of God will have come.
Since Jesus met only with his Council of Twelve for that final private meal, then James as well as Jesus’ other three brothers would have been present. This is confirmed in a lost text called the Gospel of the Hebrews that was used by Jewish-­Christians who rejected ­Paul’s teachings and authority. It survives only in a few quotations that were preserved by Christian writers such as Jerome. In one passage we are told that James the brother of Jesus, after drinking from the cup Jesus passed around, pledged that he too would not eat or drink again until he saw the kingdom arrive. So here we have textual evidence of a tradition that remembers James as being present at the last meal.
In the gospel of John there are cryptic references to James. Half a dozen times John mentions a mysterious unnamed figure that he calls “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The two are very close; in fact this unnamed disciple is seated next to Jesus either at his right or left hand. He leaned back and put his head on Jesus’ breast during the meal (John 13:23). He is the one to whom Jesus whispers that Judas is the betrayer. Even though tradition holds that this is John the fisherman, one of the sons of Zebedee, it makes much better sense that such intimacy was shared between Jesus and his younger brother James. After all, from the few stories we have about John son of Zebedee, he has a fiery and ambitious personality—Jesus had nicknamed him and his brother the “sons of Thunder.” They are the two that had tried to obtain the two chief seats on the Council of Twelve, one asking for the right hand, the other the left. On another occasion they asked Jesus for permission to call down fire from heaven to consume a village that had not accepted their preaching (Luke 9:54). On both occasions Jesus had rebuked them. The image we get of John son of Zebedee is quite opposite from the tender intimacy of the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” No matter how ingrained the image might be in Christian imagination, it makes no sense to imagine John son of Zebedee seated next to Jesus, and leaning on his breast.
It seems to me that the evidence points to James the brother of Jesus being the most likely candidate for this mysterious unnamed disciple. Later, just before Jesus’ death, the gospel of John tells us that Jesus put the care of his mother into the hands of this “disciple whom he loved” (John 19:26–27). How could this possibly be anyone other than James his brother, who was now to take charge of the family as head of the household?
Late that night, after the meal and its conversations, Jesus led his band of eleven disciples outside the lower city, across the Kidron Valley, to a thick secluded grove of olive trees called Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Judas knew the place well because Jesus often used it as a place of solitude and privacy to meet with his disciples (John 18:2). Judas had gone into the city to alert the authorities of this rare opportunity to confront Jesus at night and away from the crowds.
It was getting late and Jesus’ disciples were tired and drowsy. Sleep was the last thing on Jesus’ mind, and he was never to sleep again. His all-­night ordeal was about to begin. He began to feel very distressed, fearful, and deeply grieved. He wanted to pray for strength for the trials that he knew would soon begin. Mark tells us that he prayed that if possible the “cup would be removed from him” (Mark 14:36). Jesus urged his disciples to pray with him but the meal, the wine, and the late hour took their toll. They all fell asleep.


Dr. James Tabor is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he is professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism. Since earning his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1981, Tabor has combined his work on ancient texts with extensive field work in archaeology in Israel and Jordan, including work at Qumran, Sepphoris, Masada, Wadi el-Yabis in Jordan. Over the past decade he has teamed up with with Shimon Gibson to excavate the “John the Baptist” cave at Suba, the “Tomb of the Shroud” discovered in 2000, Mt Zion and, along with Rami Arav, he has been involved in the re-exploration of two tombs in East Talpiot including the controversial “Jesus tomb.” Tabor is the author of the popular Taborblog, and several of his recent posts have been featured in Bible History Daily as well as the Huffington Post. His latest book, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity has become a immediately popular with specialists and non-specialists alike. You can find links to all of Dr. Tabor’s web pages, books, and projects at jamestabor.com.