Astronomical data, textual research and the rediscovery of an ancient Jewish calendar have convinced a Cambridge academic that Christ and the disciples’ Last Supper actually took place on a Wednesday.
Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, a metallurgist and materials scientist, claims to have solved what is described by previous researchers as the thorniest problem in the New Testament: the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke assert that the Last Supper coincided with Jewish Passover, while John claims it was the day before. The former account’s credibility suffers from the sheer number of events – from arrest to trial and conviction – that would have had to take place before Jesus’s crucifixion on Good Friday.
Anomalies also include the fact that the Jewish Sanhedrin, or religious court, was not allowed to meet at night and the Wednesday of Holy Week is curiously absent from the gospels’ chronology.
“Whatever you think about the Bible, the fact is that Jewish people would never mistake the Passover meal for another meal, so for the gospels to contradict themselves in this regard is really hard to understand. Many biblical scholars say that, for this reason, you can’t trust the gospels at all. But if we use science and the gospels hand in hand, we can actually prove that there was no contradiction.”
The missing piece of the jigsaw, argues Humphreys in a book, The Mystery of the Last Supper, lies in an overlooked Jewish calendar which Christ and his followers may have used as outsiders and intellectual rebels within their country’s strict religious framework.
In 2007 the pope suggested Jesus may have followed the solar calendar of the Qumran community, used by the Essene sect and described in the Dead Sea Scrolls. “The problem with this is that under that system Passover would have fallen a week later, after both the Last Supper and Christ’s death,” said Humphreys. Instead, he suggests that a third calendar in use at the time, adapted from Egyptian usage at the time of Moses, dates Passover in AD33 to the Wednesday of Holy Week.
“The gospels are full of examples of Jesus presenting himself as the new Moses, and use of this calendar would accord with that,” said Humphreys, whose previous theological studies include scientific analysis of the star of Bethlehem and the numbers involved in the Exodus. By choosing the Wednesday of the Passover, he was again identifying himself explicitly with Moses, setting himself up as a deliberate parallel. He then died on Nisan 14th, just as the Passover lambs were being slain according to the official Jewish calendar as well. These are deep, powerful symbolisms and through the use of this calendar they can be based on objective, historical evidence.”
Changing Maundy Thursday to Wednesday in the church calendar would inevitably take years.