Kiko’s Passover Problem, Part I

The Jewish Passover looms large in Catholic theology of the Eucharist, and while it is very important in Kiko Arguello’s religion too, he deforms it dangerously by ignoring a very key element.  This deformation is disastrous for him, because  if Kiko is wrong about the Passover celebrated by the Jews in first century Palestine, then he is WRONG about the worship of the first century Christians and WRONG about modern Catholic worship.

What does Kiko say about the Passover?

Let’s take a look at what Kiko says about the Passover in the first volume of his Catechetical Directory in the context of the initial phase of catechesis in the Neocatechumenal Way.

Jewish spirituality was not as much based on the sacrifices of cows and bulls as fundamentally on the Jewish Passover, which is a feast celebrated at a family level1

The Passover that Jesus Christ celebrated is not the same as the one Moses celebrated on the day of their delivery from Egypt because by now Israel had had a long history…At the time of Jesus Christ the temple is no longer the center of the liturgy but this family liturgy of the night of the Passover.  They have been in exile and have purified their rites.   And the “Paschal Seder,” which I’m going to tell you about, is the heart of the Jewish Passover.  At the time of Christ, which is the time that interests us, this liturgy is celebrated in the family.2

In summary, Kiko teaches that at the time of Jesus, the Passover was a family feast, with little or no emphasis on the temple and the sacrificing of Passover lambs.  Is he correct?  Or is he missing something?  Let’s see.

What is the Passover?

The Passover, or “pasch” was the first great liturgical feast of the Jewish year.  It commemorates the passover of the Hebrew homes by the angel of death, who killed the firstborn sons of the Egyptians (Exodus 11-12), and it was celebrated at sunset on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan at the full moon of the vernal equinox (Deut. 16:6)3.  The word “pasch” , equivalent to the Greek “pascha”, comes from the Aramaic word “pasha” and the Hebrew word “Pesah”, which in turn, in the Bible also associates with the word “pasah” which means “to jump”, “to pass”, or “to spare.4   The Angel of Death “passed over”, or “skipped”, or “spared” the houses of the Hebrews when killing first born sons of the land of Egypt.

Many of us think of the Passover as a meal that memorialized (or rather memorializes) the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt to the Promised Land, but it was much more than that.  It was, rather, a sacrifice of an unblemished lamb which was consummated by a ritual meal in which the sacrificed lamb was eaten. (See Exodus 12).   The sacrifice and the eating of the lamb were inseparable.  There were four steps in this ritual5:

  1. Choose an unblemished male lamb.
  2. Sacrifice the lamb without breaking any of its bones.
  3. Spread the blood of the lamb on doorposts.
  4. Eat the flesh of the lamb in a ritual meal.
How Was the Passover Celebrated in Jesus’ Day?

In the day of Moses, Passover was celebrated in small family groups, and the lambs were sacrificed by the head of the household.  After the Babylonian Exile, the Passover sacrifice was centralized at the Temple. (see Deut. 16:1-8, 2 Chron. 30, and 2 Kings 23:21-23).  The Passover at this time was one of three great pilgrimage feasts, the other two being the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles, where the faithful traveled to Jerusalem for the celebration.6  See the songs of ascent, or pilgrimage songs, in Psalms 120–134 (119–133 in Catholic bibles).

Sacred scripture and extra-biblical sources make it clear that the temple in Jerusalem and its sacrifices still played a central role in the Passover in the time of Christ.  The Gospels record seven unique visits to Jerusalem by Jesus, all seven of which involved the Temple, and including at least three occasioned by the Passover:

  1. Luke 2:22 (Presentation at Temple, Jesus is approx. 41 days old);
  2. Luke 2:41ff. (Passover, Jesus is 12 years old and found in the Temple);
  3. Luke 4:9 (Temptation by Satan on the parapet of the Temple);
  4. John 2:13 (Passover, cleanses temple);
  5. John 5:1 (Feast of the Jews, healing at the pool.  Many commentators believe that this was Passover.);
  6. John 7:14-10:39f. (Feast of Tabernacles (Booths), Sukkot, one of the three great pilgrimage feasts of the Jews);  His enemies were seeking him in Jerusalem, so going to Jerusalem for the feasts must have been his habit.  (See Zech 14:16-19, Lev. 23:34-39, Neh. 8:13-18);
  7. Matthew 21 , Mark 11, Luke 19, John 12:12 (Triumphal Entry, Passover)

Remember too that the Gospel of John tells us that when Jesus was driving the money changers out of the Temple precincts his disciples perceived that he did so out of zeal for His Father’s house.7

How popular was the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Temple?

The first century Jewish historian Josephus tells us that prior to the destruction of the temple 40 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection, over a quarter million lambs were sacrificed in the temple at every Passover.  Since Passover was celebrated in family groups, we can safely assume that millions of pilgrims celebrated the Passover sacrifice in Jerusalem or its environs:

So these high priests, upon the coming of that feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour till the eleventh, but so that a company not less than ten belong to every sacrifice, (for it is not lawful for them to feast singly by themselves,) and many of us are twenty in a company, found the number of sacrifices was two hundred and fifty-six thousand five hundred; which, upon the allowance of no more than ten that feast together, amounts to two millions seven hundred thousand and two hundred persons that were pure and holy; for as to those that have the leprosy, or the gonorrhea, or women that have their monthly courses, or such as are otherwise polluted, it is not lawful for them to be partakers of this sacrifice; nor indeed for any foreigners neither, who come hither to worship.8

How did Jesus Understand his last Passover?
Francisco de Zurbarán. “Agnus Dei”, 1635-40
Francisco de Zurbarán. “Agnus Dei”, 1635-40

We know for two reasons that Jesus understood himself to be the new Passover lamb.  First, he used sacrificial words such as “body”, “blood”, “poured”, “offered” and “given” at the Last Supper.  Moreover, when he lifted the cup and spoke of the “blood of the covenant” he was echoing Moses’ words when he sealed the Old Covenant with a sacrifice on Mt. Sinai.  ( Matthew 26:26-28,  Hebrews 9:19-20, Exodus 24:8)  Secondly, we also know that Jesus considered himself to be the lamb of the New Passover because of the witness of the inspired authors of the New Testament, as we can see in the following passages:

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29

“and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!'” John 1:36

“You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19

Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are.  For Christ, our Passover lamb (“Paska” in the original Greek), has been sacrificed.  1 Cor. 5:7

“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain...” Rev. 5:6

Where does Kiko go wrong?

Kiko is certainly correct in saying that the Passover celebrated at the time of Christ was celebrated in family groups, but he is patently wrong in asserting that “at the time of Jesus Christ the temple is no longer the center of the liturgy”.  Millions of pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem each year to celebrate the Passover with a lamb sacrificed in the Temple.

Why, then, is Kiko so intent in removing the temple from the celebration of Passover in the time of Jesus?  It is because he wishes to strip any hint of sacrifice from the ritual.  Nowhere does Kiko mention that the Passover celebrated by Jesus was a sacrifice consummated by a ritual meal.  In fact, he not only makes no mention of sacrifice when talking about Passover, he speaks pejoratively about sacrifice and the temple throughout the first volume of his Catechetical directory.  Click here to read about this.

 Conclusion

Where did Jesus celebrate his last Passover?  Jerusalem.  And why?  Because that’s where the Passover lambs were sacrificed in his day and he understood that he was the sacrificed lamb of the New Passover.

This means that Kiko is either lying about the Passover of Jesus’s time or he is ignorant of the facts.  In either case, how could anybody possibly consider him to be an expert on the worship of the first century Christians?    If Kiko is wrong about the Passover celebrated by the Jews in first century Palestine, then he is WRONG about the worship of the first century Christians and WRONG about modern Catholic worship.  Read Part II to find out more.

 Endnotes

[1] Catechetical Directory, Vol. 1, 3rd Day of the Initial Phase of Catechesis, p. 55 and p. 361

[2] Catechetical Directory, Vol. 1, Final Convivence of the Initial Phase of Catechesis, p. 317-318

[3] “Dictionary of Biblical Theology”, p 406.

[4] “Dictionary of Biblical Theology”, p 407.

[5] “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist”, by Brant Pitre, p51-57.

[6] “Jerome Biblical Commentary”, p 729.

[7] , “His disciples recalled the words of scripture, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” (John 2:17)

References

2 thoughts on “Kiko’s Passover Problem, Part I”

  1. Kiko Arguello’s premise doesn’t make socio-cultural nor historical sense. 1.As you have pointed out already, if central Temple worship is minimized, why would the Holy Family go there (cf.John 2:13)? 2.Central worship at the temple in Jerusalem was certainly paramount. To downgrade the importance of Judaic sacrifice during the time of Jesus would be disingenuous. (cf.”Holiness in the Temple Period” , “Sacrifice as the Ideal Form of Worship” , “Second Temple Judaism (520 BC-70AD)” .)

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