August 12, 2007

New Take (for me!) on Jesus' & HIs Jewish Meals

I've recently been finding David Steinberg's site ( quite interesting, but this part ( adds a whole new perspective:

"In the first half of the twentieth century, Lewy, Baneth, Krauss, and Goldschmidt drew attention to the fact that the forms of the [Passover] Seder are based on Graeco-Roman table manners and dietary habits. But the most detailed evidence of this borrowing was provided in 1957 when Siegfried Stein published “The Influence of Symposia Literature on the Literary Form of the Pesah Haggadah” in The Journal of Jewish Studies.(4) Since then, Stein’s basic thesis has been adopted with variations by various scholars who have written about the origins of the Seder. (5) Stein proved in a very convincing fashion that many of the Seder rituals and literary forms found in Mishnah and Tosefta Pesahim and in the Haggadah were borrowed from the Hellenistic banquet or symposium....

[extensive list of parallels, including the alcoholic & educational functions of both forms]...

"What can we learn from all these parallels? The Jewish people throughout the generations did not live in a vacuum; it absorbed much from its surroundings. But it did not absorb blindly. The Sages absorbed the form of the symposium from the Hellenistic world, but drastically changed its content. The Greeks and Romans discussed love, beauty, food and drink at the symposium, while the Sages at the Seder discussed the Exodus from Egypt, the miracles of God and the greatness of the Redemption. The symposium was meant for the elite, while the Sages turned the Seder into an educational experience for the entire Jewish people."

So here, all of a sudden, is a framework--for why we have all those familiar stories where Jesus uses meals as occasions for discussion & teaching! This sort of event was customary, both for Jews and for Greeks! Jesus uses the custom, but innovates within it by including guests that other Jews could (& did!) object to.

At that last supper, of course, the guest list was reduced to an inner circle and (at least in the synoptic gospels) the subject of discussion was more concrete, of immediate practical importance for those present: 'Who is going to betray Jesus?' and 'Who is going to stand up for him when he's arrested?' If this was the Passover (Not all gospels agree on that!) then probably the Exodus would have also been discussed, but no one would have considered that unusual.

What about that after-dinner excursion to the Mount of Olives? Eating together, to celebrate the liberation of Israel from Egypt... and then going off that same night, to a place where Zechariah says that the Lord will someday defend Jerusalem against all its enemies. Perhaps this day?...

Traditional Hebrew prophecy is not unconditional prediction; it's generally phrased as if it were but there are several occasions when God is persuaded to soften a judgement. So Jesus takes his immediate followers off to this one place, of all places, to pray. Was he expecting deliverance? Or expecting disaster, but hoping that sufficiently intense and earnest prayer might avert it? Why does he leave his comfortable table, and go to the one place he expects to find Judas with a posse?


At 7:28 p.m., Blogger David Carl said...

Interesting in light of Christian churches "borrowing" the Jewish Seder, or a version thereof. There was an article in the local paper about that around the time of last passover.


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