Christ in the Passover: Why is this Night Different?

"Christ in the Passover:

                   Why is this Night Different?"

A Critical Book Review by Gerald Sigal

Christ in the Passover: Why is this Night Different? By Ceil and Moishe Rosen. Moody Press, Chicago. 112 pages. 1980

Christ in the Passover is a superb example of the Christian missionary contribution to the magician's art.

Magic may be defined as the ability to convince people that they are seeing something that is not really there. As such, Ceil and Moishe Rosen are masters of the magician's art. Their ability to distort reality and produce illusions ranks them among the greatest tricksters of missionary Christianity. In this book, they present one of the great illusions of missionary Christianity. The Rosen's illusion is not contrived with rabbits in hats, but with "Christ" in the Passover. Like any good magician's legerdemain it works best on those who want to be deceived; those who, unquestioning, are open to acceptance of the diversions and deceptions of the master magician.

The Rosens claim to acquaint the reader with the development of Passover tradition from biblical to modern times. Whether traditions are of biblical or rabbinic origin, the goal of this illusionist couple is to make it appear that these traditions symbolize Jesus. To secure this illusion, they must distort both history and theology. As a result, contempt of historical and theological accuracy pervades their work.

The Rosens present a list of biblical regulations for the Passover celebration.1 Of these regulations, three relate directly to a study of their claim that Jesus was the ultimate Passover lamb whose cosmic role is "interwoven with the Passover and its symbolism":2 "They must offer the blood of the sacrifice without leaven (Exodus 34:25). They must not break any bones of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:46). They must sacrifice the Passover only at the place appointed by God (Deuteronomy 16:5-6)."3

The Torah specifies that these ordinances are given solely to the Jewish people, who alone are commanded to sacrifice the paschal lamb. However, the Romans executed Jesus. It will not do to say that the Jews handed Jesus over to the Romans. Fulfillment of the commandments could only come through following the procedure set down by God. The Law is clear: The sacrifice of the paschal lamb, without blemish and within the year of its birth (Exodus 12:5), is only ordained for the Jewish people (Exodus 12:14). To them alone is given the additional command not to break the bones of the paschal lamb. Despite this fact, the supposed non-breaking of Jesus' bones to fulfill the commandment is credited by the New Testament to the pagan Roman soldiers (John 19:36). The Romans were never bound by the Law, so that crediting them with fulfillment of a Passover commandment is irrelevant. Not only was it incumbent upon the Jewish people alone to sacrifice the paschal lamb, but the geographic location for the shedding of sacrificial blood was specified. The paschal sacrifice could only be offered at the Temple altar (Leviticus 17:11, Deuteronomy 16:5-6). The Temple, itself, was situated within the city of Jerusalem. However, the New Testament locates the site of Jesus' execution outside both the Temple and the city of Jerusalem (John 19:20, Hebrews 13:12). In addition, the specific date for the paschal sacrifice is the late afternoon of Nisan 14 (Exodus 12:6). If the Last Supper was a seder, then the Synoptic Gospels' chronology would date the crucifixion on Nisan 15.

Biblically, sacrificial death could only occur through the shedding of blood exclusively (Leviticus 17:11). Jesus, death by crucifixion can not be considered a sacrificial death. His death may have been caused by either asphyxiation or by going into "shock brought on by the traumatic physical events of his last hours, before and after he was nailed to the cross."4 In his case, shock would not have been brought on solely by blood loss. The Gospels indicate Jesus' blood was not shed to a degree that would make blood loss from the body the exclusive cause of death. Death solely by blood loss is the only biblical cause acceptable for an animal's sacrificial death.

The Law is considered by the New Testament to have been completely fulfilled by Jesus (Matthew 5:17-18). Complete fulfillment could only occur with the moment of Jesus' death (John 19:30). That death is considered the culmination of the Law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:24-25; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 10:12, 14). Everything occurring to Jesus prior to that moment would have had to be under the Law. Yet, neither the physical condition (blemished), the age (over thirty years of age), the date (Nisan 15), the location (outside Jerusalem and its Temple), the executioners (Romans), the method (crucifixion), nor the cause of Jesus' death (either asphyxiation or shock), is in accordance with that prescribed by the Scriptures for the sacrificing of a paschal lamb. Therefore, the Law was not fulfilled in Jesus. The evidence shows that he could not be equated with the paschal lamb.

Without regard for the centuries of historical development of the seder ritual, the Rosens attribute to Jesus and the first century Jewish Christians the origin of certain seder traditions that are known to be later developments. They make a tenuous connection between illusionary Jewish Christian seder customs that have no historicity and the traditional rabbinic seder. The Rosens claim there is a hidden Christological symbolism in the Passover ordinances that are elucidated by the New Testament. "Now it was the eve of the Passover celebration. Jesus sent two of the disciples, Peter and John, to prepare for the ritual meal. . . . Here on the eve of His death, He showed them the full meaning and symbolism of the Passover memorial."5 The Rosens proceed to match the various stages in the seder ritual with what they maintain are the parallel ceremonies recorded in the New Testament. Where such supposed parallels are lacking in the Gospel accounts, the Rosens fill the gap with the appropriate rabbinic ceremonies; they assume not only that the Last Supper was a seder, but that these ceremonies were in vogue contemporaneously with Jesus' last meal. In so doing, they betray the futility of all attempts at reconciling the evangelists' Last Supper accounts with the seder ritual. The fact is that the Last Supper narratives not only show a discordant relationship between the Synoptic Gospels and the Johannine Gospel, but they have only the most superficial relationship with the structure and content of the seder.

Under the subtitle, "The First Washing of Hands,"6 which refers to a rabbinic seder ritual, a parallel relationship is supposedly found by the Rosens in John 13:4-5. However, the Johannine verses refer to washing of feet not hands. "He [Jesus] rose from supper. . . .and began to wash the disciples feet." Under the subtitle, "Broken Pieces of Bread Dipped in Bitter Herbs and Charoseth,  and Handed to All"7 an assumed parallel is established with John 13:26, 27, 30 which mentions a "sop." The equation is unfounded. There is no reason to believe that the Jesus sop has anything to do with the dipping of bread into bitter herbs and the paste-like charoset. In fact, there is no ceremonial dipping of bread into bitter herbs and charoset to be found in the seder. Moreover, the dipping of food was not a unique seder ritual, but was part of other banquets and, in some cases, even found at ordinary meals. As a result, the dipping of foods does not indicate that the Last Supper was a paschal meal. Under the subtitle, "Blessing After Meals"8 an assumed parallel is established with 1 Corinthians 11:23-24, "Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread." The Greek word for "bread" used in all New Testament references to the Last Supper is for regular leavened bread (nominative, artos; accusative, arton) and not the unleavened variety (nominative, azumos). In the absence of definitive textual evidence to indicate that artos, "leavened bread," refers to unleavened bread one cannot assume that the Last Supper was a seder.

The Gospel accounts of the Last Supper mention only two cups of wine. With no internal textual evidence to substantiate their contention, the Rosens claim that these cups correspond to the first and third cups of the seder. They write that the third cup of wine at the seder is called "the cup of redemption," because it represented the blood of the Paschal lamb."9 Actually, it is referred to by this name because it corresponds to the third in the series of God's promises to Israel upon which the use of four cups of wine are based: "I will bring you out," "I will deliver you," "I will redeem you," I will take you out" (Exodus 6:6-7). The Rosens seek to establish a unique parallel between the third cup and the alleged sacrifice of Jesus as the paschal lamb by claiming that that cup alone "represents the blood of the Paschal lamb." What the Rosens do not inform their readers of is that Jewish tradition refers to the color of the wine of all four cups as a remembrance of the paschal blood. They allege that "the Mishnah states that the third cup was the most significant of all."10 However, nowhere in the Mishnah is the third cup called "the most significant of all." The Rosens' deception is undertaken in order to mesh the seder ritual into a supposed New Testament context. Thus, they write, "It was of this cup  that Jesus said, 'This is my blood of the new testament [covenant]'" (Matthew 26:28)."11 However, there is no clear indication in the Last Supper narratives for the assumption that Jesus was partaking of the third cup of the seder when he allegedly said these words. The Rosens also neglect to mention that the first cup of wine, kiddush, "the Sanctification," and the third cup, for birkat hamazon, "Blessing after Meals," are not unique to the seder; they have their counterparts throughout the year. In addition, the drinking of wine was not a unique seder ritual, but was part of other banquets and, in some cases, even found at ordinary meals. As a result, the drinking of wine does not indicate that the Last Supper was a paschal meal.

The Rosens write:

The unleavened bread (matzo) of ancient times was flat, round, and irregular in shape. Likewise, the handbaked matzo of today, used by very strict sects of Judaism, is round and somewhat irregular in shape. However, most modern matzo is machine-made and square, measuring about seven inches by seven inches. These flat, bland, crackerlike wafers are marked with even rows of tiny holes. The perforations, which are put in to prevent excessive bubbling of the dough, cause uneven browning, which produces a striped appearance. In an earlier chapter we examined the symbolism of the unleavened bread as a type or picture of the sinless Messiah, Jesus. The appearance of the striped and pierced matzo brings to mind two verses of Scripture that help to complete the picture: "With his [Messiah's] stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5, italics added), and "They [Israel] shall look upon me who they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him" (Zechariah 12:10, italics added).12

This inane connection of an imaginary "symbolism of the unleavened bread" made by machine to scriptural verses reveals the utter disregard the Rosens have for facts. Handbaking, the process by which matzah has been made throughout the centuries, does not lend a striped appearance to the product. The perforations made in handbaked matzah run in no particular direction and, outside of improving the baking process serve no purpose, symbolic or otherwise.

By contrast, the Rosens claim that the evenly striped and perforated square machine-made matzah symbolize two verses of Scripture. This supposed symbolism remained unknown to those generations of Jews who through the centuries have used only handbaked matzah. Certainly, this illusive symbolism owes as much to the miracle of the Industrial Revolution as it does to the fertile missionary imagination. The machinery that could elucidate and illuminate this symbolism was not available until approximately 1850. The ancient method of matzah production did not and does not offer this supposed symbolic representation. Clearly, verification of theological beliefs cannot be left to the baker's oven. The Rosens' quick shuffling together of fact and fiction concerning the striped and perforated machine-made matzah in order to conjure up biblical verses is ludicrous.

In the contemporary seder, three specifically designated matzot play a central role in the ritual. The Rosens write of these three matzot that, "According to Jewish tradition, these three matzo wafers symbolize a unity. Contemporary Judaism gives no set interpretation of this unity, but there are several popular theories."13 The Rosens proceed to reject as inadequate what they call the "popular theories" in Jewish tradition that explain the use of the three matzot in the seder ceremony. Instead they offer their own interpretation. The Rosens utilize the cabalist reference to the three matzot as symbolizing the unity of the three divisions of Israel--Cohen, Levi, and Israel. The Rosens do this only to the extent of using the word "unity." The rest is their own speculation. The Rosens postulate a first century Jewish Christian origin for the use of the three matzot.14 Their interpretation centers on the middle matzah. At the beginning of the rabbinic seder this matzah is divided and the larger of its two parts, referred to as afikoman, "dessert," is put aside to be consumed at the conclusion of the seder. Its hiding was a later innovation instituted in some Jewish communities to heighten the participation and excitement among the children present at the seder.

The Rosens are fabulists who concoct their fictive tale using a mixture of anachronism, fantasy, and deception. They write that, "The after dish, known as the aphikomen, came into use later, after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. It was a wafer of unleavened bread, representing the Paschal sacrifice, which was no longer possible."15 The Rosens introduce a subtle inaccuracy. The Jewish sources consider the matzah used for the afikoman to be a remembrance not a representation. Using a mistranslation of Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:24, the Rosens compound their deviousness. They claim that Jesus redefined the meaning of afikoman to represent himself. "Looking to the time when Israel would be left without an altar and without a sacrifice, He used the aphikomen (after dish) for the first time to represent not only the Paschal Lamb, but His own body!"16 The Rosens' claims are unfounded, with no basis even in the New Testament. The authors of the New Testament consider the bread of the Last Supper to be a remembrance (anamnesis) not a representation of Jesus. In addition, the New Testament's Jesus makes no analogy between this bread and the paschal lamb, as the Rosens claim. Furthermore, as they have admitted, "the aphikomen, came into use later, after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70." Therefore, the Rosens contradict themselves when they write, "He [Jesus] used the aphikomen . . . for the first time to represent not only the Paschal Lamb, but His own body!" If the afikoman came into use after 70 C.E. Jesus could not have used it approximately forty years earlier. While the Temple stood, no such substitution was necessary or permissible. During the time of Jesus the paschal lamb was eaten together with matzah and bitter herbs in accordance with the biblical ordinance (Numbers 9:11). To do otherwise would be a violation of the commandment. If Jesus obeyed the Law fully, he could not have deviated, even once, from God's command. Moreover, there is nothing in the term afikoman or the tradition connected with it to assume it is an innovation of Jewish Christian origin.

The earliest mention of the term afikoman refers to that which should not be eaten after the consumption of the paschal lamb. The Mishnah, recording material greatly predating its redaction, states, "They must not call for dessert [afikoman] after the paschal meal" (Mishnah Pesachim 10:8). That is, there was no afikoman, no dessert, subsequent to the eating of the paschal lamb. It is only with medieval times that it became customary to refer to the last piece of matzah eaten at the conclusion of the seder as afikoman, "dessert."17 An example of the earlier practice is found in the work of Saadya Gaon (882-942 C.E.). In his siddur compilation, Saadya calls the last piece of matzah eaten at the seder, qinu'ach seudah, "dessert," not afikoman.18 The evidence precludes any Christological interpretation that represents the meaning of the term afikoman as signifying anything other than its mishnaic usage and its subsequent medieval application to the broken matzah put aside for consumption at the conclusion of the seder.19 The afikoman is usually associated with a remembrance of the paschal lamb. However, the commentary of Rashbam (c. 1085-after 1158) records a tradition that specifically connects the broken piece of matzah, put aside at the beginning of the meal in order to be eaten at its conclusion, with a remembrance of the matzah eaten with the paschal lamb, but not the lamb itself (B.T. Pesachim 119b).

In pursuit of their missionary goals, the Rosens disregard the objective historical evidence that contradicts their contentions. Instead, the Rosens draw a false analogy between the three matzot of the seder and the Christian theological belief in the Trinity. Emphasis is placed on Jesus as the second member of the Trinity and the afikoman as the middle loaf of the three matzot. Thus, describing the conducting of the seder, the Rosens write:

The host now turns his attention to the unity, the three wafers of unleavened bread. He bypasses the top wafer, takes out the middle wafer, and breaks it in half. He puts one of the halves back into the unity. Then he wraps the remaining piece of this middle matzo in a white napkin or puts it in a special, white, silk bag. While the children cover their eyes, he hides or "buries" that portion of the middle matzo. . . . This buried or hidden wafer of unleavened bread now has a name, aphikomen. We will see the  aphikomen later in the Passover service.20

Later, the Rosens explain:

In Temple times, the lamb was the last thing to be eaten; now in the absence of the sacrificial lamb, the unleavened bread was to represent the Passover sacrifice. . . . The host unwraps the aphikomen and distributes olive-sized pieces to everyone . . . . In Western culture, there is no blessing or word spoken. But in the Sephardic or Eastern tradition, they say: "In memory of the Passover, eaten after one is sated." Nowhere do they add the prophetic words of Jesus at the Last Supper: "This is my body which is given for you" (Luke 22:19).21

The Rosens' contentions are buttressed by theological and historical distortions cloaked in seemingly well meaning questions. Thus, the christianization of the use of three matzot and the afikoman is continued in a chapter entitled, "The Fifth Question." There, the Rosens ask the following questions: "[W]hy do you take the middle piece of matzo instead of one of the others. Why do we hide the aphikomen and bring it back later?"22 They then proceed to reject all Jewish explanations, saying, "These are puzzling questions for we have no authoritative explanation of the symbolism of the unity of the three pieces of matzo on the Passover table. None of the given theories about the nature of the unity provides a satisfactory answer to the hypothetical question, Why do we break the middle matzo?"23 Of course, the Rosens will never be satisfied with any Jewish interpretation, historical or symbolical, which they cannot manipulate for their own ends. The seder service is rich in symbolism and thrives on the narrative's being accompanied by multifarious explanations. There is no need for one authoritative symbolic explanation to account for any part of the seder ceremony.

The Rosens would persuade their readers that there is Christological significance in the breaking of the middle matzah. They claim that, "the entire ritual of the aphikomen and the corresponding symbolism found in the New Testament writings of the early Christians are too strong to be ignored."24 They then explain:

Here, then, is the answer to the puzzling matter of the aphikomen. The early Jewish Christians incorporated into their own Passover services the spiritual lessons, customs, and insights taught them by Jesus Himself at the Last Supper. Because these early Christians at first were considered an acceptable sect of Judaism, some of their customs and interpretations became part of the Passover ritual of that time. The use of the aphikomen to commemorate the Passover lamb would have been particularly meaningful to the Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple, although after their break with the Jewish Christians the others might seek to deny the deeper significance of the broken Matzo.

At the Last Supper, Jesus made that significance very clear when he instituted the new memorial to commemorate the sacrifice of Himself. . . . The middle wafer represents Jesus,  the Messiah. . .

We see, then, in the three pieces of matzo on the Passover table, a truth that remains hidden from most of the Jewish community to this day. . . . The three pieces of matzo . . . depict the eternal unity of God: the ineffable Name, . . . the Messiah, . . . and the Holy Spirit. . . .

At the seder we single out the middle matzo, representing the Messiah. . . . We break the middle matzo, signifying His death, for He was crucified. . . . We hide the middle matzo, signifying burial. Just before the third cup of wine, perhaps symbolizing three days, we "resurrect" the middle matzo, just as Jesus the Messiah rose from the grave. . . . Then all of the faithful partake of the middle matzo, signifying a personal, individual part in the everlasting redemption of God. . . .25

The Rosens' premise, which rests on an analogy between the use of the three matzot and the Trinity doctrine, is based on historical and theological ignorance. There are intrinsic flaws in their analogy, which dispel the illusion they wish to portray. Jesus is alleged to be the ultimate paschal lamb. The Rosens write that the afikoman was instituted by early Jewish Christians to commemorate that claim through a unique set of symbolisms which include the three matzot of the rabbinic seder. However, a careful reading of the Rosens' claim shows that there is no analogy between the afikoman and Jesus. It is the whole middle matzah that the Rosens claim symbolizes Jesus. Therefore, they write, "We hide the middle matzo, signifying burial . . . we 'resurrect' the middle matzo, just as Jesus . . . rose from the grave."

This is a deliberate falsehood. The afikoman refers, not to the whole middle matzah, but to one portion of it, after it has been divided in two. Without the two pieces of the middle matzah being visibly reunited and then once more becoming part of the "unity," there can be no analogy with Christian trinitarian and messianic claims concerning Jesus. Yet, once removed from the stack of three matzot, the piece set aside for the afikoman never returns neither to the "unity" nor to the other part of the middle matzah. Thus, the middle part of the "unity" that the Rosens emphasize as symbolically significant is never restored to its full complement. Only part of it is retrieved at the conclusion of the seder. This retrieved piece cannot represent the allegedly risen Jesus.

The notion that the afikoman, a portion of the middle matzah, symbolically represents Jesus at his death, burial, and resurrection contains a Christological contradiction. It negates the claim that Jesus underwent a complete bodily resurrection. The afikoman is only a portion of the broken matzah; it is the whole middle matzah that would have to symbolize the allegedly risen Jesus. The New Testament claims that Jesus rose bodily from the tomb (Luke 24:39, John 20:27).

The Christological explanation of the afikoman also contradicts John 19:36, which emphasizes the unbroken state of Jesus' corpse. John declares that the body of Jesus, corresponding to the Rosens' middle matzah, remained unbroken. John places great emphasis on the allegation that Jesus' bones were not broken so that he could fulfill the commandment that not one bone of the paschal lamb should be broken (John 19:36, cf. Exodus 12:46).26 This broken middle matzah could not symbolize Jesus as the paschal lamb. For such an analogy to occur, the matzah would have to remain unbroken.

All explanations for the use of the three matzot date from the medieval period or later. Along with the symbolic explanations there is a clear historical basis for the practice that supersedes all the other explanations. Initially, the use of three matzot was determined by halachic factors. Prior to the medieval period, both in the Land of Israel and in the diaspora communities, two matzot were placed on the seder plate as two whole loaves are required at every Sabbath and festival meal. From one of these two matzot the afikoman was taken. The reciting of the ha-motzi blessing was made on the remaining one and a half matzot, whether the seder night fell on a weekday or the Sabbath. The tenth century C.E. Babylonian Jewish community began to use three matzot when the seder occurred on the Sabbath. This was in order to comply strictly with the need to have two whole loaves when reciting the ha- motzi blessing on the Sabbath. At first, the use of three matzot was limited only to those instances when the seder coincided with the Sabbath. Later, the use of three matzot was extended to weekday festival use as well. It then became customary to use three matzot on any day of the week that the seder occurred. However, the custom of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel continued, for sometime, to be the starting of the seder with only two matzot.27 "Unity" symbolism interpretations must date to a time subsequent to the adoption, sometime after the tenth century C.E., of the weekday use of three matzot.

As we have seen, prior to the tenth century, one of the two matzot was divided into two parts and one piece was put aside for the afikoman. With the addition of a third matzah, the prevailing custom of leaving the intact one on the top and breaking the second one, as when only two loaves were in use, continued. The additional third matzah was simply added to the bottom of the pile. The fact that two matzah loaves is a pre-tenth century custom and that the addition of a third was an innovation made on account of halachic considerations precludes Christological origins for the use of three matzot.

Obviously, there is no actual association between the afikoman and an illusionary first century Jewish Christian paschal meal ceremony unheard of prior to the late nineteenth century. It was then that Christian missionaries devised an anachronistic Christological explanation on the basis of the contemporary use of three matzot.28 However, there is no historical or theological reason to accept their claims concerning the three matzot and specifica