How can Christ order his followers to eat his flesh? Would that make them cannibals?
Would it be possible outside a natural human lifetime? No wonder the most disastrous moment in Jesus’ ministry — in the sense of being rejected by the people because of a teaching — is after Christ’s commandment to partake in the Lord’s Supper:
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.
Jewish Roots is a typological book that identifies four shadows of the Last Supper. Three of these are in the Old Testament: Manna, the Passover Lamb, and the Bread of the Presence. For the first three Pitre presents both biblical evidence, but also references from the Jewish Talmud. This was frustrating because the Talmud was written after the New Testament, and in many case references personalities and events of the New Testaments. But later the reason for this became clear. Using the Talmud, Pitre argues the Last Supper was also a Passover Seder.
The first three — the manna, the Passover lamb, and the show bread — all are referenced in the Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Gospels, and the Epistles.
The Books of Moses
Manna, the supernatural bread from heaven, came down to teach men that normal bread was not enough for them:
“Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.
Show bread is introduced as the climax of the description of the Table within the sanctuary. The Hebrew is often translated as “Bread of the Presence,” though literally means Bread of the Face:
“You shall also make a table of acacia wood; two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold all around. You shall make for it a frame of a handbreadth all around, and you shall make a gold molding for the frame all around. And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings on the four corners that are at its four legs. The rings shall be close to the frame, as holders for the poles to bear the table. And you shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be carried with them. You shall make its dishes, its pans, its pitchers, and its bowls for pouring. You shall make them of pure gold. And you shall set the show bread on the table before Me always.
While the Passover lamb is introduced is introduced as a sacrifice to be consumed as it is slaughtered:
Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.
Pitre emphasizes that Christ is a Passover lamb. This is important because Christ is not a sin offering. Christianity has been struggling with Christ’s incompatibility with the basic gender requirements of sin offers:
And if we brings a lamb for a sin offering, he shall bring it a female without blemish.”
Yet the focus on a male lamb does fit the requirements for a peace offering.
‘If his offering as a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord is of the flock, whether male or female, he shall offer it without blemish. If he offers a lamb as his offering, then he shall offer it before the Lord. And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it before the tabernacle of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar.
Which are evocative of Christ and the ongoing celebration of mass in other ways:
‘The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day it is offered. He shall not leave any of it until morning. But if the sacrifice of his offering is a vow or a voluntary offering, it shall be eaten the same day that he offers his sacrifice; but on the next day the remainder of it also may be eaten; the remainder of the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day must be burned with fire.
Pitre argues Christ’s use of these Mosaic themes in his ministry were a purposeful attempt to teach that he was the New Moses.
Following the Torah, much of the rest of the Old Testament is composed of the prophets, beginning with Joshua and ending with the Minor prophets. These signs, already introduced by Moses, are referenced during the waiting for the Gospel:
You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth,
And gave them water for their thirst.
Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness;
They lacked nothing;
Their clothes did not wear out
And their feet did not swell.
And into the conflict between Saul and the son of Jessee is the show bread:
And the priest answered David and said, “There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women.”
Then David answered the priest, and said to him, “Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was consecrated in the vessel this day.”
So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the show bread which had been taken from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away.
1 Samuel 21:4-6
And the role of the peace offering, to be given by the prince:
“Now when the prince makes a voluntary burnt offering or voluntary peace offering to the Lord, the gate that faces toward the east shall then be opened for him; and he shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings as he did on the Sabbath day. Then he shall go out, and after he goes out the gate shall be shut.
“You shall daily make a burnt offering to the Lord of a lamb of the first year without blemish; you shall prepare it every morning.
Pitre argues the Lord’s Supper — and Christ’s taking on of the roles of Passover Lamb, Show Bread, and Manna, propagate backwards into time. Thus, when Davis eats the show bread, or the prince sacrifices Lamb, in some mysterious way Christ is present in those actions.
The signs are also explicitly used by Christ himself, identifying the Manna with “my Flesh”:
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
Christ also references the show bread, and how David ate it when he was hungry. This discourse in Matthew ties together with John’s description of the Son’s flesh. If you are hungry for eternal life, be like David, and eat the bread:
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the show bread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
For his part, Mark ambiguously uses the phrase “when they killed the Passover Lamb” to refer both to a foodstuff which is conspicuously missing from the written descriptions of dinner, as well as to Christ:
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?”
And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”‘ Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.”
Christ incorporates the Books of Moses and the Prophets into his life by reference. Just as the Qur’an assumes the reader has read the Bible, Christ is assuming knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures to identify himself as Lamb, as Show Bread, and as Manna.
The letter writers who explained the Gospel after Christ’s life also picked up the same themes. Manna is given to believers who overcome:
Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”‘
While the anonymous author of Hebrews emphasizes the show bread as the final part of the sanctuary:
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lamp stand, the table, and the show bread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
The same author explicitly compares Christ to the offerings:
We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Christ is presented not just as the end of the Hebrew Scriptures, but as the beginning of what happens next. Christ-as-manna is present, after Christ-as-show-bread. Some kind of dimensional folding is happening here. Pitre argues another method of folding is responsible for a fourth sign: the Last Supper as a Passover Seder, when He was sacrificed.
The Passover Seder
Like the Dominican Monk Paul Christiani, Pitre seeks to support Christian belief with the Jewish Talmud. Documented, after Christ, in the sometimes anti-Christian Talmud, the liturgy of the Seder is a method of the celebration of the Jewish religion in the absence of a validly operating Temple. Christ had stated that He was greater than the Temple. In a passage that immediately follows Christ reminding of David’s eating the Bread of the Presence:
Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet ‘I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
The liturgy of the Passover Sedar includes numerous steps, and Pitre argues that several of these are explicitly described in the Gospels. Within the Seder itself are four ritual cups:
- The Cup of Sanctification
- The Cup of Deliverance
- The Cup of Redemption
- The Cup of Restoration
At table, Christ drinks from two cups, identified by Pitre as the second and third cups of the liturgy, the Cup of Deliverance and the Cup of Redemption:
Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table. And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”
The Seder should not end until a fourth cup is drunk. And it is here that the Last Supper, when the Lord instituted Holy Communion, merges into the Passion — as Christ intentionally does not drink wine during the Passion itself
And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink.
but only upon its completion
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
Pitre presents four types for the Last Supper, three of which precede it in the Bible: the Bread of the Face, the Manna, and the Passover Lamb. A fourth type, the Passover Seder, is only attested after the Last Supper had happened. Nonetheless, the Seder may have been contemporary with Christ, and presents a sort of grammar for otherwise arbitrary statements made during that holy weekend.
While discussing the first three types, Pitre presents not only Biblical evidence but evidence from the Talmud. By itself this is weak, because the Talmud was written after the Bible. But because the Seder argument depends entirely on the Talmud, its earlier introduction makes that section (and the identity of the “fourth cup” with the wine that Christ drank on the cross) less jarring.
Also at the end Pitre introduces the catechism of the Catholic church, and passages which further supports his arguments. For instance:
In the Old Covenant bread and wine were offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgment to the Creator. But they also received a new significance in the context of the Exodus: the unleavened bread that Israel eats every year at Passover commemorates the haste of the departure that liberated them from Egypt; the remembrance of the manna in the desert will always recall to Israel that it lives by the bread of the Word of God; their daily bread is the fruit of the promised land, the pledge of God’s faithfulness to his promises.
The “cup of blessing” at the end of the Jewish Passover meal adds to the festive joy of wine an eschatological dimension: the messianic expectation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he gave a new and definitive meaning to the blessing of the bread and the cup.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1334
these are sensible, and support his arguments, at least for the first three types.
I enjoyed reading Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. In particular, Pitre’s introduction of the Seder view of the Last Supper, and the way it extends the Last Supper thru the passion and the crucifixion, help me understand how Christ could have instituted Holy Communion at the Last Supper.
I read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist in the Audible edition.
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