§ 101 In order to reveal himself to men, in the condescension of his goodness God speaks to them in human words: “Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men.”
Why Gospel Dates are Important
Devout Catholics know that the Gospels, like the rest of the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture, are theopneustos, God-breathed, inspired by God, and therefore inerrant Dei Verbum § 11. But, today, many scientists are no longer neutral toward the spiritual realms of heaven and hell, but actively reject them.
This active rejection is more an act of faith than anything Christians propose. Many scientists call the big bang a “singularity,” but recoil from describing Rabbi Yeshua’s resurrection in the same terms. They reject the existence of heaven and hell, but have for some decades proposed the existence of multiple universes without the slightest evidence that they actually exist. Recently, some scientists, aware of this inconsistency, have tried to bolster the multiverse theory by proposing evidence of collisions between our universe and others. There would seem to be little difference between these phenomena and others such as quantum mechanics long considered inherent in the design of our own universe. Perhaps some of these scientists believe that, by labeling newly discovered phenomena evidence of other universes, they can escape the comparison with heaven and hell. The problem is that the evidence of miracles required for canonization of saints is actually far better known and documented than anything the scientists have proposed.
Historical-critical scripture scholars work in a discipline formed by faith, “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Heb 11:1. Yet many of them, eager for respect within the academic community, also arrive at conclusions that deny Christian faith. Their constant arguments for late Gospel dates are not abstruse speculations of ivory-tower scholars but vital fronts in the spiritual war. If we accept late dates for the Gospels, it is much easier to persuade the innocent that they are imaginative fables.
Msgr. Wrenn offered a striking observation: “Father Carmignac maintains that the destruction of Palestine by the Romans in the year 70 prevents us from supposing that such documents as the Gospels could possibly have been produced after the dispersion of the community for which they were originally intended.”
A Fresh Look at the Gospel Dates
Early Christian documents do not give dates on which the Gospels were written. Many Catholic historical-critical scholars speculate that they were written near the end of the first century. Most Catholic scholars have accepted this evaluation because they have been told that it is the consensus among Catholic scholars. However, during the early 1970s, Anglican Bishop John A. T. Robinson asked a crucial question: On what evidence? As it turned out, the historical-critical scholars, for all their emphasis on scientific method, were unable to provide probative evidence.
Dr. Scott Hahn had a similar experience. He had been teaching at a Presbyterian seminary where he was highly regarded enough to be offered a position as the seminary’s dean at age 26. One day, in his classroom, a student asked him, “Professor, where does the Bible teach that Scripture alone is our sole authority?” Dr. Hahn mentioned several Scripture passages, but the student pointed out that none of them actually addressed the question. Startled, Dr. Hahn put the question to one of the best Presbyterian theologians in America, who told him, “Scott, you really can’t demonstrate sola Scriptura from Scripture. The Bible doesn’t declare that it is the Christian’s only authority. In other words, Scott, sola Scriptura is essentially the historic confession of the Reformers.… For us, then, it is a theological presupposition, our starting point rather than a proven conclusion.” Dr. Hahn asked another Presbyterian theologian, “What for you is the pillar and foundation of truth?” The theologian said, “The Bible, of course!” Dr. Hahn replied, “Then why does the Bible say in 1 Timothy 3:15 that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth?” Like Bishop Robinson, Scott Hahn had suddenly discovered presuppositions without underlying evidence.
Bishop Robinson began a serious inquiry into the evidence, and wrote his 1976 book, Redating the New Testament, to set forth what he believed was serious evidence that the entire New Testament, even the Revelation, was written before AD 70. Of course, the historical-theological exegetes responded with furious attacks. Then Father Jean Carmignac, a respected expert on Biblical Hebrew, addressed the question from a different perspective in his book, Birth of the Synoptic Gospels, in 1987. And Sorbonne professor Claude Tresmontant published his book, The Hebrew Christ: Language in the Age of the Gospels, in 1989.
Bishop Robinson, Father Jean Carmignac, and Professor Claude Tresmontant have offered much more serious evidence for the absolute historicity of the Gospels. Msgr. Wrenn observed: “Some sort of crisis seems to be at hand for historical-critical exegesis as this methodology is being practiced in the Church.… when they see their own hypotheses seriously—and scientifically—threatened.”
Dates for the Gospels are hypotheses, not facts. No one can conclusively prove any Gospel authorship date. Bishop Robinson, Father Carmignac and Professor Tresmontant have provided persuasive evidence for their belief that the Gospels were composed very early. Bishop Robinson, for instance, believes that Rabbi Yokhanan‘s Gospel was written between AD 40 and 60. Claude Tresmontant dates Rabbi Yokhanan’s Gospel around AD 36 to 40.
Here we will not try to come up with our own dates, but simply review two lines of verifiable evidence leading to the conclusion that all four Gospels were completed before AD 70. The first line of evidence is that the Temple destruction is not mentioned in any of the Gospels, suggesting that it had not yet occurred. The second line is that Rabbi Matityahu visibly wrote for Jews. Rabbis Marcus, Lucas and Yokhanan visibly wrote for both Jews and Gentiles but, especially through Hebrew under the Greek, with great emphasis on Jews. If so, they too were written before Gentile converts to Christianity greatly outnumbered Jewish Christians.
The First Line of Evidence: The Second Temple Destruction
The first line of evidence that the Gospels were written before AD 70, within the lifetime of many eyewitnesses to Rabbi Yeshua‘s public revelation, and therefore highly credible, was the Temple Destruction.
The three Synoptic Gospels quote Rabbi Yeshua‘s prophecy that the Temple would fall. In the year AD 33 Rabbi Yeshua told us when it would occur. “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place” Mt 24:34. To the ancient Jews a generation was forty years, from when they were shepherds in the wilderness Num 14:33. The Temple fell in AD 70, within forty years after Rabbi Yeshua‘s Final Sacrifice.
Yet there is no mention anywhere in the New Testament of the Temple destruction in AD 70. The historical-critical scholars say it is mentioned, citing Rabbi Matityahu’s Parable of the Marriage Feast: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” Mt 22:7. Rabbi Yeshua had been speaking to the chief priests and the Pharisees about their fitness for the wedding feast in heaven Mt 22:2–6. There is no sign that Rabbi Matityahu used it to depict the fulfillment of Rabbi Yeshua’s Temple prophecy. But even if Rabbi Matityahu had intended reference to the burning of Jerusalem, it had been conquered and burned more than once, most prominently at the start of the Babylonian Exile 2 Kings 25:9. How could we know which time? The historical-critical scholars’ evidence for post AD 70 authorship depends on circular reasoning: Rabbi Matityahu wrote his Gospel after AD 70, therefore the parable refers to Titus’ destruction of the Temple, and we know that the parable refers to Titus’ destruction of the Temple, therefore Rabbi Matityahu wrote after AD 70.
The Second Line of Evidence: Hebrew Under the Greek
Let us now look at the second line of evidence that all four Gospels were written before AD 70. All four were written while there would still be a large Jewish audience, before Gentile converts to Christianity greatly outnumbered Jewish converts.
The Septuagint translation into Greek had been very literal. The rabbis were translating the Word of God and had to retain every possible nuance in the original. In writing the Gospels the four Evangelists followed the Septuagint practice. In a Hebrew sentence the verb comes first, then the subject, then the complements that express place or circumstances. “He lifted up, Jacob, his eyes, and behold, Esau was coming and four hundred men with him” Gen 33:1. We see the same word sequence in the Greek language of all four Gospels.
The four Evangelists wrote Greek so much as if it were Hebrew that Jews of that time could “see” Hebrew or Aramaic words under the Greek. Most Judahites in Rabbi Yeshua‘s day knew Hebrew and Aramaic and at least some Greek. They could read the Greek text and know the underlying Hebrew or Aramaic. Jews in the diaspora, and later, pagans sensing a call to the Church, could simply read it in Greek. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, … for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Gal 3:28.
And not only the four Evangelists. The Acts of the Apostles, and Rabbi Paul‘s letters, use the same Hebrew-Greek lexicon, as if they had originally been written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek. Perhaps, like the Old Testament, much of the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew for the Jewish community in Judea and Galilee, and later translated into Greek when the Church began to attract a significant number of Gentiles.
Let us follow these lines of evidence in the four canonical Gospels.
St. Matthew’s Gospel
Rabbi Matityahu evidently wrote his Gospel before the stoning of St. Stephen, when Christians began preaching the Word of God to pagans Acts 8:5. For a Jew, preaching the Word of God to any non-Jew was revolutionary, as the Jews had been a people apart, yet there is no sign of it at all in Rabbi Matityahu’s Gospel. He indicates that Rabbi Yeshua had been preaching only to the Jews by quoting, “Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Mt 10:6 and “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Mt 15:24. Jews recognized his references to Ps 119:176; Jer 50:6. He quotes Rabbi Yeshua‘s command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” Mt 28:19 as something to be done in the future.
The Church Fathers tell us that Rabbi Matityahu originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew. St. Irenaeus wrote “Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the church in Rome,”1 and, “The first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language.”2 Eusebius wrote, “For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue.”3 St. Jerome wrote, “First of all Matthew produced a Gospel in Judea in the Hebrew tongue,”4 and, “Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek, though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Caesarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered.”5 After that, his Gospel was translated into Greek.
Hebrew Under the Greek
Rabbi Matityahu’s Gospels filled with Hebrew references that Greeks would not have understood. He used the phrase “knew her” in a particularly Hebrew way of speaking: “but knew her not until she had borne a son” Mt 1:25. Jews would have recognized: “Now Adam knew [yada] Eve his wife” Gen 4:1, but Greeks would not have understood Rabbi Matityahu’s Greek word eginosken, “he knew,” in that context. Rabbi Matityahu evidently expected that his Gospel would be read by Jews.
In Rabbi Matityahu‘s time, since Jews did not pronounce the ineffable name of God, they often used ha-shamaim, “the heavens.” Rabbi Matityahu often used the archaic phrase, “kingdom of heaven.” In Hebrew, malkut ha-shamaim, or in Aramaic malkuta di shemaia. Rabbi Matityahu‘s Greek was basileia ho ouranos, literally word by word, “kingdom of-the heavens.” Pope Benedict XVI comments: “The underlying Hebrew word malkut is a nomen actionis [an action word] and means, as does the Greek word basileia [kingdom]—the regal function, the active lordship of the king.”
The Septuagint often transferred the Hebrew word oy to Greek as ouai, woe. “Woe is me! [Hebrew: oy li, Greek: ouai]” “Woe to us [Hebrew: oy l’anou, Greek ouai hemin].” There never had been a Greek word ouai. Rather than use a Greek approximation, the Septuagint coined the Greek word by a direct transfer. Rabbi Matityahu followed the Septuagint, often using ouai to represent the Hebrew oy. “Woe [ouai] to the world for temptations to sin!” It is often used in the Old Testament. Even today we sometimes hear Jews lament with the word oy.
There are many more signs in Rabbi Matityahu of a Hebrew original, such as wordplay that works in Hebrew but not in Greek. “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” Mt 3:9. In Hebrew “these stones” are ha-abanim; “sons” are banim. But in Greek, “these stones” are ho lithon; while sons or children are tekna.
Rabbi Matityahu, writing for Jews, emphasized St. Joseph as the father of Rabbi Yeshua and head of the Holy Family in Jewish law. He put his genealogy at the very head of his Gospel Mt 1:1–17. He emphasized that St. Joseph had lawful authority over the Child, “And you shall call his name Jesus” Mt 1:21. Only a father or mother has authority to name a child Gen 1:28; 2:19.
St. Mark’s Gospel
Rabbi Marcus, a talmid of Rabbi Kefa, had two names Acts 12:12. The New Jerusalem Bible calls him John Mark Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37. Yokhanan (John) was his Hebrew name. Mark was his Gentile name. Rabbi Marcus wrote his Gospel when Rabbi Kefa was starting the city-church in Rome. Rome was where the emperors lived. Rabbi Kefa knew well what happened to Rabbi Yeshua after the Jewish authorities said, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar” Jn 19:12. Rabbi Kefa emphasized Rabbi Yeshua‘s divine authority but not his own authority. Rabbi Marcus’ Gospel faithfully reflects that emphasis. His shma is, “You are the Christ” Mt 16:16. He downplayed Rabbi Kefa‘s primacy without actually denying it, and instead emphasized suffering as the path to glory, which Rabbi Kefa knew would soon come Acts 8:1. And Rabbi Marcus’ Gospel was short, anticipating the needs of persecuted Christians who would have to read it clandestinely.
Eusebius quotes Papias, “Mark, having become the interpreter [Greek: hermeneutes] of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them.”6
Rabbi Marcus more than the other Evangelists focused on events rather than law or theology, yet he does not refer to the death of James, “the Lord’s brother” Gal 1:19 and leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem, at the hands of the high priest Hanan ben Hanan, usually dated at AD 62, or to Nero’s savage persecution of Christians which began in the summer of AD 64. We may conclude that Rabbi Marcus had completed his Gospel before these events had occurred.
Hebrew Under the Greek
Rabbis Marcus, Lucas and Yokhanan wrote their Gospels in Greek either from their own Hebrew originals, from notes written in Hebrew by the Apostles while Rabbi Yeshua was preaching, or from the Aramaic speeches they themselves had given day after day.
Rabbi Marcus’ Gospel and Rabbi Lucas’ Gospel contain some hints of the dramatic increase in Christian faith that occurred when the Gospels began to be preached to the pagans. Rabbi Marcus and Rabbi Lucas do not quote Rabbi Yeshua as going only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel Mt 10:6; Mt 15:24. Rabbi Yeshua made those statements during his mortal life, but Rabbi Marcus and Rabbi Lucas evidently believed that pagans would feel unwanted.
Rabbi Marcus and Rabbi Lucas also replace Rabbi Matityahu’s constant references to “kingdom of heaven” with “kingdom of God,” in Greek basileia ho theos. “Kingdom of heaven” would have been incomprehensible to pagans. “Kingdom of heaven” appears 32 times in Rabbi Matityahu’s Gospel, but nowhere else in Sacred Scripture.
Rabbi Marcus’ Gospel does not use as many Hebraic expressions as Rabbi Matityahu, so his Greek is easier to read, but there are still a considerable number. For example, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin …” Mt 18:6; Mk 9:42. Rabbi Yeshua probably used the Hebrew word kashal, “to stumble and fall.” Rabbi Marcus rendered it in Greek skandalizo, which was coined to translate kashal. Even today, the term “stumble and fall” is vividly concrete while “scandalize” is more abstract and intellectual.
St. Luke’s Gospel
Rabbi Lucas, in his Gospel, does a remarkable thing. His first four verses are written in elegant Greek, as if to show that he can. But after that, his text mirrors the Hebrew language even more closely than the other Gospels. In each case, the Greek generally follows the Hebrew word order rather than the Greek word order.
Let’s start with “And [Zechariah and Elizabeth] were both righteous before God” Lk 1:6. The Hebrew original was probably shneihem tzadikim bifnei ha-el, literally, “both-righteous holy-people in-the-face-of the-God,” Rabbi Lucas’ Greek was, dikaios amphoteroi enantion ho theos, literally, “right both in-presence of-the God.”
And, “You shall call his name Jesus” Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31. The Hebrew original was probably vayikare shmo Yeshua, “he-will-be-called his-name Jesus,” Rabbi Lucas’ Greek kaleo ho onoma autos Iesous, “will-call the name of-him Jesus.”
Again, “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” Lk 9:51. The Hebrew original was probably vehu imetz panav lehalekh yerushalaima, “and-he strengthened his-face to-the-travel towards-Jerusalem.” Rabbi Lucas’ Greek was, kai autos ho prosopon sterizo ho poreuomai eis Ierousalem, literally, “And himself the face strengthened the to-travel into Jerusalem.”
“Peace be to this house!” Lk 10:5. The Hebrew original was probably shalom lebayit zeh, “peace to-the-house this.” Rabbi Lucas’ Greek was eirene ho oikos houtos, “peace to-the house this.” The Hebrew makes sense because bayit, the Hebrew word for “house,” also means “family.”
And the rich man in Hades “lifted up his eyes, and saw” Lk 16:23. The Hebrew original was probably beset einav raah, “while-lifting his-eyes he-saw [or he-sees].” Rabbi Lucas’ Greek was epairo ho ophthalmos autos … horao, literally “having-lifted-up-on the eyes of-him … he-sees.”
Rabbi Lucas, writing for both Jews and Gentiles, balanced Rabbi Matityahu’s emphasis on Joseph with his own emphasis on Mary. “And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’” Lk 1:28. “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” Lk 1:31. “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord’” Lk 1:38. “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country” Lk 1:39. “And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’” Lk 1:46.
St. John’s Gospel
Let us look at Rabbi Yokhanan’s Gospel for signs that it was completed before AD 70.
A Man Afire with a Mission
Rabbi Yokhanan was present at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the shlikhim with the power and enthusiasm to proclaim Rabbi Yeshua to all the world. Rabbi Yokhanan’s Gospel, from beginning to end, reveals a man afire with a mission, “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” Jn 20:31. His Gospel soars from his invocation of Genesis, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” Jn 1:1 to his invocation of Rabbi Yeshua‘s infinity, “but there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” Jn 21:25. Many parts of Rabbi Yokhanan’s Gospel display vividly detailed recollections such as the story of the man born blind. If Rabbi Yokhanan wrote his Gospel when Claude Tresmontant believes he did, during his youth when his recollections of Rabbi Yeshua were fresh and alive, his memory would have been filled with vivid detail. If he wrote when Bishop Robinson believes he did, in his middle years, it would be consistent with some time for theological reflection while still retaining enough youth and energy to write his Gospel. But it seems unlikely that this enthusiastic young man, aware of Rabbi Yeshua’s warning, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” Mt 25:13, would wait until his extreme old age to write a Gospel that would lead souls to Rabbi Yeshua.
There is in Jerusalem …
Rabbi Yokhanan also tells us, “Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Beth-zatha” Jn 5:2. Rabbi Yokhanan’s original Greek for “there is in Jerusalem,” is definitely in the present tense. Strong’s Concordance identifies the Greek word esti as, “Third person singular present indicative of eimi.” Remember the name of God in the Gospels’ original Greek, Ego eimi, I AM Mk 14:62.
Some scholars try to explain this as a “historical present,” a phrase describing a past event in the Greek present tense to dramatize the event described as if the reader were there watching the event occur. The “historical present” does appear occasionally in the New Testament but, in this passage, St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate retains the present tense: “Est autem Jerosolymis probatica piscina, Jn 5:2, as does the Douay-Rheims, “Now there is in Jerusalem a pond, called Probatica” Jn 5:2. Virtually all the more recent major Scripture translations including the RSV2CE Jn 5:2 retain the present tense, strongly suggesting that at the time Rabbi Yokhanan wrote his Gospel the Temple was still standing.
The Jewish Persecution
Some evidence suggests that Rabbi Yokhanan’s Gospel was written during the severe persecution by Jews against Christians that began with the stoning of St. Stephen soon after Rabbi Yeshua ascended to the Father and ended when Nero began persecuting Jews and Christians. Nicodemus went to Rabbi Yeshua only at night. The man born blind acknowledged that Rabbi Yeshua had healed his eyes, but his parents feared the Jews. Joseph of Arimathea followed Rabbi Yeshua, but secretly for fear of the Jews. Always the Jews, the Jewish authorities. Despite Rabbi Yokhanan’s emphasis on fear of persecution, he does not refer at all to the terrible Roman persecution that began in the summer of AD 64, in which thousands of Christian martyrs followed their Lord in his death and resurrection. Occam’s razor suggests that at the time Rabbi Yokhanan wrote his Gospel, the Roman persecutions had not yet begun.
Hebrew Under the Greek
Rabbi Yokhanan’s Gospel, like the Synoptics, uses many Hebraic expressions that would have been unintelligible to pagans. He quotes Rabbi Yeshua using the Hebrew word amen, as in, “Truly [amen], truly [amen], I say to you …” Jn 6:53 twenty-five times,7 but does not provide a translation, obviously assuming his readers are familiar with that Hebrew word. Pope Benedict XVI observes, “The Fourth Gospel rests on extraordinarily precise knowledge of times and places, and so can only have been produced by someone who had an excellent firsthand knowledge of Palestine at the time of Jesus … the Gospel thinks and argues entirely in terms of the Old Testament—of the Torah… —and that its whole way of arguing is deeply rooted in the Judaism of Jesus’ time.”8
At the same time, Rabbi Yokhanan accommodates his Christian readers of pagan origin. He uses “kingdom of God” only twice, during the conversation with Nicodemus the Pharisee, Jn 3:3,5 and he does not use Rabbi Matityahu’s “kingdom of heaven” at all.
After about AD 36-40 the number of Gentile Christians increased faster than the number of Jewish Christians, who encountered fierce resistance from the Jewish authorities Acts 8:1. Anything written after AD 70 would be written primarily for a Gentile Christian audience, and would have translated or avoided words like amen.
Rabbi Yeshua used that dispersion of the Jewish Christians to expand his flock from only Jews to every soul in the world. Holy Mother Church was born at the moment of Rabbi Yeshua‘s death on the Cross, but received her Catholic name from the terrifying Jewish persecution Acts 8:1 that spread her living witnesses all over Judea and Samaria. Remember Rabbi Yeshua’s command, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8.
However, the scattered Acts 8:1 Jewish Christian witnesses came together and formed churches, most prominently at Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossa and Thessalonica, from which they began to fulfill Rabbi Yeshua‘s mission for his Church.
By Rabbi Yeshua‘s grace Mt 24:16, in AD 70 the early Christian community still in Jerusalem had fled to Pella and after the siege returned to Rabbi Marcus’ home Acts 12:12 in Jerusalem, said to be the Upper Room in which Rabbi Yeshua instituted the Holy Eucharist for us.
However, after that the Jewish Christian community became much more widely dispersed. The Gospels could not possibly have been written after the dispersion of the community for which the sacred authors intended them.
Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles is largely the story of Rabbi Kefa’s primacy and Rabbi Paul’s journeys; their final journeys to eternal life with Rabbi Yeshua in June, AD 67, would have fit right in, but Acts does not mention them. Acts describes the Jewish attacks on the Christians during the early AD 60s, but not the First Jewish Revolt around AD 66 which had far greater consequences. It does not mention the Roman-Judean War of AD 66-73. It does not mention the Temple destruction of AD 70 which had immense consequences and was powerful evidence that Rabbi Yeshua was the new Temple Jn 2:19–21. It does not mention the birkat ha minim of about AD 80 which expelled the Jewish Christians from the synagogues, or anything else known to have occurred after the mid 60s.
The Book of Hebrews
“These preparations having thus been made, the priests go continually into the outer tent, performing their ritual duties; but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary is not yet opened as long as the outer tent is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age)” Heb 9:6–9.
Why would Rabbi Paul speak of the “tent,” symbolic of the Tabernacle, when he is clearly writing after Rabbi Yeshua ascended to the Father? He tells us that the “outer tent” is still standing which is “symbolic for the present age.” First, he is telling us that at the time he wrote the Book of Hebrews the Temple was still standing, so it was written before AD 70. Second, he used “tent” as “symbolic for the present age.” Rabbi Paul is telling us—before AD 70—that the Temple itself was temporary, soon to be fulfilled by Rabbi Yeshua the eternal Temple. “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he spoke of the temple of his body” Jn 2:19–21
Holy Day Calendars
The Hebrew Calendar
During the Old Testament era, the rabbis used a lunar calendar, with years numbered starting with the Creation. Each month begins after the dark of the moon when the first sliver of moonlight appears. Each day begins at sundown. “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’… And there was evening and there was morning, one day” Gen 1:5. Sunday, therefore, begins on Saturday at sundown.
The lunar calendar was important. God‘s people Israel at that time were still desert nomads. They did not have calendars the way we do. Each Hebrew month starts on the new moon, when earth is between the sun and the moon so the moon is invisible in the sky. But then, as the moon revolves around the earth, little by little the moon passes out of the earth’s shadow until the full moon, when it is entirely visible. God commanded most of the Hebrew festivals to be on the full moon, always the fourteenth day of the month. “And you shall keep [the lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening” Ex 12:6. God commanded the Passover festival to be on the full moon not only to make it easier for his people to recognize but also to give Rabbi Yeshua and his shlikhim moonlight to see in the Garden of Gethsemane, which would have been extremely dark at night illuminated only by starlight, and to make visible the Temple Miracles at Rabbi Yeshua‘s Crucifixion.
§ 963-975 Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church: We celebrate Christmas each year on December 25, and name the year by the number of years from 1 BC.
In most cases, the exact dates on which this or that occurred in the Catholic Church are a matter for Catholic scholars who specialize in the timing of events. Second Exodus is focused like a laser on leading souls to Rabbi Yeshua to please him and to gain eternal life in heaven.
However, the spiritual war has given rise to errors among some scholars that they then cite as evidence against the Church. We can think of the Church as a spiritual space ship ferrying souls to heaven. We may imagine its material equivalent as the space ship Kosmos, the “flying city” of Michael O’Brien’s novel, Voyage to Alpha Centauri. When a scholar’s date becomes a material misrepresentation that can damage the Church, Catholics have to know enough about it to mount a credible defense. Second Exodus addresses the Gospel dates for that very reason.
Reading Taylor Marshall’s excellent, Rome and the Origins of Catholic Christianity, I saw another area that needed to be addressed. Most of these dating issues are fought over in dusty library archives. But after Bill O’Reilly’s best-seller Killing Jesus repeated many of the date myths that falsely malign Church authority to a wide audience, Second Exodus saw a responsibility to offer correction. Second Exodus has long held that Rabbi Yeshua was born on December 25. Taylor Marshall went further. Here, based mostly on information from Rome and the Origins of Catholic Christianity, is why I believe the Catholic Church is right.
The Year 1 BC
Dionysius Exiguus (Dionysius the Little), a Scythian monk who passed into eternity about AD 544, used the best available Roman records and Church documents to calculate the year Rabbi Yeshua was born. He divided all of time into the number of years before or after Rabbi Yeshua‘s birth. He did not include a year zero but went directly from 1 BC to AD 1.
Dionysius dated St. Gabriel’s Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin as March 25, 1 BC. He dated Rabbi Yeshua’s birthday as exactly nine months later, December 25, 1 BC, and his circumcision eight days later, January 1, AD 1. Dionysius also calculated Rabbi Yeshua’s crucifixion as AD 33.
During the 1600s scholars became aware of the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus’ dates were different from those of Dionysius. Scholars of that day discovered that Josephus lived during the same century as Rabbi Yeshua, was Jewish, and was a professional historian. By comparison, Dionysius was simply a monk living in Rome 500 years later. They naturally assumed that Josephus was more likely to be right, and so they accepted his dates over those of Dionysius and the Venerable Bede.
The scholars were so confident in their own judgment that they didn’t bother to check Josephus’ dates to see whether they were consistent within his own writings, or consistent with other writers. However, more recent reviews of Josephus’ dates show that his records were terrible. He wasn’t even consistent within his own writings. For instance, Josephus records in his Wars of the Jews that Hyrcanus reigned as king for 33 years, but in his Antiquities of the Jews he says in one place that Hyrcanus reigned for 32 years, and in another place that he reigned only 30 years.
Josephus writes in Antiquities that Herod conquered Jerusalem in what Dionysius called 37 BC and reigned for 34 years, which would mean that Herod died in 4 BC or 3 BC. St. Matthew tells us in Wars that, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king” Mt 2:1. Scholars considered this proof that Baby Yeshua was born before 4 BC. But in Antiquities Josephus writes that Herod was 15 years old in what Dionysius called 47 BC when Caesar appointed Hyrcanus as an ethnarch to govern the Jews. But elsewhere in the same book, Josephus says in two places that Herod was 70 years old when he died, which means he died in either AD 7 or AD 8. Using Josephus’ own dates, it is just as likely that Herod was still alive in AD 6, in which case Baby Yeshua could easily have been born in 1 BC as Dionysius had calculated.
However, we have an opportunity to compare Dionysius with a widely recognized reference standard and avoid Josephus’ unreliable dates entirely. Historical evidence indicates that Herod died a few months after a lunar eclipse. Modern astronomical models indicate that such an eclipse occurred in Jerusalem before sunset on December 29, 1 BC. If Herod died a few months after the eclipse, the year of his death was AD 1, exactly consistent with Dionysius.
Further consistent with the eclipse and Dionysius is Herod’s slaughter of the innocents Mt 2:16. Toward the end of his life Herod became increasingly paranoid, imagining plots against his throne from every side. Caesar Augustus is said to have quipped, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son,” because Herod was a Jew and would not eat pork, but his sons were not safe. Herod’s paranoid suspicion that a newborn baby would grow up and take the throne of a man already somewhere around 70 years of age is irrational enough to fit in with his paranoid pattern toward the end of his life.
Baby Yeshua was born in 1 BC.
The Day December 25
Why the Objections are Wrong
Catholic tradition has taught since the Church’s earliest days that Baby Yeshua was born four days (in most years) after the winter solstice, on the day now known in the Christian Calendar as December 25. The earliest evidence we have that Christians celebrated Rabbi Yeshua‘s birth on December 25 appears in AD 336, but that does not tell us when the celebrations began.
The “scholars” who insist that he was born in 4 BC, when Josephus’ own writings contradict themselves on that point, also insist that the Church had to be wrong on the calendar date. And so they raise three main objections:
- December 25 replaced the pagan festival Saturnalia, a popular winter festival.
- December 25 replaced the pagan Roman holiday, Natalis Solis Invicti, “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.”
- Baby Yeshua could not have been born in December because St. Luke says, “And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” Lk 2:8. Shepherds do not herd during the winter months.
These first two fit the fallacy similis hoc ergo propter hoc, “similar to, hence by.” There is no actual evidence that the Church arbitrarily chose a date for Christmas to overshadow pagan Roman festivals, and much evidence that they would not have done so.
Answers to Objections 1 and 2
During the three centuries after Rabbi Yeshua walked the earth ten Roman Emperors persecuted his followers. Nero called Christians enemies of mankind. Domitian victimized mainly the nobility. Trajan considered Christians as state enemies. Marcus Aurelius tortured Christians and confiscated their property. Septimus Severus outlawed conversion to Christianity. Maximius Thrax persecuted mainly the clergy. Decius ordered the death of any citizen who refused sacrifice to the Roman gods. Valerian outlawed Christian assembly, and persecuted clergy and nobility. Aurelian sustained the anti-Christian laws though he did not seriously enforce them. Diocletian ordered the bloodiest of the Roman persecutions. Can anyone imagine that Christians, whose main interests were glorifying Rabbi Yeshua and surviving the persecutions, could have tried to overshadow the Roman Empire?
Answer to Objection 3
The Jewish Virtual Library tells us, “The three central rainy months – the “winter” of the temperate climates, December, January, and February – contribute two-thirds to three-quarters of the annual rainfall in most regions of [Israel].” These are the best months to herd sheep, because the rain makes the grass they need grow rich and green and abundant. Bethlehem is at the same 31º N. latitude as El Paso, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border, so it has mild winter temperatures.
Why the Church is Right
St. John the Baptizer
“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah” Lk 1:5. Each course of priests served one week in the Temple, twice each year. Abijah served during the eighth week and the 32nd week Neh 12:17. The widely recognized authority Joseph Heinrich Friedlieb tells us that the first priestly course of Joiarib Neh 12:19 served on the Ninth of Av, so Abijah, and therefore Zechariah, served during the second week of the Jewish month of Tishri, the week of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement which occurs on the tenth day of Tishri. Lev 23:27. In the Gregorian calendar that would be somewhere from Sept 22 to Oct 8. Zechariah and Elizabeth conceived John the Baptizer soon after Zechariah completed his course Lk 1:24 in the year 2 BC. Allowing for the usual nine-month pregnancy, that brings us right up to the Church’s celebration of the Nativity of St. John the Baptizer on June 24, 1 BC.
Immediately after the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived Baby Yeshua, when her cousin Elizabeth, who was then in her sixth month of pregnancy Lk 1:36, she went to visit Elizabeth Lk 1:39–40. Therefore, St. John the Baptizer was six months older than Baby Yeshua. Six months after June 24 is December 24-25, 1 BC, when we celebrate Rabbi Yeshua’s birthday. To discover the date of the Annunciation we count back nine months, and there it is on March 25, 1 BC, exactly when Holy Mother Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation.
The Dead Sea Scrolls provide a wealth of information about religious practices in the Qumran community near the Dead Sea in Jesus’ era. The scrolls are very much concerned with calendar dates, essential for knowing exactly when the Torah feasts should be celebrated, according to Qumran’s solar calendar. Shemaryahu Talmon, Professor Emeritus in the Bible Department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a top Scroll scholar, in 1958 published an in-depth study of the Temple’s rotating assignment of priests 1 Chron 24:7 and the Qumran scrolls to see the assignment during New Testament times. It shows definitively that Zachariah served as a Temple priest Lk 1:8 in September. His wife, St. Elizabeth, conceived late in September, as the archangel Gabriel said, Lk 1:24 and afterward remained in seclusion for five months. Church tradition is that her son Yokhanan HaMatbil was conceived on September 23.
During the sixth month Lk 1:26 of Elizabeth’s pregnancy the archangel Gabriel announced to the Blessed Virgin that she had been chosen to bear the Son of God. Holy Mother Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation on March 25, right on time. Three months after the Annunciation. Yokhanan HaMatbil was born.
The Church celebrates the Feast of St. John the Baptizer on June 24, right after the summer solstice when the days were becoming shorter. The Child Yeshua was born on December 25, exactly nine months after the Annunciation and six months after St. John the Baptizer, right after the winter solstice when the days were becoming longer. “He must increase, but I must decrease” Jn 3:30. It all fits together.
Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Christian Calendar, also called the Gregorian Calendar, in 1582. Dionysius’ dates are incorporated into it.
The Church’s Birthday
Some Catholics have heard that the Catholic Church was born from the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Rabbi Yeshua. Others have heard that the Church was born on Pentecost. Which is the Church’s “real” birthday?
The Catechism § 766: “The Church is born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross. The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus. For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church. As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross.”
The Risen Rabbi Yeshua told his Apostles: “You shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth” Acts 1:8.
Catechism § 767 continues: “When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that he might continually sanctify the Church.” Then “the Church was openly displayed to the crowds and the spread of the Gospel among the nations, through preaching, was begun.” As the “convocation” of all men for salvation, the Church in her very nature is missionary, sent by Christ to all the nations to make disciples of them.
Catechism § 849 summarizes:
The missionary mandate. “Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be ‘the universal sacrament of salvation,’ the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel to all men:” “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and Lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age.”
So which is the Church’s “real” birthday? The answer is: both. Rabbi Yeshua’s crucifixion is the Church’s real birthday because his Final Sacrifice on the Cross completed his consecration of the Holy Eucharist which he had begun earlier on the same day (the Hebrew calendar starts its new day at sundown). As we recall, after Rabbi Yeshua instituted the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he did not complete the Passover celebration by drinking the fourth cup of wine and declaring the Seder ended. Instead, on the Cross, in the last moments of his earthly life, he consumed the offered vinegar (sour wine) and declared, “It is finished.” Jn 19:30. This is why § 1367 teaches: “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice.” Rabbi Yeshua told us that he would be with us always Mt 28:20, so the Church’s pre-eminent witness to him is by bringing us his real presence in the world by re-presenting to us his one Final Sacrifice.
We are also his witnesses through the power of preaching. Rabbi Yeshua’s consecrated real presence § 1378 in the Holy Eucharist is completed by the faithful’s understanding of what just occurred on the altar. He told us, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8. Pentecost completed the Church‘s ability to carry out its Christ-given mission Acts 2:4–6. The two are inseparable. So Pentecost is also the Church’s “real” birthday. The Church celebrates her birthday on Pentecost.
We find an analogy in human procreation. At the moment of fertilization a child obtains all the genetic material he will need to begin growing. His genetic code is the same at that first moment as it will be at every moment of his life. His life as a human person begins at that moment. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception states:
We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was a person at the first instant of her conception (fertilization), and therefore so is every human person. Some cultures celebrate the moment of fertilization as a child’s birthday each year.
At the same time, most cultures celebrate a child’s birth as the moment he emerges from his mother’s womb and becomes visible to the world. Holy Mother Church became visible to the world on Pentecost.
Passover and Easter Dates
Welcome to the adventure of dating Passover and Easter!
The Jewish Calendar
“And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day” Gen 1:3–5.
And so on. Each day in the Jewish daily calendar begins at sunset and ends at the following sunset, when the sun falls completely below the horizon.
The Jewish monthly calendar is based on the phases of the moon. Each month begins on a new moon and ends on the next new moon 28 days later. The fourteenth day is always a full moon.
Nisan is the Jewish calendar month in which all this occurs. “14 nisan” is the fourteenth day of nisan, the date on which Rabbi Yeshua celebrated his Last Supper, and also the Jewish Day of Preparation, when the Jews that year sacrificed their lambs in preparation for the Passover feast.
The Jews in Jerusalem celebrated the Passover feast a few hours after they had been sacrificed, after sundown, at the beginning of 15 nisan.
The Israelites all slaughtered their lambs on the fourteenth day of nisan. Jewish tradition tells us that the Egyptians, horrified because they worshiped lambs, had asked the Israelites what they were doing.
When the Israelites had been slaves they were as children, often afraid to tell the truth, but when the Passover came they believed God would protect them and answered boldly as adults do, “God told us to sacrifice these lambs.”
Because on that day they acted as adults, the Passover Sabbath is a shabat gadol, an “adult Sabbath” or “high Sabbath.” Rabbi Yeshua, by associating his Final Sacrifice with the sacrifice of the Passover lambs, also willed that his day of silence in the tomb would be on the “sabbath of solemn rest.”
The Day of the Passover
For the Passover, God commanded Moses and Aaron, “And you shall keep [your lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening” Ex 12:6, in the afternoon but certainly before sunset on the calendar date 14 nisan. God‘s command, “They shall eat the flesh that night …” Ex 12:8 meant after sunset, when the calendar date was 15 nisan.
Why The Last Supper Date Looks Like 15 Nisan
Rabbi Marcus wrote, “And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, ‘Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?’” Mk 14:12. “And when it was evening he came with the twelve” Mk 14:17.
Rabbi Lucas wrote, “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it.’” Lk 22:7–8.
All three, based on the Jerusalem Jewish calendar, suggest that Rabbi Yeshua celebrated his Last Supper on 15 nisan.
Why It Could Not Have Been 15 Nisan
God had commanded rest for the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. “And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the Lord; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work” Lev 23:6–7.
St. John’s Gospel
Why the Last Supper Date Looks Like 14 Nisan
St. John clearly indicates that Rabbi Yeshua celebrated the Passover a day early, after sunset, at the beginning of 14 nisan. Later on the same day 14 nisan, after daybreak, “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was early. They themselves did not enter the praetorium, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover” Jn 18:28. While Rabbi Yeshua was with Pilate, “It was the day of Preparation of the Passover” Jn 19:14. After the Crucifixion, “It was the day of Preparation” Jn 19:31. After Rabbi Yeshua‘s body was taken down from the Cross, “So because of the Jewish day of Preparation” Jn 19:42.
Resolving the Last Supper Date
The Benedict XVI Alternative
Pope Benedict XVI speculates that Rabbi Yeshua celebrated his Last Supper with the Qumran community on 14 nisan. If Rabbis Matityahu, Marcus, Lucas and Yokhanan were referring to the Qumran calendar their dates can be reconciled.
Thus, the Cross was at the center of the new Passover of Jesus. From it came the New and Eternal Covenant, and so it lives on for ever in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which, across the ages, we celebrate as the new Passover with the Apostles.
From his position on the Cross, on Calvary Hill, Rabbi Yeshua may have been able to actually see the Temple sacrifice of the lambs. Pope Benedict XVI commented during his Mass homily at the Basilica of St. John Lateran on April 5, 2007, “Only in this way did the ancient Passover acquire its true meaning.” Benedict XVI told us in that same Mass homily that the Qumran community celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread at the beginning of 14 nisan without a lamb and outside the Temple. Rabbi Yeshua was the Lamb of God Jn 1:29 and the new Temple Jn 2:21. The Fourth Cup theology highlights that Rabbi Yeshua’s first Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Final Sacrifice on the Cross were one single sacrifice.
§ 1340 “By celebrating the Last Supper with his apostles in the course of the Passover meal, Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning. Jesus’ passing over to his father by his death and Resurrection, the new Passover, is anticipated in the Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist, which fulfills the Jewish Passover and anticipates the final Passover of the Church in the glory of the kingdom.”
The Jimmy Akin Alternative
Jimmy Akin offers an alternative speculation.
The Easter Rule
The Catholic Church celebrates Easter according to the Easter Rule because, spiritually, Rabbi Yeshua created the world anew. God had commanded Moses, “Consecrate to me all the first-born” Ex 13:1. St. Paul called Rabbi Yeshua “the first-born of all creation” Col 1:15. After his Resurrection, Rabbi Yeshua celebrated his first Mass in the New and Eternal Covenant on the first day of the week. Every event in world history is dated by so many years before or after Rabbi Yeshua‘s arrival. John the Baptizer, last of the old Hebrew prophets, was born of an aging mother Lk 1:7 while Rabbi Yeshua was born of a young mother. Rabbi Yeshua was the New Adam, and Mary the New Eve.
In AD 325 the First Council of Nicaea published the Easter Rule, which after much controversy was finalized in AD 525 at the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar, which anchored Easter, on or after the vernal equinox, to the first Sunday after the first full moon, called the “paschal moon.”
Therefore, Easter always occurs between March 22 and April 25. Each year the date moves later in April until the year before leap year. On leap year the date leaps back to an earlier time so the four-year cycle can begin anew.
The vernal equinox occurs sometimes on March 20 and sometimes on March 21. However, at that time science diid not have the precision it does today. To avoid ambiguity, the Easter Rule specified that, ecclesiastically, the vernal equinox would always be on March 21, so it is called the “ecclesiastical vernal equinox.” The full moon is similarly an “ecclesiastical full moon.”
Also at that time, a few Christians in Asia Minor, called Quartodecimans, insisted on celebrating Easter on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of nisan, the Jewish Passover sacrifice of the lambs, regardless of what day of the week it occurred. The Easter Rule therefore specifies that Easter will never be celebrated on the day the Jews celebrate the Passover feast.
Rabbi Yeshua’s Hour
The Gospels use the Hebrew way of counting time, which started at sunrise. The Navarre Bible explains: “The Jewish method of calculating time … divided the whole day into eight parts, four night parts (called “watches”) and four day parts (called “hours”)–the first, third, sixth and ninth hour. The first hour began at sunrise and ended around nine o’clock; the third ran to twelve noon; the sixth to three in the afternoon; and the fourth from three to sunset.” Rabbi Marcus tells us that “It was the third hour, when they crucified him” Mk 15:25. Father Haydock comments: “These may easily be reconciled by supposing that he was crucified towards the end of the third hour, that is, about eleven of the clock, or half-past eleven, which being near the sixth hour, or twelve, the evangelist might say it was the sixth hour.” Rabbi Marcus adds: “When the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” Mk 15:33. “And at the ninth hour … Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last” Mk 15:34–37. Rabbi Yeshua’s shlikhim adopted the time of Rabbi Yeshua’s death, the ninth hour, as a special hour for prayer: “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour” Acts 3:1. Today we call that hour, three o’clock in the afternoon, the hour of great mercy.
At about the time Pilate handed Rabbi Yeshua over to be crucified, Rabbi Yokhanan wrote: “It was about the sixth hour” Jn 19:14. New Advent tells us: “The incidents recorded along the sorrowful journey are so few that the distance from the praetorium is left a matter of conjecture.” The traditional route, called the Via Dolorosa, from Fortress Antonia to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is about a half mile. We may speculate that Rabbi Yeshua, even carrying a heavy cross and falling three times, arrived at Golgotha within an hour. In an era when time was recorded in three-hour units, these times all fit the Church’s remembrance of Rabbi Yeshua’s crucifixion as having begun around 12:00 noon, with his redemptive Final Sacrifice occurring at about 3:00 pm.
The Gospel crucifixion accounts use the Hebrew sundown-to-sundown calendar, and Holy Mother Church uses it for the Triduum liturgy. But the Good Friday fast and abstinence runs on a midnight-to-midnight calendar. Canon 202 §1 tells us: “In law, a day is understood as a period consisting of 24 continuous hours and begins at midnight unless other provision is expressly made.”