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The Moon and New Testament Passover Dates

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The significance of Passover during the ministry years of Jesus may have more to it than its typological fulfillment in Messiah’s sacrifice. For example, a case can be made that the first Passover in his ministry locates a key date in the famed prophecy of ‘Daniels 70 Weeks.’ Also, his last Passover may provide a final answer to the elusive date of his crucifixion.

Understanding the chronological details of Passover during this period not only nails dates, but enables us to stand in awe as we witness fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. Our awe turns to amazement as we contemplate extraordinary mathematical patterns of seven, climaxing in the final atonement.

In times past, scholars searching these subjects realized the answers lay in finding the phases of the moon. Inquiries were made to national observatories and astronomical societies but information had to be eked out, a question at a time. Today however, highly accurate lunar software is available to layman and specialist alike. So it should be easy to find Passover dates in any given year, because Passover always arrived on the 14th day of the first moon of each year. (Exodus 12:6)

However, here is where the problems begin:
First. How can we date the Passover of Christ’s crucifixion if we don’t know the year? What we do know is that Pilate governed Judea from AD 26 to AD 36, so it must have been somewhere in-between – but when?

Second. Was Jesus crucified on the 14th day when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered, or was it on the following day, the 15th after the meal had been eaten? The Synoptic Gospels indicate the latter, but St. John seems to say the former. (John 18:28)

Third. Which day of the week did Jesus die? Tradition says it was Friday, but Wednesday or Thursday seems to better fit his 3 days and 3 nights in the grave? (Matt. 12:40)

So, although lunar cycles are very reliable, they are not much good if we do not know the year or the day of the month. Moreover, modern calculation of ‘new moon’ isn’t the same as those observed in ancient time. Modern astronomers equate the first day of the month with the day following ‘lunar conjunction,’ that is, the middle of the dark moon period when the moon and sun are in conjunction with each other.

Originally ‘new moon’ referred to the crescent on the first night it became visible, typically one or two days after conjunction. In 1st century Judea, if the crescent moon appeared during the night, it could be seen about 18 hours after conjunction. However, if it developed during daylight hours, the observer had to wait till nightfall to see it. That might have stretched to two days. Then, when he saw the faint lunar sliver, he ran to the priest and reported his sighting. (He would have been an authorised person such as a shepherd, who got paid a few shekels for his service) Then the priest would declare the 'new moon' and the 1st day of the month would be deemed to have started at 6pm of the same night that it was reported.

In the case of our modern Jewish calendar, it still uses the first visible crescent rather than lunar conjunction to start the month. However, it is no longer identified by a physical sighting. Rather, it is mathematically estimated, and offset from the conjunction.
With these problems hindering a simple fixing of Jesus’ last Passover date; I have worked out a chart that shows the alternative possibilities between AD 26 and AD 36. My method was to find the lunar conjunction preceding Nisan, and then step through each hour until a likely sighting could have been made. Having determined 'new moon,' the days were then stepped through the month until Passover.

So, my initial goal, is to narrow down the possible crucifixion dates to those that have a valid astronomical basis. As the chart shows, AD 29, AD 32 and AD 35 do not meet the criteria. The brown cross icons on the chart below represent theoretical execution dates where the astronomical criteria have been met. For example, the popular AD 33 date of Jesus’ death is shown, based on the assumption that it occurred on the 14th of Nisan, simultaneous with Passover lambs being slaughtered in the temple.

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Updated Mar 21st 2016 at 07:27 AM by Cyberseeker

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  1. Cyberseeker's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Tony P
    We discussed calendar converters previously. In the year 30, they show Nisan 1 to be Wed/Thurs. Does this mean they are in error, or is the dark moon/new moon in error?

    If the converters are correct, and the new moon times actually mean visible new moon, then 30 AD could be the year.
    Check out Nisan 1, 3790 here. http://www.abdicate.net/cal.aspx It will say Thursday, 23rd March, AD 30 because calendar converters show the start of the Jewish day. In this case, Thur/Fri.

    In that year the lunar conjunction (dark moon) was in the evening of Wednesday, March 22nd. These lunar phases are from the same charts that observatories and calendar convertors use. They are reliable. The moon would have remained obscure until the next night, Thur/Fri (March 23/24) at which time the New Moon would have been announced. Therefore, the Jewish days in AD 30 are as follows:

    NISAN MARCH WEEKDAY
    1 23/24 thur/fri
    2 24/25 fri/sat
    3 25/26 sat/sun
    4 26/27 sun/mon
    5 27/28 mon/tue
    6 28/29 tue/wed
    7 29/30 wed/thur
    8 30/31 thur/fri
    9 31/1 fri/sat
    10 APRIL 1/2 sat/sun
    11 2/3 sun/mon
    12 3/4 mon/tue
    13 4/5 tue/wed
    14 5/6 wed/thur
    15 6/7 thur/fri


    Yes, I think AD 30 is the best fit. Supporters of a Thursday crucifixion only have two options, but AD 27 is less than a year after Pilate took up his governor role in Judea.

    I support the traditional Friday crucifixion but, as the first chart shows, AD 30 fits both scenarios.
    Updated Mar 13th 2016 at 02:58 PM by Cyberseeker
  2. Cyberseeker's Avatar
    My intention next, is to eliminate the most obviously false candidates from the field. Clearly, they are AD 27 and AD 36 because, from historical data, one is too early and the other is too late. Somewhat less obvious, but manifestly false, is the Wednesday crucifixion theory, and it can also be eliminated by studying the Jewish system of ‘inclusive’ timekeeping.

    Three days and three nights?


    The Wednesday crucifixion theory has been created to fix a perceived contradiction in Jesus’ words when he said, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40) The ‘problem’ is that his prediction doesn’t seem to fit! If Jesus died on Friday afternoon and rose Sunday morning, it would seem he was really in the grave only one day and two nights.

    However, the issue is not as problematic as it appears because in colloquial Jewish speech, a ‘day’ could mean any portion of the day, as long as it was that day. The many references to Jesus rising on the third day meant exactly that – some time during day three – even though 24 hours had not elapsed. (Luke 24: 21) Similarly, when we are told Jesus died at about 3pm, Friday; that was day one even though the Hebrew day finished a mere three hours later.

    An earlier example of this usage is found in the account of King Rehoboam who told a delegation of his people, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” (1 Kings 12:5) So they went away, but instead of returning after three days as we might expect, they came back on the third day itself. In other words, when Rehoboam gave his instruction, it was the first day. The second day they stayed away, and on the third they all came back. “So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, Come to me again the third day.” (1 Kings 12:12)

    There are more examples of inclusive counting in the Old Testament, not the least of which are the recorded reigns of the Hebrew kings. The first and last years of their reigns were always partial years. Another case is Esther 4:15 - 5:1, but suffice it to say that the ‘Prophet Jonah’ sign should be understood in the same way. It does not mean a strict 3×24=72 hours.

    So, looking at the chart again, after deleting the Wednesday options, there remain only three credible dates for the crucifixion. They are:

    • Thurs, Nisan 14th (April 6) AD 30
    • Friday, Nisan 15th (April 7) AD 30
    • Friday, Nisan 14th (April 3) AD 33.


    Let us now examine the days leading up to the last Passover, because understanding the ‘build-up’ to Christ’s Passion is crucial in choosing between the above remaining possibilities.
  3. Cyberseeker's Avatar
    Let us now examine the days leading up to the last Passover, because understanding the ‘build-up’ to Christ’s Passion is crucial in choosing between the above remaining possibilities. St John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus arrived in Bethany six days before Passover, and one day before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. (John 12:1,12) Tradition tells us it was a Sabbath followed by ‘Palm Sunday.’ It makes good sense, considering that coming to a place of rest, after traveling and working, is what the Sabbath was all about.

    What is not quite so obvious is how it could not have been a day earlier because that would have made his next day ‘Palm Saturday.’ The events describing the triumphal entry into Jerusalem would not have happened on Saturday, because riding a work animal (donkey) and cutting of branches on the Sabbath violated Mosaic Law. (Deut. 5:14, Numbers 15:32-36)

    Even more significant, was the position of the moon on Palm Sunday. In the case of Nisan, AD 30, Sunday happened to be the tenth day after ‘new moon,’ the day when chosen lambs were taken and penned up until Passover. (Exodus 12:3-6) The significance should not escape us; because Messiah’s triumphal entry on ‘Palm Sunday’ fulfils the Old Testament typology of the Paschal ‘lamb’ being selected for sacrifice.

    From new moon we may now go to the gospels and piece together a detailed chronology of the Passion Week, based on known astronomical data. Beginning at Bethany, the days can be tracked as follows:

    9th Nisan Sabbath (6 days before Passover)
    10th Nisan Sat/Sunday (5 days before Passover)
    11th Nisan Sun/Monday (4 days before Passover)
    12th Nisan Mon/Tuesday (3 days before Passover)
    13th Nisan Tue/Wednesday (2 days before Passover)
    14th Nisan Wed/Thursday (1 day before Passover)
    15th Nisan Thurs/Friday (Passover Day)




    This is in keeping with the traditional view, which finds the disciples eating Passover on Thursday evening, and the Lord’s betrayal later on Friday morning. However, it raises a matter that has been a frequent source of misunderstanding. Was Passover held on the 14th or was it the 15th of Nisan? Simply stated, it commenced just before one day finished and the next began. The Hebrew day began at sunset, and the lambs were slain late on the 14th, with the actual Passover meal being eaten later that evening, that is to say, early on the 15th day. The Jewish historian Josephus said the sacrifices were carried out between 3 pm and 5 pm and the original description in Exodus bears this out.

    “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 at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. ... In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover." (Exodus 12:6-11)

    An example of this is found in King Josiah’s famous Passover, which describes in detail the sacrifices continuing until nightfall. (2 Chron. 35:1-14) Leviticus is also clear. “The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins.” (Leviticus 23:4-6) However, other Bible references simply say, “the fourteenth” without specifying the last portion of the day. That is why casual readers, not familiar with Hebrew practice, assume Passover to be the entire fourteenth day. Not so! It started in the final hours of the fourteenth then spanned the fifteenth day synonymous with (the same as) the first day of unleavened bread.

    Accordingly, Jesus ate his last supper with his disciples in the evening early on Passover day and was crucified later on the same day. By western reckoning, it was a Thursday/Friday crossover, but by Jewish reckoning it was the 15th of Nisan. It looked approximately like this:

    • 6 pm Day began.
    • 9 pm Passover meal.
    • 12 pm Jesus arrested.
    • 6 am Judgement passed.
    • 9 am Jesus crucified.
    • 12 am Great darkness.
    • 3 pm Jesus dies.
    • 6 pm Day ended.
  4. Cyberseeker's Avatar
    At this juncture we must address the popular idea of Jesus being crucified at the same time as the Passover lambs being slain? The confusion stems from an apparent contradiction between St. John’s account and that of the synoptic gospels. He said:

    “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.” (John 18:28)
    Non-Jewish readers may be excused for interjecting, “But hadn’t they eaten it the night before?” That is when Matthew, Mark and Luke said it took place. Some commentators just choose to ignore John, but others make much of it, claiming the Paschal lambs were slain when Jesus died. Still others suggest there may have been several Jewish factions observing different calendars. Such explanations are unnecessary.

    John was simply referring loosely to the overall ‘Passover week’ which included the feast days following the actual Passover day. On the morning of the first day following the Paschal evening, was another meal called ‘Chagigah’. This is the meal John was referring to, and as one rabbinic expert noted, “the Chagigah might not be offered by any person who had contracted Levitical defilement.” (The Temple, Alfred Edersheim, ch. 13) So, the ‘contradiction’ is really no contradiction at all; it was a special morning meal eaten as part of the celebration.

    Proponents of alternative schemes like to quote, “for Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed,” (1 Corinthians 5:7) inferring that he was sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan. Again, such theories are unnecessary because throughout the day there was a series of sacrifices, all of which prefigured Messiah’s blood. First came the Paschal lamb which was eaten in the evening. Then at 6 am the Tamid lamb was brought out and tied to the altar. Jesus was delivered by Pilate to be crucified at 6 am. At 9 am, the lamb was sacrificed. Jesus was nailed to the Cross at 9 am. Then came the festive offerings:

    on the fifteenth day of this month ... a burnt offering to the LORD: two young bulls, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year ... also one goat as a sin offering, to make atonement for you. You shall offer these besides the burnt offering of the morning.” (Numbers 28:17-23)
    Obviously, all of these represented, “Christ, our Passover” – not just one! At noon, the second Tamid lamb was brought out and tied to the altar. This time the sky turned black. Then at 3 pm the second Tamid lamb was sacrificed. Jesus died at 3 pm.

    Conclusion:

    Looking at the chart again, only three of the options were likely candidates for the crucifixion date. However, two of them required a 14th Nisan execution, and that was based on a flawed assumption. Therefore, there is only one date left standing that properly satisfies the astronomical criteria. It is:


    • Friday, Nisan 15th (April 7) AD 30


    When we follow the progress of the moon from the 1st of Nisan, AD 30, Palm Sunday may be fixed on the 10th day. From there a systematic count of days can be followed leading to the preparation of the Paschal lamb on the 14th day. The disciples ate their meal on the beginning of the 15th day, Thursday evening, 6th April. It may be of interest that ‘Full moon’ occurred on that evening at 9:36 pm.

    Messiah died later on that same Passover day. (but the following day by western calendar reckoning) So, lunar astronomy confirms the traditional Gospel story. Yes, astronomical data places Christ’s death on Friday, 7th April AD 30.