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I should know this

21 March, 2008

I should know this

OK, so yeah, I’m a medievalist. And I know when it was agreed that Easter would be celebrated (in the west, at least) on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. But what I don’t think I’ve ever known is … why doesn’t Easter just coincide with Passover? I mean, if the Last Supper was really a Passover Seder, then that makes sense. If it wasn’t, but theologians wanted to enforce the idea of connection to Passover and Jesus as the Lamb, then it still makes sense. I mean, is it just one of those things where it’s important to pick out the Messianic prophecies in the OT, but reject the ‘Jewishness’ of the same?

Yes, I am teaching about Whitby this week, and also, I am supposed to be reading now. But mostly, I just never really thought about this before, and am too damned lazy to look it up.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 March, 2008 6:57 pm

    Passover is determined by the lunar calendar–the 15th day of Nissan. The lunar calendar has a leap month instead of a leap day, so periodically the dates are c. a month apart. We’ve just celebrated Purim.

  2. 21 March, 2008 6:59 pm

    i.e., in many years the dates are very close together.However, current scholarship is doubtful about the relationship between the Easter feast and the Passover seder, if I remember correctly…

  3. 21 March, 2008 7:12 pm

    And sorry, I realized that I didn’t answer your question just now. Wikipedia (caveat lector) on “Synod of Whitby” says that Nicea decided that Easter should always be on a Sunday but didn’t fix a method of calculating which one, and different methods arose. The Ionan Easter was potentially closer to the Jewish Passover.

  4. 21 March, 2008 7:32 pm

    That’s the stuff I’m familiar with. I’m just wondering what the reasoning behind not sticking to Passover was.

  5. 21 March, 2008 7:56 pm

    The first night of Passover may, but does not have to, fall on a Sunday. So if you decide that Easter has to fall on a Sunday, then you need another method to calculate it. Presumably. To find out why Nicea decided that I guess you would have to go there…

  6. 21 March, 2008 9:29 pm

    Sunday comes after the sabbath and was from early on the day of christian worship. In early christian theology, it was often called the eighth day, it is in time and out of time. It is an an eschatological day, a cosmic day. It is the day of creation and the day of redemption. So there’s a lot of significance to the day and that was already in place by the council of nicea. liturgically, every sunday is understood as a celebration of the resurrection, which is itself a cosmic event with eschatological significance. In terms of organizing the church year, easter is the sunday of sundays, not just a sunday that refers to the resurrection but The Sunday of the Resurrection. It doesn’t make any theological or liturgical sense for easter to fall on any day but Sunday.In other words, this is christianity not judaism. Easter and passover are connected (more strongly in John than the other gospels) but they pretty quickly parted ways.

  7. 21 March, 2008 9:30 pm

    Wikipedia’s actually pretty good on this ( Apparently there was substantial divergence of practice on this up to the 3rd c., with the churches of Asia Minor celebrating Easter on Passover and Rome & co. insisting on a Sunday.I extrapolate from the Wikipedia discussion that in all the centuries that predated Bede’s discovery of a method for calculating perpetual Easter tables, a uniform date for Easter was bound to be harder to enforce, if e.g. it was dependent on a particular prelate proclaiming the date annually – sort of like the suspense in waiting to see when Ramadan is going to be declared officially to have started.By the time you get to Bede, some of the arguments for the Roman system against the Celtic had to do with wanting to have Easter fall after the equinox so there would be more light than dark, but it’s been years since I made myself read carefully through the arguments. In any case, by Bede’s time, the fact that Easter has become a lunar-solar feast rather than just lunar opens up the way for new kinds of disagreements. One interesting thing to do in teaching Whitby might be to ask students to discern on what basis the arguments are being made, viz. theological or on the basis of authority.FYI, in case you have students who really groove on this stuff, the most comprehensible learned explanation of computus I’ve ever read is Peter Baker’s intro to the EETS edition of Byrhtferth of Ramsey.

  8. 22 March, 2008 12:53 am

    One interesting thing to do in teaching Whitby might be to ask students to discern on what basis the arguments are being made, viz. theological or on the basis of authority.How sad is it that I’m so excited to read this, because that’s pretty much exactly what we did discussing Whitby last term, so I feel justified and proud of myself? 😉 (Actually, I kind of discerned this for the students and told them about it, because they so didn’t get the whole argument – though that was okay, because at least they admitted it to me – but my excuse is that they were history students, not literature ones, and the difference between theology and authority wasn’t quite transparent to them!) I’m just hazy enough on the early Middle Ages that it’s always nice to see I got something right!

  9. 22 March, 2008 11:29 am

    My standard resort on matters like this is Kenneth Harrison’s The Framework of Anglo-Saxon History to A. D. 900 (Cambridge 1976) which is actually pretty good for almost any kind of medieval chronology (anyone would think those crazy Anglo-Saxons belonged to the rest of the medieval world!), and he saith, pp. 30-31 (inline references stripped, can supply if it will help):”The ‘Paschal controversy’ was rooted in a type of luni-solar calendar employed by the Jews, in turn an offshoot of the 19-year Babylonian cycle. The Jewish year began in spring, with the month Nisan; at the full moon of this month, 14 Nisan [sic], the feast of the Passover was celebrated. In consequence of luni-solar reckoning, 14 Nisan is not a fixed day in the purely solar, Julian, calendar; and because the Crucifixion took place at the time of Passover, Easter could occur in successive years on any day of the week. With the Gospel story in mind, however, it came to be thought that Easter should always be observed on a Sunday, the first day of the week, feria i or dies dominica (the latter sometimes meaning any Sunday, dsometimes Easter itself). The difficulty, and the debates, turned on the question – which Sunday? At the Council of Nicæa in 325, when the answer might have been given once and for all, no formal definition was proclaimed: members of the Church were only enjoined to keep Easter on the same day, and to avoid Jewish customs. Considering that 318 bishops were present, from almost every part of the empire and backed by Constantine in person, their answer will seem vague and unworldly. By inference, the Christian feast must never fall on Passover [emphasis JAJ];… “At which rate, the answer to your question might well be ‘confusion and Judaeophobia’ without much more grounding I fear.

  10. 22 March, 2008 9:36 pm

    Just to add a little trivia to the discussion, the Orthodox churches celebrate Easter on Julian calendar, and — since 1000 — not before Passover. (Orthodox Easter can fall on the first day of Passover.) I think one of the differences is that in the western calendar, if the full moon falls on the first day of spring, it counts, but the Orthodox insist on the full moon occurring *after* the first day of spring. (At least this is how it was explained to me.) It’s also made more complicated because the “Paschal Full Moon” which is what is important here is not necessarily the same as the real full moon…Which is why there are tables (these fascinated me as a child) for determining the date of Easter.The dates of Western Easter, Orthodox Easter,and Passover are tending apart. Or, to put it another way, the Julian, lunar, and Gregorian calendars are less and less aligned…

  11. 23 March, 2008 6:51 pm

    Minor nitpick: the Last Supper wasn’t a Passover seder. Passover started after the Crucifixion ended.

  12. 23 March, 2008 10:34 pm

    Jim — I thought that was still very much a subject of debate? Everybody else — Thanks! 10th Medieval — VCE sent me a chunk of Eusebius that pretty much says the same thing. Not surprising, except it always confuses me when there’s a deliberate OT tie, but a simultaneous excision of actual things Jewish …

  13. 24 March, 2008 7:02 pm

    Yes, apparently there is. I was doing what I tell others not to, merging multiple narratives into a single narrative, even when they contradict each other. How medieval of me.

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