Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Wedding Feast of the Lamb & the Blood of the New Covenant (Part 2 of 2)

Matthew 26:28 / Mark 14:24
In both Matthew and Mark’s account of Jesus’ words over the cup at the Last Supper we read, τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης (“this is my blood of the covenant”; RSVCE). It is generally recognized that the backdrop to Jesus’ words here is the covenant ratification ceremony of Exodus 24. There we read about Moses ratifying the covenant God made with Israel in similar language as that found in the Last Supper narrative. Moses takes the blood (Exod 24:8 LXX:  λαβὼν…τὸ αἷμα), and says (εἶπον), “Behold, the blood of the covenant” (Exod 24:8 LXX: Ἰδοὺ τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης). This of course mirrors Jesus’ actions, who takes the cup (λαβὼν ποτήριον, Mark 14:24), and says (εἶπεν), τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης (“this is my blood of the covenant”). In all of this, it seems clear that Jesus is describing himself as a New Moses, who ratifies a New Covenant.[1] In fact, the covenant was sealed at Sinai with a meal―an appropriate backdrop for the Last Supper.

Of course, it should also be noted that the backdrop for the Last Supper is clearly the Passover in Matthew and Mark’s account. As we noted above, the Exodus and Passover were more than past events for first century Jews—they were tied up with future hopes. Indeed, there is a growing recognition that such hopes played a key role in the teaching of Jesus.[2] It is generally accepted among scholars that Jesus’ selection of the twelve apostles was linked to pan-Israelite tribal reconstitution hope.[3] Jesus’ Galilean ministry also seems to evoke these hopes, since it had been the home of the northern tribes.[4] In addition to all of this, of course, there are also various sayings of Jesus concerning the eschatological of the “twelve tribes” (τὰς δώδεκα φυλὰς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30) and his mission to τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἀπολωλότα οἴκου Ἰσραήλ (Matt 10:6; 15:24).

With that in mind, Jesus’ words at the Last Supper evoking Exodus 24 should probably be interpreted against this restoration backdrop. The Eucharistic celebration associated with the restoration of Israel―the eschatological ingathering. This is even more clearly seen in the Lukan / Pauline version of the institution narrative.

Luke 22:20 / 1 Cor 11:25
One of the most noteworthy additions in the account of the words of institution in Luke 22:20 / 1 Cor 11:25 is the modifier “new” to the word “covenant”: τοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ ἐμῷ αἵματι (“This cup is the new covenant in my blood”). With this addition another Old Testament context comes in to focus. Since the phrase “new covenant” appears in only one place in the Old Testament, it is clear that, in addition to Exodus 24, another passage likely stands in the backdrop―Jeremiah 31:31.[5]

Jeremiah 31 is a prophecy concerning the future restoration of Israel. The prophet describes how the Lord will save a remnant of Israel and “bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth” (Jer 31:8; cf. v. 10). In Jeremiah 31:31 this ingathering is described in terms of a “new covenant”― “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. This covenant is contrasted with the covenant made with Israel at Mt. Sinai―the covenant ratified in Exodus 24: “not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke” (Jer 31:32).

What is interesting is that Jeremiah links this ingathering to the flourishing of crops and vineyards, specifically mentioning how the redeemed will rejoice over “grain, the wine and the oil” (Jer 31:12). The prophecy of the New Covenant also seems to include nuptial imagery. The first covenant is described in terms of a marriage covenant―“I was their husband, says the Lord” (Jer 31:32). For more on that see the following footnote [6].

Our interpretation of Revelation 19 at the beginning of this essay would seem to confirm the conviction that Jesus saw the Institution of the Eucharist in terms of the eschatological restoration of Israel. The tradition found in the Apocalypse―although more clearly developed―could be traced back into the Upper Room. There on the night he was killed Jesus explained that the eschatological ingathering of Israel would be fulfilled, not in the restoration of a political dynasty, but through something else. Restoration is inextricably linked with the cult of the new covenant community.

Such an interpretation may at first sound less like first-century Judaism than twentieth century sacramental theology. However, a close examination of the Qumran literature indicates some striking similarities. It is now generally agreed that in 1QS 6:2-5 the common communal meal is described in such a way as to link it with the eschatological banquet of 1QSa 2:1-22. In addition, it is noteworthy in connection with this that 1QS 8:4-10 describes the community in terms of the eschatological temple.[7] Aune concludes: “The fact that aspects of final eschatological salvation were realized within a cultic and communal setting by members of the Qumran community supplies us with a basic approach to the problem of the significance of realized eschatology…”[8]

Much more needs to be said―a great deal more in fact!. As I’ve explained in previous posts, this is in large part my dissertation project. However, I put this out here now in hopes of stimulating a discussion and learning from your thoughts and comments. So keep them coming.

For a much more articulate and in-depth examination along these lines check out Scott Hahn’s article on Luke 22:

Scott Hahn, “Kingdom and Church in Luke-Acts: From Davidic Christology to Kingdom Ecclesiology,” in Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation (C. G. Bartholomew, J. Green and A. Thiselton, eds; Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2005).

[1] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Matthew19-28 (ICC; London: T & T Clark, 1997), 475: “One wonders whether the sequence in Exod 24:8-11 does not underlie vv. 28-29. In Exodus the establishing of the covenant through blood is followed by eating and drinking and seeing God. In Matthew the proclamation of the eschatological covenant through blood prefaces the promise of the eschatological banquet.”
[2] For restoration expectations in historical Jesus research see Ben Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM, 1979) and E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985). Also see specialized works such as Scot McKnight, A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999); Steven M. Bryan, “Excurses: Jesus and the end of the exile,” in Jesus and Israel’s Traditions of Judgment and Restoration (SNTSMS 117; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2002), 12-20; Craig Evans, “Aspects of Exile and Restoration in the Proclamation of Jesus and the Gospels,” in Jesus in Context: Temple, Purity, and Restoration (AGJU 39; B. Chilton and C. A. Evans, eds.; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 263-93; F. G. Downing, “Exile in Formative Judaism,” in Making Sense in (and of) First Chrstian Century (JSNTSup 197; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 148-68); Michael Knibb, “The Exile in the Literature of the Intertestamental Period,” HeyJ 17 (1976): 253-72; Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile (cited above). Also see the essays in James M. Scott, ed., Exile: Old Testament, Jewish and Christian Conceptions (JSJSup 56; Leiden: Brill, 1997); idem, Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish and Christian Perspectives (JSJSup 72: Leiden: Brill, 2001); David J. Bryan, “Exile and Return from Jerusalem,” in Apocalyptic in History and Tradition (JSPSup 43; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 60-18. Other scholars have analyzed the importance of restoration theology in specialized studies such as David Ravens, Luke and the Restoration of Israel (JSOT Supplement Series 119; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995); Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus and Mark (WUZNT2 88; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997); Mark L. Strauss, The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts: The Promise and its Fulfillment in Lukan Christology (JSNTSup 110; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995); Michael E. Fuller, The Restoration of Israel. Israel's Re-gathering and the Fate of the Nations in Early Jewish Literature and Luke-Acts (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2006); David W. Pao, Acts and the New Exodus (WUZNT2 130; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000).
[3] E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 98-106. Though Sanders is skeptical regarding the details of the identity of the twelve or what they did, he argues “…we can see that Jesus fitted his own work into Jewish eschatological expectation if we know only that he thought of there being twelve around him” (104). Also see Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 300: “The very existence of the twelve speaks, of course, of the reconstitution of Israel; Israel had not had twelve visible tribes since the Assyrian invasion in 734 BC, and for Jesus to give twelve followers a place of prominence…indicates pretty clearly that he was thinking in terms of the eschatological restoration of Israel.” Still also see, Paula Fredricksen, Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews (New York: Vintage, 1999), 98; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (vol. 3 of The Roots of the Problem and Person; ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 2001), 148-54; idem, “Jesus, the Twelve and Restoration,” in Restoration, 365-404; Ben Meyer, The Aims of Jesus, 154.
[4] That the Galileans were Israelites of non-Jewish stock, see Sean Freyne, Galilee, Jesus and the Gospels: Literary Approaches and Historical Investigations (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 130-31, 170-71. Also see David Ravens who comments that Jesus’ ministry in northern Israel should be viewed in terms of the restoration of the Davidic idealic kingdom of the united two houses of Israel. Ravens, Luke and the Restoration of Israel, 99.
[5] See John Nolland, Luke 18:35-24:53 (WBC 35c; Dallas: Word Books, 1993); Ben Meyer, “The Expiation Motif in the Eucharistic Words,” in One Loaf, One Cup: Ecumenical Studies of 1 Cor 11 and other Eucharistic Texts (The Cambridge Conference on the Eucharist August 1988; New Gospel Studies 6; B. F. Meyer, ed.; Macon: Mercer, 1993) 33.
[6] The word here translated “husband” is בעל (bā∙˓ǎl ) might also be translated “master”. It can have the connotation of oppression. The other word for husband is אישׁ (˒yš), which can have the sense of a more loving husband. The two words are contrasted in Hosea 2:16. There we read that in the restoration the Lord will no longer be Israel’s “master” (bā∙˓ǎl ), but her “husband” אישׁ (˒yš). Interestingly within that context we also read that the Lord will make for Israel an abundance of “the grain, the wine and the oil”.
[7] See John J. Collins, “Powers in Heaven,” in Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature (J. J. Collins and R. A. Kugler, eds.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 11-14, who concludes, “The community in effect was a substitute temple” (13).
[8] Aune, The Cultic Setting, 44.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. It's good to see you consistently seeking to understand the Jewish framework in which Jesus undeniably worked.

Danny Garland Jr. said...

I'm sure you have already read it, but if not F.X. Durrwell's "In the Redeeming Christ" is great, especially Chapter 7: The Charity of the Kingdom.

Anonymous said...


This is some really exciting research and I appreciate you sharing it with us here!

Mark in Alabama

David said...

I really appreciate the work that you and Dr. Pitre are doing. To be honest, you both had a great deal with my decision to come into the Church. As a non-Catholic, everything that I knew about God seemed to be a bit random and disjointed. As a Catholic, I now recognize that everything points to one thing: and that is divine filiation. God truly is a father raising a family. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a non Catholic say, "yeah, but that was in the old testament..." We have to view the Institution of the Eucharist in terms of the restoration of Israel. After all in the Eucharist we have the new manna, the bride receiving her bridegroom, the Todah offering, the passover,etc. It seems that all the old covenant practices are rolled up into one Holy Sacrament. Jesus says himself that he didn't come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. If we were to take the new covenant out of the context of the old, then we are in a way saying that the old covenant must have been wrong. I see so many of my protestant brothers and sisters viewing the old covenant as something that was bad and the new is good. That would be implying that God has changed his mind in some way. God promised to bring Israel back from exile. Is there any other way to do it than through the inclusion of the Gentiles who can now worship God the Father face to face in the Church? This brings me to my question: If the restoration has to be sacramental, how do we reconcile that with God promising to restore Israel's land?

Stuart said...

I'm not sure if this post should go here or with some of the others, but I thought it worth a mention. I a recent book entitled Psalm 118 in the Gospel of John, by one Andrew Brunson, he quotes a rabbinic passage talking about David taking the cup at the eschatological Passover, and saying "What shall I render to the Lord for all he has rendered to me? I shall take the chalice of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord". Now when I read this I mentally punched the air because that is what, in the old rite, the celebrant would say before partaking of the chalice. I never finished the Brunson book, and don't have the page number of the reference, (which is why this comment is not as lucid as it perhps might have been!) but I'm sure there's something worth following up there.

Brant Pitre said...

Dear David,

Sorry for the late response, but I just finished the colossal work of moving homes with a pregnant wife and three children under 5!

Anyway, I am deeply touched by your kind words and warmly welcome you home to the Catholic Church! I hope you find the peace that passes understanding that I have found here. Also, It is extremely gratifying to know that the Lord can use academic research to spiritual ends; please continue to pray for me and Michael.

Anyway, as regards your final question, you have asked one of THE toughtest questions--one I am very much still thinking through. For a preliminary response to your final question, see my newest post above.

Sincerely, Brant

JAM said...

In all of this, it seems clear that Jesus is describing himself as a New Moses, who ratifies a New Covenant.

To this evidence you might also add the words of Hebrews 9, which recounts the covenant-swearing ceremony of Exodus 24 with these interesting words:

"For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, 'This is the blood of the covenant [touto to haima tes diathekes] which God commanded you.'" (Heb. 9:19-20)

But the LXX Greek of Exodus 24, quoted in Hebrews here, doesn't say "This is the blood of the covenant" - it says:

"And Moses took the blood and sprinkled it upon the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant [idou to haima tes diathekes], which the Lord has made with you concerning all these words." (Ex. 24:8, LXX)

The Hebrews 9 text seems to have taken the "This is ..." formulation from the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper (such as Mark 14:24, touto estin to haima mou tes diathekes), and placed it on Moses' lips instead of the "Behold the blood ..." formulation - probably in order to directly connect the Sinai Covenant and the Last Supper.

David said...

Dr. Pitre
No apology necessary as my wife is also pregnant with our fourth child. The talks you have given on the Jewish roots of the Eucharist, The Our Father being a New Exodus prayer and others were a tremendous help with my decision to come into the church. I had a chance to speak with you briefly about it at the last West Coast Biblical Studies conference. You and Michael will definitely be in my prayers.
I am a bit confused regarding your reference to a post. Did you post an answer to my question other than the one posted by Michael entitled "The Promise of the Land?"


Anonymous said...

Rejoicing over grain, wine, and oil has always struck me as pointing to the Eucharist and chrism.

It probably seems quite random to someone who does not have these things.


Anonymous said...

Restoration of the ten lost tribes of Israel (which is not the same as Judah) - who were deported and forced to intermarry with the foreigners - in prophetic language was described as a corpse. God restoring Israel was a corpse being brought back to life.

It strikes me that the chronologically earlier prophets considered this merely a metaphor, although of course it would be miraculous for God to pull Israel out pure from its interbreeding ways; however, the later prophets seem to start really think of the resurrection of the dead. This expectation is crystal clear in 2 Macc - which, hey, if you don't accept as canon, at least it's historical evidence of the belief, and Jews celebrate the events described therein, which validates it more to my mind.

And there's always Job 19:25-27-26, which I know best since childhood from Handel's Messiah. (Find myself singin' it every Eastertide. More of that lex orandi stuff. Lex singandi?)

Then Jesus gets out of a trap by getting the Pharisees and Sadducees to argue about this very thing. The Sadducees didn't believe in it, which is why they were sad, you see?

So...resurrection from the dead as metaphor to wild hope against hope*, to messianic fulfillment.

* It's hard to say it as strongly as an expectation per se, since the apostles and disciples were so damn shocked, even when they were told it was going to happen. The resurrection is just so outside human direct experience and least before it happened. It's all so ho hum now, something we chant in a creed in a holy coma every Sunday; we hardly realize that we are speaking a prophetic word of the Lord and causing the demons to squeal. We've lost the utter freshness of it. And I mean fresh; nothing fresher than a glorified, resurrected body.

Again, I'm no scholar; that's just my bonehead sensus fidelium. (I've noticed how largely classical and liturgical music have figured in to my sensus fidelium!)


Anonymous said...

I just have to add...personally, thinking about the restoration of my people (a nation/ethnic group level thing) vs. my body is going to be resurrected and glorified--these are two entirely different things. Only the latter can produce true and lasting hope and joy.

I have the cred to attest to that. I keep having cancery bits and failing body parts clipped out, and my life is a series of follow-up scans and blood tests if I dwell on that fact; but my truth is more than a cell count and the next excision (next Tuesday).

My Truth is a person who has the come to teach me the Way to his Life, more than a mere biological heartbeat blipping on an EKG until it doesn't, but a radiant, shimmering, overflowing LIFE, that I possess now as an overflowing river, in spite of aging and disease; and I will possess fully in the time to come. He is isness and the Life behind all life, the very Author of Life, the Lord and Giver of Life...and he's giving that to me!

Which is why I sing Handel's version of Job (& 1 Cor) every Easter, and outside Eastertide, too.

I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God.
For now is Christ risen from the dead,
the first-fruits of them that sleep.

This is a seriously beautiful song. To me, a prayer. (Well, heck, it is an oratorio.)

What difference does the difference make--metaphor or me?

I honestly don't care as much if my "people" get restored, resurrected, saved; it's too general, I don't know who you are talking about. Would that include those among my people whom I find irritating?

It's an entirely different thing to know that I will be resurrected and glorified in my body. This body. That keeps coming out piece by piece, this rotting flesh! I will be made perfect again; I don't need to stew in insecurity and fleshly grief for my vanity and call the plastic surgeon. I don't even care if the cell count goes nuts at some point and the worm gets the upper hand. That hain't the end of the story.

So, fare thee well, tribe, however it works out for y'all.

I know that my Redeemer liveth!
And in my flesh I shall see God!

Peace...not as the world gives do I give to you!


(again, not scholarly, but lived Gospel is just as real or moreso!)

Stuart said...

I just thought that I ought to add here (this seems as good a place as any on this blog) a point perhaps directed more to Brant than to Michael about whether we need to consider Yom Kippur symbolism as well as, or in parallel to, Passover symbolism. My reason for mentioning this is that Yom Kippur was very much bound up with the concept of Jubilee, the Jubilee being proclaimed on that festival. Does this linkage of atonement and Jubilee, of a comprehensive release of the poor, of Israel, humanity, and all the cosmos, from bondage to oppression, to the nations, to sin, to death and decay, hold the key to a properly orthodox liberation theology that uncovers the full depths of the deliverance wrought for us in Christ?

P.S. None of these points are original to me I hasten to add!