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Interpreting the Last Supper: Sacrice,
Spiritualization, and Anti-Sacrice
Dept of Religion, Boston University, 745 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA
02215, USA
Some scholars view the Last Supper as a symbolic action, one that articulates a
rejection of the Jewish temple. This essay presents an alternative approach. The
Last Supper traditions are more subtle than is generally recognized. Also, a good
deal of evidence demonstrates that the temple remained an important institution
in early Christian practice and thought. Therefore it is necessary to drop the prob-
lematic practice of describing sacrificial metaphors as spiritualizations of the
cult. Rather, we should place the sacrificial metaphors of the Last Supper tradition
within the broader ancient Jewish effort to channel the temples sanctity into vari-
ous non-sacrificial practices, such as eating and praying.
This study sets out to examine some matters pertaining to the Last Supper
and eucharistic traditions of the NT. In particular, the goal is to situate these tra-
ditions in the context of ancient Jewish and early Christian attitudes toward the
temple cult in Jerusalem. It is, of course, rather common for NT scholars to set the
Last Supper in one Jewish context or another.
While few scholars today would
endorse without qualification J. Jeremiass identification of the Last Supper as a
Passover Seder, practically all scholars currently working on these materials con-
sider the Seder ritual to be one of a small number of Jewish rites that are viewed
as possible backgrounds for the Last Supper.
Other candidates typically con-
sidered include Jewish meal practices more generally, Qumranic meal practices in
1 On the Last Supper generally and for summaries of scholarly views, see R. F. OToole, Last
Supper, ABD 4.23441, and G. Theissen and A. Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive
Guide (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1998) 40539. The classic treatment remains J. Jeremias,
The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (3rd edn; London: SCM, 1966). Recent fuller treatments of the
eucharist that treat also questions of origins and the Last Supper include: J. Koenig, The Feast
of the Worlds Redemption: Eucharistic Origins and Christian Mission (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity
Press International, 2000); E. Mazza, The Celebration of the Eucharist: The Origin of the Rite
and the Development of Its Interpretation (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1999).
2 See, for instance, Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 2636; Mazza, The Celebration, 1928; OToole,
Last Supper, 236; and Theissen and Merz, The Historical Jesus, 41213.
New Test. Stud. , pp. . Printed in the United Kingdom Cambridge University Press Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
particular, and then variations on these themes prayers before meals, prayers
after meals, and so forth. For the most part, however, ancient Jewish sacrificial rit-
uals tend to play a different role in the current discussion. Sacrifice is not one of
those contexts within which Last Supper traditions are typically placed. Ancient
Jewish sacrifice, rather, tends to be the context which Last Supper traditions are
typically set against.
In recent years, a number of scholars representing a broad range of
approaches have articulated interpretations of these NT traditions that can
accurately be called anti-sacrificial. In a nutshell, the kind of interpretation I
hope to examine and counter here involves the effort to isolate in the Last Supper
narratives (whether historical or not) a symbolic action that critiques the
Jerusalem cult. While this reading of the Last Supper traditions may not be pre-
dominant, it is common, and articulated by at least three distinct groups of schol-
ars. The first group includes the Jesus Seminar, which reads the eucharistic
traditions as if they were violations of Jewish purity codes. The Jesus Seminar then
rejects the historicity of these traditions, precisely because such a perspective is
deemed too radical to be historical.
A second group of scholars which includes
Tom Wright, Bruce Chilton, Gerd Theissen, and Annette Merz also finds in the
Last Supper traditions some rejection of Jewish cultic practice. But these scholars
differ from the Jesus Seminar in that they accept the essential historicity of the
Last Supper event. Focusing on the sacrificial implications of the Last Supper tra-
ditions, these scholars then link the Last Supper with Jesus action in the temple,
all to suggest that Jesus first articulated a rejection of the Jerusalem cult and then
instituted an alternative sacrificial programme.
Still another group of scholars
interprets the traditions in ways similar to the second group, but this third group
is less interested in the historical Jesus per se. This group includes Gillian Feeley-
2 JoNn1nnN xInwnNs
3 Some scholars consider the todah (thanksgiving) sacrifice to be a possible background
for the Last Supper. But typically, if the todah is considered, it is only in its alleged non-
sacrificial form; see OToole, Last Supper, 2367, and X. Lon-Dufour, Sharing the
Eucharistic Bread: The Witness of the New Testament (New York: Paulist, 1987) 404, both
building on H. Gese, The Origin of the Lords Supper, Essays on Biblical Theology
(Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1981).
4 See, e.g., R. W. Funk, R. W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus (San Francisco,
CA: HarperCollins, 1998) 139. The argument made in these works will be analysed in greater
detail below.
5 B. Chilton, A Feast of Meanings: Eucharistic Theologies from Jesus through Johannine Circles
(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994) 4674; Chilton, The Temple of Jesus: His Sacrificial Program Within a
Cultural History of Sacrifice (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992)
1504; cf. Chilton, Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography (New York: Doubleday, 2000) 2504;
Theissen and Merz, The Historical Jesus, 4236; and N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996) 55463. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
Harnik, Robert Hamerton-Kelly, and (in an earlier stage of his work) Jacob
The approaches taken by these scholars vary rather widely, as will be seen
below. Nonetheless, one thread that ties them together is the reading of the Last
Supper traditions (however they are to be dated) as if they articulated a rejection
of common Jewish sacrificial devotion. In raising some challenges to this per-
spective, the goal of this essay is two-fold: first, to contribute to the ongoing dis-
cussion of the historicity of the Last Supper traditions, while remaining within the
confines of a brief study;
and second, to raise some questions regarding the ways
in which these issues have been and continue to be approached in the field of NT
I. History, symbol, and metaphor
A good starting point for a consideration of the historical reliability of the
Last Supper traditions is John Crossans schematization of the sources, in which
he ascribes the Last Supper complex to the earliest historical stratum (3060 CE),
awarding it high marks for multiple attestation.
This much is clear, even if we
allow that there is sufficient room for debate concerning which of the accounts
(e.g. Markan or Pauline) brings us further back in time.
Although this debate is
out of fashion, there is even sufficient room to question the relative value of the
shorter and longer forms of the Gospel of Luke.
Even so, the antiquity and mul-
tiple attestation of the Last Supper tradition can hardly be questioned.
Interpreting the Last Supper 3
6 G. Feeley-Harnik, The Lords Table: The Meaning of Food in Early Judaism and Christianity
(Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1994) 10764; R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel
and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1994) 435;
J. Neusner, Money-Changers in the Temple: The Mishnahs Explanation, NTS 35 (1989)
7 It is not possible to review or even properly cite the vast scholarship on these important
themes. For such reviews, see the literature cited in n. 1.
8 J. D. Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (San Francisco,
CA: HarperCollins, 1991) 3607, 4356.
9 For brief reviews of the Last Supper texts, see (in addition to the standard commentaries)
Lon-Dufour, Sharing the Eucharistic Bread, 77179; OToole, Last Supper, 2379; Theissen
and Merz, The Historical Jesus, 41423; cf., of course, Jeremias, Eucharistic Words.
10 On the debate concerning the shorter and longer forms of Luke, see B. Metzger, A Textual
Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: UBS, 1971) 1737 (prefers the longer ver-
sion); J. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke XXXIV (AB 28A; New York: Doubleday, 1985)
13879 (even stronger preference for the longer version). But see B. D. Ehrman, The Orthodox
Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New
Testament (New York: Oxford, 1993) 197209 (who prefers the shorter text). Though Jeremias
originally preferred the shorter version, subsequent editions of his work joined the current
consensus favouring the longer text; see Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 13959. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
Despite the fact that virtually all grant the relative antiquity and multiplicity of
the Last Supper traditions, many scholars Crossan prominent among them go
on to reject the historicity of these accounts. Indeed, the bulk of the so-called
New Questers deny the essential historicity of the Last Supper traditions while
many, but not all, of the so-called Third Questers accept the historicity of some
type of Last Supper event.
For some of the sceptics (such as Crossan), one reason
to do so is the fact that chapters 9 and 10 of the Didache which certainly consti-
tute two of our earliest sources for eucharistic rituals say nothing of the Last
But this argument can hardly be decisive. Didache 7.14 speaks of the
rules for baptism without recalling the narrative gospel setting, mentioning
neither John the Baptist nor the fact that Jesus himself was baptized. While the
Didache is clearly interested in the regulations for baptism and eucharist, it is
equally uninterested in the narratives behind those rites. The silence of the
Didache, therefore, should not be considered to be a decisive argument against
the historicity of the Last Supper traditions.
A second argument against the historicity of the Last Supper traditions one
that brings us closer to our main concern is the above-mentioned claim that the
Last Supper traditions are too scandalous to be credible. For a few historians, the
essence of the Bread from Heaven discourse in John 6.3559 is taken at face value
and turned on its head: if the Jews contemporary to Jesus could not believe or
understand that a Jewish person would say or even think of something to the
4 JoNn1nnN xInwnNs
11 We follow here Wrights distinction of New Quest vs. Third Quest: see his Jesus and the
Victory of God, 28124. Among those who deny the historicity of the Last Supper tradition are
Crossan (see n. 8 above); B. Mack, A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins
(Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1988) 2718, 298304; and the Jesus Seminar: see The Five Gospels,
11718, 260, 3878, 41822; and The Acts of Jesus, 13942, 2501, 3478. See also M. J. Borg, Jesus:
A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and The Life of Discipleship (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row,
1987) 177, 1878 n. 27 (where historicity is strongly doubted); but compare Borgs statement
in Borg and Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (New York: HarperCollins, 1999) 87,
263 n. 31 (where historicity is doubted but still entertained as possible). Among those who
accept the Last Supper traditions as historically plausible are Chilton, Theissen and Merz,
and Wright (see n. 5). Others who accept the historicity of the tradition include Paula
Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999) 11719, 2412, 252, and E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of
Jesus (London: Penguin, 1993) 2634; cf. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia, PA:
Fortress, 1985) 107.
12 Crossan, The Historical Jesus, 3612.
13 Generally on the Didache and the eucharist, see J. Draper, The Didache in Modern Research:
An Overview, in Draper, ed., The Didache in Modern Research (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996) 142,
esp. 2631; J. Betz, The Eucharist in the Didache, reprinted in The Didache in Modern
Research, 24475; and E. Mazza, Didache 910: Elements of a Eucharistic Interpretation, in
The Didache in Modern Research, 27699. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
effect of Eat my flesh or Drink my blood, then it must in fact be impossible for
Jesus to have equated his body with bread and his blood with wine.
It is essential, however, to note two important facts regarding the sixth chap-
ter of the fourth Gospel. First, the passage with its depiction of the Jews as mur-
is quite obviously polemical. Second, the text provides no reason to
assume that concerns with purity per se are at work here. The thrust of the entire
passage in a fashion typical of the fourth Gospel is to present the Jews of Jesus
time as unduly incredulous.
Where Jesus is said to have said I am the bread
come down from heaven (6.41), Jesus Jewish opponents are depicted as object-
ing, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (6.52). They are also said to have
wondered how Jesus whose parents were known to all could possibly have
been sent from heaven (6.42). The Jews here are depicted as if they were theologi-
cally challenged: they reject the practical possibility of both Jesus coming down
from heaven and Jesus feeding people with his own flesh. The scandal (6.61) of
the passage need not have anything to do with the blood taboo in particular.
So the question arises: can the ironic statements attributed to the Jews in
John 6 be used to argue against the historical likelihood that Jesus said something
to the effect of the eucharistic traditions, as preserved in Mark 14.225 or even 1
Cor 11.236? Here we come upon a significant problem facing those who wish to
use a modified criterion of dissimilarity to reject the historical plausibility of those
Jesus sayings that presumably do not fit reasonably within a Jewish context.
regard to our topic this kind of argument is used in two ways. For some, such as
the Jesus Seminar, this kind of logic is used to dismiss out of hand the plausibility
of the Last Supper traditions.
But even among less sceptical scholars, it is not at
all uncommon to find discussions of the relative dating of Last Supper traditions
which give priority to whichever version of the saying can be inferred to be less
Interpreting the Last Supper 5
14 See Funk et al., The Acts of Jesus, 139; cf. Chilton, Rabbi Jesus, 2523, and M. Smith, Jesus the
Magician (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1978) 123. See also J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth:
His Life, Times, and Teaching (New York: Macmillan, 1925) 3249. Cf. the earlier efforts of
R. Bultmann to attribute the origin of the Last Supper traditions to the Hellenistic church in
his The History of the Synoptic Tradition (New York: Harper & Row, 1976) 2656, and Theology
of the New Testament (2 vols; New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1951) 1.578, 14452.
15 John 6.41; cf. Exod 16.2ff. LXX.
16 Cf. S. Sandmel, Anti-Semitism in the New Testament? (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1978) 10119,
esp. 103: The Jews in John are depicted as lacking all religious insight . . .. On Johns irony
and on the Jews as the victims of that irony see R. A. Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth
Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1983) esp. 151202.
17 On this usage of the criterion of dissimilarity (by Sanders and others), see Wright, Jesus and
the Victory of God, 856, 1313. See also Theissen, Historical Scepticism and the Criteria of
Jesus Research; or, My Attempt to Leap Across Lessings Yawning Gulf, SJT 49 (1996) 14776;
and Theissen and Merz, The Historical Jesus, 11518, 147.
18 The Jesus Seminar, Acts of Jesus, 139; cf. the literature cited in n. 14 above. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
offensive to Jewish ears. For example, some prefer the Pauline formulation This
is the new covenant in my blood (1 Cor 11.25; cf. Luke 22.20) over the Markan This
is my blood of the (new) covenant (Mark 14.24; cf. Matt 26.28) because the latter
ostensibly draws greater attention to the scandal of drinking blood.
The closer
we come to an image of people drinking blood so this argument goes the fur-
ther we must be from any authentic first-century Jewish context.
Yet this reasoning can only plausibly apply to cases where the saying in ques-
tionis sufficiently unambiguous. As ambiguity increases, towhatever extent, sothe
applicability of this kind of argument decreases, and to the same extent. One
important starting point for any analysis of the Last Supper traditions must be the
recognition that the eucharistic words ascribed to Jesus in Mark 14.225, 1 Cor
11.236 and even John 6.3559 are not nearly as unambiguous as Jesus stock
Jewish opponents in John 6 make themout to be. I do take it as axiomatic that it is
perhaps impossible to conceive of a plausible first-century CE Jewish teacher who
advocates the eating of humanflesh, or the drinking of blood of any species. Yet, as
has been often pointed out,
neither human flesh nor blood of any sort was actu-
allyconsumedbyJesus, his followers, members of theearlychurch, or even, for that
matter, by Catholics after the fourthLateranCouncil in1215. Evenwhenperformed
by Christians with a firmbelief in the doctrine of transubstantiation, no violation
of Jewish purity codes takes place in any enactment of eucharistic traditions.
Howthenare we to understand the actions and words attributed to Jesus inthe
Last Supper traditions? Inthe realmof words, the framework tokeepinmindis that
of metaphor. Sufficient work has been done rethinking the long-standing anti-
metaphorical biasinWesternthought fromAristotleonwards. Thosewhohaveread
theworksof G. B. Caird, P. Ricoeur, or evenG. Lakoff andM. Johnson, knowwell that
metaphor cannot be properly dismissed as merely secondary or ornamental.
6 JoNn1nnN xInwnNs
19 See, for example, OToole, Last Supper, 238, and Theissen and Merz, The Historical Jesus,
4212, both of whom use this kind of logic to give priority to the Pauline formulation over the
Markan. N. Beck, The Last Supper as an Efficacious Symbolic Act, JBL 89 (1970) 1928, puts
forward an even bolder argument, claiming that the saying over the cup in any formulation
is inherently offensive to Jews, and that therefore only the saying over the bread has a strong
claim for authenticity. Jeremias, on the other hand, evaluates the traditions in a similar
fashion, but then argues by lectio difficilior that the Markan formulation (ostensibly the
most offensive) must be more authentic (Eucharistic Words, 1701, 212).
20 W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology
(London: SPCK, 1968) 24556.
21 G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible (London: Duckworth, 1980); P. Ricoeur,
The Symbolism of Evil (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969); G. Lakoff and M. Johnson, Metaphors We
Live By (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1980). On metaphor generally, see D. R. Stiver,
The Philosophy of Religious Language: Sign, Symbol, and Story (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1996)
11233. For an anthropological take on the issue dealing directly with the eucharist see
J. W. Fernandez, Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes in Culture (Bloomington,
IN: Indiana University, 1986) 2870. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
Metaphor is often primary and fundamental, and it is at the very least expressive.
Since biblical and ancient Jewish literature is chock full of metaphor,
we can-
not by any means accept the depiction of Jews in the sixth chapter of Johns
Gospel as accurate: ancient Jews were certainly capable of understanding
metaphors (both old and new), and they were even adept at creating newones. We
cancertainly accept as reasonable the picture we get fromall our sources that Jesus
fromtime to time spoke in parables (i.e., metaphorically).
Indeed, it is difficult to
conceive of any understanding of Jesus words at the Last Supper that does not
grant on some level (stated or not) that his equation of wine with blood and bread
with flesh is a metaphor of some sort.
Thus even before we assess the sources
more closely, the possibility that Jesus, at what turnedout tobe afinal meal withhis
disciples, metaphorically interpreted the basic meal elements (bread and wine)
in light of his own impending death cannot be excluded fromthe realmof prob-
ability. But we cannot stop here, for what Jesus is alleged to have done at this Last
Supper is not merely a saying.
In the realm of behaviour, one interpretive framework to keep in mind is that
of the symbolic act. It is indeed rather common for scholars to contextualize the
Last Supper within the tradition of the symbolic actions of Israels prophets.
course, such symbolic acts are, practically by definition, provocative ones.
Sufficient scriptural basis for this can easily be found, from Hoseas marrying a
prostitute (Hos 12) to Ezekiels consumption of scrolls and dung (Ezek 2.83.3;
4.917). When we keep in mind the long tradition of provocative prophetic sym-
bolic actions, Jesus behaviour at the Last Supper even when coupled with his
provocative metaphors comes off as rather tame. In the end, these two well-
documented phenomena metaphor and symbolic action provide sufficient
cultural context to allow for one to situate the words and actions attributed to
Jesus in Last Supper traditions within a plausible first-century Jewish context.
But if these considerations are sufficient to establish the historical plausibility
of the Last Supper traditions, they are not sufficient for full contextual interpre-
Interpreting the Last Supper 7
22 On biblical metaphors, see Caird, Language and Imagery, and H. Eilberg-Schwartz, The
Savage in Judaism: An Anthropology of Israelite Religion and Ancient Judaism(Bloomington,
IN: Indiana University, 1990) 11540. On sacrificial metaphors see below, and see J. Klawans,
Pure Violence: Sacrifice and Defilement in Ancient Israel, HTR 94 (2001) 13355.
23 Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, 31646.
24 Cairds brief treatment is to the point; see Language and Imagery, 1012. This view holds true
only with the provision that we view metaphor as creative and expressive, not as merely
ornamental; cf. N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, (Minneapolis:
Fortress, 1992), 12930, 135.
25 E.g. Beck, The Last Supper as an Efficacious Symbolic Act, 1928; Fredriksen, Jesus of
Nazareth, 242; OToole, Last Supper, 238; Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, 4316; Wright,
Jesus and the Victory of God, 55861. For a more thorough treatment, see Scot McKnight,
Jesus and Prophetic Actions, BBR 10 (2000) 197232. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
tation of these texts. In fact the danger here lies precisely in the fact that symbolic
acts were often provocative ones. This has encouraged scholars to take Jesus
metaphorical words and symbolic actions as an expression of his alleged rejection
of the temple cult. Thus scholars with some frequency speak of the Last Supper as
an efficacious symbolic act that either controverts or spiritualizes the flawed
sacrificial worship of ancient Judaism. We briefly cite some examples. For Gillian
Feeley-Harnik, the eucharist of the Last Supper traditions serves as the ritual pre-
liminary to the genuine and superior sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus sacrifice, in turn,
provides a healthy alternative to Jewish sacrificial and dietary rules, whose adher-
ents were (and are?) spiritually hungry.
For Robert Hamerton-Kelly, the
eucharist is an inversion of the temple service, which is helplessly and hopelessly
To turn to sounder and more recent works, for Gerd Theissen and
Annette Merz, the eucharist serves to replace provisionally the temple cult which
had become obsolete.
For Bruce Chilton, Jesus eucharistic words lay out an
alternative to the temple service which, in Chiltons reconstruction, was flawed,
but not hopelessly so. Because Jesus attempt at reforming the temple failed, he
provided an alternative a surrogate for sacrifice, which is preserved in the Last
Supper traditions.
For Tom Wright, the Last Supper is to be correlated with the
temple-action, and interpreted in light of it, with both symbolic actions being
taken as articulations of Jesus eschatological message.
Some of these treatments are, in truth, typological indictments of the Jewish
religion, only thinly veiled by a scholarly apparatus.
On the other hand, Chiltons
and Wrights treatments are much more sophisticated, and with equal measure,
much less critical (if at all) of ancient Jewish religion. Nonetheless, there is a trou-
bling double standard in many of these treatments, for they operate on the
assumption that the balance of symbol and metaphor in ancient Judaism is tipped
in Jesus favour. When compared to the Last Supper, sacrifice always comes up
short, whether it is deemed to be corrupt, flawed, outmoded, or spiritually inade-
8 JoNn1nnN xInwnNs
26 Feeley-Harnik, The Lords Table, 139, 168.
27 Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred, 1920, 44.
28 Theissen and Merz, The Historical Jesus, 434.
29 Chilton, Feast of Meanings, 4674; The Temple of Jesus, 11354. In Chiltons view, Jesus cri-
tique of the temple concerns whether or not animals purchased at the temple site itself were
truly owned by the worshippers who paid for them. Chilton believes that Jesus alternative
programme may have been developed over a series of meals late in his life, instead of at one
single Last Supper.
30 Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 55464; cf. 40528. In Wrights reading, if the temple and
its ritual were flawed, they were so primarily in the sense that everything of this world is
flawed in comparison to what will come in the next. The temple is not to be replaced by the
eucharist, but by Jesus death directly.
31 Hamerton-Kellys Gospel and the Sacred and Feeley-Harniks The Lords Table both read, at
times, frighteningly like Melito of Sardiss Paschal sermon. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
In order to evaluate more carefully the language attributed to Jesus in the
eucharistic traditions, we have to keep in mind not only the symbolic acts of
Israels prophets, but also the symbolic actions of Israels priests: animal sacrifice.
In recognizing the symbolic dimensions of ancient Jewish sacrifice, a good deal of
progress has been made of late in part by some of the same scholars (especially
Chilton and Wright) who then go on to interpret the eucharist as a rejection of the
But I think there are two inherent problems with any interpretation of the
eucharistic traditions that attempts to ascribe to them an articulation of a cultic
critique; each of these will be explored in the remaining sections of this article.
The first problem is a historical one: Jesus followers did not separate themselves
from the temple and its sacrificial worship. The second problem is a method-
ological one: there is good reason to question some of the assumptions by which
early Christian sacrificial metaphors are typically interpreted.
II. The Last Supper and the temple in the early church
One good place to begin an evaluation of early Christian approaches to the
temple and the eucharist is with Acts account of the apostles activity in
Jerusalem (Acts 2.467; cf. 3.1; 5.42):
(46) Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke
bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, (47)
praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the
Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
This description of the disciples daily gathering to break bread and praise God is
often understood as evidence of early Christian eucharistic practice.
But I recog-
nize that this is an inference. Moreover, this source is relatively late, and there is
certainly the possibility that either Luke or the Lukan tradition fabricated the
apostles fidelity to the temple in order to present an idealized summary of
Christian beginnings.
We must surely doubt that the coterie of Jesus early fol-
lowers had the goodwill of all the people (2.47). Yet Acts has no problem with
presenting Stephens anti-temple polemic (7.153), one of the sharpest in the
entire NT. Setting aside the question of the historicity of Acts, the passage quoted
above tells us quite clearly that Luke did not interpret the Last Supper event as an
unambiguously anti-temple action.
But the question is, can we trust what Acts
Interpreting the Last Supper 9
32 Sympathetic treatments of ancient Jewish sacrifice can be found in both Chilton, Temple of
Jesus, 4567, and Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 40612.
33 Translations of Scripture are taken from NRSV, with slight modifications.
34 Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 11522.
35 J. T. Sanders, The Jews in LukeActs (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1987) 2356.
36 Cf. the assessment of C. K. Barrett, Attitudes to the Temple in the Acts of the Apostles, in
W. Horbury, ed., Templum Amicitiae: Essays on the Second Temple Presented to Ernst
Bammel (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1991) 34597. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
says of the early apostles did they also refrain from interpreting the Last Supper
event as an anti-temple action?
The testimony of Acts 2.467 can be confirmed in a number of ways. First,
there can be no doubt that the early Christian community chose to be headquar-
tered in Jerusalem. This is claimed explicitly by Acts, confirmed by Paul in
Galatians (1.18; 2.1), and virtually every church historian follows suit. As Paula
Fredriksen has emphasized, depicting the apostles as remaining in Jerusalem is a
curious choice indeed if a radically anti-temple programme was part of the pic-
ture from the earliest stage.
Another argument against an anti-sacrificial reading
of the early eucharistic traditions is the curious fact that in many of the explicitly
anti-temple passages of the NT, reference to the eucharist is notable by its
absence. This is true of Stephens speech in Acts, and it is equally true of Hebrews.
If the Last Supper really had been an unambiguously anti-temple act, why not
bring it up in such contexts?
A third confirmation of the impression conveyed by Acts 2 is to be found in
Didache 910. Assuming these two chapters to be relatively early,
what we find
discussed here could be the sort of ritual practised by the early apostles, even
after a visit to the temple. The ritual context is that of a meal: bread is broken
and prayers of thanksgiving are recited prayers which strikingly resemble
Jewish after-meal prayers.
The liturgies of Didache 910 recall the figure of
Jesus and express eschatological hopes. Importantly, nothing explicitly anti-
temple is articulated. Didache 910 agrees with the picture related in Acts 2: the
earliest Christians did not view the eucharist as an inherently anti-temple
A fourth confirmation of the general tenor of Acts 2 can be found in Pauls let-
ters, undeniably the oldest documents we have. A number of scholars including
Robert J. Daly, W. D. Davies, Bertil Grtner, Michael Newton, and, quite recently,
Paula Fredriksen have surveyed the key passages, and the consensus is that Paul
did not articulate an outright rejection of the temple.
On the contrary, the
10 JoNn1nnN xInwnNs
37 Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, 946, 106, 147.
38 See Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 11718, and the literature cited in n. 13 above.
39 The classic treatment of this parallel remains L. Finkelstein, The Birkat Ha-Mazon, JQR
n.s. 19 (19289) 21162; briefly, see Mazza, The Celebration of the Eucharist, 1517, 3078.
40 R. J. Daly, Christian Sacrifice: The Judaeo-Christian Background Before Origen (Washington,
D. C.: The Catholic University of America, 1978) 23050; W. D. Davies, The Gospel and the
Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine (Berkeley, CA: University of
California, 1974) 18594; Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, 3441, and Ultimate Reality in Ancient
Christianity: Christ and Redemption, in R. C. Neville, ed., Ultimate Realities (Albany: SUNY
Press, 2001) 6173; B. Grtner, The Temple and the Community in Qumran and the New
Testament: A Comparative Study in the Temple Symbolism of the Qumran Texts and the New
Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1965) 4770; M. Newton, The Concept of Purity
at Qumran and in the Letters of Paul (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1985) 5278. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
temple remained an important institution in Pauls thought and life. Indeed, even
Pauls discussion of the eucharist is not anti-temple (1 Cor 10.1421):
(14) Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. (15) I speak as
to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. (16) The cup of blessing
that we bless, is it not a sharing (koinwniva) in the blood of Christ? The bread
that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? (17) Because there is
one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one
bread. (18) Consider the people of Israel
(blevpete to;n Israh;l kata;
savrka); are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar (koinwnoi;
tou` qusiasthrivou)? (19) What do I imply then? That food sacrificed to idols
is anything, or that an idol is anything? (20) No, I imply that what pagans
sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be
partners with demons. (21) You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the
cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of
demons. . . .
One of the striking aspects of this passage is the fact that Paul draws an anal-
ogy between eucharist and sacrifice. But the analogy is not drawn to make the
eucharist out to be a better alternative or even a replacement for Israels service in
the sanctuary. On the contrary, the point of the passage is to underscore the seri-
ousness, legitimacy, and efficacy of Israels sacrificial service, and to present the
eucharist as similarly serious, legitimate, and efficacious. It is true that Paul refers
in verse 18 to Israel according to the flesh. But regardless of how we are to under-
stand (or translate) this phrase, it ought to be rather clear that Paul is not drawing
a black-and-white contrast between Israels service of the flesh and Christians
service of the spirit. On the contrary, the thrust of Pauls treatment of eucharist in
1 Corinthians is to claim that Christian worship like its analogue in Jerusalem
is not disembodied or abstract, but physical, tangible, and even threatened by
defilement and profanation (cf. 1 Cor 11.2731; cf. 2 Cor 7.1).
The passage quoted above is not unique in the Pauline corpus, at least not in
terms of its evaluation of Jewish sacrificial worship. Throughout his letters, Paul
draws a number of comparisons between Jewish sacrificial worship and the prac-
tices of the early Gentile Christians in his milieu. Famously, Paul compares the
community of believers to the temple in Jerusalem (1 Cor 3.1617; 6.19; 2 Cor
He also makes a habit of using sacrificial terminology when speaking of
the work of the early Christian apostles, including himself (Rom 1.9; Phil 2.17).
Interpreting the Last Supper 11
41 So NRSV. On this phrase (traditionally translated as Behold Israel according to the flesh),
see below.
42 On Pauls understanding of moral defilement as a threat to the sacred, see J. Klawans,
Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism(New York: Oxford University, 2000), 1505.
43 Davies, Gospel and the Land, 1904; Grtner, The Temple and the Community, 4760; Newton,
The Concept of Purity, 5360; cf. Daly, Christian Sacrifice, 2326, 25660.
44 Newton, The Concept of Purity, 6070; Daly, Christian Sacrifice, 24056. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
Paul also compares converts to the first fruits (aj parchv ) offered to the temple
(Rom16.5; 1 Cor 16.15), and the monetary contributions of Christian communities
to the sacred contributions that Jews devoted to the temple (Rom15.2532; 2 Cor
9.1314; Phil 4.18). And as we have seen, Paul compares Christian worship to sac-
rificial service (Rom 12.1; 1 Cor 1011).
In each of these passages, Paul employs
cultic language speaking of the temple, of sacrifices, of sacred fragrances, and of
libations to describe the significance of his own experience and work as an
apostle. In each of these passages, the comparison drawn between one kind of
service and another is both positive and constructive. Even Rom12.1, with its ref-
erence to th; n logikh; n latreiv an uJ mw` n (too frequently translated as your spiritual
worship), needs to be read in this light. Indeed, when we look a little deeper into
Pauls descriptions of sacrificial worship, we find that he affirms many of the fun-
damental theological tenets upon which ancient Jewish sacrificial worship is
based. He speaks of Gods presence in the sanctuary (1 Cor 3.16; 2 Cor 6.16; cf. Rom
He asserts that sacrifice is a mode of achieving close interaction between
the worshipper and God (1 Cor 9.13; 10.18). He also speaks of the pleasing aroma
sacrifice sent up to God (2 Cor 2.15; Phil 4.18). All of these are widely attested bib-
lical and ancient Jewish understandings of what sacrifice achieved.
In his letters
Paul affirms and even praises these notions, all without articulating any explicit
critique of the cult, or even alluding to any such critique ostensibly offered by
Yet all too often, Pauls discussions of Jewish sacrificial worship are under-
stood as examples of a phenomenon usually referred to as the spiritualization of
While it is precarious to generalize the disparate ways in which this ref-
erent can be used, there is one serious problem common to practically all uses of
the term: in order to speak of a spiritualization of sacrifice (or of any ritual for that
matter) one must assume that that particular ritual lacks all spirit (or meaning) to
begin with.
Granted, the term is often presented in quotes, and frequently
accompanied by an apology (usually an affirmation that spiritualization can be
12 JoNn1nnN xInwnNs
45 Newton, The Concept of Purity, 705.
46 On the sacrificial metaphors in Romans, see Fredriksen, Ultimate Realities, 667.
47 On sacrifice and the temple in ancient Judaism, see C. T. R. Hayward, The Jewish Temple: A
Non-Biblical Sourcebook (London: Routledge, 1996).
48 See, e.g., Daly, Christian Sacrifice, 15, 256; E. Ferguson, Spiritual Sacrifice in Early
Christianity and its Environment, ANRW2.23.2 (1980) 115289 (esp. 11625); Grtner, Temple
and Community, 4771; R. J. McKelvey, The New Temple: The Church in the New Testament
(London: Oxford University, 1969) 92124.
49 See E. Schssler-Fiorenza, Cultic Language in the NT, CBQ 38 (1976) 15977, and J. Kampen,
The Significance of the Temple in the Manuscripts of the Damascus Document, in R. A.
Kugler and E. M. Schuller, eds, The Dead Sea Scrolls at Fifty: Proceedings of the 1997 Society of
Biblical Literature Qumran Section Meetings (Atlanta, GA: Scholars, 1999) 18597. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
found within Judaism as well as without).
Nonetheless, virtually every use of the
term articulates a critique of sacrifice, practically by definition.
It is indeed a useful exercise to catalogue Pauls sacrificial metaphors along-
side Philos allegories, and other metaphorical applications of sacrificial termi-
nology including those attributed to Jesus. Yet it is another exercise altogether
and, indeed, a flawed one to group sacrificial metaphors along with cultic cri-
tiques, leaving temple ritual alone as the only thing that is not a spiritual sacri-
It is probably high time to abandon the term spiritual sacrifice altogether,
at least as a scholarly category. Instead, perhaps we should speak more neutrally
of metaphorical use of sacrificial language a phenomenon that we can see in
Paul, Philo, the rabbis, and even in the Last Supper traditions. Then we also need
to acknowledge that sacrifice itself is meaningful and symbolic, which is precisely
the reason why sacrificial terms are used metaphorically. Finally, we need to treat
metaphorical use of sacrificial terminology sympathetically, recognizing that
these metaphors frequently help us understand and appreciate the various ways
in which sacrifice was understood.
To turn sacrificial metaphors into spiritualizations of sacrifice is to misread
them. These metaphors are, rather, borrowings from sacrifice. Sacrificial
metaphors operate on the assumption of the efficacy and meaning of sacrificial
rituals, and hope to appropriate some of that meaning and apply it to something
else. A parallel to this process can be seen in the efforts exerted by various groups
of ancient Jews to infuse aspects of daily life with some of the holiness that per-
tained more directly to the temple.
Thus, the Pharisaic haburah (as described in
the second chapter of Tosefta Demai) and the Dead Sea sect (as described in 1QS)
consumed their daily food in a state of ritual purity. There is also a good deal of
evidence that Pharisees, Dead Sea sectarians, and many others as well carried out
non-sacrificial liturgical worship in a state of ritual purity (or, in some cases,
Interpreting the Last Supper 13
50 E.g. Daly, Christian Sacrifice, 45; Grtner, Temple and Community, 1819; Lon-Dufour,
Sharing the Eucharistic Bread, 43. H. J. Klauck (Sacrifice and Sacrificial Offerings [NT], ABD
5.88691) rejects the term, but for all the wrong reasons: Klauck argues (p. 891) that the term
spiritualization shortchanges the novelty and the originality of the Christian approach to
51 E.g. Fergusson, Spiritual Sacrifices, 115662; Grtner, Temple and Community, 84; McKelvey,
The New Temple, 4257; H. Ringgren, Sacrifice in the Bible (London: United Society for
Christian Literature, 1962) 5472; Wright, New Testament and the People of God, 23840.
52 See Klawans, Pure Violence.
53 Generally, see E. Regev, Non-Priestly Purity and its Religious Aspects According to Historical
Sources and Archaeological Findings, in M. J. H. M. and J. Schwartz, eds, Purity and
Holiness: The Heritage of Leviticus (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2000) 22344, and Pure Individualism,
JSJ 31 (2000) 176202. See also M. Himmelfarb, A Kingdom of Priests: The Democratization
of the Priesthood in the Literature of Second Temple Judaism, The Journal of Jewish Thought
and Philosophy 6 (1997) 89104. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
In the application of temple purity rules to meal practices and
statutory prayer we see an active effort to draw and to draw upon a comparison
between what is explicitly sacrificial (temple service) and what is not (e.g. meals
and prayer). The purpose of these comparisons is to be found, presumably, in the
effort to expand the realm of holiness, perhaps keeping in mind the dictum of
Exod 19.6, and you shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. A simi-
lar effort can be seen later, in the ascription of aspects of temple holiness to
ancient synagogues, a phenomenon that Steven Fine has referred to as imitatio
These efforts do not set up an alternative to the cult or critique the cult
in any way. Nor can we understand these efforts as spiritualizations of the cult.
On the contrary, what we find here could perhaps be better described as the sac-
rificialization of non-sacrificial worship. And what might be the purpose of
directing temple sanctity to new contexts or describing non-cultic activity in sac-
rificial terms? Such deeds and words serve to make a rather straightforward state-
ment: This too is divine service. Pauls sacrificial metaphors can and should be
understood accordingly.
Returning to 1 Cor 10.1422, one striking aspect of the passage remains to be
noted: the contrast that is drawn between proper worship on the one hand and
idolatry on the other. This contrast which is drawn elsewhere (1 Cor 8.46, 13; 2
Cor 6.16) is instructive, and it allows us to juxtapose the picture of early Christian
worship in a Pauline diaspora community with Acts picture of the apostles wor-
ship in Jerusalem. In Acts 2, we are presented with a picture of early Christians
performing both eucharistic and Jewish sacrificial rituals. In 1 Cor 10, we are pre-
sented with a different picture: that of Gentile Christians in Corinth who do not
have the option of performing sacrificial rites and eucharistic rites. Jewish sacrifi-
cial devotion outside of Jerusalem is out of the question. Other local forms of sac-
rificial devotion are equally out of the question, because they are idolatrous. And
what is Pauls message? That early Christians must choose one or the other: it is
either idolatry or the worship of God, either sacrifice or eucharist.
When we try to picture the social reality motivating Pauls statements here, I
think we can begin to understand better the origin of the anti-sacrificial perspec-
tives offered in the NT.
Paul himself did not articulate a broadly anti-sacrificial
14 JoNn1nnN xInwnNs
54 See, e.g., Tob 2.9; Jdt 12.7; and Aristeas 305; cf. the articles cited in the previous note. Evidence
for this effort cannot only be found in literature: the use of stone vessels and ritual baths is
also well attested in the first-century CE archaeological record (Regev, Non-Priestly Purity).
55 S. Fine, This Holy Place: On the Sanctity of the Synagogue during the Greco-Roman Period
(Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1997). Fine credits Z. Zevit with coining this neolo-
gism (184, n. 44). The term imitatio templi helpfully drives home the point that the effort of
channelling the sanctity that pertains to the temple (and its sacrificial cult) to non-sacrificial
worship is not a critique of the temple, any more than an act of imitatio Dei involves a cri-
tique of God.
56 Cf. the assessment of Barrett, Attitudes to the Temple in the Acts of the Apostles, 3656. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
perspective. In his view, the Jewish cult is proper and effective, though it pertains
primarily to the people of Israel (Rom 9.4). The sacrificing he does reject as inef-
fective and worse is idolatry. But to a Gentile in the diaspora, rejecting all
sacrifice but the Jerusalemcultus is little different fromrejecting all sacrifice what-
soever. The origin of the idea that the eucharist is a replacement for sacrifice is
likely to be found in this kind of social reality, among those who unlike the dis-
ciples in Jerusalem actually had to choose between two distinct options:
eucharist or sacrifice.
III. The Last Supper as sacrificial metaphor
We turn here, finally, to a brief analysis of the Last Supper traditions (Matt
26.269; Mark 14.225; Luke 22.1720; 1 Cor 11.236). The goal in this short survey is
simply to present some reflections that hopefully avoid the historical and inter-
pretive errors that we have traced above. We will not assume that sacrificial lan-
guage in these traditions must be by virtue of some alleged violation of Jewish
purity codes inauthentic. Nor will we assume that sacrificial language in these
traditions ought to be read as spiritualizations or critiques of the temple cult. We
cannot of course survey the texts in great detail, nor can we attempt here to deter-
mine which elements can reliably be attributed to the historical Jesus.
We will
first simply catalogue the aspects of these traditions that are frequently under-
stood in relation to Israels sacrificial ritual. Second, we will suggest some ways of
reaching a balanced understanding of these traditions.
The following aspects of the Last Supper traditions are frequently understood
as sacrificial on some level. First, references to flesh and blood (which appear in
all of the eucharistic traditions) have certain sacrificial connotations, though the
implications may not be exclusively sacrificial.
Second, the symbolic value of
Jesus act of giving (present in all the narrative traditions) may well draw its mean-
ing from the presence of the notion of giving in sacrificial traditions.
Third, the
expressions for you (Luke 22.19, 20; 1 Cor 11.24) and for many (Matt 26.28; Mark
14.24) may well have expiatory implications.
Fourth, the immediate juxtaposi-
tion of blood with covenant alludes rather clearly to the sacrificial covenant cere-
mony of Exod 24 (Matt 26.28; Mark 14.24; Luke 22.20; 1 Cor 11.25).
Fifth, the
Interpreting the Last Supper 15
57 For fuller treatments, see Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, and Lon-Dufour, Sharing the
Eucharistic Bread. For briefer treatments, see Theissen and Merz, The Historical Jesus, and
OToole, The Last Supper.
58 Chilton, Feast of Meanings, 6674; Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 2205; Lon-Dufour, Sharing
the Eucharistic Bread, 11756.
59 Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 2317; cf. Chilton, Feast of Meanings, 73, who speaks of the
sharing of the eucharistic elements in light of sacrificial sharing.
60 Chilton, Feast of Meanings, 712; Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 22531.
61 Lon-Dufour, Sharing the Eucharistic Bread, 14454. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
Paschal context of the gospel traditions also has sacrificial implications.
the command to do the act as a remembrance has possible sacrificial overtones as
well (Luke 22.20; 1 Cor 11.24).
It is nearly impossible for all of these aspects of the tradition to be authentic.
Indeed, there are competing sacrificial ideologies at work in these traditions. For
example, expiation and Passover are two distinct concerns, although they are
from time to time jumbled together in the literature.
Importantly, all of these
ideas can be found in the tradition recorded in 1 Cor 11, with the exception of a
clear allusion to Passover (though Paul does speak of Jesus as a Paschal lamb in
1 Cor 5.7). Without attempting to argue that the Pauline text is the most authentic
record of this tradition, I think we are duty bound to take seriously 1 Cor 11.236 as
a likely source of information regarding the historical Last Supper. Moreover, I
think that 1 Cor 11.236 provides the proper control for a more balanced evaluation
of the significance of the sacrificial language attributed to Jesus in the Last Supper
traditions. If we take 1 Cor 11 as evidence that Jesus spoke in sacrificial metaphors,
then we are duty bound not to push the sacrificial language attributed by Paul to
Jesus in this passage any further than Paul himself has pushed it in the context of
1 Cor 1011. If Paul understood this sacrificial language to mean that Jesus came to
the point where he rejected the temple outright, then how come Paul can still
speak of the temple so positively? Surely there had been no major reform of
temple practices since Jesus death. The same sort of priesthood was in charge;
the power of the Pharisees was probably pretty much the same. If we are to accept
from Paul that Jesus eucharistic words had sacrificial overtones, we must equally
accept from Paul that those overtones ought not to be understood as an outright
rejection of the Jerusalem temple. On the contrary, we are to understand Jesus
sacrificial metaphors as we understand Pauls: not as a spiritualization or a cri-
tique of the cult, but as an appropriation of, a borrowing from, the cult. This too
is divine service is what and all Jesus may have meant.
In current discussions of the historical Jesus, a number of scholars inter-
pret the Last Supper as Jesus final anti-temple act. We have presented here an
alternative to this view. Without the benefit or perhaps the hindrance of
analysing the historicity or significance of Jesus action in the temple, we have
focused rather on placing the Last Supper traditions within the context of ancient
Jewish understandings of sacrificial worship. In short, we have argued that anti-
16 JoNn1nnN xInwnNs
62 Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 2205.
63 Ibid., 23755; Lon-Dufour, Sharing the Eucharistic Bread, 10216.
64 E.g. Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 2256; Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 557. Downloaded: 06 Mar 2012 IP address:
sacrificial interpretations of the Last Supper traditions are extremely problematic.
We argued, first of all, that the sacrificial overtones in Jesus words and actions
and especially the statement over the cup ought not to lead scholars to dismiss
the Last Supper tradition as inauthentic, because of some ostensible violation of
Jewish purity laws. Those who argue in this manner forget two things: (1) that
during the Last Supper, the disciples drank wine, not blood; and (2) that ancient
Jews could recognize a metaphor when they encountered one. We then argued
that a good deal of evidence especially in Acts and Paul strongly suggests that
the temple remained an important institution in early Christian practice and
thought. According to Acts, the Jerusalem church was not radically anti-temple;
according to his epistles, Paul also regarded Jerusalems sacrificial worship highly.
Finally, we argued that both Pauls metaphors and Jesus eucharistic words and
deeds find a likely context in the multifarious and well-attested ancient Jewish
efforts to channel the temples sanctity into various other non-sacrificial prac-
tices. Reaching this conclusion, however, requires some rethinking of the ways in
which these issues are typically approached. If we grant, as we must, that sacrifi-
cial rituals had broad symbolic significance for ancient Jews, then we can come
one step closer to breaking down the analytic categories that dominate the dis-
cussion: the empty performance of sacrificial rituals on the one hand and the
spiritualization of sacrifice on the other. In their place, we could put rituals preg-
nant with symbolism on the one hand and metaphoric expansions of such sym-
bolisms on the other.
The Last Supper traditions, in their various forms, fit well within the context of
ancient Jewish applications of temple significance to non-temple rituals. And thus
the historical Last Supper was most likely not an anti-temple symbolic action.
This too is divine service is probably what and all Jesus originally intended to
Interpreting the Last Supper 17
65 I wish to thank Tom Wright and Scot McKnight for inviting me to participate in a panel dis-
cussion of Jesus death, which they coordinated as part of the Historical Jesus Section of the
2000 SBL programme in Nashville. An earlier draft of this paper was delivered and discussed
at that meeting, and I received numerous helpful comments from the panellists and partici-
pants in that section. I also wish to thank those colleagues who read over various drafts of
this paper: Paula Fredriksen, Joel Marcus, and Scot McKnight.