(Helen Bond) One of the many things that surprises me in historical Jesus research is the confidence with which a (growing number?) of scholars seem to set the death of Jesus on 7th April 30 CE (see for example Crossan and Borg’s popular study, The Last Week, SPCK, 2008). The calculation depends on astronomical data – determining the date at which Nisan 14/15 fell on a Friday – and is fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is working out when a full moon would have been visible in first century Palestine.
But there is a more serious difficulty. Scholars have long debated the relative merits of John’s dating (according to which Jesus was killed on the day of Preparation for the Passover) or Mark’s dating (according to which Jesus died on the day of Passover itself). A more likely scenario, it seems to me, and one which fits with Mk 14.2, is that Jesus was arrested and killed some days before the start of the feast, perhaps very soon after the incident in the Temple. It would be natural for Jesus’ followers to think of this as a death ‘at Passover’, and soon two competing traditions arose – one which saw Jesus metaphorically as the Passover lamb (and in the course of time moved his death to the day of Preparation, ie John’s account) and another which saw in the last supper a new Passover feast (and so moved his death to the day of Passover itself, ie Mark’s presentation). Both accounts embody theological truths, but neither are historically accurate.
It seems likely to me that Jesus did die on a Friday, and that the tomb was found the following Sunday (afterwards known for this reason as the ‘Lord’s day’). But that Friday may not have been either the day of Preparation or the Passover; more probably the feast was some time the following week. If this is the case, then astronomical calculations get us nowhere at all and Jesus may well have been executed any time between the late 20s CE (assuming some weight to Lk 3.1-2, 23) and 34 CE (Pauline chronology becomes difficult if Jesus died much later than this).
Sometimes it may be best to acknowledge that we know rather less about Jesus of Nazareth than we often care to admit.