- Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper © 2011
- Doubleday Religion
- 240 pages
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist is a fascinating, meaty-yet-readable book on the Last Supper.
Pitre takes Jesus’ Jewishness seriously as he examines just what his Last Supper would look like through Jewish eyes. In a way, he reminds me of what Kenneth Bailey did in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. The Lord’s Supper (or Communion, or Eucharist) has been so ritualized, it’s difficult to see what sort of impact it would have made on a group of disciples who gathered to celebrate the feast of Passover.
Each of these ideas are explored:
- The Last Supper was the inauguration of the new exodus. The Jewish people were longing for freedom from Roman oppression—they longed to see the promises of the prophets realized. In order for a new exodus to happen, there had to (presumably) be a new Passover. That’s precisely what the Lord’s Supper is.
- The Last Supper was a new Passover. Pitre delved into the Passover story of Exodus 12, explaining how it was celebrated in Exodus, in the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day, and how it differs from today’s Seder meal. Jesus identified his body and blood with the Passover sacrifice, effectively reinterpreting Passover itself.
- The Bread of the Last Supper is like manna—divine food. Here’s one area where the book shines. Pitre made a number of connections between manna and the bread of the new covenant that I had never thought of before. I would challenge his understanding of “daily bread” from the Lord’s prayer (according to Eugene Peterson in Eat This Book, it’s more “Wonderbread” than “supersubstantial bread”). Still, that’s a minor quibble.
- The Bread of the Last Supper (and the wine) is related to the Old Testament’s Bread of the Presence. Again, Pitre makes a number of substantial connections here between the Face of God in the Showbread and the body of Jesus in the Eucharist.
- Perhaps the most interesting chapter (albeit confessedly the most speculative) was the idea that Jesus didn’t finish the Passover meal until he took the bitter wine just before his death on the cross. The fourth cup was drank after his sacrifice was effectively finished.
These chapters are all very well reasoned. Any pastor would do well to brush up on his Bible by reading this book in advance of Easter. Many of the points have already worked their way into my own preaching.
My only problem with the book is Pitre’s desire to defend the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. In the introduction, he relates a gripping and tragic story about being grilled on this doctrine. Then, throughout the book, there are subtle as well as not-so-subtle interjections on why a Jewish understanding of the Last Supper supports traditional Roman Catholic doctrine.
I’m sure it’s my Protestant sensibilities speaking, but understanding the Jewish roots of the Last Supper is no slam-dunk defense of transubstantiation. Pitre admits near the end that most of these thoughts have been around since the early church fathers. I don’t see any new information in this volume that would sway my understanding one way or another.
Whether you’re Protestant or Catholic, this book will inspire your Lenten reflections en route to Easter.
Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided at no cost through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s program.