Friday, July 18, 2008

What did the 'Passover Cup' look like?

I had an email this morning from a pastor in Virginia asking if I knew what an ancient 'Passover' cup might have looked like?
I haven't illustrated the 'Lords Supper' as yet, so I've not done any research along these lines.

I know that Passover cups of today are fairly ornate like the one pictured, but did they have special cups that were kept just for the Passover meal in the first century, or would the Lord Jesus have used a normal pot, limestone or wooden cup supplied by the owner of the upper room?
I thought I might throw this question open to our regular readers, Bible artists and of course our resident researchers!

I was tempted to call this post 'The Quest for the Holy Grail' but I resisted!
Photo ©

Update 20 July 08:
Dr Leen Ritmeyer kindly emailed me last night with an answer to the above question. He also sent one of his very helpful pictures to illustrate the point.

One of the subjects discussed in our book "The Ritual of the Temple in the time of Christ" is the passover cup, or rather cups, for 4 cups were, and still are, used in the Passover ritual. Here is a passage of our six-page treatment of Passover: "The four cups of wine stipulated in Pesachim 10.1 (an ancient Jewish tract on Passover) as obligatory to be drunk during the feast symbolize four expressions of redemption used in the words of God to Israel in Exodus 6.6-7: "I will bring you out", "I will rid you out of their bondage", "I will redeem you" and "I will take you to me".

The cups were made of ordinary pottery - no holy grail, as you can see! Here is my illustration (above) of the 4 cups, which is based on actual cups that have been excavated.

Recently we attended a Passover ceremony at the Rabbi of Adelaide's house in Australia and indeed four cups of wine were drunk.

If you would read the Passover account in Luke chapter 22, you will see that two cups are mentioned, one in vs. 17 and one in vs. 20, while vs. 18 indicates that he did not drink the fourth or last cup, for "the Fruit of the Vine" was the collective name for all four cups.

Thanks Leen! There's also a short video that can be viewed here that backs up Dr Ritmeyer's comments.

Other 'Question' posts:
What did Jesus look like?
What did Herod's Temple look like?
What do Angels look like?
What do Cherubs look like?


Paul Green said...

I'm glad Mr. Ritmeyer's research has placed serious doubt on the Holy Grail legend with this historically based information Graham. Jesus' message was of the spirit and attachment to healing cloaks, golden cups or crosses which in turn become objects of worship is materialistic and superstitious.

Bible artist said...

Yes, the fact that there were 4 cups and not one used at the Passover meal, and that the cups were simple pottery means that any fragments found would not have any great significance attached to them. It would make sense that these cups were supplied by the owner of the upper room.

Bible artist said...

Leen Ritmeyer also informed me that the Elijah cup (seen in the photo), which is an additional fifth cup which is used in the Passover meal today, is a later, probably medieval, tradition. Some link this to the fifth promise in Ex. 6.8 "I will give it [the Land] to you for an inheritance".

This fifth cup is filled with wine for Elijah, but not touched, and is poured back into the bottle at the end of the meal. According to tradition, Elijah will come to herald the coming of the Messiah. A door is opened at the end of the meal for Elijah to enter, and the children eagerly watch the top of the 'Elijah cup' for ripples!

When Rabbis have a disagreement over a particular theological question that they can't resolve they say "We will wait for Elijah to resolve this!"

So, for Bible illustration purposes, only four cups would have been on the table for the Passover meal.
These cups were passed from person to person at different times during the feast.

deboraw said...

There is a question that keeps niggling in the back of my mind. There were four cups, yet each person at the Passover drank out of each one of the(four)cups? Does that mean that when Jesus gave the disciples 'the cup'(Mat 26:27 And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;)which cup did he give them (of the four),and did they all drink out of the one cup? Deboraw

Bible artist said...

Good question Deboraw!..............
...........Over to you Leen!

Midnight Rider said...

It is worth noting that scholars of Rabbinic Literature do not date Mishnah Pesachim chapter 10 to the period of Jesus. Rather, it was codified c.200CE. In fact, Philo of Alexandria's (C.20 BCE - 50 CE), description of the passover ritual does not include the four cups. The ritual of the four cups was probably introduced years after the life of Jesus.

The two cups mentioned in Matthew 22 probably refer to the Jewish custom of blessing and drinking wine at the beginning and conclusion of meals.

Bible artist said...

Thanks for that Rel+.
In Philo of Alexandria's description of the passover ritual, How many cups were used?

Bible artist said...

It was Matt 26 by the way, and it definitely was the Passover meal see, Matt 26:17-18. (See also Mark 14).

Paul Green said...

Rel+ probably meant Luke 22 Graham.

Midnight Rider said...

Yes, I meant Luke 22.

Philo does not associate drinking wine with the passover ritual. Neither does Josephus(It is also not mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls or in any part of the Hebrew Bible). It seems that the ritual of the four cups of wine originated after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70CE. Therefore, I would not try and read the four cups into the Gospel's descriptions of the Last Supper.

At the time of Jesus wine was blessed at the start of the meal - this was not unique for Passover. They probably did not have a "passover cup" the way that Jews today have a special "Elijah's Cup" at the Passover meal.

A good introduction to the development of the development of
Passover rituals is:
The Origins of the Seder: The Passover Rite and Early Rabbinic Judaism By Baruch M Bokser

Midnight Rider said...

In case i wasn't clear- I am not denying that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. I am just stating that the Passover Meal in the time of Jesus did not include the ritual of the four cups.

Bible artist said...

Many thanks again for that Rel+.
Some people do believe that the Last Supper was not a passover meal because they have difficulty reconciling John 28:18 with the other Gospel accounts.

I have to admit that I hadn't noticed the cup being mentioned twice in Luke 22 before. It does sound like the same cup being mentioned though. The first time it's passed around, the second time the Lord Jesus takes up the cup and makes a statement about it.

I think we have answered the original question "What would the passover cup have looked like". We just haven't come to a conclusion on how many cups there were!

Christian said...

Dear Graham and all the rest :),

I would like to point out that rel+ is also correct in the use of wine (totally different study) not being used in the passover. It is for this one reason: Wine has yeast in it. Yeast is leaven. Leaven was forbidden (Exodus 12:18-19). Therefore wine would not have been used. A good book to read on the wine disscussion is "Biblical Wines: Or The Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients" by William Patton published 1871.

It is interesting that within the accounts of Moses declaring the Passover (Exodus 12 specifically) there is no mention of any cup. So now we ask the question: where did the cup tradition come from. The fact that Jesus focuses upon the cup gives a stamp of authority to it. But where did it come from?

Graham, Where was that in John? I saw the Passover account in John 13 but have had difficulty finding John 28. Did you mean Matthew 28?

Great Discussion going here.


Bible artist said...

Hi Christian
Sorry! I got my numbers the wrong way around!
(It must be all the wine that we're discussing!) ;0p
I meant John 18:28. My apologies!

Because of this verse some argue that the passover wasn't until the next day.

deboraw said...

Graham, Great discussion, and very interesting. Jewish day went from evening to evening is that what the problem concerning the start of the "Passover" in John 18:28 could be? I still have the question at the meal wouldn't every one have their own cup, rather than pass the 'one' cup from person to person? I had noticed the two cups in Luke, but thought that they were perhaps the same cup, just mentioned twice. Also, was fermented 'wine' drank often? When the scriptures speak of 'wine' it can also be unfermented grape juice. As Samuel's mother says in 1Sa 1:15 'And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I poured out my soul before Jehovah. 1Sa 1:16 Count not thy handmaid for a wicked woman;...' then as now there were some things 'decent folks' didn't do. Drinking 'strong drink' would have been one of them...yes? Deboraw

Bible artist said...

There's more on the John 18:28 question at the web address below.
(You will need to paste the two halfs of this address together).

Yes Deboraw, there are lots of biblical viewpoints that need to be taken into account when trying to answer a question like this. I expect that there will be a few more opinions expressed before long.
I would like to do a more detailed study, (when time allows), of the basic eating/drinking habits etc in Bible times. I do have some books on this, I just need to find time to read them-!!

I would like to hear a few more thoughts on this though.

deboraw said...

Graham, Thank you for your reply. I had never thought that there was a problem (about the Passover super). Probably because the scriptures tell us it was the Passover (as Bro. Wayne so excellently explained). When I see something I don't understand, I realize it is my understanding not scripture--The truth always supports the scriptures. I was excited that you referenced the Christian Courier. That also is one of my 'sites', but I need to make better use of it I see. Bro. Jackson probably has something on the 'cups' too. As you say, all I need is more time to read/study etc. (I don't know why folks want to eat around here...I tell my children--eating is what we do when there isn't anything else to do. They didn't appreciate that thought. :) Keep up the good work. Deboraw

silvereagle777 said...

The cups used by Jesus at Passover supper were not made of pottery or metal, because of the Jewish rites of purification at the time. The cups were either wood (which I beleive it was) or limestone. And Jesus did drink real fermented wine. To think otherwise would be ludicrous, and I am an Evangelical minister. Rev. M. Marca

Anonymous said...

Dear Friends,

Jesus couldn't have drunk fermented wine during the Last Supper because:

(1) The Last Supper was a Passover meal (The Bible, Luke 22:14-18 and John 13) during the time when God punishes any Jews who consume yeast, the source of fermentation (The Bible, Exodus 12:19-20). Thus, if Jesus had drunk anything with yeast in it during the Last Supper, he would have committed the sin of disobedience, and could not have been crucified as our sinless Saviour. (See The Bible, Hebrews 4:14-16 and 5:8, and Matthew 4:4 and 5:17-48, on the importance of Jesus' sinless obedience to his heavenly Father.)

(2) Jesus was and is our high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (The Bible, Hebrews 6:20 and 7:1-28; compare Geza Vermes' The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, pp. 500-02, which shows that ancient Jews considered Melchizedek to be a Messianic figure, the "Heavenly Prince" who will preside over Judgment Day). Jesus' role as a priest is important to the issue of whether he drank fermented wine at the Last Supper, because Jewish priests were not allowed to drink alcohol, certainly not during periods of ministry (The Bible, Leviticus 10:1-11). During the Last Supper, Jesus was about to engage in the most important part of his ministry, the offering of himself on the cross for the sins of humanity (The Bible, Hebrews 7:27). Thus, Jesus would not have consumed alcohol during this time, because he would have become guilty of disobedience to his Father's commands, and would have been unable to die sinlessly as our Saviour.

(3) The Greek word translated "wine" in the King James Version of the Last Supper stories can mean unfermented grape juice in the Passover context. Thus, I have enjoyed unfermented juice at all of my Christian communions and at Jewish communal feasts that inspired the Christian communion.

On the issue of what Jesus' Passover cup looked like, I agree that Jesus' cup was probably very ordinary looking. Jesus was a humble man (The Bible, Philippians 2:5-9), and he set an example of humility by washing his disciple's feet right after the Last Supper (The Bible, John 13). Thus, the fictional movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" was likely correct to say that "the cup of a carpenter" would be humble, not jeweled. Further, the cup would not have any magical powers. Such ideas are idolatrous. Also, gnostic theories that the holy grail was either John the Baptist's head or some lovechild by Mary Magdalene are totally unbiblical nonsense.

God bless you!