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Ratzinger and Aquinas on the Dating of the Last Supper: In Defense of the Synoptic Chronology

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Abstract

This essay takes up the question of the dating of the Last Supper and the apparent contradiction between the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels with regard to the date of the Passover Feast in the year that Jesus died. Our point of departure is Joseph Ratzinger's consideration of the same problem in the second volume of his recent book Jesus of Nazareth, wherein he ultimately concedes the irreconcilability of the two accounts and concludes in favor of the historical accuracy of the Johannine rather the Synoptic chronology. The second part of this essay then takes up and re-proposes the solution to this apparent contradiction given by St Thomas Aquinas. The intervening centuries of ‘higher criticism’ notwithstanding, Aquinas's solution remains satisfactory inasmuch as it preserves the historical truth of all four Gospel accounts whole and entire, and does so with an historical plausibility and an elegant simplicity that is not forced to rely upon tenuous historical reconstructions. Moreover, there are strong arguments that can be drawn from the Gospel itself and from Jewish laws and customs pertaining to Passover which can be marshaled in favor of Aquinas's interpretation.

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