How Jesus Celebrated Passover: Renaissance Scholars and the Jewish Origins of Christianity

Professor Anthony Grafton, Henry Putnam University Professor of History, Princeton University

Presented with the Sydney Intellectual History Network

13 August, 2014

In the 14th and 15th centuries, patrons and painters multiplied images of the Last Supper across Europe: images that represented Jesus’s last meal as a Christian event. In the same period, however, Christian scholars also began to wonder what it meant that Jesus had celebrated the Jewish Passover with his disciples. Some tried to recreate the rituals in which the Saviour would have taken part. As Christians learned more about Passover and applied their new knowledge to the Last Supper, their vision of that founding event in Christianity shifted in radical ways. This lecture uses multiple forms of evidence to explore that shift–and the wider ways in which early modern scholars and artists recast the story of Christian origins.

Professor Anthony Grafton

Professor Anthony Grafton is the Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University. His special interests lie in the cultural history of Renaissance Europe, the history of books and readers, the history of scholarship and education in the West from Antiquity to the 19th century, and the history of science from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Professor Grafton is the author of ten books and the co-author, editor, co-editor, or translator of nine others. Two collections of essays, Defenders of the Text (1991) and Bring Out Your Dead (2001), cover most of the topics and themes that appeal to him. He has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1989), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (1993), the Balzan Prize for History of Humanities (2002), and the Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award (2003), and is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the British Academy. In 2011 he served as President of the American Historical Association.

Professor Grafton’s current project is a large-scale study of the science of chronology in 16th- and 17th-century Europe: how scholars attempted to assign dates to past events, reconstruct ancient calendars, and reconcile the Bible with competing accounts of the past. He hopes to reconstruct the complex and dramatic process by which the biblical regime of historical time collapsed, concentrating on the first half of the 17th century.