Book Review: Clemens Leonhard, The Jewish Pesach and the Origins of the Christian Easter


Here’s an old book review I published back in 2009 in the Review of Biblical Literature, when I was still teaching at the University of Dayton as a Lecturer in the Religious Studies Department. I’m posting it here for those of you who do not regularly keep tabs on the Review of Biblical Literature, just in case you are interested. Leonhard’s book is impressive in many ways. One of my disappointments, however, was his starting point when assessing the antiquity of Jewish traditions, and particularly the Passover narrative recounted during Passover Seder meals. He begins explicitly from a position of suspicion. He doubts the antiquity of the tradition, assuming the latest date possible. This raises the debate about methodology. Obviously this is a contested issue. When examining ancient texts, should we assume they are later than they purport to be? What sort of evidence indicates a tradition’s antiquity? Leonhard goes so far as to suggest that the final form of the Passover story in Exodus 12, dates the time of the pilgrimages during the Second Temple period, like those recounted by the first century A.D. Jewish historian Josephus. He also suggests that the earliest use of the exodus story at Passover might be no earlier than the first written examples that have survived, from the medieval period. His work brings up a whole host of questions about methodology that are important to consider as we think about the history of biblical interpretation.

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