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Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist…

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

by Brant Pitre

Other authors: Scott Hahn (Preface)

Series: Jewish Roots

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1872263,175 (4.37)3



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This is one of the best popular theology books I've ever read. Dr. Brant Pitre has a very crisp, readable style, and he presents his information in a very logical, organized sequence. The subject matter of this book is how the Blessed Sacrament is foreshadowed and anticipated in three key ideas of the Old Covenant: the Passover sacrifice, the providence of manna from Heaven, and the Bread of the Presence. In addition to using Hebrew scripture from the Old Testament as well as Gospel teachings from the New, Dr. Pitre also uses extra-Biblical Jewish traditions to help expound the way Jews would have understood Christ's words. This is a magnificent book, and I hope Dr. Pitre writes on this in the future, perhaps with an even deeper look into the Eucharist. ( )
  charlescf | Aug 8, 2015 |
This is a wonderful book. It gives us greater depth and breadth of understanding into the mysteries of the Holy Eucharist, the precious gift of Christ to His Church. It helps us see why it is so prominent in the faith and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. We find ourselves marveling at the boundlessness of God's goodness toward humankind which invariably happens when the truth about God is unveiled for us; it vastly exceeds all that our minds could think or imagine. ( )
  allenkeith | Jun 10, 2012 |
Excellent! Enlightening! ( )
  njstitcher | Jun 5, 2012 |
Ever wonder how the Eucharistic teachings of the New Testament evolved? Where did Jesus get the idea for his Last Supper ritual? How did Paul think to tie this ritual to his theology of atonement? Why does John’s Gospel emphasize so strongly the Paschal Lamb? Why were the church fathers so adamant about tying the Eucharist to the Passover?

Because the Sacraments have deep Hebrew roots. I have studied a little about the pagan influences on the ceremony of bread and wine, this concept of “eating the body” and “drinking the blood,” but never delved much into its Hebrew side … other than to imagine how bizarre it must have appeared to God-fearing Jews, who had been taught since childhood never to ingest blood. Pitre digs into scripture and Judaic writings, and his research is fresh, scholarly, and easy to digest. If I can find more Pitre books, I’m going to snap them up.

Absolutely fascinating, and critical to Pitre’s conclusion, is a chapter in his book about the “shewbread” (showbread), what Pitre calls the “Bread of the Presence.” This bread, kept fresh in the Holy of Holies at the back of the Temple, shares a table with the libation flask, and thus links to the wine offering. Judaism has long connected the bread and the wine, back to the days of the very first priest, Melchizedek. But this holy bread carries with it a certain symbolism, understood by every Jew each time it was carried out for their viewing at the major festivals. Jesus references this “Bread of the Presence” (the presence of God, if you haven’t already guessed) directly in the Gospels, and it forms an important basis for understanding Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper.

One interesting conclusion Pitre reaches is that Jesus never finished the Passover meal with his disciples! The fourth and final cup of wine, which each participating Jew shared during the Passover celebration, was never drunk. Instead, Jesus drank this final cup just moments before his death. Pitre thus brings the theological meaning of Jesus’ timing to life in a most intriguing way.

Pitre writes from a conservative Catholic perspective, as seems appropriate. (I'm no scholar of current-day religious practices, but who finds more ritualistic meaning in the Eucharist than the Catholics?) He does lean toward a Roman Catholic understanding of the bread and wine, though he avoids the word "transubstantiation" in favor of the baggage-free phrase "reality of Jesus' presence in the Eucharist." But I guarantee Christians of all denominations will enjoy this one. ( )
  DubiousDisciple | Nov 17, 2011 |
Reviewed on my Blog: http://throughaglassonion.com/2011/02/23/pitre-eucharist/

In his Foundations of Christian Faith, Karl Rahner writes, “However much it involves the individual and brings him time and time again into the community with Christ, it is nevertheless the sacrament of the Church as such in a very radical sense” (424). For Rahner, the Eucharist is, in some ways, much more than the other six sacraments of the Church because it is the sacrament that concerns itself with the deepest mystery of the Church’s faith. The sacrament was instituted by Christ himself at the Last Supper as he celebrated the Passover with his disciples. It is the central sacrament of the Catholic Church and is central to the Church’s understanding of itself and the gift of Christ’s redemption.

As a Catholic, I have often found myself needing to explain the doctrine of Transubstantiation to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. More often than not I have entertained questions about the doctrine of the real presence and whether or not my taking communion is akin to being a cannibal. I often answer such questions with a clear and concise explanation of what transubstantiation is and how the Eucharist continually invites us to participate in Christ’s redemption (more on that later). I have, however, often failed to accurately tie today’s Eucharistic celebration to its Jewish roots. It is simply not enough to connect it to the Passover celebrations that Jesus encountered in his day. There must be a more adequate explanation. Actually, there is one and it is well-researched and quite plausible.

I very much enjoyed Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. In the past year, I have read quite a number of books about the Eucharist and Pitre’s is a refreshing addition to the vast amount of scholarship centered on the Eucharist. Pitre does not purport to add anything new to what we already know about the Eucharist, but he does do something that few books I’ve read have done. Pitre looks outside the Old and New Testaments to Jewish (Mishnah, Talmud, etc.) and Christian sources that provide more insight in how the early Christians understood the Eucharist and how closely tied the sacrament is to Jewish tradition.

It is easy for some to forget that Jesus was Jewish. He was born into the Jewish faith, understood his place in the world in terms of his Jewish faith, participated in Jewish celebrations and traditions, and died on the cross not as a Christian but as a Jewish man. Because of this it becomes important to view the early Christian understanding of the Eucharist in terms of how closely it was connected with the Jewish faith. Pitre does just that—providing us with clear arguments for Jesus as the new Manna, Jesus as the Passover Lamb, and the Eucharist as the new Bread of Presence.

There is some solid scholarship here. I was particularly impressed and surprised, I must admit, with Pitre’s explanation of the Bread of Presence that was kept in the Tabernacle of Moses and also elevated at festivals for all to see. I was taken aback by how similar the experience of the Jewish people of that time was to my own experience at Sunday mass. Back then they saw the Bread of Presence elevated—bread that was a symbol of God’s love for His people. Now, the host elevated at mass is the presence of Christ in an act of love for His people. It could not be any clearer that Jewish roots run deeply in the rituals and traditions of the Eucharist today.

Perhaps my favorite section of Pitre’s book focused on the Passover meal. Most of us are familiar with Passover traditions and Christ’s Last Supper, but most of us miss the little treasures found in scripture. One might not bother to count the number of cups had at the supper and one might not connect Jesus’ words at the meal with his actions and words on the cross. But, Brant Pitre did and thank goodness that he did! He reminds us how and why the Last Supper signals the New Passover—the new memorial feast that becomes even more than a memorial.

According to Ray Noll, author of Sacraments: A New Understanding for a New Generation, “Memorial feasts such as these involve the human capacity to reach back in mind to a saving act of God, to bring it out of the past and into the present and celebrate it, to put it on, to make it your own” (51). Each year, Passover is celebrated to commemorate when God spared firstborn male Jews, in Egypt, from death, during the final plague. Such is the commemoration that Christ and his disciples partook in at the upper room. But, Jesus did more than commemorate. By eating together, Jesus and his friends were performing the Paschal peace offering; and it was in this action that Jesus gave new meaning to the sharing of the bread and wine—the moment became a sharing of himself, a new commemoration. Pitre does fantastic work in communicating this to his readers.

I liked Pitre’s book and strongly recommend that anyone who is interested in reading more about the Eucharist pick up the book and take some time with it. While I read Pitre’s book, however, I was left wanting a little more. Understandably, Pitre is a biblical scholar and my interest is more systematic in nature. I wanted to read, after all his careful research, about what the Eucharist means now to us in the here and now. What does this New Passover invite us to do? How do we respond? Are we expected to respond?

I go back to Rahner and his view on the radicalness of the Eucharist. He said it was THE sacrament of the Church because in it the Church becomes more of what it is and should be. What does that mean and how does Pitre’s research fit into the bigger picture? To paraphrase Pitre, the Eucharist is the crucified and risen Christ. How often that is forgotten!

At the Eucharist we are recalling the past in such a way that all God accomplished in Christ’s death and resurrection is experienced in the present in a new act of redemption. In the Eucharist we not only remember the mystery of redemption but we experience and partake in Christ’s dying and rising‚ in such a way that Christ’s unique act of redemption continues to be. To understand this requires us to move beyond our notions of memorial as simply an imitation of the past events we memorialize. Rather, we should remember that past, present, and future are intertwined in the redemption on the cross—ever allowing us to transform, ever uniting us with the Father. This is to say that we bring to the Eucharistic altar all our hopes, fears, joys, sorrows, pain, etc. and we unite with Christ in His redemption—in all of his life, suffering, death, and resurrection. If we share in the experience of Christ then we too die and rise with Christ at the Eucharist because our acceptance of the redemption transforms us anew. At the Eucharistic sacrifice we remember how God redeemed us in Christ and we participate by accepting the love of God that transforms us and allows us to die to self and be reunited with God. We not only remember the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but we partake in it and we allow Christ to enter into our hearts and transform us. And in the course of doing this, we are community in our churches and in all the altars of the world.

Mother Teresa once said, “When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.” At the center of Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist is the message of God’s transforming love throughout history. If there is anything to be learned from the book it is our connection to the first Christians and our connection to what Jesus saw and experienced, because much of it is what we see and experience anew at the Eucharist—God’s presence with us. ( )
  angelq82 | Aug 13, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brant Pitreprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hahn, ScottPrefacesecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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In the World to Come there is no eating or drinking ... but the righteous sit with crowns on their heads, feasting on the brightness of the divine presence, as it says, "And they beheld God, and did eat and drink" (Exodus 24:11)
- Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth 17a

[The Priest in the Temple] used to lift up [the golden table] and exhibit the Bread of the Presence on it to those who came up for the festivals, saying to them, "Behold, God's love for you!"
- Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Menahoth 29a
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Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist shines fresh light on the Last Supper by looking at it through Jewish eyes. Using his in-depth knowledge of the Bible and ancient Judaism, Dr. Brant Pitre answers questions such as: What was the Passover like at the time of Jesus? What were the Jewish hopes for the Messiah? What was Jesus' purpose in instituting the Eucharist during the feast of Passover? And, most important of all, what did Jesus mean when he said, "This is my body... This is my blood"?

To answer these questions, Pitre explores ancient Jewish beliefs about the Passover of the Messiah, the miraculous Manna from heaven, and the mysterious Bread of the Presence. As he shows, these three keys-the Passover, the Manna, and the Bread of the Presence-have the power to unlock the original meaning of the Eucharistic words of Jesus. Along the way, Pitre also explains how Jesus united the Last Supper to his death on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Inspiring and informative, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist is a groundbreaking work that is sure to illuminate one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith: the mystery of Jesus' presence in "the breaking of the bread."
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Examines the Last Supper from a Jewish perspective, describing Passover during the time of Jesus Christ and the meaning behind his Eucharistic words, and discussing ancient Jewish beliefs about the Passover, the Manna, and the Bread of Presence.

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