Last Supper April Fool

The BBC reports today research by Colin Humphreys of Cambridge University which concludes:

The Last Supper was therefore on Wednesday, 1 April AD33, according to the standard Julian calendar used by historians.

Humphreys has even managed to get a book published on the subject, by no less than Cambridge University Press. And there is a detailed article about it on the university’s Research News website.

Thanks also to Dave Faulkner who first alerted me to this.

Leonardo da Vinci's representation of the Last SupperSo who is this Colin Humphreys? A historian? A biblical scholar? No, a “metallurgist and materials scientist”. In fact he is Sir Colin Humphreys CBE FREng, Professor and Director of Research at the Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy. Impressive credentials for a scientist. No doubt he is a leading world expert on gallium nitride, “probably the most important semiconductor material since silicon”. But what would he know about the Last Supper?

The whole thing looks like an April Fool. As Humphreys clearly isn’t a fool, I suspect that this time the BBC and the Cambridge University Press have been fooled.

But at least something good could come out of this folly. The BBC article reports that

Prof Humphreys believes his findings could present a case for finally fixing Easter Day to the first Sunday in April.

If this book helps us to move away from the stupidity of this year’s very late Easter, then it will have done a service to us all.

Or could this be another case of The spoof that wasn’t?

0 thoughts on “Last Supper April Fool

  1. Peter,

    Thanks for the link. What makes me think this isn’t a belated April Fool is that Humphreys has published on religious issues before, notably about the Exodus. That isn’t a – shall I say – foolproof reason, but I suspect he’s genuine. I think I’m right in saying he has also written for the journal ‘Science and Christian Belief’.

  2. Dave, thanks for the tip. I have in fact found quite a long list of “Recent publications in science and religion” by Humphreys (click “read more” beside his name), including several in Science & Christian Belief. The following seems most relevant:

    Humphreys, C.J. and Waddington, W.G. – "The Jewish Calendar, a lunar eclipse and the date of Christ’s Crucifixion", Tyndale Bulletin, 43, 1992, 331-351.

    So perhaps this isn’t an April Fool after all. But I’m not at all convinced by this talk of ancient calendars still in use.

  3. Peter,

    I find your post disturbing. You indulge in ridicule, yet you have not even read Humphrey’s book. This is very disrespectful. How can new ideas get a fair hearing if they are met by this kind of dismissive attitude?

    In your comment you have quoted Mark Goodacre out of context. His conclusion came with qualifiers.

  4. Richard, to start with I seriously thought this was an April Fool type hoax. It is absolutely typical of the BBC to jump on any idea quoted by someone like a Cambridge professor, despite him having no qualifications in the field in question. I have now changed my mind.

    Goodacre’s conclusions are clear on the basis of the evidence presented, that the proposal is flawed. I deliberately included “I think” to show some element of doubt. Of course no brief quote gives every nuance, so I gave a link to the full article for interested readers to check.

  5. Pingback: Not Good Friday but Good Thursday? - Gentle Wisdom

  6. I am Colin Humphreys, the author of the book. I can assure you that the book is serious! It would be really good if at least one of you could go to the Amazon website for my book and read the “Look Inside” pages, which can be accessed for free. My book was read by, and approved by, leading biblical scholars before publication. One of the things it shows is that all four Gospels are in remarkable agreement about the last days of Jesus, when properly understood.

  7. Professor Humphreys,

    I did take you seriously in my original blog post from which Peter found the story. My criticism was of the Guardian’s sub-editor, not you. However, I have now on your suggestion ‘looked inside’ on Amazon and noted that your Foreword is by an old friend and theological colleague of mine, Howard Marshall. And if Howard says your theories deserve warm commendation, then I take that most seriously indeed.

  8. Hi Colin,

    there has been some interesting discussion of your hypothesis in the comments section of a blog post by Mark Goodacre, here. I would welcome your input.

  9. Dave and Richard, many thanks for your helpful comments. My book tries to answer (and hopefully does answer!) some key problems about the last days of Jesus that have puzzled biblical scholars for centuries. These include: the apparent disagreement between the Synoptic Gospels and John about the date and nature of the Last Supper (was it a Passover meal or not?), the difficulty of fitting in the large number of events the Gospels record between the Last Supper on Thursday night and the Crucifixion at about 9 am on Friday morning , the legality of the trials (if the regulations in the Mishnah applied at the time of the Crucifixion then the Sanhedrin could only meet in the daytime and in capital cases they had to hold the main trial on one day and confirm their decision the next day): the Gospels implicitly accept the legality of the trials, yet if the Last Supper was on Thursday night and the Crucifixion on Friday morning, the trials as recorded in the Gospels would have blatantly flouted Jewish law.

    My book presents new information which solves the above problems and shows that the four Gospel accounts of the last days of Jesus are in remarkable agreement. In addition, some striking new insights into the words and action of Jesus in his last week emerge.

    I will respond to the comments made in the blog of Mark Goodacre shortly. Many thanks for referring me to this.

  10. Dear Prof Humphreys,

    First of all, sorry for being slow replying to you. I have been travelling.

    Thank you for commenting here. I hope you understand why I originally rejected your theory and your book. As someone with master’s degrees in both area, I have serious reservations about scientists and engineers who comment about theology and biblical studies which are outside their field, and vice versa. And the way the press presented this didn’t help your case.

    But as I looked into this particular matter more deeply I realised that it was a serious and important study. After all I wouldn’t expect CUP to publish an unscholarly work or a spoof. I was already moving in that direction when I finished writing the post and mentioned “The spoof that wasn’t”. Then after a few comments I wrote

    I have now changed my mind.

    At that point I could have taken this post down, or made major changes to it, but by then a lot of people were linking to it. And I hope that through this several people will have bought your book. After all, no publicity is bad publicity.

    I wish I had the time to go into the details of your proposal myself. I will just say that at a first glance I am not convinced that “the Gospels implicitly accept the legality of the trials” – at least in the light of Luke 23:41. As it is I will continue to watch for new comments here and on Mark Goodacre’s blog.

  11. Dear Peter,

    Many thanks for your kind comments. I very much understand why you have serious reservations about scientists who comment on biblical issues. It is really easy to make elementary mistakes. For this reason, different biblical scholars read every chapter of my book, and they did indeed tell me that iIhad made mistakes! However, I hope that my book is now largely free of bad errors.

    Concerning the Gospels implicitly accepting the legality of the trials, I discussed this point specifically with Howard Marshall, who agreed that they did. In fact, I think he suggeswted this wording! The Gospels say that many false witnesses were called, but the legal procedures are not questioned. In addition, as Geza Vermes says, is it really plausible that the Sanhedrin wouod have had a capital trial at night, or on a feast day, or on the eve of a feast day? According to the Mishnah, all three were forbidden. Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls also refer to the illegality of trials on a feast day. you refer to Luke 23:41, which refers to the criminal on the cross saying that Jesus had done nothing wrong. I don’t think this can be taken as evidence for the legality, or otherwise, of the trials. It is simply a dying criminal saying that he believes Jesus to be innocent.

  12. Thank you, Prof Humphreys.

    My point about Luke 23:41 was not so much about what the dying thief said as about Luke’s use of this incident to reinforce his view of Jesus as innocent. Luke makes the same point through Pilate’s words in 23:22. So does Matthew, in his account of the false witnesses in 26:59-60 and through Pilate’s wife in 27:19. See also Mark 14:55-56, 15:14, and John 18:38, 19:5,6. So I think it is clear from that the four evangelists’ perspective was that Jesus was innocent and wrongly condemned to death.

    But that is of course a separate issue from whether the trial was procedurally illegal. I accept that the gospels do not state this clearly. On the night-time issue, the synoptic gospels agree that the Sanhedrin reached their formal decision early in the morning, after the cock/rooster crowed, thus perhaps complying with the letter of their law. But it may be anachronistic to read the rules of the Mishnah, from after the fall of Jerusalem, back into Second Temple Judaism. Indeed it could be that these rules were introduced by an important rabbi like Gamaliel in response to a realisation that Jesus had not been tried fairly. But I make no claim to be an expert on this matter.

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