Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Easter Triple Feature – No. 1 Jesus, Passover and Food

Over the next few days, I intend to hit Easter really hard with a triple bill.  Today we look at Passover and Easter. On Friday we will look at why Jesus got the chop and after Easter I will opine on what I really think happened with the empty tomb.
We think that we have an obsession with food what with “Masterchef” and “My Kitchen Rules”.  Puff and piffle I say.  The ancients were so obsessed with food that the symbolic power of food was central to their ritual. 
Easter coincides with Passover.  Jesus was in Jerusalem for the main pilgrimage of the three Jewish pilgrimages at that time.  This coincidence means that like Passover, Christianity is full of food symbolism that it inherited from the Last Supper which was in fact, a Passover Seder.  Food symbolism is entrenched in Passover and similarly touches on the Eucharist.  Let’s unpack the story in order to look at the foodie stuff.
Prior to the crucifixion, Jerusalem was utterly chock a block.  This was the time of the Passover pilgrimage so the place was packed to the gunnels.  Jerusalem had been under Roman control since Pompey conquered it in 63BC.  It housed the great Temple which was the tourist destination of the area.  The Romans were very twitchy for crowds made them nervous.  One of the things one did at Passover was sacrifice a lamb. The sacrifice was not chucked but shared with the Priests of the Temple.  The place would have smelt like a Barbie.  Sam Kekovich would have been pumped. So when I say above "Jesus got the chop" in fact he got it twice - in the literal sense with the lamb chop after Temple sacrifice and in the metaphorical sense when he ended up on the crucifix. 
At the Passover, like the Last Supper, food symbols are at the forefront of the ritual.  The bitter herbs hark back to the Egyptian slavery. Salt water represents tears.  Egg portrays the cycle of renewal and a lamb shank signifies the exception that the Angel of Death made for the Jewish houses that had been daubed with the blood of a slain lamb. The unleavened bread recalls the haste of the escape from the Pharaoh. There are a few other food rites.  It is the foremost example I know of food being used to tell a tale.
Jesus on that night was used to using food for powerful and resonant symbols.  So it is unsurprising that he added a couple more.  Wine became his blood and the wafer became his body.  Ever since that night, and because of the proximity of Passover, bread and wine became the primary food symbols of Christian faith.  But of course, they were the prime symbols of bounty in every religion extant at that time.  Bacchus was not the God of whiskey or beer found in the areas of northern Europe.  He was the God of wine and Judaism was similarly obsessed with this product of the Mediterranean.  Nothing really has changed.  So Jesus used local Mediterranean food symbols as did Judaism. 
Since then, there have been murderous wars over the difference between interpretation of those food symbols such as the fight over transubstantiation and consubstantiation.  So there is no doubting the power of these symbols.  They can kill.
But time changes the symbols.  I think that in the circles I move in, the power of the food symbolism has declined with the growth of the secular view point.  No one would go to war over interpretation of the symbols as was the case in The Thirties Years War (1618–1648) when differences over the body and blood of Jesus were an ostensible cause of war. Now, the bread and wine of Christ’s body is competing with much more powerful and far sweeter foods.
EASTER is named after a pagan goddess!  Ironically, Christianity’s greatest celebration is named after the Anglo Saxon goddess of the dawn.  Easter is a moveable feast because it is worked out on the lunar calendar.  Clever invaders would mash festivals together to make the imposition of the conquering culture less offensive.  That is why time honoured festivals have layers of different meaning with symbols of many cultures combined.
Easter eggs have become the overwhelming food symbol of the Australian Easter, just ahead of hot cross buns.  The eggs have nothing to do with Jesus but are a pagan symbol of the fertility and birth of spring.  As I said above, this symbol is also found in the Jewish Passover.  Resurrection is a form of rebirth I suppose but it is all about the fact that Easter occurs in the northern Spring.  So whilst the original Easter food symbols were Mediterranean in source the primacy of northern Europeans in running Oz has meant that their food symbols run rampant whilst secularism is diluting the resonance of the bread and wine.
What about the EASTER BUNNY – German folkloric figure based on the Easter hare.  This was imported and popularised in the USA.  Once again, this is a fertility symbol hence, “mad as a March hare” conjures the image sexually charged animals.  One hates to pollute our lovable bunnies with such sordid images but the truth is often odious.   
Food symbols tell us much about the world.  The Christians pinched the idea of food symbolism from the Jewish Passover.  Commerce ripped off the northern symbols of eggs, bunnies and buns.  We live in a land where faith is in decline and commerce is king and the symbols demonstrate this.
What is your view?
Do the declining powers of the bread and wine symbols tell us about the decline of faith or am I being unduly optimistic?
The rising power of the chocolate egg is a victory for commerce, nostalgia or secularism?
Over to you…


  1. Anonymous5:48 AM

    Easter is on April Fools day this year. Send the kids on a hunt for easter eggs that you haven't hidden!


    1. Oh Pirate - how mean!!!

    2. Brilliant! One of the few times to regret not having children...

  2. Anonymous5:52 AM



  3. 4 day weekend. That is all.

    1. 5 if you work in the universities or banks...

  4. I quite often go camping with Seventh day Adventist friends at Easter, a tolerable religion to some extent because they don't celebrate Christian/Judaic rituals, but they'd make Bacchus proud.
    Just thinking out loud here, if we atheists use the word "pagan" aren't we taking sides? eg, "EASTER is named after a pagan goddess!" should be written as "EASTER is named after a Celtic/druid goddess!" "pagan" was, after all, a slur
    Either way your blog has made me hungry, toodle pip

  5. MalcolmS7:54 PM

    ""pagan" was, after all, a slur"

    Only to a monotheist.

    I think the defining characteristic of a pagan is that his beliefs are thisworldly rather than otherworldly. For example, most pagan Greeks did not believe in a supernatural ex nihilo creation. They believed that the world[universe] was uncreated and eternal. Furthermore their gods were often man[woman]-like and lived here on spacio-temporal Earth.

    When Christians took over pagan societies the pagans refused to stop practising their traditions. So the Christians integrated those festivals into their own. Christmas coincides with the winter solstice and Easter with the spring equinox. Jesus[if he existed] was not born at Christmas time.

    1. ""pagan" was, after all, a slur"

      Only to a monotheist.'

      Actually it's a term akin to bumpkin.

  6. The Equinox. A natural point to measure the passing of time. A perfect time to get together and nosh out.

    Easter and Passover do seem to focus rather a lot on these food consuming activities these days but certainly with Passover, there is an under lying elephant at the table. I guess it was different a couple of thousand years ago when it was standard practice to wipe out the other tribe completely and dance over their graves.

    I find it strange, to say the least, that this ancient celebration of time is used to celebrate the mass murder of innocent Egyptian kiddies. An omnipotent, loving super being would have had other, kind options rather than this act of psychopathic bastardry.

    Lucky for us it's a fiction. But there are plenty of people who think it is historical fact. No wonder the Egyptians are still nervous about Yahweh's tribe.

    But not being privy to a Seder meal, can you tell us Dick whether the Seder conversation ever turns to the real reason for the Passover meal celebration. What do modern Jews make of this elephant and how do they rationalise it away or is it just ignored?

    And no doubt chocolate was invented by Christianity. It claims to have invented everything else that is good.

    Cheers and chocolate