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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

The Eucharist is like Ritual Cannibalism but Christ is Vegan!Prof. James Tabor. Ed. Dr. Chapman Chen

Sacred meals involving the blessings of bread and wine were common in Judaism, and were thus part of the communal meals of the early followers of Jesus. Within apocalyptic groups, such as the Jesus movement and the sect that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, such sacred meals were considered anticipatory of the messianic age to come. When the Messiah arrived, his followers expected to gather around his table in fellowship, with Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets joining them.

Paul's innovation, that one was thereby eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine at the Eucharist or Holy Communion, has no parallels in any Jewish sources of the period. Three of our New Testament gospels record Jesus' Last Supper, in which he tells his disciples over bread and wine: "This is my body," and "This is my blood," and in the gospel of John, Jesus speaks of "eating my flesh" and "drinking my blood." These writers based their accounts of Jesus' final meal on Paul, directly quoting what he had written in his letters almost word for word (Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26- 29; Luke 22:15-20; John 6:52-56; 1Corinthians 11:23-26). This is one of the strongest indications that the New Testament gospels are essentially Pauline documents, with underlying elements of the earlier Jesus tradition.

As a Jew living in a Jewish culture, Jesus would have considered this sort of language about eating flesh and drinking blood, even taken symbolically, as utterly reprehensible, akin to magic or ritual cannibalism. Despite what Paul asserts, it is extremely improbable that Jesus ever said these words. They are Paul's own interpretation of the meaning and significance of the Eucharist ceremony that he claims he received from the heavenly Christ by a revelation. For Paul eating bread and drinking wine was no simple memorial meal, but it was quite literally a "participation" in the spiritual body of the glorified heavenly Christ. This meal connected those who eat and drink through the Spirit with the embryonic nurturing life they needed as developing offspring of God (1 Corinthians 10:16). In contrast, as we will see, there is solid evidence that the Christians before Paul, and outside of his influence, celebrated a Eucharist with an entirely different understanding of the wine and the bread, one that reflects a practice much closer to what Jesus inaugurated at his Last Supper with his disciples. Fortunately, there are fragmented traces of this earlier view embedded in our New Testament gospels.


A text known as the Didache was discovered in 1873 in a library at Constantinople,

quite by accident, by a Greek priest, Father Bryennios. 33 This document dates to the beginning of the second century A.D. or even earlier, making it as old as some of the books included in the New Testament canon. Indeed, among certain circles of early Christianity it had achieved near-canonical status.


Following the ethical exhortations there are four chapters on baptism, fasting, prayer, the Eucharist, and the anointing with oil, which remind one very much of the kind of instruction one finds in the teachings of Jesus preserved in the Q source. The Eucharist is a simple thanksgiving meal of wine and breadwith references to Jesus as the holy "vine of David." It ends with a prayer: "Hosanna to the God of David." The Davidic lineage of Jesus is thus emphasized. Absent is Paul's idea that the bread represented Jesus' flesh and

the wine his blood, shed for the sins of the world.


As we turn to Paul and begin to examine the elements of his understanding of the Christian message, it is important that we place him within this world of Jesus and the form of Christianity that he first encountered when he joined the movement. As we

will see, Paul had his own fiercely independent "Gospel," which contrasted sharply to the Christianity of Jesus, James, and their earliest followers. Paul completely transformed everything from earth to heaven, and the largely untold story of how that happened is preserved in his own words within the New Testament itself.


What Jesus said at his Last Supper with his disciples we have no way of knowing but there is evidence he thought of that meal as a "Messianic banquet" to be eaten in anticipationof their table fellowship in the future kingdom of God.

He tells the Twelve: "You are those who have continued with me in my trials: and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:28-30). This saying of Jesus is from the Q source, not from Paul, but Luke connects it to the

Last Supper. Luke relies on his source Mark for his Lord's Supper account, including the Pauline tradition of the words about eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus. But

surprisingly, Luke knows another source with no such language! He places both into his narrative, juxtaposed one after the other:

[Tradition A: Alternative Source]

And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among

yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." (Luke 22:15-18)

[Tradition B: Mark Source] And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is

poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19-21)

When one reads both traditions as a unit it makes little sense, because Jesus ends

up taking the cup twice but saying entirely different things. When the two traditions are separated, each forms a discrete unit.

This becomes all the more significant since Luke's Tradition A fits with what we might expect Jesus to have said in a Jewish messianic context. Oddly, Markappears to preservejust a bit of this more primitive Jewish tradition, since Jesus concludes the meal by saying:

"Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25). Matthew includes this verse as well, copying it from Mark (Matthew 26:29). The reason it is odd is that it does not fit well with the Pauline "this is my body" and "this is my blood" tradition that Mark makes the center of his Last Supper scene. Jesus is obviously not anticipating one day drinking his own blood with the disciples in the kingdom. Evidently Mark knew something of the two

traditions but mutes the one while

playing up the other.

Luke's Tradition A, supported by Mark's words of Jesus at the end of the meal, is probably as close as we can get to what Jesus might have said on the last evening of his life. What he expects is a celebratory meal of reunion in the kingdom of God. This idea, often referred to as the "Messianic Banquet," is described clearly in the Dead Sea Scrolls. When the Messiah comes, all his chosen ones sit down at a common table with him, in the kingdom, with blessings over bread and wine:

When God brings forth the Messiah, he shall come with them at the head of the whole

congregation of Israelwith all his brethren, the sons of Aaron the Priest . . . and the chiefs of the clans of Israelshall sit before him . . . And when they shall gather for the common table, to eat and to drink new wine ... let no man extend his hand over the firstfruits of bread and wine before the Priest; for he shall bless the firstfruits of bread and wine . . . Thereafter, the Messiah of Israel shall extend his hand over the bread and all the congregation of the Community shall utter a blessing . . , 22

One thing seems clear. The idea of eating the body and blood of one's god, even in a symbolic manner, fits nothing we know of Jesus or the Jewish culturefrom which he comes.


Jesuslived as an observant Jew, keeping the Torah or Law of Moses and teaching others to do the same. Jews were strictly forbidden to consume blood or even to eat meat from which the blood had not been properly drained and removed (Leviticus 7:26-27). The Jewish followers of Jesus, led by Jesus' brother James, were quite stringent on this point, insisting that it applied equally to non-Jews as well as Jews, based on the prohibition to Noah and all his descendants after the Flood. They forbade non-Jewish followers of Jesus to eat meat that had been killed by strangling, or to consume any blood (Acts 15:19-20). Paul was admittedly lax on these restrictions and tells his followers they can eat any kind of meat sold in the marketplace, presumably even animals killed by strangulation, so

long as no one present happens to notice and object on the basis of biblical teachings (1 Corinthians 10:25-29).

Given this background I think we can conclude that it is inconceivable that Jesus would have had his followers drink a cup of wine as a representation of his blood, even symbolically, or break bread to represent his flesh, sacrificed for their sins.

James Daniel Tabor (born 1946 in Texas) is a Biblical scholar and Professor of Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he has taught since 1989 and served as Chair from 2004–14. He previously held positions at Ambassador College (1968–70 while a student at PepperdineUniversity), the University of Notre Dame (1979–85), and the College of William and Mary (1985–89). Tabor is the founder and director of the Original Bible Project, a non-profit organisation aimed to produce a re-ordered new translation of the Bible in English. He retired in 2022.

Article link:


Tabor, James D. (2012). Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 14-15, 44-46, 148-151.

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