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Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper Hardcover – February 15, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Image; First Edition (US) First Printing edition (February 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385531842
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385531849
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (190 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“In the Mass – in the 'blood of the new and everlasting covenant' – Christ fulfills the rites of the old covenant. This beautiful book by Dr. Brant Pitre shows us that fulfillment in loving detail. We gain an appreciation of what was, so that we can see, ever more clearly, what 'is now and ever shall be.' Clear, profound and practical – you do not want to miss this book.”
– Dr. Scott Hahn, author of The Lamb’s Supper and Signs of Life
“In Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist Brant Pitre pairs together the Jewish Scriptures and the Jewish tradition to frame the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper, and to provide a fresh look at the heart of Christian practice—the Eucharist. By taking us back to the Jewish roots of our faith, Pitre gives us a powerful lens through which to see anew the bread of the presence, the manna, the Last Supper, and ultimately the meaning of Christian Eucharist. Pitre’s mastery of Scripture and the Jewish traditions makes him the perfect guide for anyone seeking to understand the climax of Jesus’ ministry, the Last Supper and the first Eucharist.”
– Dr. Tim Gray, President of the Augustine Institute

“For Christians, it is impossible to understand ourselves apart from Christ. And here, we see how we cannot truly realize the richness of the Eucharist apart from its meaning in light of the Jewish covenant with God. What an exquisite view of the Eucharist as a personal encounter with Christ and the first Eucharist as a humanity-wide encounter with God!”
– Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and the New York Times bestselling author of Our Lady of Guadalupe

“With Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist Brant Pitre puts the Eucharistic Christ into thrilling context by examining the realities of Jewish life in the first century. Believers and non-believers alike will better-appreciate the rich cultural, traditional and scriptural wells from which Eucharistic understanding has been drawn and developed since Jesus of Nazareth first proclaimed, ‘my flesh is real food, and my body real drink.’”
– Elizabeth Scalia, Managing Editor (Catholic) at and the blogger known as The Anchoress

“Captivating, clear and compelling, this book shows how the Eucharist is at the heart of Jesus’ messianic mission. After guiding readers through ancient Jewish hopes for a new Exodus, a new Passover, a new manna and a new temple, Pitre demonstrates step-by-step how Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist fulfills those eschatological expectations. This book is a must read for anyone studying the Biblical foundations for the Eucharist.”
– Edward Sri, Provost of the Augustine Institute and author of Men, Women and the Mystery of Love

“Rare is the book that demands to be read by beginners and scholars alike, but Brant Pitre has written such a book, combining sparkling prose with profound insight into Scripture's meanings and contexts. Guided by Pitre, we enter into the ancient Israelite prophetic expectation of the fulfillment of the original Exodus through a new Passover, new manna, new priest-king, and new Temple. Pitre shows us how age-old controversies over the Eucharist as sacrifice, meal, and real presence are illumined by Jesus in the Gospels. This exciting and inspiring book fills a major gap in biblical studies.”
– Matthew Levering, Professor of Theology, University of Dayton, and author of Sacrifice and Community: Jewish Offering and Christian Eucharist

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1
The Mystery of the Last Super

Jesus and Judaism

Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. He was born of a Jewish mother, received the Jewish sign of circumcision, and grew up in a Jewish town in Galilee. As a young man, he studied the Jewish Torah, celebrated Jewish feasts and holy days, and went on pilgrimages to the Jewish Temple. And, when he was thirty years old, he began to preach in the Jewish synagogues about the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures, proclaiming the kingdom of God to the Jewish people. At the very end of his life, he celebrated the Jewish Passover, was tried by the Jewish council of priests and elders known as the Sanhedrin, and was crucified outside the great Jewish city of Jerusalem. Above his head hung a placard that read in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" (John 19:19).

As this list demonstrates, the Jewishness of Jesus is a historical fact. But is it important? If Jesus was a real person who really lived in history, then the answer must be "Yes." To be sure, over the centuries, Christian theologians have written books about Jesus that don't spend much time studying his Jewish context. Much of the effort has gone into exploring the question of his divine identity. However, for anyone interested in exploring the humanity of Jesus-especially the original meaning of his words and actions-a focus on his Jewish identity is absolutely necessary. Jesus was a historical figure, living in a particular time and place. Therefore, any attempt to understand his words and deeds must reckon with the fact that Jesus lived in an ancient Jewish context. Although on a few occasions Jesus welcomed non-Jews (Gentiles) who accepted him as Messiah, he himself declared that he had been sent first and foremost "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5). This means that virtually all of his teachings were directed to a Jewish audience in a Jewish setting.

For instance, during his first sermon in his hometown synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus began to reveal his messianic identity in a very Jewish way. He did not shout aloud in the streets or cry out from the rooftops, "I am the Messiah." Instead, he took up the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and found the place that spoke of the coming of an "anointed" deliverer (see Isaiah 61:1-4). After reading Isaiah's prophecy, Jesus closed the scroll and said to his audience, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). With these words, he proclaimed to his fellow Jews that their long-held hope for the coming of the Messiah, the "anointed one" (Hebrew mashiah), had at last been fulfilled-in him. As we will see over the course of this book, this was the first of many instances in which Jesus would utilize the Jewish Scriptures to reveal himself to a Jewish audience as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.

You Shall Not Drink the Blood

However, if Jesus did in fact see himself as the Jewish Messiah, then we are faced with a historical puzzle-a mystery of sorts. On the one hand, Jesus drew directly on the Jewish Scriptures as the inspiration for many of his most famous teachings. (Think once again of his sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth.) On the other hand, he said things that appeared to go directly against the Jewish Scriptures. Perhaps the most shocking of these are his teachings about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. According to the Gospel of John, in another Jewish synagogue on another Sabbath day, Jesus said the following words:

"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed . . ." This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. (john 6:53-54, 59)

And then again, at the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed:

Now, as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (matthew 26:26-28)

What is the meaning of these strange words? What did Jesus mean when he told his Jewish listeners in the synagogue that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life? And what did he mean when he told his Jewish disciples that the bread of the Last Supper was his "body" and the wine was his "blood"? Why did he command them to eat and drink it?

We'll explore these questions and many others throughout this book. For now, I simply want to point out that the history of Christianity reveals dozens of different responses. Over the centuries, most Christians have taken Jesus at his word, believing that the bread and wine of the Eucharist really do become the body and blood of Christ. Others, however, especially since the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, think that Jesus was speaking only symbolically. Still others, such as certain modern historians, deny that Jesus could have said such things, even though they are recorded in all four Gospels and in the writings of Saint Paul (see Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-30; John 6:53-58; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

The reasons for disagreement are several. First of all is the shocking nature of Jesus' words. How could anyone, even the Messiah, command his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood? As the Gospel of John records, when Jesus' disciples first heard his teaching, they said, "This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?" (John 6:60). Jesus' words were so offensive to their ears that they could barely listen to him. And indeed, many of them left him, and "no longer walked with him" (John 6:66). And he let them go. From the very beginning, people found Jesus' command to eat his body and drink his blood extremely offensive.

Another reason for disagreement is somewhat more subtle. Even if Jesus was speaking literally about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, what could such a command even mean? Was he talking about cannibalism-eating the flesh of a human corpse? While there is no explicit commandment against cannibalism in the Jewish Bible, it was certainly considered taboo. Again, the Gospels bear witness to this reaction. "The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'" (John 6:52). This is a good question, and it deserves a good answer.

Perhaps the strongest objection to Jesus' words comes from Jewish Scripture itself. As any ancient Jew would have known, the Bible absolutely forbids a Jewish person to drink the blood of an animal. Although many Gentile religions considered drinking blood to be a perfectly acceptable part of pagan worship, the Law of Moses specifically prohibited it. God had made this very clear on several different occasions. Take, for example, the following Scriptures:

Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. . . . Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. (genesis 9:3-4)

If any man of the house of Israel or of the strangers that sojourns among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. (leviticus 17:10-12)

You may slaughter and eat flesh within any of your towns, as much as you desire. . . . Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it out upon the earth like water. (deuteronomy 12:16)

Clearly, the commandment against drinking animal blood was serious. To break it would mean being "cut off" from God and from his people. Notice also that it was a universal law. God expected not only the chosen people of Israel to keep it, but any Gentile "strangers" living among them. Finally, note the reason for the prohibition. People were not to consume blood because "the life" or "the soul" (Hebrew nephesh) of the animal is in the blood. As Leviticus states, "It is the blood that makes atonement, by the power of its life." While scholars continue to debate exactly what this means, one thing is clear: in the ancient world, the Jewish people were known for their refusal to consume blood. Jesus' words at the Last Supper become even more mysterious with this biblical background in mind. As a Jew, how could he ever have commanded his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood? Wouldn't this mean explicitly breaking the biblical law against consuming blood? Indeed, even if Jesus meant his words only symbolically, how could he say such things? Wouldn't his command mean transgressing the spirit of the Law, if not the letter? As the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes points out,

[T]he imagery of eating a man's body and especially drinking his blood . . . , even after allowance is made for metaphorical language, strikes a totally foreign note in a Palestinian Jewish cultural setting (cf. John 6.52). With their profoundly rooted blood taboo, Jesus' listeners would have been overcome with nausea at hearing such words.

So, what should we make of these words of Jesus?

Through Ancient Jewish Eyes

In this book, I will try to show that Jesus should be taken at his word. Along with the majority of Christians throughout history, I believe that Jesus himself taught that he was really and truly present in the Eucharist. In doing so, I will follow the Apostle Paul, a first-century Pharisee and an expert in the Jewish Law, when he said,

I speak as to sensible men, judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ?...

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Customer Reviews

This is one of the best book on the Eucharist I have ever read/listen to.
Amazon Customer
Dr. Pitre's book is an incredibly accessable book written so that anyone with an interest in the topic can read and understand what he writes.
Jeffrey L. Morrow
Dr Pitre does an excellent job of explaining the roots of the Eucharist in the Jewish passover meal and in the Last Supper.
Lincoln S. Dall

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

192 of 201 people found the following review helpful By Michael Barber on February 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Brant Pitre's book, "Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist", is a tour-de-force of biblical scholarship and theology.

Although Jesus clearly stated that "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22) and although he told his disciples "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you" (Matt 23:2-3), far too often the Jewish roots of Christianity have been ignored.

Although this is not true of works by Doctors of the Church--Jerome studied with Jewish rabbis before translating the Vulgate and Thomas Aquinas regularly drew from rabbis such as Maimonides in works like the Summa Theologiae--too many Christians today fail to see the unity of the Old and New Testaments. Moreover, too many modern Jews mistakenly suppose Christianity represents a denial and rejection of their tradition.

This book successfully attempts to remedy these problems by, as I explain at the end of this review, challenging some common stereotypes.

First, it is worth noting that Pitre's unimpeachable credentials as a scholar. Among other things, Pitre studied archaeology in Israel and received his Ph.D. from Notre Dame where he worked under world-class scholars such as John P. Meier and David Aune. His roughly 600-page doctoral dissertation ("Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile") has been published by the prestigious German publisher Mohr Siebeck. It was later reprinted for American audiences by Baker Academic. The back cover of this edition contained endorsements by numerous leading historical Jesus scholars (Dale Allison, Scot McKnight, etc.). Yet, despite his first-rate training, Pitre has somehow figured out how to remain accessible to all audiences.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By DJW on February 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To author Brant Pitre, here is the highest praise I can give you...I sat there with your book, my Study Bible, and my Missal, flipping back and forth between the three...amazed at what I was reading, and trying to figure out how I'd missed so much before. Thank you for the lesson, it was wonderful! I hope your book will inspire others to do the same, and what more could you ask than to bring the scriptures alive to your readers!?
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65 of 75 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on February 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Thankfully much of the silly season when it comes to Catholic scripture scholars is over and the new breed of Catholic scripture scholars are not likely to get their views displayed on the History or Discovery Channel.

This comes to mind after reading Brant Pitre's new book released today Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper. When it comes to the Eucharist, the better understanding that we have of the Eucharist in the Jewish context the better understanding we have of the Eucharist itself. It was a fulfillment of the Old Testament and gave in that what came before became fully realized. The God-given manna which nourished the Israelites physically when brought to the fullness nourishes us spiritually as the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.

Brant Pitre has focused on the Old Testament along with several non-scriptural sources of Jewish writing to fully give us an understanding of the Eucharist from its Jewish roots. He starts by looking at the Last Supper and how Jesus' words must have gone beyond surprising from a Jewish point of view. We so often hear the words of institution at Mass and have accepted them that it is so easy to forget what they meant to the Jews of that time when it came to eating his body and blood. Even if you saw the blood as pure symbolism it would still be upsetting to Jewish ears and the commandment not to eat the blood of the sacrifice.

He goes on to discuss what was the idea the people had of the coming Messiah. We have often heard that they expected a political Messiah and like so many common facts it isn't exactly true. Some expected a more political Messiah, but the majority expected a new Moses with all that entails.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Richard B on February 25, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'll keep this concise by using bullet points.

1) Easily accessible to the average reader
2) Clearly links the Old Exodus with the New Exodus
3) Puts forth an interesting argument using the Lord's Prayer and its mention of "supernatural" bread
4) Puts forth a compelling argument linking manna, Passover and the Lord's Supper
5) Explains a very interesting argument about the Bread of the Presence from the OT

Needs Improvement:
1) Discussion concerning "drinking blood" was a mere few comments. Given his saying it was a huge objection, I was expecting much more. Hopefully in a future volume, he will go into more depth.
2) It really needs to have a companion edition with much more technical argumentation for a deeper analysis. This book is good for the average person in the pew, but I am now wanting much more in depth argumentation since I found his basis thesis very interesting and compelling.

It really bothers me, as a Protestant when people reviewing books give them one star without having read it. As of this posting, all of the one star reviews were clearly people who haven't even read this book. It's worth the read, and hopefully we will see a more technical follow up. You will be glad you got this book, but you'll be wanting more too...
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