Libation and the “longer text” of Luke 22

Many years ago, in a seminar at Codrington College, I set a proverbial cat among the metaphorical pigeons by suggesting, only partly seriously, that the words over the (second) cup in the longer text of Luke implied that a libation had been offered. In the phrase τοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη ἐν τῷ αἵματί μου, τὸ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν ἐκχυννόμενον ἐκχυννόμενον properly refers not to the blood but to the cup.

One of my “lock-down” activities has been thinking about the two texts of Luke’s last supper, an issue which has intrigued me since student days. Thus I was interested to see that Matthias Klinghardt, a few years ago, made the same suggestion in all earnestness (“Der vergossene Becher: Ritual und Gemeinschaft im lukanischen Mahlbericht” Early Christianity 3 (2012), 33-58). Klinghardt suggests that Luke would not commit such a solecism as to use the wrong case here; of course Luke might not, but an interpolator might. This is thus an indication that the “longer text” is an interpolated text.

Klinghardt argues that Luke indeed means that a libation was poured, though he makes no reference to the textual issue. Nonetheless it is possible that an interpolator misunderstood the Pauline type material which he was handling (as I believe happened), which in turn would imply that libations were known in the cultic circle from which he came. As such, whether the participle refers to the blood or to the cup itself, this would be an interpolation deriving from liturgical practice, whether or not that practice included a libation. As evidence for the possibility that libations were poured in Christian eucharistic liturgy we may observe Traditio apostolica 38.2 which, in its current context, is strange but, if the argument that these chapters are reworked from material dealing with a eucharistic Sättigungsmahl is accepted, may readily be seen as a prohibition on the pouring of libations at the Eucharist, which is a sure sign in turn that such practice was known. A similar line is taken by M.J.C. Warren, “The cup of God’s wrath: libation and early Christian meal practice in Revelation” Religions 9 (2018), 413, n. 6.with regard to the Jewish texts apparently prohibiting libations, such as M.Avodah Zarah 5.1-6 and the corresponding passages in the Talmud, namely that the reason why there is such a careful attempt to guard against the possibility of wine being used for libations by gentiles is that this was also part of Jewish ritual. Warren (“Cup”, 9-10) suggests that the libation imagery of Revelation is negative, and directed against the practice of libations by Christians, again implying the possible practice of libation by Christians. This is possible, though her further suggestion that the seer is opposed to the Christian use of wine entirely is surely an overstatement.

The use of libations by Christians is thus possible; again, an early dating of Traditio apostolica reveals significant liturgical information lying just beneath its third-century surface.

Klinghardt actually suggests that the early Christian Eucharist was simply a regular Sättigungsmahl of religious significance, and was invariably marked by a libation. Although I have not excluded the possibility of the offering of libations at Christian eucharistic meals, it does not seem to have been a regular, or even a common, occurrence.

To return to the text of Luke, it is possible that we have interesting evidence here that libations were offered. However, given that we are dealing with a rather clumsy interpolator, it is also possible that our interpolator had a weak grasp of the Greek case system in relative clauses!

Edit (May 17th 2020): I now find, in further reading, that Klinghardt’s theory was proposed by O. Holtzmann “Das Abendmahl im Urchristentum” ZNW  5 (1904), 89-120. 



Leave a comment

Filed under Apostolic Tradition

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s