Jesus, The Final Days: What Really Happened, by Craig A. Evans and N.T. Wright, edited by Troy A. Miller
One of the signs of a good book is the way it leaves you wanting more rather than wishing you had not wasted time on it. This is the sort of book where one would want more, a lot more, than one gets. The work of a symposium that seeks to bridge the divide between theologians and scholars of biblical history, this is a book written for a wide and generally educated lay audience but a book that boldly enters into scholarly disputes and makes some intense criticisms of the approach of many scholars, some of whom will likely not appreciate being made to look ridiculous as they do here. Knowing the book’s subject matters I was pretty sure there would be some mistakes in biblical interpretation because of the chronology and that was definitely the case here, but it surprised me just how good this book was at putting the reader within the historical context and situation of Jesus Christ and the early disciples through a close and fair-minded reading of the scriptural and non-biblical history . And, considering this book is a short 113 pages, the book could easily have been double its size and still an excellent read. One wonders why the publishers were so intent on the book being so short.
The contents of this book are pretty straightforward and easy to understand. The book (and it barely qualifies as a book, I would say) is composed of three essays. The first two, by Craig A. Evans, are a discussion of the “shout of death” and the “silence of burial” with a discussion of the legal nature of Jesus’ trial, who wanted him dead, and how this does not in any way justify anti-Semitism as well as a discussion of the burial practices of late Second Temple Judaism and Roman acquiescence in Jewish burial customs that mandated burial even of criminals, with suitable and grisly examples from the history of the time and place. Although the author has a faulty view of the chronology of Jesus’ death, he at least gets a lot of the details right about Jewish beliefs in resurrection being feasible within the first three days (which is what made the timing of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus so important), and these details make it a very worthwhile group of essays. The third essay, by N.T. Wright, is a rather pointed discussion of the surprise of resurrection and some half a dozen changes to the Jewish background of the early Church that the experience of Jesus’ resurrection led to that were not paralleled within the view of contemporary heathen or even later Gnostic accounts, including the prominent role that women played as witnesses of the resurrection. Here again, the author’s insistence in the Christian view of a bodily resurrection after a shadowy interim period of time in the grave is something quite congenial with the understanding that some churches have and quite distinct from the views of contemporary Hellenistic Christianity.
So, even though this collection of essays is extremely short and contains a few errors because of the backgrounds of the authors in churches that have an inaccurate view of three days and three nights, the book is an immensely worthwhile one in the way that the authors seek to overcome their own background and the weight of corrupt tradition and deal with the Bible and the history of the time seriously. In addition, the authors are to be praised for bringing a rigorous attention to fact to discussions of faith and doctrine, something that is not done nearly often enough given the false dilemma that often exists between faith and evidence in the minds of some. Overall, this is a powerful if all-too-brief collection of essays from some thinkers and scholars worthy of attention and considerable praise. Given the way that the introduction speaks of there being more where this came from, one wants to see it in books like this one.
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