23 March 2009

Jesus, the final days

Craig Evans and N. T. Wright, Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened (Louisville: WJK, 2009).

This morning I read this short book which is comprised of three lectures given at the Symposium for Church and Academy lecture series at Crichton College (Memphis, TN). The three lectures aim to discuss the historicity of Jesus' death and resurrection - two on the former by Craig Evans, one on the latter by The Bishop himself (I mean, who else are you going to get to talk about the resurrection at this point?).

Three lectures, three chapters - 1. The Shout of Death; 2. The Silence of Burial; 3. The Surprise of the Resurrection.

Admittedly, there isn't much here that you cannot readily find in other books (both for Evans and especially Wright). But there is much to be said for having this type of data assembled together in a concise overview aimed toward a wider readership than is considered typical.

1. The first chapter focusses on Jesus' death, quickly dismissing flimsy claims that Jesus did not actually die and emphasizing the reasons for the death of Jesus. Here Evans provides solid overview and foundation of the many converging factors of why Jesus was executed. Admittedly, many Christians do not understand the complexity of history on this point, and I was glad to see Evans go right at the nonsense of Jesus being crucified because he was more popular than the Pharisees, et. al. Further, the chapter investigates the question of whether or not Jesus anticipated his own death and how this anticipation shaped his preceding ministry. From this Evans then discusses the trial of Jesus, the mockery and the actual crucifixion itself - all without becoming lost in the physical suffering of Jesus but remaining forthright so as to maintain historical credibility.

2. Knowing that these lectures are not designed to be entirely apologetic, I must confess that I was unsure how a full essay on the burial of Jesus was going to be possible. But Evans engages the material well, not only interacting with the charges against the tomb account as given in the Gospels but by exploring the traditions of burial in the first century Jewish world. Again, there is a wealth of information neatly gathered and succinctly presented regarding the intricacies of tradition and culture which are largely unknown among Christians who recite the Easter story year after year. Not only does this help with the defense of our faith, but grasping the context of the burial accounts also bolsters modern faith. I probably consider this the best essay of the three.

3. The third chapter is basically a condensed version of N. T. Wright's fuller treatments - a short essay of summation. I agree with the notes on p. 75 that those who desire a fuller treatment will find such in his seminal works, The Resurrection of the Son of God and Surprised by Hope. One cannot say much more than that, for this material is being widely discussed and a few comments here would be terribly lacking. But (again) understanding how this book is designed, one would consider this essay as a solid introduction to the material for a wide readership. And The Bishop is certainly capable of that.

In the end, I highly recommend this book as both an introduction for the uninitiated on this topic, and a timely seasonal review and reflection for those more familiar. (I might also add that those who have studied this material at some length may just find perspectives or data which is somewhat new to them, as I have not seen this particular gathering of material presented in such a manner very often. Worth considering.)

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