Book review: The Last Week

by Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan


Beginning with Palm Sunday and continuing through the following Sunday, resurrection day, Borg and Crossan lead us day-by-day through the events of Christianity’s holy week. There are differences between the Gospel accounts, especially when it comes to John’s Gospel, so the authors are at times forced to play favorites. Because Mark is the earliest Gospel, and because Mark goes out of his way to chronicle the day-by-day events of the Passion week, the authors chose Mark as their primary source.

The stage is set early, on the first day of the week, as Jesus rides a donkey down from the Mount of Olives, through the east gate of the city. On the opposite side of the city, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, arrives at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’ procession hailed the arrival of the Kingdom of God; Pilate’s, the power of the Empire. It’s not going to go well; this becomes clear early on, as Jesus plans his symbolic resistance. He arrives back on Monday and “attacks” the Temple, overturning the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.

The following two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, portray the disciples in their attempt to comprehend what is going on. The very first “Christian” perhaps appears during this time: An unnamed woman recognizes that Jesus is about to die, and anoints him for burial.

Thursday may be the most theologically significant day, as we experience the Passover meal, the Gethsemane prayer, and the arrest.

Good Friday needs no introduction. Jesus succumbs to the Roman machine, dies with a cry of despair, and leaves the disciples in a great state of confusion and sorrow through Saturday, the Sabbath. (Mark’s Gospel itself says nothing at all about Saturday; the feelings and events must be inferred, or taken from elsewhere, such as the tradition of Christ descending into Hell.)

Finally, Easter, and the joy of resurrection. By far, this is the most confusing day of the week. Again, Mark’s Gospel leaves us with little to go on; the original ending in Mark is very abrupt. Three women discover an empty tomb, and run away afraid, telling no one. It is only in the unfolding legends of other Gospel writers that we can try to piece together what this day meant to Jesus’ followers. Regardless of how we imagine the actual events, the message is clear: Jesus lives!

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