As scholars Borg and Crossan reacted to questions about the blockbuster film The Passion of the Christ, they discovered that many Christians are unclear on the details of events leading up to the Crucifixion. Here they present a day-by-day account of Jesus's final week of life. They begin their story on Palm Sunday with two triumphal entries into Jerusalem. The first, that of Roman governor Pontius Pilate leading Roman soldiers into the city, symbolized military strength. The second heralded a new kind of moral hero who was praised by the people as he rode in on a humble donkey. The Jesus introduced by Borg and Crossan is this new moral hero, a more dangerous Jesus than the one enshrined in the church's traditional teachings, giving up his life to protest power without justice and to condemn the rich who lack concern for the poor.--From publisher description.
I don't think of myself as a conservative christian, but this book was almost too liberal for me. It really pushed me to the edges of what I thought was permissible. Borg and Crossan bring up new issues that really changed my perspective on Holy Week. It's not about what happened at what time on Good Friday. It's not even whether or not the Resurrection is literal. Th ose questions that are so important to so many Christians and doubters are not the point. The point is the story, and what we are going to do about it.
How will the world change if we look beyond the historical facts and find the underlying truths? What should the world look like? How does God want us to act? How can we be Christians like the early church when we are not oppressed by the Romans, and, quite frankly, when we are the oppressors? This book pushes me to look beyond the academic questions and change my behavior to be more like Jesus. The book may be a bit further to one side than I am comfortable with, but that's the point. I am pushed in my own journey to explore questions I never thought to ask.
All in all, I'd say each of these books has its own merits, and which you read would depend on what you're looking for. Borg and Crossan are knowledgeable and well-researched historical Jesus scholars. So if you take the Bible quite literally and are looking to understand the historical background of the Passion of Jesus, The Last Week is the book for you. However, if you find the little "inconsistencies" of the Gospels interesting, then The First Christmas is the book for you. If you are at all interested in the subject, I would recommend one or the other (or both) of these books.
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!
Using the gospel of Mark as their guide, Borg and Crossan present a day-by-day account of Jesus's final week of life. They begin their story on Palm Sunday with two triumphal entries into Jerusalem. The first entry, that of Roman governor Pontius Pilate leading Roman soldiers into the city, symbolized military strength. The second heralded a new kind of moral hero who was praised by the people as he rode in on a humble donkey. The Jesus introduced by Borg and Crossan is this new moral hero, a more dangerous Jesus than the one enshrined in the church's traditional teachings.
The Last Week depicts Jesus giving up his life to protest power without justice and to condemn the rich who lack concern for the poor. In this vein, at the end of the week Jesus marches up Calvary, offering himself as a model for others to do the same when they are confronted by similar issues. Informed, challenged, and inspired, we not only meet the historical Jesus, but meet a new Jesus who engages us and invites us to follow him.