Craig A. Evans, N.T. Wright. Jesus, The Final Days: What Really Happened. ed. Troy A. Miller. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2009). 116 pages.
The three essays in this book were originally written as lectures for a symposium for pastors and scholars regarding several of the issues surrounding the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The book has edited the three essays for more popular consumption, though the average reader will still need to read a little slowly, and will happily learn several new things about the general topic of Easter.
To give away the ending, the authors believe that Jesus really was crucified, really died, really was buried, and really did rise from the dead physically. The first two essays, written by Craig A. Evans, take a look at first century Jewish and Roman execution and burial practices. The third, written by N. T. Wright, is a look at what the early church believed about Jesus' physical resurrection from the dead and argues for the conclusion that they believed he did, and, he really did.
Dr. Evans, a recognized and prolific New Testament scholar, tackles the question of whether the Gospel accounts of Jesus' trial, death, and burial are likely to have happened the way they are recorded by the Evangelists. Combing through copious amounts of source materials regarding how Jewish and Roman culture and legal systems worked in the day, he builds a strong case for why Jesus was opposed by the Jewish authorities, the Passover pardon of Barabbas, the scourging, his death on the cross, and his burial in the tomb. For the faithful, these seem to be simple and obvious details within the Easter story, but as Dr. Evans shows throughout, there are plenty of modern-day theories which attack each. In the end, however, he shows that each theory which opposes these details has the burden of proof, and it is a heavy burden indeed.
Bishop Wright, possibly the leading living scholar on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, takes for his approach a kind of definition and explanation of the word "resurrection." What was the Old Testament (and thus prevailing view in Jesus' culture) understanding of it? Was the general, ancient view of resurrection something compatible with what became the Christian understanding? And finally, what was the Christian teaching regarding Jesus' resurrection? He argues convincingly that the Christian view is a distinct departure from their Jewish heritage, the pagan cultures around them, and is shockingly stable and unified through the years. The explanation for this break and persistent belief? Jesus physically rose from the dead and became the Christ-follower's hope.
In the end, this volume tackles many of the details that we often either take for granted or don't even pay attention to when we come around to Easter. The way the details are handled provide further support for the traditional Christian belief about the last days (and resurrection) of Jesus Christ, and make it harder for the skeptic to simply brush the whole story off as ancient and simplistic legend.
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