Jesus in the Last Days

Jesus in the Last Days May 28, 2019

Eckhard J. Schnabel 
Jesus in Jerusalem: the Last Days.
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018. Hardback., pp. 680.
Available at Eerdmans.

Professor Eckhard Schnabel (Mary F. Rockefeller Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) has produced the most comprehensive study of passion week since Raymond E. Brown’s The Death of the Messiah published some 25 years ago. Schnabel offers detailed analysis of: (1) Every person mentioned, from Jesus to the man with the sponge at Golgotha; (2) Every place nominated in the narratives, from Bethany to Emmaus; (3) Timelines involving Jerusalem at Passover in 30 AD; and (4) Key events from the anointing of Jesus at Bethany to the resurrection appearances. The book is not the genre of a historical Jesus study, nor is it a redactional or narrative critical investigation of the individual Gospel narratives, nor is it really a Gospel harmony, it is perhaps best characterized as a critical interrogation of the canonical witness to create a unified picture of the people, places, chronology, and events of Jesus’s final week.

I can only mention a few highlights to indicate the type of work that Schnabel performs in this volume. Schnabel provides overviews and details on entities that few give any thought about such as the Jewish security forces with their cohorts and captains, Malchus’s relatives, and Salome to name a few. As for places, the Lithostrotos is the Greek term for “stone pavement” where Pontius Pilate pronounced his verdict over Jesus. There is a good overview about Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (noting too Joan Taylor’s attempt to pinpoint the location). As for chronology, when it comes to the date of the Last Supper with the apparent contradiction between the Synoptics and John, Schnabel rejects traditional harmonizations (e.g., Jesus had a pre-emptive Passover meal, not a real Passover meal or Jesus used an Essenic calendar to calculate the date) and instead surveys rabbinic evidence about differences over calculating the date of Passover and noting how pilgrims had to slaughter their lambs on different days because there was a lack of time and space for everyone to slaughter a lamb at the temple and to consume it in Jerusalem on the same day (strangely though Schnabel does not entertain the possibility that John deliberately alters the story to have Jesus crucified on the Day of Preparation, with Jesus dying at the same time when lambs are being slaughtered, to enhance his motif of Jesus as the Lamb of God). Concerning, Jesus’s answer to Caiaphas at his trial, Schnabel contends that Jesus is identifying himself as Daniel’s “son of man” with a view to his vindication at his resurrection and ascension, when congregations of Jesus’s followers are established in various places, and when he seats in eventual judgment of the priestly aristocracy.

In criticism, I felt that the discussion of some topics, like the Scribes and Pharisees, warranted more than merely narrating their role as opponents of Jesus and required some reference to scholarly debates about their identity and place in Judean society. For example, were the Pharisees a pious purity club or a socio-religious-political movement turfed out of official power and looking to make back a comeback by winning the hearts and minds of the people or with an eye on a zealous revolution to expel the Romans? I’d disagree with a few exegetical decisions too, for instance, on the question of paying taxes to Caesar, Schnabel thinks that Jesus challenges the Pharisees and Herodians to prove God’s claim on them. I prefer Gerd Theissen’s way of putting it whereby, given the image and inscription on the coin, Jesus tells them to give the pagan emperor back his pagan money. That said, besides a few quibbles here and there, most of Schnabel’s analysis is well-researched, soundly argued, and hard to dispute.

The volume is full of useful pictures, tables, charts, and excursuses that help visualize certain things or answer pressing questions that informed readers are likely to have as they read. For example, there is a helpful map of the movements of the women on Easter morning and an excursus on crimes against the emperor. While there are numerous popular books about Lent/Easter/Passion Week (e.g. Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor with Alexander Stewart, The Final Days of Jesus [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014]), Schnabel’s Jesus in Jerusalem provides a fairly conservative yet profoundly comprehensive study of everything we can know about Jesus’s last week that makes it a superb resource for anyone teaching or preaching about anything to do with passion week.

 

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