The Last Week

Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan, HarperCollins, 2006, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Here is a joint effort to attempt a historical reconstruction of Jesus’ last week on earth. To tell against the background of Jewish high-priestly collaboration with Roman imperial control the last week of Jesus’ life on earth as given in the Gospel According to Mark.

        ‘Why Mark? Mark alone went out of his way to chronicle Jesus’ last week on a day-by-day basis’ (p 1x). But the writers do much more than itemize a chronological sequence; they indicate the political/cultural/historical implications of their writing. Eg by Jesus’ time the ‘temple replaced Herodian rule as the centre of the local domination system; the temple was now at the centre of local collaboration with Rome’, a domination system marked by rule by a few, by economic exploitation and by religious legitimization’ (p 15).

        The anti-imperial meaning of the Passion Week is still relevant, the writers state; ‘empire is about the use of military and economic power to shape the world in one’s perceived interest. We are the Roman Empire of our time’ (p 213). They develop two theological themes: the non-substitutionary nature of the atonement, and whether Jesus’ crucifixion was the will of G-d. ‘Good Friday is the result of the collision between the passion of Jesus and the domination systems of his time…. Jesus’ death is not divine necessity but human inevitability’ (p 159).

        ‘Mark’s story of Jesus week is a sequence of public demonstrations against and confrontations with the domination system. And, as all know, it killed him’ (p 162).

        Major attention is given to the substitutionary atonement theory. ‘It is not by Jesus substituting for them but by their participating in Jesus (p 101).

        Holy Week and the journey of Lent are about an alternative procession and an alternative journey. An alternative procession, an anti-imperial and nonviolent procession. That procession leads to a capital city, an imperial centre, a place of collaboration between religion and violence…. Which journey are we on? Which procession are we in?

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.