Sunday, November 16, 2008

Book Review: "The Day Christ Died"

Yesterday I completed the next book on my reading list, The Day Christ Died by Jim Bishop, 1977, Harper & Row (ISBN 0-06-060786-6). This is a paperback version of the original 1957 book by Bishop, with some updates to reflect archaeological finds and changes in scholarship in the twenty years after the original publication. Includes a new Introduction by Dr. Paul L. Maier, about whom I've blogged recently.

This is a good book. Anyone who hasn't read it and has the chance to will benefit from it. Bishop did several of these type books (e.g. The Day Lincoln Died, The Day Christ Was Born). His style was to take the twenty-four hour day on which the event happened and cover it hour by hour. In the case of Christ's death, he begins at sundown on Thursday, since the Jewish day ran from sundown to sundown. We first see Peter and John making preparations for the Passover meal, and Jesus and the rest of the Twelve en route to Jerusalem from Bethany.

Bishop then takes us hour by hour. His research fills in many details, such as the probable menu of the Passover meal, the sequence of events within the meal--not just those in the Biblical records, but other things that must have been going on based on the typical Passover meal. He then takes us meticulously though the Biblical account: going to Gethsemane, the arrest, the interview before Annas, the trial before Caiaphas, the trial before the full Sanhedrin, the trial before Pilate, the pre-crucifixion torture, the time on the cross, and the burial.

Bishop fills out the account in many ways. He includes description of Jerusalem, describing the routes taken by various people. He tells us what the Passover celebration was like. He describes something of the background of the high priests. Three overviews from outside the day itself take up a good portion of the book: background of the Jewish world, background of Jesus (from the Bible), and background of the Roman world. These help us to think about why certain things happened as they did that day.

Some of the good points:
- We learn what some people were doing that is not described in the Bible. For example, exactly what did Judas Iscariot do after Jesus said to him, "What you do, do quickly"? Bishop surmises that it was John son of Zebedee who left in the night hours after watching the Jewish rulers convict Jesus, and went to Bethany to bring Mary to her son's side in time for his death. ["John remained to find out what the supreme council would do. When the word came that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, and that the judgment had been that he should die, John waited long enough to look once more upon the face of the man who loved him. The young apostle was close to tears as Jesus was led down into the courtyard, because the bound man was bruised and dirty, with spit running down his face, and his legs quivered with weakness and fatigue. Then John left. He needed wings on his young feet because there was much to do. He had to spread the tragic news among those who believed in Jesus and, sadly, he had also to run to Bethany to tell the news to the Mother of Jesus."]
- Caiaphas' activities are well described. We see him in all of his evil machinations, and get a sense of some of his motivation.
- We see many Passover pilgrims. Not individuals, but masses of people, and learn what they were doing, how they thronged to Jerusalem and to the temple with sacrifices.
- The rivalry between Pontius Pilate and the high priests is spelled out. Some of the statements that Pilate and the high priests made make a lot more sense with Bishop's annotations.

A couple of things were not to my liking:
- The book takes a Roman Catholic view of the events. For instance, Bishop insists that when the Bible talks about the "brothers of Jesus", this word means relative--cousin--and that Jesus was an only child and that Mary was "ever-virgin". In fact, the copyright page indicates the book received a nihil obstat and a Imrimatur by a cardinal, indicating the book is free of doctrinal error.
- I'm not sure that Bishop fully represents all that Pilate did to try to free Jesus. When I put my harmony of the gospels together, I was surprised at how the different statements about Pilate's actions in the four gospels seemed to be different actions on Pilate's part. Possibly some day I'll blog about that. Of course, perhaps no one else in the world would agree with me on that.

All in all, it is a good book. Well worth the read. I may hang on to this one rather than sell it in a garage sale.

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