For those who haven’t already seen, Helen Bond has an excellent article in the most recent New Testament Studies (59.4, pp. 461–475) entitled “Dating the Death of Jesus: Memory and the Religious Imagination,” in which she critiques the general scholarly consensus of the dating of Jesus’ death to Friday, April 7, 30 CE.
Bond’s thesis, in a nutshell, is this:
The tradition known to John placed Jesus’ death at the very moment that the lambs were sacrificed in the Temple, casting him as the new paschal lamb, whose death removed the sins of the world. A different tradition linked Jesus’ last meal to the Passover, so that the eucharistic commemoration of Jesus’ death now took the place of the Passover meal, and became the symbol of the new covenant between God and his people. This is the interpretation found in Mark and enhanced in the longer version of Luke 22.14-20. Thus, both the Johannine and Markan traditions narratively represent Jesus’ death as profoundly meaningful, but both are based in the end not on any historical reminiscence, but on collective theological and symbolic elaborations of the memory that Jesus died ‘around Passover’.
Bond explores the complications of a definitive date for Jesus’ death, particularly in light of apparent contradictions among the various Gospel traditions. It’s definitely worth a read if you get the chance.
I can’t see how an exact placing of the day or even year of Jesus’ death should make any substantive difference, under virtually any theology. And given the various claims attending it which most Christians either don’t believe or don’t think through the implications of, I don’t see how one can even LOOK for an accurate history here. (I refer to the many, often conflicting Gospel accounts of Jesus arrest, trial, final-day events surrounding the crucifixion, etc. — particularly the 3 hours of mid-day darkness, massive rock-splitting, tomb-emptying earthquake raising “saints” subsequently seen in Jerusalem, temple veil torn top to bottom, etc. Thinking through the implications of these being actual events, things just don’t add up if they were. However, an “ancient” grid of interpretation allows one to understand their presence in the narratives.)
Thanks for your comment, Howard. I think that one of the main reasons many people (scholars, clergy, and laity alike) are so eager to offer an exact date for Jesus’ death is that it provides some (albeit misplaced) sense of historical “certainty” about Jesus in general: “Look! We can pinpoint the exact date that Jesus was crucified! The Gospels must be true!”
Reblogged this on Sunday School on Steroids-The Seminary Experience.
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