The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem

The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem


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Top Jesus scholars Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan join together to reveal a radical and little-known Jesus. As both authors reacted to and responded to questions about Mel Gibson's blockbuster The Passion of the Christ, they discovered that many Christians are unclear on the details of events during the week leading up to Jesus's crucifixion.

Using the gospel of Mark as their guide, Borg and Crossan present a day-by-day account of Jesus's final week of life. They begin their story on Palm Sunday with two triumphal entries into Jerusalem. The first entry, that of Roman governor Pontius Pilate leading Roman soldiers into the city, symbolized military strength. The second heralded a new kind of moral hero who was praised by the people as he rode in on a humble donkey. The Jesus introduced by Borg and Crossan is this new moral hero, a more dangerous Jesus than the one enshrined in the church's traditional teachings.

The Last Week depicts Jesus giving up his life to protest power without justice and to condemn the rich who lack concern for the poor. In this vein, at the end of the week Jesus marches up Calvary, offering himself as a model for others to do the same when they are confronted by similar issues. Informed, challenged, and inspired, we not only meet the historical Jesus, but meet a new Jesus who engages us and invites us to follow him.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060872601
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/30/2007
Series: Plus Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 152,136
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Marcus J. Borg (1942–2015) was a pioneering author and teacher whom the New York Times described as "a leading figure in his generation of Jesus scholars." He was the Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University and canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, and he appeared on NBC's The Today Show and Dateline, ABC's World News, and NPR's Fresh Air. His books have sold over a million copies, including the bestselling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Jesus, The Heart of Christianity, Evolution of the Word, Speaking Christian, and Convictions.

John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at DePaul University, is widely regarded as the foremost historical Jesus scholar of our time. He is the author of several bestselling books, including The Historical Jesus, How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian, God and Empire, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, The Greatest Prayer, The Last Week, and The Power of Parable. He lives in Minneola, Florida.

Read an Excerpt

The Last Week

What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem
By Marcus J. Borg

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Marcus J. Borg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780060872601

Chapter One

Palm Sunday

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.' " They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Mark 11:1 -- 11

Two processions enteredJerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year. In the centuries since, Christians have celebrated this day as Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week. With its climax of Good Friday and Easter, it is the most sacred week of the Christian year.

One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class. They had journeyed to Jerusalem from Galilee, about a hundred miles to the north, a journey that is the central section and the central dynamic of Mark's gospel. Mark's story of Jesus and the kingdom of God has been aiming for Jerusalem, pointing toward Jerusalem. It has now arrived.

On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus's procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate's proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus's crucifixion.

Pilate's military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology. Though unfamiliar to most people today, the imperial procession was well known in the Jewish homeland in the first century. Mark and the community for which he wrote would have known about it, for it was the standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the major Jewish festivals. They did so not out of empathetic reverence for the religious devotion of their Jewish subjects, but to be in the city in case there was trouble. There often was, especially at Passover, a festival that celebrated the Jewish people's liberation from an earlier empire.

The mission of the troops with Pilate was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in the Fortress Antonia, overlooking the Jewish temple and its courts. They and Pilate had come up from Caesarea Maritima, "Caesarea on the Sea," about sixty miles to the west. Like the Roman governors of Judea and Samaria before and after him, Pilate lived in the new and splendid city on the coast. For them, it was much more pleasant than Jerusalem, the traditional capital of the Jewish people, which was inland and insular, provincial and partisan, and often hostile. But for the major Jewish festivals, Pilate, like his predecessors and successors, went to Jerusalem.

Imagine the imperial procession's arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.

Pilate's procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God. It began with the greatest of the emperors, Augustus, who ruled Rome from 31 BCE to 14 CE. His father was the god Apollo, who conceived him in his mother, Atia. Inscriptions refer to him as "son of God," "lord" and "savior," one who had brought "peace on earth." After his death, he was seen ascending into heaven to take his permanent place among the gods. His successors continued to bear divine titles, including Tiberius, emperor from 14 to 37 CE and thus emperor during the time of Jesus's public activity. For Rome's Jewish subjects, Pilate's procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.

We return to the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem. Although it is familiar, it has surprises. As Mark tells the story in 11:1 -- 11, it is a prearranged "counterprocession." Jesus planned it in advance. As Jesus approaches the city from the east at the end of the journey from Galilee, he tells two of his disciples to go to the next village and get him a colt they will find there, one that has never been ridden, that is, a young one. They do so, and Jesus rides the colt down the Mount of Olives to the city surrounded . . .


Excerpted from The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg Copyright © 2007 by Marcus J. Borg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface: The First Passion of Jesus     vii
Palm Sunday     1
Monday     31
Tuesday     55
Wednesday     85
Thursday     109
Friday     137
Saturday     165
Easter Sunday     189
Notes     217
Reading and Discussion Guide     221
Further Reading     227

What People are Saying About This

Brian McLaren

“[...] Borg and Crossan show one of the most careful and insightful readings of the Bible I’ve ever come across.”

Peter J. Gomes

“If there is…one book for the redemption of Holy Week, this is it. A must read.”

Barbara Brown Taylor

“It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this volume[...]”

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The Last Week 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Writerofwrongs More than 1 year ago
What I appreciated most about the book is the way it puts the events recorded in Mark into their historical and political context. Their conclusions about the meaning of events, seen in light of this context, could be upsetting to many. In our study group, it seemed most people found it challenging, not threatening. There is a definite agenda to challenge the notion of "substitutionary sacrifice," however even with a great deal of discussion in our group, we didn't feel an alternative understanding of Easter was made clear. The books greatest strength was its message that Jesus' mission and passion was less about the afterlife and far more about realizing God's kingdom on earth. If we are to follow Jesus, we are to follow Him in that mission. Wouldn't this be a better world if people of faith were more focused on that? If anything, the book could have pushed that message even more.
OC_Kiteflyer More than 1 year ago
Once again, the authors have provided excellent insight in to what was actually going on with Jesus and his followers. I learned more of what lead to many decisions by the Roman leaders, and why the crowds eventually turned on Jesus. As a modern day Christian, it is hard to imagine or understand the subtext of what happened, as reported in the Gospels, but the authors provided great insights as to the "whys" I have often had when reading the Gospels. Not a fast page turner, but is was very thought provoking-especially when read during Lent. Also check out "First Christmas" by the same authors. Also a good read for Advent.
AnnMarie61 More than 1 year ago
Again, two of our great contemporary Christian scholars and teachers have put together an important resource for the Christian religious community. I bought it specifically to help encourage my preaching for Holy Week and Easter Sunday, and it didn't fail to do just that! I have always been inspired by the work of these scholars, and hoped I would find new perceptions for understanding the final days of Jesus' life that would inspire my thinking for this high point of our Christian faith. Borg and Crossan have taken another look and approach that opens up different possibilities in which to view these crucial days for our life of faith. Whether you agree with their approach to the historical Jesus or not, there are a lot of provoking insights that will strengthen and encourage faith and faith-filled preaching and thinking. If nothing else, it should inspire a creative spirit to go beyond the trite to consider different possibilities and a broader context for the events of Holy Week and Easter. It's very accessible and easily understood.
DubiousDisciple on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beginning with Palm Sunday and continuing through the following Sunday, resurrection day, Borg and Crossan lead us day-by-day through the events of Christianity's holy week. There are differences between the Gospel accounts, especially when it comes to John's Gospel, so the authors are at times forced to play favorites. Because Mark is the earliest Gospel, and because Mark goes out of his way to chronicle the day-by-day events of the Passion week, the authors chose Mark as their primary source.The stage is set early, on the first day of the week, as Jesus rides a donkey down from the Mount of Olives, through the east gate of the city. On the opposite side of the city, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, arrives at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus' procession hailed the arrival of the Kingdom of God; Pilate's, the power of the Empire. It's not going to go well; this becomes clear early on, as Jesus plans his symbolic resistance. He arrives back on Monday and "attacks" the Temple, overturning the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.The following two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, portray the disciples in their attempt to comprehend what is going on. The very first "Christian" perhaps appears during this time: An unnamed woman recognizes that Jesus is about to die, and anoints him for burial.Thursday may be the most theologically significant day, as we experience the Passover meal, the Gethsemane prayer, and the arrest.Good Friday needs no introduction. Jesus succumbs to the Roman machine, dies with a cry of despair, and leaves the disciples in a great state of confusion and sorrow through Saturday, the Sabbath. (Mark's Gospel itself says nothing at all about Saturday; the feelings and events must be inferred, or taken from elsewhere, such as the tradition of Christ descending into Hell.)Finally, Easter, and the joy of resurrection. By far, this is the most confusing day of the week. Again, Mark's Gospel leaves us with little to go on; the original ending in Mark is very abrupt. Three women discover an empty tomb, and run away afraid, telling no one. It is only in the unfolding legends of other Gospel writers that we can try to piece together what this day meant to Jesus' followers. Regardless of how we imagine the actual events, the message is clear: Jesus lives!
Shoeboy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a review in progress, because I haven't finished the book yet. I'm up to Day 3 and so far it looks like Borg's and Crossan's Jesus is simply a social justice advocate with a flair for the dramatic. If you take Micah 6:8 to heart, you don't need Jesus or any of the gospels. Add the Hebrew prophets and you have everything you need to know about resisting oppression and siding with the poor. Of course, there's more to come. I could be wrong. Stay tuned.
Clif on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a thoughtful analysis of the Gospel of Mark's description of the last week of Jesus' life. It provides a view that most progressive Christians can feel comfortable with. It's a view that doesn't require the reader to suspend their understanding of life, history and reality. Read in December, 2007
FrancescaFB More than 1 year ago
INSPIRING!! THE LAST WEEK was written for anyone who has ever had questions about exactly what occurred during Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. It answers many of those questions in the context of who Jesus was in relation to the Jewish culture in which He and His disciples lived, and gives a deeper understanding of the events that occurred, according to the Gospel of Mark. There are lots of opinions and debates about the Gospels, their true authors, their dating and of course their authenticity. The debates continue regarding the divinity of Jesus, as well as the cornerstone of the Christian faith, the Resurrection. THE LAST WEEK is enlightening.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LosAngelesDan More than 1 year ago
There was a woman who actually believed the story before it was played out. Peter and the others had no idea what their Rabbi was saying. That is the essence of the Last Week. And, no, her name was not Mary the Magdalena.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gives new and deepp understanding of HOlY WEEK. Very well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great work, reviewing, studying, and "exegeting" the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ, principally as recounted in the Gospel of Mark. I read it as daily devotionals for Holy Week this year, and it was a great way to observe this most-important week of the Christian calendar. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A "should read" for all Christians.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book ends up where they all do. The historicity of the resurrection is not important. But its parabolic meaning is what really matters. The truth is, if the story is a fiction, which it likely is, the entire structure collapses. Given the entire lack of extra-biblical accounts, the entire story would seem to be little more than yet one more myth...
Guest More than 1 year ago
My title for this review comes from a paragraph that Borg and Crossan make near the end of this extremely interesting book. The authors start their conclusion of this book with, ¿We shall highlight their [Mark¿s narratives] meaning as parable, as truth-filled stories, without any intrinsic denial of their factuality. We are convinced that the truth claims of these stories matter most.¿ What struck me about this comment 'near the end of the book' is that this is an odd stance given their circuitous route to convince the reader that these things did not really occur as the gospels claim. The overall implication is that there is a great degree of Jewish and Roman political upheaval occurring, and the man, Jesus, is more a victim of imperial terrorism, than a ¿ransom for many.¿ The authors claim that, ¿Mark¿s gospel has an apocalyptic eschatology,¿ meaning that Mark expects, ¿dramatic and decisive divine intervention in the near future.¿ This has important significance with respect to Jesus as the anti-imperialist leader of the Jewish resistance, but this event has little to do with either resurrection, or saving grace. Again, the political turmoil is of paramount importance. Additionally, with a leader committed to passivity, the turmoil should not be a savage war, like the future destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. Rather, ¿as followers of Jesus¿, this community was ¿committed to nonviolence,¿ while being in direct ¿opposition to imperial domination.¿ This Markan position is purely conjecture. The authors don¿t analyze other motives, or possibilities. Indeed, the anti-imperialist role is the only possibility that Borg and Crossan explore. The authors chose wisely to avoid examining the endless number of possibilities that could result from random guesswork. As the book progresses, Borg and Crossan continue in their preference for conjecture. In fact, several pages are devoted to promoting the possibility that Mark viewed participation in the death of Jesus as the main transformational goal in the lives of the disciples. ¿It is not by Jesus substituting for them, but by their participating in Jesus.¿ Here, after all of this conjecture, I realized that even this phrase, ¿participating in Jesus¿ has no conceptual definition. What conclusions can the reader possible draw from such a vague sentence? So, after all of this semi-historical evaluation, the reader is left considering whether these authors are convinced of their position, or not. Could they actually muster a strong denial of the historical veracity of these gospel accounts? Apparently not, otherwise, I¿m sure they may have given it a whole-hearted attempt. What they do succeed in accomplishing is asking enough questions and raising enough historical ambiguity to cast the reader into state of wonderment. All the way down to this closing comment ¿ ¿the truth claims of these stories matter most.¿ What could these men possibly mean by ¿truth.¿ Either, there is historical truth, or there is not. To cast a Cinderella-like pall upon the gospels and claim that the story proves that ¿stepsisters should be nice to one another¿ makes the summary of this book a disappointing, although interesting, read.