The Last Week, by Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan

The Last Week, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
Narrated by John Pruden
The Last Week brings to light the historical meaning (as Borg and Crossan see it) of the last week of Jesus as told in the Gospel of Mark. This book was very interesting, though lacked the power of The First Christmas, which I reviewed previously. The main reason for this difference is that The First Christmas told the story of Christmas by comparing all the Gospel stories, as opposed to focusing on just one. Borg and Crossan chose to focus on Mark because he’s the only one to have described the entire week in detail. However it made for a much less interesting, and more repetitive, book. Another difference was that in The First Christmas, Borg and Crossan focused a lot on why they thought some passages were parable rather than literal, and why others should be taken literally. The Last Week focused a lot less on this subject, and spent the bulk of the book simply interpreting the historical background of Mark’s Gospel for our modern times. This, of course, is a very interesting subject, but the lack of that added myth vs. literal aspect made for a much less meaty book. 

All in all, I’d say each of these books has its own merits, and which you read would depend on what you’re looking for. Borg and Crossan are knowledgeable and well-researched historical Jesus scholars. So if you take the Bible quite literally and are looking to understand the historical background of the Passion of Jesus, The Last Week is the book for you. However, if you find the little “inconsistencies” of the Gospels interesting, then The First Christmas is the book for you. If you are at all interested in the subject, I would recommend one or the other (or both) of these books. 

The First Christmas, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan

The First Christmas: What the Gospels really Teach About Jesus’ Birth
by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
Narrated by John Pruden

In this fascinating little book, Borg and Crossan explore the historical meaning behind the birth-of-Jesus story. They first point out the factual differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the birth story. Then they explain how, after the Enlightenment, many people want everything to be either literally true or false. Many Christians are in denial of the “factual inconsistencies” in the Bible, and the ones who are aware of the inconsistencies often feel a little uncomfortable and don’t know quite what to think about them. Borg and Crossan point out that the stories are meant to be parables. They were not meant to be taken as literal truth. They explore a deeper truth within the limits of historical culture. 

Borg and Crossan study (practically line-by-line at times) each birth story separately, explaining the cultural, literary, or mythological meaning of the Biblical text. For instance, in his story of the Magi and Herod, Matthew was bringing to mind parallels to the Moses story in his Gospel. Like Pharaoh, Herod wanted to kill all the baby boys because he’d heard that one was born who would overthrow him. As with the parents of Moses, Jesus’ parents had divine inspiration to have a child despite great obstacles – in the case of Moses’ parents, they had to have faith that their son wouldn’t die; in the case of Joseph, he had to have faith that Mary was yet a virgin. Against all odds, both boys survived and became great leaders. Such parallels to the Moses story would help justify to first century Christians the divinely-inspired leadership of Jesus. 

I really enjoyed learning about the cultural reasons for the choices Matthew and Luke made while writing their gospels. At times, I felt the book didn’t translate well to audio, though, because the authors went into great detail in their lists of gospel references (for instance, every reference of to Jesus as “light,” and what the word “light” meant in that sense). The lists didn’t translate well to audio since they were something I would normally either skim over or use as a Bible study guide. Neither could be done in an audiobook. Regardless, I’m glad I had the chance to listen to this book, and I hope to read their first book The Last Week. I’ll save that one for Easter, though.