For many Christians, the week of March 25 to April 1, 2018, is a significant one because it is when the Western church observes Holy Week. The week begins with Palm Sunday on March 25, commemorating Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem. Throughout the week, services are held to recognize the Last Supper; Jesus’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion; and, finally, his resurrection on Easter Sunday. It’s a week of solemnity and celebration.
To recognize the week, I’d like to share a list of books that shed light on different aspects of these events. There’s no lack of books about Jesus, so I’ve chosen a few that I’ve read and loved, a few by authors I admire, and a few that come highly recommended by people I trust. Some, but not all, are written by believers. The authors of these books are known for careful and thoughtful research, although not all of them draw the same conclusions. However, I think they all have potential for giving Christians and non-Christians alike some new insights into how Christians think about Jesus and his final week on Earth.
The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright
To understand the significance of Holy Week, it’s important to know something about Jesus himself and what Christians believe about him. This book is a valuable resource because it presents two contrasting views as Borg, a liberal scholar, and Wright, a conservative, share their answers to questions about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. (They also provide a model for how to disagree about important issues.)
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
In this book, scholar Reza Aslan examines a variety of historical sources, including the gospels, to get a sense of how Jesus was viewed during his own time and in the years after. He considers the controversies and contradictions around people’s ideas about Jesus and even how Jesus might have perceived himself.
Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths by Karen Armstrong
The events of Holy Week take place in and around Jerusalem. Today, the city is an important holy site for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and that fact has shaped much of the city’s history. In this book, Karen Armstrong, the author of many great books on religion, explores that history.
The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Domonic Crossan
If you want to focus on Holy Week itself, this book offers a day-by-day account of Jesus’s final week, from Palm Sunday through the Resurrection. They focus on what the Gospel of Mark actually says about those final days, attempting to put the story into historical context and reveal what that story would have meant to its first readers.
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright
If you want to understand the traditional Western view of the resurrection, this could be a great place to start. N.T. Wright is a thorough researcher and careful writer who presents the history and theology methodically and with an eye to why these ideas are important. Here, he makes the case that Jesus was bodily resurrected.
Resurrecting Easter: How the West Lost and the East Kept the Original Easter Vision by Sarah sexton Crossan and John Dominic Crossan
In this new book, noted Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan and his wife, Sarah Sexton Crossan, share what they’re learned from depictions of the resurrection in the art of the Eastern church. How is their view different from that in the West? The book includes four-color illustrations of the art they’re discussing.
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
The story of Holy Week continues to reverberate across the centuries, including with the African-American church. In this powerful book, theologian James H. Cone explains how the image of the cross is echoed in the image of the lynching tree. This is primarily a book of recent history, but it shows why the Holy Week story remains so potent for so many today.