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The Last Week of Jesus' Life

The next few html pages will analyze the events in the last week of Jesus' life as they are depicted in the gospels. The events are described in all four gospels, including the maverick gospel of John. In terms of verses, all the evangelists devote about one third of their respective gospel to these events: Mark about 36%, Matthew 39%, Luke 31% and John 38%. These last seven days of Jesus life forms a very important part of Christian theology. Our quest here is straightforward; just how many of these narratives or episodes are actually about historical events and how many are myths?

We shall see later that serious discrepancies exist between the order of events as narrated in the different gospels. However, for convenience sake, we will give a summary of the final week of Jesus' life based on the Markan framework. [a] These events are covered in the last six chapters of Mark (Mark 11:1 to 16:8). This will give a basis from which a reasoned analysis of the events and sequences can be carried out.

The final act begins on Sunday (five days before the Jewish celebration of Passover which was to fall on Friday that year) when Jesus, riding on a donkey, "triumphantly" entered Jerusalem to the cheers of many people. He apparently did not get much done that day. Upon entering Jerusalem, he went into the temple, looked around and then went back to the town of Bethany (Mark 11:1-11).

The next day, on his way back to Jerusalem, he cursed a fig tree for not having fruit. Then, arriving at the temple, he angrily drove out the money changers for making the place a "den of robbers" . At dusk they left Jerusalem again, probably for Bethany (Mark 11:12-19).

On Tuesday morning, again on the way to Jerusalem, the disciples of Jesus noticed the that the fig tree Jesus had cursed the night before had withered. At the temple Jesus debated with the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders. He also preached to the crowds (Mark 11:20-13:37).

On Wednesday, two days before the Passover, Jesus was anointed by an unnamed woman at Bethany. On that day too, Judas went to the chief priests to betray Jesus (Mark 14:1-11).

On Thursday, Passover eve, Jesus and his disciples prepared for the ceremonial meal. At night, which by Jewish reckoning was already the next day, they sat down for the meal. This is the famed "last supper" in popular Christian imagination. After the meal, Jesus and his disciples went to Gethsemane, where he prayed in anticipation of his death. (See figure 9.1 for the probable location of Gethsemane) Judas then appeared with an armed party and Jesus was arrested. Jesus was tried that very night before the Jewish religious council, the Sanhedrin and was found guilty of blasphemy (Mark 14:12-65).

The next morning, on Friday, the Sanhedrin reached a decision and handed Jesus over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate could not find Jesus guilty of any crime and wanted to release him using a custom which allowed one condemned prisoner to be released during the Jewish Passover. The crowd chose a man named Barabas, who was condemned for his part in a recent uprising, instead of Jesus. Jesus was then handed over to be crucified. By 3 pm that day, Jesus was already dead. His body was claimed by Joseph of Arimathea who laid Jesus in the tomb before the Sabbath commenced (Mark 15:1-47).

On Sunday morning, three women followers of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, another Mary and Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body. Instead they found the tomb empty. A young man dressed in white then informed the women that Jesus had risen and will meet his disciples in Galilee (Mark 16:1-8).

Thus, in an nutshell is Mark's version of what happened in the last week of Jesus' life. [1] However, as we have mentioned earlier, serious discrepancies exist between all the four gospels; both in general outline and in the specific details of the individual episodes. We will now proceed, using the Markan framework, to analyze these discrepancies.

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a.I specifically mentioned Markan framework as there are serious discrepancies in the gospels about the events during this last week. This is especially acute between the synoptics and the gospel of John.


1.Guignebert, Jesus: p425

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