Why Another Book?

click to buy

Did you ask yourself this question?  The editors of this new volume of essays written by Latter-day Saint scholars did.  “Does the world need another volume about Jesus?”  Andrew C. Skinner, author of the introductory chapter, answers an unequivocal “yes” because of what is at stake.  “In a day and age when New Testament texts…that report Jesus’ redemptive death and resurrection are increasingly being attacked, discounted, degraded, or touted as myth, the truth must be trumpeted to the world.”

“There never has been or ever will be anything as significant or important as the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Because this is true, we ought to make the life of Christ the object of our most intense and constant study effort.”  Skinner continues by quoting a statement made by St. Augustine about the impact of the life of Jesus.  “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”  Skinner confirms, “I feel keenly this restlessness in my own life when my thoughts turn elsewhere.”

Skinner and St. Augustine are right.  There is a restlessness in us when we do not abide in the Lord.  As we make Christ the center of our study efforts, we hunger to know all we can of Him.  Throughout time, however, some of the events of Christ’s final hours became clouded, our understanding of them somewhat diminished.  The importance of these events, however, did not diminish.  The Last Supper through the Resurrection works to clarify the details of such events.  Several other gospel commentaries have tried to do the same.  So what makes this book different?

A Scholarly Effort of Varied Perspective

Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment have intuitively gathered fourteen essays from brilliant Latter-day Saint scholars in an attempt to explore in a fresh and new way the events of Jesus’ final earthly hours and the glorious events of His resurrection.  It is important to note that articles in this volume do not involve the reworking of old scholarship.  Instead, they attempt to use the most current information available.  In many cases, new information has recently surfaced as a result of continued archaeological excavation, improved library access and new discoveries of ancient documents.  Scholarly methods of inquiry have also been refined.

Readers will not feel as if the work is narrowly written from a Latter-day Saint (LDS) perspective. By frequent reference to LDS and non-LDS sources, scriptural and apocryphal works and ancient/modern revelation, a prism of colored viewpoints is reflected.  Where gray areas of intense scholarly debate arise, writers have tried to accurately present both sides of the argument.  However, the Restoration sheds “incredible light on these events; and as a result, our discussions are often richer and fuller than they would be otherwise.”  Thus, the added light and knowledge of the restored gospel casts a final ray of illumination on each debate.

The editors’ most noble pursuit stems from a quest to expose LDS readers to Christian terminology used by the general Christian population.  Such exposure can help create meaningful dialogue between Latter-day Saints and the rest of the Christian world.  Terms such as Passion narratives, Johannine, Matthean, and Christology are frequently used in an attempt to be more inclusive – terms we encounter often in common Christian diction.  Holzapfel and Wayment remind us that President Spencer W. Kimball once suggested, “We must speak with the language of scholarship and faith” if we are ever to achieve the goals the Lord has set before us.  This unique endeavor in a scholarly work is of tremendous value.

Looking back on the conversations I have had of late with non-LDS friends regarding Christ, the Passion, redemption, and vagaries within the canonical gospels, I am grateful to have read this book.  I took significant notes, largely because I planned to review the work.  But when I looked back on the truths I had acquired during my reading, I felt to thank the editors and authors for their insight and awareness of other Christian faiths.  It is not only wise but also imperative that we understand other “religious languages” and perspectives if we are to successfully accomplish the loving work of the Lord.

From Bethany to Gethsemane

The book is chronologically constructed to build upon itself.  Each essay picks up where the former leaves off.  In several chapters that cover the events from Christ’s anointing by Mary in Bethany to the Last Supper (ensuing a debate over the Last Supper as Passover meal) to the Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane.  We are taken on a journey – one that analyzes each event to draw out its symbolism and truth.  The Gospels are powerful, trustworthy witnesses to these historical events.  They differ however in audience, content, emphasis and perspective.  Matthew wrote for a Jewish/Christian audience, Mark for a Gentile audience, Luke wrote a highly literary account for Greeks and Jews, and John wrote a more theological account for believers.  These differences, inclusions and exclusions of events or topics, re-surface in each essay, endowing the reader with increased understanding of the synoptic writers and John’s narratives, all of which confirm in their own way that Jesus is the literal Son of God, the Savior of the world.

One example of how history became clouded over time can be found in Terry B. Ball’s essay on Gethsemane.  Some scholars think Christ bled actual drops of blood during his Atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane while others think He simply shed tears like blood.  Ball explains, “For Latter-day Saints, the issue is simplified.  In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1830, the Savior confirmed the reality of his suffering, which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore'” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18) (158).

Ball then includes the words of modern prophets, concluding with President Hinckley’s tribute to the Savior in Gethsemane.  “Everything depended on him – his atoning sacrifice.  Terrible as it was to face it, and burdensome as it was to realize it, he faced it, he accomplished it, and it was a marvelous and wonderful thing…beyond our comprehension, I believe.  Finding a medium through which we can express our appreciation for what the Savior did for us in that secluded garden is difficult.  Words and music alone seem inadequate. Perhaps we can best demonstrate our understanding and appreciation for the gift given to us at Gethsemane by the way we live, serve and love” (164).

Arrested, Charged and Crucified

In Kent S. Brown’s essay entitled, The Arrest, Brown draws our attention to the interplay of light and darkness used in John’s narrative, established in the very first chapter of his Gospel.  John’s interest in light is most fascinating.  Brown recounts that during the arrest, the chief priests and Pharisees came with lanterns and torches, “bearing meager sources of light…into the presence of the Light of the world…Moreover, the full moon was shining” (assumed to be present during Passover) “illuminating the darkness of the sleeping city while the forces of darkness hunted down Jesus the Light” (202-203).

Two sterling essays by Dana M. Pike and Eric D. Huntsman respectively discuss the involvement of the Jewish Authorities and the Romans in conspiring against Jesus, charging Him with blasphemy and sedition, then condemning Him to crucifixion.  A “handing over” of Jesus from Judas to the Jews, Jews to the Romans, and the Romans to be crucified denotes the role each person or group played in Jesus’ fate.  On television, in tabloids and national magazines, we have recently read titles like “Who Killed Jesus?”  Tension circling this point of contention has been palpable.  It is explained in these essays that the Gospel writers’ usage of the term “The Jews” can be interpreted too broadly.  Thus, Jewish factions are discussed in detail, as is the interchange of power between Jewish and Roman authorities.

In another essay, written by Thomas Wayment, entitled, Responsibility for the Death of Jesus, Wayment puts forth a most sound end to this debate.  He writes, “For some reason, in our modern way of thinking, we believe that by assigning responsibility for the death of the Savior to an individual or select group, we can somehow make sense of what happened in Jerusalem so many years ago.”  Wayment then cites the Savior himself as an example.  “The Savior of the world never took it upon himself in his earthly ministry to directly assign responsibility for the act of crucifixion” (422).  We are reminded that, like the Fall, the humiliation, suffering and crucifying of Christ were all part of God’s divine plan to save His children.

Treatment of a King

The burial of Christ is discussed in detail by Cecilia M. Peek.  Included in her essay is the debate over Joseph of Arimathaea.  Was he simply an observant Jew who knew Christ’s body should not hang upon the cross as the Sabbath approached?  Or was he a true disciple of Christ?  A defense for both arguments is made.  Peeks, however, asserts that Joseph was a disciple – otherwise he wouldn’t have attended to the burial with such detail and kindness.  She also states that it “took courage” for Joseph to go before Pilate and procure the body of Jesus (Mark 15:43).

This argument aside, Peeks states that at the point of burial, the story of Christ’s Atonement turns from a foul, degrading death to the long overdue treatment of a King.  His body was to be prepared with the best of spices and oils in a tomb where no one else had yet been laid.  “The honorable placement of Christ’s body in the tomb affirms His innocence, even His royalty” (377).

Most joyful to read was the chapter on the Resurrection, written by Holzapfel and Wayment.  Think of John and Peter running to the tomb to see if it was empty.  “Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed” (John 20:6-8).  Holzapfel and Wayment write, “Now for the first time, the beloved disciple began to understand in a fuller sense that fellowship with Jesus was stronger than death, as the Master had told him on the night of His betrayal” (16:17-22) (379).

Of course, the debate over location of Jesus’ tomb does not go unmentioned.  Church of

The Holy Sepulchre or The Garden Tomb?  Again, the editors turn to the life-giving light of the restoration – to the words of a modern prophet, President Harold B. Lee.  After a visit to Jerusalem, President Lee said this of The Garden Tomb, “Something seemed to impress us as we stood there that this was the holiest place of all, and we fancied we could have witnessed the dramatic scene that took place there” (376).

Quest for the Resurrected Lord

The need for many individuals to see and communicate with the risen Lord cannot be discounted.  Holzapfel and Wayment point out that Matthew’s narrative specifically was written to counteract claims by the Jews that Jesus’ body was taken by His disciples.  They also discuss how the narratives treat Mary and her interaction with the resurrected Christ.  She was the first witness of the Resurrection in two ways.  She was the first to see the risen Lord and she was first to witness to others what she had seen.

Three final essays discussing current issues make the book complete.  These essays address early accounts of the Passion story, such as those found in the letters of Paul, written before the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and responsibility for the death of Jesus, as previously mentioned.  A final essay entitled, The Conspiracy Begins, written by M. Catherine Thomas, offers a treatise on the means and ways the Adversary has sought to undermine the doctrine of the Resurrection.  She explains that Satan’s tactics have been to disorient man as to his eternal possibilities. “That is…the cover-up was less about Christ and more about man himself” (452).  Gnostic, ascetic and apostate philosophies are openly discussed. 

Thomas concludes, “Other scholars…abandon themselves to the position that knowing whether the resurrection was literal is…not all that important, seeing that the quest for the historical resurrected Jesus is futile” (476).  Thomas boldly refutes this saying.  “The quest is not futile.  Moroni said simply, I have seen Jesus…He hath talked with me face to face…And…I would commend you to seek this Jesus” (Ether 12:39-41).  Moroni knew that the quest is not only not futile but that it is imperative, because…without a conscious relationship with Him [Christ], man cannot move toward his high destiny” (477).

Another Book Worth Reading

So we have another volume about Jesus.  It is scholarly, dense, critical, smart and broadening – written for a student of the scriptures who desires to intensify their study of Christ.  If the issues discussed above were of interest to you, you will find the book fascinating.  Since my time of studying in Jerusalem at the BYU Center for Near Eastern Studies nearly ten years ago, I have not found a text that teaches as much detail and truth about the final hours of the Savior’s life as this one.  Although a long, extended read, it was worth the time.

As Latter-day Saints we must introduce ourselves to broader terminology and thought used by the Christian world.  President Hinckley has raised the bar for our full-time missionaries.  I cannot help but think we must simultaneously raise the bar for ourselves.  The Last Supper through the Resurrection is a wonderful place to start your study.  Holzapfel and Wayment, along with their stalwart staff of writers, deserve a hearty thanks for constructing such a strong, enlightening work.