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This is a book about the most dramatic day in the history of the world, the day on which Jesus of Nazareth died. It opens at 6 p.m.—the beginning of the Hebrew day—with Jesus and ten of the apostles coming through the pass between the Mount of Olives and the Mount of Offense en route to Jerusalem and the Last Supper. It closes at 4 p.m. of the following afternoon, when Jesus was taken down from the cross.
This book, more than any other with which I have been associated, is the product of the intelligence of others. The fundamental research was done a long time ago by four fine journalists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The rest has been added, in bits and pieces and slivers of knowledge from many men whose names span the centuries in the indelible challenge of the written word: Cyril of Jerusalem, Flavius Josephus, Edersheim, Gamaliel, Danby, William, Ricciotti, Lagrange, Kugelman, Hoenig, Benoit, Barber, Goodier, Prat. These and more added to the sum of knowledge between these covers.
It is, I hope, a practical approach to the events of that day; a journalistic historian's approach rather than that of a theologian. Most of all, I wanted to see Jesus, the man, during this time when he chose to suffer as a man. And I wanted to see him move among his people, among the many who loved him as the Son of God, and among the few in the temple who despised him as a faker. Along the way, I wanted to see, as close up as possible, the twelve whom Jesus selected to carry his word to the world; the thousands of disciples who followed him up and down the hill country; I wanted to understand why Annas, the old man, and Caiphas, the younger one, were desperate to kill the Galilean; if possible, I wanted to probe the self-imposed limitations of Jesus when he came here as man, and I wanted to understand his relationship with God the Father and God the Holy Ghost.
Each chapter of the book is an hour, and there are three background chapters: one is entitled "The Jewish World"; one is called "Jesus" and traces his background and that of his family; and one is called "The Roman World." Of these, the most important is "The Jewish World" because, unless the reader understands the land of Palestine two thousand years ago and gets to see the people, he will not understand this particular day. And it was precisely because so many of the Jewish people believed in Jesus that the elders of thekit impelled to plot against his life—or else, as the high priests said: "He will lead the people astray."
This day bred love and bred rancor and both are still with us. It changed the course of history. In time, it brought nations to the surface, and then submerged them into everlasting limbo. It affected races of people for weal or woe and it affected the lives of billions of individuals. And yet, when friends took Jesus down from the cross, it was not considered by the world—even the world of Palestine—to be an event of importance.
Many of the people of Jerusalem and of Galilee and in the small villages around the land who believed that Jesus was the Messiah were disappointed. To their way of thinking, Jesus should have called legions of angels and struck down the Romans and the high priests who executed his death. He should have sat on a cloud flanked by his apostles and proclaimed a new rule of the world. The fact that he did not—that he chose to die to redeem the sins of man—was, to their minds, a token of failure. Crucifixion was considered to be such a shameful way to die that, for some time afterward, even his apostles did not want to discuss it.
Of paramount concern to me was to try to orient the facts of this day. My sole armament in this was, first, a lifelong belief that Jesus is God and the second person of the Trinity; second, an unquenchable curiosity to which I have become enslaved; and third, a feeling that Jesus truly loved everyone, and proved it.
In the research, I found split trails all along the road. At these points, I felt free to take the one to the left, or the one to the right. For example, was the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, at the Fortress Antonia on this particular day or across town in Herod's palace? A small point, perhaps, but there is evidence favoring both conclusions. In all cases, I examined the evidence and selected what, to me, seemed to be the logical trail.
Nothing in this book controverts the teachings of the Bible. One who believes in the truth of the Gospels (as I have—and do) must confess to a certain lack of objectivity. But I also claim to be a journalist; I felt that my job was, first of all, to proceed independently. While researching material for this book, I made a trip to Jerusalem accompanied by my twelve-year-old daughter, Gayle, to whom I am indebted for endless conversation, innocent questions, and the rich warmth of her feeling that all along the way she was taking care of me.
In Jerusalem—the ancient walled city, not the beautiful new one to the west—one can still walk the way of the cross, kneel in Gethsemane,stand on top of the Mount of Olives and visualize the Holy City as it was, touch the spot where the cross stood, and 120 feet northwest walk into the holy sepulcher. The writer can also meet archeologists of the several faiths, and this one did. These dedicated men—Catholics, Jews, Episcopalians, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans—are all eager to help, and each one adds a brush stroke to a portrait.The Day Christ Died. Copyright © by Jim Bishop. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from The Day Christ Died by Jim Bishop
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