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In the Christian calendar, yesterday was Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. During this week Christians are asked to reflect on the meaning of Jesus' death on the cross, an event that took place nearly two millennia ago at a place which still remains the epicenter of religious and political violence today.

By lunar coincidence, this week also marks, on Tuesday, the festival of Pesah, or Passover, the most celebrated Jewish holiday of the year. Passover commemorates God's deliverance of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Jesus had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with his disciples when he was caught in the web of events that led to his death. While most Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the New Testament weaves the central events of this week into one overarching story of redemptive history. As St. Paul put it, "For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7).

But what makes this week holy? According to some scholars of religion, both the Jewish Passover and the Christian celebration of Jesus' death and resurrection should be understood as Middle Eastern variants of ancient agricultural festivals, springtime rituals based upon the fertility cycle of nature. Jesus' death and resurrection is thus interpreted as yet another example of the many dying and rising savior-myths well known to ancient cultures and especially popular among the mystery religions of the Roman Empire.

In this view, history is a great wheel, a never-ending cycle of night and day, springtime and harvest, bringing the eternal return of life. Philosophically, this view says "there is nothing new under the sun," "there will always be a tomorrow," and "you can feel good about yourself because God's in his ...

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April 2004

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