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 ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

July/August
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Current IssueFrom Jonathan Edwards to Jerry Falwell
From Jonathan Edwards to Jerry Falwell Subscriber Access Only
Pulitzer Prize–winner Frances FitzGerald looks at the long history behind evangelical political activism.
Current IssueThe Fight for Social Justice Starts Within
The Fight for Social Justice Starts Within Subscriber Access Only
What Jason Russell and John Ortberg learned about the souls of activists.
RecommendedThe Real History of the Crusades
The Real History of the CrusadesSubscriber Access Only
A series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics? Think again.
TrendingKay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Kay Warren: 'We Were in Marital Hell'
Through God's work in our lives, we've beaten the odds that divorce would be the outcome of our ill-advised union.
Editor's PickMelvin Banks Had a Dream
Melvin Banks Had a Dream
An interview with the founder of the largest African American Christian publishing house.
Christianity Today
What Makes This Week Holy?
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

April 2004

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.