Nick Page has always had a special place in my heart, hence my excitement was palpable when I found The Longest Week on my 2022 TBR list. You know those quizzes where they ask you to pick an author you’ll love to have lunch with? Most of the time, my choice is always a pub date with Nick Page. Sharing pints of beer with my favourite church historian is a literary dream that can’t be bettered. Nick Page has a knack for providing very rigorously researched history with a great dose of dry humour and all written in a very approachable and accessible manner for the laity and even the unchurched. In The Longest Week, the humour is toned down (but not absent as I doubt he can help himself on that front) but the research is rigorous, extensive and very accessible.
The Longest Week is a reconstruction of Jesus’ last week on earth. It uses the gospels as a guide but they are not used as theological texts but simply historical texts. Beyond the gospels, The Longest Week also relies on historical texts written in the first century by historians outside the church (the works of Josephus feature prominently). The most naive view of historical readings is that there is something like an unbiased version of any history. As N.T. Wright often says, ”if you want an unbiased version of history, go read a phone book”. Nick Page is not unbiased and his historical recollection of the events in first-century Jerusalem from the day leading up to the first Palm Sunday to Easter Monday does not conceal his Christian beliefs. However, he does not produce a Christian apologetic work. The summary is that most of what happened in that week and recorded in the gospels are not as far-fetched as sceptics portray it. Within the context of the culture, politics and religious landscapes of the day, the gospels paint a picture that makes the historical fact of Jesus’ last week incredibly plausible and the Easter and post-Easter conduct of the early church a game-changer. The Longest Week relies on extensive research to paint the backstory of the gospels within the context of the socio-economic culture of the first-century Jewish world, the Roman government and Jewish temple politics.
Reading The Longest Week during this year’s Lenten season has been most timely and enabled me to see the gospels through 1st-century eyes while asking 21st-century questions.