The Final Days of Jesus: The Thrill of Defeat, The Agony of Victory: A Classical Historian Explores Jesus’s Arrest, Trial, and Execution

By Mark D. Smith

An insightful study of the circumstances leading up to the death of Jesus, setting it in the context of the Roman and Jewish politics of the time.

ISBN: 9780718895105


In The Final Days of Jesus, Mark Smith brings his experience as a classical historian to bear on the life of the historical Jesus, piecing together the volatile political context of first-century Judaea, as well as the lives of Pontius Pilate, Annas, and Joseph Caiaphas. The claim that ‘the Jews crucified Jesus’ has spawned a long and tragic history of Christian anti-Semitism. Smith challenges this claim through detailed exploration of Roman, Jewish, and Christian written sources and a broad range of archaeological evidence, such as the ossuary of Caiaphas, the ‘Hidden Gate’, and the rich vein of research devoted to the archaeology of ritual purity. The result is an earthy and nuanced portrait of Jewish life under Roman rule. From his discussion of the multiplicity and brutality of Roman executions to the intricate personal relationships among elites that provided the means of collaboration and redress, Smith details the complex push-pull of forces between Rome and the Temple as they collided in one history-changing week.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 272
Illustrations b&w

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Trade Information LGENPOD

About the Author

Mark D. Smith is Professor of History at The College of Idaho and has long served on the Board of Directors for the Bethsaida Excavations Project in Israel.


List of Illustrations and Tables
In Principio: Preface

I. Historia: Evidence and Classical History
II. Ad Fontes: Sources, Analysis, and What Classical Historians Do
III. Praefectus Iudaeae: Pontius Pilatus and His World
IV. Pontifices Maximi: Annas, Caiaphas, and the High Priesthood of Jerusalem
V. Quaestio: The High Priests’ Inquest
VI. Cognitio Extra Ordinem: The Trial of the Millennium
VII. Summum Supplicium: The Execution and Burial of Jesus
VIII. Ad Consummationem: Conclusion

Honoris Causa: Acknowledgments
Appendix I: The Chronology of the Historical Jesus
Appendix II: References to Synedrion in the New Testament
Auctoritates: Secondary Sources for Further Reading


Endorsements and Reviews

This is a rare achievement: a new angle of vision on the trial and death of Jesus: that of a classical historian of Rome with insight as well into Jewish and Christian history and Biblical scholarship. Scholars will appreciate the convincing analysis, and both scholars and lay readers will find the style clear, sensitive, and pleasing.
Jeffrey Burton Russell, Professor of History, emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara

Mark Smith offers readers a masterful treatment of the death of Jesus and the events that brought it about in his carefully researched and well written book. Smith treats all of the pertinent data and reaches compelling conclusions. Those who wonder what happened to Jesus and why some people wanted to kill him must read Smith’s book. Although not its primary focus, The Final Days of Jesus makes some interesting comments on the theology that is at stake.
Craig A. Evans, John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins, Houston Baptist University

Detailing the final days of Jesus’ life on earth is a theological, literary, archaeological, historical and geographical conundrum which requires many different interpretive skills to understand what really happened and how we know what we think we know about those final days. Many recent authors have tried to write about these moments that are so significant for many around the world. Mark D. Smith’s training in the material culture and in the study of the classical world makes The Final Days of Jesus: The Thrill of Defeat, The Agony of Victory the closest to giving us a full rendering of what happened and why.
Professor Richard Freund, Maurice Greenberg Professor of Jewish History and Director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, University of Hartford

Mark Smith has brought vividly to life the politics that swirled around the arrest and trial of Jesus. Using insight and the latest archaeological findings, Smith explores the inter-dependence of the Roman governor Pilate and the house of the high priest Caiaphas, calling into question the standard narrative of Jesus’s trial before the Sanhedrin. A thoughtful perspective, from which readers of all faiths will benefit.
H.A. Drake, author of A Century of Miracles

The result is a fresh, intriguing and compelling account of political and religious motivations for Jesus’ death. His judicious discussion of the historian’s task, make this a most readable, and important contribution to the understanding of the gospel narratives.
Derek Tovey, in Stimulus, Vol 25, Issue 1

If Smith wanted to bring a richer, more nuanced picture of the final days of Jesus, then he succeeded admirably. As a Roman Historian, looking in from the outside, so to speak, he is like a breath of fresh air. His analysis is sober, reasonable, insightful and compelling. No historical investigation of Jesus’s crucifixion can proceed without having Smith as a dialogue partner.
Markus Cromhout, in Neotestamentica, Vol 53, No 3

[The] appendix is one of Smith’s controversial conclusions and is one place where he reflects the influence of his one-time mentor Robert Gundry (e.g., on Matthew’s infancy narratives). The book as a whole is a refreshingly different and readable interpretation of the historical evidence, reflecting wide reading, classical expertise (reminiscent of A.N. Sherwin-White) and familiarity with Palestinian archaeology.
David Wenham, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament