The passion of Jesus Christ is the central event that divides Western civilization for both believers and non-believers.
It is, of course, the foundation of the Christian faith. Much of history has occurred because of this event: an awesome tangle of inspiration, dedication, vast accomplishment and also sweeping hatreds, bloody wars, millions of martyrs.
The death of Jesus of Nazareth is an event so momentous that 2,000 years later it continues to animate much of Western civilization. Yet at the same time as it inspires profound devotion, it remains the subject of historical controversy.
Until the 18th century few Christian scholars questioned the historical veracity of the Passion, related in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Yet by the 1700s, both believers and sceptics had begun to scrutinize the Scriptures and other reports, seeking the “historical Jesus.” They uncovered dismayingly little to verify the Gospels, which are a compilation of the oral traditions that were finally written down, to a great extent, 50 years after the events had taken place and often differing in significant detail.
Today, some of that has changed. Once the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, more than 60 years ago, theologians, archaeologists and anthropologists began busily trying to piece together historical accuracy and the theological meaning of the final events of Jesus’ life.
The conclusion drawn by most thoughtful scholars is that the Gospel narratives are a dramatic mixture of lore and fact, particularly concerning the final days of Christ.