A book on Holy Week written by a physicist? Not appealing at first blush. But upon a thorough perusal, Colin J. Humphreys’ The Mystery of the Last Supper (Cambridge, 2011) proves an absolute gem. You know the saying about books and their covers.
Noted New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall declares in his foreword that this book is a tour de force. That is high praise, especially considering Humphreys’ biblical research is something he does in his free time — alongside his day job as a top-flight Cambridge materials scientist, for which work he was recently knighted.
Humphreys’ aim in The Mystery of the Last Supper is to present a coherent account of the chronology of Holy Week. Anyone who has read the accounts in the Gospels of Jesus’ last days before death knows that one is likely to run into all manner of apparent contradictions and chronological confusions in the quest to reconstruct just how the week must have looked.
Humphreys points out four central problems in this quest:
1) Did anything happen on Holy Wednesday?
2) Was the last supper a Passover meal?
3) How did all the events purported to have happened between the evening supper and the crucifixion the next morning happen within that short span of time?
4) Did the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus flout Jewish legal rules against capital trials being held at night?
These are crucial questions, both as matters of history (what really happened?) and of faith (are the Gospels trustworthy?).
Humphreys deals with these questions intelligently and straightforwardly. The result is a fascinating, well-researched, imaginative bit of scholarship. As it explores Jewish calendar systems and the like, the book comes out valiantly on the side of the reliability of the Gospels.
Wondering what happened on each day of Holy Week? Then read Humphreys. During the month of March, Rolfing’s copy of The Mystery of the Last Supper can be found in the Holy Week display near the library entrance.