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Understanding Golgotha

Crucifixion by Rembrandt

James V. Schall, S.J. - published on 08/08/14

A review of "The Gospel Accounts of the Death of Jesus."

“It is John’s way of affirming again that the hand of God directed the whole salvific event of Golgotha for the good of all, both Jews and Gentiles. What John does in his citations from Scripture is really what all the Evangelists do in the face of the great event of Jesus’ death which they seek to recount—they affirm that God’s hand is here. They are so concerned with showing ‘what really happened’ at Golgotha that they cannot be contained by mere historical details in their explanation of the great event. Jesus died at Golgotha.”
–Ernest R. Martinez, S. J., The Gospel Accounts of the Death of Jesus.

These reflections are occasioned by my reading of Ernest Martinez’s book on the Gospel accounts of Christ’s death. Martinez is a classmate of mine in the Jesuit Order. After I arrived in Los Gatos in 2012, I came across a notice of the publication of this book in 2008. I knew even from my own Roman days in the 1960’s and 70’s that Father Martinez had been working his way through the account of Jesus’ death in Mark’s Gospel. But I had not known that this more complete book was published. It takes into consideration all the references to Christ’s death in the whole of the New Testament, including the epistles, with any pertinent references to this death in the Old Testament. This book, in other words, is a comprehensive analysis of how the scriptures presented and understood the death of Jesus on Golgotha.

So I wrote sent an e-mail to Father Martinez, who is currently the Librarian in the Jesuit Curia in Rome. He kindly sent me a copy. It has taken me over a year to read this very scholarly and thoroughly researched book. It is a book that one can, as I did, read a few pages at a time. Much on each page is there to ponder. One thinks he has read the scripture until he comes across a book like this that reminds him of how much he missed or did not know. Though this is a scholarly book, one does not need to be an academic to read it. Martinez writes clearly and carefully. He explains the point he is making at each step. “The meaning of each Evangelist on the death of Jesus reflects a different facet of New Testament theology. Jesus’ death was for the many (Mark),  for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew), his exodus from the power of darkness and assumption into glory (Luke), and his being lifted up for the life of the world (John)” (288). The reading of the book demonstrates how each of themes is treated and how each is related to the whole description of what Christ’s death was about.

From my own studies, I have written a number of things on the Death of Christ. These considerations made Martinez’s understanding of Christ’s death doubly meaningful to me. In my book, At the Limits of Political Philosophy, Chapter 7 is entitled “On the Death of Socrates and the Death of Christ.” Both John Paul II and Benedict have remarked on the relation of these two deaths in intellectual history. Roughly, as I see it, political philosophy itself is concerned with, indeed founded by the basic issue of the just man being killed in a legal trial in the best city of its time. This fact pinpoints in a graphic, even poignant, way the conflict between politics and philosophy. Plato himself wondered if it always must be this way, that justice has no real home in any existing city. And Augustine took the issue a step further—the only real home is the City of God. If my reading of Martinez is correct, he would agree with the abidingness of the conflict and the only real location of its ultimate solution.

Martinez was a student of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and at the Gregorian University. He has taught at Loyola/Marymount University, the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, and at the Gregorian University. Obviously, this study is the work of many decades of careful, meticulous analysis. It requires a knowledge of all the biblical languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, as well as Latin, German, Italian, French, Spanish, the modern languages in which most of the scholarship on the bible is written. Martinez is obviously a master of his subject matter. He is strikingly judicious in his careful consideration of the evidence. The book is carefully arranged with indices and cross-references that enable the reader constantly check a source or where some issue was previously treated. As a reader, I marveled at the luminous thoroughness in which each part of the book is related to the whole exposition.

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