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Passion Week in Jerusalem: Contradictions in Gospel Accounts of Jesus' Passion

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Fig Tree in Jerusalem, Destroyed by Locusts

Fig Tree in Jerusalem, Destroyed by Locusts

Passion Week in Jerusalem:


During Holy Week Christians are expected to devote time to the study of the passion of Jesus Christ — his suffering, his death, and his eventual resurrection which is commemorated on Easter. For something so important, it’s curious how contradictory the gospel accounts are. Did Jesus ride one or two animals into Jerusalem? Was the Last Supper a Passover meal or not? How and where was Jesus anointed? The gospels don’t agree on any of these events.

What is Passion Week or Holy Week?:


For Christians, Holy Week is the final week of Lent. It begins with Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday, and ends with Easter Sunday. During this week Christians are expected to devote time to the study of the passion of Jesus Christ — his suffering, his death, and his eventual resurrection which is commemorated on Easter. In the gospels, Passion Week is the last week of Jesus’ life, spent in Jerusalem. For something so important, it’s curious how contradictory the gospel accounts are.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem with Animals:


Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem had to adhere to prophecy, but which one?

Mark 11:2-7, Luke 19:30-35 - Following Jesus’ instructions, the disciples bring him one animal
Matthew 21:2-6 - Following Jesus’ instructions, the disciples bring him two animals
John 12:14 - Jesus doesn’t instruct the disciples at all and gets a single animal himself

Mark 11:7, Luke 19:35, John 12:14 - Jesus rides a single animal when entering Jerusalem
Matthew 21:7 - Jesus rides two animals at the same time

Jesus Cleanses the Temple:


Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple is regarded as symbolic of the overturning of Judaism, but the gospels differ on important details:

Mark 11:15-17 - Jesus cleanses the Temple at the beginning of Passion week
Matthew 21:12-13 - Jesus cleanses the Temple during the Passion week, at the end of his career
Luke 19:45-46 - Jesus cleanses the Temple at the beginning of Passion week
John 2:13-16 - Jesus cleanses the Temple near the beginning of his career, well before the Passion

Jesus and the Fig Tree:


Before entering Jerusalem, did Jesus curse a fig tree and cause it to wither because it didn’t have any fruit? Luke and John don’t mention this; Matthew and Mark do mention it, but don’t agree on the details:

Mark 11:20-21 - Jesus’ disciples don’t notice that the tree has withered until the next day
Matthew 21:19-20 - Jesus’ disciples notice that the fig tree withers immediately after being cursed and are amazed

Location of the Anointing of Jesus:


Where was Jesus anointed with oil? Matthew and Mark agree, Luke does not. John doesn’t mention it at all:

Mark 14:3, Matthew 26:6-13 - Jesus is anointed at the house of a leper named Simon, in Bethany
Luke 7:36-38 - Jesus is anointed in Galilee at the house of an unnamed Pharisee

How was Jesus Anointed?:


What part of the body was Jesus anointed on? Matthew and Mark say one thing, Luke and John say another:

Mark 14:3, Matthew 26:7 - Jesus is anointed with oil is poured on his head
Luke 7:38, John 12:3 - Jesus is anointed with oil poured on his feet

Who Anoints Jesus?:


Who does the anointing of Jesus? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree, but John doesn’t:

Mark 14:3, Matthew 26:7, Luke 7:37 - Jesus is anointed by an unnamed woman
John 12:3 - Jesus is anointed by Mary

Reactions to Jesus’ Anointing:


Jesus was anointed with expensive oil, so not everyone was happy about the apparent waste. Matthew, Mark, and John all describe different people as upset; Luke doesn’t mention this at all:

Mark 14:4 - “Some” reproach the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus
Matthew 26:8 - The disciples reproach the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus
Luke 7:39 - An unnamed Pharisee thinks that this is wrong because the woman is a sinner
John 12:4-5 - Judas Iscariot reproaches Mary for anointing Jesus

Overall Sequence of Events During the Passion Week:


The Passion Week plays a central role in Christian beliefs, but the gospels don’t agree on the correct sequence of events:

Mark, Matthew - Triumphal Entry, Cleansing of the Temple, Anointing at Bethany
Luke - Triumphal Entry, Cleansing the Temple, Daily Teaching in the Temple
John - Cleansing the temple (long before Passion Week), Supper with Lazarus, Triumphal Entry, no Cleansing of the Temple

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