Did Jesus really come into Jerusalem on a donkey to the acclamations of the crowd welcoming him as the coming messiah?  Or is that a distorted understanding of what happened?


[[In this thread of posts I’ve been trying to show how experts in the phenomenon of “memory” can help us reflect on the Gospel traditions about Jesus.  Memory is a much wider and more expansive phenomenon than most people imagine.  Memories involve what we’ve done, what we’ve experienced, what we’ve learned, what we’ve heard, and what we simply recall about the past whether we ourselves experienced it and whether our recollections are just personal or collectively shared by a broader swath of our community (e.g., our “memories” of the Clinton presidency or of the Civil War)  .

When seen in this broader sense, the Gospels contain some “historically true” memories of Jesus but also some distorted or fake memories.  In my previous two posts I talked about the “memories” about Jesus’ trial before Pilate.  In the following posts I’ll discuss other key passages of the Passion narratives of the Gospels.  All these will be taken from my book that discusses such things in large, Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016).]]


The Triumphal Entry

There seems to be no reason to doubt that Jesus spent the last week of his life in Jerusalem looking ahead to the celebration of the Passover feast.  Passover was by far the busiest time of the year in Jerusalem, when the city would swell many times its normal size as Jewish pilgrims from around the year would come to enjoy the feast in the capital city.  They would normally arrive a week early to prepare for the big day.

The festival was, and is, celebrated to commemorate the exodus of the children of Israel from their slavery in Egypt during the days of Moses, over a millennium before the birth of Jesus.  The historical basis for the feast is given in the book of Exodus.  There we are told that the people of Israel had been in Egypt for centuries and had been enslaved there.  God, though, heard their cries of despair and sent a great leader Moses, who through his miracle-working power brought the Israelites – well over a million of them – out from their slavery and eventually brought them to the Promised Land.[1]  Jewish people throughout the world have celebrated this great exodus event, in some respects the founding event for the people of Israel, once a year at Passover.  Since the festive meal in the days of Jesus was to involve eating a sacrificed lamb, the only place on earth to celebrate it properly was in Jerusalem, as it was only there, in the Temple, that animal sacrifices could be made to God.   And so those who had the time and money to do so would come to Jerusalem for the feast.

It would be a mistake, though, to think that

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