Welcome—and thanks for visiting!

My most recent publications are:

My other recent publications include:

What colour was Jesus’ robe? And why does it matter?

If you read the accounts of Jesus’ trial and death, three things might strike you. First, it is very important to each of the gospel writers; it would be absurd in a modern text about a person’s life to spend such a large proportion of what are comparatively short documents focussing on just a few days—even a few hours—of someone’s life. But in the ancient world, that was the norm: you really see who someone is by focussing on a key moment in their life, particularly either their birth or death.

Secondly, you will be struck by the fact that there appears to be a large agreement on the key shape of the story, and the key incidents (this listing of the key events in each gospel is from Sir Colin Humphrey’s The Mystery of the Last Supper). But, thirdly, alongside this you will be struck by the fact that there appear to be significant differences. These are particularly evident if you read the accounts alongside another, and the easiest way to do that is by using a printed or electronic synopsis. One of the great debates is about the comparative chronology; the Synoptics appear to depict the Last Supper on the Thursday evening (on a traditional reading), whereas the Fourth gospel appears to depict it on the Wednesday evening.

A major part of both scholarly and popular debate about the gospels focuses on this question: can they be harmonised, and how do we reconcile both the similarities and the differences? Should we be using the gospel accounts as windows through which we can reconstruct the ‘real’ events, and learn from them? Or should we read each account in its own terms, and not worry about tensions and differences?

There is a legitimate apologetic concern behind the question of harmonisation. The gospels, as ancient ‘lives’ or bioi, certainly conform to what we might call the expectations of ancient historiography—that is, they appear to be intended to be read as accounts of historical events offered in a reliable way. This accounts for the multiple explicit and implicit references to eye-witnesses; in the ancient world, being connected with the personal testimony of eye-witnesses was seen as important, in contrast to our modern pre-occupation with ‘detached’ objectivity in historical investigation. (See my previous article here summarising Colin Humphrey’s own attempt at such a harmonisation.)