Hank Hanegaaff: We have a special broadcast on tap. It has to do with the resource available for those who support the ministry all this month. It is called The Week that Changed the World (DVD) by Dr. Paul Maier. This week, The Week That Changed the World, is a week in which Jesus Christ suffered fatal torment. It is a week in which He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. It is a week in which we know that He was going to appear and give many convincing proofs that He had risen from the dead. In fact, it was a week that resulted in an absolutely transformed world. This is not called The Week That Changed the World in the sense of just one epic week but this is called The Week That Changed the World in the sense that this is the quintessential week in all of human history.
To talk about that, Dr. Paul Maier, his is a professor of ancient history. He has written some of the most exquisite books. I love his two novels, particularly Pontius Pilate and The Flames of Rome. He has written many nonfiction works, including Josephus: The Essential Works and Eusebius: The Church History, a book on the first Christian historian. He has also penned a lot of children’s books, and he was the author of The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction? Glad to have you on the broadcast!
Paul Maier: Coauthored with you, I might add. Good to be back, Hank.
Hank: We did that one together, didn’t we?
Paul: We certainly did.
Hank: You know that was a book that had a lot of significance because the subject never went away.
Paul: How true. We documented absolutely all the errors that Dan Brown made. It was an incredible book (The Da Vinci Code), I tell you. I’ve never seen a book where every time where Jesus or Christ or the church is mentioned is a lie either in whole or in part. I’ve never seen a book like that.
Hank: Well, let’s talk about the DVD. I mean, it is absolutely splendid. I’ve watched it a number of times. You know, I mentioned this in the opening of the broadcast, but this is not just a week, this is the week.
Paul: Indeed. It is the most carefully documented week also in the gospels. I’m glad for that because Jesus didn’t make a move, I think, during that week that hasn’t missed countered aside by some critic somewhere. I’m so glad we have such detail, especially in the gospel of John, as you well know.
Hank: Paul, I want you to talk about what leads up to Holy Week because, for many Christians, the thought of Lent raises the question: I’ve heard about that, but I’m not sure exactly what that’s all about and why it might be significant? Why is Holy Week, the forty days, so critical for Christians?
Paul: Well, because it’s one of the earliest church festivals. Easter, of course, was celebrated before Christmas was, and then, of course, what caused Easter and what led up to it, the church had to prepare for it. Indeed, this was one of the earliest festivals of the early church. It is the Paschal Season, they call it. Indeed, we have here the culmination of Jesus’ ministry. What happened from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is very critically important for the Christian faith and everyone else’s eternal fate.
Hank: You have gone through some very, very difficult situations in your life overall, as all of us have, but recently you suffered a stroke. I suppose when you suffer a stroke, you get a true evaluation of things in terms of what really matters not just for time but for eternity. Talk about that.
Paul: How very true that is. You realize you’re mortal after all. Yes, it was on Election Day, November 8; I had a mild stroke. I didn’t think I had a stroke at first. I wasn’t going to call a doctor, and I said, “No.” Then, I heard myself say “No,” and the way I talked with this slight slur that I’m using right now. I’m not fully over it. I hope to God that I could finally say, “Goodbye,” to this strange speaking ability of mine, but this is a problem right now, and I hope you hearers can be very generous and listen anyway, despite my attempts at handling the English language from a complicated vantage point.
Hank: You know, Paul, it’s interesting to me. I remember this with respect to my father as well. He was a speaker, then he got a fibrosis of the lungs, it encroached on his ability to assimilate oxygen, and so the very thing he had done all his life became very, very difficult for him. You’re one of the most eloquent speakers I’ve ever heard, and the proof of that is in The Week That Changed the World. The job you did in that DVD is absolutely unbelievable. It’s superb. It’s spectacular. How difficult is it to lose the very skill that God has given you, that you have used to teach so many students and lecture around the world?
Paul: Well, certainly it’s tough indeed. By the way, the DVD, however, was filmed before I had the stroke. I talk normally on that one. Again, it’s an odd coincidence it was Election Day, November 8. I think — a little joke here — it may have been my response to the options we had for presidential candidates, but I don’t want to get into politics at this point. Yes, it is very difficult. Again, there’s something satanic about the nature of hitting a person where he’s at his strongest. I think public speaking was my gift, following in many ways the work of my dad, who founded the Lutheran Hour years ago, Dr. Walter A. Maier, and then to find out that I have this slight speech handicap is very unnerving. Fortunately, people have been very generous. They claim they can understand me. I hope that goes for your hearers also.
Hank: I can certainly understand you. One of the first things that I want to drive home is the fatal torment of Jesus Christ. Your comments would be very helpful because there are many people that deny that Jesus Christ suffered fatal torment. For example, the Muslims will say that Jesus was not crucified, God made someone look like Jesus, and the lookalike was crucified in place of Jesus. How can we be certain from a historical and archeological perspective that Jesus did in fact suffer fatal torment?
Paul: When you find dispassionate, non-Christian, secular sources saying the same thing that the New Testament does in terms of Jesus suffering on the cross and dying, then, for goodness’ sake, that pretty well clinches the case for me. Whenever I find people claiming that somebody took his place, I say, “Wait a minute. This sounds like it comes from the Qur’an. This, of course, comes six centuries after the fact.” So, I always ask, “Which is the more reliable source of information: eyewitness testimony or something that happened six-hundred-plus years later?” Of course, the answer is obviously you have derivative material in the case of Islam, and by the way, we can now trace where that material came from. Unfortunately, the prophet Muhammad was in touch only with heretical Christianity in his formative years. It was a Gnostic heresy of Egypt under a Gnostic teacher, Basilidies was his name, who claimed that somebody else took Jesus’ place. This kind of remained with him. If only we would have had Muhammad in touch with normal Christianity, and if only there had been a good Arabic translation of the Old and New Testament available to him, and if only Christian missionaries had dealt more directly or kindly with him during his formative years, I cannot tell you how changed the world would be today. It is such an incredible shame that Muhammad was who he was and was not an Eastern martyr for Christianity or Eastern witness to Christianity. That’s one of the great might-have-beens of history.
Hank: Paul, there is a lot of conjecture on what the cross looked like. I was listening to Bill O’Reilly the night before last. He said of certainty that the cross Jesus was crucified on looked like a capital “T.” Jehovah’s Witnesses say that it was a torture stake. A lot of different forms of the cross. Is there any historical or archeological clue in terms of what the shape of the cross actually was that Jesus was specifically crucified on?
Paul: I don’t know how Bill O’Reilly can say of a certainty. There’s certainly not certainty. But, it is pretty clear that the regular looking cross (†), the so-called crux immissa, which is the typical cross we’re used to is the one because there is a titulus over Jesus’ head, which says, “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” This would be very appropriate in a placard placed over Jesus’ head. I know in the tau cross, the T-shaped cross, they would have had this strung out along the top of the cross beam, that’s very unlikely, and by the way, you find a lot of evidence of mistaken logic in some of Bill O’Reilly’s material there. He claims that he spent all of ten months researching the life of Jesus. Well, you know, others of us spent our whole life times and don’t come up with pat answers. There’s a lot of picking and choosing in terms of cherry-picking the evidence there in that book. No, the regular cross we’re used to best answers all the problems.
Hank: This is one of the things you’ve given your life to. You have given your life to actually doing the first-rate primary research. This is very, very significant when it comes to the life of Jesus Christ, and most particularly when it comes to The Week That Changed the World.
Paul: This is so terribly important. We call it Holy Week of course, but what happened from Palm Sunday to Easter are momentous events in the life of Jesus, the culmination of His ministry, and really the beginning of the Christian faith as we know it. If it had gone any differently, if Jesus had not risen from the dead, we wouldn’t be talking, you wouldn’t have a program today, and nobody would be listening to me, either. It would be a different world. But, instead of that, we have the most successful single phenomenon in the history of humanity, namely the Christian church. There’s never been any other movement on Earth which has the loyalties of over two-and-a-half-billion people or three-billion people in the present generation alone. This could not have developed from a vacuum. This developed from situations that are well known in history and can be verified in the use of secular materials, which is my particular specialty. I love to compare what is explained in the New Testament gospels and epistles, then see what the outside sources for the ancient world say. Do they contradict what we have in the gospels, or do they agree? They agree magnificently again, and again, and again.
This blog adapted from the March 24, 2017, Bible Answer Man broadcast. Listen to the full interview here.