A new approach to an old Christian subject.
Time contributing editor Meacham (Chair, American Presidency/Vanderbilt Univ.; The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, 2018, etc.) is best known for his political and biographical writing. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Andrew Jackson and has written biographies of George W. Bush, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. In this brief book, the author takes a detour to examine the last seven phrases Jesus spoke from the cross. Because those words have been the subject of endless writings over hundreds of years, readers may question the necessity of exploring them again. Meacham’s answer is not to explain what the words mean but rather use them as a springboard for sermons to Episcopalian audiences on Good Friday and the origins of the Christian faith. The author claims that the words cannot be taken literally because the Bible was written centuries ago, either in Greek or in Hebrew that was translated into Greek and then translated into English. All of this can be notoriously difficult to track because the languages are so different and the meanings of words change with time. Still, Meacham approaches his subject from what he calls “Christianity’s foundational belief…that Jesus was in fact the ‘Christ’—in Greek, the ‘anointed one’—who died and rose again to redeem and restore a fallen world that is to be reborn as what John the Divine called ‘a new heaven and a new earth.’ ” On Jesus’ apparently forgiving his murderers, the author asks: If Jesus’ crucifixion was foreordained by God, why should those who carried out God’s wishes be punished? Meacham's answer: Luke included those words so that any Jew or gentile hearing them could feel exculpated from responsibility in his murder. Originally written as sermons and featuring Episcopalian imagery, this book will be most appreciated by devout Episcopalians.
A middling contribution to Christian studies.