One of the problems in reading ancient texts like the Bible in the 21st century is the danger of anachronism—by which I mean bringing unhelpful modern ideas and expectations to our readings. This problem becomes all the more acute when dealing with ancient texts on which much historical import hinges.
For example, we are a people obsessed with time—and with exactness when it comes to time—down to the nanosecond. In this regard, we are very different from the ancients, who did not go around wearing little sundials on their wrists and did not talk about seconds and minutes. They did not obsess about precision when it comes to time.
Take a few examples from the Gospels that may help us read the stories about Jesus’ last week of life with more insight.
Some texts tell us that Jesus predicted he would rise “after three days.” Others say he would rise “on the third day.” In Matthew 12:40 Jesus mentions, “three days and three nights,” but this is just part of a general analogy with the story of what happened with Jonah and the whale, and as such the time reference shouldn’t be pressed. Jesus is just saying, “It will be like the experience of Jonah.”
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