Palm SundayToday, Palm Sunday, marks the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, his humility symbolised by the fact that he rode in on a donkey, and his triumph symbolised by the palms strewn on the road before him – or, at least, that is what I always thought. That he did ride into Jerusalem is confirmed by all four gospels, but the symbolism of the episode may contain more nuances than I, at least, realised. First, that donkey. In the customs of the time, the donkey was a symbol of peace, not humility. If Jesus had been hell-bent on triggering a war or a revolution he would have ridden in on a horse. The fact that he came in on a donkey could therefore have been intended as a strong symbolic message that he came as a Prince of Peace. Second, in the traditions of the near East of that time it was customary to cover the path before somebody thought worthy of high honour. It was a sort of red carpet of the time.  Only the gospel of John specifies palm fronds. Third, the palm represented triumph and victory in the Greco-Roman tradition but eternal life in the Egyptian tradition and simple rejoicing in the Jewish tradition. The palms were just as likely to have had Jewish symbolic value as Greco-Roman. All this by way of saying that somewhere around the thirteenth century the portrayal of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem became far more triumphalistic than had probably previously been the case. In the original scenario, Jesus came in peace and rejoicing and his ‘victory’ was more about souls than hearts. Whilst on the subject, in the 16th and 17th centuries straw ‘Jack ‘o’ Lent figures were stoned and abused and then burnt on Palm Sunday, as a sort of conflation of Winter and Judas Iscariot.