Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire

Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire

Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire

Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire

Synopsis

When Rita Brock and Rebecca Parker began traveling the Mediterranean world in search of art depicting the dead, crucified Jesus, they discovered something that traditional histories of Christianity and Christian art had underplayed or sought to explain away: it took Jesus Christ a thousand years to die.

During their first millennium, Christians filled their sanctuaries with images of Christ as a living presence in a vibrant world. He appears as a shepherd, a teacher, a healer, an enthroned god; he is an infant, a youth, and a bearded elder. But he is never dead. When he appears with the cross, he stands in front of it, serene, resurrected. The world around him is ablaze with beauty. These are images of paradise-paradise in this world, permeated and blessed by the presence of God.

But once Jesus perished, dying was virtually all he seemed able to do.

Saving Paradise offers a fascinating new lens on the history of Christianity, from its first centuries to the present day, and asks how its early vision of beauty evolved into one of torture. In tracing the changes in society and theology that marked the medieval emergence of images of Christ crucified, Saving Paradise exposes the imperial strategies embedded in theologies of redemptive violence and sheds new light on Christianity's turn to holy war. It reveals how the New World, established through Christian conquest and colonization, is haunted by the loss of a spiritual understanding of paradise here and now.

Brock and Parker reconstruct the idea that salvation is paradise in this world and in this life, and they offer a bold new theology for saving paradise. They ground justice and peace for humanity in love for the earth and open a new future for Christianity through a theology of redemptive beauty.

Excerpt

It took Jesus a thousand years to die. Images of his corpse did not appear in churches until the tenth century. Why not? This question set us off on a five-year pilgrimage that led to this book.

Initially, we didn't believe it could be true. Surely the art historians were wrong. the crucified Christ was too important to Western Christianity. How could it be that images of Jesus's suffering and death were absent from early churches? We had to see for ourselves and consider what this might mean.

In July 2002, we traveled to the Mediterranean in search of the dead body of Jesus. We began in Rome, descending from the blaze of the summer sun into the catacombs where underground tunnels and tombs are carved into soft tufa rock. the earliest surviving Christian art is painted onto the plaster-lined walls of tombs or carved onto marble sarcophagi as memorials to the interred.

In the cool, dimly lit caverns, we saw a variety of biblical images. Many of them suggested rescue from danger. For example, Abraham and Isaac stood side by side in prayer with a ram bound next to them. Jonah, the recalcitrant prophet who was swallowed and coughed up by a sea monster, reclined peacefully beneath the shade of a vine. Daniel stood alive and well between two pacified lions. Other images suggested baptism and healing, such as the Samaritan woman drawing water from a well, John the Baptist dousing Jesus, depicted as a child, and . . .

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