Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Stall Review: Saving Paradise

Saving Paradise
How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire
by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker

The classic crucifixion image of Jesus in agony on a cross, so ingrained in Christian consciousness as to be its dominant archetype, is a rather new expression (probably less than a millenia old) created for political reasons during the Dark Ages. It has largely supplanted images of Christ's victory over death and a paradise on earth that filled the earliest Christian churches.

"It took Jesus a thousand years to die. Images of his corpse did not appear in churches until the tenth century," write Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker in their book Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire.

During a five-year survey of early Christian art in the Mediterranean and throughout Europe, the authors looked for the earliest depictions of Jesus and found plenty of images suggesting rescue from danger, baptism, paradise, and victory over death.

The earliest "dead" Jesus they found was in a side chapel of the Cologne Cathedral in northern Germany. The Gero Cross, a crucifix sculpted from oak, dates from around 960-970.

"In Christianity's second millenium the Crucifixion expelled paradise from earth. And Jesus died again."

In their book, the authors detail how life-affirming forms of Christianity succumbed to a focus on redemptive violence during the second millenium, infecting the faith like a virus.

"We recover here a life-giving, life-affirming Christianity, rooted in an ancient Mesopotamian past, that has survived despite many attempts to repress or destroy it and despite theological shifts that have betrayed it. We offer our study of this world as paradise as a way to retrieve a faith that affirms the many ways that people love one another, themselves, and the earth."

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