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Resurrecting Easter by John Dominic Crossan

Our book Resurrecting Easter is an adventure, a travelogue, a detective story, and, above all else, an exercise in visual as distinct from verbal theology. It focuses on the radical difference between Eastern Christianity’s universal vision of Christ arising with all of humanity—symbolized by Adam and Eve—and Western Christianity’s individual vision of Christ arising glorious and triumphant but also solitary and alone.

Resurrecting Easter has 150 color reproductions across 190 pages of text. We work jointly: Sarah on photography and technology, Dominic on history and theology, and both of us on travel and pedagogy. But in this book, above all else, images rule.

It all began, one lovely September day, 2002, in Turkish Cappadocia, whose twin volcanoes have created an encrusted landscape where erosion molds spires of rock into pillars of stone. There, in the valley-sides of Göreme Archeological Park, fully frescoed churches were carved completely inside the volcanic rock in medieval times.

Inside the magnificent miniature Byzantine cathedral known as the Dark Church, the major events of Christ’s life swirl all around us in frescoes preserved by the centuries of darkness that give the church its name. We easily recognize, for example, Christ’s Baptism, Transfiguration, and Crucifixion.

But then comes a rather stunning surprise. We expect, after that standard Crucifixion scene, an equally standard Resurrection scene, with Christ arising from his tomb while its soldier-guards—either awake and seeing everything or asleep and seeing nothing—cower at his ascending feet.

Instead, as our eyes scan around the walls, we find a strikingly unexpected image of the Resurrection, an image that we do not recognize, an image that started this book in surprise, puzzlement, and mystery.

This unexpected image shows the Gates of Hades, abode of the dead, flattened into cruciform shape; the Person of Hades, guardian of that abode, is bound beneath the feet of Christ whose left hand carries a cross while his right liberates Adam-and-Eve, that is, the human race of Homo sapiens, from species-death.

From 2002 to 2017, in the fifteen years after that frescoed epiphany, we travel repeatedly across those regions from the Byzantine Tiber to the Syriac Tigris and from the Russian Neva to the Coptic Nile. Out of those travels we slowly but surely formulate four basic and consecutive questions to be explained, discussed, and answered in Resurrecting Easter.

The First Question. Why are all Gospel events in the Life of Christ directly described except for the most important one of them all, His Resurrection, which is never directly described in the New Testament?

Christ’s Resurrection is, of course, described repeatedly by the Empty Tomb Tradition, with both female and male disciples, or the Risen Vision Tradition, again with both female and male disciples. But those are indirect and not direct descriptions of the Resurrection. They are effects, results, and consequences but not the cause, instant, and moment itself? Why—alone of all else—is Christ’s Resurrection never described anywhere in the New Testament itself?

The Second Question. Why does Western Christianity depict an Individual Resurrection for Jesus alone, but Eastern Christianity depict a Universal Resurrection for Jesus and all Humanity, past, present, future?

In the West, symbolically by the 300s and then physically by the 800s, Christ appears in transcendent glory and triumphant resurrection but always as an individual, as a solitary figure, as alone. Below his ascending feet, the tomb-guards are asleep and see nothing or awake and see everything, but, in either case, are prostrater beneath his ascending feet.

In the East, however, and consistently from 700 onwards, Christ’s resurrection is never individual but always universal. Christ reaches out physically to grasp all of humanity with him in a corporate and communal Resurrection for our entire species. From the very earliest extant examples, that universality is represented by Adam-and-Eve, who biblically personify all-of-humanity.

The Third Question. Which of the two, the West’s Individual Resurrection or the East’s Universal Resurrection is in fuller continuity with and greater conformity to the original Easter Vision of the New Testament itself?

The apostle Paul calls the Risen Christ, “the first fruits of those who have slept” in 1 Corinthians 15:20 and the evangelist Matthew calls the saints who arose with Christ “those who have slept” in 27:52 (same Greek term). Who and what are those Sleepers who have already died before Christ and rise with him? Whoever or whatever they are, “those” are plural but the Western tradition always shows Christ rising alone, so how is that in continuity with and conformity to the New Testament—at least in Paul and Matthew? Is the East the better interpretation and continuation of the pre-Christian Jewish understanding of “resurrection” and thence of the Christian-Jewish understanding of Christ’s “resurrection”?

The Fourth Question. What is the meaning of this Universal Resurrection vision, and is it only of interest internally to Christianity’s Easter or also externally to Humanity’s Evolution?

The East’s Universal Resurrection Tradition insists that the Risen One who liberates Adam-and-Eve from species-death in Hades is precisely and exactly the one executed by Roman crucifixion. The flattened Gates of Hades are in cruciform shape and Christ himself always has a cruciform halo. Furthermore, his wounds are often quite evident, and, above all else, he carries a large cross in one hand.

From the time our species, Homo sapiens, left Africa 70,000 years ago and first developed the Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution some 10,000 years ago, we have left a trajectory of ever-escalating violence across a blood-soaked earth. Will that escalatory violence eventually destroy our species and our earth?

Christ lived by divinely-modelled nonviolent resistance to the violence of civilization’s imperial normalcy and died from its response to such nonviolent resistance. The challenge of Easter’s universal vision is that only nonviolent resistance to our escalatory-violence can save Adam-and-Eve, that is, can liberate humanity from its present trajectory towards species-death.

One Response to Resurrecting Easter by John Dominic Crossan

  1. Debra Thomas says:

    Thank you for writing this book. It sounds fascinating and thought provoking–even prophetic. I’ve just ordered it and can’t wait to read it! It seems our Western understanding of the Resurrection needs to be re-evaluated, just as we have challenged (rightly so) our traditional thoughts about what “atonement theory” really means. As a pastor (ordained PCUSA), I look forward to how your work may inform and inspire my preaching/teaching and hope to encourage my congregation to stretch their ideas about who Jesus is and what God is continuing to do in the world. Thank you!

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