It Took Jesus A Thousand Years to Die

“It took Jesus a thousand years to die.” say Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker in their fascinating book Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire. Brock and Parker travelled the Mediterranean looking for early Christian art that depicted the crucifixion, instead they found wonderful images of healing, restoration and resurrection in a garden of incredible beauty. If the cross was portrayed it was always with Jesus in front of it welcoming the repentant and reconciled. For early Christians baptism was seen as an entry into paradise “Through this ritual Christians gained entrance into the garden of God, which stood beyond the open doors of every church.” (p115)

The authors contend that images of Christ on the cross as the central focus of Christian faith grew out of the sanctioning of war and violence as a holy pursuit. The earliest images of Christ on the cross that they found appeared in the 10th century in northern Europe and proliferated throughout the Middle Ages. What brought about this change? Brock and Parker believe that it was Charlemagne who began the trend as he spread Christianity by war and violence, subduing the Saxons and forcing them to become Christians. In fact it was in these Saxon churches that the earliest images of crucifixion are found.

I am finding much to think about in this provocative book which I suppose reinforces for me the fact that God’s grand plan is not war and violence and some end times cataclysm but rather a renewal of the earth and all its creatures and the restoration of the abundance, mutual concern and love of God’s original creation. I would highly recommend this book to all those who are searching for a life affirming image of the future of God and who desire to follow a Christ who defeated death and transfigured the world with the Spirit of life. and invites us to join him in making life flourish in all dimensions of wholeness and shalom.


10 Responses

  1. […] Christine Sine offers a few reflections on a book she is reading about the crucifixion – the question the book raises is “if early Christian art does not focus on the crucifixion, […]

  2. Very interesting. Last year I first heard the concept of how the early church revered the life of Christ, not the death of Christ, and now this. I wonder if Christianity has actually progressed or has it regressed with the passage of time. I wonder if we are holding as sacred, concepts that were never intended to be such.

    I wonder if Christianity is becoming too closely linked to culture, to the degree that we think Christianity is Western European. No wonder that the Islamic world views everything that happens in our western society as being Christian expression.

  3. Brian,
    It is a scary thought and very sobering to realize how easily we make assumptions about the gospel message that are based on our cultural viewpoints rather than on the values of our faith. It we believe in a warrior God it gives us a totally different view of how we operate in the world than if we believe in a God of love and compassion and focusing on the death of Christ gives us a totally different view than focusing on the life of Christ

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Christine. I will have to pick up this book. A few months ago I finished Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope, and Brock and Parker’s book seems to be a good follow up. Very interesting!

  5. Warm greetings of peace,

    I find myself reading voraciously on the Abrahamic religions and will have to add this to my reading list.

    The many manifestations of religion, spirituality, and culture are fascinating – thank you for sharing this!


  6. Yes, it is very interesting and they talk about how the animosity between Muslims and Christians arose from the condoning of violence and the Crusades that followed. Evidently before that there was a very good relationship. In fact when my husband and I visited St Catherine’s monastery – the oldest one in the world – in the Sinai desert we discovered that there is a Muslim mosque in the middle of it – evidently built by the Bedouin so that tribes would not attack the Christians.
    Blessings on you

  7. fascinating. But familiar. Truthfully, much of what we assume is bedrock Christianity was given to us by our culture and a wayward church.

    Notice how Jesus and Paul treated people of other religions. They never once told them they were going to hell. Wasn’t a part of the kerygma. It just wasn’t.

  8. So true. We are meant to go out into the world to learn from others but the combining of Christianity with empire turned this on its head so that followers of Christ ever since have believed that they are meant to go out and convert & teach others.. no matter what it takes to do that. The sanctioning of violence in the name of the gospel is the most horrible thing that could ever have happened.

  9. […] It Took Jesus A Thousand Years to Die Saving Paradise was one of my best reads of […]

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