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

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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.

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

5

May 25, 2017

"It took Jesus a thousand years to die. Images of his corpse did not appear in churches until the tenth century."
These are the first lines in this book, which both enlightened and challenged me for the 2 years it took me to finish this book.
I decided to carry it with me as I visited ancient churches in Turkey and Italy. I didn’t find one piece of work featuring Jesus on the cross that dated before 1000CE.
In the early centuries of Christian art, Jesus was frequently portrayed as the Good "It took Jesus a thousand years to die. Images of his corpse did not appear in churches until the tenth century."
These are the first lines in this book, which both enlightened and challenged me for the 2 years it took me to finish this book.
I decided to carry it with me as I visited ancient churches in Turkey and Italy. I didn’t find one piece of work featuring Jesus on the cross that dated before 1000CE.
In the early centuries of Christian art, Jesus was frequently portrayed as the Good Shepherd, our teacher and healer, a presence in the world… but never on the cross.
After 1000CE he appears as the crucified one, and after that, “dying was all Jesus seemed able to do”.
The book is more than an art show however. Brock and Parker trace the Church’s struggle to be authentic followers of Jesus or servants of the Empire using the cross as an implement of war and fear.
It is one of the most formative books I have read.
...more
5

Jun 18, 2011

Saving Paradise turned my take on the Gospel upside down. The good news is Life, not Death, and so followers of Jesus lived it for the first thousand years since his birth. They adorned their sacred spaces with paintings of the Good Shepherd caring for his flock amidst hills and meadows, rocks and trees and flowing rivers. They strove to better the earthly lives of all around them.

Only after Charlesmagne turned their lives into a living hell, did the Saxon followers of Jesus carve the first Saving Paradise turned my take on the Gospel upside down. The good news is Life, not Death, and so followers of Jesus lived it for the first thousand years since his birth. They adorned their sacred spaces with paintings of the Good Shepherd caring for his flock amidst hills and meadows, rocks and trees and flowing rivers. They strove to better the earthly lives of all around them.

Only after Charlesmagne turned their lives into a living hell, did the Saxon followers of Jesus carve the first crucifix,
an oaken image of Christ in agonized death, a symbol of their own suffering. Carolingian tyrants turned the love feast of thanksgiving
into an enactment of Cosmic child abuse and an religious tool to brow-beat the faithful into blaming themselves for their victimhood.
The Franks made any other interpretation of the Eucharist punishable by death.

It is no accident that at the same time they conducted a war on nature--clear cutting the Saxon forests.

Replanting the life-affirming faith of the first Millennium can nourish a love of Nature and human life that could save the paradise
that is Earth from the ravages of human greed today. ...more
2

Mar 27, 2013

"It took Jesus a thousand years to die. Images of his corpse did not appear in churches until the tenth century." Those are the first lines of the book's prologue, which continues, "Why not? This question set us off on a five-year pilgrimage that led to this book." (ix) From this and the book's back cover, I anticipated an interesting look at the church's first iconography, artwork, and what they tell us about early Christian belief. Unfortunately, only about 20% of the book's content is focused "It took Jesus a thousand years to die. Images of his corpse did not appear in churches until the tenth century." Those are the first lines of the book's prologue, which continues, "Why not? This question set us off on a five-year pilgrimage that led to this book." (ix) From this and the book's back cover, I anticipated an interesting look at the church's first iconography, artwork, and what they tell us about early Christian belief. Unfortunately, only about 20% of the book's content is focused on exploration.

That fifth of the book is solid, if a bit lacking in important ways, starting with the paucity of pictures (there are only a half dozen or so throughout). Their data is all anecdotal, only mentioning a handful of ancient churches and other sites (e.g. the Roman catacombs) without demonstrating that these are representative of surviving ancient Christian artwork. It's not clear to me that firm conclusions can be drawn from surviving artwork, since, as the book explains, much was destroyed during the iconoclasm controversies of the 8th and 9th centuries.

Most of the book's content is a hasty trip through the centuries of Christian history highlighting a lot of the violence, slavery, oppression of women, and other nastiness. This is not done in a particularly skillful or revealing way. If you're looking for that, I'd suggest either Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch or Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews–A History by James Carroll.

The authors, Brock and Parker, both Christians, come from a pastoral background, not a scholarly one. Their scholarship shows this: it is rarely very broad, never very deep, and often fails to address consensus views. For instance, they off handedly refer to "female bishops" in the early church (72), a controversial subject that they presume is already established. But you can't use the existence of female bishops to support your case if you haven't established their existence yet. Elsewhere, referring to the Albigensian Crusade, they uncritically report the quote "Kill them all. The Lord will recognize his own," without revealing that the line first appears in the record 20 years after the event in question and may not have been said by the person they credit it to. (To be fair, there is an end note that sort of indicates the truth, if you read it closely. It also indicates that the phrase appears on t-shirts and that "Google lists many suppliers of them.")

Much of the book seems to me little more than Brock and Parker reading their liberal political and theological values (many of which I'm sympathetic with) anachronistically back into the past. To take one example at random:This ache [for lost innocence and a better future self] drives consumerism and supplies the unquenchable need for unnecessary products that have become deadly to ecosystems. We must be immediately attuned to what is here to relate ethically to actual ecosystems. Nostalgic visions of idealized nature or wilderness disconnect us from the everyday consumerism that causes us to do cumulative harm to environments. ... They inhibit careful scrutiny of our spending patterns, emotionally driven consumerism, work habits, and leisure pursuits. ... And they allow the privileged leaders of corporations and governments to ignore the way that environmental problems are the new face of racism, sexism, and poverty. (388)They come across as ivory tower academics, even quoting Cornel West (p. 388) in a book ostensibly about early Christian artwork and what it tells us about primitive Christianity. Almost nonsensical passages like this don't help either:Some fourth-century male leaders redefined female virginity as subservience instead of power and freedome, while keeping for themselves the older traditional idea of women's virginity as soverign power for themselves through ideals of monastic asceticism. (190)Overall, I was disappointed with this book. It gives some interesting information and a few passages, such as the ones on Abelard and his thinking, were informative. But this book is misleadingly advertised, poorly written, and oversells its conclusions, which are based on thin evidence that they rather poorly put in context.

In addition to the two other books I recommend above, if you're interested in this topic see God and Empire by John Dominic Crossan and, really, just about any other book on early Christianity. 2/5 and not recommended for any audience. ...more
5

May 14, 2012

This is a primary text for those promoting the incarnation as the mover of post-colonial, post- modern, eco-feminist biblical scholarship and social justice. It is my core reference source of connecting past with the future and intersitial space as a resting place.
0

Jul 17, 2009

I am tremendously impressed by this truly extraordinary book - and author Rita Nakashima Brock. She is speaking and leading Bible study at Baptist Peace Conference in Ogden, UT, July 20-25, 2009, and we are looking forward to hearing her and learning further insights into the underlying theology.
4

Oct 29, 2012

I have read the review of others and: nuff said. Good summaries.

Very Interesting book.
4

Jul 29, 2010

Brock and Parker do the same thing for Christian history as Howard Zinn did for American history. The version of Christianity they have resurrected deconstructs 1500 years of imperial crap that the Christian tradition has become polluted with. Read this book. Everyone. Now.
5

Nov 05, 2010

This is a great book. It was a very illuminating read and how art reflects transformations in Christian world view and how our focus changed by various external forces. It has its dense moments and I will probably come back to it and get more from another reading, but I found it fascinating.
0

Sep 26, 2008

I have eagerly awaited this book since hearing Nakashima-Brock speak at an event in July 2007 (she had just finished the final version). Now to get a copy and clear time for it. What she has been "preaching" and writing on this subject for the last few years (again) fundamentally changes ones perspective. It is the Good News.
4

Mar 10, 2010

Images of Jesus' crucifixion did not appear in churches until the tenth century. Why not? The crucified Christ is so important to Western Christianity, how could it be that images of his suffering and death were absent from early churches? With these questions began a five year pilgrimage for the authors.
1

Sep 23, 2012

I just came back from a weekend with Rebecca Parker at Rowe Conference Center based this paradigm-shattering book! It has made a huge difference in my own theological viewpoint and I LOVE the footnotes, history geek that I am..... Gonna try to build some thoughtful lay worship around the concepts in this book, so watch out world!
5

Oct 30, 2009

This book is a must-read for every Christian! Beginning with the simple observation that the crucifix does not show up in any Christian art before 900 AD, these two brilliant scholars unfold a story of two Christianities, one which affirms and celebrates the presence of God in the midst of paradise, the other which centers on death and guilt. Brilliant!
5

Mar 22, 2009

This is an amazing book and a must read for those interested in the development of Christian theology in the Western world. Based on solid scholarship, this book challenges us to explore our religious roots and to understand the political and personal effects of the theology of redemptive violence.
4

Aug 27, 2013

While the authors tend to move towards a defense of Unitarian Universalism at the end, they make an interesting case for the transformation of early Christianity from a gospel that preached the possibility of earthly paradise and communal celebration to a religion of death, martyrdom and morbidity. I had thought that Der Heliand, a Saxon representation of Jesus as a warrior god was a reflection of brutal Germanic culture. Their take on it, that it was veiled protest against the repression of While the authors tend to move towards a defense of Unitarian Universalism at the end, they make an interesting case for the transformation of early Christianity from a gospel that preached the possibility of earthly paradise and communal celebration to a religion of death, martyrdom and morbidity. I had thought that Der Heliand, a Saxon representation of Jesus as a warrior god was a reflection of brutal Germanic culture. Their take on it, that it was veiled protest against the repression of Charlemagne, was quite provocative. ...more
3

Jul 11, 2016

Interesting book, but the main thesis, that early Christianity was not interested in the Crucifixion, but more interested in living in Paradise, was not proved. Early Christians were interested in both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Also, the idea that one can find no redemptive value in violence, is oversimplistic. While violence can never be given a positive value, violence exists and cannot be avoided. Therefore, finding redemptive value from violence is a necessity. As stated in a Interesting book, but the main thesis, that early Christianity was not interested in the Crucifixion, but more interested in living in Paradise, was not proved. Early Christians were interested in both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Also, the idea that one can find no redemptive value in violence, is oversimplistic. While violence can never be given a positive value, violence exists and cannot be avoided. Therefore, finding redemptive value from violence is a necessity. As stated in a hymn by William Blake, “Man was made for joy and woe. Then when this we rightly know. Through the world we safely go." ...more
4

Dec 26, 2008

After their first collaborative writing, I was eager to read this book and though it took me 6 months to finish it was rather enjoyable. Through the theological evolution of Paradise from the early to modern church, Brock and Parker offer a charge to Christians that is compelling and empowering. Each chapter marks a particular time in history -- though I wish that each chapter linked more closely to the previous themes on Paradise. I wanted it to be more cohesive which it may have been had I not After their first collaborative writing, I was eager to read this book and though it took me 6 months to finish it was rather enjoyable. Through the theological evolution of Paradise from the early to modern church, Brock and Parker offer a charge to Christians that is compelling and empowering. Each chapter marks a particular time in history -- though I wish that each chapter linked more closely to the previous themes on Paradise. I wanted it to be more cohesive which it may have been had I not taken so long to read it. All in all, an excellent read for any progressive Christian willing to be challenged in their faith assumptions. ...more
5

Nov 19, 2013

Several of us heard R. N. Brock speak, and were blown away by her ability to process mounds of history and theology into fascinating patterns that made sense to us. We bought the book and formed a book group, and every minute of reading this substantial book has been worth it...Brock is a good story teller, and a fine writer, and the truth telling...this is not the version of christian history we learned in school...feels so right and balanced as well...there's lot's here to intrigue, to rouse, Several of us heard R. N. Brock speak, and were blown away by her ability to process mounds of history and theology into fascinating patterns that made sense to us. We bought the book and formed a book group, and every minute of reading this substantial book has been worth it...Brock is a good story teller, and a fine writer, and the truth telling...this is not the version of christian history we learned in school...feels so right and balanced as well...there's lot's here to intrigue, to rouse, and to regret, but Brock does not have an ax to grind, and has written one of the best explanations of how organized Christianity got from the joy, mutuality and spirit of hope in the resurrection that infused the early years to the crusades and the slaughter of "the other" because "God wills it" that I've ever read. I am a spiritual person myself, and a member of a church, and this solved a lot of "church history mystery" me, while making me grateful for modern movements of inclusivity that perhaps I took too much for granted. A wonderful selection for a book group, and worth chewing on! ...more
2

Feb 16, 2017

This book is a sprawling mess. The central thesis, backed up by the investigation of Christian artwork, is compelling and challenges great swaths of theology. But, the thesis is only supported by anecdotal evidence. It is not evident that they can make the point they want to make since there is so little artwork remaining from the early centuries of the church. Further, the argument is lost in the meandering through random historical diatribes, weird biographical side-trips, and a seeming This book is a sprawling mess. The central thesis, backed up by the investigation of Christian artwork, is compelling and challenges great swaths of theology. But, the thesis is only supported by anecdotal evidence. It is not evident that they can make the point they want to make since there is so little artwork remaining from the early centuries of the church. Further, the argument is lost in the meandering through random historical diatribes, weird biographical side-trips, and a seeming attempt to push some diverse theological points unrelated to the central thesis. If the authors had written a tight argument based on the history of Christian art and given us a book of around 100 pages, it could have been brilliant. As it is, the book makes a better doorstop than anything (and it's bulky enough to do that job well). ...more
4

May 25, 2012

First of all, this was recommended to me by goodreads, and I was really surprised at how much I liked it. Be careful goodreads, my expectations are up!
To mention all the ideas that interested and intrigued me would be like writing this book anew, so I'm just going to note some things that caught my attention.
I loved gluing together bits and pieces of sometimes incoherent fragments of history from I got textbook and novels, following the authors "alternate" take on the history of Western First of all, this was recommended to me by goodreads, and I was really surprised at how much I liked it. Be careful goodreads, my expectations are up!
To mention all the ideas that interested and intrigued me would be like writing this book anew, so I'm just going to note some things that caught my attention.
I loved gluing together bits and pieces of sometimes incoherent fragments of history from I got textbook and novels, following the authors "alternate" take on the history of Western Christianity. Also, it was a refreshing view of Christianity, by authors who speak of feminism, racism, global social and economic justice and the environmental pollution in a way I rarely hear from Christians. I also liked their conclusion: another Christianity is possible.

The search begins with the art in the Christian culture, changing from depictions of a serene paradise to the torture of Crucifixion. (There's a lot to do with visual literacy, which I am not competent to write about.) The narrative unfolds describing the changes in the philosophy of Christianity over centuries, from the early Christians' need for a paradise on Earth because of the prosecutions, and the importance of community, to the institutionalized Church's need to maintain control and position leading to self-sacrificing love sanctioning violence and war - pain and misery in the image of Jesus; next comes the first crucifix depiction with the Saxons, that had one century earlier been mass baptized at the point of sword, along with Church's turn towards violence and the crusades and the inquisition, and the medieval theology of atonement; and finally to the New World and the transformation of religion into a weapon of enslavement and subjugation.
Of course it's much more complicated than this, but it's a long way the authors thread from the Sumerians to Martin Luther King Jr.

The gender view was the bonus for me. There is a lot about gender equality among early Christians - supposedly a tool against the Roman patriarchal system. The authors point out that gospels challenge systems of domination, including gender relationships. (There's also a lot of context that was missing in my religion classes on the teachings of Jesus as resistance to the Roman empire.) They mention also Eve's sin in connection with the humans lowly condition, and discuss all the evil released on women based on the story from the Genesis. There's a mention one interpretation that has been bugging me for a while: acquiring knowledge leads to risks. But that's just an observation, don't have time to go into it right now. I thing this part of the narrative might be a little too simplified to be the truth, but I really appreciate the effort Rita and Rebecca put into their research.

This has also been an eye opener about the USA - it made some contemporary politics and philosophy more connected with their tradition, and showed me how the Puritan legacy poisoned USA to this day. It was also interesting to compare Romans' habit of crucifixion to the relatively recent USA lynching.

What I must object to is the apparent progress from east to west, to America (to be exact, USA); but also progress in general - as the story unfolds, Mediterranean, Europe, Asia and Africa get left behind and there is no more mention of them. Another annoying bit: The pristine beginning is followed by corruption of the truth of differing degrees, with the hope that future brings the salvation. The authors actually write: "However, this [Protestant] tendency forces us to view the past selectively and impose purity upon it rather than to see its fullness, which is as complex, ambiguous, and diverse as any human endeavor ever is." Although they tried to avoid it, I don't think they were successful. Nevertheless, they told an interesting story that kept me engrossed with the book. In all honesty, there were some boring passages/chapters, but the overall felling after reading this is that I've learned a lot and my perspective has shifted, and that's what I appreciate in a book.

Here are some quotes that I remembered:
"There are worse things than dying. One is having to live with the knowledge that you, by your own choice, have surrendered to forces you abhor and been complicit in the destruction of what you most love."
"Whether and how Christians can memorialize Jesus’s crucifixion without fomenting hostility to those who hold to a different faith remains a moral issue for those who participate in such rituals."
"Early Christian teachers condemned private wealth as a basis of exploitation. They insisted that material blessings were gifts of God and must be shared."
"The contemporary Roman Catholic prohibition against women’s ordination is based in the assertion that women cannot reflect the image of Christ." ...more
5

Mar 01, 2018

This is an incredibly powerful book. Published ten years ago, it needs to be read and re-read today, and I plan to re-read it myself, and to figure out how to use it in my study groups.
4

Mar 07, 2018

This was a real eye-opener for me, and has given a whole new slant to understanding what is celebrated in Lent & Easter in the Christian Church. Excellent research and rich insight into the early Church's understanding vs. some of the "shlock" that got passed down through the centuries.
5

Jul 16, 2019

This book has been eye opening for me. I have recently defined by self as post-evangelical. As I have allowed myself to open up to a broader view of Jesus and his role in the world, this book has allowed me to explore early Christian traditions beyond what is available in written text alone.
4

Mar 21, 2018

Wow. An incredible exposition of Christian history and the ways that violence have been a part of this long story.

Motivated by the stunning revelation that Christians didn’t feature crucifixes in their art and church iconography until the tenth century, the authors explore the development of the churches’ view of paradise, Eucharist, salvation and the church’s role in society.

Well worth the time and mental effort needed to work through the often dense material.
0

Jan 01, 2019

I am near the end of this book and it has sent me to other Church History books in my possession to understand whether or not the author's critique of Church History is sustainable. ie are there others who point out a similar viewpoint.

No church is perfect - and there is a sense that in every generation Christian believers need to re-present the gospel in a way that communicates meaningfully with the current context. However some of what they point out in their critique suggests that the I am near the end of this book and it has sent me to other Church History books in my possession to understand whether or not the author's critique of Church History is sustainable. ie are there others who point out a similar viewpoint.

No church is perfect - and there is a sense that in every generation Christian believers need to re-present the gospel in a way that communicates meaningfully with the current context. However some of what they point out in their critique suggests that the re-interpretation is not necessarily aimed to bring life and wholeness to a new generation or a new people group but to keep them subservient.

This book is challenging and I think needs to be read and assessed in comparison with other writers and primary sources. ...more
4

Aug 06, 2018

The first 300 pages are fascinating, presenting a history of Christian religious art from the earliest surviving examples up to the age of the Crusades. Theologian Rita Nakashima Brock and her co-author, college professor Rebecca Ann Parker, published their book in 2008. Much of the change they suggested has already occurred in mainstream Christian thinking, but the benefits of leaving behind the imaginary model of How Things Used To Be and the old pie-in-the-sky excuses for prolonging injustice The first 300 pages are fascinating, presenting a history of Christian religious art from the earliest surviving examples up to the age of the Crusades. Theologian Rita Nakashima Brock and her co-author, college professor Rebecca Ann Parker, published their book in 2008. Much of the change they suggested has already occurred in mainstream Christian thinking, but the benefits of leaving behind the imaginary model of How Things Used To Be and the old pie-in-the-sky excuses for prolonging injustice and human suffering cannot be overstated. Paradise, as portrayed in the ancient mosaics they describe, a garden of beauty where the Risen Christ greets living believers, is worth reclaiming after centuries of guilt trips, abusive man-made rules, imperialist wars and the devaluing of People Not Like Us. The image of the dead body of a Jewish teacher, used to inspire fear and guilt since Rome created its franchise on worship, has no place in this paradise. As the authors tell us in the last 400 pages, the old cruelties are no longer relevant and cannot be accepted after so many have given so much to make American society humane. Their paradise is found in the beauty of nature, the simple non-destructive pleasures which life on earth provides, and the non-violent supportive, sustainable communities growing out of the actual teachings of Jesus and the Peace and Justice movement. ...more

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