Dawn of the Christian dead (part 1): Was Jesus a zombie?

Jesus came back from the dead. A zombie is a reanimated corpse. Therefore, Jesus is a zombie.

Impeccable logic, but is this reality?

Some, of course, would dispute the use of the term ‘reality’ in either case. When the newly proclaimed Christian message hit the ancient Greco-Roman world, it was met with alarm, for it “turned the world upside down” through preaching that a man who once was dead had come back to life again (Acts 17:1–8). Despite some of the stories in their ancient myths, which (on the surface at least) looked something like ‘resurrection’, the thoughtful Greeks were generally quite clear about such matters: in reality, the dead simply could not rise. The natural historian Pliny in mid first-century (AD) was so sure of this, that it was amongst his collection of things that were not even possible for God:

[God] cannot, even if he wishes, commit suicide … nor bestow eternity on mortals or recall the deceased, nor cause a man that has lived not to have lived or one that has held high office not to have held it, and that he has no power over what is past, save to forget it (HN 2.27).

Pliny also didn’t have much time for magic, although he recognized its power over people. And yet, elements of magic also form the background to the idea of the ‘zombie’.

Turning to that source of all instantaneous expertise, Wikipedia, we learn that:

A zombie is a creature that appears in books, films and popular culture. It is typically a reanimated corpse, or a human being who is being controlled by someone else by use of magic.

Here we also learn that the modern zombie originates in West African voodoo beliefs, and they became popular in modern horror fiction due to the success of the 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead, followed up by Dawn of the Dead (1978), and five more from the same director. And, if a spoof can be taken as homage, Shaun of the Dead demonstrates that the sub-genre was by 2004 firmly established.

The success of the undead is mind-numbingly staggering (sorry!). With rising popularity in the last decades of the twentieth-century, and a further resurgence in the 21st, the zombie has so entered literature, film, art, and music that our beloved source of all knowledge tells us: “nothing is more popular right now than zombies … The living dead are here to stay”.

I don’t think Pliny ever made it to Haiti. But the magic that was around in his day operated with similar conceptions, long before the language of ‘zombie’. The magicians sought to ‘raise the dead’ with their spells, to gain control of the power of a recently-dead corpse as their assistant, who would then do their bidding amongst the living. There is nothing new under the sun—or in the darkness.

This was probably what Herod Antipas was afraid of when he heard about Jesus’ miracle-working. All he could think of to explain what was going on was magic: Jesus had somehow worked out to bring John the Baptist back from the dead, and, since Herod killed him, Herod was worried (see Mark 6:14–29).

Herod had some reason for concern, given the news that was floating around. There were reports of Jesus ‘raising the dead’—several of them have found their way into the Gospels (Jairus’ daughter; widow of Nain’s son; Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s brother). What was going on with that?

And, then, to cap it all off, Jesus died a horrible death, nailed to a cross. As a crucified man, he was the perfect candidate to himself become a ‘magician’s assistant’. For some dark purpose, and by some dark power, had he been ‘raised from the dead’?

But that is not what turned the world upside down. This was no reanimated corpse, staggering around with bloody and rotting flesh hanging off his tattered frame. This was a resurrected body. Jesus was brought to a new state of existence, beyond the corruption and rot of the grave. He had passed from death to life. He was restored to life, beyond the grave and no longer touchable by death. (That is why his resurrection was one step towards his exaltation to heaven, but that is another story.) And this happened in the real world of human history. There was an empty grave. There were reunions with the people who knew him in his lifetime. There were eyewitnesses.

The zombie temporarily leaves its grave, but still carries the reminder of the grave that will never let it go. Jesus’ resurrection left the grave behind, once and for all, for a life that will never let him go.

That is the reality that turned the world upside down.

One thought on “Dawn of the Christian dead (part 1): Was Jesus a zombie?

  1. The final conclusive proof that Jesus wasn’t a zombie is the fact that after his resurrection Jesus is recorded as eating fish & bread, whereas any self-respecting zombie would have gone straight for the brains smile

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