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Saving Paradise : How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire
One of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2008
During their first millennium, Christians filled their sanctuaries with images of Christ as a living presence-as a shepherd, teacher, healer, or an enthroned god. He is serene and surrounded by lush scenes, depictions of this world as paradise. Yet once he appeared as crucified, dying was virtually all Jesus seemed able to do, and paradise disappeared from the earth. Saving Paradise turns a fascinating new lens on Christianity, from its first centuries to the present day, asking how its early vision of beauty evolved into a vision of torture, and what changes in society and theology marked that evolution. It also retrieves, for today, a life-affirming Christianity that the world sorely needs.
Why are images of the crucified Jesus absent from early Christian art? When Brock and Parker, theologians and coauthors of Proverbs of Ashes, investigated representations of Christ in Italy and Turkey's first millennium of public art, they found pictured not death but earthly joy. Descriptions of this art (with sparse b&w photographs), quotes from early Christian writers and strong analyses reveal a powerful "genealogy of paradise" in this life focusing on the "ethical grace" at the heart of Jesus' message. Explorations of baptism, the Eucharist, beauty, martyrdom and human divinity (theosis) show an early Christian world where the resurrection had more hold on the imagination than the crucifixion. Brock and Parker locate the paradigmatic shift toward suffering, judgment and atonement in the bloody forced conversion of the Northern European Saxons by Charlemagne. The book's second half describes the harrowing adoption of "redemptive violence" in medieval Europe and the New World's Eden, built on genocide and slavery. This humane and often beautiful study of faith, loss and hope straddles the boundary between historical discovery and spiritual writing. (July) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
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April 30, 2009
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