Every so often, it rises. It shambles, groaning, across the Internet—haunting sites and stalking through comments and fostering half-formed memes, always on the prowl for another unsuspecting web denizen to bite.
The concept of Zombie Jesus is a hard one to put to rest.
In some ways, Zombie Jesus is akin to the ol' Flying Spaghetti Monster. Just as the Spaghetti Monster (central deity for Pastafarianism) was designed to lampoon a belief in God, Zombie Jesus is intended to mock the idea of Easter. And while the meme isn't nearly as popular as, say, Tebowing, Zombie Jesus boasts several websites, a short movie, a Facebook page and a T-shirt business.
But unlike the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which is just pretty silly and slapdash, Zombie Jesus has some, er, teeth. Adherents to "Zombie Jesus Day" note that Christ, in true George Romero fashion, crawled out of his tomb. They'll toss out Jesus' own words from John: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:53)
The parallels are so obvious that even some Christians have begun, in a different sort of way, to play along. Clay Morgan in his book Undead: Revived, Resuscitated, Reborn, draws some interesting parallels between faith and the pop culture zombies and vampires we know so well. A series of essays called The Undead and Theology has just made its way to Amazon’s massive shelves. And then there’s Jeff Cook, contributing to Scot McKnight’s stellar Jesus Creed blog:
He came back to life after his death. He is chasing all human beings everywhere. Once he gets hold of people, his blood changes them and they in turn seek to change others.
Could it be more clear? Jesus was a Zombie.
Now before we go too far along these lines, it’s important to note that Cook, like most Christians who start walking down this Walking Dead road, tells us that Jesus offers real life: It’s those without Him that are the real zombies.
I totally get that—though I don’t want to take the metaphor too far, lest non-Christians begin to fear we might start stalking them like we were Will Smith in I Am Legend.
But what I want to talk about tonight is a little less deep—but maybe in rhythm with a Halloween blog post.
The picture that the most irreverent Zombie Jesus fans paint is, perhaps, closer to how the Easter story struck ancient Palestine than the beautiful story we know it to be today: For the Romans and Jews who were around back then, Jesus’ death and resurrection must’ve felt like a bad horror flick (had they been watching horror flicks back then).
From what I’ve read, being crucified was about the worst imaginable way to die for turn-of-the-first-millennia people. The entire process was designed to strip every last bit of dignity from the victim. They were executed completely naked, their arms stretched wide in the most vulnerable position imaginable. Those being crucified lost control of every bit of their bodies before it was over. It was horrific and humiliating—so much so that it was rarely spoken of by the ancient Romans, at least not in great detail (or so I’ve read). As for the resurrection itself—well, I don’t think the ancient Jews or Romans had a concept of zombies, but any sort of physical resurrection would’ve been out of kilter for not just everyday life, but for the theological theories of the day. Many pagans believed in life after death, but most assumed it would be a simply spiritual life—free from the chains of the physical body. The idea that Jesus would’ve been bodily risen felt, to them, a bit of an afterlife cheat.
As such, Jesus’ resurrection story would seem ripe for vicious lampooning. Would a god really choose such an ignoble way to die, and be resurrected in such a gauche form? It was as preposterous as—well, Zombie Jesus.
And yet, the belief in Jesus’ resurrection survived and thrived. It was as if the early Christians heard the mockery and simply smiled, secure in their faith. How could they be so unfazed by all the taunts, so immune?
It seems to me the most sensible answer is also the simplest. What they believed—no matter how ludicrous it sounded to contemporaries—was true.