A Brief Review of
Resurrecting Easter: How the West Lost and the East Kept the Original Easter Vision
John Dominic Crossan / Sarah Sexton Crossan
Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
I have spent a fair bit of time over the last year, reflecting on the differences between the way that the Trinity has been imagined in the Eastern and Western traditions of Christianity (and the ways the Eastern tradition of social trinitarianism might orient us toward a deeper, conversational life together). I was therefore curious when I heard the premise of Dom and Sarah Crossan’s new book Resurrecting Easter, which explores a different issue of theological representation that distinguishes the East from the West, namely the depiction of Jesus’s resurrection.
The striking difference in Eastern depictions of the resurrection is instead of Jesus rising by himself, as is characteristic of most Western representations, Jesus is depicted as rising with other humans (which vary from image to image, but sometimes include Adam, Eve, David, Stephen, and others). Notice the image featured on the book’s cover (replicated in larger detail below), in which the rising Jesus holds the hands of Adam and Eve and is surrounded by others. The Eastern tradition is thus defined, the Crossans argue, by a social representation of the resurrection that follows in the footsteps of Jewish concepts of resurrection in the first century. The Western tradition, in contrast, is represented by an individualistic one. (This 2011 piece by Dom Crossan is an excellent, brief introduction to the book’s thesis).
This is a beautiful book, loaded with sharp, full-color images of resurrection scenes from East and West. I relished the imagery and my mind was stirred by the provocative thesis that the social resurrection of the East might be a timely gift to Western Christians as we struggle to imagine and articulate social forms of theology amidst the wreckage of a half-millennium or more of individualism.
While the book’s final chapter wrestles with the meaning of this divide in representing the resurrection, one wishes that this question would have been explored more extensively (and perhaps it will be in a future book?)
I’ve not paid much attention to Dom Crossan’s work, or to that of the Jesus Seminar of which he was one of the most prominent scholars. Questions about the historical Jesus are just not all that interesting to me. But I’m glad that I picked this new book, and I’m eager to reflect more on the idea of a social resurrection and what it might mean for the future of the church in the age beyond modern individualism. Resurrecting Easter would be a perfect book to read, wrestle with, and discuss during the season of Easter.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books, co-author of Slow Church, and author of Reading for the Common Good, and the forthcoming book How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019).