The Easter story is the central tenet of Christianity. It also reads like a nightmarish B-grade horror film.
A poor, disheveled mystic–who claims to be descended from the divine–attracts a following with feats of power and thoughtful wisdom. He runs into problems with local authorities that fear his ministry will “rock the boat” with both the local priests and the powers that actually run the joint.
After a meal where he makes his followers consume his “flesh” and “blood”, he is arrested and beaten within an inch of his life. The mystic then carries a wooden beam through town, amongst jeering crowds and impatient soldiers to a hill where his is stripped and nailed to this hunk of wood. Hanging in horrific agony, he calls on everyone but the kitchen sink before he finally tunes out—only to “rise again” like a beatific zombie a few days later.
If the movies are to be believed, his hair is perfect.
In a nice addendum, the same dude rises to heaven, promising to come back and go medieval on all the fools who wronged him: a divine Charles Bronson, if you will.
Of course, this is a crude, even blasphemic retelling of what is considered the “Passion” of Jesus Christ, the story of his torture, death and resurrection as told through the Gospels of the New Testament. It is impossible to understand Christianity without this story—gory and fantastic as it may be.
Yet the Easter story can be very troublesome in a classroom, particularly in the elementary setting. That said, it’s probably best to avoid it altogether.
“Not so fast!”, you say, “What about Christmas? That’s a religious holiday that’s at least given lip service in most American classrooms!”
If you think Easter has been made tame by bunnies, chocolate and hard-boiled eggs with paint on them…you better look again, because Big J’s horror story will always reel its thorn-laden head.
Here are a few reasons to bypass the Easter story in your class:
1. The Religion is still Center Stage. – the bunny just won’t cut it. There’s no Santa Claus, Frosty or tits at Mardi Gras to drown out the Bible here. Jesus really IS the reason for this season, and the minute you talk about him is the moment the First Amendment and the ACLU come to whip you in the ass with an organically-grown hickory switch.
2. There’s too little secular material to tie in. – You can even date when Christmas was stripped of its Christianity: 1843. This was the year Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published. It became a best-seller, and completely remade Christmas as a secular family gift-giving holiday. To date, no such transformation has occurred with the opposite end of Jesus’ life.
3. The story is gruesome. – There’s no way to candy coat torture and crucifixion. It was a painful, agonizing death that was suffered by thousands during Roman rule. In fact, Jesus had it easy: his loincloth was kept on for modesty, and only his limbs were nailed down. Scholars have discovered remains of naked victims nailed in some bizarre areas: the armpits, the neck, even the genitals. Makes you feel sorry for the Roman legionary who drew the short straw for nail-in-the-junk duty.
4. Competition from another important religious holiday. – As much as it galls the religious right, Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover seder, as he was an observant Jew. Passover and Easter are forever tied together, both by Scripture and history. Passover, the celebration of the beginning of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, is not the most important Jewish holiday religiously, yet the most influential historically. The Passover story reverberates throughout Jewish history, as the dispersal of God’s Chosen People harkens back to those first movements from Egypt. Furthermore, in places with large Jewish populations, like New York City, a long spring recess has more to do with Jewish than Christian religious tradition. Easter can’t exist without Passover, and both stories need a lot of context to be explained.
5. No good secular entertainment. – Rankin-Bass and Charlie Brown aren’t exactly kosher on Easter (no pun intended). All the movies associated with the season have to do with the season literally. There are plenty of Jesus movies—and Moses movies, for that matter—to fill an afternoon, but they come dangerously close to evangelizing. Even Monty Python’s Life of Brian won’t cut it, although I would love to meet the high school teacher with the balls to show it in class.
6. The whole story is such a downer. – When Christians celebrate Easter, they rejoice in the very end of the story. Most of the narrative of Jesus’ last days on Earth is tragic, violent, gruesome, blood-curdling and altogether depressing. It only gets good at the very end (the “zombie” phase). Hence the pastel suits and chiffon dresses: wearing that on Good Friday is akin to showing up at the funeral in a red dress.
I’ve seen decent, God-fearing teachers make a point to sneak in Easter activities like egg-dying, Easter bunny-coloring and the like. It’s cute, I know, but the minute one kid asks why they are doing this, the teacher plays with fire.
That fire—from constitutional law and the courtroom—is far more painful than any conjectured netherworld. You can avoid Hell. You can’t get out of a subpoena.
In high school classes, this shouldn’t be an issue. Jesus is a historical figure, and his death should be treated as such—you can even go nuts on the crucifixion thing. The scripture complicates things, but teenagers should figure out what is history and what isn’t.
With little kids, however, the scripture is the history. It’s the only narrative that a kid will understand at that level, and in a public school that’s construed as religious instruction. Avoid Easter, avoid Jesus, heck avoid the bunnies and eggs (they bring about too many questions).
Leave that for a later time when the gruesomeness of the Passion has a slightly cool quality. You gotta love teenagers.
11 responses to “Eggs, Bunnies and a Dude on a Cross: The Problem with Easter”
“Jesus is a historical figure”. Um, maybe.
“The story of Jesus is set in a certain historical period”, yeah.
But we’re still waiting on proof of this story, despite many dedicated years of digging for it… in a civilized country that kept extensive written records. 😉
Given all the evidence presented throughout the past couple of millenia, most, if not all, prominent scholars/historians (of all faiths) agree that Jesus Christ did indeed exist. The main question that divides them is whether He really was who He said He was. Additionally, many other individuals during Jesus’ time claimed to be a messiah, chosen one, what have you, but since only Christ’s story has been recalled and passed down for so long, with such profound effect/influence, do the scholar/historian circuit agree that there has to have been something really special, perhaps divine, about Him. In the end, it’s a matter of Faith.
If you have an eyewitness account or historical record of Jesus, please tell. 🙂
There are plenty of sources, Christian and non-Christian, that account for Jesus’ life as fact. Please do some research, and you will see. :o)
…..As much as it galls the religious right, Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover seder, as he was an observant Jew……
I would really hope that any bible student would know this fact…..so are you taking a stab at Christians….or at the “religious right” or what?!
@Brooke……a quick google search will garner the non-biblical accounts of Jesus: Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian; Tacitus, Roman historian; Thallus; The Jewish Talmud; Lucian, the Greek writer; Pliny the Younger – are just a few examples. Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do they say that I am.” And at the end of the day – you also must answer that question. God bless you, and have a GREAT Easter.
There are no first person accounts contemporaneous with his life.
All four of the gospels were written by people who either witnessed the events first hand (Matthew and John) or by people that were intimately acquainted to people that witnessed the events first hand . In other words – direct or indirect eyewitness testimony. We can be assured that the information recorded in the gospels are accurate OR perhaps (as you may or may not be suggesting) they lied and pulled off the greatest hoax in the history of the world?? I find it amusing that people will go to great lengths to disprove the bible (and question whether Jesus ever even lived) – but are so willing to believe anything and everything else that is put in front of them. The earliest biography of Alexander the Great was written some 400 years after his death – and does anyone question whether he lived?! Of course not. On the other hand, the earliest account of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15) was written within 5 years of Jesus’ death. The earliest gospel, Mark, was written about 30 years after Jesus’ death . And the earliest non-Christian source, Josephus, wrote about Jesus some 70 years after his death. Is that contemporaneous enough for you? From carm.org: “The presupposition that God does not exist means that the extraordinary claim of Christ’s resurrection requires extraordinary evidence but Alexander the Great’s world conquest does not, yet both are extraordinary claims of history. I can’t help but notice the inconsistency.”
Most historians and biblical scholars believe the authorship of the Gospels do not directly correspond to the Apostles at all. John is known to be anonymous, and Matthew was not written by Matthew the disciple. Their authorship ranges from 30 to 80 years after Jesus’ death, and there’s no guarantee of anything remotely first or even second person about their source material.
Furthermore, Alexander’s biography was based on earlier written accounts of his life and conquests by his generals Ptolemy, his historian Callisthenes, and various junior officers that wrote their own accounts of the campaigns as they happened. Ptolemy’s was started during Alexander’s last days, and completed when he was ruler of Egypt.
I, personally, do not doubt the existence of the historical Jesus. However, the Gospels–especially Luke, which was not even written by a Jew, but an educated Greek–do not have the primary-source provenance that Alexander’s life and works had. Jesus, unfortunately, did not have a cadre of reporters who wrote of his carryings on. Thus, your comparison of Jesus and Alexander is a false one.
Seriously? Alexander the Great, I submit, is a great example for the discussion at hand. The texts that were written about Alexander the Great by people “who actually knew him” or who gathered information from “eyewitnesses” who served with Alexander “are all lost apart from a few fragments.” Is any of this beginning to sound familiar? You are correct – eye witnesses did write accounts of the life of Alexander the Great (historians; generals Ptolemy and Nearchus; one of his junior officers; and even Alexander’s chief helmsman). HOWEVER, these works are LOST……..The later works (including his biography which was written some 400 years later) are based on the originals. As I stated before The Gospels (and the entire bible) are held to a much more higher standard. Have you ever really honestly asked yourselve why that might be? And just a few random thoughts I had while reading your post – you make a lot of statements above that in no way can be substantiated:
John is anonymous???? Matthew was not written by Matthew the disciple???
You confirm that the Gospels were written 30 to 80 years after the death of Jesus….what other ancient text can claim that? How is it relevant that Luke was not a Jew rather an educated Greek….the bible makes no secret about that? Anyway, thanks for the discussion.
No problem, I like the discussion. Even if the works of Alexander were lost, the biographies written by Plutarch and others cite them directly. There is no such notation in any version of the Bible. It’s not the author’s fault: they never thought that historians, scientists, scholars and theologians would be fact-checking.
The statements about John, Matthew, Luke and the dating of the Gospels are backed by a consensus of the majority of biblical scholars, historians and theologians of every denomination. John is attributed to John the apostle, but there’s no majority opinion as to the real authorship: it was considered anonymous. Matthew was written by someone named Matthew, but there is little evidence that it was matthew the tax-collector who was the disciple of Jesus. Luke’s non-Jewishness, to a historian, is incredibly relevant: how many educated (i.e. either rich or enslaved Greek) non-Jews would a poor woodworker from Nazareth have known in his lifetime? It is agreed among scholars that Luke was a later Greek convert: the Gospel in the original Greek is too elegant and scholarly compared especially to the earlier Matthew or Mark. How could Luke have the primary-source evidence that the apostles had?
Furthermore, can you substantiate your claim about 1 Corinthians 5? Especially since 1 Corinthians is usually dated to about 55 AD, and Paul’s conversion is dated no earlier than 3-5 years after Jesus’ death itself.
I’m not out to disprove the Bible. I never was. I AM passionate, however, about holding the books of the Bible to the same standard as any other historical text. As a book of faith, it is beyond discussion: you either believe it or not. From you website, I take it you are a person of deep faith, and I applaud that. To give perspective, I am a skeptical Roman Catholic who studied theology and biblical literature in a Catholic university under priests of the Jesuit order. I believe, to be sure, but I also understand the need to combine the history with the theology. Discovering these historical inaccuracies should in NO WAY be seen as an attack on the Bible or Jesus–in fact, it should enhance your faith that such ideas and beliefs have affected the hands of so many people in various ways (though not necessarily of the same author).
In sum, I see the books of the Bible–and the Gospels–as inspired by the Almighty. Yet they were written by humans, deeply flawed humans with their own agendas and prejudices. Nonetheless, every one of them has been inspired by the same basket of beliefs. And its those beliefs, and ideas, that do not change.
Thanks for commenting, and have a Happy Easter!