Easter season on the Internet brings a flood of “zombie Jesus” memes. As a novelist who writes about zombies and the Bible, I’ll offer a response.
To me as a zombie fan, the beauty of the old story — whether you approach it as an atheist, a religious man, or an agnostic — is that it IS a story about resurrection and feeding. The story casts Jesus as the potent opposite of a zombie (and thus zombies as the opposite of him). One rises from the dead and feeds you — with his own body and blood. The other rises from the dead and you feed it … with your body. One feeds you; the other feeds on you. Jesus isn’t a zombie story; Jesus is a story in which all the rest of us are zombies: all of us feeding on, consuming, and devouring each other.
Zombies frighten us and fascinate us because they are the ultimate extreme of what we already are or what we fight not to be: those who consume and devour.
In What Our Eyes Have Witnessed, Polycarp describes the hunger that turns us all into zombies, the hunger that does not let us rest content even after death:
“All our lives, we feed on what leaves us hungry, drink from what leaves us thirsting. Because we are always left hungry and always thirsty, we begin to think that those visible objects of our hunger are what we need most. A loaf of bread, a pouch of coins, the respect of others, success, a woman’s body, or a man’s. Or even a person or a thing from times past, something lost and remembered that we crave. But it is not so. These are not what we need most. Our hunger thieves us from our true selves. Like a violent fever, the hunger eats away mind and spirit. In the end, everything that we truly are is gone. Only the hunger remains. Even other men and women are no longer anything but food to us, meat for our desires and obsessions. Then we are lost.”
In another place, he says:
“We can feed on each other, or we can feed and sustain each other.”
That’s the essential and defining choice of how we live our lives (no matter what religion we call our own, if any), and it’s the beauty of the Christ story: the story asks us who we feed on and who we feed.
Writing zombies into the story allows us to throw these questions into sharp relief. That’s part of what I do.
The old Jesus zombie jokes don’t offend me, but they show that someone doesn’t really understand either the Jesus story they’re parodying or the zombie story itself. The point of the zombie story isn’t something rising from the dead. The point of the zombie story is being eaten. It’s a hunger so great that even death can not end it, and how easily we can become mindless, hungering eaters of others. That’s perhaps the most terrifying thing in the world.
If the Christ story is worth telling, it’s because it’s a story that hopes (and insists) that love is stronger than hunger.
I hope that is true — that hunger is not the defining fact of our existence, and that “people devour people” isn’t the defining fact of our future (even if it might be a defining fact of our history and our past). I hope that a descent into all-devouring, decaying-even-as-we-walk zombieism is not our fate (as exciting as that may be to watch on TV). I hope it passionately enough to write about it.
What if Jesus of Nazareth had faced both the hungry living and the hungry dead?
A man wanders out of the desert one day and finds a village in ruins after a night of the walking dead. The survivors have thrown the snarling corpses into the Sea of Galilee, only to starve as the ghoul-haunted sea stops producing fish.
Yeshua has heard their hunger. He hears the suffering of the living and the dead, like moaning in his ears. Desperate to respond, he calls back the fish.
Just one thing:
The dead are called up, too.
No Lasting Burial ushers readers into a vivid and visceral re-interpretation of the Gospel of Luke and the legend of the Harrowing of Hell. The hungry dead will rise and walk, and readers may never look at these stories the same way again.