Jesus the Alien

4 Jan

Weaving together fibers from each canonical gospel, the Gospel of Peter presents a familiar story of the crucifixion at first. It offers some typical elements: a blaming of “the Jews,” a crown of thorns, a vinegar-soaked cloth to drink, the casting of lots for Jesus’ (very few) wares, Jesus crying out, his death, burial, and diligent guards stationed at his tomb. Soon after these expected details, however, we get a scene unseen anywhere else that answers the question: after he was buried, how did Jesus leave that stone-covered sepulcher?

According to the Gospel of Peter, a pair of angels picked him up.

During the night, the guards stationed outside of the tomb see two glowing men descend from heaven, enter the self-opening sepulcher (the rock rolls over on its own!), and leave, supporting Jesus between them. It gets weirder: a cross follows behind them, and “the heads of the two reach[ed] to heaven, but that of him who was being led reached beyond the heavens.” Weirder still, that floating cross speaks. The guards hear “a voice out of the heavens crying, ‘Have you preached to those who sleep?’, and from the cross there was heard the answer, ‘Yes.’”

A floating cross follows three figures. Their heads stretch to the heavens. The cross answers a heavenly voice.

How. Utterly. Bizarre.

Let’s not take a theological approach to this strangeness. Let’s not rationalize for a little, or wonder what this might suggest about the divinity of Jesus in this text. Instead, let’s play with the scene a little more.

Three men are flying through the sky, toward the sky, with giant, extended heads, while a cross tails puppy-like behind them. It’s almost impossible to imagine. Is Jesus cone-headed for his noggin to stretch beyond the heavens? Is his head expanding proportionally in all directions, blowing up and floating up like a balloon? It’s a very enigmatic series of images–the three, their heads, that cross–and together, they just sound so silly.

But there’s something expansive about this scene, too. It confounds. It challenges the imagination. Oddly enough, I’m not disappointed in this particular portrayal of this usually undescribed part of the crucifixion and resurrection narrative. It’s a strange answer to a shared gap in other versions of the story, but it’s also sort of sweet.

Jesus is completely vulnerable here, and it’s easy to identify with him in his human fragility. He’s dead still, or at least very weak. He needs to be carried up, guided back to the heavens.

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