Resurrection Reflections

Dogs Barking in the Distance

The text originally containing Crossan's horrific yet realistic idea.

I still remember the existential gut wrenching I felt when I first read John Dominic Crossan’s assertion that underneath the resurrection story that cracks like holy thunder on Easter morning was the more likely scenario that the crucified body of Jesus was probably consumed by wild dogs.[1]   I was just beginning to push my long held religious construct beyond its moorings in traditional Christian dogma and to embrace a more progressive view of faith.  Crossan had so inspired me with his book, In Parables, that I quickly adopted him as my own personal guru as I searched for a more enlightened faith.  But dogs?  Wild dogs barking in the eerie dawn of Easter morning are a far cry from the empty tomb, the chocolate wrapped bunnies and the radiant, redeemed body of my Lord and Savior.   This was not going to be an easy journey.

I spent a few Easters shutting out the brutal wisdom of my Irish mentor and gradually worked my way into a metaphorical Easter morning.  That seemed like a decent compromise.  I was able to reframe my well-loved, literal resurrection scenario into a provocative proclamation of those first followers who now had a Galilean peasant to glorify on the heels of his brutal death.  And yet, every Easter I could still hear the dogs barking in the distance.  At some point, I was going to have to let my life-long Savior meet the same fate as all the others who got caught up in the Roman crucifixion system.  I still needed to face the hard realities that Jesus of Nazareth really did die on a cross and that his humiliating death is really the end of my story.  Or is it?

As the realities of Crossan’s savage scenario slowly found a greater place within my consciousness, I began to feel a different kind of Easter coming on.  This resurrection was both deeply physical and deeply historic despite my efforts to disengage from the bodily resurrection of a Galilean Jew.  This resurrection was all about me. With a force that I could not anticipate, Easter after Easter I began to look at my own flesh and blood and wonder if I had broken from all the forces of death that brought an end to what seemed like our best hope for life.  Was it my flesh that needed to break from the tombs that hold me?  Was it my historical context, my time and place in the Northern California suburbs that needed to find its Easter legs?  With the dogs barking in the background, this life that Jesus revealed was now to course through my bones and find expression in my time and place.  I needed to find my way out from this dog eat dog world and experience Easter in the flesh, my flesh.

With a few Easters now under my belt since I began to walk out of that empty tomb, I feel like I have begun to embrace the mystery of the resurrection as a progressive Christian.  I am able to let the dogs bark as they participate in the frenzy of flesh as Roman guards look on, and I am able to feel the force of Easter in my own bones.  The resurrection is taking place within my beating heart and within the heart of the community life I strive to foster.

Crossan closes his book on parables with a poem by W. H. Auden.  It’s the one poem I have committed to memory these days.

Thanks for the evening; but how

Shall we satisfy when we meet

Between Shall-I and I-Will,

The lion’s mouth whose hunger

No metaphors can Fill?[2]


Can you hear the dogs barking in the distance?

Review & Commentary

  • Bill Gebhardt

    Permit me to fill in what Dan left out; purposely I’m sure for sensitivity reasons. Crucifixion was a common means of punishment that Rome used on anybody that seemed a threat to Pax Roma. It was not practiced on a hill faraway but at the busy crossroads market place with lots of crosses to put everyone on notice. They kicked it up a notch for those pesky Jews who valued modesty and proper burial of their dead. So for the Jewish, they were hung from the cross naked, and left there as carrion for birds and canine until there was nothing left to bury. Why else did the soldiers hang around dividing his clothes and taunting him? While this blows a big hole in resurrection thinking it still permits the spirit of Jesus to felt today.

  • john

    Love to read your articles and comments about Jesus and his life.
    At 80 I am now very much an atheist but after an up to 40 yrs.’ life as a devout and very traditional roman catholic I am still very inspired by your so realistic look of Jesus ‘life and death.
    Thank you for your excellent publication.

  • John R Huff Jr

    I find Crosson’s comments on the dogs to be downright disgusting. He has little validity at all.

    • Elaine Edford

      Vilifying dogs to make the Easter story even more depressing than it already is is inexcusable for a supposed “Progressive Christianity” site. This story sounds like something a nut like Billy Graham or his ilk would come up with. No wonder I left the church decades ago.

  • John R Huff Jr

    I find Crosson’s comments about the dogs to be downright disgusting. The man has no validity at all.

  • Joeyj1220

    Thanks for this Dan,
    Powerful stuff for sure. I, too, remember being horrified at first reading Crossan’s idea of what happened to Jesus’ body (and yet at the same time, it all made perfect sense in some way as well). Nice to see a deeper reflection on what this can mean for us.

  • Dan Senter

    Great to read your reflections as I continue to deal with an easter morning that does not include the traditional bodily resurrection. I know this sounds weird, even to me, but I feel like I am better off with a dead Jesus than a living one. When I focus my religious sensitivities onto the unique and otherworldly scenario that has a peasant prophet conquering death and ascending into the heavens has me gazing into the metaphysical world beyond my own in order to find meaning.

    Pushing myself to deal with a resurrection that leaves Jesus to the dogs feels much more invigorating. Here I get to ask; How will I walk out from the tomb as a reflection of the way Jesus lived? The Buddhists have a line, “If you see the Buddha in the road, run him down.” I wonder if they were onto the same thing… So, another easter with an empty tomb… but who’s coming out when the stone is rolled away?