Zombies and the Bible, Reading time: 3-4 minutes.
What does scripture say?
In the last decade, as I studied European and American culture, I’ve recognized that no matter what the issue, if you dig back far enough, you will usually find a Christian influence. In this blog post, I’ll use the unexpected example of zombies.
Resurrection in the Bible
Some of the most jaw-dropping verses in the Christian Bible involve dead people returning to life. It could be a resumption of physical life or venturing into an eternal spiritual life. Maybe it’s the concepts of baptism, or being “born again”. Whatever the form of resurrection, it’s a physical or symbolic return to life from non-life. Jesus was the prime example. Like Lazarus before him, Jesus was said to be absolutely dead, not just unconscious. But later, Jesus’s followers became convinced that God had brought him back to life. That was the spark that started the whole religion of Christianity.
Resurrection in the natural world
In the natural world, nothing can return to life once bodily activities have terminated and decomposition begins. That would take a very powerful miracle. Whereas there are millions of stories of miracles, no miracle has ever been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Supposed miracles are usually explainable by random chance. In the case of healing miracles, doctors often don’t know why some patients recover but don’t usually consider the recovery miraculous. The power of suggestion and positive thoughts can greatly influence healing. No supernatural cause has ever been proven.
The closest thing to resurrection in the natural world, and what gave ancient humans the idea were often natural seasonal cycles. In the fall, trees seem to die when the sap stops flowing and the leaves fall, but they are “reborn” in the spring when they again bud out. The Sun seems to die in late December as day by day it seems to be falling from the sky, but around the winter solstice it begins to rise again. We celebrate that event with our Christianized pagan rituals of rebirth. Birds, bees, bats, and bears seem to disappear in the winter, but amazingly, in the spring new ones seem to have risen spontaneously to life. Rivers, streams, and waterfalls freeze in place in winter, but with the warm spring weather, they return to “life”. These are all natural cycles that Bronze Age people saw in terms of life and death. To them, if bees and trees could come back to life, why not humans?
The dead rising from their tombs
The Bible contains many stories of resurrections because those who wrote the books believed in them. To me, the most memorable one is in Matthew 27:52-53. When Jesus was dying on the cross, the author records that graves and tombs opened, and the righteous climbed out and began to walk around. There is much debate about what condition those bodies would have been in if they were truly reanimated, but that’s another discussion.
What implies that that story was fiction was first, decomposing bodies climbing out of tombs opposes the laws of nature. Second, no contemporary first or second-century writer ever mentioned that incident. It was only in the gospel of Matthew, which was intended as a dramatic accounting of the crucifixion. If that had really happened, news of the event would have spread like wildfire, but instead there’s no record that anyone else ever mentioned it.
Origin of zombie talk
If the dead probably can’t return to life, what about the near-dead? There are many other examples of Bible verses which seem to anticipate a zombie apocalypse. The word zombie was first used in print in 1819. Those who study these things think that the word and concept originated with the Voodoo religion in West Africa and later become part of Haitian and Brazilian cultures. However, the idea of the “undead” originated much further back in time—around 2,500 BC, in the epic of Gilgamesh and Ishtar’s Descent into the Netherworld. In those writings the undead were truly horrifying.
Transition into Christianity
Since Sumerian and Babylonian writings strongly influenced the Hebrew culture, it’s not surprising that their ideas of resurrection were adopted by Judaism and Christianity. There are many Bible verses in the Old Testament that evoke zombies. In the New Testament, except for the book of Revelation, returning to life was usually a good thing. By the AD 1800s, those who returned to life were usually malevolent creatures such as vampires, zombies, or maybe werewolves. All those creatures were introduced in the Bible but popularized much later.
Amazingly, some form of zombies may be real. The poor souls didn’t return from the dead but kept drugged in a lethargic or semi-comatose state in order to control them. If someone witnessed a person being reanimated from a state resembling death and then walking around as a staggering, mindless being, that would be a strong incentive to believe in zombie legends.
Current zombie culture
So, our brief journey into zombie-ism has revealed an ancient origin for them. It has also shown biblical presidencies. What it has not shown is why zombie parties and events are so incredibly popular these days. I suppose it’s all based on cultural trends. Once someone popularizes a fad, many others are ready to jump onboard. Since the 1968 film, The Night of the Living Dead, we’ve seen how popular zombie movies, TV shows, books and blog posts can be, and that interest doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.