The cross stirs intense feelings among Christians as well as non-Christians. Robin Jensen takes readers on an intellectual and spiritual journey through the two-thousand-year evolution of the cross as an idea and an artifact, illuminating the controversies—along with the forms of devotion—this central symbol of Christianity inspires.
Jesus’s death on the cross posed a dilemma for Saint Paul and the early Church fathers. Crucifixion was a humiliating form of execution reserved for slaves and criminals. How could their messiah and savior have been subjected to such an ignominious death? Wrestling with this paradox, they reimagined the cross as a triumphant expression of Christ’s sacrificial love and miraculous resurrection. Over time, the symbol’s transformation raised myriad doctrinal questions, particularly about the crucifix—the cross with the figure of Christ—and whether it should emphasize Jesus’s suffering or his glorification. How should Jesus’s body be depicted: alive or dead, naked or dressed? Should it be shown at all?
Jensen’s wide-ranging study focuses on the cross in painting and literature, the quest for the “true cross” in Jerusalem, and the symbol’s role in conflicts from the Crusades to wars of colonial conquest. The Cross also reveals how Jews and Muslims viewed the most sacred of all Christian emblems and explains its role in public life in the West today.
In Robin Jensen’s powerful, wide-ranging presentation, the central image of Christianity turns out to be an image of almost unimaginable complexity: a cosmic abstraction, a grim portrait of cruel suffering, a gem-studded token of triumphant authority, an idol to be smashed, a relic to be kissed, a charm to emboss on a Crusader’s shield, a tree of life, a paradoxical mystery. Jensen has searched out a vast and beautifully chosen variety of crosses, from Golgotha to Ground Zero, along with songs, poems, and long-lost rituals, to bring us a moving study of faith, both Christian and non-Christian, in its infinite variety.
An impeccable work on a sign that is both central to Christianity and immediately recognizable, meaningful, and sometimes controversial across the world. Jensen’s historical narrative is learned and lucid.
Rich in artistic imagery and well researched in both Western as well as Eastern Christian traditions…This erudite history illuminates the social, cultural, as well as theological developments of the cross over time.
Robin Jensen explores in great detail, with academic rigor and a believer's vigor, the history of the Cross in Christian belief, worship, and art…This book is a splendid work of scholarship. Jensen has synthesized centuries of theological insights, artistic endeavors and personal devotion into an eminently readable text.
An authoritative, clear and enjoyable guide, especially to the unfamiliar world of late antiquity. [Jensen’s] use of pictures is particularly informative.
Jensen gives readers a succinct, vivid account of the cross’s history—complete with dozens of necessary full-color illustrations to help her show the symbol’s ornamentation and development over the past two millennia…Religious or not, Jensen makes a solid argument for the importance of understanding the indispensable Western symbol and appreciating its history (even if its meaning isn’t the same for everyone)…Her writing is accessible to the learned and the newcomer—to anyone who wants to better understand the Western world’s most enduring symbol.
In this generously illustrated book, Jensen sets out in nine chapters the history of the cross from the first reflections on it in the writings of the New Testament to a 20th-century feminist critique and fabrication of the Christa figure…Throughout the book Jensen shows different ways of viewing and understanding the same object. What becomes apparent is that there are no clearly defined epochs or entirely different styles of depicting the cross and the Crucifixion…[A] rich and rewarding book.
Jensen has produced a fantastic historical study of the cross. She takes the reader on an immersive journey through the many controversies, transformations, and questions surrounding the cross as a religious symbol. However, her book is more than a history. It is a quest for understanding the role and purpose of the cross in religious and public life…The book also includes many beautiful color images, adding to its magnificence. This excellent book will undoubtedly become a classic.
- 280 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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