There’s a Word for Death

I’ve said several times on this blog that the idea of hanging theology off Jesus’s death seems weak to me. There are things that are significant about death (compared to someone, say, being in a coma for a while, or asleep, or just not seeing them for as few days). And those things are no longer significant if the person in question is ‘resurrected’ shortly after their death. For all that is meaningful about death, Jesus, in orthodox Christian theology, didn’t die.

Today I came across the word for this. Or rather a word for the kind of death where, even in principle, nothing about the mind or thoughts of the deceased can be recovered. This is beyond breath death (the ancient and medieval criterion), beyond heart death, beyond brain death. It is Information-theoretic Death.

So, according to Christian theology, one might say Jesus underwent breath, heart and maybe even brain death. But not information-theoretic death. Nowadays we don’t think of breath death as being ‘real’ death, because we often restart people’s breathing, similarly their hearts (but note that, to a medieval doctor, what we are actually doing is resurrection). Brain death is beyond the limits of medical resurrection now, but if we found a way to restart interrupted brain function, that wouldn’t be ‘real’ death either. Information-theoretic death is real death. Theology teaches that Jesus didn’t die that kind of death. Perhaps it teaches that nobody ever dies that kind of death. That’s another question. In terms of Jesus, you can’t build a sane theology of Jesus’s death if he didn’t die for real.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “There’s a Word for Death

  1. I agree, the death means nothing. I alluded to the same when I wrote my post “Was Jesus a coward“?

    But concerning information-theoretic death (ITD): If I am not mistaken, it is only a limit on our technology — our ability to restore all those person traits. What if Jesus did experience ITD but still, God being God, restored it all: personality, memories, hopes, fears ….

    All to say “ITD” seems to be merely a definition of our present technology level, much like breath-death use to be at one time. Even a good sci-fi writer could show how parochial the view is, perhaps. No?

    So I don’t think theology would be threatened at all by Jesus doing a real ITD death. But you are right, it seems that theology teaches that no-one suffers ITD — Yahweh restores us all for either eternal torture or bliss.

  2. Ian

    I thought ITD was specifically designed to be not dependent on medical technology. Maybe I misunderstood. From wiki; ‘”Information-theoretic death” is intended to mean death that is absolutely irreversible by any technology’

    Thanks for the link. A fun video – was it the link you intended? Was good anyway.

  3. Ian

    “So I don’t think theology would be threatened at all by Jesus doing a real ITD death. ”

    I don’t think theology is threatened by any kind of rational argument 😉

  4. Oooops, yeah, wrong link — I was working on the Ramayana stuff. That is funny. Here is the correct one:
    http://triangulations.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/jesus-was-a-coward/

  5. Mellie

    I was going to comment that perhaps it was the length of time that Jesus was dead that made him unique. Popularly, it is said that he rose from the grave after three days, but I believe that if he died at 3 pm Friday and rose in the pre-dawn hours on Sunday, he was dead for approximately 37 or 38 hours. (Forty hours would be a Biblically satisfying number but I don’t know if it could have been that long.)

    In searching for the longest anyone had endured death and then revived, I found that three days was possible and not unique to Jesus, so my original thought was wrong. Christians may believe that Jesus was dead longer than any other person, though. In fact that is likely given the exaggerated claim of “three days”. Here is an account of a man who was also dead for three days: http://www.near-death.com/experiences/evidence10.html

  6. Ian

    It is interesting. I don’t remember the book, but there was a book a few years ago that suggested Jesus appeared dead, but was revived in the cool of the tomb. I suspect the man in the article was similar. As I understand it, if someone has no heartbeat for a day, the lack of oxygen would be disastrous to the brain. But the crucial thing is, it is hard, particularly with primitive means (but even with modern tools), to tell for sure.

    I don’t actually believe the physical resurrection in any form. I think the physical 3-days later tradition was a later invention, I read the NT as suggesting that the earliest strata of belief was in a spiritual and atemporal, rather than a historical resurrection. But if I did, the something like this would be where I’d end up I think.

    Still, either way, I think its clear that the guy in the article didn’t ‘really’ die, and neither did Jesus.

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