Read Psalm 92.
Did you see any reference to a phoenix? No?
Consider this. The scientific name of the date palm is phoenix dactylifera. Now read verse 12 again.
Tertullian (see above) translated "palm" as "phoenix," and believed that Psalm 92.12 could be read as "the righteous shall flourish like the phoenix."
What does it mean to flourish like a phoenix? What does it mean to flourish like a palm tree?
Tertullian also used the phoenix as a symbol of resurrection. How does this fit? How is it incorrect?
The phoenix could be a great image if you choose to preach from Psalm 92. You could tackle issues of interpretation and translation, or discuss the theology of resurrection as opposed to heresies like gnosticism. Either way, the phoenix is a creature that could capture imaginations, especially because it is so unfamiliar in a Christian context.
The phoenix could fit well whenever you celebrate communion, especially with the emphasis on the physical and on resurrection.
You could also use it on or around Easter, though it would be more fun at a time when resurrection is not first and foremost on people's minds.
The phoenix has traditionally signified resurrection. There is a rich history behind this interpretation.
In the early years of the church, a group called the "gnostics" came to believe that physical matter was evil. This angered many Christians, including a theologian named Tertullian. Around the year 208 he wrote a treatise arguing for the "goodness" of the physical world. For Tertullian, a key in this argument is the resurrection of the body.
Tertullian compares the resurrection of the body to things like day coming out of night, and the phoenix.
The phoenix is a very ancient Christian symbol, and was one of the first to be used regularly as a symbol of resurrection. It was often paired with a palm tree, as in the image below. (See Bible study notes for one possible explanation of the pairing).
Despite its ancient use, the phoenix is not used often as a Christian symbol today. This may be because it is often associated with mythology or magic rather than theologians like Tertullian. While you may see a phoenix in ancient art, you are not likely to find one in more current imagery.
Am I wrong? If you see a Phoenix used as a Christian symbol, please snap a picture and let me know!
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