Taking the Jew Out of Jesus—and Putting It Back By Bernard Starr



Jesus Teaching in the Temple by Photobucket

When I was a guest on Dr. Michael Brown’s nationally syndicated radio show “Line of Fire,” our conversation focused on a chapter in my book Jesus Uncensored, entitled “The Ethnic Cleansing of Judaism in Medieval and Renaissance Art.” Here I show that classical artworks washed out all traces of Judaism in the personae of Jesus, his family, and followers–despite the fact that they were all dedicated practicing Jews throughout their lives. The process of totally Christianizing the Jesus circle placed an artificial wedge between Judaism and Christianity that remained in place for centuries.

As late as the nineteenth century a painting of Jesus and his family by British artist John Everett Millais and another of the twelve-year-old Jesus by German painter Max Liebermann met with public uproar because they were deemed too Jewish . Liebermann repainted his young Jesus, rendering him blond with no indication of his Middle Eastern Jewish ethnicity. He took the Jew out of Jesus, which soothed and pleased the critics.

Surprisingly, that legacy of bristling at Jewish Jesus representations continues to the present day. Here’s what a listener to Michael Brown’s radio show said in response to my interview:

“While I was in high school–a Catholic high school–we had a project to draw in class. I drew a picture of Jesus, but removed his golden locks and blue eyes and replaced them with a more Middle Eastern looking man with thick hair. The teacher lost her mind. All this resulted in a trip to the Dean’s office, as if I offended her. All I heard was ‘why does it matter.’ So I said, ‘You tell me why it matters. I don’t recall too many blond-haired, blue-eyed people from that region of the world.'”

In commentaries and descriptions of exhibits of artworks depicting Jesus, we never hear that these paintings, as magnificent as they are artistically, distort and falsify biblical history. Renaissance artists revolutionized art with the introduction of realism and naturalism over the earlier artificialism and primitivism. Unfortunately, naturalism and realism did not extend to who the figures were naturally and realistically in their actual lives. Art historians with whom I’ve spoken dismiss these criticisms as ignorance about the Renaissance style of contemporizing figures in painting–dressing people in contemporary Renaissance attire and picturing them in Renaissance settings as Northern Europeans in skin tone and physical appearance.

While it is true that this kind of historical distortion was commonplace in Renaissance painting, it does not explain the obliteration of Jesus’ and his family’s true identities or the pictorial conversion of orthodox Jews into latter-day Christians.

Nowhere in these artworks is there a hint of the subjects’ Jewish identities or origins. For example, Bartolome Esteban Murillo‘s sixteenth century painting The Baptism of Christ pictures John the Baptist baptizing Jesus–an act reported in the Gospels (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23). Curiously, Jesus and John are not dressed in Renaissance attire, but John is holding a crucifix staff, thus telling the viewer that this is a Christian event and a Christian conversion.


Baptism of Christ by wikimedia

The fact is that there was no Christianity at the time of this baptism, nor did John or Jesus have any intention or desire to launch a new religion. Neither Jesus nor John ever heard the word “Christian”; it does not appear in the Gospels, although the term “Jew” appears eighty two-times. Moreover, John only baptized Jews–purifying them with the ancient Jewish practice of baptism for the coming of the Jewish Messiah.

Murillo’s powerful image supports the false conclusion that Christianity was already present. Consider too that the cross was a hated symbol in the time of Jesus and John the Baptist–a reminder of the countless times Jews were brutally crucified by the Romans. Jesus and John would very likely cringe at the image of the cross in this depiction. The cross didn’t become a Christian symbol until the fourth century CE, when it was introduced by the Emperor Constantine on his military banner and shields . No wonder that it didn’t catch on promptly as an endearing Christian symbol.

What has been overlooked by art historians and other apologists is that the pervasive distortions of biblical history in misrepresenting Jesus, his family, and followers established a powerful foundation for anti-Semitism–anti-Semitism by omission. In stripping away Jesus’ Jewish identity these paintings implanted the firm conviction that Jesus was of different ethnicity and religion than the others–the Jews. This conclusion was made even more explicit in paintings like The Tribute Money , by Peter Paul Rubens (1612), and Albrecht Durer’s sixteenth-century Christ Among the Doctors (Pharisees), both of which depict a blond ethereal Jesus in contrast to the dark, menacing and ugly Jews–the others.

If we were to restore the authentic ethnicity of Jesus and others, these painting would be strikingly different, even while preserving the “Renaissance style.” Consider, for example, Michael Pacher’s fifteenth century painting The Marriage of the Virgin, which depicts the marriage ceremony (some say betrothal) of Mary and Joseph. In reality, Mary was a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl from a rural village in Nazareth. Her betrothal and marriage was to Joseph, a working-class Jew originally from Bethlehem. After their marriage they showed their dedication to Judaism by taking the arduous seven-day trip to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the Jewish holidays, particularly the Passover festival (Luke 2:41).

In Pacher’s painting, Mary and Joseph are Christians, with the marriage ceremony performed by a latter-day Christian high church official in a Christian setting. Mary and Joseph’s Jewish identities are erased. Several other Medieval and Renaissance paintings of the marriage also Christianized this Jewish marriage ceremony. Similar misrepresentations of other scenes and events are typical and routine for classical artworks.


Marriage of the Virgin by WIkimedia

In writing about this “ethnic cleansing of Judaism in Medieval and Renaissance art” in Jesus Uncensored I presented a “what if?” that punctuates why artists would not dare to paint a Jewish Jesus:

“Imagine, let’s say, if the painter Raphael presented his patron with a scene of Jesus in a synagogue with a Jewish prayer shawl (tallit), wearing tassels (tstsit), donning phylacteries (tefillin) for morning prayer, and surrounded by other Jewish worshipers in similar attire–with Jesus pictured affectionately kissing his beloved Torah. “Raphael, what have you given me?” the startled patron would surely ask. “Sir,” Raphael would respond, “this is a painting of the authentic Jesus. That’s what Jesus did every morning. Don’t you want to experience the real Jesus?” The patron is unlikely to be impressed and Raphael might then be swiftly turned over to the Inquisition.” (This “what if” image is based on a description in Luke 4:16 of Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath.)

 

In recognition of the power of imagery, it’s time to counter these paintings with more authentic ones that tell the true story of who Jesus was. I’ve often wondered what many of the classical artworks would look like if Jesus’ ethnicity was restored. To answer this question I’m developing a proposal for an art contest and exhibit, “Putting the Jew back in Jesus.” Stay tuned!

 

http://www.bernardstarr.com

Bernard Starr, Ph.D.is a psychologist, journalist and college professor.His latest book, “Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew,” is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.Starr’s op-ed commentaries for the Scripps Howard News Service have (more…)
Via
Advertisements

About Old Boy

Love the past and the future but live in the present

Posted on July 22, 2013, in Art, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Paddy Healy's Blog

In defence of Education and the Public Services

shivashishspeaks

ALL U WANNA KNOW

Riding the High Country

Reviews and ramblings

Movies Tavern

Horror e Exploitation, B-Movies & Trash, Rarità e Capolavori. Insomma, ciò che mi piace.

CravenWild

The life and times of a filmmaker: fashion, beauty, books and life.

spearfruit

....................................it's my life

vinnieh

Movie reviews and anything else that comes to mind

renxkyoko's space

Just another WordPress.com site

TheMarckoguy

"TheMarckoguy" is the alternate name for Markus. Markus is a human who reviews stuff.

Tippity Tappin Away in the Coffee Shop

I write a lot, and I wanted a place to share my flash fiction stories.

/ EXPERIENCE OF THINKING / EXPÉRIENCE DE PENSÉE / ESPERIENZA DI PENSIERO /

The world is everything that is the case. --- Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Erin's Movie corner

Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn

Come Here To Me!

Dublin Life & Culture.

Ghost Dog

Notes From the Underground with Pictures

Karmic Reaction Blog

#Arts/#Culture/#History/#Music/#Politics/#Science/#Writing

Product of Half-glass.com

An average guy capable of discussing TV & film on a higher level but would rather do it from the couch.

Kate Bowyers Media Adventure

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” — Maya Angelou

The Motion Pictures

Lindsey D.'s ramblings on the moving image!

Reel Realities

A blog about my love for movies

Silent-ology

Uncovering the silent era

American History-8th Block

Made by Alyssa Carlton

31 Horror Movies in 31 Days

Celebrating History and Horror Films

Gizmo February

The Literary Explorations of a Bulldog

Year of Horror

One full year of clammy hands and sweaty butt cheeks

Danyeti

Design as understood by Danielle

Bradley's Basement

Tim Bradley's Blog

Champagne for Lunch

"Only on special occasions."

Save Celluloid

Information on Film Preservation and Restoration

Media coursework

By George Milton

Ciryan

Crazy,Batty

Nitrate Diva

Old Movies. Fresh Takes.

Kid Slender

Let all the children boogie

Gizmo December

The Literary Explorations of a Bulldog

tireakngroupal2media.wordpress.com/

Life is Light,Camera,Action

Gizmo May

The Literary Explorations of a Bulldog

Sly Wit

Random musings on all things cultural/Cultural

The Wonderful World of Cinema

This blog is all about cinema, movies and stars of every decades. It's wonderful!

A Simple Dose of Reality

a girl and her words

%d bloggers like this: