15 July 2020

Not a Norwegian

Is it right to show our Most Holy Redeemer as a Negro? I feel rather uneasy about it. He was not a Negro.

But I also feel uneasy about medieval and later art showing Him as a Northern European and his persecutors as exclusively people with strongly and stereotypically Jewish Faces..

To show Him and them thus is to do Marcionite art; it is reminiscent of the nonsense peddled by the 'German Christians' during Hitler's Reich, claiming that Galilee was a sort of Aryan, non-Jewish enclave.


He was neither a Negro nor a Norwegian. He was a Jew.

I have always admired the Caravaggio of the Supper at Emmaus (London NG), which seems to me to show Him, fittingly, as Jewish.

It would of course be acceptable to show His persecutors, or some of them, as Negro. And some as Norwegian and some as Jewish. We all crucified Him by our sins, which are many. Yes, even, but not only, Jews.

I crucified Him by my sins, which are many. Mr George Floyd, dare I say so, crucifed Him by his sins, which were many.

Bearded, shaven, long-haired, short-haired? How clothed?

The cultural lingua franc of that area at that time was Hellenistic. He pretty certainly did His teaching, or most of it, in Koine Greek. So show Him whatever way the experts tell you was common among culturally Hellenistic men of the 20s and 30s AD.

As far as personal and subjective aesthetic taste is concerned, I do rather like those jewel-like windows by Sir Ninian Comper (there's one at Walsingham), showing Him sitting in majesty as a clean-shaven young man. And those Pantocrators we see in Byzantine churches, His features sternly set in judgement. I rather wince at representations which seem to me embarrassingly androgynous (which includes quite a lot of Sacred Heart pictures).

Worst of all, of course, are those crucifixes popular among American Episcopalians a generation ago, showing the crucified figure as female. This seems to me the ultimate in Docetism.

If we're going to have controversy, let's compromise on the given and real specificity of the historical Incarnation: that means, on a masculine Jewish Jesus of Hellenistic culture.

20 comments:

Richard said...

What about Our Lady? One year my Christmas card was of Notre Dame de Chine. I loved the depiction,and so did many recipients, and so my inner voice tells me does the Queen of Heaven. But are we guilty of cultural misappropriation?

Dr Frederick Jones said...

Please what do Jews look like? My late wife's cousin had fair hair and blue eyes and was greatly embarassed in Nazi Germany when SA men praised him as a typical example of Aryan manhood.My mother -in-law of similar appearance and jewish heritage found herself suffering the attentions of SS officers on trains. There are all sorts of Jews with all sorts of appearances. They do not all or even many look like cartoons in the Guardian , the New Statesman , or Der Sturmer.

Unknown said...

Those androgynous depictions of Christ are not just embarrassing but are horrible. Worse still are those images of the Sacred Heart and the Divine Mercy that have Christ tilting his head to one side, appealing to us, in a child like manner. I've had to create my own version of the Sacred Heart to put up in my prayer 'corner'.

Archimandrite Gregory said...

I have a Nativity Scene in church that has the figures as being very Semitic except for the one Magi who is clearly African.

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

Dear Mr Jones. You are being deliberately disingenuous, or indeed implying obliquely that Fr Hunwicke is being someone racialist, or anti-semitic. Of course there are blond Jews in Russia and Northern Europe, just as there are black Jews in Africa. But if you go to the Holy Land you will see that Palestinian Jews, who were there in Our Lord’s time, all have similar Semitic features (many recently-come Jews do not.) Features they share to a great degree with Palestinian Christians, who are their close cousins, and indeed with Muslims.

I totally agree with Fr Hunwicke. If you love someone and chose to paint his picture, that that love is expressed in trying to depict him accurately. Just as we try to get people’s names right as a courtesy when we address them.

In this case, act and subject come together, and His name is Love.

To choose to change Him means that you feel you can improve Him. That somehow He is deficient as human nature made Him. That is not Love.

Pastor Peters said...

Is the crucifix or stained glass image or art trying to imagine what Jesus looked like or is it communicating that Jesus came for those who look to that cross, glass, or icon? Do we know or should we even be concerned with how Jesus might have looked? I am not troubled by a Black Jesus or one with Asian features or one who looks somewhat Nordic to congregations predominately one race or another but I am troubled by those who insist Jesus' appearance in the Church's art or statuary is an attempt to say how He looked in one moment in time.

Murray said...

The problem with projecting the modern Middle East back to the Gospel Era is that the Arab conquests greatly altered the racial makeup of the population.

For hints to Our Lord's appearance, we might look at the groups in that region whose ancestors remained relatively untouched by the Muslim invasions, among them the Lebanese and the Samaritans. These are more or less generic "Mediterranean" types, quite similar to the Greeks, with skin tones ranging from pale to olive and hair colours ranging from light brown to black.

So it's not beyond the pale (if you'll excuse the expression) to speculate that Jesus might have had fairish skin with lightish hair--or that he may have had olive skin with black hair. It's also not truly important, but in these rhetorically superheated days it often seems necessary to push back on some of the more absurd claims out there.

william arthurs said...

One of the unfulfilled aims of the Catholic Arts & Crafts movement was to kill off 19th c. religious kitsch.

A. Smith said...

Dear Pater,

The thing is, we know a lot about how Our Lord like. We have the Shroud of Turin, and the Veil of Veronica for starters.

Additionally, there is bound to be much that we can tell via the analysis of Eucharistic miracles, as all the ones analysed have recoverable human proteins (they are all consistently blood type AB+). This gives much hope for the extraction and analysis of DNA, from which much can be inferred.

The very interesting part of this is that Our Lady had appeared many times looking like a whole bunch of ethnicities - I wonder whether this may have something to do with the properties of a Risen body. Although, interestingly, I have never heard of an apparition of Our Lord where He appeared as, say, Chinese, or a mestizo.

Yet another factor to consider in this is that the average genetic make up, and, indeed, average appearance, is bound to be far different between the population of 1st Century Israel, and the 21st century average Palestinian, what with the region having been the melting pot that it still is.

Stephen said...

So Our Lord spoke Koine Greek, and not Aramaic??? Mel Gibson was wrong???

BrionyB said...

An expert geneticist could probably find errors in this reasoning, but it occurs to me that while most children are a genetic combination of their parents, our Lord had no (human) father; therefore, unless He was an identical clone of our Lady (impossible for a male), a certain amount of His genetic makeup must have been created de novo, perhaps in a similar way to the creation of the first man, Adam.

It follows that this additional genetic material could have been of whatever type God in His wisdom saw fit to make it (so yes, in theory it could have been of a type to confer a somewhat 'Norwegian' or 'African' or any other appearance).

However, it seems likely based on the Gospels that He looked like a fairly typical man of that time and place, e.g., being assumed to be 'the carpenter's [St Joseph's] son' - or Judas identifying Him by a kiss, which presumably would not have been necessary if there had been anything strikingly unusual in His appearance.

Animadversor said...

Here, for convenience, is the ​
picture.

Scribe said...

Thank you, Animadversor, for your courtesy in supplying the picture.

Unknown said...

Stephen, Fr Hunwicke said that it is likely the Lord taught in Koine Greek not that he could only speak Koine Greek.

william arthurs said...

For the argument that Jesus spoke Greek (at least in public), see Revd G. R. Selby, Jesus, Aramaic & Greek, Brynmill Press, 1990.

Stephen said...

A devout Catholic urologist I know once speculated that, given His omnipotence, why wouldn't God use the DNA of Joseph, he of the house of David? "If I can believe in the Incarnation, it is no big leap to consider that the Almighty Creator could use the DNA of his creation Joseph the Betrothed. And, it conforms to Matthew's focus on Jesus' Jewish lineage."

Oliver Nicholson said...

AB+ so a universal donor. How appropriate

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

I must myself apologise for missing Dr Jones’s “Dr”, an unintended slight, and contradictory to my argument.

Unknown said...

I’m happy to go with the manly and rugged face depicted on the (almost certainly genuine) Shroud of Turin.

It has occurred to me that Simon’s nickname may have arisen because Simon (possibly unlike the rest of the Apostles)was bigger and stronger than Our Lord (5’11” according to the Shroud).

Mike

N said...

O is universal donor. AB+ is universal recipient.