Monday, July 23, 2007

The Jesus Project Part 3 - Gentle Jesus

It's been a while since I did my last Jesus post. I had an idea about doing this post for some time but never seemed to get around to it.

Jesus is probably one of the most famous and influential people in history (unless of course you believe that he never actually existed and is just a fictional character). He has been frequently depicted in paintings and sculptures and other works of art since at least the second or third centuries C.E. With the advent of motion pictures and television, Jesus has also been portrayed in movies and television series. When I was growing up, a perennial favorite for me was the miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth" with Robert Powell as the long haired and bearded messiah. My image of Jesus in appearance and personality was defined by Powell's performance and it is probably true for many other Christians who watched it.

The image that many people get of Jesus, whether from works of art or film performances like Robert Powell, Max von Sydow, and Jeffrey Hunter, to name a few, is that of a serene and very gentle man. One common theme one sees in paintings is Jesus with children, which is likely inspired by passages such as Matthew 19:13, where Jesus is quoted as saying "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Here is one such image I found while searching on Google:

While the face of Jesus can only be seen from the side, he clearly looks happy, as are the children walking beside him. The image of Jesus conveyed by the artist, unintentionally I would think, is the Christian savior as the Michael Jackson of the early 1st century Palestine!

Another common theme in Christian works of art is the representation of Jesus as a shepherd. In the picture below, Jesus is shown bathed in a beam of light from the heavens as he cradles a little lamb in his arms, his face a mask of serenity and benevolence:

Other popular depictions of Jesus in art, such as the one below, show us a Jesus as a divine radiant being, with a halo around his head. Quite often, as with this picture, we see a Jesus with big, soft blue eyes, staring directly at the viewer but otherwise appearing rather passive.

What I began to notice after reading the Gospels after a while was that the depictions of Jesus in the paintings above did not seem to square with the Jesus we find in the Gospels. The Jesus of the Gospels, if you read them with your blinders off, is actually a rather hot tempered and impatient man, particularly with his apostles.

"Are you still so dull?" he says to them in Matthew 15:16 when they ask Jesus to explain one of his parables to them. A little bit further on, in Matthew 16:8, Jesus berates them, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand?... How is it that you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread?"

In Matthew 17:17, after being told by a man that the apostles could not heal his epileptic son, Jesus says in a fit of anger, "O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you. How long shall I put up with you?" I can almost picture Jesus going about his ministry wearing a t-shirt that reads "I'm surrounded by idiots!"

But where we really see the temper of Jesus on full display is in Matthew 23, where we are treated to a litany of "Woe to you" to this group and that group, and "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" This is not the kind of man I want my children to hang around with and this Jesus certainly is not the same man as the Michael Jackson-like figure in the picture at the top of this post.

Perhaps though I am being a little unfair to Jesus. Maybe it's not easy when you think you have been sent to Earth to redeem mankind and your closest followers turn out to be a bunch of half wits. I think this clip from the late Sam Kinison helps us to understand the pressures that Mr. Jesus labored under, and maybe from that we can feel a little more sympathy for our would be savior:


Fiery said...

Oh Tommy, you tease you, I'm on dial-up and I LOVE sam kinneson. How long is it going to take me to download this bad boy? Isn't that a delicious pun on samk. by the way???? lol

Fiery said...

On the serious side, what you point out is a prime example of the cherry-picking that christians do with the bible. They see in it, what they choose to see and ignore what doesn't fit the image of god/jesus.

They put on blinders and refuse to hold god morally accountable for the decisions he makes, commands that he gives.

An excellent post, I hope it gets read by many!

Stardust said...

I can't see Youtubes at the moment and I have Comcrap HighSpeed internet...what a joke! Had a repair guy come out today and he was here for FOUR HOURS and then said that it was their problem because of ongoing lines being run to all the new homes being built sucking down the bandwith. Isn't that just dandy for nearly $100 a month (for cable and internet combined...and bare minimum cable channels). The cable television has been going in and out also. We asked if it's going to be free while we wait for some decent speed and of course not.

I do have this Sam Kinneson on tape, however so may go dig it out later and watch it.

Joe said...

I want to see the pics of Jesus and his daddy smoting people.
And, I miss old Sam Kinnison. His was a unique voice.

JayG said...

If Jesus was surrounded by the slow, and He was, how come His Church is still here? You would have thought it would have imploded or self-destructed by now, but it's still here.

Go figure!

Tommykey said...

Hi Jay!

A big part of it was that the Christian churches (Catholic in the West and Orthodox in the East) became married to the power of the state. In Medieval Europe, it really wasn't possible to be anything other than a Christian or else they would burn you at the stake.

I believe another factor was that the Roman Empire from the 3rd century onwards was experiencing tremendous pressure internally and externally. Perhaps the old gods were seen as failures.

Another factor in favor of Christianity was its universal appeal. All could be saved if they accepted Christ, be they the lowest slave or the emperor.

Stardust, I remember AOL had that problem years ago back in their heyday. They were aggressively seeking new customers and signed up so many of them that their system could not handle the increased load.

JayG said...

I don't know tommy; Christianity is kind of hard, we're actually supposed to love our neighbors and forgive them.
Certainly there are lots and lots of hypocrits who are Christian, who attach themselves to it when they think it profitable, but I think there is some resonance of Truth that all the generations identify with, that's why it is still here, and also why I don't think it will ever be "enlightened" out of Civilization.

Tommykey said...

There are a lot of reasons why Christianity, as well as many other ancient religions, is still with us. That does not make any of them true.

Some of the teachings and values of Christianity and other religions are positive and should certainly remain a part of our culture.

What I believe is likely to happen is that in the coming centuries Christianity and other religions will evolve and adapt and change into something new. It won't happen in our lifetimes, but it will happen.

As I pointed out in the "You Call This A Promised Land?" post, the civilization of ancient Egypt endured for some 3,000 years. Christianity has been around for just under 2,000 years.

JayG said...

we will obviously have to discuss this again in 1001 years...I look forward to it.

Stardust said...

There are a lot of reasons why Christianity, as well as many other ancient religions, is still with us. That does not make any of them true.

That's the point I was going to make. There are religions older than Christianity. Does that make those religions more true then, and Christianity false? If Islam grows larger in numbers than Christianity (which is predicted to happen as Muslims keep producing offspring and Christians producing less offspring), Muslims will use the same line of reasoning.

Just because something has been believed for a long time doesn't necessarily mean it's true. Just because a majority of people believe something doesn't mean it is true. Consider, for instance, how people used to believe the world was flat. Also consider the religion of ancient Egypt which was believed for thousands of fizzled. Given time, Christianity will, too. Just like the Greek, Roman, Egyptian mythologies . . .Christianity will also have a chapter in the pages in books of Ancient Mythology, and something else will take its place unless humans give up looking to wishful thinking and fantasy to explain things they cannot know.

JayG said...

Then I guess Stardust the question becomes how does one tell what is True?
The difficulty of this situation is that in dealing with the spiritual, you are dealing with what can't be seen. The theist must try to show the reasons for a Creator while the Creator is not visible, while the atheist must try to show a universal negative, in effect trying to say that since we cannot see it, it can't exist. But people do not tend to cling to strict materialism as they confront their own mortality, a reason I think more tend towards agnosticism than atheism.

But if a Theist must contend with doubt, so does an atheist, who is "not to be understood undialectically as a mere man without faith. Just as ... the believer does not live immune to doubt but is always threatened by the plunge into the void, so now we discern the entangled nature of human destines and say that the nonbeliever does not lead a sealed-off, self-sufficient life either. However vigorously he may assert that he is a pure positivist, who has long left behind him supernatural temptations and weaknesses and now accepts only what is immediately certain, he will never be free of the secret uncertainty about whether positivism is the last word. Just as the believer is chocked by the salt water of doubt constantly washed into his mouth by the ocean of uncertainty, so the nonbeliever is troubled by doubts about unbelief, about the real totality of the world he has made up his mind to explain as a self-contained whole. He can never be absolutely certain of the autonomy of what he has seen and interpreted as a whole; he remains threatened by the question of whether belief is not after all the reality it claims to be. Just as the believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief, which he must experience as a continual temptation, so for the unbeliever faith remains a temptation and a threat to his apparently permanently closed world. In short, there is no escape from the dilemma of being a man. Anyone who makes up his mind to evade the uncertainty of belief will have to experience the uncertainty of unbelief, which can never finally eliminate for certain the possibility that belief may after all be the truth. It is not until belief is rejected that its unrejectability becomes evident."

Welcome to the club.