Tag Archives: religion

The Eye of the Beholder

Darn this new WordPress block editor… it suddenly trashed this post. Trying again, with apologies to those of you who will get this twice!

Sharing a fascinating post from The Enlightened Mind about how Jesus has been depicted over the centuries, and why that matters. Full article below:

 Painting depicting transfiguration of Jesus, a story in the New Testament when Jesus becomes radiant upon a mountain. Artist Raphael /Collections Hallwyl MuseumCC BY-SA

The portrayal of Jesus as a white, European man has come under renewed scrutiny during this period of introspection over the legacy of racism in society.

As protesters called for the removal of Confederate statues in the U.S., activist Shaun King went further, suggesting that murals and artwork depicting “white Jesus” should “come down.”

His concerns about the depiction of Christ and how it is used to uphold notions of white supremacy are not isolated. Prominent scholars and the archbishop of Canterbury have called to reconsider Jesus’ portrayal as a white man.

As a European Renaissance art historian, I study the evolving image of Jesus Christ from A.D. 1350 to 1600. Some of the best-known depictions of Christ, from Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” to Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel, were produced during this period.

But the all-time most-reproduced image of Jesus comes from another period. It is Warner Sallman’s light-eyed, light-haired “Head of Christ” from 1940. Sallman, a former commercial artist who created art for advertising campaigns, successfully marketed this picture worldwide.

 Sallman’s ‘Head of Christ’

Through Sallman’s partnerships with two Christian publishing companies, one Protestant and one Catholic, the Head of Christ came to be included on everything from prayer cards to stained glass, faux oil paintings, calendars, hymnals and night lights.

Sallman’s painting culminates a long tradition of white Europeans creating and disseminating pictures of Christ made in their own image.

In search of the holy face

The historical Jesus likely had the brown eyes and skin of other first-century Jews from Galilee, a region in biblical Israel. But no one knows exactly what Jesus looked like. There are no known images of Jesus from his lifetime, and while the Old Testament Kings Saul and David are explicitly called tall and handsome in the Bible, there is little indication of Jesus’ appearance in the Old or New Testaments.

 ‘The Good Shepherd.’ Joseph Wilpert

Even these texts are contradictory: The Old Testament prophet Isaiah reads that the coming savior “had no beauty or majesty,” while the Book of Psalms claims he was “fairer than the children of men,” the word “fair” referring to physical beauty.

The earliest images of Jesus Christ emerged in the first through third centuries A.D., amidst concerns about idolatry. They were less about capturing the actual appearance of Christ than about clarifying his role as a ruler or as a savior.

To clearly indicate these roles, early Christian artists often relied on syncretism, meaning they combined visual formats from other cultures.

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Probably the most popular syncretic image is Christ as the Good Shepherd, a beardless, youthful figure based on pagan representations of Orpheus, Hermes and Apollo.

In other common depictions, Christ wears the toga or other attributes of the emperor. The theologian Richard Viladesau argues that the mature bearded Christ, with long hair in the “Syrian” style, combines characteristics of the Greek god Zeus and the Old Testament figure Samson, among others.

Christ as self-portraitist

The first portraits of Christ, in the sense of authoritative likenesses, were believed to be self-portraits: the miraculous “image not made by human hands,” or acheiropoietos.

 Acheiropoietos. Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow

This belief originated in the seventh century A.D., based on a legend that Christ healed King Abgar of Edessa in modern-day Urfa, Turkey, through a miraculous image of his face, now known as the Mandylion.

A similar legend adopted by Western Christianity between the 11th and 14th centuries recounts how, before his death by crucifixion, Christ left an impression of his face on the veil of Saint Veronica, an image known as the volto santo, or “Holy Face.”

 Christ crowned with thorns. Artist Antonello da Messina. The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931, Metropolitan Museum, New York

These two images, along with other similar relics, have formed the basis of iconic traditions about the “true image” of Christ.

From the perspective of art history, these artifacts reinforced an already standardized image of a bearded Christ with shoulder-length, dark hair.

In the Renaissance, European artists began to combine the icon and the portrait, making Christ in their own likeness. This happened for a variety of reasons, from identifying with the human suffering of Christ to commenting on one’s own creative power.

 Albrecht Dürer. Albrecht Dürer/Alte Pinakothek Collections

The 15th-century Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina, for example, painted small pictures of the suffering Christ formatted exactly like his portraits of regular people, with the subject positioned between a fictive parapet and a plain black background and signed “Antonello da Messina painted me.”

The 16th-century German artist Albrecht Dürer blurred the line between the holy face and his own image in a famous self-portrait of 1500. In this, he posed frontally like an icon, with his beard and luxuriant shoulder-length hair recalling Christ’s. The “AD” monogram could stand equally for “Albrecht Dürer” or “Anno Domini” – “in the year of our Lord.”

In whose image?

This phenomenon was not restricted to Europe: There are 16th- and 17th-century pictures of Jesus with, for example, Ethiopian and Indian features.

In Europe, however, the image of a light-skinned European Christ began to influence other parts of the world through European trade and colonization.

 ‘Adoration of the Magi.’ Artist Andrea Mantegna. The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Italian painter Andrea Mantegna’s “Adoration of the Magi” from A.D. 1505 features three distinct magi, who, according to one contemporary tradition, came from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. They present expensive objects of porcelain, agate and brass that would have been prized imports from China and the Persian and Ottoman empires.

But Jesus’ light skin and blues eyes suggest that he is not Middle Eastern but European-born. And the faux-Hebrew script embroidered on Mary’s cuffs and hemline belie a complicated relationship to the Judaism of the Holy Family.

In Mantegna’s Italy, anti-Semitic myths were already prevalent among the majority Christian population, with Jewish people often segregated to their own quarters of major cities.

Artists tried to distance Jesus and his parents from their Jewishness. Even seemingly small attributes like pierced ears – earrings were associated with Jewish women, their removal with a conversion to Christianity – could represent a transition toward the Christianity represented by Jesus.

Much later, anti-Semitic forces in Europe including the Nazis would attempt to divorce Jesus totally from his Judaism in favor of an Aryan stereotype.

White Jesus abroad

As Europeans colonized increasingly farther-flung lands, they brought a European Jesus with them. Jesuit missionaries established painting schools that taught new converts Christian art in a European mode.

small altarpiece made in the school of Giovanni Niccolò, the Italian Jesuit who founded the “Seminary of Painters” in Kumamoto, Japan, around 1590, combines a traditional Japanese gilt and mother-of-pearl shrine with a painting of a distinctly white, European Madonna and Child.

 Nicolas Correa’s ‘The Mystic Betrothal of Saint Rose of Lima.’ Museo Nacional de Arte

In colonial Latin America – called “New Spain” by European colonists – images of a white Jesus reinforced a caste system where white, Christian Europeans occupied the top tier, while those with darker skin from perceived intermixing with native populations ranked considerably lower.

Artist Nicolas Correa’s 1695 painting of Saint Rose of Lima, the first Catholic saint born in “New Spain,” shows her metaphorical marriage to a blond, light-skinned Christ.

Legacies of likeness

Scholar Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey argue that in the centuries after European colonization of the Americas, the image of a white Christ associated him with the logic of empire and could be used to justify the oppression of Native and African Americans.

In a multiracial but unequal America, there was a disproportionate representation of a white Jesus in the media. It wasn’t only Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ that was depicted widely; a large proportion of actors who have played Jesus on television and film have been white with blue eyes.

Pictures of Jesus historically have served many purposes, from symbolically presenting his power to depicting his actual likeness. But representation matters, and viewers need to understand the complicated history of the images of Christ they consume.

Author: Anna Swartwood House
Assistant Professor of Art History, University of South Carolina

What Hanukkah’s Really About

stainless steel candelabra beside clear wine glasses

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Last night, R and I watched a silly Food Network competition called the Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge, in which contestants reinvented traditional recipes with varied success.

This prompts me to address some of the misconceptions around the holiday, as well as its true meaning.

  • It’s not the “Jewish Christmas”, it’s an ancient holiday all on its own that just happens to occur in December.
  • Per the above, it’s historically not a big gift-giving event, so you won’t find massive “post-Hanukkah” sales on the Internet.  There are also no stockings hung by the chimney or anywhere else.
  • No trees are sacrificed, although you’ll occasionally find a “Hanukkah bush” in a Jewish home if someone grew up with a Christmas tree.
  • It lasts for 8 days.  If your relatives drive you crazy after one day of Christmas, just imagine.
  • Fried foods are traditional, commemorating the miracle of the long-lasting oil in the rededicated Temple, e.g., latkes (fried potato pancakes, pronounced laht-kuh(s), not laht-key(s), as the host of the Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge kept saying) and donuts (“sufganiyot” in Hebrew –pronounced soof-gahn-ee-oat). Latkes made from carrots or Brussels sprouts are all kinds of wrong.

So what is it?

Hanukkah (or Chanukah) celebrates the triumph of freedom over oppression.  Specifically, it commemorates a miracle that occurred during the rededication of the synagogue following decades of persecution and war.

When the fortress which guarded the Temple was finally captured by the Jewish rebellion, the soldiers found only a small amount of the pure oil that could be used to re-light the Temple menorah (branched candlestick).  Although there was only enough to burn for one day, the oil lasted for eight days, long enough for new oil to be prepared.

 

The history (per JewishHistory.org)

In the wake of Alexander’s appearance in and departure from Jerusalem, relations between Jews and Greeks were so good that an exchange of cultures took place. Each influenced the other. For the Jewish minority, however, what began as a small undertow of assimilation — such as giving children Greek names and speaking the Greek language — became a surprisingly powerful, high-speed rip current threatening to drag the caught-off-guard Jews out to the sea of complete assimilation.

Jews who embraced Greek culture at the expense of Judaism became known as Misyavnim, or Hellenists. Estimates are that a third or more of the Jewish population was Hellenist, including those who reversed their circumcision, ate pork, bowed to idols and even became self-hating enough to side with the enemies of Israel. Hellenism threatened to annihilate the Jewish world through assimilation in ways tyrants tried but could not do by force.

Had the situation continued as it was, the Greeks would perhaps have won the battle by default. However, they overstepped themselves.

Here Come the Greeks

At the beginning of the year 190 BCE, the situation between the two great post-Alexandrian empires, the Seleucid and the Ptolemaic, deteriorated badly. The Seleucids mounted an invasion that took their army through the Land of Israel, which was sandwiched in-between.

Whenever a foreign army comes into a country it changes the view of the populace. Instead of an attractive culture, the Greeks were now an occupying enemy. Instead of something to be imitated, now they became something to be resisted.

The Jewish people are very stubborn. The same person who is so stubborn that he will not observe the Torah in freedom will observe it with passion if forbidden from observing it. He becomes stubborn the other way.

A good case could be made that if the Communists in Russia had left the Jews alone they would have completely assimilated. However, once told that they could not be Jewish a certain percentage of Jews decided to be Jewish at great risk. That happened with the Greeks as well.

Progressively More Intolerable Laws

The Greek army exerted a very heavy hand against the Jews. First, they forced Jews to finance their war through collection of taxes. Then they forced them to quarter their soldiers in Jewish homes. Finally, the Greeks were determined to crush the Jewish religion.

First, they took the statue of Zeus and mounted it in the courtyard of the Temple. Next, the Greeks banned the observance of the Sabbath on the pain of death. Then, the Talmud (Kesubos 3b) records, there was a period of time which lasted a number of decades when the Greek officer in town had the right to “live” with a woman on her wedding night before her husband-to-be.

The Greeks also banned circumcision. Whoever circumcised his child was put to death; both child and father were killed. Then the Greeks demanded that altars to the Greek idols be established and that sacrifices be offered on a regular basis in every Jewish town. Finally, the Jewish educational system was entirely interrupted.

The Jews Rebel

About the year 166 BCE, a group finally stood up to the Greeks: Matisyahu (Mattathias) and his family, known as the Hasmoneans. We do not know much about them except that they were of noble descent from the priestly class (Kohanim), including those who had served as High Priests.

They lived in a small town called Modin, which was about 12 miles northwest from Jerusalem. (The town exists today, and is about 20 miles west of modern Jerusalem.) One day, a Greek contingent marched in, set up an altar, gathered all the Jews and forced them to sacrifice a pig to Zeus.

They then asked for a Jewish volunteer to perform the sacrifice. One stepped forward. As he approached the altar Matisyahu stabbed him to death.

Chaos broke out. The Greek army attempted to subdue the crowd, but the Jews were armed and slaughtered the entire Greek patrol. There was no turning back now.

The Maccabees

Matisyahu had five sons, all of whom were people of great organizational leadership as well as pious, committed Jews: Johanan (Yochanan), Simon (Shimon), Jonathan (Yonason), Judah (Yehudah) and Eleazar.

They ran to the caves and organized an army – not to fight an open war, but a guerilla war. Originally they organized of force of about 3,000 men. Eventually it grew to 6,000 and never reached more than 12,000 men.

The General of the Army was the great Judah, known to the world as Judah the Maccabee (or Judas Maccabaeus as he was called in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost). “Maccabaeus” is the Greek word for hammer, but the Jews took it, as Jews are wont to do, and made it Jewish by declaring that “Maccabee” stood for the first four letters in Exodus 15:11, meaning, “Who is like You, God?” — which was said by Moses and the people after the miraculous drowning of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds.

An enormous Syrian-Greek army, numbering almost 50,000 men, marched into Judea. Judah the Maccabee marshaled his forces and with guile and courage outmaneuvered the far larger Greek army, forced it to divide and then destroyed its various components, killing many thousands and forcing the survivors to flee north to Syria.

It took many years, but their hit-and-run tactics wore down three great Greek armies. However, the Jews paid a very heavy price in terms of blood. Matisyahu died in the early going. Judah Maccabee was killed in the third great battle. Eleazar died while attacking an elephant. Johanan and Jonathan were killed as well. The only Maccabee brother who survived was Simon.

The Miracle

The last famous battle was for the fortress of Antonius, which guarded the Temple. When Antonius fell, the Jews came back to the Temple. They shattered the statue of Zeus and cleaned the Temple to the extent that they could. Any priests who worked for the Greeks were sent away or executed.

They only found one small flask of uncontaminated oil with the seal of the High Priest. By Torah law, the flame of the Menorah (Candelabrum) in the Temple could only be lit with specially prepared pure olive oil. The amount of oil remaining in the one uncontaminated flask was only enough to burn for one day, and it would take eight days to produce a new batch of pure oil.

What could they do?

They lit it — and it miraculously burned for eight days. That is why Chanukah lasts eight nights (the festival was established a year later by the Rabbis).

What is Chanukah?

The Talmud does not say much about Chanukah. There are perhaps forty lines spread out in different volumes, whereas almost all the other holidays have an entire Talmudic volume about them. In addition, the few words the Talmud has to say about Chanukah are cryptic. Perhaps that is why Chanukah has been subject to reinterpretation, as it has been in our time. People make whatever they want to make out of it. However, that is a mistake, a tragedy.

In the Western world, it has the misfortune of falling in December. Therefore, in the homes of many Jewish people it has sadly became the Jewish version of the December holidays, a mixture of commercialism and non-Jewish traditions and ideas.

What the Talmud does say is that the important thing is to “advertise the miracle.” People have to recognize that a miracle took place. It is vital to keep the wonder in Chanukah. That is why the rabbis gave more emphasis to the miracle of the lights than the military victory.

Wars come and go. Even the glow of miraculous victory can fade. Young people today do not think that Israel’s War for Independence in 1948 was such a miracle. In 1967, Jews expected a second Holocaust. Now people brush the miraculous Six Day War off as nothing special.

History provides numerous examples of outnumbered forces defeating a superpower using guerilla tactics. Was the Maccabean victory so miraculous? That was the question Jews at the time must have asked themselves.

However, when the small flask of pure oil that could only last one day lasted eight days it proved that there was a miracle that happened there. The little flask of oil shed light on the big military campaign. “Not by the army, not by power, but through My Spirit, says God” (Zechariah 4:6). Chanukah is about the little light that sheds a great light.

There is an indefinable, spiritual, electric charge that binds the generations together that cannot be found in any book. It can only be had when parents and grandparents do things like sitting together with their children around the Chanukah lights celebrating, discussing and advertising the miracle; experientially getting in touch with the wonder of the past, the wonder of the present, the wonder of life.

What Ever Happened to the Hellenists?

Chanukah is a very popular, emotional and beautiful holiday. However, the necessity for Chanukah begins with the story of the invasion of Greek culture and the weakness of the Jews in responding to it. It originates from the growth of an enormous sect of Hellenists within the Jews, who even supported the Greeks during the war.

What happened to the Hellenists? Their influence all but collapsed in the wake of the defeat. They would never return again as Hellenists, because the war brought out their true colors as traitors and they lost whatever appeal they could have had to the Jewish people.

Most of them retreated to the city of Caesarea, which remained a Greek city (and later would become a Roman city). They were just not part of the Jewish people any longer.

The Real Significance: a Victory of the Spirit

Their demise punctuated the fact that more than a military victory, the miracle of the oil signified that Chanukah was a victory of the spirit of the Jewish people, a victory that granted them the right to observe the Torah. That is why its memory and the people who observe it have endured.

Who’s Scared of Friday 13th?

(Adapted from alltimelists.com. Interesting stuff!)

You’ve surely heard that Friday the 13th has a bad reputation. Many people consider it to be one of the most dangerous days of the year and conduct their business throughout the day with great caution – whether traveling, working, meeting friends or dining with family. Whether or not you’re superstitious, here are ten fun facts about this date.

10. Friday and 13 Are Linked to the Crucifixion of Jesus

Phillips Stevens Jr., a well-known anthropologist, says that people started fearing Friday the 13th during the Middle Ages.

He says, “There were 13 people present at the Last Supper and Jesus was said to be the 13th. The Last Supper was on a Thursday and the next day was the day of the crucifixion.”

When the number 13 and Friday come together, people fear it as double trouble. Very tall buildings usually don’t have a 13th floor. It is also considered unlucky to sit thirteen people at a table and some airplanes skip the 13th row.

 9. Friday the 13th and the Calendar

Top 10 Friday the 13th Facts - Repetition in Calendar

Is there a divine pattern? Whenever January 1 falls on a Thursday, the months of February, March and November all have a Friday the 13th. This will happen 11 times in the 21st century.

Our current cycle began in 2009, when Friday the 13th occurred in February, March and November. It also happened in 2015. However, it won’t happen again until 2026, after which you will have to wait until 2037 — another 11 years — for the trifecta.

 8. Historical Associations

top 10 Friday the 13th Facts - Other Numerological Numbers

Some contributing factors to the avoidance of the 13th are historical as well as biblical. For example, the number 12 is considered as a whole in numerology: the twelve tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles of Jesus and then the 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam. Anything over that number is considered “un-whole” by numerologists.

Another theory is mentioned by author Dan Brown in his book about the crusaders and the Knights Templar. On October 13, 1307, France’s King Philip IV ordered the arrest of hundreds of Knights Templar and many were murdered throughout Europe. Another reason, bound in blood, that people fear Friday the 13th.

7. It Became Popular in the 19th Century

Top 10 Friday the 13th Facts - Became Popular in the 19th century

Much of the paranoia started in the 1800’s. Henry Sutherland Edwards wrote in his 1869 biography of Giochino Rossini (a leap year baby, by the way), that “He was [always] surrounded with friends. He considered [the number] 13 to be unlucky until his last day and he also passed away on Friday the 13th.”

Later, a novel published in 1907 titled Friday, the Thirteen by Thomas W. popularized the idea, inciting superstition throughout American culture.

 6. Alfred Hitchcock Was Born on Friday the 13th

top 10 Friday the 13th Facts - Birthday of Alfred Hitchcock

Who isn’t familiar with Alfred Hitchcock? The legendary director was born in August 13, 1899 and made his directorial debut in 1922 with a movie called Friday the 13th. However, the movie didn’t gain much popularity and suffered from financial issues.

Other well-known celebrities who were born on Friday the 13th include actresses-turned-designers Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen, playwright Samuel Beckett and former President of Cuba, Fidel Castro. One could argue that it hasn’t been unlucky for them!

5. Terrible Things Happen on Friday the 13th

Some people deny that Friday the 13th is unlucky but there is a lot of evidence to back this up.  For example, the Nazis dropped a bomb on Buckingham Palace on September 13, 1940 and the day was a Friday. Also, consider the Knights Templar and their fate on Friday the 13th.

On October 13, 1989, the stock market suffered a massive crash. That day happened to be Friday the 13th. It is considered the second most damaging day in stock market history. There have also been a considerable number of plane crashes on Friday the 13th.

 4. It’s a Lucky Number for Taylor Swift

Top 10 Friday the 13th facts - Taylor Swifts Lucky Number

Despite the bad things that have happened on this fateful day, it’s still a good luck charm for singer Taylor Swift. She is so obsessed with this number that she paints 13 on her hand every time she does a show.

She explains the significance of this day in her life with the following words: “I was born on the 13th. I turned 13 on Friday the 13th. My first album skyrocketed in 13 weeks. My #1 song has a 13 seconds intro. I have always won an award when I am sitting in the 13th section or row M, which is the 13th letter of the alphabet.”

3. A Group Was Formed to Debunk the Superstition

In the 1880s, the Thirteen Club was formed to debunk the myths surrounding this fateful day. The group gathered on every 13th of the month and conducted experiments. They would throw salt and break mirrors in an attempt to get a reaction from supernatural powers. They would also note the number of people who died that day.

The group eventually gained great popularity and grew to have 400 members, including a number of U.S. Presidents.

2. The Fear of This Number is Psychological

Top 10 Friday the 13th Facts - Fear of The number is psychological

The correct word to describe fear of the 13th is “triskaidekaphobia”.

Some of the problems people face on this day range from relatively low anxiety to full-blown panic attacks. Because of all the distractions Friday the 13th causes, millions are lost each year for companies around the world. The National Geographic states, “It’s been estimated that about $800 to $900 million are lost in business on this day because people don’t fly as they [normally do].”

1. Good Things Happen, Too

Top 10 Friday the 13th Facts - Good Things that Happened this day

Good things happen on this day, too, although they don’t get as much attention. For example, the Hollywood sign — one of the most powerful and recognizable images around the world — was unveiled on Friday the 13th, 1923.

Whether you’re superstitious or not, you can’t deny that it’s a significant day. Hope yours is a lucky one!

A Little Holiday Humor

(Sent from a friend.)

THERE WERE 3 GOOD ARGUMENTS THAT

Jesus was Black:

  1. He called everyone “brother”.
  2. He liked Gospel.
  3. He didn’t get a fair trial.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:

  1. He went into his Father’s business.
  2. He lived at home until he was 33.
  3. He was sure his mother was a virgin, and his mother was sure He was God.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:

  1. He talked with his hands.
  2. He had wine with his meals.
  3. He used olive oil.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:

  1. He never cut his hair.
  2. He walked around barefoot all the time.
  3. He started a new religion.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a Native American:

  1. He was at peace with nature.
  2. He ate a lot of fish.
  3. He talked about the Great Spirit.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish:

  1. He never got married.
  2. He was always telling stories.
  3. He loved green pastures.

But the most compelling evidence of all proves that Jesus was a WOMAN:

  1. He fed a crowd at a moment’s notice when there was virtually no food.
  2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn’t get it.
  3. And even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was still work to do.