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March 23, 2006


You don't have to get too far into your average holy book or testament before something fails to add (unless your calculator adjusts results based on faith) up. Here's the early-twentieth-century anthropologist Roy Franklin Barton: Michelangelo.pieta.jpg

There is much that is inconsistent and contradictory in religions generally, because they grow by accretion through many, many ages and kinds of culture, from mingled emotions, timidities and hopes and in the minds of different individuals and peoples.

I think of Jesus -- or rather the many, many Jesuses -- when I think of such inconsistencies and contradictions. (Though there are, to be sure, examples in all faiths; Barton is talking about headhunters in the Philippines.) Born a Prince/Born a Carpenter. Son of Man/Son of God. Revolutionary/Ascetic.Turn the other cheek/Not peace but a sword. Messiah/Sacrifice. Kingdom of God Soon/Kingdom of God After I Die/Kingdom of God Many, Many Generations Hence.

Most Christians, and even many non-Christians, have a favorite Jesus. (I venture to say that it is hard to read the Gospels without finding something to like.) Thomas Jefferson even went so far as to cut up the Gospels -- taking out the parts he didn't like. (I've heard two version of what those parts were: all the supernatural stuff or everything except Jesus' own words.) Even Nietzsche takes a brief break from pummeling Christianity to roll out a kind of Buddhist, naif Jesus, of whom he seems quite enamored. This game has been played, on quite a high level, by artists too, of course.

Garry Wills has a new book, What Jesus Meant, which promises to present some interesting Jesuses, cause Wills is an interesting thinker. The review in the New York Times, by Jon Meacham, however, mostly just trips over various contractions.

My favorite Jesus: The would-be Messiah who, finding himself dying in pain on a Roman cross, cries out (his last words, while alive, in Matthew): "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me." (Slavoj Zizek, not surprisingly, likes him too.)sophia_jesus.jpg

The deeply sad, if not disgusted, yet somehow also resolute and caring mosaic Jesus in Istanbul's Aya Sophia also intrigues me. Maybe because it manages to bring together a selection of the contradictions and inconsistencies in one believable Face. Might the painting be a reminder that such a selection could have coexisted in the Man Himself? Sure. Plenty of lower-case men and women manage to embody a bunch of contradictions. But, in Jesus's case, that's hard to square with the various supernatural perfections.

Is there a Jesus of whom you're particularly fond? Or, perhaps, a favorite contradiction in the various accounts of His life and death?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at March 23, 2006 11:05 PM


One of my favorite Jesuses is in Caravaggio's "The Taking of Christ" (1598), which hangs rather improbably in the National Gallery of Ireland, on indefinite loan by some rich Jesuits. I lived in Dublin briefly as a student and would frequently visit the museum just to see this painting. It jumps out at you with tremendous force -- fresh as if painted just yesterday -- set off all the more by several galleries of rather dun, second-rate Renaissance paintings before and after.

This is the moment of Judas's betrayal. He leans in to plant the damning kiss on Jesus's cheek while centurions dressed in black, lustrous armor prepare to make their move. Jesus's face is sad and seemingly resigned to fate. He interlaces his fingers, offering his wrists to be chained. But: directly to his left, practically erupting from the back of his head, Peter cries out in alarm, hair blurring the distinction between their two bodies. Jesus is simultaneously silent and screaming, hands simultaneously lowered and raised, and Peter's cape billows out to form a canopy above the poisonous kiss. Caravaggio captures Jesus's contradictions by making him two-headed and four-armed. I never got over this.

Posted by: ben vershbow at March 24, 2006 1:33 PM

I remember I was very impressed by
Pieta by Michelangelo when I saw its picture somewhere in a book about 10 years ago. I
recalled that recently, found an image on the web and somehow failed to get that impression that has stayed with me for so long and that I have been associating with this work. I felt the same when I saw it on your blog and it made me wonder once again why "the magic" is gone. I think my first impression came with that particlur photograph I had seen, that had Maria's face zoomed in at some angle that made it so live and so full of feelings, from tenderness to sorrow, and it was so
moving, while now as I'm looking at a high-quality
digital snap of it, all I see is a sculpture, beautiful but somehow not moving, that just doesn't draw me in. I'm wondering if seeing such works of art "live" makes a huge difference, if seeing different images of them makes a difference? To complete my experiment I would need to see the Pieta in Vatican.

Posted by: Svetlana at March 25, 2006 11:57 AM

I'm particularly fond of revolutionary Jesus, the one who said that no wealthy man could go to Heaven so long as some were still in poverty.

Posted by: Dayv at March 25, 2006 11:29 PM

Bob Miller (vanrijngo) is in a rambling mood,... and one who could care less if anyone who reads his writings believes anything what he has to say,... because as most know already,... ones who thinks that they know him, believes he is so full of it,.... just as the days are long. Well,... if time is irreverent as Einstein says,.. this must not be true or hold water at all. Just more myths and lies to go down into our history books to become some peoples truths who want to believe in something.

He believe people who writes books on atheism and on the history of atheism are only interested in the monetary aspects and the return while only creating other forms of beliefs, only as competitors to the rest of the written down beliefs. It has been acknowledged God said that no rich man will enter the gates of heaven as long as there are poor. People in general just cannot see this the way that our societies are built up and what was taught them from very young ages. Education and money will buy you the better things in life along with happiness. Don't you think that some of this has gotten just a little out of hand?


Posted by: Bob Miller at July 28, 2006 4:05 AM

Oh yeah, the way to make money is to write about atheism. That and the desire to start your own belief system (religion) are Mitch's only motivations.

It has been acknowledged that the universe was created in 6 days. It has been acknowledged that God is an immaculate fornicator. Everything has been acknowledged by someone.

I have heard that vanringo was placed in a running washing machine when he was 3 days old? Is that true?

Mitch is getting rich! Woopie! And all the while pissing through the eye of a needle!

Posted by: Jay Saul at July 28, 2006 11:20 AM

Hey Jay,
I think that's the washing machine I almost drowned in on your web page under contruction.

Posted by: Bob Miller at August 9, 2006 6:50 PM

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