SISSIFIED JESUS

Don Sensing, inspired by the Kim du Toit controversy and some other things he’s read lately, has written a long post on the sissification of Jesus’ image:

As children in Sunday School we see our first pictures of Jesus as the good shepherd (see above, for example). They are wildly inaccurate. They show a Zest-fully clean Jesus with his Breck-shampooed, blow-dried hair, in a spotless, Bill Blass robe, carrying a little lamb on his shoulders. This is an inoffensive, domesticated Jesus, a tamed Jesus who looks good. This Jesus is a poster boy for people who think that Christian faith is supposed to make them popular. But if this wimpy, smarmy, gender-confused, television-evangelist-looking Jesus ever told you, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (cf: John 10:11), you’d laugh out loud in derision. And if it ever occurred to you that your life was literally in his hands, you’d cry in despair.

A good shepherd Jesus would have grubby clothes that were torn and tattered, perhaps bloodstained. He would clip his hair short because it would be constantly dirty. Soot and sweat would be streaked across his face. His hands would be grimy. His aroma would prove he is unacquainted with Ban Roll-on. The type of fellow who can do the work that shepherding requires is not the kind of fellow any of us would invite home to meet mother. Good shepherds don’t appeal to persons of refined sensibility.

Interesting. I’m not particularly knowledgable about the grooming habits at the turn of the previous millennium, but this sounds about right other than the part about the short hair. Don goes on to offer some plausible explanations for why this image has evolved as it has.

Craig Henry comments on the post as well, coining the phrase “the metrosexual Jesus,” which I find quite amusing.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. craig henry says:

    I wish i could claim to have coined “metrosexual Jesus”, but Rev. Sensing did that in his title. Although i was all over this metrosexual thing way back in September….

    http://www.leadandgold.blogspot.com/2003_09_01_leadandgold_archive.html#106312192942959530

  2. Dodd says:

    It is well to remember that Jesus could be a bad ass when he needed to be. Throwing the money changers out of the temple was an act, I expect, of significant physical courage and prowess.

  3. James Joyner says:

    True. Although how much physical courage do you need if you’re an omnipotent being with the power to resurrect yourself?

  4. Doug Hudson says:

    Jesus was hardly invulnerable–he clearly suffered physical pain (of course, according to Christians, that was voluntary, him being God and all, but still, it isnt clear that he could just resume being invulnerable at will). And dying still hurt quite a bit–the whole, “why has thou forsaken me?” bit. So I think risking, and eventually enduring, agonizing physical pain, even if you know you will recover eventually, still demonstrates courage. And if you think he was ‘just’ human, then its obviously courageous.

  5. Historically speaking, the clean-cut shepherd Christ appeared in Western art as Western and Eastern Christendom diverged in the 14th century. The Western Christ started out as a young boy and evolved into the longhaired “Anglo Jesus” that Sensing pointed out. By comparison, the Eastern Orthodox adult Christ was depicted as an angry warrior (being on the front lines of conflict with the Turks prompted Christians to adopt a different image of Christ). When Sensing implies that the “metrosexual” Christ is a modern development, he’s got his timeline off by several hundred years.

  6. JW says:

    Isaiah 53:2

    “For He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.”

    (The only physical description of Jesus I can find in the Bible.)

  7. Different aspects of Jesus’ personality come out in different gospels; people who portray him from the written accounts come out with entirely different looks. (Matthew shows him as a teacher, as the new Moses. Mark gives us a down-to-earth Jesus who is always in a hurry. Luke gives us a compassionate, forgiving Jesus, and John shows us the majestic, divine Jesus.)

    It’s always been hilarious to me that we Anglicize Christ. He was a rabbi, for crying out loud. But that has been going on for hundreds of years, and I think most people who’ve studied the Bible at all realize he was probably dirty a lot of the time and didn’t always comb his hair the way the painters have it combed.

    Different ethnicities tend to make Jesus look more like them–Anglos anglicize, and there are images of a dark-skinned Jesus here and there. It’s probably a good thing, overall.

    Keep in mind that Jesus was never a literal shepherd: he was a metaphorical shepherd. But he was a carpenter’s son, and his clothes were probably humble (though worth the Roman soldiers drawing straws for as he was dying). I think he was probably well cared-for as he became famous and word of his ministry spread: I’m sure when he and his diciples came to town they were well fed and given access to whatever the bathing facilities were. On the road, however, I’m sure they all got very dusty and dirty.

    But for men who are insecure about their masculinity to start dragging Jesus into it is a bit much. If being a guy means some particular thing to you, go and pursue your own vision. Don’t use Jesus’s circumstances to rationalize the particular degree of butch you think is proper. J.C. had a lot of things on his mind: portraying a certain type of masculinity wasn’t one of them. He was a busy guy.