In 1998, I visited Brazil. In the world’s largest Catholic country, I saw icons of Jesus and Mary everywhere. There was one not-so-subtle difference between these and the icons I see in Australia. For millions of Brazilian Catholics, the Blessed Virgin with child both had black skin.
Of course, we all know that Jesus wasn’t a negroHe was, after all, born in a place called Beyt Lahm, an Arabic/Aramaic phrase meaning literally "House of Lamb Meat" or 'House of Bread". He spoke fluent Aramaic. His mother wore (at the very least) a traditional head scarf worn today by many orthodox Jewish and Muslim women.
A delegation from Jesus’ town is currently visiting Australia. All delegation members are Christians. All are accused of being terrorists. All no doubt look like Middle Easterners. All look like Arabs. Usama bin Ladin is a Middle Easterner. The Mayor of Bethlehem is a Middle Easterner. Jesus was a Middle Easterner. No doubt Jesus probably bore some resemblance to other Middle Easterners.
Yet for some reason, American-owned tabloids in Sydney and Melbourne are behaving in a very Middle Eastern fashion over one entry to an art prize. One that shows Jesus' mum in traditional arab garb (see right). Even the PM joined the fray, telling journalists ...
The choice of such artwork is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians.Yes, it is offensive if you believe Jesus looked something like Merv Hughes and Mary looked like Jennifer Hawkins. Yet the fact is that Mary wore something on her head (and, given her noble ancestry and her cultural heritage, quite likely something over her face).
What all this shows is how far the far-Right evangelical view of Christianity has strayed from the reality of Jesus. Allegedly conservative mono-cultural fruitloops keep referring to Australia’s Christian heritage. Yet how would they react if the real Jesus returned and arrived in Australia?
Well, for a start, they’d probably think he was a terrorist. He wouldn’t be speaking English, and would suddenly appear from the wilderness looking rather dishevelled.
Jesus’ photo would be splashed across our American-owned metropolitan tabloids. Piersed Akumen and his colleagues would be waxing unlyrical about this latest foreign threat. Gerard Henderson would attack the "civil rights lobby" for defending Jesus. Janet Albrechtsen would castigate lawyers and judges for defending a man who wants to establish the Kingdom of God (read sharia law) in Australia. The Australian Federal Police wouldn’t understand a word Jesus was saying but would charge him anyway. Some magistrate would grant Jesus bail, and the good Catholic Kevin Andrews would cancel Jesus’ visa and send him back to … um … er … God The Father?
As William Dalrymple keeps reminding us, Christianity (like Judaism and Islam) is a Middle Eastern religion. And Jesus was a Middle Easterner. Just accept it.
First published in the Crikey daily alert on Thursday 30 August 2007.
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf