Sunday, May 27, 2007

The genitals of Christ -- History 5 Podcast

I will be writing much more of the latest edition of the History 5 podcast series which is carried by Professor Margaret Anderson. But in the fifth lecture about the common culture of early Renaissance Europe, she mentions something very new and very thought provoking: the fascination of the culture (at least of the visual arts) with the genitals of Jesus. This ranks from the little penis of baby Jesus, to the erection with which the risen Christ is depicted.

Many pictures show either the wise men examining the baby's genitals, or mother Mary lifting his robe in order to show, or even the child doing it himself. In addition, many of the pictures showing the dead or the resurrected Christ, depict him with an erection. Needless to say, in consecutive prudent eras, these details were painted over only to be rediscovered in recent restorations.

Professor Anderson's explanation is that this is allegorical and is intended to emphasize that Christ is human, a man of flesh and blood and as such kin to humanity. What this meant is, that on account of being related to men, it made sense for the Renaissance European that Jesus could have perished for their sins. This logic follows from the culture of having relatives be held responsible for debts. In this respect, had Christ been only divine, the death at the cross, could not be logically linked to the sins of humanity.

It is not for me to challenge Anderson's expertise, it just so happens another thought came to my mind. I think I'll ask her about it. (I did and she replied) When the genitals of baby Jesus are at stake, I thought, this may be connected to circumcision. The genitals are studied and portrayed either to make sure he is circumcised, or the opposite, he is not circumcised and if so, the whole meaning of these portraits is to remove Christ from his Jewish roots and as such dislodge Christianity from its Jewish origin.
The same could go for the mature genitals, though that would not explain why they have to be erect. Could that then, be some pagan element seeping in? Just some thoughts. What a podcast.

(Picture: Wikimedia Commons)
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