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Via Media


Black Theology and the Passion

posted by awelborn

via the Martin Marty Center

I’m intrigued by another possibility of response. Based on the excerpts that I have seen, I think the movie will offend many mainstream white religious audiences and resonate deeply with most blacks. The icons, art, and passion plays in most white churches present Jesus as the subject of a radical makeover. The rugged, sun-baked Palestinian Jew of the Bible gets morphed into a manicured, middle-class model citizen. Almost like one the neighbors. The theology that underwrites this sanitized Jesus avoids the brutal manifestations of oppression and violence he experienced. Even when crucifixion scenes appear in Anglo-American religious art, you may see a little blood and a wound or two, but almost never the dirty and broken body that endured torture for several hours. This film’s lingering gaze upon the grotesque will be difficult for viewers accustomed to such art.

But most black audiences will see things differently. Since the slave period, blacks have understood and portrayed Jesus as a Suffering Savior and a grassroots leader who was the victim of state-sponsored terror. Black theology has focused on the humanity and socially marginal status of Jesus. More than that, blacks have been attracted to the Jesus who experienced unjust victimization by the authorities and the community, but found empowering comfort in the conviction that a just God would someday even the score. This spirituality and faith generated Negro Spirituals, gospel music, prayers, sermons, and religious art that embraced the graphic reality of political death and dying.

hat tip to reader EP



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Michael Tinkler

posted February 19, 2004 at 1:44 pm


It ain’t the whiteness, it’s the niceness.
Germany agony art.
Flemish agony art
Now here’s a classic example of German agony art AFTER nicening up by 19th century curators: “cleaned” German Agony art.
Western Europeans used to get atoning sacrifice, but then the 19th century and Gentle-Jesus-Meek-and-Mild happened.



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Ono

posted February 19, 2004 at 2:23 pm


There’s also Grunewald.
But even then I like the posts’ point because the suffering Christ embraced by Blacks is less drawn or depicted than sung and prayed to spoken through the KJV. Is. 50:6 “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” It is impossible to artistically depict the depth of suffering of slavery or lynching, but much easier to sing about it, or pray about it or express it in Scripture or story, and that tends to be the direction of Black spirituality.
These discussion easily turn into a I’ve-suffered-more-than-you type of thing, but the issue here is more the qualitative difference which reflects a culture’s collective experience.
As a side point, I’ve heard some Black radio people are upset at the claim that it is suppose to be the most accurate movie ever, because here again, we have a European looking Jesus. Beyond that, it looks like the movie may just do quite well among Blacks.



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Gerard E.

posted February 19, 2004 at 3:33 pm


The movie will be huge among black viewers. The Magic Johnson chain, with theaters in inner-city neighborhoods on both coasts, has booked it enthusiastically. Earvin has no intention of losing money. He sees its huge box office
possibilities already.



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Christine

posted February 19, 2004 at 4:14 pm


Gibson’s Jesus is “European”?? I thought I had read in the trailers that he tried to make Jim Caviezel look more Mediterranean. And please take a good look at the actress who plays Mary — she is a Romanian Jew but could be physically identified as a member of any European ethnic group. There has always been a great variety in physical features among Jews. How would portraying Jesus as African-American — which he wasn’t — lend more integrity to this movie?



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Ono

posted February 19, 2004 at 4:37 pm


No one said anything about having an African American play Jesus.



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cs

posted February 19, 2004 at 5:07 pm


Can anyone say what the quote is on the Gruenwald painting?



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Mike Petrik

posted February 19, 2004 at 5:09 pm


I have had Black ministers *instruct* me on the *proven* fact that Jesus was really a Black-African. (Actually, one of them said African-American, but I knew what he meant). Something to do with the lost tribe of Israel. Christine’s point is right. Folks with agendas that are unrelated to Christ’s are all too eager to find fault with this film.



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Sulpicius Severus

posted February 19, 2004 at 5:51 pm


Graphic representations of Christ Our King, scourged or crucified, are not new. In fact, art of this nature originates in the southern European countries and can be traced to Hispanic-influenced nations.
Off the top of my head, the most moving depiction I can think of is the Ecce Homo statue, which I believe originated in Italy (?) and was inspired by a vision of St. Bridget (?). Here’s another version depicted.
Representations of what undoubtedly are closer to the reality of Christ Our King’s ordeal are well-known and well-established in European traditions (of course, the early Christians were fully aware of the brutality visited on Christ Our King). UIOGD,



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Charles R. Williams

posted February 19, 2004 at 9:36 pm


Reminds me of the cathedral in San Christobal, Chiapas. The place is 400+ years old and full of graphic portrayals of every detail of the Passion. I remember especially a life size statue of Jesus on his hands and knees covered with blood and wearing a crown of thorns. He face was at eye level. In the midst of it all there were little groups of Indian women sitting on the floor, drinking Coke.



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John

posted February 20, 2004 at 5:15 am


In the wake of Vatican II, many of the crucified Christ images, paintings and cricifixes, were replaced in Catholic churches with the risen Christ representation. Ironic that nearly 40 years later we get this reminder of the true face of our redemption. The fim could be a marker on the road to a real renewall of the faith of our Church.
Who would have guessed it could come from Hollywood? And from a rad-trad at that? I got to look into this a little more!



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Tim

posted February 20, 2004 at 6:50 am


John,
I thought we were enjoying a new renewal, a “new springtime”? The interview with Diane Sawyer did not reveal Mel Gibson to be a “RadTrad”. I think you are engaging in what Abe Foxman and the media are doing. Your convicting him for the sin of his father. The Georgia Bulletin came yesterday. In it Archbishop Donoghue gives a glowing recomendation for all Catholics to see the film. Well, all but those younger than high school age. The Archbishop said he met with Mel and had this to say. “I was able to talk at length with Mr. Gibson privately, and I am completely convinced that his motive in making this film was entirley religious and that it manifests what I consider to be his sincere faith and devotion.” “Mel Gibson’s understanding (of the Passion) has been enlightened by the Church.” The letter is much longer and expounds on orthodox Catholic teaching. Not something you hear from a bishop very often.



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John

posted February 20, 2004 at 7:00 am


Tim:
Sorry you missed my sarcasm. I do not believe he is a radtrad either. Actually, I was trying to poke at those who accuse him of beimg radtrad; that it takes a “radtrad” to point the way. A “radtrad” from Hollywood! (Should have put it in quotation marks.)



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Tim

posted February 20, 2004 at 8:28 am


Point taken John. I’ve found it hard sometimes to determine tone and meaning as well as express it in this type of forum.



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Christine

posted February 20, 2004 at 9:02 am


“I have had Black ministers *instruct* me on the *proven* fact that Jesus was really a Black-African.”
Mike, yep, and you can file that right alongside the insistence that Cleopatra was a Black African even though she was descended from the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty.
I could care less what ethnic group God decided to incarnate into. What I do object to is historical revisionism. Public education is in a sad enough state, especially among minorities.



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Christine

posted February 20, 2004 at 9:15 am


“Can anyone say what the quote is on the Gruenwald painting?”
cs, are you referring to the “INRI” inscription? In Latin, IESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDAEORUM, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.



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Respark The Romance

posted July 11, 2014 at 2:58 am


Your material implies that you’re pretty literate and able to write appealing article content.
Do you write for others? Let me pay you on your work (on an hourly
basis, per post, .etc).



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