These artists seem to have found in Jesus an anti-establishment figure; a portrait of suffering; a stranger in a strange land.
The new Israeli artists whose work is shown in the recent “Behold the Man” exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem all seem to recognize many truths about Jesus, and artists seek, paint, sculpt, exalt, deny, and search for expressions of truth through their creations. These artists seem to have found in Jesus an anti-establishment figure; a portrait of suffering; a stranger in a strange land; the Christian savior who was Jewish–who, unfortunately, had his life and mission (“gospel”) become an excuse for misinterpretation and misuse as an excuse to persecute Jews. As for using Jesus and Christian themes as inspiration for their work–sure, why not? Love, hope, patience, longsuffering, faith–these are all worthy and inspirational motifs. Recognize that and you will realize that anti-Semitism is a distortion of Christian thought and theology, as well as who Jesus really is. So the problem is not so much using Jesus or Christianity in Jewish art, but using them wrongly and misunderstanding their truth. To understand the person of Jesus, the savior with the yarmulke, is to understand, perhaps, the greatest evidence of truth.
The misunderstanding that Jesus ‘Jewish roots do not serve as a bridge between Judaism and Christianity is to misinterpret the very Jewish roots of Christianity themselves. It did not grow in a vacuum. It emerged from the Jewish milieu and the belief and desire for the Messiah to come, as understood in the Hebrew Scriptures. When Jesus appeared as the fulfillment of that Jewish thought, writings and belief, the greatest arguments against him had to do with how he spoke and taught with authority, as well as his claim to be God in the flesh. Yet, many Jews came to believe in him because he represented the love, hope, patience, longsuffering, faith and deliverance from Roman oppression that they were seeking. And many still find him to be their modern savior.
Are there other times in history that we have not recognized, misunderstood, or refused the hand of peace being extended to us? Yes, always. So the refusal to see Jesus as that figure of reconciliation is perhaps being re-interpreted and newly-recognized by Jewish artists who themselves are seeking a savior. We live in terribly confusing times. If not portraits of a MonaLisaMadonna, serenely smiling down on the world as the mother of all, then do not paintings of Jesus fill a similar longing?
From its dusty origins, the streets, hills and valleys of Israel brought a savior to the world where some recognized him for who he was, and some did not.
Israeli artists perhaps create from the greatest position, that of land. They live where the very stones cry out with the truth of Jewish history. God himself established a place, a palette and a purpose for the Land. And from its dusty origins, the streets, hills and valleys of Israel brought a savior to the world where some recognized him for who he was, and some did not. But for those who did accept him, he gave them the right to become children of God. Perhaps these Israeli artists are on to something, a forward moving towards a creative community of Jews that accepts Jesus as a worthy–and truthful–object of that which art always seeks: truth through the eyes of the beholder, and perhaps the heart as well.
Melissa Moskowitz has been a part of Jews for Jesus since 1976. She was born and raised in the Bronx and came to believe in Jesus while in college. She serves with Jews for Jesus in Los Angeles.