Many modern Christians may be surprised to learn that in the time after the resurrection but before the Prada slippers, those "From Jesus to Christ" years, as the stern but reasoned Frontline narrator said, there was a fierce debate among the early faithful about whether or not physical depictions (statues, mosaics, etc.) of Jesus should be allowed. Those things were for pagan gods, it was argued, not the one true Christ. The Jews didn't do the idolatry thing and that's where Christianity came from. So, no statues -- too Jewish: statues -- too Roman. There were serious brand identity issues going here. Remember, Christianity didn't instantly dominate the world ala Über. It had more of an Amazonian rise to hegemon status and didn't really seal the deal until the fifth century.
Some in the pro image crowd argued that rather than buff and towering like the
A-list of the Roman and Greek pantheons, Jesus should be depicted but as more unassuming, a people's Messiah sort of thing. Others said that was even going too far. One unpleasant critic named Celsus, the name sounds like an intestinal illness, had the audacity to say Jesus was ugly and short.
So, from where did the hottie Jesus of the last thousand years come? One source was a man who thought woman worthless, espoused homophobia and who very well may have tried to pray away his gay: Saint Jerome. I won't go into too much detail because there are ample scholarly arguments about this poor uptight ancestor of Ted Haggard, Larry Craig and of course, the Log Cabin Republicans. Let's just posit that poor Jerome, after breaking up with his teenage sweetheart, Rufinus, turned to celibacy. Oh yeah, he had a hand on that too, or rather off it, pun intended.
If you've ever read about the lives of the saints, the illustrations often have angels that look like renaissance versions of Versace models, leaning over their canonical shoulders. So, perhaps an image conscious Jesus, via his winged Donatella disciples, slipped into poor Jerome's repressed mind, what he knew needed to be done to better market his brand: make him smoking hot! Thus enlightened, Jerome, among others, settled the depiction debate once and for all. Christ would be a stud but not interested, kind of like the bartenders at the Abbey in West Hollywood, well unless you direct.
Officially he was as perfect physically as he was in spirit, and to a self-loathing closet case, that meant asexual. Thus, the Christ as anti-sexual sex symbol was born. Only the Catholic Church could come up with such a concept, and whoever invented the Jonas Brothers.
Jesus' success, because how could he fail, is now inscrutable fact. He is not only the most recognizable person to ever walk the earth, except maybe Lucille Ball, he is also People Magazine's Sexiest Man of the millennium. Sorry Clooney.
When the renaissance came about and Jesus saw how Michelangelo had made David, a king sure but not Christ, into a gargantuan example of male perfection, he realized the greatest artist of all time had to do the same for him. Via his infallible earthly servant, Pope Julius II, Jesus tapped Michelangelo to further this greatest marketing campaign ever, well until the first Tim Burton Batman movie. The poster was just a batwing, no words, a batwing, how cool was that?
Despite his almost total reliance on buff male models; his showering them with gifts; a vast collection of well-crafted love poems that he quilled where the object of his affection was most definitely male; there is still a debate about whether Michelangelo was gay. Okay. We do know -- because Michelangelo wrote it -- he believed physical beauty was the outward sign of a beautiful soul. Sound familiar? Gaze upon the Christ of The Last Judgment --Michelangelo's masterpiece in the most important and Liberace inspiring house of the holy ever built, and remember the loincloth wasn't painted on the Sistine Chapel's Magic Mike until after the artist's death.
Now, to those uncomfortable with sexy Jesus and his potentially wink gay derivation, why not have Paul Giamatti play him next time? -- No offense Paul, you're a genius, but keep your shirt on, know what I'm saying? It's been tried, sort of... Martin Scorsese gave Willem Dafoe the role --Bomb! Braveheart gave us Jim Cavaziel, -- Hit! And Roma Downey, you vixen, you handed the thorny crown to Portuguese soap star / GQ model Diego Morgado! In a bizarre -- you can't make this stuff up -- twist, hunky Diego then starred on Satan's medium, television, as Christ's arch-nemesis, the dark lord and I don't mean Ralph Fiennes. Huh?
If gay men -- in and out -- doing his will were responsible for Jesus' asexual, sex god status, eye candy depictions are now accepted and embraced by those of all orientations. To not make him a stud would be as blasphemous as not... watching the Super Bowl (straight) or filling out your Oscar ballot (gay). Jesus is just too hot and that is as it should be. It would be nice if we looked beyond the abs once in a while though and not just his but ours too.