Bare Faced Liars

I watched a programme made for the telly about the Dark Ages and how light they actually were. This one focused on Christianity in the first 400 years after the supposed birth of Christ. It examined the art of that period. For three hundred years there were no depictions of Christ at all, only ciphers, codes, anagrams. Then there emerged the first portraits. Since there is nothing in the New Testaments to guide the artists, no lean-jawed, steely-eyed, hippy peace-lover, they did exactly what games programmers do today and sketched the ideal. For them it was a beardless youth, androgynously breasty and sweet of lip. Christ was both male and female. He carried a magic wand with which he did tricks called miracles. Like computer programmers they had cast around for useful prototypes, the bisexual equivalent of a Lara Croft or a shoot-em-up platoon leader. They found it in Roman art. Apollo was ideal. Blonde and curly haired, appealing like David Bowie to both sexes. The suggestion made in the programme was that there were no female figures to idolise in Christianity at the time. Then along came depictions of the Marys, the virgin mother and Magdalene the lover (eventually twisted into a new shape and vilified as a prostitute). Now that the female aspect was clarified the artists and the aggressively developing Christian church could look to the Roman God Zeus for new inspiration. Bearded, mature, a powerful leader, lord of all he surveyed. What better image for their proselytizing?  What an archetype! It has lasted a couple of millennia. Christians the world over, black, white and every colour in between, regardless of the place of beard and hair in their cultures, venerate this ubiquitous image of the hairy saviour.

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