Restoring Jesus

Restoring Jesus August 25, 2012

I’ve felt like there was some analogy or parable to be made from the recent case of a parishioner trying to do an amateur restoration of a famous painting, with this result:

Perhaps the best or at least the most relevant analogy for the sorts of subjects that I deal with is this: The figure of Jesus, like anyone and anything from the past, gets lost from view as a result of the passing of time. But an expert can often detect traces where an amateur’s eye will not, and make use of scholarly tools in order to carry out a restoration. It won’t bring Jesus as he originally was back into view, but it is the best that we human beings can accomplish.

When an amateur tries to do it, the result will most likely be a terrible distortion of the original, one that may not even look like a realistic human being, much less like the specific one whose image they were trying to “restore.” (There is a Tumblr dedicated to the woman’s “restoration” which is being referred to as “Beast Jesus.”)

Even experts can botch things. But amateurs are far more likely to do so, and when it comes to those without any relevant training and merely strong feelings and desire, the result will almost certainly be a disaster.

And so I think there is a lesson in all this, about the need for trained historians in any attempt to answer historical questions, just in the way trained artists are needed to address restoration of the past in art. And if you have a view of Jesus – whether positive or negative, that he doesn’t exist or looks like a second grader’s attempt to depict a hairy monkey – and are quite certain that you don’t need to rely on historians to tell you about him, then would you please consider that the Jesus that you love or hate or ignore, whom you are sure doesn’t exist or whom you have asked into your heart, may be “Beast Jesus” and not the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth?

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