Depicting Jesus and Buddha

Depicting Jesus and Buddha February 11, 2016

depicting deities

Today’s Bizarro cartoon takes a look at how we depict important figures. What do you think about this topic when considered in a more serious way? How has the openness of Buddhists and Christians to depicting the key figures in their traditions impacted the way people think about them? Has the prohibition against depicting Muhammad helped safeguard his humanness as a historical figure, or simply led to a different sort of reverence?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Michael Wilson

    I don’t mind ahistorical depictions of historical figures, I don’t think the appearance is that important. The fat Buddha may not be accurate, but its is supposed to convey an idea about him, contentment. Art is more than physical description. Of course many of the statues that ignorant people call Buddha are of East Asian luck and prosperity god’s. The overlap may occur in the minds of East Asians to, I suppose.
    regarding Aryan Jesus, people all around the world have depicted Jesus as appearing as someone like them selves. I would bet Muslims in Turkey, Nigeria or Indonesia might in their heads imagine Jesus as looking more like them selves, especially in earlier times when people in these far flung locals may not have seen peoples of the Arabian desert regularly. I think this imagining of the saint as a person like your self exist partly out of ignorance, artist may not know what a person from X generally looks like, and partly from the need to present a comforting face to the devoted. In insolated societies depictions of a foreigner are loaded with cultural biases which Christianity and Buddhism are trying to convey. They don’t belong to the “other” they belong to you.
    The controversy seems to stem from modern ideas of racism and chauvinism so that some radicals might dismiss the idea that saint so and so could be of another race or that a homo-racial saint gives comfort to peoples racist biases and does not confront them. It is important that people know that Jesus probably looked like a middle easterner. I don’t think this is really an important issue though, and these people ought not be reduced to nationalist figures, not relevant to people beyond the homeland. Depicting Jesus as white or black or Buddha as East Asian is perhaps the most effective way to communicate that these guys are for you too. However, here in our international melting pot, I do think a more historical depiction of these guys in art is important for fostering our own ideas of transracial identity, which I think is important. Educated people need to be exposed to the idea that their heroes and leaders can look and act alien.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    The way Jesus has been imaged in America (flowing locks, handsome face) does cause problems in the sense that it allows us to divorce him from his Jewish-ness and his flawlessness reinforces the idea of a trans-human figure.

    Art has a profound influence on our theology. We all “know” what Satan looks like, God, angels, and Jesus. We know what heaven and hell look like. And when we read the Bible, we transport those Byzantine figures into the text.

    I’d like to see Jesus played by Eugene Levy. Something, anything to shock us into realizing that Jesus was a regular person.

  • It really bugs me that this joke hinges on an outright mistake. The fat Buddha isn’t the same guy as the Gautama Buddha. I gather he’s meant to be a future Buddha.

    • Nick Gotts

      Visiting the Museum of Oriental Art in Turin recently, I saw quite a variety of Buddhas, but I can’t recall if the fat/thin distinction coincided with future/past. There were also some statues of Jain saints promised, but they should have been naked, and I saw none depicted thus.

    • Shiphrah99

      The commonly seen fat Buddha is usually the boddisatva Bodai, aka “Hotai,” a representation of happiness and contentment. Some people even rub his fat tummy for good luck. >:-0

  • Nick Gotts

    “The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black,
    While the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair.
    Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw,
    And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods
    Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape
    Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own.” – Xenophanes

  • Arlene Adamo

    Depictions of Buddha came from Hinduism and its idols. Depictions of Jesus came from the Romans transitioning from their idol gods to Christianity.

    Muhammad forbade his image to be shown, not to protect his image, but so that the worshiper would not be distracted by the worship of anything other than God.

    The cartoon is really about Christianity and its historical connection to the white supremacist power structure. Images depicting Jesus have definitely been used for various political and economic objectives over the centuries, European supremacy being the most obvious.

  • I find it amusing Bizarro nonetheless clad Jesus in a Roman toga, instead of the appropriate middle eastern tunic and robe.