Opinion: Jesus caught in gender debate at Trinity College, Cambridge


Dean of Trinity College, Dr Michael Banner, defended a guest sermon given by a postdoctoral researcher, Joshua Heath, who contested Jesus’ gender, as reported by The Telegraph. The following is an opinion comment.

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While every discipline in science and humanities continues to progress at an unprecedented pace, ethics – once the fulcrum of human society – seems to be shrinking and diminishing into thin air. Gone are the days when debates on social issues were accompanied by a set of ethical rules, said or unsaid, that would evolve for the better with time. But this trend, like many other trends, has now taken a U-turn. 

It is sad to see we have ended up living in a world where ethical bounds and remits no longer come in the user’s manual of social debate – quite the contrary.

Religious art, where holy personages are depicted, has remained a perfect example of “one man’s pork is another man’s poison” throughout modern history. Where Islam stood strongly against such visual depiction, Christians seemed more than happy to have Jesus visually depicted in his various biographical situations, especially the scene of the crucifixion. Every church had to have and has to have a Jesus hanging on the Cross in the most prominent part of the church, usually towering above the Altar and facing the congregants.

The age of Renaissance saw such depictions gain unprecedented momentum when faith was at stake and Jesus, along with all elements of Christian faith, had to be glorified in art form. As Renaissance was rooted in Europe, the art of the age saw Jesus lose his Syrian features and acquire a purely European look; locks of blond hair falling on his shoulders, a glowing Caucasian skin colour and gleaming blue eyes. No one seems to have cried “Heresy!” when Jesus lost his true identity and was “naturalised” through art into a perfect Caucasian character.

To have given birth to such a European-looking man, similar features had to be given to his mother, and this, for the Renaissance artists, was no big deal.

The only voices to have cried “Heresy!” have always come from Muslims who see a visual depiction of any holy personage as unethical. But who even cares about Muslims? Such a standpoint was seen as backward, regressive and, hence, negligible. Add to this their violent retaliation on such occasions and most Muslim voices lost the plot altogether.

Depicting Jesus became an art form in its own right and artists continued to give it a go in whatever way they liked. So here we have, in our modern world, a Jesus with all Caucasian features and a carved out, muscular physique nailed to the cross. What is quite strange is that no one seems to have ever asked why Jesus, a holy prophet of God, was taken out of his class of Prophets and placed on the runway of fitness aficionados.

As if all this were not enough to depict his supernatural masculinity, and perhaps to add a bit more colour to the paintings and sculptures, the artists rarely forgot to place the wound, infamously inflicted by the Lance of Longinus, on the right side of his chest. 

As Renaissance grew into Enlightenment and the latter into Modernity and then Post-modernity, who would have thought that the unrestricted, unrestrained, unconstrained and, in some cases, unethical mind of post-Modern times would see in the wound of Jesus Christ, the features of the female genitalia. To see this wound in such light as a possibility that Jesus might have been a transgender is nothing but utter nonsense – howsoever wrapped in the garb of academic pursuit.

Putting the awe of post-doctoral research and the reverence of universities housing such research aside, such a claim is no more than a vulgar urge to deprive the artistically depicted Jesus of the little piece of cloth tied around his pelvic area. More than academic research, it seems like a calling-all-artists kind of invitation to start depicting Jesus with the so-far-hidden elements of his masculinity clearly displayed. This is precisely why Islam opposes any form of visual depiction of holy persons of any religion, lest the flowing rivers of imagination eventually fall into the ocean of obscenity and even eroticism. 

Hence, research scholar Joshua Heath and his advocate, Dr Michael Banner, dean at Trinity College, are not solely to blame for the “trans”gression, but the whole of the artistic tradition that stood for the visual depiction of holy personages shares the blame (and shame). Mr Heath might have voiced his theory, but those who depicted Jesus throughout the course of many centuries have actually asked for such a reactionary backlash.

And what has happened to the basic ethics where religious sentiment was cared for? While everyone seems to be treading on eggshells around the LGBTQ+ issues, why is a religious sentiment so brutally hurt as and when one feels like? How ironic it is that Joshua Heath found no better place to blast his imaginative theory than a chapel full of Christians. Even more ironic that the chapel is situated inside the Trinity College of Cambridge University.

However, this write-up is not a piece of religious debate. The call here is as simple as the newfound debate over sexuality and associated pronouns: If someone wants to be called a “he”, call “them” a “he”; if someone thinks “they” could be a “she”, refer to “them” as “she”. Proponents could see it as a taster of their own medicine. Violating such demands has seen lawsuits filed against the “perpetrators” of this so-called modernity. 

How sad it is that Jesus is no longer around to file such a lawsuit. He was a male, he identified himself as such and, religious debate aside, he deserves to be referred to as a male – on the standards of none other than modern society itself.

Even sadder is that charges of defamation and libel cannot be filed on behalf of a deceased victim if someone wants to do so. Everyone bears their own cross, and so does Jesus (once again, unfortunately). And no, we are not opening here the debate whether he is even deceased!

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