New look for Jesus is makeover gone mad

Posted: Apr 02, 2001 12:00 AM
Well, there goes ol' blue eyes. Not Frank. Jesus. A new computer-generated face of Jesus - based on probable Jewish features, skin color and hair 2000 years ago - has ruined a million stained-glass windows around the globe and left Christians of all races to worship someone they've never seen before. I don't like it when people change their (ital) names. (end ital) I'm completely undone when people change the faces that go (ital) with (end ital) the names. I'm still upset about Betty Crocker, who went from being a trusted '50s neighbor mom to a career gal with a Sub-Zero fridge. Like Betty, this new Jesus looks like no one familiar. The willowy, long-haired figure who in picture books attracted children the way Cinderella drew flocks of bluebirds and singing rodents now looks like the kind of guy who wouldn't make it through airport security. His skin is darker, which makes sense given his geography. Ditto his black, curly hair. But that jaw! The new JC looks like he's more likely to chomp down on a brontosaurus thigh than tackle loaves and fishes. And that nose. Described on the MSNBC Web site as "stout," it looks more like a snout that snorts: "Yo, Jimmy Durante, eat your heart out!" I guess we should have figured that a guy born around today's Israeli-Palestinian border wasn't likely to look like a young James Taylor all wispy pale and blue-eyed, but that's the way he looked in all my childhood Bible storybooks. It's hard to suddenly embrace some new dude who looks mostly like my proctologist's great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather after a visit to Carmen's Hair Salon and Spa. Or Charlie Manson's first cousin. Take your pick. The new face was created as part of a documentary television series co-produced by the British Broadcasting Corp. and the Discovery Channel, and slated to be aired on April 15 in the midst of Christianity's Easter celebration. A forensic artist at the University of Manchester created the image using a 2,000-year-old skull of a Jewish man from Israel, and based hair and skin tone on third-century frescoes of Jewish faces. Probably there's not a huge supply of 2,000-year-old Jewish skulls lying around from which to select a Jesus look-a-like, but surely they could have found a better-looking noggin. A skull isn't just a skull. Surely there's a difference, say, between Brad Pitt's and Timothy McVeigh's skulls, though the two men might be lumped together as similar Aryan males 2,000 years from now. The Easter series doesn't stop with Jesus' physical characteristics. The filmmakers also probe such serious concerns as: Was Jesus really born in a wooden stable, or was he really born in a cave? Did Judas really betray Jesus, or was Jesus a co-conspirator aiming to get himself arrested? Sort of like Jesse Jackson does from time to time. Not to make light - or dark - of such serious scholarly research, but Jeez Louise, couldn't we have a holiday free from iconoclasm? First they updated Betty so she looks more like a modern gal who, by the way, doesn't have time to bake anymore. Now they've made Jesus into a conspiratorial cave-dwelling knuckle-dragger. Given the tendency of academic research to steer conclusions away from anything that might be construed as Aryan or, heaven forbid, Falwellian, it's easy to imagine that Biblical revisionists won't be satisfied until they discover that Jesus was (ital) really (end ital) a bisexual, cross-dressing, whale-saving, tobacco-hating, vegetarian African Queen who actually went to the temple to lobby for women's rights.