Invention of the Christian Jesus by Renaissance Art, Hollywood, and Historians Proved Lethal for Jews
by Bernard Starr
In the film “Resistance,” the character who plays the French mime and Jewish resistance fighter Marcel Marceau gives his answer to the question of why people hate Jews: “Because for centuries, they were told we killed Jesus.”
But to make the Christ killers charge justify violence and genocide, another falsification of Biblical history had to be added: Jesus had to be Christian.
Consider that the Sanhedrin, the ruling body over Jewish affairs, charged Jesus for committing blasphemies against Judaism. Christians later altered the fabricated indictment to “the Jews killed the Christian Jesus.” That “crime” then became the launching pad for rage, hatred, and unrestrained violence against Jews.
The invention of the Christian Jesus thus emerged as one of the most deadly lies in history. It weaponized the Christ killers charge.
While a consensus of Christian and Jewish Biblical scholars affirm that Jesus lived and died as a dedicated practicing Jew, Renaissance artworks invented a different narrative. In countless artworks spanning centuries, Jesus displays a cross, thus sending the false message that he is a Christian, despite the fact that Christianity did not exist even as a word or concept in Jesus’ lifetime.
Worse, the image of Jesus proudly displaying a cross is bizarre. If Jesus were to see these artworks, he would likely consider them mockery or extremely bad jokes. Particularly for Jews, the cross represented Roman torture, murder, and genocide.
Similarly, the plethora of paintings of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist falsely turn a Jewish event into a Christian one, as in this 15th century painting by Andrea Verrocchio. In the Gospels’ account, John baptized Jews and only Jews in preparation for the expected arrival of the Jewish Messiah. (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). And baptism was an ancient Jewish practice of spiritual cleansing.
Artworks of the betrothal or marriage of the pregnant 13-year-old Jewish girl Mary to Jewish carpenter Joseph are even more outrageous fabrications. By the magic of the paintbrush, Renaissance artists pictured the event as a Christian ceremony, as in this painting by Raphael, which served as a model for other Christianized images of the ceremony.
The unrestrained farce is also evident in the profusion of Madonna and Child artworks. Try to find even a hint of Mary’s Semitic Jewish identity and you will find yourself on a fruitless hunt. Yet the 13 mentions of Mary in the New Testament (12 in the Gospels and one in Acts of the Apostles) are steeped in Judaism,
Hundreds of years later, Hollywood films, perhaps inadvertently, reinforced the lethal fabrication of Biblical history that artworks launched.
In the 1953 blockbuster film “The Robe,” several of the characters convert to non-existent Christianity. In the popular film “Salome,” released in the same year, the Jewish and Roman authorities refer to the dangerous nuisances, John the Baptist and Jesus, who are “preaching a new faith.” Later, the Roman soldier Claudius — Salome’s lover — converts to Christianity. The Jewish Princess Salome joins Claudius and also converts to non-existent Christianity.
The 1965 film “The Greatest Story Ever Told” includes a deception that was not noted in reviews or commentaries. Viewers would not know that Jesus, his followers, and those attending his sermons were Jews. The word Jew is never uttered. They didn’t dress like Jews and none appeared with cues of Jewish identities. Nor do we ever see Jesus participating in a traditional Jewish prayer service, even though the Gospel of Luke (4:16) says Jesus attended synagogue services “as he always did” on the Sabbaths. It appears that the filmmakers deliberately eliminated, minimalized, or masked Jewish content to play to a Christian audience
And the deception continues.
In a filmed stage production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” streamed on Broadway HD in April 2023, the camera zooms in on Mary Magdalene expressing her love for Jesus. During her passionate aria, a large cross tattooed on her upper left arm assures the audience that she and Jesus are Christians, which of course they are not.
Would it have made a difference historically if it were fully understood that Jesus, his disciples, and followers remained dedicated practicing Jews throughout Jesus’ ministry and lifetime?
Carmelite nun Maria Theresia thinks so. She, along with other nuns, lives in a convent established at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany as a spiritual practice of prayer, remembrance, and hope. In the book “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room,” Sister Theresia conjectured to the author Tuvia Tenenbom, “Because the mother of God was a Jew, because Jesus was a Jew, and all the Apostles were Jews, and if we remembered that in those days, the Holocaust would not have happened.”
We can understand why Renaissance artists and their patrons, as well as modern-day filmmakers, Christianized the Jewish life of Jesus. But why have art world professionals — historians, critics, and curators — stubbornly sustained the fraud? Why have commentaries and reviews failed to expose the glaring identity theft of taking the Jew out of Jesus and inventing the Christian Jesus?
Has their over-romanticizing of the Renaissance blinded them to the deadly consequences of a lie that weaponized antisemitism? Might they also be reluctant to criticize artworks that contributed to the Renaissance, which ended the Dark Ages by setting Western civilization on a path toward humanism and enlightenment? If so, they have tragically failed to recognize that darkness continued for Jews. Jews were herded into ghettos and subjected to mass expulsions, forced conversions, violence, and genocidal acts — all driven by hatred for killing the invented Christian Jesus.
Whatever the reasons, it’s time to stop the lie and make amends by telling the truth. The emperor is naked. And telling the truth doesn’t mandate hiding or destroying artworks that are important contributions to Western culture and the development of art. Telling the truth can contribute to a greater understanding of historic antisemitism that was embedded in Christian society. And truth can advance the reconciliation and healing process of two faiths that share a common foundation — a connection best expressed by the bold pronouncement of Pope Frances: “Inside every Christian is a Jew.”
Bernard Starr, PhD, is professor emeritus at CUNY Brooklyn College. His latest book, “The Crucifixion of Truth,” is a drama set in 16th-century Italy and Spain