Yet another art vs. blasphemy story is brewing, this time at the Baltic Centre, Gateshead, the modern art gallery on Tyneside that brought you the Nan Goldin child-porn scandal in September. This row involves the Chinese-born artist Terence Koh, whose exhibition of 74 statuettes includes a foot-tall ithyphallic Christ.
That's Jesus with a stiffie. Lo he comes with clouds descending.
It's shaping up nicely, with all the predictable reactions. "While Jesus was a human being in every way, to portray him in this way will offend." said Catholic priest Fr. Christopher Warren.
The profane imagery wouldn't have bothered the ancients, though, for whom sexual potency and divine power went hand-in-hand. The Egyptian god Min was always depicted with an erection, while Atum-Ra was believed to have masturbated the universe into existence (although other accounts suggest that he sneezed). Priapus and Pan would have been unrecognisable without their engorgement. And while Zeus was rarely depicted in that manner, the myths suggest that he must have had an almost permanent hard-on.
The Mail found "Dad of two John Monaghan, 33" who seems to have been reading the Stephen Green Book of Outraged Clichés
If other religious characters were portrayed in this way, Mohammed for example, there would be riots. It should be withdrawn immediately.
Which is undoubtedly true. In many ways, though, an erect Mohammed would make more sense than an ithyphallic Jesus. For while Jesus seems to have been celibate (Dan Brown aside), Mo was famed for his prowess with the ladies. He had twelve wives at a time, and was, the tradition assures us, more than capable of satisfying them all. Indeed, it was a feature of his life in which earlier generations of Muslims took considerable pride.
Gibbon has an amusing footnote, which he "veiled in the decent obscurity of a learned language", but which I shall endeavour to translate.
Perhaps the incontinence of Mahomet may be palliated by the tradition of his natural or preternatural gifts. He claimed to have the sexual capacity of thirty men, and to be able to satisfy eleven women in the space of one hour...Al Jannabi records his own testimony, that he surpassed all men in conjugal vigour; and Abulfeda mentions the exclamation of Ali, who washed his body after death, "O prophet, truly your penis stretches up to heaven" (certe penis tuus caelum versus erectus est)
Now that would be an exhibit worth seeing.