John the Baptist – Jesus Mafa
This painting illustrates the beginning of the Jesus story, where John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, warning the people of Judea and Jerusalem that God was coming soon. John was said to wear clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, in the way of the prophet Elijah.
Jesus Mafa paintings like this one were produced in a collaboration between Mafa Christians communities in northern Cameroon and French missionaries in the 1970s.
“He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:3)
If we recall that the exile and ongoing oppression of Israel was understood by the prophets to be a consequence of the collective sin of Israel, then is it possible that John was calling for, first and foremost, a collective repentance?
And is it possible, therefore, that we should not only think of immersion, not only in terms of reconciliation with God, but also in terms of reconciliation with one another? As initiation into God’s world changing initiative?
This week I have been exploring Christian art related to the dance of the daughter of Herodias (Salome in some traditions) and the beheading of John the Baptist.
In many paintings I found the dancing and beheading scenes were mingled into one. In some cases, in so graphic and erotic a way that there seems little doubt that the artists were seriously toying with necrophilia motifs. I have spared you the worst.
The story is obviously charged with an atmosphere of political corruption, but I think that’s taking artistic licence a wee bit too far don’t you? Even the nakedness (seen left for example) is completely speculative as all the Bible says is, “When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.”
The key theme of the story, the foolishness of Herod and the faithfulness of John, tends to get lost in the titillation.