Envisioning Religious Founders

Let me give you an example of Predicate #5.

A few years back, I realized that when I thought of the Buddha, I saw him in my mind’s eye as a person of East Asian descent. And I was confused. Because I knew, and had known since some point in my high school years at least, that Shakyamuni Buddha was of South Asian descent, from the great Gangetic Plain.

But the vast majority of my interactions with the idea of Shakyamuni Buddha had been through a screen of East Asian history. Most of what I knew about Buddhism came through my study of Chinese & Japanese history; most of the images of Buddha I had seen were from Confuciosphere cultures. So, naturally, I thought of Buddha as East Asian.

But he didn’t look like that. He looked like this. I was grateful to have that image of Sinhalese bhiksus. Buddhism having faded from all of South Asia save Sri Lanka, they were the only model I had for a historical Buddha.

I went through a similar process with Jesus. Early on I realized that Our Lord did not look like Hippie Surfer Jesus, but like a Jewish man. I have a mental image of him of which I’m fond, of a young man with ringlet beard and classic Jewfro, laughing.

I was once told (though I never confirmed this) that the Yemeni Jewish community was the oldest and least interbred in the world, so that if you wanted to think about how Jesus truly appeared, you should look to them. Here are pictures of Yemeni Jewish men. Here we have a model for the reality of the Incarnation.

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