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“Beholding the Man”: Viewing (or is it Marking?) John’s Trial Scene alongside Kitsch Art

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image of Biblical Interpretation

One of the grand scenes of the Passion narratives can be found in John’s Gospel where Pilate, presenting Jesus to the people, proclaims “Behold the man”: “Ecce Homo.” But what exactly does Pilate mean when he asks the reader to “Behold”? This paper takes as its point of departure a roughly drawn picture of Jesus in the “Ecce Homo” tradition and explores the relationship of this picture to its referent in John’s Gospel, via its capacity as kitsch devotional art. Contemporary scholarship on kitsch focuses on what kitsch does, or how it functions, rather than assessing what it is. From this perspective, when “beholding” is understood not for what it reveals but for what it does, John’s scene takes on a very different significance. It becomes a scene that breaks down traditional divisions between big and small stories, subject and object as well as text and context. A kitsch perspective opens up possibilities for locating John’s narrative in unexpected places and experiences. Rather than being a two-dimensional departure from the grandeur of John’s trial scene, kitsch “art” actually provides a lens through which the themes and dynamics of the narrative can be re-viewed with an expansiveness somewhat lacking from more traditional commentary.

Affiliations: 1: Mount Allison University, Canada


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