Controversial Life of Jesus Manga Distributed Worldwide


In June, the Modesto Bee ran a piece on Manga adaptations of the Bible, including a book called Manga Messiah. The article quoted a disturbing assessment from Deborah Shamoon, specialist in Japanese popular culture at Notre Dame:

As for the artwork, “Manga Messiah” has the most recognizable manga traits, but Shamoon said: “While there is no one way to draw manga, and there are many styles and genres in Japan, it’s a lot more than just characters with big eyes and pointy hair — a lot of what makes manga distinctive has to do with pacing and transitions between the panels.” While Jesus and his disciples have that cute manga-character look, the Pharisees — members of a fundamentalist Jewish sect with whom Jesus, a fellow Jew, was often at odds — are depicted in “Manga Messiah” with bigger noses, jowly jaws, squinty eyes and spotty complexions. “I think the representation of Jews is appalling,” Shamoon said.

On the other hand, a Manga expert named Jason Thompson was of the view that:

“I don’t think this is anti-Semitism, it’s just the standard manga stereotype that minor evil characters look ugly (or in the case of Judas, they look like androgynous bishonen with feminine features and earrings). It reflects a lack of originality and skill by the artist, not an ethnic or religious prejudice.”

Of course, Thompson’s perspective may tell us something about the artist’s intent, but that still leaves the context of the images – and the way readers are likely to understand them.

Either way, despite the controversy the Manga Messiah has been adopted enthusiastically by evangelical groups, as Bruce Wilson notes on Talk to Action (where the above images are reproduced, along with others):

Japanese readers first encountered the product when volunteers for Operation Mobilisation, dressed as elves and santas, handed out free copies of the 300-page Bible comic tract in a shopping district.

When Manga Messiah proved less popular among Japanese than anticipated, the product was re-conceived as a tool for global evangelizing and now is being translated, reportedly, into as many as 20 world languages. The Manga comic was introduced to the United Kingdom and the Philippines in 2006 and to the United States in 2007 and North Americans can purchase subsidized carton-sized lots of the anti-Jewish New Testament tracts from the Bible League of Canada.

One million copies of Manga Messiah are also being distributed with the official sanction of the Government of Uganda, with the express consent of Uganda’s First Lady Janet Museveni, a born again Christian and friend to Rick and Kay Warren. Under another of Warren’s Ugandan allies, Archbishop Henry Orombi, the Church of Uganda plans to give out ten million abbreviated versions of the comic…

There are translations in Tagalog, Indonesian, Norwegian, Danish, Portuguese, Spanish and French.

In 1988 the US Roman Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs issued a “Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion” which warns against “Caricatures and False Oppositions” in re-telling the story of Jesus. One wonders how the Manga Messiah measures up against its sensible recommendations.

Israeli Religious Right Spreads Tale of Rachel at Gaza

From right-wing Israeli news source Arutz Sheva:

Former [Shepardi] Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, recovering from a life-threatening disease, prayed several times at the Tomb of the Biblical Matriarch Rachel before the recent war in Gaza. Informed that an “old woman” saved IDF soldiers’ lives in Gaza, he said, “Did she mention that I sent her?”

The story was first told by Rabbi Lazer Brody, a rabbi in Ashdod who “devotes his time to spreading faith around the globe via Breslov Israel and the Emuna Outreach organization” that he founded.

…on Monday night of this week, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbi of Tzfat and son of former Chief Rabbi of Israel Mordechai Eliyahu, was teaching students in Machon Meir in Jerusalem about the sublime level of soldiers fighting on behalf of Israel.  In this connection, he said: 

“There are soldiers who have been telling that in some places where they went in, there was a woman who told them not to enter certain buildings because they were booby-trapped, and that she said her name was Rachel… I asked a certain Yeshiva dean about this story, and he told me that it wasn’t a ‘made-up story,’ but that he actually knew one of the soldiers involved, and he told me his name…”

This is the tale as it appears on Brody’s website, from 11 January:

Just now, right after midnight on Saturday night, an emotional father from Jerusalem called me and said that he had something important to tell me. His son is an NCO is a special forces unit operating in Gaza. He and his squad were about to storm a house with suspected Hamas terrorists inside. A woman in long black local attire came out and pleaded with them not to storm the house. During the fierce house-to-house fighting, the same woman appeared to the NCO and his unit in three other houses. It turned out that all four houses were booby-trapped.

Who was that woman? Sounds to me like Rachel Imenu…

According to Arutz Sheva, the mysterious old woman supposedly spoke in – erm – Arabic. Two weeks after Brody’s version, the legend has now expanded; as well as Eliyahu’s insertion of himself into the narrative, there are further details and variations, such as these:

…the soldier’s name is Yoel S… Yoel S. had the great merit to witness a miracle like those one only reads about in the weekly Parsha! (Torah portion) And, not only did he see Rachel; he spoke with her!

Drawing near a building, a woman dressed in a white Jalabiya (the traditional clothing of North African Jews from places such as Morocco and Tunisia) came out. She told them in fluent Hebrew to leave immediately, as the building was booby trapped. The third time this occurred, Yoel queried, “Who are you?” Then she revealed herself as Rachel.

Mordechai Eliyahu, it should be noted, is notorious for his sanguinary views; in 2007 he advocated the carpet bombing of Gaza on the grounds that all Palestinians were guilty for the rocket attacks and it would be wrong to risk Jewish lives in a ground offensive, and he has also offered the view that “one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.” He had this to say about the 2004 Asian Tsunami:

Former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu was quoted Monday as describing the tsunami disaster as God’s punishment for world support of the disengagement plan.

“When the Holy One, Blessed Be He is angry with the world’s nations who fail to help Israel, who want to evacuate and to disengage and who interfere in our affairs and harm us, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, claps his hands in sadness- and all this causes the quake.”