Detail from “Stripped of Linen, Stripped of Lord” by Eric Martin, 2012
Gay artist Eric Martin spent a lifetime wondering about the “naked young man” who ran away when Jesus was arrested in Mark’s gospel. His search for the nameless nude is presented here in honor of Lazarus of Bethany, whose feast day is today (Dec. 17).
Some Bible scholars believe that Lazarus was the naked man in Mark 14:51-52. The mysterious man has inspired speculations that he was the “beloved disciple” of Jesus -- and maybe even his gay lover.
Eric Martin is a gay poet, artist, and church organist in Burlington NC. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, and a BA in Religion from Campbell University. Here is his story.
My Search for an Artistic Heritage
By Eric Martin
As a child I was intrigued by the painted portrait of John Mark in the book "Our Christian Heritage." That head-to-waist image was of a bare-chested youth furtively standing with his back to a dark wall and looking cautiously over his shoulder. The text explained that "ancient legend maintains that John Mark is referring to himself, when he writes in his Gospel about a young man whose robe was pulled off in the scuffle in Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested."
This year I remembered that erotic picture which had somehow been allowed to be embedded in a children's book. I began searching for the book in my attic, libraries, and thrift shops. An eBay purchase brought a copy of the book to me, but the portrait of John Mark therein was not the one I remembered. It was a 'new' John Mark.
Also this year I read theologian Patrick Cheng's Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology, which cites gay priest Robert Williams' hypothesis "that the mysterious nude young man in Mark 14:51-52 was in fact Jesus' lover." Not just John Mark; not just, as some have said, a symbol of Christ-less vulnerability; but Jesus' lover! This vibrant notion reinforced my fascination.
I recovered a computer-saved picture that spoke to me with the selfsame passion that the 'old' John Mark had spoken. So, I took it upon myself to do a watercolor of this image: a head-to-knees frontally-nude young man peering over his shoulder and seemingly grasping to find handhold in the wall behind him. THIS was MY John Mark. It was done with my memory-picture in mind, and with adjustments made for the puberty of the subject and for my "positive adulteration" [my term for "queering"] of him.
And so, I present "Stripped of Linen; Stripped of Lord." (pictured above)
“Betrayal of Christ”
by Giuseppe Cesari, 1597
“Breakthrough” by Eric Martin, 2012
|Our Christian Heritage, 1964|
|“John Mark, after Sune`”|
by Eric Martin, 2012
The portrait is attributed to Alberta Rae ("Sune'") Richards. Ms. Richards (1912-1990) was a nationally known Wisconsin photographer, artist, and minister. (Note that she is not to be confused with artist June Egan who was better known by her Tongan name “Sune.”) Alberta believed that the physical appearances and personal characteristics of the disciples of Jesus could be found in modern people. She spent fourteen years searching for these counterparts, photographing them, and retouching their images with layers of paint. I have since replicated Ms. Richards’ John Mark in my work.
|Our Christian Heritage, 1967|
Cheng's work led me to the Robert Williams book Just As I Am: A Practical Guide to Being Out, Proud, and Christian. Williams' inquiry into the lost Gospel of Mark identifies Lazarus as Jesus' lover; furthermore, Lazarus is described as "wearing a linen cloth over his naked body." Is Lazarus, then, by association, the one whose scriptural nakedness had been attributed to John Mark?
If so, then in honor of Lazarus, I can suggest an alternative title to my work: "Stripped of Linen; Stripped of Love."
Either way, I am encouraged that others are seeking the meaning I still seek almost fifty years after my family's Southern Baptist pastor gave us the simple little book "Our Christian Heritage."
May Lazarus continue to teach us to let go the linen stripped from us by those who think us unworthy, and the linen wrapped around us by those who think us dead.
Postscript: Eric Martin’s artistic quest was inspired in part by the loss of a friend. The October 2011 death of gay artist Shay Adams, Martin’s best friend of 16 years, rendered the loneliness that opened a gate for Martin seriously to pursue art, and provided, by way of inheritance, Shay’s art supplies to help make the endeavor possible. Shay’s mother, Libby Adams, having seen this December the scores of mixed media works that Martin has produced since February, said to a friend, “It’s as if all this was in Eric, just waiting to come out.” He concludes, “Thus be it, and thus may it continue. I miss you Shaybird.” He wishes to thank photographer Kadie Maness for her assistance.
2017 update: Eric Martin died on March 22, 2017 at age 56. He was born Sept, 17, 1960, Alamance County NC. He was an active member of City Lake Baptist Church, serving as deacon and the church musician for 16 years. May he rest in power, dwelling in eternity with the gospel characters he loved. Click for full obituary
More work by Eric Martin on the Jesus in Love Blog:
___The best-known story of Lazarus is how Jesus raised him from the dead. For more about Lazarus, see these related links:
Lazarus: Jesus’ beloved disciple? (Jesus in Love)
Jesus, John and Lazarus (Pharsea's World)
This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery.