Monday, December 17, 2012

Historical and Geographic Illiteracy on Christmas Cards

I recently received a Christmas card showing the Holy Family in the village of Bethlehem at the time of the Nativity.

Fantus Paper Products' 50-7109 Christmas card has some issues
A quick look at the card reveals that the "little town" of Bethlehem has quite a skyline with domes and minarets.  Looking at the card I remarked out loud "That's not right".

The problem with the domes and minarets is that they do not belong to Herodian Judea.  Further, they do not belong to this time.  The video below shows a model of Jerusalem at the time of Herodian Judea/Tetrarchy/Roman Judea.  Notice that there are only a few domes anywhere and they mostly feature as accents on roofs.  Spires are almost unseen.

The modern dome was invented and popularized by the Romans which just reached Judea at the time of Christ's birth.  The widespread use of domes in the Middle East did not come until the Byzantine dome was popularized in the 500s and the dome's adoption by Muslim conquerors in the 600s.  Minarets meanwhile were based on Christian bell towers.  Bell towers were first introduced to churches by Saint Paulinus of Nola around AD 400.

After looking at the Christmas card pile I own I found even more historical geographical errors.

The card on the left, by Paper Magic Group, shows a 1,001 Arabian Nights-style Bethlehem  complete with olive domes and desert scenery.  Meanwhile the card on the right  has minarets and is published by the Catholic priest society the Columban Fathers.
On yet another card a minaret shows.
Even the Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity reach reports directly to the Vatican, has minarets on its Christmas card envelops.
Showing minarets and domes on the Christmas card gives in to some Orientalist fantasy which portrays the Middle East as somesort of permanent Arabia.  It ignores the varied history and geography within the region.

I suspect mere historic and geographic ignorance is to blame for the cards rather than a political statement unlike a priest adding a mosque to a nativity scene to promote inter-faith harmony or Austrians protesting a Swiss law by adding minarets to Christmas cards.


Dina said...

Good one!
I'll have to go to the Old City and look at the Christmas cards they sell. I'll try to look with a geographer's eyes.
Thanks for the interesting information and links.

Catholicgauze said...

Sounds fun. If you see any bad examples let me know!

Anonymous said...

Hmm - Some children will even eye their 'world' wallpaper like a geographer. Hard for moms to know what to do.

Dan tdaxp said...

This reminds me of Siouxification, a form of orientalism which is particular noticeable in parts of the US, as you've shown in the past.