Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. … It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars; it is by his name that millions curse and in his name that millions pray.

—Jaroslav Pelikan, professor emeritus of history, Yale University

Curators of the visual arts are preparing for the year 2000 with more than supplies of canned goods and water. For them, the culmination of two millennia represents a tidy, even sum of years in which to celebrate the development of Western civilization. This celebration is bittersweet since today's culture seems as antagonistic toward Christianity as the first-century Roman regime, which made martyrs of Jesus Christ and his followers.

This hostility no longer features gory competitions in sandy arenas, with gladiators and ravening lions. Rather, it involves the more sophisticated, seemingly polite medium of printed words and the dismissal of art with Christian meaning as a topic for serious academic consideration. Some would say that "Christian art" as a category ceased to exist in the art world shortly after the seventeenth century. It is often rigorously barred today in the most prestigious graduate programs.

It is no surprise, then, that support for a large-scale, international exhibition celebrating 20 centuries of images of Christ must come out of an unexpected corner, rather than from such prestigious venues as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Louvre. This is just what David J. Goa, curator of the Provincial Museum of Alberta, has planned for the year 2000, with the aid of governmental grants from Canada.

Structuring his ...

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