Leo Steinberg's republished and much expanded work, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, argues that the custom in Renaissance paintings of portraying the genitals of the Christ Child has a serious theological purpose which our word-based culture and tradition has consigned to 'oblivion'. His book has profound implications for the status of the visual image in theological reflection and the nature of the 'textuality' of art as it reads, and is read by, the textuality of the Bible. Furthermore, such images contribute to contemporary debates concerning gender and the nature of our response to images which may indicate different associations in different cultural circumstances. Steinberg's book is a major contribution to the interdisciplinary study of theology and art and the importance of 'seeing' what the niceties of 'modern oblivion' and our 'wordy culture' prefer to avoid or cover up.
The ascetic tradition, which begins in the desert, seeks an equilibrium which is a perfect balance of absence and presence. This is related to Heidegger’s notion of ‘dwelling poetically’ as a fundamental form of human life which has its origins, for the Western reader at least, in the literature of the Bible. In the desert, like Elijah, we encounter God, felt as a kind of homecoming. The ambivalences of the desert are caught in Jim Crace’s novel Quarantine, a revisiting of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Finally, the desert is the Lord’s lost paradise garden, a place wholly other and yet entirely familiar — like home.