The race of Jesus: Unknown, yet powerful

Debate over Christ's skin color is reminder of how difficult it is for anyone to transcend race
Associated Press
Dec 24, 2013

For two thousand years, he has been worshipped and adored. Multitudes look to him each day. And yet nobody really knows the face of Jesus.

That has not stopped humanity's imagination, or its yearning to draw Jesus as close as possible. So when this Christmas season brought a torrent of debate over whether Jesus was a white man, it struck a sacred nerve.

"That statement carries a whole lot of baggage," said Rockwell Dillaman, pastor of the Allegheny Center Alliance Church in Pittsburgh. "Political baggage, spiritual baggage, emotional baggage. Especially in a culture like ours where the relations of white people to other ethnicities has often been marked by injustice and distrust."

Why should we even care what Jesus looked like? If his message is God and love, isn't his race irrelevant? Some say God wanted it that way, since there are no references to Jesus' earthly appearance in the Bible.

But the debate was a reminder of just how difficult it is for anyone to transcend race — even a historical figure widely considered to be beyond human.

"I find it fascinating that that's what people really want to know — what race was Jesus. That says a lot about us, about Americans today," said Edward Blum, co-author of "The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America."

"Jesus said lots of things about himself — I am divine, I am the son of man, I am the light of the world," Blum said. "What race is light? How do you racially categorize that?"

Jesus can be safely categorized as a Jew, born about 2,000 years ago in the Middle East in what is now Palestinian territory. Therefore, many scholars believe that Jesus must have looked "Arab," with brownish skin.

"Today, in our categories, we would probably think of him as a person of color," said Doug Jacobsen, a professor of church history and theology at Messiah College.

That view was contested by Fox News host Megyn Kelly while critiquing a column titled "Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore."

"Jesus was a white man, too," Kelly said, launching a national discussion about history, tradition and just how white Christmas should be.

Her statement drew responses from impassioned rebukes to scholarly rebuttals.

"It's just an incorrect statement," Jacobsen said. "It's an ignorant statement, not an intentionally false statement."

Wrote Jonathan Merritt in The Atlantic: "If he were taking the red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York today, Jesus might be profiled for additional security screening."

If this is so obvious, though, why does a Google image search for "Jesus" reveal countless pictures of a European man with straight hair, fair skin and, often, blue eyes? Why is that the prevalent image in America, from stained glass windows to movies to children's books?

The first pictures of Jesus appeared several hundred years after his death, Blum said. Some depicted him in animal form, as a lion or a lamb. Blum said that from about 700 to 1500 A.D., various Jesus images proliferated throughout Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa — including hosts of black Jesus pictures.

"People in every culture portray Jesus looking like people they knew," said Jacobsen. "They depict him as one of their own."

Dillaman, the pastor, has a book that offers Bible images from different world cultures — a last supper where everyone is Thai; images of Jesus as Chinese or African.

"All these ethnicities are trying to capture Jesus in their own skin, if you will," he said.

But in humanity's yearning to identify with the holy, another path gets overlooked.

"Our calling is to know God as he is and to love God with all of our being and be conformed to the image of Christ," Dillaman said, "rather than to make him look like us."

By the 1500s, Blum said, 90 percent of Christians were European. As Europe colonized the globe, they took white Jesus with them.

In America, white Jesus images started to become widespread in the early 1800s, according to Blum, coinciding with a dramatic rise in the number of slaves, a push to move Native Americans further west, and a growing manufacturing capability.

Today, a white Jesus image is ingrained in American culture. "When we live in a world with a billion images of white Jesus, we can say he wasn't white all we want, but the individual facts of our world say something different," Blum said.

"Jesus is white without words. It's at the assumption level," Blum said. "Lodged deep down inside is this assumption that Jesus was a white man. That's where I think (Kelly) is speaking from."

There also is a desire to fit Jesus into modern racial classifications. In America today, this logic goes, Jews are white. Jesus was a Jew, so Jesus must be white.

Yet Jews did not originate in Europe, and for centuries were considered to belong to a non-white race of their own. Only recently have they been moved into America's "white" column, along with Irish and Italians.

"The categories of white and black, coming out of the American experience, it just doesn't make a lot of sense to apply them to Jesus," said Joseph Curran, an associate professor of religion at Misericordia University.

"The best inference is what part of the world he was from — he looked like a Palestinian because he was from that part of the world," Curran said. "Does that mean he was black or white? I don't think those categories matter much."

For Carol Swain, a scholar of race at Vanderbilt University and a "Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ," the whole debate is totally irrelevant.

"Whether he's white, black, Hispanic, whatever you want to call him, what's important is that people find meaning in his life," Swain said.

"As Christians we believe that he died on the cross for the redemption of our sins," she said. "To me that's the only part of the story that matters — not what skin color he was."




Doesn't matter what color he was ..... he is now a heavenly spirit. My opinion, for what it's worth .... believe he is whatever color makes you feel better. Personally, I would guess he would have been brown like the people in that area but obviously I don't really know. And as for Santa ...... Santa has absolutely NOTHING to do with Jesus so what does Jesus' skin tone have to do with Santa? Santa can be green for all I care.

Raoul Duke



I get paid over $70 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. . I never thought I'd be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. Useful Reference


First, they have to prove, without a doubt, that Jesus actually existed.

Many of the traditions such as exchange of presents , Christmas tree and yule log amongst others, originated with Pagan traditions - which precede Christ by a few thousand years.

swiss cheese kat

Elephants precede Christ by a few million years.


Yep, and your idiotic point would be... what? So do cave man and dinosaurs which pretty much blows that whole" God created everything" and the talking animals and the whole guy in a whale out of the water, doesn't it.


starry, you really need to do some serious study. I think you'll find your supposed iron-clad arguments have a lot of gaping holes..... I've read on all of these issues from both sides of the fence for 20+ yrs now- and I can say you don't have a prehistoric evolutionary theological scientific leg to stand on.


I really don't care what you think. I thought I made that clear.


I am confused on how "God created everything" has anything to do with when Jesus was born? They were a few days apart according to the bible.


Mom25, I believe God (The Father) intentionally left out of the pages of the Bible and history any direct reference to Jesus' physical appearance. He is the Savior for all the world, not specifically for white, or black, or Asian, etc... It is the Word He spoke which changed the world.
Not to nit-pick your theological understanding, but Jesus presently is in bodily form and is not just a spirit. Remember what He spoke to the disciples in the upper room after His Resurrection; "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones..." Luke 24:39 I believe contrary to this article, that the Old Testament does give a slight descriptor of the One the Bible calls the Messiah, who throughout the O.T. was promised to come into the world. This reference is found in Isaiah 53: "...he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." I believe this is a direct reference to Christ (you should read the entire chapter), and it is basically saying that when the Messiah appeared, He would not come upon the world as a Mel Gibson type of individual- God did not want people to follow Him simply because He was tall dark and handsome. Have a Merry Christmas


Starry, that argument has long ago been exhausted. The absolute majority of even secular scholars no longer doubt the physical historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. In light of that fact, they have instead focused their efforts at disputing the claims He made considering His person (that He was the Son of God). They also have moved to attack the claims of the miracles He is said to have performed, but rarely do you hear of anyone in the higher academic circles disputing His existence anymore because it is a losing argument. There is far more evidence for His existence in history than what Julius Caesar or Homer have recorded about them- so if you wish to instantly dismiss Jesus- you've got to get rid of them from the pages of history also! There are even secular writers in Roman times who recorded the fact of Jesus Life, Death, and Resurrection- Tacitus comes to mind just off the top of my head, but I believe there are somewhere around 17 secular references to Christ in antiquity.


As I said, I want proof. Simple as that.


Re: "Starry, that argument has long ago been exhausted."

Outside of the Bible there is NO confirmable historical proof.

Any "proof" is third hand at best.

Regardless; the Nativity is a sweet myth.


"You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below."
(EX 20:4)

According to Judeo-Christian tradition, praying to statues is idol worship or paganism.

Feliz Navidad!


King: your information is almost entirely incorrect. In "Atheism and the Case Against Christ" by Matthew McCormick, an entire chapter is devoted to a lengthy list of academic studies done over the past 75 years on the authenticity of Jesus Christ. It states that "the body of information on Jesus is very small', and 'the existence of Jesus is an active point of some disagreement'.

What IS noticeable is the lack of mention in contemporary historical accounts. What we have are fragmented copies of copies of hearsay reports dating from 200-300 years after Jesus' death, and not even the original gospel writings which were all written 30-90 after Jesus' death. Given the many mundane things that contemporary historians DID document, doesn't it seem odd that no one mentioned that someone was reincarnated?

Furthermore, nearly all of today's scientific community are atheists or agnostics. These are people who apply the scientific method in everything they do: if there is no evidence or proof that something exists, they don't believe that it exists. They don't discuss it because the issue has been put to rest a long time ago: they don't believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny, either.


Consider your tainted source. I can find just as many who will tell you the exact opposite and who have a far greater string of credentials behind their name.
The scientific method huh... Evolutionary theory, Big Bang, Global warming- what political footballs those issues are! I can again name scientists with fantastic credentials (from the highest universities) who will tell you it's all based in social and not empirical science methods. Yet their voices are being silenced within the scientific community- and their papers are being refused publishment- just as many are trying to silence any and all critical thought today.


King, you apparently don't know how the scientific community does things. If a hypothesis is presented, it next undergoes a significant amount of testing by other experts. Then, and only then, if the other scientists are able to replicate the same results, the hypothesis becomes accepted fact.

Some people attempt to make Evolution, Climate Change and the Big Bang Theory into political issues or religious issues, but as Neil DeGrass Tyson often points out, applying a a differing opinion to scientific facts doesn't make those scientific facts any less true.

Please do name the scientists with 'fantastic credentials who differ with accepted scientific research. Typically, 98% of scientists agree that Evolution, Big Band and Climate Change are all real. The other 2% typically were hired by Big Oil or conservative organizations like Heritage Foundation, who have vested reasons to deny scientific data.


I truly cannot copy the exhaustive lists of Scientists (many who are still with us today)- of which approximately 50 are Nobel Laureates. Look it up yourself- its readily available info. And yes, I understand perfectly the scientific method- and anyone who knows science 101 can tell you that a one time event such as big bang or the origin of first cell- can never be tested for validity! How many of your brilliant atheistic scientists have been able to create and then re-create a cell? - from nothing. RE: By the way, as far as big bang- if you wish to believe the ridiculousness that everything within the entire universe was at one time squished down much smaller than the period at the end of this statement- you've got much more faith than me. < there's your dot, now go ahead- fit the sun, planets, galaxy, and all of the other billions of stars, galaxies etc within it.... I'm waiting


They’ll all be believers once they enter the afterlife, of course, then it’ll be too late.

1 Corinthians 1

21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

If you haven't found Jesus, you haven't been looking very hard. He is, in fact, very easy to find.


So then, YOU mean that Jesus and God are racists -- if they don't accept Native American Tribes into the afterlife.




Actually, the one's who don't accept the Native Americans are the Mormons. Read their fictional Book of Mormons where it speaks of a perfectly white race coming to a land and smited the dark loathsome lazy people that were here already. Move over black race, we were hated here first.


"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God." C.S. Lewis


What you do not understand starry is that the proof is all around you. You wish for Jesus to come to you in a blazing light surrounded by legions of angelic beings, but just as He came quietly to the world in a manger years ago, He approaches people just as quietly today- if they are willing to just listen. By all academic standards- the proof is there. By looking at the change He makes within millions of peoples lives; drug addicts, alcoholics, the poor, the rich, the educated and uneducated - the proof is there. He is a man who's very entrance into the world split time as we know it. Countless hospitals, soup kitchens, missionary endeavors, businesses, etc.. have been founded and operated because of this man and the words which He spoke. Poems, songs, books- more than could possibly ever be numbered have been written and sung because of this "man" Jesus. To instantly dismiss Him and the claims which He made concerning who He said He was- in my mind is foolishness on a person's part- look into it more for yourself, and quit listening to those who only wish to disparage Him.


Re: "change He makes within millions of peoples lives;"

Every major religion and cult can point to miracles, miraculous healings, sacred sites and divine inspired writings.

IMO, to think that one religious doctrine holds the keys to the secrets of life, death and the mysteries of the universe is foolhardy.


"Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me." Isaiah 43:10


Quoting a Biblical passage to make your religious & metaphysical point amounts to a tautology.


Who would ever think that to understand the God of the Bible, you should turn to what He claims to be His source reference- the Bible. It doesn't stop there however, as one can look at the created order and see the enormity and complexity of design contained within- and understand that it couldn't in any fashion have popped out of a mud puddle 4.5 billion years ago! This kills your circular reasoning argument, as you can look outside of the Bible for the existence of a God- you just won't be able to discover who that God is on a personal level- which is why I turn to the Bible- and not to the latest issue of popular mechanics, where I would learn nothing of who this "Deity" is. The same can be said when a person looks out at the heavens and observes the design and complexity in the night sky- who put the big and little dippers there? I believe there is plenty of evidence apart from the Bible to show that there is a higher power- but I use the Bible to understand who that higher power is. This in my sense (and I'm not that smart)- is not a true tautology at all. To not be able to turn to source documents is like telling a brain surgeon to learn his craft from a 1976 Chiltons manual for the repair of a corvette- you're not going to end up with good results. In my mind the logic breaks down and becomes nonsensical. A tautology defined is an explanation that says absolutely nothing- "boys will be boys" is a perfect example. What does that tell us about boys? Absolutely nothing. What I put forth was a statement- by One who claims that He is the God of all- and the only God- and is not circular reasoning. But lets have a little fun and apply this test to every evolutionists' favorite catch phrase; "Survival of the fittest" - What species survive? The fittest. How do you know they were the fittest? Because they survived! Now there's a true tautology for you...


Re: "as you can look outside of the Bible for the existence of a God-"

IMO, the universe it is FAR MORE complex than any 'neat' little explanation that can be found in the pages of a book written by man regardless of how "divinely inspired" one believes it to be.

Nothing is as it seems, nor is it otherwise - Zen koan.

Or, to put it another way:

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

- Hamlet (1.5.167-8)


Thank you Contango, for you have actually proven the point that God is far more complex and infinite in power and wisdom than one could ever hope of discovering within the pages of even a million books- but at least He has given to us a glimpse of His majesty! I serve a truly AWESOME GOD!


Re: "actually proven,"

I've "proven" nothing and neither have you.

Naming something does not mean that you understand it.



I understand plenty. I also understand that you cannot force anyone to believe what YOU believe. DO NOT preach or shove your beliefs on me.

Your beliefs are YOUR own , and MINE are mine.

Native American tribes did not believe in Jesus. Neither did many other cultures.

Religion is man-made . Spirituality IS NOT!!

P.S. Both of my stepgrandparents were ordained ( Methodist) ministers. SO , I've heard it all before. They were Wise. They allowed people to make up their own minds.

Wow, I made one little generalized comment one here ... and all Hell Breaks loose with the bible thumpers. Geesh!