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 Slate.com 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."

 

Comments

Contango

"if Jesus was a Muslim."

Obviously no need for teaching History in lefty wingnut school.

Islam was founded by Mohammed about the yr. 610 CE.

PyrkinsPyrate

But the Muslims will say that Ibrahim was the first Muslim, far before Mohamed PBUH was born. Yet you should have dismissed the statement for being ignorant because the person readily exchanges "Arab" and "Muslim". Less than half of the World's Muslims are Arabs. Go to Bosnia and you can find many blond haired and blue eyed Muslims. Go to Kazan in Russia and you will see Muslims that look Swedish.

starryeyes83

According to the song Jesus was a race car driver. LOL!

Raoul Duke

Jesus Christ...

Dr. Information

Jesus was a jew, therefore white. He wasn't black.

2kawaii4u

Okay, Jesus was said to be born in nazareth. That is in Israel. White people aren't born in Israel. It would make it difficult to believe that Jesus was born white in a coloured society.

themomx6

Jesus was born in BETHLEHEM, not Nazareth. Just as foretold.

Micah 5:2

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.”

Hallelujah!

swiss cheese kat's picture
swiss cheese kat

Dr. Information, with all your politically correct nonsense you write on these blogs, why do you still use the word Jew>??

starryeyes83

People still use the word fat, right. Even Jews refer to themselves as Jews.

MarbleheadNative

What is so mystifying to need to know his race? Isn't this a stereotype we're trying not to create within our own...

dannytanner

Jesus looked like Grimmace from McDonalds. You have no proof to say otherwise, therefore he must look like Grimmace! It's the 21st century folks! Why is race a freaking issue???

swiss cheese kat's picture
swiss cheese kat

dannytanner; Politically correct bots attempting to rewrite history.

red white and blue

I think debating his race or color is the dummest most useless thing we need to know.As far as did he exsist or saying there's only second hand information I leave you with this:Is there really other plantes other thsn the moon and sun? Have you seen them have you been there what facts Do you have other than second hand information from someone else ?

SamAdams

Uhm, the moon and the sun aren't planets. And yes, I've seen other planets with my own eyes (both naked eye and telescope).

Ladies and gentlemen of the Register blogs, I hereby present to you Exhibit A in "the U.S. clearly is falling woefully behind in science education."

topcop1991

There is both good and evil in this world. The faith that I have in the existance of Jesus Christ is from personal experience in dealing with both. For those who are sadly wrapped in the thoughts of evil, I feel sorry for you. Over the years it has been proven time again that those who rebuke Jesus as their savior are basically inviting evil to dwell in their lives. At this time of the year, we should remember why we celebrate, and that is the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. Not for the toys, or the the imaginary Santa Claus, but because GOD saw fit to send us a second chance. All you have to do, is accept him! GOD Bless.

Kingsin

You know TopCop, I do my best to put across a decent argument for Christ in the supposedly "enlightened" times we live in. Most peoples extent of knowledge concerning theological issues is to simply repeat what their friends tell them, or what they heard some goofy "theologian" say in a Discovery channel special about aliens and God.

I am in agreement with you in believing that shunning Christ only takes a person down a destructive path. There is a verse of Scripture which has always intrigued me when I compare it to the many polarizing issues we face today. It is found in Proverbs, and I use it as a litmus test for deciding which side to fall on in any particular controversy; "But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death." Prov. 8:36 "All those that hate me love death"

Abortion= Death
Assisted suicide= Death
Drug usage=Death
Embracing Evolutionary teaching=Death (If there's no God- there is no afterlife- everything just dies- end of story)
Infanticide=Death
Euthanasia=Death
Illicit sexual behaviors (gay or straight)= Death (Aids is still a killer)

You can apply this verse to nearly all the questions on morality facing us today as a society and come out with the same ultimate conclusion: A life without Christ, and living ones best to His teachings, only leads to death- ultimately spiritual death.
People find it so easy to pooh-pooh everything about God and the Bible and to make fun of those who do believe- but they never look at the ultimate big picture... Sad

SamAdams

Please explain to me where evolution precludes the idea of an afterlife. I'll wait...

White Owl

The absence of life (order) is death (disorder). If one believes life (order) spontaneously arose from nothing (death or disorder) and evolved into the complex (highly ordered) forms of today without some energy force externally applied i.e the life force or God force from a dimension one cannot comprehend; it follows there can be no after life. Only belief in the Supreme Creator or God allows for the existence of an after life.

Kingsin

White Owl, good answer. The evolutionists' of all people should be able to readily deduce what the ultimate end-game of their own theology is. Not to put words into Sam Adams mouth, but it almost seems to me of being a case of "wanting his cake and eating it too". - "Well, I'm going to believe in evolution and a naturalistic explanation to everything, do whatever I want in my life, surely not serve some God from some old book,- but in the end, if there really is an afterlife- I hope it all works out well for me. Not going to happen...

White Owl

Thank you and Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year to you!

One of the most rational explanations for belief in God is Pascal's Wager. I hope Sam studies it and doesn't have to learn the hard way.

Like you, life dealt me some serious trauma and hardships for which I am grateful to God as it drew me closer and dependent upon Him. He in turn has blessed me with peace and even a miracle or two.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

How do you equate life to order and death to disorder? I don't follow your reasoning.

White Owl

I used an allegory. A living creature is very complex and all of its intricate systems work together to keep the creature alive. Once a creature dies, it breaks down into component parts without any order to the system.

Consider a new deck of cards. The deck consists of 52 cards in four suits in sequential order plus two jokers. It is in order because some external force did work to ensure it was in order.

Now a simple ordered deck of cards is far less complex than the simplest single celled organism with literally millions of molecules in an organized system to sustain life and reproduce life. If one tosses the organized deck of cards into the air thereby "killing" the organized deck, it is a random mess of disordered cards.

How many times do you have to throw the ordered deck (alive)into the air and it becomes disordered (dead) until it randomly reassembles itself in the original ordered deck neatly stacked (alive again)?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

The organization you illustrate, as I see it, is a finished product and not the current situation. It is also a condition for which you are looking specifically before you stop the experiment. You may find order when the numbers go 2, 3, 4, etc. but what if I really want evens and odds or that five actually makes for a better shape following three?

That's where I would see life as a beautiful chaos of chance, mutation, uncomformity, disorganization and the like. As for the tossing? It could only take the first attempt to do so. Improbable, but not impossible. This would make death orderly and the fact that entropy exists seems to support that. To me. Though this is why I asked for your take on it.

We are the lucky one time it has been observed to happen. That leaves open an active, guiding hand or a Clockmaker Theory should either appeal to you. Or if you want to support the cold hand of science, that door is open too through Chaos Theory, etc.

While the obvious opposite of life is death in terms of states of being (at least regarding creatures that were once alive, not sure if you can count rocks as "dead"), I believe that there is a truer opposite of life. Take that same rock comprised of matter.

Matter, as we know it, cannot be created nor destroyed. So what is the opposite of that in concept. Yeah, anti-matter is the obvious choice (and great propulsion material if Star Trek has any truth to it) but we're talking conceptually. What CAN be infinitely created and destroyed? Life. Because of that constant threat of destruction and hope for renewal into perpetuity, the flux of existence itself, I would make the case for life being disorderly if compared in such a way.

It's a fun thing to discuss for sure.

White Owl

Thank you for your comment and I understand your point about life being "disordered" if viewed from another perspective.

Actually I view all matter including rocks as part of creation and therefore "ordered". And at some point life did not exist at least not in evolutionists' terms.

So for me life itself is the manifestation/essence of God and His energy flows through every part of creation including the "rocks of ages". A spiritual exercise for me while walking is to search the face of every person I pass seeking Christ therein, as well as within even the rocks at times.

It's one reason I find communication on the internet so unsatisfactory as it does not allow one the use of all senses.

Happy and Blessed New Year to you!

Contango

Re: "I used an allegory."

We only know the universe through metaphor and analogies. They are not reality.

SamAdams

You are confusing the theory of evolution (for which there is mountains of evidence) with the hypothesis of abiogenesis (the notion that life first arose spontaneously from various chemical interactions). You are also misstating the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics which only applies in a CLOSED system. The earth isn't a closed system since it receives energy from the sun. Next?

P.S. You're right, though, about the notion of an afterlife, except for one word. The belief in a god allows the corresponding BELIEF in an afterlife, not provides for the EXISTENCE of it.

White Owl

1) There is no evidence to support the theory of evolution. Evidence is gained by reproducing the conditions with proper controls to prove your hypothesis or theory. Provide one controlled experiment and its evidence that proves a single cell with its irreducible complexity of components such as nucleus, mitochondria etc can be produced. Where's the reproducible data?

2) In order to evolve from a single cell organism, the theory of evolution still depends on abiogenesis to form the first cell.

3) The Universe (believed by evolutionary theorists to be formed by the Big Bang) is a closed system. Or do you still believe our Solar System, the Earth and you are the center of the Universe?

Your non belief in God and your belief in the theory of evolution is a form of religion too. You believe in the supremacy of man over your Creator, or humanism.

Please don't confuse your beliefs and unproven theories with knowledge. I experienced Christ, know His love and am confident of His promise of ever lasting life.

I wish you peace.

Contango

Re: "There is no evidence to support the theory of evolution."

The "evidence" is observable through geological methods.

Conversely, outside of the Nicene Bible, there is no historical "evidence" for Jesus.

Who were those bishops and how did they decide which books of the Bible were ‘true’ and which were apocryphal?

White Owl

How do geographical methods disprove the creation of life and man by God?

You can not begin to understand the supernatural by referencing the natural world and the limitations of the human mind. These are mysteries beyond human comprehension.

I wish you peace.

Contango

Re: "These are mysteries beyond human comprehension."

More like made-up nonsense in order to consolidate power and control over a populace.

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