Was Jesus Christ white?
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly stepped in it this past week when she announced Jesus was a white man. For some background, she and her guests were discussing a column written by Aisha Harris, a black woman who feels that having Santa Claus be white alienates nonwhite children. She suggests Santa should be a penguin (I’m not making this up). Kelly, in disagreeing with Ms. Harris, said, “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable it doesn’t mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too.”
First, Santa a white man? Then riddle me this: how does a white man wearing red go into a Crip neighborhood and deliver gifts without being smoked? But I’m not going to deal with the jolly guy from the North Pole, because expounding on the ethnicity of Santa Claus is akin to the “Married with Children” episode where Al Bundy and his friend Steve compare today’s Elmer Fudd with the original, fatter, Fudd. I’ll leave the Santa debate for others. But her remark got me thinking about the portrait of Jesus as a white man my family had on the wall near the fireplace for years.
I’ve never liked the depiction of Jesus Christ as an early Kenny Loggins. I’d go to Sunday school as a child and when I’d see depictions of Jesus, I’d think, “What is John Lennon doing in the Middle East?” We’ve been conditioned to think of Jesus as a white man. In Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” there is long-haired, bearded, white Jesus presiding over the feast while his white disciples are getting their eat on. It’s a nice painting but it’s fantasy.
Growing up, like a lot of families, my family had a portrait of Jesus on the wall. I believe it was one of the famous portraits of Jesus by Warner Sallman. There’s Christ in all of his whiteness, with Anglo nose, hippie hair and stylish beard. We might as well have hung a picture of Barry Gibb on the wall. My problem wasn’t with whiteness (I love Barry Gibb), it was the fact that it was so painfully incongruous to the region Christ lived in at that time.
It’s not surprising that in a country where so many entertain the erroneous belief that we were founded as a Christian nation, the majority would take comfort in the depiction of their savior as a white man. Hollywood hasn’t strayed from that depiction with Jeffrey Hunter in “King of Kings,” Robert Powell in “Jesus of Nazareth” and Jim Caviezel in “The Passion of the Christ” (and I can’t forget white, round headed Jesus from “South Park”) all hewing to the traditional white, long haired, mustached and bearded Jesus. But depictions of Jesus around the world have varied with the artists’ imaginations and cultures.
But was he white?
Ten years ago, Popular Mechanics published an article on the possible true face of Jesus Christ as reconstructed by forensic anthropologists. Richard Neave, a retired medical artist from the University of Manchester, led a team of experts who tried to recreate what a Semitic man would’ve looked like from the time period. They looked at skulls of Jewish men found in the areas where Jesus lived and used 3D software to help build a model of a face. According to Jewish tradition, Jesus would’ve been bearded but since long hair on a man was anathema, they reasoned Jesus had short, curly hair. He also would’ve had dark eyes, a broad nose and dark, weather-beaten skin. Click HERE to see the possible face of Jesus of Nazareth.
The portrait the team came up with of the possible face of Jesus looks nothing like George Harrison during the concert for Bangladesh.
Now some won’t care about this one way or the other. There are some who don’t believe Jesus ever existed. Others believe he did but was a great philosopher, not divine. And, of course, there are Christians who believe he both existed and was and is divine. I know a lot of people are going to say it doesn’t matter what Jesus looked like.
I agree! I think if people truly lived by the words of Jesus Christ, whether they’re believers or nonbelievers, the world would be a better place.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” “Render unto Caesar the thing‘s that are Caesar‘s and unto God the things that are God‘s.” “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”
That’s what I’m talking about. Even if you’re an atheist or agnostic, you have to admit those are pretty good words to live by. So what Jesus looked like doesn’t make any difference, right? It doesn’t to me. But I’m willing to bet that if pastors and priests and Sunday school teachers changed their depictions of white Jesus to the dark skinned, Richard Neave version, a whole lot of people would have a problem with it. Not just Megyn Kelly.