A dark skinned Jesus

The last few years regularly there were debates about the colour of skin of Jesus Christ and mostly they turn up around Christmas. This is because at that period there are still people who do not want to put Santa Claus in the picture but want to place a baby figure of the Messiah in the picture. On the other side there are also people who do find it shouldn’t matter what colour Jesus Christ is. They have good reason, because that is just the outer side of a person and it does not matter at all how Jesus or other biblical figures looked like. Though because he is so special, lots of people are eager to know how he looked like. So there are many guesses.

Every time, though, when Jesus is portrayed as anything other than white we hear of uproar and protestation. This year in Pascoe Vale, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, controversy has been generated by displaying a nativity scene with a dark-skinned baby Jesus. It even did not help when Richard Neave, a retired British forensic expert, recreated the face of Jesus Christ by studying Semite skulls found in Israel and claimed Jesus was tanned, had curly hair, and a thick beard – a far different image from what often appears in religious artworks. In the West people are so used at the Caucasian representation of this Nazarene man, that they seem to forget that he was a Palestinian and a typical man of the East and not of our regions.

According to The Moreland Leader, Pascoe Vale state Labour Member of Parliament Lizzie Blandthorn said the figure, displayed in her office window, is a more historically-accurate depiction of Christ. She said the display had been well-received so far.

“It’s a very multicultural community and people are pleased to see a multicultural presentation of the nativity,”

she said.

“Some people have suggested it wasn’t appropriate because it was dark-skinned, but my view is it’s more historically accurate given the part of the world in which the nativity happened.”

Religious scholars have the same idea because they know from which tribe Jesus was born an in which region he lived, making it most likely that he would have been a dark-skinned Middle Easterner. The pictorial portrayal of Jesus has been a matter of considerable debate within the Christian church during its early centuries up to present days. Whereas 2nd-century theologians such as St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, and the Christian theologian who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria Clement of Alexandria repudiated the notion that the divine could be captured in pictorial representations, Pope Gregory I in the 6th century observed that images were the Bible of the illiterate.

Forensics reveal Jesus would have looked like this and not be the light skinned man he was posed to be throughout history (Photo : Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images)

Forensics reveal Jesus would have looked like this and not be the light skinned man he was posed to be throughout history (Photo : Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images)

The Archdiocesan Vicar General Monsignor Greg Bennett also supported the scholars an Lizzie Blandthorn’s view. He told The Moreland Leader Jesus was Jewish, so he would have looked like the people of the Middle East.

“However, throughout the centuries, the images of the Holy Family in art, sculpture and windows have reflected the diverse cultures of the world and therefore the depictions of the Holy Family have reflected this reality,”

Bennett said.

“Jesus was born for all people — all nations — in history for history.”

But this seams a meagre excuse to justify the Renaissance pictures and the Western presentations of a white Jesus. And many church-leaders are not doing much to get the wrong idea of a white Jesus out of people’s mind.

Local resident Maria, who didn’t give her last name, confronted with the Pascoe Vale nativity scene, told The Moreland Leader she didn’t like the display because it was

“changing what Jesus was.”

“I’m not saying he would have been blue-eyed and blonde, but I don’t think he would have been that black either,”

she said.

“It sounds like I’m being racist but I’m not. I’m Italian, I was born here, and I used to get called a dago — I don’t like racism.”

Twitter user XanderAngelis again raised the point that Jesus’ colour should be immaterial.

“Why am I seeing people arguing about what colour Jesus was. It doesn’t matter if he was white, black, brown, green or purple,”

he tweeted.

The controversy over the Pascoe Vale nativity scene shows how politically charged the depiction of Jesus can be. It seems many people get bent out of shape any time he is portrayed as anything other than a white man.

Tim Wise.jpg

Tim Wise

Tim Wise, an American anti-racism educator and author, said the image of Jesus has changed over the centuries. However, some of the first images of Jesus, found in the catacombs under Rome, depict him as dark-skinned. Also, early images from the Roman Empire, which helped spread Christianity across Europe, show him as a man of colour. But over the centuries that image has changed to what is the now standard Caucasian features. Wise said there is a political reason for this.

“The image of a white Jesus has been used to justify enslavement, conquest, colonialism, the genocide of indigenous peoples,”

he said in a CNN interview.

“There are literally millions of human beings whose lives have been snuffed out by people who conquered under the banner of a white god. “

Mostly it are the people who consider Jesus to be God, who complain that he does not look as they are. For them presenting a dark coloured skin Jesus is degrading their god. That proofs that they are really racist of mind. But it also proofs that they did not understand the teachings of Jesus Christ, who was really an Nazarene man of flesh and blood, from a tribe which did not have Caucasians in it.

Wise said

“So long as our culture pictures Adam, Eve, Moses, Jesus, Mary, the Apostles, and even God ‘himself’ as fair-skinned, despite the obvious preposterousness of such representations, we will continue to plant the seeds of racial supremacy in the hearts and minds of millions.”


7 thoughts on “A dark skinned Jesus

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