The long history of how Jesus came to resemble a white European

"I study the evolving image of Jesus Christ from A.D. 1350 to 1600. Some of the best-known depictions of Christ, from Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” to Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel, were produced during this period. But the all-time most-reproduced image of Jesus comes.... is Warner Sallman’s light-eyed, light-haired 'Head of Christ' from 1940." - The Conversation

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JD Miller's picture

I have never been a big fan of paintings of Jesus since we do not know much about what he looked like.  Still I am a bit confused about the controversy over the shade of the skin in the paintings.  The painting from 1940 actually shows darker skin than most of the Jewish population of New York.  Is there something I am missing about what a Jew during the time of Christ would have looked like?  Are the Jews in New York and Israel today ethnically different than the Jews of Christ's time?  Of course there have always been Jews from multiple racial backgrounds due to the ability of a foriegner to become a Jew, but I still would like a better understanding of the controversy.  

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

JD Miller wrote:

...I still would like a better understanding of the controversy.  

I think Occam's Razor is the operative principle here.

Summary of the controversy.

  1. Whiteness is bad
  2. Jesus was not bad (unless you're Don Lemon)
  3. Therefore, Jesus can't possibly be white.

QED

Of course, the reality is that it doesn't matter what skin color Jesus had, and interestingly, pictures and statues of Jesus around the world tend to take on the features of the culture in which they exist.  But since whiteness is "bad," heaven forbid we have representations of Jesus that are white.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

Artists' renditions of Christ have always followed the models the artists had....hence renditions from Scandinavia tend to look a little Scandinavian, those from the Mediterranean look Mediterranean....flavor it a little with other assumptions of the time, and there you have it...the question then is whether it's good for us to envision Christ to look like us (that He can associate with us in our weaknesses), or whether it is important He look different (that His holiness is different from us).  And the answer to both is "yes", Biblically speaking.  

And we might also consider the message in the eyes--where they are pointed, what they are telling us, and the like.  What kind of thoughts do we have in looking at the face?  Will it be consistent person to person, and will it be consistent with Scripture?  Perhaps those eyes ought to say different things in different situations, too.

Nowhere near as important a question as "what picture of Jesus do the Scriptures draw?", but an interesting question IMO.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

One year at BJU, I was talking with my roommates after lights out. I was explaining that for Adam to pass on all the features he did, he would have had to have a lot of dominant and recessive genes. In those cases, the dominant gene dictates the expressed trait. Since pigmentation is Autosomal Dominant, Adam must have been black.  ... ... a minute of silence ... ... then my good ol boy from Georgia roommate says, "Adam. was NOT. black." I just laughed.

JD Miller's picture

Dan wrote:

Since pigmentation is Autosomal Dominant, Adam must have been black

I think that is a valid theory.  I also understand that a lot of genetic material has been lost over the last 2000 years, so we are not sure what a Jew or even a Swede looked like back at the time of Christ.  I think what bothers me most is the fact that speculation on Christ's appearance is being used to create division.  I do not care if Christ was black, red, yellow or green.   He is my master.

Andrew K's picture

JD Miller wrote:

Dan wrote:

Since pigmentation is Autosomal Dominant, Adam must have been black

I think that is a valid theory.  I also understand that a lot of genetic material has been lost over the last 2000 years, so we are not sure what a Jew or even a Swede looked like back at the time of Christ.  I think what bothers me most is the fact that speculation on Christ's appearance is being used to create division.  I do not care if Christ was black, red, yellow or green.   He is my master.

Seems to me that would have occasioned comment. ;)