Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Blue-eyed Jesus

I was asked to respond to a Black Israelite/Hebrew roots website about the ethnicity/appearance of Jesus. 

i) Rev 1:14 says his hair was white like wool. It refers to the color, not texture. It doesn't say he had nappy hair.

And it's a vision with symbolic elements, viz. a tongue like a sword. 

ii) Jesus isn't a black African. Edwin Yamauchi wrote a book debunking that kind of historical revisionism: African and the Bible (Baker 2004):

iii) In modern movies, we expect realism about the past. We expect a movie about ancient Rome, the Old West, Medieval Europe, Tudor England or Victorian England, &c., to look historically authentic. But many European artists didn't know enough the past to make historically accurate depictions of the past. Spanish painters use Spanish models, Italian painters use Italian models. It's not a conscious effort to reimage Jesus and other biblical figures as Spaniards and Italians. They do the same thing when depicting subjects from Greek mythology. 

Likewise, if a Renaissance painter paints biblical events, he uses European architecture, period attire, and local landscape as the backdrop. He uses what's familiar. The scene is depicted according to his own time and place. That's anachronistic, but it's not a conspiracy to foster the impression that Bible history took place during the Italian Renaissance. 

iv) Spanish and Italian painters don't normally depict Jesus as a blue-eyed, blond-haired Aryan. Rather, they depict him with Mediterranean pigmentation, as a stereotypical Southern European. Dark hair, dark eyes, tan complexion. In addition, it's not as if Jesus looks Swedish in Byzantine iconography. 

Many critics don't seem to know anything about European art. The only thing they seem to be aware of is the Sallman Head or Jeffrey Hunter in The King of Kings

v) That said, it is possible for artistic depictions of an Aryan Jesus to foster white racism. Mind you, Black Hebrew Israelites do the same thing in reverse. 

vi) If Jesus appears to individuals in the course of church history, he might vary his appearance. If he appeared to someone in medieval China, he might appear Chinese. If he appeared to a pre-Columbian Mayan, he might appear Mayan. If he appeared to a Samoan child, he might appear Samoan. Jesus has the supernatural ability to alter his physical appearance if he wants to. But that's not how he looked during his ministry on earth. That's not his natural condition. 

vii) If the Shroud of Turin is authentic, then we have, in effect, a photograph of Jesus. I'm a bit skeptical about that myself, because the fabric seems to be very well preserved for fabric that age, exposed to the elements, folded and refolded over the centuries, and singed by fire. But I have kept up on the state of Shroud research. 


  1. It's fascinating that there is no physical description of Jesus in any of the gospels.

    But in Revelation almost the first thing John does is give a physical description of Jesus.

    1. To add to what Andrew said, there's also messianic prophecy (e.g. Isa 53:2), though that doesn't single out race or ethnicity.

      I don't agree with all of it, but this BBC article has some interesting information (e.g. Richard Neave's model for a typical 1st century Galilean man).