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Nadra Kareem Nittle

Was Jesus White?

By December 16, 2013

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Ever since Fox News personality Megyn Kelly declared Wednesday that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white, critics have questioned the veracity of her remarks. Given that Santa is a fictional character, albeit loosely based on the historical figure St. Nick, I've chosen to focus on public reaction to Kelly's assertions about Jesus. So was Christ, in fact, white?

"Well, what we know about him is that he was Galilean," Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, told the Washington Post. "As a Galilean, he would have been what is referred to as a Palestinian Jew. He would look the way that the average Palestinian would look today. So that would mean dark features, hairy, probably a longer nose, black hair."

Aslan is far from alone in his characterization of Jesus. Charles D. Hackett, director of Episcopal studies at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, pointed out to Popular Mechanics in 2002, "The fact that he [Jesus] probably looked a great deal more like a darker-skinned Semite than Westerners are used to seeing him pictured is a reminder of his universality."

All too often Jesus isn't portrayed as a universal figure but as a man with "Anglo" features. When Jesus isn't portrayed as blonde and blue-eyed in Western culture, he's portrayed as brown-haired and blue-eyed by an actor with absolutely no roots in the Middle East. Perhaps as a result of this, Megyn Kelly was so quick to argue that Jesus was as white as the rosy-cheeked images of Santa plastered everywhere during the holiday season.

In reality, it would be more accurate to argue that Jesus was olive-skinned or tan-skinned or browm-skinned. If Jesus lived in the United States today he likely would be racially profiled as a potential terrorist at the airport, accused of being an undocumented immigrant by police or harassed and attacked by angry and irrational thugs who pegged him for a Muslim. Such are the experiences of  people with dark hair, tawny skin and "ethnic" facial features in this country.  The people who look like Jesus in this country are hardly treated as white.





December 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm
(1) Robert says:

The real answer is who really cares? If Jesus was all the things we say he is, color doesn’t matter, and should have no impact on his teachings or on his compassion. People have through the years made him in the image that suits them and makes them feel good. We really need to stop grading everything by race or color, bringing up what color he might have been has no bearing on his teachings or his place in history. We have seemed to fall into the worldly trap of judging all things by color, we have to get away from this way of seeing the world!

December 16, 2013 at 3:36 pm
(2) T.V. Phelps says:

I usually find your pieces even and well balanced, but this one felt mean-spirited. Why can’t Jesus be white? If one is willing to accept that his mother was a virgin, he could walk on water, turn water into wine, raise the dead and, in fact, return from the dead himself, it isn’t too much of a stretch to believe that he had blond hair and blue eyes, is it?

December 16, 2013 at 4:04 pm
(3) tootoobao says:

Jesus was brown albino

December 17, 2013 at 11:56 am
(4) robert says:

Re: the other “robert” and TV…. it is important that christians and others recognize that (1) Jesus was Jewish and (2) that he was not white.

For too long, european christians have degraded and dehumanized non-whites and jews… and often in the name of Jesus and their religion. They have tended to elevate themselves by degrading others. It is a very barbaric way to gain self esteem… and unfortunately all too common.

By recognizing the “otherness” of Jesus… as human, hopefully christians will begin to accept the otherness as human. Which often they don’t.. and unfortunately have used their bible to condemn others (mark of cain).

I think it is always important to remember that most of us have a schema (and underlining template) of what we mean when we say “human”… and we usually mean someone that looks and acts like us. We often project onto the “other” (those that don’t look and act like us)… all of those things that we find distasteful in ourselves… which is why stereotypes are almost always negative and often different groups are given the same labels (lazy, stupid, oversexed, drunks, greedy).

So… but understanding that the founder of christianity was neither “white” nor “christian”… but Jewish and dark skinned… might… just might… make people more tolerant, open and accepting of all.

And is not this JC message… to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Interesting as always.

December 17, 2013 at 2:03 pm
(5) larry says:

Your argument made sense to me. By so saying, I will say Jesus was Mediterranean that is not white and not black but in between.

December 17, 2013 at 6:08 pm
(6) Reinhold Schlieper says:

Jesus would have been darkly pigmented. However, the Catholic church has had a tradition of syncreticly adopting the features of other religions that it targeted for take-over. Look at how Pan and Dionysus simply became the devil, hand in hand with repression and denial of all what is normally sensual among humans. When all religions sported a female goddess, Catholics invented the Mother of God. And so when European rulers had to adopt Xtianity to exercise power, Jesus became European.

December 18, 2013 at 12:34 pm
(7) kjhku says:

I am palestinian and i have blond hair and blue eyes, you people no nothing of the holy land palestinians are the most mixed people on earth and the most educated in the region!

December 18, 2013 at 12:36 pm
(8) kjbjk says:

uugly afro palestinians are part of the white race they are very mixed…

December 18, 2013 at 5:29 pm
(9) Vivica Equality Houston says:

I already reasearched it in the Bible, that Jesus has non-Jewish dark-skinned blood flowing through his veins, which makes him a universal Savior, not just one race of people. This color thing needs to be under a scientific project, maybe white skin isn’t healthy, nor skin that is too black, maybe tan or golden brown is the healthiest color of skin, smile, just saying, I did not choose my skin color, did you?

December 19, 2013 at 11:03 pm
(10) robert (the other) says:

I think that christianity has taken attributes of many “pagan” religions… not only did Pan become the symbol of the devil… but apollo became jesus… and parts of Mithras (roman), Osiris (egyptian) and Zoroastrian (middle eastern) plus stoicism have all ended up as part of christianity… which makes sense given that it developed in one of the most ethnically mixed areas of the world. I also think that today… we think of “race” very differently than the ancients… not that ancient civilization were less bigoted… they were just bigoted in different ways…

as for what JC looked like… no one knows for sure… the bible is not a historical text that was written in his life time and likely was not even written by people who knew him… We can only speculate and base it on averages… and based on the average middle eastern… then he most likely has olive to darkish skin, dark hair and eyes. (there will always be exception to this… but this would be the average…)

In addition… he would like have stood between 5’5″ and 5’7″… had a beard… and not great breath.

The most important thing to remember is… he was not a Nordic God with light brown to blond hair, pale white skin, blue eyes and he did not stand six feet tall… this image has been created by europeans… for europeans…

It is time to let the false image go… and to embrace the actual meaning of what he was saying… (and only JC.. I have lots of problems with the homophobia and misogyny of Paul… maybe it time to do a re-edit on the good book).

December 20, 2013 at 8:04 pm
(11) TeLinda Truth says:

Based on the way white people can act towards and treat people of color; I doubt that if Jesus Christ was white he would have sacraficed his life to save all men and women regardless of race or color.

December 27, 2013 at 6:58 pm
(12) Robert says:

TeLinda… I would have to agree with you that white, europeans have acted horrible towards none whites… and have often used the bible as justification to do so… there is a long history to atone for…

But I will also note that history… not just european history… but history in asia, africa and the americas (pre european invasion)… is filled with examples of people doing horrible things to each other based on tribal, national and religious differences.

Butchering people because they are different than you seems to be part of the human condition… whites just seemed to be better at it because they developed better technologies… (gun powders, sailing ships, cannons, guns, etc). But unfortunately… the butchering gene appears to be found in us all…

I am not sure JC died for all of us… he was a jewish messiah and preaching to the gentiles did not start until after his death… with Paul/Saul. So, all of his preaching could be seen as his attempt to reform/challenge Judaism… and may not have been intended for a wider audience.

But regardless of all this… there has been progress over the last 100yrs regarding seeing all of us as human… progress is not perfection… but with Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, the Dali Lama and now the Pope and many many others… all preaching about the brotherhood of humanity… maybe we are now ready to listen and ready to drop these artificle divisions… such as race, nationality, gender, sexual preference… and see the basic humanity in each other.

I am old now… and have never really understood why people hang on to hate… why they turn others into garbage… but I have been aware of it… and even did it to an individual once… but eventually, I have learnt to let the hate go… because if I keep hate in my heart… that is were it grows.

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