About Me

My photo
Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

White Jesus

Since Jesus was a Jew is it wrong to portray him in a different culture (like African American or Hispanic for example)?

Or White European, as He is usually depicted?

We can never portray Jesus accurately, since Jesus arrived before the invention of cameras and never sat for Gainsborough. Most of us grew up with "White Jesus", who looks like just the kind of person mosquitoes love to bite. Certainly that is not accurate, yet I've never heard anyone ask or complain about that. Was that wrong?

No. But it did have repercussions. It took the Jewishness out of Jesus and allowed for all manner of religious and ethnic persecution. That was wrong. If the purpose of making Jesus white in the first place was so that people could relate to Him, then the Jewish people were purposely left out of relating to Him.

Jewish is the one way you'll rarely see Jesus portrayed in art, which is the only way we have to portray Him. I've seen more scientific and historic types go for some kind of Jewish Jesus rendition, but no one has that image on their wall on hanging from a crucifix as far as I've seen. So if it is wrong to portray Jesus as other than the Jew that He was, then just about every image of Jesus ever made is wrong.

And since we've been happily making Him white for so long, I really can't see a problem making Him any other color in which people actually come.

That's not to say that "anything goes". But reasonable people may disagree about portrayals of Jesus. I have a problem with those "sports Jesus" figurines, where Jesus is out playing soccer with the kids, or baseball or whatever. There is one for just about every sport. I appreciate that it's nice for kids to imagine Jesus in their lives that way, but the figurines always make it look to me as though Jesus was taking sides, kicking the ball away from the other poor little kid. Some people love these figurines. I find them a little depressing.

And then there were the rather smarmy looking "office Jesus" portraits. I haven't found anyone who likes those.

And let's not forget where Jesus appears. Not so happy with Him on the bottom of an ashtray, although again, the sentiment is helpful.

I've never been a fan of "glow in the dark" religious items either, but many of my readers are thrilled with them, what with being able to find their rosaries on the bedside table at 3AM during some sleepless night.

And...these are all white Jesus' we're talking about. Someone recently gave me a plastic plate with White Jesus on there. I "re-gifted" it, as they say. The recipient was thrilled. I hope she doesn't serve deviled eggs with it.


Claudia said...

Perhaps she will serve Angel Food Cake.

Sue said...

While I was reading this post, my three year old son caught sight of that first "white Jesus" and exclaimed, "hey, Jesus turned into Mary!" (!!??)

I think he was trying to say that the picture looked a bit too feminine for his taste! I guess he didn't notice the beard. :o)

Anonymous said...

This reminds me: I've heard that often when there is a Marian apparition, she appears as the same race as the person she's appearing to. My mother also has a card of the Madonna and Child in Chinese dress and appearance. It may not be historically accurate, but it is still beautiful :)

Unknown said...

Swinging Single Jesus with the cell phone was probably done with Good Intentions, but with zero taste. Even Black Velvet Jesus is better than Cell Phone Jesus.

Unknown said...

I find your candor refreshing(and a little humerous)and definately will be coming back!

Marion Teague said...

I agree with anonymous about the Marian apparitions - perhaps it's just that all visionaries can recall is that she is beautiful, and therefore mentally translate that into their own race's ideal of beauty?
Surely the best image of Jesus is from the Holy Shroud? An artist made a very good portrait based on that image and we have a print of it hanging in our church. It is very "disturbing" (in a good way) and he certainly isn't white. Most pictures and staues I've seen show him with a coffee-coloured skin.

Anonymous said...

I have been looking for art of Jesus and the Holy Family where they are depicted as looking semitic ... to no avail. There is no end of Hispanic, Asian, African, and of course European looking Holy Families, but I haven't found the Palestinean-looking art yet ...

... if anyone out there knows of such artwork, please comment!

Thanks so much.

JP said...

I have a friend who saves a lot of trouble by proclaiming that in some parts of Israel (like Nazareth) the people are light-skinned. Yes, really.

I have seen a Japanese rendering of the Madonna and Child. It was lovely.

I wonder if anti-African racism would have taken hold if people realized how many of the early saints were of African decent?

Joanie D. said...

This past year a Jehovah Witness person left one of their brochures at my house and I have to say, an illustration of Jesus in there was the best I had seen. He looked Jewish; he looked strong; he looked compassionate. I haven't been able to find it online, though, to show you all.

Hanna said...

I am your newest follower from the weekend blog hop! Lovely Blog! You can find me at www.bouffeebambini.blogspot.com

marco said...

It's a more complicated issue than skin deep I think. My wife is a New Orleans Creole which has given me a new perspective on the skin tone thing. Her grandmother for instance, a traditional Catholic woman who seldom missed mass, and was not permitted to sit near the front of the Church when she was growing up in New Orleans, found any depiction of Jesus as browner than pale caucasian blasphemous.

I also am sensitive to how the little statues of St. Michael in our local Catholic store, tend to always paint the saint/angel in pale rosy hues and the devil looks like a brown, bearded, illegal immigrant. My kids are bi-racial, and I don't want them getting the wrong idea.

The new iconography offered at places like the Trinity Store
are stronger artistically and find their ways onto Catholic campuses. But dreadlocks Jesus is even a bit much for me.

Joanie D. said...

I found the illustration that I was referring to that I saw in a Jehovah Witness booklet. I scanned it and uploaded it and hopefully you will see it by going to http://personalpages.tds.net/~jadawson/JesusIllustration2.jpg I like it!

Joanie D. said...

Oops, add a jpg at the end of the link I gave above. Put it after the 2 and the period. I THOUGHT it was included originally. I was going to put the whole thing here again, but looking at the Preview, I am thinking it may not do it correctly again.

Mintavia said...

Well I think that since Christ and his Mother were free of all sin at the time of thier conception they were as pure as Adam and Eve at creation. Human flaws that come with the fall of man, would not apply to them, so they would be good looking people no matter what color they were. I would think Divine justice would exempt them from a lot of things.

Anonymous said...

Why do you people insist on making Jesus into a white jew? You say, Hebrew as if there are no african hebrews. Have you heard of the Lemba..and more, I just can't think of them right now. They have been jews longer than those with European ancestors have. I wish I had more time and space to respond. You guys love to rewrite history.

Anonymous said...

It's funny that "Jew" is now considered an ethnicity among the same people that embrace "white jesus."

Just to clarify, "Hebrew" is not an ethnicity. There are many, many different races of Hebrew people. The idea that someone "looks Jewish" is offensive to many Jews because "Jew" as a race was popularized by anti-semites in the middle ages, and embraced by the Nazis in the 20th century.

The more "Jewish" picture you have posted above... why is it "Jewish?" Because Jesus is portrayed as dark-complected, with curly hair, brown eyes, and a big nose? Hmmmmmmmmm....

Jesus was not made "white" so that people could relate to him, Jesus's true ethnic identity as a middle eastern man was shed to legitimize those who would use his image to dominate others.

Just because he has been depicted as white for centuries does not mean that it is okay, and that we should just keep embracing it. It has marginalized and segregated people! It has led to much suffering!

The Orthodox Church is not completely innocent of anti-semitism, but at least icons of Christ are not drenched in "perfect whiteness."


Not only that, but these images are two-dimensional, and do not emphasize physical perfection or beauty.

To me, that's a step in the right direction.

Stee Zee said...

Joanie D., that picture makes jesus look like a bearded Mel Gibson! Haha, that's just awful.

sundersartwork said...

Usefull topic to explore, im an artist planning a painting of Jesus. I wonder how many people make all this media of the likeness of jesus give a percentage of the profits to good causes?. They should really put the face of jesus in the bottom of a beer glass though, since that is most of our societys problems. Drinking causes more death than any other drug.

Anonymous said...

I have never liked the pictures or statues that portray Jesus as a blue eyed blonde...he was a Jew and most likely olive skinned with dark hair and eyes. I recently wanted to buy an older chabby chic antique chippy statue of the Virgin Mary, I saw several I liked but they had blue eyes ! So I passed on those and finally found one in which her eyes were dark..

Unknown said...

In some countries it is impossible to say he or she in relation to a male or female, the male female gender has never been a part of that language. This is only one example of cultural singularity, there are more. King Solomon *may have admitted to being black, but not because it was a social thing, not because it made him look good in light of others,
Song of Songs 1:5  ¶The song of songs, which is Solomon's.
5  I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
6  Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.
Would it have been wrong for King Solomon to act one of either way? Is it possible that during his time there was no real way of saying either black or white? Who is to know?
As far as the church calling Jesus African American or Hispanic for example, is it a sort of reverse of the King Solomon thing and that they MUST change the image we see as King Solomon was *forced to explain his difference? Has god spoken to the Church similar to how he spoke to King Solomon asking that he just say something rather then act normal and say nothing?

Nobisco said...

I agree with the person who specified that "Hebrew or Jew" does not relate to an ethnicity with certain features (such as skin color, eye color, height or body structure and so on).

Therefore, Jesus could have been "a white person", and He could have had blue or green eyes, not necessarily dark brown eyes and dark hair.

I live in Europe and had a chance to visit a place famous for Marian apparitions, so I agree with what some people wrote about the seers' (visionaries) perceptions of Mary's beauty.

During an apparition, Mary said to one visionary: - I look beautiful to you because I am full of Love. So do love, and you too will look beautiful in Heaven -.

Spiritually speaking, the concept of beauty seems to be related to the concept of being holy and being able to love.

Maria Valtorta, a mystic and a psychic who lived during World War II claimed she had inner, spiritual visions of Jesus' life and wrote a series of book which were published with the title The Poem of the Man-God and then The Gospel as it was revealed to me.

She describes Jesus as tall, slender but stout, not too skinny, with light brown shoulder length hair and dark blue/ gray eyes. His complexion wasn't very dark, although He may not be mistaken for a Scandinavian person !!

Other Saints who said they had visions or even "met" Jesus (St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Emmerich, St. Gemma Galgani and others) described Him in a similar way.

I once had a vivid dream about Jesus and He looked like Maria Valtorta's Jesus.

Also, if "tradition" has always given us an image of Jesus as a man with long, wavy, light brown hair and blue eyes, there might be a reason why these features were attributed to Him. When the eye witnesses (those who actually saw Him preaching) were asked to describe Jesus of Nazareth physically, they could've described Him this way, and that description arrived to us, at least partially, or with some changes in details, but the "essence" of it is that Jesus was (to me: IS) quite a tall man (175-180 cms), stout but well built, with shoulder length wavy hair (light brown or dark blond) and possibly dark blue or gray eyes.

Unknown said...

Our LORD is described in Isaiah: "He has no form or comeliness that we should look at Him,and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected and forsaken by men; a Man of Sorrows and pains, and acquainted with grief and sickness; and like One from Whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we did not appreciate His owrth or have any esteem for Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows and pains, yet we considered Him strickened, smitten, and afflicated by GOD. But He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement needed to obtain peace and well-being for uswas upon Him, and with the stripes that wounded Him we are healed and made whole.

Unknown said...

Also, Jesus was well fed and healthy, Linda O'Hara.
Recently I found a new testament scripture stating that because Jesus ate, and ate with his followers, that he was accused by others of eating with sinners. He must have been as good looking as any one of your friends.
That scripture that you refer to is a old description of Jesus during his death on the cross. "He has no form or comeliness that we should look at Him,and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected and forsaken by men; a Man of Sorrows and pains, and acquainted with grief and sickness; and like One from Whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we did not appreciate His worth or have any esteem for Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows and pains, yet we considered Him strickened, smitten, and afflicted by GOD. But He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement needed to obtain peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with the stripes that wounded Him we are healed and made whole."

Unknown said...


..way to defend the white jesus with "evidence" taken from a "psychic"!!! Yours and her vivid dream were influenced by prejudice and the bigoted notion that somehow Caucasians are superior than brown people.

Is it so hard to worship a brown Son of God??

There are black people in UK, but statistically speaking it's safe to infer a random British man to be white. Same goes about Jesus.. the odds of him being brown are much greater than the odds of him being white.

It's mind blowing how unnatural it is for some so called Christians to worship his Messiah if this one happens to be brown..

Unknown said...

I never thought of the sports Jesus figurines that way. Very interesting point.

Also, I don't mind Jesus in many races. After all, His Mother appears to different cultures as a woman of their culture. This made it easier for them to identify with her. No matter how Jesus is represented, we are all one family of God.
But for authenticity, of course, He was Jewish.