Is Jesus Black? This
question has been the cause of several controversies and difficult
conversations in the past. Most cultures and church representatives try to
depict Jesus face as brown or perhaps black. Of course, orthodox Christians tend to
follow a unique iconography compared to that of the European art.
It’s about perceptions
and beliefs, but most of the times, it is about superiority complex and
grandiose. If you step foot inside a church in Africa, you’ll most likely find
a black Jesus look like on display.
However, if you enter a
church in America or Australia, the display would be of a white man. The images
we view in Australia Protestant and Catholic churches follow a mainstream
community which differentiates their devotion to Jesus from the compassionate notion
towards those who appear different about Jesus on the cross.
Some would argue that
this difference creates a sense of cognitive dissonance – people might feel
deep affection for Lord Jesus but have little to no empathy and regard for
someone who appears like a Middle Eastern person. Similarly, it would have
implications for theological belief that human beings are simply a reflection
This argument lacks
substance; if God is imagined as white, by default that would make all human
beings White. But is that the case? This sort of thinking undergirds racism.
The whitewashing of
Jesus, historically speaking, has contributed majorly to the notion of
Christians being the worst perpetrators of anti-Semitism. In addition, the image of White Jesus has been
used to suggest and promote the idea that White is superior. Majority of the
representations of Jesus show him to be of the purest form of White, asserting
the whiter you are, the better.
The most common image
of Jesus Christ is definitely the one where he is bearded, fair-skinned,
blue-eyed, and with long blonde hair.
The Bible doesn’t elaborate on Jesus’ physicality. On the contrary,
whatever evidence we do possess, makes him look much different than what he has
long been portrayed as.
The Holy Book offers a
couple of clues regarding Christ’s physical appearance. The first few clues
that we’ve acquired are from the New Testament, the Gospels of Mathew, Mark,
Luke and John. Of course, we know that Jesus
was thirty years old when he started his ministry (Luke 3:23). The Bible never
directly told us what he visually looked like, but it does say that he didn’t
stand out in any unique way. In (Matthew 26:56), when Jesus was arrested in the
garden of Gethsemane, Judas Iscariot pointed that Jesus looked like the
soldiers surrounding him.
Some scholars have
pointed out that in Revelation 1:14-15, it is suggested that Jesus had a darker
skin and his hair had a woolly texture. The hair were “white as wool, white as snow.”
And as far as the eyes are concerned, the claim is that his “eyes
were like a flame of fire.” It is further commented that “his
feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace.”
Robert Cargill is an
assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of
Iowa. He is also the editor of Biblical Archeology Review. He says that nobody
knows what Jesus looked like. However, whatever little we do know is true: he
was a Palestinian Jewish man who lived in Galilee in the first century. Thus,
going by that logic, all you need to do is look at a physical appearance of a
person who belonged to that time and geographical location.
One of the earliest
representations of Jesus Christ dates back to the mid of third century A.D – this
is two centuries after his demise. You can still find those pictures in the
ancient catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome. Surprisingly, they were only
discovered 400 years ago, and if you go by the images of the time, they depict
Jesus as the Good Shepherd – young, short-haired, and beardless.
Another one was
discovered in 2018 on the walls of a church that was destroyed in Southern
Israel. It was apparently painted back in the sixth century A.D. This portrait
is the earliest known image of God in Israel, showing him as a short,
curly-haired man who most likely originates from Egypt and the Syrian-Palestinian
Of course, the
long-haired and bearded portrait of Jesus seems influenced by the representations
of Greek and Roman Gods, most likely the Greek God Zeus. And the other painting
from the sixth century is clearly the opposite.
Joan Taylor is a
professor of Christian origins as well as second temple Judaism at King’s
College London. She wrote for the Irish Times and reflected what these varied
depictions intend to do. She said that the point of these pictures is to make a
theological statement – Jesus was Christ and a divine son.
Hence, she clarifies
that it was never the intention to show Jesus as a man. And the reason why the
imagery has changed so much in these centuries is to evolve with the times and
rise up to the standard that is now recognized to be of Jesus.
Obviously, the idea is
not to conform to popular expectations or succumb to the dominant image that is
portrayed in Western art. Furthermore, most cultures globally have depicted him
as one of their own – like we discussed above, Africans have a Black Jesus. So
basically, cultures often decide how prominent religious figures look like.
Back in 2001, the team
of retired medical artists, Israeli and British forensic anthropologists, and
computer programmers joined hands to culminate an image of Jesus – it was based
on the Israeli skull that was found, which dated back to the first century A.D.
There’s no collective
acceptance but, according to the reconstruction, it seems that Jesus was around
5 feet tall and had dark sin as well as eyes. He was also short and had curly
Taylor has utilized the
archeological remains, historical contexts, along with ancient Egyptian art to
assert that Jesus looked like the people in Judea and Egypt at the time. Hence,
according to the 2018 book, Jesus had brown eyes, dark brown to black hair, as
well as an olive-toned skin. He was also possibly 5 ft. 5 inches tall, which
was the average height at the time.
We probably have come
closer to the truth if Jesus is black or white, but Christians should know that we will never really know
the exact truth.
The bottom line is
this: Jesus is Black and Jesus is White –
He is whatever you’d like him to be!