Was Jesus White?

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The image of Jesus embedded in everyone’s mind is that of a caucasian, middle-aged man with a good set of facial hair. A well-groomed beard and shoulder-long wavy hair.

But where did this image of a man whose existence predates cameras come from? Is it a true reflection of the “son of man” and arguably the most influential person in history?

Background

More than 85% of the Kenyan population and over 2.3 billion people in the world subscribe to the Christian faith, believing in the birth of Jesus Christ who came to redeem the world by dying on behalf of sinners, thus the ‘sacrificial lamb’.

The personification of Jesus is originally illustrated in the Bible. However, this globally-acclaimed story has also been illustrated through paintings, photos, storybooks, and films, especially the famous ‘The Passion of the Christ’ film by Mel Gibson (who is publicly known to hate Jews but is also a renowned storyteller to tell the most popular story of the Jewish descent). In this film, Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus, portrays the caucasian, middle-aged man with a good set of facial hair that most of us are familiar with.

Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ

Similarly, a caucasian, middle-aged man with a good set of facial hair was in 2019 spotted in Kenya preaching and would quickly trend for looking like Jesus.

Verification

The Bible does not describe Jesus’ physical attributes as a man.

Especially not as a caucasian, middle-aged man with a good set of facial hair. Far from it, Isaiah 53:2 states that Jesus would have no form or comeliness to him when we shall see him, neither beauty that we should desire him. This points to a complete misrepresentation of Jesus through Jim Caviezel, who was among People Magazine’s Sexiest Men alive in 2004.

The only other physical description of Jesus in the Bible is in Revelations 1. Which is based on his appearance in the afterlife, presented as a celestial being with his hairs white like wool, his feet like fine brass, his voice as the sound of many waters, holding seven stars in his right hand and all.

Recent discoveries attempting to reimagine Jesus found that he most likely had a darker complexion than that of a regular white person, as do people of the Middle-Eastern descent which Jesus was.

He was “most likely dark brown and sun-tanned”, an article on Christianity Today states. He also must have kept his hair “reasonably short and well-combed” as did most men in the Middle-Eastern region according to an archeological report by Live Science.

The famous image of a caucasian, middle-aged Jesus with a good set of facial hair was initially painted by American artist Warner E. Sallman in 1940. In fact, this painting illustrated Jesus to have blue eyes. “A person with these features and physical bearing would have looked very different from everyone else in the region where Jesus lived and ministered”- Popular Mechanics.

Below is an image of Jesus based on forensic anthropology, which is said to be more accurate than artistic inspiration, according to Popular Mechanics.

According to this Washington Post article, the popular painting of Jesus was known as the ‘Head of Christ’. This image quickly spread across the world after a campaign dubbed “Christ in Every Purse”. The campaign was endorsed by the then American President Dwight Eisenhower, seeing that the “image appeared on pencils, bookmarks, lamps, and clocks and was hung in courtrooms, police stations, libraries, and schools.”

“Copies accompanied soldiers into battle during World War II, handed out by the Salvation Army and YMCA through the USO,” the Washington Post states.

Image source: The Dallas Morning News

Verdict

NO, images of Jesus as white are not an accurate demonstration of what he looked like.

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Linda Ngari