The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

hello, messiah
Ah, those cheeky Brits! First they kick off the holiday season by airing a volatile documentary that suggests the Virgin Mary was a 13-year-old rape victim. And now, another documentary will make a case that Jesus looked like the above photo, in stark contrast to the usual tall, long-haired, light-skinned figure most Christians revere. I'm sure they'll get a ton of irate calls on this one too, which is probably the point.

This issue has come up plenty of times before: that the Caucasian European cultural sphere (which consists of, essentially, every part of the globe where European colonization left lasting impressions) long ago remade Jesus in the image of a white man. Aside from the Bible verse paraphrased in this article, I believe there are other verses that provide full or partial physical descriptions of Jesus. Some of the confusion comes in "which" Jesus they refer to: the man, the god, the spirit... even thing like circumstance and time period (e.g., at Resurrection) come into play. But the heart of the argument is that it makes no sense to portray Jesus as a more-modern European white man, when he was a Semite who more likely had darker Middle Eastern features.

This point has been over-emphasized a good deal, and ignores that it's not totally impossible that Jesus could have been lighter-skinned than your average Israelite. There was no single "look" among the ethnicities in the Levant at that time; there was a good range of physical traits people there possessed. And let's face it, a prophet who looked out of the ordinary would have attracted more attention by virtue of his appearance.

On the other hand, it's always been pretty obvious to me that the Jesus we usually see is an idealized, closer-to-white version than what probably existed. Just one more iffy concept to throw on the Christian pile.