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What Color was Jesus?

Posted by The New N Used Link Team on Friday, October 4, 2013

 

The race and appearance of Jesus have been discussed on a number of grounds since early Christianity, although the New Testament includes no description of the physical appearance of Jesus before his death and its narrative is generally indifferent to racial appearances.

Despite the lack of direct biblical or historical references, from the second century, various theories about the race of Jesus were advanced and debated. While many people have a fixed mental image of Jesus, drawn from his artistic depictions, these images often conform to stereotypes which are not grounded in any serious research on the historical Jesus, but are based on second or third hand interpretations of spurious sources.

By the 19th century theories that Jesus was non-semitic, and in particular Aryan, were developed. However, as in other cases of the assignment of race to biblical individuals, these claims have been mostly subjective, based on cultural stereotypes and societal trends rather than on scientific analysis.

The New Testament includes no description of the physical appearance of Jesus before his death. Its narrative is generally indifferent to people's racial appearance or features.

The Synoptic Gospels include the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus, during which he was glorified with "his face shining as the sun." However, the Gospels do not provide details of Jesus' everyday appearance.

The Book of Revelation describes the features of a glorified Jesus (e.g. the head and hair as white, etc.) in a vision (1:13-16), but the vision refers to Jesus in heavenly form, after his death, not his appearance during his earthly life. Old Testament references about a coming Messiah (whom Christians believe to be Jesus) have been projected forward to form conjectures about the appearance of Jesus on theological, rather than historical, grounds; e.g. Isaiah 53:2 which refers to the scourged Messiah with "no beauty that we should desire him" and Psalm 45:2-3 which describes him as "fairer than the children of men", often interpreted as his physical description. Clarks' commentary accepts Lamentations 4:7 "whiter than milk" as referring to skin color. 1 Samuel 16:12 describes David, the ancestor of Jesus, as having "beautiful eyes" or "fair countenance. Despite the lack of direct biblical or historical references, from the second century onward various theories about the race of Jesus were advanced, e.g. by Justin Martyr, based on arguments on the genealogy of Jesus. These arguments have been debated for centuries. The second century anti-Christian philosopher Celsus wrote that Jesus was "ugly and small". The Church Fathers Saint Jerome and Saint Augustine of Hippo argued from a theological perspective that Jesus must have been ideally beautiful in face and body. For Augustine he was "beautiful as a child, beautiful on earth, beautiful in heaven". These theological arguments were further extended in the 13th century by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae based on his analysis of the Perfection of Christ, reasoning that Christ must have embodied every possible human perfection. 

In explaining the development of racial theories in the context of scripture, Colin Kidd, in his book The forging of races, argues that the assignment of race to biblical individuals has been a mostly subjective practice based on cultural stereotypes and societal trends rather than on scientific methods. Kidd reviews a number of theories about the race of Jesus, ranging from a white Aryan Jesus to a black African Jesus, illustrating that there is no general agreement among scholars on the race of Jesus

In his book Racializing Jesus, Shawn Kelley states that the assignment of a specific race to Jesus has been a cultural phenomenon emanating from the higher levels of intellectual circles within societies, and draws parallels between the seemingly different approaches within different settings. Cain Hope Felder has argued that New Testament passages such as Galatians 3:28 express a universalism that go beyond race. So in most cases its best to just focus on the importance of Jesus instead of his colour whether black or white he still serves the same purpose.




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