I suspect some of you are saying, “Does Jesus’s skin color matter? What a ridiculous question!”
To me, this topic is not ridiculous but important. Here’s why:
- I believe in the historical Jesus, not the mystical, magical, mythical one who reputedly lives with his father above a flat earth. He and his dad have many mansions (John 14:2) with large pearly gates manned by St. Peter, who checks whether you are naughty or nice before letting you enter. This imaginary Jesus walks on water, resuscitates decaying dead folks, repairs the eyes or ears of people born blind or deaf, cures leprosy, and so on. These ill-conceived ideas about Jesus are just that.
- I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired of a white Jesus. I googled “images of Jesus,” and out of over three hundred results, all but two portrayed him as white with well-coiffed brunet hair, a few gave him blue eyes, and all depicted him as bearded (the beards themselves ranged from scraggly to highly stylized) and Hollywood handsome.
Jesus did not immigrate from Scandinavia but was born in the Middle East, where skin was olive colored, hair was dark, eyes were usually brown, and complexions were often ruddy. Jesus lived and died as a Jew. He could have been a Palestinian Jew, but he might have been better described as a Mizrahi or Middle Eastern Jew. The average height of men in biblical times was around five-foot-one, and the average weight was about 110 pounds.
- I would like to see Jesus depicted as be married with children (as the overwhelming majority of Jewish men were in those days), having daily body functions, loving to laugh, going to parties, calling people nasty names, sometimes being stubborn or angry, and ticking off a lot of folks (which is how the crucifixion happened).
In the 1960s, I read a description of Jesus that went something like this:
Jesus was a nonviolent, radical Jewish revolutionary who hung around with tax collectors, the disabled, poor and rich guys, women of questionable character, and outcasts (such as lepers, Samaritans, and Romans).
He never called the poor lazy, made antigay statements, condemned abortion, advocated capital punishment or war, excluded women from being involved, or demanded blind obedience.
He liked to celebrate life, hang around with the ladies, castigate the religious leaders (see Matthew 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, and 29—“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees”), tell fun stories and jokes, hold big gatherings, and quote from Jewish scripture.
A few high-ranking Jewish leaders and Romans tried to eliminate him, but his torturous death started a movement that has changed the world for two thousand years and will continue to do so—if the institutional church doesn’t crucify him again.
His name is universally recognized, he was completely human, and his skin was olive.
What color do you think Jesus’s skin was?