Michael Brown on The Truth About White Jesus Statues

(Unsplash/Alessandro Bellone)

What, exactly, did Jesus look like? Was he black? Brown? White? Red? Yellow? We know that he was a first-century, Galilean Jew. But, beyond that, no reliable description of his appearance has been left for us.

There is a statement recorded in the Mishnah, the earliest code of Jewish law (compiled roughly 220 A.D.) attributed to Rabbi Ishmael, who lived from 90-135 A.D. He said, “The children of Israel … are like boxwood, neither black nor white but of an intermediate shade” (m. Negaim 2:1).

So, according to a rabbi who lived within one century of Jesus, the Israelites are “like boxwood,” neither black nor white but somewhere in between. This would be in keeping with other Middle Eastern peoples of the past and present.

As for the notion that Jesus was black, based on Revelation 1:14-15, that is a complete misreading of the text. Describing John’s vision of a glorious Jesus, the text states that, “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire” (Rev. 1:14).

But the text does not say that Jesus had wooly hair. Rather, it pictures his hair as “white like wool, white as snow.”

This is not speaking of the texture of his hair (any more than the texture of hair is being compared to snow). Rather, it is speaking of the color of his hair. And even so, this is a glorious vision not meant to be taken literally—unless, of course, you believe that a sharp, double-edged sword came out of his mouth and that his face shone like the sun.

That being said, Jesus was certainly not white. (For the record, many translations of the Bible, including the King James Version, render Revelation 1:14 with, “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow.” From this you could argue that Jesus was lily white, since it says his head was white. That, too, is a gross misunderstanding.)

How, then, did we end up with a white Jesus in Europe and America?

There are two answers to this question, one quite innocent and the other not nearly as innocent. (You might be in for a surprise. Keep reading!)

The innocent answer is that it is common for other people groups to imagine Jesus to be just like them. Just do a search for “images of Chinese Jesus” or “images of Eskimo Jesus.” You will see a Jesus who looks Chinese or a Jesus who looks Eskimo.

This is no surprise. After all, according to the Gospel, the Son of God took on human flesh and became one of us. It’s only natural that we envision him to look like us.

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SOURCE: Charisma News