Was Jesus Black? It’s not impossible. Except for his age, about “30 years” (Luke 3:23), his appearance isn’t clearly described in the Gospels. There are plenty of historical iconographies depicting him as very dark-skinned. But more probably, he looked like the majority of the people who lived in Judaea in the first century AD. What Did Jesus Look Like? author Joan E. Taylor makes a strong case that if you wanted a modern image of what Jesus likely looked like, it’s fair to say he looked “Iraqi” – deep brown eyes, olive-brown skin, and dark-brown to black hair.
In short, he probably looked a little something like Jonathan Roumie, the actor who plays Jesus in the hit Bible TV show The Chosen, a series that’s also viewable via an app. The series made headlines as the largest-crowd-funded film-related project in history and for the astounding viewer numbers it racked up (hundreds of millions) – as well as favorable reviews from even secular critics. These reactions are not only due to the beautiful camera work and sets in the series but also to the diversity of the cast. In nearly every way, The Chosen offers a refreshing bit of realism. The world that Jesus was born into, grew up in, and spent his ministry in was significantly more racially diverse than what most Bible movies, TV shows or even art suggests. Jesus almost certainly had Black friends or followers, a reality showing in The Chosen.
The series just finished airing the last episode of Season two (seven seasons are planned). Early in Season one, we meet Tamar, a Black Egyptian woman who grew up in Ethiopia. Tamar and the future disciple Thomas have a bit of an attraction, but after Tamar witnesses one of Christ’s miracles, she encourages a “doubting” Thomas to take a “leap of faith” and follow the Savior. Is Tamar’s character in the Gospels? –No. Is her character plausible? –Absolutely. Historical records note that Jewish soldiers fought for Egyptian Pharaohs in campaigns against Nubia some 600 years before the birth of Christ. Tamar’s character is just one example of people, ideas, and backstories used in The Chosen to take what are sometimes sparse Biblical accounts and bring them to life in engaging and thought-provoking ways. Matthew – a tax collector – is depicted as being on the autism spectrum, a not impossible idea for a man who was tasked with fleecing his own people. After casting actor Jordan Walker Ross – who has severe scoliosis and minor cerebral palsy – as the apostle James, director Dallas Jenkins wrote Ross’ condition into the script. Again, not in the Gospels, but what Christian can’t conceive of the idea of Jesus welcoming a person with a disability into his flock?
Jonathan Roumie’s Jesus is probably the closest-to-reality-looking depiction ever seen on film or television. But it’s not all about looks. Roumie’s Jesus has all the gravitas you’d expect, but lacks any pretentiousness or overt “holiness.” This Jesus is clearly both divine and human – with a lot more emphasis put on the human part. One reviewer called this Jesus “intensely relatable,” a well-phrased description. The Jesus of The Chosen would be someone you’d be comfortable talking to about anything from a problem with alcohol to financial troubles… he gets us because he is one of us. Slowly, the disciples and followers come to radiate the same warmth and kindness of their Lord. Jesus’ love, courage, care, and unjudgmental kindness are emulated by his followers as they literally journey with their Lord, and grow in their spiritual lives. The Chosen’s characters make you stop and think about what these people would have been like as people.
As noted, the sets, costumes, and film work are all top-notch – but we’ve seen well-produced Jesus stories before. What we haven’t seen before The Chosen is the idea that everyone in the Gospels, from Jesus down to Judas, was a human being with human problems. As one example, in the season two finale, Jesus seeks Matthew’s advice on his big “Sermon on the Mount” scheduled for the next day. Then, just before delivering the now-iconic sermon, Tamar and some other women suggest Jesus add a splash of color to his dusty beige one-piece tunic. Jesus takes their advice. Did this happen? Who knows? But these depictions of day-to-day “mundane” things take viewers to a new place. A place where Jesus and his message touch you in a personal way because you can imagine experiencing what you’re seeing on screen. This humanizing has been sorely lacking in movies and TV shows about the life of Christ, and it’s little wonder The Chosen is striking a chord with Christians… while also earning the respect of people of other faiths as well as non-believers.
If you download the free app, you’ll see extras such as discussions with experts or reverends about aspects of the Gospels, and “behind the scenes” mini-documentaries showing how some of the more epic scenes came to be. The app also details how you can be a part of fundraising efforts for Season three, a mission that appears to be doing quite well. But scroll down and you’ll also notice a blooper reel. This is a good example of the philosophy director Dallas Jenkins and team bring to the series. Yes, this is a serious show about an important topic, but Jesus wasn’t too holy to enjoy a good laugh… and neither is The Chosen.