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The Atlantic’s Jonathan Merritt: Jesus wasn’t white, because we all know Jews aren’t white

December 13, 2013
Cristo crucificado.jpg

Megyn Kelly said Jesus was white on Fox News–and we all know how stupid Fox News is! So here’s Mr. Smartypants setting that silly Megyn straight:

Kelly has made a more serious error about Jesus. The scholarly consensus is actually that Jesus was, like most first-century Jews, probably a dark-skinned man.

Gee, the last time I read that Jews weren’t white was on one of those David Duke-style websites. And since when does being “dark-skinned” disqualify you from being white? I’m ultra-fair-skinned myself, but how about my brunette sister? She tans pretty darned dark. And how about George Clooney? What race would you vote him into, Mr. Scholarly Consensus? How about Italians? Greeks? Egyptians? Then Merritt ventures into art history:

As early as the Middle Ages and particularly during the Renaissance, popular Western artists depicted Jesus as a white man, often with blue eyes and blondish hair. Perhaps fueled by some Biblical verses correlating lightness with purity and righteousness and darkness with sin and evil, these images sought to craft a sterile Son of God.

Actually (and I have a Ph.D. in medieval studies), the artists of the Middle Ages tended to model their depictions of Jesus on Byzantine icons, which, since they were crafted by Mediterranean artisans, gave Jesus a Mediterranean complexion: fairly dark, with brown eyes. And Renaissance artists, striving for a more lifelike naturalism modeled on classical Greek and Roman sculpture, made Jesus dark-skinned, with dark brown hair and an olive complexion. It’s true that some contemporary popular depictions of Jesus in the West have given him blue eyes and fair skin. (Although not this one!) But that’s because people of every Christian culture have tended to create images of Jesus that look like them. It goes with their belief that Jesus became a man, just like them. Why is it OK for an Ethiopian artist to craft an image of Jesus who looks Ethiopian but not OK for a Scandinavian artist to craft a Jesus who looks Scandinavian? Furthermore, the context for Megyn Kelly’s remark was her assertion that Santa Claus is white. That’s not so dumb, either. The real St. Nicholas lived in Myra (modern Demre in Turkey), a Mediterranean seaport not far from the Holy Land and populated mostly by Greeks. So St. Nick was probably as “dark-skinned” as Jesus–and you’ve got to be a David Duke aficionado to think that you can’t be white unless you look like this guy. H/T: Ann Althouse Posted by Charlotte Allen


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  1. Mark Krikorian permalink

    Just FYI, the ancient city of Myra is now the Turk town of Demre, not Izmir:

  2. PatrickH permalink

    There’s a real confluence of anti-Semites and “progressives” these days. They unwittingly end up promulgating tropes from the very people they so profess to despise. I suppose I should be amused when I hear someone say that blonde blue-eyed people are evil because they are intrinsically racist, but for some reason I can’t so much as work up a smile about it.

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