April 25, 2013
Jesus and skin color: Why this has become an issue
In an essay for Aeon, a new London-based digital magazine of ideas and culture, Dr. Edward J. Blum points out that the Bible has no description of Jesus’ physical features. Yet, today we’re used to seeing pictures of Jesus on everything from Sunday school materials, to portraits on the walls of homes, to stained glass windows in our churches. Throughout history, however, some religious leaders have realized it is inappropriate to represent Jesus in images that are based entirely on imagination. They have stressed that not only does an emphasis on Jesus’ physical characteristics distract from the spiritual intent of the gospels, it also distracts from the universality of the Christian message. Blum quotes one 19th century minister who pointed out (long before the concerns being voiced in our own times): “If [Jesus] were particularised and localised—if, for example, He were made a man with a pale face—then the man of the ebony face would feel that there was a greater distance between Christ and him than between Christ and his white brother.” There has also been the challenge of ways the devil has been depicted and especially the practice of using language and pictures associating evil with darkness. Now, in our very visual age, says Blum, such controversies have arisen anew over how both Jesus and the devil are being shown in blockbuster movies and on the History Channel’s recent television mini-series, The Bible. Blum is coauthor with historian Paul Harvey of the 2012 book, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, and his essay is a fascinating summary of the thinking on this important topic for our times.