Recolored History: Art, Iconography and the Myth of White Jesus

As a pastor's kid growing up in the American Evangelical Church, I was surrounded by images of Jesus. He was usually depicted with light skin, brown hair and a flowing white robe, surrounded by happy little children or fluffy white sheep. Now, whenever I think about Jesus, that's the image that immediately comes to mind. It's a lovely pastoral scene, straight out of the storybook bibles and stained glass I grew up on. The only problem is that, according to our best knowledge of history, it's wrong.

So what did Jesus actually look like? The Bible offers relatively few clues as to his physical appearance, but we do know that he was a Jew living in Judea during the first century. Logically, this means that he probably looked like a first-century Jew. Jewish studies professor Deborah Forger suggested that he most likely had olive skin, brown hair and brown eyes.

According to Forger, this shift away from the "Jewishness of Jesus" had already started by the second century CE and grew more pronounced as Christianity expanded west.

"When Christianity is bolstered by Constantine's rule, it begins to spread and flourish within the context of Europe," Forger said. "This is when we start to see more prominent Christian iconography of Jesus as white because the followers of Jesus have a tendency to create images of Jesus who look like them."

For the full article in The Dartmouth