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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Was Jesus Black?


And does it matter? See, I’m an atheist, not a Christian, so Jesus as a person means nothing to me. To Christians, they care about what Jesus did as a person; he was this peaceful carpenter who healed people and created miracles in Christian Mythology. So to them, what his ethnic background is probably bears little importance.

An early depiction of Christ.
So this post is coming from two angles. On the one hand, I’m a firm believer in looking past the colour of people’s skin and looking at the content of our character, as MLK put it. Jesus Christ’s significance in the Christian faith is based on his selfless behaviour towards people. On the other hand, I am aware that Christianity was highly significant during the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Colonialism. It was used to sell the ‘white is good, black is bad’ narrative, and having Christ as this white man with brown hair reinforced the perception of white being good and black being bad. Those attitudes are no longer enforced today (I am not denying that racism still exists – and affects EVERYONE NOT JUST BLACK PEOPLE – just stating that it is not of the same magnitude and anyone who thinks so is foolishly ignoring History).

A documentary series I have seen called Hidden Colours claimed that the famous image of Jesus was commissioned to be painted by Italian painters (including Michaelangelo), and that the figure was actually a man named Cezare Borgia. He was an Italian nobleman and politician who fought for power during the late 1400s. There are plenty of sites circulating online that claim the popular image of Christ was based off Borgia. Christ was said to have lived thousands of years ago, so no doubt there have been many depictions of him of all different ethnic backgrounds. It is likely that this image of Christ as a European looking man (whether based off Borgia or not) was taken to Africa and held up as the shining example of ‘the white man’s God.’

Furthermore, the Bible is an ancient text, or rather a collection of ancient texts. It’s been around for thousands of years. The King James Bible (written in the 1500s) is the most known version to the modern world, but before that there would have been other versions. (Also, regarding Theology, if one were to look at religious texts and stories from different faiths they would see that the Gods, the wars, the virgin births all were very similar. But that is for another topic). In Hidden Colours, it was stated that King James authorized and gathered information from pre-existing religious texts in order to create the now-known King James Bible. Lots of writers (including Shakespeare himself, allegedly) were involved in piecing together this modern followed Bible. It didn’t start with Europe, it started a long time ago with early humankind gathering their tales.

And let’s look at the Bible itself. In Chapter 2 of Genesis it states:

‘the name of the second river is Gihon, the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia’

It is also stated that Abram fled to Egypt, and blended in with the Egyptian Hebrews. We all know that Egypt and Ethiopia are in Africa, and native African people have never been fair-skinned. Some Historians claim that Jesus was Middle Eastern, but again during that time period, Middle Eastern folk would not look like they do today because humans hadn't migrated to colder climates where their features would have changed. Around that time period, Middle Eastern folk would have been dark skinned because that's how Hebrews looked like at the time.
One could argue that the Bible is not a reliable source of information, but then this whole post is based around someone who probably isn’t real (yet has had an enormous influence on the world). Moreover, as mentioned the Bible is based on religious texts that people would have written down with their notions about Christ and the Hebrews.

The Bible states that the Abrahamic God created man and woman in his image. Adam and Eve were created naked. They would have had to be in a hot climate or they would have frozen. Early humankind resided in Africa. All of this points to the fact that the Abrahamic God was black, the original Hebrews were black, and Jesus Christ himself would also have had to be black. Look at this description of Christ from Revelations:

‘his hair and head are white like wool/eyes like burning fire/feet like highly polished brass burnt from a furnace.’

When you burn something it goes black. The Bible has clearly referred to Christ as being a dark-skinned man. Also, 'woolly hair' describes hair that is not fine and straight like Europeans, but kinky and coiled like Africans. The image of Jesus as a white man probably came about during the Slave Trade era, as the white aristocracy did not want black people to see God as a black man as that would have been counter-productive. Even in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm learned that the original Hebrews were dark-skinned, and Jesus being a Hebrew would also have had dark skin.

So to conclude, Christ (if he existed) was most likely a black man, as all the evidence points towards it. But does it matter? Well, in a historical/racial justice sense I suppose it does. This is a man people worship, and if it matters so much then why don’t they accurately portray him? This is not really about Jesus or religion, it’s about the socio-historical/racial connotations behind having people still look up to this white guy as ‘benevolent’ when his image played a part in enslaving millions.

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8 comments:

  1. if Jesus was real. you forgot the family lineage to Moses ea. i'm white and have curly, wooly hair :) could i be related? but the Jesus depiction of a black dude with white hair is not possible because Jesus died rather young.

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    1. Ah yeah that makes sense about the white hair. Yeah I'm pretty sure Moses was a Hebrew too and fled to Egypt? I've seen 'The Prince of Egypt', one of my favourite films ever. (And the Hebrews are all depicted as black).

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  2. "Middle Eastern folk would not look like they do today because humans hadn't migrated to colder climates where their features would have changed" What do you mean by that? Do you think that humans hadn't migrated to Europe/Asia/America at the time of Christ?

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    1. I may have been incorrect there. I think I was assuming that 'interracial breeding' (for want of a better phrase) in the Middle East would not have occured on the level it has today hence why those living in the Middle East would have had darker skin. But perhaps I am wrong there. Either way though, assuming Christ was a real person, if he had fled to Egypt he would have had to blend in making him dark skinned as opposed to fair.

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  3. I think there are some errors in your post:
    1. First of all, while Christianity could be used to justify slavery, it was Christian abolitionists that got slavery banned (even with a "white Jesus"). http://www.jubilee-centre.org/the-abolition-of-the-slave-trade-christian-conscience-and-political-action-by-john-coffey/

    2. "Hidden Colours" is pseudo-scientific/pseudo-historic. It is not a reliable source. This video has a decent deconstruction of it/the creator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odQOaKjddbo

    3. Whilst depictions of Jesus have of course changed over the years, the rumour that "Cesare Borgia" was used as a stand in is unsubstantiated. The Snopes article you linked to even states as much, so I'm not sure why you included it as a source as it goes against the point you're trying to make.

    4. "It is likely that this image of Christ as a European looking man (whether based off Borgia or not) was taken to Africa and held up as the shining example of ‘the white man’s God."- this assertion has no evidence to back it up. It seems you've come to the conclusion that Europeans "whitened" Jesus to justify their treatment of Africans, and then worked backwards to justify your conclusion. Jesus tends to look different around the world, depending on which culture draws him (see: http://picchore.com/people/chinesus/ ).

    5. The King James Bible was released in 1611, not the 1500's as you stated. I don't know why you're making the point about how it was written though. Versions have been written before the KJV and after, in every language where Christianity exists.

    6.The skin colour of Ancient Egyptians isn’t clear cut "they were black". The Egyptian civilisation lasted from roughly 3100bc to 30bc (when the Romans conquered them). The Romans were rulers when Jesus would have existed. In the 3000 years that they were autonomous they had been conquered several times as well (eg. Alexander the great of Macedonia in 332BC, leading to the Ptolemaic kingdom) http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/were-the-ancient-egyptians-black-or-white-scientists-now-know <---This is quite an interesting article on the topic

    7. "Middle Eastern folk would not look like they do today because humans hadn't migrated to colder climates where their features would have changed". It's thought that humans first left Africa around 1.8 million years ago, so their features would have had time to change. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_human_migrations
    Also, Jesus was crucified by the Romans, a European civilisation from the Italian peninsula, further proof that we had indeed "migrated to colder climates". The existence of the Chinese civilisation (the Zhou dynasty during Christ’s time), native Americans, Indian civilisations, Inuit etc all prove the assertion wrong. I saw in a previous comment that you think that Middle-Eastern people are the result of "interracial breeding". That is also not the case, humans settled in the region and adapted, whilst others continued along and settled throughout Eurasia and on to the Americas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-modern_human_migration

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    1. 8."Around that time period, Middle Eastern folk would have been dark skinned because that's how Hebrews looked like at the time" This reasoning doesn't make sense. Firstly, you've assumed that the ancient Hebrews were dark skinned, where’s your source? I've been unable to find anything concrete myself but it seems that they again would be "middle eastern" in appearance. Secondly, if the Hebrews were indeed dark skinned why would that automatically make the middle eastern people of the time dark skinned? It appears as though you're working backwards from your conclusion which has led to these inaccuracies.

      9. "Adam and Eve were created naked. They would have had to be in a hot climate or they would have frozen" according to the bible they lived in the garden of Eden, a miraculous place that clearly doesn't follow the laws of science.

      10."Early humankind resided in Africa" True.

      11. "All of this points to the fact that the Abrahamic God was black, the original Hebrews were black" It doesn't. The original texts are thought to have been written around the sixth century BC (although some people think it could have been as early as the tenth century BC https://www.livescience.com/8008-bible-possibly-written-centuries-earlier-text-suggests.html ). Humans had long since left Africa at this point (as mentioned earlier), plus you aren't accounting for genetic diversity within the Hebrews.

      12. "and Jesus Christ himself would also have had to be black" Why would he have to be black? You haven't shown this to be the case in the preceding paragraph (or, arguably throughout the entire blog post), how has this statement come about? Jesus was born in the middle east, to a Judean mother 1500 years after the death of Moses. Why would this make him black?

      13. "When you burn something it goes black. The Bible has clearly referred to Christ as being a dark-skinned man" The passage you provided says he was like "highly polished brass burnt from a furnace" one way of taking this is that his skin was the colour of brass, which is smelted in a furnace (the book of revelation was written around 95AD http://richardwaynegarganta.com/TheDateoftheBookofRevelation.pdf and this article mentions the roman use of brass/how it produce it: https://www.thebalance.com/the-history-of-brass-2340176 by smelting it in a furnace (the word “burn” referring to the smelting process). This is relevant as the book of revelation was written in Roman controlled Judea around 95AD. Reading it in the manner you have still yields a "Middle Eastern" “hue”, as why would brass be used a frame of reference if they were trying to describe a black person? Surely there're other similes that could have been used to get the point across? "Burnt Brass" would suggest a darker, golden tone as opposed to "black". Also on a side note, doesn't brass melt instead of burning (giving further credibility to the idea that it’s describing the smelting process)?

      14. "'woolly hair' describes hair that is not fine and straight like Europeans, but kinky and coiled like Africans" again this does not prove that he was black, as Europeans can have "kinky and coiled" hair too. Also, the quote you're referring to says: "his hair and head are white like wool" not that his hair is the texture of wool , but "white like wool" as though they’re using wool to describe the colour instead of the texture. Around 96AD wool was a common thing for the common man to come into contact with that was white, making it a good reference point when describing his hair colour. Why is it important that the common man understand? Who would the priesthood be trying to convert? The commoners, therefore the author/the priest needed reference points/metaphors that the commoners would understand.

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    2. 15."The image of Jesus as a white man probably came about during the Slave Trade era, as the white aristocracy did not want black people to see God as a black man as that would have been counter-productive" Whilst there is logic to this idea, my previous point about different cultures depicting Jesus to look as they do holds true. "White" Jesus would have at least existed from when Constantine Christianised the Roman Empire around 312AD http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/christianityromanempire_article_01.shtml

      16 "Even in The Autobiography of Malcolm X" why do you put "even in" as though Malcom X believing the Hebrews to be black counts as evidence to it being true? You should present the proof that swayed him.

      17. "So to conclude, Christ (if he existed) was most likely a black man, as all the evidence points towards it" not to get harsh but what evidence? You haven't provided anything compelling. In fact one of your sources (the Snopes article) contradicts your assertions.

      If anything, if Jesus was real he would most likely have been "Middle Eastern" in appearance having been born to Judean parents at a time where immigration around the empire was minimal.
      I'm interested to hear your thoughts!

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    3. 1. Christian Abolitionists weren't the only ones who got slavery banned. They may have contributed but it was mainly Lincoln and his government and other activists who contributed to getting rid of slavery. Plus saying Christian abolitionists helped to get rid of slavery doesn't digress from the fact that Christianity was used as an instrumental tool during the slave trade.
      http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/rights/abolition.htm

      2. I need to look more into that.

      3. I didn't actually agree that Christ was based off Borgia, just said that there are sites that claim he was and that it's unknown. However, as I mentioned, it's highly unlikely Christ would have looked like that so there probably was someone who his image was based off of.

      4. The point I've been trying to make is that Eurocentric history holds Christ as a white man and that that was relevant in slavery in order to keep African-Americans into thinking they were inferior to black people. The most popular image of Christ is one of a white man, and as Britain colonised major parts of the world anyway, the image of Christ as a white man would be used as a reinforcement for the empire and the message of 'white being good, black being bad/poor.' (Not trying to sound like a social justice warrior and of course the world is different today, but no one can deny the ramifications of white imperialism and the effect it has had on third world countries. 'How Europe Underdeveloped Africa' by Dr Walter Rodney describes this well.)

      5. Point is, that's the most famous and universally known version and again points back to my assertion of a European/white Jesus being used to enslave/colonise africans.

      6. Egypt is in Africa so they would have been black; maybe not like charchoal but they would not have been 'light' skinned. That article says that there weren't many major genetic changes despite all of the different conquerers, so it's unlikely those invasions would have affected the colour of their skin much.

      7. I admit I got that wrong and probably worded it incorrectly.

      8 +. The Israelites would have been darker skinned because the region they were in was hot meaning they would have had more melanin in their skin. If Jesus journeyed to Egypt he would have had to blend in, plus as mentioned Ethiopia is mentioned right at the beginning of Genesis.
      ‘the name of the second river is Gihon, the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia’
      When we think of Middle Eastern people today, they wouldn't necessarily have looked the same as we think of modern day Middle Eastern people. Also those Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians, and as the early Egyptians were not 'light' skinned it's unlikely the Hebrews would have been either. The reason there are so many Jews today of different skin colours is due to migration, which happened after the Jews were exhiled from their original homeland.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_diaspora
      https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/were-hebrews-ever-slaves-in-ancient-egypt-yes-1.5429843

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