Physical description of Jesus Christ?


#1

Hello,

I’m a person who was born catholic but never practiced or believed in catholicism. Was part of a religion that believed in Christ and the whole bible, old and new testament, but held some different belief than that of many other christian faiths. I’m no longer a follower of that particular faith and have been drawn to Catholicism recently.

But one thing I would like to discuss is the physical representation portrayed of Christ as that of being caucasian (meaning what’s considered white), with straight blonde hair and blue eyes. Or other times being straight brown hair and brown eyes. Basically, how do I know that is an accurate description?

Now I understand that ultimately, what is most important is the life he lead, message he brought, and example he set. I whole heartedly agree with this. And I admit that in my early years I missed this important point. Furthermore, I do not condemn anyone because they hold a belief that Christ was white (caucasian), or Black (dark skinned), or any other physical descriptiong they may hold. Also I was in a catholic chat room once and had a conversation with a person who said that the Chruch does not condemn anyone for holding the belief that Christ looked black, or for that matter how ever they may view him. I believed the person even told me that he visited a chruch, predominately hispanic catholics, where they had images of Christ resembling hispanics.

But I guess I need to know from where does the Catholic Church derive their belief that Christ looked as he is portrayed in the church.

One scenario I was thought was that the Israelites, from which the Jews hail from (Judah, Benjamin, Levi) that were enslaved in ancient Egypt were a dark skinned race. I’ve seen several books on egyptian art and history, as well as Israelite history where people in painting found in those books are clearly brown skinned people. The point here being that if the Israelites during Moses time were a brown or dark skinned people, then Jesus Christ and the Jews of his time must have been brown or dark skinned likewise. The jews that we know today, I was thought are not the biblical jews but are converts who’ve now taken on the full identity of the real jews. These real jews being the so-called blacks of America who’s forefathers arrived on slave ships and that the indeginous people of the america’s were descendants as well.

I don’t ascribe to these beliefs anymore, not because I found overwhelming evidence to say otherwise, but because I believe 1) it’s not important for salvation to be a jew, or know who the jews are. And 2) I doubt whether anyone who claims to be a jew or an Israelite, could trace their lineage back to one of the tribes of Israel.

In the religion I was in, we were thought that many of the artwork and icon, particularly of the Renessance period were white washed. The interpretation of this meant artwork was either distorted from it’s true portrails, the characters in them being actually dark skinned, or the works redone with complete false representation. And I’ve read some writer’s who hold these views and proceed to show certain artworks as proof. I’ve come to realize that one could debate these claims and go back and forth pulling out books to refute one another to no avail. So I don’t bother anymore.

But I do know that many black americans and hispanic or latino americans, in particular, hold the view that the depiction of Jesus Christ portrayed by the catholic chruch is false and further more they associate the alleged falsehood with white supremacy. Meaning more truth being supressed from people of color and being replaced with rewritten history advantageous to white people.

Although latino/hispanic’s are predominately catholics, I haven’t heard of too many black amercian catholics. I’m not saying they are non, I’ve actually heard of a congregation of black american roman catholics in the states, Maryland I believe, but it seemed like that was a rare instance. Also I know the church has a large presence in the contenent of Africa, but to be quite honest the black in Amercia or even the carribbean seem to be of a different stock. There are many nations of people that are dark skinned, Arab, East Indian, Asian, etc that very dark in complexion but are clearly diferent people. In my opinio the same seems to be true in regards to black american and africans.

I apologies for making quit long, but I would greatly appreciate any dialogue on this subject.


#2

The only thing we know for sure is the Jesus had a beard (because the guards who imprisoned him plucked it). Yet, he is often depicted as clean-shaven. There is certainly some “artistic license” in these depictions.

I remember one early source that described him as having “chestnut colored hair” but I don’t recall which source.

But we do know that Jesus was a Jew. And orthodox Jews did not (and still do not) intermarry with other cultures. And in Jesus’ time, pretty much all Jews were orthodox - there were not “liberal” branches of Judaism.

If you look at orthodox Jews today, they are pretty much light-skinned. Since orthodox Jews maintain cultural purity, there is little reason to believe that they were radically different 2000 years ago.

By the way, ancient Egypt was also populated by light-skinned people. The idea that all Africans are dark-skinned is simply not true.

The Catholic Church has never taken a position on the physical appearance of Our Lord. It is perfectly acceptable to think of him in any terms you please. If an artist wants to depict Jesus as a black man (or whatever) this is perfectly acceptable.

Jesus is Lord of ALL, not just one particular skin coloration.


#3

The BBC did a documentary a few years ago about the physical appearance of Jesus.

They admitted that they were only guessing but basically took skulls of Jews from the region of Palestine who lived approximately contemporary to Jesus. From that they worked out a typical skull form and built up a face onto that. Pure guesswork of course but based on the assumption that Jesus was a typical 1st century Palestinian Jew.

The documentary concluded that Jesus looked like a typical 1st century Palestinian Jew. Which isn’t really surprising. But for some reading this proved to be controversial. Some people were really shocked by this conclusion as it didn’t fit their own picture of Jesus.


#4

Yay!

One (non-Catholic) TV preacher I used to watch had an interesting series on Race, Religion and Racism. (It was Fred Price, a black non-denominational preacher from Los Angeles who built a huge dome church and educational complex K-Ph.D. in a ghetto.) He talked about skin color as being very superficial, and asked what actual color we are inside. Well, we are all made in the image of God, so inside we must all be whatever color God is.


#5

You are asking Catholics to defend a view which they do not hold. The fact that we sometimes use iconography which portrays Jesus as a white man doesn’t mean we think he really was. We know perfectly well that (a) No-one knows what Jesus looked like (b) He wasn’t European and © it doesn’t matter.

cheers

cyberman


#6

[quote=DavidFilmer]But we do know that Jesus was a Jew. And orthodox Jews did not (and still do not) intermarry with other cultures. And in Jesus’ time, pretty much all Jews were orthodox - there were not “liberal” branches of Judaism.

If you look at orthodox Jews today, they are pretty much light-skinned. Since orthodox Jews maintain cultural purity, there is little reason to believe that they were radically different 2000 years ago.
[/quote]

If I may beg to differ, during the Middle Ages there was a tribe in Russia called the Khazars which converted wholesale to Judaism. The modern Ashkensazi Jews are descended from the Khazars and are very light-skinned. The Sephardic Jews, who are darker, are middle-eastern and are more probably the direct descendents of the Jews of Jesus’ time.

The Jewish people come from a variety of ethnic groups. The Falashan Jews (until recently of Ethiopia) are completely black-skinned; they are descended from the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon. I have heard that there is even an indigenous Chinese Jewish group.

  • Liberian

#7

The image on the Shroud of Turin is probably the closest we will get to physical description of Jesus Christ before his Second Coming. His face.


#8

I would agree with Mr. Easton that the Shroud is probably the best indicator we have. There have been many attempts to debunk the Shroud, but so far all of them have been unsuccessful. This is not to say that the Shroud is definitely real, or that it should in any way be the basis for our faith; however, right now there is no reason to believe it is a forgery, and there are many reasons to believe it is what the Church claims.

Like you, I have also had trouble with the Blond Jesus - I have heard the arguments that “Mediteranian Jews” were blond, so Jesus must have been blond, and they ring false. The Church makes absolutely no claim to know what Christ looked like, and throughout the centuries He has been depicted in many different ways with Church approval:
landru.i-link-2.net/shnyves/face.christ.jpg

One thing you’ll notice with this link is that most of the depictions are not Arian. I believe Jesus had feet like burnt copper, and hair like wool, and that doesn’t jibe with the flowing, flaxen blond locks image.

That said, I really don’t think it matters. If Jesus actually looked Chinese, it wouldn’t rattle my faith in the slightest (although I might be a bit surprised).

Here are some links for black Catholics:
nbccongress.org/
bcimall.org/
blackcatholicsforlife.org/
xula.edu/IBCS/

And finally, a site about theVenerable Pierre Toussaint, our likely “first American Black Saint”:
cst-phl.com/blackcatholic.html

Last, but not least:
***[size=5]
WELCOME HOME!! ***

RyanL
[/size]


#9

[quote=asteroid]The BBC did a documentary a few years ago about the physical appearance of Jesus.

They admitted that they were only guessing but basically took skulls of Jews from the region of Palestine who lived approximately contemporary to Jesus. From that they worked out a typical skull form and built up a face onto that. Pure guesswork of course but based on the assumption that Jesus was a typical 1st century Palestinian Jew.

The documentary concluded that Jesus looked like a typical 1st century Palestinian Jew. Which isn’t really surprising. But for some reading this proved to be controversial. Some people were really shocked by this conclusion as it didn’t fit their own picture of Jesus.
[/quote]

I saw that and the result annoyed me. It was as if they chose the most unattractive visage possible. Yes, JESUS LOOKED LIKE A 1ST CENTURY JEW. But that meant one of a hundred thousand possible appearaces. They even made the person dead-eyed and slack jawed. Common sense tells us that attractive people have attractive looks.


#10

My guess is he’s white because the Western world can associate with him better. I remember when I was little seeing a little African sculpture of Jesus in a book, and the scupture was of a black man. When Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego, she appeared Hispanic, or at least she did on the garmet. On paintings of the “Fatima Mary” she is white. I saw some Japanese statue of her, and she appeared Eastern Asian. It doesn’t matter, but I think it’s just generally easier for people to associate better with someone of the same skin color. Kinda sad, really…


#11

“The Church” does not have an official depiction of Christ. Just remember that artists in general tend to portray images with an unconscience bias toward what they see everyday. You draw/paint/sculpt what you know.

Therefore, if many of the best artists in history happen to have lighter skin or are around people that have lighter skin than people around the Holy Land, guess what you’re going to get?


#12

BTW-“caucasion” is a race of humankind native to Europe, North Africa, southwest Asia, and India. This includes 1st century Palestine.

Maranatha,
Hans


#13

[quote=Hans A.]BTW-“caucasion” is a race of humankind native to Europe, North Africa, southwest Asia, and India. This includes 1st century Palestine.

Maranatha,
Hans
[/quote]

The juvedian people of India are consideed to be caucasion, however they have dark brown to almost black skin and hair to match. I don’t think skin and hair color are the deciding element in all racial categories.


#14

[quote=DaMaMaXiMuS]Hello,

But I guess I need to know from where does the Catholic Church derive their belief that Christ looked as he is portrayed in the church.

.
[/quote]

The Catholic Church does not have any defined doctrine about Christ’s physical appearance, other than what is stated in the Gospels. The icons, statues, portraits of Jesus, in Church or elsewhere, are made by artists, not by the Church. The artist is free to depict Christ however his talent and vision lead him. In any case, if you visit 100 churches, chances are you will see 100 versions of a painting, sculpture, stained glass or icon depicting Jesus, and none of them will look the same. On the other hand, probably anyone around the world, seeing any of the well known images of Christ, has no trouble identifying the subject whether he is depicted as a Palestinian Jew, Greek, Indian, Native American, Hispanic, African, or anything else.

I get a catalog from monks who make icons, and they feature an icon of Jesus Christ, computer generated by inputing data on the appearance of 1st century Palestinian Jews, the earliest icons of Christ, and the Shroud of Turin. The image they came up with to me looks almost identical to a picture of a suspected terrorist, a Palestinian, wanted for questioning related to 9/11. But if you look at both pictures side by side, no one would have difficulty identifying the image intended to portray Jesus.

Do not pose something as Catholic teaching, which is not in fact Catholic teaching, and then ask for a defense.


#15

In Revelation 1:13-16 there is a description of Jesus but its elements are probably only symbolic and not to be taken literally:
13and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; 14his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; 16in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.


#16

[quote=Todd Easton]In Revelation 1:13-16 there is a description of Jesus but its elements are probably only symbolic and not to be taken literally:13and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; 14his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; 16in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

[/quote]

Most of that is taken from the description of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7 (which in turn owes something descriptions of the god El)

Dan 7:9 As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire.

[left]A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. [/left]

=========
[left][/left]
There is an apocryphal work called the “Letter of Lentulus” which contains a description of Christ. The letter was not written by its supposed author, which does nothing to inspire confidence in its contents. :slight_smile: ##


#17

Jesus was not a white skinned, blond haired, blue eyed person. He most likely had dark skin, dark hair and brown eyes…it only matters was he looked like if one is trying to use it to further one’s own agenda. In fact, Jesus was never thought of as a white person until the European artists started painting Him that way.


#18

I always imagine him looking like an Arab.


#19

Four words: The Shroud of Turin.

amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1854795015/qid=1116814962/sr=2-7/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_7/102-0158024-8845758


#20

Hello again everyone,

First I like to apologize for all the typos, I noticed them when I came in to read what responses I had to my questions. I originally fired off that post in the wee hours of the morning and as you can imagine I was not in full possession of my spelling and grammar skills.

Right along side this, I like to thank everyone who took the time to respond and offer their insight and wealth of knowledge to assist me in gaining clarity and understanding.

Lastly, I feel I need to clarify and apologize to everyone because after reviewing my post, it does present my questions in an manner wear I am guilty of making assumptions. After thinking about my actions, I realize I made this assumption due to my exposure in several parishes where the icons, or sculptures of Jesus Christ were white. In my mind I figured, this was the teachings. So again, I apologize.

I feel satified with the answers I’ve been provided with. And to “Librian” I’ve read about the Khazars as well. Also to “RyanL” thank you very much for those links on Black Catholics very much appreciated. And thank you for the warm welcom home. I honestly do feel that I am returning home, especially after the paths and roads I’ve been down through.

On a side issue, but still related to the topic. Sadly, I’ve come across and know many so-called christians that take offense at even the thought of Jesus Christ being anything but the image they have seared in their minds of a white man. They treat the idea of Christ being black as being blasphemous. These are people who’ll proclaim to love their neighbors as themselves, but yet hold this hate within them. It’s amazing how people’s hearts are revealed when this idea is put before them.

The other thing I sometimes throw at them is interracial marriage. Ask them how would they feel if say their daughter or sons married someone black, and brotherly love goes flying out the window. I’m latino, and I can say confidently that this view held widely held by many latino groups. Yet they profess themselves christians. Understand that when I say Christtians I’m referring to all the christian denominations, because I’ve experienced these poor attitudes among Catholics, Jehovah’s witness, Baptist, etc.

I’m just expressing these unfortunate experiences with the forum and am in no way saying the case is such with anyone on this forum. To the contrary the impression I get from the people on these boards to be genuine and good.

Once again thank you all. I have many things to ask, so hope your all up to the task. )8O)

God bless you all.


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