The San Francisco Chronicle uses the occasion of Jean-Claude La Marre’s new movie, “The Color of the Cross,” to reexamine the way in which Jesus’ race is shown in Western iconography. The movie is a good starting point for this discussion, because it has as its central character a black Jesus Christ.
The article thoughtfully points out that, over the centuries, Western Europeans began to paint Jesus as a Nordic type, with blue eyes and blond hair, an image that has stuck in American iconography. The article points out too that this image is alienating to African-Americans. The article points out that no one really knows what Jesus looked like.
Indeed, because it is quite long, the article points out a whole bunch of things. In fact, the one thing that the article never really gets around to pointing out the single known fact about Jesus’ racial make-up: he was a Middle Eastern Jew. This known fact means that he probably had swarthy skin and the frizzy hair so many Jews have — something at which the article hints at when it notes that a Passage in the Book of Revelations refers “to Jesus with woolly hair and bronze-colored skin.” That reference is so coyly written, however, that it leaves the impression that those claiming Jesus was of African descent have the right of it. The article further promotes that point with a long reference to one minister’s theory:
The Rev. Cecil Murray, a black minister in Los Angeles and a professor of religion at the University of Southern California, is credited as a producer for his work as a consultant on “Color of the Cross.” He said the history of the biblical region shows figures such as Jesus and Moses had black or Middle Eastern features.
“When they get ready to hide Jesus as a baby, his mother and his father take him to Egypt. You can hide chocolate in the midst of chocolate. You can’t hide vanilla in the midst of chocolate,” Murray said.
This would be a great theory about Jesus’ black roots were it not for one thing: the Egyptians, like the Jews, were also a swarthy, but non-African, race. Even now, Egypt’s citizens are Arabs, not Africans. In addition, Egypt during Christ’s time was a major cosmopolitan area and would have boasted citizens of various races. (Nor were Semites rare in Egypt. A tomb painting from around 1200 BC shows Canaanites, larger and fairer than Egyptians, making their way into Egypt.)
There’s nothing wrong with people embracing Jesus in their own image if it brings them closer to God (or, at least, I don’t think there is). There is something very wrong with people denying historic reality, and with a major paper’s glossing over this denial, in an attempt to rewrite history for their own benefit. This kind of Afrocentrism, which is almost invariably based on denying objective historic reality, cheats African-Americans of the virtues of their own past, and lies to everybody. (Incidentally, for a good analysis of the falsities underlying the Afrocentric curriculum foisted on many poor students, and the damage it does to their ability to understand the difference between fact and theory, check out Mary Lefkowitz’s Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth As History.)
UPDATE: By the way, I should add that, buried deep within the article is one reference to Christ’s Jewishness — it comes when a professor decries the fair-haired Northern iconographic model, which he feels hides the fact that Christ is Jewish. And that’s it for the Jewishness. The article never develops that irrefutable theme, one that would help us imagine what Jesus looked like, and, instead, rolls onward giving airtime and credibility to the possibility that Jesus was African.Email This Post To A Friend
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