I’m impressed by the hidden ball

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.

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  • http://benningswritingpad.blogspot.com benning

    Mary Lefkowitz’s book is on my shelf. I read it and enjoyed it. Good find. :D

  • http://helenl.wordpress.com/ helenl

    Your post cover more than one issue 1) the ethnicity of Jesus and does it matter? and 2) Afrocentism in the classroom. The two issues touch here, but are not the same.

    I’m not sure I agree with your statement, “There’s nothing wrong with people embracing Jesus in their own image if it brings them closer to God.” I think that’s where the whole problem begins. Not here in the middle of it, where you have begun, but centuries back when the European masters began to paint the light skinned, blue-eyed Jesus and Holy family. Why does this movie, book, et al. constitute “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,” while the Sistine Chapel remains? This is an attempt to correct reality, not deny it.

    Sometimes to correct a problem, people go in the opposite direction, sometimes too far. I anticipate today’s political rhetoric. The facts and the truth are not one and the same.
    The facts lead us to a dark-skinned Jesus but not one whose skin is sub-Sahara black. The (historical) truth is most white folk wouldn’t have embraced an African Jesus, but we continue to ask African Americans this embrace a lily-while lie. Then we scream at academia, who offer our brightest young minds the opportunity to think it out and get it right this time.

    The purpose of the movie is to realize the truth that will smack racism on its haughty ass. The truth is always more important than just the facts.

  • erp

    North Africans and Semites, both Jew and Arab, are Caucasian aka White … and truth matters that’s why the election yesterday was such a travesty.

    Had voters been buying what the left was selling, I’d step back gracefully, but unfortunately, while our fellow Americans who wanted a change are learning about being snookered, the rest of us will be in the same unsafe place we were while liberals were in power.

  • http://expreacherman.wordpress.com ExPreacherMan

    Book,
    The Rev. Cecil Murray does the Savior a disservice when he says, “You can’t hide vanilla in the midst of chocolate,”
    Such racist rhetoric is reminiscent of Mayor Nagin’s comment about New Orleans as a “Chocolate City.”
    Showing Jesus the Messiah in any iconic fashion is (1) unscriptural, (2) inaccurate and (3) a crutch.
    We have neither drawing nor painting which is accurately representative of Jesus. No artist has been truly inspired by God and commissioned to paint the Savior.
    The Old Testament Scripture predicts this (and many other things) about the coming messiah (who has come).
    Isaiah 53:2 “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”
    He has no physical beauty that we should desire Him.
    His Beauty which makes us desire Him is spiritual.. that He is God in the flesh Who came to offer salvation to Jew and Gentile alike. Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek [Gentile].”

    When we stop putting Jesus into our own mold, we may better understand that He is the Savior of and for the whole world, all races and all nationalities.
    Images make division, not unity.
    Without an image as a crutch, we worship Him for Who He is, the Savior.

    ExP(Jack)

  • http://helenl.wordpress.com/ helenl

    “No artist has been truly inspired by God and commissioned to paint the Savior.” WOW, it’s a good thing you cleared that up, EX!

  • http://ymarsakar.blogspot.com/ Ymarsakar

    Got to get rid of that idolatry, Preacher. World would be a better place for it.

  • http://paragraphfarmer.blogspot.com/ Patrick O’Hannigan

    On the one hand, it’s true that we don’t know what Jesus looked like. On the other hand, the story of the Shroud of Turin is fascinating, and it allows for an arguably plausible reconstruction of his appearance.

    ExP (Jack) is right in his three points (icons of Jesus as unscriptural inaccurate crutches), but as a Catholic I’d put in a good word for them anyway. “Unscriptural” isn’t the same as “Contra-scriptural,” and God knows well that He gave us five senses. Ergo, we apprehend with the eyes as well as with the ears and the mind, else God wouldn’t have told Moses to cure seraph serpent bites by mounting a snake on a stick, in a symbol that doctors still use centuries later.

  • http://paragraphfarmer.blogspot.com/ Patrick O’Hannigan

    On the one hand, it’s true that we don’t know what Jesus looked like. On the other hand, the story of the Shroud of Turin is fascinating, and it allows for an arguably plausible reconstruction of his appearance.

    ExP (Jack) is probably right in his three points (icons of Jesus as unscriptural inaccurate crutches), but as a Catholic I’d put in a good word for them anyway. “Unscriptural” isn’t the same as “Contra-scriptural,” and God knows well that He gave us five senses. Ergo, we apprehend with the eyes as well as with the ears and the mind, else God wouldn’t have told Moses to cure seraph serpent bites by mounting a snake on a stick, in a symbol that doctors still use centuries later.