Lily White

The funny thing about being “white” (I’m more of an anemic pink myself) is that my race seems to think all the gods share our ethnic traits. I’ve seen Thor, so I know. The Daily Kos ran an article recently about Crystal Valentine, a black poet, and how she responded to Megyn Kelly’s 2013 statement that Jesus is a white man. I won’t say what Valentine’s apt response is, but I will say I feel a lot better knowing that I’m not the only one who’s a couple years behind the news. I remember 2013 well. It was a year of transition, some would say enforced exile. If you could pull that trick off 2500 years ago, you’d have no end of books written about you. Just check out the offerings on The Exile and you’ll see what I mean. But I digress. Is Jesus white?

Historically all we can say is that Jesus was Jewish. We don’t have any Jewish men from two millennia ago to ask about their skin tone. One of the problems of having an only child, especially for a deity, is that you have to decide on the race (and gender; perhaps twins would be better?). Other religions sometimes make similar claims, but the problem persists. Especially when one race claiming God’s ethnicity develops an industrialized military economy. Who’s going to argue with that? So if Jesus is white, it stands to reason that his dad is too, right? If you listen to the sidewalks of Manhattan you’ll have your answer. Or the question.


All of this makes me wonder about the image of God. Theologians like to make it sound academic by calling it imago dei. If you can read Latin then you obviously know the truth. With monotheism and imago dei, you’re gonna run into problems. Nobody likes to be told they’re adopted. Since this theological construct has caused no end of pain and misery, I have to wonder if we’re better off thinking that we’ve not had a case of mistaken identity after all. We all evolved out of Africa. We should, it seems to me, treat our parents with more respect. And that, dear reader, is straight from the Bible.

2 thoughts on “Lily White

  1. Hey there.
    I once saw one of those shows here on tv that speculated about who Jesus was, where he came from, and what he might have looked like. Yes, he may have been Jewish, but the fair haired, white skin version of Jesus that America was built on, might not be correct. He would have been Middle Eastern, having been born of a woman who lived in “the Middle East.” He may have had dark skin, and quite possibly dark hair, that fell to his shoulders. One might speculate on these thoughts and consider the region, the time, and the people present.

    Brooks Hansen, who writes, “John The Baptizer” a book I just adore, speaks about John, and Jesus who follows, as a hazel colored hair man, who has stature, and presence. Hansen places Him in that region and in this story as a man of “that place.” But he does not further the description except where the famed meeting takes place on the River Jordan. He does give us insight as to Jesus, in the men who eventually follow Him at the behest of John, who sends some of his followers after Jesus.

    One must really consider region, period and the racial makeup of first century men and women. Painting Jesus, ergo God, as a white man, with the famed white features is a construct made up to please those bible readers into the 21st century.

    In studying first century texts myself, One should not implicitly trust the first collectors (read: Scribes) of ancient texts who translated and wrote down what they thought should be, rather than what they actually had in front of them. That much is fact. Because we know how inerrant those translations are, because of what is revealed when you read original Coptic, Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew. Elaine Pagels is the Master there.

    I find that I adore books written “around” a certain period or “around” a certain subject matter, if only to see how they (read: Writers) write, where they get their sources, those books may be fiction or non-fiction. I call these books “side literature,” and I find in reading these books, I get a sense of what other writers are seeing for themselves in the stories they tell. Instead of a linear timeline, reading Side Literature opens up a web of possibilities at any given point ON that linear timeline.

    There are many books, Reza Aslan comes to mind, who’s book “Zealot, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” really nails who Jesus is, in relation to the time, the region and the people of that region. I found this text one of the most comprehensive stories about Jesus. Unlike any book I had ever read on the subject.

    But you know, if you tossed information like this at an evangelical Christian, who’s foundation is supposed to be Rock Solid Firm, words like these, easily topple even the best bible quoting evangelical Christian.

    I love this because I get to see just how untenable religious foundations are when you explain reality to someone who believes so hard on one specific dynamic of religious teaching. I read my bible, God said it, it was written so I believe it. No contest.

    Now watch them squirm when faced with religious and theological facts.

    Jeremy in Montreal.


    • Hi Jeremy,
      Thanks for the thoughts. One of the underlying issues is, of course, that nobody knew what Jesus would turn out to be during his lifetime. His disciples were probably (mostly) illiterate, and those who disliked him wouldn’t have bothered to write about him. One thing none of the Gospels address is looks. If you lived in the first century you could make some assumptions, I suppose. I posted about Aslan’s book last year at some point. He has an interesting angle, I think.


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